Hartford Connecticut Museum Curates Unique and Universal Exhibit on Mental Health Past and Present

The first thing you see when you walk into the mental health exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford is 18th Century artist Faith Trumbull Huntington who died by suicide. 

“Through looking through letters in our collection, we gleaned that her family had tried to help her,” said Ben Gammell, director of exhibitions at the museum. 

Common Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exhibition about Mental Health Presented by Hartford Healthcare Institute of Living will show now until October 15, 2022. 

Shortly into the exhibit you will learn about the personal stories of military and law enforcement through the use of video interviews. Also included are information about mental health of soldiers during the Civil War. As the cop said in his video, “We are the first ones you call when you need help, but we are not inclined to ask for help for ourselves.” 

Erasing the discrimination that surrounds mental health in our society is what this exhibit hopes to achieve. Through focus groups and reaching out to mental health agencies, the museum found people with lived experience to interview on camera. You will find these stories interspersed throughout the exhibit. 

I reached out to Kathy Flaherty executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, who was part of the initial focus groups and was interviewed on camera for the exhibit. CLRP is a non-profit organization fighting for the legal rights of people with mental illness.

“I was pleased to participate in focus groups while the exhibit was being planned and to film video responses to several thought-provoking questions. The Keep the Promise Coalition posters were in storage at CLRP’s office [Connecticut Legal Rights Project]; I was thrilled we were able to loan them to the museum for display as part of this exhibit, said Flaherty. 

“I hope this exhibit will get more people to think about where we’ve been, and more importantly, where we are going in terms of what “mental health” means in Connecticut. I hope it causes people to think deeply about how we can best support people in emotional distress and the systemic changes we must continue to demand.”

Because of its 120th Anniversary in 2022, there is a lot of information about the Institute of Living’s history formerly the Hartford Retreat for the Insane. The IOL is now a part of Hartford Healthcare in Hartford, Connecticut.

Through use of diverse voices from the past and present, they discuss the impact poverty and racism have on mental health and access to care. For black and indigenous cultures there is extra discrimination the way society looks at someone for having a chemical imbalance in their brain. 

Some of the voices included talked about the lack of insurance coverage and access to treatment without going bankrupt. They included a small section on mental health public policy and legislation. They even brought in voices from the deaf community talking about finding a therapist who used sign language. These was even a section on mindfulness practices in mental health treatment. 

At the end of the exhibit, there were mental health crisis numbers and pamphlets for people to take and share with their friends. 

“This exhibit helps destigmatize mental health and normalize the conversation,” said Gammell. “It talks about how people past and present struggled with mental health. It’s a universal issue throughout the ages.”

The curators dug deep through diaries and letters in the museum’s collection to find this universal truth within the texts of the past.

“It’s not a chronological exhibit. We’ve weaved voices from the past with those from the present to allow you to connect with people from 200 years ago,” said Gammell.

Author and Advocate Julia Tannenbaum, who I have interviewed for this blog, was included in the exhibit as well as her fictional trilogy the Changing Ways series were displayed. 

“I’m beyond flattered to have my young adult book trilogy, The Changing Ways Series, featured in Common Struggle, Individual Experience. My goal with writing my books and sharing my personal story of surviving anorexia was to inspire hope in those who are struggling with mental illness that recovery is possible, and that it gets so much better. Additionally, there needs to be more public awareness of mental illness and support for those who suffer, and I believe CHS’s incredible exhibit will move the needle forward on both. I’m so glad that I can be a part of this much-needed systematic change,” said Tannenbaum. 

A live storytelling event presented by writer and storyteller Matthew Dicks on Zoom was dedicated to Mental Health honoring the exhibit which happened last Saturday and was sponsored by the Connecticut Historical Society. These stories augmented the exhibit by sharing even more personal stories. 

They will also be hosting related programs throughout the year. Our next book talk scheduled is here:

A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic – Connecticut Historical SocietyJoin us for a book talk with Hartford paramedic Peter Canning, author of Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.. In April 2021, Canning released Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.A paramedic on the streets of Hartford for over 25 years, Canning has seen the impact of prescription painkillers …chs.org

If you go to the museum’s web site, you can take a virtual tour of the exhibit, find out hours of operation, price of admission, and when live tours are scheduled for this exhibit. The site is www.chs.org

Author Terri Cheney Talks about her Life and her Books

Author and advocate Terri Cheney’s friends and family were often baffled by her moods and how to best help her. People offered lots of well-meaning advice but none of it got down to her core.

“When someone is depressed, say five little words: Tell me where it hurts,” said Cheney. “This helps a person open up about their feelings and pain. The darkness dissipates out into the light.”

Cheney is the author of three books, the best-selling memoir Manic about her life as an entertainment lawyer with bipolar disorder, the Dark Side of Innocence about her childhood and adolescence growing up undiagnosed bipolar, and her latest book Modern Madness: An Owner’s Manual.


The Reasoning behind Modern Madness


Cheney wrote Modern Madness to reach beyond her own experience since her first memoir was published and incorporate some of the new research on bipolar disorder. The book is more prescriptive than her memoirs but she uses anecdotes from her own life to illustrate.

“Several years ago, I bought a new vacuum and it came with complicated instructions. I had the idea that there should be an owner’s manual for mental health. It’s a frightening subject unless you break it down.”


Describing her manias and her depressions


Cheney, diagnosed with ultra-rapid cycling bipolar as an adult, describes mania like this: “I just had a manic day after not having one for a long time. I felt like I was being pushed from behind, speaking quickly, racing through my day.”

Depression is quite the opposite for her. She experiences physical paralysis or psychomotor retardation as psychiatrists call it.

“I could be looking at a pen on the desk. I’ll stare at it for 10 minutes and not pick it up. Both the emotional and physical components of depression are frightening,” she said.


Childhood and Bipolar on the College Campus


Cheney’s bipolar disorder was apparent in the Dark Side of Innocence. She explained her symptoms as the “Black Beast” inside of her. But it went untreated because she was a straight A student, popular and not the type of kid you think of as being troubled. Her parents didn’t talk about mental illness and as she says in Manicher father thought it was all in her head. By the time she stepped on Vassar’s campus, she went to the campus mental health center because she wasn’t sleeping but didn’t open up to the therapist that she was experiencing depression quite possibly because she couldn’t find the words to articulate her experience. The same thing happened to me at Simmons’ mental health center. I couldn’t find words to describe my experience so I went unnoticed until I had a manic break later that year.

“It’s hard to take the first step and acknowledge something is very wrong,” she said.


Talking about Mental Health Now and in the Future


“There is hope for the future. We’ve gone through with Covid as a nation and it has sensitized people that mental health is physical health and life is precious and fragile. This will lead to awareness and compassion.”

“We are finally seeing a shift with the NFL open about mental health and Simone Biles opening up at the Olympics. We’ll look back in 5 years and wonder why we were so afraid to talk about this.”


The Language we use

Cheney who writes a blog on Psychology Today’s web site spoke of the political correctness in the mental health advocacy world. “I hope we don’t mess up experience with political correctness. We have to be careful about the language we use. The mental health community focuses too much on language and not enough on talking.”


To have the illness or to not have it 

I asked Cheney if she ever wished she were born without the Black Beast’s influence.

“Elyn [Saks] and I talked about this quite a bit. If we could take a magic pill to get rid of our illnesses, would we? I don’t think I would take that pill. Bipolar disorder is critical in developing my empathy and creativity.”

A California resident, Cheney is good friends with Elyn Saks, also a lawyer and diagnosed schizophrenic. Cheney sits on the board of her Center for Law, Policy and Ethics at USC.

Cheney is fascinated by the subject of manic depression. It has captured her imagination. She loves to sit in coffee shops with her notebook and write on moods and madness. Although her depressions have led her to be extremely suicidal and suicide attempts, she’d still want the beauty and ability to appreciate the darks and lights and shadows of life that bipolar brings her.

“It’s a very interesting illness. I don’t know why people don’t want to find out more,” she said.


Education is key

Cheney encourages her friends and family to educate themselves on her illness by reading her books and other literature that is out there so they know what she goes through and what they are getting into.

“Anyone in a relationship with me is going to be educated about bipolar disorder,” she said. “I’m honest about my depressions. I isolate and don’t return phone calls and texts.”

She says all she needs is people to know her well enough to check in on her and she will do her best to stay in contact.


Finding the Right Treatment


“Finding the right treatment can be difficult as a middle class white woman. I have privilege and I still find it difficult to pay for treatment. It makes me angry. We are nowhere near where we need to be with parity,” she said.

“In a perfect world, everyone that needed it would have a therapist and a psychopharmacologist who is conservative and careful.”

She warned against people going to their PCP for a prescription for Prozac because anti-depressants are not good in bipolar patients. Peer support groups are good for people who can’t afford therapy.

Cheney began and facilitated a support group at UCLA Medical Center. “You need to be your own advocate,” she said.




Because Cheney has written three books and is very open about her illness, she has trouble putting herself in other’s shoes when it comes to disclosure. She advises people when telling others about their illness to gage their audience closely.

“I wouldn’t tell details about a past relationship or job. You have to be careful who you tell and when you tell them,” she said. “I tell people as early as possible. If that person has a problem with it, I don’t want them in my life.”


Three Degrees of Separation

“Whenever I’ve told someone I’m bipolar, nine times out of ten they tell me about their cousin or mother or themselves are too.”


Self-Care vs. Self-Soothing

Cheney sees self-care as going to the doctor or getting bloodwork done. However, self-soothing, for her, is reading a good book and eating frozen yogurt.

“When I’m depressed, I treat myself as if I had the flu and not set expectations of myself.”

She’s a big fan of mindless television. She likes the classics like that make her laugh such as Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers.


Her depiction in the Modern Love series on Amazon Prime

Cheney thought they did a somewhat realistic job of depicting bipolar disorder on the Modern Love series on Prime based on an essay she wrote for the New York Times. Anne Hathaway and her chatted beforehand to get an accurate picture of her depression. The only thing they took creative license on is they made the character of Terri get fired.

“I have never been fired from a job because of my illness,” she said.


Hope for the future

Cheney is writing a new memoir asking the question whether people can really change.

“It’s been a difficult life dealing with mental illness. But it’s made me empathetic and kind,” she said.

“I’m amazed at how people get through the dark times without the advantages I’ve had,” she said referring to the support group she facilitated at UCLA.


Terri Cheney has a website at www.terricheney.com. It is being redeveloped as an educational site but you will still be able to purchase her books or friend her on Facebook.

The Best Books on Gratitude that I’ve Found So Far

Gratitude is important in healing from depression and other mental illness. World expert on gratitude Deborah Hawkins offers two books the Best of No Small Thing: Mindful Meditations and Practice Gratitude: Transform Your Life. Intentional Gratitude is more than keeping a gratitude list or journal. It’s about noticing the little things that make you happy in life. These two books helped me to remind myself what is truly important. Her first book, a book of short essays, is poignant and at times wry, full of observations that you can relate to your own life. These are not just books for people with mental illness; they are for everybody. 

To order these books, go to www.nosmallthing.net

Hawkins is offering another round of her companion course Helium for Your Heart: Elevate Your Outlook with Intentional Gratitude. The course will be offered October 12 and 19 at 7PM EST. It costs $47, but you can get it for $36 with the promo code Goodlife2021. Here is a link to register for the course: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/helium-for-your-heart-elevate-your-outlook-with-intentional-gratitude-tickets-168633444171?aff=erelexpmlt

Carrie Cantwell’s New Memoir Daddy Issues A Tour de Force on bipolar disorder in families

1. Why did you write this book? What are your hopes for the book?

I started writing the book as journal entries to keep track of my life, my experiences and what I’d been through. It was purely therapeutic and not originally meant for anyone but me to read, so I could learn more about myself and track my moods. Over the years I realized I’d written so much I had a book on my hands! I polished it up, wrote more to tie everything together, and ended up with a memoir.

My goal for the book is to inspire hope for people who are struggling and feel alone. By sharing my story, I want to help those who are trying to make sense of a new bipolar diagnosis so they can understand how this illness feels to those of us who’ve experienced a manic or depressive episode. I also want it to serve as a sort of cautionary tale, to instill the message that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. For anyone who’s lived with the emptiness and abandonment that often accompanies the loss of a loved one, I want to show them that life will go on, and it’s even possible to reconcile with someone you never got to say goodbye to. Finally, I also hope to help anyone who deals with daddy issues (needing approval from men in order to feel whole, and choosing the wrong romantic partners because of it) and show that I was able to heal and recover, and they can too.

2. What was your writing process when writing this?

I collected journal entries I’d written over the years and turned them into real stories, staying true to my own voice while still formalizing them enough to work as a memoir. I wrote more to tie everything together into one cohesive story about my life, and of course edited the heck out of it with the help of a professional editor. 

3. Why did you choose the narrative arc you chose?

I started with a dramatic moment that was the culmination of my trauma, and then went backwards from there. I invite the reader into a very personal moment, show how things got that bad, and then share my recovery journey. The book ends on a positive note of healing and absolution, which was important to me. I want readers to walk away with a feeling of hope for the future.

I interviewed Carrie Cantwell a few years ago for this blog and she guest blogged as well. I announced her recent publication on Amazon of Daddy Issues a memoir a few weeks ago. Here is my review.

I give it 5 Stars!!!!! I’d give it 10 Stars if there was such a thing.

In this beautifully written book, Carrie traces from childhood to present the discovery of her own bipolar disorder eloquently juxtaposing it with that of her emotionally absent father’s own bipolar illness. Carrie’s father died by suicide when she was 24-years-old. 

Carrie coined the term hyperspaz to describe her hypomanic episodes from childhood to college to young adulthood. Diagnosed bipolar in her twenties, it isn’t until after a suicide attempt that she learns to embrace health and sees the truth about her dad. From a marriage in college to an unhealthy, abusive marriage as an adult which culminated in a suicide attempt of her own, Carrie learns to embrace her illness, and to ultimately understand her father. 

Her use of symbols, imagery and dialogue is amazing as she admits to her memory being spotty due to her illness. Her mother is a psychotherapist and was tremendous support during her illness and recovery journey knowing the right resources. 

This book is a tour de force of how bipolar affects the whole family both genetically and emotionally. 

Run out and buy this book now. You will not be sorry. Here is the Amazon link. Carrie blogs at http://darknessandlight.org.

Innovative Family Fundraising Project Raises Money for Non-profits Helping those with Mental Health Issues

After Rapper Iran Jr. Brugueras aka Splash died in a car accident in 2016, the Brugueras family turned pain into purpose creating SPLASH to raise funds for mental health non-profits. They started a fund with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving with the over $25,000 they fundraised through a softball and a bowling fundraiser to celebrate the life of their son. 

“My step-son Iran struggled with mental health issues. He received therapy and medication but no one showed him the holistic way of yoga, meditation, nutrition,” said Nora his stepmother.

Iran aka Splash used his talent for rap music to produce a song and music video about his struggle with mental illness titled “Pill Boy.” You can see the video here.

Helping Splash with his music became a family endeavor. His family decided to start SPLASH—Special People Looking and Aiming for Success and Health—to help them grieve with purpose. 

So far, SPLASH’s gift to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has funded $5,000 to Advocacy Unlimited’s Toivo Center, a place for people with mental health issues and their friends and families to learn about and experience holistic culture such as drumming circles, support groups, meditation, and yoga. 

SPLASH is hoping to raise even more with more events when the pandemic subsides in order to give to more non-profits doing good work for mental health. 

“Change starts with us, a family initiative, said Nora. “At times, it is a lot to take on. But if you start the conversation eventually change happens.”

SPLASH hopes in the future to bring together mental health and holistic practitioners in a mental health fair to show people that they too can have a comprehensive treatment plan. 

For more information about SPLASH, go to www.splashproject.net.

Special Free Offering on Gratitude from my friend Deb

Let me tell you now what a friend Deb Hawkins is offering. Her Intentional Gratitude webinar is one-of-a-kind. If you’ve ever been interested in beginning a gratitude practice in your life, she’ll show you how she creates more gratitude for herself, and how YOU can do it too.

Now, you are saying but I have a gratitude journal already. But do you use it daily? Deb will show you strategies to motivate you to find gratitude in the simple things.

Practicing Gratitude can help you to release Anger. It will show you the way to true Abundance. It can put in check negative thoughts and create positive pathways in the brain.

I’m asking you to support my friend, and promise you will feel better after taking her two week course. She will be offering it again in October for those that can’t make the September dates.

And, if money is an issue, she really wants you in this class. You will benefit from it greatly. So, she’s offering her September class free of charge. Just contact Deb at deb at nosmallthing dot net for the promo code.

Helium for Your Heart will be offered Sept. 14 and 21st at 7PM CT/8PM ET. Make your calendars and come along for the ride. It will make you feel better about yourself and the world.

And remember, one person’s gratitude can change/elevate the world. It all starts with you and your life force can change things for others.

Find out more at www.nosmallthing.net.

Amazon’s Hot List for Bipolar Memoirs is Carrie Cantwell’s Debut Memoir

I interviewed Carrie Cantwell a few years ago on this blog. Her new memoir Daddy Issues is out now on Amazon’s Hot List for #1 Bipolar Books. I will review her book in forthcoming weeks.

Carrie Cantwell grew up with an unstable father who suffered from manic depression. His emotional absence left her wounded and yearning for his affection. To make matters worse, she struggled with unexplainable mood swings of her own. As a child, she was hyperactive and attention-seeking. By her twenties she was engaging in reckless behavior to quiet her inner demons. When Carrie was 24, her father died by suicide, and she was hit with her first major depressive episode. When she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her heart sank. It felt like a death sentence. At age 38 and in a failing, abusive marriage, she tried to end her own life. Once discharged from an inpatient institution, she promised herself she’d never go back. Carrie made the same mistake her father had, but she’d gotten a second chance at life. She vowed not to squander it. She began a long journey of recovery by finally coming to terms with her daddy issues and the severity of her own mental illness.

Carrie exposes a runaway roller coaster of emotions through brutally honest, raw recounting of soaring highs and crushing lows. Through powerful scenes of self-destruction and recovery, she invites readers into her turbulent and fragile inner world. Daddy Issues: A Memoir is a story of forgiveness and absolution, about how mental illness tore apart a father and daughter but was ultimately the very thing that brought them together.

To purchase it on Amazon, click https://amzn.to/2WUiF7J.

Lessons I’ve Learned from Being Bipolar

  1. Take your meds
  2. Use therapy as a tool and don’t bullshit or whine
  3. Support groups are nice but don’t get too caught up in others’ problems or they might become your own
  4. Stop alienating people with your public tantrums and vitriol
  5. Everyone is right. Let go of the fact of controlling other people. If they come around, they’ll come in their own time.
  6. Sometimes hospitalization is necessary but using it as a revolving door is not. You can build a bigger spiritual boat by creating a self-care toolkit you can pull out at any moment in life. 
  7. Drugs and alcohol don’t work.
  8. Stop trying to fill your love-shaped hole. Find your conception of G-d first and then you will find happiness.
  9. Moods come and go like waves. You will feel things bigger and deeper. This will help you think creatively. 
  10. Creativity is not found off your meds in some manic state. It’s by allowing your meds to work, hard work, and discipline that you truly find your creativity.
  11. Depression is hard, soul-sucking, and as my friend Glennon Doyle says “brutiful.” For it is with the valleys, that we can truly appreciate our peaks. 
  12. It is grand larceny to waste away the dull moments in life. Mania allows us to fill the dull spaces with everything. But true happiness is a balance of white, dark and grey spaces.
  13. Meditate daily.
  14. Work is over-rated. Find something you love to do and do it. They money will come. If you think about it, you only need to make enough money to live. The rest of it is bullshit.
  15. As my grandpa always taught me, “You are a millionaire already if you love what you do for a living.”
  16. Just be. FU*K Labels.
  17. Walking and running are the best exercise for mind and body. Though, a few strength training exercises can’t hurt either.
  18. Therapy is important. Exploring yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself. 
  19. Read everything you can about mental illness—memoirs, scientific books, etc. Become an unofficial walking psychiatrist. 
  20. Friends come and go. Those who stick by you know the meaning of unconditional love.
  21. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are all weapons of mass distraction.
  22. Everything is a drug.
  23. Limit social media. It is both a blessing and a curse. It is a trigger and a force of connection. It is a form of mind control.
  24. There is no black and white. Think in the grey. It might get uncomfortable but it is the only way to live.
  25. When trying to write a memoir about mania, focus on your stories not every detail.
  26. Change your whole attitude about money. You are already abundant if you have a roof over your head, clothes to wear, food on your table. Everything else is not important, even the car you drive. 
  27. You can make wonderful minute friendships while riding the bus. 
  28. You have everything you need already.
  29. Love is everything, especially loving yourself first.
  30. Dance to your own beat. Music goes with life. Find your soundtrack.
  31. Pay attention for signs, symbols and synchronicity.
  32. Sexuality is fluid. 
  33. Don’t be anybody else’s poetry. Make your own.
  34. Be grateful. Practice Gratitude.
  35. Limit sugar, caffeine and junk food. 
  36. Non-violence is where it’s at. 
  37. Drink water, especially if on lithium.
  38. To release anger, practice gratitude as my friend Timber Hawkeye says.
  39. Anger rarely gets us anything. Letting go does.
  40. Walking your talk is the best form of activism.
  41. Introspection = Inspiration.
  42. Life is an old beach rollercoaster.
  43. Half, maybe all of the world’s problems could be solved by listening to one another. Listen. You never know what you’ll hear. 
  44. Breathing alleviates anxiety.
  45. Don’t believe everything you think. 
  46. Question the Assumption.
  47. Desire is suffering. You are enough.
  48. Coolness is over-rated.
  49. There’s no such thing as normal.
  50. Practice Oneness. Doing one thing at a time. Being one thing. Loving one thing. Getting good at one thing.

Companies Should Offer Mental Health Days for Increased Productivity and Less Absenteeism

I wish employers would allow for non-sick mental health days. Workers would be far more productive if allowed to take a mental day off once in awhile.  Gymnast Simone Biles had to take a break from her Olympic Dreams because as her trainer said her body had the twisties, when your brain and your body don’t work together. The immense pressure of training for and being in the Olympics often makes athletes crack mentally. Perhaps, if Team USA, allowed athletes to take care of their mental health as well as their physical wellness there would be less injury.

Millions of people in the United States suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia to name a few. These illnesses cause lost production and money to employers due to employee absences and on the job negligence. If people were able to address their mental health before it got to crisis levels, more people would be on the job and productive.

Kickstand Communications is a company like many other companies offering employees better mental health benefits and a flexible work schedule and three hours per day to step away from the computer to recharge. But it would be radical if companies would offer mental health days unrelated to sick days to allow people to recharge, seek help, exercise or rest.

I understand the argument that mental health days cost money to companies but more money is lost in employees developing full-blown mental illnesses and not being able to show up for work or making critical mistakes on the job. According to the PsychiatryAdvisor site, 40 percent of people with depression alone miss work.

If there are companies out there who offer mental health days to employees, I would like to know. Please comment below or write me on my contact page.