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With help, mentally ill can make contribution

I'm writing from a local house for the mentally ill, a temporary refuge for those who are living independently but need a safe space for a month or so.

I want to tell you about some of my experiences as a person with psychological troubles. Even more, I'd like to argue the point that with support, nurture and medical help, very few mentally ill humans are dangerous and, what's more, many can make tremendous contributions to this troubled world. Also, perhaps others can see from my story how youth who are prone to mental disease might be helped.

But let's start a long time ago in Klamath Falls, where I grew up.

In the second grade, I believed I could make it rain and put blessings or curses on fellow students I liked or disliked. My belief in my sorcery took an upsurge when a recently blessed friend won a spiffy new bike in a raffle drawing.

I was popular with my classmates until the fourth grade, when school sports began and my awkward gait left me out of the picture. Then I began playing by myself, running back and forth creating imaginary worlds and having adventures within them. Riding home on the bus, I would bounce my feeet to "dodge" passing power poles. Walking downtown, I would religiously avoid cracks.

Always, I would read, devouring the likes of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" as well as serious history books.

Branded as "weird" through junior high and high school, I continued my private studies, at times understanding Aristotle, the big bang, or the details of evolutionary theory. At other times, I thought God was sending me messages in color, and that I was magically destined for great things; always, I was high-strung and overly sensitive.

At Southern Oregon University, I learned that a six-pack or a joint could make me feel all right with the world after my homework was done ... at first. I found acceptance among the stoners, kids barely staying in school ... using a wide variety of drugs.

Somehow, I got good grades, but my drug use led to trouble with the law, and a bad mushroom trip loosened my always imperfect grip on reality. Soon, I was terrified of crossing streets, and passing strangers became possible attackers. Increasingly, I sought solitude and liquor.

I graduated, wrote TV advertising in a sky-scraper, saw my future prophesied in a painting, spent some time as a professor in Thailand, discovered that I was John Lennon reincarnated, and then returned to America to commence the socialist revolution by putting a rock through the window of Ashland's Breadboard restaurant; I waited for the police in a spirit of Ghandian nonviolence.

This occasioned the first of many stays in mental hospitals; the staff at RVMC's Two North helped and stabilized me. Every morning, Steve the nurse would bring my meds with beaming good cheer. Diana the social worker convinced me to reluctantly read aloud some poems I'd written in Thailand; Her response was enthusiastic and helped me to believe in my future even as I was having to face my mental dysfunction.

From then on, I encountered many other mentally ill humans: a gentle, toothless old man forever haunted by his youthful murder of his own mom over a pair of sunglasses; a friendly, articulate young man whose legs and arms were covered with scars from self-cutting; a beautiful young university actress who attempted suicide because of bipolar disorder, and many bright, good-willed people who suffer from voices, hallucinations and other psychological troubles. This bizzare modern world warps the minds of some very capable, morally beautiful people.

Around here, all such people depend on Jackson County Mental Health. From psychiatry to therapy to helping patients with their daily lives, this organization goes the extra mile. Most always, the staff treats patients with dignity, respecting that they're valuable humans ... who just have special needs.

This team, led by my caseworker, Mary, has led me out of the desert of dysfunction and alcoholic self-medication to the oasis of healing and productivity. I still sometimes tremble as I cross the street; delusions of grandeur still rear their venomous heads. But I have healthy medicine now, and I've learned tools like meditation. Plus, help is always just a phone call away. Most importantly, I want to perservere and do good in the real world, so someday my little son Bohden (whom I helped a lesbian couple conceive) will be proud of me.

Sean Lawlor Nelson of Ashland has mild schizophrenia as well as panic and post-traumatic stress disorders. He's the author of a poetry book, "An Ode To Id."