Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tangled and lovely webs

It has been quiet on the blog front for both Linea and me. It is the end of the quarter (as well as the school year) and always an incredibly busy time. I think we are both overloaded with work and projects and deadlines. I will let Linea tell you about her overloads if she wants to...I am just trying to remember that sacred space within me that I need to keep open and not let fill with the trivia of everyday life. In addition to teaching we have presented at a conference in Seattle and once again we were touched by someone that attended. "Don't forget to remind people that substance abuse is often a symptom of mental health conditions in adolescents and not something for which they should be punished." This passionate plea came from a mother who had lost her son to suicide a very short time ago. I am continuously reminded that every person is connected somehow to mental health conditions.

So here is a story of our closeness to each other. I see us all connected through a web of vines like those blossoming on my garage. I will try to write this in the least complicated way possible. My mom is an artist and has painted for many years. A woman bought a painting from my mom sometime in the late 1960's while she and my dad were living in another city from where they now live. This woman ended up living in the same city (40 some miles from where my parents now live) as my sister's sister in-law. Yes, it is tangled! I think it would make it easier if I assigned a pretend name to the woman-that-bought-the-painting. Grace. Let's call her Grace. It will soon fit the story. So Sister's sister-in-law somehow let Grace know that the artist of the unsigned painting was in fact living close and well within reach. Grace always wanted the painting signed and contacted Mom to see if she would do so. My parents were actually out of town with us, while Linea and I presented at the conference in Honolulu. Finally Mom returns Grace's message and it is decided that Grace will come to my parents' home with the painting and have it signed. Grace is thrilled as she has always loved the painting. My mom is a little worried because she doesn't remember the painting and hopes it won't be something she doesn't like after all these years. Grace shows up, Mom is okay with the painting and signs it. Even though this is a strange enough coincidence, as they talk a connection is made beyond the painting. As they discuss Mom's trip to Hawaii she shares that Linea and I presented about bipolar disorder at the conference. Grace revealed that she has close family members with bipolar disorder. The two woman have a conversation that I would imagine doesn't just happen when two people meet for the first time. They share their stories and common experiences. Mom shares our website. Both of their worlds have expanded a little bit. They talk some more and Mom finds out that one of Grace's loved ones will be in Spain this summer the same time that I will be there. It wouldn't surprise me if we meet on the train travelling out of Madrid and end up in the same hotel on the Mediterranean! We are truly all connected.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mental Health and You

My daughter Linea and I just presented at the International Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities in Honolulu, Hawaii. Yes, I know. Someone has to do it! Although it was certainly different weather from what we experienced at the Wisconsin State conference in January (!) when we presented there was a well-recognized familiarity in our exchange with the audience and our contacts after presenting. NAMI (National Institute on Mental Illness) tells us that one in every four families deals with mental illness and one in seventeen people live with a serious illness including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

So it isn't surprising when we hear from people in our audience about their own struggles with mental illness. These people are almost always professionals, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and counselors. Yet they share their fears of divulging their stories, let alone their needs, to their colleagues and employers. They send emails and notes telling us that they are so glad we are brave enough to talk about "it". They tell us they have kept silent for years for fear of misunderstanding or rejection because of their illness. If our audience of professionals that work in the field of education and mental health are afraid to share their story how much more difficult is it for someone that may not understand their own illness or have people around them that don't even know what a diagnosis or treatment plan might mean? It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of fear and hopeless- and helpless-ness. We have a long way to go, don't we?

Invisible City (Jordan Swain)