Lost and never found so often describes the life of the chronically mentally ill. It can apply to their lives as well as to their personal belongings. One of the hallmarks of the mentally ill is that they seem to be unable to hang onto their possessions and are incapable of “thinking” in logical terms the way a “normal” person would. They are unable to think past the day, not thinking of the consequences of their actions. They drift from situation to situation, on or off their meds, sometimes homeless, sometimes working, sometimes in jail. There is no predicting what their situation will be from week to week, or day to day, and sometimes moment to moment. It is agonizing and infuriating all at once for the person who desperately loves someone in the throes of mental illness. I’m not talking about garden-variety neurosis (many of us are neurotic, in some fashion) but the gut wrenching, all consuming, disease of psychosis, such as schizophrenia, where rational thinking is impossible. It is a never-ending merry-go-round where you are always waiting to exhale; where when the phone rings, and you see the area code, you hold your breath and say a silent prayer before answering—wondering out loud, “What Now?” It is a world where no matter how many clothes or personal items you buy or send them, these meager possessions will disappear into thin air eventually. It is a world where they live in fleabag motels, and when they end up back incarcerated, they don’t think to ask anyone to store their belongings, so everything they had acquired (when you thought they were making progress) is lost, yet again. It is a world where there is no monetary limit to what is lost—be it clothes, phones, and even cars. When I remember that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and that mental illnesses are brain disorders, I am more tolerant. But, often it is so hard not to be angry when your life is continually disrupted and have the anger turn to guilt at even being angry. We are all human and must give ourselves the grace to be so, which means accepting the emotions that are elicited from the constant stress of either waiting for the “other shoe to drop” or dealing with a current crisis. The definition of “insanity” is “doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” The average person learns (eventually) that banging your head against the wall over and over will give you a concussion and maybe they should not do it anymore. But the chronically mentally ill have short-term memory and seem to be doomed to repeat the same destructive patterns over and over. It is just so frustrating to see this happening, and be powerless to change it, just waiting around for the next crisis. It is a never-ending battle that just cannot be won and it is so heart breaking because you see the train wreck coming but you can’t get out of the way.
It amazes me how really ignorant the average person is about mental illness. Unfortunately school shootings, mall shootings, movie theatre shootings, etc. has become the norm rather than the exception. The people who perpetrate the violence are most certainly mentally ill, but people don’t realize that the majority of mentally ill people are NOT violent. In the case of the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Co, I knew immediately that James Holmes was most certainly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, based on what he did and his overall dazed appearance. I am not condoning what he did, and my heart breaks for the victims, but I couldn’t help but feel sorrow for him as well–especially his parents. I can’t help but cringe when I hear the comments from bystanders that are frankly born out of shear ignorance. One woman commented that he could not have been mentally ill because of the elaborate planning that went into the ultimate shooting. They just don’t know that the hallmark of paranoid schizophrenia is the appearance of normalcy and the ability to carry out complicated plans. I know this first hand from my son. There are many different types of schizophrenia—some, where the person does appear disordered and unable to carry out basic life skills. But, paranoid schizophrenics often appear “normal” and unless you know them personally, you may miss the signs. Often their inner demons of persecution and their personal torture is well hidden, except during a psychotic break. Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation and prejudice concerning the mentally ill, that people are often characterized as “evil” when in reality they are suffering, running from non-existent enemies, fearing for their very life.