Mental Illness: Not a Joke #mhblogday

In honor of Mental Health Blogging Day, I’m going to veer from my usual cancer-related posts and tell you a story that left a deep mark on me.mental-health-day-2016

Many years ago, I loved a good and gentle man named David. Beautiful inside and out, he was intelligent, talented and had a good sense of humor. He was also schizophrenic. I didn’t know this latter fact when I met him. He’d been high functioning, perhaps the mental-health version of what remission is to cancer.

David had a few bizarre stories of things that had happened to him, but they weren’t so bizarre that I questioned his sanity. He had a keen intellect and we’d have long, wonderful conversations. We also shared a love of the arts. And he was a kind soul. He always kept granola bars or bags of trail mix in his car to give to homeless people or those who begged. He didn’t know their story, but felt if they were there, they had a need.

As time went on, David began his descent into his own personal hell. The outlandish stories now tipped the edge of Wow into full-fledged paranoid delusion. My heart broke for him and I made the mistake of sharing my heartbreak with a co-worker. Hearing about his delusions made her laugh so hard, you’d have thought I’d just told her the funniest joke. “It’s not funny!” I said. “This man is tortured by his own mind and everyone who loves him suffers, too.” She quickly stifled her laugh, apologized and excused herself.

I was so incensed that anyone could laugh at another’s suffering. It reminded me of when I was in the second grade and a classmate was shamed by a teacher. The entire class laughed. Except me. A sensitive child, I watched in horror as my classmate writhed in public humiliation. As I look back, I realize they were children. Not everyone is capable of feeling empathy, but at least adults should have the good sense to resist turning another’s pain into fodder for their entertainment and amusement.

Those who are mentally ill are victims of torture by their own minds. Those who love them suffer considerable pain as they watch the transformation from who they were to the tortured souls they become.

Imagine if the delusions were true – and happening to you. Imagine that a group of influential people with international connections had reason to kill you. They had their people everywhere and even poisoned the hearts of those you loved. No matter how much you loved your family and friends, you were no longer safe. Not even within the privacy of your home because they had your place bugged. There is nowhere to escape the impending doom of torture and possible death because something you did pissed them off. And now they’re using friends and family to get to you.

Can you imagine living like this, perceiving this to be your reality?

One by one, David distanced himself from his friends until there was only me. And then the interrogation was directed toward me and I knew my days as the last person he trusted were slipping away. I tried to encourage him to get help from a professional, but that only hastened his distrust toward me and the inevitable alienation. I’ll never forget the day when I lost my friend forever. I wept.

I hadn’t seen or heard from David until I got a call four years later. He was dead. A car crash. He’d been speeding on the freeway, trying to evade those he perceived were chasing him. A police officer stopped him and issued a speeding ticket. David tried to explain his perilous situation to the officer, that he was being chased by those who wanted him dead. The officer told him to drive to the closest hospital and check himself in, but left him at that point. Ten minutes after the ticket was written, David exited the freeway. He crashed into a tree. Killed instantly. Just 49 years old.

I cried many tears for David, but one thing gave me comfort. He was finally free from suffering as he cast off the body and mind that sadistically taunted him.

Rest in peace, dear one. I could never forget.


  1. A lovely piece, beautifully and sensitively written as usual, Eileen.

  2. Thanks, Mark.

  3. dear Eileen,

    a good and gentle man…your friend, taken into such a hideous and hellish place. I am deeply sorry for what happened to him, and for you, who tried so hard to help him.

    you wrote David’s story so well. and the side stories of the woman who so cruelly laughed, your memory of being a child and how awful you felt for your classmate shamed by a teacher, and an excellent description of the torment levied by mental illness on the person suffering and those who love them. I find it ironic that this beautiful young man, so sensitive, so intelligent, so kind to keep food in his car for any homeless person or beggar, then descended into such a tortuous existence was left at the side of a highway, obviously in grave jeopardy, and died minutes later, crashing his car into a tree – fleeing demons, feeling so desperate to get away. who was there for him in his piteous state of need?

    the woman who laughed…unfortunately, many people have no respect or compassion for the suffering of mental illness – we hear it every day – even from so called professionals who use a term like, “loony”. I think the part of this post where you invite others to imagine the horrible delusions was very powerful.

    thank you, Eileen, for sharing David’s story and for blogging for Mental Health.

    much love,

    Karen xoxo

    • Karen, I fixed the dangling last sentence. It’ll be our secret! 🙂 But back to the meat of your comment, you’re always so in tune with the heart of the story. It hadn’t occurred to me that when David crashed, now he was the one on the side of the road. He did have a family who loved him and tried to help him, but since he was an adult, help couldn’t be forced upon him.

      I agree that many people lack respect and compassion toward the mentally ill, or really many people who are lacking in any number of areas. Karen, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Always love hearing from you.

  4. Linda Rochelle Malis says:

    That’s a great article Eileen. I remember hearing about David years ago. I never forgot that relationship. David and other schizophrenic and bi-polar individuals are definitely tortured souls. Just imagine what goes on in their minds? People chasing them, delusional, hearing noises and misinterpreting them.. Very sad for people who have mental illness. The poor family members worried every time their loved one leaves home…if there ever coming home?! I pray they find a cure for those who suffer from mental illness. We need more sensitive people like you who know just how serious and sad it is. No joke at all.

  5. Powerful story. So well written. Strong message. May we all be free of our demons and be more patient and understanding with those who have more active ones.

  6. Oh my gosh, what a poignant, powerful post! This really resonated with me, as I have a friend with bipolar disorder. Mental illness is no joke, indeed. People with mental illness suffer tremendously; I think it’s even worse than physical suffering. And our culture still stigmatizes it. David sounds like he was a special person, and I’m so sorry he couldn’t get the help he needed. Even those whose mental conditions are controlled by medications suffer from side effects. Great post; thank you!

  7. Beth, it is a shame he couldn’t get the help he needed. Most states in the US have laws in place to protect the rights of the mentally ill individual so their families can’t put them in a hospital or institution, or have them medicated, against their will unless they behave in a way that’s a risk to themselves or others. The problem, though, is they’re not usually a risk to anyone while also being in denial that they have a mental problem. So help remains elusive.

    Thanks for your comments, Beth. I’m also sorry for your friend. I agree that mental illness is often worse than physical suffering.

  8. What a sad, sad, story. Some day they’ll have a cure. I’ve lost two cousins to this disease. I’m so sorry, Eileen. xoxoxoxo

    • Thanks, Amy. I’m sorry to hear about your cousins. Medication exists but there are far too many side effects, plus most patients don’t comply with taking it anyhow. I hope they do have a real cure some day because far too many suffer right now. xo

  9. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Oh, Eileen!! What a wretched, sad, tragic story. Thank you for always getting it, and for writing about it. I grew up with a mother who was mentally ill, but essentially loving and harmless, and I learned early on that so many people are not kind, that they shunned her instead of reaching out. A good friend of mine just lost her son to suicide. Mental illness is hell, a dark night of the soul. Hugs to you, dear one. Kathi

  10. Stephie Zimmerman says:

    Tragic story, beautiful writing, Eileen.

    i wonder how many David’s there are who have died too young because of the stigma attached to mental illness.


    • Stephie, unfortunately, there is a high rate of suicide, or risky behavior that flirts with death, among those with mental illness. David impacted my life in a major way, for better or worse. It means a lot to me to share it with friends. xoxo

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