ON MENTAL ILLNESS: About This Column

By Jack Bragen
Friday February 28, 2014 - 04:47:00 PM

This column consists of the opinions of one mentally ill man on the subject of mental illness. This is an opinion column, and it is not meant to contain expert advice. 

There are numerous places where a person can be advised on how to deal with a relative with mental illness, such as NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness (no affiliation with this column.) 

This column, instead, presents a voice that people don't normally hear—that of the person who suffers from these diseases—a voice that is usually silenced by a number of factors. 

This column is easy for me to write because I have built-in subject matter. I don't have to go out into the world and dig up stories. Nor do I need to do research on the internet, except perhaps when I want to know a definition or possibly a synonym of a word—or perhaps when I am commenting on a current news story that pertains to mental illness. In truth, I am able to obtain ninety percent or more of the material for this column from my experiences as a man with over thirty years of severe mental illness. 

Surprisingly, I never seem to run out of things to write on this subject. In the space of a week, it seems that I can nearly always come up with some aspect of having a mental illness upon which I can comment. I have been writing this column for over three years. This experiment appears to be a success. 

My perspective is fairly unique, since most people with mental illness seem to be too impaired by their condition or by sociological factors to write about their experiences and to do this at a level that is commercially viable. I do not have a ghostwriter or a copy editor. I do not have money to pay one, and besides that, I am not getting paid for this column. 

Before I started writing for The Berkeley Daily Planet, I had already been published in The Street Spirit and in a few other publications. I continue to write commentary and fiction for The Street Spirit, my science fiction has also appeared in Bewildering Stories—and I have written for several publications that are no longer in existence (Ragged Edge Magazine, Illuminata, and Magical Blend Online.) I recently landed a piece in The Mindfulness Bell, a well-known Buddhist magazine. The piece was called, "Schizophrenia and Mindfulness." 

My writing isn't a miracle and hasn't come into existence out of thin air—I have worked at it. Several years back I had the realization that I wouldn't be successful because of my belief that I deserve it, or merely because of wanting it a lot. 

On days when nothing or next to nothing gets written, I console myself that I am accomplishing something when I refrain from discrediting myself. While getting into trouble may be good for the careers of famous movie actors and performers who benefit from tabloid attention, it would not be helpful for my situation. 

Mental illness can be a tough and debilitating condition. I continue to deal with paranoid symptoms, depression and anxiety. I also have a fair degree of agoraphobia. But these are things that can also generate more subject matter. 

I have gone about eighteen years without a repeat psychotic episode, largely due to medication compliance. I have been writing for publications for twelve of those years. I can not guarantee that I will never have another psychotic episode—although I hope that I won't, and I will try to steer clear of that. 

I hope to continue writing this column for more years, as long as this newspaper continues to exist and as long as my material doesn't go sour or evaporate. I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Becky O'Malley and the editors of other publications—I consider myself fortunate. 

And I hope that my readers will continue to get something out of this, and that some will be willing to pay for my books on Amazon. The proceeds go to a good cause—the support of a disabled author.