Today friends took us to see Silver Lining Playbook, what we all expected to be a romantic comedy and cheery holiday afternoon. It is not. It is a painful look in the window of a family suffering from the raw consequences of bi-polar disorder and all that entails. The romance comes from the happy ending. We are supposed to walk away satisfied and feeling good, like everything is OK.
I didn’t know what bi-polar disorder was until I went to prison. Suddenly I was surrounded by so many women suffering, and I do mean suffering, from this disease. The mood swings were dramatic and the meds were not exactly balanced. When the women were on a high, they felt that they were fine and didn’t need meds. When they were on a low (and the low is really low), they were too angry to even consider meds. I have never seen so much pain. It was like their skin hurt. I felt if you touched them, they might scream in agony, like a horrific burn. The medical department is over-run with this and terribly understaffed. No one is getting appropriate and timely treatment, thus the meds are not properly regulated or adjusted. It’s a desperate and sad situation.
The film brought it all back to me. There is a scene where the lead characters (who are brilliant, by the way), are discussing all the meds they’ve been on. I know that conversation; I heard it a lot in both jail and prison. So many meds; so much pain. They listed them all and then came to Klonopin. They rolled their eyes and agreed that could make you comatose.
In the darkness of the theater, my stomach suddenly turned over and I gasped inwardly. Klonopin. It all came back to me. When I was in jail facing a mastectomy, alone and terrified, I could not sleep and I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. Loud noises made me jump out of my skin and what is jail without clanging and banging? I shook all the time. Bringing a cup to my lips sometimes took both hands. The doctor prescribed Klonopin for me. I had no idea what it was. Nor did I know that it was highly addictive. I just took it and then mercifully slept. When I was awake, there seemed to be a sort of fuzzy haze over the black and white stripes of my environment. I was still afraid and still shook but I didn’t seem to care as much.
Finally, I had my surgery and mourned my new, lopsided self. I went back to court a few times, and eventually was sent to prison, all the while dealing with the emotional distress through the fog of Klonopin. In prison, when the nurse practitioner saw me, she was disinterested in my recent surgery and the Klonopin. They don’t prescribe that in prison. I had no idea why until later when my sisters in orange sighed and told me how addictive it is. At the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. Suddenly, I couldn’t sleep. I thought it was the cold, tiny cell and one inch plastic mattress on its steel foundation. I wrapped my t-shirt around my head and kept on all my clothes under the cotton jacket. Still, I shivered. I didn’t want to lie down or stand up. I tossed and turned. My skin hurt. I was short of breath and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I had no idea what was wrong with me and medical wouldn’t see me. The agony lasted about three weeks, then slowly, very slowly I began to recover. It can take months for it to completely leave your system and after chemo and surgery, my system was very fragile.
It was much later when I learned this was drug withdrawal. It was awful. I also learned it is extremely dangerous to stop Klonopin cold turkey. It is a drug that should be tapered off, accompanied by medical supervision. Along with the painful withdrawal, it can cause seizures. At the time, I thought it was the cancer and I was probably dying. The surgeons said my margins weren’t clean and things didn’t look too good. I was sick, I was afraid, and death actually sounded like a great relief.
Everything I experienced was brought back to me in this film. But my story was truly minor compared to the other stories about the mental illness that many of these women battled every day and continue to deal with. This is one of the enormous issues connected with America as an Incarceration Nation. People who need mental health treatment are instead sent to prison. Health care budgets continue to be cut and so we bundle people off behind the wires and walls. Out of sight, out of mind.
In Silver Lining Playbook, Pat is lucky. He serves eight months in a mental health facility instead of years in prison. And he somehow manages to take his meds, find love, win a bet for his dad, and live happily ever after. If only it were so simple. It’s not. As we walked out into the sunlight, I wondered how someone diagnosed with bi-polar disorder would feel watching this film. I can’t imagine. This is a provocative story, brilliantly acted and getting lots of buzz. It brought up painful memories and emotions in me that I felt compelled to share.
In sharing it, I hope you will consider how America is dealing with our community of people who struggle with mental health issues of all types. We must be more compassionate and less judgmental. It is not easy. I have a very courageous friend named Mary Lou Brncik who works tirelessly in this arena. Her organization is David’s Hope. I urge you to visit her site and LIKE her page, http://www.davidshopeaz.org Periodically she holds important Town Hall meetings to bring awareness to these issues. You owe it to yourself and your community to get on her mailing list and attend. We are all in this together.