Posts Tagged ‘caring community’

Writing colleague Pamela Reitman had emailed me the invitation to this half-day symposium. The words on the flyer hooked me. “Building a Caring Community for Mental Illness,” “open to everyone,” “this conference is FREE,” and “light refreshments will be provided.”
And, I didn’t have to be Jewish to attend this event at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco August 30, 2009 Noon-5:30pm.  “Open to everyone” said the invitation.  I would go with my mom watching over me.
In my first novel Love Made of Heart, I had fictionalized my mother’s story, her battling with mental illness, my role as a witness to her suffering. Whenever I give talks on the book, I make the statement: “I advocate compassion for mental illness.”  The conference would give me an

Pam Reitman greets community of mental health advocates

Pam Reitman greets community of mental health advocates

opportunity to meet a spectrum of advocates for mental health.

My impressions and memories of the day:
2 friends carpooled with me.  It was already minutes past noon when I drove up to 301 14th Ave. at Clement St.  I dropped off my friends.   Scanning down the street, I was ready to park many blocks from the Beth Sholom. I couldn’t believe my eyes when half a block down the street, there was a space!  Mom! My parking angel!
Who drives by looking for parking but another friend I had shared the invitation with.
The first person I encountered was a volunteer who opened the glass door and greeted me with a smile.  “Here for the conference?” he asked.  “Up the stairs to the Koret Hall.”
My friends were signing in.  A volunteer handed me a program and welcomed me. I chatted with another volunteer who asked me “Teresa, what do you do?”  “I write stories for those who cannot speak for themselves.”  She told me about her son’s experience at camp—how the one activity he could connect with was story-telling.
A female voice from stage announced the start of the conference. Pam Reitman looked lovely in a black/white/sage Piccaso-ish dress. She welcomed us, told us about the committee’s dedication to making the conference a reality, the history of Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, her personal story. It was hearing Pam’s personal story several years ago that had attracted me to her writing about mental illness.
Rabbi Hyman greeted us with “Nachamu, Nachamu” (Comfort, Comfort).”  He and Rabbi Kukla did in fact create an atmosphere of comfort.  I even sang along a simple song in Hebrew.  A cello player.

Rabbi Hymand and Rabbi Kukla say: "Nachamu, Nachamu"

Rabbi Hymand and Rabbi Kukla say: "Nachamu, Nachamu"

6 panelists shared personal stories.
“I didn’t know we had mental illness in the family until my father suffered from depression, then I found out that his father had mental illness. I had clinical depression after I gave birth.”
“Friends and neighbors bring food when you have a broken leg. They don’t when you have mental illness.”
“There’s stigma on mental illness even among physicians. When I was in medical school, I knew I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but, my classmates looked down at me because they were going to be general practitioners and surgeons.”
“I thought that what I was going through was typical teenage misery. Then in grad school I was feeling happy and confident for the first time, but, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and I was talking to myself. I thought I was the reincarnation of the person that I was writing about in a research paper; that’s when I knew that something was strange. The book An Unquiet Mind catapulted me to call my friend and seek help. Ten years later, I went back to grad school and became a doctor.”
“Stigmas.  We hide behind the illness, knowing other people would ostracize us. We wouldn’t have to hide behind other illnesses.”
“Psychic history.” “Holocaust survivors… intergenerational healing.”
The audience was given index cards to write questions for the 6 panelists. After several questions were addressed, and the volunteers were collecting more cards from the audience, there was silence. Rabbi Hyman said there was no hurry to fill the moment with words. Filling the moment with silence was lovely.
More questions and responses.
“Isolation.”  “Shame.” “Hope.”
“Some people think we have to find meaning in every experience. What about finding leap of faith instead?”
“Stigma.”
“When I don’t hear from my son, I double-up the efforts to call him.”
“You can continue communicating even though your loved one is not.”
“There’s no distinction in the way I treat this person and that person. I treat everyone with respect.”

Pam Reitman & Teresa LeYung Ryan write about loved ones with mental illness

Pam Reitman & Teresa LeYung Ryan write about loved ones with mental illness

Refreshments. Pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries. Danishes, glazed donuts.  I chatted with a yoga teacher. We talked about our moms—how much we miss them.
Breakout sessions.   I was in the group facilitated by Steve Foreman and Sharon Roth. In the library. 11 in the group. We sat in a circle. “What would you like to suggest to the planning committee to make this conference more assessable?” “How to connect with folks who are isolated?” “Volunteerism.” “NAMI” “Why is it when I read a news item about a violent crime, there’s mentioning that the suspect has mental illness as though it’s implied that mental illness leads to violence…?”
“What else can we do to help build a caring community for mental illness if we don’t have time to volunteer?” “Call or email legislative representatives and remind them to include mental health in healthcare reform.” “Share stories.” “Create a blog and invite everyone to tell their mental illness story. Offer resources on the blog.”
Then we gathered in the Main Sanctuary to hear reports from all the breakout sessions. Closing ritual that included prayers and songs.  During prayers, I saw my mom on a swing!  That was the first time I pictured her in that playful act.
A lovely day indeed.
It’s Wednesday, Sept. 2nd, and I Googled “An Unquiet Mind” (the book that had helped Dr. Karin Tamerius, one of the panelist on Sunday).  YouTube had “Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness” from the Research Channel series.  Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison told her personal story. Such courage to open up about her disease (mania, suicidal depression) and her struggles with medication (side effect that were severely debilitating) that ultimately helped her. Stigmas. Personal and professional reprisals.  Who else could really understand what the patients are experiencing?  She ended her speech about the role of love in recovery.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxRLap9xLag
I’m thinking about Carmen Lee’s organization:  Stamp Out Stigma  http://stampoutstigma.org/
and National Alliance of Mental Illess   http://nami.org/
and my mom.

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