Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Andrew Steward: Beating Mental Illness

This talk was given at University of Denver. He excelled at school as a youngster. He even went to school in Ecuador, because he cared about poverty. Now he is a music student at DU. There is a middle chapter in his life and in that chapter he has a mental illness. He asks the question “What do you think of when you hear mental illness? Are you scared of it?” His mental illness started in 2005 he heard voices in his head and believed religious things that were related to his religion that were not based on reality. He was going to college in California and had taken a big load and he literally burned out, and that brought on his mental illness. One night in class he got the idea that Jesus was coming back eminently, so he got up left his backpack in the classroom and drove for five hours to the mountains to escape God’s wrath and the end of the world. “I know it sounds crazy that’s because it really was.” He was staring at the sky the entire time on literally some of the busiest interstates in America in southern California. He was being honked at by endless cars. “I honestly should have died in a tragic car accident this is what happens when mental illness descends upon someone they start to live in their own world.” His family and friends were starting to worry about him. His loving parents came out to pick him up and take him home. “You have to understand though, I thought I was totally fine.” It did not go over well with his father though you see his father is a trained Psychotherapist. He told him, he did not want to go home. He was told the only other option was to go to a mental hospital. “I don’t know what you guys have heard about mental hospitals but there pretty scary, and in my opinion there as bad as prisons. His roommate at the hospital said he was God, and that he was going to kill him. “Talk about not being able to sleep at night.” When he returned home from the hospital, the voice in his head was his roommates. Still it was talking to him, and telling him how to run his life. Over the coming months he would take pills that basically did not work. Then one day in the fall of 2006, he was in a really bad car accident and the very next day he lost his job. It shook him up considerably as it would anyone. He began to regress again. This time he began to see things that were not real. He began to see a snake. “I want you to imagine what this was like for me one minute I want you to put yourself in my shoes.” He saw a snake that was in front of his chest. “This snake would coil up all day long and continually biting my heart over and over again.” He was screaming profanities at the snake. “But I literally believed that the snake was Satan and I was being attacked by the devil himself, it was torture.” He also saw fire. “One day I woke up and there was so much fire in my parents’ house, which I spent the entire day in the back corner of my parent’s bathroom.” It was the only place in the house without fire. “Now I bet you are all wondering how I got better.” The pills were not working they had him take an injection every two weeks. Which did work, and he was better. “But you know what really did the trick I began to love myself for the first time in my life when I got better.” He was a perfectionist that had tried to drive himself too hard, and push himself too hard. “I think that’s what got me into trouble.” When he learned the value of caring for himself and to nurture himself, and at times put himself first even if it meant the end result of caring for others. “I think that is how I improved.” There are some ways in which his illness affects him these days. By the side effects of medications, after he has been taking antipsychotics for three years, he gained a hundred pounds. He has since lost fifty of those pounds. “But it is definitely one of the effects of treatment.” If you think his life was hell though then think of the effects on his family. “You see when my parents were there for me nobody was there for my parents.” Everybody who they counted on and were there before simply vanished. He asks the question when someone breaks their arm, we write on their cast, when someone has a mental illness we run the other way. “Why is that? I am going to bust a myth for you guys now, and ask is that violence is not common in mental illness, let me repeat that violence is not common in mental illness, my general personal opinion is that it is about as common in the general population actually.” He has compiled a list of people who have struggled with mental illness that has interfered in their lives. “This list includes Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Michelangelo, Beethoven, Leo Tolstoy, and Ernest Hemingway, and the list goes on.” The list looks to him as of people that have influenced our society more than anyone else. It is also a list of people who have struggled with major depression, who at times have become suicidal. They have struggled with bipolar disorder, and who have struggled with schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders. “Are you really afraid of these people? Are you really afraid of me?” He is not going to deny the fact though that there are times that people are tortured in their head by voices for years, and years. They eventually give into their delusions and do things which are harmful to others. He says, “we all remember what happened in Tucson, Arizona when Jared Loughner killed himself, and several other people, and severely wounding representative Gabby Gifford’s, was Jared receiving the love that he needed? I believe he was receiving some, but I don’t think he was getting what he needed. There is hope though even in this most dire circumstances, and that is this is noticed after the tragedy everybody was asking all over the country all over the world why did this happen, and what can we do to prevent it from happening in the future.” This shows there is hope and people are talking about mental illness, even if for no other reason than they do not want these things to happen in the world any longer. Mental illness also affects our society in another way, and that is homelessness. “Studies show that about forty percent of homeless people are also mentally ill, I don’t have all the answers to homelessness in our society, but obviously these issues are interrelated and if we help one, we will help the other. There are guys like me who fall through the cracks.” His message today is yes we need to bring awareness to this issue yes we need to stop the stigma in its tracks. “ We need to pull it out from under the carpet.” We have been hiding it was too long and that is not helping things, but most importantly I want you to know if you are out there and going through what I went through, you are not alone.” He is going to end with a story about Jared Loughner. He noticed another thing after the tragedy. “I saw on the news a reporter interviewing Jared’s neighbors from high school. They said Jared was actually a pretty vibrant young man, who played the saxophone in the high school jazz band. They said that beautiful music would come from Jared’s house at night, and then one night the music stopped, you see Jared’s not all that different from me. I play the flute in high school, beautiful music would come from my house every night too, but I am back and I’m here as a living testament to show that people can, and do get better from mental illness. If you’re out there and going through what he went through or you know someone who is, fight for them as they are fighting their way out of it, because when you do your fighting for a guy like me, Thanks.” A lot of things hit home for me in this YOUTUBE video. To me mental illness is torture, and Jared Loughner is still going through it. I think that was the hardest being stuck in the county jail and not getting treatment for my mental illness.

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