Help The Cause Of Mental Health Awareness

Invisible Driving Cover Framed

When I sat down to write Invisible Driving in 1990 there was no way to know that this simple act of literary recklessness would hurl me down a path of mental health advocacy ultimately culminating, 22 years later, in the conclusion of this sentence.

Such is life in the land of Whackadoomious. Prior to writing the very first bipolar memoir, I had labored valiantly to keep my mental illness under cover, hidden from the pitchfork-wielding town folk who welcome the mentally ill with the same enthusiasm they shower on seven-year locusts. Going public as a bipolar bear gave me what I call “confession Tourette’s” – I went from “lips are sealed” to bipolar blabbermouth.

Essentially, I wanted to educate the public as much as possible and, I dared, even defied, any of them to look down on me. I had a big, fat surly attitude back then. In time, I actually came to a point where I condescended to square shooters because I believed – without mental illness as a teacher – their life experience was, quite frankly, inadequate in comparison to mine.

But that’s just me. For every passive-aggressive exhibitionist nursing a grudge, feeding a habit, and putting a resentment to bed, there are 100 nice, quiet Whackadoomians who would prefer to recover and strive towards mental health in quiet anonymity and fuzzy slippers.

I would like to make it clear that I do not condemn this stealth, but, and this is a big but, (stop that), I will say that – if you want to change minds, spank stigma, and educate the not-so-great unwashed – and I know you do – the best way to do it is by example.

Make yourself a teacher, a model, and show them that folks like us are – candidly – just like them. To paraphrase Hemingway, “Living well is the best revenge.” To paraphrase Napoleon, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Finally, to paraphrase Taz Mopula, “Since you’re going to be jealous anyway, you may as well be jealous of yourself.”

Action Ideas for Mental Illness Awareness

As you know, I’m a practical – problem/solution – kind of guy. So, here are a few action items that could kick-start the knowledge building process.

1. Annual Mental Illness Memorial Day Telethon – Hosted by Charlie Sheen

2. Mental Illness Trading Cards containing profiles of famous mentally ill people in history.

3. “Halfway Home” – a board game based on Monopoly in which players take turns trying to escape from a Halfway House so they can return their dysfunctional families.

4. America’s Got Illness! In this homage to American Idol, mentally ill contestants would answer questions and disturbed celebrity judges would try to guess their disease.

As good as these ideas are, I’m still going with suggestion number one. Make the stigma-waving public watch as you rise from the ashes and enjoy a life that is better than theirs. If they learn a thing or two, great. If they don’t, the main thing is – you’re doing just fine without them.

Sociology Of Mental Illness

insane immigrants

Recently, the Party Planning Committee at Chumley Fortesque Memorial Community College invited me to deliver my bread and butter lecture, “Why You So Messed Up, Man?” I accepted.

A bright-eyed assemblage of students still clutching desperately onto the concept of upward mobility, and several inebriated janitors ducking responsibilities, filled the dingy lunchroom, which had been hastily rearranged to serve as an auditorium. I gave it my best.

When I was through, an eager audience member asked the now-familiar question which seems to hound me wherever I go, as if I had just escaped from Leavenworth.

“Mr. McHarg,” he ventured, “why are there so many mentally ill people in the United States? Where do they come from?”

By now, I am accustomed to this question, although still appalled by what its mere existence says about our educational system. And so, in measured tones masking my impatience and disappointment, I began what has become the canned response.

“America,” I gazed beyond the tops of my reading glasses for effect, fairly oozing disingenuous gravitas, “is a nation built on immigration. We are all familiar with how, fleeing starvation brought about by the potato famine, destitute Irish families landed on our rugged shores in search of work.

“Our forefathers themselves fled religious persecution and sarcastic remarks. Soon the Italians arrived because it became obvious that there needed to be a pizza parlor on every corner; the fledgling nation was being unified by a love of freedom, ambition, and a hearty appetite for pepperoni.

“Then came the great Whackadoomian Emigration of double-ought, where mentally ill individuals throughout the world packed their meager belongings into imaginary suitcases and swam toward Lady Liberty’s beacon – treading water during the day when the beacon was unlit. In America they hoped to find the chance to be unhinged in a way that was marketable, which led ultimately to reality TV. Quietly, in small communities throughout the land, they built pockets of whackadoomiousness, and flourished.

From Knothead, Maine to Improbability, Tennessee, and Not All There, Wyoming, mentally ill Americans worked, fell in love, formed families, prospered and polished up the hood ornament on the American dream just like the rest of us. Today, they are in our midst, virtually everywhere, woven deep within the warp and woof of the American flag; indeed, as you watch the stars and stripes wave you can almost hear the sound of barking.