Thank you Candy Crowley and “State of the Union”


“I think you might have bipolar disorder,” he (psychiatrist) said.

“Oh, thank God,” I answered.

Surprise registered on his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that reaction before.”

“No, I am so relieved,” I said. “Now that we know what it is, we can fix it.”

Andrea Ball (Statesman.com)Jared Loughner and the stigma and the reality of mental illness

Andrea Ball’s reaction to her psychiatrist was nearly identical to mine.  As with her a diagnosis, while a tremendous relief, marked only the beginning of treatment – and fighting stigma.  More about that later.

Last night I wrote:

I eagerly watched three of the Sunday morning news shows: NBC’s “Meet the Press”, ABC’s “This Week” and last, only because I wanted to highlight it, CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley (transcript here).

Dr. Fred Frese was on, (click to view the segment) a psychologist for 40 years, and the former president of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Association, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a young adult.

He also plays a role in an amazing PBS program “Minds on the Edge”. (It’s just under an hour long but compelling to watch, I assure you.)

Back to Monday…

Most people I have spoken to, or heard speak, about their mental illness diagnosis – and my interest is nudged, in particular, regarding bipolar or bipolar II affective disorders – often share a history of other diagnoses.  The most common of these is major depression.

I have felt the stigma of depression sometimes when it has been pooh-poohed as irrelevant, were I only to remain abstinent from alcohol and other drugs (which I have for most of the past 25 years).  How could anyone contest, I maintain even now, that the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS in 1989 might realistically set off depression?

That was my entry into the mental health field, a psychiatrist seeing me on the condition that I be a minimum of one year sober.

The late 1980s through the early-to-mid-90s were some of my most difficult years, emotionally, (and not just mine by any stretch) and no wonder as the scythe of AIDS swept through circles of friends “in recovery” who came together as in-home care teams while memorial services were being planned for others and still others were just receiving news of their diagnosis.

I knew my anti-depressant was working as the tears flowed, not inhibiting my emotions one bit.  I found out the hard way what it’s like to guide one’s self off such medications.

Another crisis, years later, the one which led to my bipolar II diagnosis, followed the death of my brother (but which had obviously begun much earlier) when I could not grasp the harmful consequences of spending money I did not have – and on people I could not have!  The absence of depression (but hypomania) was all that mattered.  My relationship wth money has been like that all my life.  Spending it blinds me to the risks of being without.  The proportions to which I took this, at this time however, are more embarrassing than I feel ready to go into here.

Through it all, it must be said, I have been blessed with something so many others with mental illness are too often without – a secure roof over my head.  I have been in this housing co-op, with rent geared to income, since 1992.   That’s something I give thanks for each time I pass someone, probably with mental health problems, who has claimed a piece of sidewalk for themselves.

Unholy hubris


Crooks & Liars blogger karoli got it so right when she wrote, “If you have had the misfortune of being one of those kids who was sexually victimized by an adult, the one thing you know is the script. You know it by heart, and even after years of therapy and recovery and acceptance that script can send you back — right back — to where you were all those years ago, or yesterday.”

Earlier in the weekend I was facebooking articles about the allegations against Atlanta-area “Bishop” Eddie Long (the quotations are because I’ve never heard of a fundamentalist Christian minister, I don’t care how big his church, having such an old-school hierarchical title).  There was a certain amount of righteous indignation motivating me as, yet again, another anti-gay Christian preacher on a pedestal was being brought down by allegations of the very behaviour he has organized marches in Atlanta against. 

Having only heard about the disclosure late Sunday night by CNN anchor Don Lemon that he had been molested as a youngster, I’m still wide awake well past bed-time.  Just like karoli says – stuff gets stirred up all over again, even some thirty-eight years later for me.

What both karoli and Don said is true (I’m calling him by his first name because he’s been a facebook “like” for a long time and I now feel closer to him, however unrequited that may be.  I’m used to that!).  Those who have been in situations similar to the alleged victims in this case have an extra sensitivity to words used and scenarios created by abusers.

karoli: “They start by telling you how special you are, and how they want to spend time with you, help you to succeed. They invite you to their secret place, whether it’s their house or their office or even their car. They’re affectionate in words and speech, and they reach out, little by little and draw you in and because you’re a kid and they’re an adult you let them. It’s not until later that the shame overcomes the privilege. They find you because you’ve had trouble in your life, or your family isn’t all it should be, or you’re poor, or you’re smart, or whatever it is that attracts. And once they find you, they pursue you. Relentlessly.”

I can still see that pervert in the early-70s, brown Pontiac Parisienne who, having wrung out my innocence once, now drove down the same dirt road past me with his swim trunks below his knees.  I never gave in, though, and took not just a little pleasure in seeing him frustrated.

As Don Lemon pointed out, many African-American boys and men have a lot of taboos about homosexual acts – taking great pains to leave talk of such things to private times with their partner.  “On the down low.”  The shame inherent in this hyper-secrecy could explain the “Bishop’s” carefully chosen words on Sunday, although his body language also spoke, it seemed to me.  So then how courageous was it for these four young men, each with detailed allegations that were independently reported, to share their stories with their lawyer – their individual pictures on TV!  The courage this will continue to take going forward will knock hard against the taboos.

Long portrayed himself as little David (despite his size, his wealth and a large, cheer-leading congregation) going up against Goliath, the giant.  Huh?  Four kids and a lawyer, hardly Goliath.  Maybe his task is Goliath – to refute the charges and stay out of jail.