Matters of the Mind
When I was attending high school, the wife of the menís basketball coach, Mrs. J., used to sometimes attend basketball practice and I remember her talking before practice one day that she thought one of the most important things in life was good mental health. She made the remark in response to casual comments someone else had made about another student who was a very overweight girl. The student had expressed thoughts that the girl was unhealthy because of her physical size and needed to lose weight to maintain her health. Mrs. Jís remark struck me as peculiar because the topic of mental health was an odd one. Never before had I given any consideration to what was meant by the phrase mental health.
When I was seven years old, I was stricken with rheumatic fever and spent the next seven months lying on my parentís couch, told to stay there and not exert myself less I experience heart failure and die. Given that experience, physical limitations were something of which I was acutely aware. Mental health was altogether a different subject.
Academics have always come easy for me. Blessed with a strong memory and quick grasp of concepts, school was not particularly challenging. The experience with rheumatic fever was actually a blessing because living in Northern Michigan there was, at the time; a lack of television stations to distract me, and most of my time on the couch was spent reading. By the time I returned to school nine months later, I had read every available book from each of the classroom libraries.
My Mother sometimes remarked that I had been a very happy and care free child before becoming ill but something had changed with my time on the sofa. It mattered little to me, as I relished my release from confinement on the sofa and thought little about my mental state.
Somehow, the words of Mrs. J. must have sunk into a sub-conscious level. I did have questions of workings of the human psyche, but it was more intellectual in nature. How, I reasoned, if my mind could think so clearly and reason the answers to examination questions, could there be pathology? The concept of mental retardation was seemingly the question of mental health, not other, less clear issues of mental function.
The questions that kept gnawing at my conscious being were more concerned with mental performance than mental health and I chose educational psychology as a major field of study to compliment my other major, Interpersonal and Public Communication.
One of the required classes of the curriculum was that of Abnormal Psychology. I remember the professor advising us of the fact that everyone has aspects of their personality that could be considered abnormal, but it was only when those aspects began to impair the personís ability to function in life did they become abnormal.
During the course all aspects of mental illness were covered, but I could not engage my mind with the concepts of psychosis and depression. The stories about obsessive-compulsive behavior seemed like fantasy because there just seemed no possible way for a person to be driven to that level of compulsion given my view of the world. The possibility that a person would voluntarily confine themselves to their own residence out of extreme anxiety was particularly foreign to me given my personal desire to get off the couch that confined me for seven months. I could not believe that it was possible for a mind to function in that manner.
Looking back, I remember periods of dark moods where my roommates would simply say; "there he goes into one of those "funks" again. You wonít be able to talk to him for a week." From my perspective I was simply feeling low, which was, according to the criteria of the Abnormal Psychology class, nothing to fret about because you were still functioning and getting good grades which meant your ability to handle life was unimpaired. If that was the case, there was no mental health issue to be dealt with, right?
All of these thoughts and issues are far clearer with the benefit of hindsight and the other major event in my life.
My oldest daughter was born in 1981 on a beautiful sunny day. To say I was excessive in my reaction to her birth would be an understatement. The best thing at the time of her birth was how perfect she looked, no malformations, seemingly perfect in every way. My wife had avoided every conceivable thing that could cause harm to our child. No drugs, alcohol, chocolate, nicotine, caffeine. She ate good nutritional meals, had excellent prenatal care. No effort was too much to insure the best possible chance for our daughter to be given every opportunity to receive good health.
Years later, we wonder what combination of genetics, environment, toxins, or just plain luck has resulted in her carrying the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Travelling the path to help her deal with her condition has led me to many who suffer from similar diagnoses. It is that journey through life that has brought me to this site and the issues that are presented here, Matters of the Mind.
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