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About Face Magazine

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You probably know Sheila Hamilton as the director and host of KINK FM’s Morning Show, on the air weekdays from 5:00 a.m. (Sheesh!) to 9:30 a.m. She’s smart. She’s witty. She has a great voice. Whether the topic is politics, culture, music, or fashion (and she’s definitely one of Portland’s most fashionable figures), Sheila knows her stuff. Oh, yeah she’s won five Emmy awards in documentary filmmaking.

Or maybe you know Sheila as a longtime liberal sparring partner with conservative radio host Lars Larson. You can find an image of the two of them playfully attempting to strangle one another on YouTube. Lars even once asked if he could get a kiss on the cheek from Sheila if a point he’d made about Medicare Part B turned out to be correct (I guess you get what you can).

In 2009, I was teaching in Croatia as a Fulbright scholar when Sheila contacted me about a book project she’d been working on. Only later did I learn that it was a memoir, All the Things We Never Knew. Now, almost seven years later, the book is out: the story of her life with a husband suffering from mental illness. It’s a remarkable book, and it expresses Sheila’s remarkable fortitude, along with her courage, her zest for life, and her capacity to face despair while still finding time to laugh, cry, love and give back.

A few weeks back, Sheila and I sat down at Portland State University’s Center for the Humanities, where we talked for two solid hours. She’s a striking figure, tall and lean and elegant, and she wore an alligator-patterned dress and magnificent spiky heels. (She jokes about her shoes fairly often—it may be a happy weakness). She apologized a bit for her fancy attire, she was the keynote speaker at a Portland literary event later that evening.
Her story began well over ten years ago, when her husband, who we’ll call David, spiraled into a series of bipolar cycles, each one more and more frightening. As his illness worsened, Sheila struggled to understand what was happening to the man she loved, just as she fought to hold her family together, to care for her young daughter, and to retain her own grip on things.

Interventions and hospitalizations followed, but the story came to its tragic end in December of 2006, when David took his life in a wooded area overlooking the Columbia River gorge. His worsening cycles, between mania and depression, had brought him back to a place he loved: the serene spaces of the natural world. There he put an end to a life that had become unbearable to him.

But that wasn’t the end.

Sheila’s anguish led her to ask why, and how, things had gone so far. As she reflected on the trauma and despair that increasingly shrouded David’s life, she started to notice clues that had been missed. She started to write about the expe- rience of David’s illness, decline, and death. The result is a beautifully written, brave, and spellbinding book—a memoir of love, mystery, loss, renewal and hope. It is a story of the pain of mental illness. But it is also a story of the redemptive power of love. It is a story Sheila Hamilton wants people to hear.

‘What Should We Have Known?’

A conversation with FOX News Health host, Dr. Manny Alvarez.

Mental illness, unlike breast cancer, isn’t celebrated with big marches or pink ribbons. The stigma is stifling and it prevents most people from seeking help. David, my husband, refused to accept the label of bipolar disorder. He could not imagine a life of medications and therapy, which did so little to help. David’s path is not unique. Suicide is now the ninth most common cause of death for men and women in America. Every thirteen minutes, another American dies from suicide.

What could we have done differently?

What should we have known?

It is my belief that many people could benefit from hearing more about how psychiatric conditions unfold. In the years, months and days leading up to David’s death, I didn’t classify him as mentally ill. I missed many signs. I ignored others, believing it could get better. And I scrambled, as the world came crashing down around us, I scrambled to maintain my own sanity and the health of our daughter.

Our daughter celebrates her birthday each June. I can’t help but measure her birthdays with an equal sense of apprehension and elation. She’s a teenager now, and still no sign of the brooding, the polarity, the darkness that descended on David like Portland’s thick gray clouds in January, refusing to budge. Yes, she has his intellect but she also has my relatively sunny nature. She is physically stunning with long, muscular legs and a waist that defies her voracious appetite. She has David’s European cheekbones. The color of her skin is his. Her ears have the same shape. There are times I find myself staring at one of her features for too long. She bats me away, “Mom, enough.”

After David’s death, I’d read every book I could get my hands on about bipolar disorder. I’d measured the likelihood of a genetic inheritance against the things I could influence– her diet, her sleep, exercise, a sense of well-being and unconditional love. She is just fine, so far. Becoming aware of our family’s genetic vulnerabilities was painful, but it provided a unique gateway to also focus on our genetic strengths, and Sophie has inherited a majority of the good stuff. She’s attending college now with the sensitivity, compassion and intellect of a person who will be better than “just fine.”

I want everyone to know about the signs and symptoms that I missed with David. The anxiety, confusion, disorganization, trouble completing tasks and how withdrawn he became. My interest is in preventing another loss of life as exquisite as David’s. I welcome your emails, your stories, and hopefully, your support. Connect with me and sign up for my newsletter. I’d be so grateful if you did.

I can’t erase the past. I learned so much from it.

Sophie and Sheila

Sophie and Sheila

Our daughter celebrates her birthday each June. I can’t help but measure her birthdays with an equal sense of apprehension and elation. She’s a teenager now, and still no sign of the brooding, the polarity, the darkness that descended on David like Portland’s thick gray clouds in January, refusing to budge. Yes, she has his intellect but she also has my relatively sunny nature. She is physically stunning with long, muscular legs and a waist that defies her voracious appetite. She has David’s European cheekbones. The color of her skin is his. Her ears have the same shape. There are times I find myself staring at one of her features for too long. She bats me away, “Mom, enough.”

After David’s death, I’d read every book I could get my hands on about bipolar disorder. I’d measured the likelihood of a genetic inheritance against the things I could influence– her diet, her sleep, exercise, a sense of well-being and unconditional love. She is just fine, so far.  Becoming aware of our family’s genetic vulnerabilities was painful, but it provided a unique gateway to also focus on our genetic strengths, and Sophie has inherited a majority of the good stuff. She’s attending college now with the sensitivity, compassion and intellect of a person who will be better than “just fine.”

Mental illness, unlike breast cancer, isn’t celebrated with big marches or pink ribbons. The stigma is stifling and it prevents most people from seeking help. David refused to accept the label of bipolar disorder. He could not imagine a life of medications and therapy, which did so little to help. David’s path is not unique. Suicide is now the ninth most common cause of death for men and women in America. Every thirteen minutes, another American dies from suicide. What could we have done differently? What should we have known?

It is my belief that many people could benefit from hearing more about how psychiatric conditions unfold. In the years, months and days leading up to David’s death, I didn’t classify him as mentally ill. I missed many signs. I ignored others, believing it could get better. And I scrambled, as the world came crashing down around us, I scrambled to maintain my own sanity and the health of our daughter.

In the weeks and months ahead,  I’ll be using this blog to share what I’ve learned. I’ll be interviewing the world’s best researchers and scientists who are working to find a cure for mental illness. I’ll be sharing dispatches from mental health conferences and from my work at the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, a dedicated group of scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists and researchers who believe people with lived experience can recover. ”
My interest is in preventing another loss of life as exquisite as David’s. I welcome your emails, your stories, and hopefully, your support. If you so desire, you can order “All the Things We Never Knew” on Amazon.com and sign up for my newsletter. I’d be so grateful if you did both.

Friends! We have a book cover!

Friends! We have a book cover!  And, Seal Press says it’s going to be published first in hardback! Look for it in November 2015.

All the Things We NeverKnew

 

 

Inked!

Nothing to see here. Just signing my first book contract!