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I Could Have Been the Victim of Police Brutality Because of My Mental Illness

Earlier today, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across an all-too-common video of police brutality. This time? An unarmed homeless man with a severe mental illness, so delusional he actually thought he was helping the police. They punched him 14 times in the back of the skull, a move that — according to the poster of the video — is apparently not even permitted in UFC fighting due to the serious brain damage it can cause.

The haunting thought that immediately went through my head: This could have been me.

A little over two years ago, I was wandering the streets of a big city, searching around for the devil himself. I was in the middle of a serious psychotic episode, thinking I was on a mission from God to dine with Satan, just as Jesus met with the devil in the desert during Lent. I aimlessly wandered from restaurant to restaurant, barging in past the hostess, looking for the devil. I wandered around in sub-freezing temperatures wearing nothing but leggings and a pullover, thinking my freezing cold body was part of my mission. I entered one restaurant in particular multiple times and, looking back, can realize the hostesses were beginning to catch on that something was very off with my bizarre behavior.

While out on the streets, I noticed everyone around me began to stare at me. Clearly, this is because multiple times I broke down and simply sat down in the middle of the crowded sidewalks, obliviously blocking traffic.

Finally, after my long search, I accomplished my mission and dined with a complete stranger who I believed to be the devil. To this day, I have no idea why he so calmly let me sit with him, nor do I have much of a recollection of our conversation. All I know is that if things had gone a little differently, I could have ended up like the man in the video. If the hostesses had acted on their suspicions (I think they believed I was on drugs), or if the man had caused a scene, or if the police had walked by while I blocked traffic, maybe I would have been lost in the criminal justice system and not been able to obtain the help I needed, which is all too common for those with mental illnesses.

Fortunately, shortly after my lunch with the “devil,” my mom began to wonder why I had not yet returned home. I had just spent a week in a psychiatric facility, and my family was very clueless about my mental health diagnosis. My mom realized I had not been taking my medication, which was due to the fact my delusions were so severe I didn’t even realize I was supposed to be taking medication. My mom convinced me to meet her at a nearby restaurant and when I proclaimed it was our “last supper,” she promptly took me back to the emergency room where I was hospitalized as an inpatient for another five weeks. I received top quality health care that fortunately, after much time, brought me back to reality.

But I often wonder: what if I had not been so lucky? Too often, those with mental health issues end up in our criminal justice system, sent to solitary confinement which is excused as being for their “safety.” Symptoms of mental illness are exacerbated by poor treatment in the horrific conditions of jails and prisons, and more needs to be done to prevent the barbaric treatment of our fellow mentally ill humans throughout all stages of their interactions with the criminal justice system.

There is often talk about ending the stigma of mental illness. Unfortunately, I find myself somewhat hypocritical when it comes to this topic. I write under anonymity due to my fear of jeopardizing my successful career. I am too frightened to even say what city I live in or what my profession is or what my diagnosis is out of fear someone will find out and stop wanting to work with me. I haven’t even told the man I am dating about my mental illness yet, which is, for lack of a better word, “crazy.” This is a huge part of me but it’s something I have to hide every minute of every day. I am currently getting transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) treatment every day, which takes an hour and a half out of my day, while working up until the minute I have to leave for treatment. If I was getting radiation therapy, all of my co-workers would be able to support my treatment efforts, but instead, this exhausting routine is something I feel like I have to hide.

The recent passing of Kate Spade shows just how hidden mental health struggles can be. I have attempted suicide before and have been hospitalized many times for suicidal thoughts, yet almost no one who knows me would ever have any idea. It’s scary what a smile can hide.

So, I urge people to look a little deeper. Many people hide their struggles because of the stigma around mental illness. And maybe it’s time we stop putting the pressure on those with mental illnesses to speak out about their struggles. Maybe it’s time we, as a society, can change the way we receive mental illness by educating ourselves a little better. Look for signs. Speak up for police reform and training, so that maybe we can prevent more people incorrectly ending up in the criminal system instead of where they really need to be: getting help like I did.

Photo by John Christian Fjellestad on Unsplash

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