The Story Of Josh Marks: When Reality TV Gets Too Real

A friend posted a link to Chicago Magazine's article "The Voices in Josh Marks' Head" on Facebook a few days ago. I was going to write something here at the time that he killed himself, but reading this helps me get my mind around it a little more.

Kind of. Honestly, at some point, reading these stories gets to be a little same old, same old. Not that I don't feel something every time, it's just that it's the same problem. People who have bipolar and/or schizophrenia and can't get the help they really need due to cutbacks in funding and/or lack of insurance who eventually kill themselves? That's just fucking bullshit.

It boggles my mind the insane unfathomable un-understandable amount of money this country pissed away on a war that was needless and senseless AT THE TIME we got into it, and now that the *last* argument for it ("spreading democracy") is proving to be gloriously destroyed in front of our faces, I'm even MORE adrift in a sea of despair to think of all of the education and healthcare and infrastructure we could have had with all of that fucking money.

Oh, and don't forget all the HUMAN LIVES we wasted. Threw away like old rags. But the people in charge of shit don't seem to even understand that there were people (ARE PEOPLE) there, risking their lives for nothing. Dying for nothing. Or if they do make it home alive, coming home with PTSD and falling into substance abuse, dealing with mental illness and finding nowhere to get help. Being abandoned by the system that was supposed to be there and take care of them, no matter what. Leave no one behind.


I love reality TV. I watch MasterChef and Hell's Kitchen and a plethora of other shows that are heavily edited and designed to accentuate excitement and boost drama. I can't imagine what being on one of those shows is really like, although I've tried many times. Being the strange combination of recluse/exhibitionist that I am, I have always plotted my parallel course to so many shows -- how I'd react on The Amazing Race, how I would plot and plan in a season of Survivor, how I would negotiate my way through something like Big Brother. I get to enjoy the fireworks on a show like Project Runway or MasterChef, because I can't cook or sew to save my life.

I clearly remember Josh's season. Both finalists, Josh and Christine, were super likable and interesting. I wonder now, reading what happened to Josh, if the stress and pressure of the show was the thing that pushed a dormant illness up to the surface.  I know that while I could look back on my life after being diagnosed manic-depressive and see various facets of my personality that shouted "bipolar!," I didn't get pushed directly into the fray from the start. I'm not sure if I also had a defining moment -- that breakup, ending that therapy, really maybe that breakup -- but I know that I had a similar experience in that I must have had something that triggered that first major episode and it went sideways from there.

I'm sure other people read that article and are chilled by many things -- hearing that someone hears voices is pretty hardcore. But the thing that shakes me to the core is that he couldn't get help. This wasn't a one-time incident where he just snapped and committed suicide. No, he was diagnosed and bounced from facility to facility, from hospital to hospital. He had no insurance and couldn't get anyone to properly treat him. There was clearly something wrong and yet, there was clearly no real solution that was working.

Oh, yes. I know this well. Even when I've gotten on a decent cocktail of medication, I often find that I have a hard time keeping a doctor, or finding an office who are competent to keep up with things like patient assistance information or getting forms filled out and turned in on time.  I have a hard time getting someone to just take care of the most basic need -- making sure I have all of my medications -- much less finding a psychiatrist who really knows anything about me, about my personality, about my inner workings. No, that would be WAY too much to ask for.

One of the meds I'm on, Topamax, is crazy talk expensive. And I've been on patient assistance for it for years. You apply once a year -- showing proof of income and such -- and then keep up with prescriptions from your doc as refills are needed throughout the year. Last year, they sent a letter saying that you would be withdrawn from the program unless you provided them with a denial letter from Medicaid. I had applied for insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act in October -- right when you could. But by November, I had heard nothing. I called, and went through a series of stumbles and bumbles that led me to believe something had gone wrong. Eventually, it seemed that my information had been processed.

I got a letter saying that my case had been moved to the State of Illinois for determination of eligibility for Medicaid. And I waited. I got another letter from the Topamax people reminding me they needed a denial letter from Medicaid. I still didn't have a denial letter, because I didn't have ANY communication from them whatsoever. I don't remember if there was any inbetween steps, but eventually I got on the phone with them as the deadline for applying for insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act approached. I didn't want to be fined or anything, so I called. Yes, the state had my application, but it didn't properly transfer in November, so they got it in January, but they were already months behind in processing them, so now mine went in line with everyone else's, so it would be months and months. Yes, I was considered as filing before the deadline ... but I'd still have to wait to hear about the result.

I didn't think to call the Topamax people about a denial letter, because clearly I didn't have one. I did call to renew my application, and they told me I didn't have to because my application went until the end of June. Okay, then. Recently, I tried to get a refill and it didn't go through. I called, only to find that I have been withdrawn from the system because they never received a Medicaid denial letter. I explained that I couldn't possibly have given them one because I was still waiting to hear from Medicaid. I was told I could have received some sort of waiver or something, but I never called Topamax. So, I'm out of the system and could fill out another application ... but ...

I don't know. I don't know where my application is with the State. It looks like I'm just not going to have any Topamax for now. And I don't know what to do. I've lived without it before, but what if it were the medicine that kept me sane? What if it were exactly that piece of the puzzle that kept me from a trip to the psych ward? I'd be fucked, that's what.

And that's not to even address the fact that I haven't been in therapy in years, and last year around this time, I decided it was time I got some professional head help again. Have I? No. Because I haven't been able to make it happen. Where is the magical meeting of really good therapist and sliding scale? I don't know. Let me know if you find it.

I always reel with the knowledge that I'm pretty "high functioning." That I'm intelligent. That I have a lot of resources and privilege, if I'm honest about it. I don't know how people with more serious illness, with less ability, with less agency, function. Maybe that's just it. They don't. They end up homeless. They end up delusional. They end up getting a gun to stop the voices in their heads.

I don't know why, as a nation, on the whole, we will stand by while our politicians piss away money on killing other people and wasting the lives of our own citizens when people are afraid to get the flu and can't get help when their brains get a little messed up. I don't know why healthcare (both preventative and sick-care) isn't a given. Why we act like it's greedy for people to want to be well -- so they can actually function and work and be productive members of society, contributing and giving back to the common good.  I cannot fathom how we've allowed things to get so sick and twisted.

What I do know is that I'm tired of reading stories like Josh Marks' and I'm tired of dealing with the same issues he did and knowing that he and I aren't all that different. I'm just blessed that in this life, my struggles are just a shade easier. My voices are a little quieter, is all.

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