Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Deadly Silence

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Today, in Canada, Bell Media is sponsoring something called “Let’s Talk” in an effort to raise awareness and to help erase the stigmas attached to mental illness.  When researching this 2nd annual event, I found that there are a multitude of different “mental health” or “mental illness” awareness days. 

A very small sampling (Canada):

  •  February 8 – Bell’s “Let’s Talk” 
  • Sept. 30-Oct. 6 – Mental Illness Awareness Week
  • May 7 – 13 – Canadian Mental Health Association Awareness Week

The above doesn’t even include initiatives by various universities across the country which all have different schedules.  And, the U.S. schedule is completely different.

My question is:  Why aren’t we talking about this all the time?

Because: 

In the “good old days,” no one talked about mental illness regardless of socio-economic rank.  The poor were affected more visibly only because the wealthy families had the means to shove their mentally ill family members into expensive institutions.

Here’s a snapshot of my own family:

  • I have an aunt I didn’t know existed until I was a young adult; she was institutionalized when she was 18, 
  • My grandmother,described as “the laziest woman ever born,” would take to her bed for weeks at a time; she suffered from crippling depression and anxiety,
  • In the late 1950’s, well-meaning(?) doctors prescribed alcohol for my brother as a means of silencing the voices he began hearing  – leading to a lifetime battle with alcohol (never mind the schizophrenia),
  • My sister, later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, was always described as “excitable” or “high-strung.”  Talking about her violent mood swings & impulsive behaviour was strongly discouraged,
  • Another aunt (different side of the family) was always described as “difficult,” or “eccentric”  even after she tried to harm her child.  No one knows whether help was offered or even available.  The child committed suicide as an adult,
  • I was told: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Pull yourself together” during bouts of severe depression in my youth.  Thankfully, my method of coping was only chronic napping.

We never talked about mental illness.  The stigma was so great, relatives would vanish from sight or die and the silence was deafening.  Mental illness did all the talking in our family.  Now, with increased awareness, hopefully the suffering can stop or at least be diagnosed and treated. 

My brother, who has always danced along the fence separating genius from insanity, has crossed forever into the shady realm of delusion.  In his increasingly rare lucid moments, he talks candidly about his illness.  He acknowledges that our parents never did – “Sweetie, no one talked about it in those days.”  Our sister is dead.  I was lucky enough to have healthcare; the Black Dog has been trained to heel.  But, I lie awake at night and worry for my children; I’ll be honest, I over-analyze every mood swing (which does nothing to alleviate my generalized anxiety disorder). 

We talk about their aunt and uncle; however, there are family members who wish we wouldn’t.  We talk about the fact that when Mommy gets sad and can’t stop crying she goes to the doctor and gets help.  We don’t hide it.  We don’t pretend these things don’t exist.  No one is “delicate” or “high-strung” around here.  We call the demons out and we challenge them to duals.

So yes, talk about it.  Because silence can be deafening and it can also be deadly.

 

Joyous Adventure or Pure Folly?

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“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”  —Winston Churchill

If the venerable genius Winston Churchill thought this about writing, who the bleep am I to think I can manage it? Being a writer, I cannot resist the adventure, even if it eventually turns to folly.  The Novel, once disgarded and disregarded, has emerged from the ashes hotter than ever, lording it over me night and day.

By hot I don’t necessarily mean good – just fiercer, more insistent, more able to keep me up at night.  The Novel (which has no fewer than five different titles and incarnations on the hard drive of my computer), interrupts conversations, keeps me idling at stoplights after the light has turned green, and this morning it led me from the shower before I’d rinsed the conditioner out of my hair.

I’m a bit scared, if I’m honest.

In the midst of my obsession there is, as always, nagging doubt acting like a bucket of water on the flames.  Doubt is almost as powerful as the obsession to write this thing.  I fear at some point I will be consumed by one or the other or caught in the bloody crossfire between these mortal enemies, ambition and doubt.  I foresee a horrible end for myself, possibly in a mental institution or sitting on a park bench reading my tale to no one but a flock of pigeons. 

Last night, I wrote until my eyes were burning.  My contact lenses committed suicide, leaping from my eyes into the sink all dry and crackly like potato chips.  I lay awake debating this plot twist or that; I told myself, “Don’t do this – you’ll overcook it.”  No use. I can’t stop.  Resistance is futile, the obsession says.  Doubt stands outside my closed door and pounces on me every time I take a break.  Doubt doesn’t quote Churchill; he quotes someone who said a waste basket is a writer’s best friend.  Or is it a bottle?  When Doubt takes over, both are handy to have.

Once the story is down, for my own safety, I will send it off to someone to read as soon as possible – a trusted someone who will be kind but honest.  Perhaps a writer friend who has done battle with both demons that haunt me now. I wonder though, is publication the only cure?  I fear so.  Until then, I’m in for a long battle in some kind of Purgatory for the Unpublished But Hard-Working. 

 

Lost in IKEA

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Not too long ago, there was an  ad for IKEA lauding it as Swedish for “idea” but every time I shop at an IKEA store I have to wonder whether it was a good idea.  As I drive away sweaty, thirsty, and feeling as though I’ve just trekked through a very vast expanse of either jungle or desert, I wish I knew the Swedish translation for “frustration,” “exhaustion,” and “I don’t care how good the savings, is this really worth the effort?”

In fairness to the Swedes, I’m sure most of my difficulty with their iconic store is that I’m not well-versed in how to shop there.  I always wear the wrong footwear, I never remember to bring provisions – water bottle, high energy snackables, compass – and worse, I never enter the giant sliding doors with an iron-clad plan.

[When The Man goes with me, there is always a plan but since The Man would rather have all of his nose hair plucked out by a blind person with dull tweezers than go to IKEA, I often go alone.]

For shoppers like me who suffer from high anxiety and who are subject to ADD caused by over-visual stimulation, IKEA is not a good place to meander or browse.  There’s just too much to see, too many ways to get lost, and too many displays to knock over while turning in an aimless circle.

Even if I go in with trail mix and a plan, I am often thwarted right at the very end just when I think I’ve escaped without physical damage or emotional scarring.  As I barrel into the self-serve section pushing a trolley as big as a tractor trailer (and far less manoeuverable), I skid to a halt in Aisle 37B/subsection 1a only to find they have no more of the Stokholmen shelving in the off-white solid wood but have 500 of the same in the lingonberry mauve (foil finish).

Today I walked out with aching feet and feeling like a salmon who had just made the ardurous swim upstream (because I never, ever follow the arrows painted on the floor).  Any plan evaporated when faced with the vast array of things laid out to the horizon.

I left without even so much as a bag of Swedish meatballs (which I’d actually meant to buy).  Good ideas for IKEA (for next time):  don’t go alone.  Add Valium to the trail mix.  Rent a mobility scooter.  Learn Swedish for “clear the decks, coming through!”