It’s a strong community that can engage in tough conversations.
And we’re having one right now.
Lots of things are on the minds of Citrus County residents these days: growth, roads, congestion, affordable places to live, rezoning decisions, county taxes, animal shelter — the list goes on and on.
But one subject is pushing itself to the front of the conversation, mainly because it’s just so significant.
Mental illness, addiction and alcohol abuse are all at the forefront of conversation as the county moves forward with a Baker Act campus in Lecanto. There is much debate about what this should look like, the cost, who pays for what, and the kind of discussion that accompanies any major project.
Let me interject a little humanity here.
It’s easy to lose sight of purpose when the politicians get involved, but what we’re doing is finding ways to help our neighbors, friends, co-workers, fellow students, colleagues and loved ones deal with the insidious effects of mental illness or addiction.
People like me.
I’m a recovered alcoholic (I'll have 17 years of continuous sobriety if I make it to July 6). I’m what we call a REAL alcoholic, meaning I drank to live. Never mind that the whiskey was killing me, I knew no other way of survival.
Drinking took me to dark, lonely places. I believed the lies it told about me. In the end, when I reached the conclusion that I really was going to die, a tiny speck of common sense made its way to the surface and I called a friend for help.
That man took me to a 12-step meeting the next day and I haven’t had a drink since.
Most of my mental problems shaped up after I stopped drinking and started living a different life. I became faithful to God, cleaned house and began doing things for other people without thought of reward. My health improved and I was a pretty content dude.
Mental stuff, though, that’s a strange and unpredictable animal.
A traumatic situation arrived a few years ago that only got worse over time, not better. I found myself isolating (ALWAYS the first hint of trouble) and having unhealthy thoughts. I cried often with no warning and had trouble getting out of bed most mornings (or afternoons).
Didn’t drink through that, but I became very inward. Trusted NO ONE. Each dawn broke with a heavy fog and I started the day angry.
I prayed. Lord, did I pray. I begged God to take this pain from me and then I lashed out when it didn’t happen right away.
Here’s the thing about mental illness. It just screws with you. Mental illness is the illness that says I don’t have an illness. My brain will kill me if I let it. And it was killing me slowly, telling me over and again that all would be better off if I just wasn’t around.
I listened to that voice. I nearly agreed with it.
Instead, another voice, one I could barely comprehend, began whispering to me. Instead of the voice saying I was no good, this voice gently said I was loved and would be missed. I slowly started reaching out to friends and supporters, and they pulled me from the ledge.
I’d like to say this happened very quickly but it didn’t. Frankly, I’m still a work in progress. Some days I own my world and some days I want to flee. Or hide.
Most of the time, I’m very, very happy. Thankfully, my dark moments are rare.
We’re having lots of conversations about mental illness right now and I just want people to know it’s out there and it’s real. As you can tell, I'm zoned in on it as a Just Wright Citrus topic.
Please…if you know someone suffering, be nice. Show compassion. Never know what one loving word will do.
It sure can’t hurt.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.