On Being Lit: A Personal Essay on Mental Illness, Homelessness, and Compassion

in Culture

This essay has been re-published with the permission of the author.

The fine line between sanity and madness blurs as a jittery librarian in downtown Miami with body sores, unkempt hair, and tattered clothes gives fiery sidewalk lectures.

Onlookers who recognize the senior librarian shake their heads as they toss a dollar or a get-well note into a tip jar with the hashtag #litwithfire scrawled on it. As the 57-year-old hippie throwback from San Francisco rambles on about spiritual warfare, chem trails, and legalizing weed, a struggle between rational and irrational thought plays out on the public stage.

I am Theo Karantsalis, a longtime college library administrator who has suffered from serious mental illness since childhood, or for about 50 years. This includes multiple suicide attempts, drug addiction, and bizarre behavior resulting in police standoffs, countless trips to jail, dozens of lawsuits, restraining orders, and lots of psychiatric intervention.

A crumpled doctor’s note in my pocket is a reminder to take medicine which includes immune system injections, large doses of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and mood stabilizers. It reads: “chronic mental illness, poor coping skills, evidence of paranoid and persecutory delusions, most recent episode manic, severe, with psychotic features.”

Over the years, a team of doctors have helped keep me afloat with schizoaffective disorder bipolar I type, or a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Regardless of how consistent one is with treatment, there are risks of unexpectedly going off the rails, as I did earlier this year. This left coworkers in our tight-knit College community scratching their heads and whispering.

When I requested emergency leave last April, the official reason was something valid and visible: psoriatic arthritis, which has left me covered head to toe with skin lesions that make it hard to sit, stand, or walk. If need be, I …

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Author: Theo Karantsalis / High Times

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