Sunday, May 30, 2010


Self-determination is incredibly important for the success of children and adolescents with or without disabilities as they move into adult life. I like this defination, "the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself" (Field & Hoffman). I teach my graduate students the importance of self-determination but these last few months I have been thinking about the next step beyond self-determination: empowerment and advocacy skills. These skills can be used to change inequalities, stigma and misconceptions about disabilities but also can be extremely positive for the individual. I have watched this occur over the last four years with my daughter Linea. From my perspective, the first part of her journey was to accept and acknowlege her diagnosis of bipolar disorder with a few steps forward and some backwards as she learned to manage a chronic illness. She has written about this journey in her blog. Eventually and sometimes simultaneously, she began to know and value herself in this new reality. She moved toward identifying and achieving her goals which included a strong commitment toward social justice. The memories of the inequalities we witnessed in the mental health system strongly influenced her. It has been amazing to watch her find her voice and to use her power. As she joins a large and national movement to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and assure understanding, support and resources for others she has become confident and powerful yet has maintained her humility and kindness. (Check out her post as a writer on the BringChange2Mind blog.)

The National Empowerment Center actually conducted research on the definition of empowerment in the mental health world. It includes 15 qualities of empowerment. An example of just 5 of the 15 include: 1. decision making power, 2. access to information, 3. feeling part of a group, 4. changing others' perceptions of one's competency and capacity to act, and 5. change that is never ending and self-initiated. Linea demonstrates all 15 of the qualities defined in this research. I am not sure how she moved from the initial diagnosis to empowerment. It is certainly a developmental process and support, resources, opportunities and her own temperaments and brillliance likely figure into this. Although not everyone has these opportunities I do believe we should ensure that all of our young people (and others) have the opportunity to be not only self-determined but empowered within their own lives and in their communities. This occurs through small, individual changes with a big impact on the world at large!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

To Emily

Sunday was the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)/BringChange2Mind (BC2M) walk to reduce the stigma of mental illness and raise funds for research and support for people with mental health conditions. This walk was particlarly poignant for many reasons and one was because of Emily. Exactly four years ago on May 15th, daughter Linea was released from the psychiatric unit at Harborview Hospital. She had been there for a month and for part of that time she was on a 24-hour watch, a suicide watch. Someone was watching her every move, night and day, minute by minute. The hospital assistants (lovingly referred to as the H.A.s) perched beside her bed, by the bathroom door and anywhere else close at hand in the locked-down psych unit. It was often painful for us to talk with our daughter and often emotional conversations. Adding to the discomfort was a stranger two feet away, pretending to read, but whether they wanted to or not, intimately involved in our painful lives. Emily was one of Linea's H.A.s. She was not much older than Linea and attending a nursing program while working at the hospital. She treated Linea with care and respect and she made us feel "normal" in a very frightening world. (Wow, tears are falling on my keyboard thinking about this...Emily, you were our anchor and didn't even know it.) She not only gave our family the message that this was not the worst thing in the world but that there was hope and treatment and recovery. Emily was young and certainly could relate to a young woman who's life had fallen apart yet she didn't flinch. After Linea was released, still reeling from her treatment and into a very shaky recovery, many of her friends deserted her. Not because they didn't care but because they didn't know what to do. About a month after she was home from the hospital, Emily invited her to a dance. Linea went and, once again, felt "normal". They hadn't seen each more than a couple of times over the last four years but connected through Linea's advocacy and the NAMI/BC2M walk. Four years later....Emily walked with us on Saturday and life once again comes full circle! Linea was the team captain, leading us to raise more than $5,500.00. Emily is now married to a wonderful man and has a darling baby girl soon to be one year old. She finished her nursing program and continues to touch peoples' lives in ways that she will never completely know. Linea, her dad, her sister Jordan and I were so touched to have her walk with us. I would never have imagined this four years ago. Treatment, recovery, stability, advocacy, voice, power, family and love. Emily was part of Linea's treatment, not just by keeping her from harming herself but by believing in her and us. Thank you, Emily! You are loved!

Stay tuned for more from the WALK!