Every day after school, I ask my kids what they learned today. The usual answer is “I don’t know…nothing” followed by a request for a snack and for me to put on some inane canned- laughter TV show like “Sam and Cat” where it’s funny to hear Arianna Grande talk in a fake high pitched voice for an hour.
This week the answers to that question for me includes the fact that I learned that Kendrick Lamar is not a Kardashian; that the USA Olympic team is sporting a collection of sweaters made by ladies in a retirement home quilting bee, and the fact that I will be hiring Facebook to do the photo montage for Sams bar mitzvah. (Is there anything Facebook can’t do??)
I also learned that there is yet another game that you can play on your phone that I don’t have time to learn: Jellysplash. I learned that I am conflicted about whether or not men should wear Lululemon. I have also realized that Sochi will not be a good place for me to vacation since they don’t have enough pottys and that the Russia national anthem scared me.
But this week I also learned something more important and sad. I learned about the serious lack of resources for the mentally ill in our country.
In my 15 years as a criminal defense attorney, I realized that the majority of my clients were not scary criminals. Many were mentally ill or drug addicts or both. Most use illegal drugs to self-medicate. Many had family and friends that had no idea where they were anymore. The homeless people arrested for loitering were once someone’s child, parent, or sibling.
Unfortunately, I have a family member who is in the throes of an extreme mental illness. This was once a successful, creative vibrant woman: a wife, mother and business owner. She is now feared by many in her community and in serious danger of hurting herself or others around her. The problem is that not only is there nothing our family can do legally to help her, she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her.
When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died this week from a drug overdose, everyone shook their head and said “Why didn’t he get help? Why didn’t the people around him make him get help?”
Drug addiction is a disease and mental illness is a disease. But the worst part is that the people afflicted with these diseases do not believe they are ill. People with cancer, heart issues, diabetes, and chronic pain know that they are sick. These people do not. They don’t think they need treatment or help. They won’t willingly go for help. And most states do not have the resources to force them to do so.
And so this week I learned the saddest life lesson of all: sometimes you can want to help someone so badly it tears you up inside. Often you will succeed. A lot of the time you do. This time I can’t.
And this is a lesson I hope my kids never learn. But at some point, they probably will.