October 31, 2010

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW)

Although it's passed for this year, the first week of October has been "Mental Illness Awareness Week" (MIAW) for 20 years now, though I just found out recently myself. It was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress in recognition and encouragement of attempts to increase awareness and reduce the painful stigmata associated with the broad and pervasive plight of mental illness (and no, not Jesus' scars- "stigmata" is actually the plural form of "stigma"). So many of us have been hurt, deeply- and I think it might be time I actually do something about it. Nearly everyone I know (more absolutely, everyone that knows me), has been touched, anguished, abused, harassed, injured by mental illness, in some capacity, in some form or fashion. And if you don't think you have been, then that probably just means that you're not aware of it yet. Give it some time and get back to me. Or, better yet, albeit perhaps more difficult, take my word for it. It hurts, it devestates, it leaves a broad trail of destruction and suffering- it breaks lives and ruins relationships just as much as any other disease out there (much more than any other, I would assert). And it kills- I don't just mean that in a figurative or metaphorical sense, I mean it ends lives. I have seen that for myself. If you need further convincing, though, then message me privately, and we can discuss it on a more respective level.

Typically, ironically, even hypocritically, I am a very apathetic individual when it comes to "causes"- some would likely call me cynical. I have always thought it a weakness to need others, and naught but a crutch to support idealistic drives and trends that flare up and then burst, like market bubbles, giving rise to the next movement, the next attempt to educate (or shame) the public consciousness into action. However, I am realizing that we, as human beings, really do need each other. I still don't agree with some of the attempts that exist- have existed- and their attempts to garner the attention of us, the people; but I understand,finally, that we truly cannot live this life alone.

In that spirit, and in the name of this very real cause, think about how you can do something, whether it be researching, educating yourself, contributing your time or resources to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or another similar organization, writing a letter to someone you know who has been hurt to tell them you care, talking to the people you know (or even don't know, if you're feeling particularly courageous), making a meal for a family that is having to deal with a relevant situation, writing about it in your own blog, or just including it in your prayers (and that deserves more than a mere "just"). Although, I'm not asking you to do any of that, specifically. I only ask that you begin to think, you begin to wonder, you begin to consider and search yourself, for anything, anything at all, that you can do. Not what you think your neighbor can do, or what your friends can do, or what the government needs to do, or what your community can do, but what you, yourself, can do (although it could absolutely extend and grow to something beyond yourself, and I pray that it does!). However, don't do it solely because I'm asking you to, nor because you know me or my situation, but because this is a real issue, staring us all in the face, that we, individually and collectively, have been too timid, too callous, and too ignorant to meet eyes with and confront.

I'm going to be doing this as well, so don't think I'm challenging everyone but myself. And it's going to be difficult (has been difficult), but I'm going to continue, because of my beliefs, because of my faith, because of my opinions and lot in this life. Because I've known the sadness, the hopelessness, the unfathomable years upon years of pain, the scars (seen and unseen) that will be with me forever. And it's a hell on earth that I wish upon no one, no matter who they are or what they've done. But the sad truth that no one wants to pay attention to is that some people have to live through that hell anyway, or die.

As I grow older, and as I see how mental illness destroys so many, and hurts so many more, I am only deepened in the personal conviction, in the belief, in the assertion, that has come to resonate in the deepest confines of my soul, thrumming to the tone of a cryptic curse, ancient-spoken:

This is our tragedy.

Maybe it's time to own it.