Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

From Art to Antidepressants

The best part about the recovery center was that my mother was there, and alive, which was the only thing I could accept.  The next best part was that she was happy there.

The west side of the long one-story brick building was the arts and crafts room.  Big windows and wide glass doors offered patients a clear view of the pretty Pine trees that surrounded the hospital. 

I remember taking afternoon naps in my parents bedroom while my mother was away, which seemed like forever to me.  I cried when I looked out of her bedroom window where I could see my grandmother’s front porch.   I loved that porch, but without my mother, nothing was the same.

The few visits we made to see her were like gold to me.  Nothing was more valuable than my time with her, especially after that awful night when the ambulance came to our home.

The long wooden table where my mother’s spirit and creativity thrived appeared enormous… and a wonderful fantasy land for a child’s mind.

“This is what I’m making,” she told me as she showed me her end of the long wooden art table.  I could tell it was her work area.  Her art pieces and tools were colorful and organized.  Her first project included small figures, some not yet painted, which became my older brother’s Chess set.

My mother speaks fondly of her short time there.  She talks about how she was completely withdrawn until she finally expressed anger in a group therapy session.  She speaks of the kind counselors and how each of them had been through similar experiences as she had.  She talks about the art and crafts she made, the nurse whom she came to like and the good friend she made during her stay.  We don’t often talk about this time in our lives, but once in a while, the subject comes up.  Like the vitamin she remembers taking.

“You should ask your doctor about that vitamin,” she’ll tell me.  “It would make you eat and gain weight.  It was a big black pill,” she’ll say, but I’ve never met a doctor who knows what kind of vitamin it might have been.  I know it was not an antidepressant.  She said they didn’t give her medication.  Just that one vitamin a day.  Clearly, it was the people, Mother’s art and time for herself that helped her heal.

My very favorite of the crafts she created while there was a village of elves.   An odd formation of drift wood served as the foundation, as Earth is for us humans. 

Elf reading and relaxing in the wood

Elfin Oak

She had crafted and painted each elf into a unique character.  They lived in a magical fantasy land, but it was easy for me to pretend their world was as real as mine.

The elves had everything they needed.  Families, food, stores and friends, all of which my mother had meticulously created.   Their faces were full of joy.  The village was surely a happy place.  One elf carried a bucket of water and another a bundle of sticks.  The child elves played with toys.  Life seemed to work in the village of elves.   I dreamed of living there.

For some reason, even though I’ve asked several times throughout my life how it happened and have been told, the details of how the village was destroyed have never stuck in my mind.

One day after school, I discovered the village on the ground beside our front porch steps in more pieces than my eight year old mind could process.  I don’t like to think about that.

On my bookshelf, as I write, there are two emerald-green ceramic praying hands that she made during her recovery.  I cherish the hands, even though I usually keep them behind other objects and books because they still, sometimes, remind me of what happened that night she had to go away. 

My mother finally came home, but our lives were never the same afterward.  My parents eventually divorced and I went to live with Mother.

I think about the wonderful crafts my mother has made since then.  I have a framed picture of a little girl wearing a hat and holding a kitten (a cross-stitching pattern from a cover of the Saturday Evening Post) that took Mother an entire year to complete and nearly that long to save the money for the frame.  I adore and love my gift.  She made each of her children, after we grew up, a different picture.  I like mine the most.

My mother is a talented creative person.  I still have a red velvet evening gown she made for my Barbie doll.  She made our childhood clothes.  She made my cheerleading uniform.  It was the early ’70’s and short skirts were popular, so she shortened mine a little to make it more stylish.  I loved telling everyone that she made it.

She also made two of the most beautiful prom dresses for my sisters that I’ve ever seen since, but my sisters say they were the only girls at the prom who were not wearing spaghetti straps.  I was too young to understand how this made any difference, since they were the most beautiful dresses I’d ever seen in my life.

Mother worked every day hand-stitching pearls and sequins on the dresses.  One was a light pink and the other a shimmering pale green.  My sisters were beautiful and in those dresses, they were prettier than any of my dolls.

I watched and anticipated with great excitement the day I would see my pretty sisters in those dresses.   Unfortunately, my daddy had a shotgun waiting for their dates when they pulled into our driveway.   My sisters had to run in those elegant dresses out our back door through the cow pasture to meet their dates at the other end of our road.

So, you see, my mother had a hard life, which is how she ended up at the treatment center.  She was almost lost to us that night, before the men in the white coats came to save her life.  One of them bent down,  looked into my eyes and said, “Your mother is going to live.  You saved her life.”

I wish there were still places like the recovery center under the Pines where people could go when they are in great despair.  Nowadays, when you go to a hospital for a mental or emotional problem, unless you can afford a private place, you are treated more like a prisoner than a patient.

Your rights that have been taken away will be put in your face if you dare stray from compliance or attempt to have a say in the matter of your treatment; a say that somehow rubs a doctor or nurse in the wrong way.

It’s all about which drug they can get you on as quickly as possible.   Things have changed, that’s for sure.

I think there are definitely good changes — yet many are to change what should never occur in the first place, such as the patient abuse going on within the confines of our modern-day psychiatric institutions/hospitals.

Other outdated approaches need to be reinstated, such as personal exploration through art and friends, which I believe can be as beneficial as any type of treatment and without bad side-effects.   Science has told us they have seen that friendship changes brain chemistry. 

The ‘staff’ who worked at the mental health treatment centers were true counselors in the sense that they were recovered alcoholics or had survived a breakdown.  They had been where their patients were, so they understood.

Today, the former oasis under the Pines is remodeled.  They don’t have the big arts and crafts room anymore.   And vitamins?  I don’t hardly think so, as my mother would say.


Thank you for visiting Dogkisses’s blog.

PHOTO IMAGE of Elfin Oak via Flickr by StarrGazr

About the image, from Wikipedia:

The Elfin Oak is a 900-year-old tree stump in Kensington Gardens in London, carved and painted to look as though elves, gnomes and small animals are living in its bark.

What is right?

My heart beats too fast and my hands shake when I think back remembering all the hospital admissions, the doctors, the pills, God… the pills!  As I write, my gut feels like it’s being ripped apart.  What if I made a mistake?

What if I made such a huge mistake that my only beloved son shall never forgive me?  And if he does forgive me, has my mistake(s) ruined some of his life already?  Has it already carved out part of who he is?

I just don’t know what is right.  I don’t know what to do.

Join a group?  There’s pretty much only one to choose from, which is through NAMI.

“Forget his liver,” I remember the young psychiatrist telling me.  Was she suggesting that I’m neglecting my son by not neglecting his liver, I wondered.  Sometimes psychiatrists think in strange ways.

“We can treat liver disease, diabetes and Tardive Dyskenesia,” the young psychiatrist said, “but we can’t treat schizophrenia without antipsychotics.”

That part about treating liver disease, well, I don’t think so.

My son’s liver panel always changes when he takes the type of medications recommended by psychiatrists.  His family physician told him, once in front of me, “never take antipsychotics again.”  He told us that they would damage his liver.  

In response, my son’s ACT team social worker and a psychiatric intern at the hospital told me that we should get a new family doctor.

“You must go against your gut,” I’ve been told by professionals in the psychiatric community.  “You must abandon everything you understand as a mother in making decisions to advocate for treatment,” a well-respected social worker once said to me. 

“Treatment,” ultimately can mean forced injections.   The social worker added that if she was a parent in my shoes, that she truly didn’t know what she would do.

“We’ll commit him for not taking medicine and keep him there until he gets so tired of it he will do anything to get out, even accept regular injections of anti-psychotics.  We’ve had to do this many times with patients like your son — who are consistently non-compliant in taking their meds,” his psychiatrist has suggested.

“He wouldn’t have rehabilitation there,” I told the psychiatrist after she threatened to send him there if he, “made one wrong move.”  My son is not a criminal.  He gets sad and lonely and out of sorts.  He isn’t out breaking the law. 

The doctor had a bad attitude and let her personal feelings get too involved.  She was angry because the day before my son had gotten out of a car in town, instead of going to his apartment, while riding with one of the team’s social workers.  He’s an adult and can get out if he wants to whether anyone likes it or not.

“The only thing he would be able to do up there since the psychiatric rehabilitation unit is full would be sit in their community room all day, watching television with patients who are much worse than he is,” I told her.  She reminded me again that this was an effective technique to get some patients to decide to take medication.

I feel like I’ve had to give my son over to the enemy.  I feel like I agreed to join them too — but never with my whole heart or without the ongoing feeling that there must be a better way to do things than the way our modern-day psychiatry does them.

I stopped going to the support groups because there is a collective attitude that supports denying another person’s human and civil rights.

I once told my son’s psychiatrist about research suggesting that people with diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, can recover.  She hadn’t heard about the studies nor had she ever read anything about treating schizophrenia in ways outside of antipsychotic medication.   Personally, I find it disturbing that she’s been a psychiatrist for more than twenty years, yet hasn’t taken time to read about other forms of treatment. 

We need an alternative.  My son and I, and possibly many other families, need people to join an exploration in healthy ways to treat “mental illness” and we need to start a conversation about recovery.

“What causes schizophrenia?” someone asked a famous psychiatrist who was speaking at a meeting I attended.

“Nothing,” the doctor replied.  “Nothing and everything causes it.”

I don’t have the answers.  I do believe that if we had places where we can find what a former professor of mine called, “The Three Ms’,” that healing could happen.  “Meaning, Mastery, and Membership,” he called them.  “People will go crazy without these things,” he said to our class one day.

Thank you for visiting Dogkisses’s blog.

Schizophrenia and community

Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margh...

Image via Wikipedia

In Schizophrenia, I believe there is more to recovery than antipsychotic medications.

“Meaning, Mastery and Membership.  Without these people go nuts,” a former anthropology professor told our class one day.  “The three m(s),”  he called them.  I remember this because it made a lot of sense to me.  I really like things that make sense.

I’m not against using medication to treat symptoms of a mental illness, but it doesn’t make sense for this to be the only treatment method used.  I’m also not referring to an immediate mental health crisis.  I’m talking about the ongoing trials and tribulations of living with the symptoms of a mental illness.

I used to plant flower gardens to attract butterflies.  Butterflies are smart.  They would come when I arrived on the scene with potted plants that hadn’t even bloomed yet.  They would wait, for days and days, while I dug holes and prepared gardens.  Many times they would drink from the sweat on my shoulders, hanging out with me while I worked.  I felt good about myself when I planted those gardens.

I found personal meaning and a sense of mastery when they came to drink nectar from the flowers they had waited for, that I planted for them, and sometimes to lay their eggs on the glorious Bronze Fennel.

Mastery refers to the experience of being capable of doing something.   We don’t have to literally be masters or experts.  Being good at something of course gives us a sense of mastery, but also believing we can learn something new or get better at something we are interested in can also be empowering this way.

Membership is about having a sense of belonging.  Getting paid for my gardens included me in the work force.  I felt too that I had a place in my community as a business owner with a service that I felt good about.

In my personal experience, with my son and other adult children who have schizophrenia, work is either minimal or absent.

I think it’s true that if you work in a career or at a job doing something you enjoy, it’s more likely you’ll be happy and successful.  This is especially important for people who struggle with a thought disorder.  There is a symptom called disorganized thinking.   It is very much the same as being in a room where nothing has a place, a lot like my son’s apartment.  It’s completely overwhelming.

It only makes sense, at least to me, that he would succeed in an area that allows for free thinking, creativity, and time for him to focus on one thing at a time.

He got fired from a pizza parlor because the manager said he took too much time making the pies.  My son said he couldn’t make them unless he could make them just right and that the people deserved better than what they were getting.  He liked to decorate the edges and make sure the crust was perfect.  This took time he said.  He was passionate about the pizzas.

He had made pizzas before, when he was only seventeen.  His pizzas were famous among the locals and with the manager for being the biggest pies in town.  Once I went there and ordered one with artichokes.  The owner, who liked my son’s enthusiasm, laughed that night saying that there weren’t any artichokes left.  They had all gone on my pizza.  My son was proud, watching me as I ate so heartily.

This symptom of disorganized thinking is the main reason my son is not making pizzas as I write, along with the fact that most managers will not allow him to create his own masterpieces.  If I had the money I’d open him a pizza place.  It would have to be known for the biggest pies in town so he could pay the overhead.

There are residential therapeutic living centers in the northern and western part of the US, along with one in the southeast that has become popular.   Some of them have farms and animals.  Some of them teach certain trades or skills.  Unfortunately they are expensive.

I honestly wish that our local neuroscience teaching hospital included a residential living place for the patients who are able to leave and expected to survive in the community.  A place where meaning, mastery and membership could be cultivated and nurtured.  I wish we expected the patients leaving the hospitals and institutions to thrive and not just survive, even as I am certain that every single day my son survives is a blessed day.

Sometimes surviving each day is the very best you can hope for.  I understand that.  Most of my life is like that.

I know it’s dreamy to imagine a place, such as a residential healing farm, as being part of modern-day America’s approach to treating mental illness, but I think it’s a reasonable and rational imagining.

People who have the money are paying and saying wonderful things about some of the therapeutic residential living centers.  Plus, modern medicine doesn’t have illnesses such as schizophrenia figured out.  Recent studies show that being a friend to a person with a mental illness can change brain chemistry.  Well, I figured that all along.

We are told by psychiatrists that schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain and that antipsychotics are the only answer.  We are told schizophrenia is a lifetime brain disease.  This may all be true, but it doesn’t mean these are laws written in stone or that they apply to every individual diagnosed.

I think there is more to treatment, healing and rehabilitation than medication alone.

Meaning, Mastery and Membership.  We all need a healthy dose of each.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

I’m a just a mother with a few dreamy dreams.

I am not a doctor, therapist or medical professional of any kind.  I am not attempting to give advice about treatment of a mental illness.

Image via Wikipedia (click on image for details)