01 July 2016

Keep your crazy to yourself



You! Crazy man! Put down the phone!

I might as well get into this now. 

No sense in waiting for the right moment. There is never really a right moment to share this story. 

There are many mental health advocates who urge those with, especially, depression, but other illnesses to take the lead and educate the people around them about their condition. 

This education includes friends, family and co-workers. The thought goes that by doing this, we help advocacy organizations lessen the stigma of mental illness by offering up ourselves as shining examples.

I’m here to tell you that’s not always good advice and can do much more harm than good. You have to gauge your audiences’ awareness level before venturing into territory that still frightens people – especially those who have been frightened by the media’s portrayal of mental illness.

I read about people who are successful at this and many of them credit their progressive employers for helping foster an understanding and tolerant workplace. 

Who might these companies be? Many of you might say Facebook, Microsoft, Google – companies that understand that genius can and many times does, come with a little madness. These companies look for people who can contribute to the bottom line while understanding that humans don’t come from a factory where the ‘defects’ are cast out to fend for themselves.

You might think the Federal Government might be one of these employers. After all, FedGov has unions, much to the dismay of conservatives. FedGov also has numerous employee programs designed to empower minorities and the LGBT community. FedGov believes in affirmative action and least restrictive work environments for employees. You get tons of paid time off and some of the best health insurance around depending on where you live. FedGov agencies even have various employee wellness programs and counseling services free of charge for those going through rough times.

Sounds like FedGov would be a haven for otherwise productive people who are managing their mental illness(es) as best they can, right?

You’d be wrong, at least in my case. I won’t mention my agency. . . for now.

It’s always painful to recall the events so rather than a blow-by-blow, the reader will get the abbreviated version.

Before lamotrigine, before Zoloft, it was last year at this time when I was going through a particularly difficult time with my bipolar/depression. The situation at work, which I still regard as hostile due to some of the people that were there, was exacerbating my mood swings horribly. Struggling to keep things together, I would confide with some of my coworkers the difficulty I was facing.

To sum up, my condition made my explanations sound somewhat histrionic and my dark and sometimes morbid humor and self-depreciation made my co-workers regard me with suspicion rather than understanding. What floored me was that everyone knew my condition and I had assumed they also understood both its effects and my sense of humor with which I fought it.

One morning in July, I walked in and told asked my co-worker “did you ever have one of those days when you wished you hadn’t woken up?”

It was nothing I hadn’t said before. He called my boss. Around 1:30 p.m. I was called by the agency police. I went to their office to fill out a contact form with my side of the story. I saw what he wrote and it amazed me. Not only did he write that he thought I was suicidal but he also played doctor and said I was abusing my medication (Ativan). 

I wrote my rebuttal and went back upstairs. I called my boss who said people were worried about me and told me to take the rest of the day off. I went home.

Of course, I stewed about it most of the night, getting little sleep. When something like this happens to a person with these conditions, it tends to send them into a tail spin. I was no different.

I called in sick the next day via email. My email was acknowledged by my boss and others.
I was sitting on the couch around 10:30 a.m. when my phone rang. It was a police officer who said he had had a hard time locating me and would I mind stepping outside to talk to him. My first thought was – why didn’t he ring the bell?

I found out why. My wife went to the door and saw a cordon of SWAT police and some guy in my driveway behind a Plexiglas shield. 

The cop, who I later found out, was a trained hostage negotiator, told me he needed to see my hands as I cautiously opened the screen door. I raised my hands – my right hand holding my smart phone which I let all the cops know was a smart phone. Slowly I walked down the steps where I was frisked on my wife’s car and then questioned. Then I saw the three sharpshooters on my neighbor’s porch that had me in their sights the minute I stepped out the door. One flinch. . .
Yeah. . .kinda like that

After five minutes of talking and showing the officers my phone, the cops were mad – but not at me. “I really don’t know what we’re doing here,” said the one lieutenant on the scene. The cordon was called in and the police actually apologized to me. 

Meanwhile, my wife was so distraught she had to be comforted by an officer. They wouldn’t let me talk to her for the first five minutes since they thought I was holding her hostage. 

None of the police knew, or would tell, how a ‘health and welfare’ check requested by my agency, turned into an armed hostage situation. You know, shit happens. To this day no one has told me what went wrong.

After the cops and the TV news crew that came snooping after them left, my wife and I collapsed in each other’s arms. I covered all the windows and spent the next few weeks living in the basement, not wanting to come out. My boss and my agency got a very sharply worded email that they’re still trying to get revenge on me for sending. These bastards are like the mob: they never forget or forgive.

But that is not the end of the story by any means. There was another incident, almost as serious, that happened in December that resulted in a suspension. And then one a few days ago that has let me know that they’re still gunning for me. 

More on those later.

All I want to say is that there is still too much of society that sees us as one brief step away from being a mass murderer. 

They don’t understand and some of them don’t want to understand. I’ve seen and dealt with enough of this bigotry raising a child with autism. America doesn’t like the imperfect or flawed. Hell, our eugenics program was copied by the Nazis in the 1930s.

Yes, America did this. And can do it again.
So I don’t believe in blanket encouragement to ‘teach’ about one’s mental illness because too many people either overreact or land up looking for ways to remove you from their lives or places of employment.

Or, in my case, almost kill me.