You know them. These two essentials for any household handyman have been used to repair plumbing, car upholstery and hold any manner of furniture together to keep it functional. And for the last fifteen years, they’ve held me together. But, as any handyman would know, they aren’t permanent fixes. And it ain’t pretty when they fail.
Industrial artists know you can make duct tape and baling wire look pretty good. After my loosing my home and family in my mid-twenties, I mastered the art. I pulled myself together. I got a job, an apartment, became self-sufficient while surviving the wrenching trials of divorce and fighting for the right to be my children’s mother. I eventually remarried, and built a new home and family, and even began to develop my passion and calling in life.
Six months ago the duct tape sprang a leak. It was a slow one, steady though, and did a fine job of un-sticking the rest of the adhesive. Several month ago, the baling wire couldn’t do its job on its own anymore, and I split down the middle. On one side of the chasm I could see my life, with my beautiful children and my husband, my writing and teaching, friends and community. But I was on the other side, falling away into an unknown abyss, filled with rage and sadness. God, it was dizzying! I was so angry, I thought I had broken, and would be bitter and resentful for the rest of my life.
I stopped writing, and I started painting on our iPad. The piece above is an example. I was also given enough insight to know that I needed help, and had the miraculous ability to get it. That is a feat in China, where mental healthcare is rare. According to Dr. Xu Yong, the Director of Education and Training at the Shanghai Mental Health Center and at the Medical School of Jiaotong University, “a recent epidemiological survey in four provinces in China showed that the prevalence of at least one current mental disorder in adults was greater than 17% in 2001-2005, and mood disorders and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent types.” But in a population of 1.3 billion, there are only 16,383 psychiatrists, mostly concentrated in areas like Shanghai and Beijing, and there are very few social workers or clinical psychologist. The rural population has virtually no access to mental healthcare.
Though access is the biggest challenge, perhaps a more difficult challenge is the stigma that mental health issues hold in the culture. A friend of mine, an English major in his senior year at a local college, had a breakdown in December. I was terrified for this gentle, extremely intelligent young man. He was severely depressed, very likely suicidal, and possibly bipolar. We were able to get him to his family, who got him to a mental health facility. But he didn’t like it there, so his family took him out. They didn’t like the financial burden or the stigma his problem brought to the family. He wandered the streets of Beijing, making mystically profound, but deeply disconnected phone calls to me in the middle of the afternoon. He showed up on our doorstep one morning at 4am, scaring the daylights out of me in his manic state. He was unconscious of his forcefulness and his bizarre and scary words. And I had nowhere to take him, no reliable path of care.
When we break, psychic baling wire and duct tape can do the temporary survival work of holding us together. Somehow, this young man has gotten a hold of some. He has periods of clarity now, and has graduated and moved back to his hometown. But I don’t know what his future holds. My patch-up job failed. I was able to find and afford counseling in English in my area, and I’ve started the deep healing that I’ve needed for a very long time. What will he do?