The Valley of Everyday Peaks

In the valley of everyday peaks, we deal with the depression, the pain, the hurt, the betrayal by loving the everyday. The little stuff like fresh flowers, a good book or television program, a broadcast on NPR that stirs us, the sunset, fireflies in the park, these simple things must console us, then work to heal us. We must fight the fire in the soul with the everyday knowledge that the everyday must sustain us.

The Valley is dark and dreary, though this can be deceiving. The valley has a river in which to drink fresh water, lush green trees and shrubs, flowers. You are surrounded by beauty in the valley yet the clouds over your head are thick and black. Ugly things happen to us in life. Things that test our resilence. Things that make us breakdown. Things that make us scar. Things that make us bleed. These are the things that show us we are human, show us we are real. If we didn’t have the pain, we’d miss the view from the valley.

Sometimes our peaks are standing in the low lands.

Schizophrenic Man’s Journey Out of Homelessness

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Photo of Laura and Ed Noe, courtesy of Laura Noe

When Angel Salinas immigrated to Connecticut from Ecuador, he opened Johanna’s, a small restaurant for breakfast and lunch, in downtown New Milford. One day a disheveled, smelly homeless man showed up at his back door. It was Ed Noe. This began a friendship where Salinas fed Ed breakfast and lunch for nine years.

A little strange, but nothings really wrong

Ed’s older sister Laura Noe remembers talking to one of Ed’s childhood friends who said that there was something different about Ed back in grade school. He would hear voices but everyone thought it was a childish thing.

“He was just my quirky, cool little brother,” said Laura.

Ed struggled in high school and was sent to the Thomas Moore School where he graduated in 1986. He went onto graduate the University of Maine in Orono with an Associates Degree in Forestry. Ed loved trees and the outdoors.

Laura began to notice Ed’s bizarre behavior in college but made nothing of it until their mother died of brain cancer in 1990. Their family dealt with the pain by keeping it hidden and not talking, which Laura believes were contributing factors to sending Ed over the edge into mental illness.

Around this time, Ed hitchhiked on foot across the United States from Connecticut to Alaska. He worked in a salmon cannery for awhile, then hitchhiked back to Connecticut.

“I just thought of him as a modern day hippie,” said Laura. “He played guitar and was a gentle soul. I thought of him as nomadic because he was never in one place—never homeless.”

The seeds of illness

Laura describes a trip to Boston where she bumped into Ed with her son standing in a hotel lobby. She would not see him again for nine years. “He came in and out of your life—showing up on doorsteps,” she said.

Ed eventually centered his life in New Milford where he transitioned from nomadic to homeless.

After their dad died of cancer in January of 2015, Laura felt the urge to reconnect with her brother and let him know about his father. Through social media searching, she learned Ed lived on the New Milford green and wore a brown coat. She drove from Branford to New Milford and spotted Ed in his brown coat. He looked up and recognized her but would not get in her car. She told him their bad news and left. But she decided to go back each week with a bagged lunch and a note inside for him.

Peg Molina from New Milford social services said people in the communtiy reached out to buy him clothes.

Laura wanted to help Ed more but was told by a New Milford police officer that as long as he wasn’t hurting himself or others, Ed gets to do what he wants to do.

“Without Ed’s consent we were nowhere,” she said.

Ed was clear that he did not want help. “He prided himself on his independence,” said Laura.

People in New Milford became concerned about Ed’s physical health. He had a gash on his leg that needed treatment. He also looked like he had type 2 diabetes. The people in town put together an intervention team on October 5, 2015. Amazingly, Ed agreed to go to Danbury Hospital to have his leg looked at.

He started saying Yes to help

After cleaning up his leg, they gave Ed a psych evaluation and formally diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Since he couldn’t care for himself, they had a probate hearing and Laura became co-conservator of Ed. Ed remained at Danbury Hospital psych unit until a bed opened up for him at Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) in January of 2016.

Laura and her son brought him things to CVH like a big bag of leaves to remind him of the outdoors he so loved. They took him out on day passes to Wadsworth Falls.

Ed kept saying yes to his own recovery. He tried things like yoga. And slowly got better. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) found him transitional housing in a group home in Danbury.

A year later on the journey to recovery

Ed reconnected with his family. He bought himself a bicycle to get around town. He even got his first passport to visit Laura’s son, his nephew, at college in Canada.

Ed’s transitional housing had its funding cut by the state, so he has to move. However, he feels ready to live on his own. His conservator found an efficiency in the New Milford area and they are looking for a part-time job for him.

Budget Crisis in CT about to be Balanced on Backs of Poor, Disabled and Mentally Ill

Cuts to the Medicare Savings Program would devastate thousands of elderly, low-income, and disabled people in Connecticut, said Kelly Phenix, Recovery Support Specialist with the Behavioral Health Partnership Oversight Council at a June 14, 2017 press conference hosted by the CT Cross-Disability Lifespan Alliance at the legislative office building.

The recent proposal by the Governor and legislators would eliminate 145,000 people from the Medicare Savings program, leaving those that made $12,060 and under in the program.

Cuts to SAGA Program Could be Coming

The Governor also proposed to eliminate the SAGA Cash program for about 7,000 people. The State Administered General Assistance (SAGA) program is a cash program for those who: cannot work, have no dependents, have no other source of income, have a documented temporary or long-term, physical or mental condition. People waiting for a final SSI decision, which could take up to two years, depend upon this assistance. The maximum SAGA benefit is: $219 a month if a recipient has housing costs and as little as $55 a month if no housing costs.

CLRP Funding Reduced to Consent Decree Level

The proposed budget would reduce the Connecticut Legal Rights Project (CLRP) funding to consent decree levels, and eliminate funds provided for DHMAS clients in legal matters concerning their housing. Kathy Flaherty, executive director of CLRP, had to cut her staff down to 10. Flaherty said that people lacking legal representation for housing will become homeless.

Other Programs to be Eliminated

It would eliminate the Community First Choice program (CFC), which closes the door to in-home supports and services for people with disabilities as well as eliminate the five CT Centers for Independent Living. It would cut $8.5 million from existing behavioral services program services. Regional Mental Health Boards would be consolidated with Regional Action Councils and then their funding would be cut. Grants for mental health, substance abuse and employment services would be cut. School based health centers would be cut.

A Proposed Solution

Instead of these cuts, the state of Connecticut could modernize an outdated sales tax system, strengthening taxes on corporations, and reforming wealth and income taxes, said Derek Thomas, Fiscal Policy Fellow, CT Voices for Children.

The state could propose to tax online sales and digital downloads. Data suggests that the sales tax has declined from 2001-2015. They can also increase top tax rate for top two tax groups. And they can increase capital gains and dividends taxes for top three tax groups. The latter two would generate a half billion in new revenue.

Suicide shouldn’t be a stigma anymore

Cat was 37 and in the middle of the worst manic episode of her life. She was confused, angry, depressed. Her stringy blonde hair framed her face giving her the appearance of the late Kurt Cobain. She had been walking the streets of Minneappolis and Chicago for a week. Her clothes dirty; her body battered. Cat jumped to her death from a south side Chicago overpass.
Cat was a gifted artist and poet who was trying to get out of the nursing home which housed her into independent living again. Her art and poetry told whimisical, magical stories unlike any other artist.
For me, Cat’s death brought out my own inner fears and demons. Dee Carstensen’s song “Hemingway’s shotgun” says it all when she sings “someday you’ll find it staring at yourself.” Chilling. Everyone will somehow one day find themselves relating to depression and suicide.
The non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms was born out of one man’s desire to help a friend struggling with self injury, suicidal impulses and addiction. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery according to their web site.
Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day. Each year 42,773 Amercans die by suicide according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This phenomenon can be prevented. People with mental health challenges need hope and help. Everyone can do something to help from supporting an organization that deals in mental health to reaching out to a friend in need.
I wrote a novella Brooklyn’s Song about a teenager grieving from a friend’s suicide and how she heals. It is available for purchase here on Amazon.

Mental Health Organizations you might get involved with or donate to:
Active Minds
helps college students deal with mental health challenges
This is My Brave
erases stigma by producing storytelling shows about mental health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Depression Bipolar Support Alliance


A Humorous Interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana, a memoir

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David Leite describes himself in a Youtube video as “Crazy, Gay and Happily Portuguese.”

“Humor is the missing prescription in mental health,” said Leite.

My interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, was laugh out loud funny as we discussed writing, food, love, and Leite’s bipolar disorder.

AZ: What does your morning ritual look like?

DL: I dont have a morning ritual perse because I go back anf forth between Connecticut and NYC, especially now when there is interviews and book related stuff. My writing ritual is I wake up and I’ll eat some breakfast and tea. Then, I’ll check my email and social media. Once, I get that out of the way, I’ll start to write. I will write until late afternoon early evening.

AZ: Tell me a little how your relationship with food developed.

DL: When I was very young and talking as early as I can remember five until 12, I didn’t love Portuguese food and tried to stay away from it. I didn’t want to be Portuguese. I wanted to be blonde, blue-eyed and the adopted son on Bewitched. Those people weren’t eating salted cod or purple octopus stew. As I got older, I was eating more American food.

My relationship with food as with what I do happened with my partner Alan…I was young thin and beautiful at 34 years old. He said ‘I’m going to bake a cake.’ I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ He asked me if I wanted to lick the bowl. And I said, ‘Sure fine’, because I was studying for school. And I licked the bowl and just the smell and the flavor brought me back to my childhood. I had completely blocked it out that my grandmother had baked. It was that taste of that cake batter and the smell and even the texture of how it dripped down into exclamation points of batter. This started me taking cooking classes and cooking and starting to write about food. That’s really how my adult relationship with food developed. I started Leite’s Culinaria in 1999.

AZ: What is your favorite dinner party dish?

DL: My favorite dish to make for dinner company: no restrictions Porco Alentejana from the Alantejo region of Portugal. My family is from the Azures. It is pork marinated wine, garlic, herbs spices, sauteed, simmered tender clams and added, cubed roasted potatoes served in two woks hinged together.

AZ: What is your favorite rainy day dish?

DL: Spaghetti carbonara

AZ: Tell me about why you sectioned the book the way you did.

DL: I wrote the book almost the way you would write a mystery, clues dropped and I am not picking them up. It divided up life how I saw it. I like the term manic depression better. Early-onset was myself starting to see manesfestations of my illness when I was a child and it ends right after House of Wax chapter. Rapid-cycling mid section longest section ups and downs of life, of coming out, and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew there was something definately wrong with me psychologically. I put a lot of humor in book to help augment those highs. The reader goes from one dark passage to another but to have the humor in there is a way of mimicking what I go through for the reader.

A lot of people aren’t catching on that the book is actually very funny.

AZ: Does your writing style stem for your acting training?

DL: My acting training helped my writing…play analysis…idea of story and arc of story inciting incident thingI learned in drama….In the book, House of Wax is the incident. It launches me on search what’s going on. I got the story elements got from studing acting.

AZ: Where did you learn how to write scenes like you do?

DL: I haven’t studied writing a lot. I’ve taken avocational classes that lasted six weeks. Something I always had. I started writing in thirties when got advertising job. Always kept journals. Love rich full characters and I love storytelling I just think my love of character and storytelling came together. Also my use of language which I think is an absolute outgrowth of my manic depression. When I saw psychologist as a child, use phrases like I’m looking at world through wrong end of a telescope. I feel hot molten lead being poured in my body. I had to describe what was going on with me physically. And I thought if I did that enough in different ways someone would say what was wrong with me. Because I had bipolar I think that’s what fostered this love of language because I tried desperately hard to explain myself.

AZ: How did your illness amp things up for you concerning your sexuality?

DL: I think what anxiety and bipolar illness did was amped up the volume of all of this. Searching desperately for what was wrong with me and I lay the blame on maybe it’s because I’m from a Portuguese family, maybe it’s because I’m gay oh maybe it’s because I’m over-weight. I kept trying to find the answer of what was wrong with me. I think what manic depression amped up tension and stress and energy around my sexuality. The issue of the sexuality became bigger becauase I was dealing with so much anxiety and bipolar disorder.

AZ: How does your partner, Alan, live with a writer?

DL: He has more of an issue when I use the fact that I’m an writer against the relationship. We’ll have an argument and I’ll say that I have an artistic temeperament. That’s when he gets really angry. He’s quite proud that I am a writer, he loves the book and is quite proud of the book. He has more of issue how I might carry on with something.

AZ: Has bipolar been an issue in your relationship?

DL: Absolutely. We almost broke up. It was ripping our relationship apart. He’s a very patient man, and very loving and kind. It was wearing him to the nub. We had a big argument about money becuase as a writer I wasn’t making a lot of money at that time. I smashed the marble counter with a frying pan. I hit it three times and there two huge dents. That was sort of a clairon call for us. That came from stress of being bipolar and not making a lot of money at that point. Constant things since being diagnosed like my temper getting out of hand, or becoming obsessed with something or depressed, getting manic about something leaving him in dust. We are constantly monitoring it. It’s a third entity in our relationship. We have to acknowlege it daily, not getting too angry, lonely and tired.

AZ: How do you balance your moods with the creative process?

DL: I’m lucky able to make my own schedules now. In advertising, my creative process was on the clock. Because I work for myself, I’m able to work around my moods. When something bubbling creatively I go for it, then if mood gets in way I back off. Later, I’ll pick it up again. It’s very fluid. My mood can sometimes dictate the creative process; the creative process can sometimes dictate the mood.

AZ: You’ve been an actor, waitor, a copywriter, studied psychology. How has your life come full-circle into what you do now?

DL: I think everything I’ve done…waitor, actor, copywriter, photographer all those things I use in my daily work…actor when i do reading, give performance almost. As a matter of fact, I’m looking into taking some of the book and writing a one-hour one-man show. Psychology …thirst and drive understand what I was about. Because of study of psychology and being very introspective, is how I can create such vivid characters. I understand motivation with characters. All the things I did when I thought I was wasting my life, they have all come together and held hands. I pull on each one of those in different ways.

AZ: In what ways have you learned to take care of yourself?

DL: I have five that are instrumental to self-care.

Sleep: going to bed at a certain time. Sleep is the great reset button for me and many others who suffer from manic depression. If not enough sleep, the mania ramp up.

Diet: I have a terrible time with this one being a food writer. Cutting out sugar, carbs, not having that carbonara, having healthy proteins and vegetables, greens, fruits. Sugar and simple carbs really destaiblize moods.

Exercise: I walk every day 2 and 5 miles a day

Talk therapy: aim of therapy started changing into how we going to improve your life

Humor: a great sense of humor being around people see the light side of things is how I coped for 25 years as I was looking for an answer for what was wrong with me.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author and psychologist, blurbed the book and thought it was funny, it will appear on the second printing. “Humor is a great way to keep civilians interested in our stories. If we caral them in with humor, more people who will listen,“ said Leite.

***

Leite gave two readings of his book. The first one the audience was afraid to laugh. So the next night he said, “Feel free to laugh. You will be doing what I hope you would do.”
People began laughing with his stories. At the end of the reading people shared stories of mental illness and bought lots of books. “A conversation had started all because I gave them permission to laugh.”

You can find David at http://leitesculinaria.com.

Manchester Strong

Honestly, when I hear about terrorism in the world, I get a little numb. It’s always the same memorials and the awful newscasts. The physical and psychological wounds and scars people will have for years to come. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real thing. Healing can begin the next day or years after the traumatic event. We’ve had so much terrorism in the world today. And, then our soldiers usually go to war a few months after the events and they have to deal with stuff too. Two resources for understanding PTSD are here and here. This, impart, is a Memorial Day post tied in with the recent tragic events. There is no shame in getting help. If you need it, see a professional.

You can’t Backpack through a Mental Hospital Or, Maybe, you can.

During college, while all my friends were backpacking through Europe or studying abroad, I spent my time in and out of psych hospitals. Sure I missed out on some terrific college experiences but I gained an education in a population who are discriminated against and marginalized. I decided I wanted to use my journalism skills and background to end stigma one story at at time. But I want to talk about what you can learn from being in a psych hospital.

You will meet all kinds of people with different diagnosis of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds and sexualities. Your mind will be opened to what others have experienced but you are all united by mental illness. These illnesses don’t discriminate. Everybody can get them and many will over the course of a lifetime.

If you go to a place where art, writing, drama, music therapy are encouraged and funded, you will learn new tools for self-care. You will learn that creating art is a practice and you don’t have to start off good to tell your story. Your story matters in this fight to end discrimination. Find your medium and begin.

Medication is one way but not the only way. Electroshock, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, talk therapy are helpful too.

A low dose of medication is preferable, always. High doses can cause zombie-like feelings as well as health problems long-term.

You’re insurance will run out before you are ready to go home. Mental health care is expensive at the critical care level. It is important to follow closely an outpatient care plan such as taking prescribed medications regularly and seeing a therapist. These tools are less expensive than a stay in a mental hospital.

Medication can be expensive. Pharmaceutical companies have scholarships for people who can’t afford their meds. If you are low-income, look into your state’s Medicaid program. You can also buy meds by mail-order through Canada. I’ll talk about this one in a later post. There are also pharmacy discount cards like GoodRX and Walmart is a lot cheaper on some brands.

You will be able to wear your own clothes, except shoes. They will give you very comfortable slipper socks to wear. If you come in with clothes in bad repair from an episode, they will give you gowns to wear temporarily and later they’ll let you find sweats in the lost and found, a collection of things patients left behind or people donated.

You have rights. You can refuse any treatment they want to subject on you. You many want to have an advanced directive on file with treatments and medications listed you do and do not want. An advanced directive also has emergency contacts as well as who you want to visit you and who you don’t.

If your state has a legal aid clinic to help people with mental health conditions, ask them about a Patient Bill of Rights. In Connecticut, CLRP is a legal clinic that helps people from housing to discrimination.

You are allowed to keep a private journal in the hospital. If you need paper and something to write with, just ask.

New Mental Health Picks from the Publishing World

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

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Ruby Wax is a British comedian who suffers from depression and negative thinking. It was this thinking that forced her to get a Master’s degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford. Her training in comedy and theatre inform her writing style as this is the funniest book on mindfulness out there. She gives you a six-week mindfulness course as well as humorous snippets of her personal story. She also writes about the science of mindfulness. And, this is science writing that will tickle your funny bone. She’ll show you how mindfulness related to her life and how it can relate to your’s. She won Britain’s highest honor, an OBE, for her services to mental health. Her website is http://rubywax.net.
Lost Marbles Insights into My Life with Depression and Bipolar by Natasha Tracy

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Natasha Tracy skillfully uses her personal experience with bipolar 2 and her gift for science writing to talk about stigma, types of bipolar, medication, how to talk to someone with bipolar. This is the type of book I wished I had when I first got out of the hospital. This is a fact-based book on the nuances of living with bipolar and depression.

She writes the well-known blog Bipolar Burple found at http://natashatracy.com.
Notes on a Banana A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression by David Leite

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David Leite, the James Beard Award-Winning creator of the website Leite’s Culinaria, writes a tell-all memoir about coming to terms with his homosexuality and getting diagnosed with bipolar 2. Throughout the book, he uses humor and  his love of food and cooking as a motif.  Overall, this was an interesting read and very well-written as he studied memoir with writer Marion Roach Smith of the Memoir Project. A longer interview is forthcoming.

He can be found at leitesculinaria.com.

Profile in Brave: Risa Sugarman

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I met Risa Sugarman as she was fighting with her insurance for a round of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat her depression. Risa struck me as a put-together, forty-something with short red hair and glasses. No one in the suburban town we’re both from would guess she had struggled with depression since college at Columbia University as well as borderline personality disorder.

“I want to be happy,” she told me when asked what she hoped for the future. “I want to get a hold of this illness and want my daughter to be healthy and a good person and my husband to be as strong as he is now and get to follow his dreams.”

Risa began a group working on their behaviors using dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive therapy that embraces mindfulness. She’s looking into transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Despite having short-term memory loss from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), Risa knows it works to get rid of her depression. She wrote a piece on Stigmafighters about the travails of being high-functioning. Daily she struggles feeling exhausted all the time, not sleeping well, no appetite, negative thoughts, constant questioning whether she’s a good mother and wife.

“By 3 p.m., I’m done and ready for pyjamas,” she said.

Risa also works a part-time job at the mall. She loves it because it gives her something to get out of herself. Trained as a social worker, she left this career for awhile when she became seriously ill. She did a little contract work in grant writing but it became clear that she needed something less stressful.

You can find Risa at http://risasreality.blogspot.com or on her column for the Huffington Post as well as many other places online.