Back in November 2011 I started working on a novel tentatively titled Ghost Hand. The story is about Marine sniper who returns to Los Angeles to recover from severe injuries only to find that the war for him has just started, and there’s more to the world than he knew.
Part of his story is dealing with his PTSD. As he starts to work out his issues he discovers a whole class of people worse off than he is: The homeless.
After several starts at the novel I had to set it aside. I just was not happy with the story. I needed to sit on it more. But in the process I did write a whole of lot fun pieces in the voice of the protagonist. Several of them were designed to be chapter headers, to show up at the beginning of every third chapter or so. These ones are all about mental illness, and are presented from the point of view of someone who has gone through it, and made it out the other side.
I’m going to put them up once a week, for five weeks. This is number four of five.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The brain is the first victim
It should be obvious that the term mental illness means an illness to the head. Most people have an understanding of this. They know someone with mental illness is “crazy” to some degree or another, but they don’t understand why. They say things like, “Why would someone stay in bed all day?”, or “I don’t understand why would anyone wash their hands so hard that their skin bleeds?”, or even, “Why does my husband act so cold?”
These questions are asked because the normal person doesn’t understand what mental illness means to the one who is sick.
In simple terms, the first victim of mental illness is the brain. When one is mentally ill, the very first sign, indeed the only reason most mental illness are categorized together, is that the person who is sick does not know it. Their normal thinking has been blocked by the disease. One could even go so far as to say the brain has been co-opted, taken over, by the disease.
And they cannot tell.
This is why people do crazy things when they are mentally ill. Why they stay in bed all day under the crushing weight of Depression, why they repeatedly wash their hands until they bleed under the feverish anxiety of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, or why they withhold all affection towards their loved ones under the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In each case the person with the mental illness is a victim of their own thoughts because, like a terrorist their mental illness has taken over their brain and is holding it captive.
This is why mental illness is such an insidious disease, and so difficult to cure. When you’re ill, it is almost impossible to tell from the inside of your head. From the inside it all looks normal. Even worse, a lot of mental illnesses carry with them a distrust of outsiders. Not only can you not know the truth (because your brain has been taken over), but you will be inclined to not trust the very people who are telling you the truth.