The Santa Clara
February 1, 2018
A kid named Brent told me that in the summer of 2013. I was 19 years old, and I had just had a psychotic break. I started insisting that Kanye West had hacked my computer to tell me I was Jesus. My roommates were terrified. They called the police to our apartment, and I was put on an involuntary hold for psychiatric evaluation.
They took me to a general hospital where I ended up getting sedated because I would not stop screaming about speaking with an attorney. I was then transported down the coast from the university I was attending to a psych ward in Pasadena.
When I finally woke from the sedatives, I was in a white room, totally disoriented, without any idea where I was. That kid Brent was standing by the door. To this day, I do not know what his diagnosis was, but the perpetual thousand yard stare he had still sticks with me.
A few minutes after I came to, a nurse announced that it was “cigarette time.” My fellow patients and I were marched out from our locked ward onto a patio by a postage stamp lawn and handed Newports. All of the furniture was bolted down.
The sedatives kept me from being able to process where I was, but with each passing second, I was becoming more and more cognizant of my surroundings.
The entire yard was surrounded by a massive brick wall. I noticed that no one around me had shoelaces, and I saw a group therapy session in progress.
Then the sedatives wore off entirely, and I had the clarity to realize that everyone around me had a mental illness. My heart dropped, I had been committed to a psych ward: The place where society gathers and confines the people it prefers not to think about. It was an absolute f***ing nightmare.
Brent was sitting next to me on the patio. When I turned to him, I could tell he knew that I figured out what was going on, but I still told him, “Holy s**t; I just realized where I am.”
He stared through me and said, “Yeah. You’re dead.”
I was discharged prematurely from that hospital and spent the next month in the throes of psychosis. When I finally came down, my entire life up to that point was over. I had terrified virtually everyone I knew, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the physical and mental toll the episode took on me had left me unable to speak in complete sentences.
By some miracle, I recovered and am in a position to tell you that story, but not a day goes by without me hearing the words Brent said to me on that patio.
Because he is absolutely right; for far too many people, mental illness is a death sentence. It is a death sentence for the patients in that hospital without the resources and support necessary to make a recovery like I did. It is a death sentence for Brent—who had not seen the outside of a locked ward since he was a teenager. And at its ugliest, mental illness is a death sentence for the 44,000 Americans who commit suicide every year.
18.2 percent of the adult population in the United States are dealing with some form of mental illness, but the level of conversation surrounding it does not suit that figure. For an issue with such dire and wide-reaching implications, we do not talk nearly enough about it. That is because mental illness can be a death sentence in the social and professional realms too.
In 2009, The Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that 68 percent of Americans did not want someone with mental illness marrying into their family, and 58 percent did not want people with mental illness in their workplace.
I would venture to guess that several of you reading this article right now are suffering from one of these afflictions, and it would not surprise me if you do not talk as candidly about your experiences as you would like to.
When I was discharged from my second hospital stay—when I finally came back to reality—the general consensus from the people who treated me was essentially, “It is totally okay to go through what you went through, but keep it to yourself.”
I am sure many of you out there understand that sentiment. There is a lot of shame and pressure surrounding this topic. Talking about personal struggles with mental illness can be difficult, and hearing about others’ experiences can be just as hard.
I am never going to be happy about having a mental illness, but I am sure as hell never going to be ashamed of it either. My condition and the experiences that came with it do not define me, but they were integral in making me who I am. If I cannot speak openly about what bipolar disorder has put me through, I am compromising a piece of my identity. Anyone with one of these conditions should have the liberty and support to feel the same way.
So to those of you reading this, suffering from one of these illnesses, I am not demanding that you disclose what you are going through to everyone you meet. Even I do not do that.
I am just telling you that you should feel empowered to say something if you want or need to. It is an unnerving prospect, I know, but no stigma was ever eradicated by going unchallenged.
A more productive discourse on this issue starts with us. We must have the boldness to speak openly about mental illness and the compassion and good sense to listen.
What Brent told me on that patio will always haunt me; the best we can do is work to prove it wrong.
Jay Fuchs is a senior communication major.