Dear Young Rocker, a binge worthy break from the Coronavirus

 

Chelsea Ursin, of Boston, saw her younger self as wild but fragile. She’s the creator of the Dear Young Rocker podcast a memoir about her adolescent rage and angst and how she channeled these feelings through music—rock music. Her fave band as a teen Smashing Pumpkins. Ursin, when asked, said three words to describe her podcast would be “fierce,” “deep,” and “loving.” The podcast was first written as a memoir for her graduate creative writing thesis at Emerson College. But when it came time to find a publisher for it, she discovered she needed a platform. So being a musician who played in the her own band Banana, she decided to produce a podcast of her story.

Dear Young Rocker is the story of how Ursin self-healed her traumatic teen years through music. “Boys are given outlets for their anger, “ said Ursin. “Girls who present aggression are seen as abnormal.” Ursin, now 31, grew up in the early part of the 21st century.

Ursin picked up bass at 12-years-old and had few friends in junior high and high school so she gave music her all.

Ursin admits to being ADHD and has social anxiety, which is apparant throughout her memoir podcast.

This is the best podcast loaded with high doses of adolescent angst, anger, questioning how one should act as one’s gender, and self-insight. Ursin’s writing is relatable to not just teens and young adults but those of other generations seeking to understand their own teendoms. Not just a memoir, Ursin also interviews other adult rockers and asks them to write a short letter to their younger selves.
She hopes that along with the podcast, the book version will be published—now that her podcast is her platform.

She’s had a lot of response from fathers who understood their daughters better

To manage her own mental health, by exercising to a morning Youtube video, sees a therapist every other week, practices mindfulness meditation training among other things that keep her anxiety in control.

Hear her podcast on iHeartRadio or Apple podcasts. BTW She wrote the theme music too.

New Literary Works on Mental Illness and Beyond

 

The Collected Schizophrenias: essays is perhaps writer Esme Weijun Wang’s tour de force through life with schizoaffective disorder. This personal essay collection positions Wang into the world of literary nonfiction as she is the novelist of the Border of Paradise. Wang uses fashion motifs to talk about her high-functioning mental illness. She includes essays on schizophrenia in television and cinema. She talks about her experience volunteering at a camp for children with mental illness and how this affected her decision to have children of her own. This work is both a memoir narrative and a work of literary journalism. Wang weaves scientific studies and historical facts throughout her essays skillfully. Wang attended Yale and Stanford, has an MFA in Writing from the University of Michigan and includes an essay on her college experiences. Diagnosed with bipolar in her late teens, Wang was later re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She also writes about the connection between autoimmune disorders and mental illness as Wang has late-stage Lyme disease as well. Wang has held residencies at Hedgebrook, Yaddo and other artist colonies. She will be giving an Instagram talk in April for This is My Brave. Check out their web site and/or Instagram for more information. Her web site is www.esmewang.com.

 

 
Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir is Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s eloquent exploration into the treatment of her own anxiety and of other mental health conditions. Approaching her narrative from the vantage point as someone struggling with OCD, PTSD, and anxiety, she explores how gender, class, and history treats people with mental illness. She weaves journalistic studies and historical facts into her story to create a work that documents an epidemic of our age. She strongly critiques psychotherapy from all angles. She includes an interlude about her husband’s bipolar disorder and how she deals with it as a spouse. Through examining the history of mental illness treatment, she challenges the modern narrative about mental health. She makes an important statement about the dangers of diagnosis and the complicated nature of sanity. At times her narrative is a bit unwieldy and some parts of her own story might have been better edited for more cohesion. Overall, I enjoyed her take on mental health in America, especially her feminist slant. Her web site is www.sarahfawnmontgomery.com.

 

 
I was gifted with writer Dani Shapiro’s new memoir Inheritance. It came with a tote bag advertising her new podcast “Family Secrets” directly from the publisher. Apparently, I had signed up for a contest they were having on her web site. In this fifth memoir, Shapiro discovers her father is not her biological father through DNA testing. Shapiro is the author of four other memoirs Slow Motion, Devotion, Still Writing and Hourglass. She artfully conducts an investigation into her parent’s secret—that they went to a fertility clinic to have her. Her investigation in this is not unlike her journalistic exploration in her article “The Secret Wife” in the New Yorker in 1998. “The Secret Wife” was about her father’s first marriage before her mother that no one in her family talked about. Inheritance traces Dani’s journey through fertility clinics to the trauma of finding her biological father eloquently through storyteller form. Although, kind of heavy, I highly recommend this mysterious book as a good beach read. Shapiro’s web site is www.danishapiro.com.

Autism School Gives Kids Fresh Start; Now They NeedYour Help

 

Nina has autism, sits in a wheelchair, likes to ask a lot of questions, and likes metal bands. When I entered the Fresh Start School, she was with her nurse at a table drawing. She was curious about who I was and baraged me with questions, sometimes asking the same one twice.

The Focus Center for Autism’s Fresh Start School for students age 11 and up is located in a small house with a loft for their administrative offices in Canton, CT.

“A lot of our students were bullied and never had friends. They come with trauma and it takes time to undo it,” said Lauren Gardner, their Autism Service Coordinator.

The Fresh Start School is a safe place for children and teens on the autism spectrum, with school phobias and anxieties to learn to overcome these challenges.

“The school is essentially a social incubator, a safe space for them to learn to trust us. We meet them where there at,” said Gardner. At Fresh Start, students are introduced to milieu therapy where the children’s social environment is controlled in order to prevent self-depstructive behavior.

Students like Dillion, who was out sick when I visited, had recently gone on live television channel Fox 61 with Donna Swanson, the executive director of the Focus Center to spread awareness for the school and for their Stand By Me fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 by December 31. The Focus Center has been in existence since 2001; the school has been around for 16 years but recently became recognized as a state approved special education school in 2016. The Center and the School are a non-profit. Most of their funding is through donations, and municipalities pay the School per child that needs services. The campaign got its name from the song that students graduating sang “Stand By Me.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

“This school understands me,” said Dillion. “When I first came to the school, I was the equivalent of trying to build the Empire States Building out of toothpicks.” Now, he’s speaking on live television.

With a motto on their web site and literature worded as “because the creatively wired and socially challenged should not have to go it alone,” the school is a welcome refuge for these types of students helping them make progress on their issues so they can get a job, attend college and lead productive lives. When students with autism or other challenges reach age 21 and beyond, there are limited resources to help them adapt to the world around them which can move at a frentic pace and serve to over-stimulate them.

The school’s mission is for students to achieve their fullest potential whatever that is through giving them coping skills, social skills, and life skills. Their goal is to reintegrate the children back into the public school system. Starting at 8:15 am and going through to 2:45 pm, the students have a full day of art, physical exercise, and science, math, English, and history. Students come from all over Connecticut so while everyone is waiting for children to arrive they socialize and have mindfulness meditation sessions. They also offer career transitioning for older students, as they have students ages 10-19. Classes are small with 3 to 6 students and are based on academic levels.

One of their successes is Alex, an 18-year-old, who just got a job at Give Coffeehouse in Canton. Alex does well in English, film and art but not math. He may have the opportunity to learn about television equipment through an internship with Nutmeg Community television. Nutmeg television is one of the many local businesses who have partnered with the School. Just yesterday, the School had a meeting with Nutmeg about creating a t.v. show. Plans are in the works.

Alex participated in the Spectrum UnPlugged panels created to raise awareness about what goes on in the School and with the students. The panels talk to parents to teach them how to understand their children on the spectrum. The panels have parents, students, and alumni of the School on them. At first, public speaking was difficult and overwhelming for Alex but with people he knew from school present in the room he felt more comfortable.

In public school, Alex’s anxiety was misread as oppositional behavior. “He’s actually a sweet kid,” said Gardner. “A lot of people misread students as rude because they are unaware of autism.”

“Alex has grown from a shy, reserved kid into someone who mentors others new to School,” Gardner said. Gardner has a Bachelors in Social Work and has been at the School for nine years, the last three as a full-time employee. She began as a volunteer. She does everything from assisting in the classroom, fund development and marketing.
“When Dillion came to us, he wanted to be alone in a room with his laptop and piano keyboard,” said Meaghen Harris, an LCSW and Director of Educational Services at the School. “Our program is unique. We can be flexible.”

Dillion who came to the School with a high IQ but the emotional intelligence of a 3-year-old, progressed amazingly. He’s now in 11th grade and making television appearances with Focus Center’s executive director Donna Swanson.

“I can see him going on to college. He’s talented with computers and codes pieces of art on his calculator,” said Harris. “He has a lot of phobias and has come a long way with those as well.”

One of Dillion’s phobias is the foam on hot cocoa but he’s working through it and in a really good place.

“He’s started to befriend new students with the same struggles. He recognizes himself in them and goes out of his way to be kind,” said Harris.

The School has a student who speaks in television and movie scripts, especially Disney and a student who writes numbers over and over to calm down. He’s gone from 0 to 25,000. The School meets the students where they are and uses their special interests and talents to help them integrate into the world. “No one judges them here,” said Harris.

“With kids with autism, their progress is not linear. There maybe a lot of progress, then a backslide. You have to have patience,” said Gardner.

The School’s alumni are a close knit group. Some are even in a band together. One student even wrote and published a book about gaming.

The Stand By Me fundraiser is trying to reach over $100,000 by December 31 of this year. If you would like to contribute to the Stand By Me campaign, read more about the Center and School on their blog and web site, and check out their other social media, go to http://focuscenterforautism.org. You can also donate to the campaign by liking them on Facebook. Their Facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/FocusAutism/.
“With the capital means behind us, if we can do a little, imagine what we can do with a lot,” said Gardner.

According to Donna Swanson, executive director of the Focus Center for Autism, Nina, the girl written about at the beginning of this story, stood up and sang at the graduation ceremony and did a choreographed step. “There wasn’t a dry eye,” she said.

“We need the community to stand by us,” said Swanson. “We have gone so far with no state support just through donations and grants. That’s why this fundraising drive is so important.”

1 in 59 children have autism, four times more likely in boys. No two people with autism are alike, but they all have anxiety in common.

Stigma Fighters Founder and CEO Sarah Fader Starts Publishing Company

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Sarah Fader grew up in the 90s when mental illness was heavily stigmatized. At 15, she began having panic attacks. She remembers that the Books of Magic comic book series gave her a fear of death. She wrote it off by saying it was existential dread. At her performing arts high school in New York, she felt different from everybody else, and hid her secret well. Her mom finally sent her to a therapist.

“I told the therapist I wish there was a magic pill to make everything go away,” Fader said. The therapist told her that it doesn’t work like that.

In her senior year of high school, she found herself throwing up each morning due to anxiety.

“My mom introduced me to mindfulness meditation with John Cabot-Zinn. I was able to be calm and eat afterward,” she said.

At 18, her mom let her see a psychiatrist and she started Prozac with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.

“I remember walking down the street and my mind would be clear,” she said.

When Fader transfered to NYU, she received a refund check for her student loan for $4,000 which she spent in three days. When she told her psychiatrist of her dissociative spending, he put her on Zyprexa with the Prozac. She eventually saw a new psychiatrist who gave her Seroquel.

At 24, she had focussing problems and test anxiety. She was diagnosed with ADHD. Fourteen years later, she tried medication for this but this was after jobs would fire her for her lack of a concept of time.

After she met her then husband, she went off meds for ten years and had her son.

“It was hard but I used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get by,” she said.

While she was nursing her son, her depression came back and she went back on them. She had a daughter by this time and she had a post-partum psychosis. She didn’t sleep and hallucinated that she saw a floating face. After a few rounds with condescending doctors, she was given medication for her symptoms.

She had been blogging for ten years by this time. She had come out about her panic disorder on the Huffington Post.

“I saw all the other mental health blogs and it was safe for me,” she said. “I don’t want to live with the shame and I want my children to live unashamed.”

“The first time I wrote on a blog I have panic disorder, it was freeing,” she said.

She looked around the internet and their was no place for people to share stories of mental illness back then so she decided to start one. Stigma Fighters was born. She found a friend and business partner Ali Burke, who has schizophrenia, to make the site a non-profit. Since then, they published three anthologies for it.

“I don’t care if people remember me as long as they remember Stigma Fighters,” Fader said.

She realized that her mental illness isn’t her identity, her doctor changed her diagnosis to bipolar 2, ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.

“Your diagnosis doesn’t matter. What matters is the treatment plan,” she said.

Fader also  podcasts the show This is What Anxiety  Feels  Like on her site www.sarahfader.com. She coined the hashtag #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike which has been mentioned in the New York Times.

After losing a child, she founded the Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company. She wanted people to share their stories of resilence. In addition to looking for completed manuscripts and book proposals, she does book coaching. Topics they look for are Near Death Experiences, mental health, anthologies, and poetry.

***
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. Her personal web site is www.sarahfader.com.

Planet of Microbes by Ted Anton: Links Depression/Anxiety to Gut

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If you watch the Big Bang Theory, read the Science section of the New York Times and live on the line where nature meets poetry, Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth’s Essential Life Forms by Ted Anton will engage you in the history and future of microbes. Anton is as much a historian of science as he is a creative nonfiction writer. Anton was my science writing professor at DePaul in graduate school. So after I finished his new book I decided to contact him for an interview to shed light on microbes and health, specifically how they affect mental health.

You don’t have to understand science to understand Anton. He explains without patronizing, probing to the depths of life’s origins. He writes about how microbes influence health, mental health, and horticulture; how they are found in astronomy; how they can be used to fight disease; and how they can tell us secrets about the origins of life.

Anton got the idea for this book from his previous book Bold Science (2000). “The book ended with a Yellowstone hotpool with two researchers found 80 new species of microbe, including examples of a whole new kingdom,” he said. “Life is way more diverse in terms of microbes than first saw.”

Microbes play a role in anxiety and depression. “There is a strong link from our gut to our brain,” he said. “Gut is known as the second brain. Trillions of microbes live in the gut giving us the butterflies and our gut instinct.” Lack of diversity or a Western diet induce serotonin uptake inhibitors in the brain. This is why studies say we should consume prebiotics/probiotics such as yogurt, beer, wine, or cheese. “It’s controversial so you should discuss with your physician,” he said. The studies are correlation studies not causation. Studies show that a lack of diversity in the microbiome are due to anti-biotics. This may cause increases in the diagnosis of autism, ADHD.

If science were a movie Anton shows you the scientists behind microbes discovery, including the behind the scenes details of their lives. Reading Planet of Microbes is like talking directly to scientists. Anton sets the scene to give you every last detail of their worlds.

Interview with Stephen Smith, Founder of nOCD app for your phone

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stephenIn past weeks, I reviewed the nOCD app, available in the Apple Store and coming soon to Android. nOCD helps those with intrusive thoughts and OCD sufferers to analyze what’s really happening in the moment. It is a therapist away from a therapist. I interviewed Stephen Smith, Founder of nOCD, about his story and reasons behind developing this app, and future developments in the use of it.

Stephen was a sophomore in college when OCD began hitting him hard.

“One day it hit me like a train,” he said. “I had no understanding of what happened. I had these intrusive thoughts one after another and constant anxiety.”

He first sought help online, googling to figure out what was happening and where to turn to get help. The internet gave him direction and a name for what he was experiencing.

“A lot of clinicians said I specialize in OCD but really weren’t,” he said. “I ended up seeing 5 different clinicians before I found someone who helped me.”

He used Exposure Response Prevention ERP therapy, mindfulness, and acceptance-commitment therapy plus peer support to get better.

“I was tired of the problem. I only suffered 6 months to a year but others suffer decades,” he said. “Society has all this technology around us. I have a background in experience design and project management software. Here was a problem that needed to be solved.”

The problem was acquainting people with a resource to help those with OCD. It took a year of fundraising to get the money to make the app and 6 to 7 months of testing. Version 1 was released November 2016.

“There’s a giant need for this. Because of the pain I went through I have the motivation and passion to start it.”

The nOCD team all has some affiliation with this disorder either themselves or with members of their family.

The app has an anonymous peer support community where people can see themselves in what others write in.

“The best part about the app is if you are in the middle of an episode all you have to do is push a button on your phone for help, Stephen said. “OCD does not have to disrupt your day or cripple the moment if you can’t get to your therapist or don’t have one yet.”
The app is best used in tandem with therapy. It is like an electronic workbook or guide.

“If you don’t have a therapist yet, it can be a starting point for your treatment,” Stephen said.

Future developments of the app will address co-morbidity with other disorders but right now discussion of these things are top secret.

To get the nOCD app, click here.

 

More from the New York Publishing World

On Edge A Journey through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen

Here comes a book that will surely hold the test of time as far as mental health classics go. Petersen tells her story with severe anxiety beautifully weaving research studies into the narrative. This is the first personal narrative on anxiety I’ve read in a long time. Petersen takes you through the medication cures, as well as the therapeutic ones and the unorthodox ones like yoga and support groups. She includes a chapter on marriage, friendship and parenting with anxiety and how her anxiety isolated her from other people and ultimately life. Petersen is a Wall Street Journal reporter on health and psychology and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Visit  Andrea at her site http://byandreapetersen.com.

 

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

In his brilliant best-selling first memoir, Mark tells his wife Giulia’s story through his own eyes. Giulia was diagnosed in her late twenties with bipolar disorder and had several breakdowns into psychosis causing her to be hospitalized. There isn’t much literature written as memoir through a caregiver’s eyes and Mark shows the intricacies of relationships in his book. Most powerful line: “I couldn’t hide the Golden Gate Bridge from her,” he says about Giulia’s fixation with suicide. The couple live near San Francisco and now have a son together. Giulia is a marketing executive and Mark is a writer and high school teacher. Mark’s web site is http://www.marklukach.com.

 

You’ll notice my new blog header and my new domain http://amileaminute.blog. Please check it out and change your links to the new domain. The header was designed by Steve McMacken of Taos, New Mexico.

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.