art by: Jerome Lawrence shadow voices: finding hope in mental illness
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Bob Carolla

Bipolar disorder, quite literally, you’ve you got two different poles that you’re operating between. In the simplest sense, that means ups and downs. People normally say, "Well, everyone has their own ups and downs." But for someone who has the illness, it’s not just severe, it is life threatening.

It’s interesting, [if] you call 911 for a person who's in psychiatric distress of any kind you don’t have an ambulance show up, you have the police show up. So I was brought to the hospital, in the back of a police car.

One of the most common misperceptions is to identify mental illness with a propensity for violence, based on what people often see through the mass media. When you actually go to look at the statistics, the US Surgeon General, for example, has said that there is really very, very little, or almost no relationship between mental illness and the over-all level of violence in society. It just seems that way.

Mental illness is not a struggle between good and evil inside us. It’s a brain disorder. It’s a chemical imbalance. It’s why medication is often the key to really lifting us out of that toxic cloud. But in order to keep going, to get through the very hard part of rebuilding, I can’t see how anyone can take on that challenge without faith, and without the flowing of love and trust that’s also part of what’s essential for people to move forward.

Interesting enough, in both my paths to recovery, ten years apart from each other, it was a former employer, reaching out to me, and offering back my old position, that helped me start all over again. I was lucky. But it does point to one solution, a solution that we can aspire to as a society, which is taking a risk on people who are coming out of an illness, whether it is through supported employment or individually as people taking a risk on friends.