This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week
Our modern world has seen the eradication of many diseases. We have the ability to stay connected with billions across the globe with computers that fit into our pockets. Creature comfort luxuries are limited only by our imagination.
Yet for all the developments in the US and other wealthy nations, a shortened spoke undermines the smooth rotation of the wheel that is our society. For if one struggles with mental illness, it doesn’t matter the wealth one has or the resources or medications or therapists at his/her disposal. This realization struck home for me two years ago when Robin Williams took his own life.
Recently, his widow shared a letter about Williams’s final days suffering from Lewy body disease, a type of dementia. She writes:
He hated that he could not find the words he wanted in conversations. He would thrash at night and still had terrible insomnia. At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it. He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth. His loss of basic reasoning just added to his growing confusion. It felt like he was drowning in his symptoms…
Robin kept saying, ‘I just want to reboot my brain.’ (Full letter here: http://www.neurology.org/content/87/13/1308.full)
Williams suffered from a severe disease and ended his life because of it. But mental conditions don’t have to be severe to cause serious problems. Because like bumping an archer as he shoots an arrow, all it takes is a slight maladjustment for the end result to be significantly off. The archer can have the most expensive bow (technology), a healthy upper body (physical health), even a large target (opportunity). But if the aim is off even a few degrees (chemical imbalance), the arrow will be on a wayward journey (a life battling depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, etc.).
Our greatest asset–our minds, allowing for all our luxury and wealth–also happens to be that which we know so little about relative to all there is know about its inner workings. This deficit of knowledge and the severity of this problem is most clear in a wealthy country like the US, where even the richest of the rich can suffer greatly.
During Mental Illness Awareness Week, I’m moved to bring up this issue …
-as a personal goal to address this problem in whichever way I can–raise money for research, write about breakthroughs
-as a call for grace for those who suffer
-as reason for gratitude for our own mental health
-and for our own humility and awareness
Know that these problems exist. And so stay grounded to aid those who suffer and to cherish the healthy moments we have. As long as we have these illnesses, our “social wheel” will continue with a wobble. I write this to acknowledge those who suffer and the loved ones of those who do.