Sunday, December 25, 2011

Last Minute Gift

The present nobody left you under the tree is peace of mind. Am I right? And just about now, you’d do anything to have it.

I have one word for you: yoga. Or even just a serious program of stretches. If you spend 20 minutes doing yoga stretches or any real stretches that involve your whole body, this will do a lot for your frame of mind. Why?

Well, there are some standard answers, such as what it does for your muscles, and for your circulation. There are some more esoteric reasons also that I happen to subscribe to: when a mentally ill person, or any person, walks around (or sits around) all day getting more and more tense, it is not only the muscles that bunch up and freeze, and it is not only the circulation that gets stuck. The energy moving through your system also gets stuck. It balls and snarls up in the joints and other places where you’ve been wincing or freezing. It makes you feel rotten, and as time passes with no relief, you feel MORE rotten, building and building, e.g. Holiday stress. And in many ways, mental illness is about having a snarled up energy system.

If you believe the body has only physical components, this won’t wash with you, but if you think humans are a little bit more, you will agree that we are also our state of consciousness, which pretty much equates to our energy state. The Chinese knew this, and believe that the whole body is an energy system arranged on meridians, almost like a grid, along which energy flows. Tapping into or blocking the energy flow at any point has measurable effects on our health and peace of mind, and this is the theory behind acupressure, acupuncture, and EFT (the system of treatment commonly known as “that tapping thing”). Imbalances in your energy state, I believe, are very much connected to things like being tense, jittery, and overanxious (Anxiety Disorder); depletion of energy helps to make us Depressed, and god knows that too much energy trapped in one place, not able to be dispersed, can certainly lead to Mania.

So what happens when you do yoga, or even some slow, thorough stretches, is that you open up these kinks in the system and let the energy flow freely again. It doesn’t hurt that a good yoga class often has music that helps puts you into a trancelike state, and that movements are smooth, positions being thoughtfully held for many moments at a time. The net result, at least for a time, is PEACE OF MIND. Your energy and circulation and muscles are moving in a smooth, balanced manner again, and you feel better in every way. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want for Christmas.

I can’t speak for everybody. But I know that I can walk into a yoga class in terrible shape, maybe even just on the edge of going psychotic, and I walk out of there energized and peaceful, as balanced as I ever get. If your mental and emotional states are problematic, this is definitely a gift you should give yourself. Go down to the local YMCA and sign up; they have scholarships based on income, just right for the disabled person. Going even once a week can make a difference to your life.

It doesn’t make the Christmas rush go away, but it’s the best advice I’ve got.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at Her newest project is a guided meditation CD produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes and many other venues.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Prime Directive

The Prime Directive

Today I want to talk about something I need to hear, myself. Back around the end of October and early November, I was suddenly exceptionally busy. There was a trip out of state, an anniversary, a CD release party to throw; there were all kinds of socializing and chores and errands and projects. I was fulfilling the world’s agenda for me, ignoring my self-care routines. Then one day, wham, it all hits me at once...and I have to spend the next several days doped to the eyebrows with anti-psychotics. Everything came to a standstill.

Because I forgot. I can’t do all that. I forgot the Prime Directive every person like me needs to follow. It’s as important to me as any breathless crisis of the Starship Enterprise. It’s simple and it goes like this: Put Your Sanity First.

That means first ahead of everything. Everyone. Period.

I suppose you could say I agree with Eckhart Tolle: at any given moment, our state of consciousness is more important than anything else that may be happening. When your brain is prone to go flying off in odd directions, that’s how it has to be. If you’re going to live in the real world, you have to be something that I will loosely call “sane.” Of course, what I consider “sane” and what you consider “sane” can be two very different kettles of fish, and that’s all right. All I really mean by it is “more or less functional” or “sufficiently aware of standard reality.” I do not mean symptom-free, since many of us are virtually never symptom free. We can sometimes function with symptoms, at least to a certain point.

But I take this basic “sanity” level very seriously. If I am driving and I suddenly realize my brain is going south, I turn around and head home. NO destination is worth it. If I’m not feeling sane enough, I skip the party, no matter how much I want to go. If I am not sufficiently sane, I try not to stay in angry discussions (that’s a hard one). Functionality is more important than a job, or whatever I’m doing, or any plans I had, or even my husband (I have a lot of trouble remembering that one). There’s just nothing out there more important than keeping my head relatively straight, unless my physical survival is under immediate threat.

My strategy when things get weird is to withdraw. I am better off in a quiet place alone where I can take my pill, get calm, and not scream at anybody. Other people need more structure or activity, not less, and they get very busy. Others need exactly what I don’t want: people to talk to. Coping skills are individual. If it works for you, it’s worth doing.

But whatever your coping skills are, they need to be used early and consistently. What I did last month was ignore all my personal warning signs and plow on. I kept trying to function like I had a garden-variety brain.

I don’t have a garden-variety brain, and neither do you (maybe nobody does). My state of consciousness requires special, gentle treatment to thrive, like an exotic hothouse flower. The difference between me and those fragile flowers is that I can care for myself. The trick is to pay attention, every day, and not forget.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at Her newest project is a guided meditation CD produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes and many other venues.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rx for Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the more stressful altered states life can dish out. If the feeling is continual, and applies to everything, always, then you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and you are always on the edge of screaming. It’s very hard to live life this way, with “relaxation” a fantasy word that only applies to other people. Unless you are drugged, it just never goes away, ever. You live in grinding fear of what the future, the next hour, the next minute, will bring. Your very next action could be the one that will send the sky crashing in on you, and you can’t help tensing for it.

Short of a strong right to the jaw, or heavy meds, there are only a few things I’ve ever found that helped much. The list includes music, reading, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, natural beauty, and really good hanky panky. You probably have a few remedies of your own. The other really serious deterrent is living strictly in the present moment.

There are a number of Eastern philosophies that recommend this, and they do so for a lot of interesting reasons. But the one that counts for us is this: if you are only right here, right now, you are not thinking of the future. And fear - which is what anxiety really is - is all about the future: what will happen IF, what will happen AFTER, what will happen NEXT.

The present-moment-only state of mind takes your whole, alert attention, pulling you away from all that speculation. It is a great state to be in if you’re playing sports, because it jacks up your reaction time. It’s the state we should all be in while driving, but mostly aren’t. It is the way not to think yourself to death. It is also the behavior recommended to addicts to get through drug yearnings. One moment at a time, resisting a craving - or dealing with almost any pain - is bearable. It’s the anticipation of an hour or a week or a lifetime that breaks us down.

When you are in mental pain, try to drag your attention OUTWARD again. What color is the curtain? What does the carpet smell like? Savor the taste of your coffee, your fingertip on the table top, the feel of your jacket settling across your shoulders. What is the barista saying to that brunette? How many studs is she wearing? How many people in this room? What is their age range? Do they all speak English? Any with an accent? NOTICE what is around you, react only to what is required this very second, and you will feel better. The voice that tortures you cannot be heard as well when all your senses are engaged and your mind is focussed on right now, right here.

By the way, this is not only useful for Anxiety. Depression is based partly on dwelling on the past (and its failures); if you drag yourself to this moment, and it really is intolerable, perhaps you will be moved to do something about it, which beats the hell out of brooding. And if you are heading towards psychosis, putting your hand out and touching a real wall, smelling the scent of an actual couch, might help more than any words going by (inside or outside your head). It couldn’t hurt, anyway.

Try it. Practice bringing yourself back to this very second as many times as you can remember to during the day. Even if everything you’ve ever dreaded comes to pass, one moment at a time you will outlast it. Nothing is forever. Only for now.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at Her newest project is a guided meditation CD produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Addendum - The Art of Derangement

My last blog talked about mental health programs that emphasized Art as a means toward recovery. I had wanted to add the Art Works Gallery in Riverside, California, to that list; but I could not find an active page on the web and concluded sadly that they were defunct.

Good news, however. I received an email from their Services Coordinator, and they are very much alive and well, though their web presence seems to be in some sort of transition.  Let me tell you about them, as an addition to my earlier list of resources.

Art Works and Recovery Art Corps is one arm of the Jefferson Transitional Programs, a respected long-time recovery system. The only URL I have at the moment is;  perhaps the link there to the Art Works program will be working again by the time I post this. The gallery is on 3741 6th Street in Riverside, and is open Monday through Saturday. Their classes and activities for October alone included collage, painting small-scale items, finger weaving, and ‘zines and journalling, to name a few. They also opened an exhibit in October oriented toward empowerment of the artists associated with the gallery. Their latest flyer announces “We believe in the wellness and healing that art so often brings to artists in every genre...we have seen countless artists, writers, craftsmen, actors and musicians find meaning and purpose through...artistic endeavors.” Amen to that!

If you’re anywhere near Riverside and not yet involved with this center, stop by the gallery at 10:30 on Thursdays to sign up. They can be reached at (951) 683-1279, or email:

My understanding is that this project is supported by funds from the California Mental Health Services Act which was passed a few years ago. Those funds are likely to be differently distributed soon due to a recent bill (I believe it’s AB100 but don’t quote me) that gives control of these funds less to the State and Administrative level and more to the County level, down where the action really takes place and the needs are better known. Some programs are bound to be shuffled around and defunded, but it is to be hoped Art Works will carry on.

More news on the reshuffling when I figure it out a little better; stay tuned.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Art of Derangement

One of the discoveries in psychiatric treatment these days seems to be that artistic endeavors help us get sane.

Hell, I could have told them that.

I discovered long ago that art – in my case in the form of writing – is one of the few places on the planet that has room for unusual thinking. There is praise for being original, even if original isn’t always beautiful. I discovered decades ago that in certain artistic circles there is even a certain cachet to mental illness, since it guarantees that your points of view will not be run of the mill, and may help give others a new slant on old issues.

Of course, art is good therapy, or there wouldn’t be sand trays, drama therapy, music therapy, art therapy, at hospitals and clinics all over the nation. But it seems these days that artistic expression is also coming into its own as a way for the mentally ill to come back to themselves and connect back to mainstream reality.

Look for instance at PeaceLove Studios in Providence, Rhode Island. The founder of PeaceLove, Jeffrey Sparr, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and discovered to his delight that when he painted, he had no symptoms. Now he runs a series of studios and community classes dedicated to connecting people through original art. Check them out at I guarantee you will find it heartwarming and hopeful.

Closer to home for me here in California is the Peer Recovery Art Project, which operates out of Modesto. The P.R.A.P. exhibits artwork every third Thursday  at the downtown Modesto Art Walks, puts out a monthly newsletter called Renaissance, holds art exhibits at no cost to the artists, and received the 2010 Stanislaus Arts Council Excellence in Arts Award. It is described as “an art collaborative in which some of the artists may have lived experience as mental health consumers and their art may reflect that experience but the emphasis is on respect of the art,” says CEO John Black. One of the purposes of the group is to help end stigma, which is a nice thing to be doing while you enjoy yourself creating. This 501 C (3) public charity group can be found at, or email them at, or call (209)985-0467.

And if your art is not visual but literary, you might consider submitting work for publication to Open Minds Quarterly, in Canada, or their offshoot online, The Writer’s Circle (both projects of the Northern Initiative for Social Action). They accept work from persons with psychiatric diagnoses, although all the work need not be about psychiatric topics, and have an Artists’ Loft that produces the artwork for the 8 ½ x 11” glossy magazine. Recent projects include a poetry page and a photography contest. Open Minds Quarterly has its own Facebook page, if that’s your cup of tea, or check them out at:  You can email them at

In California, you can probably can do a lot worse to connect yourself to art than by visiting NAMI’s site for “consumer” (that means those of us with a diagnosis) programs, to see what else is going on, not just with art but with all of their fine services. You can find them at

Meanwhile, don’t wait for anybody. Just dig out that old jar of playdough and have some fun. What could it possibly hurt? And it might help. A lot.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who's Doing the Driving; Conclusion

This is the final part of a series I started some time ago about how to regain some control of your own mind. This edition is about emotions.

Emotions are important. I’m not going to say they aren’t. They help us decide what we care about, what our values are, how to weigh the relative importance of events around us.

But if we have a mood disorder, we need to understand that our emotions are not reliable guides. We need to really get it at a GUT LEVEL that emotions are actually chemical responses. They are not “you” any more than the little naggy voice in the back of your head is “you,” and if you have a mood disorder they will mislead you 90% of the time. Emotions are generated in various brain structures (the amygdala is the one I remember) in response to certain stimuli. The amygdala sets up chemicals that produce fear in situations it deems bad for survival. These responses are set in us very young. They are strong and reasonless, and they do not mature as we grow older. Emotional pain is just as strong at 35 as it was at 3. Fear is just as scary. The only difference is that through socializing and other learning, we have developed the capacity to run those feelings by other parts of our brains, analyze them, and choose an appropriate response. It may feel like it’s happening instantaneously and without our will, but there is a process, that can be interrupted.

The difficulty with mood disorders is that our brains were set on OVERKILL, sometimes at a very early age (that setting can be adjusted somewhat by the right medicines, but it’s rarely a complete solution). Think of it as having your stereo locked in at a very high volume. The emotions are so big, and so loud, it is hard to notice anything else.  For instance, with an anxiety disorder, just about all the incoming data gets labeled as “dangerous,” and the chemical response of fear gets slapped on almost everything that happens. The whole world feels dangerous, and we worry and stress and perhaps start withdrawing from all these risks.

But if we understand that this is not our  soul’s true response to the world, but an overdose of chemicals, we can delay our fearful reaction until the chemical overflow stops. That takes about 90 seconds. In only 90 seconds, the chemical floods our bloodstream and then, if we don’t buy it or hook into it, passes out of circulation. After that, it’s possible to choose some other reaction, using the same analytical parts of our brains that helped us learn not to scream when we are hungry.

As I counseled once in a previous blog, your best bet with oversized emotions (such as rage) may be to do NOTHING until the chemical surge passes and you actually have some choices again.

Don’t let just one or two parts of your brain boss you around. Stop, see who’s talking, and decide if you want to listen. Don’t let it be up to the primitive parts of your brain stem. You can still go with your first instinct, if you want to. Just decide for yourself.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, Nook books, and other major vendors; or you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at

Friday, August 26, 2011

The View from a Pit

I am indulging myself this week by posting a relevant piece of my creative nonfiction. Thanks for reading.

I remember being drunk and suicidal. It is like crouching in the bottom of an old, dry well, a deep one, maybe a mile down. You don’t know how you came to this old abandoned farmstead anyway, you didn’t see the covered pit, and now you are trapped and wounded and thirsty and no one has a rope long enough to save you.

The real problem is not the pit. It’s not even the broken leg you got when you landed. The problem is the view. It’s small and dark. You can hardly see any sky at all, just a little pinhole. And sometimes it’s night and there’s nothing to see. And you get to thinking maybe the sky is a charade; maybe it’s not really up there and not really as blue as you remember and not worth climbing for since as you can see it’s only two inches wide.

You start believing it’s not worth the effort to climb out. Even if you did, you would still have a broken leg. And you would still be lost on an abandoned farmstead, still hungry and thirsty and alone. It’s just too far to medical care and warmth and comfort – especially if there is no sky.

So what we need in the bottom of the pit is someone who brings the blue sky with them. Someone warm and alive who convinces you that the sky still reaches to infinity, even if you can’t see it, and that under that sky there is still room for you. Someone who will be there with you when you climb out of the well.

Bless all the people who descend to the bottom of the pit when ropes don’t reach. Bless those who bring the blue sky with them, in their eyes and in their voices, for they are better than drink or food or even ropes and ladders. They show us there’s something up there. They give us a reason to climb.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, and other major vendors, and you can order them from your local bookstore. Or visit her web page at

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Take an Animal Break

I was going to talk this week about emotions. But I’m going to take a break to advocate for a grand old institution: the live-in pet.

My morning was lighted up today by the kitten - almost cat - who lives in our house. She will reach her first birthday in just a few days. She plunks herself down on the bed in the mornings, rolls so her stomach is up, and waits for me to do my stuff, in perfect trust and faith. Sometimes she purrs before I even get started.

Doctors have known for a long time that pets are good for the mentally ill, and if you have even a tiny bit of money in your budget for cat food or dog food – or bird or rat or lizard food, for that matter – I would urge you to get one. Some places which otherwise don’t like animals will let you keep one if you have a note from your doctor showing that a pet will help improve and stabilize your condition, or words to that effect. The love and trust of a pet is a valuable thing, and its response to you, and your knowledge that you are taking care of a living creature, are very health-encouraging things.

I think pets are a sort of energy-transformer in a living package. You give them your emotions. You pet them when you’re sad or bored or play with them just to try to feel better – and you do. It purrs or it woofs or it tiptoes over your hand, and you DO feel better. It turns your weeping into a cheep of contentment. For one thing, if your mind is a very complex and painful place, it is entirely soothing to watch a beast go about its instinctual and simple behaviors without (presumably) the kind of angst we are stuck with. Just having someone – a living presence – there in the room when you come home is a sort of blessing. Mental illness is often a very isolated and lonely place. Having company is a good thing. Company that doesn’t get tired of you or complain or tell you to just buck up and shut up and FIX your life, as people so tiresomely do. Your pet accepts you as you are, period. Even a hamster on its wheel or a lizard on its rock  is a living presence that accepts you as part of its life.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you have to provide for its care, even if you are flipping out. Food and litter or cedar shavings or what have you are minimal provisions, and if you don’t feel you can provide them regularly, then pets are a bad idea. Killing your pet rat by neglect will not make you feel any more sane. And there is the spectre of occasional veterinary needs, though many of the standard surgeries and immunizations are provided for free, or very cheaply, by the ASPCA. But if you check on local service organizations, you may find – as did a friend of mine in San Francisco – that there are even groups  that will help pay veterinary bills (I believe this one was called PAWS). Perhaps most importantly, find someone nearby who will agree to take care of your animal at short notice if you need to go to the hospital or anything else wild goes down. This kind of planning will also go a ways toward reconciling your landlord to a live-in animal – he doesn’t have to worry that it will end up on his hands.

If all this is too much, you might want to stick with plants. Living things are good. But they don’t make those cute little sounds.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, and other major vendors, and you can order them from your local bookstore. Or visit her web page at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who's Doing the Driving, Part II

In my last blog I talked about learning to recognize when you were in an altered state. Now I want to suggest you scrutinize the inside of your brain a little. What part of you is doing all this crap to you, anyway?

Jill Bolte-Taylor, in her enlightening book My Stroke of Insight, talks in depth about what it was like to come back to full functioning after a brain stroke. She says something very interesting. She says that eventually she noticed that there was a “storyteller” coming back alive in her mind. This storyteller function would weave various events and sensations together into a narrative, where A led to B led to C, and the meaning was D. She found it amusing, she says, until she realized that this part of her brain expected her to believe everything it said. And she probably would have, if she hadn’t managed so long without it.

This “storyteller” is the voice that talks to us all day long. Everybody has one. Most of us think this is the real “me,” since we have never been without it and it never shuts up. It’s important to understand that this is NOT all of you, nor is it the “real” you. There are other parts of your personality which are calmer and better informed (for instance, the parts accessed in meditation or hypnosis). Even more to the point, it’s important to recognize that when you are mentally ill, the storyteller is at least partially broken.

It sees causes and effects that really don’t make sense. It uses faulty data. It jumps to conclusions that the facts don’t support. Without any warning, and for no reason we really understand except that it’s partly chemical, it may suddenly jump the tracks and decide that the crabby people you’ve met today are really all trying to kill you. Just for example.

Play with the idea that your storyteller cannot always be trusted. See if you can find a deeper voice within you to consult. I once asked a very wise schizoaffective woman what she had gained from mental illness, and she said, “Now I know which voice to listen to.” Practice separating from this storyteller, or ego voice, if you prefer to call it that. At any point, while it is saying A and B mean C, stop and question it. Try a phrase like, “Do I  believe that?” or “I don’t have to listen to you” or even just “What if that’s not true?” You don’t have to do a knee-jerk rebellion and change your mind. Just start noticing that it is talking to you, and look a little deeper for other choices.

Since I’ve been working on this, an interesting thing has happened to me. My storyteller, tired of being questioned, sometimes recites nonsense rhymes. It seems just as happy to be chanting, “Higgity, piggity, diggity, figgity” as it used to be to beat me up all day with its endless criticisms.  It just wants to be talking. What does that tell you about the true importance of that voice’s opinion? Sometimes I feel very silly with these jingles going through my head. But it beats the hell out of what I used to have to listen to, so I’m not complaining.

Next time you feel an altered state coming on, or even just a crummy mood that you don’t want to indulge, you can say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s true,” or something to that effect. You can get a little bit of a grip on yourself again, a little distance and perspective. Every little bit helps.

The goal is to be able to look at yourself as if you were looking at someone else, and say, “This doesn’t make sense.” Then you can do something about it.

Next week: Emotions as chemical reactions.

Deborah is a speaker and author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, and other major vendors. You may also order them from your local bookstore. Or visit her web page at

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who's Doing the Driving? (Part I)

A couple of months ago I was giving a speech (my first) on mental health skills. Planning it, I had to ask myself: what is the single most important skill the mentally ill can learn?

Answer: learn how to tell that you have entered an altered state (psychosis, panic, mania, etc).

Now, this is not simple. If you think of the altered state of dreaming, you notice that while you are dreaming all the impossible things that happen make perfect sense to you. It is only when you return to waking life and try to describe it that you find the logic and chain of events don’t work. But there are some people who can occasionally, while in the dream state, say to themselves “This is a dream.” That is similar to what I suggest we develop. It is an inner ability to detach, just a little bit, and see ourselves.

This is not a replacement for taking your medicine. This is more a way of dealing with those ‘breakthrough’ symptoms that so many of us live with.

There are enormous advantages to understanding, for instance, that you are having a panic attack or hearing voices that are not there. Once you know, you can take action: call a doctor, take a pill, get off the freeway, go in your room and close the door, whatever your personal experience has taught you is effective. This minimizes the damage. If you don’t know you’re not in ‘standard reality’, you will keep bumping up against other people’s reality, and that could end in a screaming fight or the police station or other unpleasant places. You will then be at the mercy of what other people – maybe strangers – decide to do about it.

So here’s how you learn to catch yourself. This is a practice that develops over time, it is not a quick fix. At the end of each day, review the day briefly to yourself and ask something like, “How sane was I today?” or “Did I have symptoms today?” Go over the day and see any place where maybe you lost it a little (or a lot). This is not the time to beat yourself up. This is the time to analyze calmly. Zero in on the incident. What did it feel like? How did it feel or sound in your head? What was going on with your body? Were you all tensed up? Were you overwhelmed and shaky? Did you have a headache or anything else that was noticeable?  Is there something that you say or do every time that happens? Really go over that experience in your mind and then compare it with whatever your personal version of ‘normality’ may be. How are they different? Can you get a feel for that? Would you recognize it next time? What could you do next time that would be helpful?

If you do this nightly scan for awhile – not criticizing yourself, just looking for information – you will start to find repeating patterns and sensations that are familiar. These can be your “clues” that you have gone over the line and need to take rescue measures. After some time, you may even start to notice triggers. Do you always end up sick if you do x? Do you suffer if you overdo y?  You’ll start to understand some of what sets you off, or just generally makes things worse. I do not mean that we always have external triggers or “reasons.” Sometimes  there’s just an arbitrary chemical surge in your brain, and you have to deal with it. But you can learn to avoid some of the unnecessary stressors in your life. You can begin orienting your activities away from those triggers.

Of course, this does not work for anxiety reactions. If you hide from everything that scares you,  you will soon be living in the broom closet. For anxiety problems, you are better off facing these things in small doses, one by one. But you are still better off recognizing your reactions when they happen. Naming things takes some of the fear and strength out of them. You can say to yourself, “oh – this is not me, it is my disease.” That gives you a little power over it.

Over time, this kind of self-monitoring will help you to live life with fewer outbreaks. Or you can recognize them sooner, and head them off at the pass before they get too extreme. It’s worth the time and effort you put in to make a more functional, peaceful life – and believe me, your loved ones will appreciate fewer storms as well.

Next week we’ll discuss some other ways to catch on to what your brain is doing.

Deborah is the author a one self-help manual, Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness.  You might also like to explore her award winning comic romance novels set in the 1800s in England. See,, Kindle, or Apple's iBookstore.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Affordable Health Care Update

I attended a lecture Thursday night on the status of the Affordable Care Act (health care reform) that became law in March of 2010. There was a lot of interesting information, not all of it new, that I think anyone with a mental health challenge ought to know. We do, after all, have a chronic condition that requires regular medical care, and the bills can be a lot higher than we can afford.

You probably know that there is now a sort of exchange where people with pre-existing conditions can go, but do you know how to find it? Go to (in California), or call 877-428-5060 Monday through Saturday. I’m sure they can give you information on out-of-state sources to contact, as well.

Here’s a quick summary of the provisions active so far: lifetime coverage limits have ended, no pre-existing conditions are allowed for children under 19, coverage can’t be dropped midstream, and Medicare (which many of us are on) has eliminated copays and deductibles for preventive care. So if you need a checkup or a mammogram and you don’t have money, go anyway. Also, parents can keep children on their insurance to the age of 26. Those are a few of the more important items.

Now here’s a rundown of additions for 2011: Most important for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, there’s a 50% discount on brand name drugs during the infamous “donut hole” period (which won’t be eliminated till 2020). Also, Medicare payments are supposed to now be connected to quality outcomes – so you aren’t given just the cheapest treatment whether it is right for you or not. The speaker I heard also claimed that access to long term care at home and in the community is increased, and that community health centers are expanded. What that looks like in real terms, I don’t know. Also, insurance must use 80 to 85% of your premiums ON HEALTH CARE.

Some of the things coming up:

2012   - a voluntary option for long term care insurance

2013   - increase of payments for Medicaid primary services. Increase of Medicare
doctors and nurses

2014   – Insurance exchanges come online for individuals and small businesses.
-       Discrimination due to pre-existing conditions or gender ceases.
-       Medicaid is expanded to everyone below 133% of the poverty level, which right now is $29,000 for a family of 4.
-       No more annual limits to coverage

2020   - Medicare Part D “donut hole” terminated

I also understand that ultimately on the California State Exchange insurance will limit out-of-pocket expenses to a maximum of $11,000 in any calendar year. So you won’t get wiped out by one big injury or illness. I don’t know what year that becomes law.

You can find out anything else you need to know at the new federal website: (or in Spanish at

And if you’re already stuck with a big bill, get help here:

All this information is courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, which can be reached at or 916-441-0018. I’m sure they’ll be happy to refer you to out-of-state sources.

Good health to all, and I’ll see you next week.

Deborah is the author a one self-help manual, Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness.  You might also like to explore her award winning comic romance novels set in the 1800s in England. See,, Kindle, or Apple's iBookstore.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ongoing Saga of a Sitting Duck

Here’s the latest: following Senator Feinstein’s intervention in my case, my Disability benefits have been continued for now; it has also suddenly been decided that I do NOT owe 20 years of back pay to Social Security. You can imagine my relief.

But new issues have risen in their wake. The Social Security Administration now says it will instead conduct a “medical review” to see if I am still disabled.  Um, guys? I’m still Bipolar. I take antipsychotics daily. Because I need them, see? Last time I looked, there were no miraculous ‘cures’ on offer. Of course, if they consult my doctor, that is what they will learn. But Disability Medical Reviews are known to be kangaroo courts in which you are condemned before the trial ever begins. I once had a friend told, after one of these, “You can walk and follow instructions. Therefore you can get a job.” Well, that’s a nice system, isn’t it? If you can walk to their office and fill out the application, you are automatically disqualified!

It’s also suspicious that immediately after contacting Senator Feinstein and supporting my case, my friend Mel C. Thompson was likewise put under investigation.

The second concern is that Social Security is claiming I have already finished my Trial Work Period, though in fact I have never had one. There are some worrisome limits attached to how long you can continue to receive benefits or Medicare after the Trial Work Period is finished…I may STILL end up judged “ineligible” and having to pay back one year of benefits. But not 20! At least that’s settled.

My stalwart friend and I are working our way up the political food chain. I am contacting Feinstein again, as much as I hate to bug her. Last week we contacted the Office of the Inspector General; next week it is Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. Mel has done a brilliant job of writing these letters, pointing out case after case personally known to us in which these reviews have been abused, and demanding cessation of such hung juries not just for ourselves but for everybody in the system. He's also requested a permit to protest outside the Social Security branch in Walnut Creek, whose brainchild all this is. That will hopefully put a spotlight on the harassment we are receiving.

Where it will all end, God knows. I personally would be delighted if it caused an inner shakeup and some actual change in policy. At the minimum, I hope we can stop being personal targets, and I, at least, can go back to the anonymity I prefer.

It may seem odd for an author to say she prefers anonymity. But I didn’t take up show biz, folks, I picked up a pen behind a desk in a shadowy back room. No matter what adventures my books go off and have without me, that’s where I’d like to remain.

And so, until next week…

Deborah Fruchey is the author of 3 books, including Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. It is available on, Barnes &, Kindle, and many other online sources. It is temporarily unavailable on Apple's iBookstore.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Don't Fall For This

Like many people with mental illnesses, I subsist on a Social Security Disability payment, and the generosity of my spouse. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got a letter from Social Security claiming that not only was I not entitled to further benefits, but also that I had not been entitled to them for the last twenty years, due to some alleged month when I made too much in the early 90s. The letter said I had 10 days to prove otherwise, and if I could not, their decision was final and they would be contacting me about remitting overpayment.

Naturally I panicked. Wouldn't you panic if you were told that not only was your income being cut off, but you'd have to pay back the last 20 years of your salary? So the first thing I did was get an extension of that 10 days, because it was going to take that long just to gather employment records from 1991. I envisioned trying to work again and breaking down and ending up in the hospital. I envisioned them trying to take my husband's property - I certainly had none of my own!

Look, honey, you are SUPPOSED to panic. They're counting on that. They're counting on you thinking that the government can do anything at all to you, and feeling that you are helpless. But this is a scam, and it's no less a scam because it's being done by government employees on government letterhead. It is a form of extortion, and it is very often successful. People often agree to give up future benefits in return for having their 'overpayments' forgiven, and SSA is happy. Never mind that another disabled person has been thrown back onto their non-existent resources, to survive god knows how.

My husband soon calmed me down. There has to be a statute of limitations, he said. Even the IRS can't expect you to show records older than 7 years. And my benefits had started 13 years before I ever met you, he pointed out, so they won't get that money out of me. Cool it. So I chilled - a little.

Then I contacted a savvy friend, who contacted a Disability lawyer, who laughed at the very notion of this scheme. Here's the truth: Social Security cannot overhaul your records in this fashion any earlier than four years back. I was going crazy trying to get financial records from the 90s, but the fact is, EVEN IF some mistake had been made back then and I had been overpaid, I am not liable. Their own Inspector General announced 'Administrative Finality,' which is the name of this rule, for mistakes made by SSA that are four years old or older. They have no right even to send me a letter like this! And they've known that since at least 2006, when the rule was widely distributed.

The problem with this scam is that you cannot get a Disability lawyer to take it on for you. There's no award in it if you win, so there's nothing to pay the lawyer with - and as a beneficiary, you certainly don't have any other cash to pay them. So we have to fight such encroachments on our own, which can be difficult. Here's what I did, on the advice of my wonderful friend Mel C. Thompson: I went on the web and downloaded a form from Senator Diane Feinstein's office, called a Privacy Release Form. When signed by me, this form gives her permission to look into all my records to solve the problem I told her about. I filled out this form and sent it with all the documentation I could get; both in the regular mail and by certified mail. When I tracked the certified mail and it hadn't arrived 10 days later, Mel called their office for me and got a fax number, and I faxed all my documents to her office.

The very next day I received a firm, friendly letter from the Senator saying she would look into this for me. I had faxed my documents at 4:22, and somehow she must have made the 5:00 mail with this letter! She even thanked me for bringing it to her attention. I have every confidence that, while SSA doesn't mind bullying me, they won't wish to tangle with Senator Feinstein. Stay tuned to this Bat Channel for further developments.

But the moral is: don't be taken in. And get SOMEBODY to represent your interests, even if it's only a fierce logical letter writer. It is easy to single out the ill and vulnerable; not so easy if they've  got even one healthy person on their side. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Ms Fruchey is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness.
It is available on, Barnes &, Kindle, and shortly on Apple's iBookstore.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's Your Bag?

Many apologies, friends, for being out of touch. I just finished a new book and was working on the initial sales and whatnot…it kept me busy for a few weeks. Now I am getting ready for my first-ever lecture to the NAMI Contra Costa General Meeting in April…MAJOR NERVES. But this is what I’ve been working towards for a long time – a chance to introduce the book and give people real-time help with mental issues.

And that brings me to my subject: what are you doing with your life?

Surviving, you might say. Living through my symptoms. Trying to string one day together after the other.

Well, that’s cool, and it can be a full time occupation at certain points of our lives. Having a chronic disease, little income, and few resources does leave us with fewer choices and a lot of plain hard work. But at some point you’re going to need a reason to be alive -  a reason to keep stringing those days together in sickness and in health – especially if they are mostly ‘in sickness’.

Humans are goal oriented and pleasure oriented. When mental illness happens, what usually follows is that all your previous plans for your life go straight down the toilet. Lots of us are so shocked and overwhelmed, we never get around to replacing those dreams and plans. But we need to have some.

Lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, I’d like to remind you that retirees have much the same problem. They’ve been operating at a certain level and with a set goal for decades – and suddenly, they are left with an open schedule, no goal, and also diminished capabilities. Even if they are perfectly healthy, the number of employers who will hire them is drastically reduced. So is their income. Sound familiar?

This is the point at which many retirees die. Statistics bear me out – when people do not have a goal or an occupation, they just don’t last long. When you retire, whether due to disability or age, you must build a new life : one which doesn’t include the standard, familiar 9 to 5 goals. This is a challenge, but it need not be as difficult as Mount Everest. Instead of thinking that we have somehow ‘failed’, we can think of ourselves as in early retirement, and needing a sense of purpose.

For me, the answer was in the arts. That may not be your bag at all. But there is something, somewhere, that is meaningful to you, and that you can participate in. It doesn’t have to be volunteer work or a ‘Good Cause’, though lots of folks find that’s their answer. You may prefer to devote yourself to being the best friend anyone ever had. You might take up gardening – even if all you have is a window box. You might raise cats, or whittle small soap statues, or quilt, or lift weights and keep a healthy body despite the unhealthy things your mind sometimes does. You might become a consultant, with his/her own hours, in a field where you were once a full time employee. It doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it is important to you, and something you can manage on a come-and-go basis, when you are well enough.

Just be sure that you find yours. Any Existentialist can tell you that the meaning of life is only what we make of it. Find your source of satisfaction. Find a reason to get up in the morning. Or one day, you just won’t.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Surviving Depression, Part Two

This is the second half of a two-part blog on surviving severe depression.Previous highlights were: get rid of all weapons, get a crisis number and use it, and find some passive occupation that can take up hours of your time; something you can do instead of brooding.  The previous installment ended by saying that this was no time to neglect your medication or your therapy visits.

-5) Handling family: If you have children, this is more complicated. You might have to develop a routine of minimum chores to do each day before you go back to bed. Show your spouse this section of the book, and tell him/her to bring in help. S/he’s lucky to have a partner at all right now. Normal services have been interrupted! Business as usual is just not on the menu, most days.  Make sure your children understand that you love them, but you are very sick and need to rest a lot.

- 6) If you’re employed: If you are employed, it’s very difficult. Of course you have to shower and get up. Maybe you’re not sure you can keep that going. You might consider a leave of absence – especially if your performance is so bad you’re close to getting fired anyway. That happened to me once, and I had to beg for another chance and go on probation.
            It is very hard to do a good job when all you can think of is that you wish you weren’t breathing any more. If you can get on welfare or disability to tide you over, now is the time to do it. Public income programs exist for the times when you can’t support yourself.

- 7) Do try to eat somewhat decently.  Don’t survive on Twinkies and Cokes. I’ve done that, and it sucks. When you get out of bed at last and find you’ve gained 40 pounds, you’re going to be pissed.
            Tip: when you do get around to losing the weight, you will probably need to take in 300 calories less than a person without medications. So the average 1500-calorie-a-day diet (for most females) comes down to 1200. That’s not much. It’s rough sticking to that strict a regimen.  Better not to gain it in the first place.

- 8) This is not the time to make major life decisions. They will for sure be all wrong. Especially do not get married.

-9) For suicidal thoughts, here are some counter-thoughts that helped stop me at the worst times, the times I was actually making plans to die:

--Think of the mess and ugliness. What will it be like for the person who finds your body? Do you want to make a friend shovel your brains off the floor? That happened to someone I know.

--Think about FAILING at suicide and having to live with the consequences. There was once a boy in my neighborhood who shot himself in the mouth, cop-style. Somehow, he missed the most vital parts and stayed alive. However, he became a quadriplegic, and will now have to be cared for all his life by his family. AND HE STILL HAS TO LIVE WITH ALL THOSE AWFUL THOUGHTS IN HIS HEAD. But now he can’t even talk about them to anyone.
Wouldn’t you rather check in to a hospital than have this happen to you?

-Think about what comes after. Oh, I know what you want from death. You want OBLIVION. You want it all to be OVER. But is that really what happens at death? Do you know? Does anyone? I’m not going to try to scare you with hellfire, but consider this: what if they just send you straight back to earth to do it again? What if this is a test, and the protocol for failing is even worse? Maybe the only way out is through. ‘Rest’ and ‘silence’ may not be on the agenda at all.

--If you really can’t control yourself, the hospital is where you belong.

-10) The real and final reason for living through it is this: Everything changes. Your brain is telling you that this horribleness is the way it will be, forever and ever, amen. But your brain is wrong.
I wanted to die when I was 19. I was poor and out of my mind and was scrounging the gutters for dropped change to buy food with – when I wasn’t shoplifting. I had dropped out of college, I had no skills, and I could see no future. But I went to say a last goodbye to a friend, and she talked me out of it. Thank God for her, because I was dead serious.
It wasn’t the last time I wanted to die. There were to be many others. As I mentioned, I spent two years pretty much without leaving bed in my late twenties. Each time I was suicidal felt just as bad as the last time, and each time I felt I had no future.
Today, I have a four bedroom house in a pricey suburb, I’m going to college again, and I’m living with the love of my life – who happens to be a lot more fun than I even dreamed he would be. My pills and my preventive measures have made my symptoms nearly invisible, if I’m careful. I get to write every day if I want to. I am so happy, old friends tell me I glow. But I had to stay alive long enough to get here.
What if I had missed all this?
There was no way to see from there to here. There was no evidence that it would turn out this way, or any good way at all. Life is not a straight line. It takes all kinds of turns and you do not know what is in your future, no matter how it looks from right here.
Stick around for what comes next. I guarantee it won’t stay the same.
Don’t be another statistic. We don’t need more statistics. We need more people like you.

The above is an excerpt from Deborah Fruchey’s book, Is There Room For Me Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. It is available on, from Kindle Editions, and in Apple’s iBook store. You can visit the author’s web page at You can watch an introductory video at

Friday, February 25, 2011

Surviving Suicidal Thoughts

         I’ve been hit by a Depression recently, and been hearing from people with Depression, so here is a recap of my survival strategies, made for times when you genuinely do not want to live. This will be a two-part blog.

         In severe Clinical Depression, you lose all will to live. It’s one of the worst things special chemistry can dish out. It’s just a chemical shortage, but that’s not what it feels like.
         The way I’ve always described it to myself is that the motor has died in me. Everyone has a little, crucial motor that wakes up with them each day and makes them want to go on – at least after a cup of coffee or two. In Clinical Depression, the motor STOPS. It is jammed or broken. Who knows why.
         And you don’t care. You are perfectly happy to stay in bed all day every day. People don’t realize till they’ve been there that it takes energy to give a damn. That’s something the people around you, trying frantically to get you ‘back to normal,’ don’t understand.
         With time, and maybe the navigation of some crucial life issues, that motor will kick in again. The job of anti-depressants is to jump start it. The danger is that people won’t live that long.
         In suicidal Depression, you have one job and one only: stay alive until the motor starts. It is gruesome, but possible. I have been suicidal, I forget how many times. Once I spent 2 whole years in bed. I survived it. This is how.

         First and most important: do not buy into how you feel. I know it seems like the world is one big kitty-litter box and you are buried at the bottom. But your brain is lying to you! That is vitally important to understand. When your thoughts say, “It’s not worth living,” you can respond, “What a load of crap!”
In rehab they taught us something I never forgot: Feelings are not facts. Feelings just are. It’s just a broken brain showing you everything through a black filter. It’s not real. It’s a movie-screen disaster. It cannot kill you all by itself! Only you can do that.
         If we have an ‘ordinary’ Depression and things look dark, we are usually best served by keeping busy and keeping in motion. But if we are flat out suicidal, it just may not be possible. The rules are different when all you can think of is how much you want to die.
Your only job right now is to stay alive, and here are a few tips to help you do that:
         1) Get rid of all weapons. I have a gun for self-protection (I know that’s not very PC). When I start thinking I don’t want to live, I give that gun to my therapist and say, ‘’Hold onto this for me for a while”. Pills are weapons. If you start thinking of overdosing on your pills, it’s time to get somebody to dole them out to you one day at a time. You can do this. Doctors are willing. Your friends would rather do this than see you die.
2) Get a crisis number and call it any time you have to. Call your therapist. Ask for extra sessions. Write long letters or journals about how bad you feel. But don’t expect your best friends to be able to listen to it every day. They can’t even understand, though they may be willing to try. There is no normal person on earth who will be able to stand your current point of view for as long or as often as you will need to vent it. Use the professionals. They’re there for exactly this.
         If there are local prayer lines, you might call them too. A lot of people praying might just make the difference. What could it hurt?
         3) Find something passive to keep yourself occupied. TV or books or audio tapes or crosswords – anything will do if it keeps you from sitting around brooding. Cuddling your cat or stuffed animal helps, too. If you just sit and think, you might crumble. If you have to watch reruns at 3 in the morning till you finally drift off into a coma, that is better than dying.
         This is a good time for that music collection I recommended. This is a good time to take up knitting. This is a good time to play Slinky, or Solitaire, or Marbles. This is a good time to surf endlessly on your computer. Go into a mindless zone where you are just slightly too busy to think about much you hurt. This is NOT a good time to take up drugs or alcohol. Your lens on the world is already way too distorted as it is.
                   4) Keep it simple, and take your medicine. I know hygiene and moving about socially don’t interest you very much right now. I’m going to be different than the textbooks and say that’s fine sometimes. If you want to lie dirty in bed all week except when you go get the groceries, OK. Just so you stay alive.
I have a request, though: when you do go for the groceries, take a shower first. It is the kind thing to do, and it will make you feel marginally better. Also, get up for therapy and to pick up your prescriptions, even if you don’t get out of bed for anything else.
NEVER neglect your pills. Especially now.

The above is an excerpt from Deborah Fruchey’s book, Is There Room For Me Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. It is available on, from Kindle Editions, and in Apple’s iBook store. You can visit the author’s web page at