Thursday, November 25, 2010


            There’s never been a better time to be insane.
            No, I am not kidding. In 2010, I can live a life indistinguishable from that of the average American. I have a husband, and if I wish to, I can have children. I can go to college, and if I wish to work, and am able to, I am protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I do not need to fear being hospitalized against my will, or even being forced to take medicine, unless I am actively dangerous to myself or someone else. And my pills protect me from the worst of my symptoms 90% of the time.              
            And now, because of what President Obama has done, I can even get insurance, for the first time since I was diagnosed in 1985.
            It is a really, really good time to be one of us. Any other time in history, it would have been unspeakably harder.
            In the old days, they would just stone you on the streets during the day and lock you outside the village gates at night, to starve or be eaten.
            In the slightly-less-old days, You could be chained, tortured by water ‘therapies’ that could involve near drowning or smashing you with a wall of water the equivalent of  firehose force till you were compliant. There were numerous other hideous treatments, which I gather worked in that they left people cowed and silent, or dazed and half dead. Your jailers could also bring parties of rich young gentlemen and ladies in for a fee, to view you for amusement, like a zoo. ‘Bedlam’ – Bethlehem Hospital – was famous for this.
            But that was a long time ago, right? Wait, there’s more. In the 1940’s, a science called Eugenics justified Hitler in gassing the mentally unstable residents of a facility called Hadamar. This was long before Auschwitz – we were his early experiments. Think Eugenics was just for Nazis? Wrong again. There were laws passed in the United States, and upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 1927, that forbad the mentally ill to marry each other and caused 60,000 Americans to be forcibly sterilized so they could not pass on their ‘weakness’.
            As recently as 38 years ago, when I was in my teens and already ill, there were no medicines that could have helped me. None. I would have lived in the hell of my extreme moods and depression and psychosis and nobody could have done a thing except made up theories as to what in my childhood had caused it. I don’t think, frankly, that I would have lived long. They could have warehoused me. They could, in time, have put me on Thorazine, that dreadful drug that sedates patients so much that they walk like zombies, with a Frankenstein automation. And you don’t want to know how easy it used to be to put people away for life.
            We are fabulously lucky to have our disorders at a time when so much can be done to alleviate them. Incredibly lucky just to know that they are medical disorders, no more than that, which we can explain and be treated for. So even though there is stigma, even though I have symptoms, even though I will never be able to work a 40 hour week again, I am tremendously lucky and grateful today.
            I can drive like anybody else, with my husband who accepts me exactly as I am, to see my family, who may think I am a little weird but know that they have no reason to fear me or jail me or hide me or sterilize me. And we will have a good day, eating all the food we are so lucky to have, in the country we are so lucky to live in.
            There are many reasons to be thankful – so many! And I am sure my family will be concentrating on them. But my deepest gratitude goes to simple things: that my medicines allow me the use of my own mind, 90% of the time. And that those medicines were invented and sold before it was too late for me.
            Stigma? Side effects? Bah humbug. The worst is definitely over.

Deborah Fruchey
Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps and 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness,
 is available on,,, and many other online sources; it is also published as an ebook on Kindle Editions and in Apple's iBookstore.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Like a Real Person

This weekend just past, I got to attend a writer’s conference. It was a rare opportunity for me, and I have my agents – Elizabeth Pomada & Michael Larsen -  to thank for giving me a guest pass to something I could not otherwise afford. It was a great chance to find out new things, and I was profoundly grateful to be invited. I learned scads of important things.

Any person with a mental illness will recognize that it was also an amazing challenge. How was I to pass myself off as a normal person for two days straight? There were some real difficulties involved, starting with getting through my morning depression in record time so I could be functional and in San Francisco at 8:30 in the morning. Then, the trick was to stay at least apparently functional from 8:30 till the last class at 5 p.m., and still handle the 2-hour commute, plus not bite off my husband’s head when I got home. Kind of a tall order.

I handled the first hurdle – the early morning – by going to bed at 8 p.m. the night before with my clothes and everything else all laid out ready. Then I woke – more or less – at 5 a.m. and allowed myself the usual two hours of fardling and fumbling around and whining in my journal about how hard waking up is. Lots of coffee.  Plenty of time for mistakes and false starts and changes of mind. The trick here was to automate as much as possible, so I used BART (the local commute train) instead of trying to drive to the City myself, arriving frazzled, and trying to find parking. That would have finished me before I began! After I arrived downtown, I took a taxi, something I rarely do,  from the station to the Kearney street Hilton. Another thing that works is to arrive early and scope out the territory, so you don’t get overwhelmed by rush and impressions and information. By the time the conference started, I knew where all the session rooms and the bathrooms were, had found the coffee shop downstairs, and had spent a peaceful half hour in a cushy leather chair at a secluded nook behind the stairs.

Surviving the conference itself was something else. For seven straight hours there was one class after another, with a speaker shoehorned in at lunch. This meant a constant barrage of sights, sounds, information, and faking normal in public for hour after hour. I don’t know about your condition; but I am easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation. This was way up there on my stress-o-meter. A year or two ago, I had tried to attend a conference like this. The first day I had caved a couple hours early and run home. The second day I couldn’t go at all. I had to stay home, in bed, with the curtains shut, and sleep it off. It was completely exhausting, and I didn’t acquit myself well.

This year I got through both days. The secret was frequent breaks. Every couple hours, I would go downstairs and sit in that quiet lobby corner with my favorite iced latte and a good book, and just completely shut the whole thing off for twenty minutes. Luckily the sessions were short, and I had time between each workshop – but I would have done the same thing even if it meant missing a session here and there.  I expect those breaks between sessions were meant for schmoozing, but that was beyond me. I could retreat to a dark quiet space, or go crazy. That was the choice.  In fact, the first day I skipped the paid-for lunch altogether and slunk off to the cafĂ© downstairs, which was nearly deserted. I missed lunch with my agents, but I had a blessed hour of speaking to no one and taking in no sort of information or stimulation. Did I offend my agents? I don’t know. I doubt it. They’re busy and important. I don’t think it mattered to them much either way. And at the end of the conference, I skipped the final hour and sat where I could see the bright sky outside, hear street noises just faintly, and recover my equilibrium before I started the two-hour trek home. There was an entire celebratory dinner that I missed that evening. It would have been fun, but it would also have been way too much. I don’t know about you, but when I have pushed myself too far, I start doing and saying things that make people unhappy I’m around.

So now you know my recipe for those normal-world activities: take a time out whenever you can. It just doesn’t pay to pretend you can handle things when you can’t. Take time to be quiet somewhere, take a pill if you have to, check out of the action, and check in with yourself. This strategy works on the job too. That’s how I got through twelve years of part time work in public libraries: long quiet lie-downs in the lounge. Did people think I was weird? Or lazy? Yeah, probably. But it would have been worse for everybody if I had faked it till I came unglued and had a psychotic episode right there at the customer counter.

There’s a good reason “modified breaks” and “flexible hours” are listed as  ‘reasonable job accommodation’ for people with mental illnesses. Check out this and other information at

By the way, I may take a number of days to debrief and get back to my version of 'normal'. The first day, that included sleeping till 1:30 in the afternoon. And you know what? That's perfectly OK. I don't claim to run as smoothly as every other car on the road.Those of us with psychiatric disorders are definitely high maintenance. The point is to stay ON the road, however slowly you have to drive - and don't smash into the other drivers. If you can do that, you've won.

Deborah's book on coping with mental illness, Is There Room For Me, Too?, is available on,,, on Kindle editions, and at the Apple iBookstore.