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My name is Tony and I’m living well with Depression.

If more people shared their stories of illness and eventual recovery, it would have a profound effect on those who are suffering in silence. I recently posted a request on the Huffington post asking for stories of recovery.

I heard from a psychologist who refused to recognize his own depression, even as he treated other people in crisis. I heard from a CEO who was so ashamed of his anxiety disorder that he suffered a panic attack in a high level board meeting. I heard from a teacher who was substituting for a health class before she realized she might have post traumatic stress syndrome. I’ve received so many letters and heard so many stories of people’s initial reluctance to recognize their illness and seek treatment. And yet, the reason I am now hearing from these courageous people is because they all eventually found a path to recovery.

It’s not easy. Recovery takes patience, commitment, strong support from family and friends, and the willingness to be brutally honest with oneself. It takes wading through therapies to find the one that clicks with your way of life. Some therapists are extremely gifted. Others are horrible. (I’d love to see an “Angie’s list” of therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and care centers, complete with reviews and feedback from users.) It’s important to note: In every case of recovery, there is one person who believes in the person so wholeheartedly, they provide enormous support. Most times, it is a therapist or a doctor who provides the unflinching support. Other times, it is a spiritual advisor, a yoga teacher, a friend or a partner.

Tony is one such example.He stopped me in the hallway at work after we worked together on a mental health campaign. “I thought it was hypocritical not to tell you I’m living well with a mental illness.” he said. My heart immediately opened to Tony and his story. He works every day to keep his illness in check. It took many years to figure out the right combination of anti-depressants, therapies, exercise and mindfulness. As Tony notes, these therapies, drugs and coping mechanisms may not always work. He still struggles to keep his negative thoughts in check, but he works his program every single day. “For many years, I wished someone could wave away my illness,” Tony says. “Now, I realize it’s made me the sensitive and compassionate person I’ve become.”

Tony is brave beyond measure. I’m thrilled to bring you his story. And, I’d love to hear yours.

A new stage of grief: forgiveness

SunsetDr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has described the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When a loved one commits suicide, that list is incomplete. We are haunted by the questions, “Why would he?” or “What could I have done differently?”

I’d propose one more stage of grief to Kubler-Ross’s list in the case of suicide: forgiveness. It was not until I reached this stage of forgiveness that I was able to sort out my own failings from those of my husband. In accepting responsibility for my part in David’s death, I was able to understand his sense of futility and his unwillingness to face his illness. I forgave him. And in doing so, I was finally able to understand his decision.

In all of the research I’ve done to attempt to understand David’s decision, one particularly well written piece by Jay Neugeboren sticks with me. Jay’s brother, Robert, had been in the New York mental health system for nearly forty years, and had been given nearly every antipsychotic medication known to humankind. Jay began interviewing hundreds of former patients who had been institutionalized, often for periods of ten or more years, and who had recovered into full lives: doctors, lawyers, teachers, custodians and social workers. He was fascinated with the question–what had made the difference?

Some pointed to new medications, some to old. Some said they had found God. No matter what else they named, they all said that a key element was a relationship with a human being. Most of the time, this human being was a professional, a social worker or nurse, who said, in effect, “I believe in your ability to recover, and I am going to stay with you until you do.” The author points out that his brother had recently recovered from his mental illness, without a recurrence for more than six years, the longest stretch in his adult life.

Given the lack of hope or optimism during David’s hospitalization, this study affects me deeply. But it also provides a blueprint for those of us who want to commit our lives to connecting deeply with others, especially those who may be suffering. We need one another to lead healthy lives, and when faced with the prospect of illness, be it mental or physical, we need to believe others can help us through to the other side. We need to believe that it is no different to ask for help with a brain illness than it would be for a cancer patient to ask for chemotherapy. We need to have faith in our own ability to endure, and when hope wanes, as it will with the illogical ups and downs of any disease, we should track our way back to our hearts.

Sheila Hamilton is the author of All the Things We Never Knew, available for pre-order on Amazon.com. For more information on Sheila’s story, please read prior blog posts, or contact the author below. Thanks!

 

A Trauma Informed Approach to Care: Trillium Family Services CEO Kim Scott

As part of Mental Health awareness month, I hope you’ll listen to Trillium Family Services CEO Kim
Scott talk about a Trauma informed approach to care.

Scott says the key principles of a trauma informed approach:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

The intervention programs attempt to respect the survivor’s need to be informed and hopeful regarding their own recovery. The team also recognizes the interrelation between trauma and symptoms of trauma, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. Trillium’s counselors work in a collaborative way with survivors, family and friends of the survivor and other human agencies.