Tag: mental illness

Turning Grief into Art By Madeline Sharples

Turning Grief into Art By Madeline Sharples

Madeline Sharples suffered an unthinkable loss, but her grief was not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.

TURNING GRIEF INTO ART

by Madeline Sharples

Grief

I was 59 years old when my son, suffering with bipolar disorder, took his own life. Following an aftermath filled with guilt and grief, I made the decision to come out of that experience alive, whole, and productive. Instead of doing the expected: getting a divorce, having a breakdown or an affair with a beautiful younger man, becoming an alcoholic, or going into years of therapy, I chose to live and take care of myself as a woman, writer, wife, and mother.

The Essential Truth I Discovered

The truth is I was able to survive this tragedy. Even though the effects of my son’s death have never left my heart and thoughts, this tragic event provided some wonderful gifts.

  • Paul left a little black suitcase filled with the music he composed, played, and recorded. Listening to Paul’s music is like having him playing here at home. And even though it still makes me well up, it provides an inspiration for my writing work.
  • I became much stronger by sheer will. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.
  • I also became physically stronger. Exercise keeps me sane and healthy physically and mentally. And the payoffs have been terrific. My body is trim, I have an athlete’s heart rate, I have a lot of energy, I don’t have aches and pains, and I don’t have osteoporosis.
  • My marriage survived by a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and my husband, Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. A big plus is we don’t worry about the small stuff anymore. A loss as great as ours put what’s important into perspective. Most important, we are still very much in love and best friends. I can see that love in Bob’s face. His eyes and whole face soften when he looks at me, exuding love from every pore. This love has been the glue that has kept us together—glue stronger than the trauma of Paul’s death. We’re together in it for the long haul—richer, poorer, sickness, health, and a son’s death. We celebrated forty-six years last May.
  • I created a wonderful relationship with our surviving son and his wife. I now have a terrific bond with Ben. We spend time together. We support each other’s work—I’m even helping him with his scriptwriting. And that he and Marissa chose to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to supplant the bad memories of the past years.
  • Of course none of these gifts can replace what my family and I have lost—our beloved son Paul. However, discovering the gifts that followed such a tragedy has enabled me to move on and still keep Paul’s memory alive in my heart.
griefWhat Led to My Discovery of These Truths 

First, I went back to work. I wrote grant proposals and led capital campaigns for non profits for awhile, and then I went back to the full-time job I had retired from several years earlier—as a technical writer and editor and proposal manager for a large aerospace company. This job provided the routine and socialization I needed—getting up at the same time every morning, dragging myself to the gym first thing, dressing in business attire, putting on make-up and doing my hair, and interacting with groups of people on the job every day. I thought about my work almost twenty-four/seven, leaving me no energy or time to wallow.

However, I still had enough time to hone my creative-writing skills. Instead of taking creative detours into drawing and painting, sewing, quilting, and needlepoint as I had done in the past, I went back to writing, a love I discovered in high school and college.

How These Truths Unfolded

I took writing classes and workshops, I got into the journaling habit, and I began writing poetry to keep my son’s memory alive. I created a memoir about living with my son’s illness and surviving his suicide, called Leaving the Hall Light OnThrough this process I found that writing became my therapy and a way of healing.

In a writing workshop just four months after Paul died I found that poems came spontaneously out of my pen. Since then I’ve honed my skills by participating in workshops and poetry groups, resulting in many of my poems being published.

Both poetry and journaling are still my companions and my saviors—things I can turn to any time, any place. I can put my grief and tears on the page. After a loss such as mine, writing has become a healing balm.

I also moved on to a career I’ve always wanted to have. Paul’s death has given me the gift of a new career and mission in life. I created a book with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, I’m busy writing a novel, and I discovered my mission for the rest of my life: to work to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. If my writing helps attain that mission, it will all be worth it.


Madeline Sharples’ Bio 

During her 30-year professional career, Madeline Sharples worked as a technical writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business and wrote grant proposals in the nonprofit arena. She started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer in the last few years. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicidewas released in a hardback edition in 2011 and re-released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things in 2012.

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems appear online and in print magazines, recently in the Story Circle Network True Words series, the 2016 Porter Gulch Review, and the Yellow Chair Review’s 2016 ITWOW (In the Words of Womyn) anthology.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly at the Naturally Savvy website. She also posts at her blog, Choices and is currently writing a novel. In addition, she produced a CD of her son’s music called Paul Sharples at the Piano, as a fundraiser to help erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. It was released on the fifthteenth anniversary of his death in September 2014. 

Madeline studied journalism in high school, wrote for the high school newspaper, studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and received a B.A. degree in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

 

To purchase CD:
For more information, visit
If you would like to participate in the Voices of Wisdom Series, please contact Dorothy via email.  Guest Post Guidelines. 
Depression – The Masks We Wear and How to Remove Recognize Them

Depression – The Masks We Wear and How to Remove Recognize Them

depression
ARTIST: Lance Johnson
Click on image to visit website.

Depression is often characterized as a deep sense of hopelessness. It typically arises after a devastating rejection, disappointment or loss. I described a little of my experience with depression in my recent posts,  Living Under the Cloud and  A Crack in the Night Sky. Depression, however, set down its roots within me in childhood when I was doing my best to cope with a world that was far more complex than I was equipped to handle.

What I am beginning to understand and wish to share with you, is that while depression can be an insidious state of mind that sets up housekeeping within us, it is useful to also see it as a mask. It is not who we are, but rather a lens through which we live and view our lives.  I believe, that if the mask went on, it can be taken off. It just may take a broader approach and a little more work than we heretofore have understood.

One of the dangers of modern medicine is the conviction that medication is the best and most expedient solution to a majority of ailments.  While it may be expedient, and provide some sort of relief, it may not always be a cure. Modern medicine has done wonders for many illnesses. It has also sidelined solutions for many others. We’ve become a quick fix society that doesn’t understand the need to dig deeper for healing.  Science and medicine continue to narrow their focus, to specialize and fine tune. Drug companies continue to come up with medications to treat the most popular illnesses. Depression is one of those popular illnesses.  What I believe is needed in spades is a broader approach. Specializations can’t see the forest for the tress.  Medication for depression is too often a band-aid approach.

In order to effectively treat and heal depression, particularly chronic depression, it is absolutely necessary to listen to and treat the whole body. Depression is classified by clinicians as a “mood disorder.” This “mood disorder” is the mask. Getting to what lies beneath is more of a challenge. It is my conviction that those who suffer must be shown how to step back from themselves and the labels  to learn to see themselves differently. Stepping back creates the space that can allow in new ideas, new treatments, new methodologies, new understandings of what it means to heal, what it means not only to survive, but to thrive.

Depression was not well understood when I sought help in the 1970’s. It took a decade or more for science to hand me antidepressants and therapy as a solution. It was a God send for me at the time, but it was not a permanent solution. A decade later I was not rid of depression, as my physicians and therapists told me I would be.  At that time psychiatrists were the only medical professionals authorized to prescribe  psychotropic drugs and from whom I received my first explanation as to how they worked.  My doctor told me that antidepressants would “ jump start the synapses in my brain and once mine would eventually begin to work again without help.”  I understood enough about jumping cars to understand the concept and it sounded plausible. What I didn’t think about, nor did he seem to be concerned with, was why was the battery draining and what would keep it from becoming depleted again.

After several relapses and futile attempts to go off antidepressants I was then told by therapists and physicians to just accept that my body was not going to do what it needed to do. They encouraged me to look at my condition as one similar to diabetes, a condition that could be managed with medication.  I had no choice but to accept the sentence I was given, but I never liked it.

I wasn’t convinced that it was quite that simple, although I had not yet found an alternative answer, nor did I even understand the nature of the problem.  Medication and therapy were the only options I was given and I relied on them to get me through the child rearing years.  It was not easy. In fact, while I functioned, and even well at times I felt almost “normal”, I lived under a cloud that threatened to pour at any moment.  Therapy was more of a crutch than a cure and I tried a wide variety of therapies and therapists over the years.

I have functioned, more or less, throughout my life with one hand tied behind my back, and I am fairly certain that there are plenty of people just like me who are doing the same thing. Whether the rope that keeps us bound is depression, anxiety, fear, narcissism, PTSD, or any other mental or emotional condition, I do not now believe that it is always in our best interest to ride the waves in a boat designed by drug manufacturers and over specialized physicians.  Their perspective is far too narrow and has become far too complacent.

Those of us who are riding the waves owe it to ourselves and other sufferers to push the edges of our condition, to challenge the status quo, to do more than just survive. We owe it to ourselves to dig deeper, to try new avenues, to ask hard questions and to accept and love ourselves through it all.

Mental and emotional illness, is more accepted now than it was fifty years ago. If I had been born just twenty-five years earlier I might have spent a good portion of my life in a mental institution undergoing shock treatment. Before that I might have been sequestered behind bars. I am grateful for what was available to me and the relief it did offer. However, I think we can do better. I believe we can work toward acceptance and understanding in a way that doesn’t simply pat the suffering individual on the head and send them home with a pill and a therapist. Mental health issues are more accepted, but they still make us uncomfortable.  We don’t understand them and they frightened us. We fear what we don’t understand. We marginalize what we fear.

All you have to do is look at the state of mental health treatment in this country to see our fear and disregard for the suffering.  Public institutions are underfunded and understaffed. Research is funded more often by drug companies than independent research.  The mentally ill too often end up wandering the streets or end up behind bars.  For those who manage to function more or less normally, current treatments are not often healing treatments.

Depression and anxiety have plagued me most of my life.  Pain is a powerful motivator and it has been the  impetus behind my never-ending quest for understanding. It has driven me to question, research, study, contemplate and experiment, not only to find relief for myself, but to find true healing for all who suffer from this painful, life altering condition. In the process I have amassed an enormous amount of experience and knowledge on the subject. I have seen the commonalities between myself and those I’ve tried to help. The threads that weave us together are the threads that can set us free.  As we untangle these threads we loosen the mask  and the painful pressure beneath is relieved.

As I continue this backward glance at my own struggle with depression and the effect its had on my life, I hope to reach into my knowledge and experience and pull out the most important threads required for healing.  One by one, I hope to offer what insights I am able to offer, not only on the healing process but on mental health treatment in the twenty-first century.

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY

THE MASKS WE WEAR

WHEN PLANS CHANGE, AND THEY ALWAYS DO!

WOMEN STYLIN’ AT EVERY AGE

 

Living with Mental Illness and Surviving Suicide – One Mother’s Story

Living with Mental Illness and Surviving Suicide – One Mother’s Story

Leaving the Hall Light On  A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide is the powerful, heart wrenching story of one women’s journey through 17 years of heartbreak and struggle. It is a story of strength and courage, creative genius and despair. Madeline shares her confusion and anger, her hope and disappointment as she recounts the events that led to her son’s ultimate suicide, and along the way the reader has an up close and personal introduction to this debilitating disease and its effect on a family. I came away from this book with a new depth of understanding and compassion for all who are and have been touched by serious mental illness. It’s message has lingered long after the initial reading. It will broaden your perspective and awareness and for that reason alone, this is an important book.

In addition, Madeline is our peer. A woman of our generation and experience who tells her story, not only as a part of her healing journey but, to inform and support others who are struggling with a similar challenge. Whether or not you have someone in your life who suffers from mental illness, there is not a one of us who has not witnessed its destruction, most recently in the shocking and unexpected death of Robin Williams.  We long for understanding. We search for hope. Perhaps together, by raising awareness, we can find a cure, a satisfactory treatment, or at the very least, an opening of our hearts in support of one another.

Madeline Sharples

Although Madeline Sharples worked for most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager, she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school. She pursued her writing interests in high school while studying journalism and writing for the high school newspaper, and she studied journalism in college. However, she only began to fulfill her dream to be a professional writer later in life.

In addition to Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) a book about women in nontraditional professions and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (2010). Her poetry accompanies the work of photographer Paul Blieden in two books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy as well as appearing in print and online on many occasions.

Madeline is now a full-time writer and is working on her next book, a novel, based in the 1920s. She and Bob, her husband of 40+ years, live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles.

Connect with Madeline online: 

Visit her website: http://madelinesharples.com/

On Facebook: Madeline Sharples

On Twitter: @madeline40

On G+