I am including on this page a number of articles of my personal writings. There shall be more to come soon. Currently, I have added here, Hope Is A Worthy Walk, The Dying Bird, The Holiday Bridge, The Book Mark, Voices and Avolition and more.
Dust in the Boxes
Dust in the Boxes was the most haunting image of mental illness I ever held in my hands.
The vision hasn’t dimmed or faded with the passing of time. It is as clear and present as the day I saw it.
I don’t remember where I saw the inside of an abandoned state mental institution; whether it was a documentary, a few pages of a narrative, a lecture, a dream or something half remembered. Somewhere in the mix a story rose that wasn’t there before.
And so I saw a giant state mental institution, one of many that were built in the early 1900’s. Completely banished from society, thousands of people lived out their lives and died in these massive monuments to despair.
In the 1950’s the early psychiatric medications came to market. Some people improved enough to return to their communities. The hospitals emptied even further in response to a 1960’s federal mandate to deinstitutionalize people with severe mental illnesses.
With most patients gone some of these institutions closed and then were abandoned entirely.
Time reached up and overtook the memory of the inmates. There was nothing left except cemeteries lying adjacent to these huge human warehouses.
Some filled to capacity over the decades, and with no other options, cremation was the final resting place of severe mental illnesses.
I came to the edge of this historical vision and opened the door into one of these crumbling institutions. I was struck by the silence, nothing was moving in these ruins not even the breath of life.
The light was dim and I walked into deep shadows. I looked around and saw a shelf with a half a dozen small, worn cardboard boxes lined up against a wall. The boxes were filled with ashes.
Unknown and unclaimed, they were the dust of people who lived and died as captives to these giant institutions and the hopeless hold of mental illnesses.
I picked up one of the boxes and turned it over and over in my hands.
There was no name inscribed on the cardboard. Anyone who entered these human warehouses was sentenced to obscurity.
But I knew who they were; they weren’t the remnants of ghosts, they were the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters, the children and the brothers and sisters who were committed to these institutions and never came home.
I saw a small window in one of the walls of this concrete crypt. It was hazy and yellowed with age. It was raining outside of this forsaken place. It was always raining.
I put the box down and pressed my hand against the pane. Rain drops were hitting the window. They hit hard; the falling rain was hopelessness and its river of tears.
I put the silent box of ashes back on the shelf, it was filled with despair and heavy in my hands.
The door into the vision closed and I left. But my memory of the people who lived and died in the wracking anguish of untreatable mental illnesses will never pass away.
The only things that separate me from the dust in the cardboard boxes is time and modern medications.
Peggy J. Symons
Empowerment: Is the knowledge that all of us have gifts and talents to bring to the table of life and that no one’s gift is in anyway diminished because it comes from the hands and hearts of someone living with a mental illness.
Empowerment: Is understanding that all of us have no fault- no choice disorders of the brain that require daily medications.
Empowerment: Is about respecting our limits and the setbacks all of us have; it is about having the courage to pick ourselves up and keep trying.
Empowerment: Comes from the well springs of courage; it is ours to give and ours to take.
Peggy J. Symons Deland, Florida
Copyright © Peggy J. Symons
The Light Brigade
Hope opens its hands in the Light Brigade.
So deft, so fleet, so far away,
Shadows stole my soul away,
Swept into a sea of night,
I saw no life, no love, no light.
Then I saw hands held near,
The dark began to clear,
One by one the shadows fell,
And took with them the dark, the hell.
Hope now lives within my soul,
Reflecting love the shadows stole,
The more I see, the more I’m free,
The more I’m free, the more I see.
I wrote this poem a while back. I shuffled it into some papers and then forgot about it. It was only a simple poem with uneven rhymes.
I found it recently and knew that it was never lost, only tucked away in time waiting for the fullness of a vision yet to come.
About three weeks ago I had a vision. I saw a long line of outstretched hands. Each set of hands belonged to a person who helped me along my way. They were the hands of hope- holders and they were always near, even though the darkest days of my life.
They were passing a light from one to another. It was a beautiful sphere of glowing white light about three times the size of their hands. The light was hope.
I noticed that even as the light was passing down this long line its purity never dimmed or changed and that everyone who passed this beautiful light to another was touched by it themselves.
I was so surprised to see the last set of hands in the line were my own.
copyright © Peggy J. Symons
The ongoing gridlock over expanding Medicaid to 800,000 uninsured Floridians is an open opportunity to look back over the most striking damage done when the House of Representatives walked off the job in a high profile clash with the Senate over Florida uninsured.
Sudden adjournment left pioneering bills improving treatment for serious mental illnesses to die without action.
Thousands of Floridians struggling to survive these illnesses were casually dismissed as nothing more than collateral damage to the ideological war over Medicaid.
Startling statistics show that ninety percent of the individuals who die of suicide, including our children, had a mental illness. Incredibly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children ages five through fourteen.
The special session on the future of Medicaid is an unnoticed permission slip for lawmakers to keep looking away the life and death nature of serious mental illnesses as if it doesn’t matter.
The Florida Legislature cannot move forward without looking back into the shattered hope of desperate families and the catastrophic toll of untreated mental illnesses.
I am sometimes
surprised at how often I see the toll and turmoil of mental illnesses in
people’s eyes and know they have come to rest as silent grief in the places of
the human heart that no one else sees or knows.
Several years ago I
had a vision of the unseen suffering caused by mental
I saw a deep shroud
like the fog that rolls over San Francisco Bay every afternoon around four
In the vision, the
fog was peeled back about half way.
I knew it was a
place of deep suffering and that lives of thousands of people with mental
illnesses were hidden under this canopy. What was so striking about the vision
was the utter silence of the people who were losing their lives under the weight
of serious mental illnesses.
Although I couldn’t
see their faces I knew who they were; they are our children, our mothers and
fathers, our spouses and our brothers and sisters. They are neighbors and
co-workers. They are people waiting on tables and people who fill the front
pages of the newspapers. They come from all walks of life, all of them
staggering under the weight of invisible suffering.
copyright © Peggy J. Symons
Introducing Major Sam Cochran
February 13, 2009
Annual Appreciation Breakfast Honoring Central Florida’s Crisis
Introduction to Major Sam Cochran
Major Sam Cochran worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create the Memphis Model for Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT) following the shooting of an unarmed man with a mental illness. CIT is a forty hour course designed to teach law enforcement officers how to recognize mental illness and de-escalate crisis situations. This training has gone out across the nation as the gold standard for law enforcement encounters with people who have mental illnesses.
Major Cochran was the keynote speaker.
My name is Peggy Symons.
I am an individual living with a serious mental illness and an advocate with National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando.
Thank you for the privilege of introducing Major Sam Cochran.
NAMI has been presenting the consumer and family perspective for eight years now, but
I had not met Major Cochran until last June when he came to the national NAMI convention in Orlando.
So I went looking for him. Where did I find him? Where else but in a Crisis Intervention Team workshop.
I waited until the seminar was over and the room was nearly empty.
I went up to Major Cochran and thanked him on behalf of thousands of people, who like me, struggle everyday to survive mental illnesses, many of whom he would never see.
I thanked him for his work and told him that he is bringing light to many shadows.
He spontaneously reached out and gave me a big hug.
I knew and he knew that he was embracing all of us who are walking through life with the brain disorders that cause mental illnesses.
He was embracing fairness and the hope and promise of a new day.
Years ago, the National Alliance on Mental Illness came to the table with Major Cochran with an impossible job; to prevent the arrest and jailing of people whose only crime was a no choice- no fault disorder of the chemistry of the brain.
He took it and he ran with it.
He picked up a torch for us and carried it around the world.
He passed it on to tens of thousands of other people.
One of NAMI’s greatest rewards is to go into a classroom of CIT officers and see the light of recognition and compassion flash across the faces in the room and, in that instant, know, they have become our torchbearers and keepers of the light.
Over the years of his leadership and service Major Cochran has reached into the shadows and margins of America to lift us up into the light of legitimacy.
Because of Major Cochran’s dedication to helping us, our humanity has never been reduced to notes in the margins of CIT handbooks.
Our lives and our safety is written into every page.
When I saw Major Cochran this morning I considered the fruits and impact of what he has done with his life.
I saw the same vision I see every time we go into CIT training.
I see a pond of crystal blue water.
I see each officer as a pebble dropped into the water with ever widening circles of influence.
The ripple effect of Major Cochran’s work has saved thousands of people from the consequences of severe mental illnesses and from guns that would otherwise have been drawn resulting in the loss of our lives.
Major Cochran’s message and his mission have remained steady and true.
The light he has carries is now the light of our shared vision,
Please join the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando as we welcome Major Sam Cochran.
© copyright Peggy J. Symons
Peggy J. Symons of Deland, Florida