All flourishing relationships are a two way street.

Love at 75 is a work of art and craft, of continuously paddling a canoe together. Forward. 

Love is an art and craft both tender and kind and thoughtful,  … very, very thoughtful. Throughout life together those who truly love each other consider the effect of what they do and say on their soul-mate.

Romance lives! My Jim brings me treats and flowers and watches me throughout the day. He tells me I am adorable when I pucker up to share a kiss. Yes, kissing is still a very big deal. 

Our touches are lingering. A continuing communication.  A sharing.  A bond of strength. We are known for holding hands when in each other’s presence. 

Indeed, tears form happily as I realize our children still enjoy holding our hands. Holding hands with each of them from toddlerhood on through early adulthood.  And we thrive in each other’s companionship. One daughter and one son.  Add now our daughter’s husband of 20 plus years, their soon to be 17 year old son and their 13 year old daughter.  Seven of us. 

Seven has been my favorite number since I was a child. 

Why am I writing of our love and marriage on this website? My lived experience with mental illness has tossed challenges in our relationship. 

Sometimes, others have hinted that I have been lucky that my husband stayed married to me. As if we were not worthy of this love and commitment these 53 years! 

But we are braided together, strong, flexible, and happy in each other’s arms.

All healthy lifelong relationships are a two way street. 

My challenges have been public. I have always believed in my heart of hearts that being open about mental illness is essential for reducing stigma. Perhaps my writings have helped others feel hopeful.

And hope is absolutely necessary. Our children, son-in-law, grandchildren and our sons’ close friends all have an enlightened, accurate and knowledgeable appreciation of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other brain disorders.  

Jim and I have grown together since our first date, May 1965. Paddling and correcting our course as needed in a life enhancing way. Sometimes we paddled along the lake shore. Or perhaps we meandered down a river and explored a cove filled with stunning Venus fly trap plants, lily pads and wild irises (True story!) Only a few wrong bends but we worked together to navigate our way onward.

My husband taught me early that like so much of life, there is a learning curve with a canoe and a river. Yes, paddling must be learned. It’s not automatic, and if you think it is, you will flounder … maybe tip out … maybe perish, when life’s rapids occur. 

Each river, lake, stream, and cove is unique and a part of life’s journey. Each offers a growth experience. The weather and the landscape, the water and the sky  — and other people canoeing the same water, maybe or maybe not with respect for canoes and water! — are part of our journey and yours. 

Yes, I am fortunate.  And Jim is fortunate to be my husband … he’s always the first to say so!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alterations finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempest and is never shaken.”

 – From Sonnet CXVI
    William Shakespere, 1564-1616

Thank you kindly!
Gail Louise

Judith: Mentor and Friend

Many women have been important to my life, starting with my mother, who passed away about ten years ago. I miss her and think of her daily.

Isabel B., a neighbor and 4-H leader when I was growing up, was my second role model. I remember Mrs. B. was also active in the Farm Bureau Federation in Wisconsin. The Farm Bureau was, and perhaps still is, the largest organization serving as an advocate’s voice for farmers. My parents were dairy farmers. They also operated a small hybrid seed business (corn and oats), along with raising six children. It was a very, very busy life. So was Isabel’s.

As I look back, Isabel was ahead of her time. She would have been recognized as a career woman today. She was smart, perceptive, bold and energetic, and she made a big impression on me. I wish I would have told her so years ago, before she died.  My memory also reminds me that although Isabel had many talents and accomplishments, in speaking of her the community always appended their judgement:  That they saw her as a poor housekeeper!

I didn’t meet Judith until the late 1970’s. She was a full professor at the University Of Wisconsin-Madison’s college of Agriculture, in the department of Nutritional Sciences. I was employed as clinical instructor in dietetics serving the upperclassmen working on their practicums.  Judith taught the senior class on therapeutic nutrition – that plus her research, of course! – While I located, planned, and coordinated these student dietitians in various hospitals across the county. I supervised the students and Judith supervised me, as dietetics program director.

She also mentored me through the early months, cluing me into departmental politics, advising me when I had various problems with students (or they had problems with me), and critiquing my work.

Several years later, I told her about my past depression.  When work was done that day, we had a heart to heart talk and she invited me to her home for dinner. I was speechless but grateful and moved. Judith made us each a filet mignon, a real Caesar salad, and American fried potatoes. I can still picture our working in her kitchen together. That same night Judith told me that the recurrent depression I had inherited was a disability and only that. She said I could certainly not only survive with the illness, but thrive in spite of it, just as her grandmother had adapted to life with serious arthritis. It was my first encounter with someone who considered mental illness a disability, just as other illnesses and conditions can be disabilities. Her message stuck with me and fortified me.

Years and life have passed by since.

In the 1980’s, my depression reoccurred in a major way. It was interfering with every aspect of my life, work, home, parenting, etc. My psychiatrist and I tried many medications and found none of them effective. He then recommended that I be hospitalized for a work-up in the psych ward to determine if electric convulsive therapy (called ECT; and referred to as shock therapy by many) would be safe for me. I agreed.

I was granted leave from my work. Judith went to bat for me with the University, pulled strings, and saved my job for me. Unfortunately the ECT treatments didn’t relieve my depression. A few months later I was hospitalized again: I was suicidal. Again I was granted leave.

What was most meaningful to me was all the additional support Judith gave. She visited me regularly during both hospitalizations. She made food for my family (oddly, no one else did). I recall the meals were prepared in an electric skillet, already cooked, so that all my husband had to do was plug in the skillet and slowly reheat the food. Throughout this period Jim dealt with long commutes and the normal pressures of work, took care of our children, laundry and everything else, including a visit each night during my hospitalizations.  It was going to be difficult for him to get me to out-patient ECT treatments as well. So Judith arranged for my colleagues to drive me from our home to the out-patient clinic for each treatment, and then return me home as well!

Slowly I recovered and we picked up our lives again.

Time passes. Judith retired and moved to Arizona. We kept in touch via mail and email.

And time has continued: Last year, 2018, I developed cancer in my right jaw and gums. My husband alerted all our families and close friends, including Judith, of my upcoming surgery. Thankfully the surgery went well.  But after recovering from the neck resection, I began six weeks of radiation therapy. While the radiation was aimed at my right neck, rays necessarily passed through my lips and mouth. My mouth erupted in radiation sores; eating and drinking was difficult.

During all these months I had been receiving cards from Judith. The cards were delightful! But one message was different. When I read it I was thunderstruck.  My friend had been dealing with cancer for years. Several surgeries. She had never revealed or even mentioned these illnesses to me!

Judith now told me that she had been through radiation therapy to many parts of her digestive tract. She knew the misery. I received weekly cards from her during treatment, sending me tips for easier eating and swallowing. And, via mail, she laughed and cursed with me about radiation therapy and these damned illnesses. Her favorite repeatable admonishment was “Keep Plodding Along (KPA)”.

The last time I heard from my mentor and friend was the end of October last year: Judith was having another surgery, this time a mastectomy. I continued to correspond, but have not received any replies.

Some people we encounter in our lives are kind, thoughtful and go out of their way to make a difference in our life. Judith is and was that person for me.

On Forgiveness, part two

A lot has happened since I last posted. Joyous holidays, the battle with a depressive episode—- still lingering and touched mightily by recent family affairs, progress with workouts under direction of my personal trainer, and the severe illness and death January 31st of my beloved younger sister, Ellie. She was the first in our family of six brothers and sisters to pass. I miss her greatly.

I have been studying forgiveness and the power of forgiveness in one’s life for some time now. Indeed, I have an essay On Forgiveness on this website already devoted to the topic.   In that essay, I wrote that “forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And yet it is more than tolerating. I was startled to read that forgiveness is beyond letting go of negatives, such as anger; it is also the inclusion of positive gift-like qualities such as compassion, generosity, and even love.”

This posting is part two of my growth in understanding of this most powerful act of human reconciliation.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *

I’ve now made a little dent into the literature of forgiveness, and have learned two major facts: One, there is research to show that physical and mental health benefits come from forgiving and Two, that forgiving, learning forgiveness, is hard work. I’ll write about those benefits in this posting. The hard work of forgiveness will be addressed in future posts.

“NOT Forgiving — nursing a grudge—is so caustic”, reports Fred Luskin, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed and causes enormous physical stress to the whole body.”  In this book, citing research and teaching by vivid example, Mr. Luskin shows that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses like depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

So how does one forgive? Is it a process one can learn, something each of us might do, or a work for the saints among us only?

Forgiveness can be hard work. Robert Enright, PhD, the author of Eight Keys to Forgiveness, says: “….in its essence forgiveness is not something we do to just help ourselves. It is not something about you or done for you. It is something you extend toward another person, because you recognize, over time, that it is the best response to the situation.”  And then, Professor Enright continues:  “Working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety. It can reverse the lies that we often tell ourselves when someone has hurt us deeply—lies like, I am defeated or I’m not worthy. Forgiveness can heal us and allow us to move on in life with meaning and purpose. Forgiveness matters and we will be its primary beneficiary.”

I’ll end this post with a brief outline of forgiveness’ process.

First, accept that something happened in opposition to your wishes and you can’t change it. What can you do to suffer less?  Then, look at your involvement with this person—simplify it.

Second, try to move past the hurt and go on. Perhaps the steps suggested below will help you progress.

  • Acknowledge that you have been hurt. Talk to a few close friends to explore your feelings and obtain a sense of perspective.
  • Make a commitment to forgiveness.
  • Start with small things. Start by trying to forgive modest slights by people who have done you harm in life.
  • Recognize your “grievance stories” and gradually deemphasize and replace them by thinking of your own positive goals.
  • Focus on facts rather than emotions. Attempt to understand what led the person to the hurtful behavior. Bless you.
  • Try not to take things personally. Many offenses were not deliberately targeted to hurt you personally, but were byproducts of other people’s own selfish goals.
  • Forgive those you love. The most important people to forgive are those close to us.

( Find these steps in Terrie Heinrich Rizzo’s posting The Healing Power of Forgiveness, 2006 )

Communities in Action to Prevent Suicide, part III

A core value, again taken from The Way Forward, that Ursula Whiteside highlighted during her keynote:

Preserve dignity and counter negative stereotypes, shame, and discrimination

“The negative perceptions of behavioral health issues and subsequent discrimination pose major barriers to help-seeking.” …. “Stigma, negative stereotypes, and discrimination (covert or subtle) are particularly damaging when we already suffer from depression, hopelessness, damaged self-image, trauma, self-doubt, and shame – thoughts and feelings common during a suicidal crisis. In contrast, when we are treated with dignity and compassion, it reaffirms our sense of worth and value.”

My second psychiatrist (and each of those who followed) treated me with the dignity and compassion I needed to progress. It made a HUGE difference. One appointment I’ll never forget is the day I thanked him for NOT telling me ‘my difficulties’ were that I was ‘too sensitive’ (as I had been told by my first psychiatrist) . My doctor got very still, sat up straight, looked me in the eye, and said, “Gail, it’s not that you are too sensitive. You have major depression. It is an illness for which we will pursue and persist in finding the right treatment combination for you.”

He treated me with full dignity by clearing up any chance that I would misunderstand ‘sensitivity’ for major depression. Or think that ‘my difficulties’ were only that, ‘difficulties,’ and that they were something I caused. I felt affirmed and clear about the real lesson I was learning.

I particularly like this core value because it is so active…….counter stigma.

You can see from the photographs that Dr. Whiteside – Ursula – is younger than I. Her experience and youth were very helpful as I gained insight on how to reach to a younger public than I am used to addressing. She does social media very well; I need to go there too. The mid-part of her keynote presented her vision developing into an online public resource focusing on strategies for managing suicidal thoughts and intense emotions. Ursula introduced us to her colleagues: Team Now Matters Now. I smiled with pleasure as one of the team members mentioned was Marsha Linehan, PhD, clinical psychologist. Nothing more was said about team member Marsha … But it’s worth noting that Dr. Linehan is the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the psychotherapy that has helped so many people with borderline personality disorder. She is well known and admired for her work.

DrUrsulaWhiteside    DrMarshaLinehan

Ursula summarized what she and Team Now Matters Now had learned from suicidal people working through a crisis. Here are some of these points (underline emphasis is Ms. Whiteside’s):
Be fully present with me
• Help me hold my pain ( so I feel less alone in my pain)
• I feel helpless, broken and scared
• Discuss with me my diagnosis, as it is in the charts and go thru the DSM criteria with me
When including family and friends, tell me and let me decide who and how
Help me empower myself
• Gently examine my paranoid thoughts with me
• First I need empathy, a witness (rather than fixing)
Know that I am telling you about my suicide ideation/plans because I want to live, I want help and I want to work together

On Forgiveness

One aspect of my illness that I’ve struggled with for many years is forgiveness – forgiving the people, events, and even the institutions where I have felt anger, humiliation and pain.

Why do I struggle and feel so strongly about this? A level playing field must be found among friends, family and providers to nurture communication, comfort and a new beginning. Imagine setting aside blame while acknowledging responsibility. Think of deeds being forgiven and the tangled web of the past losing its ability to shape our future.

Just what deeds am I thinking of forgiving? Sadly, they are all real, and the ability to forgive them will not come easily. People with mental illness many have experienced being abandoned when ill, or we may remember restraints and seclusion. We may have experienced involuntary commitment, deep humiliation, or poor care resulting in severe symptoms that led to years of mistrust toward caregivers. For many family members, deeds that need forgiving may include their relative’s antagonistic behavior, violent acts or threats of violence, sexual infidelities and indiscretions, verbal abuse, or unreasonable demands or careless spending sprees which left the family in debt.

I have a thoughtful book of essays that is helping me sort through many questions about forgiveness. What is forgiveness between us? Why forgive? And where to begin? Exploring Forgiveness, edited by Robert Enright and Joanna North, contains a forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa that states:

“Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened when you are treated unfairly. It is opening the door for the other person to begin again. Without forgiveness, resentment builds in us, a resentment which turns into hostility and anger. Hatred eats away at our well being.”

What I am learning is that forgiveness is not pretending that things are other than they are. It is not cheap. Robert Enright and others write that forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And yet it is more than tolerating. I was startled to read that forgiveness is beyond letting go of negatives, such as anger; it is also the inclusion of positive gift-like qualities such as compassion, generosity, and even love. Joanna North insists that forgiveness is hard work, and that:

“Forgiveness is not something that we do for ourselves alone, but something that we give or offer to another. The forgiving response is outward-looking and other-directed; it is supposed to make a difference to the wrongdoer as well as to ourselves, and it makes a difference in how we interact with the wrongdoer and with others.”

Learning how to forgive includes understanding both the perspective of the injured party and that of the wrongdoer. When we begin to separate the wrongdoer from the wrong which has been committed; we also begin to see the person who has committed a particular wrong. Healing can then occur to the person injured and to the relations between the two parties.

It is my hope that in the year to come we can learn, as people with mental illnesses and as family members, to speak not only of understanding and empathizing with the other, but also to explore issues of forgiveness. “Without forgiveness there is no future,” Bishop Tutu declared.

Let us create a good future.

Offering True Support

Most of us have found ourselves, at one time or another, wanting to provide a friend or relative with a listening ear… or to be a helpful sounding board; in other words, to provide support. What is present when someone is offering true support?

True support is present when the recipient feels listened to and understood. Some emotional needs have been shared and supported together. Just listening well and empathically may help someone clarify options or sort out thoughts. If you’re unsure if the support you offer is satisfactory and your intention is genuine, I suggest asking the recipient gently: Did she feel really listened to? Did he feel a lifting, even temporarily, of a burden? If yes, you have given someone a great gift!

My experience as a support group facilitator and as a trainer of facilitators, both in giving and in receiving support from people with mental illness through an adult lifetime guide me to these recommendations (Under “On Healing” in the menu bar). I hope you find them thoughtful.

Oh So Real: Pregnancy and Suicidal Depression

“Oh baby,” I said, as he/she came down the birth canal, “You are born!”. It was 1979. We didn’t know the sex of the child before birth. The birthing experience was wonderful, a balm for the difficult pregnancy caused by the onset of major depression in the fourth month of pregnancy.

I was alone.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband was with me very much during the pregnancy. But I was alone with being pregnant and being ill. I knew no other woman who was or had been pregnant and seriously depressed to talk to, to compare notes, to help me express my feelings or to hug. I hope this summary of my story of the difficult pregnancy will help other mothers who find themselves struggling with similar experiences today.

If you are pregnant and depressed, you are Not alone.