Tag Archives: depression

Western Culture and What is Wrong with our Mental Health System


This photo speaks volumes to what is wrong with our Mental Health System. We treat too many things as illnesses rather than experiences of life.


“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave.

They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again.

Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.


My cousin’s husband shot and killed himself years ago. My cousin had been cooped up in a room, resting in bed and being served soup and tea, for days. I came and sat with her a few days later and she was sad and bored and wanted a distraction. We went outside in the sunlight of the porch and started playing backgammon and my Aunt, bless her heart, went into hysterics because it wasn’t proper mourning. Really?

Could you imagine being forced to talk about it, over and over again, with no relief?

Of course you could. It’s what we expect.

No Choice

My head has been in weird place this past week. I have a lot in front of me and a lot behind me.

Being both bipolar 1 and also being a child survivor of suicide, Robin Williams’ death sent me spiraling downward at a time when I am trying to spiral upward. I feel empathy for the pain he has suffered and for his family. I can also understand why some people (survivors mostly) feel it was a selfish act, but what they don’t understand is that it is a selfless act in the mind of the victim. I say victim because the chemical imbalance in the brain that darkens the world and slows then stops time chooses its prey, they don’t choose death.

That is the one most vital thing people have to come to understand and the least understandable.

This is not sadness, but it is a sad situation. Depression is called depression for a reason.

Your metabolism slows to the point of not feeling hungry…ever. Or thirsty…ever.

Your thought processes slow to the point that your mind begins to formulate a thought and hours later, after distorted thoughts have come and gone, your mind finishes it.

You don’t know what happened in between. Worse than a drunk in a blackout, you function, but you are not conscious of it.

In the worst of it, your motor functions are crippled. You literally begin to move in slow motion. It’s called psychomotor retardation, and it’s not one day…or two or three, but every day for weeks, months and years.

I recall one day during an episode where I rose from my bed and put my feet on the floor. I was thinking about making some coffee. I, at some point, walked into the living room, opened a window, and sat in a rocking chair. There was a hole in the screen. The kids were at school. I have no clue what I thought about all day long, but when the kids came home, nearly eight hours later, I was still sitting in that chair. A wasp nest was in the corner of the window and it had been disturbed by me opening the window early that morning. So these wasps were now inside. A few were flying around the room. My face and arms were covered in wasps, and I could not, would not, move. I was an observer. They were crawling around on me, I felt them, and I did not care. I was thinking about making some coffee.

That was my day. I was totally not in control of my thoughts or actions.

I never self-medicated with drugs or alcohol. I was on medication for mood disorder, but this was a breakthrough episode. And I felt that I wanted to die. I did not want to put my family through me going back into a hospital for treatment.

In between these episodes, I was Professional Registered Nurse, wife, mother, student, employer, employee, Girl Scout cookie chairperson, Eagle Scout mom, soccer mom, drove the kids to tae kwon do, horseback riding lessons, softball practice, I was cheerleading chaperone and youth group leader. No one knew, but my family.

When I was manic, I was working sixteen hour shifts, a creative genius, devising staffing inservice manuals for CCU, and healthcare program designs, creating ceramic artwork that would blow your mind…no one faulted me that. No one much noticed the toll it took.

Even when you seek help, there are often complications, like there are with any disease. There are resistant strains, chemotherapy and talk therapy are both tricky. It’s expensive to treat. Responses are varied. It can take weeks or months to see the positive effects of medications, and many won’t endure that long. The medication that finally stopped all of this for me, after several experimental cocktails, was a third generation psychotropic discovered in 1996. I took it as an experimental drug. I was willing to try anything. My episodes were off and on from 1979. Some people are not as lucky as me, because everybody’s brain chemistry is different. It can take years, decades, to find the right mix.

I don’t know what Robin Williams was thinking, or even if he knew what he was thinking.

I don’t believe he chose death. I will never believe that he chose death.

Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness

This is a tattered photograph that I have carried around for 43 years since the age of ten. It was retrieved from a scrapbook that my grandma had in an old trunk that held my mother’s personal effects after she died in 1969. The scrapbooks were filled with the sorts of things teenaged girls and young women collect, postcards from places visited, movie and theater tickets, coupons for dancing lessons, pressed corsages, letters exchanged between friends and lovers. On the back it is signed, “Love, Carol.” I don’t know who the intended recipient was supposed to be, but it became the only tangible image of her that I possessed for thirty years.


My aunt, my mother’s only sister, had a few photographs. They were mostly small pictures taken in their childhood years and there were only a couple that my aunt had of her sister as an adult. There were other pictures, but they were given to my older sister for safe keeping and we became estranged over the years of separation that followed Mama’s death.

In 1997, after coming to Florida and connecting with a cousin, the one who owns Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa, I learned that my uncle, his father, who started the resort back in 1964, had been a photographer with the Miami Herald during the 1950s. When my Aunt Pete, his wife, died in 2000, my cousin was cleaning out boxes in their home and ran across some photographs of my mother and her sister that were taken in their teen years. There is now a vast treasure of black and white 8X10s, and smaller photos of the two sisters. I was overjoyed to be gifted this collection and shared them with my mother’s sister, who was also thrilled.

I want to ask you to take a look at two sets of these photographs that hang on my wall. You don’t know the story of these sisters, Claudette and Carol, but I would like to ask you to tell me if you see anything that hints of a story in these images.

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The images alone demonstrate the differences in these two sisters.  My mother, Carol, a ballerina and dance instructor died of suicide at the age of 26, and Aunt Claudette, a pianist and horticulturist, is 74 years old now.

Carol was a hopeless romantic and a dreamer, and Claudette was a hopeful realist and pragmatic. Carol was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Claudette was countrified and domestic. Carol, a soprano. Claudette, an alto. Carol was open and free-spirited. Claudette was closed and restrained. As young adults, Carol was dressed in stockings and heels, and Claudette wore jeans and penny loafers.  Both were well educated and cultured in their youth, but their childhoods, teen years, and young adult lives were tumultuous. Music and dance were where they mutually sought solace.

That side of my family is riddled with mental illness and addiction.  Of all the many cousins and aunts and uncles on my maternal side of the family there are geniuses who became entrepreneurial millionaires, and there are paupers who suffered epilepsy, neurological conditions, psychiatric disturbances, multiple tragedies, became institutionalized, or died trying to overcome the obstacle that is madness.  There is a fine line between madness and genius. Mental illness and neurological disorders were cloaked in a veil of secrecy in their era and still have a degree of stigma associated with them that needs to be overcome.

Very few were able to walk the middle of the road, but the strength found in faith, time, and modern science and medicine has made a huge impact. My aunt is one of those who did, although she had severe issues with bipolar and addictions.

I had a brief adventure with drugs and alcohol between the ages of 17 & 19, but addiction was never a problem for me. I was hospitalized for an acute psychotic episode when I was 19, and have been on medications for bipolar and in therapy ever since that event. I drink socially on rare occasions but the experiences of me and my aunt have paralleled many times…either on a personal level, vicariously, or through my patients in my nursing career. My moods are relatively stable now. I am still “driven” at times and “depressed” at times, not to extremes, but such has not always been the case. I would like to tell my story someday, but not before I tell the story of the two sisters, my mother and my aunt.

When I wrote “Red Clay and Roses”, I was telling a story that was wrought with historical tragedy and the serious issues of racial tension and reproductive rights and responsibilities. I wrote passionately about events I witnessed personally or events that had been shared with me by others who had lived the experiences. I did not set out to write a novel by a specific formula or template. I documented a harsh reality. It was open and candid. I have never been one to shy away from that which is painful or shameful. A wounded society does not heal itself by looking the other way, and neither do individuals. At the same time, I tried to be as unbiased as possible and approach these unapproachable issues with sensitivity. On that level, I feel it was successful.

In addition to numerous short stories, I have three works in progress. One is a crime novel. I am about 30,000 words into it and my husband, who reads them daily, loves it. I feel that it is superficial and shallow, amusing and entertaining in its own way, but I am not certain that it carries the weight that makes me comfortable in my own writing skin. Another is a murder mystery. It is more a psycho thriller than a crime novel and I am about 15,000 words into it. I liked the beginning of it, but it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that I planned for it. Sort of hard to explain, but it, again, doesn’t flow with the passion from the pen that I feel most comfortable with…it feels forced and I am beginning to see that in the way that it reads.  At any rate, I am not so sure that this genre of crime/murder is where I need to be right now. I don’t feel like I am in my element. Perhaps this is something that I can come back to at some future point. The final work is an autobiography of sorts that is almost unbelievable as a memoir.  It is a complex life that I have lived in foster care, an orphanage, on the street, in the islands, small town USA, the countryside, the nudist resort, and the big city. So I am not sure what to do with this either, whether to continue it or shelf it for a while.

Which brings me to questions that I need your help with. It seems to be the passion that I felt when writing “Red Clay and Roses” that I am missing.

For those of you who have read “Red Clay and Roses” (A fictionalized true story set in the 1950s-60s, but involving relatives on my father’s side of the family), you already know that Carol is mentioned twice in that story…once by Hannah in relating her memories of her mother and her mother’s death, and again by her cousin, Sybil, in relating the death by suicide of her cousin, Henry’s, wife, leaving three little girls with no mother.

If I decide to write this book, I would approach the writing process much differently, not as a fictionalized true story being told to a narrator, but as pure fiction (which is always, in part, based on some truth).

Without knowing the details, do you think the story of Claudette and Carol is one that you would find interesting? Particularly, how Claudette coped in the long run to turn her life around. I have been all over Amazon reviews this past week and there seems to be quite a market for this sort of thing as well as the era…people are saying that they are too old to enjoy the drama of Paris Hilton, and too young to relate to the 1930s and 40s, about which so much is written.  Finding and connecting with these people will be another challenge.  People my age and ten years older are beginning to retire, have the time to read, and they are dissatisfied with what is on the market.

As a family saga, beginning in the mid-fifties and moving into the mid-nineties, do you think this story would make a worthy sequel to “Red Clay and Roses”?

For those who have not read “Red Clay and Roses”, what are your thoughts about “Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness”?

Sunday Synopsis

I have been in a funk all week.  Really, it has been about a month and while I know the two primary causes for most of this lowness in my life, I haven’t been able to resolve them to my satisfaction, so I remain in a funk.

This week, I am going into a saltwater sensory deprivation chamber.  Not because of the funk…with that, I am sort of already there.  There is a company called Total Zen Float here in Orlando.  From what I have learned, “floating” is the “in” thing.  Now, I know what’s “in” is “out”, so they say, but this is new to me, so it’s “in”.  I know that sensory deprivation doesn’t sound exciting, but it is relaxing and as busy as I have been this past month (mostly spinning my wheels, I’ll add) I need relaxing.  My daughter wanted to give me an interesting and different birthday present so she is giving me hours “floating”.  It’s right up there with Migun bed, hot yoga, and salt cave.  Not as mundane as massage, pedicure and manicure.  So I have this new experience to look forward to enjoying.

I have always been a, “Try anything once,” thrill seeker…I have just gotten too old for some of the more actively exciting stuff.  I used to float on my back and gaze at the stars for hours in the pool at Cypress Cove.  The pool guy would come by and check on me every thirty minutes, or so, just to make sure I was okay because I floated still (and nude) on my back for hours staring at the stars, and contemplating the greater aspects of the universe.  Here, there are not even any stars:

I am no longer doing Sunday Summations, because it was becoming a chore and I hate chores.  Life is too short.  I want it all to be fun.  That’s why I retired early, to have fun while I still could.

I love writing, and I have been doing a lot of writing but not on my blog or the CSB.  Also, I have put my WIP on hold.  I am not abandoning it.  I have this story that has been in my head a very long many years.  I want to execute it properly, but first, I need to pound it out…just rough out the story and stop trying to make it fit into a box.  That’s the only way I can explain it. I’ll do it at my own pace, even if it takes me years. No pressure.

I hope you had a terrific weekend and your work week is even finer if you work, and is as productive or nonproductive as you desire if you don’t.



Making bracelets with flowers to pass the hours, searching out hiding places to escape the embraces of persons wishing to find ways to spend one’s time.

Once one has grown older, the motives are bolder.  Hiding places are found in bottles that bind one’s emotions to the soul with fluids of gold.

Sooner than one expects, burgundy, amber and rose mingle with the effects one’s soul searches for, only to find in dreaming that is lost without meaning, one can’t remember what one knows.

Becoming engulfed in depression, one learns a sad lesson, “It is harder to get out of the places it takes you than it is to get into the bottle.”

~S. K. Nicholls

photo credit: www.judiciousspirits.com

If anyone is wondering, I changed the background color of my blog in preparation for the unveiling of my new book cover art for Red Clay and Roses.  Stay tuned…..