Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mental Illness Awareness Week -- One Year Later

A year ago, Prozac Monologues was just crawling, six months old.  I was new to this disability experience.  And NAMI Johnson County was new to me.

I am not sure how Della McGrath decided I was literate.  Maybe I had given her my card, and she read some of the blog.  But she asked me to speak at a candlelight vigil, to remember those who have died from mental illness, give courage to those who hope to survive it, and support to those whose loved ones did not.

The great thing about NAMI -- if able is always part of the contract.  So I could say yes, even when we were using sedation in place of hospitalization.  And hope for the best.

As it turns out, God gave me a window, and I was able to say what is written below.  It is reposted from October 3, 2009.  It is a bit out of date.  Once I was on disability, I could explore and admit to a better diagnosis, bipolar II, in place of major depressive disorder.  Bipolar is a disease with more stigma than vanilla depression.  And hardly anybody has ever heard about bipolar II, so they think the worst.  But now that I wasn't working, stigma didn't matter so much.  And I could let myself take the best bipolar II medication.  I knew its side effects would make my job impossible.  But that didn't matter anymore, either.

The year since has not been an easy one.  But I am still here.  And so, amazingly enough, is Prozac Monologues.  You, dear readers, give me a life that begins to replace the life I lost to this illness. 

It often takes a couple weeks to get the brain booted up and online to get a post written.  Hence, this week's repeat -- new, at least, to new readers.

So this is what I said that night

Hello, my name is Willa and I have a mental illness.  Hello, I am the Reverend Willa Marie Goodfellow, an ordained minister, an Episcopal priest who has served congregations, campus ministries, and diocesan staff in Iowa for 27 years.  And I have a mental illness.

Risk of Suicide

I have major depressive disorder.   The mortality rate of breast cancer is 23%.  The mortality rate of congestive heart failure is 50%.  My disease has a mortality rate of 15%.  [Bipolar II's number is 20%.]  Of course, if you are dead, your mortality rate is 100%.   If you are alive, 100% is your survival rate.

There are factors that increase my particular risk of death, how long I have had this disease, the number of episodes, the severity, the anxiety features.

There are factors that decrease my risk.   Having strong relationships within a truth-telling community through my church is one of them.   A couple weeks ago I returned to a congregation I served in the past, and told them that I am going on disability because my depression has not responded to medication.

I knew what would happen.  I knew there would be tears.  I knew that at the back of the church, while shaking hands, somebody would tell me that he has a mental illness, too.  A woman told me that it took thirty-five years for her husband to find a med that finally seems to be working.  At coffee hour, somebody else told me about his mother’s antidepressants.

Below the surface, I also knew that because they love me, they would love others with mental illness in their midst.  Perfect love casts out fear.  Stigma falls.  And this particular congregation would grow deeper into its identity, as a signpost of the kingdom of God.

We are not alone.

When I feel crazy because I cannot see this disease, I cannot show you the broken bone, I still know that I am not the only one.  I can call on friends who know exactly what this is.

A Good Funeral 

Once I did a funeral for a recovering addict.   Well, it was one part funeral, three parts Narcotics Anonymous meeting.   After I welcomed everybody, “Hello, my name is Willa and I am a sinner,” and said some prayers, then other people told their own stories of struggle and recovery and struggle and recovery.

I will never forget what the convener of the NA group said, “We are celebrating tonight.  We won this one.  Don died clean and sober.”  And ever after I have hoped that somebody would stand up at my funeral and say,

“We won this one.  Willa died... of natural causes.”

A Good Life

To that end, I am going to live with this disease the way Don lived with his.  Openly -- I have a mental illness.  Actively -- I will answer ignorance with education.  Politically-- I will meet discrimination with change.  And in community -- I will support and be supported by others who share this illness with me, so that we can survive it together.

photo of candles by Nevit Dilmen, permission granted to copy
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
photo of cake (and cake) my own, you may copy with my credit 

3 comments:

  1. today, while doing the art walk at the Brewery in LA i found a fantastic artist and in her profile she talked about her BPII disorder...i suggested she check out your blog...her name is Nicole.

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  2. I came across this site while searching for a monologue and i don't know you but I have to say, i'm proud of you!

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