Today’s ruling on what has come to be known as “Obamacare” is extremely good news for those of us with mental illnesses. Discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, whether it is bipolar disorder or cancer, is wrong. Always has been. Always will be.
Insurance companies should be ashamed of themselves for perpetrating this bigotry that has ruined the lives – actually taken the lives – of so many people.
Regardless of whether you watch Fox News or Rachel Maddow, mental illnesses, among the most stigmatized illnesses in our society, can affect anyone. Rich, poor, old, young, male, female, black, white or Hispanic. Clinical depression has become one of the nation’s costliest illnesses, estimated to cost employers tens of billions of dollars every year workplace disability and lost productivity.
Do you know how much medical insurance you could buy with that kind of money? Do you have any idea how much companies could save in lost productivity and sick days if workers with a history of depression had not been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition?
Trout live in beautiful places. They like cold water, preferably flowing over the rocky riverbed. To catch them you must wade into running river, one uncertain step at a time over very slippery rocks with a fly rod in one hand and the other jerking and waving to counterbalance what seems like a certain plunge into frigid water.
Fly fishing a form of ballet. Your rod is like a conductor’s baton. If your cues and gestures are precise, the line floats in the air above the water, forming fluid arcs until the fly gently lands in the water. You slowly strip the line in and cast again, waiting for the trout to strike. The scenery is breathtaking and there is no sound but for birds and the whoosh of the rapids in the river.
For me to accomplish this without falling or snagging my hook on my hat requires complete focus. If I think of anything else but the task at hand, I will fail. I have found several other activities that require this kind of razor focus. Snow skiing hard and fast, sculling – rowing a 27-foot pencil thin boat with long oars as fast as you can – and CrossFit – an extreme boot camp exercise program that demands I push my strength, flexibility and endurance to the limit at every workout.
Some people think I am too serious and obsessed with these kinds of activities. What they do not realize is that for those of us who are bipolar, these activities silence our racing thoughts and focus our mania into something good and healthy.
I used to swim and run a lot. Running and swimming exhausted me and helped burn-off the excess energy. But I could still think while I ran or swam. I would think about work, what I needed to pick up at the grocery store, bills and what I would have or should-have said to someone who had pissed me off.
On the suicide front, there was some really bad news and a shred of good news on the front page of my local newspaper last week. The bad news: 154 active duty, American troops killed themselves during the first 155 days of this year. That’s nearly one suicide every day. What this means is that more troops are dying of suicide than bullets or IEDs.
The shred of good news is that this story ran on the front page of our local newspaper – above the fold. Even Aljazeera ran it as the lead story on its homepage. Unfortunately, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times did not run the story on their front pages.
But at least some editors around the country thought it was important enough news to get on the front page. Which is really good news.
Newspapers generally don’t cover suicides unless the suicide has inconvenienced our lives, has a high rubber-necking score or you are famous. I know this is morbid, but I have been a journalist for 30 years and I know about these things.
For example, if someone jumps from a highway overpass during rush hour causing a massive traffic jam – that is news. Or person shoots himself at the local shopping mall – that’s news. When famed NFL linebacker Junior Seau puts a gun to his chest and pulls the trigger – that’s news.
Imagine you have a friend – your best and oldest friend. You have known each other since you were teenagers and since then you have shared everything. On dates, to parties and at weddings and funerals, this friend was there with you. Tailgating at football games and New Years – you were together.
This friend knows your secrets and has seen you at your worst – and best. Every single day, rain or shine, your friend is there for you. You count on this friend, trust this friend and can’t imagine what life would be like without this friend.
Then one day, the friend is gone. No good-byes and no hope of ever seeing this friend again.
That’s what it feels like when you are an alcoholic and you quit drinking.