Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Going back to where we were talking about traumatic brain injuries...
The one decent thing I did when I was away from my family was being a caregiver to a teenager with severe tbi (when he was 4 yrs old, he had stepped into a family backyard pool during a barbeque and no-one noticed -- no-one knows how long he was under but he was on life-support for quite a few weeks, not expected to live; when they took him off oxygen, to everyone's great surprise, he began breathing on his own and not too long after, "came to" - no speech, had to re-learn walking etc.) By the time I was with him, he had graduated high school and was enrolled in a post-secondary school culinary arts (an experimental program where he was being integrated) - he still had trouble communicating but he was very much "in there". In my opinion, he was even more capable than the people around him thought. He wanted desperately to learn to read, and I think he was on the verge of doing that when I, unfortunately had my own health issues, and we lost touch.

I also have a close friend who was badly hurt in a car accident several years ago. What at first seemed "just a concussion" has proved, a tbi. She went from being a highly productive member of society to barely able to do volunteer work. On the upside, she and her husband are right now attending a camp for those with this type of injury. I'm really looking forward to hearing what she's learned when they get back.

Then, back to talking a bit about mental health stuff:
In the main, I agree with what you have to say about the mental illness continuum there is such room on either side of the "labeling" and how too, usually the patient can work through many of the episodes if given the right amount of time and situation...

I was starting to talk about: the more you know, the better:
The library in that teaching hospital where I was had so much information, I had to learn to disseminate very quickly. (This was before computers were readily available, so I was making tons of longhand notes.) Another stroke of luck was that early on, I found the huge text, Manic-Depressive Illness - the definitive text used by those studying medicine and those who become psychiatrists - this is not normally something that would have impressed me, but someone had already told me about Kay Redfield Jamison and when I noticed she had co-authored this text, I found myself more inclined to pay attention to it than I might've been normally.

Jamison has been for me, a personal hero. First of all, she is witty, brilliant, well-spoken and writes extremely well...even her co-authored text is accessible for a non-medico, like me (not all of it, of course, but enough so that I could understand what I need(ed) to: she wrote it with Frederick K.Goodwin incidentally.)

All of these things would be impressive enough, but - the main thing that tops my list for making her so impressive is that Jamison is a really high-functioning manic depressive.(And she would be fine, I think, with the old designation, seeming to disparage the new DSMV etc etc things, as much or more than some of us - funny, coming from a doctor.)

The unimaginable amount of pressure Jamison must have been under while she was a practicing physician, a psychiatrist even, at UCLA, but not "out" as a manic depressive bewilders me at times. In her book, An Unquiet Mind, she details her misgivings about telling her superiors about her disorder - about how she feared they wouldn't respect her as a doctor, how she would end up losing both her job and her license. It is also in this book though, that she takes the leap, and talks about her illness from beginning to "now" and risks it all.

As she says in the book, within a month of signing on as an assistant professor at UCLA, she was well on her way into madness. In three months, she was fully manic - and then the book truly starts and she tells her life of this debilitating illness from her point-of-view (and everyone's is different, depending on triggers, compliance, and any number of is an eye-opening look at one brilliant woman's journey - *spoiler alert, Dr.Redfield Jamison is Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, still co-author of that famous text, and considered one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive illness.)

Jamison has also written about mental illness and creativity - her Touched with Fire is probably the most complete document written that details many types of artists, their family trees, their disorders and how they did, or didn't, influence their art. It is by far one of my favourite books.

Jamison has also addressed suicide in her poignant Night Falls Fast. As someone who has visited that dark doorstep herself, she has particular insights to share about this struggle which sadly so many bump up against at least once during their lives.

And once again, I've rambled and rattled along. You can see why I felt the need to post to a blog...
Thank you both again (and any others who've come along) for your insights and thoughts. I do appreciate them.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Growing gray
in the grand asylum,
she knows there
are rites being ritualized,
outside where she committed
the final transgression.

That time when she thought
burning a candle
would lead to her soul
simply being reborn;
neglecting the cautions
about lighting both ends...

Singeing herself dark
as someone from Africa
Now she cackles all the time,
"Me myself from the demimonde
used to be orange-skinned."
Before lapsing into silence
quiet as dying.