I have just completed one year of psychotherapy* with an amazing clinical social worker, accompanied by psychiatric/psychological follow-up. Today, at 54, I am as mentally and emotionally strong as maybe never before in my life.
Until less than a year ago my life was a mess. And that of my son even more. Our home was a mess, and I am not even going to begin detailing.
After another psychiatric hospitalization of several months, my 26-year-old son (who is struggling with psychotic OCD) has been living in supervised housing for the past 6 months and he is learning to live an independent and socially healthy life.
I have moved to a new apartment with my cat and have begun studying psychology and working with children with special needs.
The love of my life (who is also coping with emotional-mental complexity) has evolved into my best friend.
Things are far from perfect, but they are steadily improving.
AND, most days are sunny and warm in this country.
Thursday, July 31, early evening – The whole house and the ground just shook, accompanied by a dull but heavy boom. Another rocket sent to us from Gaza. Fortunately, this time it was not too close… no sirens went off here.
I am working (and choking…) on my next post. I hope to complete it within another few days.
In the meantime, I send you greetings from a troubled land.
I am very happy we met – you are a wonderful person and I really enjoyed the time with you. The timing of your visit was perfect: You were able to get an impression of the beginning of the mess we are having here now, and you left just in time before it became really uncomfortable.
Thank you for your great posts on your “adventures” in and impressions of Israel. You really know how to convey excitement and special atmospheres.
A strong hug from me and warm regards from Yuval. (BTW, how many camels and chickens did you actually offer him in exchange for me…? 😉 )
I thawed today. Ahhhhhhhhh, it felt soooooooo gooooood, sitting in the sun and letting the rays penetrate the four layers I was still wearing from the night – a thick undershirt, a turtle-neck, a woolen tank-top with a hood, and a(nother) hoodie – to warm my stiff limbs! After some time in the warmth I took off the hoodie and the tank-top. And I raised the bottom part of my sweat pants for the sun to get to the skin of my legs and stimulate some vitamin-D production… brrrrr.
Things are slowly returning to normal after a week of freezing cold, crazy rainstorms, and meters of snow and hail in many parts of the country, leading to flooded and blocked roads, water leaks in buildings (including our sweet two-room, one-level home) and power failures, leaving thousands of families without heating, warm water and light – not to mention internet, radio, and TV. Israel is simply not equipped to deal with such weather conditions.
But now the sun is back, last puddles are drying up, the birds have resumed chirping and tweeting, and light and life are filling the air again.
I don’t think I could live in a place where the sun doesn’t show for weeks on end. I would probably become an addict of some mind-dulling unhealthy substance.
Light and Sun – why are they so important to us (besides the fact that they are necessary for photosynthesis in plants, which are the basis of all life on earth)?
“Light does have an effect on a person’s mood. The amount and wavelength of light affects the different functions of the brain, including the regulation of a person’s thoughts and feelings. With this knowledge comes a realization that simple adjustments in lighting in homes and offices can make a lot of difference to the way a person thinks and feels. Having this in thought, wouldn’t it be equally right to advice a depressed person to ‘get some light?’ ”
“Sunlight triggers our circadian rhythms, our sleep-wake cycles. When sunlight hits the optic nerve, the brain cuts down on the release of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep, and increases production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter tied to wakefulness and feeling happy. When the sun sets, this cycle is reversed, with more melatonin produced and less serotonin. The more sunlight the body receives, the more serotonin the brain produces. In addition, the body also creates vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. High levels of vitamin D help our bodies maintain high levels of serotonin.”
“Lighting can help create excitement in a themed environment. Lighting can help a person navigate through a new space. Lighting can help to bring about a sense of calm and peacefulness in a sacred setting. Lighting can help to add mystery in a theatrical production. And, lighting can cause us to strongly dislike a room which we would otherwise find appealing.”
“…changes in the lighting produced significant changes in the response – impressions such as spaciousness, visual clarity, privacy, pleasantness, relaxation, complexity. By linking lighting to these impressions, Flynn demonstrated that architectural lighting plays a much more significant role in the human experience than simply as an enabler of task performance.”
“An environment that we call, “stimulating,” is one that is both arousing and pleasant, while one that we call, “tense,” is also arousing but a bit unpleasant. A “relaxing” space rates low on arousal but relatively high on pleasure, while a “dreary” space is also low on arousal but elicits a response that is low on pleasure as well.”
At about six o’clock yesterday morning I was awoken by a bustling commotion in my room. My cat was chasing something and something was obviously fleeing from my cat. There was a visitor in my room and I didn’t know who or what it was. Judging from Cat’s behavior, from the fact that she wasn’t making any hissing or other menacing sounds, it was not a snake. Since I leave all my windows open during the night and we live in a little one-level house surrounded by nature, all sorts of creatures can and do come in.
I found our involuntary guest hiding under my bed. It was a Corn Crake (Crex crex in Latin), a medium-sized migratory bird that is
stopping over in Israel on its way from Europe or Asia to Africa (thousands of kilometers, isn’t that AMAZING!), where it will spend the winter (of the northern hemisphere). I love birds and I never saw one of these. Excited by this rare sight and eager to help the bird get back out of the house, my son and I closed the cat in the other room and followed the frightened escaping creature around the place in an attempt to either catch it or get it to exit through the open door or window by itself. But it wasn’t that easy. Especially not with Cat now positioned outside the entrance door and ready for the coveted catch, after having managed to sneak out of the other room. Tired and the room in a mess of displaced furniture, we decided to go get some more sleep (Friday-Saturday is our weekend) and postpone the mission to later.
When I awoke again somewhere around 10 or 11 a.m., Crex crex was still there, hiding in the remotest and the darkest (and dustiest) corner of my room. Even Cat hadn’t thought of looking there. We resumed the rescue project but our avian visitor didn’t quite get it yet and decided to explore a few more hiding places. On his way to the back of the fridge however, he noticed the bright sun rays that were now beaming invitingly through the window and that is when his instincts led him to and out the wide open door. Crex crex flew right over the anticipating cat, probably thinking ‘you can just kiss my ass stupid feline’ and off he was.
“All societies will always stigmatize some conditions and some behaviors because doing so provides for group solidarity by delineating “outsiders” from “insiders”. – Sociologist Gerhard Falk. (Wikipedia)
My son has schizophrenia, so we will most probably have experience in dealing with stigma, you might think. Well, no, not really. When I take a few minutes to think back and relive the stretch of time that began with the day we received the diagnosis, and started telling the whole world about it, I find myself realizing that stigma has never really played a role in our lives.
Even if most of us know what stigma is, let me just share this very good definition that I learned in the Coursera course ‘The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness’:
Stigma is a combination of:
Ignorance – Lack of knowledge,
Prejudice – A problem of attitude, and
Discrimination – A problem of behavior.
Let’s have a look at these points.
Ignorance and Prejudice – I don’t think someone can be blamed for being uninformed about an illness he/she never had anything to do with. Before my son D. (who is highly intelligent and has a kind nature) was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I had a completely wrong picture of the illness. I thought that those suffering from it were unpredictable, strange weirdos with a split personality, an IQ far below average, and a tendency to violence. I had prejudice. I prejudged people with schizophrenia and had a negative attitude toward them, due to my lack of knowledge about the illness.
I think most of us have some prejudice.
For instance, what is your spontaneous reaction when you think of people who complete their studies with distinction and others who complete without distinction? Mine is, wow, those receiving ‘with distinction’ must be very gifted, more so than those who do not qualify for the distinction. Only when I ponder and become aware of the many possible reasons for a student not graduating with distinction, I realize that intelligence might not be one of them. Rather, personal circumstances, illness, language difficulties, having to take care of younger siblings or sick parents, etc. etc. may have rendered studying and concentrating especially difficult for that student.
Discrimination – Having prejudice does not automatically mean acting in a discriminating manner.
The way someone behaves toward the object of his prejudice or misconception I think is greatly the result of the norms and values that prevailed in the environment this person grew up in, and how he or she was brought up to handle situations and treat people who deviate from these norms.
Back to the example of my own prejudice in regard to schizophrenia: In the beginning of D.’s stay in a mental hospital he was in a closed (I hate using the word ‘secure’ in this context) ward. I must admit that I was quite (negatively) overwhelmed when I first saw the other patients there. Mostly young people, some behaving strangely, completely aloof and seemingly not connected to their surroundings, some murmuring and mumbling to themselves, making faces or just staring into the void, others obviously depressed and extremely sad, and some even aggressive and loud. Visiting my oh so ‘normal’ son in this crazy surrounding nearly every day, I came to know the patients on a more personal level. My honest curiosity and interest, combined with a kind word here and a smile there, moved them to open up to me. Believe me, some of the life stories I got to hear were anything but amusing. An entire new world of mental and emotional settings revealed itself to me, both extremely sad and also very fascinating. Gradually, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, eating disorders, post trauma etc. became a part of my thoughts and my life.
My son D. asked me to get him the best books about psychiatry and mental illnesses and disorders. He became absorbed with the subject and eventually helped the medical staff diagnose him. D. speaks openly about his illness. To a certain extent, he is even proud of being special. And we joke around. I sometimes call him my smart psycho son. In return he gives me a cheeky grin and says ‘Well, I obviously inherited my craziness from you.’
Beyond the forces that govern us such as instincts, likes and dislikes, illnesses and other elements within ourselves and in our environment that we cannot influence too much, most of us do have a certain amount of freedom to choose. We have the freedom to think, to learn and to make changes; the freedom to decide to react in one way and not the other; the freedom to explain and help others understand, and the freedom to talk and let it all out. I am convinced that the extent of how much stigma influences our life depends considerably on how we perceive ourselves and our disabilities. By showing the environment that you accept yourself the way you are and have no problem talking about your strengths, weaknesses and disabilities, you minimize your vulnerability to criticism or ridicule. I mean, hey, if you openly say you have schizophrenia, the idiot who will still find it attractive to call you a psycho will look like the loony himself.
AND, the more we all openly talk about our disorders and get people to become aware of them, the more we contribute to reducing stigma. It is a snowball effect.
I am a volunteer with the Israeli Association for Mental Health. Together with several other relatives of people with mental health issues we are a group that helps organize and come up with ideas for the various events & activities the association offers.
We are now independently starting a new project to fight stigma in the media here in Israel. If you have experience or ideas I’ll be happy to hear and get inspired, no matter where in the world you are located.