Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why Have Students Do Stigma Buster Projects?

When I describe my Movies & Madness class to people I am often met with two kinds of concerns: scepticism about the academic rigor of the class and the impossibility of students changing deeply held negative beliefs and attitudes in the space of a semester. The first concern?  Ask the students; I’m a wicked grader.  As for the second concern, I believe that faculty too often underestimate the capacity of students to grow when provided with the opportunity to do so. Sometimes the changes I see are dramatic.  The beauty of it is that there isn’t a single thing that I say during the class that brings about these changes. It’s the students’ own actions that transform them. Read the rest of this entry


Compassion. Acceptance. Courage. Detachment. Wisdom.

Those of you who follow the world of dressage will already have heard the tragic news of the passing of the brilliant Cadillac who was ridden by the equally brilliant Catherine Haddad Staller. Catherine wrote about Cadillac’s passing in The Chronicle of the Horse with such openness and wisdom, I have read and re-read the piece several times.  It continues to move me. Read the rest of this entry

Fear & Anger

Underneath every feeling of anger is an undercurrent of fear.

By recognizing the fear you will be better able to deal with the anger.

Karen Dougherty


What draws friends together does not conform to the laws of nature.
Rumi, The Force of Friendship


If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay  ―   Stephen Levine


“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

Bill Clinton

“What makes her so special?”

I added a new film to Movies & Madness this fall after a student who had complete the class suggested it. Helen (2009) stars Ashley Judd, Goran Visnjic and Lauren Lee Smith and is a powerfully accurate depiction of major depression and suicidality as it impacts individuals, family and friends. There is intense conflict in the story among Helen (who is suicidal and depressed), David (Helen’s husband), and Mathilda (Helen’s friend who also lives with a mental illness). One of many memorable scenes in the film involves David (Visnjic) frantic with fear and anger, trying to force Helen (Judd) to leave her friend Mathilda’s (Smith) apartment and return home with him. When Helen and David are arguing, she attempts to explain why she doesn’t want to come home with him by saying, “You remind me of who I used to be.” He pleads his case but fails to move her. He becomes enraged when she refuses to go with him and physically assaults Mathilda who has intervened on Helen’s behalf. Read the rest of this entry


Don’t Scare the Normal People

A recent piece by Scott Wooledge in the Huffington Post entitled Straight Guys, Fierce Allies caught my attention on November 11, 2011. Wooledge described a “money quote” from Clint Eastwood in GQ. The quote is as follows:

These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of. They go on and on with all this bullshit about “sanctity” — don’t give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”

In his essay, Wooledge made the following statements that struck me as important:

“There is something truly beautiful about some straight guys’ brazen approach to the topic of LGBT equality. See, they aren’t trying to cope with a lifetime’s baggage of feeling shameful and unworthy. And they aren’t fetishizing the tactic of presenting their views in nice, inoffensive ways that won’t scare the straight people. I imagine it never even crosses their mind that they shouldn’t scare the straight people. They haven’t sent their talking points through the advocacy organization car wash for a nice polish and buff, to ensure that they better appeal to America’s soccer moms and NASCAR dads and are respectful of their deeply felt religious convictions. Sure, carefully focus-grouped messages have their place, most especially when big dollars are spent by groups that still need the people in power to return their calls sometime in the future. This is a legitimate concern, as is the idea that calling opponent “assholes” may not win us many votes. Bombastic messaging is actually most effective coming from folks who are safe from being dismissed as just another scary ‘radical homosexual activist!'”

“They aren’t trying to cope with a lifetime’s baggage of feeling shameful and unworthy.” Like many people living with a mental illness, I have a rather large suitcase of shame and unworthiness that I’ve drug around since early childhood. Depression in particular does that to a person.  I’ve worked very hard to unpack that bag and lighten the load over the 20 years since my diagnosis.  I learned to pass for normal and was happy to stay in the closet. When I began working with NAMI Stark County as a member of board, however, I decided to be more open about my diagnosis and experiences.  A colleague approached me soon after and shared his shock (“I had no idea!”).  It was an awkward moment as he had known me for about 17 years and had been a practicing counseling psychologist.  In his defense, I have been well most of the time I have known him.  The exceptions were both of my pregnancies but that’s a story for another day. I don’t believe I am unusual in my capacity to use a variety of strategies to hide my illness from others.  It took me a very long time, even after I began engaging in public mental health advocacy, to be open about my challenges though.  In my teaching, I had avoided disclosing my own struggle until very recently. Why? Because people look at you differently when you say the words “mental illness” in the same sentence with the words “I have a”. I worried about losing credibility in the classroom and with my colleagues. It’s hard enough dealing with the sexism that still exists in academia.  Women are already seen as a little more than off because their nads are internal and their hormones render them unpredictable. Why give the masses additional incriminating evidence? Read the rest of this entry

“Why can’t you just…”

I’m beginning to loathe the word “just” as in “why can’t you just…” or “all you need to do is just…” or “just stop…”

%d bloggers like this: