What we call it

I was talking with someone recently about the term mental illness. He was saying that he thought it was better to steer away from that term entirely. He said it keeps people in what is wrong and doesn’t allow for what is right. I have been thinking about this a lot. When I tell my story, I still tell people that I forayed into what we call mental illness even though I don’t call what I went through that when I am thinking to myself. But there is something that remains true, no matter how I evolve and what words I use to relate to people about the most profoundly challenging and changing time of my life. What is true is that I experienced what it is like in our culture to be a person considered by others to be mentally ill. I certainly had plenty of people telling me that there was something terribly wrong with me. And I had all of the experiences that accompany that, incredible loss, forced hospitalization, forced medication and a total collapse of an ordinary life. There is no forgetting the police cars and the handcuffs and the caged in smoking area in the state hospital which was the only place that I was allowed fresh air. Those experiences, on top of what was going on with me mentally and spiritually, are what I have had to live with and overcome the most. So, I think for now I am okay with telling people that I experienced what we call mental illness. Because it’s true. That we call it that and that I experienced it. Maybe someday the world will be more gentle for people like me. Maybe we will have room to grow through our experiences into that world of waking dreams we get lost in with the love and support of our family and care givers. Maybe we will feel cared for instead of locked away and coerced. I do hope so. Maybe it is already better now than it was ten years ago and people are experiencing things differently than I did. But whatever happens next for me in my journey, I can not forget where I have been.  And for me where I have been is intertwined with the consequences I faced when I went there. People had to pull me back, and their pulling was not the least bit gentle. I was bruised and battered when I finally came back to myself. They told me it was mental illness and I had to listen to them in order to be back in my life again. Does it matter what we call it? I think my friend was right, it does matter. The term mental illness is a term that tries to keep us small. And we are not small. But you will still find me talking about it this way because I am not sure the world is ready for us in all of our bigness quite yet.  

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