The world in general does not really care about the mentally ill. This is a cold hard fact I have learned with each new diagnosis. And the “crazier” you are, the less people are likely to care. As my diagnoses have gone from simple depression at age twelve, to Major Depression with Psychotic features, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Severe Insomnia at age 22, I’ve learned all too well how ordinary people react as diagnoses gets “worse”. To the general population, depression and anxiety are ok, and can even garner some sympathy, but the moment the word psychosis enters the picture, people run for the hills. Hallucinations, delusions, voices, flashbacks, and memory loss are things most people are unprepared to look at in the face. And I know this because it’s my face they’re avoiding. My illness has cost me friends, jobs, and lots of time. When I try to bring up the issues facing the mentally ill, I am all too often faced with blank stares. Total apathy. Or become the butt of jokes. Many times I feel forced to laugh along with others about the very thing that is killing me.
In hard times, many turn to religion. In all honesty, I’m not particularly religious. I consider myself ethnically/culturally Jewish and spiritually some kind of agnostic witch. But when the world gets particularly tough, I do find myself turning to one biblical story from my days in Hebrew school. The story of my personal queen – Judith.
Let me set the scene. It’s wartime. People want to kill the Jews (Bible and just general history spoiler: people always seem to want to kill the Jews). We’re losing, badly. Judith’s beloved husband is away at war. He fights his best, but ultimately loses his life. Judith is heartbroken and traumatized. Not one to sit idly by, Judith goes to the general of the army to ask how she can help. What she finds is a despondent general convinced they are going to lose. They are going to surrender. “The war is lost”, he says. Judith tries to convince them to keep fighting, reminding them that her husband gave his life for the cause, and so did countless others. The general and his men are unaffected. They don’t care about her opinion. To them, she is just some widow. “I’ll do it myself then”, Judith announces. “Whatever”, replies the army (I may be paraphrasing here). They grimly laugh at her as she goes home to plot.
So the set up is, distraught sad woman who has suffered a great trauma confronts society. Society tells her to shove it. Sad woman decides to take matters into her own hands. Literally.
Judith goes home and gathers her supplies: a knife, cheese, and a whole lot of booze. She walks right up to enemy lines. She asks to see their general, Holofernes. The soldiers comply, thinking she is just some random harmless woman. What possible threat could she pose? Judith tells Holofernes that she has brought a peace offering. She then proceeds to seduce him, letting him over-indulge in the cheese and wine she has brought. Once he is in an alcohol and dairy stupor, he passes out. Judith then takes her knife. And then, with her own hands, proceeds to cut off his“God damned” head.
The enemy soldiers are horrified. Lost and without leadership, they flee. Judith then marches right back up to the weak general who laughed at her earlier. She plops Holofernes’ head in his lap. The war is won.
Judith’s story resonates with me on many levels , for two major reasons. The most obvious — badass woman chops off a dude’s head. The most important — Judith takes action and reclaims her trauma. I tried to tell people about my psychosis problems when I was younger but no one really would listen to me because I was a young girl. To this day, I try to tell the story of my trauma but people won’t have it. Judith prepared me for this.
Judith is not me. She is not mentally ill. She has been given no psychotic symptoms (although one should note that the Bible is filled with people hearing voices and having visions). However, with the death of her husband, she has suffered a great trauma. And she wants those who have power to do something about it. To listen. To fight. To help.
Mental illness is a daily trauma. It is a war that is fought by me and countless other people every day. The mentally ill need the general population and those in charge to listen. To fight. To help. What the story of Judith teaches me is that I can’t depend upon others to fight my battles. I’m going to have to save myself. I’m going to have to go out there and try to decapitate the enemy — misinformation, ignorance, apathy. No matter how uncomfortable it makes me. Or how different and strange it makes me to others. I can’t depend upon others to fight to win.
It is interesting to note that the story of Judith was excluded historically from the authoritative text of the Torah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and any early Rabbinic literature. Many historians speculate it was for the same reasons I find myself excluded from much of accepted society. The story was too brash, too strange. Too much. Just like me.
Yes, it’s true that the world in general does not care much about people like me. But that does not mean I am powerless. To the contrary, being underestimated can be turned into a great strength. After all, Judith was just a poor widow. But one capable of bringing down entire armies. I am just a sick girl. But I know that I have Judith’s bloodline inside me. I know what I am capable of. Watch out for your heads.