Sunday, February 28, 2010

Resilience in Offspring of the Mentally Ill

My mother is a thoughtful, kindhearted and vivacious individual who carried me in her womb and nurtured me from birth to adulthood. She happens to be mentally ill. Unfortunately for her and for me, her diagnosis with severe bi-polar disorder came quite late. We suffered together for many years. She battled her illness long before I came into her life.

For the benefit of my mother, myself and others like us, I am working on a healing project. I am completing research for a book about grown children of parents with depressive disorders. A clinical psychologist is reviewing my work and guiding my process. The greatest component of my project is interviewing others like me. I have completed four interviews and have three more scheduled for this week. Additional volunteers have offered to participate in the interviewing process as it unfolds. Ideally I would like to interview 10 men and 10 women. I am interviewing individuals with both diagnosed and undiagnosed depressive parents.  Far fewer depressive conditions were diagnosed in prior generations.  Like my mother, many people suffer for years before receiving an effective diagnosis and treatment.  From our collective experiences, we can help ourselves and our peers to maintain loving relationships within the family. More importantly, we can discover and appreciate our own resilience. According to mental health experts, "the offspring of depressed parents constitute a high-risk group for psychiatric and medical problems, which begin early and continue through adulthood." (Offspring of Depressed Parents: 20 Years Later, American Journal of Psychiatry, June 2006.) I am interested in how we are doing in spite of what the best research says about us. Do we plan to beat the odds, and if so, how? What do we have to offer to those who may not fully understand depression and its casualties? How do we best approach the topic of generational healing?

The book that most closely approximates my project is, Daughters of Madness: Growing Up and Older with a Mentally Ill Mother, authored by Susan Nathiel and published by Praeger in 2007. Susan Nathiel writes, "Certain children seem to fare well in adversity, so much so that we shake our heads and wonder how in the world they came out of chaos, abuse, or neglect in one piece. Researchers originally thought that some kids were 'invulnerable' to early stress, but this has been shown not to be the case. Resilient kids, as they are called, do suffer damage from early family dysfunction. Puzzling out the 'how' of this has been the work of many researchers, and the answers still aren't complete. What we do know is that, because of some children's inborn qualities or certain factors in the environment, they're able to make strong connections with people and/or find a meaningful focus for their positive energies."

Rather than coming at resilience from a clinical angle, I am entering through a more subjective door. My approach is personal and collective. I am also attempting to balance the gender scale on this project. Daughters of Madness and several books like it address the experiences of women. I have been talking to some men and I am interested in hearing from others. It is well known that depression affects both men and women and sons suffer right along with daughters of the mentally ill. I want to bring these sons into the discussion.

If you have any interest in my project or know of someone else who might, please e-mail me at As mentioned above, I am specifically seeking additional men who may agree to an interview. I also need 5 more women, so any and all inquiries are welcome.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unincorporated Montana, Anyone?

Normally my posts are uplifting.  I would rather write about the things I am for than the things I am against.  I would rather be defined by what I am than by what I am not.  Nonetheless, there are times when I want to vehemently stand apart from a movement, an ideology, or even a person.  I know this is not a good use of mental energy and it can actually set me back.  Tonight, I don't mind being set back a little.  I'm ready to go on vacation and spend a week in my bikini with my kids and my husband.  Here is some stuff than I am not:

1. I am not a Mommy Blogger or a She Blogger or a Marketer.

2. I am not a Holistic Mom.

3. I am not a Bible Christian.

4. I am not Political.

5. I am not in a Book Club.

6. I am not a Spinner.

7. I am not a Shopper.

8. I am not a Mini-Van Driver.

9. I am not trying to Attract Wealth.

10. I am not trying to Win Friends and Influence People.

There.  That just about covers it.  My husband says that if he had it to do over again he would be a Gay Poet Farmer in Unincorporated Montana.  I would actually like to do that too, except for the gay part.  I am attracted to men.  I don't think my husband is actually gay.  We just like the gay lifestyle, even though we are straight.  We support gay marriage. Montana seems like a beautiful state.  I have farming in my lineage.  I could spend my evenings writing poetry.  Our kids might turn out a little strange.  On the other hand, with their DNA they're already gonna be strange.  Maybe we'll bag New York for Montana one of these days.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This Little Prayer of Mine--A Mother's Review

         In January 2010, WaterBrook Press published Anthony DeStefano’s third book, This Little Prayer of Mine. Anthony DeStefano has a unique approach to the promotion of Christian beliefs in secular society. His first two books, A Travel Guide to Heaven and Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To are imaginative and colorful road maps to religious topics that are often discussed yet vaguely understood. Although he uses the Bible as a guide, DeStefano interprets heaven and prayer through the lens of his own creative vision and heartfelt convictions. Unlike a religious authority haranguing from a pulpit, DeStafano is a regular husband, father and businessman who also happens to be a modern Christian mystic. He is the CEO of a Catholic not-for-profit organization and has received numerous awards from international religious organizations, including the “Defender of Israel” medal from the Jerusalem Center for Peace Studies in 2003.

        This Little Prayer of Mine is a children’s book aimed at facilitating the practice of prayer in the home from a tender age. Parents and small children can be inspired by the simple and positive message contained within 33 pages delightfully illustrated by Mark Elliott. Upon receiving my hand autographed copy in the mail, I read This Little Prayer of Mine to my 1 year old and 3 year old sons. Like many parents of toddlers, my husband and I read to our boys each night before bed. Recently we have introduced books about God, the Bible, Jesus and prayer into the usual circuit. Religious instruction at such a young age is a delicate subject in many families, especially in modern society. Many families have mixed religious backgrounds and may not attend any place of worship regularly. Parents are often concerned about introducing metaphysical concepts to little children.

        How can we expect our children to understand communication with the Divine, a spiritual realm or an afterlife when our own beliefs on these subjects exist in such a nebulous territory? My own opinion closely mirrors this quote from Bernice A. King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King: “Every day we must live in a close, trusting relationship with God, always looking to Him for comfort and direction through prayer. This Little Prayer of Mine is the springboard for helping children to establish that type of lifelong relationship with our heavenly Father.” Throughout my journey in this life, I have always had the comfort of faith in God and the confidence and ability to pray to Him. Like anyone, I cannot claim to follow a perfect spiritual path. We should beware of any human claiming total mastery or perfection. Nonetheless, the lessons I learned as a toddler about taking my cares to God in prayer have remained with me to this day. We all have our trials to endure and we know that our children will suffer as well. Suffering is part of human existence. Teaching our children to pray is among our most noble and essential tasks as parents; Anthony DeStefano offers this accessible and enjoyable tool to get us there.

        For me, the defining characteristic of this children’s guide to prayer is its emphasis on honest communication with the Creator rather than ritualistic phrases or repetitive requests. From this book, children will learn that prayer is about sharing thoughts and feelings with God, not just asking for things they may want. Most importantly, there is no need to hide fear, sadness, regret or confusion from God. This Little Prayer of Mine teaches that God loves us as we are, children and adults alike. DeStafano seems to understand that God loves the whole person, not just the idealized version of who we are supposed to be as believers. This is an advanced concept, but one that can be modeled from early childhood. I want my children to share their deepest dreams and desires with God to nurture confidence in their own abilities. It is also crucial for me that my sons learn to accept themselves in the truest sense, and I believe that open communication with God is a cornerstone to healthy self-esteem. If there is one phrase I would like them to remember, it is this one: “But when I trust in you, my God, and in your plan for me, I know there’s nothing in the world that I can’t do or be.”