What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Illness of Our Mental Health Care System

As the mother sat in the waiting room, she watched a parade of patients shuffle in and out of the back rooms. No one was back there for very long; and all of them, as they left the psychiatric office, carried one or two or more prescriptions in their hands. No one was particularly happy and no one was particularly odd; but there was a peculiar air to the place that flirted with despair. Her son sat near, not talking, staring ahead with hostility and hatred. And the mother sat, toying with her hands and soaking up the despair – shell shocked by all that had recently transpired, and wondering, “What has happened to my son? And what will happen now?”

It hadn't been easy, this journey to this office. The long and rapid descent. Watching, helplessly and hopelessly. And there was no where and no one to which she could turn. Her son, mislead and misdiagnosed and mistreated by the family doctor. Unable to easily procure an appointment with a psychiatrist. Enduring the mental and physical brunt of her son's illness – weeks of mental decomposition. And now, finally, here, sitting with a flicker of hope and relief and a fantasy. Now they would get answers. They'll work as a team, a united front, this doctor, herself, her husband, her son. And they would find the path toward sanity together. She sighed and weaved her fingers together and then apart. She glanced at her son's rigid profile. Yes. Together, they would find a way.

Then her son's name was called and he disappeared behind closed doors. It was his choice to go alone, he was over eighteen. And the mother waited, alone. Months, maybe years, of uncertainty and there they were – so close to an answer. Anxious and giddy with anticipation, her despair eased away. They will talk; and then they'll call her back. They'll all discuss the options. Lay out the course to recovery . . . She placed her bottom lip between her teeth and nodded with determination.

It wasn't terribly long – less than fifteen minutes and the door opened. Her son did not glance her way, clutching papers in his hands, he stomped past the mother and out the door. She followed her son's departure with her eyes, watched as the door to the outside closed; and than turned her eyes back toward the the psychiatric nurse practitioner. There must have been a question and a haggardness to her look; and the man mouthed words her way. She stood, stepping closer. What was he telling her? What answer was she being given? He mouthed the words again and this time the mother understood. This time she understood how truly alone and lost they were. For what this man had mouthed was nothing more and nothing less than the words, “Good luck!” And then he closed that door and disappeared.

Anyone who has ever been part of the mental health care system can relate to the previous story. Patient privacy, HIPAA laws, the inability or unwillingness of the loved ones to communicate with their families or their doctors, result in family members (and, yes, even the patients) being left out of the recovery process. There is something very wrong with a system that excludes those who can help the most. It's the family members who are generally the primary caregivers. It's often the family members who have the best insight into their loved one's illness. They do, after all, live with it everyday. But all too often, they are ignored. Family members must advocate for their loved ones, for themselves, and for a better mental health care system. If you have a loved one with a serious mental illness (or any illness for that matter), demand to talk to the doctor – you can always talk to them. They don't need to disclose any information. Let them know how your loved one is doing, let them know your concerns. If they refuse to talk to you, encourage your loved one to find a new doctor. Educate yourself and others. Advocate. Join groups such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and BringChange2Mind and let our voices be heard!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May is Mental Health Month

Mrs. Jane Doe turned the shopping cart into the next aisle and almost ran smack into Frances Neighbor. They smiled and began to talk. After awhile, Frances said, “Did you hear about poor Marty Finch? You know, Margo's son.” Jane shook her head. “He had this awful epileptic seizure at the high school – right in the hallway between classes. He's in the hospital now, trying to get his medication right.”

“Oh! How awful! The poor kid! And poor Margo!” said Jane.

“Yes. I saw Margo last night, brought her over some dinner. She's worried sick.”

Jane shook her head with sympathy and concern. “You know, I'm making a chicken casserole tonight. I'll bring her some.”

Okay. Now that you've read this rather poorly written grocery store scene, let's re-write it and change it up a bit:

Mrs. Jane Doe turned the shopping cart into the next aisle and almost ran smack into Frances Neighbor. They smiled and began to talk. After awhile, Frances said, “Did you hear about Marty Finch? You know, Margo's son.” Jane shook her head. “He had this awful fit at the high school. He went totally berserk. Scared the other kids to death!” She made a face and shook her head. “I guess he's over in St. Mary's Psych ward.”

Jane pursed her lips and whispered, “You know, I heard they were having trouble with him.”

“Schizophrenia!” Francis whispered. “That's what I heard!”

Jane shuddered. “That's so scary. Right in our own school.”

Maybe I've exaggerated this a bit, but I think you get my point. In both scenes, Marty Finch is very ill. He needs hospitalization and medication management. In both scenes he's depicted as having a serious neurological brain disease. The difference is in the attitude and understanding of the women. When Margo Finch's son is ill with epilepsy(an understood accepted disease), she gets casseroles. When he is sick with a mental illness, Margo and her son receive no empathy, little compassion; and Margo is forced to prepare her own dinner.

This is what May is Mental Health Month is all about. There is still an archaic belief that mental illness is not organically based, that it is something that can be fixed, if only the individual were a better, stronger human being – if he'd been raised better or tried harder or just didn't get so freaked out about everything.

“You know Uncle George wouldn't have that diabetes if he just tried a little harder. It's all those cookies Aunt Martha was always feeding him!”

Well maybe those cookies weren't so good for him, but they didn't cause his diabetes. Diabetes is a complicated, genetic, organically based disease that Uncle George did not cause and can not wish away. He can only control it with medication, diet and lifestyle.

It's time to understand mental illness as we understand epilepsy, diabetes, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and countless other diseases. Accepting that we don't really know what causes them and that we can't, at this time, cure them, but we can treat individuals unlucky enough to have developed these conditions. We can treat them with the medications and medical resources that are available; and also, and foremost, we can treat them, and their loved ones, with the respect, empathy and compassion they deserve.