Mental Illness: A Parent’s Journey (Stu Ducklow)

Stella_Ducklow

The following article was written by my brother about his daughter. Both have given permission for this to be re-posted on my blog. Stu said it was okay “as long as Stella gets all the credit” — that’s like my brother.

I have previously posted about Stella’s depression and struggle with mental illness (please see below).


Like most parents, we thought our first-born child was extraordinary, and we hovered over her as much as any helicopter parent.

She seemed to need more attention than most. When she nearly died of anaphylactic shock at age 4, we sought help from specialists ranging from a pediatric immunologist to Reiki practitioners. When eczema kept her from sleeping, we covered her with creams and dosed her with prescription meds.  When she was hospitalized for asthma, we gave away our four cats.

When she had trouble in Grade 1, we enrolled her in a private school where students were expected to learn to read via the ‘whole language’ process which spurned phonics and spelling. When she still couldn’t read, we took her to an after-school program that drilled her in the very same phonics and spelling that we were paying the other school to avoid. Stella was reading above grade level in a few months.

But we couldn’t come up with a solution for the all-day crying jags, cutting and constant dieting that began at about the age of 16. We turned to the provincial mental health system for help. We had a lot to learn. While mental health professionals are nearly always kind and well-meaning, the system they work for seems designed to serve administrators more than the patients.

For example, Stella was confined to her unit during one short stay because staff was thinking of moving her to another unit and they wanted her available at short notice. This meant that our daily one-hour drive around Halifax, the high point of her day, was forbidden. Fortunately a good-hearted nurse bent the rules when I promised to deliver her within ten minutes of a call to my cell phone.

Over the next ten years we got used to waiting up to 16 hours in emergency wards when Stella felt suicidal or overcome with anxiety or depression. In contrast, she was seen immediately for a fractured ankle, though broken bones aren’t nearly as harmful as suicidal thoughts.

She was admitted at least ten times for short stays of about a week. Though she saw many psychiatrists, they confined themselves to adjusting her meds. Requests for some form of psychotherapy were met with blank stares. She was given a regular outpatient worker who she met with for about a year but that person was hostile to us as parents and dismissive of Stella’s chances of recovery once she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. 

Read More

Would You Like to Super-Size That?

Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.

“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.

I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.

I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.

I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.

My Arms Tell My Story (Stella Marcia Ducklow)

This article is written by my lovely niece Stella Ducklow on osted in MindVine and it speaks of the bodily geography of self harm. Stella is my older brother’s daughter from Halifax. I don’t get to see her much but I think that we usually “click” in spite of my middle-classness. You see Stella is edgy, a tattoo canvas, an artist and writer, a former student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in photography, an advocate for the mentally ill, a roller derby player — not middle class at all. Initially, photography was a hobby and a way to get closer to her father who is also a photographer. It quickly became Stella’s medium for expressing her struggles with mental illness, for helping others through teaching photography and for raising awareness.Here is the piece she wrote for Ontario’s MindVine:

I recently had an awkward experience where my cafe manager caught a glimpse of my forearms and thought I had been in a recent accident. She held my wrist and glanced at the row of keloid scars and said ‘my dear, did you scratch yourself?’ I just  shrugged and  responded ‘no, those have always been there’ and went to fix the milk stand. I think we were both kind of embarrassed.

There isn’t really a social etiquette for this type of thing yet, it’s like goiters and nose jobs, the unwritten code is that although you can see it is not proper to address it.

It’s not a secret whatsoever that I’ve had a long battle with self harm. My arms tell that story. Too often I let the scars speak for me, because it’s easier to have people accept or reject me upon appearance than it is to actually risk talking about it. Because, like everyone else: I am afraid. I have cultivated a well honed persona that makes me appear outgoing, braised, and unaffected by stares of others. However, to this day I cannot utter the words ‘cutter’ ‘self harm’ or ‘stitches’ without having my stomach drop with shame.

To read more of this article click here and to read more of Stella click here.

Thanks Stella for writing. I admire you dear one. (Uncle Paddy)

Masks of Melancholy

“Masks of Melancholy” is the name of a book on depression written by a friend, Dr. John White, who was a psychiatrist and a church leader (he died several years ago). This phrase has always struck me as a great description of depression. John was bipolar and he knew a lot about “The Masks People Wear” (see an article on my web site about such masks).

Depression puts on a mask. The mask can look needy or agitated or “pissed off” or apathetic and all kinds of other miserable things. The mask depends pretty much on our genetic wiring and what was emotionally practiced in our family of origin.

I have been depressed lately. I visit this state periodically like I am checking in with how bad life can really be. My mask is “agitated anger.” People I love bug me. I long to be left alone but I am lonely when no one is around. I ask for help in a way that keeps anyone from really caring. I isolate when I want to connect. Even coffee and chocolate (both vital food groups) fail to inspire me. “Pissed off” pretty much summarizes how I feel it. “Stay away” is what my mask reads to others.

So now that I have told you more than you want to hear, let me refer you to some resources that might be helpful to you.

Visit Wing of Madness to learn what depression and anxiety are all about — it is a great resource. As well, take a look at the Mayo Clinic screening test for depression. This assessment will give you a pretty accurate reading of where your emotions are right now. Print off the results and take it to your doctor or counsellor if you wish. (If you are visiting with Carole or me, do bring the results with you.)

As for me and my treatment, I think I am going to take off my mask (it doesn’t fit very well, anyway), visit Crema Café a few blocks from my office in West Vancouver, eat a piece of their wheat-free chocolate cake, and drink a grande latte. It won’t cure my depression but it does put a smile on my face.

Page 1 of 41234