I’m often asked why I decided to write about such a sensitive topic, like schizophrenia, in my first book. I realize that mental illness is an often difficult subject to present, but that is precisely why I wrote it.
This has been a difficult week for a few people I care deeply about. You see, when a loved one has a mental illness of any kind, it quite simply shatters your world. Completely. Difficult decisions have to be made by a usually defiant person who can turn from the loving person you know into a vile stranger. That is what this disease does. It’s steals your loved ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s depression, bipolar or any other form of mental illness. The result is often the same. Someone you love is drowning and sometimes they can’t be saved. Can you imagine? Watching your husband or wife, son or daughter, best friend or co-worker slipping away, before your very eyes, and they are too far away to reach. They slip right from your fingers.
In one case this past week, a dear friend lost her brother to the disease in the most unimaginable way possible. She, and her family, had to watch and wait for this horrific ending that they knew was inevitable. Now, they are left to pick up the pieces while grieving for all they’ve lost. This family, along with friends, tried for YEARS to get him help, but unfortunately, the system is set up to protect a patients rights and not set up to hear the pleas from the people who know them best. In many cases, someone who is very ill don’t recognize they are ill and won’t seek treatment on their own. When their family intervenes, they are often met with denial and anger, which only furthers the distance between them. Professionals can’t reach them, or force treatment. Police can only step in if they are a threat to themselves or someone else and even at that, the resources are very limited on how to help. There is no law against someone who is acting erratically or talking out of character. Best case scenario is that they are involuntarily admitted for treatment, but the system is so over-saturated with cases (and by law) they are only required to stay between 7-10 days. That is not enough time for medications to work. It’s not enough time for them to realize the severity of their illness and to comprehend the ramifications of what will happen if they are not medicated. I am beyond heartbroken for my friend and her family who have to deal with this young mans death knowing that help was out there, but no way to get him there. The system completely, and utterly, failed them. No other disease is treated with such disregard, and negligence.
In my own life I’ve seen mental illness take over a family and turn loved one against loved one. In my novel, I wanted to show the effects of mental illness on the entire family because it does just that–Effects the whole family. Marriages crumble, relationships falter, and there is such hopelessness at watching your loved one slip far, far away. In my novel, the stories of a young woman in the throes of insanity, are all true stories. They are frightening and they are real, told to me by a family member. I could go on and on, but the fact remains that mental illness is probably the most unrecognized, most misunderstood disease there is. I wrote this story so maybe, in some small way, the bridge to understanding could be built. Mental illness is still considered taboo, but with all who are suffering it needs to be brought out in the open.
I’ve personally dealt with clinical depression for the last 15 years. Being told to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’ were often thrown at me, but just like a heart condition or diabetes (or any other number of illnesses) I had no control over it. We all have times when we are sad, or have a few blue days. This is different. It’s like seeing the world in color, and it slowly fading to grey. There is nothing you can do to stop it. There were times I sunk so deep into the illness that I literally thought I was going to die. Honestly? There were times I wanted to. The most horrific episode occurred when I was pregnant with my son. I had insomnia for days. I’d lay awake and wait for sleep to come, but it would never would. I could barely leave my house because of exhaustion and was sick to my stomach all the time. My employer was understanding, but grew impatient when I’d say I’d be in the next day and I just…couldn’t…even when I knew my clients and boss would be disappointed once again. I was so frightened. Here I was, pregnant with the baby I had waited so long for, and I wanted it all to be over. It was debilitating and if it wasn’t for the help of a few good doctors, and my husband, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s too scary to revisit those thoughts to imagine that ‘what ifs.’
So why did I choose to write a book about a girl who is so petrified about inheriting a mental illness that she lives her life as a lie? Because people just don’t get it. I want people to understand. I want people to treat others with mental illness with as much care and concern as they would if it was any disease. I want family and friends to be able to get treatment for those suffering without all the red tape and barricades. I want people to not have to feel embarrassed because there is an illness in their brain, and not any other part of their body. I want people to be compassionate to those with this ugly illness, and not be scared because they are ‘different.’
I want people to GET IT.
THAT is why I wrote it.