From Nate Butler, Scriptwriter
I smiled and listened carefully. Happy for my friend, Jim, but completely baffled and struggling to follow what was going on. My friend Jim had just told me how he had met the most amazing girl of his life. He was bursting with enthusiasm. He was going to fly out to New York and married to her. Telling me about her, how they talked all weekend, and how the universe had shown him their magnificent destiny together.
“Can you see it?”
I smiled and nodded, but not with much certainty.
“It’s right there. All along. Right there. It’s so clear now.” Gesturing to the magnets on my fridge, “Can you see the signs? They’re everywhere. She’s my queen!”
Smile and nod.
That’s my usual response to things that don’t make sense. Smile, nod, drink tea, and listen. Hope it’ll start making sense. You see, Jim had only met this girl last weekend. He had known her for less than 72 hours. And he was going to fly across the country and get married to her. This was not normal for Jim. I’d known Jim for around 4 years at that point. Jim was the voice of common sense and pragmatism. He never was the one to jump into things. But there he was love struck and ready to take the plunge with every ounce of his being. I asked him to crash at my place for the night and sleep on it. Flying at 10pm or 10am wouldn’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. He agreed.
The next morning he flew out.
The next day I got a call from his mom telling me about his mental illness.
Jim was manic depressive. What I had seen was a manic episode. After leaving my place, he went to the airport, got a ticket to fly to New York, tried get on the wrong airplane, spoke incoherently about being the sun god, and was committed to a hospital to get treatment.
I felt horrible. I hadn’t realized what had happened. I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. I knew he was acting kooky, but…well…I thought he was incredibly in love. Maybe a little foolish, but not ill. I had no idea he was manic depressive. I didn’t even know what the symptoms of mania were.
Mental illness really isn’t something people talk about much…even with good friends. I don’t even know how to talk about it here. That’s why I tell this story rather than trying to talk about mental illness too directly. It’s a complicated subject with so many details. It’s so easy to get details wrong, no matter how well-intentioned. Mental illness is a spectrum of illnesses with many different symptoms, struggles, and outcomes. And they’re all difficult to talk about.
This show deals with the challenges of mental illness and opens up the conversation. It’s hard. It’s complicated. But it needs to be done. Mental illness isn’t just something that happens to “other” people. It’s about people you know. Family. Friends. Loved ones. Maybe even you.
I want people like Jim to be able to get the help they need. I want to be able to help him. How can we begin to help people… how can people even begin to get the help they need, unless we take that first step.