Mental illness scares the shit out of me. The very term conjures up images of some crazed guy with wild, straggly hair and a demon-like smile of malevolence. Steven King kind of comes to mind when I think of someone who might be a little touched in the head. A Stephen King character, that is. Not Stephen King.
Who could ever admit to such a malady, I thought. You got to be crazy to be classified as one of the “mentally ill.”
And then one day it happened.
I admitted myself to an impatient program after getting into three fights with assistant district attorneys in a courtroom in Philadelphia.
Yes, I became a little crazy. And now I’m admitting it to the world.
I got something psychologists and social workers now label as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I kind of earned it in the Vietnam War.
It wasn’t always called PTSD. Prior to that, it was “Battle Fatigue” and “Shell Shock.” Physicians at the time of the American Civil War called it “Nostalgia.” Among those exposed to military trauma, some reported missing home, feeling sad, sleep problems, and anxiety.
Another model of this condition included what some saw as a physical injury with typical symptoms. They called it “Soldier’s Heart” or “irritable heart.” They experienced a rapid pulse, anxiety, and trouble breathing. Soldiers were often returned to battle after receiving drugs to control symptoms. There was little if any studies conducted for veterans who returned home and suffered what we now call “flashbacks.”
I learned that the anger and rage that accompanies PTSD was actually written about thousands of years ago by a Greek poet named Homer when vocalizing the story called the “Iliad.” Shakespeare mentioned it in his writings too!
I got help for my malady at the Coatesville Medical Center where I enrolled for what I thought was to be a two week stint, a vacation of sorts, I believed. It turned out to be ten weeks with no time off for good behavior. I got a “one hundred percent disability rating” out of it. Better still, I learned to meditate and keep the demons of my affliction in check through a daily practice.
I am proud to have sought the help and more importantly, to be less intimidated to share it with all of you crazy mother-humpers. You see, I believe we all have some kind of mental illness. Most of us hide it through our workload, our drinking or recreational drug consumption. But, the brave ones seek counseling for the anger, the panic attacks or that strange desire to vote for a Democrat in the next election.
Owning up to it and sharing it with another person is the first step in accepting what some might call the “shadow side” of ourselves. By bringing the shadow closer to the light, I believe we all can become enlightened.
(My weekly writing group prompted me to admit to this or suffer the consequences!)