Rockettes, Holidays, and Pressure

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This morning I saw the first television commercial for the annual Radio City Music Hall Rockette Show. The Rockettes are all things perfect. Tall. Thin. Lovely faces and long legs. They dance in precision. But instead of seeing them I experienced a flashback of the Christmas scene in Covering the Sun with My Hand my first novel. Julia Acevedo is trying to tempt her brother René to go to see the Rockettes. He is aghast that she would suggest it. René is paranoid and becomes increasingly agitated. Julia eventually becomes terrified and calls the police who storm the apartment. Mami is in denial of the severity of her son’s illness and clutches at her curlers. Papi is nowhere to be found. Actually, he is in the social club around the corner having a few beers- quite a few.  This is the picture of a family in chaos.

A chill went through me when this scene flashed in my mind. This is a true scenario for many families. For René it began with the stress of his first year of college with exams scheduled during the holiday. He couldn’t handle the tension building and the increasing demands of his life. The symptoms of his Schizophrenia were exploding. Young adults are frequently afflicted with the early symptoms of this particular mental illness in college.

Covering the Sun with My Hand

These are difficult dynamics to negotiate. Some of us are truly powerless against the ills that befall us. But we can ask for help.  I think about the years that I worked on a mobile crisis team going to people’s homes and doing my best to provide tools for families that would decrease stress, diminish or eradicate symptoms, and provide support. Sometimes sitting around a table drinking coffee helped the clients, the families, and most certainly me.

My novel is merely a story but a story is a life told. If you know someone who is in need of mental health care, reach out. Everyone can make choices in various types of treatment options. They may choose to take medication or not. They may choose to have individual therapy or not. They may choose to isolate or to be part of a group. One of the most important things we can do is to provide support. Be there. Decrease the pressure in the pressure cooker.

vintage pressure cooker

If you are experiencing an emergency dial 911.

Otherwise check out the following links:

https://www.nami.org/

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/Nami-Family-Support-Group

Mental Illness is not a ‘Novel’ Idea

René Acevedo, Julia’s twin, is diagnosed with Schizophrenia during his first year of college. This severe and persistent mental illness becomes the backdrop for the changes that rock the lives of each member of  the Acevedo family in my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand.  As I was immersed in creating the play inspired by this novel, workshop members wondered how the psychiatrist would so easily make this diagnosis without tests or procedures. The story takes place in the mid seventies before the advent of many of today’s diagnostic tools and treatments but many of the same problems exist today.

I’ve had many private emails from  readers who were strangers and also talks with friends alike who shared similar stories they too experienced with family members who were struck with signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses. The overwhelming message I received was that these loving family members shared in the plight of coping with the often devastating effects.

My work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner has shown me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is still bountiful ignorance and stigma regarding mental health and this is an unfortunate fact.  The ill person may be expected to  pull it together because those who lack education may believe that they can get better if they really want to improve. Try getting rid of high blood pressure through intention. Sure, medication, good nutrition, excercise, and meditation help but doesn’t eradicate certain types of hypertension. This is similar to mental illness.

Family members who provide care for their loved ones must make hard decisions. One of them is how much of their own lives do they place aside in the hopes they could affect powerful change by being present and giving of themselves. I’ve heard vastly different reactions. One early beta reader found my book revolting and informed me there was no real problem. The protagonist could have easily gone on with her life and not entertain the notion that she should stay home in hopes of helping her family. Other readers were grateful to see what could very well have been their own narratives filled with conflict in print.

If you or someone you know is flailing while swimming in the thick soup of mental illness here are some links for support that might be helpful. Check them out:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

https://www.nami.org

For friends and family members

https://www.mentalhealth.gov

Supporting a family member with mental illness

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx

Covering the Sun with My Hand is the second place winner of the International Latino Book Awards 2015 Best First Novel Category. The novel is currently available only on this website. It will soon be available via Amazon as I’m in the process of transitioning publishers. Click the Paypal button on this site if you would like to purchase a signed copy.

Finding the Silver Linings

My spouse has been suggesting that we see Silver Linings Playbook together. She saw it a couple of months ago. It’s rare that I feel like going to the movies. It’s just a thing. About confinement. But right about now, I’m confined on an airplane and I’ve just finished watching Silver Linings Playbook.

It’s sort of like being in a theater. It’s dark and no is paying much attention to me as I wipe away the tears streaming down my face. I’m like most people in that I want a happy ending.

The fact is that we don’t really know about endings. We only know about the here and now. As Pat, the main character, says, “we get stuck in negativity.” He also tells us we can use it to fuel us into finding the silver linings in our lives.

This is the story about a young man who has lost his wife, his job and the trust of most everyone around him because of his symptoms of bipolar disorder. Slowly he restores himself with the help of the people who love him. Everyone in the movie is just a tad bit crazy but I happen to think we all are, in some shape or form.

Before boarding the plane, I sent my preface, bio and a few other details to my editor. He is laying out my book. The book that has been my obsession about my obsession with families, with love, commitment, and finding the silver linings in life.

The song that triggers Pat in the movie is Stevie Wonder’s- My Cherie Amour, as it is mine. It brings me back to the loneliness I felt as a kid when my sister died. I’ve had to learn “a strategy,” as Pat’s therapist suggests, to work through that. I even learned to play the song on the guitar-barely. No easy feat.

So my message today is that we all suffer from sort of mental dis-ease at some time or other. Big or small. Complicated or simple. We have to strategize and find the silver lining.

I am one amongst many on the plane today. I will hold onto my seat and watch the clouds as we pass them by, looking for the silver linings.

It’s a Big Bad World Out There.

I have to admit that it’s scary out there sometimes. I wonder how I’ve been able to carve out my niche of tranquility. Cycles being what they are, I’ve sometimes felt more threatened than others and have actually been more threatened at one time than  another.

As a community mental health nurse, I’ve had to get permission from drug dealers to enter housing projects to care for my clients. Giving the apartment number was the only way to get in without a gun to my head. HIPPA violation? No. I didn’t provide a diagnosis or discuss a treatment plan. Besides, if we are going to be real about all this, that gang member knew more about my client’s activities of daily living than me.

I’ve taken different measures to deal with the various types of violence I’ve encountered. I’ve taken histories, rereading them only once. Vicarious traumatization is killing to the  soul. I’ve thrown myself to the ground during crisis calls allowing the cops with guns and clients with knives to duke it out on their own. I’ve sat on my couch watching late night TV news show exactly where the bullets that flew one centimeter lodged into a wall right above my head earlier that day.

Once I think that I’ve experienced it all another thing happens. This  week I was threatened physically and aggressively by a client. I am made of a sampling of human body parts smushed together with a dash of cognition. Sometimes the two are quite divergent. My intuition told me to scram. My thick head told I me that I wasn’t going to be harmed.  I left the area when I was directed to do so. Good thing!

But a funny thing happened on the way to this forum. Instead of being afraid at the moment of truth- I felt angry back. I had this overwhelming notion that I could punch the door just as well and that my kicks could be just as slammin’. My humanness, desire for survival and outright rage at being a target for someone else’s misplaced blame and unwarranted expectations ‘got to me.’

What was my remedy? First I allowed others to help me. A couple of co-workers stood between me and my would be assailant. Someone else wrote out incident reports. Another walked me to the train after work. Yet another spoke in almost ‘baby talk’ to me making me feel like I was wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. Most importantly, a team decided the person wouldn’t be allowed on the premises- ever again.

After I wrote my objective professional recommendations, I took another couple of deep breaths. Since I didn’t have any sage to smudge myself, I took a white tissue and cleansed my energy field with it. I figured at the time that nothing could be more energy absorbent than a tissue. I shared my many levels of feeling with my loved ones. I, lastly, prayed for myself and for the other who so easily struck that nerve within me that I can usually forgets exists, hides and rarely surfaces.  I get through these scrapes believing love, compassion and empathy will prevail. I’m usually right.

My nurse self was sitting behind the desk again today.  Another day. Another evaluation. Another guy in dire need of detox.

I look forward to your comments or your shared experiences of violence in your work place. Tell us what happened and how you dealt with it.