Friday, April 27, 2007


At South Carolina State University last night the Democratic presidential hopefuls had their first debate. The questioner could not resist asking about the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The ones that got to answer are ready to change the laws about students with mental illness. One went so far to say he thought they should not be allowed to return to their dorms if they had been given a diagnosis. To the last one they seemed eager to assure the voting public that they would take every measure not to let another mentally ill student do such a thing as happened at Virginia Tech.
Wait a minute! The murderer at Virginia Tech was sent for an evaluation, but if the media reports are correct he was not committed to the hospital. I have not heard nor read any report that this individual had a diagnosis of a serious mental illness. The presidential hopefuls were talking about something without all the facts, but I guess that is not really all that different than what they do most of the time.
Since there are not only students at schools and colleges, should we demand that the teachers and professors have a clean mental health record? Absurd you say! Not anymore ridiculous than what has been said since the shooting at Virginia Tech.
We could be talking about how to embrace the person who seems to feel like an outsider rather than how to throw away folks with mental illness. We can learn from what happened in Blacksburg, VA or we can let it turn our hearts black.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. is reported by the Associated Press to think that "There are many examples where information was not released to parents or guardians regarding a student's mental health, which led to miscommunications and withholding of vital information that would have prevented suicides, assaults and other crimes." In the same article David Shern, President & CEO of Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) is quoted as saying "Murphy's plan sounds reasonable, but he would like to see the specifics." All of this is a reaction to the murders at Virginia Tech.

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 says parents can be notified if the student consents. Let me ask you? How old are most college students? How old do you have to be to enlist in the military and go get blown up in a war Murphy probably voted for? How old do you have to be to get an abortion without parental consent? Dr. Shern shame on you for even heading down this road with Rep. Murphy. Don't talk about being an advocate for folks with mental illness and then get on a train like this.

As I have tried to point out there is absolutely no connection between evil acts and the many of us around this country who live daily with a serious brain disorder. To allow the two to be connected in any way is a disgrace and does great harm to those of us who struggle daily to live with a broken brain. You know better Dr. Shern.

Monday, April 23, 2007

We Need A New Way To Refer To Either Us Or To Evil

David Brooks got a real reaction to his column in the New York Times about the killings at Virginia Tech. I don't know if they got more letters to the editor than usual, but I know they got some. Brooks was raising the issue of free will in the discussion of the tragedy. I am not sure how anyone knows the state of mind of the killer, but I have heard and read all sorts of opinions.

Let me be clear. I have no idea what state his brain, mind, or soul was in when he murdered and wounded the people on the campus of Virginia Tech and I am not going to try and guess.

One of the letters read, "What also must be debated is the moral responsibility of social systems to protect society from Mr Cho and Mr. Cho from himself. These systems failed, largely because of barriers to treating his mental illness." Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Stone Ridge, NY

I am not sure how she knew he was mentally ill. Does an act that we cannot understand mean one is mentally ill? Does having a suicide assessment mean one is mentally ill? Does being a loner mean one is mentally ill? Does being reported as a stalker mean one is mentally ill? What does being mentally ill mean?

Being mentally ill in this country has a different meaning since the shootings at Virginia Tech. Whatever progress had been made on fighting the stigma of being mentally ill just went out the window. To some degree all of us with a mental illness just took on the face of the murderer the world saw for hours on their televisions and in the newspapers around the world.

If every time an act of horror is committed by another person they are going to be called mentally ill, then we need another word for those of us who live daily with a brain disorder like bipolar and other brain disorders. I do not want to be identified with every evil act of mankind simply because I was born with a brain that does not work normally and that I have to take medications to keep it functioning properly.

The bottom line. We need a new way to refer to either us or to evil acts. The same word cannot be used for both.

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Friday, April 20, 2007


AAA usually brings to mind the folks who come when you have car trouble on a trip or when you are planning a trip. However, it does have at least one other meaning as I recently found out. It also stands for abdominal aortic aneurysm. If you really want to know the medical details then google it, my point here is that I just went through what my vascular surgeon called the most serious surgery second only to open heart. I spent five days in ICU and am home now recovering rather well.

One of the real problems while in ICU was getting my psych meds. I had covered this with the doctors before surgery, but that did not seem to matter. I had a tube down my nose into my stomach and resident said there wasn't anyway to give them to me. There was more than one doctor standing there at the time. My wife was by my bed just as she had been most of the time. I looked at the resident and said "You had better think long and hard about just how long you want to keep me off my meds." It was not too long before I had my pills and the task of taking them and swallowing them down beside the tube. Why was I so concerned about the meds? Because I did not want to start an upward movement into mania just after having 50 staples put in my belly. I am bipolar. I had a good vascular surgeon, but he was a poor psychiatrist.

We found out about the AAA before Christmas and my surgery was March 28, 2007. That was a long wait. Hard on my wife just like my bipolar illness has been. I have written before that mental illness is harder on the folks who love us than it is on us. I believe being in the surgical waiting room may be harder than being on the table.

If there was ever a time one needed to be embraced by people of faith it was the weeks leading up to this surgery. I did not trust my mind to hold up under the addtional stress. Would they still do the surgery if I was not mentally well? I needed all the spiritual strength I could find and so did my wife. This is the reason those of us who have a mental illness need to be embraced by a faith community. We face the same big problems of life that the rest of you do.

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