Friday, May 25, 2012

It's the Disease Stupid!

     The headline said it all, “Remembering Jessica.” The ensuing story described the sad and tragic circumstances that ended the life of a 16 year old aspiring model, Jessica Fernandez of Vermilion.
     This article went on to describe how this young girl, so full of promise, finally succumbed to the ravages of bipolar disorder, by standing in front of a moving train. This disease is known as a relentless condition that creates unimaginable pain, and is a significant cause of the estimated forty thousand suicides per year in the United States. Suicide, which is known as the silent epidemic, is the third leading cause of death in people between ages 14 and 23.
     In different media outlets, I noticed the inevitable cliques that seem to arise when someone commits this act. One of the most common is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” A notable one was one woman blaming this on a reputed “drug culture” at Amherst high school. I find that comment to be totally absurd, as I know that school well and it is a high quality system that has been proactive with students at risk. The most scornful and ignorant statement was from another that said simply, “She choose to end her life!
     Those comments are typical, but they are not true narrations of what occurred to Jessica Fernandez. The truth of the matter is; She did not choose this illness; she did not decide to be torn apart by its ferocious symptoms and emotional pain that goes with it. She did not want to die. She just gave up the painful battle with a powerful and misunderstood disease! In layman’s terms, it was the illness, nothing more, nothing less!!!
    Her mother, Nancy Fernandez gave an accurate depiction of how this disease emotionally broke this young woman down. She simply said; “I think her will to live was gone.”
     It is true that with the ruthless nature of bipolar disorder, along with the debilitating depression that goes with it, collapses ones desire to strive for a happy existence. Jessica Fernandez did not die a meaningless death; she lost a battle that few people can understand. It is an encounter with an invisible enemy, and because the person has suffered with it alone in silence, others are NOT open to judge her or what she ultimately did.
     When I read the details of her life, it reopened many old and present unhealed wounds, because I also suffer with the same socially unacceptable disease. I thought of the past ten years when I have lived symptom free, and how, like Jessica, we both had to wake up each and every day and do battle with the demons of this illness. The public at large does not understand the challenges that we face, like being an outcast from others because they refuse to accept the psychiatric symptoms of these conditions.
     One myth that needs to be addressed here is that Jessica and others choose to end their lives. Nothing is further from the truth. Suicidal people are in a great deal of pain, and it is pain that seems to be never ending. It brings about extreme and desperate actions to end that suffering. It appears that she tried treatment, and made many efforts at getting better. I can state from a first person point of view that people with suicidal ambitions do not want to die; they just want to have their suffering end. Based on their comments, it appears her parents were also there trying to help her, but they were helpless in their attempts.
     In my case, the suicidal ideation was present, and was part of my battle with this illness for two years prior to my attempts to end my life. Like Jessica, I just did not want to be tortured by the ever present pain. Like her, I was able to hide a much of my depressive moods from others, but it finally won the battle. It was to take a few attempts and forced hospitalizations before I received a proper diagnosis and accepted treatment. The only real difference between her and I was that my treatment worked immediately, and I recovered. Otherwise, I could have certainly suffered the same fate that she did.
     Another issue brought up was her past drug use. It may or may not have been a contributing factor in this final act, but it needs to be addressed. If a person is in need of treatment, and they become so desperate from this suffering, the local drug dealer or liquor store becomes their personal pharmacy. Approximately sixty percent of individuals who suffer from this disorder develop a chemical dependency to add to their already overwhelming burden. Once again, it is the illness!!
     Like Jessica, I would do anything I could think of to feel better, just to be temporarily free of the pain. I recall many times just sitting in the back room and taking numerous Benadryl tablets with straight Gin as a way to numb myself to the emotional agony. Admittedly, I often wonder why I did not consider some street drugs as a way to alleviate that distress that I faced daily. That is commonly referred to as, “Self-Medicating”.
     Mental illness has one unique characteristic that sets it apart from other conditions. It is the only disease that makes the person afflicted feel as if they must apologize just for being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Others look with evil intent and describe us as crazy people, psychos, wacko’s and other derogatory terms. They do not believe that we are people battling a deadly and debilitating disease with formidable roadblocks to overcome. So many of us become ostracized by the ignorant that refuse to recognize the biological nature of these disorders, and that recovery is possible. With the public’s lack of understanding, no matter what we achieve, external validation will normally elude us.    
     Jessica did not commit a sin, nor was her death a selfish act. She just lost a battle, and no one is at fault. In her death, she deserves the same respect and understanding that others experience when they lose a fight with any fatal disease. Do what her mother instructed others to do; “I’d advise parents to keep a strong eye on their kids for drugs or mental illness. You have to treat them properly like we were doing, and hope for the best”.
     I never met Jessica, but because of a bond we share with our mutual affliction, I mourn her loss as a friend as I have done with others that meet this tragic fate. I hope that people who did know her will respond to her memory with a better understanding of what tortured her. I encourage more people to learn to reach out to those in need, not turn their collective backs on people like her and I. A tribute like that will help prevent others from losing their battle. I can envision no greater respect for the memory of her and others who suffer such loneliness and despair.
    Rest in Peace Jessica; many of us are praying for you and your family.