invincible summers

in the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer. (albert camus)

why September 24, 2006

Filed under: life,mental illness — clementine @ 7:54 pm
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someone recently asked me why i sit here, typing away on my laptop, asking me, why…why do you have the blog?

the answer, i thought, was simple. i remember when i created the blog in february. i was feeling lost, angry at the mental illness stigma and because i work in the film industry i was really pissed at tom cruise after his matt lauer interview. a friend had a blog and i thought, why not. it would be a place to vent. a few weeks later i posted a blog titled: hard times. the title came from a song stephen foster wrote. he also wrote “oh, susanna” and he’s a distant relative of mine. a severely mentally ill man and an alcoholic, he died alone at the age of 37. at that time i wrote that blog, i felt very alone and feared i would too die alone. i didn’t want to die alone someday, but decided, if i did, i wanted to go out at least attempting to open up, to share with others, to open a few eyes to the mental illness stigma that still exists in our world. soon after i started the blog, i received emails from complete strangers. people who also felt alone. and lost.

and so began months of typing. writing. sharing. i would be lying if i told you this blog was for everyone but me. it has been beyond therapeutic. and strangely enough, more therapeutic than the many $150/hour sessions i’ve had with therapists over the last twenty years. that is saying a lot. but yesterday reminded me again of why i started this blog.

i received a phone call from my favorite aunt congratulating me on my recent marriage. she’s been working on our family genealogy for several years and she told me it’s almost complete. she was excited because she knows i’ve been looking forward to it. her mother, my grandmother, died when i was nineteen and in the middle of a severe bout of depression. i remember i was in the family room at my parents house (i was living with them after a dark period in my life…) and my mother was upstairs. the phone rang, she answered and i heard i loud cry. i heard sobbing. it was painful. after a long battle with diabetes her mother had died. what i know now is that her mother also suffered from depression. and not your “sad days here and there” depression. she spent years in foster homes. she was sexually abused. she took many pills over the course of her life and had several ect treatments. my aunt has been very open about her mother’s illness. i told her yesterday i have always felt a connection with her mother, my grandmother, and i feel she is with me. watching over me.

my aunt said, “you know, years ago people didn’t understand people like you or your grandmother. today, people do. we know that sometimes you have a hard time dealing with things in life.” a hard time. i don’t fault her for not understanding that depression is an illness unlike any other. that these just aren’t hard times. i wish it were that simple. sure, they are not locking me up. but, if i cried “i want to kill myself” they would. if i told someone i was hearing voices they would. if i missed several days or weeks of work because a mental illness paralyzed me at times and not due to a physical illness, i would be fired. (although, i could sue…) it’s different today, however, because at least now, i can talk about it. i can write about it. fifty years ago most people would look away and pretend you did not exist. you were crazy. and most importantly, you were alone. today, we have thousands of people, online, writing about their mental illness. sharing with others.

and we don’t feel so alone anymore.

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FDA: the good, the bad and the ugly September 23, 2006

Filed under: antipsychotics,big pharma,mental illness — clementine @ 7:57 pm
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let me start off by saying (and if you’re a regular reader you know this…) it disturbs me to see the ads for antidepressants, antipsychotics, etc on television. they are misleading…gravely misleading. the fda approves a drug and the pharmaceutical companies spend millions advertising their drug. the ad that always comes to mind is the zoloft commercial with the little cartoon egg.

zoloft is fda approved to treat depression, social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (ptsd), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (ocd), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (pmdd) in adults over age 18. it is also approved for ocd in children and adolescents age 6-17 years. that’s a wide range of disorders.

so, you’ve got this little egg and he is a sad egg. he pops a few zoloft and suddenly he’s HAPPY. and then, at the end of the commercial…you hear…

“the most common zoloft side effects are dry mouth, insomnia, sexual side effects, diarrhea, nausea, and sleepiness.”

say you’ve been diagnosed with depression. the symptoms of depression are: persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex. decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”, difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions, insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping. appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain. thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts. restlessness, irritability, persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.

in my experience ( and i have over 20 years of living with depression) sleepiness, loss of interest, pleasure and feelings of hopelessness have been the top 3. and doctors prescribe meds with a side effect of sleepiness. the majority of the meds i’ve taken have that side effect. suddenly i’m sleeping more. like 14-16 hours a day. now, how in the hell is this possible??? how can the fda approve a drug for treatment of depression to which sleepiness is a side effect? how does one “get out there and live!” “snap out of it!” when all they want to do is sleep! and it’s not even that they want to sleep- they are knocked out and have no choice but to sleep, thanks to the meds.

i’ve said here many times, we need meds that work. we need research. and today, to my surprise, there are over 262 articles online on this very subject. the new york times. usa today. abc. it’s everywhere. with headlines like: sweeping changes sought at FDA.

finally! the institute of medicine, a nonprofit organization created by congress to advise the federal government on health issues, issued a report which suggests the fda suffers from a lack of regulatory authority, organizational problems and a chronic lack of funds and staff. the report calls for increased funding and staffing at the fda, and more public access to drug studies and safety data. the report is likely to intensify a debate about the safety of the nation’s drug supply and the adequacy of the government’s oversight. several senators have already proposed significant changes. the report by the committee on the assessment of the united states drug safety system, was led by sheila p. burke, deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the smithsonian institution.

some of the recommendations in the 200-plus-page report are:

1) newly approved drugs should display a black triangle on their labels for two years to warn consumers that their safety is more uncertain than that of older drugs.

2) drug advertisements should be restricted during this initial period. (absolutely!)

3) the fda should be given the authority to issue fines, injunctions and withdrawals when drug makers fail — as they often do — to complete required safety studies. (and they do often fail to complete studies.)

4) the fda should thoroughly review the safety of drugs at least once every five years. (important)

5) the fda commissioner should be appointed to a six-year term.

6) drug makers should be required to post publicly the results of nearly all human drug trials. (this is my favorite and should have been a requirement all along…)

the response from caroline loew (senior vice president of the pharmaceutical research and manufacturers of america) is interesting and disgusting. “it would be a mistake to accept the notion that the fda drug safety system is seriously flawed, after all, fewer than 3 percent of approved prescription drugs have been withdrawn from the american market for safety reasons over the last 20 years,” loew said.

sure, caroline, you get paid very well to say that, i’m sure. so many drugs have not been withdrawn because we haven’t had this study. the fda and the drug makers have not been held responsible, nor have they been called out…until now. kudos, however, to dr. andrew c. von eschenbach, the acting commissioner of the fda, for admitting “while considerable work has been done over the past two years to improve our approach to drug safety, work still needs to be done.”

the good news is the fda asked the institute of medicine to review its drug safety system shortly after the vioxx withdrawal in 2004, and the agency agreed to pay $3 million for the study. the bad news: the pharmaceutical industry is likely to fight at least some of the proposals.

of course this report is not directed solely at any particular medication but we all know antidepressants and antipsychotics make the pharmaceutical industry billions and billions. there are black-box warnings on the labels of most psychiatric drugs available today. yes, we need research and we need meds that work. we need people to stand up and say—the fda, the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies must be held responsible.

click here to read some of today’s headlines.

 

a thousand words September 19, 2006

Filed under: life,love,peace — clementine @ 1:58 pm
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sometimes, a picture speaks a thousand words. here is a picture from a beautiful day (we were lucky enough to have someone there to capture it.)

thank you t.

 

stephen fry and the stigma September 16, 2006

Filed under: mental illness,stigma — clementine @ 7:59 pm
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stephen fry, one of britain’s best-loved actors and comedians, has been tormented by mental illness for much of his life. but he has never before spoken of it with such candour. this week for the first time, in a programme to be broadcast on BBC2, he bares his soul.

“i always heard voices in my head saying what a useless bastard i am, but the voice is my own,” says fry. “it is my own voice, telling me what a worthless lump of shit i am.” (yes, stephen, i can relate…)

he was suicidal at age 17. it wasn’t until he was 37 that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (i wasn’t diagnosed bipolar until the age of 32, after 19 years of therapy.) now, at age 49, stephen lays his illness open to public scrutiny. “i want to speak out, to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of a mental illness most people know little about.”

in the bbc2 documentary, the secret life of the manic depressive, he consults experts and fellow sufferers of bipolar disorder, including the comedian tony slattery and the hollywood actors richard dreyfuss and carrie fisher.

i failed to mention in my previous entry that although this illness can be paralyzing, you can lead a very successful, fulfilling life. you can have happiness and love…along with the pain and depression. after one of my darkest times i quit my 9-5 job and pursued a career i had dreamed about for years. for the last eight years i have been working in the film industry, alongside actors like matt damon, tom hanks, peter fonda, laura dern, jeremy sisto and denzel washington, to name a few. my job is stressful and demanding but i love it. if you would have asked me twenty years while watching a film, do you think you’ll ever see your name in the credits? it would have been no, with a capital N.

anything is possible. i continue to remind myself of this and you should too…

to read more on stephen fry click here.

 

love during wartime September 11, 2006

Filed under: life,love — clementine @ 8:02 pm
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september 11th. people always ask, where were you that day?

2001 was a busy year for me, i worked two films back-to-back and made enough money to take a long break. i was three months into that break and i remember questioning my place in the world. that morning, september 11th, i awoke very early. this was unusual for a girl who likes to sleep and one who was heavily medicated for her depression. but for some reason i woke up without the alarm. 6:00am c.s.t. hmmm, what to do. i took a shower and put on a fresh pair of pajamas. to the kitchen, not hungry. to the living room and i turned on the tv. i was watching the today show and wondering why i was awake. when the news broke…matt laurer thought a pilot lost his way, i called my parents and they said, there’s nothing to worry about, calm down…and then, the second plane. and silence. for a long time it seemed. my mind was quiet (for the first time in a very long time…) i pictured a man, alone, in his office, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading the new york times…and he looked outside his window high above the city and saw a plane headed right towards him. and just like that, his time here on earth was over. i put a tape in the vcr and did not stop recording…several tapes and several weeks later i switched the channel to animal planet and it remained there for three months.

a little over a year later (i was finally working again) i received a call…i heard…your cousin, brian, he was killed. in kuwait. i hung up and held back the tears (we were shooting nights and i had a long night ahead of me…) until the moment came when i could not pretend everything was OK. so many crew and cast members held my hand and carried me through the rest of that long, cold night. i am forever grateful to them all. my life was never the same after that evening. my views on so many issues changed drastically…but my eyes were opened to so much…and with each day i came closer to finding my place in this world.

yesterday i married the man i am in love with. the man who gets me. who loves me. he has a kind heart and warm eyes. we exchanged vows privately, no frilly dress, silly bouquet or something borrowed… it was a beautiful day with only one friend there to take photographs. to describe yesterday is something i feel in those quiet moments with him…but cannot find the words for…a friend found the words…beautiful words from a beautiful friend….

I read somewhere once that each of us has our own perfection. And we very rarely reach it. Each of us, in our entire lives, may only reach our perfection a few times, if even that much. And to reach our ultimate perfection is so rare that most people will never, ever do it.

So I recently had a reminder of how great humanity can be when we actually try for our perfection. Some friends of mine asked me to come along and share a part of their weekend. It was a small affair, and private, but they asked me to come. I got to witness a pretty major event in their lives, and I watched two people, for one moment, reach their ultimate perfection. It was beautiful and inspiring and I am ever grateful that they shared it with me.