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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Arrogant and Ignorant

The picture at the left is my sister and my nephew in happier times. Driving in to work yesterday I was listening to a morning talk show. Host Roger Gray was interviewing the author of a book about psychiatry. The author launched into a diatribe about how psychiatry was a big fraud and there was no such thing as mental illness. The guy sounded like a Scientologist or something. It was the wrong day for that nonsense. I called the show and told the gentleman he was arrogant beyond belief and had no idea what he was talking about! The main was a trained real estate professional for crying out loud!

Roll back 8 hours - it's 2 am. The phone rings. A ringing phone at 2 am is never good news. It was my sister. She'd been crying. "Ben's dead," she sobbed. The sheriff had just left her house. My nephew's body was found face down in a ditch near White Settlement. He'd been missing for two weeks. He was identified by his fingerprints and a phone number in his backpack. We won't have a toxicology report for some time, but he was only briefly out of prison and had a history of substance abuse. He hadn't been able to find a job and apparently had a fight with the guy he was living with and grabbed his pack and left the house. That's the last anyone saw of him till they found him beside a road. We're not sure how long he'd been there, but we're having to cremate him. They wouldn't let my sister or mom see his body.

For years I've watched Ben struggle to find some sort of peace. My son suffers from bipolar disorder. He and Ben were very close and had very similar symptoms and often made the same mistakes in coping with them. It took years of working with psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists and therapists to figure out what was happening to my son. In the meantime he lived on an emotional roller coster that constantly threatened to bring him down. He got to where he couldn't work, couldn't sleep, couldn't cope. We finally discovered a combination of medications that helped level him out emotionally without reducing him to a zombie. We had some failures and false starts, but now he's apparently doing well on his current drug therapy. We went canoeing together a couple of weeks ago and had a great time.

Ben went through therapists, treatment centers and psychiatrists, then drug abuse and prison trying to cope with his own mental demons. He pushed us all away. He was deeply angry and didn't know why. He had a tender heart that was always getting broken. His disease killed him as surely as if someone had pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He left behind a young son who will have to cope with all this some day.

The two boys who grew up together. Ben lived with us for nearly two years while his mom got back into school and tried to sort her own life out. One boy found the right treatment for his very real illness. The other did not. One is alive. The other is not. To say that there is no such thing as mental illness is arrogant and ignorant beyond belief.

I've worked with people with mental illness for 20 years. When someone tries to tell me that mental illness doesn't exist, I have no patience with them. It is cruel to tell people struggling just to cope with the consequences of a brain that is wired up wrong that all they need to do is to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The real tragedy is when these people actually do manage to convince unsuspecting families to give up searching for an effective treatment and do some goofy herbal treatment or willpower regime or get themselves "cleared" of the evil spirits that inhabit them (the author on the radio sounded like a Scientologist and what they believe would be laughed at if you made it into a comic book plot).

It's a shame that the amendment granting Free Speech protects predators, cultists and the criminally ignorant too. Ben's birthday was this week. He'd have been 31. He could have been alive and happy today if some of his friends hadn't told him the same sorts of things this crank on the radio was selling. When somebody tells you that psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and doctors don't know what they're doing or are perpetrating a fraud, they're trying to sell you something. In Ben's case, it was illegal drugs.

Please, if you have a loved one suffering mental illness, find some help for them. There are many places that can help you. Keep the following things in mind as you try to find help:

1. Find a good doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. They can help guide you in the right direction.

2. If a treatment isn't working in the time that is should, TELL THE DOC!

3. Keep track of any symptoms or behaviors. Go with your loved one and TELL THE DOC WHAT YOU ARE SEEING! Scientists need information to make a diagnosis.

4. Be patient. Treatment is equal parts TREATMENT and TIME.

5. Love without conditions but be able to do the hard stuff too. Remember, they aren't trying to make you crazy. They're in pain and trying to cope!

6. Take care of yourself too. If you burn out, you won't be able to help your loved one anymore and that can be fatal.

7. Pray without ceasing. God who could give his own son, who could save a thief off a cross, will work everything out as it should.

I don't believe my nephew took his own life. The evidence at the scene doesn't indicate that. But even if he did, a merciful God is powerful enough to rescue a poor tormented soul even in the last moments of his life.

Please include my family in all of your prayers - my sister especially.

Tom

1 comment:

Frank Romano said...

Tom, You are so right! My prayers and the prayers of my church are with you and your sister. Some people have no understanding or compassion, just blurt out what they think, without thinking. I know that God will sort things out for you and your family. Keep the faith and God be with you my friend. Frank