Oh no, this is a serious read. No snarky comments or album reviews. Just real talk. Prepare yourself.
Justin Lowe was the guitarist for the popular metal band After The Burial. Lowe had a paranoid breakdown earlier this year, where he had woven an elaborate conspiracy against him, that involved his record label, friends, family and band mates. He stated that the people that were after him were “above law enforcement” and that some unknown entity wanted him dead. After his bout of psychosis, he moved back to Wisconsin with his family, and began undergoing treatment. Unfortunately, he was found dead on July 21 on a hiking path, with injuries consistent with a fall….or possibly a jump. We will never know what happened for sure in his final hours. Conspiracy theorists out there of course have their own opinions, but the reality of the situation is probably that he killed himself. It has been insinuated that he was previously on meds, but quit taking them. Justin was only 32. We lost a great musician to something that may have been preventable.
Mental Illness is a real problem, although it is often not treated that way. I feel like Im coming out of the closet or something… but I also suffer from problems. That’s why Justin’s story hit me so hard. I keep it pretty hush hush, but that’s what a lot of us do. This is extremely bad behavior that usually leads you to a path of isolation. In the therapy world, that is a huge no-no. Isolation, and hiding your illness only sends you down a lonely path.
I have OCD ( not the funny, “Im going to clean your house” joke of what OCD is) and from that OCD stems panic attacks and bouts of unreality. The disassociative feeling of unreality can almost be like an out-of-body experience. You feel like nothing is real, you are confused and completely impaired. Youre dizzy, you lose motor skills. These bouts can go on for minutes or hours. For over a year, I believed that it was something physiological. I have had every test in the books, and all have came out normal for my physical body. Physically, Im healthy as a horse. I absolutely denied the idea of having any mental issues. I didn’t want to be medicated. But I have weaned off of meds twice now and both to the same effect..constant obsessive thoughts and panic attacks. I still don’t understand the ins and outs of the disease. I still have a hard time accepting what has happened to me. I hate it. I hate that my body and mind have turned against me. I feel weak.
The wrong medications can send me into a psychosis, and the whole thing has made me seem like a hypochondriac. Ive missed work and social functions. And unmedicated….I can barely leave the house. On a good day, it sucks. On a bad day, it’s a full-on nightmare.
Most music I write now, is about this struggle with myself.
But as I said, it can be hard to get help. It is even harder to get the RIGHT help. If you know someone who is suffering, but you don’t have any issues yourself, you would be surprised at the amount of bullshit you have to face when it comes to our healthcare system and society. Lets point a few of those out:
1. It is hard to get help, and get people to take you seriously.
Your general practitioner isn’t equipped to handle mental issues. If you go to the ER, they treat your acute symptoms and send you home. An appointment for a psychiatrist can be set up, but as a new patient, it could take months to get down to the bottom of the issue. Most doctors are willing to write you off pretty quick, and some even have the nerve to decide you are faking. Especially with panic attacks, which are controlled by benzodiazapines like Xanax and Klonopin. Both are popular for being used in recreation and abuse. Unfortunately, these drugs are they only thing that are going to help you in some cases. My personal case is extreme, and I have to have specific meds. It has been over a year, and I am still trying new things all the time to subside my symptoms.
Just about the only way to get help from a hospital is to get a “10-13”, which is basically telling the doctor that you are suicidal. They then will send you to a mental facility that will began some treatment. The typical stay is 5-7 days at these facilities, and while you may get better, it could also make you worse. But then again, this isnt a magic bullet. Psychiatry is roulette when it comes to meds. You try one thing, and if it doesn’t work, you try another. All the while, you suffer from your symptoms-sometimes made worse by new medications. It’s easy for desperation to set in, and the light at the end of the tunnel disappears.
When that desperation sets in, youll do anything to try and find an answer or to find help. Most people with mental illness have multiple trips to doctors and the Emergency room. Once again, what seems irrational to you, is reality to someone else.
2. You learn who really cares about you.
Of course, once stricken with illness, you become very selfish. You want to get better. It becomes the “me show” for a while. It’s not because you cant understand what your friends and loved ones are going through, you just cant handle it. You cant deal with any other problems. Having a solid support system is invaluable. But even still, they will have a tough time understanding what you are going through. They can get frustrated when they cant “fix you”. They can get frustrated at your irrational actions. But these actions arent irrational to you. The things Justin Lowe said and did seem insane, and he was mocked when it broke on the internet (his manifesto). But that wasn’t irrational to him at all. That was reality for him. That’s the thing that your family and friends will not understand…your augmented reality. They cannot possibly put themselves into the frame of your psychosis. It’s not like having the flu, where your family and friends can sympathize. They know what it’s like to have the flu. They dont know what a psychotic episode feels like.
It’s easy to get frustrated with someone with an illness you cant understand. But if you are a friend or family member of someone who has even a minor issue, know how important you are to their stability.
3. Mental illness is often not treated as an illness.
People realize when you have a disease, that there isnt much you can do about it. Let’s take cancer for example. You have cancer, and there’s nothing you can do but be treated, and be supported.Or when you have an infection. You can take your pain meds and get better over time. But since mental illness isnt a tangible thing like cancer or infections, it isn’t treated the same way. Mental illness is a disease. It’s chemical. The same as any other sickness. Addiction is often treated with stigma as well. Mental illness and addiction can often be viewed as weakness, a lack of will power. I assure you, it’s not. Some of the people I have met in group therapy are the strongest individuals I have ever met. Even the people that relapse in addiction. Or the people that live without mental issues for years, and suddenly they come back. These people are strong, because they recognize they have a problem, and are willing to take steps to get better.
4. ” I hope you can get back to being your old self again soon”
You hear this a lot. Everyone in my therapy group has heard this at least once. The fact is, there is no “old you” to go back to anymore. You have been changed forever by your illness. The trauma has changed you. The illness has changed you. The best anyone can hope for is to be “better”. The old you is gone, and friends and family have to understand this. But more importantly, YOU have to understand this. You have to live with the reality that you may be medicated forever. You have to realize that if youre and addict, then you are forever. You brain chemistry is changed. It is an unrealistic goal to think that you will one day be “just like you used to be”. Never pressure someone with an illness with saying something like this.
5. Now that you’re crazy…..
You get treated differently at the doctor’s office. Once you have mental illness on your chart, any time you come in with a pain issue, or another physiological issue you may get wrote off quickly. The doctors may chalk it up to your mental illness or addiction. You can always go in and lie….say that you are no longer on psych meds. But then you may be prescribed something that reacts to your meds, and now your in a whole different type of hell. People treat you differently too. Sometimes, they don’t really see that they are treating you differently, but they are. It’s a stigma you will have to deal with, but the only thing you can do is be assertive, and vigilant.
6. Self Medicating
I have ran into plenty of people that do this. They use alcohol, pot, black market script pills…anything they can get their hands on. This is an awful idea. It’s easy to fall into this routine of abuse, because in the short term, it DOES make you feel better. But it doesn’t address the issues you may have, only therapy and a doctor’s diagnosis can do that. Self medication also comes from the first thing I mentioned in this article. Its hard to get help. But you are fighting fire with fire when you self medicate. You probably make your symptoms worse.
None of this is easy. Not for you, or the people around you. But I hope this article can raise awareness. Both to the afflicted and to the people that are close to them.