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Airplanes and Mental Illness May 31, 2017

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Ever since my psychotic break back in 2008, my world has shrunk. Due to my reduced mental capacity either from the damage done to my brain from the break itself, or the side effects of the medication I take, I am no longer able to process information as quickly as I used to. Trying to think is sometimes like trying to punch a hole through a wet blanket with my fist. The end result is that situations that used to be routine, such as flying so, are no longer so.

Also, to compound the situation, when I get under stress, I hear voices. They sound like telepathy, coming from inside my head. They are genderless and speak in American English. I am well aware that they are a figment of my imagination, but that doesn’t mean I can control them. Far from it. They come on gradually as the stress builds and leave a few minutes after the stress is over. If I took enough medication to never hear them, I would be comatose. I choose instead to avoid stress as much as possible. Between the foggy thinking and stress avoidance, my world shrank considerably.

The dangers of travelling alone were confirmed a few years ago when I flew to Seattle from Phoenix. The trouble started as I approached the security line. At first the voices were just a whisper, telling me that they would find contraband in my luggage. The voices told me I would be arrested and jailed when they found it. I knew I had no contraband because I had packed my luggage myself. But that didn’t stop the voices. The closer I got to the xray machine, the louder the voices got. As the TSA agents began waving a metal detector around my body, the voices got so loud that I could barely concentrate on my surroundings. Within minutes of completing the security check, the voices disappeared, leaving me with a desire to avoid travelling by myself any more.

Five years later, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe for July 2016. To speed up the process of going through security, we obtained our TSA Pre Check clearance. At the airport in July, I was pleased that a reduction in scrutiny by TSA resulted in substantially reduced stress, which meant a huge reduction in hearing voices.

Recently, my husband had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in New Jersey. The timeframe included Memorial Day 2017. He asked me to join him for that long weekend, but because of the previous event, I declined.

But a subsequent discussion with my sister in law worked out the challenges at the Seattle end. Then my husband worked out all the challenges except one at the New Jersey end. The only challenge remaining was getting from the hotel to the airport for my return trip to Seattle. I decided to brave the unknown, fight through the mental fog and stress and go on the trip, pinning my hopes on Uber to return me to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Uber came through beautifully, and my TSA precheck allowed me once again to avoid hearing most of the voices. The adventure was a success, and I am looking forward to flying solo in the near future. My world is expanding.

Multiple Personality Disorder: Co-Consciousness November 11, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, DID, multiple personality disorder.
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I had lunch yesterday with Tracy, a woman with multiple personality disorder. Multiple personality disorder is the layman’s term for Dissociative Personality Disorder, or DID. In this disorder, multiple people inhabit one person’s body. The other people inhabiting the primary person’s body are called alternate personalities, or alters for short.
In Tracy’s case, she has six alters. One is an old lady named Q who loves to make jewelry. One is a man, two are children, and the other two are adult women.
The reason I had lunch with Tracy was to get to know her better. She had approached me because she wanted to become trained in a NAMI program called In Our Own Voice (IOOV). In that program, two people living successfully with a mental illness go out to various groups of people such as college classes, church groups, police officers, psych nurses, or anyone else who wants to learn about mental illness and talk about what it’s like to live with mental illness on a daily basis. It’s a free program, and we’ll go anywhere. As a NAMI co-presenter, you become the face of mental illness to the group of people you’re giving the presentation to.
In order to do these IOOV presentations, the person with the mental illness must go through a two day training to learn how to give these presentations in the format NAMI wants them to use. Before we allow a person to enter IOOV training, we screen them to make sure they’re stable enough to endure the training and tell their story publically without becoming unstable. Rehashing the darker aspects of their mental illness can sometimes result in the person slipping back into their illness during their training or even during their presentation, and we don’t want that. Since the person giving the presentation becomes the face of mental illness to those in the room, we want a good representation rather than a poor one. And above all we want to avoid damaging the person giving the presentation by pushing them beyond their capabilities.
In the case of DID, there are basically two versions of the illness. I’m simplifying things, of course. In the first case, the main person is taken over by an alter and mentally disappears. They have no memory of the time where the alter takes over their body. The main person mentally disappears into another space and time, only returning when the alter leaves. This leaves gaps of time in their memory, and they have no idea what their alter said or did while the alter took over their body. This is called non-co-consciousness.
Up until I met Tracy, I had no idea that there was another form of DID, called co-conscious DID. In this case, the main person stays conscious while the alter takes over their body. They know exactly what the alter is saying or doing, and can assist the alter in communicating. During lunch, Several of Tracy’s alters appeared, and it was just like having lunch with three people rather than just one. Watching the alter interact with the main person is a little like watching a puppet show, except there’s no one with a puppet on their hand.
You’d think that people like us, who live in the world of mental illness, would be more knowledgeable about various mental illnesses. But we only know what we’ve been exposed to in many cases. When Tracy first approached NAMI to become trained in the IOOV program, we had never heard of anyone being co-conscious with their alter. Our only experience with DID was negative. Giving the IOOV presentations is stressful, and stress tends to bring out the alters. We were concerned that the alters would show up mid-presentation, and the main person would disappear, leaving the situation in chaos. We decided that Tracy wouldn’t be a good candidate for the training, and we told her so. She was very disappointed, and still wanted to have lunch and get to know me better. I readily agreed.
During our what became a two hour lunch (that seemed like 10 minutes), it became clear that we had made a mistake in denying Tracy the opportunity to join our IOOV program. As she talked about being co-conscious with her alters, it dawned on me that her situation wasn’t much different than mine. When I do the IOOV presentations, the voices return. I can’t see them, but they’re talking to me as if they were sitting next to me. Actually, it’s more like having telepathy with someone, since the voices are coming from inside my head rather than outside as if from a seat next to me. It isn’t any more distracting than having your child try to interrupt you as you try to visit with another adult. And so if I can continue my presentation despite the voices talking to me, then why can’t she continue her presentation if an alter shows up? As long as we can maintain continuity, the program will work just fine.
And so I changed my mind. I’m pleased to say that NAMI Snohomish County will have a new co-presenter. Her name is Tracy and she has DID.

Hearing Voices: A Comparison July 16, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices.
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If you think all people hear the same thing when they hear voices, think again.

human-ear-clip-art_421267

When I hear voices, they come from inside my head. If you can imagine what it would be like to have esp, you get an idea of what I hear. It’s like someone is sitting or standing next to me, talking to me mind to mind. The voice is gender-neutral , and loud enough to hear over the sound of other people talking. Sometimes it gets louder, as if it is shouting, but it never whispers. The voice makes observations of its surroundings, asks me to ask various people questions, comments on things people say, and is especially interested in what people are wearing.

Some people point out that they hear a voice too. They say the voice I hear is actually my subconscious. But they can’t understand what I mean when I say I have esp with the voice. And my esp didn’t start until I had my psychotic break. In fact it is a residual effect of that break.

I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder fairly recently. We compared what it is like for each of us to hear voices.

In her case, she hears voices from the outside in. And they’re voices of people she knows. So imagine you’re looking out at a car in a parking lot. You can’t see through the windows of the car. Suddenly, you hear the voice of your friend coming from behind the car. You would swear that your friend is calling to you from behind the car. But when you approach the car, there is no one behind it. That’s what she means when she says she hears voices.

When I heard her story, it made me thankful that if I have to hear voices, I hear them the way I do. When I hear my voices, I have no illusions that they are real. She, on the other hand, never knows until she can physically see the location the voice is coming from.

She has difficulty telling what is real and what isn’t. When she hears someone talking to her, she doesn’t always make the distinction between what they are saying when they’re standing in front of her and what they say when she can’t see them. The memory of what they say stays with her, real or imagined. And the things they say are not always positive. So she gets the impression that people are saying things that aren’t nice , and that maybe they don’t really like her, because of what she hears them say when she can’t see them. She only hears people she knows. I on the other hand have never met the people whose voices I hear.
I am thankful that my voices are so benign. The things they say are actually rather boring to me. I don’t question whether they like me. It doesn’t matter to me. And in fact they don’t treat me poorly. And they don’t show up until I am under stress. In that we are alike. Hers show up under stress also.

Stress seems to be the common denominator between us, bringing on the phenomenon of hearing voices.

Unlike her, I build my life around avoiding stress, with one exception. I force myself to do NAMI’s In Our Own Voice presentations, because I believe my momentary discomfort (if you can even call it that) is worth the price of educating people and removing stigma associated with mental illness.

In her case, she doesn’t  go out of her way to avoid stress like I do. She used to teach school, but now subs for other teachers, a job that causes stress. Walking into a class full of middle school children with only a lesson plan written by their normal teacher, complete with notes about which kids are difficult, isn’t for the faint of heart. And yet she continues to expose herself to stress because she loves what she does. It’s worth the price of hearing voices to her to continue.

We are each coping with our mental illness in our own way.  I wish her every success.

Anatomy of a Psychotic Break: God and the Talking Tree April 4, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions.
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As I strolled down the lane, my trusty rat terrier, Randy, bounced ahead of me, ducking in and out of the low bushes, stopping here and there to deposit his watery mark.
Several weeks prior, God had revealed to me my Purpose In Life. I was The Chosen One, charged with the special duty that would unlock the secrets of the universe to the mass of humanity inhabiting out tiny planet.
Contemplating how I would fulfill my mission, I came to the realization that I had absolutely no idea how to accomplish my God-given task. Distractedly, I walked along the lane, looking at, but not really seeing, the scenery as I contemplated my undertaking. The majestic cedars and stately pine trees swayed slightly in the wind, but I didn’t really notice. I was too bent on looking from a sign from God. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing to help me. How was I supposed to proceed?
Coming to a stop in front of a large tree at the end of the lane, I stared hard. A tree. A tree? A TREE! Why don’t I ask it for help?
Talking with a Tree wasn’t like talking to a human. It was much more intuitive. I didn’t hear the voices of trees like I heard peoples’ voices when we talked via ESP. This was on a much grander scale. Pure thought. Conveyed from his soul to mine.
As I started to “probe” his soul- for lack of a better word- I quickly realized that he- and I don’t know why I knew it was a “he”- knew more about everything than I did.
Me: Impossible! How can an inanimate object know more than I do?
Tree: By using all sources of information.
Me: But you can’t go anywhere. You can’t learn anything. That’s impossible.
Tree: Knowledge is everywhere. It’s all around us. Trees- and almost everything else for that matter- live- really LIVE- outside your three dimensions. Only humans- and many dogs- make exclusive use of only three. And you didn’t even pick the best three.
Me: What are you talking about?
Tree: Look beyond three dimensions. Open up your mind. Stretch. A Tree stretches to the sky. You stretch to the sky too.

I don’t know how, but I knew exactly what he meant. I stood there in front of that tree, stretching my consciousness out as far as I could. Reaching…reaching…reaching. As I reached out, the Tree’s energy flowed to me. Ancient history. Billions of years. Not in pictures, but in thought.
Tree: You…Understand?…
Me: I’m trying to.

The energy surged through to my brain. Billions of thoughts, all simultaneous, pushing themselves into my consciousness.
Tree: I can help you…with your task from God. I am helping already.
I broke the connection. I had to pull away from all that energy. It was frying my brain.
Me: Too much.
Tree: Try again.
I stretched my mind, plugging into the Tree’s soul once again. This time I knew what to expect. I was ready for it, having fastened a kind of defense mechanism into my brain. Kind of like a circuit breaker.
Tree: Better?…Let’s try again…
My finger had been plugged into a light socket- or at least that’s what I thought at first. I saw the past. The present. And a little glimmer of the future. All at once. The term “mind-blowing” came to mind.
Tree: You think in pictures. Here’s a picture of your soul. A shiny white light, cross-shaped, appeared in my mind. This time no picture. Better, yes?
And then, the picture was gone, replaced by an explosion of energy. I knew I had to unplug again. Before I lost my mind.Image

The Case for Insanity November 21, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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The case for insanity is compelling

In early February 2008, at the beginning of my traipse into a world of make-believe, I had ESP.  How cool is that? I talked with people in my head.  Powerful people.   Bill and Melinda Gates. The Dalai Lama. Oprah Winfrey.  My (then) bosses. All of these people and more were at my beck and call.

Then there was my job situation.  In my fantasy world, my (real) boss, via ESP, directed me to quit my (real) job.  So I did. Then, via ESP, he begged for my return, promising me more money and better control over my job.  In the meantime, Bill and Melinda Gates offered me a job at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  For twice the money.

And yet money had no real value.  I had access to Bill and Melinda Gates’ money.  I had a friend who was a time traveler who could make it so that I had money whenever I wanted it.  Because money meant nothing, I wrote a (NSF) check for  a beautiful, gold, brand new Lexus Convertible car.  Bill and Melinda Gates were going to reimburse me for the purchase as part of my new employment package. I bought a new wardrobe for my new job.

I owned $2 million in jewelry, including a 3 carat yellow diamond in a platinum setting, and an abalone bracelet that had once been owned by my (Mermaid) grandmother.

I talked with trees, dogs, and cats.

Last but not least, I was a genuine Mermaid.  Fish talked to me (literally). I had fins for feet. I had a beautiful tail.

I was beautiful.  I was energetic.  I was wealthy.

Now tell me that mental illness is terrible.

Lock up the Mentally Ill to Prevent Mass Murders September 19, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Delusions.
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A young woman on Anderson Cooper 360 last night called Aaron Alexis “a crazy schizophrenic” and stopped just short of saying he should have been locked up.  Let’s take a close look at this idea, because it’s going to rear its ugly head.

First of all, Alexis was never diagnosed with a mental illness. So how do we find people like him and lock them up so they don’t kill people?  Let’s lock up anyone we suspect of having a mental illness. That would do the trick.

How do we find those people?

Let’s make the police find them for us.  Any time someone calls the police about someone acting bizarrely, let’s have the police assess that bizarrely acting person.  After all, the police interviewed Alexis when he called them to report someone was “sending microwaves through the wall”.  Anyone who makes bizarre statements like that should be locked up.

What about people who are acting bizarrely because they’re drunk?  Let’s not count those people.

Where should they go to be locked up?  Let’s build more mental hospital beds to house them all. How many beds will they need?  Well, if you count the number of people who want to commit suicide, there probably needs to be four times as many hospital beds as there are now.  Or don’t we want to count those people?  After all, they just want to take their own life- not anyone else’s.   Except for those people who do things like get in bad car accidents, managing to accidentally take the life of others with them.  So we should definitely count the suicidal in our sweeping net.

Should we let the police be the ones to make the official determination, or should we bring in someone trained to handle such a task, like the Designated Mental Health Professional?  That clinician determines whether someone is a danger to themselves or others, the current standard for involuntary commitment.  And that’s what we’re talking about: involuntarily committing anyone who exhibits bizarre behavior. We don’t really need a DHMP because the police already performed that function when they took the police report.

Violating people’s civil rights (which is, when you get down to it, what involuntary commitment is) will become commonplace. I don’t want to live in such a world.

Hearing Voices June 26, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices.
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human-ear-clip-art_421267Hearing voices means different things to different people.  In my case, it means that a voice inside my head talks to me.  It isn’t a woman’s voice or a man’s voice.  It has no pitch, but the words are distinct.  Although the words are coming from inside my head, the perspective is that of someone standing or sitting next to me or walking alongside me.   If I’m alone, the voice makes observations about my surrounding area or my life in general or makes statements about things.  If I’m with another person, the voice tries to tell me what to say out loud.  It asks me to ask that person questions or asks me to make observation statements to them. That failing, the voice makes observations about my environment.

People are surprised that I still hear the voices, despite the fact that I know they aren’t real.  They think I should be able to make them go away simply by telling them they aren’t real.  It seems logical that it would work that way, but in fact it doesn’t. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time arguing with the voices, telling them I knew they didn’t exist.  But it didn’t do any good. They talked anyway.  In fact, I got in arguing matches with them, which probably isn’t a good idea.  They outlast me. They always win the argument, and I think their interaction with me to the degree an argument requires simply adds more stress to the situation.

I know that some people think the questions or thoughts from the voices are actually my subconscious, but I disagree.  The voice’s questions and statements are not part of my regular thought pattern.  It is as if there is another person inside my mind, doing and saying things on their own.  There’s someone foreign in my mind with me, and they won’t go away. I can’t integrate their thoughts into my own, because their thoughts are separate from mine. If the voices were truly just a part of my subconscious, they would be able to read my mind. But they can’t.  They have no idea what I’m thinking.  They’re a separate entity entirely.

I am fortunate that the voices don’t tell me to harm people or myself, and that the comments and questions are innocuous at best and annoying at worst.  The scary part is that when the voices return, it’s as if there is someone else in my head- an alien of sorts.  I can’t have my mind to myself, and the voices crowd out my own thoughts.  I miss being inside my head alone.

When I reduce my stress level, the voices fade into the background and eventually disappear.  But when my stress level increases, the voices return.  At first they’re just there occasionally, but the more severe the stress, the more of my mind they inhabit.  They take over more of my day, crowding out my own thoughts, until the stress dies down.  Then they’re gone again for awhile, until the next set of stressors arrives. It’s been this way since I got out of the mental hospital, which was five years ago on the 18th of this month (June 2013).

I know my family is afraid of the voices.  Actually they’re afraid that the voices will displace my mind entirely and that the voices won’t let me back into my mind.  But I have confidence that my psychiatrist will be able to make them go away if they get too powerful.  He did that for me when I was hospitalized, and I trust that he can do it again if he has to.  The only thing I have to do to keep them from taking over is to watch my stress, but that’s easier said than done in life.  Things happen that I can’t control.  And that’s a bad thing because it brings the voices back.  But so far, I have been able to return to my mind, alone, after the stress goes down.  So far so good.

Sam the Psycho January 3, 2013

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Walking into the mental illness support group, I was surprised to see two teenage boys sitting side by side in our small circle of chairs. Very few young people came to our support group.

It was clear from Sam’s glassy and brilliant eyes that he was the one with the mental illness, and that his friend, Carl, had simply been the means of Sam’s transportation to the meeting. Later on, we learned that Sam’s mom had actually talked Carl into bringing Sam here. I surmise that Sam wouldn’t get in the car with his mom. Or vice-versa.

When Sam’s turn came to share, he said he was getting more violent against his mom, and that he was having trouble with his relationship with her. His principal complaint was that she didn’t agree with his religious views.

He claimed that he and God were buddies.  He also claimed to be possessed by the devil and demons. He said he was routinely roused from sleep by the demons’ violence against him.  They punched him and pushed him and yanked his hair while he tried to sleep. Oh yeah: and he said he wasn’t mentally ill. He was just possessed.

Initially, he and his friend sat quietly listening to the three of us share our stories. But as time progressed, Sam was increasingly claimed by his invisible friends.  Talking and laughing with them, he faded in and out of our reality.

Sam said he had been taking two anti-psychotics for 2 months. Based on his severe delusions and his statement that he wasn’t mentally ill, I seriously doubt that he was taking his meds at all. His friend said that Sam hadn’t been back to his psychiatrist since he had been given the anti-psychotics. I suspect that was by choice.

Leaving the meeting, I realized the danger Sam’s mother was in. I hoped she had a lock on her door. After all, her teenage son, known to be very angry with her, roamed around the house believing that he was alternately God’s best friend or possessed by the devil and demons. It isn’t a stretch to imagine him slipping into her room at night and slitting her throat or stabbing her as she lay sleeping, convinced that the devil and demons- and maybe God- had directed him to do it. She would be just another dead mother whose soon should have been committed to a mental hospital before he murdered her.

Chenille: Reality Check Service Dog December 16, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, mental illness, Uncategorized.
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RandyI met the cutest service animal the other day at a mental illness support group. She’s a friendly, bouncy Chihuahua named Chenille.  I never thought about using a service animal for help with mental illness symptoms, but that’s exactly what she is.   She is a reality checker for her master.

As with many people suffering from mental illness, her master’s symptoms include hallucinating. He sees people and things that aren’t there and hears things that aren’t there. Her job is to help him determine what is real and what isn’t.

For example, if there’s someone suddenly sitting in a chair in his living room that he’s never seen before, if she barks he knows it’s a real person.  If she doesn’t react, then he’s seeing someone who isn’t really there.   The same goes with noises.  Dogs are sound-sensitive, and if there’s a lot of racket or unexplained noise, the dog will react to it.  If someone calls his name from another room (and he thinks he’s alone in the house), and she doesn’t react, he knows he is hearing things that aren’t there.

What a relief it is to be able to tell reality from fantasy by using the unbiased opinion of a dog.

People not suffering from mental illness take for granted their ability to tell reality from fantasy every waking moment. They can’t appreciate what a gift it is not to have to questions whether what they see or hear is real.  If the average person sees someone new sitting in their living room, he doesn’t even have to wonder whether that person is really there. But for people with certain forms of a mental illness, they can’t depend on their eyes to know whether that person is real. It is challenging to live in a world where your mind plays tricks on you.  You need help detecting reality. Who better than a dog to do that for you?

Imagine hearing a loud noise coming from the bedroom. Or hearing someone call your name from the room next door that you thought was empty.  There’s no one else with you in the house. Or is there? What would it be like not knowing the answer to that question on a regular basis?  A dog can be a lifesaver.

People who use the “reality challenged” phrase in jest might want to reconsider whether that term is appropriate, given the fact that certain people are living the embodiment of the true meaning of that phrase.  In order to leave a semblance of a normal life, they need a way to tell whether their perceived reality is real.

During the height of my psychotic break with reality, I met someone at a Starbucks for coffee who was probably not real. He was a green-skinned merman who I thought was my long-lost son from 500 years ago. Long story. But the point is that person was as real to me as anyone I have ever met.  I sat across a table and had coffee with him for several hours. Now at this juncture of my life, I realize I was probably one of those people you see who are sitting there in a restaurant talking to someone who isn’t there.  Imagine going through this every single day of your life.  You need an outside, unbiased source to tell you whether that green-skinned merman sitting across from you having coffee is real.  For my part, it never dawned on me that it could be anything but real. But what if it wasn’t?

This use of a service animal is a clever and fascinating way to help people manage the symptoms of certain mental illnesses.  This is the first time I have ever heard of this use. I wonder if more people could be helped by these service animals.

Halloween October 31, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Insanity, Psychotic.
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Halloween’s here, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill.  The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.

Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.  The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental  hospital.  In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man.  Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media.  In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.

It doesn’t help that the news is filled with extreme cases of mental illness. Teenage kids and adults taking axes to their mothers, beating up complete strangers, etc. are in most cases the result of untreated violently mentally ill people and are  fodder for interesting scary movies.

Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode,  insane murderers, and what I like to call garden-variety treatment compliant mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person.  Especially a psychotic one.   It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?