Drink Drugs Mental Illness

I waited on line in Rite Aid as the cashier rang up two magazines and an 85 percent cacao dark chocolate bar.

The woman after me took one look at the Daily News cover on the kiosk and loudly denounced Robin Williams: “Stupid, stupid, he was stupid.”

“He had a mental illness,” I shouted back. “He was troubled.”

“Stupid, stupid, he was stupid,” she continued to judge Williams in the guise of stating a fact.

Drink Drugs and Mental Illness is an all too common scenario when a person doesn’t get the right treatment right away. Fifty-six percent of the people diagnosed with bipolar have a co-occurring drug addiction according to statistics.

Reputable individuals think Robin Williams had bipolar all his adult life. News accounts of his stand-up comedy routines described his delivery as “manic” and it’s quite possible he was manic, he was depressed, he was manic, he was depressed all his adult life and treated this undiagnosed illness with cocaine.

I find it incredible the ongoing stigma in society that goes on at the hands of a person like the woman in Rite Aid.

I do not recommend indiscriminate disclosure of your mental illness.

I recommend keeping your boundaries and telling only those people who have earned the right to be privy to your hardship.

The sad truth is that if Robin Williams got help early on his brilliance as an actor and comedian might have burned brighter than even it did during his lifetime. His success might have been stratospheric and more so than it already was.

Talent should not be a trade-off with illness. I have no illusions that I would be an even better writer and a more gifted artist if I didn’t take medication.

More likely, if I didn’t get help right away, I might not be alive today or I might not have a life worth living. I definitely would not be able to dead-lift 175 lb. at the gym.

The news accounts that two individuals with depression wrote played into the media’s hand of not encouraging individuals with a mental illness to get the medication that can save their lives. The two accounts didn’t mention that taking medication could help a person thrive, help a person win the game of life.

None of the first-person accounts of depression listed agencies or resources or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hotline 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). They glossed over specific treatment options, didn’t talk about effective medications, and had the usual romantic view of living with symptoms instead of taking medication.

The usual no-medication-at-any-time stance was parroted. The usual living-with-symptoms-is-better-than-taking-medication platform that the media allows would-be writers parading as legitimate journalists to advance.

Robin Williams was in hell. Numerous friends and other people I know lived in hell until they found the pharm that took away the depression, that gave them a life worth living.

Individuals like these don’t tell their stories because of the stigma. The media gives a platform to the individuals who don’t take medication. The media refuses to advance accounts of people that recovered and are in remission because of Big Pharma.

I tell my story out loud and I’m proud I’ve been in remission over 22 years because of the medication. The Geodon has been a miracle drug.

My heart goes out to Robin Williams’ family and to his loyal fans. Williams was a true original.

He might still be alive if he got the right help right away.

I’d rather be a humble librarian who lives without symptoms than an SZ celebrity with a J.D. from Yale who has ongoing major episodes.

There you go: I’ve stated this publicly.

We need to re-think how the media discusses mental illness. We need to dispel the myth that mental illness gives a person brilliant gifts.

In reality: I’ll take dead-lifting 175 lb. over living above a subway grate any day. As gifted an artist and writer as I am, I know my gifts come at a cost.

Brilliance isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Mental illness is often a burden not a “dangerous gift.”

It’s not a pretty box tied with a bow you want to open up and live with the rest of your lives.

It’s cruel, and for people who don’t get the right help, there’s no way out.


Hail To The Kale

I discovered a secret that might just be true:

Having a salad with a meal or before going out to a party will keep you fuller longer.

The CSA box arrived with bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, zucchini and kale.

The kale salad filled me up and I didn’t feel like eating a lot more of the other food.

I’ll give you the recipe for a kale salad. You can often find kale at a Greenmarket.

Kale Salad:

One head kale, leaves cut into pieces

Green peppers cut into strips

Beets, roasted in oven 350 to 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, then peeled and diced

Goat cheese cut into small medallions

walnuts, optional

Mix the vegetables into the salad and then top with the goat cheese medallions. Sprinkle with walnuts if you’d like.

To cut the bitterness of the kale if you’d like: toss with olive oil and lemon or olive oil and vinegar.

I’d love to hear from others about whether having kale is a way to halt hunger longer after you eat it. This is what happened to me so I wonder about this.

Organic vegetables are the best bet even when you weigh in other factors. Absent choosing organic, choosing mostly fruits and vegetables is the better way to go than buying processed foods.

Healthy food is happy food. It can boost your mood too.

What’s not to like about that?

Creating A Better Life

The three-and-a-half years I spent involved in a community mental health system were the worse years of my life.

I recommend you research, research, research any kind of treatment options you’re presented with. I can’t in good faith recommend a person attend a traditional day program.

I’m a champion of an IPRT or Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program where you set a goal with a 12 to 24 month completion date and act resilient to get your life back on track.

This too: I recommend social skills training and also cognitive remediation for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. These treatments should be given as early in the recovery period as possible.

No: I’m not a fan of having people languish in traditional day programs or outpatient clinics that are little more than a babysitting service.

One director who had me speak to her patients lamented that they didn’t want to get jobs or go to school. She tried to have me pump up the audience to be inspired to take these risks. My talk fell on deaf ears. A friend suggested I had good things to say and did well: that it was only the audience that wasn’t buying in.

So: how can a community mental health center help clients if its director has assessed the patients don’t want to better themselves?

It’s a Catch-22. And certainly there are better community mental health centers out there. I’ve written about one great center in Topeka, Kansas at HealthCentral. I intend to write news articles about other agencies that truly help individuals conquer their mental health challenges.

Until “best practices” is the norm: I don’t think it’s wise to rely on treatments like “line dancing” and “yoga” that haven’t been proven to guarantee results.

Research, research, research your treatment options.

I will talk in a future entry about my other observations about mental health providers.

Hope Heals

Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection quotes a leading researcher who defines hope as a strategy not a feeling:

The act of setting a goal, taking steps to achieve it, and revising your plan or changing your goal when the original one doesn’t work out.

In this way: hope heals.

I stand in solidarity with others who were told subtly or directly that there was no hope for them because they had schizophrenia.

After I came out of the hospital, I was shunted into a community mental health system ill-equipped to help me. The very counselors who should’ve helped me stigmatized me.

This is why I’m no fan of the current “consumer recovery movement” as it now exists. I’m a member of the Positive Psychiatry Movement instead. There’s a difference.

The consumer recovery movement parrots opinions as if they were facts. Their denial of anosognosia as a real symptom is an opinion not a fact.

Anosognosia or the lack of insight that you have an illness is documented in over 15 research studies. It is caused by frontal lobe lesions in the brain and upwards of 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia have it as a symptom.

I stand on the side of science and kindness in treating people living with mental illnesses. The idea that mental illnesses are not real medical conditions is also not a fact. It’s an opinion that can’t be proven either.

The consumers who champion community mental health systems as the best way to get treated are sadly mistaken in my humble view because of my experiences in this kind of center. Years ago on the Internet a staff member of a community mental health system wrote an article in which she claimed no one with schizophrenia could recover or achieve remission.

With staff like that, how are most community mental health systems equipped to help people?

I will report back in here what I think is a better option for a person newly diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It employs hope as the ultimate strategy.

Ah to Zucchini

The latest zucchini recipe I cooked was easy and I recommend it in the summer when the vegetable is plentiful at markets.

Slice in half two zucchini and scoop out the insides. Sprinkle generous grated parmesan on the zucchini. Bake in the oven at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into chunks to eat and enjoy.

I zoom in on zucchini in the summer. It’s one of the most healthful vegetable options and one of the tastiest in my estimation.

Another foolproof recipe is to cut zucchini into coins and sprinkle grated parmesan on it and saute in olive oil for about 5 to 10 minutes. You can check the vegetable’s firmness to decide how soft you want to cook it.

Voila: easy, cheesy vegetables that provide calcium, protein and vitamins.

Hospital Life

I expect my memoir Left of the Dial to go on sale at the latest on December 1st of this year.

As the date nears I will excerpt scenes from the memoir here. Today’s is a glimpse of life on the ward, a place I hope no one has the misfortune to land in.


By my third week, my lipstick was worn down to a blunt slope, and I had the goal of leaving before the tube was empty. Zoe came into my life in a drop-dead segue between despair and hope. She arrived on Monday and made herself known. A wild earth kind of woman with manic depression, she was a fireball, igniting the other patients, and then flaming out on herself.

Caught up in her frantic good humor, I coasted along with her whims. Lucia, the recreation therapist, decided to take the patients bowling at Knotty Pines. I was reminded of the Camper Van Beethoven song “Take the Skinheads Bowling” that I played on my radio show. I liked the music, not the sport.

“Come on, we’ll have fun at the Nutty Pines.” Zoe didn’t skip a beat.

“Okay.” We lined up together to be escorted out. She gave me a pair of sunglasses (she had two) so we could cover up in case our friends saw us on the outside.

“I got a couple pairs from Jimmy. He has a case of them in his room,” she said. How did she know this?

The van rattled down Forest Avenue towards the desolate section of town. Truly, I hated bowling and wanted an excuse to escape. Once inside, I eased into a size five shoe and selected a ball that weighed the least. The tobacco-color interior was glum; the stench of cigarette smoke lingered. Lucia kept score.

“Darn, a gutterball.” I watched it slide down the side.

“Gutterfuck.” Zoe laughed.

Lucia told her to watch her language.

We ended ten frames and started again. Fidgety, I wanted to end it all so threw the bowling ball down the alley with careless conviction.

Lucia said, “Be patient. Don’t rush.” Zoe got a lucky strike and won the game.

After, we went to Pal Joey’s for pizza. We wore our sunglasses indoors.

“What are you, the Blues Sisters?” Lucia laughed.

I imagined our protest would go down in our charts.

“We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time,” Zoe chuckled.

If only we could’ve stayed outside a little longer. I missed the freedom of blue skies. Too soon we returned to Veronica Lane.


Left of the Dial Amazon Page