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Jessie Close speaks on the challenges and complexities of living with a mental illness.

Joe Arruda

She sat at her desk in her college dorm room alone and afraid. She knew something was behind her. Something dark. Something malevolent. She turned and saw herself, sitting on her bed. It was her. She pictured her long blonde hair hanging down, her face slightly obscured in shadows. Terrified, she knew something was wrong but didn’t know what to do.

Jessie Close sunk into a ceaseless hole of blackness. Depression. She was hallucinating, terrified of herself.

On a rainy Thursday evening, hundreds of students and faculty, as well as members of the community, gathered in the Springfield College field house as Close and her son Calen Pick spoke on the challenges and complexities of living with a mental illness.

Because the daunting task of living with no control over one’s mind isn’t enough of a challenge, society surrounds the condition with stigma and judgement to increase the difficulty. Labels, looks, and preconceived thoughts allow other humans the ability to become the ultimate destructing factor in someone’s battle with mental illness.

“It was when Calen became so sick, that we began to see the deep-rooted prejudice against people who live with mental illness,” Close said describing Calen’s friends neglecting him. “They were teenagers. They were scared. I have never forgiven them,” she said.

Thanks to the generosity of Carlton and Lucille Sedgeley ‘63, the Arts and Humanities Speaker Series at Springfield College embraces tough conversations. Presentations like these provide opportunities for discussion on topics such as mental illness, so people are not scared to engage with someone struggling.

“With treatment, therapy, and specific medications, I’m simply not ‘mentally deranged’ anymore,” Close said.

Close has a particular frustration with the word “deranged,” because it often implies the word “crazy.” She believes that both words cannot be accurately used in describing a person with absolutely no control over their emotions or actions.

“We have a long way to go to stop the prejudice,” she said. “Even our dictionaries need updating.”

Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper commented in her introduction,“To get up and come out in the rain is significant, because on a day like today, the conditions can influence how you feel. Imagine if every day you felt like the effort of getting up and getting to class, getting to work, being fully present in your daily life, was compromised?”

Pick provided a valuable message to the discussion, as he “disintegrated” during his part of the presentation. He suddenly lost his train of thought, leaving him alone in center stage trying desperately to piece sentences together.

“When I had a moment of clarity, at first they were very brief,” Pick reflected. “My problem was that I would understand a concept, and try to hold onto it so hard that it would kind of disintegrate, and I was back at square one again.”

Pick lives with schizoaffective disorder, a sinister combination of symptoms for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder experience hallucinations or delusions, as well as mania and depression.

A member of the Springfield College student body interjected with words of encouragement for Pick as he searched for his lost idea, saying, “You’re doing great!” These three light-hearted words sparked a roar of applause from all in attendance.

Michael D’Andrea, Associate Professor of School Counseling at Springfield, felt strongly that Pick’s presentation did not fall apart at all. He believed that the way Pick spoke truly represented what was going on in his mind, stating, “It was perfect.”

A Springfield College graduate student added that “[Pick’s] art had emotion all over it. You don’t have to speak, it will speak for you.”

One of the primary reasons why the mental illness stigma exists is because often times, people are ignorant as to what is actually going on in the minds of those who are struggling. Stories like Pick’s instill the necessary amount of empathy into the hearts of those willing to listen.

“Compassion is free. Listening is free. Do it!” Close passionately exclaimed.

She also emphasized the importance of seeking help. Close mentioned that when she started experiencing symptoms in her late teenage years, mental illness was never talked about. Because of this, she was not diagnosed until age 50, after spending about 30 years of her life going back and forth between states of mania and depression.

“The ability to behave normally, when all you want to do is die, is not a long term option,” said Close. She also emphasized the necessity of expressing one’s emotions to a compassionate listener.

“The drop into psychosis is a period of rapid descent. The climb back out is much more difficult,” Pick said. “The bottom line is, without our minds, we are nothing. But with our minds, we can be anything.”

Photo courtesy of Springfield Flickr


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