Yesterday I participated in NAMI Walks for the Mind of America.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a national, non-profit organization for those with mental illness, their family and friends, and people who deal with them - mental health professionals, police, etc. They have support group meetings, offer an educational program called Family-to-Family, lobby for health care plans and government programs to include mental health coverage, and a lot more. If you either are or know someone who is mentally ill, I strongly encourage you to join this organization. There's not a lot of good groups out there fighting for us.
Every year NAMI does this walk-a-thon, both to rake in some cash for their programs, and to raise awareness of how much mental illness impacts the lives of everyday Americans. This year, I finally felt free to participate, since it seemed like my every free moment was jealously hoarded by my OCPD b-f. Oh, technically, he'd never stop me from doing anything solo. He'd simply complain incessantly about it for weeks ahead of time, possibly throw a tantrum or sulk on the day I went, then whine about it for weeks afterward. Obviously, as time went on, I did less and less of things he didn't want me to do, because the constant bickering wore me down. It feels so good to be out of that atmosphere of constant, fruitless catering to his never-ending (crazy) whims.
Plus I raised a chunk of cash for the cause, which I feel good about, and got some good exercise. There are worse things to do on a gorgeous Saturday morning than to spend it in Santa Monica, strolling along the beach.
One thing - with very, very few exceptions, you couldn't tell the "crazies" from the "regular people." I think when people think "mentally ill" they think somebody screaming in a straight-jacket, or Anthony Hopkins salivating over fava beans. Not so. My bi-polar niece walked with us - and I'm sure anyone talking to her briefly found her charming and delightful. (Over the course of the day, and afternoon, she was sometimes a bit harder to take.)
What's funny, in a sad way, is my boyfriend only knows I can't spend as much time with him this weekend because I chose to participate in this walk. He doesn't realize (though I think sometimes he gets a glimmer, and suspects) that he, himself, is mentally ill, and I'm not telling him. With personality disorders, it's almost never helpful to tell the person "I think you have OCPD," or "I think you may be mentally ill." (See out of the fog on Amateur Diagnosis.) I've had the benefit of watching many others on my support boards learn about OCPD, and bring it up to their spouses or partners with such hope, that this insight will make the difference, that now the person with OCPD will "get" it and things will change. Mostly, it makes things worse, and the person confronted will now be more resistant to getting help.
My bi-polar niece knows she is ill, even jokes about being the "crazy bi-polar chick," yet she too is in denial about many aspects about what is going on with her, from inappropriate anger blasts, to non-stop talking. She hates taking her meds, because they slow her down - and they do, unfortunately, she seems to skip right past "normal" into wanting to take a nap. I wish there were good meds for all the mental disorders - but there won't be, until more people step forward and are open about mental illness.
It's hard - you'll notice this blog doesn't use my name, or my boyfriend's, because it would humiliate and enrage him to have me discussing his condition publicly. Because, of course, mental illness still carries such a stigma, like it's the person's fault, somehow.
Still, somehow those of us who love someone mentally ill, have to find a way to raise our voices and demand more help, more research, better treatments. Or take a walk along the beach. :-)