The Folling are excerpts from his speech at the MN mental health rally, “Day on the Hill,” February 20, 2001.
Recently I spoke to a respected legislator from the southwestern part of the state who told me that mental illness, from a political point of view, was a “non-issue.” He said that his constituents never talk about it, politicians aren’t interested in it, and that, although he appreciated what we were trying to do and the nobility of our cause fighting for equality, we were doomed to disappointment. He said that we were shooting for “pie in the sky,” and that we should “…Grow up, stop dreaming, which really IS madness, and start seeing Life As It Is.”
I am 45 years old. I have battled mental illness for 35 years, and Multiple Sclerosis for fifteen. I was put into the mental health system when I was 15, and I have seen “life as it is.”
I have seen the shame and pity of uneducated families and friends who didn’t know what to say to their loved one, so they turned their backs and didn’t say anything.
I have heard the equally deafening silence of the locked wards where, contrary to the sensational images of the media, people are too lost and hopeless even to cry.
I have experienced the inequities of the health care system, where we have to be either destitute or wealthy to access the medical treatment we need.
I have lived in the insanity of The System, where our disease is covered by the Department of Human Services — the department that deals with welfare, dog-catching and snow removal — while all other illnesses are covered by the Health Department.
I have witnessed the helplessness of wonderful medical professionals who leave the mental health system in frustration because they can’t stand being part of the dysfunctional revolving door system where no real healing or recovery takes place.
I have grieved for gentle, loving people who, although they never in their lives raised a hand in violence, took their own lives in desperation and pain, with their deaths ending up as criminal statistics.
I have felt the desperation and pain of their grieving families multiplied, when the religious institutions they belonged to wouldn’t even give them the grace of allowing their children’s bodies to be buried in Holy ground.
I have known ill and lonely people who preferred to freeze in the winter, starving under highway overpasses, prey to any predator in the “food chain” of the street, rather than return to the humiliation and torture they experienced in decades past at the hands of the mental health system, a system that they are convinced still exists.
I have seen life as it is, and when life is this crazy, this insane, who’s to say where madness lies? When even in the United States of America, in Minnesota, in the Twenty-First Century, the systems our politicians, insurance companies, and physicians have created to “help” suffering people with a medical condition are this out-of-control, heartless, and ineffective, who can say where “mental illness” really lies? Maybe true craziness is when we “grow up,” stop dreaming, stop trying and accept “life as it is.” Maybe to surrender to bitterness and cynicism, like the legislator I spoke to, is the
most insane of all.
He’s wrong. It’s only by our dreams and hopes that the world will ever change. And it is changing.