ON MENTAL ILLNESS:Embracing getting a little older

Jack Bragen
Friday April 14, 2017 - 08:11:00 AM

Don't get me wrong, I am not old yet and haven't yet reached 55 years. However, people with severe psychiatric illness often don't make it to their forties or fifties...  

When you get older, the body shows signs of it. One's front may no longer be firm, and instead might sag, partly depending on how well one has or hasn't maintained oneself. In back, things may become flattened out. The hair goes gray and sometimes white. Someone once looked at me and said, "When your chest hair turns gray, forget about it."  

It is nice to have made it this far. However, here is where the battle begins. The proverbial fight against aging; how long it has existed, I do not know. People used to have a life expectancy of thirty. With modern medical science as well as improvements in living conditions, it has become fairly common for people to live to ninety. When you get to be in your fifties, that's when aging really seems to hit; the illusion of invincibility is gone, and one starts doing things to try and hang in there longer and in better health.  

This is what I would call, the Viagra/Lipitor/Botox generation. In the 1980’s, we were called, "The coffee generation." 

Partly due to taking massive amounts of antipsychotic meds for decades, in some ways I am a fifty-something with the body of a seventy-year-old. Many persons with severe mental illness drop dead before reaching my age, because of the numerous health hazards and dangers of being mentally ill. 

A number of us have become physically distorted, obese, and otherwise impacted, because of the effects of medication.  

The mental health treatment system doesn't prioritize the physical wellness of psychiatric consumers. They manage to infantilize us and at the same time ruin our health when, at times, they try to bribe us with sugary and/or fatty junk foods.  

For example, people from a mental health program showed up unannounced at my door with a giant box of cupcakes, incorrectly assuming I would be bedazzled by this and would let them into my home. Other mental health organizations are generous with the sweets, and with other fatty high calorie foods. Furthermore, they do not do anything to help us quit smoking--some have even condoned it.  

In fact, I believe our lives aren't valued. We are cutified, and when we drop dead at a young age, no big deal is made of it.  

But I value myself, and I won't spend my time around people who are condescending, who are infantilizing, and who, idiotically believe I am an idiot because I am mentally ill. If truth be told, I have more brains than most of the mental health professionals with whom I interact. Yet it is not unusual for fools to underestimate me.  

I am a much more aware person than I was just a few years ago. If I live long enough, there is a lot I can accomplish. I definitely have reasons for being here, and they seem to go beyond just looking out for my own enhancement.  

Getting older has given me the clarity I once lacked, that most people probably take for granted. I've had to relearn how to think. My self-taught "mental training," which borrows many of its concepts from Buddhist philosophy, hasn't cured my mental illness, but it has allowed me to do a lot better than I otherwise would.  

I am a late bloomer, by about thirty years. I hope to accomplish a lot in the time I have left. I could drop dead tomorrow, or I could be around for another twenty, thirty, of even forty years. This is according to a Zen proverb: the only thing of which we can be sure is "this breath."