Joseph Merlin Bowers
I have a long history of serious mental illness and psychosis. I have been incarcerated in state mental hospitals and jails on a number of occasions. Despite this, I had never spent a great deal of time with people with similar backgrounds who have experienced similar symptoms of similar diseases. Volunteering the last year or two at a community center for people in recovery from mental illnesses, I now have.
It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that I have bonded with these people so easily and to such an extent. I am a people person who has established strong friendships wherever I have gone, but I had never connected with people like I have here. Those of us who have been psychotic connect with each other like we just can’t with “normal” people. It’s probably true that survivors of other diseases such as cancer feel a similar kind of connection.
I have been doing everything I could to advocate for the mentally ill for a long time now. Until recently it was kind of impersonal and maybe even idealistic. I saw the mental health system as badly broken and was trying to help a largely amorphous, nameless, faceless, abandoned demographic. I was trying to help right a great wrong.It’s different for me now.
Here at this community center I spend a lot of time with people in or just out of the state mental hospital. Most patients in state mental hospitals now days are forensic patients. They have done some terrible things. I have learned from my association with them.
I have learned that some truly wonderful people can and will do some awful things under the influence of a serious mental illness, and I have learned that these destructive acts are not characteristic of who they really are when well. I have learned that we can and do get better with help. When the system gets someone into treatment they can and do do wonderful things. A number of my dear friends here have made great progress. Who they are now is much more representative of who they really are and who they were born to be. It is so gratifying and inspiring to see the strength and courage these people exhibit to get on with their lives after terrible tragedy. I don’t know if anyone who has never been psychotic can imagine the nature of the demons these people have overcome to get where they are. My friends are getting another chance at life and the world will be the winner for it.
Now I am doing everything I can to help not so much to right a great wrong, but because I truly love these people. I don’t know if it is possible to feel so much love and compassion for people who have never suffered greatly. These people have and I would literally be willing to die for them. I love them that much. My great joy in life now is to see my friends going forward. I don’t sleep as well as I used to. My life has much more emotional and dramatic-and it is much richer and joyful.