Calling All Jedi: A Star Wars Analogy in the War against Suicide And Stigma
As any true geek would admit, seeing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) gaze across the horizon on the planet Tatooine, in the American epic space opera film Star Wars IV: A New Hope, was one of the most profound moments in movies for me. Luke’s soul cry to Destiny echoed in my own soul in that movie theater that day. Yet like Luke, I was naive. I had no idea as to the nature of the struggle going all around me but also within myself.
Somewhat controversial by Star Wars fans, but in the movie, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Qui-gon took a blood sample of young Anakin to determine whether or not he was “strong in the force”. Obi-Wan says, “Even Master Yoda doesn’t have a midi-chlorian count that high!” Researchers have found that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease a decrease in Dopamine in the brain has been implicated as the cause of Parkinson’s disease. An excess of Dopamine or oversensitivity of certain dopamine receptors is one of the causal factors in schizophrenia (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml).
In a study of women with a history of mental health conditions, they found an abnormality on the dormant X chromosome caused by unusually high levels of the XIST gene. Researchers are optimistic this may lead to a blood test, better interventions, therapy and treatment options. Source- University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (http://www.bphope.com/new-biomarker-identified-in-women-with-mental-illness/)
Where cancer research was 75 years ago, we are today I believe. By the time my future grandchildren are grown their mental illnesses will probably be as treated like diabetes. Today, however, we are in a struggle for lives. One in five individuals wrestles with a mental illness. Every 16 minutes someone is killed by suicide. Just like Leia and other in the “Rebel Alliance” we are fighting for hope for a better future.
Charles (names have been changed to protect anonymity) wasn’t the first person to speak up when entering a room, but often times he was the last to leave ensuring everyone had a listening ear. When Charles and I presented together, I learned he had struggled with suicidal thoughts since his teens. It wasn’t until he was married with two children that his mental illness first brought him to his knees. For even a warrior like Charles, it took homelessness to get him to admit he needed help. Over the last few years, however, Charles had made a remarkable recovery. When I met Charles, he was a presenter, working part-time as a Peer Support Specialist, teaching regularly at the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class, and voluntarily leading a group on the psyche ward at a local hospital. Soon after, he got engaged.
While teaching the Peer-to-Peer class, Charles was battling symptoms related to a medication transition. He told us before class one night, he felt like climbing the walls. He had experienced more severe symptoms during previous days at home, too. “Charles, go to the Emergency Room or at least call in sick from work tomorrow,” I said vehemently, knowing that bold action was needed. Charles responded quietly but in his equally steely, resolved voice, “There are people depending on me.” Charles was killed by his mental illness the following week. This does not negate the fact that Charles was a valiant warrior, a soldier in the war against mental illness and stigma. Charles’ story is a tragic lesson in authenticity and self-care.
Recently, I changed psychiatrists and the first thing she said to me was “You are hypomanic.” I said, “What? Just because I talk fast? I always like to talk fast. I would agree if this was the fifth time you met me, but this is just my personality.” She said, “Hold out your hands.” I did. She put a piece of paper on my hands and I couldn’t hold it. Some of my friends had noticed my hand tremors, but I hadn’t. “She asked me, “Are you agitated?” Of course, I was at her! At that point, I realized I am not good at self-diagnosis. As we continued to work together, she continued to reduce my medication, but because I am “not acute” I will always be hypomanic. Hypomania is a mild form of mania, marked by elation and hyperactivity.
I love to talk fast. It feels natural! Everyone probably thought, “That’s just Danei.” In other words, to use a character from Winnie the Pooh, I am a recovering Tigger. I remember a locker mate in high school asking me why I was always happy. I remember thinking “Isn’t everyone?” At a CIT police officer training recently, I was trying to explain what hypomania was and they were not getting it. So, I had to reveal my inner Superpower, “Tigger”. Granted, it’s not as “exciting” as a lightsaber to go with the Star Wars analogy but that’s my point. Charles’ tragic story taught me the valuable lesson to focus on authenticity and self-care. “Learning to use the force” for me means taking my medications, diet, exercise, but also not talking at 60 miles an hour or I will verbally shock people all the time. A Tigger can be “a bit much”.
The “Rebel Alliance” Needs All of Us
One thing I love in every Star Wars movie is that all kinds of under-estimated races come together to work to defeat the unstoppable Empire. What Destiny has asked of me is not what I expected. I need to authentically share about my mental illness. Why? The silence is killing us. We are in a war. Every 16 minutes someone is killed by suicide. 22 veterans a day are killed by suicide. The suicide rate has increased 24% from 1999 to 2014. One in five individuals in this country wrestles with a mental illness. I will be silent no more. The Rebel Alliance needs you.
Image of Luke Skywalker sourced from here.