joined open salon myself in early ~2009. my fraternal twin brother died a year later of suicide, brought on by his schizoaffective disorder. it was his 2nd attempt. in his 1st attempt he checked into a hotel and stabbed himself in the chest with a knife. and then called 911. it sounds very strange and weird but of course that is the nature of mental illness. after that 1st attempt my mom told me (according to the doctor, or maybe mental health support group, dont recall exactly which) that some schizophrenics just keep trying suicide until they "succeed".
of course "succeed" is a very weird word to use in this context. our language tends to fail in describing mental illness related situations. its interesting that language is based on logic aka rationality and normal functioning. there is a somewhat famous question in science where linguists and philosophers sometimes remark that thinking and language are so connected that if a language doesnt have a concept, we might not be able to think it. mental illness seems to evoke some of this. other words cross the two worlds meanings or have dual/ near meanings like lucidity.
my brother had seizures in his early 20s. he took medicine which seemed to control them. he never told me about them himself, found out about from my mom. this helps my family understand and come to grips that it was likely a biologically oriented illness. in other schizophrenics sometimes there are no other physical symptoms. there is a lot of literature on the "slightly different" biology of schizophrenics. unfortunately there is no "smoking gun", its a very mysterious disease much less understood than many others, the "causes" are very murky. did read a lot of science & research over the years trying to understand some piece of it. one definitely gets a strong "blind men and the elephant" feel around the whole subj.
schizoaffective is one of the harshest mental illnesses one could imagine. that might sound a counterintuitive thing to say & it would be terrible to rate them, but they do have different impacts. schizoaffective is nearly a combination of two separate illnesses considered full, sometimes utterly devastating mental illnesses alone: schizophrenia and a mood disorder. in other words, in "typical" schizophrenics (which itself is a tricky concept) there is not "also" an associated mood disorder. in my brother, the mood disorder was depression. schizoaffective again has no definitive biological diagnosis so even that is a "educated guess". but it really seems to fit esp in retrospective analysis, connecting the dots.
we (the family) had a lot of trouble even coming to grips with the schizophrenia diagnosis even as he was in the middle extreme depths of it. he didnt seem to suffer the classic delusions. however, for long stretches, he felt that it was unnecessary to eat and that if it really was, god would figure out some way to feed him. so an anorexia apparently not based on body dysmorphia (again, a strange combination). talked to him on phone when he was in the hospital once as he explained that. he was hooked up to a forced feeding tube and was complaining about how uncomfortable it was.
and then finally realized and admitted he really was, to use the impolite and utterly-taboo-among-professionals but very accurate vernacular/ term, to some degree, "crazy". that may have have been my last conversation with him ever, possibly. dont recall exactly. the doctors did not talk about his food belief system as a delusion but it seems very close. he also said that he felt like a "jackhammer" was in his head causing or evoking negative thoughts about himself. in retrospect, almost like a voice although he never described it that way.
sometimes there are crazy crimes in the news like mass shooters. only a few years later james holmes shot up dozens of people and killed a dozen or so at a theatre near my house, where had seen "dark shadows" movie only about ~6 weeks before that moment. there was a trailer for another movie with gangsters shooting up a movie theatre (which heard may have been pulled from theaters after the event, both the trailer and maybe the movie too).
people sometimes ask "why" these crimes are committed. the simple answer does not really have to do with the emotions of the mentally ill people who commit them. their emotions are mixed up and dont connect with reality the way normal peoples emotions do.
we, "normal people", do things based on our emotions which are a sort of mental regulatory system. one might say the mentally ill have in part disabled or malfunctioning emotional systems. so the question "why did they do crazy thing [x]" is logically answered "they have mental illness". (note for example eg re holmes etc that psychopathy is sometime alone nearly a kind of mental illness, or psychopathic thoughts could be regarded as symptoms of some other mental illness, although apparently some "high functioning" psychopaths are not actually thought to be mentally ill.)
in other words the question why sane person [a] did [y] is fundamentally different than why mentally ill person [b] did [x]. we might say we did [x] because we were angry, happy, or sad. to say a mentally ill person eg is "angry" (or other emotions) seems a sort of misnomer. their emotions are mixed up in a way that a normally functioning persons emotions can never exactly be as mixed up, even though we talk about normal people as having mixed up emotions. we might even describe someone eg as "crazy angry" but again this is a kind of misnomer in comparison to mentally ill people who are really crazy angry in a different way.
then there is another followup question "why do they have mental illness". that is a very complex question related to genetics and environment and culture that can fill hundreds or thousands of books, and does so.
regarding the culture: do feel esp american culture may have features that predispose it to a higher rate of mental illness than worldwide. to put it less delicately, its apparently somewhat "rampant". we certainly seem to be more messed up in the way we deal with it. people go to jail instead of mental hospitals. some of this dates to Reagan in the 1980s whose somewhat demagoguic "get tough on crime" attitude (he also apparently cut mental health facility funding) has influenced our current social predicament (eg massive incarceration rates higher than anywhere in the world, etc). was Reagan responding to the zeitgeist, or driving it? probably a little of both as they say, or maybe a lot of both might be more accurate. it might even be a polite understatement to call the US mental health care system "broken".
ie in short, to make it less abstract, a common unifying theme of most mental illnesses seems to be stress (-triggered). and we live in a very stressful culture overall. sometimes doctors advise patients to "avoid stress" somehow. but its a kind of impossible direction in many cases, in many lives. ie the environment itself is toxic.
it is hard to say why any one person gets mental illness. some of it must have biological causes. there is a concept called "Bio-Psycho-Social". however, think we have a very messed up culture in this country, maybe worldwide. our economic system is high-pressure, darwinian, winner-take-all, even more in the US than elsewhere. how exactly do we "pay" to have all these extremely wealthy individuals? dont believe in zero sum economies exactly but do think the wealth inequality is representing a zero sum game. dont blame the individuals, think the overall system is messed up and skewed. ie its a systemic problem. its like the fish in the water that cant perceive the water. but the water is dirty, the fish dont notice directly. they do notice they have trouble breathing or get sick sometimes, but maybe dont realize its the water. or maybe the fish just dont think much and just live in the present.
watched "beautiful mind" in 2001. found the movie very compelling, but could not put my finger on the reason why.
my brother was always "a little bit different" but he was very "high functioning" and we never had any reason to suspect mental illness. we think possibly he was intentionally trying to hide it from us and everyone.
he was in group therapy and taking many (prescribed) drugs (again much more to this story), jobless/ unemployed with nothing to do. there were some somewhat tentative electroshock treatments scattered over several years. not sure exactly how many individual sessions. he said he lost his memory of important stuff after the treatments. he used to hack around on computers and was learning linux, but said he gave up on that after one of his electroshock treatments and he couldnt remember how to do it, the details.
at my brothers funeral, many people told me that they had family member [x] who had mental illness. nobody ever says this in almost any other situation, and then was overwhelmed with others mentioning similar experiences. so, speaking of "dark shadows", mental illness seems almost like the dark matter of the social universe, so to speak. its everywhere & ubiquitous in a way but also well hidden at the same time.
it was not mentioned at the funeral that he committed suicide but it was mentioned tastefully by the minister (as recall) that he had a "medical condition"! in fact do not even recall if he mentioned "mental illness". was a bit shocked almost that maybe he didnt. the reference was very brief, and circuitous, abstract. experienced some cognitive dissonance on that. it seemed a strange omission considering ~5 years of his life, 35-40 ie 1/8th had been seriously affected by his mental illness and had such devastating impact.
hard to remember exactly... or maybe it was that the minister did mention mental illness, and then was thinking that it was slightly strange he didnt mention schizophrenia by name. at a funeral even more so than other social contexts, one of those tricky/ explosive areas that require huge tiptoeing.
funerals and memorials are like that. they might not be detailed on purpose. they are not necessarily a biography. it might not be considered tasteful by the family. dont think my parents gave much direction to the minister. but maybe my brothers wife did. at the funeral his (ex) wife read from his email(s) that were probably close to or basically suicide letter(s). thats a whole other complicated story for another time.
there is some scattered "internet wisdom" on the subject, have collected it over the years, waiting for some moment to write a blog on it. figured/ decided now is it. so heres some of that to peruse.
have bantered with JME quite a bit on open salon over the years in comments, and sometimes in IMs. he was a brilliant/ funny and prolific writer. very well read in religion and philosophy. we were both, shall we say, "admirers of females" and that theme periodically showed up in both of our blogs and was some inspiration for each others reciprocal comments. the cartoon for this blog comes from one of his own blogs. think he may have posted the same cartoon years ago on open salon, vaguely recall it.
JME had a great/ lively sense of humor. he was very jocular. he seemed to make no direct reference to his own depression but possibly alluded to it. suspect some of his online image may have been a persona, partly contrived to deal with his difficult situation. he wrote about a torrid affair with a librarian. what was her name? nicknamed Rena Oblong? was she real? does anyone know? may forever wonder about that. he sure wrote about her in a realistic way, she certainly sounded real.
JME was a huge inspiration for me after my brother died, often thought about my brother when reading JMEs content or writing to him. JME was quite high functioning and there was some reason to imagine/ hope he could live a long life somehow in a tricky equilibrium with his "condition". took solace in having a front row seat to witness that at least one mentally ill person was able to engage with life in a positive way even through the half-documented, half-unstated/unimaginable struggle.
statistically they say that people who are close to someone who has committed suicide are slightly higher at risk to also commit suicide.
another situation known from the schizophrenia or mental illness literature, or also suicides, is that in suicides, sometimes "the family blames themselves". that is a mostly abstract concept to many but in my family it became a devastating reality/ manifestation. have dealt with the "shattered glass" of that for 5 years now. am mostly at peace. but its like big waves crashing for over several years. the little boat rocks hard, sometimes it seems like its tipping, so to speak.
life goes on. or not.
addendum: David Kaczynski, brother of the unabomber, is the one who turned him into the FBI and has recently written a book and his riveting writing is being excerpted on the internet in a few places.[a26][a27] a fascinating case study of (apparent) mental illness & two brothers etc... brother Ted Kaczynski unabomber had earned a Phd. note also Holmes was a high-functioning graduate student.