Very recently, we attended an event held in the honor of the CHARG Resource Center, which has long been dedicated to helping those living with mental illnesses. Among the wonderful food and conversation, the merriment and high spirits, we stumbled upon an often unheeded attitude of mental illness in the form of a poem read by Freddy Bosco, a guest and friend at the event. It went:
There, on the street
they walk, stiffly and with pain
come from wearing chemical
strait jackets worn from the inside out..
They, with mismatched outfits
jarring the eye and bodies
swollen for bad diets
they make their stand
with self-doubt and shame
never knowing how tomorrow
will come. They are
my brothers and sisters
in recovery, afflicted unfairly
and smiling bravely, vulnerable
to just the sort of kindness
that comes so rarely
to bless them in their discomfort.
"Those the gods would destroy,"
Sophocles wrote, "first they make mad."
These words struck us in a way we did not anticipate, and so we would like to share its message with you and present you with a perspective considered far too infrequently.
Our Point of View
It’s common knowledge that many people with mental illnesses, and in the process of receiving help, are given some form of medication to help manage their condition and help them maintain stability. However, medication can have side effects that aren’t often discussed—perhaps because society expects mental health medication to work in much the same way as medication for physical illnesses. It’s morphed into a kind of cure-all serum, capable of eradicating any and all symptoms and bringing us to 100 percent normalcy.
But is this truly the case? For so many people with mental illness, medication is far from a magical antidote. Rather, it comes with its own side effects that can be just as unpleasant to endure as any pre-existing symptoms of mental illness. This fact bleeds through the lines of Freddy's poem. Medication ultimately becomes, for many, a “chemical strait jacket worn from the inside out,” because it suppresses our symptoms and sometimes other parts of ourselves that never needed healing.
Living with a mental illness then becomes a wholly invisible struggle we are often unable to communicate with others about. This leads us to “smile bravely” although we “stand with self-doubt and shame” over our conditions.
What Does This Mean?
We can glean one glaring fact from this poignant work: people living with mental illnesses need support, no matter where they are in their recovery. Just because they seem fine on the outside does not mean their struggles are over. If you are a supporter of a loved one with a mental illness, be there for them. Be their listening ear, be a friend, be someone they can turn to without fear of judgment or stigmatization.
If you are someone coping with a mental illness, know you can always reach out and ask for more support. We know what you’re facing, and we’re proud of you for continuing to push forward. Please reach out to us for further resources and support, whether you live with a mental illness or are close to someone who does.