Thriving Through Mental Illness

In today's society, mental illness carries a stigma which fosters a negative perception onto those living with one. As much as mental illnesses are hindering, one in four Americans are suffering with one, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Despite self-oppression, a negative perception, and a variety of daily struggles that one goes through with a mental illness, many succeed living happy and purposeful lives.

Everyone’s story is different. Everyone has their own struggles and highs and lows, and many also come out the other side, living a life they only dreamed about living. For some, it didn't seem possible to continue living. But many have also used that morbid feeling as motivation to fight for a life they want despite the struggles they have faced. That is the story James Otis continues to live out every single day.

James Otis is a man of many talents: a non-violent activist, art seller and real estate expert, just to name a few. As an outsider looking into the wondrous life of James Otis, it comes as a surprise to hear of the mental illnesses he suffers with: bi-polar disorder 1 and minor schizophrenia. He is also a recovering alcoholic, who has been sober for over 20 years. Not only has he overcame the struggles that come along with these illnesses, he has also used them to forever benefit his life in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

James Otis, whose great great grandfather invented the elevator, comes from an affluent family with many successes. Growing up in a family like that, James always felt a great ordeal of pressure to succeed in his life aspirations. Although he struggled with the pressures of life at home, he had not yet experienced his mental illness. The first signs became apparent in his early 20’s, which is the age that three-quarters of people begin to experience symptoms, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It was in the midst of studying at the University of Texas that he had experienced his first manic episode. Otis checked himself into the Austin State Hospital, where the doctors were unable to diagnose him with bi-polar disorder. “I knew something was wrong, however didn’t know what was wrong,” said Otis. Looking back on his 20s he recalls always having incredible amounts of energy, but no depression. People with bi-polar disorder experience not only manic episodes, but also a great deal of depression, so Otis could not yet have been diagnosed.

Otis' mental illness was exacerbated later when his life took an intense turn. In 2009, Otis had obtained 5 personal items that had belonged to Mahatma Gandhi: his glasses, his sandals, an eating bowl, a pocket watch and a large round plate. His plan was to put the items up at an auction house in New York and then donate the proceeds to pacifist causes. However, when the Indian government had been informed with this information, they vowed to stop the auction from happening at any and all costs. Otis then received a lot of backlash from the people of India, including death threats to him and his two children. The five items were then sold to an Indian billionaire, Vijay Malliya, the owner of the Indian airline Kingfisher Airlines. However, the uproar from India that was caused by this incident put him in great depression along with severe mania. The day the auction ended, he flew to India where he then fasted for 23 days to show how sorry he was to the millions of Indian people he had offended. When he returned back home, he was very manic and very depressed which then lead to another immediate hospitalization. It was then that James Otis realized and accepted the seriousness of his mental illness.

Since then, he has learned a lot about how to properly take care of himself and his mental health, which includes regular and consistent therapy, taking prescribed medication and a balanced diet. Despite having a serious mental illness, James Otis lives a life where he is happier and more content than he ever thought was possible. He is only one of the 13.6 million people who suffer from a serious mental illness, according to NAMI, and he is one of many working rigorously to live happily.

Another such example is Logan Howard, a sophomore student at Pierce College. In her early teenage years, Howard was diagnosed with several mental illnesses and disorders, so she knows first hand how difficult living with one can be. “I struggle with OCD, bi-polar and depression. So mental illness affects me strongly every single day. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, some days I’m super happy, but every single day I struggle,” she said.

She also feels frustrated by the stereotypes projected onto herself and others who suffer from mental illness. “It is not a choice, it is not laziness, it is not a character flaw; it is an illness just as cancer or a cold. It needs to be addressed delicately and people who have it should be comfortable enough to come forward,” she added.

Living day to day life can be especially difficult for a working student. “For example, if I have a test the next day and I’m feeling very depressed, I won't want to study, won't want to get up and sometimes don’t even want to go to school. But overall, school has given me an outlet of hope for life. Learning new things each and every day has helped me with my depression and shown me that there’s a lot to this life to love and learn”. Logan is living proof that it is more than possible to carry out one’s aspirations and goals while also living with a mental illness.

While victims of mental illness receive significant prejudice from outside forces, there are also many people in the world who have a great understanding of their struggles. Margaret Dunham, a psychologist located in Santa Monica, has an immense knowledge on mental illnesses of many sorts. “I think many people are uneducated about it and are afraid of the idea of mental illness, and the problem, as a public health issue, is vast with no easy solution,” she said. Her knowledge on the matter enables her to have a much greater understanding and a sense of empathy and care for those who suffer with mental illnesses. She knows that there is not nearly enough light shed onto this issue.

“It is wrong to stereotype people. Every person suffering from a mental illness has different family of origin attachment styles, different brain chemistry, different symptoms and coping mechanisms, and a different genetic makeup. All people with bi-polar disorder are not the same, for example. Obviously it distorts or colors the way the public regards people with mental illness, creating prejudice which can increase the shame and tendency to hide from the community and not seek help when needed.” It just goes to show how much power knowledge can really have, as it can erase stigmas and misconceptions about many things. All it takes is awareness of the subject at hand.

Asking for or accepting help for something as serious as a mental illness is not anything to be ashamed about, despite any negative stigmas or stereotypes one may have heard. No matter how the media or society may portray or talk about mental illness, it is an underrepresented issue that is very important to address. If knowledge of mental illness can become more widespread, the knowledge of methods towards mental health can too.