Thursday, March 21, 2024

Have You Considered This?

The articles below look at mental illness from two distinct perspectives. The first reminds us that severe mental illness has a genetic connection. The second emphasizes that not all relapses in mental illness are equal. Street drugs play a major role in mental health setbacks. 

Mental Illness Is A Family Affair

   "No matter your situation, keep in mind that you don't need to know what you need to start getting care." National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, March 2024.       

                                       Mental Illness Is A Family Affair

    This quote from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reminded me that mental illness is a family affair. It doesn’t mercifully stop with one generation but randomly chooses its victims in generations to come. This means that parents and guardians, as well as the afflicted young person, need to be on the alert for behavioral challenges that could indicate the need to receive care.

           I was shocked and surprised to realize that among my 10 grandchildren, over half suffer from some form of mental health or brain challenge: bipolar disease, anxiety disorder, depression, autism, and addiction. The appearance of these maladies did not erupt into view until the young person reached out for independence somewhere in their early to mid-twenties. Adulthood is tough enough, but try making it when you’re saddled with the demon of mental disorder.

           I recall a grandson making a poignant statement when he was 25 years old, “I’m not sure I want to be an adult; it’s too f____ hard.” Aside from his poor choice of language, at my urging, this grandson sought mental health care. It was only during the treatment that he discovered the reasons for his disordered mind and spirit: he was experiencing deep depression and ADHD. Although he did not share his specific type of medications, I know he was on physician prescriptions. I also know that he found talk therapy very helpful. Above all, he no longer felt alone in battling his symptoms. After months of treatment, he now works full-time and lives happily with his partner and daughter.

           Isn’t it amazing how mental health care actually works when we allow ourselves the time and patience to heal.



Not Just Another Relapse


When the mentally ill fail to stay on their antipsychotic medication, all hell breaks loose. Their lives become unmanageable. They are left empty and broken. A sad state of affairs that I have witnessed many times with my son Michael. His severe form of bipolar disease allows for little deviation. Without his medication, he unravels only too swiftly.

           I’ve collected dozens of stories about his downfalls, but the one I found that best summarizes the predicament of a mentally disordered person who has lost his way is the following. Anyone participating in Twelve Step programs will hear this kind of story repeated over and over.

           Mike is still in Texas in 1985, having secured a sober lifestyle, but after a misplaced visit by his father, who insisted he needed a car, my son began unraveling. The boy could not cope with his co-dependent parent, who thought Mike should be looked after, but only projected his own anxiety onto his already anxiety-ridden son. After a few weeks of this unsolicited help, Mike stopped taking his medication, and after all his progress, began his rapid disintegration: sobriety, a job, friends, a place to live—all gone.

           First, the car broke down. Michael drove it into the ground and ruined the engine. Mike shared the larger story of his undoing.

           “I was irresponsible. I didn’t follow the rules of the road, so the engine broke down. The car had over 150,000 miles on it and was getting too old to take the punishment. So, I walked back to work and asked a coworker if he’d take a look at it. Not only didn’t he fix it right, but he also damaged it more. It kept backfiring out the tailpipe. So, I got Dad, who had returned home, on the phone, and he paid for Bob’s Mechanic to fix the problem.

           I had a bad attitude, so I got kicked out of the Program, which meant I didn’t have a place to live anymore. When I went back to the townhouse, I pushed my way in by verbally abusing the gatekeeper, keeping me out. After all the name-calling, he punched me in the face, broke my sunglasses, and, grabbing the broken lens, cut me on my upper nose right between my eyes. I staggered out of the house, totally disoriented, my face cut up, and a black eye. I bumped into a black lady while walking the street, and she tended to my wounds.

           I had a couple of jobs in landscaping but goofed up. I started to lose track of the time, didn’t even know what day it was. I didn’t have any money; I just lived in my car. I sold my high school graduation watch and my best LP records and stereo to a woman for some pot. I had nothing. I was totally washed up. Of course, I called my Dad, and he took another plane to Texas to take me home.”

           Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this relapse is how much progress Michael had accomplished but how swiftly he returned to ground zero: returning to his childhood home, where he viewed himself as a failure.





Monday, December 11, 2023


 December 11, 2023


The following poem was written in October 2022 during my son Michael’s homeless period that lasted over one year. Michael, who has a bipolar condition, had succumbed to an extended relapse into drugs and alcohol. The poem depicts a lamentation prayer, an ancient practice comprised of a pouring out of sadness, grief, and loss.  I experienced this soul loss as my adult son’s health and wellbeing dissolved into chronic illness and mental degradation.




Entrenched in sadness, 

Compounded feelings constrict her

As she envisions the lost boy.

His pouring out of Soul in wailful deprivations.


Lack of harmony,

Devoid of joy,

Loss of balance,

Deprived of safety,


Erosion of trust,

Deranged in worry,

Depleted of hope,

Exiled into invisibility.



She seeks the alone one,

Tangled in delusions,

Forgetting his way,

Paralyzed with fear,



Marching willfully into danger,

Sinking into the fog of despair.

Mentally impaired,

Deranged and abandoned.


Can no one save this lost son

Restore the wanderer,

Connect him to the life force,

Who seeks freedom in misguided pathways?




Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Book Awards

I am delighted that my book, "Raging Currents: Mental Illness and Family" received three distinct awards: one, a first prize by NYC Big Book Award 2023, and two more awards from Global Book Awards and the 2023 Paris Book Festival.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Let's Spread the Word I'm a Caregiver for My Mentally Ill Loved One

 Most of us who care about and look after our mentally ill loved ones do so in obscurity and silence. Why share the burden of this roller-coaster journey you’re on? Why let anyone know, much less admit to yourself, that this is one tough job? During a recent episode with my son, I often felt as lost as he was as I struggled alone to cope with his disturbing behavior.  

          Being there for my dual-diagnosis son, Michael, during a recent homeless period that lasted somewhat over a year turned out to be incredibly stressful. I was helpless to pull him out of either his mental disorder or bingeing behavior, and yet I felt so responsible, so very guilty. He had no fixed location, no place I could see him, even if I could drive out of town. My caregiving duties for my husband have kept me homebound.

His phone calls tortured me as he described the horrific conditions he was enduring on the streets. Hunger, cold, theft, and violence were everyday events. Mike discovered nothing was safe, neither a person nor a belonging. Even temporary drop-in shelters harbored dangerous people who attacked the vulnerable, stealing their property and beating them up. The police harassed him when he was sleeping in parks, under bushes, and inside doorways. No place was safe. Everything he owned, even his medicine, backpack, pillow, and food, had been stolen. My son was bereft of support and hope.

My finances allowed for only a few hotel nights, where he could get out of the cold, shower, and have a warm restaurant meal. But the costs ran up, and, unknown to me, Michael was using, surrounded by street people, most of whom were addicts as well. He found human connections sharing alcohol and drugs, but these substances exacerbated his mental health symptoms.

I watched from afar as my son slipped further and further into an untrustworthy person, lying to me about his activities. The hotel stays usually turned out to be “parties,” where addicts gathered, shared drugs, and generated unacceptable noise. In my guilty state, I capitulated to his constant demands for money, which I thought were for nourishing food and winter clothes, but in reality, I paid for drugs.

At one point, Michael became deathly ill at one of these “party” events. His street buddies vacated, leaving him gasping for breath. My intuition served me once again. When I couldn’t get him to answer my call, I called the motel’s front desk. Kathy, the sole staff, rushed to his room to check things out, took one look, called an ambulance, and 15 minutes later, he was rushed to the hospital. My son later reported he was diagnosed with pneumonia and had a fever of 105 degrees. It was too close a call.

After his hospital release and with my encouragement, Michael began looking for more permanent shelter, one that would assist him in his struggle with mental illness and addiction. After waiting for a case manager for months, he finally found a secure shelter and, with good behavior, was referred to a high-end shelter with programs for both mental health and street drugs.

Did I seek comfort for my agonies during the time my son was lost? At first, I endured. It will go away, I thought, as I tried to cope in my denial state. I felt ashamed that Mike had used me with his entreaties: “Can you give me a hand, Mom?” “I’m flat-out, Mom.” “Send some money right now.” I believed at the time it would all go away and my son could rise from his ashes and be normal again. But the stress did not stop, and I began my burn-out loop: stress, isolation, exhaustion, collapse. I found myself constantly fatigued and sporadically weeping. Where can I turn? Who can I trust to share my story?

Chatting with a friend one day, she talked about the “courage to change.” It was an offhand remark, and I asked her how she maintained her balance during a family crisis. She spoke further, offering ideas like “detachment” and “peace of mind.” Once I joined the Twelve-Step program, I began setting boundaries and learned to say “No” to his demands. That was my son’s cue to cut out the “parties” and seek both sobriety and more permanent shelter. I had been enabling him all along.

I am spreading the word, “I am a caregiver.” The words feel good and remind me that I have a responsibility, not only to love my son but also myself. I also confronted the fact that I am powerless over Michael’s addictions, and I must learn new ways of relating to him.

I am taking the advice of  Archangels CEO Alexandra Drane, who offers suggestions about what caregivers can do to lighten their load. *

·       Get credit for it. You can more readily navigate to resources when you acknowledge your caregiving role and practice self-compassion.

·       Gain support from family and friends. Caregiving is work; recognizing this helps you contend with the stressors you feel as a caregiver.

·       Have language for what you’re going through. Tell your story to as many people as possible. You will be surprised how many people respond with sympathy and understanding.

·       Seek out supportive resources, such as a social worker or therapist. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is a great starting place for information and support.

·       Support other caregivers, “you give a lift, you get a lift,” Drane says. This helps you normalize your work and eliminates the stigma. “if you do something kind for someone, you feel better yourself.”

* “How Identifying yourself as a caregiver is the first step to tackling the stress of the job.” Marissa Brown. April 5, 2023.

http://www.carecom/c/recognizing-and-addressing-caregiver stress/?rx=email%7CSEEKER-newsletter%7C20230414-eMAIL-Seeker-All-Newslett...

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

 Today is World Mental Health Day! 

A message from The National Alliance on Mental Illness:

View directly here:

Make a Difference on World Mental Health Day 🌍💚 

Today, we recognize World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to promoting mental health awareness, offering support and encouraging conversations about mental well-being. 

Given the unique mental health crisis among our youth, we ask that you stand with us this World Mental Health Day to amplify the NAMI Teen & Young (T&YA) Adult HelpLine, a free nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to teens and young adults. 

You can help make a significant difference in the lives of teenagers and young adults by spreading the word: Mental health support is readily available through the NAMI T&YA HelpLine. 

How Can You Make a Difference Today? 

Continuing NAMI’s Mental Illness Awareness Week theme — “Together We Care. Together We Share,” the simplest and most powerful way to make a difference today is by sharing this vital resource with your family, community and network.  

We’ve prepared plenty of helpful messages for you to share with friends, family, colleagues and partner organizations.

Please visit our social media toolkit to access sample posts, graphics and more to share across your social media channels.
Visit the toolkit. Spread the word.

Together, let’s ensure that our youth have the support they need at their fingertips and create a world where no young person feels alone in their struggle. Spread the word and save a life. 

The NAMI T&YA HelpLine is not a hot line, crisis line or suicide prevention line. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, please chatcall or text 988. The NAMI T&YA HelpLine does not provide mental health counseling, advice, personal advocacy or referrals to individual mental health providers or lawyers. The NAMI T&YA HelpLine does not provide individual casework, legal representation or any type of individual advocacy. 
Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. Reply STOP to opt-out. Reply HELP for help. See our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Thanks to Village Books for hosting my book event, attended by my family, friends, and those who seek to break the silence of mental illness. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Tips for Calming the Agitated Elder or Mentally Ill Loved One

          Certain kinds of mental illness or dementia contribute to agitation, sometimes leading to a crisis point. A loved one locked into a cycle of disturbed behavior needs immediate intervention, but what kind of help can the concerned caregiver offer?

          Even before my son, Michael, had been diagnosed as bipolar in his early twenties, I discovered helpful ways to calm down his stress. I used the same approach for my sister, Sharon, who succumbed to schizophrenia at age 27. When either loved one tended to perceive minor events as catastrophic, I learned to shift into caregiving mode with these tips I can share with you. In certain situations, a loved one may need to be hospitalized. This could require a 911 call.

1.    Avoid confrontation. When Michael felt cornered by parental controls, he lashed out in violent ways. My husband and I learned to keep our cool during his outbursts.

2.    Lower your voice. Speak firmly but soothingly and repeat a comforting phrase,  “Don’t worry, Dear” or “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” When Sharon became strident about a person, place, or thing, I responded by keeping my voice modulated, which tended to lower her own.

3.    The human touch works wonders if the agitated person allows you to reach out with a light pat on the shoulder, upper back, or arm. It may be advisable to wait until the disturbed person has settled down before attempting to touch them. After my late husband, Jim, was confined to a wheelchair, I patted his shoulders and upper arms as I took him outdoors for a stroll.

4.    Walking with the person as they recite their issues and concerns. Arm in arm can work wonders for some disturbed persons. Sharon enjoyed this sisterly comfort after she stabilized.

5.    Food can calm an agitated loved one who may become disoriented by hunger. Mike always felt more like himself after he ate a good meal.

6.    Distraction. Although used less often, distraction can be a real winner for an agitated elder who suffers from dementia. Jim’s dementia followed two severe heart attacks and subsequent strokes, which rendered him depressed and confused. It was a joy to see him shift abruptly from gloom to alertness when I brought out photos of the children or grandchildren.

7.    Special Interests. Know your loved one’s special interests and try to get your loved one to talk about them. Sharon was an omnivorous reader before her initial breakdown. I could sometimes remind her of those beloved classics, such as Jane Austen, that brought a smile to her face.

8.    Medications. Once you have the loved one’s attention, ask them if they’ve been taking their medication regularly. This could be the source of their problematic behavior. I learned to encourage, but never force, my loved one to resume medications and therapy to assist them through a crisis.

9.    Heal Thyself. A hidden gem for me as a caregiver was to pursue therapy to help resolve stress. Interaction with or managing a loved one’s mental disturbance, even from a phone call’s distance, can shake up the calmest person.