I hate depression

This is my fourth go-around with it, and it started with a major medication switch.  Now I’m on a combination of Latuda, clonazepam and bupropion, aka Wellbutrin.  That’s been three weeks and a couple  of days.  Waiting for the last-named to kick in fully.  It takes a month to really notice a difference.  Here’s what I can do: not a whole lot.  I go out every day, take walks, just cancelled a doctor’s appointment for next week to spare myself a trip to New Jersey that’s normally a treat for me.  That’s the key: what’s normally good, or at least no big deal, is now impossible or at least a huge deal.  Being alone makes it worse.  I can hardly read or write, and watch a lot of TV.  Maybe I should start writing more even though it’s tough right now.  Concentration is hard.  Enjoying anything is hard.  And my singing voice is gone.  No high notes a all.

I hate to sound like I’m whining, but that’s the way it is.  I want to get better but it is sooo slow!!

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July 26, 2015

I’m close to retirement and have decided to turn my full-time-business-plan into a part-time one.  For starters, my arthritic left knee demands babying, so I do exercises and therapy and can’t walk as much as I like.  Second, I’m about to start having my apartment reorganized, professionally.  Too many papers here, there and everywhere, and I need help!

But I can still help other people, with genealogy and consumer-health information and advocacy. And so I shall. I’ve signed up for a genealogy course, given online by Boston University and starting in January. It’s designed for those who already have some experience and skills helping others and themselves in the field, and who want to hone those skills. It will demand about 15-20 hours of my time each week for the duration of its 15 weeks, and I’m excited about it and nervous at the same time. There’s so much I don’t know about the field, and so much I want to learn! Am I young enough to learn it? Do I have time to learn it all? Well, none of us knows how long we’re going to live, so let’s just say I hope I have the time!

As for consumer-health information and advocacy, my principal areas of interest are in mental health and lymphedema, with others in thyroid cancer, kidney disease, connective-tissue disorders, hyperparathyroidism and eye disorders.  I want better medical and societal treatment for people with all the above concerns and their families.

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SCCOP 2015 Annual Meeting AND Annual Faculty Speaker Event ALL-IN-ONE!!

Already signed up and paid. I’d like to come to the Afterparty, if the place isn’t too wild and if I have the energy…after a meeting and high tea, what’s left?! Also–still looking for a ride to Andrea Pilling’s and back (Sunday the 19th).

The Smith College Club of Philadelphia

Don’t forget to RSVP by April 15th for the Annual Smith College Club of Philadelphia Meeting!

smith tea

This year, the meeting is followed by our Annual Faculty Speaker Event with Dr. Frazer Ward of the Art History Department. He will be giving a talk entitled, “Why Did the Performance Artist Cross the Road? From Jackson Pollock to Digital Art.”


The event will include an elegant afternoon tea with a selection of gourmet tea, sandwiches, and pastries catered by STARR Restaurants.


Philadelphia Museum of Art

Main Building, Seminar Room

2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia, PA 19130


Saturday, April 18th 2015

Annual Meeting begins at 2pm, followed by the Faculty Speaker at 3pm


$30 for members
$35 for non-members

Please RSVP by April 15th via Paypal or check. Send your registration along with your annual dues and get the members’ rate!

Payment can be made by check made out to “Smith…

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There but for the grace of God…

A little while ago, while it was still 11 August in Philadelphia, I learned that Robin Williams had died.  Found in his home, the report said, unconscious and not breathing.  Likely cause of death: suicide, asphyxsia.  Age:63.

Any good person’s death is a great loss to those who knew him or her.  The death of a good person who brought so much joy, light and laughter to so many others for such a long time is more than a great loss, it’s a volcanic loss.  It leaves a crater the size of Lake Mead.  The tragedy is compounded in this particular case by the fact that he fought bipolar disorder, compounded by addiction, for decades.  If this was indeed a suicide, it was in all likelihood preventable.  Every death that results directly from a severe psychiatric disorder should be preventable, and, in hindsight, the vast majority seem to be.

Until this evening I didn’t know that Robin Williams was my age.  I did know that we had in common a diagnosis of severe bipolar illness, although, mainly because I grew up in a dry household–both my parents having had hepatitis A, which nearly killed them, a few years before I was born–my annual alcohol consumption consists of about one glass of wine two or three times a year, chilled and diluted, with a full meal.  And having seen people about my age who were clearly in the throes of drug abuse, I’ve always stayed away from that.  But no one should ever judge and condemn someone who has not stayed away.  It’s entirely possible that the person was seeking relief wherever it presented itself from the agony of an illness like bipolar.  I know what that agony feels like.  What I don’t know is why someone so gifted, and my own age, died, if I’m still here.  That’s a question best left to clergy and theologians.  I’m not sure my rabbi would want to touch it!

I never met Robin Williams, but if I could turn back the clock, I would at least want to talk with him.  I would tell him that, with our shared experience, we owed it to the world, our own small portions of it, and ourselves to stay alive.  He had given so much to so many, and still had so much to give.  So do we all.  So do I.


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That second amendment

I recently heard (no, I don’t remember which scholar said it, nor on which PBS program, but I will check) that the second amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the one about keeping and bearing arms, was heavily inspired by laws of the era that obliged residents of an area (the population group of whose members a militia would be made) to own firearms. Because some people’s religious beliefs precluded this, their right NOT to use firearms deserved as much protection as the right of their compatriots to own them. After all, the First Amendment, protecting their freedom of belief, was already there.

I’m not sure of all the details of this; as I said, I’ll have to research them to understand that, but it does reaffirm my belief that the authors of our national guiding document understood the equal validity of different views and the likelihood that our country’s experiences would make those views evolve and become not less complex over time, but more so. So here’s my assessment of the meaning of their words: We need to be able to protect our safety as individuals, families, communities, and a nation. This is why we have municipal police departments, a National Guard that grew out of militias, and a national military. The men and women who make up these defense forces are trained to do their jobs professionally, and are expected to know when–and when not–to employ deadly force while on the job.

And what about the rest of us, as individuals and families? Should we be allowed to keep guns in our homes and next to our bodies for our own protection and that of our families and neighbors? Some countries’ laws forbid that, and as far as I know, their rates of gun violence are no higher than ours. In such nations, no civilian possesses a gun legally, so no one’s family or neighbor is at such risk. What about laws regarding recreational shooting and seasonal hunting, in both cases restricted to specific locations and in the former to ranges? Having spent time in my youth at professionally-run and well-equipped recreational rifle shooting ranges, at which no one was permitted to do anything without proper professional supervision and from which no weapon could be removed, I know that such facilities can exist and not endanger anyone. I’ve never hunted and I know there are dangers inherent in it to people as well as animals, but I also know that those dangers can be minimized through careful and thorough planning and regulation; it’s also true that regulated and limited hunting is a more humane way of controlling animal overpopulation than no attempt at all. But all of these situations are controlled. There are professional people in charge. They make the big decisions. Yes, disasters and tragedies can still occur…but the risk is greatly reduced.

It escalates radically when ordinary civilians can easily obtain firearms. Some of them do so legally, with sufficient instruction in the proper use of these weapons and a permit they keep with them wherever they go. I assume they make sure their eyes function normally, giving them proper depth perception as well as binocular, near, and distant vision. If they need glasses or contact lenses to have proper vision, they need to wear those aids whenever they have the slightest sense that they might need to use a gun. If their vision is compromised in any way, they should never have a gun, proximity to one, or a permit to own or use one. I know this because, despite three major eye-muscle surgeries, I still have congenital strabismus and see double at times with my right eye, blurry with both eyes, and am unable to fuse images. The problem is far less severe than it was, but it’s still with me. A gun? Too risky. The bullet it shot would not know about my eye problem or be able to compensate for it. Fortunately, I was very vigilantly supervised at those shooting ranges. In fact, while I strongly suspected that my father took me there in the hope that the practice it gave me would teach my eyes to work together better, I ultimately realized that I was never going to be able to shoot well, and simply gave it up. Are there others out there with vision problems, some like mine, others more common? People who are nearsighted or farsighted in one or both eyes even if glasses or contacts help to some extent? People who are legally blind in one eye, people who have limited depth perception for some other reason? Millions of them. Should they be allowed to use firearms? What do you think?

Then there are those who obtain weapons by criminal means, and plenty of those people already have violent-crime records. No one wants them to have access to firearms. Should we make this harder for them? Of course, since a gun is meant to kill and to injure by violence.

From this obvious statement comes one that is assumed to be correct: people with psychiatric disorders are naturally more dangerous than others and therefore more likely to use firearms for deadly purposes. In recent years, we’ve seen mass shootings committed by a few such people at schools and other public places; in each case, one or two young people, armed and very ill indeed, have killed defenseless, innocent, unsuspecting men, women, children, and/or teenagers, and left others with longterm, perhaps lifelong physical and/or emotional injuries. Sometimes the national aftereffect has been nothing more than hate, no more than the wanton use of a label that has harmed millions and destroyed many of those millions: “the mentally ill.” Even the Americans with Disabilities Act offers only limited protection against the professional, personal, educational, medical, and financial harm and destruction incurred by that label. Sometimes those who wish to cause such harm, or at least have no objection to doing so, find easy ways to make it happen.

But something seems to be happening now, something that may actually be helpful to everyone. Individuals and organizations dedicated to reducing gun violence and the damage caused by (another label) “the stigma of mental illness” (I do hate labels!) are speaking out now, with facts and personal experiences to support them and to help them teach and reach others. Compared with the new Sandy Hook Promise, the NRA may be large, strong, well-organized, and well-connected, but so are other organizations, like NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance).

I know this as a member of both of these last two organizations. I know that for every American who we hear is dangerous because of a disease that affects the brain chemistry, thought processes, moods, or behavior, there are millions with such diseases who don’t endanger anyone’s safety, as long as they are able to get a proper diagnosis and state-of-the-art treatment. Can these illnesses be cured? In most cases, no…or at least, it wouldn’t be wise to assume that a cure exists yet. But in most cases, treatment of the kind that enables a person to lead a normal life does exist.

I am among those who don’t believe that guns belong in civilian hands and homes. I’ve known of, and known, people who lost loved ones in situations in which guns, and the bullets in them, were the killers. The people who used the guns were civilians: young adults, teenagers, children, and others. Thieves, drug addicts? I don’t know. They weren’t police officers or military men or women; they were civilians. One victim was a boy of about 13; another was a young graduate student. Would I be dangerous with a gun? Well, with my eye-muscle disorder, quite possibly.

That fact would make me a lot more dangerous with a gun than the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

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Thoughts on discrimination

A few words on discrimination, in the sense of the legitimized separation of one population group (or a member or members of that group) from others, based on the view that the former is inferior to the latter and therefore deserves inferior treatment: This is not a dictionary definition, it’s my own description based on six decades’ (and small change) worth of life, seeing the impact of ignorance on developing and reinforcing prejudices and the role of communication and leadership in maintaining, spreading…and combatting them.  From ignorance to prejudice to bigotry–attitudes–to actions–discrimination and efforts to maintain it on the one hand, and, on the other, efforts to fight them all: we need to study them and understand them, find our role models and use them well.  Through them we can become the examples for future generations. 

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Those high cheekbones

I’ve gotten a message from someone else who’s had a Family Tree DNA test.  He’s a distant cousin of mine, it seems, and among his ancestors are people from an ethnic group called Lumbee.  I wondered…African?  No.  Native American, from North Carolina (I think).  Very proud and independent people who were never forced to go anywhere.  So, as I’ve said before, you never really know what groups you belong to…and let’s face it, if you demean those you think are of an “alien” group, how much self-esteem do you really have? 

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“We are all molded of the same clay.”

These words were spoken by Dr. Chand J. Nair who, in receiving NAMI-PA’s annual Exemplary Psychiatrist Award at last night’s third annual Cherry Blossom Ball, emphasized the fact that having a psychiatric disorder does not make anyone the inferior of another, for these illnesses are remarkably democratic, striking the rich and poor, the privileged and the uneducated, old, young and middle-aged alike.  Being “well-adjusted” (my words, not his) will not protect you.  Avoiding street drugs, addiction to prescription medications, and alcohol will not protect you.  In fact, to date, no one knows what will protect you.  All we can do is live the healthiest lives we can…and hope that, should we or a loved one develop depression, bipolar, schizophrenia or another such condition, state-of-the art treatment that meets our individual needs will be available and accessible to us, and that we will have such treatment, get good results with it, and be sensible enough, with whatever support systems we need, to make the best possible use of it for the rest of our lives, or until science and medicine can find a cure for whatever ails us.  Many fine treatments already exist, but not enough to help everyone; and too few people are able or willing to take advantage of the excellent treatments that are out there.  And for those who do so, and who get those wonderful results, there is still no escape from the effects of age-old prejudices on one’s personal, educational, professional and financial life.  The mass media don’t do enough to help; neither do others.  It can be frustrating and discouraging…and then someone like Dr. Nair gets up and speaks in front of hundreds of people, and a hopeful breath of fresh air fills a room!

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Everyone is relative

That’s a cutesy way of saying somethiing that I believe, and believe in, more and more as I see the way we behave towards each other: we have much more in common than apart, and it would surprise most of us to know how much.  I got the shock of a lifetime when I spent a little time reading the results of a DNA test.  I wasn’t surprised to learn my ancestry was 99 per cent (plus) Jewish/Middle Eastern, but the rest was most interesting.  It seems I have a fourth or fifth cousin whose ancestors include George Fox, the first Quaker, and John Alden (who probably didn’t get the admonition to “speak for yourself”); and a second or third cousin who’s got a Rothschild or two up the family tree.  There are also some French, French-Canadians, Irish, English, Germans, a variety of Slavs (not unexpected), and some Norwegians and Swedes.  So…the next time you want to say or do something ethnically demeaning about or to someone, watch out–you might be aiming at yourself, too!   

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8 January 2012

That’s tomorrow, and it’s the first anniversary of the shooting that killed and wounded a lot of good people in Arizona.  One of them was a young member of the US House of Representatives named Gabrielle Giffords, whose genuine concern for all her constituents, whether or not she agreed with their views, had earned her their respect and affection.  In the last year she has also come to be known for her tenacity and perseverance.  She is a fighter in the best sense of the word!

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