Do you ever think about how your life could have been different if it weren’t for a bunch of people you never knew?
Sometimes I find myself wondering what it was like to live with a mental illness many years ago. I ask myself how my life might have been different if I were born at a different time. Or how my life might be different now, if there weren’t so many people who lived the lives they did before mine.
Then I am humbled and left feeling immensely grateful to all those who ‘went crazy’ first.
When you look back over the history of mental illness, it becomes clear that we have made great progress over time. After all, I have had two major bipolar episodes and I can safely say that no one has ever called me a ‘raving lunatic’ or threatened to tie me down in my home because I was so ‘fit to be tied’.
No doctor has ever suggested that a lobotomy was the way to go for my treatment. I try to imagine a time where drilling a hole in my head to let ‘my emotions out and stabilize my personality’ would sound like a good idea to my loved ones.
When I take my medications, sometimes I can’t help but think about all the people who lived without the option of medicine. So many treatments that with hindsight seem ‘crazy’ themselves, were all that these people had. Being spun round and round for hours or even days in ‘spinning machines’ in order to cause the blood to go to the brain and induce vomiting, was thought to be helpful. Or being confined to iron cages or sentenced to cold baths during episodes of ‘madness’ were believed to temper the crisis.
I have never been sentenced to isolation or sent to a ‘madhouse’. Nor have I been squirreled away for indefinite periods of time without access to my children. I have been a present, loving mother and I am grateful it will stay that way.
When my second son was born, I knew with certainty that my family was complete. My husband and I made the decision not to have any more children. I struggle to understand a time when that decision might not have rested with us. How easily I could have been sterilized so as not to pass on the ‘crazy genes’ to the next generation.
I think about the countless people who withered alone in asylums long before we realized that living amongst loved ones in our communities was much better for our mental health than isolation and confinement.
I think about how all of these people who went before me will remain nameless to me. And yet I am so incredibly indebted to them for the sacrifice and hardship they endured.
How I wish that I could say a simple thank you for going first.