Alcoholism

Medical malpractice in treating dual-diagnosis

In September 2013 I had the unpleasant assignment of covering the memorial service of 10-year-old Alexandra Brooks. The service was held in the gymnasium of her school, where my daughter had also been a student. It was the same gymnasium where I sat through many  Christmas pageants and spring concerts.

The little girl's father, Bradley Brooks - who found his daughter's lifeless body - sat sobbing in the front row of the bleachers. The girl's mother, Pamela, who stabbed her daughter and then killed herself with the same knife, was not mentioned - although everyone quietly wondered...why?
Continue Reading

Alcoholism

My closet filled with little boxes of bad deeds

In my mind there is a closet. It has one shelf and I must stand on my tip-toes to reach the little brown boxes on it.

I don’t reach for those boxes often because what is in those boxes scares the hell out of me. Each box contains a memory of an event that I wish had never happened or that I pray never will happen.

I only pull one of those boxes down and unwrap it when I know I need to. One box hold the memory of a car accident I had while drinking more than 30 years ago. I wrapped a 1972 Gran Torino – a massive vehicle – around a telephone pole.
Continue Reading

Coping with Depression

Celebrating a decade, depression-free

I celebrate three dates every year: August 27, 1998 - my sober birthday; December 18, 19?? - my belly-button birthday and April 26, 2005 the day my depression swallowed me whole.

It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since my last major depression. I have had ups and downs but for 10 years now, there has been a floor below me and ceiling above me. I credit my medications for those gifts.

When I first started taking them...
Continue Reading

In My Experience

Should airline pilots – and lawyers – reveal their mental illnesses?

As the world ponders the sensibility of psychological testing of airline pilots before we even know the diagnosis of GermanWings pilot Andreas Lubitz, comes word that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Florida Supreme Court for the state Board of Bar Examiners' policy of evaluating applicants for mental health diagnosis or treatment.

According to the South Florida Daily Business Review, the investigation began in December and focuses on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, an agency of the Florida Supreme Court, which oversees bar admissions and determines whether applicants should be admitted to the Florida Bar by reviewing lengthy character and fitness files.

Among the questions asked: Has the applicant ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar, depression or psychosis, according to the article.

Florida isn't the only state that asks mental health questions and the Justice Department has made it clear it doesn't like the questions.

The Justice Department has gone so far as to write a letter to officials Vermont and Louisiana - states that also ask such questions - saying the questions are illegal. While questions about conduct are appropriate, "questions based on an applicant's status as a person with a mental health diagnosis do not serve the court's worthy goal of identifying unfit applicants, are in fact counterproductive to ensuring that attorneys are fit to practice and violate the applicable civil rights laws," the letter stated.
Continue Reading

Bipolar

The tao of depression for a journalist

About 15 years ago the newspaper where I work sent me to a number-crunching boot camp, where I learned how to analyze data. I became a geek.

As journalism morphed from the old fashioned pen, notebook and musty records at the courthouse to the internet's ability to gather mountains of data in the blink of an eye, my geekiness blossomed. I attended more bootcamps on advanced statistics and mapping.

I added SQL, shapefiles and string functions to my arsenal of reporting skills. My brain changed, too. I could feel it. A portion of my brain that had been slacking was now firing. I thought differently. It's hard to explain.

The analytical side of my brain teamed up with the creative side and my thinking became three-dimensional. The skies parted and I realized that 3+2 and 4+1 both equaled 5. There were suddenly many solutions to the same problem. This revelation came fast and hard and not without severe consequences.
Continue Reading

anxiety and dreams

Is the CrossFit Open fueling my mania?

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I'm on the Autobahn. I have all kinds of great, noble plans but I'm not so hot on following through. The upshot is that I feel guilty or stupid or both. Take, for instance, my decision a few weeks ago to not do an international CrossFit competition for which I had been training for months. The closer the competition the more I realized it was stressing me out, making me anxious and fueling my mania. My life was out of whack. Mentally, I was a bubble off plumb.

I took a few days off from the gym - something rare for me - and when I went bank, I only did the programmed workout. No staying after and doing another workout or coming back in the evening for more punishment. CrossFit was really fun again.

Fast forward to last Thursday, when the first workout  in the competition was announced. Gee, it looked like so much fun! Why not give it a little try? Nothing serious - just have fun with it. Don't take your life - and CrossFit - so seriously. It's just one little workout, right?

Continue Reading

Alcoholism

Depression, obsession and rumination

I once heard a guy say that he tries to wear his life like a comfortable old t-shirt. I like that and I've been trying to do it lately but I think I must have shrunk that t-shirt in the dryer because it's tight as hell right now.

From the outside you might not notice that my comfy t-shirt has morphed into a corset. But from the inside, it feels like it has. I'm carrying around this intensity right now - for work, for working-out and even for finishing the entire seven-season series Sons of Anarchy.

I am driven. I can't seem to slow down my thoughts. One thought leads to another and another and another. It makes me good at what I do - newspaper reporting - but it's not good for my mental health. It's a constant tugging - intellectually I want to slow down - instinctually I want to speed up.
Continue Reading

Bipolar

Pulling the plug on my mania and CrossFit

Mania is a luscious, exhilarating state of mind. All the fatigue and weariness in your bones and soul vaporizes. Your muscles feel bigger and stronger and ready to strike. Your thoughts are clear and brilliant. You are like a racehorse in the gate, wide-eyed and pawing at the ground with your hoof. There is no off-switch.

Medications give you a dimmer but you still have to have the desire and willingness to use it beyond the involuntary waning it induces.  You have to make the decision to turn the dimmer nob further to the left.

That is where I find myself today - turning the nob to the left. I am - of my own volition - taking my life down a notch. I don't want to but I need to. It's hard for me to believe I'm doing this. But years of therapy and the wisdom that comes with 56-years of f#*king up my life have taught me it's time.

I have bipolar II - called hypomania. It's bipolar lite. My ups and downs are not nearly as intense as those poor souls with bipolar I. Of course, fueling my mania with drugs and alcohol for decades enhanced those ups and downs. But I know I am blessed to have this lesser form of bipolar.
Continue Reading

Coping with Depression

Father forgive me for I have sinned and have depression

I am guilty. I'm not sure what I'm guilty of but I'm certain I am guilty. I was brought up Catholic and went to a Catholic elementary school.

The nuns taught us about the different kinds of sins - venial sins, a sort of lesser gateway sin that wouldn't send us directly to hell, unlike mortal sins - like killing someone - which would send us directly to hell. You would burn in hell for eternity no matter how many Hail Mary's you said. Of course, as second- and third-graders, we hadn't committed any mortal sins but they were out there.

And there were those poor little babies who died before they were baptized. They ended up in limbo - heaven's waiting room. They didn't get into heaven because there original sin hadn't been washed away by pouring some water over their little heads. So, your parents better get your little brother baptized or he could END UP IN LIMBO!!!

I got so scared of being bad and had convinced myself that I WAS bad that as soon as I was able,, I went to confession.  In fact, I went to confession so much that they told me I didn't  have to go so much - which was a huge relief because as a little kid I had better things to do than keep a running tally of my venial sins.

I haven't gone to confession in years. I like to think I dial direct. When I feel guilty, which is still a lot, I deal directly with God.
Continue Reading

Coping with Depression

How do doctors distinguish grief from depression?

Grief intrigues me. I've been there and despite counselling, self-help books and prayer, I don't understand it.

A few years after my divorce, my father died. Sixteen months after my father died, my mother died. Eight months later, my dog died. Several years passed and a long-term relationship ended. Then I crashed, slipped into a deep depression.

Compound grief - that's what I call it. At some point, all that grief piled up and morphed into depression. There was a tipping point. Despite the time I've spent rubbernecking my own grief, I don't know when or where I reached that tipping point but I sure as hell did.

Even with all the self-awareness and knowledge I have today, I doubt I would be able to identify that moment should I experience another loss and slide into - God forbid -  a deep depression. So, how do doctors distinguish between grief and depression?

Apparently, it's not easy. According to a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, there is grief, complicated grief and depression. This was the first randomized trial to explore the treatment of complicated grief in an elderly population and it emphasized the importance for doctors to distinguish the differences between grief, complicated grief and depression.

I normally don't understand articles in JAMA. The articles look and sound like English but they are beyond my comprehension. Even the headlines baffle me. But I found this article on
Continue Reading