Six degrees of separation is the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. I am now six steps away to the celebrity Miley Cryus.
I never saw the movie based on that premise or thought much of that concept until my son Jason Luis Rivera was convicted of trespassing in Ms. Cryus property. I vaguely heard about Hannah Montana but hadn’t followed Ms. Cyrus career. Now, it feels like we are connected in some sad sick way. I wrote a memoir about my anxiety disorder but didn’t mention my son’s more severe mental illness. I wrote about my mother dying in the mental ward of Staten Island Hospital but never mentioned my son Jason walking on broken glass and picking up rocks when his wife and baby daughter temporarily left him in Hawaii fifteen years ago. It wasn’t my business I thought.
I write about the stigma of mental illness and how it affects society but never felt that stigma as personally as when my son was in the news “wielding a scissor.” On the record,
the prosecutor told me my son never wielded anything and was indeed delusional but he couldn’t force my son to take a plea deal. My son is 40 years old. The pundits online laughed at the thought of my son possibly endeavoring to give Miley a new hairdo. I cried.
My next book is about celebrating my anxiety and how mentally ill people have special gifts. My son is a published poet, a beloved father even when he was ill and never showed any hint of violence toward anyone. But his delusion that he is connected to Ms. Cyrus is real to him. He believes her music is speaking to him. I can say 99 % that he never intended to hurt Miley but there is that 1 % that is unpredictable and that is the brain disorder itself. I can say I am truly sorry that Ms. Cyrus is going through this and I am sorry my son did not take the probation deal offered to him. He said he would never forgive himself if he didn’t tell “the truth” about his relationship with Ms. Cyrus.
I do not hang my head in shame that I gave birth to a son who has a mental illness. If he had cancer or diabetes I would be encouraged to talk about my feelings but with a mental illness comes silence and shame. I will not bow to that shame. To do so would be to bow to all persons who suffer the stigma of mental illness and all those who work to end that stigma.
Mental illness is rampant in our modern world and a symptom of the breakdown of the “it takes a village” concept. Increasingly, the disorder has ostracized and isolated the very people who need the support the most. In our politically correct culture admitting to having a mental illness is verboten and one of the last frontiers of prejudice in our society.
We bandy about the word “Crazy” like well- crazy. “That’s crazy”, he or she is crazy cool, crazy, crazy and more crazy.
In old English Crazy comes from the word ‘Cracked” also not a nice word but more accurate in that a crack can signify a damage or an identifying mark that makes something or someone unique.In the past people who saw things others did not and perhaps had bi- polar disorder or schizophrenia were thought of as special and brought into the society ; not thrown out like in today’s world. They were the seers, the medicine men, the prophets. They were given a place in their community. Perhaps placing them inside the community in a special way prevented the rare events today where mentally ill people become violent.
Words matter. How we use them matter. If we misuse crazy for evil, insane or nonconformity we are abandoning and stigmatizing the mentally ill. I am not attempting to trivialize the severity of the suffering that arrives with a mental illness, but how we accept our own and other’s stories can change the world. Talking about mental illness is vital to end the fear that makes all hate and prejudice happen.
Society wants the mentally ill to remain invisible. I’ve had the experience of being invisible when I was deep into my illness. I spoke to a doctor and a glazed look came over his eyes, and bibbity- bobbity boo. I was no longer there, I didn’t belong. It’s a jarring sensation and I think many of my more extreme plans to do the impossible came out of my yearning to be more than my disease, to be more than visible, to be noticed.
My son did wrong and he is paying for it. He was convicted of 2 misdemeanors and will be in jail for 18 months with no time off for “good’ behavior. He told his lawyer he didn’t have a mental illness even though it could have been easily found out. He was on disability and has a history of going to psychiatrists looking for that magic medicine cure. He told the court he suffers only from a hormonal imbalance. Perhaps he was also ashamed of being tagged as “crazy” which of course the media was happy to do for him.
So many lies were told about my son. On one site they encouraged prisoners to rape him, and on another they showed a photo of him with a beard while in the TMZ video he is clean-shaven. There was even a whole show Nancy Grace dedicated to my son and Ms. Cyrus. One side was a head shot of Miley, the other side Jason and in the middle a huge pair of scissors. I felt like I was in an alternate universe. Six degrees of Miley Cyrus indeed. Nancy Grace kept saying how my son’s poetry was all love and how could he love a teenager when he was a 40-year-old man. She asked why was he writing poetry instead of working. Jason desperately wanted to work and was in Tennessee working the last time I talked to him. Nancy Grace spouted the common misconceptions that mentally ill people are lazy and showed indifference of the many ways mental illness can affect the sufferer. She was a bully and wouldn’t listen to the facts, and kept interrupting the guests who were about to say he published a book that had no violence or hatred in it.
I was told by a well-known psychiatrist that my son probably suffers from erotomania among other mental illnesses. Erotomania is a psychiatric term of a rare disorder in which an individual has a delusional belief that a person of higher social status falls in love and makes amorous advances towards him/her.
It is rare when an Erotomaniac physically harms their victim, but these are the cases that make it to the Evening News. In fact most mentally ill people are not violent but the instances where they attack others are so scary that the label is put on all the mentally ill.
I can tell you that my son is non violent, (he does not have a long criminal history in Texas) He used marijuana to self medicate. He is a spiritual person, once was a child model but you can only see the photos on the internet where he indeed is shown as “a crazed lunatic.” I can tell you, my son was a teacher’s pet who was given a set of encyclopedias in 6th grade to the chagrin of the other teachers and students, a man who listens when you speak, who loves his children but you won’t believe me.
It’s not your fault. You think a picture is worth a thousand words so I will end with a photo of who my son is, was and hopefully will be again and urge you to take another look at your view of the mentally ill. After all according to the National institute of Mental Health, (NIMH) one in four of us has one at any given time. It is time to change our minds about mental illness. It is not a defect in character. It is a disease. It is not shameful and my hope now is that my son will get help and be able to return to his family. The night my son trespassed on Ms. Cyrus property and lit candles Miley was at the VMA award show. If she had been home with her bodyguards my son might have been killed. Today Ms. Cyrus got a restraining order against Jason. I can only pray that in 17 months he will be well enough to honor that order. I am connected to Miley Cyrus in compassion and hope. I am connected to my son and all those who suffer from the stigma of mental illness with dedication and determination to eradicate that stigma. Let’s start talking.