NAMI Walk Kickoff Luncheon March 31, 2010
Have you ever stayed up for 24 hours without sleep? 48 hours? Maybe in college you partied all night and into the weekend. How did you feel? How did you act? How did you look? Could you easily perform normal tasks like reading a chapter in a text to prepare for a test? Living with mental illness is often described as always feeling like this, day after day, week after week, year after year.
Think of the saddest day of your life. Perhaps when your first love broke up with you. Perhaps when someone you loved died. Your parents, your child, or even a beloved pet. Perhaps it was the saddest several days in a row. Depression, a mental illness, is like the saddest days of your life, EVERY DAY, for weeks, months or years at a time without relief.
Have you ever lost your sunglasses or car keys and no matter what you did, you couldn’t find them? How did it make you feel? Did you feel like screaming? Can you even imagine what it would be like to feel that you’ve lost your own sense of what is real and what is not? Where you are and who you can trust? Not trusting even your own family!
We trust our brains to tell us the truth, what we see, what we hear, what we understand as reality. Today our brains tell us we are at the 2010 NAMI Walk Kickoff Luncheon. We believe that. Why not? Would you argue with yourself that you were not really here? Maybe at church or perhaps enjoying a indoor barbeque party? Of course not. But what if when you went to your home this evening, made yourself a sandwich with your bread and jelly from your refrigerator and then went into your living room, sat in your chair and turned on your TV to watch your favorite TV show. Then suddenly someone bursts into your home screaming at you that you were in their home, eating their food, sitting in their chair and watching their TV! They call the police and you are arrested and tossed in jail for trespass and burglary. In your own home! Or so your brain told you. Mental illness is like that, and this really happens, all too often.
Can you begin to imagine the confusion, the pain, the sadness, the horror of living with a mental illness? Mental illness not only effects that way your brain thinks and processes information it takes away your own sense of self worth, makes you ashamed of yourself and because of that, often separates you from those who love you the most, your own family! I talked to a talented artist who lives with mental illness the other day. She told me that although people think she looks normal on the outside they don’t see that her brain is “in a wheelchair.”
Living with mental illness in this time is akin to living with Leprosy 2,000 years ago. You are made to feel ashamed, alone, unclean, unwanted, unloved and even personally responsible for your own situation!
Stella March, who founded NAMI StigmaBusters, says: “…stigma keeps families from accepting a loved one’s illness and seeking treatment for them, and it also marginalizes those who are afflicted. Why else would it be socially acceptable for them to sleep on filthy and dangerous streets? Would anyone tolerate an outdoor dumping ground for victims of cancer, ALS and Parkinson’s?”
All over the United States our jails have become the housing for our people who live with mental illness. Jails which are not equipped for, or even able to provide the basic medical care necessary for someone who lives with a mental illness.
Without available housing people are kept in jail cells because the judges don’t, or can’t, release someone to the streets just when they are making progress in their recovery.
Mental illness is a progressive disease which when left untreated, or not treated properly, for a long period of time, is progressively less able to respond to treatment. Treatment MUST come early, long before the disease takes its victim to living lost and alone on our streets.
I don’t tell you these things to make you feel sorry for those who live with mental illness, I tell you so you can more understand the disease. It is my hope that you also feel more compassion for those who live and suffer daily with this sometimes invisible, sometimes all too visible a disease.
Today there are approximately 300 people here. On your way you probably encountered another 50 people or so, on the sidewalk, on the street on in the autos you passed by. 1 in 4 or 25% of those people live with mental illness. About 90 people! Did, or do, they look scary? Didn’t they look just like you? You see, you have no reason to fear most of the people who live with mental illness even if they are filthy and standing on a street corner yelling at no one you can see. They may act different sometimes, but they are not usually dangerous people. For statistically you really have more to fear from the executive in a suit driving on your street, who stopped at the bar on his way home to wash away his troubles.
Today I want to tell you about a beautiful, talented and gifted young man. He was a self taught computer engineer who helped develop some of the things we all use every day, such as the way your computer sleeps when you don’t move the mouse for a while. He went to Taiwan for HP to set up the lab where they test their laptops. He was a top support technician for Gateway Computers. And he didn’t finish high school! He was considered a genius. He was a talented musician. He was reading at a third grade level when in the first grade. He was reading the Wall Street Journal every day and investing in stocks when he quit high school to join the Army. He was highly respected and desired in the computer industry. He made more money per hour in wages than I ever have. But he lived with a mental illness that tormented him and thus his family. He saw only one way to stop the demons that he lived with daily.
My son, Anthony Lawton Anderson, one day in November 2001 came to our home and mixed the only medication that wasn’t locked up in our safe, a few aspirin, into rubbing alcohol. He then injected this toxic mixture into his arm with his mother’s insulin syringes. He died within 12 hours and left his family to wonder why they had not been able to help or even to save him. How, why, where did he get such a horrible idea?
That was the beginning of my journey to find a purpose to what I’d gone through. In my search for answers to questions that can’t be answered, I found NAMI. I found not only the help and support I needed, I found a way to make my tragedy into something good. Something I can be proud of. Through NAMI I found that I can make a difference for others who live with mental illness and for those who love them. That is why I walk and why I’m here today to ask you to join with me.
So what can you personally do? I challenge you to stand up and be heard when you hear someone spread misinformation about mental illness and it causes. Take the free Family to Family class offered my NAMI and learn more about mental illness. Read Pete Earley’s book, Crazy a headlong look into the maze of contradictions, disparities and Catch-22s that make up America's mental health system. Read Steve Lopez’s book The Soloist, the true story of his friend Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician who lives with schizophrenia and is considered a cello prodigy. Mr. Lopez discovered Mr. Ayers on the streets of Los Angeles and first wrote about him in his newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. The book was made into a film which was debuted at the 2009 NAMI National Convention. Read Rev. Craig Rennebaum’s book Souls in the hands of a tender God. Learn how Rev. Rennebaum has made such a big difference walking the streets of Seattle for over 25 years, simply doing what he calls “companioning” with those who live on those streets. Form or join a Walk team. Write a check and ask your friends to write one too. Most of all, be a friend.
For those who live with mental illness are us, our parents, our siblings, our extended family and our children. 1 in 4 families are affected by a loved one who lives with mental illness. Mental illness kills more people than any other one disease. Those who live with mental illness die an average of 25 years sooner than the rest of the population. Suicide kills someone every 15 1/2 minutes in the United States, 2 a day in Oregon, which rates 8 highest in the United States, and the rate is climbing. Every minute of every day someone attempts suicide. Since we’ve been here at the Doubletree Inn today almost 90 people have made an attempt to end their lives across this country!
Here in Oregon we are facing a crisis. We have thousands of veterans scheduled to return home this spring. The military officials say that 30 to 40% of these solders are suffering from mental illness. Our system is already overworked and there are already many many more people who live daily with mental illness not being helped. We can’t ignore this problem any longer. We must step up to help. NAMI volunteers are in the forefront of the efforts to make a difference. We need you to join with us. We need your donations.
Your donations to the walk will make a huge difference and they are needed now more than ever before. Housing will also make a difference. Jobs will also make a difference. As past NAMI-National Board Member Fred Frese says: “Not 40 hours a week, for those jobs are hard to find, and for those who live with mental illness, a 40 hour a week maybe impossible to do & keep. Only 3 hours a week can change a life and make recovery possible. Any small job will make someone feel better about themselves.” (Jobs such as working at the Warm Line, a program sponsored by Clackamas County Behavioral Health and NAMI.)
Mental Illness killed my precious son Tony. Please join with me in this mission to make a difference to do all we can to prevent another’s loved family member from losing the battle with mental illness or having to live on the streets of our communities lost, alone, ashamed, hungry, afraid, cold, wet, and in squalor.
Mark S. Anderson
President NAMI-Clackamas County
March 31, 2010