Hi, there. Thanks for visiting. I'm starting this blog as an advocate for mental and physical health. I'm a freelance writer and also own a home based medical transcription business. I was diagnosed in 1978 with paranoid schizophrenia and started to become acutely ill three years prior to that, unmedicated, frightened, confused, and in trouble with the law. I graduated from university with distinction the year I became ill. I've never regretted learning how to think at university. I struggled with my illness for 35 years and have reached the top of the mountain now, I think, or the other side, where the grass is greener and the path easier. There's hope for all of us, the whole human race, and never think there isn't hope or joy no matter your circumstances. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences with mental illness in all its forms: depression, brain injury, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety disorders, etc. and your positive experiences as well as those lies and half truths society and even therapists would have us believe about ourselves.

We are different folks, and we are beautiful. The whole human race is beautiful. Let's celebrate life.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Paradox of Loneliness

"Although some individuals have healthy relationships, the majority with schizophrenia (60% to 70%) do not marry, and most have limited social contacts."*

We are lonely in our illness. Yet we drive others away. The paradox of serious mental illness and relationships.

I've been married twice. Once before my diagnosis. My first husband was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971. I started to show signs of serious illness in 1975. I was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia in 1978. My subsequent social contacts tended to be dysfunctional. I married again in 1982 and divorced in 1987.

I now enjoy a variety of generally healthy friendships but am frightened of intimacy, I would say. Does a diagnosis of schizophrenia condemn one to a lifetime of social isolation?

I once thought a loving relationship was impossible for me.

A psych told me years ago that medications were overrated. A half truth? Medications are much better now. Medications enable us to live almost "normal" lives. But we must also learn the machinations of coping. Of recognition when things are going wrong. I must learn to want to be close to another human being, to not be afraid, to trust. I must learn to share myself.

I don't know how.
"We'll drink a drink a drink to Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink,
Savior of the human race.
She invented medicinal compounds
Most efficacious in every case."

♪♪ ♪
♪ ♪
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ (The Irish Rovers)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We need more role models

I called SZ Magazine today to order more copies of the Summer 2010 issue as I have an article in there. And the founder and CEO answered the phone! It was Bill MacPhee and I was thrilled to talk to this icon -- briefly, it is true, but he took my information and will send me the magazines. I told him, ending my call, that I don't have a lot of role models.

Let's amend that. I didn't have any role models. I hacked my own way through the bramble patch (thanks, Sue!) to the shores of a foreign sea and launched my craft alone to face the wind and waves. Oh, yes, others would have helped. I replied by barricading myself on the first rock I reached, making a moat with mental sharks; I didn't know any better than to be an island in the middle of the perfect storm, battered on all sides, hurting my friends and family and myself most of all -- what role models were there for me in those days, the 1970s to the 1990s, other than therapists who told me I would never work again? I may have overlooked some individuals who could and would have helped. I don't know. I felt I wasn't worthy of those who would befriend me positively, perhaps those who had been there before (I didn't know; will never know). I was a rock. I was an island.

It's always a bit risky to adopt a member of the opposite sex as a role model. Let's face it, it just is, as in the 12 step programs they used to say one's sponsor mustn't be a person of the opposite sex. To avoid 13th Stepping, haha, a little insider joke there. It's changed now. A lot has changed, and a lot has changed for the better. But to get back to my point, I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable with my enthusiasm at finding someone who is so open about his schizophrenia and has succeeded as an entrepreneur and speaker of note in a very tough and rough world.

I'm delighted to read and hear of Bill MacPhee, and would be thrilled to meet others like him. I would be thrilled to be a role model myself, in what little and limited capacity I can. Two members of my family other than I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I hope to bring them out into the sunshine, but I don't want to embarrass them, either, so they regretfully will remain unnamed and uncelebrated. But they are heroes, too, in my opinion; both high functioning as myself; both polite, gentle, and intelligent men. No, they are NOT the two children I raised by myself with the invaluable assistance of my brother and his wonderful wife, as well as my first husband's cousin, and much misguided effort on my own. But there does seem to be a strong genetic component in my birth family, perhaps stemming from ancestors in Scotland long ago, as my maternal grandfather's history is not known. The two children who have accompanied me on this journey since their birth are strong, bright, successful individuals whom I fear may always bear in their inner psyches the scars of my emotional neglect and yes, emotional and mental abuse. I loved them. They are the jewels in my crown if I were Queen. But my feelings were in boxes, locked away in a maelstrom of confusion, anger, and fear. I compartmentalized my feelings, on the advice of a therapist I saw in the 1960s, years before my first breakdown. The craft I sailed so bravely after my first husband died in 1970 was leaking by the time I met my nemesis in 1975.

My role models were pirates and villains gleaned from books, movies, and songs.

Now there are real life heroes, flawed and funny and falling down on their faces into cream pies thrown by life itself, getting up and laughing and crying rivers of tears -- hugging me and loving me and allowing me to love in return. Thank you, friends and renewed family.

Yes, I fell out of the boat. Oops, here the water's fine. The shore is silver sand and I see a Blue Lagoon.

Who needs a boat?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Come out of the shadows

I've had various diagnoses throughout the past 32 years, including SAD, paranoid schizophrenia, schizoaffective, depression, and bipolar. Being misdiagnosed means not receiving the appropriate treatment. I was put on a medication for bipolar at one time which produced severe acne and necessitated frequent blood tests. This may not have been necessary, as I terminated the medication voluntarily with no ill effects. That being said, at the same time, I was on a handful of major tranquilizers, antidepressants, and a medication for side effects. No loss when I stopped the "mood stabilizer". I've heard this particular drug may be put in the drinking water of prisons to involuntarily "treat" the inmates who may exhibit signs of a mood disorder and disrupt the system. Is this true? I don't know.

I'm speaking here of the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was misdiagnosed. A family member suggested massive doses of vitamins at one time, something she'd read about, and I did receive ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) in the early 1980s because of suicidal ideation. I read a book once called, "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" which I thought was excellent, although it is fiction, and mentioned it to a family member, who thought instead a book about depression was more appropriate for me. So many people who thought they knew better than I about the machinations of the illness within me. At one time I was told by a minister I "couldn't work, of course". I was told by a social worker I don't "have" schizophrenia, I "am" schizophrenic. The same social worker sadly shook his head and said "I'm sorry to hear that" when I told him my diagnosis. My psychiatrist told me I was doing well by "coping" when I told him I was on a plateau and wanted to be self actualized, a term I'd studied in university. He told me I should be satisfied with coping. I was told by staff in a psychiatric hospital that I would be in and out of mental hospitals for the rest of my life. I haven't been hospitalized since 1990, when I stopped taking my medication for a couple of months just prior to that, a very big mistake. I've faithfully taken a depot injection every two weeks for 20 years since that time, never missing an injection.

Medication is very important but it's not the whole story. My psychiatrist was partially correct -- I learned to cope and then went beyond that to the joyous and self actualized life which I enjoy now. It took a lot of effort and a lot of trial and error, and much understanding on the part of therapists, family, and friends. Much effort, some misunderstandings, much forgiveness on all sides. I've worked even while I was in a hospital, taking a bus to my place of employment for a part time position, and returning to the hospital at night. I've owned my own successful medical transcription business for more than 11 years now. I'm a published author. I have a university degree with distinction. I'm respected and almost no one would suspect I have a mental illness. I usually tell them. There are few secrets in my world. But there was a time when I hid it; when I was frightened to be "found out"; when I was ashamed and kept my illness a secret. It's an illness like arthritis or diabetes; can be debilitating, but properly treated and with medication, a person can live a normal, fulfilling, and joyous life.

I don't want to make it sound as though I don't sometimes struggle. Even often. The darkness closes in on occasion. But doesn't everyone struggle? A wise man once said the majority of people "live lives of quiet desperation". If that's true, my illness has given me an appreciation of the peaceful valley beyond the rough slopes. Are they taking the word "normal" out of the dictionary? I don't think they should. But really, the degrees of "normal" are almost infinite. Is anyone really normal? And what about the millions with disabilities? Some have spokespersons like Rick Hansen or Christopher Reeves or Helen Keller. Who speaks for us? We must come out of the shadows. A man by the name of Bill MacPhee came out of the shadows. Successful, dynamic, and a businessman who owns a publishing company and spends much of his time as a speaker and entrepreneur, I don't know Bill as well as I would like to, but I came across his name when I submitted an article to his magazine (SZ Magazine), and was privileged to share a couple of emails with him. He is my hero. Bill has schizophrenia, was hospitalized six times, attempted suicide once, spent time in three group homes. He pulled himself together, let's say, in a way that only those of us who share the same diagnosis can appreciate as superlative. There are others. Who are you? What are your stories? Will you share? And what of those whose illness manifests itself more insidiously, negatively, with more dark power? There's hope.

There's a cliche. Come out of the shadows. Well, then.

Come out of the shadows.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meanderings of a senior mind

I notice I have a small group of lovely followers, and I'm proud and happy to call them friends. I'd welcome any more comments from anyone. I volunteer with a charitable organization as a "friendly visitor" and today sent the volunteer coordinator a link to this blog. There are no secrets in my world.

A friend (Sue) has suggested I link to other blogs or sites with similar interests, and I'll look around and if I find any that seem suitable I'll ask for permission to link to their site. Sue mentioned strength in numbers and indeed, if you check her profile, you'll find a link to her blog, The Bramble Patch, which is certainly worthwhile.

I still have to figure out (or be told) how to put links into "Different Folks". In the meantime, I'll simply cut and paste here another article I wrote which I'm trying to get published in a mainstream journal or newspaper. It hasn't been edited so might be rough but it reads as follows:

My Struggle With "Split Mind"
by Kenna McKinnon

I don't know if my experience with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia is different from anyone else's. I know how I can get, even on regular doses of psychotropic medication, which I take without fail. My body chemistry can act up anyhow. But most of the time I'm like anyone else; you wouldn't know I have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness. Schizophrenia. "Split mind". No, I'm not a "split personality". That's a misapprehension. Rather, when I become ill, my thoughts become fragments like confetti sweeping in a windstorm through the tunnels of my tortured brain. I become confused, disoriented, frightened. And very suspicious. The motives of others seem sinister and threatening. I feel threatened. The world is hostile. My best friends appear to be enemies. I react with confusion and anger.
Be calm. I won't hurt you. I'm a frightened animal at those times. Approach me gently, as you would a wounded deer. Realize my physical boundaries may have expanded. Don't attempt to touch me or invade my boundaries. Sometimes even being in the same room with someone else is too confining for me, too close. Threatening. You are dealing with a frightened human being. Be gentle, be calm; don't be afraid to call the police if a mentally disturbed individual appears violent or not amenable to reason. Most police officers now are trained to deal with the mentally ill. They will likely take her for a psychiatric evaluation, to a hospital, to a doctor. For help. Perhaps to re-evaluate her medications and available therapy. So to particulars of the reality of her world, the hospitals, the jails, the friends and family who do not understand -- she will welcome the help in most cases, in particular if she is homeless or drug dependent and has no place to go. The mentally ill are often turned out on the street now to fend for themselves. Homeless, unmedicated, they medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol, they beg and busk and collect bottles for a living. They talk to themselves on the street or the bus. They sleep on park benches and in bus shelters. They wheel their earthly possessions in purloined shopping carts. Some ride bicycles trailed by rough homemade wagons. Some are on pensions for the severely handicapped. Others turn to shoplifting or petty crime. The majority are harmless. There but for the grace of God go I. I was fortunate. I had a job. I had friends and family. I had help. My genes are strong and resilient. I am high functioning. I respond well to my medication. Others are not so privileged. I never forget where I came from.
We need understanding and love like anyone, but more particularly when we are down and out. We have learned tolerance and compassion. We don't give up, those of us who have chosen to live and live well, but many of us have low self-esteem. Give us a gentle smile. Give us a helping hand but expect us to help ourselves. We are self correcting. Present reality to us in a patient, firm manner and reassure us we are not in danger. Suggest we evaluate the efficacy of our medication. And laugh with us. We all have developed a wonderful sense of humor; a sense of the ridiculous and sublime; a sense that we are a jest of God.
I am responsible but not responsible. Therein lies the paradox. My persona at times of extreme illness may frighten you. Don't be frightened.
I am a wounded deer, looking into a mirror where the wolves of my illness abound, and then the wolves howl once or twice at the surge of Fluanxol through my bloodstream, at a positive caring word from a friend or stranger, and slink back into my brain -- now approaching the subconscious, approaching the limits of humanity -- where there is a human being in need of understanding and compassion. Now the wolves are gone and I remain head up and somewhat ashamed, tolerance and love renewed for myself and my friends and family. "Split" no more; whole, kind, loving -- I am you.

An article from the far side

I am so touched that my dear daughter has joined as a follower. Diane Kristine Wild is my daughter. And Judith is my very dear friend. Support is so crucial to our recovery and as we have often been vilified for our unfortunate behaviors so we bask in acceptance and encouragement.

The following article was published in the summer 2010 edition of SZ Magazine I'm reproducing it here as I don't know how to make a link on my blog! Being somewhat technologically challenged and depending on my brilliant son to help me out with cyber problems...SZ Magazine 47
Robin Hood-ette

I sometimes feel we need a “Robin
Hoodette” to the disenfranchised
peoples of the world.
I was there myself once, and I
know we need a spokesperson. I
feel as though I’m shedding scales
and a cold, thick, dark skin and I am
running into the sunlight.
I was diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia in 1978 at the age of
34. I first became ill two years prior
to that, running scared and wild,
unmedicated, misunderstood, in
trouble with the law.
There is ignorance and fear
engendered in the general public
about any form of mental illness.
People hide their depression, their
struggles with Seasonal Affective
Disorder, their schizophrenia, their
bipolar illnesses, and the many other
forms that mental illness takes.
Modern medicine has developed
medications and therapies that
weren’t present even 20 years ago,
yet the stigma remains. Why is this?
Are we responsible for a chemical
imbalance which many specialists say
has as physical a cause as diabetes
or arthritis? Are those who suffer from
a mental illness “bad,” dangerous, or
weak minded?
We deal with prejudice or
incompetence of the very therapists
who treat us, prejudice of employers
and the public (sometimes our own
family and friends), and yet we get up
every morning to face another day.
The media may be partially to
blame: producing glaring headlines
when a “former mental patient”
commits an infrequent heinous crime.
In reality, the incidence of violence
by people with a mental illness is so
infrequent that a headline like that is
warranted when it does happen.
In the past, our friends and family
may have acquiesced to a caretaking
role or worse, abandonment.
I was told I would be incapable of
working for a living; I would be in and
out of mental institutions for the rest
of my life; I was doing well to “cope”
and shouldn’t expect any more from
life such as self-actualization or joy;
that many with my diagnosis lost the
capacity of emotion and my cognitive
capabilities would decline. This came
from well-meaning professionals who
thought they were presenting reality.
Thank God times have changed since
the 1970s and ’80s, but they haven’t
changed nearly enough.
The era is long since gone when
we were institutionalized for life, or
drugged with major tranquilizers,
or relegated to the attic. The law is
slowly beginning to recognize that
certain punishment is not appropriate,
but our governments aren’t so
progressive. Many of our street
people are mentally ill, having fallen
through the cracks of society. Those
of us who struggle with apathy and
lack of motivation may indeed find
difficulty in working, find difficulty in
relationships, but be superhuman
in our efforts to achieve enough
energy to simply get out of bed in the
morning to face another day.
I’ve had my own transcription
business for more than 11 years;
I support myself, volunteer, study
a foreign language, and read
voraciously; I am a published writer;
and I have a network of friends and
other social relationships. I also have
schizophrenia and must get a depot
injection of a psychotropic medication
every two weeks to maintain my
We all know that medications,
although vital to our mental health,
are not enough. I have learned to
cope; I have learned to go on when
all seemed dark; I have learned to
make good friends; I have learned to
live without abuse; and I have learned
to find joy.
There’s a reason for our struggle
and it may reside in the tolerance and
gentleness we learn. If you are among
the thousands who are struggling, may
you, too, delight and not despair.

Kenna McKinnon is a self-employed
medical transcriptionist and writer.
By Kenna McKinnon
Photo: courtesy of Kenna McKinnon
“Those of us who struggle with apathy and lack of motivation may
indeed find difficulty in working, find difficulty in relationships,
but be superhuman in our efforts to achieve enough energy to
simply get out of bed in the morning to face another day.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A new day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Perfect. This week I'll sign up for a month of jujitsu and will review the few Japanese language lessons I learned last winter. Did I mention I experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for a few months every long cold dark winter here in Alberta? I love summer. I love the sun.