...but you wouldn't know it in casual conversation with most people on the street. You wouldn't have a clue, most times, until it was too late. :
How humans, including and especially Indians, go about the very real malady of mental illness shows that we have not arrived as a species. Why is it generally something not to be talked about with a friend or an expert and as treatable, or at least bearable, with a combination of counseling and short-term or permanent medication? What good is a taboo to be pushed into the pit of one’s stomach and overcome through Denial and Will Power? What makes mental illness somehow a flaw in the Strong Genetic and Moral Fibre of an Upstanding Person and not something all too normal in creatures made of chemicals and emotions?
You wouldn't have a clue, that is, unless you opened your eyes and ears and took the signs, any signs, very seriously.
When I heard the tone of Iris’ voice, I wandered outside into my friends’ yard for privacy, not bothering to get a coat despite the chill in the air. The bounce in her voice, the one that I had even heard in the voice-mail message from days before, was totally gone. Instead, it was sad and totally drained, as if she were making a huge effort just to talk to me – as if she were a different person. I remembered the comment from a friend that she recently had been sick.
“And I just wanted to let you know that in case something should happen to me, you should always know that you’ve been a good friend.”
Over the next hour, in one of the strangest conversations of my life, I stumbled to ask her about what had happened. She talked about her overwhelming fears and anxieties, including being unable to face the magnitude – and the controversial nature – of the stories that she had uncovered while researching her book on the Bataan Death March. “People in high places are not going to like it. Frankly, Paula, I fear for my life,” she said, still maintaining her flat tone.
That was the first time I thought that Iris might be human, after all. Perhaps she wasn’t an exception to the rules of nature. Perhaps even she was not able to work nonstop without paying any price. Perhaps I wasn’t such a freak, after all.
Despite having told me that she was sick, she described her current vague problem, which I understood as some kind of depression, as the result of “external” forces. It wasn’t a result of the “internal.” I asked her what others in her life thought about the cause of this apparent depression. She paused and said, “They think it’s internal.”
“It’s got to be external. It just can’t be the result of … of a book tour,” she said, fading out a bit to ponder that question. She was referring to her exhaustion from the more-than-twenty-city tour she’d made in the spring of 2004 for the paperback release of her book The Chinese in America. She went on to talk about other fears. “Paula, I’ve made serious mistakes with my son. I gave him autism with vaccines.” The tone of her voice was firm, like she was proclaiming an unassailable guilty verdict on herself from the voice of the highest possible authority.
“What?” I said, totally perplexed at this comment. I understood that autism was the result of the “internal,” basic neurology, not external actions. And I had no reason to believe he was autistic.
“I’ve made some very serious mistakes with my son,” she kept repeating.But this business of people's mental faculties and how healthy those faculties are is a tricky problem. Overstep any boundaries and you risk rejection from the person who might desperately need help. Instant psych diagnoses from family and friends can be just as damaging - even though friends and family can be the most helpful, influential people in one's life, they don't have masters degrees in social work or doctorates of psychology (well, most of 'em don't anyway). Snappy pop psychological judgments are made about people all the time - but the use of those too-quick assessments borders on giving people excuses for just plain old ignorant and selfish behavior. Compound this with the fact that there are still not many insurance companies willing to fund any mental health treatments, and you've got few options for people with serious needs for help with what's going on in their heads.
It seems that yet another double-edged sword has presented itself with regards to the recent bailout that was passed by both the House and the Senate once the mental health parity bill was tacked on to it. Don't get me wrong - as a broad who has had therapy for years and is on an SSRI, mental health parity is loooooooong overdue.
It's just...all I can think of now is: parity had to be passed, because now even more people will need to be treated for depression resulting from yet another bailout for the few who have mismanaged this country's finances and are leaving all the rest of us mere working-stiff mortals to pick up the pieces. Oh, we're giving more money to Wall Street, folks, but hey, here's some Cymbalta for your troubles and worries!
I'm thinking of asking Moms Rising to lobby like crazy to have their entire platform tacked onto, say, any other major bill involving this country's finances. Any pork barrel projects must have a rider on there for nationally sponsored child care. Bridges to nowhere can at least carry some good paid family leave along to give families a head start without enduring a "poverty spell".
If serious, lasting planning for our future is gonna happen, it looks like it will have to happen on the greenbacks of dead presidents and the first secretary of the treasury.
And so many posts o' mine are taking this pessimistic turn lately. A large part of it is seeing too many women without brains in these prominent, highly visible positions these days. A women's version of one step forward, two steps back. It's like they are being celebrated for their anatomical diversity and for little else. Hell, I've got anatomical diversity out the wazoo: I've got a gut and a butt and I'm not afraid to use 'em. But, ladies, the anatomy fades - dumb is forever.