I just read an article in the Washington Post about a young woman named Natalie Fuller, her suicide (see below.) That’s what brought on this discussion, on this sad and awful subject. But as long as I am writing about it, I may as well do a sincere and truthful job, difficult to read and write, but truthful. Here’s the thing about suicide, mentally ill people, who commit suicide are not well. They do it because of the illness. If they were their well selves, they would never do it. Either they are totally out of touch with reality and are having auditory, or visual, or some sort of hallucinations, so the voices tell them to do something and they listen. Or they are in so much pain, as happens in a depression, that they just want to stop the pain. Again, it is mental illness that makes them do it. I have been in a depression so severe that I seriously thought about and even planned my suicide. I couldn’t stand the pain and I couldn’t stand to live without myself, because the depression had swallowed me up whole and I was gone. My personality was gone, I was gone. This blank, hopeless, scared, shadow of a person, this was not the real me. It was not the Me who is typing this post. It was my mental illness, it was my illness, it was illness. If I had died by my own hands, it wouldn’t really have been so. Just like someone dies of cancer, I would have died of a possibly terminal illness named bipolar d/o.
It takes a lot, a lot, a lot of strength to live with mental illness. For me, I have to do it because I have a son, a niece, a nephew, a brother and a sister. I won’t put them through the trauma we went through after my brother. I will absolutely not! I so wish Natalie Fuller could have been saved.
Here’s the The Washington Post article, it’s called “My daughter, who lost her battle with mental illness, is still the bravest person I know” (link below.) It’s about a young woman, who shortly before her 29th birthday, stepped in front of a train in Baltimore. Her mother wrote the article. Natalie Fuller, this bright young woman went into a psychotic phase at age 22, in her sophomore year in college. As is typical, her mental illness symptoms had been developing, probably at least a year before she was diagnosed. She went into a psychotic phase (out of touch with reality), she started hearing voices that told her to do things, like trespass on her neighbors’ property. She was arrested for this, which is also pretty typical. Finally, she was diagnosed with severe bipolar d/o, in a severe manic phase. She was hospitalized for 2 months, given medication until she was symptom free, and then released. She came home just like her normal, effervescent, energetic, bright self, stayed with her mother, cooked, made art work. She went back to college, to start her senior year. And then… she abruptly stopped taking her medication and fell ill again. She again had to be hospitalized, this time for 8 months! Again she was put on medication, and came home in a normal state, although, according to her mother, more subdued, less like herself. The illness had taken its toll on her. (This is usually not the case with bipolar d/o, recovery is pretty complete, no lasting effects as long as you stay on the meds. Of course, there are medication side effects that can cause fatigue and weakness.) She went through this cycle many times. Even if she missed her meds for a few days, the voices would come back, and the voices invariably told her to stop the meds totally. The final time she went into this cycle, she was convinced that she was 1/4 people for whom drugs did not work. She made the decision to stop taking the meds altogether. And a few months later, she stepped in front of a train.
This is all so familiar. My brother. My brother. He had been showing symptoms for, most likely, a year and a half before he had his psychotic break (break with reality.) He heard voices. We had to call the police to get him hospitalized. They gave him meds in the hospital that returned him to his normal state of being, as right as rain. He was convinced he didn’t need the meds, although he did, desperately need them, he was convinced that he could control his own brain. No one could convince him otherwise. He would throw all his meds in the trash dumpster outside the hospital the day he was released. This cycle repeated itself five or six times. Each time, he would be hospitalized, put on lithium and other meds, each time he became absolutely normal, each time, upon release, he would throw out his meds. Until finally, his wife left him, taking the children, I know the last morning he was alive, he called his wife at 7 am and asked to speak to the kids, she told him he could not, they were asleep. At 8 am he left… and he was gone. We never saw him again. My sweet, movie star handsome, very intelligent, kind, loving, sensitive, adorable and adored brother. I don’t know if the voices told him to stop taking his meds, but he lost his battle with this infernal disease. I wish I’d never heard of bipolar d/o, I wish I didn’t know anything about it, I wish my brother was still here, I wish I hadn’t spent half my life battling this illness. No one really wins against it. You cope, you fight, you live. The more severe the form, the more severe the loss. It is not a blessing in any way, as some deluded people seem to think so. It is loss. Sorry, it’s very hard not be negative and sad after talking about my baby brother. Mostly, I am fine though. And as long as people stay on their meds, they will be, more or less, fine as well.
But here are some statistics that may help if you or your loved one is newly diagnosed:
- Typically people have symptoms for 70 weeks before they are diagnosed with a psychotic mental illness.
- Often people are arrested and put in jail in psychotic phases.
- Often people start exhibiting symptoms (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20027544) in their late teens or early twenties.
- Many newly mentally ill people maintain that they “are fine, everybody else is crazy.”
- Mentally ill people also come off their meds, and of course they get sick again. Perhaps it’s because they miss the high of mania… (my manias are not high, but very anxious, in a way this is lucky, because I don’t miss the anxiety when I am not manic.)
- And if they stop their meds, if we stop our meds, the outcome can be devastating.