When I was asked to write for The Socialist, I set a few rules for myself when I accepted the offer. Among those were that I wouldnʼt write in first person, and I wouldnʼt write about myself. There are far more important problems in the world than mine, and thatʼs what people come here to read about.
However, I want to break those rules here, for a variety of reasons. First, Iʼm all too aware that the problems Iʼve had with our healthcare system in the U.S. are far from unique, and I think that makes it important that the stories of people these problems affect should be told. Second, I suppose I would just like to talk about it, because I hope that this will be read by one of those people with similar problems to let them know that they arenʼt as alone as a mental health problem can make you feel in America.
On March 31st, I had a nervous breakdown after getting into an argument with my mother. It wasnʼt pretty. I spent two hours uncontrollably sobbing, convulsing, and experiencing other symptoms I donʼt wish to discuss. The entire ordeal was incredibly frightening and stressful — not only for myself, but also for my family. It also didnʼt revolve around the argument I had with my mother that morning, but by the feelings of hopelessness and despair that I began to experience shortly after.
I was diagnosed with severe manic depression several years ago, and, unfortunately, stressful situations can trigger reactions that are disproportionately extreme to the situation at hand. Iʼve seen enough therapists over the last decade and a half to form a pretty good pitching rotation at a psychologist World Series, and around two years ago, I finally found one who was extremely helpful. I spent quite a bit of time in talk therapy with him, and was also put on an SSRI, both of which helped me immensely — until, of course, the money ran out, and I was back to a psychological jail: do not pass go, please pay us $200 dollars if you wish to wake up and not be miserable first thing in the morning.
During the time I was in therapy and taking medications, I would wake up in an emotionally neutral state of mind and could motivate myself to do the things I wanted, such as writing, playing music, exercising, and attempting to socialize after dealing with years of intense anxiety when attempting to talk to others, particularly women.
When I ran out of money for therapy and medications, itʼs important to realize that I did, indeed, have healthcare benefits through my work. Unfortunately, to be blunt, they absolutely suck. Since then, Iʼve searched for ways to afford the mental healthcare I need and want, but the punitive Roman Orgy that is our healthcare system, combined with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbettʼs assault on the social safety net in our state has so far left me unsuccessful. Iʼve grown steadily more depressed, and once again have begun to lose the motivation to get out of bed. I still try, because when you have people who depend on you, your life is no longer just your own, but it gets harder and harder every damn day.
If it seems like Iʼm bitter, Iʼm not. Iʼm angry. Very angry. Iʼm angry that I have been working full-time hours to be “part-time” since the day I graduated high school and have never spent a day of my adult life unemployed just so that I can be broke and be denied access to the mental healthcare I need to experience a quality of life befitting a human being. Iʼm beyond irate that plutocratic dorks like Paul Ryan and Kevin OʼLeary talk about the poverty and misery they have tasted as a form of motivation for people to “work harder.”
I have a full-time “part-time” job, have never been unemployed, and have only called off of work once because of a family medical emergency, despite the fact that there have been days when just leaving my house is an emotionally shattering experience. Even on March 31st, the aforementioned day of my most recent nervous breakdown, I sucked it up and reported to work for an eight-hour shift, despite the fact that I spent most of that time trying desperately to hold myself together. Iʼm also cognizant of the fact that there are millions of people in worse situations, working even harder for even less, and that sends me into a dimension beyond rage that I canʼt accurately put into words.
I am not lazy; nor are the millions of people like me. When just keeping yourself alive becomes a Herculean effort at random intervals, everything you do takes more energy and work than it should, even things you should enjoy. I am not a taker; nor are the millions of people like me. We ask for nothing but the basic dignity that should be extended to every human being on this planet, and instead of receiving that basic respect, we are asked to give just a little more each and every day. We go to work, we raise children, and we survive. We are not about to become the next Bill Gates, nor is our position one from which that is possible. In the words of my good friend Barry Conley, “The idea that the poor of the world are a kind of petri dish from which a millionaire may be spawned if enough pain is applied is an evil, death-worshipping mentality that must be eradicated if the human race is to survive.”
I would say that we will endure and survive until we can enjoy the quality of care and respect we deserve as people of the world, but the sad truth is that many of us will not. Some of us will turn to drugs or alcohol and drown our sorrows – and sometimes ourselves — in a chemical ocean. Some of us will become violent and lose our chance for improvement at the hands of a legal system and a society that views mental illness as a character flaw instead of a chronic health problem that needs medical attention. Some of us will become overwhelmed and take our own lives, much like my father did when I was 15. I only met him once, and his sad demise and the damage it caused for so many lives is as much a story of the failure of the richest country in the world to extend the benefits of its position to all its people equally as it is of his struggle with his own personal demons.
As much as I wish that I could write some positive, glowing rallying cry for victory, I canʼt be that condescending. I wonʼt promise that tomorrow will be a better day, because it wonʼt until millions of people all across this nation and this planet raise their voices together and say that whether we are able-bodied and able-minded or not, whether we are male or female, whether we are Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or of any of the Earthʼs amazing and historic races, whether we have a million differences or not, we are all human beings and we will not rest until basic human dignity is the birthright of every man, woman, and child on this earth, and not just a privilege enjoyed by a select few.
The faith that I have that someday will be that day is one of the few things that keeps me going when the night becomes its darkest. And on that day I will take a moment to look back at all of the strong and amazing people who deserved better, whom sadly wonʼt get to look upon that new dawn and were unwillingly martyred by a callous, uncaring system that viewed their lives as less important than the numbers of a balance sheet or a stock exchange. Socialism will not bring those people back. It can, however, provide the best chance to make sure their stories are not repeated, and that is why there will be millions of people joining me on that brilliant dawn for one last look back at all that was lost. We will fight, we will struggle, and eventually we will prevail; not just for ourselves, but also for our loved ones who deserved better.