Let's say I had a highly communicable disease. How about we call it mondocrazyitis. This mondocrazyitis of mine was so contagious that if you stood in a room with me, you might catch it. Even talking to me on the phone left you vulnerable to my cooties.
Yet you see me out in the world every day, as sick as a dog, spreading my mondocrazyitis to everyone I meet. You'd be pretty mad, right? You'd think I was careless, selfish and just plain dangerous.
Yet every day it seems I encounter another sicko of the mental variety whose never even have an inkling of a compulsion to treat their mental illness. And every day, people like me are unwilling recipients to their free-floating contagions.
But, you argue, there are tons of people on psychiatric meds. Too many perhaps. But guess who are taking them? People with a modicum of awareness that they have a problem! The rest of the mad cows continue to run amok.
It's amazing in this day and age that people are still so resistant to psychiatric help of any kind. And when the suggestion is presented to them, its often met with a certain haughty arrogance:
"Who me? Nah, I don't see shrinks. I don't have a problem. It's [fill in the blank] that has the problem. Sure my childhood was deeply troubled but I don't see what that has to do with the fact that I have a knife in your back right now."
Let me present a few more examples.
The Flaming Co-dependent. She has been in a highly dysfunctional relationship for years with a verbally abusive, alcoholic partner. She constantly bemoans his latest boozy slip-up. Her work, health and friendships are directly affected. When you're in need, she's a walking zombie, barely able to utter a word. And when she does it’s about him. You suggest Alanon (it's friggin' free!), therapy, even a goddamn book on co-dependency, but noooooo....she won't lift a finger, except to send him another “I love you anyway, baby” text.
The Boozy McPherson. Listen, drinking is great. Big fan of it. But I think we all have a vague idea when we've crossed the line. The typical stuff is affected: your job, your relationship, your ability to walk in a straight line for Joe Cop. "I don't do 12-step programs" I've heard in the past. Really, what do you do then? Drink yourself a solution? If you're so beyond a free program that's worked for decades, then pray tell, what's your alternative? Another stiff martini?
The Manic Panic. A ton of these chataholics out there. Whether its untreated bi-polar or another type of neuroses run horribly amok, these revved-up talking machines wouldn't know the word "listen" if you rammed it in their ear. Generally, as a rule of thumb, if you're doing more than 90% of the talking at any given time or knowingly repeating a protracted story to some poor sap of a listener, you've got a problem. And you're exhausting the rest of us.
The Deflated Narcissist. This is the “whoa is me” guy who bears the weight of the world on his shoulder. He’s depressed beyond belief but he’d much rather tell you how shitty he feels than do one thing about it. If you tell him about the stalker that’s harassing you, it’s met with “At least someone is paying attention to you.” They rely entirely upon the world feeling sorry for their poor lot in life. Psychiatric help would only interfere with their lifelong pity party.
The Caustic Couple Complex. “We’re staying together for the kids, man.” What? Modeling a horrible relationship so they can experience the same when they grow up? If you’re in a toxic relationship, you have very few options. You either a. get therapy and hope it works or b. Get out! Go ahead…name any other option. Let a few more years go by, in silent torture, while every single person around you feels the wire-tight tension between the two of you? Yay! Good times for all!
The Romantic Boomerang. If you're dating, you've probably encountered this broken basketcase. The more he likes you, the more he will unconsciously find a reason not to like you and fly off in the other direction. To add insult to injury, this person will make the other person feel riddled with inadequacies, which are conveniently used as an excuse to run. (Also known as the "But you Looked at Me Funny Syndrome.")
I've been in therapy on and off for years. Even on a paperthin budget. Does it work? Hell, I don't know! But I'm sure it beats zero self-examination, right? I’ve also read countless self-help and psychology books. I've meditated, written endlessly in journals and used my creative abilities (I'm even writing this as a form of therapy...hello!)
I've attended Alanon meetings (not because I was in a relationship with an alcoholic but because I was in an unhealthy relationship and couldn't get out of it). I was taught concepts like “boundaries” and “shifting the focus back to myself” with a nice group of people who supported me. It was enough to help me break free from a deadbeat relationship. And I'm not even a fan of 12-step programs. But as they clearly state at every meeting, "Take what you want and leave the rest." You don't even have to buy into the whole friggin' shebang.
So why are there are so many people beyond therapy of any kind? Is it that old shame factor from, what, a million years ago? Or is it plain arrogance? Lately when I run into someone who obviously has a psychological issue plaguing them, I can't help but get angry. Why do you think you're above the process I fought my whole life to get through? Do you think you can just beat it with a little "willpower"? Or don't you think you have a problem at all, Mr. Oblivious-to-the-Damage-you-Wreak?
Is it fun working on your mental health issues? No! It sucks. It also sucks finding a decent therapist, because they’re all nuts too. But you know what sucks more? Having a lifelong disease that affects others and which you consistently do nothing about. And guess what? Untreated mental illness, just like other diseases, gets worse if untreated. It doesn’t fix itself. You don’t make it better with your magic Jedi power. It just gets worse.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still crazy as a loon. I juggle my mental issues like a clown on crack. But it all comes down to awareness. I realize I have work to do, as a fellow human on this planet. I want to be happy. So I read that book or this article. I write in a journal or cry to a friend. (Crying, hello? One of the easiest—and cheapest—therapies that many men have totally foregone for some John Wayne reason), I exercise every day for my mental health. And I try, though it’s excruciatingly difficult at times, to examine my past and recognize the ways in which it still dictates my behavior today. Because it does, whether you want to believe it or not.
Don’t let your dumb mental illness affect your own happiness or the happiness of others. Do something—anything—to understand it better. It’s your job as a human. But if you choose to stay sick, get the mental equivalent of a Kleenex and cover your proverbial mouth please.