Welcome To The Website of Hope
My name is Peggy Symons.
I am a writer, a daughter, an aunt, and a sister to seven siblings.
I am a friend to many and I am proud to be called a friend of many. But most importantly, for this website, I am an advocate for the understanding of mental illnesses. I am an individual who has lived with a major mental illness most of my life and struggled to find meaning and order in its cyclone of symptoms.
I would not have survived the neurobiological destruction of this powerful disorder of the brain without a village of assistance. Family, friends, expert and attentive professionals and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando have surrounded me with encompassing help and hope. I am also grateful to my faithful friend Tandy C. Chiles for the advice and encouragement that has kept me grounded for twenty years. Without the lantern of hope that she carries I would have lost my way entirely.
As I travel through this life I see so many others who have gifts to bring to the table of life, although mental illness would try to hide or bury these gifts.
All of us need a village of assistance. Daily vigilance, medication, freedom from stress and the safe harbor of my family and friends have helped kindle the message of hope I carry and given me the courage to share the light of my journey.
As for me and many others this illness doesn’t go away – it remains encrypted in biological code that is not yet completely understood. But hope is the resting place where the darkness of mental illness gives way to light.
My hope is to give you a life-line; for yourself, a family member or a friend that suffers from often-misunderstood illnesses that will touch the lives of one in five people.
My desire in creating this website is to bring hope to the hopeless, light to those in darkness, and beauty to those who cannot yet see the hope of God's rainbow.
I invite you to join me in this unending journey with hope and her sisters, light and beauty. This is the inspiration for my website.
The Looney Room
The Looney Room came to me in bits and pieces; some were like shards of broken glass.
I took my mother to the emergency room of the local hospital. We were left alone so long that when a nurse finally came in we said something about leaving.
He laughed and said everyone is free to leave unless they are in the Looney Room.
I knew the Looney Room. It was a small, secure room with a thick, unbreakable observation window located across from the main hub of the emergency room. Anyone held in the Looney Room probably had a mental illness and was in direct sight of doctors and nurses.
I thought of telling the nurse that I had been committed to a psychiatric facility from this hospital but I knew it would only be a tiny chip in a solid, high wall of stigma.
As my mother and I waited, I thought of thousands of Looney Rooms across the nation and that prejudice and ridicule still overshadow the veil of tears that brought people to the hope of hospital care.
So, I didn’t see the Looney Room from outside of its thick glass. I saw it from the inside and thought there was nothing I didn’t see.
The persistent mentality of the looney room is discouraging. It should have vanished along with the word lunatic decades ago. The Looney Room, so causally thought to be funny, was hiding the torment of mental illnesses as a cast of comical characters under a mountain of mocking prejudice.
Several weeks later when my mother and I returned to the emergency room. I overheard the staff dealing with a young man who arrived after swallowing enough pills to kill him.
Apparently, they gave him a form of charcoal the binds overdoses, moves through a person and then out. I heard staff laughing about the man “shitting out” the charcoal binding the overdose. How could they not see death stalking him?
Why would anyone would keep jabbing these illnesses and their lethal doses with laughter and ridicule?
Before we left I briefly entered the despair of the Looney Room and prayed it would be free of the ridicule that made its bed there. Too many lives have been chopped short by suicide or the unremitting severity of mental illnesses to laugh at the magnitude of suffering. I knew there was nowhere to put the Looney Room except its proper place.
So, I stopped at the thick window and looked into deeply into this place of great suffering; I saw an unexpected light. It was beautiful and far greater than the artificial light coming from the ceiling. It was the light of compassion.
In the light, I saw the hands of those who laughed reach out to those who were at the brink of despairs final moments. I saw healing rise and prejudice fall. I saw the resurrection of hope.
This was the turning of heart that shattered the glass between hope and hopelessness and broke through the intensity of misperceptions labeled the Looney Room.
The Looney Room was no longer the Looney Room.
As I wrote this chapter of the Gift of a Captive Mind I saw the future when laughter will not run through the lives of those who are falling in the darkest, most desperate moments in their lives.
When someday becomes every day and there will not be any Looney Rooms in the nation. Levity will not overtake compassion; laughter and derision will not close the doors into hope.
Let us keep our eyes focused on the future when the word “lunatic”, used in reference to mental illnesses, will never blemish the face of another speaker or those who would take the barb at the end of the jester’s sword.
And into the days ahead as the light of compassion breaks through the misunderstandings that have held mental illnesses in contempt of the truth.
The future is so close; hope is the key to the Looney Room. All we have do is turn the key in the lock, let the light in and the heart of the nation will be moved.
Who would ever think that a light in a Looney Room could enlighten the eyes of a nation?
Recently released research into the origins of mental
illnesses is opening the doors of hope for those who are suffering from these treatable disorders of the brain.
The findings underscore the biological nature of mental illnesses and spotlight the importance of unhindered and non-discriminatory access to crucial services and modern medicines.
The Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008 is a ground-breaking law requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses and addictions equal to any other medical condition.
Unfortunately, unequal insurance coverage still exists and creates costly burdens on doctors and patients, including impossibly time-consuming prior authorizations for psychiatric medicines and requiring doctors to substitute different, cheaper medicines than those prescribed in the patient's best interest.
The individual complexity of prescribing medications is best left in the hands of experts who know their patients and understand the catastrophic nature of disrupting continuity of medical care by intrusive, detrimental constraints on prescribing.
Interrupting access to medications or pressing people with serious mental illnesses to take the wrong medications can quickly spiral into unemployment, homelessness, jail and suicide.
These outcomes are unique to mental illnesses and are, for the most part ,hidden and unreported. Yet they are the fundamental costs of overriding a physician's judgment. Third-party payers should report all adverse outcomes and grievances filed following denials of coverage, complex prior authorizations and "therapeutic substitution" of a physician's judgment with cheaper medications.
Compounding access issues, people living with these disorders of the brain are often unable to navigate complicated denials, appeals and grievance procedures, in effect, pushing these medicines even farther from the reach of those who need them the most.
The illusion of equal insurance coverage for psychiatric illnesses is a hidden slipping place.
As a person diagnosed with schizophrenia and a mood disorder, I understand the critical consequences of missing even a few doses of carefully prescribed medications. In fact, 24 hours without medications leads to hospitalization for me.
Discriminatory treatment of mental illnesses is not new. But in 2017 accessing modern psychiatric medications should be easier, not more difficult given what is known about surviving mental illnesses with hope and a future. Eventually, research and better medicines will make mental illnesses afflictions of the past.
But for now, enforcing mental health parity laws is vital. In addition, eliminating all discriminatory policies and practices impacting mental illnesses should be a legislative priority.
We, the people of the State of Florida, have already lost too many of our own to mental illnesses. But ensuring people with serious mental illnesses receive expert care and modern medications opens the doors into the hope of living productive and meaningful lives. The future of mental illnesses in Florida is in our hands and in the unity of a shared vision. We are all in this together.
— Peggy Symons is a patient advocate with National Alliance of Mental Illness of Greater Orlando.
Copyright, 2017, Ocala Star-Banner, All Rights Reserved.
THE HOLIDAY BRIDGE
The holidays are falling over the city in a blanket of holiday trees and blinking lights.
Bells are ringing out for the needy hoping to be heard.
Embraced by the sights and sounds of the season I thought of the advocates and workers who have dedicated their lives to helping people with mental illnesses.
I saw them as they are; people from all walks of life with their hands joined in a just and common cause.
In a vision of many colors and details, I could see they were building a bridge. It was a beautiful bridge, finely designed and engineered with the best of intentions, dedication and hope. There were many people at work; everyone who came to the work of the bridge had a different but necessary gift or trade.
No one’s gift was insignificant or diminished in any way by a mental illness.
I wondered “What if all of us had the same skills or talents?” The bridge would never be built. In the light of the bridge building, advocates were welcoming the workers; others were bringing the gifts of laughter and smiles that lightened everyone’s work. Many people living with mental illnesses were working on the bridge knowing that it cannot stand without them.
The rivets that held the work together were made out of the promise of a new day; the strength of the bridge was in its finest details and the efforts of many hands.
Everyone who came to the building of the bridge brought gifts of light and unique beauty but the brightest lights on the bridge came from the hands of the workers who thought no one had noticed their gifts.
When the bridge is done, it will span the distance between darkness and daybreak. It will illuminate the night sky where stigma and discrimination still have their hold.
People will cross from one side of the bridge to the other; the generosity of the builders will show them the way. They will find courage, perseverance and the hope from which the plans of the bridge were drawn.
As I walked around the vision of the bridge and its exquisite details I could see that it has already been built in Heaven.
I saw the workers and advocates, especially the weary ones, and the gifts they brought to the bridge.
They were not ordinary gifts packaged in paper or wrapped up with ribbons; they were gifts of their finest work, freely given in the hope of a better day.
The light and beauty of the bridge are gifts for all seasons.
Through the advocates, I can see that the greatest gifts we have to give are not holiday trees or the blinking lights of a passing season; they are the steady lights of our finest works, unblended hope and the vision of a better day for all of us.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.
Common warning signs of suicide.
The First International Bank of Love
The First International Bank of Love is the most secure bank on earth; no one can break into it because the doors are always open. Jesus opened all the accounts; they are free because he paid for them with his life. He built a bank that will never fail or default.
Daily banking earns unlimited interest. Overdrafts are always welcome; so are deposits. No withdrawals are ever denied and the bank doesn’t return anything for insufficient value.
Tellers are waiting to tell everyone who comes into the bank about currency that never runs out. In fact, runs on the bank only multiples the gifts inside the vaults.
There are no long wait lines or hidden charges; it is easy to transfer love from one account holder to another without penalties or cost.
The wealth of the nations is stored in this bank; the treasury is a wellspring that never runs dry.
The First International Bank of Love is waiting for anyone willing to withdraw its hope for the future and redemption of the past.
Bankers hours do not limit transactions, so come to the Bank of Love; it is never closed no matter what time you come to the door.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
Capturing Sigmund Freud
On March 27, 2006, I saw the well-known face of Sigmund Freud, the so- called “Father of Psychiatry” on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
The words “Freud Is Not Dead” were marked across the middle of his picture. In that distressing moment, I wondered if this outdated image of psychiatry would ever die.
Sigmund Freud was frequently on my mind. In the decades that followed Freud people with serious mental illnesses were sometimes tossed off the famous psychoanalytic talking cure couch as “not wanting to get better.”
Ignorance of the biological nature of mental illnesses was the accusing muscle-man.
Before I saw Freud's face in Newsweek, I went to bed one night facing the wall. I was not asleep. I will never forget a loud, unexpected man’s voice hurling out of the night. It was so loud it hit me like a chunk of flying concrete. This is what it said:
“Freud's intrusion into the 21st century is blurring the line between true mental illnesses and the shadows and haunts of ordinary human unhappiness.”
There was no doubt in my mind that the voice did not come in a dream or some vague somnolent state; It wasn’t surreal or ghostly; it was loud, real and I was entirely awake.
It clobbered me with a clanging, commanding single sentence that became the cornerstone of a letter to the editors of Newsweek addressing the perception that mental illnesses were the product of dysfunctional families; old ideas perpetuated by the undying image of Sigmund Freud.
Yes, Freud was a genius and a pioneer; a brave soul willing to enter the marmalade of the mind and try to make sense of it.
Along the way, he legitimized the suffering caused by mental distress and moved it into the province of medicine.
Freud himself knew psychotic illnesses were probably biological but his “fatherly” face was hijacked and superimposed over mental illnesses as a template of early family dysfunction.
Years after Freud died his misapplied influence remains a blanket over the 21st-century understanding that mental illnesses are powerful, biological and destructive diseases of the brain.
I didn’t know then or now whose voice hit me that night, but no matter; it set off a rippling percussion between the outdated afflictions of blame, shame and guilt and the fact that these illnesses are no-choice, no fault- diseases of the brain.
I didn’t know Newsweek was going to print the letter until I saw it in the April 10th edition about a week after I sent it to the editors.
Science and reason have firmly established the biological nature of mental illnesses but slippage into fault-finding remains.
Fingers of blame still point at people living with these illnesses as lazy, irresponsible or so reprehensible as to deserve their fate and at families staggering under the weight of unseen suffering.
The misunderstood influence of Freud is not minor or flippantly Freudian; it is an old statue guarding old ideas.
Completely capturing the outdated image of Freud is difficult; his patriarchal presence endures in a limbo of freely tossed shadows obscuring the biological realities of true mental illnesses.
Without a high-profile groundswell of change in the way we regard these illnesses every passing year just gives Freud another facelift.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
Freud is not dead.
He's a restless spirit who continues to obscure the biological legitimacy
of mental illnesses. His intrusion into the 21st century is blurring the line
between true mental illness and the shadows and haunts of ordinary human
unhappiness. His tenure has lingered for a century to perpetuate the blame,
shame and guilt that shrouds mental illness. The most troubling character of
this persistent presence is its undiminished power to lay the blame for mental
illnesses at the feet of families. Until Sigmund Freud is finally laid to rest,
those of us who live with these brain disorders will have to keep shadowboxing
with a ghost that refuses to die.
Peggy Symons National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando
Capturing Esmine Green
I have come to bring Ms. Esmine Green out of the shadows of lost hope and cries of unheard anguish.
On June 19, 2009, Ms. Green was taken by ambulance to Kings County Hospital in New York City acutely ill with schizophrenia.
She sat and waited over 24 hours until blood clots formed and killed her.
Although she writhed, fell out of her chair onto the floor and died, she was ignored until a worker finally came over, pushed her with his foot and saw she was dead.
Evidence of her death and the circumstances in which she died were immediately scurried away in falsified documents. Ms. Green died waiting for help that never came.
I will never forget the brutal force of indifference to her suffering or the global news and outrage covering her 24 hours in hell.
I also knew Ms. Green would be quickly and completely forgotten-and she was.
The helpless horror of the way she died disappeared as fast as it burned the news but conscience and accountability were standing by with a note pad.
Everything was video recorded and subsequently obtained by the Americans for Civil Liberties Union.
The city settled with her family for two million dollars but what price was paid for the violence of indifference?
Ms. Green was not a captive of bygone era; she was captive of a place she didn’t matter.
We should not forget her story; she left red flags flying over indifference. It is the nucleus of neglect and the crown jewel of hidden abuse.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
Capturing the Little Cat Feet
One of the most treacherous traits of this illness is its slow roll. It is not like a sudden drop off the cliff. It rolls in on “little cat feet.” like the fog moving in on the words of poet Walt Whitman.
For several recent months, I kept hearing people call my name over and over; some were so loud I whipped around to see who was calling me. They met me in some shadowy days preceding this page. They were some form of hallucinations I suppose but they not appear like roaring lions or voices with teeth. They were soft but certain.
I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eyes momentary mistaking them for something else.
This summer tropical storm warnings were up over Florida with the additional possibility of tornados. One of my friends was out of state so I went over to pick up some things in her yard that could have become projectiles in high winds.
When I was in the back yard, I heard a woman calling my name. I looked up into the closed porch and saw her just outside the door but just for a few seconds.
She was a dark figure with no features. I could not discern her face or hands.
She was wrapped in some kind of darkness that cloaked her so closely she had no defining identity but I knew I didn’t know her. Although she disappeared quickly, she frightened me.
Then, when I went into the house I thought I saw my cat but this was not an outright visual hallucination either.
My friend keeps an off-white porcelain jug on the floor near the doorway between there kitchen and living room. The jug was the same beige color as my cat.
I caught the jug out of the corner of my eyes thinking “what is my cat doing here?” but after a tiny moment I realized it was the jug, not my cat.
They still haven’t gone away. Something small and dark ran past my feet early this morning.
I wish I could fully capture these things with my eyes or hold them at arm’s length to see who or what they really are but they move too quickly.
What re-opened the door to these living shadows? Years of sleep apnea? Aging? Or did they just figure out how to slip past my medicines?
Time will tell.
(Several months have passed. The fleeting phantoms that came in on little cat feet rolled back into the fog in which they came. The coast is clear.)
Eventually, research will permanently capture the pitter-patter of little cat feet. Hopefully, no one will ever stumble over them again.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
THE DYING BIRD
Sometimes violence is in the eyes of the beholder.
This is a true story.
I had taken my friends dog to the vet. As the dog and I were settling our account at the front desk, a young man came through the front door. His hands were cupped together, he was holding something. He looked to be in his twenties and was obviously mentally ill. He had long, dark hair flying everywhere. He was also dressed in rags, I had little doubt that he was homeless as well.
When he approached the desk I could see he was holding a badly injured bird in his hands. He asked the ladies at the desk if the vet would take care of the bird.
Whether it was because he was mentally ill or poor or that it was true they didn’t take care of birds, they sent him away with the injured bird in his hands.
As my own tears fell I thought the world has it all backwards; it isn’t always the violence caused by people who live with mental illnesses that steals from society; it is the hardness of heart that sees our humanity and turns away.
I don’t know what happened to the bird or where the young man went, but I will never forget what compassion looks like when it is cradled as a dying bird in the hands of a human being who is mentally ill and homeless.
Peggy J. Symons of Deland, Florida
Copyright © Peggy J. Symons
Mental Ilnesses and Mental Health: Capturing the Slippery Bridge
Another article on death due to “mental health disorders” captures the slippery bridge between mental health and mental illness.
What seems a minor twist of language is a symptom of a broad national consensus to engage the words “mental health” and pretend they mean mental illness.
Misappropriating “mental health” is so deeply entrenched it is difficult to refer to these disorders of the brain without using deceptively uniform language that corrupts the biological nature of these hard hitting diseases.
Stripped of charades, the irrelevant words “mental health” are a wink and a nod hiding an insurgent truth
America’s “mental health” system is fractured, failed and vastly underfunded, leaving millions of people behind with no hope of recovery.
In a travesty of mistaken identities, one in five individuals, including many children, are struggling to survive brain diseases with extraordinary mortality rates but their “mental health conditions” makes it easy to deny treatment and modern medications and then turn away from the death and devastation that follows. We are hiding their hopelessness in a familiar clash of opposing words.
Ninety percent of those who end their own lives have a diagnosable mental illness. Virtually meaningless “mental health disorders” do not drive people to suicide; mental illnesses do.
Switching illness for health allows us to bury this massive loss of life in an avalanche of indifference without bearing the weight of conscience.
In addition, these neurological disorders are the only medical conditions overshadowed with sufficient fictional license to blur the boundaries between illness and health; a substantial mistake that further minimizes the crushing power of these illnesses and dismisses the suffering they cause as less than real.
Finally, these brazenly contradictory terms become outright ludicrous when we seal our most seriously ill citizens in the “mental health” sections of our jails and prisons.
We are hiding one of the deepest moral failures of our times in jail jumpsuits-out of sight-out of mind.
We have coddled the incongruence between mental health and mental illness too long. It serves no purpose except to hide the way we treat our mentally ill.
The evidence keeps pouring in; the disparate corollary between mental health and mental illness isn’t innocent; it is disastrous.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
I am bringing thousands of people with mental illnesses with me.
Many are silenced by stigma and discrimination; others cannot tell the stories of the life and death impact of delays and denials of psychiatric medicines.
The people I speak for have serious mental illnesses. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and suicidal despair are not mental health disorders. They are caused by real, life threatening, physical ravages in the function of the brain. Ninety percent of those who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental illness.
Before expertly and tediously prescribed modern medicines schizophrenia was either a life sentence or a death sentence; I lost half my life to it.
I failed on over thirty medications before my doctors finally found the right medications at the right doses. Failing on some of these medicines was like getting hit by a truck; hospitalization followed.
It is critical to note many psychiatric medications don’t work the same way; in addition, the function of the brain is individually unique and extraordinarily complex; medications that can save the life of one person can send someone else to the hospital. Carefully prescribed and balanced, our medications can build some beautiful bridges between what is broken by the physiology of mental illnesses and a meaningful life.
For me, as for others, missing one dose of carefully and individually prescribed medication, or the wrong medicine, begins to break the fragile bridges between hope and hopelessness.
In fact, Harvard Medical School found that missing from one to ten days of antipsychotic medications doubles the risk of hospitalization; its three days for me.
It is far easier and less expensive to prevent a psychiatric collapse than have to go back and pick up the pieces of the shattered hope of a meaningful life.
The future is closing in on mental illnesses. Science and suffering will join hands and then move on having created better treatments and medications and eventually cures. Research will eventually free us but for now, granting doctors the unimpeded ability to prescribe the right medicines at the right time at the right doses is the best hope of surviving these sometimes rapidly moving, too often deadly illnesses.
These difficult disorders of the brain don’t dwell on either side of a partisan divide; they dwell in families. One in five of us will have a mental illness at some point. No one is immune; not by wealth or estate, male or female, young or old. Stepping up to the Florida Legislature to represent all of us is both honorable and difficult.
Right now, we are at the intersection where many lost lives can become meaningful lives. If we look deeply into the faces of serious mental illnesses we will see our own humanity in these crossroads.
Time is turning in the light of this shared vision. There is a profound communion between hope and responsibility in our hands; what we do now will determine the future of mental illnesses in Florida.
Unfettered access to psychiatric medicines is the foundation of hope and the bridge into normal lives.
Never doubt you are appreciated.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
MY FAMILIES JOURNEY INTO HOPE
The Genetic Study of Schizophrenia;
National Institute of Mental Health
It has been
several years since my family
and I found a description of the Genetic Study of Schizophrenia in the “Advocate”, a quarterly publication of National Alliance on Mental Illness.
is an ongoing study at the
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland.
Researchers are looking very closely at the genetic and non- genetic factors that raise the risks for schizophrenia.
Of eight siblings, I am the only one with a schizophrenic disorder.
applied to this study knowing that this research is generating information giving neuroscience the keys that
are beginning to break into the complex biological codes of
At the time, my brother’s business interest was providing computer technologies to researchers studying the genetic abnormalities within the full and complex human genome.
He recognized the neuro-imaging and genetic technologies as the most advanced tools of neuroscience in the world.
We embraced the opportunity to benefit others with this disorder.
This particular study, one of several, compared the genetic differences between siblings who are affected by schizophrenia and those who aren’t.
It was an opportunity for seven siblings to add an unusual wealth of information to research.
We were accepted into the study and welcomed as respected and valued partners in this pioneering research.
The National Institute of Mental Health arranged our flight schedules, hotel bookings, and testing days to maximize the rare time we had to spend together.
The study was a fast moving two days of detailed magnetic resonance imaging, interviews, and neuropsychological testing.
Other than a routine blood draw, there was no invasive testing.
family, the long road to the genetic
study of schizophrenia began almost three decades before.
hospitalized in 1975 after a three year slide into a psychotic
I fell into the hands of a psychiatrist who psychoanalyzed my hallucinations and assessed my entire family as“schiziophrenigenic”
fact that neurobiological anarchy was sweeping through my brain like a forest fire, realitybegan to dawn
on me by 1979: I had seven brothers and sisters and none of them were like me.
They were all working, going to school, or were in college.
We were of the same parents, and we were all raised by a courageous and hard working single mother who loved us all.
I was different from early in life.
As a young adult, hallucinations and depression were taking over my entire life.
None of my
brothers and sisters had ever
been brought to their knees by visions and voices and depression that paralyzed even my will to live.
I knew my family was not doing this to me; there was something wrong with my brain.
I found another psychiatrist who remained with me for twenty-five years as a constant source of expertise and encouragement.
Looking back from 2009, I call the primitive and hopeless psychiatry of the 1970s the “dungeons of the day.”
Old Freudian ideas that twisted the psychiatry of schizophrenia away from the brain onto blaming families were still widely held.
It was a dated era still spun with mythically monstrous mothers named and blamed as “schiziophrenigenic mothers”
psychoanalytic psychiatry of the 1970s perpetuated the influence of a century of Freudian ghosts that
linger to this day as
the deep shroud of shame, guilt, and misunderstanding that continues to obscure the neurobiological legitimacy of this illness.
Before we left the NIMH, I talked to the lead investigator of the study.
I told him
what it was like for me coming from the “dungeons of the day” 28 years ago to be working with the NIMH as a
full and respected partner in research that I never thought would happen in my lifetime.
At the time, I was told that five or six genes increasing the risk for schizophrenia had been discovered.
There are now many more genes suspected to have a role in this illness.
character of this progress is
a clear and bright light of new hope and promise moving at light speed in the right direction.
It is a privilege to be part of this revolution in neuroscience.
I believe that
with more study volunteers
like my family and I, the complex puzzles and codes of mental illnesses will be mapped out and solved in our lifetimes.
Looking back at the NIMH study, I can see my brothers and sisters in the full light of their loyalty and love.
They were all
indicted as “schiziophrenigenic” 34 years ago, but when this illness threatened to take me
away from them, they rose to the challenge and held out their hands to me in the moments that I otherwise would have drowned.
Six of them
were younger than I was when
this illness swept out of hell, yet they have traveled this distance with me unafraid.
They have made my life richer, funnier, and filled to overflowing as a sister, an aunt and a friend.
Without them, it would have been a dark and difficult journey.
With them, we walked this 34 year road out of darkness into daybreak.
Peggy J. Symons
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
CENTER STAGE FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
- Friday, March 22, 2002
As the date of the Academy Awards approaches, once again A Beautiful Mind is on the American mind.
The box-office draw of the story of the Nobel Prize
winner John Nash's journey through life with schizophrenia has pulled this
illness out of the dark and dusty basement of non-awareness right onto center
stage. It has created a bridge of shared experience as the story of Nash's life
unfolds with some striking parallels to my own experience of living with a
The frightening intensity of Nash's delusional world
was so authentically presented that I, of all people, thought it was real.
In the three months since the release of A Beautiful Mind, the widely
held stereotypes that we are categorically violent people or "split
personalities" are yielding to the understanding of just how human we are. There is a new understanding that a person living with schizophrenia can have a beautiful mind. People are now asking who we are. They are beginning to
understand our humanity and that this is an illness of intense impact. It is no
one's fault, and it is never a choice.
Neuroscience is advancing on
schizophrenia, but it is a complex, chronic and challenging disorder. It will
give up its secrets slowly. The current focus on mental illness is an
opportunity of immediate relevance to present the needs of mentally ill people
as issues of substance. One in five families is struggling with the brain
disorders causing mental illnesses.
If anyone is looking for us, many of
us are behind the locked doors of prisons. Often we are arrested for our
symptoms rather than for true criminal intent. It is illegal to lie on park
benches or trespass on Dumpsters.
As funding for vital mental-health services dwindles, prisons have become the de facto psychiatric hospitals of the 21st century. Reduced to dollars and no sense, the costs of jailing us are more expensive than it would be to treat us. We exist behind the locked doors of "no access" to effective treatment. We live behind the walls of stigma and misunderstanding. This is where much of our humanity remains hidden.
It has been through the new lens of A Beautiful Mind that we have been given the vision to understand, to value and to respect the inner beauty of so many people like John Nash, walking through life with chronic, severe mental illnesses.
These are our neighbors and our loved ones. Who will see their inner beauty and who will know their names? How do we answer the age-old question of conscience and responsibility? Am I my brother's keeper?
If my brothers and sisters are the most profoundly ill and vulnerable among us, then, yes, the answer always comes back close to me:
I am my brother's keeper.
Memo: PeggySymons lives in Deland,Florida. She is a member of the
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Mental
LOVE LIGHTS CHAOS OF MENTAL ILLNESS
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL - Friday, January 14, 2000
Author: Peggy Symons , Special to the Sentinel
Who are these mentally ill people? They live under the interstate overpasses of every major
city. Some sit locked away in prisons, talking to voices no one else can hear. They are voiceless; they are faceless. They are my less-fortunate mentally ill brethren. They look like me. They are my
Mental illness, with all its terrible power and consequences, swept out of hell, and struck me down at age 19, as I grew into adulthood. Schizoaffective disorder is a biologically determined brain disease that has symptoms of both schizophrenia and depression. Like all major mental illnesses, it is caused by a devastating disruption of the finely balanced chemistry of the brain.
All my off-and-on time in the hospitals presented the still-unanswered question, ``Why did this happen?'' I was just starting a very promising college career, and my hopes and dreams for the future were solid and intact. Perhaps, in my lifetime, as the mysteries of the human brain unfold, I will know why.
Instead of focusing on why I became mentally ill, I seek to define my purpose. I look for a reason and direction to evolve from the chaos of my illness. During the years, sometimes the direction that this schizoaffective disorder has taken me appears to be a downward spiral. Through depression, psychotic thinking and impaired functioning, it has dragged me through hell with no apparent purpose or mercy. With expert management of medicines that have sometimes helped, I emerge with new eyes and gratitude. I see the world and other people from a newly visible land of the living.
At these times I experience life with a new quality and dimension, with a depth of understanding that can be experienced only by someone who has journeyed through hell and by the grace of God has emerged alive and intact. I have come to know the deepest currents of the human condition. I know fear. I know pain and despair, and I have touched the face of death. But, most of all, I know love. I know the love of God and the love of the people who cared for me. They never abandoned me even as I slipped away from them.
For 23 years my long-term support group has met every week. All of us have major mental illnesses. We have moved into midlife together, meeting every Friday to gather enough courage from each other to go out, each week, and keep trying. We have learned from each other that mental illness in no way diminishes anyone's humanity. We are all people, whatever the state of the chemistry of our brains.
The darkness of mental illness has sensitized me to the goodness and warmth of other people. I look for it. I reach for it. And, when I find it, I treasure it.
I share this account of schizophrenia and depression to illustrate the essential humanity of mentally ill people. It speaks of what I know of the light that illuminates all souls, mentally ill or not. This is the light that binds us all together, for better or worse, in this sometimes-leaky human boat. As I search for a way to tell people who never gave up on me how much they've meant, and I think of the people under overpasses and the people locked away in the prisons of their own minds, I remember something the son of God said in Matthew 25:40: Whatsoever you shall do unto the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.
Memo: Peggy Symons is a long-distance bicycle rider and lives in Chuluota with her cat, Lambie.
Edition: METRO Section: EDITORIAL Page: A15
Column: OTHER VIEWS MY WORD Index Terms: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Record Number: 0001140129 Copyright 2000 Sentinel Communications Co.
THE HOPE GIVERS
Hope is a fragile flame and a bright light. It is easy to give and even easier to take away. Once the flame of hope is lit it must be carefully kept and kindled.
When hope burns brightly there is fire in its feet and the breath of life is on its lips.
There is purity in its purpose, vision in its light and healing in its truth.
Whether we teach, write, counsel or mop the halls the hopeless walk we are all called to be hope givers and keepers of the flame.
Blessed are the hope givers.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright
By Peggy J. Symons
They steal in on airways,
Reserved for what is real,
Make my thoughts all frightened slaves,
And twist the way I feel.
They'll never walk away with me,
or steal what I love,
they'll never snatch away my key,
to God and human love.
So, I walk in quiet courage
As all around me spins,
And come to know the strength I wage,
I know what's real wins.
© copyright Peggy J. Symons
The Gift of a Captive Mind
I am currently writing the Gift of a Captive Mind. It is new.
The only voices in the Captive Mind are those of the narrator. It is not a collection of other peoples stories either.
It is simply written to fill out academic presentations of mental illnesses with the actual experiences of living with them.
The purpose is also to highlight the grief and losses that come with mental illnesses so that the suffering of individuals and families will never be discounted or shuffled away unseen and without hope.
I don’t know when the Gift of a Captive Mind will be finished but the end is in sight.
I have never been part of any other book on mental illness that has any hope of coming into the light of day.