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There is a dreadfully insidious creature with sharp teeth and ugly tentacles that lies patiently in wait along the passageways of life for many among us.

It can--and often does--strike without logic or warning at any stage of existence to throw so many lives into turmoil and despair.

One of my closest associations from teenage years into adulthood was William B. Hudson, a strong, soft-spoken, witty friend with tons of athletic talent and big brown Jersey cow-kinda eyes that made many ladies swoon.

As the year ticked away Bill grew into a successful dentist and what some might call a man's man, with a love of the outdoors, especially fishing, hunting and golf.

But there was this beast hiding inside him none of his friends could see during our youth. As it took control and began to grow during his early 20s, his mental illness became apparent to all who cared about him. It stayed relatively silent as long as Bill remained on his medication and shied away from alcohol. But that proved to be an overwhelming demand as he increasingly tried holding his life, practice and family together.

Ultimately, the beast drove him into continuous cycles between relative normalcy with his wife and two precious young children and lapsing into bizarre behavior and bouts of psychosis. As the lapses became more frequent, she became seriously concerned for their children's safety. It was only a matter of time until one of his agitated episodes (while off medication) finally drove her away and ultimately to divorce.

Then in 1996, on a morning when we were to meet for what had become our daily early walks, Bill failed to show. The phone call came two hours later while I was busy at the newspaper office. Bill had shot himself in his apartment with a .22-caliber handgun while alone on a couch with the front blinds open in the certainty a passing neighbor soon would spy his body. They did. Despite his endless struggles with the beast, Bill always remained extremely bright.

Since that time, probably much like you, I've come to know many others fighting with their own beasts. Whether one's form of mental illness stems from such crippling ailments as borderline personality disorder, depression, disassociation, extreme anxiety or full-blown psychosis that cripple the ability to live what is considered a normal life.

If their medical problems were physical in nature--such as cancer, diabetes, broken bones, thrombosis, or you name the physical afflictions that invariably catch up to each of us--we would recognize and support their obvious need for medical care.

But sadly, there always has been this stigma attached to suffering from what ails so many in the critical organ behind our eyes, the place where consciousness and awareness resides. We tend to fear what we can't see or easily understand about the large number of such debilitating illnesses.

Psychiatrist and M.D. Vinay Saranga recently wrote an article devoted to May as the month in which we hopefully pause to recognize mental illnesses, which can affect any of us throughout our lifetime.

The doctor considers this an important recognition because, well, so many of us today live with various forms of mental illness.

Consider that statistics show 18.5 percent of us suffer from a serious mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That represents some 46 million people. It also means in a group of 100 people almost 20 find themselves in the clutches of the beast.

Saranga, who frequently writes on mental health issues in addition to treating them, said so many victims suffer in silence, fearing stigma, which naturally makes them reluctant to seek help. "It doesn't have to be this way," he wrote. "We've made a tremendous amount of progress to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, but we still have a long way to go." He said there are definitive steps we can take to help others.

The biggest role any of us can play is not to be judgmental. That can prove difficult for many, yet we should accept and understand that those who have mental illness are not weird or different. "Labeling them as such would be the same as telling a diabetic or cancer patient that he is weird or different because of his illness," Saranga explained, adding, "people with psychiatric conditions don't choose to suffer just as someone who suffers a stroke or heart attack doesn't wish that for themselves. Mental illness is the result of chemical imbalances in the brain, environment and genetics."

Anxiety disorders, depression and so many other mental conditions can happen to anyone. And they occur at various times of life. Before you judge someone, he adds, remember these people are your friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family.

"Mental illness is a real medical condition and therefore requires real treatment from a trained professional," the doctor continued, saying that without medication and/or therapy, it won't improve and will get worse. "Sadly, as we've seen with a number of celebrities over the last few years, not seeking treatment, or improper treatment, can lead to suicide," Saranga wrote.

Whatever you do, don't do nothing.

Godspeed, Bill Hudson. You fought your relentless beast until the end when even your best efforts failed to hold its fangs at bay any longer.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Web only on 05/11/2019

Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: Fighting the beast

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