Want a Sneak Peak to the Healing Trauma Conference?

The third annual Healing Trauma Conference: Come to the Table: Nourish your Body, Mind, and Spirit, Because No One Heals Alone takes place April 30-May 2, sponsored by Haelan House of Bend, OR -- Healing the Root Causes and Effects of Trauma.

My bit is Sunday morning's keynote address:

Suicidal Thoughts as Trauma:

Taking Charge of My Own Recovery.

Description: Trauma can be both the cause and the consequence of suicidal thoughts. Suicidal ideation is considered a symptom of a mental illness. The mental illness model (what's wrong with you? instead of what happened to you?) suggests that if the illness is treated, then the symptoms resolve. But often, while the thoughts themselves go away, the trauma can go unrecognized, untreated, and underground.

I approach trauma from the perspective of having been suicidal and experiencing lingering effects even after no longer actively thinking about killing myself. This talk will use the lens of suicide prevention to offer tools that helped me recover from my trauma and regain a sense of mastery by offering options and encouraging flexibility.

There is more than one way to do trauma work. When one path proves unhelpful, choose another.

So, that's a trip. A trip down some dark and gloomy spots in my life, looking for that promised but oh, so elusive, post-traumatic growth.

And oddly enough, finding some.

The conference will be live and online. Haelan House will make the presentation available to conference attendees for one year, so you can watch at your leisure. Early bird pricing before April 15th is $50, with further discount for students, seniors, and veterans. Register here

Meanwhile, here's that sneak peak:

My three take aways are:

If you can name it, you can tame it;

There's more than one trick up your sleeve; and

Power to the people!

And one of several videos:


What is God Doing on World Bipolar Day?

It was not that this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. John 9:3, Revised Standard Version.

Or as The Message puts it: You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no cause and effect here. Look instead for what God can do.

There's the text for World Bipolar Day.

In the Gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind. Presumably what God can do is made manifest by that healing. So, okay, Jesus, what about me?

What about me? How many people, with how many disabilities, wonder what God is doing, especially those of us surrounded by others who wonder, Who sinned, this one or the parents?

Isn't that what is behind those well-intentioned advisors -- You just need to... decide to be happy... get over it... get out more... exercise... take this herbal remedy... have you tried...  In other words, it's your own damn fault.

My mother worried, and it took until nearly the end of her life before she could say it out loud, Is there anything I could have done differently? Was it my fault?

So, props to Jesus who says, You're asking the wrong question. Look instead for what God can do.

That's the question for World Bipolar Day, What is God doing with my Bipolar?

It's a gift. Okay, it's a pretty powerful gift. I'm doing a lot of work to learn how to use this gift instead of being blown apart by it. It made for a lot of work on my editor's part. But here it is, right here in the diagnostic criteria: flight of ideas. And I have already preached that sermon. So here it is again, from February 21, 2013:

Flight of Ideas

Pride of lions
Fleet of ships
Host of angels...

Flight of ideas.

It's a lovely phrase. Isn't that what ideas do -- fly?

I think so. But evidently, not everybody.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

I was looking to meet new people in my new home town, and went to the library's book club. The selection for my second meeting was Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and, oh yes, suicide -- these characters were my tribe! No, I haven't lived their lives. More to the point, I have asked their questions.

I wasn't sure how Egan's characters would be received in this group of middle-aged and older women. I didn't know the book club members yet, but they seemed pretty respectable. Then again, I can seem pretty respectable, too. I expected a lively discussion.

Nope. No lively discussion. No discussion at all. They were so dismayed, they were speechless. The librarian resorted to reading reviews.

I thought I'd open things up by framing a potential talking point. I said, the theme is about the changes one makes across a lifetime. How did I get from Point A to Point B? I said that is a live question for me lately. I thought they could say something about that, us all being of the age when we look back and reflect on choices made, that sort of thing.

Nope. Silence. The librarian went on to the author's bio.

Granted, the characters in the Goon Squad went from Point A to Point Q or X. It was too much of a stretch.

One person, a psychiatrist did have something to say. (How did I end up in a book club with a psychiatrist? This could be interesting...)

The book reminded me of some of my patients, who have this symptom called flight of ideas.

She didn't mean it in a good way. Everybody knew she didn't mean it in a good way. They nodded, instinctively knowing what flight of ideas is and how it explains why they detested the book.

Oh, what the hell. Clearly I wasn't coming back. I said, Maybe that's why I liked it so much.

Flight of Ideas Defined

The American Psychological Association's Dictionary of Psychology defines flight of ideas as a rapid, continuous succession of superficially related thoughts and ideas, manifest as hurried speech with frequent abrupt shifts in topic.

In other words, my essential writing style.

Merriam-Webster describes it as a rapid shifting of ideas with only superficial associative connections between them that is expressed as a disconnected rambling from subject to subject.

Dictionaries vary by whether they acknowledge that the ideas in flight are indeed connected. Some just call it disorganized and incoherent.

The thing is, disorganized and incoherent to whom? To the psychiatrist, of course.

I think Merriam-Webster just can't keep up.

Diagnostic Criteria of Bipolar Reframed

Flight of ideas is a symptom of the manic phase of bipolar. That is what the DSM says.

What would people with bipolar say? Flight of ideas is our ability to find more associations, connect more dots than our psychiatrists can.

Actually, this is a chronic bipolar condition, or again, the way we would put it, the source of our art. They think it is part of mania simply because, when we are manic or hypomanic, we forget to rein it in. We speak as quickly as we think, instead of as slowly as the people around us think.

I had no trouble following the multiple story lines of A Visit from the Goon Squad, and recommend it to anyone who is willing to go along for the ride. I love how the author weaves its many strands into a coherent narrative around her one central theme, a theme to which any reflective reader could relate, even if it is presented by characters to whom the reader cannot relate. The reader just might grow in his/her capacity to find connection to and compassion for people of different life experience. I think that is one of the great gifts of a great story, that it leaves us bigger, more connected to the universe than we were before we read it.

I am reminded of a story John McManamy tells, of when he was asked to speak at some psychiatric association meeting. He said to a hall filled with psychiatrists

a pod of psychiatrists?
a posse of psychiatrists?
a crock of psychiatrists?

-- What you need to understand is, we don't want to be like you. I mean, to me, you all look like you have flat affect.

It depends on who is doing the diagnosing, don't you think?

What is God Doing on World Bipolar Day? How about -- inviting slow thinkers and bipolar thinkers alike to notice and appreciate the infinite variety of creation, which includes both people whose ideas are safely earth-bound and people whose ideas can fly.

So now go look in the right hand column for the music video. Enjoy the bouncing balls -- whether you can follow them or not!

choir of angels in heaven, 19th cent., in the public domain
book cover from Amazon.com
photo of Royal Terns  by Debivort, used under GNU Free Documentation license
illustration of butterflies from In Fairyland by Richard Doyle, in the public domain
portrait of Ludwig von Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1819 or 1820, in the public domain
portrait of  Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford, in the public domain
photo of faculty alumni forum at Princeton by  Andreas Praefcke, used under GNU Free Documentation license

Five Good Books I Recommend for World Bipolar Day

Knowledge is the key to taming this beast we call bipolar disorder. The more you know about what is happening inside that beautiful brain of yours, the better you can avoid letting it bite you in the butt.

Alas, many people with bipolar think their doctors will tell them what they need to know. Most of the psychiatrists I have seen gave me an abbreviated (and sometimes disingenuous) description for potential side effects of the pills they prescribed. And that's it.

How do I actually live with this beast? Take my meds. What will it mean for my life? Not so much as a pamphlet.

Psychoeducation for bipolar disorder has been shown to reduce recurrence of depressive, manic, and mixed episodes, all three, and to reduce hospitalization, as well. It includes information about the biological roots of the disorder, the rationale for medication, other treatment options, early warning signs of episodes, and common triggers. It aims to improve adherence to treatment plans. It usually is offered in a group setting.

It isn't offered often.

NAMI's Peer to Peer course gives a bit of this information. It crams in a lot of material for a lot of mental illnesses. It's a start.

To live well with bipolar, do your own study. There is a lot of information out there. And there are a lot of people who can help you find it.

Including me!

Here is a sampling to get you started:

So there are five of my top picks. You'll find other lists of great books at International Bipolar Foundation, MoodSurfing, and The Calculating Mind by Anja Burčak.

Do you have a book to recommend? Leave a comment, so I can learn some more.

Knowledge is power. So power up!

One More Reason to Ask About Suicide

It's always dangerous to listen in when psychiatrists and therapists talk among themselves. I used to do a whole series, OMGThat'sWhatTheySaid, devoted to overhearing what they say about us. More than one post was devoted to their discourse about suicide.

There's been lots of opportunity to overhear in the last several days since the Meghan Markle interview. The clinicians weighed in on Stacey Freedenthal's New York Times article where she dared to repeat what some doctors and therapists have told her (an expert in the field of suicide and suicide prevention), that they fail to ask the question about suicide. There have been proclamations about professionalism, training, protocols, risk-assessment, and - God help us - malpractice.

I started to write a post reporting my own experience of risk-assessment and the failure of my doctor and therapist to ask, even as they told me they were concerned about me. Concerned about what exactly?

But I began to feel -- empty. Like the whole conversation, including my part in it, was missing the boat.

The boat is pain.

What is at stake is whether we have a safe place to talk about our most painful feelings.

Let me repeat that.

What is at stake is whether we have a safe place to talk about our most painful feelings.

It's not about whether you can be the hero that intervenes when we are at the brink of killing ourselves. It's not.

Before I returned to my dreary post about risk-assessment yesterday morning, I found Indigo Daya's Twitter thread that did not miss the boat. She speaks to the real issue, pain, and whether you will give us permission to talk about it. She has allowed me to repeat it here.

Indigo Daya:

I'm not a fan of risk assessments.

But I am a fan of being able to talk frankly about suicide followed by empathetic, rights-based support.

This thread [another by Freedenthal] does some good myth busting on that. And yes, self-injury is different.

Here's a few bits I'd add from lived experience...

If we say we're thinking about suicide, don't panic.

It may or may not be a crisis. It may feel odd to you--but some of us have thought about suicide for decades, regularly.

I consider myself largely healed but I still have regular suicide thoughts.

(Don't panic, I'm OK)

It's helpful to understand the different nuances of how we are thinking about suicide...

Are thoughts abstract or occasional... or a lot, or increasing? For how long?


Is it a thought ('I could') or a desire ('I want') or an urge ('I need to') or a plan ('I'm ready').

The big question is why.

Suicide is not a meaningless sign of 'mental illness'.

Typically it's a sign of 2 things:

1. The person is feeling unbearable pain (any type)


2. The person has lost hope it will change.

If you want to help, you need to understand the whys.

More than that, you need to listen really well, stay out of judgment and demonstrate some excellent empathy.

We are not going to talk to you if we think you don't care. You should care. And you should show it.

Know that the simple (not really simple) act of listening can have healing value all by itself.

Often not enough, but sometimes it's enough.

So do some really good listening.

You need to do something if we want you to. You should ask if we know what would help. Then help us to get that.

Sometimes we'll know, sometimes we won't.

Please don't suggest we try a bubble bath. It's a really dumb idea if we're wanting to die, for so many reasons.

If we're not sure what might help, focus on exploring with us ways to alleviate the unbearable pain. Right now & short term. Long term later.

You could talk about hope, but that's a much tougher gig when we're in this place. Alleviating pain will help with the hope anyway.

You might ask if there are people or places that feel safe or comforting to us, maybe we could access those supports.

We may feel too ashamed to ask for support so we might need a hand.

Or not. Ask.

Please don't call the cops, the ambo, or a CATT team.

Unless of course we want you to. Then do.

Forcing us into a carceral system at our darkest hour can really add to unbearable pain & hopelessness.

Kinda the same with psych drugs.

Ask if folks find them helpful. Sometimes drugs can really help in a crisis, sometimes they can make everything worse.

Rights-based support recognizes that people can & should make their own choices about what happens to our bodies.

Think & ask about trauma, adversity & existential crisis. Most often, there is a reason out in the world at the base of our distress.

Be an ally in naming these structural issues. Help break them down, if you can.

Don't just individualize the issues in us.

I've had so many suicidal crises over the years. I've had coercion, judgment, compassion & sometimes nothing at all.

What sticks with me most are those folks who could just be with me, in the pain. Not trying to fix me & not leaving me stranded.

Be with people. Be allies.

BTW this is not a comprehensive list, and I'm a bit tired... but it's what comes immediately to mind.

Yup. I'll endorse every single thing Indigo Daya says here.

And I notice she does what I do, what most of us do, when we talk about our suicidal thoughts. First, we take care of you. (Don't panic. I'm okay.) Frankly, that's tiresome. But we do it. Because we know the first place you're going to go is to wonder if you need to call 911. 

Please don't call 911, unless, as she says, we ask you. And when 988 comes on board, don't call that either, unless we ask you.

You can get to those questions about thought/desire/urge/plan. But don't let those questions take the place of deep listening to the pain. Don't stop listening once we have alieved your anxiety.

Hey, you can read more of Indigo Daya at her website and on Twitter, @IndigoDaya.

Right now I am, as Fannie Lou Hamer said, sick and tired of being sick and tired. Not just sick and tired of being mentally ill, but sick and tired of this struggle for human dignity. Oh, I'll keep at it. That's what I do.

But I wonder if I can find something silly to post next week?

What Happened When Meghan Markle Asked for Help?

Ask for help. That is the suicide prevention message. When you are in trouble, ask for help.

And I am not going to suggest otherwise. That's about the only way you will get help. The pain that you are in, the scary thoughts that you are having, there is a way out that is a way through, that leaves you alive on the other side. The way begins when you tell somebody, when you ask for help.

That, alas, is not the end of the story. This week we watched as a princess, a celebrity, somebody who lived in a multimillion dollar house in a multibillionaire family told her story of what happened when she asked for help.

They told her, No.

Those of us who are or have been suicidal were not shocked. Those of us who are or have been suicidal found we have a lot in common with a princess. Asking for help and getting help are two vastly different things.

First there are the barriers to asking for help at all.

Shame. All kinds of shame.

Shame for falling down on the job. Shame for not pulling oneself together. Shame for letting whatever it is get to you. In her case it was racism and bullying that got to her.

Note: being a princess did not protect Meghan Markle from racism and bullying.

Under it all, shame for having that terrible, terrible thought to kill oneself.

She overcame that pain. She said, If I didn't say it, I would do it. It. So much shame that years later, she still couldn't say the word. She called it -- It.

Then the person she asked, her husband, ran into the same barrier, shame.

Next come the barriers once you do ask. And boy, there are barriers.

Family resistance. She persisted. She moved up the chain in the family to ask to be hospitalized. But that didn't happen because it would make the family look bad.

Financial resources, the ability to pay for the care. In her case, the resources were there, or could have been. They were withheld from her.

Lack of providers. Others ask for help and discover months' long waits for an evaluation, and more months' long wait to receive treatment after that.

Lack of cultural competence. Providers who know how to provide care for people of other races, genders, or classes are not so common. Providers who are the same race, gender, or class are even less common, unless you happen to be white, cis, female, college-educated, and live in an urban area.

Lack of suicide competent providers. Some doctors and psychotherapists can fail to provide the most basic care, which is to ask the question.

Stacey Freedenthal addressed this issue in a New York Times article this week, writing, Professionals with decades of experience have told me they don’t dare ask a client with depression or other major risk factors if they’re thinking of suicide.

More than one therapist has told me something like, “I don’t want to give them the idea” or, “If they’re thinking of suicide, they’ll tell me.” 

No. See above. We don't tell you because we are ashamed to tell you. But if you ask the question, and if you look in our eyes when you do, instead hiding your discomfort in the paper with the box you are so eager to check, our eyes just might say what our mouths cannot.

Freedenthal adds, The tragedy of the silence around suicide isn’t only that people suffer alone. It’s also that they rarely hear the stories of those who have been suicidal and survived. Research indicates that almost half of people say they know someone who died by suicide. Though this hasn’t been studied, far more people likely know someone who has recovered from suicidal thoughts, since roughly 240 times more people consider suicide in a given year than die by it.

See, it might not be so terrible if you ask the question. Something good can come out of this horrible, scary, shameful thing. The princess did survive. I survived. Millions of us survive.

And by the way, you can meet a whole lot of them at LiveThroughThis.org.

If you see somebody you think might be having a heart attack, you don't say, Ask for help. You get help.

If you genuinely care about suicide prevention, don't put any more barriers between people who are in our darkest, weakest state and help. Get us help.

Ask the question.

And then break down those barriers yourself.

And by the way I do not mean to call 911 or the police. That's another reason we don't ask for help. Fear. Well-grounded, realistic fear.

In many communities, a 911 call for a mental illness crisis is an invitation to a trip to the hospital while handcuffed, followed by involuntary incarceration, loss of clothes, loss of job, exposure to mountains of trauma, and a devastating medical bill. It ought to be different. But many times, that is exactly what happens. Sometimes the person you intend to help ends up dead, especially if that person is black.

Here are some better ways to help, also from Stacey Freedenthal:

10 Things to Say to a Suicidal Person

10 Things NOT to Say to a Suicidal Person

If You Suspect a Friend or Loved One is Thinking of Suicide

But if you are thinking of hurting yourself or ending your life, don't hold your breath. Don't wait for somebody else to notice. Don't make it some kind of test.

Ask for help. 

If you need help in the US, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). I have listed a few more numbers and other comments here.

We can make it. We can make it to a life worth living, even if we aren't a princess. It turns out being a princess is not such a great lifestyle, after all.

Ask For Help banner from the Trevor Project

Painting from LollyDaskal.com https://www.lollydaskal.com/leadership/shame/

Ask the Question from Colorado.edu

Are You Asking Your Meds to do All the Work?

Where is my magic pill? They say it takes a while to find the right medication, you just have to stick with it.

But for how long? How many chemistry experiments? When? WHEN will my bipolar get fixed?

This was me, resisting therapy, resisting exercise, resisting every other suggestion my doctor made. Alas, here are the pills that finally did the trick:

Pills are not enough.

Don't get me wrong - pills, the easier to swallow kind, kept me alive at desperate points in my life. Pills still make a huge difference in the management of my mental illness. They hold the depressive black dog at bay. They tame the buzzing bees that swarm inside some afternoons. They throw a wrench into the mental gerbil wheel that would keep me up and take me nowhere through the night but into a darker kind of darkness.

But they are not enough.

And having achieved stability (more or less, sometimes less), they are not the main action anymore. Always there to lend a hand, but not driving my recovery.

Tanya Hvilivitzky's article in BPHope magazine lists Ten Habits of Highly Successful People with Bipolar Disorder:

1. They have created their own treatment plan.

2. They rally a supportive team.

3. They practice mindfulness.

4. They know their triggers and have a plan.

5.They have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

6. They have good sleep habits.

7. They stick to a schedule/routine.

8. They pay attention to their thoughts.

9. They are grateful.

10. They keep a journal.

The article links to further information about most of these items.

Me, my own treatment plan incorporates eight of these habits. Good sleep habits and routine top my list. Ellen Frank's book, Treating Bipolar Disorder, where she describes Interpersonal Social Rhythms Therapy, absolutely turned my life around. Here is the link to the fourth of a four-part series I wrote about social rhythms.

After sleep and routine, I prioritize my support team and paying attention to my thoughts.

I don't tick all ten items because, well, see #1. It's my personal treatment plan.

Now, some of this stuff is a pain in the butt, especially the part when I tell somebody that I am skipping the party because it is past my bedtime and I've had all the stimulation I can handle this week. Or sugar. Don't get me started on having given up sugar (more or less).

Recovery is a lot of work, too much work for a pill, or even a handful of pills. If somebody handed me a magic pill that would make my work unnecessary, I would take it. Of course, I would!

Until then, it's time for my walk. I need to go buy veg. My life is better when I exercise and eat right.

And for that, I am grateful.

Do You Really Want to Use Mental Illness as an Insult?

I am tired to death of hearing mental illness diagnoses used as pejoratives.

I am tired to death of hearing technical medical terms that apply to me and my friends hurled as insults at political figures, used to describe weather conditions, and employed as self-deprecating comments in the context of life's little challenges.

I am especially tired to death of hearing this language in the postings of Facebook friends and in the pulpit from educated people who should know better.

Especially after I have called them on it over and over and over.

So you can imagine that my eyes perked up at a thread that addresses this issue, posted on Twitter by somebody who goes by the handle @queerfox.

@QueerFox has gone to great trouble to find adjectives for those who are challenged in the vocabulary department. They have given me permission to post their work, and I share it with you to encourage you to

Watch your mouth.

Did you mean: self-centered, egocentric, self-involved, vain, self-serving, intractable, stubborn, self-aggrandizing, pretentious, self-involved, grandiose, overblown, conceited, smug, narrow-minded, inflexible, adamant, intransigent?

Then say that, instead of narcissistic.

Did you mean: cold, uncaring, heartless, cruel, indifferent, sadistic, ruthless, merciless, evil, remorseless?

Then say that, instead of sociopath/psychopath.

Did you mean: erratic, unpredictable, temperamental, volatile, fickle, mercurial, impulsive, reckless, thoughtless?

Then say that, instead of borderline, manic, or bipolar.

Did you mean irrational, illogical, fallacious, incoherent, conceited, intransigent, obdurate, unreasonable, implacable, cussed, ridiculous, implausible, absurd, unjustified, preposterous?

Then say that, instead of delusional, schizo, insane, crazy, demented, etc.

(Not an illness, but on a related note) Did you mean: uncompromising, obdurate, obstinate, ignorant, intransigent, adamant, heedless, inconsiderate, stubborn, indifferent, narrow-minded, indifferent?

Then say that instead of deaf to criticism, falling on deaf ears, etc.

(Also not necessarily an illness) Did you mean ignorant, imperceptive, blinkered, narrow-minded, inconsiderate, oblivious, rigid, obstinate, willful, intransigent, unobservant, obdurate, unyielding, pertinacious, prejudicial, unamenable?

Then say that, instead of blind.

Did you mean anal-retentive, finicky, fussy, pedantic, nit-picky, pernickity, meticulous, fastidious, hair-splitting, puritanical, snobbish, exacting, controlling, obsessive, high-strung, uptight, queasy, prissy?

Then say that instead of OCD or neurotic.

Did you mean: melodramatic, oversensitive, delicate, uptight, clingy, theatrical, artificial, insincere, boastful, ostentatious, pretentious, attention-seeking, insecure, dependent, needy?

Then say that, instead of histrionic or borderline.

The thread continued. You get the idea.

No, this is not about being PC, where PC is your shorthand for fussy, legalistic, and not fun. This is not about the first amendment, the current justification for all kinds of bad behavior. It is about manners.

Remember manners?

So if I take offense, it is because your behavior is offensive.

In the days of manners, Monica Stoupa once slammed me against the gymnasium wall at St. John the Evangelist Parochial Grade School and said, I can tell Polish jokes, but you can't. Just like how we can tell nun jokes, but the Protestants can't.

I learned my lesson in fifth grade, and it has never steered me wrong.

Which is to say, don't bother calling me on my self-description as batshit crazy. I and my tribe can use that language. Unless you are claiming membership in that tribe, you cannot.

Here ends my lesson in basic decency.

You're welcome.

meme from gipfy.com

Can People With Mental Illness Become Saints?

 The day approaches - the start of Lent Madness.

What, any reasonable person might ask, is that?

Take March Madness. Mash this bracket-style competition with a list of saints, some well-known, some utterly obscure, chosen by Scott Gunn and Tim Schenk, the two members of the Supreme Executive Committee who answer to nobody. Despite years of campaigning, they still will not include Fred Rogers. But I digress...

Every weekday through Lent the reader is presented with two saints and asked to vote. Anybody with an internet connection can vote - only once - they will know. The saint with the greater number of votes advances to the next round.

Information is provided by celebrity bloggers give you a basis for your vote, introductory bios in the first round of thirty-two, odd or intriguing stories in the saintly sixteen, kitsch souvenirs in the elate eight, campaign speeches in the faithful four, and summations in the final for the Golden Halo. You can use any criteria you like to make your choice. You can enter your reasons and campaign for your favorites in the comment section if you choose.

The competition begins this year on Thursday, February 18 and runs through March 31, when the winner of the Golden Halo is crowned.

It's all good fun, or is supposed to be. If you are the sort who explodes in non-Lent-like rage when Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR, bests Luke the Evangelist in the final (2013), then this is not the Lenten discipline for you. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to learn some church history and to ponder the notion of holiness.

Speaking of which, can people with mental illness become saints? Well, obviously, Church calendars of saints are filled with visionaries (Bernadette), people with stigmata (Francis of Assisi), and extremists of many sorts (Joan of Arc). Some of them would be diagnosable in a modern age.

Except for the really big names whose oddness gets obscured by good PR - here's looking at you, Francis and Joan - the diagnosable saints tend not to fare well in Lent Madness. The comments in these competitions are telling. It's a self-selected electorate. They often express a disdain for legend, which disqualifies most of the pre-Enlightenment competitors. They tend to prefer the do-gooders. As a consequence, people who are diagnosable rarely make it past the first round.

I have written about two of these, Margaret of Cortona and my favorite, Christina the Astonishing, patron saint of therapists. Did Margaret have an eating disorder? Was she a cutter? I don't know, but people who rejected her didn't like her extreme fasting and self-disfigurement. Did Christina suffer from delusions? Her family went to the extreme of breaking her leg to keep her at home.

Does mental illness disqualify one from sainthood?

Let's talk about Florence Nightingale and the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It was a hot one, not just for being held in Phoenix in July. People were testy as the Church began to talk about sex. So that was the atmosphere in which we considered adding six people to the calendar.

The commission that nominates additions to Lesser Feasts and Fasts had been charged to come up with some names other than the same old, same old, nineteenth century clergy. Specifically, they had been asked to include women and lay people. They presented a slate of six, four women, including Bridget of Ireland and Florence Nightingale, and two men, the founders of Gaulledet University. The House of Bishops stripped the four women off the list and recommended to the House of Deputies the two nineteenth century clergy.

Their reasoning? I can't remember the other two women. Bridget, they didn't like because she was legendary. Was she really a Christian or a Christianized version of the ancient religion? Of Florence, one bishop is reported to have said, Didn't she go a little loony in her old age?

The House of Deputies was not happy. Imagine Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi voting the same way on anything. The equivalent happened in the unanimous vote to restore Bridget to the list and return the measure to the other House, where it finally did pass.

What was with Florence? There were mutterings and suspicions about the real reasons for her rejection. But after further investigation of her old age illness, (and assurances were made that she was not a little loony?), she made a comeback in another year and made it onto the Episcopal Church's list of Holy Women, Holy Men.

And then in clear vindication of her character, Florence Nightingale went on to win the arguably more prestigious Golden Halo in Lent Madness 2017.

This year's bracket is fairly obscure. Until we get into the bios, I don't know if it offers any fellow loonies as candidates. I wait for the Church and for church members to recognize mental illness as a life condition in which some of us strive to follow Jesus as best we can, sometimes heroically, sometimes in ways worth emulating, sometimes as examples of faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Calling some of us saints does not mean, God forbid, that anyone wants to be like us, even in holiness of life.

I wait. But I don't hold my breath.

Lent Madness widget from lentmadness.org
Perkins icon from http://francesperkinscenter.org/
needlework of Christina the Astonishing created by Cookie Scottorn, used with permission
more of Scottern's art can be viewed at www.cookiescottorn.co.uk/

Help! How Do I Talk to My Delusional Cousin?

Consensual reality has taken a real beating lately. Fake news, alt facts, conspiracy theories, Russian Facebook bots... Sure, we'd all like some civil discourse. But what do we do when we can't even agree on what is true?

Delusional is a big word to throw around, especially when you are trying to stay in some sort of relationship with friends or family whom you believe, frankly, to have gone over the deep end. Does it really apply to this situation? Or is the use of the word a lit match in a room full of gasoline?

Let's start with some clarification. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines delusions as
 fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. Well, that sure sounds like what we are dealing with.
Delusions are taken as indicators of a mental or physical disorder. But before we go making armchair diagnoses, consider how powerfully our minds cling to ideas that are demonstratively false, the fear of spiders, the hope in lottery tickets, trickle down economics. Let's exercise some restraint and some humility here.

What follows are techniques used in the field of mental illness that may prove useful to communication across the reality divide between people who care about each other. They do not presume that the other person suffers from a mental illness. They do not presume that you have your head screwed on straight either. Actually, how great it would be if both parties agree to use best practices for talking with somebody who is delusional!

The first recommendation follows directly from the definition. Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. As a consequence, it is utterly pointless to present evidence that will "prove" the delusion is false.

You have already experienced this. Whatever evidence you present is either discounted because the source is unreliable. Or it is absorbed into the delusion with an alternative explanation.

Save your breath.

The rest comes from Xavier Amador. Amador is not my go to person for understanding people with schizophrenia. But he does give good advice for dealing with delusions. He outlines a four-part strategy: 

  • Listen, reflectively with respect and without judgment. Hear the other person out. Ask questions to make sure you understand the position, not questions to challenge the position. For example: Do you think the Secretary of the State of Georgia falsified the vote totals? or Do you think the Secretary of the State of Georgia certified accurate results? There may be some nuances here that you are missing. Don't go beyond the broad strokes. Just make sure you know what the issue is.
  • Empathize strategically with emotions stemming from the delusions. For example: That would feel really disturbing or My position must feel really frustrating to you.
  • Agree where you can. For example: Every legal vote should be counted and People who commit crimes should be prosecuted.
  • Keep the relationship going with things that you do share. For example, my family members don't respond to each other's political posts on Facebook. But we like each other's photos, jokes, positive news.

I am not suggesting that this strategy will heal the national divide. That is way above my pay grade. As long as there are no threats of violence, this is simply a holding pattern to allow friends and family to hang in with each other until things sort themselves out and consensual reality makes a comeback.

May it be soon.

How Will You Get Through This Week?

Self care is not my best subject in the best of times. I can establish a routine, get up, eat breakfast, go to work, walk in the afternoon, and so on. I can hang on to good habits, eat a healthy diet, wear amber glasses at night. But that place in the list where I am supposed to do something for myself? Here is how that goes:

    Therapist: What will you do for fun this week?


Okay, so what will YOU do for fun this week? (Clearly, I could use some ideas.)

And now there is this insurrection. How did that word work its way into daily conversation?

After the year from hell, here we are again, discovering even lower circles than Dante anticipated. The world is indeed exceeding the limits of my medication.

But dear reader, I am also thinking of you this week. I want you to be well. Well, as well as you can manage.

Have you made a plan? I think it will help to make a plan.

Here is mine: 

  • I will not go anywhere people gather, not even grocery shopping. We're eating out of the pantry.
  • I will treat myself gently. I have set low expectations for productivity and am moving everything on my to do list to next week. Activity is good. But we'll see how it goes.
  • I will stay in touch with friends. We can gather on Zoom. It has been enormously helpful to me this week to talk with people I love. Remember the people you love, or even like a little bit. Check up on them.
  • I will pray the serenity prayer every day. In the first phrase, "Grant me the serenity to acknowledge what I cannot change," I have been visualizing myself riding the top of a wave. I don't have to engage the wave, which I cannot control. I just have to ride it.
That's the plan. I could probably add some more items. Yeah, I need to put something fun on it. But refer to the second item. This is enough.

Take care of yourself this week. And if you figure out how to have a little fun, let me know.

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