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.

About Partnerships … thinking about enhancing care and support within them

46 years. That’s how long my husband and I have been married.  And it was 50 years ago when we first dated, a sweet memory today.  Jim has always been the very kindest, most fun and interesting man I know.  Our kindness toward one another is a key to our relationship, especially when the water wasn’t so smooth due to effects of mental illness on my thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

My partnership is our marriage.   It is the most supportive aspect of our lives together.  It is, it turns out, quite a bit stronger than mental illness.  Yours may be another partnership – marriage is not the required word, but supportive is.  How do we support our partner without being overwhelmed?  How can we be supported without having to feel we’re a burden?  I don’t have all the answers, but we do have some suggestions here based on our experience.

Real Depression; Real Men: “Because you have to deal with it. It doesn’t just go away.”

This post’s title is taken from a video clip “Real Men, Real Depression” featuring Patrick McCathern, 1st Sergeant, US Air Force, Retired, and available here on The National Institute of Mental Health’s website.

Depression in Men often manifests itself differently. What ails men may not be recognized by them or their family or friends as depression. It may be mistaken as a sleeping problem or a digestive problem … or a character flaw. When a man has depression he has trouble with everyday life and loses interest in anything for weeks at a time.) He may be irritable, feel very tired, and lose interest in his work, family, or hobbies.

The tricky part of depression in men: They may not want to recognize, talk about, or acknowledge “it” or how they are feeling. (Please see my entry on Male Depression under These Illnesses in the menu section of my website for life experiences with my father’s depression.)

The quiet truth about depression is that it is very, very painful, and unending. And although women with depression more often attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide.

HOW CAN I HELP A MAN WHO IS DEPRESSED? (Recommendations from The National Institute of Mental Health):

  • Offer him support, understanding and encouragement. Be patient.
  • Talk to him, but be sure to listen carefully.
  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to his therapist or doctor.
  • Invite him out for walks, outings and other activities. If he says no, keep trying, but don’t push.
  • Encourage him to report any concerns about medications to his health care provider.
  • Ensure that he get to his doctor’s appointments.
  • Remind him that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.


Call your doctor or 911 for emergency services.

Call the toll-free, 24-hour lifeline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)                  TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889

On Healing and the Caring Community

Recently I have been re-searching the book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets for more wisdom.

The book’s author is Rev. Craig Rennebohm, founder of the Mental Health Chaplaincy  in Seattle, WA. This UCC minister speaks of the illness experience and how healing can occur even with serious illness. He places the experience of illness in perspective with many other factors in life. He writes,”…. Our illness self, may predominate at any given moment, but is not absolute and does not determine finally who we are. An illness, no matter how grave, is but a part of our larger identity; our wholeness as persons encompass the moment of illness and far more.”

I first heard him speak at the 2013 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) annual convention held in Seattle that year. I learned although there is no cure for mental illness but there is recovery for many, that I am experiencing healing “…within a larger frame of personal growth and caring community” as the next stage in my recovery.  Continue Reading more on his profound message.

Stubborn Hope

Endurance is a passive quality,
transforms nothing, contests nothing,
can change no state to something better
and is worthy of no high esteem;
and so it seems to me my own
deserves, if not contempt, impatience.

Yet somewhere lingers the stubborn hope
thus to endure can be a kind of fight,
preserve some value, assert some faith
and even have a kind of worth.

Dennis Brutus, former prisoner of conscience, South Africa
From Stubborn Hope, c1978 Heinemann Educational Books, Inc., Portsmouth, NH.

I have two sets of tools to use in managing my illness. One set consists of the familiar: support of friends, family, the members of my support group, my psychiatrist, plus therapy, medication, rest, exercise, use of behavioral and cognitive techniques and calm, quiet settings.

The second set is much more personal. These “tools” are experiences in my life that provide comfort when treatment isn’t effective. I list them on a set of index cards that are always ready at hand. When I’m having trouble with obsessive negative thoughts, despair, and grinding hopelessness I read through the cards individually, with care and consideration. Most cards list a single word:

“Music,” stirring music.

“Humor.” I cannot generate humor, but at some level it reaches me.

“Beauty.” Something beautiful must be near at hand. Usually it is light falling on my favorite glass vase, an illustration, or a textured fabric. My eyes and mind are soothed. Vibrant colors stop ruminating thoughts and bring peace, a dramatic although brief period of relief.

“Favorite books.” They are important as reminders of the admiration I have for the author’s intellect and talent. Virtuosity stimulates my constricted mind.

The last index card, however, cuts to the quick; sometimes there is no comfort. This card reads, “And some times, only endurance.” Years ago I wrote that phrase with a bitter heart. But since then, I have come to agree with Dennis Brutus. Endurance has value and relies on faith, albeit unrecognized by me. It reflects a stubborn hope, for tomorrow and the tomorrows to follow.

Greetings to you and to those you love and support.