Serious Mental Illness Blog

Official blog for LIU Post's Clinical Psychology Doctorate SMI Specialty Concentration

47 notes

Missy Douglas: Visualizing bipolar disorder through artBy David Keller, BBC News
Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret, bipolar disorder sufferer Missy Douglas spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition.
Waking up each morning, Missy Douglas has no idea how the day will go. She may feel invincible, or she may be hit by a bout of depression.
Battling the emotional extremes in life has become second nature to the 37-year-old artist, who has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her adult life.
Last year she chose to do what she does best. Every day, for a year, she picked up her paintbrushes and painted exactly how she felt.
She decided to give up her medication while she carried out the project.
"I wanted it to be as pure a view of the disorder as possible," she said.
"Painting every day didn’t make me feel more stable or increase my sense of wellbeing," she said Douglas. "In fact, trying to look inside and express raw emotion or psychological distress everyday was very difficult.
"It sometimes exacerbated the depression or mania I was experiencing at the time. However, when I look back I can recognize the patterns and rhythms of my own ‘brand’ of the disorder."
Bipolar disorder brings about strong mood swings that can last for several weeks.
It can leave people unable to form relationships or cope with the day-to-day routine of work and - in extreme circumstances - lead to a feeling of worthlessness.
Douglas, who is originally from Northampton but now lives in New York, said living with the condition could be “extremely exhausting”.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Missy Douglas: Visualizing bipolar disorder through art
By David Keller, BBC News

Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret, bipolar disorder sufferer Missy Douglas spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition.

Waking up each morning, Missy Douglas has no idea how the day will go. She may feel invincible, or she may be hit by a bout of depression.

Battling the emotional extremes in life has become second nature to the 37-year-old artist, who has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her adult life.

Last year she chose to do what she does best. Every day, for a year, she picked up her paintbrushes and painted exactly how she felt.

She decided to give up her medication while she carried out the project.

"I wanted it to be as pure a view of the disorder as possible," she said.

"Painting every day didn’t make me feel more stable or increase my sense of wellbeing," she said Douglas. "In fact, trying to look inside and express raw emotion or psychological distress everyday was very difficult.

"It sometimes exacerbated the depression or mania I was experiencing at the time. However, when I look back I can recognize the patterns and rhythms of my own ‘brand’ of the disorder."

Bipolar disorder brings about strong mood swings that can last for several weeks.

It can leave people unable to form relationships or cope with the day-to-day routine of work and - in extreme circumstances - lead to a feeling of worthlessness.

Douglas, who is originally from Northampton but now lives in New York, said living with the condition could be “extremely exhausting”.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under art artist artistic creative creativity fine artist paint painting painter bipolar bipolar disorder mind body brain wellness health healthy mental health mental mental illness recovery treatment hope psychology psychiatry counseling life life story feelings feeling

42 notes

Living With Schizophrenia: The Importance of RoutineBy Michael Hedrick, The New York Times
Michael Hedrick is a writer in Boulder, Colo. He blogs at http://thehedrick.com and his book Connections is available at https://www.createspace.com/3426326
I can remember the early days of having schizophrenia. I was so afraid of the implications of subtle body language, like a lingering millisecond of eye contact, the way my feet hit the ground when I walked or the way I held my hands to my side. It was a struggle to go into a store or, really, anywhere I was bound to see another living member of the human species.
With a simple scratch of the head, someone could be telling me to go forward, or that what I was doing was right or wrong, or that they were acknowledging the symbolic crown on my head that made me a king or a prophet. It’s not hard to imagine that I was having a tough time in the midst of all the anxiety and delusions.
Several months after my diagnosis, I took a job at a small town newspaper as a reporter. I sat in on City Council meetings, covering issues related to the lowering water table and interviewing local business owners for small blurbs in the local section, all the while wondering if I was uncovering some vague connections to an international conspiracy.
The nights were altogether different. Every day, I would come home to my apartment and smoke pot, then lay on my couch watching television or head out to the bar and get so hammered that I couldn’t walk. It’s hard to admit, but the only time I felt relaxed was when I was drunk.
I eventually lost my newspaper job, but that wasn’t the catalyst for change.
It all came to a head one night in July. I had been out drinking all night and, in a haze, I decided it would be a good idea to drive the two miles back to my apartment. This is something I had done several times before, but it had never dawned on me that it was a serious deal. I thought I was doing well, not swerving and being only several blocks from my house, when I saw flashing lights behind me.
What started as a trip to the bar to unwind ended with me calling my parents to bail me out of jail at 3 a.m.
The next year of my life would mean change. I’m not entirely clear on the exact point at which my routine drinking and drug use turned into healthier pursuits. Maybe it was the shock of meeting with a D.U.I. lawyer, or the point after sentencing when I realized I’d be forced to make a daily call, first thing in the morning, to find out if I would have to pee in a cup that day. Maybe it was the fact that I’d need someone else, mainly my mom, to drive me anywhere for the next year. Or perhaps it was the consistent Saturday morning drug and alcohol therapy group or Wednesday and Thursday afternoons of community service that kicked me into a groove.
The groove of it eventually turned into a routine, one that wasn’t marked by indulgence but instead by forced commitment that eventually I would grow to respect.
During that time, I quit smoking pot, I quit drinking and I got some of the best sleep I’d gotten since my diagnosis. Trips to the bar on Monday afternoons turned into extended hours at coffee shops where I finished my first novel.
For some reason, it gave me joy to recite my routine to whoever asked. I would wake up at 7, get coffee and a bagel with plain cream cheese, check Facebook, write until I had 1,000 words, get lunch, do errands in the afternoon, return home, get dinner, take my pills (with food), watch TV and get to bed around 9.
It might all sound tremendously boring. But this regimented series of events was always there; they’d always carry over. And with time, it gave me great comfort to not have to deal with the unexpected. I had a set plan for most days, and there was already too much chaos in my head.
I found that I never forgot to take my medicine. I always had at least eight hours of sleep. And I felt much more relaxed and was able to finally wrap my head around my diagnosis. I began to see the world as a mostly random series of events, rather than an overarching conspiracy plot. The healthy routine was integral.
My story, as with so many stories of recovery, isn’t over. The biggest things in my life are now my friends and family, my work and my daily routine. I take my meds faithfully, and although I no longer attend regular therapy sessions, I find eight years of living with schizophrenia has made me well equipped to deal with future problems. I still get up early, do my work for the day, hang out with my mom or my friends in the afternoon and then ease into the evening. Most important, I still get to bed by 9 every night. I’m more stable, much healthier, and I’m happy.
The routine of things set a stable foundation for recovery by providing me with familiarity. That familiarity was more than welcome when my mind was unrecognizable.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content.

Living With Schizophrenia: The Importance of Routine
By Michael Hedrick, The New York Times

Michael Hedrick is a writer in Boulder, Colo. He blogs at http://thehedrick.com and his book Connections is available at https://www.createspace.com/3426326

I can remember the early days of having schizophrenia. I was so afraid of the implications of subtle body language, like a lingering millisecond of eye contact, the way my feet hit the ground when I walked or the way I held my hands to my side. It was a struggle to go into a store or, really, anywhere I was bound to see another living member of the human species.

With a simple scratch of the head, someone could be telling me to go forward, or that what I was doing was right or wrong, or that they were acknowledging the symbolic crown on my head that made me a king or a prophet. It’s not hard to imagine that I was having a tough time in the midst of all the anxiety and delusions.

Several months after my diagnosis, I took a job at a small town newspaper as a reporter. I sat in on City Council meetings, covering issues related to the lowering water table and interviewing local business owners for small blurbs in the local section, all the while wondering if I was uncovering some vague connections to an international conspiracy.

The nights were altogether different. Every day, I would come home to my apartment and smoke pot, then lay on my couch watching television or head out to the bar and get so hammered that I couldn’t walk. It’s hard to admit, but the only time I felt relaxed was when I was drunk.

I eventually lost my newspaper job, but that wasn’t the catalyst for change.

It all came to a head one night in July. I had been out drinking all night and, in a haze, I decided it would be a good idea to drive the two miles back to my apartment. This is something I had done several times before, but it had never dawned on me that it was a serious deal. I thought I was doing well, not swerving and being only several blocks from my house, when I saw flashing lights behind me.

What started as a trip to the bar to unwind ended with me calling my parents to bail me out of jail at 3 a.m.

The next year of my life would mean change. I’m not entirely clear on the exact point at which my routine drinking and drug use turned into healthier pursuits. Maybe it was the shock of meeting with a D.U.I. lawyer, or the point after sentencing when I realized I’d be forced to make a daily call, first thing in the morning, to find out if I would have to pee in a cup that day. Maybe it was the fact that I’d need someone else, mainly my mom, to drive me anywhere for the next year. Or perhaps it was the consistent Saturday morning drug and alcohol therapy group or Wednesday and Thursday afternoons of community service that kicked me into a groove.

The groove of it eventually turned into a routine, one that wasn’t marked by indulgence but instead by forced commitment that eventually I would grow to respect.

During that time, I quit smoking pot, I quit drinking and I got some of the best sleep I’d gotten since my diagnosis. Trips to the bar on Monday afternoons turned into extended hours at coffee shops where I finished my first novel.

For some reason, it gave me joy to recite my routine to whoever asked. I would wake up at 7, get coffee and a bagel with plain cream cheese, check Facebook, write until I had 1,000 words, get lunch, do errands in the afternoon, return home, get dinner, take my pills (with food), watch TV and get to bed around 9.

It might all sound tremendously boring. But this regimented series of events was always there; they’d always carry over. And with time, it gave me great comfort to not have to deal with the unexpected. I had a set plan for most days, and there was already too much chaos in my head.

I found that I never forgot to take my medicine. I always had at least eight hours of sleep. And I felt much more relaxed and was able to finally wrap my head around my diagnosis. I began to see the world as a mostly random series of events, rather than an overarching conspiracy plot. The healthy routine was integral.

My story, as with so many stories of recovery, isn’t over. The biggest things in my life are now my friends and family, my work and my daily routine. I take my meds faithfully, and although I no longer attend regular therapy sessions, I find eight years of living with schizophrenia has made me well equipped to deal with future problems. I still get up early, do my work for the day, hang out with my mom or my friends in the afternoon and then ease into the evening. Most important, I still get to bed by 9 every night. I’m more stable, much healthier, and I’m happy.

The routine of things set a stable foundation for recovery by providing me with familiarity. That familiarity was more than welcome when my mind was unrecognizable.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content
.

Filed under schizophrenia schizophrenic psychosis psychotic hallucination delusions delusion recovery recover trauma traumatized treatment hope mind body brain wellness health healthy mental health mental mental illness diagnosis psychology psychiatry counseling routine life daily life story

31 notes

Web therapy could be an option for bipolar disorderBy Liat Clark, Wired
An online platform that helps people with bipolar disorder self-administer therapy has proven to be successful in a small trial, with 92 percent of participants saying they found the content positive.
Nicholas Todd, a psychologist in clinical training at the NHS Trust, has developed the site as part of a project he’s running called Living with Bipolar.
In it, he asked 122 people to use a sort of e-learning environment that uses audiovisual models and worksheets, incorporating parts of cognitive behavioral therapy and psycho-education known to be effective in bipolar patients. There’s also a peer support forum, which is moderated by a member of Todd’s research team, and motivational emails were periodically sent to those on the trial.
"Service users were encouraged to access the intervention flexibly and use it as and when they felt appropriate," Todd told Wired.co.uk. That’s because, as he presents in a paper on the platform, for patients “recovery is defined as people living a fulfilling life alongside their condition”. As such, it needs to fit in around them, their lifestyle and their changing needs.
One participant comments: “….for me recovery is certainly not about being symptom free… it is about coping and having a reasonable quality of life, being able to work productively and enjoy things outside of work.”
Thus, Todd explains, “service users did not focus on a ‘cure’ as their desired outcome but instead personally defined recovery goals and improved quality of life.”
By the trial end, Todd found that on average, users who stayed till the end completed 60 percent of the program. Of the people that completed the whole thing — 15 modules — 74 percent took under three months to do so.
The platform took a year to develop, spent looking at the most effective components of psychological therapy for bipolar disorder. As this was narrowed down, the group carried out five focus groups and tested it online via a consultancy group.
The system gets users to identify their own mood using an established scale, the idea being they — and the system — can track their own ups and downs. “Service users would then receive information about the most appropriate modules, given their mood symptoms,” says Todd.
The forum, he says, played a key role in the project’s success. One participant commented, “…part of it [bipolar disorder] is feeling very alone… you don’t get that and I do think that the forum works extremely well with the intervention…” Todd explains how participants used it to support each other not only through the new intervention process, but through life events.
"A balance was struck between allowing participants to offload, and posts which encourage or talk about acts of suicide, self-harm, harm to others and are unhelpful to participants’ recovery." A total of 70 percent of the users signed up to the forum, and 1,927 posts on 130 topics were accumulated. "The participants who used the forum tended to complete more modules, and all participants who completed the entire program used the forum, albeit in different ways."
The idea behind the platform is to help bridge those periods between appointments, or those appointments that a patient misses. As with depression, health services can be known to administer solely medication to help alleviate symptoms. More and more, the NHS is striving to ensure psychological therapy is integrated alongside a prescription for mood stabilizers, such as lithium. “However, severe inequalities in access to psychological interventions for bipolar disorder currently exist in the NHS,” Todd says. “This intervention aims to increase access to psychological intervention.”
Todd tells us the NHS is actively training more staff to deliver psychological therapy, to plug the gap. For now, that initiative is being piloted for severe mental health conditions. “This intervention may fit as part of this initiative in giving service users with bipolar disorder greater access to psychological therapy.
"Computerized interventions are not about replacing face-to-face interventions, but giving someone another option to receive psychological support. In fact, some people prefer accessing psychological support in this way as it fits better with their lives."
For one woman in particular the experience has been, in her words, “life changing”.
She said: “I have encountered insights in the modules that have significantly helped me to survive the blackest moments. I cannot measure the value of this, as it has contributed to their difference between life and death. My husband and I are sincerely grateful for the immeasurable impact this has had on our family.”
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Web therapy could be an option for bipolar disorder
By Liat Clark, Wired

An online platform that helps people with bipolar disorder self-administer therapy has proven to be successful in a small trial, with 92 percent of participants saying they found the content positive.

Nicholas Todd, a psychologist in clinical training at the NHS Trust, has developed the site as part of a project he’s running called Living with Bipolar.

In it, he asked 122 people to use a sort of e-learning environment that uses audiovisual models and worksheets, incorporating parts of cognitive behavioral therapy and psycho-education known to be effective in bipolar patients. There’s also a peer support forum, which is moderated by a member of Todd’s research team, and motivational emails were periodically sent to those on the trial.

"Service users were encouraged to access the intervention flexibly and use it as and when they felt appropriate," Todd told Wired.co.uk. That’s because, as he presents in a paper on the platform, for patients “recovery is defined as people living a fulfilling life alongside their condition”. As such, it needs to fit in around them, their lifestyle and their changing needs.

One participant comments: “….for me recovery is certainly not about being symptom free… it is about coping and having a reasonable quality of life, being able to work productively and enjoy things outside of work.”

Thus, Todd explains, “service users did not focus on a ‘cure’ as their desired outcome but instead personally defined recovery goals and improved quality of life.”

By the trial end, Todd found that on average, users who stayed till the end completed 60 percent of the program. Of the people that completed the whole thing — 15 modules — 74 percent took under three months to do so.

The platform took a year to develop, spent looking at the most effective components of psychological therapy for bipolar disorder. As this was narrowed down, the group carried out five focus groups and tested it online via a consultancy group.

The system gets users to identify their own mood using an established scale, the idea being they — and the system — can track their own ups and downs. “Service users would then receive information about the most appropriate modules, given their mood symptoms,” says Todd.

The forum, he says, played a key role in the project’s success. One participant commented, “…part of it [bipolar disorder] is feeling very alone… you don’t get that and I do think that the forum works extremely well with the intervention…” Todd explains how participants used it to support each other not only through the new intervention process, but through life events.

"A balance was struck between allowing participants to offload, and posts which encourage or talk about acts of suicide, self-harm, harm to others and are unhelpful to participants’ recovery." A total of 70 percent of the users signed up to the forum, and 1,927 posts on 130 topics were accumulated. "The participants who used the forum tended to complete more modules, and all participants who completed the entire program used the forum, albeit in different ways."

The idea behind the platform is to help bridge those periods between appointments, or those appointments that a patient misses. As with depression, health services can be known to administer solely medication to help alleviate symptoms. More and more, the NHS is striving to ensure psychological therapy is integrated alongside a prescription for mood stabilizers, such as lithium. “However, severe inequalities in access to psychological interventions for bipolar disorder currently exist in the NHS,” Todd says. “This intervention aims to increase access to psychological intervention.”

Todd tells us the NHS is actively training more staff to deliver psychological therapy, to plug the gap. For now, that initiative is being piloted for severe mental health conditions. “This intervention may fit as part of this initiative in giving service users with bipolar disorder greater access to psychological therapy.

"Computerized interventions are not about replacing face-to-face interventions, but giving someone another option to receive psychological support. In fact, some people prefer accessing psychological support in this way as it fits better with their lives."

For one woman in particular the experience has been, in her words, “life changing”.

She said: “I have encountered insights in the modules that have significantly helped me to survive the blackest moments. I cannot measure the value of this, as it has contributed to their difference between life and death. My husband and I are sincerely grateful for the immeasurable impact this has had on our family.”

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under internet web therapy treatment recover recovery therapist psychology psychiatry counseling online disorder diagnosis bipolar manic depressed depression emotion emotions feeling feelings thought thoughts sad sadness mind body brain wellness health

23 notes

TEDxMaastricht Clarissa Silva: Expert from experience

Video description: Live with your strength, not with your weaknesses. "Bizarre how fast your life can change," that’s how Clarissa started her talk. She worked as a caregiver when she got mentally ill.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under experience experiences story stories life life changing mental health mental illness mental health illness mind body brain wellness healthy recovery hope hopeful caregiver psychology psychiatry counseling therapy treatment feeling feelings emotion emotions emotional

49 notes

Patient No. 9413By Roger Cohen, The New York Times
My mother was a woman hollowed out like a tree struck by lightning. I wanted to know why.
Ever since her first suicide attempt, in 1978, when I was 22, I had been trying to fill in gaps. She was gone much of the time in my early childhood, and when she returned nobody spoke about the absence.
I learned much later that she had suffered acute depression after my younger sister’s birth in 1957. She was in hospitals and sanitariums being shot full of insulin — a treatment then in vogue for severe mental disorder — and electricity. The resulting spasms, seizures, convulsions and comas were supposed to jar her from her “puerperal psychosis,” the term then used in England for postpartum depression.
In 1958, my mother was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium, the sprawling Victorian Gothic fantasy of a 19th-century tycoon, Thomas Holloway, who amassed a fortune through the sale of dubious medicinal concoctions. The sanitarium, opened in 1885, was a great heap of gabled redbrick buildings, topped by a tower rising 145 feet into the damp air of Surrey.
Run initially as a private institution, the Holloway Sanatorium became a mental hospital within Britain’s National Health Service after World War II. It was not closed until 1981. Many of its records and casebooks were burned. The gutted building became a setting for horror movies. Directors could not believe their luck. It is now a gated community of luxury homes.
Some records were preserved at the Surrey History Center. In the faint hope that a trace remained of my mother, I wrote to inquire. My parents had never spoken in any detail of her first depression. A letter came back a few weeks later. References to June Bernice Cohen had been located in the admissions register and in ward reports from July 1958.
These showed that “she was patient number 9413, was admitted on 25th July 1958 and discharged on 12th September 1958.” The ward reports for most of August and September had vanished. I applied under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to see the records.
My re-encounter with my mother involved painstaking negotiation with an archivist. At last I was presented with the weighty register for female patients. Entries are written with fountain pen in cursive script. In columns across the page my mother is identified. “Name: June Bernice COHEN. Ref Number: 9413. Age: 29. Marital Status: Married. Religion: JEW.”
I stared at her age — so young — and at the capitalized entry under religion: “JEW.” The noun form has a weight the adjective, Jewish, lacks. It seems loaded with a monosyllabic distaste, which was redoubled by the strange use of the uppercase. June was not religious. She is the youngest on the page. She is also the only non-Christian.
The first ward notes on my mother read, “History of depression in varying degrees since birth of second child, now fourteen months old. Husband is engaged in medical research. Patient has some private psychotherapy and also modified insulin treatment at St. Mary’s last month, being discharged July 8th. On admission she was depressed, tearful and withdrawn.”
The doctor examining my mother was struck by how “her tension increased remarkably on mention of latest child.” I ran my fingers over the page and paused at “JEW.” I wanted to take a soothing poultice to her face.
On July 28, 1958, my mother was visited by a Dr. Storey. He “confirms diagnosis of post-puerperal depression and advises Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which patient and husband are now willing to accept.”
She first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958. I see my slight young mother with metal plates on either side of her head, flattening her dark curls, her heart racing as her skull is enclosed in a high-voltage carapace. I can almost taste the material wedged in her over-salivating mouth for her to bite on as the current passes.
The treatment was repeated a second time, on Aug. 1, 1958. That was one day before my third birthday. So, at last, that is where she was.
I now have some facts to anchor memory, fragments to fill absence. My mother, who recovered sufficiently to be stable, if fragile, for about 15 years through my childhood and adolescence, would suffer from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, through the latter third of her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 69. The ravages of this condition I observed; the onset of her mental instability I only felt.
The hidden hurts most. Mental illness is still too clouded in taboo. It took me a long time to find where my mother disappeared to. Knowledge in itself resolves nothing, but it helps.
Acceptance — it comes down to that. This is how I came to this point, and to this place, by this looping road, from such anguish, and I am still alive and full of hope.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Patient No. 9413
By Roger Cohen, The New York Times

My mother was a woman hollowed out like a tree struck by lightning. I wanted to know why.

Ever since her first suicide attempt, in 1978, when I was 22, I had been trying to fill in gaps. She was gone much of the time in my early childhood, and when she returned nobody spoke about the absence.

I learned much later that she had suffered acute depression after my younger sister’s birth in 1957. She was in hospitals and sanitariums being shot full of insulin — a treatment then in vogue for severe mental disorder — and electricity. The resulting spasms, seizures, convulsions and comas were supposed to jar her from her “puerperal psychosis,” the term then used in England for postpartum depression.

In 1958, my mother was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium, the sprawling Victorian Gothic fantasy of a 19th-century tycoon, Thomas Holloway, who amassed a fortune through the sale of dubious medicinal concoctions. The sanitarium, opened in 1885, was a great heap of gabled redbrick buildings, topped by a tower rising 145 feet into the damp air of Surrey.

Run initially as a private institution, the Holloway Sanatorium became a mental hospital within Britain’s National Health Service after World War II. It was not closed until 1981. Many of its records and casebooks were burned. The gutted building became a setting for horror movies. Directors could not believe their luck. It is now a gated community of luxury homes.

Some records were preserved at the Surrey History Center. In the faint hope that a trace remained of my mother, I wrote to inquire. My parents had never spoken in any detail of her first depression. A letter came back a few weeks later. References to June Bernice Cohen had been located in the admissions register and in ward reports from July 1958.

These showed that “she was patient number 9413, was admitted on 25th July 1958 and discharged on 12th September 1958.” The ward reports for most of August and September had vanished. I applied under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to see the records.

My re-encounter with my mother involved painstaking negotiation with an archivist. At last I was presented with the weighty register for female patients. Entries are written with fountain pen in cursive script. In columns across the page my mother is identified. “Name: June Bernice COHEN. Ref Number: 9413. Age: 29. Marital Status: Married. Religion: JEW.”

I stared at her age — so young — and at the capitalized entry under religion: “JEW.” The noun form has a weight the adjective, Jewish, lacks. It seems loaded with a monosyllabic distaste, which was redoubled by the strange use of the uppercase. June was not religious. She is the youngest on the page. She is also the only non-Christian.

The first ward notes on my mother read, “History of depression in varying degrees since birth of second child, now fourteen months old. Husband is engaged in medical research. Patient has some private psychotherapy and also modified insulin treatment at St. Mary’s last month, being discharged July 8th. On admission she was depressed, tearful and withdrawn.”

The doctor examining my mother was struck by how “her tension increased remarkably on mention of latest child.” I ran my fingers over the page and paused at “JEW.” I wanted to take a soothing poultice to her face.

On July 28, 1958, my mother was visited by a Dr. Storey. He “confirms diagnosis of post-puerperal depression and advises Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which patient and husband are now willing to accept.”

She first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958. I see my slight young mother with metal plates on either side of her head, flattening her dark curls, her heart racing as her skull is enclosed in a high-voltage carapace. I can almost taste the material wedged in her over-salivating mouth for her to bite on as the current passes.

The treatment was repeated a second time, on Aug. 1, 1958. That was one day before my third birthday. So, at last, that is where she was.

I now have some facts to anchor memory, fragments to fill absence. My mother, who recovered sufficiently to be stable, if fragile, for about 15 years through my childhood and adolescence, would suffer from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, through the latter third of her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 69. The ravages of this condition I observed; the onset of her mental instability I only felt.

The hidden hurts most. Mental illness is still too clouded in taboo. It took me a long time to find where my mother disappeared to. Knowledge in itself resolves nothing, but it helps.

Acceptance — it comes down to that. This is how I came to this point, and to this place, by this looping road, from such anguish, and I am still alive and full of hope.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under patient psychiatry psychology counseling hospital med meds medication mental health mental illness mental health illness mind body brain wellness healthy treatment recovery hope suicide suicidal inpatient depression depressed depressing history therapy therapist