Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I guess I would like to talk a little about how mental illness affects family. In this case, a sibling. I think it's safe to say that I have had a rough time accepting my brother's illness. Since I am a very nostalgic person, I often compare the past to the present. I dwell on how happy my brother was before his diagnosis. Everyday is a struggle for him. He seems to have a hard time making sense of everything that is happening. It must be very hard. 

The first time I had a chance to talk to my brother (after his first break) was over the phone. He was in Italy, heavily medicated at a hospital. He did mustered the strength to turn himself into the embassy, though. The first words he uttered were, "Amber, what's happening". To this day, I still remember how fragile and helpless his voice sounded. It was at that moment that I had my first wave of empathy rush over me. I couldn't help but wonder how scared and confused he must have been. Now, after 3 years of coping, so many possibilities run through my head. Will he gain insight, stay on the medicine, never gain insight, or worse, commit suicide. These are the things you never get out of your mind. Some days you worry less, but in the end, there is still this sense of loss. I have lowered my expectations because that's what they tell you to do. That was a hard one to accept. All I wish for now is that he chooses recovery. When they tell you to have patience they are telling you to become numb to the pain. I understand it takes time, but during that time, you can't ignore what is right in front of you. It almost feels like the old Josh is in a coma and he may come back some day. Do I wait or do I accept that he is gone.

I don't want to sound selfish, but I dread phone calls from my parents. The tone of the call is never upbeat. Well, at least with my mom. The call always ends up dwelling on what is happening with my brother. I sometimes feel like I am a therapist during these phone calls:) I have felt that way my whole life...like the mediator in my family. It does put a lot of pressure on me, mentally. I empathize too much and this can be very painful. I wish I could see a therapist, but I don't think my insurance covers it. That is why I paint, it is my own therapy. I sometimes wonder why this affects me so much since my other siblings seem to cope better than I do. Are they stronger? I seem to be an optimist in this situation but convincing yourself that things will get better is difficult when nothing seems to improve. I have to stop getting my hopes up and just accept that this illness has its ups and downs. 

Over the summer, I got a taste of what recovery is like. It was like I had my brother back. He was laughing, joking around and just happy. At the same time, I could tell he was struggling with the weight gain and everything else. Just as my brother is still learning how to cope with his illness, I am trying to cope with seeing him go through it. I am constantly reminded of the boy I grew up with. He is the sweetest person I've ever known. He would do anything for you. I once asked him if he wanted to help install wood floors in my new house. Not only did he help, but he stayed an entire week and practically did all of it. No questions asked, no complaints. All he wanted was dinner:) This happened right before he left for Italy. Looking back, I could tell he was acting different around this time but no family is ever prepared. That is why I want to educate the pubic so they can view others, such as my brother, as inspiring individuals. I just had to vent, thank you for taking the time to listen:) Luckily, I have a very funny husband who makes me laugh. Laughing makes all this pain disappear.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I thought I would share a video with you by Puddle of Mudd. I came across the song while researching how the media affects stigma. The song is called "Psycho" but the term SCHIZOPHRENIC PSYCHO is repeated over and over again thoughout the song. I believe the narrator is comparing his girlfriend's attitude to a very serious mental disorder. But then I found the following quote, "The song is about wondering if oneself has a split personality and is a “psycho”, as lead singer Wes Scantlin sings “maybe I’m the one who is the schizophrenic psycho”." The music video was shot at the famed Bates Motel which adds another layer of discriminating media. I find that too many bands sacrifice originality for commerciality. In this case, the band creates a phrase and a hook that will appeal to or shock the listener. If the band wants to be original, they should stop modeling themselves after Nirvana. I will post more about Kurt Cobain in the future. Go watch Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" and you will see some striking similarities. Puddle of Mudd takes a sound that was already successful (when it entered the mainstream in the 90's) and reproduces it so they can appeal to the masses. This is very commercial and in no way original. Anyway, until there is more education/positive media regarding mental illness, music and movies will continue to dehumanize those who are suffering. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I don't know what to do anymore. My brother has been in the hospital like ten times or so within the last 2-3 years. Here's the cycle. He gets admitted to the hospital involuntarily (he has schizophrenia), he stays there until he agrees to take medicine, he goes home and takes the medicine for a month or so. When he starts to feel a little better, he refuses to take medicine (like tonight). We can't reason with him due to his lack of insight. The cycle is starting again but now we have to wait a few weeks before he deteriorates and goes back to the hospital. I outline this cycle because it seems so unproductive. I personally think that the mental system is flawed. My parents are at the end of their rope. They don't want to, but are thinking of kicking him out of the house. Can you believe that a parent would have to even contemplate something like that? Does anyone know how my parents can get Assisted Outpatient Treatment? It seems like that is the only thing that could work in this situation. When someone can't understand (due to the illness) that they have to take meds to get well, should they be forced? I am so angry, confused and sad. I just want my parents and brother to have some sort of relief from all of this. 
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
These words came from our new president today. I hope that his message resonates with the entire country. Like I have said before, only fear will prevent us from opening our minds and our hearts.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I have received a few comments regarding my post about Jett Travolta. I wanted to apologize for coming across as insensitive. My heart truly goes out to John, Kelly and their daughter. The pain they are feeling must be absolutely unbearable. No one should have to bury their son. I wrote the post after reading an article about John's brother Joey. I gathered that Jett may have had Autism. It is speculated that his parents did not want to believe this could be the case (because of their faith-Scientology). Scientology does not recognize individuals with a mental disorder such as Autism. The religion views those as lesser humans who are responsible for their disorder. If Jett did have Autism, his parents had a chance to raise awareness since they are in the public eye. Many have used their celebrity to change public opinion about social issues (Bono, Angelina Jolie, Elton John, etc.). I do not want to place blame on Jett's parents since I do not know the whole story. It is know that his parents were treating Jett's seizures with medication. I am sure that Jett's parents loved their son more than anything. My heart goes out to them.

I found another article which discusses how Scientology, whose founder called shrinks "terrorists" and which labels mental illness a fraud, is closer than you think to implanting its extreme beliefs in the nation's laws and schools. One can only wonder if any of this is true and I do not have all the facts but this issue did strike a chord with me. A few of my family members do not believe or accept that my brother has schizophrenia. As a result, they do not support the medicine he is taking. I understand that the medicine will not cure him but I can tell you that without it, my brother may not be here today. I almost lost my brother three separate times to suicide so I do not take granted the fact that he is still here with us. Jett's passing reminded me, again, what it may have been like to lose my only brother. I don't even want to think about it. I just wish others would accept mental illness as biological/physical illness and not something you should be ashamed of. I am very thankful that my family does not follow the religion of Scientology. 
Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds us to embrace ALL people, however different they may be. He had passion and a purpose. I think of him as I continue on my journey to eliminate discrimination against those suffering from a mental disorder. Click here to view his famous last speech. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My whole life (so far) I've been called weird or eccentric. My family would agree:) The thing is, I felt normal inside. I was just being myself. However, when people would label me as the strange one, I felt alone. I felt pressured to keep my imagination to myself. To a child, this can be very confusing. I felt much more comfortable alone because no one could judge me. Those with a mental disorder deal with a similar situation because discrimination and stereotypes almost force them into solitude. No one should be forced to identify with his/her illness. 

It took me many years to embrace my eccentricities. As an adult, I don't like think I'm weird, rather, everyone else is too normal. Marylin Manson was once asked how he feels to be called weird and he simply said, "define normal". You can't. Society has become blinded by its obsession with normal. We live in a world where you have to watch what you say, feel or do. What's wrong with being different? I think different is quite normal.

I am reminded of a time when I was in kindergarden and my teacher would not let me leave class until I finished a daffodil picture by coloring neatly inside the lines. I kept refusing. She must have handed me the same daffodil picture five times until I finally buckled and colored inside the lines (I had to catch my bus :). All she wanted me to do was follow the rules without question. Instead of encouraging creativity, she was concerned with what was normal. Maybe this was the moment I decided to live my life outside the lines. 

Bertrand Russell once said, "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric." Ironically, Russell, an influential mathematician and philosopher, had a strong history of mental illness in his family. I think that eccentricity breads new ideas, questions and change. Without it the world we know would cease to exist. We would sacrifice inventions, movies, art movements, literature, and most things that give life meaning. Sir Isaac Newton, known to be very eccentric, would never communicate his ideas. When asked to shed light on the theory of gravity, he returned a few years later with a book (he created along with Gottfried Leibniz: Principea Mathematica). This book uncovered a new, valuable mathmatical method called Calculus. Einstein, best know for his theory of relativity, was more comfortable in solitude but became a public figure for issues that he believed in. His son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I will post more in the future regarding the connection between creativity/genius and mental illness.

I personally love people who are brave enough to challenge what we view as normal. These people are fearless and passionate. They don't allow the majority to think for them. If more people had this attitude, we could start to erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We would begin to accept people for who they are and stop telling them who they need to be. One famous quote that still holds true, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" -FDR. Only fear will hold us back from opening our minds and our hearts. 

Monday, January 5, 2009


A coworker sent me a logo today (I work at an design agency) and I was reminded of how unaware people are about schizophrenia. The above logo shows an icon which illustrates happiness and sadness. As clever as this icon is, in no way does it describe the word below it. If anything, it relates to bipolar disorder. I then found out that the creator is under the impression that schizophrenia is a split personality disorder (this is inaccurate). 

Aside from all of this, why in the world would someone want to sell a logo with schizophrenic as the name? It's upsetting when those who suffer from schizophrenia are referred to as "schizophrenic". Why should a disease serve as a noun and an adjective? When used as an adjective, the term "schizophrenic" creates shame and labels someone with his or her illness. People are not SCHIZOPHRENIC. They are real people, just like you and me, yet they suffer from a mental disorder. Some people tell me to "lighten up" but find it funny because this is the same attitude that perpetuates stigma. Our society uses more hurtful words to brand someone with a mental disorder than any other form of discrimination (check out this study). Here are ONLY few:

Screw Loose
Loony (Bin)
Mentally Ill
Fruit Cake
Padded Cell
Head Case

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I'm sure most of you have heard the sad news of Jett Travolta death. He was only sixteen years old. It is suspected that he died from a head injury, due to a fall, which was triggered by a seizure. My heart goes out to Jett's family. Jett's parents, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, claim that their son suffered from Kawasaki Syndrome. However, most people who have met Jett say that he clearly suffered from Autism. John's brother, Joey, had been in many disagreements about Jett's treatment. Joey even produced a documentary that interviewed 65 kids with autism called, Normal People Scare Me. The point of the film was to educate others about autism. 

Jett's parents are followers of Scientology, a religion that believes mental illness is psychosomatic. That means those affected by any type of mental disorder are defective human beings and can only be treated through spiritual healing. If John and Kelly refused medical treatment for their son and denied that he suffered from autism (and this is only hypothetical), then this is very sad. I personally know how denial and lack of insight can trigger medical non-compliance. In my own family, there are members who do not fully believe that my brother suffers from schizophrenia, even though he was diagnosed. What I have concluded, though, is that these individuals are in deep denial about what is really going on. They do not want to admit that my brother has a real mental illness and don't support him taking medicine. I don't understand it because it took me a matter of days to understand what was really going on. I spoke with many people who have gone through the same thing and they told me that without medicine, recovery may never happen. For months, I didn't want to believe that my brother would most likely deal with schizophrenia for the rest of his life. For a sister, that is a very hard reality to accept. However, all of the success stories I read about helped me look toward the future. I believe that each day is one step closer to my brother's recovery.

A lot of people are speculating that Jett's death could have been prevented and maybe it could have. However, we weren't there and we don't know what happened. I do , however, have a huge problem with Scientology, because followers of this religion believe that mental illness makes an individual defective or weak. Ironically,  those who suffer from a mental disorder are actually courageous, inspiring and strong. I don't think people realize just what it takes to recover from a chronic illness. I will tell you that it is nothing short of miraculous. It is a personal journey that one makes in order to achieve recovery. Please visit my website to learn about this journey.

We need to embrace recovery and accept that mental illness will continue to affect our loved ones. When we talk about mental illness we are actually talking about physical illness. The brain is not separate from the rest of the body. It is an organ just like our stomach or our liver. What's more complicated is that our brains are controlled by chemical and electrical activity. When any of this activity is unbalanced, a disorder can occur. After observing the debilitating effects schizophrenia has had on my brother, I know one thing, I will never underestimate my mental health or take it for granted. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Human rights are defined as basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. These rights include civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights. When I think of civil rights, I am most definitely reminded of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. I designed the photo montage (above) to show that with perseverance, progress can be made. This movement gives me hope that one day, we may eliminate discrimination against those living with a mental disorder. 

Our civil rights protect us from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, sexual orientation and protect our individual freedom of belief. However, while this freedom allows for ideas of hope, love, equality and peace it also allows for ideas of oppression, discrimination and prejudice. History and current events show how many of these freedoms have and continue to be abused. 

Mental illness is a taboo subject and extremely misunderstood. Like any disease, no one asks to be burdened with a mental disorder. However, societal stigma forces shame upon these individuals. I found the following quote which was posted in response to a news article. The article voiced a one sided story about a celebrity who was stalked by an individual struggling with a mental disorder:

"Hire someone to kill the fu*ker. The only thing that wouldn't be fair about it is that the woman being harassed would have to pay for that service. "One Fine Day" every fu*king lunatic will be dead or behind bars waiting for the death penalty."  

TRANSLATION: It isn't enough of a punishment for people to have a mental illness thrust upon them but they should also be locked up for the rest of their lives, or be killed. Maybe I am reading too far into this but that would mean anyone with a mental disorder is NOT entitled to the same human rights as everyone else. I have read that discrimination against mental illness is about 20 years behind all other forms of discrimination. This means that there is a long road ahead of those who are trying to reduce this stigma. 

Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Father's of America, once said, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." This has proven this to be true for African American's and all the progress they have made. Those with a mental disorder may seem like they make up a minority group, but actually, 1 in 4 people will have a diagnosable disorder. That equals 60.1 million people in America. If you add family members to the group, we may end up becoming the majority. We need to end the fear, discrimination and stereotypes. Progress is defined as steady improvement, as a society or civilization. We can eliminate stigma with education, realistic news stories of hope and an open mind!

I would like to end with a story that may ease society's fear of schizophrenia. When my brother was recently working towards recovery, he found his own peace by attending church. He said he felt safe there which is ironic because many do not feel safe from people with schizophrenia. Anyway, as they passed around the prayer basket, my mother caught a glimpse of what his prayer read. She told me that he asked for world peace. I ask society, is this someone we should be afraid of?