Thursday, June 20, 2019

It's Time to Call Them What They Are: Concentration Camps

It's time to call the camps on our Southern border what they are: concentration camps. If six children have died in DHS custody can we call them death camps? Jews, myself included, are reluctant to use words that evoke the holocaust when the comparison is of lesser significance. On the other hand, we remain vigilant in using the words "never again." I believe the word "never" is slowly being ripped of its meaning as the conditions along our Southern border worsen.

I've read several articles today about what was occurring there. But, it was one word that a friend of mine used that made me sure the comparison was apt. It was the word "cattle."

Specifically she said, "To be honest, when I first heard that 900 were being kept in a space meant for 125, my first thought was of the cattle cars the Nazis used. No, these poor people are not being sent to a certain death, but their treatment, like cattle, is just as dehumanizing and inhumane. No civil country should be treating anyone like this. Ever. We are no better than the regimes we deplore. There are always alternatives."

She had just read a Washington Post opinion article entitled, "Never Again means nothing if Holocaust analogies are always off limits." I similarly read an article from the New York Times about the anti-refugee movement in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The Muslim Ban that Trump tried to enact before the second week of his Administration may have faded in our memories. Still, we need to recall both or "never again" will have no meaning.

Co-author, Wendy Kalman,

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Let Me Speak - Emily

"I can definitely relate to stigma from others on having had postpartum depression. When I was going through that time period, my mother and mother-in-law helped me out a lot before I had my medication stabilized. I found out from my husband that his mother was upset that I was going through it. She didn't say it to my face, but I think she thought less of me because of it. Later on, when she was recovering from surgery on cancer that appeared on her spine that metastasized to her brain, she experienced panic attacks. I told her she could call me any time to help her through those attacks, since I had experienced many. I never judged her as she had judged me.”

A Mental Health Diagnosis Shouldn't Define You

My mental illness and I have always been on a collision course. Armed with a bachelors from Cornell and a JD, I did what other disabled individuals may not bother: research. Even before I was medicated for my first depression, I would walk from my therapist’s office in Greenwich Village to a nearby Barnes and Noble to read self-help books. I would then go home, too depressed to follow their suggestions. When a self-help book mentioned a diagnostic manual, I looked at that too. I also believed it, which became a problem. When my psychiatrist diagnosed me as bipolar, I hadn’t been manic. He was the Chief of Psychiatry at a major New York City hospital so he knew there was more to bipolar illness than alternating manic-depressive episodes. Now the diagnostic manual describes Bipolar II disorder and mixed episodes. My psychiatrist didn’t explain how he came to his conclusion and lead me to believe I would always be depressed.

Later in my treatment, my problem would be the opposite: I hated the stigma associated with a diagnosis. Don’t we all have faults? Shortly after being diagnosed, a therapist encouraged me to go to a workshop on codependency, which involves excessive emotional reliance on a partner. At the workshop, the speaker described her codependent relationship with her cat. I did not return.

Now I realize a mental health diagnosis is the same as any other diagnosis. It classifies people who display the same symptoms. It’s mostly necessary for health insurance purposes. It doesn’t define a person and it certainly doesn’t stop someone from getting better.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

You Do Not Want to Take Up Space in My Bipolar Brain

Although it wasn't my intent, I've been posting about experiences I went through more than two decades ago. Maybe my subconscious wanted to tell you I was sick then, but not now. Maybe my subconscious remembered I wanted to write a book so I started early on my life timeline. I no longer want to write a book. Frankly, I want speaking engagements. I want to tell people about Jane's Place so it becomes a reality. I've had the idea for Jane's Place for 23 years. Technology enabled me to start now. A physical building for Jane's Place may be years away. I recognize that.

I also want to give credit for the title of this essay. I saw Hillary Clinton being interviewed. She said she must still be taking up space in Donald Trump's brain. She wanted out. I want out of my bipolar brain now. Usually, I don't think about that anymore. But, to borrow a little Joan Didion in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," I had another moment when I realized the light wouldn't always turn green for me. In fact, I had the worst moment. Because when these moments had to do exclusively with me, I eventually overcame them. But, I'm a mother now. I know the desire to take a bullet for your children.

About two months ago, we found out my older son has a tumor in his knee. The tumor is either an osteoblastoma, the more benign one, or an osteosarcoma, the malignant cancerous one.  After a biopsy, doctors are leaning toward the former. The first question was whether it had spread. Given how large the tumor is (9cm) and the length of time he's had it - he's had pain switching from hockey to track all of high school - we were scared. But, it hadn't spread. The next step is a five hour surgery and five days in the hospital. The surgery was scheduled for May 29th. They needed cadaver bone for a graft. They found the match May 30th.

That's what broke me. That's when the light switched. I had been able to be calm to support him. Now there's a feedback loop in my brain:

- the surgery won't be scheduled
- if he has the surgery, something will go wrong
- he won't wake up from the anesthesia
- he'll have the surgery and develop an infection
- the tumor will spread before he has the surgery
- the surgery will reveal an osteosarcoma
- he won't start college this year. (Fact: There's no deferral; he will have to reapply. Yes, that's cruel. And, he's chosen a field he can't start second semester.)

When my brain was working normally, I worried most about him not starting college in the fall. I also felt awful because he won't be able to play sports anymore and that was part of his identity.

Now I am reduced to nerves of anxiety. You may think this sounds normal. But, I assure you it's not.

My bipolar brain, when under stress like this, goes to the darkest places. It's not about my son anymore and that's sad. I know I'm being selfish. It's about me and my bipolar brain.

So, here's what you should not do: Do not tell me my son will be ok. Are you his doctor? His father? Any of the people in the room listening to the surgeon? No. So shut up.

Here's what you can do: Ask about me. Don't even bring up his brother who is having a homework strike. He's a teenager and he's rebelling, testing the limits. He wants to spend time with his friends and only do the activities he enjoys: chorus, band, art, and dance, not his core subjects. If you are a professional with an appropriate background, you can privately message me advice. Back to me: Keep me focused on this blog. Say you can help me with a story about a stigma you faced and how you overcame it. I need two paragraphs. I will not use your name. Or, we can speak on the phone and I'll write it up. This blog is keeping me sane. Help me grow it. But, also keep in mind that's not the sole remedy. The sole remedy would be making everything okay this instant. Given you can't do that, time with you is good. Distractions are good. I'm hurting. I need your help.