Daily Archives: January 4, 2015

The Shocking Truth: Severe Mental Illness & Life Expectancy


“… one group suffers by far the most- with an average of 20 years of reduced life, in the ballpark of the life expectancy in Rwanda or Afghanistan.”

Originally posted on An Uneasy Awakening: Bipolar Musings:

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Allen Francis, Emeritus Professor at Duke University has just published an excellent blog entitled ‘Having a Severe Mental Illness Means Dying Young’ in the Huffington Post.

Prof. Francis, who rather refreshingly pulls no punches throughout his article, writes this as his opening paragraph:

People diagnosed with serious mental illness — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression — die 20 years early, on average, because of a combination of lousy medical care, smoking, lack of exercise, complications of medication, suicide, and accidents.

He goes on to say:

They (people diagnosed with a serious mental illness) are the most discriminated-against and neglected group in the U.S., which has become probably the worst place in the developed world to be mentally ill.

Prof. Francis includes an insightful piece in his blog by  Dr. Peter Weiden, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois College of Medicine…

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The Myth of Closure

For some reason, it’s called “closure.” But for some wounds there is no such thing. And for some of us – those with emotional and mental disorders – there is no way to achieve closure.

Take, for example, the invisible injuries I experienced while living with Rex (a pseudonym), for a year in college. He was a master of intermittent reinforcement, the trap that keeps abused women (and men sometimes) from getting themselves out of the situation to someplace safe. He was never physically abusive, which I have vowed never to put up with (and to this day haven’t), but verbally and emotionally, he was, well, a veritable artist of psychological bullying.

Here are just a few examples.

When he was unhappy with me for some reason, he would sigh and glare. I swear he could sigh and glare even over the telephone. And when I would freeze up and not be able to think of any word that would make things better, he said my silence made him want to kick me.

I slept in the car on the streets of Buffalo if there was a late-night party he wanted to go to. It was out of the way to take me back to where we were staying.

When I was responsible for feeding guests, and botched it, he said I had tarnished his honor.

He took the decision to tell my parents about our relationship out of my hands, ripping apart the face-saving fiction that I was renting a room in his large house. After I left, I even sent him money to pay the supposed rent.

When I asked him to go to couples counseling with me, he said, “Are you sure? The therapist and I could have you declared a danger to yourself and have you put away.” At the session, he tenderly held my hand and asserted that he just wanted to get help for me.

So what does this all have to do with mental health? I certainly wasn’t mentally healthy when I met him, and was a basket case by the time I left. When I was immobilized, I was not embracing his projects with “alacrity.” When I was insomniac, only his cat comforted me. When I was in the Pit of Despair, everything was All My Fault.

So what do people tell you in cases like this?

Look how much you learned from the experience. And I always reply that the lesson wasn’t worth the price I paid. All that I want to keep from that time are a few dear friends.

Forgive and forget. I can’t do either. The memories have faded over time and seldom give me flashbacks anymore. (The dreams still come.) As for forgiving? He’s never asked for it and never would. I’m sure he doesn’t think he did anything that needed forgiving. If that makes me a hard-hearted bitch or a bad Christian, so be it.

That emotional abuse happened, and I can’t forget it. It was my first serious relationship and I left chunks of my soul and most of my barely existent self-esteem in that house on the hilltop. I had failed – at the relationship, at meeting my parents’ expectations, at so many things. I felt I was the one who needed forgiveness and spent much of the following years repeating incessantly, “I’m sorry.”

Let go of anger; it will only hurt you. When I first left, I didn’t feel anger toward Rex. I felt a lot of other things, mostly directed at myself. But I didn’t recognize or own my anger until much later, after lots of therapy and the good kind of love. Now that I realize I was (and am) angry, it feels wrong to think of him without feeling that. The things he did were wrong, and it is not irrational of me to still believe that. I earned that anger. It is part of me now. I can lay it aside to the extent that I don’t have revenge fantasies, but that’s about all.

So, closure? Not a chance. Saying as Oscar Wilde did, “Living well is the best revenge”? That’s more like it. Even learning to live well has been an uphill battle. I’m still struggling with the definition.

The wound may scab over, or it may continue to trickle blood at times. Some of it may even form scars. But take my word for it, the wounds are still there. They never really close.

West 47th Street

I ain’t goin’ in no crazy-cage! (Fitzroy)

(2001) – mentally ill & homeless in NYC. (1:23:59) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4xYoFcVAyE

I remember seeing this ages ago and I’m glad to have tripped over it again. The documentary, or cinema veritè if you prefer, is centred around Fountain House (psychosocial rehab), in its 50th year. I remember Esther from the first time I saw this, a stern, no nonsense woman. “It will not rain,” she said, about the weather forecast for a funding event – and of course it didn’t. I remembered this too and I think it can be applied to a far broader scope than people in treatment.

You’ll find people here a little sicker than you; that’s not your business. Your business is to come in here and do the best you can for yourself. (Esther)

The spotlight is on:
Fitzroy Frederick (schizophrenia) who said I’ll wear loafers, but I’m not cutting my dreadlocks.
Frances Olivero (manic depression, gender dysfunction) who said I might scare god when he sees me, I’ll be wearing a frilly pink dress.
Zeinab Wali who said it was hard to be clean and happy on the streets.
Tex Gordon who said today marks the first day of nobody being my guardian. (Since 1952)

(Where there’s a diagnosis mentioned, it was taken from the person’s own description.)

The warts ‘n all approach works well. You get to hear criticisms of the place and there’s no soft focus on any of the people either. It’s a small slice of space and time, not mindblowing, but fascinating. And it’s heartbreaking, though probably not for the reasons you’d guess before seeing it.

“The subject of West 47th Street hits close to home for (Bill) Lichtenstein (filmmaker), whose career as an ABC News producer came to a halt 18 years ago when he was diagnosed with manic depression. It took three years to struggle back from the brink of self-destruction. Following his recovery, he founded his own company, Lichtenstein Creative Media, in part to educate the public about mental illness.” IMDB

Okay, here be spoilers – you’ll appreciate them way, way more if you watch it first though.

Frances Olivero
Born: February 16, 1950 Died: April 15, 2000


I have no idea if this is accurate (findagrave.com). The dates are correct.

More info about the legislation here.
“Speaking about his partnership with Mr.* Olivero, Fred Levine – who was himself diagnosed with bipolar illness in 1975 – notes, “Every day I worked with Frances was a gift. He was insightful, energetic, passionate about human rights, and he had a unique ability to bring people together and make them listen. He was the heart and soul of the Fairness Campaign.””

2003 update (about all four)


This is from 2008: (also found here)
“My brother* was Frances Olivero. Kenneth Frances Olivero. My cousin Lolly found this on the internet and sent it to me. I would like this film if possible. My mom and sister and I are in it, in the end of the program with my brother. If possible please let me know how I can get it.
Thank you so much for this reading. My brother was very proud to know all of you. He loved the fountain house for all they did for him. I too am very grateful for all the help they gave him.
God Bless you all.
Joanne Noble
jojogrooven2@yahoo.com “

*I am quite sure she’d have preferred ‘Ms.’ and ‘sister’ and the correct pronouns, but I’m also sure it wasn’t intended badly in either case. Still. You saw how she corrected her name and gender at the start of the film and for me, that moment when she had to state her birth name in the hospital was heart wrenching. (Fellow cis-gendered humans, we need to check our privilege.)

The Frances Olivero Advocacy Award is presented annually to “an individual for their inspiring efforts to advocate and advance system and service reforms on behalf of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities”.

If you search Olivero on the Fountain House website, it defaults to a generic donation page. That seems sad – and possibly even foolish; beyond her activism and courage, she touched many hearts. Having just done a fair amount of searching, there would definitely be interest in a page about her – people might even want to donate in her name. She was within 2yrs of the age of Fountain House – if she’d lived, she’d be 60 this year.

Lichtenstein Creative Media had a west 47th street website too – looks like the last update was 2013. They also did the USA’s first mental illness anti stigma campaign and other interesting work. Aaand there’s some film stuff in The Infinite Mind (try page 14).

Drop any further info you have in the comments, pleasethankyou.

demystifying bipolar

Dr Jane Erb M.D. & members of DBSA (Boston)

It covers the following questions:
How is it diagnosed?
What are the range of symptoms?
How is bipolar treated?
What to look forward to?

It explains very well, just how complex bipolar is – that it is a spectrum of illnesses characterised by changes of mood. Dr Erb answers each question and then the bipolar DBSA members (including, I was glad to see, a gay guy who didn’t hide that fact) give their personal experiences. It works well and would be a great resource for the newly diagnosed and anyone caring for, living with etc, someone with bipolar.

The doc also explained degrees of bipolar really well and said that the most severe cases made up 1-10% of the bipolar population.

The party in my head wouldn’t stop, I was living on carbohydrates and caffeine and ideas.

Before there were treatments for mania, people actually died of things like dehydration and malnourishment as a result.

Depression is pure pain.

There’s also a really good rundown of the meds we take and what they do and how they’re combined. The patients’ comments on their meds were good to hear. I liked Jane Erb, the psychiatrist; I’d totally trust her to treat me.

The last segment was very positive, even where the victories would probably seem very minor to many people. It should clarify the extreme levels of emotions to people without bipolar when one guy beams happily and says he wakes up ‘not depressed’.

It might not enlighten you much, bipolar friends, but you might want to send the link to your own friends and family.

(I watched it on YouTube.)

Mental Illness an Alcohol

From the moment I was first diagnosed bipolar, I did extensive research on the disorder. Knowledge is power and all. A common behavior with mental illness, bipolar, depression, and anxiety specifically, is the use of alcohol. Self medication.
Shrinks will tell you, don’t drink, bad for you, bad mix with meds, worsens depression…And they’re not wrong.
What none of them seem smart enough to figure out is, would a person drink if their meds did as good a job as the pharma companies claim?

I was a late bloomer, as far as alcohol is concerned. My dad used to give me sips of his beer when I was nine, ten years old. It wasn’t some mystical taboo for me. In fact, I still loathe the taste of beer. Drinking was just never a huge thing for me as a teenager when everyone else is experimenting and going off the rails. There were a couple of epic benders, but for the most part…No.
I turned 21 and still…Booze did not appeal. I was on 3mg of Xanax a day so my anxiety never really kicked my ass.

Over the years as my doctors have gone through the local mental health care revolving doors of serving two years and fleeing…They’ve lowered my Xanax. And since then, for the last ten years or so, my drinking has been sporadic but when stressed to the max…It’s a crutch. At times, it’s two crutches. It never helps the moods or depressions. It does slow the thoughts down, quiet the swirl of emotions, and provide a relaxed numb no medication can.
I have tried to explain this to the doctors.
Bam. Instant “alcoholic” label.
I dispute this whole heartedly because at one low point, I actually called the local rehab center and spoke with a professional substance abuse counselor. I described my symptoms, when I drank, how I’d go months, years, without a drop…How I could buy booze and not touch it if I wasn’t anxiety ridden…
And she told me I didn’t belong in rehab because I don’t have an an addiction, I had a behavior problem. I get stressed, I drink. I have anxiety, I drink. There are times I don’t drink and have no desire to.
I’m not in the bathroom pouring mouthwash down my throat trying to get a buzz. I’m not at the liquor store sticking bottles in coat pockets.
When I drink, it’s because I choose to. Not because I have to. Not because I crave the alcohol itself.
And I don’t go in thinking that bottle/can whatever is going to solve my problems.
I do know it will quiet my mind and buzzing nerves and that is what I crave.

So if a rehab counselor can figure that out, why can’t a so called mental health professional?

So many mentally ill people get wrongly labeled as “alcoholic” or “substance abusing”. I find it irritating and a little libelous.
If someone has chronic back pain, and they take a painkiller so they can focus on life rather than being in pain, does it make them an addict?
Well, I don’t see it being any different if someone who is in psychological pain decides to have a drink (or ten) when the pain gets to be too much.
Oh, my doctors have told me time and again, that’s abuser mentality, refusal to admit a problem, self justifications.
It’s crap.
I know someone who is a fine upstanding member of society, church deacon, owns his own business, everyone loves him…But he literally cannot go one day without beer. And I don’t mean a can or two. I mean three, four, five, six tall boys a night. And he’s been doing it since he was in his teens. To me, that’s functional alcoholism.
Because no matter how bad my mental crap gets, I can’t drink 7 nights a week. At some point, the thought of alcohol repulses me. I don’t like being altered. Sometimes, altered is better than batshit paranoid and nervous, though.

I just find it almost comical that someone who is socially acceptable can drink 365 days a year and it’s just who he is, ha ha, him and his beer.
But if you have a mental illness and drink a few nights a month…You have an addiction.

I have a behavioral issue that stems from my anxiety. Booze does fuck all for moods or depression. But when the prescribed meds fail to ease you into a place where you can manage your anxieties…That alcohol numb seems like a mirage in the dessert. And perhaps that’s exactly what it is. A mirage. Non existent.
But with mental illness, sometimes it really is just a matter of “whatever will get me through this day”.

I reject the notion that I have an addiction to any substance. I have an additive personality, true. I can’t have one of anything, I have five computers, working on a sixth. I can’t own one lipstick, I own thirty. One purse? Ha, try twenty. I’m a hoarder of sorts with possessions.
But as far as booze or drugs go, prescribed or otherwise…My problem is behavioral.
I take Tylenol when I am in so much discomfort, I can’t focus.
I take cough syrup when I’m sore from hacking up a lung.
I take Xanax when I am getting edgy and cranky from anxiety.
And when my mind spins and I get to that place where every muscle is knotted with tension and I think even the cats are plotting against me…
I have a drink.
I may have ten.
I may take one sip and stick it in the fridge for weeks.

I’m sick of having to feel bad about it. People party every weekend and get shit faced drunk and they’re “having fun”.
I have some booze when I’ve clawed my arms from nerve induced hives and I have a problem?
Fuck the professionals.
There’s one thing all their education and degrees can’t make them an authority on.

Actually having a mental illness.
You can’t judge until you’ve walked in those shoes.

Not everyone who chooses to have a drink or two or ten…is abusing alcohol. Sometimes, it’s a buoy in a sea of anxiety to cling to.
And then life goes on and alcohol isn’t at the center.

“Lord Of The Rings” Star Sean Astin Talks About Bipolar Disorder And Calls For Earlier Symptom Recognition


I didn’t know that Samwise was Patty Duke’s spawn.

Originally posted on freeplrarticlespot:

Actor Sean Astin, best known for his role as Sam Gamgee in the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, is willing to share his personal experience living with a family member diagnosed with bipolar disorder in order to help increase awareness of the symptoms associated with the condition.

Astin witnessed the condition’s trademark highs and lows throughout his childhood when his mother, actress Patty Duke, experienced symptoms of undiagnosed bipolar disorder for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Duke’s delayed diagnosis is not uncommon and mirrors the results of a new survey of more than 500 people with bipolar disorder, which shows an average delay of 13 years between symptom onset and diagnosis.

The survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive and sponsored by AstraZeneca, included 500 persons medically diagnosed with bipolar disorder.


“Though my mom was the one who struggled with the symptoms, the…

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A Good Clean-Out

pythonTV and movies started infiltrating my personal lexicon ages ago.  You know how that goes—little phrases and lines start popping out of your mouth as if you made them up.  Monty Python downloaded quite a few (“I fart in your general direction” and “It’s just a flesh wound”).  So did Star Trek (“You’re disrupting the space/time continuum” and Worf’s “I am NOT a merry man”).  Then, the odder bits, like Gena Davis in The Fly (“Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”) and the weird dinner scene in Brazil (“Salt?”).

judiAnd because I’m such an anglophile, I love vacuuming up odd bits of British lingo from the BBC shows.  One of my favorites comes from As Time Goes By, the show with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer that ran from 1992-2002.  Whenever Judi’s character, Jean, got worried or fussy, she always decided it was time to “have a good clean-out.”  This usually involved pulling everything out of the cupboard under the stairs and putting it all back again.  She never got rid of anything, but burned up all that nervous energy (and irritated Lionel to no end).

Every year during the holidays, I wrack my brain to find a better, easier way to get through the weird mix of nostalgia, brain chemistry stew, bell-ringers, too much sugar and YMCA closings.  The holidays are a big trigger for my bipolar disorder, but I had a few things in my favor this year.  happy lightAs cold as this sounds, with both parents dead and my siblings celebrating in Oklahoma, there were no expectations, no guilt, no pressure.  Also, I’d just come back from visiting my dear friend, Lily, who gets me.  And I had my new Happy Light to beam full spectrum cheer at me (judiciously, as too much can speed up the rapid cycling).  But what I really needed was a project to occupy my brain and keep me busy.

I decided on my own clean-out.

I’ve been snipping bits of magazine text for about five years now.  I look for things that might make a fun caption to one of my cards and store them in little zip-lock baggies, alphabetized and bound together with ring binders—sort of like a caption Rolodex.  I keep a master list on my computer and print it out every so often when I have a bunch of new stuff I’ve added.  My list had become 60 pages long with two columns of 7-point type.  What was all this stuff?

Clean Out

So, I started dumping out the little baggies and really looking at the bits I’d collected.  Most of the time, I do this gleaning when I can’t do anything else, when my illness is at its worst and the only thing I can do is sit with scissors and snip.  While I’m always cognizant that the gleans are for my art, I found that most of them reflected my state of mind at the time, or made me feel better.  I found a lot of gleans about suicide and mental illness, but also lots of snippets about mindfulness, hope and courage.  It was like reading a different kind of diary.

I finished my clean-out last night and printed the revised list (20 pages instead of 60) of captions that will become cards.  But I came away with a deeper respect for my gleaning process.  Without knowing it, I comforted myself when I needed comfort the most.  I let the words I needed draw me to them.  And, once in a while, I found something to put on a card.

“That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

21 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Depressed

Silly phone wouldn’t reblog this – thanks for the link Marci. Most accurate thing I’ve ever read about the black dog.


Impatience She Wrote

Today we went out to the house and the cabinets were up! It’s really starting to look like a house. However it seems like they are sitting on their asses when they should be working. We should have had a move in date of Feb 10th. Really there was no reason is couldn’t happen except the exceptional amount of time that the house sat there with no one doing anything. I hate fucking waiting.

As you can see I am a little annoyed. Checking my email every hour like a crazy person waiting to hear from the company that it is 45 days until our closing date and hearing nothing is just pissing me off at this point. I want to be in my house dammit. It’s been almost half a fucking year I have been living with my mother in law and it is going to be over that when we finally do move into the house.

I swear I am gonna turn into a hermit for the first few months and just relish the moments I am having in my house.

Til now I guess I will just go insane waiting. Can you go crazy from being impatient? Guess we’ll find out.