Monday, December 13, 2010


As a child, I often wondered what attracted me to the arts. I remember filling pages upon pages of sketchbooks in the comfort of my solitude (well, alone my bedroom). I was often teased for listening to classical music starting at the age of 12 but didn't really care. Other times, I would beg my parents to take me to theatrical plays. It was evident that my wandering mind could not be tamed by TV or video games. Instead, I would conjure up some sort of script or variety show which my siblings to bring to life. And yes, I have been called WEIRD more times that I can count.

One task I always find difficult is trying to turn my mind OFF. To this day, I still have this intense need to create at ALL times (sewing, painting, directing, drawing, designing (interior/graphic/textile), the list goes on). Some may view creativity as a blessing but trust me, it can be a curse. If I sit for too long, I feel like I am a failure...unproductive. As soon as I saw a genetic link between mental illness and my family, I began to understand why my own mind would not rest.

While researching for a documentary, I have yet to finish, I discovered how many artists are haunted by the same genetic link to mental illness. I understand their need to release pain/creativity through various forms of art. As soon as my brother became ill and fear of the unknown was looming, I turned to art & design to make my mind calm again. You can see/hear the result here. David Bowie (one of my idols) has stated that there is a strong link to mental illness within his family. The following are a few facts to support this claim:

“David’s mother, Peggy, a former cinema usher, was more colorful. According to several reliable witnesses and institutional records, there was more than a streak of mental instability in her family. Bowie’s Aunt Una suffered from clinical depression and schizophrenia, underwent electric shock treatment and died in her late 30s. A second aunt, Vivienne, suffered a schizophrenic attack, and a third, Nora, was lobotomized in an effort to cure what her mother described as ‘bad nerves’.

Unfortunately, the family “condition”, as it was known, was again at work. In his mid-20s, Terry, David's half brother, was diagnosed as a manic depressive and schizophrenic, and was eventually institutionalized. One snowy morning in January 1985, he climbed over the wall of a psychiatric hospital in Surrey and walked to the nearby station, where he lay down on the track directly in the path of the oncoming London express train.

Terry was 47. David didn’t attend the funeral but sent a wreath of roses and a card which read: “You’ve seen more things than we could imagine but all these moments will be lost, like tears washed away by the rain. God bless you - David.”

Eight years later Bowie admitted: “It scared me. I felt my own mind was in question. I often wondered how near the line I was going - how far I should push myself.” Ziggy and the other characters, he explained, had been “alternative egos”, a form of madness through which he had meant to preserve his sanity. David Bowie never crossed the divide into mental illness. But he shared a number of the quirks shown by his maternal family. He would suddenly burst into tears, for example, and was said to have had a particularly active imagination. One family friend told me that, as a four or five-year-old, David had phoned to summon the local ambulance one night, and successfully persuaded the operator that he was “dying”.

That Bowie was conscious of his heritage seems obvious from the number of songs he wrote touching on lunacy or schizophrenia. Of the Oh! You Pretty Things lyrics, Bowie said: “I hadn’t been to an analyst - my parents went, my brothers and sisters and my aunts and uncles and cousins, they did that. They ended up in a much worse state. I thought I’d write my problems out.”

I am in no way trying to comparing my artistic talents to that of Bowie but think it is interesting how creativity may be genetically linked to mental illness. When it comes to the illness, I guess I will always wonder why statistics chose my brother instead of me. If I could take even part of this from him, I would.

Monday, December 6, 2010

NAMI's Monthly Stigma Buster alerted me of the following:

Fox Television's Emmy-winning musical comedy, Glee, stepped into stigma for its November 16 episode, entitled "The Substitute", which mocked and trivialized bipolar disorder--and included imaginary violence as humor.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, as substitute teacher Holly Holliday, played Mary Todd Lincoln- wife of Abraham Lincoln- as part of a history lesson. In the video link (above), the short scene begins at the 39:10 minute mark. The transcript and dialogue reads:
Holly Holliday is standing at the front of class room dressed in 19th century clothing, lecturing to a high school class.

Holly Holliday: Mary Todd Lincoln in the house! My husband was probably gay and I'm bipolar, which makes me yell things like [pointing to a teapot], 'That teapot is spreading lies about me! Or, that can't be my baby because I don't love it! [throws imaginary baby over shoulder]
Mr. Schuester knocks on the door and asks Holly Holliday to speak with him for a moment.
Holly Holliday: Guys, practice your bipolar rants. See, history can be fun!

Please contact Fox TV and the director of the episode to express disappointment with the scene. Mental illness is not a joke. Would the show have included a scene that played AIDS or cancer for laughs?

Glee has enormous power to influence young people who constitute much of the show's audience-and for whom suicide is the third-leading cause of death. Ask the show to make amends by producing episodes that deal with mental illness accurately and compassionately and include themes of recovery.

Fox TV: Email address for comments on shows
Ryan Murphy (Glee creator, director, writer): 
Ryan Murphy Productions 
5555 Melrose Ave 
Chevalier Bldg. 
Los Angeles, CA 90038 
Phone: 323-956-5000 
Fax: 323-862-2121

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


What should one think of a doctor who opts to treat his patients in front of America instead of in the privacy of his office? I wonder how a doctor could throw ethics and confidentiality out the window in order to increase ratings. Of course, I am talking about the now famous, Dr. Drew Pinsky.

I first heard about Dr. Drew while watching MTV's "Loveline" (the show began in 1983 but still airs on radio). Back in the 90's Dr. Drew used his expertise to answer questions from America's youth. These questions usually centered around relationships, sexuality, drug addiction, etc. I found the show to be interesting because complete strangers would divulge their personal issues for everyone to hear. I guess you could say it was the beginning of reality TV for me. However, it wasn't until "Celebrity Rehab" hit the air waves that I really began to pay attention.

"Celebrity Rehab" began around the time my brother was being immersed into a sea of his own psychiatrists, case managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, etc. I found myself watching because part of me wondered what it must be like for my brother to work on his own recovery one on one with a psychiatrist. But, the other part of me couldn't stop questioning Dr. Drew's motives for the show. Was he exploiting these celebrities to increase his own celebrity? Or was he really trying to show America that it was OK to seek treatment? Stigma is one of the main reasons why individuals will avoid treatment. The media has done a very good job of exploiting mental illness so it is only natural to deny that you may need professional help. In a way, I was glad that finally, someone was showing America first hand, that mental health should never be viewed as black and white. You can't just slap on a band aid and hope for the best. There are far too many layers for a doctor to pull away in order to deal with the root of a mental health issue.

The problem with our society is that we view mental illness as a weakness or flaw when in fact it takes lots of courage, many years of treatment and a deep personal discovery in order to reach recovery. At times, some of these real life situations are a matter of life and death. But it is good for those who are "unaware" to understand the severity of these cases. This will inspire understanding and empathy.

Dr. Drew recently said in an interview that people question his motives since the show falls under the category of "reality TV". In hind sight, he thinks he should have styled the show as a documentary. Maybe then, the "stigma" surrounding reality TV wouldn't cloud judgment or cause people to question his motives. These are small yet necessary steps towards acceptance. The more we discuss these issues the better we will become at combating exploitative media. Freedom of speech needs to be used as a tool to educate, not as a tool for the media to shove fear and horror down our throats. Just another reason why I won't watch the news. Always consumed with the negative. We must surround ourselves with positivity in order to inspire positivity.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I had no idea that a little post on my employer's blog would call attention from those around the globe. If interested, check out this link for my boss' take on my little project. The comments just remind me that these illnesses can impact individuals of any creed, race, etc.

On another positive note, my brother has been out of the hospital for almost a year now. It may have taken a while to reach stability, but he has come a long way. It may sound odd, but last week was the first time he actually talked to me and ASKED ME questions for a change:) He hasn't really talked to any of his siblings in almost 12 months. I hope people do not take these little things for granted with their own loved ones. With most other illnesses, you may always wonder the outcome, but you rarely loose your connections with the person when he/she is right there in front of you. It is almost like the person is gone emotionally but there physically. Like a walking coma. I cherish these few moments of solace with my brother. It makes me feel like he is at peace and that is more important than anything. Hope to be back soon with some more meaningful and thought provoking blog posts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The two emails below give you an idea of how my "Gaining Insight Campaign" continues to surprise me:

Hi Amber,

Our Mental Illness Awareness Week has concluded and I wanted to write and tell you what an impact your video had on the people who viewed it. We were unable to secure a speaker for our candlelight vigil, so we opted to show your video to the group instead. There were a couple of people attending who suffer from schizophrenia and I think it may have had the biggest impact on them. Seeing themselves portrayed as people of strength and courage instead of people needing to be medicated and pitied surely gave them a much needed sense of pride. I congratulate and thank you for that. All the others that watched the video were very moved and quite surprised at many of the statistics. We were unable to show the video at the art exhibit - the setting wasn't right. However, we were able to show it at our NAMI Family-to-Family Class that week. It so happened to fall during the week we were doing our "empathy" workshop, which made it fit in quite nicely. Everyone was very impressed and everyone wanted your website address!

We plan to use this video again in May during Mental Health Month and hope to have a showing at the library and invite either a psychiatrist or mental health worker to speak. I'd also like to get a copy of the video that is online on your website. The one that shows each of your pieces and the narrative that describes what each one represents. Could I possibly get that from you? I'd be happy to pay the shipping charges, just let me know how much and I'll mail you a check.

Thank you again for sharing your beautiful artwork - it makes such a powerful statement and all of us who are in this fight to break stigma and educate the public about mental illnesses appreciate everything you're doing.

NAMI Mobile Alabama


Dear Amber,

My name is … with the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT (web link here). This month, we are celebrating our tenth anniversary. At this event, our director, Robert Desimone, will give a talk to a large audience about our mission to understand the brain in health and disease. I have been looking for compelling images to illustrate the gravity of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and I came across your very moving gallery on

Would you possibly be willing/interested in giving us permission to use your 'psychiatric' painting image in Robert Desimone's talk? Thanks very much and I look forward to hearing back from you.

McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT: Understanding the Brain in Health and Disease


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So much to write about but no time to do it :( Still searching for balance while I juggle a new baby, work and well, life! Of course baby comes first, so I apologize for the lack of posts. However, I seem to be getting closer to my dream of fight stigma in the classroom. I received a wonderful email from a publishing company in Australia. They contacted me to ask permission to use the poster (to the left) in a
school textbook titled VCE Psychology Units 3 & 4, 4th edition. I was so honored that I had to say yes. To top it off, this poster will be printed in 50,000 textbooks. To think that my little poster could make an impact on students...I am beyond trilled!

In lieu of compensation, I asked the publishing company if they could donate to a mental health charity. They graciously donated $100 to Australia's "SANE Australia is a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness – through campaigning, education and research." If you have a chance, check
out their site. This organization continues to do so much for the
mental health community in Australia. Also, thank you to all my readers who voted and made my blog a top ten blog (see award in right hand column). This will inspire me to keep on blogging!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

As soon as I heard about Mel Gibson's disturbing phone recordings, I was reminded of the statistic that 1 in 4 people are affected by a mental illness (most without even knowing). I then read the following article. I wonder how many other Mel's are out.

Now I am not here to diagnose Mel, but his seemingly off balanced demeanor forces me to look further at the people I have met over the years. I have encountered many people with obvious personality and/or mental flaws (myself included). I am not using the word "flaw" in a negative way, rather to show that something was a bit off or bothering the person. Some of these people I am related to. After my brother became sick, it forced me to evaluate whether there was more undiagnosed illness running in the family. What makes me sad is that most people with paranoid thoughts are so quick to point the finger that they won't detect any imbalance within themselves.

Some family feuds are fueled by mental instability (no matter how small or large the imbalance). Others have attributed there rocky upbringing to undiagnosed mental illness within the family. To this day, I avoid confrontation because I am reminded of the fights that occurred while growing up. Then my OCD kicks in. It causes me to overanalyze things (or find a solution to a problem). I would act as the mediator and attempt to fix the family. This can take a toll on a person. You feel like you are carrying 1,000 pounds of crap that you do not own. So I am trying to accept that not every problem has a solution.

My energy will be spent on raising my child in a home where he feels safe and secure. He will not carry my burden. But I do hope that in the future, these less severe forms of mental illness can be detected by the individual. It takes a lot of courage to evaluate one's self and even more courage to seek help. We can encourage mental health by increasing awareness (and empathy). Thank you for taking to time to sample a rambling mind.

Thought I should post a response I made after reading Amanda's comment (since it relates to the above post): "Amanda...Very well said!! I agree that many are passed off as eccentric. People should look at mental illness in a positive light. Many famous people may not be famous if it wasn't for a metal imbalance. Howard Hughes may not have been as successful with a "NORMAL" mind. If we don't say the words MENTAL ILLNESS or give it a label, then we will never strip away the stigma, thus, the discrimination will continue. I love those who are different/eccentric. They push the boundaries or what we THINK is normal!"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I think you will see from the video/pictures below why I have been absent from blogging. Lucas was born at the end of April and continues to remind me that life is beautiful in every possible way. I hope to be back soon!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I hope you will take a moment to navigate through the following website. I believe the campaign was partially developed by Glen Close (she has a sister with bipolar). Like myself, their mission is to stamp out stigma. Luckily, they are reaching a much larger audience since they have the help of celebrity. I like how they use the approach of wearing the name of their disorder/association. It shows that they have no fear. We must make these words mundane in order to strip away the stereotypes and misconceptions. I hope one day to reach as many people with my message. Let's keep fighting!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

With only a few weeks to go before I can meet my baby boy, I am starting to notice I will be a protective mommy. One of the facts that I just have to face in life is that mental illness runs in my family. As most of you know, these illnesses overlap so family members will not experience the same illness or to the same degree. My brother seems to have the most debilitating form of mental illness out of anyone in the family. So, I am one who fully supports prevention or delayed onset of illness through proper nutrition and education. Some may say I am being over cautious but I am thankful to have a family who is educated and open about mental illness. I know I can't CONTROL life, but certainly, I can derail or alter certain things.

When I became pregnant, I was overwhelmed with joy. But my obsessive thoughts soon created anxiety and tension. I thought, what if I pass this genetic link onto my son? It took a while to get over the guilt and realize that as horrible as this disease can be, my husband and I would get through it as a team. Throughout my pregnancy I made sure I took more than enough EPA, DHA, vitamin D and choline. I am sick of egg sandwiches (eggs are high in choline). All of these supplements can aid in healthy brain development. I figure, he will be in-utero only once, so I better do it right. My husband and I eat organic and all natural where ever possible since cancer is very prominent in his family. It is amazing how much of our foods are laced with man made chemicals. Who knows what effects these chemicals have on our precious, human tissue. The following article sheds light on the positive effects fish oil may have on mental illness.

I promise not to worry too much but I will be aware. I feel that being prepared with the right tools or being able to notice early symptoms may result in a better outcome later in life. I guess this is what it feels like to be a mother:)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The following story sent chills down my spine since it hit way to close to home. I am happy that the family made this statement:

"We may never know why he made this terrible decision," it said. "One thing is clear though — his actions were caused by an illness and not a defective character."

When my brother was missing in Italy, we were baffled by the laws which prevent a family from making decisions for their very ill family member. Josh had been missing for days when we finally received the call that he was back in Rome. We thought GREAT, now he is safe. Unfortunately, he could not be kept against his will even though he was clearly sick and could not make rational decisions on his own. I would never wish that experience on my worst enemy. There is really nothing to compare it to other than sheer helplessness.

So when I read the article above, I completely could relate to how the family must have felt in their situation. I have been there when my brother begged my mom to call the FBI because of his delusions/hallucinations. I have heard the pain in my mother's voice as she told me how my brother handed her a knife to put under her bed because he was certain someone might break in the house. I remember the stomach pains I felt when my parents pleaded with the hospital to take my brother in after he tried to run out of their car only feet from oncoming traffic because he thought bombs were headed for them. I can tell you that the torture is felt on both ends. Why must our cries for help be ignored when we are the ones living through the chaos. We are the voice of reason yet no one will listen. The law only seems to matter when it is far too late. This will always sadden me.

In my opinion, there are many flaws when it comes to the mental health system. It can't be all or nothing. Mental illness is not black and white. I wish that these laws allowed for flexibility so that the family could intervene. I know these stories of mental illness and violence are rare but when publicized, they affect the publics' perception in a very negative way. They only hear about these rare instances and assume ALL people living with mental illness must be violent. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but education on the subject is in great need if we want to see change. The public may only see the unfortunate violence which results from mental illness but they really need to be aware of the mental illness itself and what it can do to individuals who are suffering? What about these victims? My heart goes out to the officers who were involved in the shooting as well as the family who did not need to loose a son. This unfortunate incident could have been prevented.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


When you decide to fight stigma, you find that the media is your worst enemy. When it comes to mental illness, Hollywood writers fuel fear in the public by relying on sensationalism and discrimination. The latest film to misrepresent mental illness is "The Crazies". Usually, I am surprised by the layers of discrimination within a film but in this case, the title says it all. I want you to watch the following trailer and read the film's description below (the film's website is here). I would love to hear what you think about this issue. In my opinion, it will take years of education at a student level (part of the reason I am working on my documentary). Maybe then will our future Hollywood directors and writers think twice before they stigmatize millions of people dealing with mental illness. We all can hope but we must keep fighting!

"A husband and wife in a small Midwestern town find themselves battling for survival as their friends and family descend into madness in The Crazies...Unable to trust former neighbors and friends, deserted by the authorities and terrified of contracting the illness themselves, they are forced to band together in a nightmarish struggle for survival." –

"About the inhabitants of a small Iowa town suddenly plagued by insanity and then death after a mysterious toxin contaminates their water supply."

Thursday, January 28, 2010


One of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger, has passed away at the age of 91. I fell in love with his book "Catcher in the Rye" after reading it in 8th or 9th grade. So much so that I read it a second time years later. 

""Catcher" presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap."  

The following quote, from the book, describes the main character beautifully as well as the title:

"I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

Looking back now, I think my obsession with this book stemmed from my fascination with childhood innocence. I have always felt this need to protect children from the harsh realities of adulthood. If I really want to dig deeper, I could say that my childhood experience with family feuding may have caused me to recoil from any confrontation at all costs. We can not choose the environments we grow up in but parents must realize that their actions can have lasting effects on a child's future. Now I am not saying you should shelter a child from every bad thing in the world, but some children are more sensitive than others. I feel it is my duty to protect my brother from his illness since I can't bear to see him in pain. We often say that Josh may have always been unequip to handle the harsh realities of adulthood. Now that he is burdened with a chronic illness, I would do anything to bring him back to the days when life was so easy for him, as a child. When he first got ill, he often made comments about life being much easier and enjoyable and a kid. 

I am not a therapist, but being subjected to fights within the family/in-laws as a child was something I NEVER had any control of. As an adult, if I loose control, I have a very difficult time adjusting. I wonder if this stems from my childhood or the fact that I analyze everything:) I am not angry at my parents because the majority of the time, they were wonderful and supportive. The only issue I had was that they involved the children in their confrontation even though it had nothing to do with us. When you develop a great sensitivity to confrontation, those early experiences can never be erased. Maybe this is why I won't judge a serial killer or someone whose actions may have been triggered by an extremely abusive upbringing. We must remember that every effect has a cause.  

What's ironic about "Catcher in the Rye" is how one man, with schizophrenia (an illness that robs someone of reality), felt that this book gave him reason to kill John Lennon.

"The cult of "Catcher" turned tragic in December 1980 when crazed Beatles fan Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, citing Salinger's novel as an inspiration and stating that "this extraordinary book holds many answers." 

At the time of the murder, Chapman was clearly unmedicated and unaware of his troubled mind. He has been in prison since 1981 after he changed his plea from insanity to guilty. Some believe that his illness may have resulted from his troubled childhood. Chapman was very sensitive to the anger his parents had towards each other. The physical abuse may have intruded upon his normal development. As a result, he escaped to a fantasy world. I wonder if Chapman became obsessed with Holden Caufield's character since he too was looking for someone to protect him. 

I thank J.D. Salinger for his contributions to the literary world. He will never be forgotten. I will end with one of my favorite quotes:

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." –Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ROUTINE IS JUST ONE PART OF RECOVERYWhen it comes to mental illness, we start to understand that recovery is not a destination, rather, it is a constant management and understanding of symptoms. My brother continues to amaze me in his efforts to improve on himself. Though it was difficult for him to do, he did go to the local animal shelter in search of  volunteer position. He was afraid that the interviewer would inquire about his volunteering interest since he had a college degree. These uncomfortable situations continue to harp on his conscience. But, as his family, we are there to support and encourage him so that he can see he can live up to his potential. 

To those who are not aware what it is like to live with schizophrenia, I want to point out that your intelligence is NOT affected by the illness in any way. My brother is still much sharper than most and has a memory I am still baffled by. In his case, his symptoms can prevent him from feeling comfortable in social/stressful situations. This can be very problematic when trying to hold a 9-5 job. To the average person, this may be hard to comprehend but it is why I try to educate others. Empathy towards this chronic illness will reduce stigma. It is also important to point out that no case of schizophrenia is the same and there are many who are quite functional. 

In closing, I wanted to say that I am very proud of my brother and hope that being around animals will be comforting to him since he is so good with them. It may seem like a small accomplishment to some but to a family who has seen their son and brother deal with absolute debilitation, it is a monumental step in the right direction. Good luck Josh, we will always be here to support you:)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I often wondered if Artie Lang's humor was a way for him to mask his inner deamons. I am an avid Howard Stern listener so I have witnessed Artie's honesty about his drug addiction and depression. His admissions have helped others, who may be influenced by stigma, understand this very real illness. Some would call in and criticize him, saying depression is not a real disease, or how could he bed ridden with crippling mental anguish. Well, I hope all of those who let their disbelief get in the way of their sympathy will feel something when they read the following:

"Howard Stern sidekick and "Beer League" star Artie Lange was hospitalized this weekend after a suicide attempt at his Hoboken apartment, according to the New York Post. Sources tell the paper the bulbous funnyman stabbed himself nine times, including three deep wounds. A bloodied Lange was discovered by his mother Saturday morning. The 42-year-old has battled addiction in the past and has been absent from Stern's show on Sirius radio for over a month."

This was not Artie's first suicide attempt. If you listen to the show, you know that Artie is obviously dealing with a mental illness and I commend him for seeking help from a therapist recently (something that took years). I often thought that the death of his father caused much of his drug addiction but I have come to realize that, like myself, his inability to deal with his father's death may result from the illness itself. I see now how so many creative people are dealing with obsessive thoughts and other mental issues. There is a sensitivity there that you can't shake and it often is the reason for your creativity and pain. I understand this struggle very well. I am trying to improve on my own mental health but it is something that you tend to daily. I truly hope Artie is OK and my heart goes out to him and his supportive and loving family. They have also been through a great deal over the years. When I read how his mother discovered him while  delivering food (she made with love), I thought of my own mother and how she has done so much for my brother. Thank you mom!