Imagine for a moment that something inside you is changing.
Your usually coherent thoughts are no longer clear.
Scary ideas begin darting through your mind. Voices start telling you to do things. Bad things.
You can''timagine yourself ever actually acting upon those thoughts. And yet, before now, you couldn't have imagined even having them.
This is not who you are. So, as you feel yourself slipping away, you reach out for help -- only to find that you can't get it.
This may be the frightening new reality in Florida.
For the first time in decades, Orange County's mental-health facility is turning away people who need help -- because lawmakers in Tallahassee are not properly funding this critical need.
Yet, as bad as the problem already is, more cuts may be coming.
The consequences will cost us all in many, many ways.
To understand Florida's problem, you must also understand this state has shortchanged mental health for years, even when times were flush.
We treat the poor and mentally ill the same way we treat foster children, neglected elderly and most any other afflicted class that doesn't have a lobbyist as influential as Big Oil, Big Law or Big Sugar -- like second-class citizens.
We live in a state run by politicians who would rather spend more money on jail cells than on treatment rooms.
As a result, Florida ranks somewhere around 48th in the country, depending upon the study, when it comes to per-capita funding for mental health.
Nevertheless, officials with the Department of Children and Families have been asked to propose even more cuts, as much as $200 million.
That would mean less money for places such as Lakeside Alternatives, the nonprofit mental-health facility that contracts with the state to care for the poor in Orange County.
Lakeside treats 10,000 people a year in its outpatient medication clinic. And the number is growing at an alarming pace, just as the number of uninsured is growing.
Officials at Lakeside cringe at the idea of turning away needy people. But they have no choice. They began refusing service in February.
The result: People who are desperate for help won''tget it.
There are plenty of reasons why that should be morally appalling. But, since morality isn't exactly Tallahassee's guiding compass, how about we approach this from an economic standpoint?
Improperly funding mental-health issues on the front end costs exponentially more down the road.
When someone with mental-health problems can't get help at a clinic, that person ends up in our emergency rooms and our jail cells. It can cost 10 times more to institutionalize a person than to help him or her before it comes to that.
It's not complicated. In fact, it's pretty basic math.
Yet we have a Legislature full of McPoliticians who love to scream about Washington mortgaging our children's futures -- even as they do the same thing here.
They cobble together ineffective budgets that cut short-term costs, hoping to score "trimming waste" points in their next campaign brochure. It doesn't matter that the "waste" they trim may be a recently out-of-work father who is desperate to understand what's going on in his mind, so that he can be a good daddy to his kids.
These pols, especially those in the top leadership positions, think more about their next election than the next generation -- and more about themselves than the people they supposedly serve.
There are, after all, plenty of ways for legislators to find the money needed to help the state's mentally ill.
They could end some of the tax exemptions for special interests. They could sign the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. They could curb their use of state planes, start collecting taxes on Internet sales-- even give up their overly generous health-care plan with taxpayer-paid premiums.
They could do any of a number of things -- if they wanted to.
Don't give me any of this malarkey about some of those revenue streams being too small to make a difference. It costs about $100 a day to provide proper mental-health care to someone on an outpatient basis.
And if it comes down to a choice between asking a part-time politician to start paying his own insurance premiums -- instead of turning away another 10 or 20 people who are desperate for medical attention -- well, that call isn't even close.
If you want to reach your state legislator, call the legislative switchboard at 850-488-4371 during working hours, or find contact information for House and Senate members at leg.state.fl.us.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.