“We are not ourselves/ When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind/ To suffer with the body” –William Shakespeare, King Lear
We are not ourselves, indeed. I was talking to my mother the other day, and during the conversation I realized that the hardest part of having a daughter with mental illness, second perhaps only to seeing me suffer, must be not understanding it. She had asked me why I couldn’t try to ask myself if what I was thinking was rational if I felt a psychotic episode coming on. I tried explaining that I didn’t know when I was splitting with reality, that my thoughts always seem perfectly normal and logical at the time. But I don’t think she understood.
After detecting that something was wrong during the course of our conversation, I asked her about it. She told me that her best friend had attempted suicide, and her friend’s mother had called her, as per her friend’s written request, to inform her. Her friend is currently still in the hospital, in an induced coma. My mother was deeply hurt.
“I made her promise me she’d call me if things got bad again,” she told me tearfully. “Why didn’t she call me?”
Not only was she terribly sad about the whole ordeal, but she was also furious with her best friend. She told me repeatedly, “How could anyone be so selfish? People don’t realize the hurt that they cause when they do this.”
First, I did my best to calm my mother down. Then, I explained to her that when someone is in that state of mind, he or she is not thinking rationally. Even promises made to best friends become meaningless. Everything grows meaningless, and the dismal “truth” looms ever greater against the horizon of suffering: the only way out is death.
When my mom continued to press the “selfish” thing, I asked gently if maybe it was a little selfish to think immediately of the pain that she was feeling, and to try to imagine the pain that her friend must have been feeling. I told her that when (I was careful not to say “if”, though in all honesty, her recovery is a great uncertainty) her friend recovers, she should go visit her, and not to “kick her ass” as she had stated earlier, but to offer comfort and reassurance.
Unfortunately, that may be not immediately possible. My mother isn’t the only one with difficulty understanding mental illness. The law (yet again) shows an uncaring lack of understanding about mood disorders: attempting suicide in some states, including the one in which my mom’s best friend lives, is illegal. And yes, punishable by jail time. How incredibly stupid is that? I understand it’s meant as a deterrent to potential suicidals, but no mere law is going stop someone in that state of mind. And then, when they survive their suicide attempts, they are sent not to a hospital, where they could receive adequate treatment, but to a jail, which undoubtedly amplifies their misery. Nice fucking job, politicians.
Anyway, here’s to a better understanding of and compassion for the mentally ill. And also, here’s to the recovery of my mother’s best friend.