Monday, February 18, 2008

The Morning Sun: Poetry combats stigma of mental illness

PUBLISHED: Sunday, February 17, 2008

By Lisa Satayut
Sun Staff Writer

Richard Hartlep, 58, is a quiet man who lives a quiet life. Although he usually doesn't have a lot to say and sometimes has trouble expressing his feelings. He has no problem communicating through written words.

And his message is beautiful.

It's a message that he hopes will break the stigma that is associated with being around those with a mental illness.

You say weakness, I say sickness.
You say shrink, I say psychiatrist.
You say too ballistic or too vanilla, I say bi-polar.
You say way too tragically gloomy Gus, I say depression.
You say he or she babbles about God and Molson Canadian all in the same breath,

stare too much, and look like hell, I say they're schizophrenic, and they're not feeling too hot either.

Hartlep was diagnosed with depression when he was a teenager and has been trying to maintain a stable life ever since. He was 18 the first time he tried to kill himself. Growing up, his parents treated him like he was "retarded" and sheltered him from life. Or maybe it was the other way around and they didnt want anyone to be around their "not-so-normal" child.

"It was swept under the rug," he said of his first suicide attempt. Hartlep has spent a great deal of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and group homes. He has been homeless. And for a while his "home" consisted of a small single hotel room at the Mission Street apartments.

You say rubber-room, I say time-out room.
You say you will flip out again any time soon, I say I'm feeling much better, thank you.
I say I was having an episode. You say looney bin.
I say Psych unit, you say I needed help, I say I'm getting help. You say those like me are the black sheep of the family, I say we're a unique piece to our puzzle.
You say on dope, I say on meds.
You say therapy, I say the spilling of the guts.

But currently, Hartlep is doing just fine. He sits quietly inside his small but cozy apartment in Winchester Towers. Hartlep is a CMU football fan and is wearing a Motor City Bowl T-shirt while he waits for his instant coffee to warm up in the microwave.

He loves his job working at the Comfort Inn. He has been there for almost three years now and says the people he works with are great. Although none of them know about the specifics of his mental illness he doesn't think his coworkers would treat him any different.

But that has not always been the case. Although Hartlep was born and raised in Mecosta County he spent some time living in Arizona. He worked at a hotel in Phoenix and would oftentimes be teased and made fun of by his coworkers. In 2004 he decided to put his frustration on paper.

"Why not write about it?" he said. He bought a typewriter at a thrift store and has been typing away ever since.

You say I can't drive anymore, I say I shouldn't be driving anymore. You say, so this is what it's come down to, collecting bottles and cans, I say its Dial-a-Ride money.
You say I still work for minimum wages, I say I'm still able to work.

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