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.

“Changing My Mind” could change yours – about mental illness and Margaret Trudeau


HarperCollinsCanada

This is an autobiography, her third, of someone whose slow-motion train wreck – no, a series of fast-moving train wrecks – was seen, at least in part, by political watchers and gossip magazine readers the world over.

We suspect the ending is happy, and we know to expect several of the deeply sad climaxes, but above all else this is a message to those of us who have struggled with mental illness, including substance abuse, to seek the help we need, follow the instructions we are given and have at least one person checking in with us to make sure we are still on the rails.  Plenty of examples are offered of what happens when this is not done.

This book is something else, coming from someone of such noteriety – it is a stigma-buster. Margaret Trudeau joins the ranks of Olympic athletes and many others recently in saying, “I have a mental illness and, with a lot of help, I am better. You can be, too.”