Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

My Holiday Wish for Us All - Trip the Light

In my darkest bleak midwinter, I find the following. And I believe again. I do believe we can get back to this. And if the video were made again, with everybody in masks, it would not detract from the joy. It really wouldn't.

PS - While you are watching, dance!

If all the days that come to pass
Are behind these walls
I'll be left at the end of things
In a world kept small


Travel far from what I know
I'll be swept away
I need to know
I can be lost and not afraid


We're gonna trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

Remember we're lost together
Remember we're the same
We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts
We hold the flame

We're gonna trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

I'll find my way home
On the Western wind
To a place that was once my world
Back from where I've been

And in the morning light I'll remember
As the sun will rise
We are all the glowing embers
Of a distant fire

Come on and trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

Music: Garry Schyman©
Lyrics: Alicia Lemke and Matt Harding©


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?

Prozac Monologues Moves to Batshit Crazy Preacher

Advent is the season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. The idea is to slow down, not speed up. Spend some quiet, reflective time. Remember the reason for the season... Honestly, I think about setting up an Advent wreath, that sort of thing. But our candle holders broke. They broke years ago. I guess I'm just not into the candle thing.

Most years, the closest I get to Advent wreaths, calendars, whatever, is a box of twenty-four wee drams of Scotch from Master of Malt. I know, I know, Scotch is not what your psychiatrist recommends for your recovery toolbox. At least it usually take me well past the twelve days of Christmas to finish the thing.

Anyway, this year I found a practice that does spark my imagination, #AdventWord. It is an international community of prayer that you can enter in whatever way appeals to you. There is a daily meditation to read, based on a different word every day. Advent Word, get it? The ones so far this year are tender, deliver, strengthen, earth, rebuild, fellowship, and glory. People post photos on Twitter or Facebook, or scripture passages, or songs inspired by the word. You can get a poster with spaces to color in each day. You can doodle, decorate the word, or draw whatever comes to you. When it's finished, it's supposed to remind you of a stained glass window. The whole project lets you do whatever prayer style works for you.

Gingerbread Houses and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Thanksgiving is one of my hypomanic seasons. I'm getting better at not taking on projects that worry my wife. In fact, I have given up gingerbread houses altogether. Which is not to discourage you, just to acknowledge that they were once my one great weakness. That woman in the fringed dress down there? - Each bit of fringe was an individually placed sprinkle, separated out from a container of red, green, and white sprinkles. See what I mean?

But I did learn some things from my hypomanic gingerbread houses. And learning is good for the brain. The following post is a repeat from ten years ago, when I was in the throes of it. It explored the relationship between gingerbread and cognitive behavioral therapy. I am one of many who have a love/hate relationship with CBT, which I freely acknowledged to my CBT therapist in our first session. Nevertheless, she persisted, and I persisted, and I do rely on it daily and have written about it from a variety of angles. So here it is again, for those of you who want to explore CBT and also for those of you who want to know how to make a nine patch quilt out of fruit rollups:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - Gingerbread Style, 11-25-2010

First Cognitive Therapy Technique -- Distraction

Six Ways to Heal the Holes in Your Head

Do you ever feel like you have holes in your head? Actually, you do. Ventricles are the spaces between the grey matter (brain cells) and white matter (wiring that connects the brain cells) in your brain. Depressive episodes, manic episodes, and psychosis all burn up brain tissue, leading to bigger ventricles. (Image: Effects of Western diet on the brain. See companion image, Effects of Mediterranean diet below.)

This loss of brain cells hits the hippocampus (in charge of memory and emotion regulation) particularly hard. In the early years after my last mental health crisis, I talked about my “Swiss cheese brain.” At my worst, I lost bills, I lost words, I lost everything my wife said to me on the way out the door in the morning. She took to writing down what I said I would do before she got home, never more than two items.

I lost the list.

Landfill Harmonic

I promised a series --

If the world sent you garbage, send back music.

Prozac Monologues Goes to the Movies

This is not a regular post.  It is a call for your help to create a future post.

Periodically, Prozac Monologues goes to the movies.  This time, I want to do a piece on spirituality at the movies.  It will feature half a dozen titles, each with a short descriptive blurb and a couple prompts for pondering and/or discussion.  Maybe your support group or book club or Bible study could use the suggestions to mix it up a bit?

Here is an example:

Groundhog Day: Self-centered weather caster, played by Bill Murray gets caught in a time warp, reliving one day over and over and over and over.  The only thing he can change is himself.  What is the life worth living?  How do we get stuck in a life that isn't?  Where do we find the power to change?

Power, grace, forgiveness, redemption, hope, dignity, the meaning of life, the universe and everything -- What are the stories that help you think about these things?

Put your suggestion in the comments.  Whether it is included will depend on the number of suggestions received, whether I understand it, and whether it fits what goes on at Prozac Monologues.  Looniness is appreciated, though not required.  Deadline for inclusion: December 31, 2012.

image of popcorn from
dvd cover from

The Garden of Your Mind

Mr. Rogers does with the mind what last week's post with Carl Sagan, Jill Bolte Taylor, et al did with the brain...

Sabbatical -- Summer Reading

Well, dang.  Regular readers know that every once in a while my brain goes on strike.  I can't imagine how I used to preach week after week after week.  Usually, I do a re-run or fill with some video.  But after posting something every week since April 2009, the time has come to take an intentional break, a sabbatical.

I hate to do this in the middle of a series.  I have one more post in me on apology.  But I need more than a week's recovery time this time.  So that series will have to wait until October or so.  I'll still stick up an occasional youtube.  I've got one in the file featuring Mister Rogers...

Meanwhile, I have some suggestions to broaden your blog-reading horizons.  Most are not about mental health issues.  They are the random reading that feed my mind and soul, a selection from my blog role.  Consider this my annual Summer Reading post.

First up, of course, Knowledge is Necessity.  John McManamy gave me a leg up in the blogging business, when he introduced me to his readers, as the only other blogger he knows who writes about the anterior cingulate cortex.  I think of us as blogmates.

Knowledge is Necessity is as close as you will get to your weekly Prozac Monologues fix.  The way John puts it, from God to neurons.  Not that you could mistake one of us for the other in a crowd.  For one, he's a lousy dancer.  Kinda scary, actually.  But his writing -- you'll snort milk out of your nose.  Here is my review of his new book Raccoons Respect My Piss, as well.  I am reading it a second time right now.

Second, Untangled by Dr. Kelly Flanagan.  Notwithstanding the fact that I write a mental health blog, I don't actually read many, especially not the inspirational ones.  I don't respond well to people who give me advice, even good advice.  Especially good advice.  Just ask my therapist.  But Flanagan can tell a story.  He respects the knots we tie ourselves into in a way that helps us untangle them and find a bit of freedom.

Flanagan is relatively new to the blogging biz, and rather brave, I think, a psychotherapist who blogs about psychotherapy, exposing himself to his readers' triggers.  He has managed it well when he trips mine.  Responsive, but non-reactive -- I think that's what they call it in that language of theirs.  Me, I have to choose between reactive or silent.  So I admire how Flanagan can pull off that responsive but not-reactive thing and still tell a good story.

So that's it for the mental health blogs.

Cake Wrecks.  When I need a dose of something nuts to keep from going nuts, I look at the weird things that people do with cake and frosting.  The subtitle is When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hilariously Wrong.  This blog is a whole franchise by now, with books, tours and contests.  The photo above is of my own cake which I did not submit for consideration, because I am not a professional.  At the cake-biz, that is.  But it gives you an idea of what you might find at Cake Wrecks.  I made this one for a guerrilla party held in the lobby of a hospital where I would commit suicide rather than be hospitalized, to celebrate suicide prevention.

My arts and crafts piece here was handicapped by a dearth of materials.  In a  fit of good sense, I had turned over to my shrink my stash of old, ineffective or intolerable and dangerous meds.  (I had quite a collection.)  So I couldn't decorate the cake with pills, which had been my intent.  I had to substitute Mike and Ike's and Smarties.  Cake Wreck cakes go way beyond this effort.

Which leads me to Suicide Food.  Only this blog is not about suicide.  Well, not that kind of suicide.  It collects advertising images that depict animals acting as though they wish to be consumed.  You know, like instead of the Chick-Fil-A cows, encouraging you to eat more chicken, these are the little piggies inviting you to the barbecue.  There seem to be an inexhaustible supply of these scenes to which you may be completely oblivious (I was) until you read Suicide Food, where they are rated on a scale of one to five nooses for just how sick they really are.  The folks who bring you Suicide Food are also on sabbatical.  But they have five years' worth of shrimp lounging and waving to you from the cocktail glass for you to peruse.

Finally, you can tell Shell Shock - Nell's Big Walk is not a mental health blog, because it has a beginning, a middle and an end.  An end, what a concept.  Here's the deal.  Helen and I have been thinking about the Camino, a 500 mile walk across northern Spain, from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrim route over 1000 years old, to the place where are buried the bones purported to be of Saint James, the brother of Jesus, washed up on the shore of northwestern Spain in a boat made of stone.  My kind of pilgrimage.

In our consideration of this enterprise, we had been reading others' accounts, which are, for the most part, filled with angst and/or stupidity, slathered with pain and misery.  I mean, I thought Paulo Coehlo's quest for his sword to be the most self-absorbed little boy obsession I have ever read.

But we kept reading.  Helen was researching boots when she came upon Nell Spillane, an Irish trainer and business coach.  Nell and Frances, childhood friends, celebrated their 50th birthdays by fulfilling a vow to do the pilgrimage when they got old, which they took to mean 50.  Nell's blog is a day by day account.  Helen and I spent Lent this year, reading one post a day.  Neither of us has had the heart to finish the last few days and be done with it.  Obviously, we could use a business coach.  I am stuck 20k short of Santiago.

Frances and Nell had fun!  There are spiritual moments.  All the piety that means something to us means something to them, going to the pilgrim masses, putting beads on the wayside statues of Mary.  But it's the comfortable sort, the Celtic thing/Teresa of Avila/feel free to cuss God out/don't take yourself and your precious insights so seriously sort.  Go ahead, eat that ham sandwich (after you dust it off).  Just wash it down with some more wine.

One thing has become clear.  We will not begin our Camino at the most typical starting point, St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees.  No, we will honor our Irish ancestors and begin where they would have, outside the Guinness Brewery St. James Gate, Dublin.

Thanks, Nell.

And thanks to all my readers.  Drop in now and then this summer.  You might find something new.  But for anything that requires the frontal cortex, see you next fall.

flair by
book jacket from
photo of cake by Willa Goodfellow
photo of tomb of St. James by Le Galician, in public domain
photo of Guinness Brewery, St. James Gate, Dublin by Dubh Eire, in public domain

Recovery In Progress -- My First NAMI Convention

Dr. Ken Duckworth's job at the Ask A Doctor about PTSD session was to make some opening remarks and then let people ask their questions.  He rattled off a list of treatments and said, The good news about PTSD is, we know what causes it -- trauma that was not able to be processed adequately.  The bad news is, the treatments just don't work so well.

Short and to the point.  Actually, I am not so negative (right this very minute, anyway) about treatment as Dr. Duckworth, because I am not looking for the magic med anymore.  I know about recovery.

Recovery is about collecting tools and pulling them out when the occasion requires.  I will illustrate.  But first the setting...

Last week I attended my first NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Convention in Chicago -- 2300+ people who have mental illnesses, family members, advocates, volunteers and caregivers, with a few scientists thrown in for good measure.  As a friend said to prepare me, A NAMI Convention has a certain kind of energy.  Yes, it does.

I have been to big conventions before, used to be a legislator (called Deputy) for the Episcopal Church, which gathers 8-10,000 or so Deputies, Bishops, exhibitors, visitors, volunteers and the like every three years.  I stopped doing that when I figured out that every three years General Convention tripped my hypomania and was followed hard on by a depressive episode.

So this was my largest gathering in some time, with plenaries, workshops, symposia, networking and ask-a-doctor sessions, drumming, theater, yoga and talent show, internet cafe and peer counselors, exhibitors, book sales and an information booth which was the best hidden spot of the whole damn Chicago Hilton.

You can expect a number of blogposts out of this event, including dueling comments between me and fellow blogger John McManamy.  Now that we have finally shared a beer, does that make us blogmates?  I began writing this piece in the hotel room, late after the last gasp, the rawest of my posts to come.

I knew it was a mistake to make Ask-The-Doctor-About-PTSD the last thing I attended.  It's just, that was the schedule.  Most helpful take-away: The brain is simply not designed to metabolize certain experiences.  PTSD is the result of incompletely metabolized traumas.  Bottom line, it is a normal response to an abnormal event or series of events.

The brain keeps trying to metabolize these unprocessed events/memories/emotions/bodily sensations.  They lurk beneath the surface, waiting for the next opportunity to emerge, when triggered by some reminder.

Oh, I was triggered, alright.  The last question of the day was about a particular symptom I don't talk about and religiously avoid.  I left the room reliving it, dizzy and disconnected.

Walking out, I heard the voice of my therapist, who once ended a session saying, The things we have talked about today probably have triggered your past traumas, and you will be dealing with the effects after you leave.  So how are you going to take care of yourself today?

Time to pull out that toolbox.

The Ask-A-Doctor doctor listed half a dozen treatment modalities for PTSD: meds, support groups, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), sleep regulation and aerobic exercise.  He mentioned Prazocin for nightmares.

First off, pop my anti-anxiety rescue med, put on my walking shoes and go get some aerobic exercise.  Work off that negative energy.

Just outside the door was Grant Park.  An art exhibit diverted me from my aerobics.  But art is good, very good.  Change the channel -- that's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 101.

I stood still and drank in paintings inspired by water.  Not this painting, actually, which is exhibited just down the street.  But I thought of it.

Water is good.  It evens out the emotional turmoil. -- So says my other therapist, the one who does eastern-based energy work.  You see, when even the doctors acknowledge that western treatments (they don't call them western, because they don't speak of there being any other treatments) work poorly, I am not going to limit my tool box to only half the planet, especially not the more rigid half.

I spoke with the artist about perspective.  He paints on a flat surface, so doesn't think it matters which side is up.  I breathed into the here and now.  Thich Nhat Hanh taught me here and now.  But here and now is my worst subject.  And somebody interrupted to talk about showings and art business.  There were too many people -- had to reduce stimulation.

My energy therapist would recommend grounding.  I headed back to the gardens, flowers, trees, dirt, all good, all grounding.  Eating is good for grounding, too.  Maybe I should eat something.

From Alcoholics Anonymous: HALT = pay attention to when you are Hungry/Anxious/Lonely/Tired.  No, a martini is not in the recovery toolbox.

So I bought my inner child a strawberry ice cream -- a drippy cone instead of my usual adult cup.  Sugar isn't really the best choice, but it was red and a gift to my inner child.  Then I head off to find some meat.  Meat feeds the first chakra.  First chakra is about safety.  PTSD is about the amygdala is about safety is about the first chakra.

Still I was struggling.  I don't just have my own pain; I suck up the pain of every person with whom I have spent the last three days.  All those stories -- how can there be such a world?  How can I live in such a world?

I picked up my whole personal Book of Traumas, the traumas that never got resolved, that get retriggered today when I try to resolve them in therapy, the distrust I try to pretend does not exist toward the people who try to help me but they end up retriggering the traumas I can't resolve because they never seem to address that they are retriggering them and my retriggered shame prevents me from telling them and I truly believe the result will be retrauma anyway.

There are exceptions to that negative thought.  List the exceptions -- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 102.  But how do I know who is for real...?

So I head back to the convention, walk over the train tracks.  And there is another trigger, another overpass, another trip to Chicago, another episode, another long time ago.  How quickly is that train traveling?  How far away?  How fast does a body fall that far?  How to time the collision of the two?  Velocity problems were the one thing that defeated me in high school math.

But I am not in the right spot anyway.  Geometry I got.  I need to be right -- there -- where -- a woman is pushing a baby stroller.

Oh.  Okay.  Not tonight.  I have an Iron Rule.  In a world filled with trauma, to the extent that it lies within my power, I will not cause trauma.  A two-year-old is sitting where my demon would call me.  The two-year-old wins.

God bless the internet that led me to David Conroy some years ago.  The first sentence of his book Out of the Nightmare brought sense out of the chaos that compounded the pain of my suicidal symptoms.  Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

Tonight my pain was painful.  But I have survived worse, much worse.  And tonight my resources are many.  Tonight the thought was more than a mosquito, but it wasn't a tiger.  I do not underestimate the lethality of this disease.  One in five people with bipolar II do not survive it.  Tonight, I am still of the four.

I know people freak out over the suicidal ideation part of mental illnesses.  I apologize to my friends for causing them pain by bringing up the subject -- even though my need to protect you from this pain adds to my own.  I try not to bring it up, except with people who know what I am talking about.  But this is one of the tools in the Recovery Toolbox.  Those who do know what I am talking about need this tool.  And this post is for us.

Ironically, the state of the art treatment for people who have a lot of suicidal ideation and behavior, people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, is Dialactical Behavioral Therapy, radical acceptance.  Starting, not ending, but starting with acceptance even of that symptom that freaks out so many of you.

Yes, sometimes I have those thoughts.  They are well-worn grooves in my neurological pathways.  Any number of things will trip the cascade that leads there, including things you might not imagine, a cold sunny day, my doctor suggesting a new medication, an overpass.  These are not reasons.  Suicide is not about reasons.  These are triggers of neurological pathways that have a current of their own.

It is what it is.  Those five words sum up Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an offshoot of CBT.  They were the chorus sung by one of the players in the lunchtime drama troupe.  Saturday night, I repeated them to myself.  Often when that thought appears, somewhere between a mosquito and a tiger, I say, There it is again.  That's all.  Mindfulness.  The thought doesn't have to freak me out, doesn't have to freak you out.  It is what it is.  Move on.

As I crossed the overpass, I felt a draw, a pull toward the hotel.  It was an energy, a spiritual energy on the side of life, two thousand people in that building, rooting for me, for my life, for one another, for you.  One of them even blowing a didgeridoo, accompanied by a flute, to be followed later by another who whistled Somewhere Over The Rainbow, all spiritual energy on the side of life.

The wisdom is ancient.  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.  [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, New Revised Standard Version]

So that is my first report of my first NAMI Convention, the most confusing and most compassionate experience I have ever had with 2300 people.

(Find your local NAMI Chapter here.)

photo of toolbox by Per Erik Strandberg and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
General Convention Seal for the Episcopal Church in public domain
Olaus Magnus's Sea Orm, 1555 in public domain
Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1906, in public domain
photo of Grant Park in Chicago by Alan Scott Walker and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
root chakra by Muladhara Chakra and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
photo of Chicago Orange Line by Daniel Schwen and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
photo of Coal Creek Falls by Walter Siegmund and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
fresco at the Karlskirche in Vienna by Johann Michael Rottmayr, in public domain
book covers by

Mental Health Advocacy -- The Funner Version

Okay, last week was weird.  That's what you get for reading a mental health blog written by an Episcopal priest.  You never can tell when Jesus might interrupt with, No, what would I really do?

As it happens, that is where Gandhi got his program for freedom fighting, from Jesus.

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.

There's a Lenten meditation for you.  Overlay Gandhi's road map on the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Gandhi taught us to do what Jesus would do, what he really did do.

But not all of you are Christians.  Not all of you follow The Way.  Not all of you even follow my train of thought!  What does death and resurrection have to do with mental health advocacy?

Well, never mind.  The post stands on its own, as the tried and true program for addressing oppression, the institutional arrangements that support an unjust system.

This week's post turns to a different path, what we think of as stigma-busting.  But I have come to suspect that the word stigma itself conveys the stigma it is trying to bust.  It directs attention away from the stigmatizer and toward the stigmatizee.

No, what I am talking about is flat-out prejudice, the irrational thoughts and feelings of individuals.  Focus on the person who has irrational thoughts and feelings.  How can we help him/her get over these nonproductive and painful experiences?

This path parallels last week's -- we're all headed in the same direction.  But this one you can travel while wearing designer shoes.  In fact, designer shoes might just be the ticket!

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

First step, come out.

See, if all you know about African Americans are those cop shows, all you know about Islam is Osama Bin Laden, and all you know about people with mental illness is Jared Lee Loughner, then you are not going to want to live next door to a black person, let your daughter date a Muslim, or hire a person with a mental illness.

People want to stay away from people that they think are dangerous.  This is because our brains are hard-wired to help us survive.  This is a good thing.

The problem comes when people's estimation of danger is out of whack, when they think that a whole class of people is dangerous, and when those thoughts do not have a basis in reality.

People whose fears are out of proportion to real risk need our help.  They need evidence if they are going to change what they know.  You can cite statistics until you are blue in the face.  But the most persuasive evidence is personal.  They need a face.

What does Jared Lee Loughner have to do with your child's kindergarten teacher, the kindest, gentlest person you know?  Or your Uncle Charlie, funny, generous, hard-working?  Or your roommate from college, who really struggled freshman year, and still does on occasion, yet runs a successful business anyway?  Jared is one lost soul who didn't receive the help his parents tried hard to find, and whose story could have been so different -- as demonstrated by the evidence of all these other people with mental illness whom you know.

Remember these guys?  They are Joey Pants Joey (Pants) Pantaliano's bid to make mental illness as cool and as sexy as erectile dysfunction.

That's right.  Joey Pants (The Sopranos) has major depressive disorder.  And he wants the rest of us loonies to come out of the closet, too.  I described his No Kidding, Me Too campaign last October.  He represents the funner version of mental health advocacy.

Joey has a bracelet with the birds on it, a cute little way to identify yourself.  Go here to buy one.  If these bracelets catch on, then when you see somebody wearing one, you say, No Kidding?  Me, Too!  When somebody else asks you what your bracelet means and you explain, their response, one chance out of five, will be No Kidding?  Me, Too!  Or, No Kidding?  My Brother, My Boss, My Priest, My ... Too!

One brief exchange at a time, people learn that people with mental illness live and work and function and add quality to life all around them.  We are no more dangerous than anybody else.  That is not only a cold hard fact, it is also the experience of people who know people who have a mental illness.  And a number of us are rather fabulous!

Got it?  For those of you who are not ready to set a trash can on fire (last week's post on oppression), you can wear a bracelet.  You can come out and be one of many people your neighbor knows who have a mental illness and sometimes exhibit symptoms and usually get the lawn mowed anyway. 

NKM2 Needs Some Bipolar Help

It's a great idea, potentially cool and sexy.  But somewhere the program got hijacked.  Each of us has our abilities and our disabilities.  And Joey needs an assist, assigning the right task to the right section of the DSM.

That is Prozac Monologues' task for the day, to get these birds back on track.

To start: Joey's medallions come in 144 combinations of colors and finishes and a twelve page catalog from which to choose even more medallions.  My guess is he handed the bracelet job to somebody with Asperger's, who can see every potential option and wants to make each one available.

You always want to have somebody with Asperger's around to find the option outside your neurotypical box.  That person might redesign your computer platform, or notice the pothole that will break your axle if you don't swerve now, or find the resource you never dreamed existed, or restate the problem so the solution is both easy and joyous.  You always want to have an Aspie around.

My Aspie friend says, Give the Aspies the money.  Tell us the rules, and we will make sure they are followed.

But this medallion thing falls into marketing.  Go to the bipolar spectrum for marketing.

The Silver Ribbon Campaign

So maybe you have noticed there is a ribbon for every cause you can think of and many that you have never heard of.  A cloud ribbon for Congenital diaphragmatic hernia?

Nobody is in charge of this ribbon thing.  In our field we already have orange for ADHD and for self-injury, checked (they call it jigsaw) for autism, yellow for suicide, white for gay-teen suicide, green for mental health and for childhood depression, purple for dementia, silver for mental illness and for brain disorders.  A marketing nightmare.

Marketing 101: Get yourself a message.  Attach a brand to it.  Stick to it.

So we need a ribbon.  One ribbon.  One color that umbrellas all the rest.  Prozac Monologues here and now declares the color -- silver.  Just because I said so, that's why.

No, not just because I said so.  My eye is on the platform.

The Oscars.  The Emmys.  The Grammys.

We need a color that is Oscarlicious, that will stand out and look fabulous on tuxedos and those designer dresses.  We need a color that designers will design around.

AIDS awareness soared when the red ribbon became the de rigour fashion accessory at the Oscars.  The entertainment industry knew that AIDS was their issue, and they got on board.

Even more so, mental illness.  If suddenly tomorrow, the entire planet went neuro-normal, comedy would die.  Just die.  Ditto any other writing, music and set design.

So, one color for the bracelets.  One color that will take over the award shows and establish our brand.

Fire That Guy!

Next, the latest NKM2 PSA features solemn music against words on a screen about how few people with mental illness commit violent crime, alternating with video of police cars and ambulances at the sight of the shooting in a Tuscon shopping center.  WTF?!?!!  I don't know who is responsible for this marketing mess.  But fire that guy!  Or rather, channel his/her energies in a different direction.

In a nutshell: Confucius said A picture is worth a thousand words.  Maybe it was Confucius.  He usually gets the credit, sometimes Napoleon Bonaparte.  Anyway, a moving picture with *flashing police lights* is worth a whole lot more words than a mere one thousand.  It does not matter the teeniest, tiniest bit that the text says we are not violent.  The picture shows something very different.

There is nothing cool and sexy about Jared Loughner.  I don't want to live next door to him, either.

Recall NKM2 To Its Mission

Most of NKM2's videos feature depressed people ruminating about stigma.  It's what depressed people do best, ruminate.  Which is why they don't belong on camera unless they are acting.  Let's get back to cool and sexy! 

Mount Rushmore And Marilyn Monroe

So let's we put those loonie birds to work in a new PSA!

One bird says to the other, I have a mental illness.  The other: No kidding -- me, too!!

Then Joey says to the camera, I have major depression.  Abraham Lincoln answers from Mount Rushmore, No kidding -- me, too!  (Monty Python can do that moving jaw bit.)  Buzz Aldrin in his space suit chimes in, No kidding -- me, too!  Next up, J.K. Rowling, Where do you think the dementors came from?

Back to Mount Rushmore.  Teddy Roosevelt says, I have bipolar, to which a flying nun Patty Duke answers, No kidding -- me, too!  Charlie Pride can sing it.

Green Bay Packer Lionel Aldridge steps up to the line and says, I have schizophrenia.  Picture of John Nash and caption, receiving his Nobel Prize in Mathematics, with voice-over, No kidding -- me, too!

Jane Pauley, I have a mental illness.  Then pile on the animations, illustrations, faces speaking to the camera, No kidding -- me, too!  Harrison Ford, Beyoncé, Patrick Kennedy, Ann Hathaway, Amy Tan.  Include an apple falling on Isaac Newton's head.

Joey's voice comes on again, on top of photo after photo of famous and not so famous people in daily life: In science, the arts, government, business, sports, people with mental illness make valuable contributions to your life every day.  Your teachers, doctors, clergy, barristas, mechanics, neighbors, coworkers, one out of every five has a mental illness.

And the closer -- surely somewhere in Marilyn Monroe's body of work, sometime that breathless voice utters those now immortal words, No kidding -- me, too!

Are we getting closer to cool and sexy now? 

Coming Out As Evidence-Based Stigma-Busting

But coming out is scary!  Bad things will happen to me if people know I have a mental illness!

I can't argue with that.  I don't know what will happen to you.  There are ways to protect yourself.  I expect that Prozac Monologues will address this topic in the future.  This post is on how to help prejudiced people become less prejudiced.  And the research supports me here.  The more experience the general public has with people who have mental illness, the less prejudice.

Notice, I said experience.  Not knowledge.  Knowledge hasn't helped.  Experience does.

Personal Experience Mitigates Prejudice

Here is a study that shows familiarity breeds respect.  208 community college students, of diverse backgrounds and ages, were asked about how familiar they were with people who have a mental illness, whether that exposure was from movies, documentaries, work with, work for, friend, family member, own life.  They answered questionnaires on their estimation of how dangerous people with mental illness are, their fears of people with mental illness and their desire for social distance (whether willing or not to work with, live near, or associate with people with mental illness).

Sure enough, the closer the contact, the less expectation of danger, less fear, less desire for social distance.  And note: when you are asked whether you work with or live next door to somebody with a mental illness, the real questions is whether you know that you work with or live next door to somebody with a mental illness.

Strategies For Reducing Prejudice

These findings are consistent with a large body of research over a long time about how people who are familiar with members of a stigmatized group have less prejudice toward that group.  The following paragraph is quoted from the report.  You can find references for each point in the original.

Social psychologists have examined several variables that are relevant to ethnic prejudice and that could be adapted for research on contact with and stigma surrounding persons who have mental illness.  One important variable that affects contact is opportunity: members of the majority must have opportunities to interact with members of minority groups if stigma is to be reduced.  Thus persons who have serious mental illnesses must have formal opportunities to contact and interact with the general public.  Other factors that augment the effects of interpersonal contact include treatment and perception of the participants as equals by members of the public, cooperative interaction, institutional support for contact, frequent contact with individuals who mildly disconfirm the stereotypes of mental illness, a high level of intimacy, and real opportunities to interact with members of minority groups.  Each of these factors suggests specific hypotheses on how contact between members of the general public and persons who have serious mental illness can be facilitated.

These citations are for ethnic prejudice.  One's ethnicity is usually more observable than one's medical status.  Gay and lesbian people have gotten the same results with the same strategies -- by bringing their membership in a stigmatized group to the awareness of their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, fellow church members, golf buddies...

So Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

All you have to do to reduce prejudice against people with mental illness is be one.  Out loud.  We need every one of you who possibly can to come out.  We need family members and coworkers and neighbors and friends to talk about you, too.  We need to start laughing at the stereotypes and at the people who hold them.  We need to be out loud proud of our recovery.

Because there is a lot at stake here.

Silence = Death

icon of Christ Pantokrator in public domain
photo of Mahatma Gandhi in public domain
photo of Dorothy's ruby red slippers by Alkivar, used under the GNU Free Documentation License.
photo of kindergarten teacher in public domain
photo of Oscar Su Sfondo Rosso by Idea go
photo of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones by John Griffiths and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
photo of Mount Rushmore by Kimon Berlin and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
photo of Charlie Pride in public domain
portrait of Amy Tan by David Sifry and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
screen shot of Marilyn Monroe in public domain

Happy Christmas to my Readers

Feliz Navidad

ميلاد مجيد


С Рождеством Хрисовым

Vrolijk Kerstfeest

Feliz Natal

One Last Song -- Joy To The World
This one is signed, as well.

Happiness in a Gingerbread House

How To Be Happy

How to be happy yields approximately 450,000,000 results in a Google search.  At that number, they don't bother to be precise. gets you 2914 hits in the book department.

Nevertheless, I betcha I get my own share, as I explore the specific application of gingerbread houses to research reported in The New Science of Happiness by Claudia Wallis.

Research On Happiness

Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, started off a flurry of happiness research when he picked happiness and oddly enough, mental health as the theme of his tenure, a decade ago.  His own contribution is Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.  More on Seligman below.

Moment-Based Happiness

color: black;"> Some
happiness research focuses on the immediate.  What are you doing right now?  And how much are you enjoying it?  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no kidding) spent money on this one.  He had to develop a hand held computer device to prompt the questions at random intervals.  It would have cost less if he had waited for an IPod app.  Maybe this was the forerunner?

Taking care of my children ranks very low on this What are you doing right now; and how much are you enjoying it survey.  However, it is often cited as the most rewarding experience in a parent's life.

As it happens, raising this young man was the very most rewarding experience of my life.  That night when he was fifteen and hanging out with a friend at the mall, however...  not so much.  Not if you had asked me right then.

Happiness And Outcomes

So the outcome colors ones experience of happiness.  Daniel Kahneman studied colonoscopies, of all things.  What are colonoscopies are doing in an article and blogpost on happiness?  It's a backward approach (so to speak).  But the point is that how people feel about their experience of a colonoscopy depends on the result more than the level of discomfort or even pain.

But let's get back to the topic, happiness in a gingerbread house.  Gingerbread is a more suitable example, or at least one more pleasant to contemplate.  The roof in this photo did not break.  I had learned from that other one.

And I did NOT use a $50 bottle of single malt scotch as a wall brace, even though my brother-in-law was so moved by my story of woe that he bought me another.

">Theology Alert! text-align: center;"> So liturgical preachers who have to do Good Friday every year now have new material -- research to support why we call the day that Jesus died Good Friday.  It is because we remember how it turned out -- presented here on the left side of the triptych -- the Resurrection.
And The Lottery -- Circumstances "> David Lykken "> Nor does knocking over a nearly full bottle of double aged single malt scotch, inappropriately used as a wall brace.  Okay, so I remember it.  It's just not very important to my happiness, not now.
Memory-Based Happiness
Seligman focuses more on remembered experience than on the moment-to moment.  He says that remembered happiness comes from pleasure, engagement (depth of involvement with family, work, romance and hobbies), and meaningfulness (using personal strengths to serve some larger ends).

My gingerbread adventure had all three in spades.


Way back last winter, when I first committed to this project, I knew there would be mule deer running through the trees.  There are 2000 inhabitants in Sisters, Oregon, the site of the finished project.  280 of these inhabitants are mule deer.  More move in during winter, when feed gets scarce in the mountains.  But you can tell the locals, because they look both ways before crossing the street.  I never found a mule deer cookie cutter.  These are reindeer with the antlers cut off.  I got a kick out of them, especially their little red noses and white butts.  They are to scale, by the way.

I figured the trees out early.  These are waffle cones, broken in pieces and glued back together in layers, using dark brown royal icing.  Next I frosted with tan icing mixed with coconut for texture, with not quite complete coverage, so the dark showed through in places.  Then came the green, again with the coconut.  The powdered sugar was my finishing touch.  I felt like a kid, doing a craft project with library paste.

Oh, and then there was that chimney.  The prototype used ribbon candy, nice rectangular shapes.  But I couldn't find ribbon candy at Fred Meyer in Redmond.  So I used Christmas Mix.  Think marbles in place of Legos, transforming myself from a brick layer to a builder of stone walls.  So I am insanely proud that it stands.  I am not sure, but I think it may be tall enough to meet code.

This made me happy.


A couple weeks ago, I reported a study on happiness and mind wandering.  Short version: they don't mix.  Engagement is the converse.  The more you are absorbed in what you are doing in the immediate moment, the happier you are.

Sex rates the highest on the engagement scale.  People pay attention to what they are doing during sex 80% of the time.  If it were higher, you know the responders would be lying.  80% seems realistic and yet still really healthy.

Okay, so this wasn't sex.  But I did hold my breath.

Sometimes my tongue even stuck out.

Building a gingerbread house is like building a house of cards.  everything has to balance while it is going up.  Except the pieces break when they fall.  This is an exercise that requires engagement.  Your mind cannot wander.

Though I worked mostly by myself, the gingerbread houses did draw me into relationships.  My sister-in-law created Pierre here.

After the installation, I traveled the Gingerbread Trail to see the twenty-four other houses in Sisters.  I met other artists.  (No, I don't have their pictures.  I don't do pictures.)  We shared the bond of insane pride in our silly little creations.  Not to mention a thinly veiled competition.

This made me happy. 


Pleasure brings happiness.  But of the three, pleasure, engagement and meaningfulness, pleasure is the weakest.  It is fleeting, after all.  The outcome may change the emotional interpretation.  Relationships and meaning endure.

This was a labor of love.  The Gingerbread Trail is a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity, the Sisters, Oregon chapter.  People tour the trail and vote for their favorites by putting donations into a box.  They can vote for as many and as much as they like.  Go to Sisters, Oregon before January 6th and you can vote, too.  Vote for me.  But vote for the others, as well, if you like.  The money all goes to Habitat.  It's just that mine is located at home base.

Or go here, if your travel plans to not include Oregon this month.

Habitat operates worldwide, making home ownership possible for people of limited means.  A person or family applies to a local chapter for a house.  A team of volunteers builds it.  The receiving family contributes labor.  Then they pay for it with a no-interest loan.  Then they help with the next build (or do other volunteer work, if not physically able.)

Home ownership creates financial stability and pulls people out of poverty.  Duh.  When we were in Sisters, my sister-in-law drove us past the first Habitat build in town.  She said the son has just graduated from medical school.

Go to this website to learn more about how Habitat was formed, where it works, what innovative construction technologies they use, what Jimmy Carter has to do with it, how you can give and how you can get involved.

My little gingerbread house with the snowman with attitude is helping to raise funds for another house, one for people.

This makes me happy.

So here is another piece of meaningfulness.  Most of the fund-raising for the Sisters Habitat comes from what is called a ReStore.  When you have leftover paint or wood from a home improvement project, when you upgrade your refrigerator, or replace your front door, you can donate the unwanted materials to a ReStore.  It will do three things.

  • It will recycle.
  • It will build houses with money from the resale of your donated items.
  • It will keep tons of stuff out of landfills.

The Gingerbread Trail is sponsored by Sisters' ReStore.  In keeping with the spirit, I included in my house a reindeer Pez dispenser that somebody gave me and that I intended to toss.  I donated materials I bought and decided not to use to a food bank.  I gave leftover candy to the ReStore for their snack bowl.

This also made me happy.

Now, this project did not cure me of bipolar 2.  The wheel turned again.  I expect it to continue.

But it made the good time better, while I was totally absorbed in molding a cat out of gingerbread dough and then painting it to resemble Miss Jennie, the ReStore cat.  I am not crazy about cats.  And she had to be a calico.  But she totally absorbed my attention.

I have developed a basis for future relationships.

When there are so many things I am no longer able to do, and when I am acutely aware of how difficult this project was when once it would have been easy, I will remember that I managed to do it anyway.

And I have made a difference.

It made and makes and will continue to make me happy.

flair from facebook
photo of Jacob and Jenny by Nancy German
photos of gingerbread by Helen Keefe
forest photo by Maylene Thyssen,
La crucifixión con la oración en el huerto y la resurrección, 1520
by Lucas Cranach and in the public domain

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