You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it does. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the
landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whomever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls you to the wild geese, harsh and exciting
Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver

You Do Not Have To Be Good

Some people can live without nature and wild geese; some people cannot. I cannot. It has always been that way for me. I had a lot of time to spend by myself when I was young, despite having two brothers and three sisters! For the two brothers were 4 and 5 years older than me, while the two sisters were 4 and 5 younger. A final sister arrived 15 years younger than I.

Being alone was generally an advantage.

I learned to be an excellent observer of nature, the farm animals, the trees, flowers, grasses, sky as well as an excellent observer of human nature. I had time alone with each of my parents. Good times. That was an advantage as well. Mom and Dad mentored me. My Mother taught me sewing, cooking, baking, preserving, housekeeping, child care, how to speak and sing in public with poise and how to be a public servant. (She was a census taker and worked at the voting poll. Those days for her were vacation from a family of eight!) My Father taught me milking, haying, combining oats, detasseling corn, how to listen to football on the radio when working outdoors, how to drive a tractor and a truck, and a great deal about the good and bad of politics. He took time from his businesses (dairy farming and a hybrid seed business) to take me to two local fairs, and the State Fair, with blue ribbon Holstein yearling cows. One has to learn how to show or exhibit animals, it’s a technique and mannerism to learn. Dad too, always supported voting. Both parents read the newspaper every day.

They had patience with me. The other children, especially those close in age to one another, may not have experienced as much patient guidance from their parents, especially my Dad.

I learned to think independently. I thought a great deal.

Being born with no siblings close in age to me was a handicap in one major way: When there came a crisis in our family I had no one with which to discuss what I observed. I had to work things out in my mind, but usually I was left with little understanding and by myself.

I never discussed my thinking or worries with anyone. My dear neighbor friend, whom I’m still in touch with daily, did not hear of our family’s dilemma – of my father’s major depressive disorder (MDD) – from me. Nor did my siblings, grandparents, school friends or guidance counselors at school … if there were guidance counselors back then. Nor did friends of my parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, or the Pastors of our church.

I was left confused, greatly saddened, and sometimes very lonely. Very, very lonely.
I played in the sandstone by our barn.
I played under the sumac bushes of our neighbors field.
I played in the huge front lawn and swung on the swing in the back side lawn.
I laid awake at night.

Nature was and is a solace.

For any of you reading, listening and hearing, and especially those who find themselves in circumstances similar to mine growing up, playing out the concerns over and over in my mind, I hope you find solace and peace in the poem which began this posting: WILD GEESE by poet Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good. I thought if I was good, as a child and as an adult, my hurt and episodes with MDD would be fixed or at least lessened.

You do NOT have to be good.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

Remembering My Father in this Election Year 2016

Picture this, a big table in our farm kitchen covered with red and while checked oil cloth and dozens of clean clear glass jars, standing alert and ready to receive the recently made homemade jam of the month. Perhaps it was my favorite, raspberry jam. Raspberry jam was the perfect complement to my mother’s homemade bread. (It was heavenly in our kitchen when Mom baked bread. The aroma of the baking bread was divine.  She would find a way week after week to fit all 7 loaves of bread/dinner rolls into the oven simultaneously. If we timed it just right, the younger children, would arrive home from school just as the bread finished baking. The big question always was: Which of us would get the crusts?

This past weekend I have been enjoying making fresh applesauce and tasty apple butter. As I write, this it is Thanksgiving week and I hope everyone who will share our holiday feast will enjoy some warm fragrant apple butter with my daughter’s fresh baked dinner rolls. The apple butter is (mostly) made from dark red McIntosh apples which yielded a rich bright pink naturally sweet sauce. The sauce looked good to eat, and it was as delicious as it looked!

I smiled as I remembered these things. For you see, I am thankful that my mother had passed food preserving skills and interest in them to me when I was as young as 9 years old.  I realize that I’ve passed these baking and cooking skills to my daughter and son, who are more gifted with food creation than both my mother and I.

And then I felt sad. Other than my lovely singing voice, what gifts did my father pass on to me?  I thought for awhile and then realized I had let the fact that he had a mental illness blur my sight and my insight. My father gave me something I’m sure to need for today and for these next four years.  He taught me the importance of attending to daily news, especially state and national news, and politics. Dad was attentive to the news, to politics, and to our government. And I was proud of his interest and ability to discuss and debate current affairs.

I’ve never forgotten the image of my Dad reading the daily paper:  The afternoon paper, which was the liberal paper – and in contrast to his in-laws, who always read the morning, conservative, Republican paper. The prime location for reading the daily paper was the kitchen table. He’d sit down in his overalls and cap with a cup of coffee in his rugged hands.  Perhaps the hardworking hands were chapped or sunburned. The paper would be spread out to cover most of the table. We children dare not monkey with the paper until Dad had read the news—you know, the front page and section. We children also did not talk with Dad or fool around in the kitchen when he was reading.

Mom as well read the paper every day. (As a farm wife, she deserved a break every day before we all returned home. It was always reading the paper, sitting at the kitchen table, with a refreshing drink, right when the clock struck three pm.) But Mom read quietly, and kept her views of the news private.

During the 1950’s when times were good for our family, Mother and Dad took me, then 13-years old, and my two teenage brothers on a trip to see our nation’s capital. Two younger sisters both then in grade school were left in the care of a neighboring farm family.  The care and feeding of a dairy herd is a very personal skill, and a task that cannot cease even for a single day.  I don’t know if this expresses how unusual and how risky it was for a farm family to take leave of their farm for a vacation that meant traveling across a considerable area of the United States. We did stop at historic sites too, including Gettysburg.

Why did my father choose Washington, DC? He felt we three older children were at the right age to learn the importance of and to visit our national capitol and the famous monuments, and to hear again the story of our grandparents who had immigrated earlier during the 1900’s from Norway. Both became citizens.  But the biggest push was to meet the congressmen representing Wisconsin.  Fortunately, the elected officials with their busy schedules were available. They were able to spend a brief 5 to 10 minutes each with us. Three future new voters were very impressed with Mom and Dad’s vacation gift and its lessons of people, history …. and responsibility. And we, to the best of my knowledge, have always exercised our responsibility and privilege as citizens of this great land my father took us across.

Even this year.

The Depressed Voice Doesn’t Sing

My Dad had a beautiful voice (as did his father, my grandfather), but he never sang in a choir. He loved song. We heard the love of song come flowing out at times, though that was unusual except during Sunday church services. I believe the love of singing and a voice to sing with was there in him.  That love and that voice was passed on to his children, three of whom sing in choirs regularly. I’m crying now, for his children get so much joy from singing.  My father with reoccurring major depression missed a world that brings so many rewards to his children and to me.  A world of joy, beauty and companionship.

As a child, I asked Dad,” How about joining the church choir?” His response was to look grave, shake his head no and say “No, I can’t read music”. It seemed as if I had asked him a really distant question. Singing in the choir seemed to be for those who deserved to sing, who were good enough (as persons) and who had friends in the choir. There was no possibility in his mind for him to join choir.

But he would have been welcome.

You see, despite the potential great reward, the risk may have been too high for my father to have sung in a choir. Risk? Singing in a choir? Yes, for Dad had high anxiety often, which is common with major depression.  The necessity of performing in front of an assembled congregation may have led to some real anxiety issues on Sundays. And something else, perhaps more subtle but more dangerous: Riding the waves of emotional highs and lows that are necessary to express when one sings the lyrics with meaning may have been too uncomfortable for my father. For there is no lack of opportunity to travel from the depths of despair to the heights of all grandeur and sublime to sweet simple unadorned joy when one sings good music. He may have been moved to tears when singing; even been unable to sing. When depression is near the surface, surging emotions are not safe.

And something else got in the way. Depression often blocks out the bearers knowledge that they have the talent to do something. “I’m not good enough” is a frequent negative thought and self-talk holding people back.

And yet singing brings great joy to many people and that passion for singing can lead to other benefits as well. Our singing brain is bathed in dopamine which brings feelings of pleasure and alertness as well as serotonin, another neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment. I remember feeling that going to choir rehearsal at the end of the working day was a trying task, requiring a lot of physical and creative energy. But so agreed with a friend and choirmate who often remarked that he was dead tired and didn’t think he make it until the end of rehearsals. “But then,” he said, “something magic happens and I revive….it happens almost every time.”

Singing, I believe, can bring healing.

 My father missed this world:

The first track on Chanticleer’s “Out Of This World” CD (1994) is titled I Have Had Singing, and it touches me every time I hear it sung with such beauty for I know its meaning well. Here is the story of the song:

A book by Ronald Blythes Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village, recounts the difficult lives of the inhabitants of a tiny East Anglian village in Suffolk, England. In one interview, Fred Mitchell, an 85-year old ploughman, recalls his difficult childhood. When asked what they did for fun, he took a pause, then replied:

“I never did any playing in all my life. There was nothing in my childhood, only work. I never had pleasure. One day a year I went to Felixstowe along with the chapel women and children, and this was my pleasure.

But I have forgotten one thing —the singing.

(Here I insert the lyrics used in the composition)

“Singing, singing, oh the singing!
There was so much singing then!
We all sang, and this was my pleasure too.
The boys in the fields,
The chapels were full of singing, always full of singing.
I have had pleasure enough,
I have had singing.”



Christmas 2015

Living with Major Recurrent Depression at the Christmas Holiday Season

It crept up. Tearing up, opening floodgates of sadness set amid the bright lights and cheer of family and, yes, even happy memories. Heavy sighs out of nowhere. Head bowed down in folded arms. Troubling thoughts, felt perhaps amid Christmas chaos and exuberance. Hiding the fears and sadness; not wanting what seemed to be another episode of depression to reoccur. Not again, not this holiday. No, not to me and especially not …… to my family.

I’m lucky now. I understand and my family understands recurrent major depression. We pretty much go on as usual at Christmas time, depending on my comfort level and the family’s needs. No one puts the pressure on! That is, the pressure to perform, the pressure to act happy and to make others feel happy. There is a calm unchallenging acceptance of the depression I am experiencing. Flowers, good food, hugs, prayers, kind humor all help. But best of all is that quiet acceptance. No one tries to change me. I can partake in as much of the holiday festivities as I am able with unfettered support. I love my family and they love and unconditionally support me, warts and all. I am lucky.

I am very grateful and thankful.

It is December 27th and our family Christmas celebration is Saturday, January 2nd. As grandma and grandpa, Jim and I will host the special day. Because my depression is peaking in advance, (I think), my husband and I can plan how to lighten the day to make it transpire more easily. I’ll be wrapping the gifts today while listening to the Packers game on the radio (and wearing a number #3 Seahawks football jersey!). What food can be prepared ahead of Saturday will be so done. I’m going to try to replicate my mother’s famous and delicious escalloped potato recipe to serve them with the baked ham. I’ll ask our adult children to bring the appetizers. Whole Foods Market will furnish the salad, rolls and cookies. I’ll make the pies ahead: Tradition plus convenience!!!

Jim is pretty special as he does the cleaning and the outdoor decorations. Together we choose seasonal music we love to play in background while we work and while we entertain.

I feel much better already. It is no coincidence that I do feel better, that is, less helpless and depressed than I did an hour ago. A lesson learned, taking action to counter depression is much better than stewing about it. Writing this has put my mind to use in a very productive way. I like to think that balance was restored to those neurotransmitters by the creative process.

If someone you love suffers from depression during the holidays, please be respectful. Together find out what would work the best for the holiday celebrating that you wish to do.

Thanks and Happy New Year!

Personal Medicine. A concept formulated by Pat Deegan

As I was preparing my presentation (titled “Living Successfully with Depression and Suicidal Thoughts”) to be given at NAMI Wisconsin’s Family Programs Summit this November, I ran into the term “personal medicine,” meaning an activity that a person does to obtain wellness, rather than something a person takes. The term was introduced by Patricia Deegan, PhD, in early 2003 as a result of qualitative research she did through the University of Kansas – School of Social Welfare [The Importance of Personal Medicine: A Qualitative Study].  Upon interviewing individuals who were taking psychiatric medication, Deegan found that “When describing their use of psychiatric pharmaceuticals or ‘pill medicine’, research participants also described a variety of personal wellness strategies and activities that I have called ‘personal medicine’. Personal medicines were non-pharmaceutical activities and strategies that served to decrease symptoms and increase personal wellness.”

Pat Deegan writes: “Personal medicine is what we do to be well. It’s the things that put a smile on our face and that make life meaningful.” She continues “Many of us have learned that finding the right balance between Personal Medicine and psychiatric medicine is the road to recovery.” [Common Ground Toolkit and Recovery Library]

She cited three examples of personal medicine that work for her: playing with her dog, taking care of her daughter, and reading scripture. I jotted down six examples to begin with: parenting and grand-parenting, cooking and baking, singing, texting and emailing Rebecca and Benjamin, sending notecards to people, and writing. Oh -and reading is a ready seventh activity; it’s the way I start every morning! Listening to music, often at the end of the day, is an easy eighth.

Reading Pat Deegan’s research closely, I see she identified personal medicines as falling into two broad categories: those activities that give life meaning and purpose, and self-care strategies. Both types increase feelings of wellness and help keep psychiatric symptoms and/or undesirable outcomes such as hospitalization at bay.

Necessary personal medicine is sometimes serious work. There was a year in my life when I was moderately depressed. I felt I had to bake five days a week: I had to bake every day I was home alone, at the time between jobs, every day that my husband Jim was away at his work. I baked for three hours every day, minimum. Why? I needed to structure my time, to accomplish something and to knead and stir down pain and numbing thoughts. It was always a batch of chocolate chip cookies one day and bread the next day. This period occurred after the children were grown, so what we didn’t or couldn’t eat ourselves, which was a lot, we gave away.

I learned this lesson [Partners in Recovery – PIR, June 2010] from Ms Deegan:  “It is so easy to get lost in thinking that we are not good enough or that we are irrevocably flawed because we have a diagnosis of mental illness. But healing does not come from outside us; healing comes from within.”

Now I realize that at that time in my life I was using baking as a self-care strategy, without being alert to my decision to do so. Baking simply kept me on my feet, kept me “productive,” and stopped the grinding negative thoughts. The joy and creativity I normally found in cooking and baking was absent. No lofty thoughts occurred while the warm dough was molded under my hands. No images of Grandma or my Mother – my bread-baking teachers – formed in my brain that I can remember. No smell of yeast permeated my mind. I simply did the tasks and came out with good home-baked items.

Good home-baked items. And I did not deteriorate in my mental status. I improved with time, never needing hospitalization or respite care. There is something good and healthy in people with a diagnosis of mental illness. Medicine doesn’t only come from a doctor or a mental health provider team. “Discovering personal medicine is powerful medicine and connects us to the resilient, healing parts of ourselves.” [PIR]

Today, much of the time I spend cooking and baking takes the form of personal medicine that makes my (recovered) life sing with purpose and meaning. I love the seasonal foods and the celebrations that each represent. In our family, every spring, there is homemade cream of asparagus soup with a twist of lemon on the side. Summer brings ruby red strawberry shortcake with berries from the field and real whip cream, plus new leaf lettuce for many simple tasty salads. Then late summer taught me to appreciate warm peach cobbler. Fall is chili and beef stew and the first cinnamon apple pie. The December holidays are hot chocolate from scratch, my delectable Mustard Apricot Glazed Ham, baked sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. All this is done with flow and calm that brings a great deal of satisfaction and attention to detail. My mind and senses are stimulated and utilized in a very positive and reinforcing way. And my family eats well too!

May each of you find the personal medicine that connects you to the resilient healing part of yourself.

Part V – Why does all this recovery happen?

One doesn’t recover from a mental illness in the same way one recovers from a broken arm. Yet recovery and healing is possible, and life can be enriched. We refer to that healing as a personal recovery.

Reading more of Professor Mike Slade’s work on personal recovery I found that my journey rediscovered something essential for the recovery to succeed: a sense of personal agency. This is the belief and assurance that one has the power to positively impact one’s own life; the power to act in one’s best interest. He writes that developing a sense of agency can be a difficult process precisely because mental illness often takes away that assurance and belief. He urges professionals, staff and family to show support which recognizes the importance of renewing the individual’s sense of self agency.

Finding and supporting that sense of agency – the ability to act in your own best interest – in yourself and for those you love is a crucial part of personal recovery.

I developed a great deal of authority over my life when I successfully quit smoking, a task I once thought was impossible for me. You see, when I quit I’d found I could make a difference in my health care, a truly enormous difference; perhaps a life-saving one. And I learned people would support me in this difficult but worthwhile goal!

Now I hopefully approached a new goal, to learn tools and techniques to help counter the persistent negative thoughts common to major depression. The experience of power over my life I’d had when I successfully quit smoking taught me to seek new tools which I could use to achieve new goals: It was time to learn Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and I had no problem learning and practicing its techniques. I continue to be an agent in my own life: Here in my 67th year I set out to find a Personal Trainer so the physical work-outs I desired would be effective and fun. I found one through a good friend; hired her, and have lost weight and body fat while building muscle, etc. I think more clearly and can concentrate more fully since I have been on a regular exercise schedule.

The symptoms of depression and bipolar II persist but weaken; the sense of authority over my own life increases; I’m healing.

Part IV – The Tasks of Personal Recovery

Touching my own experience, I saw in it each of the four recovery tasks listed in the previous post.

Recovery task 1: “The first task of recovery is developing a positive identity outside of being a person with a mental illness.” The person identifies elements that are vitally important to him or her, which will differ in significance from what another person identifies. “…only the individual can decide what constitutes a personally valued identity for them. “

I was lucky. In the midst of serious depression, I was married, a mother, and pregnant with our second child. . I did not lose those identities completely, but they were shaky. The years passed and I started my recovery journey: about 10 years later, the roles of wife and partner, mother to a child and mother to a teenager crystallized and doubt had been replaced often with enjoyment and wonder.

Recovery task 2: “The second recovery task involves developing a personally satisfactory meaning to frame the experience which professionals would understand as mental illness. This involves making sense of the experience, putting it in a box, and framing it as part of the person, but not as the whole person.”

The frame in which I understand my mental illness experience keeps evolving as the mental illness does not cease. But as the illness fades and my recovery grows, the frame gets more refined with the passing years.

I realize that again, I was lucky. I was married to Jim and he knew mental illness to be a no-fault biopsychosocial medical illness. So did I: I had inherited the tendency to depression, but was able to frame this as bad luck, not personal or family fault. Also, I lived near Madison, WI which had good services and I could afford good medical care. Again, I was fortunate.

I also had training in a health care field. I was a registered dietitian, (and still am) and proud that I was on the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 16 years (as a clinical instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences). So I was comfortable in various in and out-patient settings. I also knew appropriate levels of anatomy and physiology – and even biochemistry-lite. So I could follow the medical model of mental illness.

So I framed my experience of mental illness as an illness and as time went by, I was more and more able to put the illness in a box and frame it as only part of me but Not ME.

Recovery task 3: “Self-managing the mental illness.” Mental illness becomes ONE of life’s challenges. As people develop personal responsibility, self- management skills develop. This doesn’t mean managing the mental illness completely on one’s own but rather, knowing when to seek help and support.

I was desperate to “get better”. I cooperated in every way I could, even in the long decade of my body failing to respond to any of many anti-depressants. I never skipped a medication or an appointment. I ate well and got enough exercise at that time of my life.

As I began to recover in the 1990’s I took an even more active role in managing my illness. I learned cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and carried out the exercises on paper, as assigned and in session with a psychology doctoral student. It helped me greatly, the CBT, so that I keep it up today as needed. Nothing has been as effective as CBT for minimizing negative thinking.

Now I’ve taken further steps to guard my health. In January of 2014 I hired a personal trainer(!), adding hour-long work-outs six days every week, three of them with my trainer.

Recovery task 4: “Developing valued social roles.” The key word here is valued. Valued by the individual with mental illness and by the greater social circle/setting/society. The person undergoing recovery, in this last task, must find a niche for himself or herself in their community. It could be a position/role modified from previous times or a new experience altogether . The role may or may not have anything to do with mental illness.

A huge change in my life occurred when I began to volunteer in a big way in the mental health organization NAMI, at the local and state level. You can read about my development in the About Me section of this website.

With this change I gained a tremendous amount of confidence and poise. I also had conviction in the value of what I was doing (teaching and, later, directing the Family to Family Education Program for NAMI WI). I felt education to be a liberating factor in living with mental illness in myself and in the family. I was fortunate in that the work fit me like a glove; teaching small groups of college age adults in the application of didactic material to the clinical setting gave me experience for teaching small groups of adults. My history as an adult child of someone with a mental illness and my own history of depression and after 2002, bipolar II illness, helped me understand families and persons with mental illness and all the dilemmas and controversies that entails.

So I definitely found a position in the community where I was valued and I felt valued.  I carried out my responsibilities with confidence and skill and compassion. I blossomed. I had developed something essential for self-management: a sense of personal agency .… I was the author of my own work.

Part III – The Journey and Tasks of Recovery

Dear readers: To talk together about recovery for those struggling with mental illness we need a definition of recovery that does justice to the magnitude of the journey. Here is one such definition –

“…..a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills, and / or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even within the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”

Recovery from Mental Illness: The Guiding Vision of the Mental Health Service System in the 1990s. William A. Anthony, Ph.D Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 1993, 16(4), 11–23.

I encourage you to read the entire article from which the definition above was taken. What the article has to say about recovery was ground-breaking when first published in 1993. It is a fine resource as well today.

If the definition above is the vision, we need guide to follow it: 100 Ways to support recovery. A guide for mental health professionals, Second Edition, 2012.

The guide’s author is Mike Slade – Professor Mike Slade – Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Health Services Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London. I found plenty of material in the report helpful to anyone wanting to learn about recovery and eager to help a family member or friend.

Professor Slade clarifies that recovery is a word with two meanings. Clinical recovery “is an idea that has emerged from the expertise of mental health professionals, and involves getting rid of symptoms, restoring social functioning, and in other ways ‘getting back to normal’”. “[Personal recovery] … is an idea that has emerged from the expertise of people with the lived experience of mental illness and means something different to clinical recovery.”

Most mental health services, Mike Slade acknowledges, are currently organized around meeting the goal of clinical recovery. Yet most mental health policy around the world increasingly emphasizes support for personal recovery. His guide aims to support the transition to ongoing personal recovery, framing the process by identifying common tasks undertaken by persons in recovery:

Recovery task 1: “The first task of recovery is developing a positive identity outside of being a person with a mental illness.”
Recovery task 2: “The second recovery task involves developing a personally satisfactory meaning to frame the experience which professionals would understand as mental illness.”
Recovery task 3: “Self-managing the mental illness.” Mental illness becomes ONE of life’s challenges.
Recovery task 4: “Developing valued social roles.” Roles valued by the individual with mental illness and by the greater social circle/setting/society.

I was able to see each of those four tasks in the flow of my own recovery ……………….

Part II – Hard; oftentimes Lonely Work

Here is a favorite explanation of mine about recovery:

“Recovery is a process, a way of life, an attitude, and a way of approaching the day’s challenges. It is not a perfectly linear process. At times our course is erratic and we falter, slide back, regroup and start again……The need is to meet the challenge of the disability and to re-establish a new and valued sense of integrity and purpose within and beyond the limits of the disability; the aspiration is to live, work, love in a community in which one makes a significant contribution.” –Pat Deegan, PhD, quoted in Recovery Now “What is Recovery “

I first read Pat back in 1993 and I cried because she understood the ill person’s experience as it is, burdened by symptoms and then the relief, when well again.  No one has ever expressed this empathy since with more insight and delicacy for me:

Courage and fear was my main diet as I began my recovery journey . Always fear. Fear when I went to my first psycho-education meeting sponsored by UW Hospitals in early 1990’s. I didn’t know how I would be received, who the other people would be in the class —would I be able to talk to them and what would I say?  Courage too, but it always took second place. It is definitely easier to stay home than expose oneself to the risks of rejection and dreadful anxiety that accompanied me whenever I went forward.

Fear when I quit smoking.  Afraid the anxiety of not having cigarettes would cause me to lose my temper around people I loved and lose control of myself.

Fear when I tried out for University of Wisconsin –Madison Choral Union. It was something I wanted so badly to do: To sing within a large group of men and women forming an impressive choir. I had wanted to be part of this since I’d been a college student.  And now in my 40’s I had my voice back (A polyp was removed from my vocal cord and I’d quit smoking)!  Deeply anxious, I simply couldn’t allow myself to speak spontaneously to the Choral Director and I couldn’t think of what to say……..so I went to the audition reading my information and questions from an index card.  Nice; I was selected to be part of the alto section!

For the mentally ill, struggling with symptoms that strike to the heart of whom they think they are or could be, Recovery is hard, lonely, lonely work. And so important. I’ve been reading anew a number of documents and articles on recovery and have found some helpful resources to pass on to you.

Part I – On Recovery

Another season has come to pass in south central Wisconsin. Summer is here; indeed today is July 4th. I feel blessed as I reflect upon the year that has passed. I have good health and I am very thankful.  Oh I work at it, daily, maintaining good mental and physical health. But we know that striving for good health and working towards it, even faithfully, doesn’t promise we will be healthy.

I’m especially thinking of mental health recovery. I am in recovery and have found, to my deep satisfaction, that healing has come to me.  Recovery is complex to talk about. What does it mean, as applied to people with mental illness and psychiatric disorders and why is their recovery is SO important?

Here is a working definition of recovery:  A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.

Further, it is something worked towards and experienced by the person with the mental illness.  Mental health professionals and family cannot “do” recovery to the person. The essential contribution of professionals and family is to support the person in their journey of recovery.  As the recovery journey is individual so the best way to support it will vary person by person.

In reality the support that is needed goes beyond individual providers, friends and family. It extends to accessible community services also.

Note that there is nothing mentioned here about a medical recovery or cure for mental illness. But it is real, and this recovery is a new sense of self and of purpose. As health and wellness is regained, people once again take pride in themselves and ….get a life! But gaining recovery is hard work!

Stay with me; I will be returning to the topic of Recovery within Mental Illness often during the next posts.