BringChange2Mind

December 10, 2010

Jayne Appel: Family and Mental Illness

The following is a guest post by Jayne Appel, Center for the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars and Team USA.  You can visit Jayne’s website here and connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @jayneappel.

Throughout my life, mental illness has been something I have always been forced to think about. Most of society simply sees me as a professional athlete, with no worries in the world, other than keeping my body healthy and able to perform on the court.

My story, however, is very different. I grew up with a family member who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. It started around the time I was in the sixth grade and he was in high school. At the time, still being so young and not understanding what exactly a mental illness was, it was something that was difficult for me to cope with. I thought “my family is the only family dealing with this…why can’t we just be normal.” I didn’t reach out to my friends for support and it was almost something I was ashamed to talk about.

When I got to high school, I was still learning to cope with having a family member who was sick. For some reason, I couldn’t grasp what exactly was going on in his mind and how I could help at all. I struggled to have a normal sibling relationship with him and at times felt uneasy. This was all simply because I didn’t understand the disease and how to help someone living with it.

I decided to study this at Stanford University and majored in Psychology. Over time I noticed the more informed I became about the brain and how it functions, the better I felt about my family member. I was able to eliminate the stigmas in my head that so many people fall victim to in our society. I wrote multiple papers, became involved with the Crisis Intervention Team on a family panel, and literally devoted all of my studies and focus towards the brain.

Now, with a better understanding of what is going on, I have been able to form a strong relationship with him and enjoy our time together. I have also decided to use my position as a professional athlete to broadcast information about mental illnesses and how we can rid of the stigmas tied to them. When I saw what BringChange2Mind was working on, I instantly wanted them to be involved with my WNBA teams first “Mental Health Awareness Night”. I hope to continue to be a part of the team working towards getting rid of stigmas and raising awareness about mental health.

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August 5, 2010

Why I am an Advocate, by Brandon Staglin

I have schizophrenia, and sometimes I think about whether I have let my illness define my life. I work for my family’s nonprofit, International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), as a mental health advocate. If you asked me when I was a kid what work I would want to do, the last thing I would have said was to take on a family enterprise. I used to value my individuality above anything else, and dreaded being corrupted by conformity. Thanks in part to my illness, my values have shifted since then.

Brandon Staglin

I had a psychotic break in 1990, the summer after my freshman year at Dartmouth College. A friend managed to get me to a psychiatry ward. At first, I could not accept that I had a mental illness. I had a life plan, to be an astronautical engineer! I would not be cut down by a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Three nights into my first hospitalization I decided I would get out of the psych ward immediately. I was unable to sleep, furious, and refused to take meds. A nurse was on her way with an injection to make me sleep. I would not let her violate my consciousness! In fact, I would just knock the syringe from her hand and walk out of the unit before she could do anything. …Of course, when I tried that, several nurses wrestled me onto a bed, strapped me down and gave me the injection.

Now I understand their perspective, but at the time I felt mistreated. Still, when I woke up the next morning I realized I needed to get better somehow and get on with my life. Hard though it was, I agreed to a treatment program.

I was able to return to college, get my engineering degree, and secure a job designing communications satellites. I kept my illness under my hat.

When I had my second psychotic episode in 1996, it became clear to me that I could no longer work as an engineer. The job was too stressful for me, I admitted, with disappointment. But, my wonderful parents offered me a position in the winery they own and run, Staglin Family Vineyard.

A few years later, a film director was interviewing our family for a wine film he was making for international release. The time came when the director asked my parents what had inspired them to start their annual fundraiser for mental health research, the Music Festival for Mental Health. I made a split-second decision. I did not want to hide my illness, such a large part of my life, any more.

“I can tell you about that.” I told him my story.

The director, a little hesitant, asked, “Do you want me to keep this out of the film?”

I blinked, and said, “No, by all means put it in!”

Although my disclosure (and our mental health advocacy) ended up on the cutting-room floor, a change had taken place in me. I volunteered to help produce the Music Festival in its next year.

I began to talk more openly about my disorder. People were interested! When asked why I was so gung ho about helping to raise awareness, I explained that mentally ill people could be misunderstood by the public. Often, even caregivers found it hard to understand their patients’ suffering. I realized as I spoke that I wanted people with mental illness to be understood, to retain their sense of self-worth. I thought then, “This is something I can help with.” When asked, I began giving interviews for local radio and TV.

The next Fall a Music Festival patron, Liz Browning, sent me a link to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about her son’s experience with schizophrenia. The health care system had failed to treat Marc adequately, the article reported, and after years of progress of his disease, he may have been beyond therapy. I was heartbroken for her and for Marc. This issue was much, much bigger than what I had experienced.

Since then I have met many people whose experiences with their own illnesses have inspired me. In September 2009 I appeared in the BringChange2Mind PSA. Talking with the Closes, the other principals and the people who helped to produce it showed me how much passion there is behind this cause. The momentum of that day caught me up and has never let me go.

Today, my job as communications director and blog-writer at IMHRO enables me to pursue my own passion for the cause. Has my condition defined my life? Yes, to some degree–and I like it. It has given me a new direction which I hope makes people’s lives better. And, it has led me to compassion and patience. I love my life and would live it the same way again, illness and all.

To learn more about the Staglin family and the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) please visit their homepage: http://www.imhro.org/

To watch a video clip of Brandon and his mom, Shari, sharing their story with BringChange2Mind, please visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa3CddPGD8A

June 27, 2010

BringChange2Mind in Seattle, by Cinda Johnson

We were two moms and two adult children chatting at the dining room table after a Seattle dinner of salmon on the grill and salad. We had met each other in person less than three months before yet we were bonded as close as family. Calen and Linea talked about their experiences hospitalized because of psychiatric illnesses. They talked about their “breaks” (these weren’t school breaks!) and how it affected their relationships with their friends. Jessie and I talked about the pain, love and profound respect we experienced as we traveled with our children through their illnesses. Jessie and Linea talked about when suicide was stalking them and how they stayed healthy and stable. We talked about my brother and the others who were no longer with us. Calen connected with Linea as they discussed how sharing their stories and voices as advocates for mental health treatment and understanding had strengthened them. It was just an ordinary evening, yet profound in our shared heartache, heartbreak, recovery and thankfulness.

Linea Johnson, Cinda Johnson, Jessie Close, and Calen Pick

Calen Pick and Jessie Close were in town to present at Seattle University’s College of Education celebration of the 75th year of educating teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, community mental health counselors, principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education. There were a few questions around campus about the connection between “celebration” and “mental illness”. Calen and Jessie spoke of their own battles with mental illness and their slow road to recovery. They shared their commitment to the very mission of Seattle University, “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” Yes, there were a few in the audience who looked uncomfortable as Calen described his hallucinations and Jessie her battle with alcohol in addition to her bipolar disorder. But the vast majority applauded the courage and willingness to put a face to frightening illnesses; two beautiful, wise, and “normal” (whatever that is) faces to which the audience could relate.

Mental illnesses are insidious and terrifying but also treatable, manageable and even offer opportunities to connect to others with honesty and love in ways we may have previously not been able to do. Although both Jessie and Calen and Linea and I speak to large audiences sharing our stories in order to assure understanding, resources and care for the millions of people with a mental health condition, it is the personal connections that strengthen this movement. Linea and Calen are examples of the power of young people stepping forward and changing the face and understanding of mental illness yet they are two young people in their twenties who love books and walking and music and art and deep philosophical discussions. Jessie bravely shares her own experiences struggling with bipolar disorder. Yet she and I also connect at a deep and lasting level of “mom”; mothers who will do anything possible to keep their children safe and wish with every fiber of their being for their happiness and safety.

Seattle University's 75th Anniversary Celebration

BringChange2Mind is a powerful movement with almost 13,000 Facebook fans and emails and requests for help coming in every day and from all over the nation. Requests that are responded to within 36 hours! This movement is taking hold and taking off. The conversations on Facebook are powerful, the walks across the country with our NAMI partners were life-changing for many, and the support and understanding developing within this community is awe-inspiring. Together we are an influential and significant grass-roots movement started by Glenn Close. Yes, a famous actress but also a sister who is connected to every family with a mental illness because she knows. Just like the connection around the dining room table, into the community and across the country. This BringChange2Mind community gets it. Together we can change the face of these illnesses and together we can be the leaders needed for a just and humane world for all people, particularly for those with mental illnesses.

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