Category Archives: depression and mental illness

mental health and families

family members

image by gideon tsang

in the last few days i’ve had occasion to think about the families of people who are dealing with mental health difficulties. would love to hear your thoughts. here are a few questions:

if you are someone who has experienced consistent mental health difficulties –

  • how have family members helped you with it?
  • have they ever made it more difficult for you?
  • have you been able to give them useful information, and how did they deal with it?
  • who do you consider your family? (close) relatives, friends, members of your community, and/or… ?
  • what are your greatest hopes in connection with your family and your mental health concerns? your greatest fears?
  • how do you feel your mental health concern has impacted your family, positively or negatively?
  • have health professionals been open/interested in involving your family?

if you are someone who has a family member of friend with consistent mental health difficulties –

  • how has your family member helped you understand what is going on for/with them?
  • how has your family member’s mental health concern impacted your family, positively or negatively?
  • what are your greatest hopes in connection with your family member and their mental health concerns? your greatest fears?
  • have health professionals been open/interested in involving you as a family member?
  • has your family member’s mental health concern changed how you view people or situations outside of your family?

if you are a health professional –

  • how do you feel about family’s involvement in the care for persons with persistent mental health concerns?

the non-mental health camp recap: community support

well, as you can see, i haven’t done much with this blog lately. i am busy with other things right now but at some point i will come back to write more (and at some point i will also find a way to oust the viagra people who keep trying to hijack my blog! it’s pretty embarrassing to have that show up in the google searches). maybe this point has arrived already? stay tuned …

as you can see from one of the previous posts, we had to cancel mental health camp. both raul and i were just too deeply involved with our family lives. unfortunately, we both had some deaths. the support from people around this was, as usual, amazing! between raul and myself, we received over 70 comments on our facebook pages when we announced our decision. every single one of them was supportive.  just some examples:

kudos for you not to extend yourself so much.

unfortunate news, but the announcement embodies what the event is about (including finding out via facebook! 🙂 ). my best to you both.

good for you that you are putting your own mental health first. It’s a great example for others to follow. wishing you healing and support.

i’m glad to hear you’re taking active steps in protecting and caring for your own mental health

take care of yourself, and yes, congratulations on knowing when to say No to responsibilities you put on yourself. the community AND you will be better served by you both coming back when you are in a better place.

sounds like the right decision. way to go. an inspiration for all women 😉 ♥

here was my reply

thanks again to all of you. right now it’s a bit hard to fight the little voice inside (i call it my “german general”) that says that i’m a lazy, whining sissy – surely, if i can go on facebook, i can also organize mental health camp! hah! but i’m outing it. the german general does not like to see his words repeated unless they have gone through his press corps 🙂 i guess what’s good about this is that i have always felt very strongly about being up-front about one’s mental health, and here i get an opportunity to live this value – very much because of you and your support!

later …

but of course we’re not turning away from mental health camp, and definitely not from the idea behind it. the idea happens every day.

and later still:

this whole way in which i/we feel supported is starting to feel like an impromptu mental health camp in itself. maybe THIS is what was meant to happen. what can we learn from this? how can we take this further … ?

and then raul said, in his infinite wisdom:

isabella – don’t try to “take this further, or try to learn from this”. just enjoy the support, period. don’t make it more work for yourself! I’m just grateful that people understand that we are overwhelmed and over-committed as it stands.

all of this was two months ago. it is bittersweet – but more than that, truly wonderful to relive all this fabulous support. THIS is what we can do for each other! isn’t that mindbogglingly marvelous?!

next time i might just tell you about the workshop on recovering beauty that i ended up doing at gallery gachet anyways … 🙂

call for speakers for mental health camp vancouver 2011

the 3rd edition of MentalHealthCamp vancouver is happening soon!  on july 23rd, precisely.  the conference is about the intersection between social media and mental health.

is this a topic you’re interested in?  would you like to talk about it, or lead a workshop? 

here’s your chance – our call for speakers.

we are looking for session leaders who speak from personal or professional experience with mental health or mental illness. please note that this is unpaid – we are entirely volunteer-run.

we will have approximately 10 45-minute slots, with 6 slots for prearranged speakers (e.g. approved by the selection committee), and 4 slots for “mental moose” – a continuation of the unconference tradition of moosecamp at northern voice.  during “mental moose”, participants who are interested in leading a session can pitch them on saturday morning with a quick 30-second talk.  everyone will then vote on which sessions will be presented, and the winning sessions will be scheduled.

the theme for this year’s MentalHealthCamp is

DIVERSITY

diversity of opinions
diversity of religion
diversity of ideas on how to deal with mental health
diversity of sexual orientation
diversity in age
diversity in ethnic backgrounds
diversity in socioeconomic status
diversity of ability
and … ? (please feel free to add!)

each one of these topics contains vast, interesting fields in and of themselves. just think of the topic of mental health among british columbia’s south asian population; the diverse/diverging of the radical psychology group (here with another diversity topic: gender and bodily difference); or mental health and christian churches. we could even look at diversity from yet another point of view – adding the topic/twist of mental health to existing bodies of research, such as the growing area of research into tourism and mental health.

since MentalHealthCamp is about the intersection between mental health and social media, speakers and participants will discuss issues that touch on both topics, in whatever weird and wonderful and different ways. also, this will continue to be a grassroots-based event. as long as a speaker has something interesting and constructive to contribute, it is of no consequence whether she or he has a PhD in psychiatry or is a master in the art of living a life touched by mental illness. come one, come all! it is, after all, about diversity. on the other hand, MentalHealthCamp is not an ideal venue for very general talks on stress reduction, time management or the like.

once again, we might also have a virtual session.  if you’re unable to attend the conference in person but have the technical know-how, let’s talk about using technology to bring you right into our conference here in vancouver.

if you’re interested in presenting, please send us a short (100 words or less) description of the proposal, together with a short (50 words or less) bio about yourself by june 16.  please send it to moritherapy at shaw dot ca.

the conference will happen on july 23, 2011, from 8:30am  to 5:00 pm, at vancouver’s gallery gachet http://gachet.org/ at 88 east cordova street .

suicide

have you ever thought about killing yourself? i have. for many, many years i thought that was totally normal. it wasn’t until my life got much better that i noticed the absence of this soothing thought: to just disappear myself … now, when that kneejerk image arises occasionally, i know it’s a warning sign: something’s not right.

i grew up thinking that suicide was a completely normal way to die. some people die of cancer, others of old age, and others of suicide. the good thing is that this normalized suicide. the bad thing is that this normalized suicide.

so … let me try this …

let’s imagine you’re thinking of ending it all. you just can’t think of another way out of that thing that just seems to crush you. debts, a broken heart, a feeling of uselessness, terrible loneliness, a sense of being trapped …

how do you feel? overhwelmed, right?

can you relax just a tiny bit of yourself? just a bit … maybe your hands … maybe the way you sit on the chair …

here’s a strange question.

how does your brain feel?

yes, feel that brain. just for a moment.

sometimes it feels like it works well, doesn’t it? maybe that was a long time ago. but there probably was a time when it felt like it worked pretty well. maybe when you played with that dog. oh – dogs aren’t your thing. sorry. maybe – maybe it was when you hung out with your buddy when you were six … can you do me a favour, look for a time when your brain worked ok?

thanks.

so … i wonder … how does your brain feel right now, compared to that time when it worked well? is there a difference?

there is?

it feels a little – weirder, doesn’t it? maybe a bit cloudy? or perhaps it’s a just a bit noisy in there.

can you do me, and yourself a big favour?

i know life feels awful right now. i’d really like it, though, if you could wait with your decision to destroy yourself. please wait with that decision until your brain feels better.

if you don’t know how to make your brain feel better, stick around, please. i have a bunch of ideas we could try. and i know people who have way more ideas. they’ve worked, too. as terry wise, a woman who survived suicide, says “there are other ways to overcome pain.”

mental health camp YVR ’11: diversity

okay, after great breakfast meeting with raul this morning, we’re starting to roll with this year’s mental health camp! the theme this year is

diversity!

maybe even with the exclamation mark 🙂

it was through great conversations with jay peachy and steven schwartz that we came up with the idea. diversity is about

diversity of opinions
diversity of religion
diversity of ideas on how to deal with mental health
diversity of sexual orientation
diversity in age
diversity in ethnic backgrounds
diversity in socioeconomic status
diversity of ability
and … ? (please feel free to add!)

each one of these topics contains vast, interesting fields in and of themselves. just think of the topic of mental health among british columbia’s south asian population; the diverse/diverging of the radical psychology group (here with another diversity topic: gender and bodily difference); or mental health and christian churches. we could even look at diversity from yet another point of view – adding the topic/twist of mental health to existing bodies of research, such as the growing area of research into tourism and mental health.

as always, mental health camp will be about the intersection between mental health and social media. that is, speakers and participants will discuss issues that touch on both topics, in whatever weird and wonderful and different ways. also, this will continue to be a grassroots-based event. as long as a speaker has something interesting and constructive to contribute, it is of no consequence whether she or he has a PhD in psychiatry or is a master in the art of living a life touched by mental illness. come one, come all! it is, after all, about diversity.

the event will take place on july 23. this time our location will be gallery gachet, who are graciously donating their space to this event. mental health camp YVR ’11 will be an all day face-to-face conference, with a significant social media aspect (e.g. hopefully we will have social media stewards again who will tweet and facebook about the event). we will probably have around 10 sessions.

everyone’s input is welcome! and let us know if you’d like to volunteer.

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

south asian mental health conference

first live blogging in a long time!

sitting here with 12 others to discuss putting together a mental health conference with a focus on the south asian community in british columbia. for those of you not familiar with the term “south asian” – it refers to people of mostly indian background, e.g. people with ethnic backgrounds in india, fiji, pakistan, etc. the idea for this conference started quite a while ago, shortly after we had our first mental health camp.

the topics that have come up already are stigma (“everyone wants you to hide it”), the lack of services, and the lack of involvement on the part of the community.

the idea so far is to create a one-day educational forum on mental health for the south asian community. the intention is to have workshops, perhaps meet with professionals, etc. the overarching goal is to reduce stigma and create acceptance. obviously you can’t do that with just one event but it might just be a start. it’s also important to give the community a voice – important to hear personal stories and anecdotes. there is a broken link between the people who require help and those who offer help.

there is an idea to have high school students volunteering. this would allow them to openly attend without immediately having a stigma attached to them (“why are YOU going to this???”)

let’s have some depression screening and ADHD screening there!

there should be some way of reaching seniors whose english is not very good.

let’s make it fun and interactive! “wow, i didn’t think about mental health in this way!” maybe adding some art into the forum would help with that. let’s have something that people can laugh at!

we could also look into “what is mental health?”

we want to work with people who have a balanced view of mental health; inviting pharma to be significant sponsors probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

an aside: it’s interesting to live blog something like this. so far i have only live blogged big events; this is a smallish gathering. it’s intimate and it feels a bit intrusive to try and live blog it. good learning!

one of the biggest challenges will be to assist the south asian community to make it easier to talk about mental health in general and to talk about mental health to each other. an interesting comment by someone: “when i went to my first event with my community, i thought, ‘oh god, they know everything about me!'” this is a very close-knit community, with all the pros and cons that come with it.

miscellaneous thoughts – addiction, books, and new years resolutions

oh boy, i haven’t posted in ages! let’s have some random stuff here then:

stuff #1 – we are on vacation in arizona right now – on our last leg, in a tiny place called congress, which is close to wickenburg with the huge population count of 5,000. supposedly, wickenburg is known for its fancy addiction treatment centres. i had a quick look at the websites of four of them but so far nothing looks like something i would recommend. as much as i think the 12 steps are great, i have a problem with them being a required part of a treatment centre. that’s not how the 12 steps work. and i have a problem with a treatment centre where the only books you’re allowed to read are AA’s big book and the bible. but i guess it works for some people.

stuff #2 – been thinking a lot lately about how to keep blogging and partaking in social media. to what degree do i want to contribute to the overwhelming symphony (cacophony?) of virtual voices out there? how will i help make the world a better place if i do that?

stuff #3 – the second edition of my poetry book is out. should i have a l(a)unch party? oh, that’s so much work. i totally don’t feel like organizing ANYTHING right now. but you know what, that book is darn good. it was fun to look at it four years later and to spruce it up a bit.

stuff #4 – i am reading – i am reading – i am reading – ok, i’m gonna say it, i am reading eat pray love right now. yup. i finally did it, grabbed the book off my sister-in-law’s shelf and went to it. it’s actually not that bad – there are a few neat ideas in there so far. for example the petition to god. will it make my “best books of 2011” list? no.

stuff #5 – oh, but HERE is a book that will make the list – alistair mchoag’s rollercoaster memoir invisible driving about his life with bipolar disorder. holy razmatazz! no need to be interested in mental illness to read that book, all you need is a love of reading. a review is coming up, and i’ll have to gather all my half and quarter wits to come up with something interesting after all the rave reviews he already has.

sleepingstuff #6 – resolutions. resolutions? i don’t know. i engaged in a bit of a rant against the typical approach to them in an interview with CBC parenting columnist michelle eliot the other day. more and more, i prefer themes rather than resolutions – ideas or actions i wouldn’t mind pursuing in the coming year, without going crazy about it for three weeks and then slacking off (“i will exercise of 60 minutes every day!”, “i’ll stop smoking forever!”). so two themes i’m proposing for this year is to slow down, and then to slow down some more. and extermination. of guilt.

aaah. slowing down. maybe i should stop now and go to bed.

and you?