please understand me: being savvy about mental illness

Mental illness is challenging.

Most people with mental illness, or their loved ones, want to have a well-rounded understanding of what’s happening. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to come by accurate information, or at least to know where to look.

There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about mental illnesses, and many, even those diagnosed with one disorder or another, don’t know that what they believe may be wrong.

Knowing the individual is not knowing the disorder.

Our best resource sometimes becomes the individuals we know who’ve been diagnosed, and that can be a double-edged sword. While first-hand understanding of how a person with mental illness reacts and responds is invaluable, it’s important to be clear that knowing the individual is not knowing the disorder.

Mental illness will affect how you handle your emotions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every emotional response is due to one’s diagnosis. It’s best not to conclude any action or reaction is a result of mental illness until you have the facts. That thinking is no more fair than assuming any time a woman is angry it’s hormonal.

That’s particularly true once someone has begun taking medication, since that will have a significant impact on one’s mental health. However, everyone’s response to treatment is different.

When it isn’t possible to have complete information, fill in the blanks with questions and educational material

It’s important, whenever possible, to know the actual diagnosis, and the symptoms and behaviors associated with that level of the mental illness. People with these illnesses often are happy, even eager, to share their own diagnosis. When it isn’t possible to have complete information, and at times it isn’t, fill in the blanks with questions and educational material instead of assumptions and anecdotal information from others.

In fact, that’s a good idea regardless of how much information you already have obtained. At the very least, verify what non-professionals tell you. It isn’t always easy to know.

There are resources on the Internet and in your library, to start, and your doctor may have some information as well. Avoid forums on the Internet, however, as these frequently have no expert oversight.

On behalf of those who must learn how to live with their illness,

just as anyone with any disease or disability must do, listen, learn, seek answers, and especially, ignore anything you see or hear on your favorite television drama or sitcom. TV writers are first and foremost concerned about the story line, not the truth, and they’ll mix & match the real with the perceived to suit their purposes.

Love requires an open mind and open heart, qualities treasured by those who deal with one or more often misunderstood disorders. Those qualities bring us close. A heartfelt thank you for all you do for your loved ones with mental illness.

For information about mental illnesses, explore these web sites:

National Institutes of Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Photo Credit:  © Bigstock


your smile can light a dark path

Fresh out of high school, I was driving my shiny new Corolla on the freeway when a car passed by with a seemingly friendly honk.

Unsure as to its exact intent, I glanced over at the driver, who saluted me, while his passenger, likely his wife, leaned over and waved. I’d never seen them before, and as far as I know, haven’t met them since.

red car w sunburstThat split-second encounter sustained me for days.  I was struggling with a not-yet diagnosed mental disorder and falling into deep despair on a routine basis. My parents, now in the middle of their divorce and focused on their own lives, were distant and angry when I turned to them for encouragement. I had little in common with my siblings, and we weren’t much of a support system for each other.

So for strangers to reach out to me in that small way, for whatever unknown reason, meant a lot. What made it even more meaningful was the weary look on both faces of this couple, who had two curly-haired children asleep in car seats and luggage piled high in the back of their small out-of-state station wagon. As young as I was, I knew enough to feel for them, and to appreciate a friendly gesture made despite their own obvious fatigue.

I said a quick prayer for those people who would always be strangers to me, and over the years since, when they’ve come to mind, I’ve done the same again.

Happy And Sad Smileys Showing Emotions

I trust their small yet meaningful act of kindness has come back to them at times they needed it most. Who knows what road life has taken them on; mine certainly went nowhere near the path I anticipated.

A gracious word, a flagging but compassionate nod, an unexpected and sincere grin. Never doubt it: little things mean a lot, and your smile can light a dark path.

Image Credits: (outline of car) ©; (smiling/frowning faces) © Stuart Miles —

you’re my hero, Charlie Brown

In my life, Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang never, ever went away.

snoopy nbg
Give me anything Peanuts — a gift that’s sure to be appreciated!

I’ve literally been a fan my entire life. My mom tells me my favorite toy when I was six months old was a Lucy doll. That vain and loud-mouthed girl rarely failed to make me laugh, and still gets me through the blues today.

Throughout my growing up years, I frequently spent my precious few dollars on the latest Peanuts book. Early on I giggled at Lucy, sitting on Schroeder’s front steps, saying, “It’s amazing how stupid you can be when you’re in love.”

Today, I have a t-shirt with that very picture. More than once I’ve worn it while shopping at Walmart and some poor young checkout girl sighs and says, “that’s so true.” Some things will never change.

Hence the beauty of Charles Schulz’ wonderful characters. They are universal and timeless. So many of the comic strips aren’t laugh-out-loud funny, and yet, they are, because they hit at the heart of who we are, our dreams and vulnerabilities, our best and worst selves, all wrapped up in the innocence of a group of kids from a past era.

A friend of mine can’t bear to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” because of the rejection, but I love it for Linus’ simple reading from the Gospel of Luke and the children joining together in the end to celebrate Charlie Brown’s poor little tree.

Somehow Charlie Brown never was a truly sad character to me. He had Linus, Sally and Peppermint Patty, among others, and Snoopy needed him, not just for the food, but for the love.

I was wearing one of my favorite Peanuts’ t-shirts while shopping not long ago, and the store manager told me he’d been a fan all of his life, too. In fact, when he was a child, he watched the Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day special and felt so sorry for Charlie Brown, he sent him a valentine. In return, Charles Schulz sent him an original hand-drawn picture of Snoopy.

Wow. He still has it, and I told to keep it, it’s worth something. You couldn’t pay me enough for something like that, I’d treasure it all my days.

I treasure everything Peanuts I own, as small as my collection has become. I cherish that band of earnest characters plowing their way through the world and making it all work.

I’m glad I live in a world where the Peanuts gang just keeps hanging out.

And for those of you wondering about the new movie, here’s a review by a trusted fellow blogger & Peanuts fan:

The Peanuts Movie — Good Grief, You’re in 3-D Charlie Brown — A Review


starry nights, sunny days, a little rain

When I ponder the future, I imagine it to be much like, and yet nothing resembling, the past.

Starry nights, sunny days, a little rain. The sun will rise, the sun will set, and the sun will rise again.

Crystal BallBeyond that, I haven’t got a clue. Well, a bit of a clue. I’ve watched my parents get older and see myself following in their footsteps. I’m likely to experience back problems like my mom and loss of hearing like my dad. My hair is already white underneath the expert coloring services of my stylist.

The physical changes are about the only things that seem predictable, and even those can surprise or downright shock me. While plenty of things remain in my control, many others do not, and most of the future is a mystery I can plan for yet never be totally prepared to deal with adequately.

The day-to-day likely will be much the same. It’s the split-second life-changing moments we can’t predict, that come hurling at us unseen and knock us over with such force we’re afraid to get back up. Some are wondrous, some disastrous. I’ve lived through a few of the disastrous days as well as the weeks & months that follow, and I’ve learned you survive them, battered, bruised, but intact.

The wondrous days can seem more fleeting, or perhaps their beauty is easier to recognize in retrospect. I don’t know. Maybe they’re taken for granted, or maybe I’m still catching my breath from the dark times when they’re rolling by. Whatever the case is, they do happen, and their memory sustains me.

Starry nights, sunny days, a little rain. I’m thankful for all of it.

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

Image Credit: (crystal ball) © freshidea — < blue background) © geargodz —

a world where magic happened

Little House
The book that begins the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, with its wonderful illustrations by Garth Williams.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a vivid imagination, and as a child my thoughts often took me to the world of the books I was reading — most often, the Little House books, of which I had a complete set, in hardback. Good thing, too, because I read and re-read those books so many times any paperback would have fallen apart, been replaced, and fallen apart again…and again.

So when I was eight and saw a pattern for a dress from roughly that era (how would I know a one or two decade difference?), I was thrilled. My mom made all my clothes, so I didn’t question her ability to make me that dress. Technically, it was my Halloween costume that year, but in reality it became my passport to a bygone era. I’d come home from school, put it on and sit alone imagining what my day would have been like 100 years before.

Yep, that's me, age 8, at a Halloween costume contest at school. No, I didn't win.
Yep, that’s me, age 8, at a Halloween costume contest at school in the dress and bonnet my mom made. No, I didn’t win.

I never really outgrew those books. If I still had them, I’d read them today. However, eventually the books that would steal me away into a different world became the Nancy Drew mysteries. At first I imagined I was Bess, the slightly overweight, somewhat shy (imagine that) comrade, then I insinuated myself as myself into my own mysteries, still with Nancy as the one in charge, the rest of us following her lead.

Eventually I moved beyond those imaginative worlds, and while I suppose psychologically that’s probably a good thing, there’s a part of me that misses that creativity. Was I really trying to escape my own world, or was I just an inventive child who needed an outlet for her dreams and fanciful thinking? Sometimes I fear we take away an important part of childhood from those who need to let their minds run free.

So Laura, Mary, Nancy, George and Bess, you’re welcome anytime.

Just for the record, this is not a picture of my collection. If it were, they'd be in order.
Just for the record, this is not a picture of my collection. If it were, they’d be in order. But I appreciate that this picture is available!

Photo Credit, Nancy Drew books: © Celeste Lindell — some rights reserved

waterloo, oh, I needed you

vinyl-records-isolated-on-white_f1ZNpkvd lrTalk about guilty pleasures. I was certain I was going to hell.

Back in the 70s, I was deeply involved in an evangelical church that told me virtually any pop or rock group that didn’t sing praises to God was of the devil. And the group ABBA, well, that was a name for the Lord, not a group of singing sinners.

But, how could I not be captivated by their bouncy, upbeat music? Their enthusiasm for what they were doing, and those godawful outfits?

Years later I was working in Europe and found myself trapped one Saturday morning in a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Alkmaar, the Netherlands. This hotel could have been on an island for all of its lack of access to anything, and I didn’t have a car. I was stuck while waiting for a ride to the train station.

So I turned the TV to the only station of any remote interest, MTV Europe, where they had a three-hour marathon of ABBA’s greatest hits, that is, any song that boasted a video. There aren’t as many as you might think. Within 45 minutes I was ready to scream. For some reason I had no books, no magazines, nothing, and this was long before laptops, smart phones or anything else I could have used for diversion.

Silence with nothing to fill the time was worse, so for three hours, I watched and listened to Sweden’s pride and joy. There were perhaps seven songs, played in an eternal loop.

As a result, for years, I couldn’t listen to ABBA. But this week I was perusing You Tube and found they’re back for me, a celebrated guilty pleasure. To commemorate the occasion, here’s one of their signature songs.

Photo Credit: (record albums)