Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Elections and Mental Health

Full disclosure: I am a Christian.  Every baptism I attend, I renew my vow to follow and obey Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  When I was ordained a priest, I made another vow, to pattern my life in accordance with the teachings of Christ.  So that I don't just make it up as I go along, I also vowed to be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures.

I'm telling you -- I'm serious about this.

Just so you understand -- that means I am a Christian first, an American second.

When I vote, my faith determines my vote.

In my reading of the Holy Scriptures -- and I read it a lot, and I read the whole thing, and keep reading it to catch things I missed the first and second and twentieth time round -- it is very clear.  According to Jesus and the prophets, a nation will be judged not by the private morality of its citizens, but on how the nation itself treats the most vulnerable in its midst.

When I vote, I am voting for policies that determine how my nation will be judged, because I believe this nation will be judged.  Since this is a democracy, as a citizen, I also bear some responsibility for what happens in this nation, and expect to share in its judgment.  So I am voting for people whose first priorities will be the hungry, thirsty, alien, poor, sick and those in prison.  Because those are the priorities on which we will be judged.  Matthew 25.  Got that?

So I am voting for mental health.  We throw around a lot of words, but behind these words are real people.  I know some of them.  Even if I didn't. I am commanded, by somebody I have vowed to obey, to do for them what I would have done for me.

Medicaid, veterans, parity, research, access to health care, including sufficient professionals to provide mental health services -- there is a lot at stake in this election.  Follow the link to NAMI's What's at Stake in the 2012 elections? for the details.  Then decide who you think has the same priorities as Jesus and the prophets.  I am not assuming anything here, just telling you where I stand.  Maybe you share these priorities, maybe you don't.  But figure it out.

And be honest about it.

Then go vote yourself.

clip art from Microsoft.com
icon of Christ Pantokrator, 6th c. St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, in public domain

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pinky and the Brain

While I catch up on laundry from vacation, here's something to keep you little squirts happy.



And if you want the full tutorial, here is a new resource.  But no Pinky.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hope for a Cure? Or Not?

But we have to keep hoping for a cure, don't we?

I spent six months preparing a power point presentation on stages of recovery and fifty minutes delivering it.  My co-presenters and I described the misery of the Chemistry Experiment, and the hope offered by other interventions that harness the brain's capacity to heal itself.  Medicine is a piece of the answer, but just not inadequate to carry the whole load of healing.

But DNA operates even deeper in an organization than in an individual.  NAMI was born out of the medical model, when parents who had been wrongly accused of causing their children's illness pushed back and insisted on their innocence.  Mental illness is not caused by distant fathers and overprotective mothers.  Mental illness is a physical illness.

Yes it is.  Whether it arises from chemistry, wiring or structure, it is an illness in the brain, a physical organ, inside a body.

Well, it was a short jump from that insight to the search for a cure, a medical cure.  Because that is what medicine does, it cures physical illness, right?

So there was that question, the NAMI parent's quest for a cure, in response to all our elegant talk about Recovery, the NAMI peer's quest for a life worth living.  Forget Recovery. Don't we have to keep hoping for a cure?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Neuroscience of Meaningful Work

Fourteen years ago, I was offered a new job, Missioner for Ministry Development.  What's that?  Sometimes I said, I consult with organizations undergoing paradigm shift.  Other times I said, I do what Paul did.  Depended on the audience.

The details don't matter.  What does matter is that I got up every single morning rejoicing at what I felt privileged to do that day.  I considered it the job I was born to do.


Well, yes and no.  It combined my burning passion for advocacy, my deep appreciation of small congregations, and my abiding love for the highways and byways of Iowa, Beautiful Land, as the native inhabitants called it.

On the other hand, it gave me intense fourteen hour work days, conflict with long time friends, people across the state who piled their hopes, dreams and desperations on my back and the resistance of those who value certain aspects of an institution that others can no longer afford.  When we mixed all that with second generation antidepressants -- Keep trying, the doctors and my therapist said -- my bipolar II went into hyperdrive.  I was both madly productive and plain old mad.  It was beautiful.  It was ugly.  It didn't last.

Ellen Frank says that people with bipolar need to deal with grief for the lost healthy self.  It's one of the interpersonal issues that sabotage our adherence to the regimen required to maintain recovery.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stages of Recovery - AKA Hope

It gets better.  It really does.

People who get tired of the Chemistry Experiment go off their meds.  Why?  Because the meds don't work.  Or they make us sick.  And the doctor doesn't hear us, because the doctor has one tool in his/her toolbox.  [Hint: It's not an ear.]  And he/she thinks that the solution to our problem is compliance, because there isn't time for listening and problem solving.

When you walk into a hammer store, they will try to sell you a hammer.  Fair enough.  If you are trying to rebuild the life that your illness took from you, chances are you will need a hammer.  Chances are you will need some other tools, as well.

The doctor doesn't have those other tools.  But they are out there.  And so is the map.

You are angry that the meds promised what they could not deliver.  Get over it.  Pull out the map.  Or the toolbox.  Mixed metaphor.  Whatever.  Get over it.  Get to work on your recovery.

The Recovery Map

Monday, October 1, 2012

Recovery - From What?

Recovery is the individual lived experience of moving through and then beyond the limitations imposed by the disorder, by the world around us, and even by the treatment itself.

Huh?

Okay, the deal is, unless you know where you are going, it's tough to get there.

Recovery Defined as Escape from the Symptom Silo

The docs know where they want to go.  They want to get rid of your symptoms.  Your illness is defined by a list of symptoms, found in the DSM and measured by survey instruments, and when you score in the normal range, then you have recovered.

Which is sort of like saying that if you don't have chest pain or shortness of breath, then you have recovered from heart disease.  Cardiologists don't think that way.  They want to know the condition of your heart, not just your symptoms.