When I was 38 years old, I ended up in a mental hospital in Norristown, PA, for the very first time. I had no idea what had happened to me. It was very puzzling and I vowed I would learn everything I could about the condition I was diagnosed with: bipolar disorder or mood swings. It was the challenge of a lifetime. Luckily I brought along thousands, yes, thousands, of people with me: the start of our support group, New Directions for people with depression, bipolar disorder and our family and friends.
Now, in my mid-70s, I feel better than ever. Yes, I admit to watching Dr. Steven Gundry on PBS. Why do so many people change over the years? Many of us learn. We become, as the late Jimi Hendrix sang, “experienced.” We do not jeopardize our mental health.
Several people in New Directions no longer take medication. Controversial? Not anymore. We stay in touch with one another through ZOOM and the telephone and discuss the latest thinking in the field of mental health.
A dozen years ago, my former psychiatrist would chastise me. “Ruth,” he would say, while gripping my hand at the end of our session at Jefferson’s Abington Hospital, “Don’t tell people they can go off their meds.”
And hide the truth?
As we age, unsuspected conditions catch up with us. Several of our members have Parkinson’s disease but are doing well with expert neurologists.
My friend, Ed Quinn, who studied at The Won Institute in Glenside to become a Buddhist is now a “a long-hauler” from a case of Covid-19. His fatigue and dizziness are nearly unbearable but he muddles through.
Quinn produced a special program on mental health called “I Am the Brave.” Nearly larger than life, a dozen of us appeared at Gratz College in Melrose Park one evening. The presenters, myself included, wept, allowed ourselves to feel humiliated and shamed -- yes, those are part of the mental health experience -- and finally sat back in our seats, like real-life actors pondering our performances.
What are the best treatment options for those of us with mental health challenges?
Shockingly, there are none. Where are the protocols? While most of us are familiar with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ideas on Covid-19 -- though he admits they are constantly changing -- each of our psychiatrists or nurse-practitioners who prescribe meds are on the same page about treatment.
As head of New Directions, or, as I like to say, “founder/director,” I do my best to refer our current 40 or so members to their own psychiatrists for treatment options. Or to use the Internet. New forms of sleeping meds are now available. At the Rite-Aid you can get REM-formula sleeping medicine based on Rapid Eye Movement instead of med-based solutions.
Put that in your cigar and smoke it, Mr. Quinn, which he does. Five years sober now -- a great feat! -- he is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous at 7:30 in the morning. He hears from folks all over the globe: China, Nigeria, Russia, Ghana. Privacy is assured.
Our ZOOM group meets the first and third Tuesdays of the month, the times we originally met at Abington Presbyterian Church, before the pandemic hit. We share similar beliefs.
Take your medication as prescribed. Or, do not take medication. Several of us discovered we don't need medication. Studies have shown the combination of meds and psychotherapy produce the best results. Share your feelings. It’s okay to cry. Get a good night’s rest. The much-maligned ECT -- electroshock therapy -- is a treatment of last resort but it works! We have averted near suicides, which is the most important work we do. We call people at home to see how they are doing. We commiserate over the wrong medication prescribed -- yes! -- doctors can make terrible mistakes. They are only human like the rest of us.
Don’t forget to enjoy life! We are only given a short time on our once green planet. Let’s make sure we marvel at the immensities of space when we step outside and gaze upward. Let’s thank God or Buddha or Allah for the amazing gift of being alive and enjoying a good sandwich, as singer Warren Zevon said before he died of cancer. And if you're so inclined treat yourself to Snyder's pretzels and a piece of Dove Chocolate, available at your grocery store.
Ruth Z. Deming earned her psychotherapy degree at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. Winner of a Leeway Award for Women Writers, she has written hundreds of short stories and is working on her memoirs. New Directions has been the recipient of numerous grants.