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!
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!
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!
I’ve been reading some of Guy Kawasaki’s advice, which includes finding a three-word-or-less phrase that defines and gives meaning to your work. Getting anything down to three words is hard for me, but I think I’m close to it: perhaps Learn, Teach, Advocate…or Knowledge Is Power, although knowledge is really the source of power, not power itself. Here’s an even shorter one: Knowledge Empowered.
That’s the title of a workshop I’ve given, twice as a poster and twice as a class, on finding and using information about affective (mood) and related disorders. Being educated about a medical problem is vital to survival, especially if it’s one that can be disruptive, disabling or even deadly as well as chronic and costly to treat, and that is marginalized in being both stigmatizing and pushed aside when research dollars are allocated. But the potential impact of learning and publicizing the facts about a disease or disability is not the only reason I believe that knowledge is the source of power. Understanding our history–knowing where we’ve been–is the key to knowing where we should, and shouldn’t, be going…and that’s the source of my love of history and that aspect of it known as personal and family history, or genealogy.