Mental Health Awareness: My Reasons and Resources

sunlight on tree

On a recent vacation, I handed a homeless man $10. My family shrank behind me, unsure the gesture was the right thing to do.

“What are you going to do? Give every homeless person we see today $10?” my husband asked.

“No,” I postured in defense.  “That was my last ten.”

On another day, I might give a ten I’m carrying, or a second half of a sandwich, or a bottle of water, or whatever I have in my car when I’m stopped long enough beside a stoplight panderer.

I can’t help myself. I see my dad in those outstretched hands.

My dad flailed on the streets for a time during the worst of his battles with mental health.

It’s a myth that every homeless person is afflicted with a mental illness, but the percentage is certainly higher than the general population. According to the American Psychological Association, “rates of mental illness among people who are homeless in the United States are twice the rate found for the general population (Bassuk et al., 1998). 47 percent of homeless women meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder—twice the rate of women in general (Buckner, Beardslee, & Bassuk, 2004).”

My dad was not the card-carrying type of panderer. If he had held a shockingly truthful sign, it would have read: “West Point graduate, disbarred attorney, father of four, suffering from depression, narcissism, and alcoholism. Need help.” 

My dad has his demons and my risk of sharing them with him are increased simply because we’re related.  In a 2010 issue of the YaleNews, Peter T. Morgan, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine said, “It’s been clear for a long time that children of alcoholics are at greatly increased risk for psychiatric disorders.”

If disorders are potentially genetic in nature, how far could the reach of mental health challenges go?

I’m a daughter of an alcoholic with a propensity for mood disorders. Ok. Awesome. It could be me. Any. Day. It could also mean the worry monster living in my daughter’s room is bigger and badder than I want to admit. Also awesome.

Mental health issues are all around us. The man who drove his car into a crowd of people in Times Square was hearing voices. A Florida man called 911 asking to be taken to a mental hospital to see his wife Taylor Swift. A recent teen suicide in Minnesota was painfully described in his obituary:  “An intentionally quirky boy who wore size 12 shoes but never grew a whisker; took his life in a bad moment in time.”

This past year, suicide and mental health crises touched too many people I love.

What do I do with that? What do any of us do with that? Do we snuggle up in a corner with our own worry monsters and hope for the best or do we arm ourselves with as much awareness as we can?

I hate monsters. Awareness it is. I have too many reasons to want to become aware and, chances are, you do too. You may think you don’t engage with or know anyone with a mental illness, diagnosed or otherwise, but chances are you do.

Nearly one in five Americans suffer from mental health issues over the course of a year.

That percentage is too high to be ignored. We have a responsibility to one another to learn all we can about the real life stories of people and their experiences. Thankfully, the mental health conversation is getting louder, but we need to continue to share and listen to the stories that will open our eyes and grow necessary awareness. 

Awareness is wanting to know what it looks like to walk alongside someone with mental illness so we are not tempted to retreat to the other side of the street.

RAISE YOUR AWARENESS

There are courageous battles being waged in households all over this country and there are books that tell important mental illness stories, pulling the curtains back from previously guarded windows. My most recent read:

broken-brain-fortified-faith-book-cover

 

Virginia Pillars’ book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness, is a powerful memoir about her family’s journey  leading up to, during, and after her daughter’s schizophrenia diagnosis.  Virginia presents her pain, frustrations, confusion and intermingled hope with raw honesty. It is a beautiful example of how love and a deep-rooted faith can be powerful companions on the walk with mental illness.

 

 

 

OTHER RESOURCES:walks on the margins

 

In a past issue of Books Make a Difference magazine, I covered Kathy Brandt and Max Maddox’s co-written book, Walks on the Margin, about Max’s struggle with bipolar disorder. The book is an inspiring look at how awareness, treatment, and art moved him to a healthier place.

 

 

On my to read list is Mark Lukach’s recent release: My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir.my lovely wifeAwareness about mental health issues is an ongoing endeavor. Sometimes it’s a decision to stay on the same side of the street as the outstretched hand and other times it’s a decision to stop by the house of a friend who is struggling. A willingness to learn from the stories being shared, is a step in the right direction. We all have reasons to engage in the mental health conversation, and I’m grateful for those brave souls who start the discussion by writing down their stories.

National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                        @choosingtogrow

Walking in Dad’s Shoes by Sitting in a Cast

cast and crutches

Injuries mean a loss of independence. It is a loss of the way life has been and a miserable process of acceptance that life is not in our control. This particular injury is providing even further enlightenment I hadn’t expected.

It’s a joke, really, that we have control in our lives. The truth is we can’t control ANYTHING! We can’t control freak injuries or illness. We can’t control procrastination in others or a lack of attention to detail. We can’t control whether people around us want to do the things we ask of them and we certainly cannot control whether they go about doing those things with a smile. We can do things to influence others, but we really don’t control any of it.

I try though. I see tendencies in myself to fill when I’m hurting. Fill by achieving something, fill with food or booze. I am my father’s daughter that way I guess. I find a temporary relief in “feeling” full. I have approached my many injuries as an opportunity to fill with something else.

This injury I am not maintaining the full…I am purposefully emptying instead. Except for one day a week I am restricting sugar, carbs, caffeine, and alcohol. I was scheduled to do a 28-day cleanse starting the day after my injury, so I know God intended for me to endure this injury empty. The process has been eye-opening and HARD.

I don’t like having lost independence. The ice makes it REALLY hard to get around outside of our house. I have taught myself to drive left footed, but I am incredibly hesitant to go any place where I will have to park the car and crutch on the slick surface more than 100 feet.  It is a scary deathtrap and it will stay that way until the temperatures start to rise.

So I’m dependent upon help. Needing help, asking for help and accepting help is getting easier for me, but it is still a struggle. The bigger problem this time around is the struggle with my kids. They have had a hard time transitioning from kids depending on mom to mom depending on kids. And I’m not doing well with helping them. It’s not moving quite fast enough and I’m admittedly frustrated. My dependency needs were immediate and their willingness to pick their heads up from various electronic devices hasn’t happened in quite the way I had imagined it would. They are acting like, well, kids!

This is it. This is what my dad battled, isn’t it? He got to a monotonous part of his life and was struck down by a torn Achilles tendon. He denied the injury for so long he ended up in a much worse place than he would have been: a full-leg cast and weeks of immobility. He could control nothing when he thought he was controlling everything.

He lived in a house with four children (some of whom were similar ages to my kids) who were slipping out of his control too. They were at an age of their own independence and it was excruciating to watch from the couch. All he wanted to do was get up and drive somewhere…anywhere. He couldn’t. He was stuck. He was stuck in a life that wasn’t meant for football gods from small-town Nebraska. He saw he was in a life out of his control: the one that included the 9-5 (or 9-9) job as an attorney with a wife and kids. Those kids… god, 3 of the 4 of them were girls too. What use were they anyway? None of them could even play football or replicate even a small version of his football story. They played soccer: that sissy sport with sissy rules that were worth arguing about with those men who called themselves refs. And his son, well, football wasn’t going to be for him either. He was too cerebral, too much of a dreamer, too naturally gentle to be the reflection of anger and aggression that was filling him.

I wonder whether he ever gazed at himself in the mirror during those dark days. Did he make eye contact with himself and see the demons rising from within? I would bet it was too hard for him to look.

I don’t know that a torn Achilles tendon threw him over the edge, but when he tore the other one playing touch football, it was the start of an unraveling no one could have predicted. Two torn Achilles tendons in 18 months would be a lot for anyone to handle, but if you are struggling to understand the worth of your life, it would be devastating.

I am having a chance to see, firsthand, how truly tough this immobility can be at this stage in life. It may only be 10 weeks, but currently sitting in the middle of it, I can attest to the bouts of frustration, anger, sadness, self-pity and questioning.

Injury is temporary but aging is permanent.

He must have come to that conclusion too. Did he start to wonder whether all the hard work was worth it when he was facing an ugly truth: he was just as mortal as the next guy? His accolades didn’t matter as much as everyone had told them they would, and he was starting to realize it. There was one thing he could control though. No one could tell him to stop drinking if they never saw him do it. His next greatest achievement was hiding that from everyone.

families where grace is in place

My cleanse has been perfectly timed. Also well-timed is a book club book I am reading called Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen. VanVonderen is one of the intervention counselors featured on the compelling A & E series Intervention. One particular section of the book describes an inner circle of self and an outer circle of self. The inner circle can only be filled by God’s grace and love and the acceptance that who we are is enough. The outer circle is the one we create (and fill) to make us feel as though we are complete.

Maybe no one told my dad that he mattered without things or achievements. Maybe they tried, but he didn’t listen. He had been filling his emptiness and neediness with accomplishments and accolades his entire life. He thought covering up shame again and again would be enough.

He probably never considered that God might be waiting with the news that who he is…is enough.

Emptying needs to be happening for me right now. There is plenty to learn and work through for myself and with my children. “Filling” would only keep me from the great work I’ve been tasked to complete.

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2014                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Connected through Books…Related by Blood

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“Hello. This is Meagan Frank from Books Make a Difference. I was hoping to connect with you this morning for the interview, and now I’m wondering whether I have the wrong time. I’ll try back in an hour in case I had not accounted correctly for the time zones. Thanks. I do look forward to talking with you soon.”

“She’s not there?” My husband asked from his adjacent desk that sits less than five feet away from me. He seemed hesitant to break the ordered silence. I had shushed him and built up the importance of the phone call, and as I relaxed from my interview posture, I turned toward him.

“I don’t get it,” I said,”I could have sworn this was when we rescheduled it. Maybe she got hung up with something, or she’s still not feeling well.”

I re-checked our email exchange…an ironic part of the whole story…and felt assured that I had at least remembered the appointment the way she and I had set it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.

I had looked so forward to my interview with Susan Maushart, and now I was wondering whether it was going to happen at all.

I left my ringer on and headed to the kitchen. I had managed to ignore the morning mess in my preparation for the call and now I found myself walking aimlessly through the room with an unsettled energy. What I did next made me laugh out loud. I went to the laundry room and took out the broom and dustpan. I started sweeping my way through the minutes of waiting.

“How ironic,” I thought, “I’m waiting to get connected to Susan Maushart to talk to her about her book The Winter of Our Disconnect and I start doing Wifework.”

It was in the pages of Wifework where I first came to know about Susan’s work. I don’t remember exactly how I grabbed her book off the library shelf in Monument, Colorado, but it was one of the titles I took home during my rather aimless search to save our marriage. That book became the source of one of the biggest fights my husband and I have ever had. She had the research and the data that explained part of my malaise and frustration in our marriage. I was doing too much of the work around the house, and it was not the work I really wanted to be doing. When I brought up this fact to my husband, I think it included the slamming of a basket of laundry and a launched pair of socks. Laundry has never been the same in our house since.

I was telling people about this eye-opening book, and I think it was at a family gathering I learned she and I are relatives. Somewhere far up the family branches on my grandfather’s side of the tree, (if I’m reading the family tree branches correctly) her great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were sisters. I like to think it might be a partial explanation for the way her work resonates so completely with me.

So when the editorial team for Books Make a Difference was meeting to discuss possible stories for the magazine, I mentioned Susan’s latest project that included unplugging herself and her three teens from electronics for six months.

The story was approved, and I set out to connect with her via Facebook, email, website…and eventually smartphone. Hmm.

When I called her back the hour following my first attempt, she and I laughed about the fact she had not picked up the phone because she hadn’t recognized the number on the caller id. As I worked through the interview questions, I remained cognizant of the cosmic connection of both books and blood. I remain grateful for both. You can see the resulting article here: “Susan Maushart: Living Deliberately by Unplugging“.

In another time and place our paths would likely never have crossed. She jets back and forth from New York to Australia, and I flit from midwest town to midwest town landing regularly in Colorado for the summers. I probably would have found all her books on a library shelf eventually. Maybe we would have bumped elbows at a family reunion, but I am fairly certain if we had crossed paths in some other way, we would have somehow ended up connecting deeper through books too.

                         

www.meaganfrank.com

Copyright 2013     Choosing to Grow                         Meagan Frank

Books Make a Difference…Absolutely!!

 Today is a big day.

For months I have used my writing time to piddle with story ideas, read new books, research stories,  interview some fascinating people, work through drafts of articles, edit the writing of others, and bounce ideas around with my friend, who happens to be the incredibly talented publisher of this new adventure.

This feels like a big deal…and, well, frankly, we think it is a pretty big deal.

The brain-child of my fantastically talented friend, Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito , Books Make a Difference has been on her mind for years. She has spent her life helping to use books to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and this online magazine is the culmination of her passion, our positive working relationship, good timing, and simply put… a really great idea.

Last week, when I was sitting down to electronically invite people I know to our Books Make a Difference magazine launch, I realized something. It was the first time, in my super-uncomfortable-get-the-word-out-promotional-style-because-I-am-a-writer-and-that-is-what-I-have-to-do life, when I didn’t hesitate to select people via the FB engine used to invite friends.

As I hovered over names, there was hardly a hesitation with anyone. “Oh, she totally loves books!” “That guy? Sure! He’s a writer for goodness sake.” “What about them…absolutely… I’m sure they read books.”

Before I knew it I was clicking EVERYBODY! I invited librarians, teachers, parents, obligated family members, ardent supporters of my writing habit, kids who were in my English class, kids for whom I taught English, classmates from college, artists, business folks who I have heard reference a book or two, …there wasn’t anyone, I didn’t think, who wouldn’t be interested in this project.

“Why is that?” I wondered. “What is it about books that makes them such an important part of all of our lives?”

Writing, words, and stories have always been such an enormous part of the human experience. As soon as humans found a way to do it, we wanted to share experiences with as many people as we could. That instinct for creativity hasn’t wavered much. With the advances of technology, we have just made it easier to do what we feel compelled to do. We create books… to share them, to be changed by them, and I am continually amazed by the advantages of this time we live in. We can do books better than they’ve been done before!

More than ever…books are making a positive difference in people’s lives. I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to be a part of uncovering the behind-the-scenes stories I’ll get to share. I invite all of you to become a part of this journey, and if books have ever made a difference in your life, I’d love to hear your story.

You can find the magazine here:  www.booksmakeadifference.com

You can like our FB page here: ReadtheDifference

You can tweet with us here:  @booksmake

Per the obligatory writer-plea:  Make sure to share this information with as many people as you can!

 

2012  Meagan Frank                       Choosing to Grow