Monday, April 15, 2024

Mental Illness

 I had a beautiful sister who suffered from schizophrenia. What she suffered more from was the ignorance about and the shame of mental illness.

I went to Writer's Police Academy last year. I actually enjoy learning about police work and I do enjoy hearing men and women who work in the field give their experiences and opinions. Occasionally, I get ideas for characters. Sometimes these characters are not based on law enforcement but more the idiosyncrasies of the average person I meet at these events. One time I saw a woman look at me and start scribbling feverishly. Whether it was me or just inspiration had struck her; I knew I was not alone.

What moved me the most was how people constantly referred to criminals as mentally ill. There was a point that I stood and told them that mentally ill people were no more likely to commit a crime than any other person. 

Mentally ill people face enough stigma without writers encouraging those beliefs. In 20 or 50 years, we may see where books, movies, personalities are not considered acceptable in how they deal with people who have had mental illness.

When I taught school, my co workers were always amazed when I accurately predicted low IQ versus a learning disability or bad behavior versus a behavior disorder. I never shared that I had a developmentally disabled brother and a mentally ill sister. Let's face it, the stigma is there. Most people are very gracious but you have politics no matter where you work. I did not want to give someone ammunition to use against me. Familiarity can breed contempt.

There is a whole category of criminal behavior with people who have antisocial personality disorder. There are so many different sorts of mental illness that are not antisocial personality disorder. There are so many criminals who commit crimes who do not have antisocial personality disorder.

Some mental illnesses are more popular than others. Depression is common. Frankly, I have mild depression and have had it my entire life. My depression is not suicidal ideation. It is more like I don't feel like I can do something like change the oil in my riding mower. I have to will myself to go ahead and just do it. I do it. It wasn't that bad.

I always resisted taking medication and I don't know why. So many became prozac salespeople after taking the medication about thirty years ago. I have had a  lot of stress taking care of a sister who had a stroke. She has mild cognitive impairment and it is aggravating as heck. As my doctor told me, people with dementia are more critical of the people they are close to. I now take Wellbutrin. It was a good idea.

I have not been that serious working on a memoir about my life with my sister. The purpose would be to educate people. First my parents then myself sacrificed a lot to give her a decent life. I'm not a saint. I remember when she first moved in my home. One thing that aggravated me the most was her complaining that I got rid of her mattresses, and the mattresses on my bed hurt her back. I was sleeping on a sofa so she could have my bed. I seethed inside about this inconsiderate baloney. 

Before my sister passed, she had become a helpmate to me in running my household of people and animals. One day we were in the car together. She had been to the doctor and we were laughing and considering a stop at a store for a bit of retail therapy. And we looked at each other with the realisation. WE needed to get home to take care of the three people we cared for. It is not the most glamorous life. But my sister did get the satisfaction of being a responsible caregiver. 

I recognized she was dealing with a loss of autonomy. In the United States, the system is set up where it is much easier to live under a bridge with no income than get help for mental illness. 

Are you meshuggah, Are you crazy, or My life with a homicidal maniac are all possible sarcastic titles for my memoir.  If the book could dispel some stigma of mental illness, I would be content. 

I have published nothing. If I write fiction, my pen name will be Willie Maude which was a popular name 100 years ago in Georgia. But the memoir will be by Ann Bennett. I don't want to perpetuate that shame. There used to be shame about a cancer diagnosis in that there was no treatment. With treatments continually being developed for mental illness, hopefully the shame will be lessened like it was for cancer victims. 


  1. It is past time that shame and mental illness were separated.

  2. I remember back in the 1970s I think it was when the large mental institutions were closed all across America. The town I lived in had a giant red brick building taking up 2 city blocks that used to be the mental hospital. It was empty and abandoned. I wondered at the time, what happens to the patients? I know there were problems in the system but that seemed like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  3. Wonderful post. I've never known anyone personally with a mental illness, but appreciate your insight. BTW, I was at last year's WPA and had a blast! It was my second time. Oh, and I hope you will do some writing under the pen name of Willie Maude. I love it!

  4. I had an aunt and a first cousin who suffered from schizophrenia and a brother in law who is autistic and suffers greatly from anxiety. My first cousin also suffered from OCD including compulsive hand washing. Our support systems for families and other caregivers of those whose illnesses prevent them from caring for themselves is so broken. And the shame - yes. Just like when my best friend from childhood was diagnosed with cancer when she was 29. It was years before she would even utter the word "cancer" in my presence. I hope you can find your way to writing this memoir. It's needed.

    1. Sorry, forgot to sign my name to the above comment. Visiting from A to Z: Alana


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