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What I need

 

a latte

 

a bath

 

 

 

a good book

 

 

 

 

 

 

my friends from back

 another latte

 

a massage {preferably from a muscular man named ricardo}

 

 

 

 

a beach vacation with fruity rum drinks and naps in the shade

 

 

 

 

 

cuddles from my boys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time. Time to do all of the above

 

what do you need?

It’s not like they’re picking on a real disease

 

 

And I should not be offended because I’m not “that type” of crazy person. I mean, it’s okay to make fun of lunatics in straight jackets who are locked up psychiatric wards because it’s not like they are people like me, the not “as crazy”, crazy person.

I shouldn’t be offended by their gyrations on the gym floor, clad in straight jackets with wild eyes and disheveled hair. Maybe I shouldn’t be offended, but I am. In fact I’m twice as offended.

For the second time the public has witnessed a dance team’s routine involving straight jackets and dance moves emulating stereotypical behaviors of a psychiatric ward patient. For the second time, those who advocate for mental illness should be expected to put on thicker skin and just know that they aren’t dancing about my friends and family, but just the Hollywood stereotype of a mad man. What these teams don’t realize is it’s ignorant and hurtful.

The Robert Morris University Dance Team  (pictured above) is the latest example of this ignorance. The team recently won 2nd place in their division doing a “Psych Ward” routine.

Less than 300 miles and two months ago, the cheer team of Waunakee High School donned white straight jackets with “Psych Ward” written boldly on the back and danced to songs such as “I get crazy” and “Get out of your mind” one of which even started with maniacal laughter.

These types of stereotypes sting the mental health community. Advocates who fight adversity are met with an uphill battle that is only made only worse by events such as this. It demeans the real experience of those suffering with a mental illness and does nothing to break stereotypes.

It also suggests that mental illness is not a real illness. That it does not measure up to things such as diabetes, heart disease or other long-term illnesses.  Mental illness can be a disability like cerebral palsy or Alzheimer’s, yet you would never see someone perform a cerebral palsy routine. That would be crass and the outcry would be enormous.

So why do people not see that those who take offense to routines such as these do not need to “just lighten up” (as NBC Sports’ Rich Chandler stated in response to hearing about the outcry at Waunakee High)?

Why can’t people like Rich look at a set of straight jackets and think about people who have possibly worn them and consider the fact that this illness has victims just like any other, instead of putting the blame onto those who feel offended?

As a nation we should be aware of just how prevalent mental illness is. 1 in every 10 people will suffer from a mental illness.  And what this statistic also illustrates is that, at least one girl on each of those dance teams suffers or will suffer from a mental illness.

I’d like to believe it’s mostly people’s obliviousness to others’ struggles that makes them inadvertently discriminatory. However, I’m more inclined to think that there is an underlying second issue; that people still have a lot of fear around mental illnesses.  They fear the unknown, fear the crazies that shown in the media as dangerous murderers and the fear that their family could be subjected to such a terrible thing too.

These beliefs will only propagate if we let dance routines like these go without notice, without a call to action, without letters to the coaches and principals. Turning a blind eye only serves as a breeding ground for hatred and misinformation.

Mental health patients should not be made light of and their struggles should not be conveyed in a demeaning fashion. This disease strips a person of so much dignity as it is, that it is a disservice to them as human beings to allow for any further assaults to be aimed in their direction.

I know these dance teams did not put together their routines to create a offensive experience for the mental health community. They did so because they did not have the insight to see the insensitivity or the understanding of what it is to suffer from a mental illness.

I am not here to assault them; I simply want to make an example of them. I want to remind people to stop and think about what their actions might mean to others before acting.

Because you never know who that 1 in 10 might be.

 

Waunakee High School sent an apology letter to a young blogger, Erika, who sent a very heartfelt letter to the coach about her struggles and how she felt discriminated against.  They are now working with NAMI of Wisconsin to become more educated about mental illness.

The Robert Morris University Dance Team was sent a beautiful letter by Chrisa Hickey and has not had a response to this date.

Despite multiple requests for an apology Rick Chandler has not issued any sort of response for his insensitive remarks.  I have recently contacted NBC Sports about Rick’s comments and have not heard back from them as of yet.

 

Room 432

 

A stillness filled the room as the door behind me was shut with a light click.  Standing just outside the doorway I am afraid to take a step forward, afraid to empty the contents of the paper bag into my new space.

There was no tour of the place I will live for days to come, just a simple gesture from the staff to enter room 432.  A number forever engrained within my mind.

My eyes dart about the dim room searching for some sense of familiarity; something, anything.  Defeated, they close momentarily.  As they open, they begin to circulate the room again.

A partially open door to my right catches my attention.  I poke it quickly and it opens to expose a sink mounted to the wall. The silver faucet shines as the new light hits it, producing the only light within the room.

Stepping in further reveals a toilet, but no shower.  Having to walk down the hall to shower was not appealing.

Retreating to my starting point, I am able to see the lay of the room.  Situated on the left was a low bed bearing much resemblance to a hospital bed but without rails and fancy buttons to call upon nurses. It had a short headboard, laminated with a faux wood finish.  Running my hands down the imposter wood grain, I wondered how many heads had rested against it; people just like me, scared, alone, with the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Standing next to a laminate side table, I pull at the curtain divider watching it glide on the metal track affixed to the ceiling.  A mirror image of the other side of the room comes into full view.

At the end of the room there is a row of vertical vinyl blinds that span the majority of the wall. After a few somber steps I find myself face to face with the beaded pulley.  Slowly, the blinds cascade back, each panel meeting it’s predecessor with a tiny click.

Light floods the room, illuminating the pearl, raised, brush stroke designs on the eggshell wallpaper.  As my eyes slowly adjust to the change in light, two brick towers come into view, the east wing and the north wing.  I recognize the view facing the back- side of the building as I saw it each day on the way to work. Cars on the freeway rush by, confirming that the world has, in fact, not stopped.

Careening my neck to the side, I glance up to see two words written across the tallest tower; Regions Hospital, spelled out in shiny cobalt blue letters.  I yanked the blinds back forcefully.  I knew where I was; there was no need to stare at an articulation of my predicament.

Suddenly, the bed seemed appealing.  Flinging the paper bag with my only possessions on the side table, I fell softly into bed. The mattress crinkled beneath my weight and the stiff sheets itch on my skin but it didn’t matter, I was exhausted.

For the first time since my arrival, I listened.  The madness, depression and inner-turmoil were palpable but unheard through the thick wooden door.  Only the muffled sounds of voices and the patter of feet on the linoleum floor resonated through the halls.

As I closed my eyes continuing to listen, I questioned, where was the sound of my recovery?  It certainly couldn’t be heard from room 432.

 

This was written for The Red Dress Club. The assignment was to write about a room you had been in; how it looked, what it smelt like and what it sounded like.  I wrote about my hospital room in the mental health unit where I was admitted for postpartum depression and psychosis in November 2009.  

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