Care and Tender Loving Care

I have been mourning the past several months:  My sister Ellen died six year years ago on January 31st. I miss her every day.

And I’ve been reading – All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks.  Here are some quotes from this extraordinary book:

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s growth.

“Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.

“To truly love, we must learn to mix various ingredients: care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect as well as honest and open communication.”

What is love? What is care and caring?  I thought long and hard about the kind of care my sister experienced the last several years of her life.  Care is one dimension of love. But simply giving care does not mean we are loving.  I re-evaluated my care to her. I could have done quite a bit more to bring simple happiness into her life.

She needed new knit type pants. I never purchased a pair for her, although I don’t know why. Was she a bother to me? I did buy her other clothes, but not the most essential piece she needed.

I also remembered how often she and I discussed food. In nearly every conversation she would ask what I was preparing for the evening meal. Ellen would ask me how I was going to fix the baked chicken, or if I’d make the chili with or without macaroni, or what I would add to our green salad?  Had I experimented with this herb or that spice?  She preferred chili with macaroni …. The way our mother made chili.

There were many foods she preferred the way my mother prepared them. Roast beef well done with rich gravy and mashed potatoes, for example. My roast beef did not measure up. Neither did my scalloped potatoes.

I understand now. Food made by our mother was the food of our childhood.  Growing up was full of love and care. Full of the comfort and warmth of a well-worn slipper. Familiar.

I rarely bought any of my home prepared cooking or baking to my sister.

One evening, I stayed overnight with my sister in her modest apartment near the end of her time living in Chicago. We mutually decided I would sleep on the coach and Ellen would sleep in her bed.

What happened next has always haunted me.

I entered her bedroom to tuck her into bed. I fluffed her pillows, smoothed her hair and arranged the blankets comfortably and snuggly around her. She turned her head away from me … so I would not see the tears rolling down her cheek.

I wondered then and I wonder to this day:  How often did my sister Ellen have tenderness in her life? 

I gave her care, and so did others.

But tender loving care was rare, if ever, present in her life. Then and now, I pray Ellen would be able to forgive.

Ohenten Kariwatekwehn “The Words Which Come Before All Else” *

Indigenous People’s Day is observed in the US on October 11th. I celebrated the observance with my husband Jim by enjoying a meal featuring The Three Sisters, a trio of delights: corn, squash and beans. 

These staples have fed the world. Sisters?

The story Lize Erdrich, Ojibwe-Turtle Mountain Band, tells of The Three Sisters is fascinating. I discovered the tale when reading Original Local: Indigeneous Foods, Stories, and Recipes. (Heid. E. Erdrich, 2013.) 

Kernels of corn are planted in a depressed cavity in healthy soil. Beans are then added. The corn will raise its stalks to the sky, and will be hugged by the climbing bean plants. This is an advantageous duo as the beans (belonging to the legume family) fix nitrogen into the soil. The nitrogen is fertilizer. Squash seeds are added to the duo. Tantalizing blossoms, bright yellow, both male and female emerge from the squash as they grow. Squash plants have large leaves which shade the soil, keeping the ground moist and weed free. Their vines are itchy! As a result, animal pests are not attracted to the squash. The reward is colorful fruits hiding beneath the squash leaves. Hence, The Three Sisters.

Our three sisters’ meal featured delicata squash topped with  nuggets of gorgonzola cheese and a stew rich with black beans and kernel corn.

I became interested in Indigeneous people as a sophomore in college. In 1966, I volunteered to tutor Indigeneous children attending a nearby grade school. I encouraged the children as they practiced reading and completed arithmetic assignments.

Three years later, during my dietetic internship at UWHC in Madison, I enrolled in two graduate level courses. The first course was biochemistry. I had taken biochemistry as an undergraduate and was surprised how much I enjoyed the study of the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, amino acids and other nutrients. This was a tougher biochemistry course than my first biochemistry course, but I did alright. The second  semester course was advanced nutrition therapy as applied to diseases in humans of all ages. The research project I selected was the nutritional status of the Indigenous Peoples living in Wisconsin. I spent hours reading papers in The State Historical Library of Wisconsin, after working eight hours five days a week or more, as a dietetic intern.

Years passed.

Vacationing with our two children, Jim and I visited the Blackfoot Nation in Montana, The Lakota Nation in the Dakota’s, The Rosebud reservation in Nebraska, and the villages and cultural sites of the Maori people in New Zealand. An unforgettable adventure presented itself as we traveled into Alberta, Canada. We witnessed a dig and visited the museum at the Head Smashed In archaeological site.

While preparing food for my family, I also explored many cultures of the world. I started with my 28 volume Time Life Series: Foods of the World. My interest expanded to include the interrelationship of a people’s history, their culture and the land they inhabited as influences on foods consumed and cooking methods used. More recently I began to search for similar relationships within many Indigenous communities living in the United States. 

There is much for non-Native people, like me, to learn about First Nations mental health challenges. Having investigated Indigeneous history in the US as recorded by First Nation author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, having enjoyed Inuit art for decades, and savored the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass) and Patty Lowe'(Seven Generations), I have learned to appreciate and respect Indigenous ways of knowing.

The needs of First Nations concerning mental health are complex and often misunderstood. 

Here are 4 take-home messages I garnered from my studies of Native American mental health concerns.

  • There are 500+ federally recognized separate First Nation groups in the US. 
  • “People get things wrong about suicide on Native Lands; non-Natives need to learn Indigeneous perspectives on suicide.” (Native Hope website)
  • Rates of suicide, the contributing factors teading to suicide and the methods to deal with  mental health problems vary with each individual Native nation.
  • Culturally aware high quality resources are available as developed by and with many First Nation peoples. 

Two resources I recommend:

 We in the United States are observing our annual fall feast on Thursday, November 25th. This abridged version of “ The Words That Come Before All Else “ gently instills in me a  thankfulness for each of the blessings bestowed upon us .

Ohenten Kariwatekwehn : “ The Words That Come Before All Else ”

We express our thanks to our Mother Earth, who provides us with all we need to live upon her.

…  to all the waters of the world, for we cannot exist without the lifeblood of Mother Earth.

…  to the animals which live within the earth’s waters for carrying out their duties in harmony with natural law.

… to the insect beings which are upon and within the earth.

… to the animal beings and their leader the deer, as we are  grateful for sustaining us.

… to the medicine plants, which give us their energy so that we may be healed.

… to the food plants which nourish our bodies, particularly the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash.

… to the trees of the world and to the Maple tree, the leader of all of its kind, whose sap renews our spirits and bodies.

… to the Four Winds without whom life would not exist. 

… to the Thunders of the world who carry rain and energize the earth for our seeds.

… to our grandmother Moon, who gives us light and controls the movement of water on the earth.

… to the stars who give us beauty and direction and to them we return when our spirits leave this earth.

…  to the spirit beings who guide and protect us.

… to those yet unborn that we are to ensure they also have clean waters, clean air and fertile soil.

… and to the Creator for the blessing of life and the gift each one of us is to the other and the world.

So let it be in our minds.

Thank you kindly.

 


This blessing of thankfulness – *Ohenten Kariwatekwehn, “The Words Which Come Before All Else“ – was submitted to Indian Country Today  (ICT) e-news by Doug George-Kanentio, Akwesasne Mohawk, a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian and former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. 

I subscribe to ICT. Reading ICT has immensely enhanced my awareness of North American Native Nations, Inuits and Aleuts. My respect for Native ways of knowing and experiencing our Mother Earth continues to increase, a rewarding journey.

Father’s Day, 2021: A Tribute to My Father

My father was a flawed man.

Many would agree with this assessment, especially my siblings and my mother.

Many people are flawed, including my siblings and my mother and myself. Often our flaws aren’t as apparent as they were with my dad. We hide them as best we can.

My Dad’s flaws happened to be known and obvious. He suffered major depressive episodes, with at least 4 suicide attempts. He barely survived one. I know this as one of my psychiatrists, on staff at the hospital where my Dad was treated for that attempt, had rights to retrieve old medical records.  So my physician had reviewed Dad’s records – in particular, whether my Dad was bipolar or unipolar – to better treat me. He also said my Dad had clearly meant to end his life. 

Dad could be sharp with his criticism of my mother, my siblings and me. Sometimes all we heard were negative barbs on our competence at the task we were asked to do.

Dad once humiliated me by marching into the high school gym to literally pull me off the dance floor. I had “committed” some infraction, in his eyes. He was furious. …It was obvious to all the teens who witnessed what was going on. I was humiliated. 

He could also put us on guilt trips. The hardest guilt trip for me … that I remember … occurred during a Christmas holiday. The previous night I’d just returned home from college for Christmas vacation. I had been out late on a date with my steady boyfriend Jim, now my husband. Early next morning, with the dairy cows needing to be milked, he woke me up to help. This was our routine when I came home for weekends or breaks. But this time he threatened: “Gail, how you help during the holidays, is how Christmas will go for all of us! He meant, if I didn’t help him the precise way he thought I must, I would ruin the holiday for all eight of us, plus any grandparents and boy or girlfriends that might be invited. 

Imagine the burden Dad put on me: Everyone’s happiness – especially my Dad’s – and more importantly, how Dad would act toward the family, the amount and the severity of criticisms, barbs, pouts, etc. – depended on me. 

Dad was SO out of line, but I did not realize this until a caring psychiatrist told me straight out, thirty years later, no father has the right to say or imply such a treat. 

Never.

Dad did not need to threaten me. It was nonsense. I had always been a conscientious and careful helper with the milking, any barn chores, making hay, combining oats, etc. 

When Dad attempted suicide in 1968,, I came home to help on the farm, especially with the daily milking (Dad was in the hospital). My grades suffered badly that semester. One of my advisors, on seeing my semester grades, said “That must be when you started dating Jim.” I replied, no, I had gone home to work to help out after my dad’s suicide attempt. She never bothered me about those grades again. (Jim and I were already a couple.)

Yet, I am grateful to him for many things.

1. Stressing the importance of voting.

2. Stirring my interest in local, state and national politics.

My dad’s favorite president was FDR, not JFK, as some think.

3. Taking the older children, including me, on trips, especially to Washington, DC, where we meet our state senator and congressman, both honorable men.

There were simpler trips: to see a fish hatchery, an apple orchard to witness the apple trees in bloom, a lake side short vacation, visiting the University arborteum in early spring, and more.

4. My Dad’s eagerness and happiness to see our newborn children.  

5. My Dad’s (as well as my Mother’s) happiness for myself and my family when we traveled to New Zealand in 1986. 

At the time our daughter was 11 and our son 6. We could hear the expressed joy from my parents that we landed safely (And had connected with the company from which we’d rented our caravan!). A twenty-two hour flight with three stops for fuel, in Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Fuji, before reaching New Zealand. 

More delight and happiness was expressed by my Mother and Dad when we arrived home three weeks later, and they picked us up at the airport . We rested in their pleasure at seeing us safe and sound.  The return trip to the United States, and eventually to our state, was much more tiring than the trip out.

Mom and Dad treated us to breakfast at the airport and drove us the roughly 30 miles to our home. 

6. Taking us to church, 30 miles from our farm, each Sunday. We all were baptized and confirmed. All six of us children.

7. Emphasizing 4H as important to our development.  I had a very active 4H life: sewing, cooking, and dairy.

The best was winning purple ribbons for raising two heifers to maturity.  These were both 50/50 projects.  That is, I raised another farmer’s Registered Holstein heifers from 6 months until they were “freshened,” i.e., had calves and thus began producing milk.  I showed these two animals at the Wisconsin State Fair. Poise was required – and I and the original owner split the profits when these now productive cows were auctioned off! 

8. Hosting our holidays, especially Christmas, every year. 

9. Attending his six children’s and grandchildren’s gatherings – high school graduations, for example. Only one sibling lived far away, half way across the continent, so visits to her were infrequent. 

10. Flowers, always your love for flowers. We remember. Now our children raise your favorites: Iris, roses, snap dragons, dusty Millers!

My Dad graciously handled his diagnosis of diabetes when he reached his seventies.  He had to change his diet, of course, and after a trial with oral hypoglycemic agents, he learned how to take insulin. He tested his blood glucose faithfully and kept the records and doctor’s appointments.

Then his kidneys started to fail. More dietary restrictions, this time protein …meat … was limited along with high potassium foods, a reduction in milk, fruits and vegetables. As a retired registered dietitian, I learned in 1969 what diabetes and renal dialysis could do … a heavy impact on the individuals quality of life … fatigue … stress … and a unavoidable but constant pressure to do the right thing to prolong life. 

He was gracious also, when he had to undergo renal dialysis. I can’t imagine spending the better part of three days a week traveling: And then hooked up to a dialysis machine. 

I’ve often wondered how his life and our lives would have differed, had he had more help in the form of counseling and empathy, even from us, his children. We did not like to listen to his recounting his symptoms, for one thing.

We had little patience with him.

Now I think surviving and then tackling physical rehabilitation after open heart surgery, in the early days of heart surgery, the 1970’s, was an immense accomplishment. Think of having your chest opened up twice!!!

Twice. A few blood vessels were not tied off completely during the original surgery. He began to lose blood and all blood brings to life. So the surgeons took him back to surgery. They forcefully had to work around the breast bone, or cut it.

Science now has demonstrated that diabetes and heart disease are bi-directional with depression. Today, people are prophylactically counseled on watching for depression after major illnesses and procedures.

There was also a time he survived a near fatal reaction to a dye injected for a test.  He had to be resuscitated. I remember my mom telling me later his attendants had implored,  “Richard, hold on, hold on.”

He held on.

Father, I was not permitted or asked to help plan your funeral. I was not consulted regarding hymn selection, or asked to speak at the funeral. 

I was not asked to sing for him, although I have my father’s beautiful voice. He was a tenor. His favorite tenor was Mario Lanza. I have been singing solos since fifth grade. I still sing.

I was outraged at being left out of the planning and being left out of the service.

I called the minister at 8am the day of Dad’s funeral to ask the minister to inform my mother that I would not attend, nor my husband nor our children.

I did attend, arriving barely before the funeral began. I went out of respect for my mother.

You see, my Dad and I both had said to one another, he and I were the most alike … of the 6 children, I resembled him most. I have a letter from my dad to me, dated July 1989. He tells me we are the most similar and of one mind. He tells me he is proud of me.

I think he wrote to me because in the Fathers Day card I sent to him I had written I was proud of him.

I was proud of him. And I still am.


Dad, here is the song I sang to Mother, just after she passed at Hospice. I sang it at her bedside. I sing it to you now.

Morning Has Broken
Lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Tips for Responding to Someone Who Tells You of A Sexual Assault

There is no timetable when it comes to dealing with sexual violence. Remember it is violence. It is ugly, it is the gift that keeps on giving, if others are unwilling to be of real help. Men who are close to and love women who have been assaulted by other men can and should provide the comforts below. Regardless of how much time has passed, the feeling was recent. I sincerely hope and pray that those who read this post will respond to sexual assault victims with compassion. I invite you to be a person who responds compassionately. Compassion acts.

Follow the steps below.

*** What is essential is for the victim to be believed, to be listened to
and to learn how to get further assistance. ***

Since it is always difficult and challenging to talk about sexual assault, the listener MUST be as non-judgmental and and as supportive as possible. If you, the listener, him or herself has also been abused, raped or assaulted – please hold off telling your own story. You need to listen to the victim first and foremost.

Visit RAINN. Online at http://www.rainn.org ( Y en espanol a rainn.org/es)

RAINN is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Netwtwork that has recommendations for assisting someone, a male, a female, off any age, no matter if the assault was recent or long ago.

Yes, I visited RAINN for an hour of online chat this week. It was helpful to chat with someone experienced helping people who have survived sexual assault.

It is free, anonymous, and can be private.

Say: “ I believe you. It took courage to tell me about this.”

It is extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. We can feel ashamed, be concerned we will not be believed, or worried we will be blamed.

*** Leave the “why” questions or investigations to the experts — Your job is to support the person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur — everyone responds to traumatic events differently.

The best thing you can do is to believe the person. Again: the best thing you can do is believe the person.

Say: “ It is NOT your fault. You did not do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, perhaps more than once, they are not to blame. I knew the criminal very well. He has not passed out of my life.

Say: “ You are not alone. I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the person know you are there for them. Let the person know you are willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing their story. Assess if
there are people in their life they feel comfortable talking to and remind them there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from their experience.

Healing is what my writing and recall is all about.
Healing. Healing. Healing. If the person, like me, does not get to discuss the assault with people she or he (RAINN was founded by a man.) he or she continues to relive the trauma, remains on high alert. I KNOW, for example I startle VIOLENTLY in dreams. If my husband wakes me to help, he must touch me gently, in an area that does not restrict my movements …. As in my violent dream I am fighting off the perpetrator. My husband must call my name quietly. I, for example, prefer during those times to be touched gently at the hip, not in the face, hands, or arms as was occurring in my nightmare – women who’ve been assaulted have a higher rate of lower arm fractures.

ALL this healing takes a tremendous amount of courage and energy. yet it must be done.

You can help!!! *** If you say, I will get back to you …. DO SO. ***

Say: “ I am sorry this happened. This should not have happened to you.”
Acknowledge the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.

I prefer and recommend compassion over empathy, as empathy is so passive. It lets people off the hook. Instead do something … bring ready to eat healthy delicious food, flowers, a living plant, a small gift …
I see and witness people light up with small acts of compassion every day. I give people small acts of compassion myself, as often as my health allows. You will be at someone’s side when you give a reflection of your concern in an actual item.

Kindness is everything. Kindness and compassion.

CONTINUED SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL:

There is no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence.
If someone discloses the event to you, consider the following ways to show your
continued support.

Avoid judgement
It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault. for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases suggesting the person is taking too long to recover. Avoid the phrases, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now.” or “ How much longer will you feel this way?”

Check in periodically
The event may have happened a long time ago, but this does not mean the pain has gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.

Know your resources
RAINN. Online at http://www.rainn.org ( Y en espanol a rainn.org/es)
National Sexual Assault Hotline number 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)

You are not alone.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

A Measure of Our Success

For children and young adults faced with mental illness, mental health challenges, and for children and young adults who are abused, forgotten and alone, I offer a poem by Ina J. Hughes:

We pray for children
   Who sneak popsicles before supper,
   Who erase holes in math workbooks,
   Who can never find their shoelaces.

And we pray for those
   Who stare at photographers from behind the barbed wire,
   Who can’t bound the street in a new pair of sneakers,
   Who never “counted potatoes’,
   Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
   Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
   Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those
   Who never get dessert.
   Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
   Who watch their parents watch them die,
   Who can’t find any bread to steal,
   Who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
   Whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
   Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
   Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food.
   Who like ghost stories,
   Who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out the tub,
   Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
   Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
   Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
   Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
   Who will eat anything,
   Who have never seen a dentist,
   Who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
   Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
   Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried
   And for those who must,
   For those we never give up on and
   For those who don’t get a second chance.

For those we smother … and for those who will
   Grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Let us heed the admonition of Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who directs us to insert the promise, ” I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR “ every time the phrase, “We pray”, is issued above.

Please offer your hands to all children, so that no child is left behind because we did not act.

Thank You Kindly,

Gail Louise

 * This poem excerpted verbatim from the last essay, entitled “If The Child Is Safe,” in Marion Wright Edelman’s book:  The Measure of Our Success, A Letter to My Children and Yours, 1992.

Wisdom from The Mouths of Our Youth

Children often see, hear and intuit more than we grown-ups are aware.

When I was asked by the founding teachers of CCS ( “Children’s Community School”) – a Montessori preschool and kindergarten our two children attended – for a humorous anecdote from our children, I offered the first quote that came to my mind:

“My dentist laughs when I fart, but he doesn’t laugh too much because I don’t fart too much.”

   The quote was published.

In fourth grade, when the teacher asked if anyone knew what a loon sounded like our daughter said “yes!”  The teacher replied: “Oh, really?” Challenged, our child perfectly vocalized the call of the loon, a boisterous loud and long tremolo.

   The loon has outlasted the dinosaurs. …. So far.

Our second child, returning home from 1st grade, pronounced: “Mom, when I grow up I want to be a professional football player, so I can afford to be an artist.”

   Wow, he understood how the world works.

Greta Thunberg, the world leader from Sweden drawing attention to planet earth’s climate crisis – and it is a crisis now – was young when she began her work.

  Now, young women from the United States have joined her.

   Other teens are mobilizing for strict gun control reform.


Mental illness often starts young. Often, younger than we realize.

My Dear Mother, in her last years, called out to me one day. “Gail Louise, come here and sit on my lap.” She rocked and held me tenderly. My mother said, “I am so sorry we missed your mental illness when you were young.”

ALL of us need to learn from children and change our priorities.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

Farewell (for a time)

Every day I count my blessings.

Writing has been a labor of love for me.  Through this online blog I learned much about mental health and mental illnesses. I have come to love, enjoy and need the writing experience.  Yet it is time to move on: This web site will remain online, but I will no longer be posting new material here.

Thank you to my readers who followed From Shame-To Healing over the years; especially to my immediate and extended families. How I appreciated your interest and encouragement!

I will continue to write, but I’m turning now to another passion:  Cooking and all that cooking, enjoying food, and living on this earth encompasses.  Look for me online again – Perhaps in six months. The working title is Soups and Salads: Flavored with Love. In their varieties they are endless and imaginative, and through them one may address so many timely food issues. Soups and salads are among my favorite foods.

I am excited and invigorated by this new direction.  For me, this is a wonderful challenge and opportunity.
Gail Louise

Fall. Tears.

October 4th, a Thursday, was a truly beautiful fall day. Crisp, clear, with a big blue sky. My husband and I went for a long afternoon drive in the rolling hills that characterize the driftless country that we live in and around.

I was taken by surprise when the tears started falling. Around every bend the tears fell. My old nemesis, depression was gaining a hold. It didn’t make any sense to be crying on this glorious day. But  I knew depression well enough by now to realize that depression doesn’t necessarily make sense.  It can literally appear out of the blue.

I got through the day by practicing mindful, close attention to my surroundings and my companion.  These kept me anchored.

But the depression has returned and is trying to take a permanent position in my daily life.  If I don’t work very hard to fight it, the depression will take a serious hold for many months. Shorter fall days of sunlight are a trigger to the seasonal disorder.

Clearly I can’t change the seasons nor would I want to change fall into summer, etc. Autumn is my favorite time of year. So what do I do? The depression is misleading. It tells me all things are bad, negative, and deeply darkly foreboding.

So what do I do?

I have two strategies to help me out of depression’s trap.  One is to revisit my list of things and people for which I am grateful. And the other is to create list of all the things and events I am looking forward to in the next 3 to 4 months. Some of those things and events bring a smile, even now.

I’ll name a few: homemade applesauce, baked squash and chili; college football and basketball games; celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends. Two pastimes, coloring and writing.  And , of course, discourse with my family. As I make this list I brighten up. The world is more inviting and rewarding with each minute.

I truly wish and hope for a fall that is fun and fulfilling and a winter with many sunny days for all of us. And that any depression that occurs can be cut down to size.

Thank you kindly.

I Have Long Been Concerned …

I have long been concerned with people who have mental illness and need care, but don’t recognize the need for treatment. Civil commitment (involuntary psychiatric care) can result if the circumstances dictate. But such involuntary care is controversial. Indeed, I have been conflicted about it for many years.

A personal experience has made me examine the issues involved with civil commitment square-on.  My father had involuntary psychiatric care when he was committed to a mental hospital in the 1950s. He always spoke negatively of the experience with feelings of anger. He was dangerous to himself at the time, threatening to shoot himself with a shotgun. One thing is clear however, as episodes of major depression reoccurred over the 1960’s, 70’s, and so on, he never sought help. He relapsed, got more depressed and Instead of getting care and treatment, he would attempt to take his own life. Surviving these suicide attempts, he would cooperate with the offered mental health care…. for a while.

In the 1950s, it was weak to be mentally ill and weak to be treated. I have always wondered whether the experience of forced care, of involuntary care, hurt and shamed my father so much that it clouded his otherwise good judgment.  Did it, finally, interfere with Dad’s asking for more help when needed?

To help me grapple with the issues, I’ve just completed reading the  book, “Committed, The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care,” written by Dinah Miller and Annette Hanson.(2016) Both writers are physicians.

In their research and writing, Miller and Hanson sought to refocus mental health professionals and others to consider this possibility: “Involuntary psychiatric care may be damaging. It may never be appreciated and the fear of forced care may prevent people from seeking help.”

The book presents a rounded picture of involuntary care. (Many times only one side of the story is featured.) I appreciated the fair handedness with which the authors addressed the issue. They interviewed former patients who had been helped as well as those who had not been helped by the process.

One of the biggest take home messages I learned from the book, was that even people who had been committed and HAD been helped found the experience to be traumatic. That was troubling to learn. Active mental illness itself is traumatic. We are talking about people living enduring a double trauma .

Hanson and Miller made the following recommendations:

  1. Encourage people with psychiatric disabilities to prepare an advanced directive. In the document it is possible to specify which medications are preferred, which facility one is to be admitted to, and even who should care for the person’s children during a hospitalization.
  2. Train inpatient and emergency room staff/personnel in the use of verbal de-escalation techniques.
  3. Crisis intervention training (CIT) should be mandatory and routine for all correctional officers and all state and city police forces. (Currently, these trainings are limited to a handpicked or volunteer teams of specialized officers in some locations.)
  4. Handcuffing patients who are brought to hospital by police should NOT be a standard practice..
  5. Support creation of mental health courts and pretrial diversion services to shorten incarceration times pending trial and to tie a defendant closely to needed community services.
  6. Expand use of mobile treatment teams, assertive community outreach, crisis centers, peer support services, patient directed initiatives, and a variety of housing options.
  7. Suicide hotlines should be made available to everyone and widely publicized. (Hotlines are available now but patients/clinicians are often unaware of them.)
  8. Increase efforts to detect serious mental illness in the early stages. Specifically: more training of primary care physicians and other non-psychiatrists so there is better recognition of when referrals should be made to psychiatrists. If mental disorders were recognized and treated earlier, involuntary treatment could often be avoided.

In 2018, we’ll examine some of these issues.

I appreciate your readership,

GL

Christmas, 2017

I’ve been in a far better place during the holiday season these last few years than I was for most of my adult life. My expectations for a celebratory observance were too high, and I and my family suffered. I wanted everything about the Christmas holidays to be perfect: my family, my home and myself. I thought I had to be perfect and put together a perfect feast, with the house looking spectacular and our children fresh and bright and attractive. Buying and wearing new clothes was essential.

I thought perfect was happiness.

I thought perfect was a requirement for having a Good Christmas for myself and family.

I thought that perfect meant I was a good person. My family had to be ideal.

I longed for perfect.

Trying to achieve the perfect house, feast, children and all things Christmas meant control. And I tried for control with my family and house and self at Christmastime.

Actually, exerting control to achieve perfection took a toll on all of us. At times our household was a rigid environment with my husband Jim and our two children walking on eggshells. My family suffered and so did I.

I believed in perfection and believed that if I was perfect my mental health would be more resilient and my depression would improve. Control and perfection were needed for survival.

Surviving Christmas season is not living with affection, gaiety and joy. Or with thankfulness. Yes, Christmas can have hard portions for us all but not be hard throughout. Generosity of spirit, thought, word and deed were and are not possible when one’s efforts are centered on achieving control.

As I recovered my mental health the holidays became more loving, spontaneous and satisfying.

The wish for control hasn’t left me altogether, but I give control its due place. And positive cognitive and behavioral techniques help me manage the impulse to control and subdue the impulse inside me that demands I seek control.

I wish you too can share contentment, comfort and joy this Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Take care and thanks for listening. Gail Louise