October 1, 2013

Houston, we have a problem

By Jack Smith

I suffered the indignity of having my bags searched without a peep. I turned the other cheek when my electric razor was confiscated.  I said nothing when my laptop was pulled from my bag and stored in a vault halfway across the clinic’s campus…as if it possesses the United States military’s nuclear codes.

But now I have a serious problem. And it comes just as my recovery was taking shape. It was announced today that Auburn will play Ole Miss on ESPNU. Only we don’t get ESPNU on the unit.

Houston, we have a very serious problem. And if you really want me to learn to live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and whatever else you diagnose me with, you damn well better fix it. Like today.

The game might be six days away, but I can’t wait that long to resolve this crisis. A crisis management truism I’ve learned in my job the past three or four years is it’s best to address the crisis right away. So what gives?

I can’t for the life of me understand the lack of urgency here. I’m trying to figure out when I can hack into the common area computer, which has more restrictions on it than ipads in Beijing, so I can at least watch the game online.

In the process, I’m learning to relate to all sorts of people I have nothing in common with except my illness. But all these people who don’t watch or care about college football confuse me more than six rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) did in 2012. I don’t get it.

The good news is I’m on the verge of getting pissed. Getting pissed is good. It’s good because it means I care again. Anyone who has suffered from Major Depressive Disorder can tell you that at its worst, severe depression sucks so much life and energy out of you that you lose the capacity to get angry about anything.

You feel nothing and care about nothing. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

I’m learning to feel all sorts of emotions again, too. I cried during “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” our “therapeutic movie” this evening.

I shared a belly laugh with a fraternity brother who came to see me today and even laughed out loud during a group “Catchphrase” session. It’s a game where you get participants to guess the word on the card by describing it in any way except saying it. The word was medicine. “You take this to feel better...” said the lady whose turn it was. “Heroin!” shouted a young skateboarder who talks just like Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Heroin use isn’t funny, but the whole room busted up. People with mental illness like to laugh just like anybody else. Only they don’t much feel like laughing a lot of the time. I think we need to learn to talk about mental illness the same way we can talk about cancer or heart disease or any other illness. It wouldn’t hurt to be a little less uptight about it, too.

Laughter may not be the best medicine for mental illness, but it’s better than most.