Breaking the Silence of Stigma: David Henry Sterry

Sterry hiding eyesOur esteemed victim interviewee this Wednesday is David Henry Sterry, who has done everything. Really.  I thought I lead multiple parallel lives, but he makes me look like an amateur.  I met him through a consultation I had with him about my book-in-progress.  Among the other million things he does, he is one-half of the Book Doctors, a dynamic duo whose job it is to help you get your book in good shape and hopefully published.  I was blown away by David’s story, so I asked him to give us an interview here on Breaking the Silence of Stigma.

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

DHS: When I was 17 years old I was violently sexually assaulted.  The sparkly wide-eyed boy who went into that room with a large predator disappeared and when I escaped with my life, my brain had been more or less torn apart.  From that point forward I have suffered (for a long time not knowing it) from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

BSS: When did you find out that’s what was going on?

DHS: I did not tell anyone about this assault for 15 years.  I was diagnosed after I revealed the true nature of my condition to my hypnotherapist.  By that time I was a professional screenplay writer and actor, as well as being an amateur drug and sex addict.  Which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds like it should be.

BSS: How was your PTSD diagnosed?

DHS: My hypnotherapist diagnosed me by asking me lots of questions.  This diagnosis was later confirmed when I was studied like a human guinea pig at Vanderbilt University, where I was brought by the television show 20/20.  I was also diagnosed officially as a Problematic Hypersexualist.  Although I prefer the term Sex Maniac.

BSS: Yes, that’s a much more friendly term.   What kind of things were going on for you then, that made you seek treatment?

DHS: For many years I did not know I had any kind of mental illness.  I just felt a gigantic gaping yawning black chasm inside me that desperately wanted to be filled.  But no matter how much food, drugs or sex I shoved into that black hole it was never enough.  Also, when people touched me on certain parts of my body, I would flinch and often have a flashback.  My fight/flight reflex was constantly being set off, bells alarms and whistles shrieking shrilly inside me.  Also, I found out later that that when I suffered this terrible and violent sexual trauma, the part of my brain responsible for communication atrophied and shrunk, while the part of my brain responsible for emotion was enlarged, engorged, ready to explode.  I had a very difficult time looking beyond my own needs.  I always feel people hate me and I’m a miserable failure and totally unlovable.  Apart from that, nothing too bad.

BSS: Sounds horrible.  Did you ever end up in the hospital because of your PTSD?

DHS: No, but I self medicated for years with varying degrees of success.  Cocaine really didn’t help.  A wee bit of marijuana does wonders.  The side effects don’t really affect me too much, luckily I don’t suffer much from the munchies, although I had to give up smoking it and now I drink it in a tea.

BSS:  I’ll be right over.  What other things do you do to help with your illness?

DHS: I was cured, or rather I should say I learned how to handle my PTSD with the help of an amazing hypnotherapist, mentioned above.  She gave me the tools to stop having mental, physical, emotional, spiritual breakdowns.  It’s all about catching the symptoms as they first happen.  Being in the here and now.  Dealing with it early before the negativity sucks me down into the black hole.

BSS: That’s fantastic.  How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..?)

DHS: With my problem, I was unnaturally drawn to people who were incapable of giving me the love that I wanted and needed.  Most of these people were charming charismatic sexy smart underachievers.  I had what by most standards would be considered a very successful acting career, I was in thousands of commercials, I acted in cartoons, sitcoms, I have a three picture screenwriting deal with Disney, but I never reached my full potential because I was always sabotaging myself.  I was much more concerned with superstar success, so everyone would love me, since I couldn’t love myself, and I ended up not being able to make something great and valuable out of my artistic gifts and my relentless Protestant work ethic.  Interestingly enough, I’ve always felt very comfortable around children.  They’ve always been, for me anyway, so much more fun than the adults.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

DHS: Well, I can pass very easily.  You would’ve never noted in 1 million years that I had any kind of problem unless we became friends, then at a certain point you would realize and start to hate me.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

DHS: Ask for help.  Tell your story.

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

DHS: Writing has been an amazing healing tool for me.  For years after I was assaulted and raped, I had terrible nightmares about the incident, and the man who inflicted all this misery on me.  I would play out elaborate revenge fantasies in my head.  But when I wrote my first memoir, Chicken, and made art out of the sexual assault, I stopped having those nightmares, and I stopped plotting revenge that was never going to happen.

Sterry crotch carDavid Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has written books about the teenaged brain, Leroy Satchel Paige, throwing a pajama party, being the rollerskating emcee at Chippendales Male Strip Club, a patriciding mama’s boy, World Cup soccer, and working at Chippendales’s Male Strip Club. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been paid to, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney, Stanford University, Hellroller, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, Sex Museum, George Washington, 92nd St Y,  barbershop singing pig, Brooklyn, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Smith College, Penthouse, the London Times, Playboy, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry

Another flight to Israel, and a shaggy dog tale or two

Just a quick post to let you know I’m alive and well, sort of, having spent all of last night on a 747 from New York to Tel Aviv with a brace of bawling brats howling at ear-shattering decibel levels while simultaneously kicking the back of my seat.  I did not put them out of my misery.

In order to board said flying torture chamber, I had to proceed down the gangplank with thousands of other mooing widgets, moving at a snail’s pace of course.  I had Noga with me as always (the paperwork alone makes me feel faint thinking about it) and she was all decked out in her bright pink PTSD DOG cape.  Along comes a big shot with a bomb dog, coming up the plank.  He must have been the cork in the bottleneck.  He has a really beautiful sable German Shepherd.  I have worked with working dogs–protection, tracking, competitive obedience, search and rescue, cadaver recovery–for at least twenty years.  I was admiring the relaxed, quiet demeanor of the dog.

Not so the handler.

“Put up your dog!  NOW!  Put it in its case!”  Blah, blah, blah.  I looked at the guy.  I looked at his dog.  His dog was ignoring him, which was a good thing.  Obviously not trained by him, which was also a good thing.  His dog was ignoring my dog.  My dog (the 12 pound one) was ignoring both of them.  She can’t stand bad behavior.

“Look,” says I, our dogs are ignoring each other.  Why don’t we just keep walking, in opposite directions just like we’re doing, and then we’ll be by each other?  Simple, right?”

Mr. Macho spluttered long enough to cause a disturbance in the boarding plank line.  I tossed my 12 pound menace up on my shoulder and walked past him, with him screaming all the while “At your own risk, at your own risk!”  Sheesh.

That’s the second time that’s happened to me with a service dog.  The one before was my beloved Ivan of blessed memory, who, besides being my Psychiatric Service Dog, was my Search and Rescue and Schutzhund  partner (that’s a dog sport that combines obedience, tracking, and protection).  I was heading through Baggage Claim with Ivan when some Mucho Macho (where do they GET these guys?) with a drug dog starts yelling at me out of thin air to get my dog out of there.  I of course reminded him that he was breaking a great big federal law, since the ADA protects disabled people who needs service dogs, and that law trumps almost anything.  He started in yammering that my dog was out of control (what? he was helping me pull the luggage cart) and all kinds of shit, so I took a step back and yelled PLATZ!!!!!  so loud you could have heard it down two football fields.  That’s “lie down” in German.  Both my dog AND HIS hit the ground so hard there was a dog-shaped hole when they got up, but only after I yelled SITZZZZ!!!!!!!!  And they both sat like good doggies.  I took my cue and left while his mouth was still sagging open.

depression comix #136

I had a very serious relationship…we were going to get married…but this same scenario came up again and again….so we didn’t get married, and I broke it off. He didn’t want to break it off, but I couldn’t stand being the reason for everything bad that ever happened to us, because “I was always bummed out.”

Depression Comix


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Breaking the Silence of Stigma: Pride in Madness

madpridelogodesign1-300x279My guest on BSS today is Kristen, the author of the ground-breaking blog Pride In Madness.  Kristen has a unique and liberating approach to what most of us are accustomed to refer to as “mental illness,” including myself of course.  But Kristen has broken out of that mold, and has graciously agreed to share her very important views with us.

Breaking the Silence of Stigma: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

Pride In Madness: I used to say I had a mental illness, back when I believed I was sick. Now, I believe that I am who I am and that person happens to be “different” from what society believes I should be. I do believe that I was born more emotional than most. My Mother reports that I didn’t let anyone but her and my Father hold me until I was a year old. I would continue to have attachment issues and be very shy. I was the child that would cry at the drop of a hat. It began causing problems in my mind when I was 11 years old, became more severe when I was 12 but I have known I was “different” for about 11 years.  I have been identifying as a Mad person for the past 4 years (Mad being a reclaimed term by some in the mental health community who believe that what we know of as “mental illness” is a part of being human and something that can be horrible but is also something worthy of celebration).

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

PIM: My first “diagnosis” was hormones at 13 years old. Dysthymia (chronic depression) followed when I was 16, than Borderline Personality Disorder at 18 and finally I received Borderline Personality Traits when I was 23 years old (I am 24, currently). My current traits diagnosis is just “on paper” meaning the psychiatrist I saw respected and agreed with my desire to not be labeled but for the sake of the system he had to write down something. If I need to explain to others what I experience I say that I have difficulty processing and at times regulating my anger.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

 PIM: The “testing” part is a sore spot for me. I have been diagnosed within 45 minutes and before the official diagnosis I knew exactly what diagnosis the psychiatrist was getting at because of the questions they would ask. The fact of the matter is that there is no scientific or accurate testing for mental illness. I keep hearing that brains scans are showing what “depressed” and “borderline” brains look like but I have never been offered one. I read in Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker that your serotonin levels can be measured using your spinal fluid but, again, no one has ever given me that test. I value anecdotal evidence, don’t get me wrong, but I know that I have sat in front of a psychiatrist, lied, and gotten off the hook or gotten what I wanted.  If psychiatry wants me to take it seriously it needs to have better testing than what I choose to tell them about myself. I am a perfect example of how psychiatry’s “testing” is seriously flawed. When I was diagnosed with Dysthymia (chronic depression) the doctor said that I would always be depressed and need medication for the rest of my life. That is what chronic means after all. He was wrong. I have survived without medication and haven’t had symptoms of a mood disorder for the past 6 or so years.

BSS: Were you diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

PIM: If I use mainstream mental health thought, I believe that depression and borderline are the wrong diagnoses. When I heard that non-suicidal self injury disorder was a contender for the DSM V I was actually happy (and I hate the DSM so that’s saying something) because I hoped that proper research and treatment would follow for those of us who specifically engaged in that behaviour. Everything bad started when I self harmed but because I was diagnosed with disorders that saw self harm as a symptom the behaviour was actually never addressed. I have been self harming for 11 years and trying to figure it out on my own how to cope with the behaviour that has actually turned into an addiction. But I am happy to say that I am doing well with it! I’m very proud of myself! I believe that without a diagnosis I am living how I want to be living. Accepting myself and clearing out the bad in my life has done wonders for me. I am in place that I never thought was possible and since leaving the mental health system (returning only when I want to and on my terms) I have greatly improved. If I have to pick though, Borderline would be closest to my lived experience and offer me behavioural and emotional treatment options that I would find more desirable.  I am me!

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized ?

 PIM: I have never been hospitalized and I believe this was the best course of action for me. When I was 16 years old I attempted to end my life and the psychiatrist asked my Father and I if I wanted to spend a few days at the hospital. Both I and my Father said no. This is still in some ways an issue because that particular hospital had a history or not caring about me. This was the hospital that dismissed my self harm and now they were dismissing my attempt to end my life. Again, using current mainstream mental health, this is beyond careless and poor practice. Still, I believe being in a hospital would have greatly set me back. The environment does not support the person I want to be. Those who love me are currently under strict instructions to never have me hospitalized unless I do it myself. I have been told before that since I haven’t been hospitalized then I must not be that “sick” or not “that bad”. This is a rude, damaging and incorrect assumption. I chose a path and it was one that did not include a hospital.

BSS: What has your experience been with medications?

PIM: I was on psychiatric medication for 2 years, beginning when I was 16. It was while I was on these drugs that I experienced the suicidality and homicidality adverse effects. These of course were ignored and contributed to my “mental illness”. I know that these thoughts, feelings and actions related to suicide and homicide were caused by the drugs because I had no desire to die or hurt others before or after the drugs. I have been psychiatric drug free for 6 years and have improved with each passing year. I do have an antipsychotic for the times I get too “up” in my rage but I tend to use it to shut my brain off so I can get some sleep. The last time I took this drug was early July 2013 and before that it was February 2013. I only use this drug when I need to and for the most part I ride out what I am feeling due to the drugs history of not liking my body and my desire to be in control of my body.

BSS: What other things do you do to feel as well as possible?

PIM: Activism is the single most important aspect of my wellbeing. I began engaging in activism in summer 2009 when I was entering my third year of university where I was studying social work. My activism has involved research, conference presentations, public speaking, peer support facilitation, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, articles, and anything I can get my hands on. It is through activism that I am able to engage in societal change and I have a voice now that I didn’t have when I was younger. It’s great to meet people who have been helped by a presentation I gave and it’s great for me to go home knowing that all the pain I went through is now doing something positive.

BSS: How have your symptoms impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..

PIM: Regardless of how I want to view my experience it does impact my life but predominately my relationship with my partner. I love this man but past experiences with controlling partners have made me scared and I end up screaming and yelling at him because I feel with every inch of my body that he is trying to control me. I have a lot of difficulty controlling my anger but I do try my best and have learned distress tolerance, which is extremely helpful. I have more tools for coping now than I ever have and am more successful at using them. He knows that there is more to me than the rage that seeps out of me sometimes and most importantly I know there is more to me than the rage. I do also accept that it is there and the rage also creates the passion that drives me forward in my mental health advocacy work. All in all how I am impacts my life positively. I have come to accept my difficulties and can find the beauty in them.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

PIM: I wish others knew how responsible they were for what I went through. I can of course take responsibility to an extent but there is only so much a young person can do when they’re called ugly and told no one will ever want to date them. Once those comments began to get to me and I turned to self harm, drinking, drugs and sex then I became a slut, druggie, “alcoholic”, crazy, freak, insane, psycho, sloppy seconds (in reference to having had sex before), and my personal “favourites”, suicidal cutter/suicidal slut. I was told then I should not go into social work because I’m not emotionally stable but I did and I’m great it! I am fearful about employment. Despite never losing a job because of any noticeable or perceived emotional issues it haunts me. I was told when I was younger than if an employer found out I was depressed that I would be fired. I go to work every day wondering if today will be the day that I “lose it”. I think this despite the overwhelming evidence that I am a top employee and extremely successful at my job (I work with children). Overall, it was just being made to feel like I was less than everyone else. I feel less shame about my extreme sadness, drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal attempt than I do about my self-harm. People still struggle with understanding that behaviour.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

PIM: If you want it then go get it!

Find comfort in discomfort!

Push yourself and you’ll be surprised how far you can go!

Take pride in yourself and your accomplishments!

Do what you need to do to ensure that you are in the place that you want to be in, a place that will make you happy!

Accept that things will get bad but that the good is worth it!

Write your own rules, do things for you!

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

PIM: I would not want anyone thinking that what I’ve experienced was solely based within me. The reason why I have become a better person is because I got rid of the emotionally abusive friendships and intimate relationships. What had me turn to self-harm in the first place was bullying. I was told by my male classmates that I was ugly and that no one would ever date me. Once I began self harming people then began calling me names and I was frequently abandoned by others because they couldn’t deal with how sad I was or they didn’t like that I was smoking, doing drugs, drinking and having sex. Boyfriends would control my every move. I was told who I could talk to, where I could go, what I could wear and 2 of them even interfered with my schooling by keeping me from studying and breaking up with me right before I went into an exam.

Once I established where I wanted to go and what I wanted out of life I began to clean up my life accordingly. DO NOT underestimate the power of outside forces in creating your misery. Most importantly do not underestimate yourself in being able to overcome your horrible experiences! ❤

BSS:  Thank you so much!  You’ve shared some really thought-provoking insights that will have me thinking over the status quo, and considering whether I should swallow what I’m told wholesale, or whether I should really take my well-being into my own hands, as you have, and reach for the stars!

Again, Kristen’s blog is Pride in Madness.  Go and read it.

depression comix #135 [tw: suicide]

Once again, Clay is reading my thoughts. How does he do that? Or is it really true that we are not alone in our passive suicidal death wishes? I don’t know about others, but I have had the exact same thoughts. The only differences are the thought of someone finding me (NO!), the thought of someone having to live the rest of their life having hit me with their (car, bus, train), and the horrible mess I would make on the sidewalk for someone to have to clean up, and bystanders to have to see. In other words, the thought of being the agent of someone else’s nightmares. So I guess I’m not there yet, right? Hope none of us ever are.

Depression Comix


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Rant on the Insidious Appearance of the Penultimate Comma

Yes, I know this is a blog on mental health, not on grammar.  However, a phenomenon has crept into the written English language that threatens my mental health, since it causes me to scream every time I encounter it.  It is the Penultimate Comma, which is a comma that appears between two modifiers preceding a noun.  It looks like this, when used properly:

“A big, black dog.”  (You could also correctly write “A big black dog.”)

When used improperly, it looks like this:

“A white, Cadillac convertible.”

What’s the difference?  It’s very simple.  If you can hypothetically insert the word “and” between the two modifiers, you can substitute a comma for the “and.”

As in: “A big and black dog.”  You wouldn’t necessarily say it that way, because it sounds awkward, but it’s grammatically correct to do so.

However, to say: “A white and Cadillac convertible” sounds bizarre, if not ridiculous.  

I know from whence this grammatical misconception arose: school children of this, and sometimes the previous, generation have been taught that if you can say “A white convertible” and also “a Cadillac convertible,” then you should go ahead and insert a comma between “white” and “Cadillac.”  This is wrong.

Why?  Because, dear readers, it sounds utterly absurd.  That is why.  If you read it out loud, placing the pause of the comma where it is written, you will see.

Another incorrect example:  “An expensive, Tudor house.”  No, no, no!  Yes, it is an expensive house, and it is also a Tudor house,  but it is “an expensive Tudor house” and that’s that.

Another correct example:  “An expensive, garish negligee.”   Why?  Because you can say “An expensive and garish negligee.”  Very simple.

How do I come by the audacity to write this vituperous essay on the Penultimate (next-to-last) Comma?  It is simply a product of thirty years, more or less, of editing various  book manuscripts and hundreds of medical and scientific papers, as well as a couple of dissertations.  I learned by Experience.  Period. 


Got ‘Mad Pride’?

The amazing Lulu Stark’s thoughts on the “Mad Pride” movement, which seeks to educate the world regarding mental health issues, and essentially to normalize “mental illness” and bring it out from behind the cloak of fear and misinformation that currently surrounds it. I am fully in agreement with Mad Pride. I acknowledge that it is not easy and at times crashingly painful to live with a mental illness, but I am proud of who I am and proud to be part of the Mad Pride movement. Read Lulu’s marvelous inspiring piece!

Sunny With a Chance Of Armageddon

MadPrideLogoDesign1-300x279Got ‘Mad Pride‘?

A movement called ‘Mad Pride’ is sweeping the world.  Several news outlets, such as ABC News,  have been covering this incredible phenomenon of a world wide advocacy movement, involving grassroots organizations that openly support mental health awareness.  According to a report from ABC News, this movement is over 8,000 members strong.

ABC News and the blogosphere in general, you can make that 8,000 and one.  I, Lulu Stark, author of Sunny with a Chance of Armageddon and co-creator of A Canvas of the Minds fully support this movement.  This is exactly the type of movement that those of us cloaked in anonymity in the blogosphere have been attempting to develop over a period of years.  This is what A Canvas of the Minds was created for, to give a voice to the mental health community.  Now, it finally has a banner that we can…

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The End of The End

I stood on the deck of the single-wide trailer, watching the repossessors hauling off my car (the one I leased for my now-defunct business) and my three-horse trailer with the full living quarters, self-contained.  That one hurt.  So many memories of the west desert of Utah, the High Uinta Mountains where I got stalked by a Basque shepherd, almost getting hit by a tornado while camping in a Navaho fairgrounds….it hurt.

My big diesel truck I had sold to my dad the day after I picked up the red letter.  I see it as a red letter, no matter what color it really was.  It was red to me.  Dad almost got in trouble for collusion, but I cooked up a story that Dad’s truck had “tore up,” as they say down here, and he needed a replacement, and I still had the little car at that time.  Thankfully nobody got in trouble for that, and the instant the whole mess was over he gave me back the truck.  I don’t remember what I drove in the meantime, after they hauled the car away.  Doesn’t matter.

The red letter started it all.  I got a notice in my mailbox that there was a registered letter at the post office for me.  I wasn’t feeling too great, being in the process of shutting down my pediatrics practice and all, so I just tossed it aside and forgot about it.

A few days later, there it was again in my mailbox.  Shoot, I thought.  Maybe Publisher’s Clearing House has finally caught up with me.  I’m a millionaire!  Or maybe Old Uncle Mordechai, whom I never met but heard many stories about his eccentricities, has finally come into my life bearing a will that he left as he passed out of his.

So I took the piece of paper and drove the truck, full of dogs, to the post office.  I handed the slip to the postmaster and he handed me an envelope that I had to sign for.  On the face of the envelope was a red spanch that said: REGISTERED MAIL.  My self-control lasted until I got to the car.  I tore it open.  It contained another envelope.  The return address was printed in that self-aggrandizing font that legal firms use.  “Winken, Blinken, Nod, & Assoc., Attorneys At Law.”  I tore that one open too.

Inside was a court order saying that I had been accused of stealing just short of $500,000, half a million, from St. Elsewhere’s Hospital in Armpit, Ohio.  I had indeed worked in a clinic affiliated with that hospital, but since I had never actually worked there, and certainly had never stolen a red cent from them or anybody else, I was mystified as well as stumped.

I rushed home and picked up the phone and dialed the number for the law firm.  Was there some mistake?  How could I be implicated in something of which I had no possibility of participating in?  They confirmed that yes, the summons was for me, and that I was accused of stealing half a million dollars from that hospital.

I had set foot in that hospital exactly once.  The Chief Financial Officer, whom I shall call Chuck, called me up one day at the clinic at which I was an employee.  Laura, he said, I need you to come and see me.  Now.

It was lunch break, so I was able to run over to the hospital, a block away, to see what Chuck needed to talk to me about so urgently.

When I found his office, he was looking mighty grim.  Laura, he says, I want you to look at this stack of papers.  It was a tall stack.  Laura, says Chuck, these papers are all invoices that came from your office.  You may or may not know, and it’s better for you not to know, that this hospital pays for all supplies ordered by your office.  This stack of invoices is just from this month, and it’s all billed to your account number.  I know, I know.  You didn’t know you had an account number.  But you do.  And billed to your account number are things like copier toner, staples, chart paper, coffee….mostly office supplies that have no connection with your practice, since you are a salaried staff member.  All of these invoices should be billed under the practice’s account number, not yours.  The total billings from your account number for this year are $97,000 and change.

When I could get my mouth to work again I said, Chuck, what do I do about this?  Isn’t this, like, illegal?

Chuck says yeah, it’s illegal as hell.  But you know what?  Your boss just sold a high-rise building in downtown Bombay, and even if we filed criminal charges against him, this town is so crooked you know what would happen.

Yeah, I knew what would happen.  I’d seen it happen before in that town.  The county prosecutor’s office was crooked as hell.  The right amount of palm-grease would get anybody off of anything.

So what do I do?  I ask Chuck.

I’d advise you to turn around, walk out of here, and find yourself another job.

Well, what do I do about the money it appears that I owe?

Don’t worry about that, says Chuck.  I’ll take care of that.

I didn’t get it in writing.

After getting the Red Letter, I did a lot of research.  It turned out that Dr. Crooked had continued to use my billing number for several years after I left his practice.

A few years after that, the hospital went T.U. (that’s Tits Up, a medical term) and was acquired by a huge “healthcare corporation,” whose team of lawyers set busily to work combing through the accounts looking for irregularities in the accounts receivables.  And they found the pile of invoices accredited to me, which by now had mounted to nearly half a million dollars.

Now what I have not told you yet is that at the time I got the Red Letter, I was suffering from a suicidal depression.  I had already been hospitalized once, and was barely able to get up out of my recliner to let the dogs out, and again to let them back in.  I just kept on losing weight, because I had no appetite and no one to feed me, so I just didn’t eat.  The combination of the depression, the malnutrition, and the wrong medication had me paralyzed.

So I had to rally myself around somehow to deal with the Red Letter.  I called the American Medical Association’s legal advice department.  They were used to advising people about malpractice, but this wasn’t malpractice.  They gave me the numbers of three lawyers who dealt with hospital law.  I called them all, and read each one the Red Letter.  Each one said the same thing: 1) you have no liability whatsoever in this case, i.e., it is bullshit;  2) you will without a doubt be acquitted, and then be able to sue them for falsely accusing you; 3) we require $20,000 as a retainer, plus travel fees, plus hourly fees of $275 per hour.

I was numb.  I had cashed out my retirement to build my pediatrics practice, which had been taken from me by Big Medicine and depression.  The remainder of my savings had gone to pay for my son’s residential treatment at a therapeutic boarding school.  I was living on disability.  I had nothing, and I was so depressed my brain could not even gather itself up to rise to the occasion.  I put the phone down and dissociated.

Finally it occurred to me that the only way to get out of this bind was to go and see a bankruptcy lawyer.  I did, and he said the case against me was dischargeable through bankruptcy.  I was too depressed to think of any other solution, so to bankruptcy court I went, and the case was discharged, and I lost everything I had that was not tied down.

After the tow trucks got done hauling off the vehicles, I stood there till it got dark.  Then I began to scream.  I screamed at God.  Why, God?  Why did you give me these talents and then take them away from me?  Why did you give me this brain and then make it sick?  Why, when all of my life I have never stolen as much as a piece of gum,  did you make someone accuse me of stealing some huge amount of money, and then take away the few things I had left that I worked so hard to earn?  Why, God?

Good News and Bad News

First of all I gotta say that I am really proud of Rhonda Elkins for her bravery in allowing me to post the letter that she wrote shortly after her 23 year old daughter’s suicide, on my Wednesday feature “Breaking the Silence of Stigma.”  That letter touched a lot of hearts and did a lot of good.  And I’m proud of my readers for rallying around Rhonda with their words of support, and some frank and open discussion of their own struggles with suicidal thoughts.

And I’m really proud of ME for writing a great review for David Henry Sterry’s new book, Mort Morte.  He’s honored me by using my review as the copy on his web page.  Kinda makes me think about going back to copy writing.  I wrote copy for an online store for a while, then ditched it because they started carrying shit  stuff I didn’t like, so there went my low-paying writing job. I can’t write copy for stuff I can’t get excited about.  Like “Wow, look at these tacky rhinestone-studded chartreuse earrings in the shape of a bunch of bananas.  Carmen Miranda would have put them on her head!  Only $1,200 on sale now!”  Ugh.  Now if someone would pay me to write fun stuff I’d be on it like white on rice.

That’s the good news.

And here’s the windup, now the pitch….oh come on, just get it out.  Er, I mean over with.  Well, I really don’t want to.  I want to stay sunk in denial forever.

I had to go see my shrink yesterday to get a form filled out so that I can take Noga, my service dog, on the plane when I go to Israel twelve days from now.  Eek.  Time is running short, and it’s running like hell.  Anyway.  So I go and see Tony my shrink, and he’s a good egg.  The man really loves crazy people.  He’s crazy himself, freely admits it, and also admits that the reason he’s a good shrink is that he’s crazy.

Anyway.  So he likes to talk for a long time, both because he likes the company of other crazy people, and because that’s how he sizes you up and figures out what brand of crazy you are and if you need your meds tweaked or anything else like that.  So we’re talking and he’s really paying attention to me and not just goofing around like he normally does.  So at some point I lose not just a single word, as has been happening a lot lately, but an entire phrase that I needed to have, in order to express what I was trying to, well, express.  I wanted to describe something but lacked a whole phrase and was trying to find alternative ways of saying it.

“How often is this happening to you?”

“Oh, several times a day.  Even when I’m writing, sometimes I can’t think of a word and just have to put a parenthesis and go back and fill it in later when I remember the word.”

He raises an eyebrow.  Not a good sign.  Tony is almost always upbeat and goofing around, because if he can’t make you laugh then he knows you’re really depressed.  Or if he annoys the shit out of you then he knows you’re irritable and wants to know what’s up with that.  But if he raises an eyebrow….that ain’t good.

“You know the meds that they’re using to preserve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s?  They’re using them now to treat cognitive dysfunction in Bipolar.”

My heart fell out and hit me on the toe.  I winced.

Last year I felt like my brain was misbehaving, so I had a battery of neuropsychiatric testing that showed a big hole in one part of my central information processing.  I freaked on out and called Tony, who talked me down from my freakout and told me it was a known phenomenon in Bipolar, the older you get.  Great.

So yesterday he gently suggested that since the cognitive issues (he did not say “dementia,” thank God) seem to be progressing, he recommended I try one of these cognitive function preserving drugs.  Far fucking out.

And he also suggested that I go back on the stimulants that I hate and had previously refused to take because they make me feel like shit.  He looked up what I had before and it was Adderal.  He said that sometimes people who hate Adderal like plain ol’ Dexadrine.  He said it might give my brain some clarity and help the cognition to cognate.  So I said all right, and now I have two fucking more pill bottles in my pharmacy.  Why me, Lord, why me?  Oh stop with that whiny shit, Laura, you know very well there are much worse things in the world than being crazy.  Don’t even go there.

Breaking the Silence of Stigma: In Memory of Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn, Rohonda's daughter

In Memory of my daughter, Kaitlyn Nicole Elkin

On April 11, 2013, I got the most dreaded call that any parent could ever get, a call from the police in the town where my 23 year old daughter Kaitlyn was starting her 3rd year of medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.  He said he had to talk with me about my daughter and that I had to go there to be told what he had to say.  I begged this man to tell me then, as I would have a 3 and a half hour drive to Winston-Salem.   My initial split second thought was, “Kaitlyn is in trouble!  She’s never been in trouble in her life,” then my thoughts turned to other things and the blood left my body as he told me what happened. He said that she was deceased.  I envisioned her getting into an auto accident and when I asked him what had happened, he said that she had taken her own life.  My world and everything I’ve ever known came crashing to an end at that moment.

How could this have happened?  My daughter seemed to be the most together person I have ever known in my life.  Graduated valedictorian from Whiteville High School, graduated summa cum laude from Campbell university in 2 and a half years and got accepted to medical school where she could pursue her lifelong dream of being a doctor and she was doing extremely well in it.  She had friends; she had just taken a Step One medical board exam that she felt she did well on.  She was an artist, a writer, avid runner, she had common sense and was wise well beyond her years.  She was excelling and seemed to have the world in her grasp.

I had just seen Kaitlyn the weekend before as she had come home for a few days for Easter.  We had a wonderful mother/daughter day and we went shopping, out to eat and the movies.  We had a wonderful time and she seemed totally happy.  How could this have happened?

She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, (as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister Stephanie.)  In this letter she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it.  She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has had all her life, could not go on, and this is what made sense to her.  She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know why herself.

She was a high achiever, but we never put any pressure on her to succeed because she set these high goals for herself.

The reason I am writing this letter is to tell all parents, friends, or spouses, that no matter how happy someone seems to be, there may be a devastating depression within that they are hiding.  Parents, ask your children from time to time, “how are you really doing” and make them talk about their feelings.  As you do this, I hope that they are forthcoming with you, my daughter was not and we had a very good and close relationship.

I’m devastated by her loss, lost in a sea of “what could have been”, the wonderful life that she could have continued to have had.  But I celebrate her life, thanking God that I had the honor of having this beautiful being in my life for 23 years.  But I wish I had more.

If this letter helps at least one person to come forward with their depression, or a loved one to ask about it and have that child open up to them, then it is worth it.

Rest in peace my beautiful daughter, the peace that I thought you already had.  And as I’ve always told you, I love you bigger than the universe.

Rhonda Sellers Elkins

Clarkton, NC