Every Saturday morning I refill my pink pill box: S-M-T-W-T-F-S. I have been doing this for years. Three different medications. One of this pill. One of that pill. One-and-a-half of those pills. Every morning and every night, I take my meds. It’s like brushing my teeth – just something I do when I wake up and before I go to bed.

My meds. I go weeks without giving a thought to my meds. I just take them. My life is good. No more hopeless black holes or vibrating with energy like a wide-eyed racehorse pawing at the dirt in the starting gate. Nice and steady. I have grown used to it and I really, really like it.shutterstock_133411307

So, when something comes along that has the potential to seriously disrupt my balance, I tend to freak out. Anxiety is the enemy. Drama is the enemy. I have made enough enemies in my life. I don’t need to make anymore.

There are three things that scare the hell out of me: Sharks. Being trapped in a car after an accident and cut out with the jaws of life; unemployment. As long as I stay out of the ocean and drive safely, I’m in good shape. Right now, unemployment is beyond my control.

And I like to be in control.

Once again, we are downsizing at work. The last time this happened, 2009, I totally freaked out. Major drama. Tears. Lost sleep. A mental health crisis waiting to happen. It didn’t. And it won’t now. I won’t let it. Losing my salary would be tough. Losing my extremely generous prescription drug plan would be catastrophic. My meds are expensive.

Many other illnesses can be controlled or cured by changing your lifestyle: Quit smoking; lose weight; exercise; stretch; don’t eat fried food; take vitamins and supplements; get more sleep; drink less or not at all.shutterstock_125205479

I have done many of these things to control my depression and alcoholism. Believe me, they have helped. But for many of us with mental illnesses, we must take our medications to stay healthy. All the yoga, sobriety and weight loss are not going to cure schizophrenia.

As badly as I want mental illnesses to be treated and covered as any other physical illness, in some ways they are not. Consider the direct impact on your life caused by someone with an untreated mental illness:

  • Your co-worker with depression is not doing his work, forcing you to stay late and up the slack.
  • Your alcoholic sister-in-law who causes so much drama at every holiday gathering.
  • The homeless guy walking aimlessly through the city, talking to himself.

You may not come in contact or even be aware of a diabetic in your presence. However, we all confront untreated mental illness every day. If we cannot muster up some empathy for these people, we can at least consider the money they take from our pockets in emergency room visits, lost work, police calls and prison sentences.

Look, no one likes freeloaders. But we must take care of people with mental illness. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. We must make sure they have their medications and treatment – even if we have to pay for them because they lost their job when their company downsized.

Pill bottles image available from Shutterstock.
Bicycle image available from Shutterstock.