In the Care of Insanity

When I write posts about mental illness, I often get thank yous from people who are mentally healthy for giving them an insight into what it’s like living with a mental disease.

My friend, Lauren, has written a post at my request.  The post details her experience as a friend of somebody who was, frankly, at the height of his insanity.  It’s not fun, and it paints a picture of why people with conditions like these often wind up at the tail end of their self-fulfilling prophecy of living alone.  It also may help the sickly to realize how difficult it is for those close to us who are thrust into a caretaker role whether they’re ready for it or not.  If you have a mental illness, even in its infancy, consider getting treatment for the people around you.

I was lucky – I had very patient, dedicated friends.  Not everybody is as lucky as I.

I am unsure of where to start this blog post. When JT asked me to write about “dealing with a crazy person” I was pretty pumped. I thought that I would have all kinds of kick ass, inspirational things to say and then probably win a major award for being so awesome and talented.

The more I thought about my experiences, however, the sadder I got. Helping JT through his dark times wasn’t fun. In fact, it was a lot less than fun, it was pretty fucking shitty. I want to tell all of you to run out there and help those who need it no matter the cost but the truth is that it’s damned difficult.

I first met JT my freshman year of college when I volunteered to be the art director for Opera Workshop. He was one of the lead actors and when we saw each other, we immediately engaged in what shall now be dubbed the HUG OF EPIC EPICNESS *cue dramatic music*.

We became fast friends over the semester, starting shenanigans that escalated at an alarming rate. That first semester, we were two of seven people dressed as pirates in downtown Springfield, MO protesting evangelists. Only a year later we had created the MSU Church of the FSM that boasted over 200 members and had the power to shoo away campus evangelists.

JT got sick slowly. At first none of us really seemed to catch on. We were all part of a pretty close knit group of friends, the five of us constantly hanging out and getting into trouble. At first, he would decline to come around because he said he had too much homework, was too tired, or just didn’t have the time right now, sorry! These are all valid excuses, so it wasn’t until he had managed to weasel his way out of seeing us for more than a week or so that we all suspected something was wrong.

It’s a good thing that Amber was a psych major, because lord knows I had no idea what the hell was wrong with my best friend. He wouldn’t really talk to me anymore, and when he did it was weird. JT became a shadow of his former self, hardly ever taking down his walls to talk to anyone anymore. His jokes became strained and hollow. He seemed constantly distracted and distant.

Eventually, the rest of us got together and made up a battle plan. Amber would be in charge of making sure he got professional help and medicine, Ryan would be the bad guy when it came to other things like making him get out and socialize, and I was to just be there by his side no matter what. I was supposed to sit by his side and never allow him to shut me out so we’d always have an “in” as to what he was doing and thinking.

I thought I had the easy job, but looking back I’m not so sure anymore. I lived in constant fear that I would do or say something wrong and end up being the reason he shut us all out for good or worse. I felt a constant worry for JT…it was absolutely mentally exhausting. I felt guilty for so many reasons it often made me sick. I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him and fix it, that I was so very tired of trying, and that I sometimes felt like walking away entirely and saving my own sanity. I even felt guilty for being happy.

Trying to help someone who is mentally unhealthy is a difficult thing and it made us all very desperate at times. While we may not have had the best methods to help him, we gave it all we had. We made him meals and forced him to eat something, anything that we had made. We had movie nights, game nights, plain old hangout nights and dragged his ass out kicking and screaming so he would see something other than the inside of his bedroom. We yelled, we threatened, we guilted, we blackmailed, we were beyond sugary sweet: anything to get him out socializing or eating.

Helping JT through his illness has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Before he got sick we were the most amazing friends you could ever hope to meet. We got shit done, we terrorized the local religious community, we sang Tenacious D at the top of our lungs and were known to give each other only marginally terrible advice.

However, helping JT has come at a cost that I am still only beginning to understand. JT did and said many horrible things to me when he was sick. I won’t get into the hairy details, but it absolutely destroyed our friendship. The person that I had trusted had turned into some sort of horrible monster hellbent on making me just as miserable as he was. Some days I left his company crying, sometimes numb, sometimes pissed off that I allowed this kind of shit to happen in the first place.

I stayed and helped JT because it was the right thing to do. Because he would have done it for me. Because I knew what he used to be like, what he could be like again, and wanted that back. He needed me, he needed all of his friends, to stay there with him no matter how hard he tried to push us away. It was not always easy, but it was a price we were all willing to pay.

I wish I had some sort of remedy as to how to deal with this situation but the truth is that I still have no fucking clue. When someone you care about starts to turn into something unrecognizable you really only have two options: leave or stay. I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to leave but I will say this: if you won’t or can’t be there for them, make sure to find someone else who will. Tell their parents, tell their teacher, tell a professional, tell someone, anyone who will get them the help that they need. Do not abandon them.

So I guess that’s my advice to you, stick with them. Make them eat your crappy chili and drag them out to the midnight showing of your favorite movie. If they won’t leave their bedroom, find things to do in there with them even if it drives them nuts.

When it comes down to it, I’d do it again tomorrow. Not a doubt in my mind.

I love you, Jtface.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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