Hope you have a good weekend everybody!
Hope you have a good weekend everybody!
Cathie Curtis writes, “My daughter finally succumbed to her personal struggle with mental illness and took her life four months ago at age 26. As parents we cannot let go of our children and need to find comfort in knowing that their lives will forever matter.” Cathie shares a few of Ashley’s reflections written shortly before she passed:
I entered college severely anorexic. I wasn’t really alive. But I also was so eager to learn. In high school I loved Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Sartre. I’ve always been a high achiever.
Frequently, I wonder what I’d be achieving if I wasn’t ridden with this illness. Eventually, I overcame it. I had three research assistantships. For my MA, I received a full tuition scholarship. I was presenting at national conferences. But there were dark days. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my first sexual assault. I tried to scrub myself clean with no avail. I went to my professor’s office the next day and cried. But I had so much support. It’s a feeling that I can’t describe.
I moved halfway across the country for a doctoral degree. From day one, I was physically ill. I have never seen as many emergency rooms and hospital beds in the entirety of my life. I had a subdural hematoma. My brain was bleeding. I had severe withdrawals that compromised my health. I’ve had three spontaneous seizures. But I went above and beyond to prioritize my education.
However, my institution didn’t see it that way. They ignored the fact that every research assistant under a specific professor is problematic. I lost it all during the time that I was gaining control of my life. It’s messy and not logistical by any means.
I am here because I respect and value my co-chairs and dissertation committee. I respect and value Northwestern for my acceptance. Last night, I realized that both of my professors had already submitted letters of recommendation and I almost cried. I emailed them my sentiments. These are the things that keep me going in academia when I feel like everything is falling apart. These educators are incredible to say the least.
I value education. Perhaps I’m a bit compulsive in nature. But I am ALIVE. I look at that picture of a girl on her high school graduation day that could hardly fake a smile. Sometimes, I still do that because I know that my ambitions have not exceeded my talents and I will exhibit that explicitly.
I conquered something that almost killed me and lost everything I worked for.
But there are still sunflowers. And I still open my blinds to let the sun in. Yes, it’s degrading. But I force a smile and remember that I have always given 100%, and that helps me sleep at night.
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong. I grew amidst a time when I was losing everything I worked for. And no, it is not okay.
I cried because it does things to you to always come second.
More from Ashley that her mother, Cathie, recently found on her cellphone:
I seldom use this platform anymore so it’s all the more difficult to be vulnerable, but I’ve discovered this wonderful organization called “Project I Define Me.” If you know me, you know that I’m committed to destigmatization and promoting awareness surrounding mental health. Recently, I have overcome some of the most difficult things in my life and I’m proud to be where I am today. I want to empower and inspire others to do the same. Person-first language is so important and during this ongoing journey I’ve really learned how grossly misunderstood mental health is. I am more than a label or a diagnosis — I am a daughter, friend, sister, girlfriend, and PhD student. I am Ashley, and I’m here to tell you that I define me.
When I woke up, I knew Sunday was not going to go well. I hadn't slept much — awake for about four hours in the middle of the night. I never do this, but I erroneously took two instead of one of my morning prescription pills. Damn! I knew this would make me drowsy — on top of little sleep.
I put on a new pair of slacks and a matching top in olive green and a brown jacket. Last month, when visiting Travis, I had to wear clothes from the prison visitor’s center because I wore blue. Blue’s not allowed. On signing in, yesterday, at Folsom State Prison, the guard said to me, “You know, you can’t come in wearing green.”
I forgot about green. I’m failing visiting prison 101. “Really? I had to change clothes last month. Green? Really?”
Back across the parking lot to the visitor’s center. I was given a black sweatshirt and grey pants. I liked last month’s outfit better.
Finally, I checked in at the visitor’s desk inside the prison at noon. At 12:30 p.m., I approached a guard and asked, “Was Travis Christian called? I’ve been waiting for half an hour.”
“He should have been called. I’ll check.”
Ten minutes later, Travis walked into the visiting area. “I’m sorry,” I said, “this visit has gotten really mixed up. Let’s buy you a sandwich. I’ll have to leave at 1:15 p.m.” (The visitor’s center closes at 2 p.m.)
Travis gave me a big hug. “I’m good,” he said. “I feel happy. I wrote new music and a song. This morning I sang it at church and everyone really liked it.”
We caught up. Travis has the same cellie has last month. “We get along well,” he said. “Lawrence is gone most of the day. He attends a drug and alcohol class all morning. In the afternoon, he works in the kitchen for six hours. So I have my cell to myself most of the time.”
“How much does Lawrence get paid working in the kitchen?”
“He’s paid eight cents an hour.”
Eight cents an hour? This sounds ridiculous to me.
“Do you like having your cell to yourself?”
“I do. I can study for my history and computer classes. I can write my songs and music. I can work out.”
Travis put down his sandwich and turned toward me in his chair. “I want to ask you something. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.”
Hmm? What might be coming?
“Dede, are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Big question. What do I say? I have to be honest. “Travis, I believe there are many ways to pursue a spiritual life. So no, I’ve not ‘been saved.’”
I think this answer concerns Travis. He likes me. He wants me to be “saved.” We discuss other religions. That people have choices. That maybe one size does not fit all. Travis is not deterred. He asks another question.
“Dede, will you right now, right here, with me, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
“Travis, I want to pursue God in my own way. I hope you understand.”
Travis doesn’t finish his sandwich. Usually he chows down. Later, his mother, Kathy, will tell me that Travis didn’t eat much last week when she visited him. “He’s on a new medication for ADHD and it affects appetite. Did he seem manic to you?”
No, Travis didn’t seem manic to me, but he seemed different. Kathy is concerned about his med change. She talked to Travis’s prison managers. She told them, “He’s never been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t believe he has ADHD.” Travis, however, wants to take the ADHD medication. It’s out of Kathy’s hands.
I had to leave by 1:15 p.m. to get back to the visitor’s center to claim my clothes. We took a quick photo and hugged goodby. Hope next month Travis is still “good.” And still “feels happy.” Hope the new medication doesn’t complicate matters.
Our story — mine and Pat’s — is now live and available to order on Amazon. An exciting day full of mixed emotions.
NOTE: As of late this afternoon, 4/11/19, Sooner Than Tomorrow is up on Amazon and available for ordering. I’m in tears. My heart and soul are in this book. Thank you, so much, for reading it.
In a few days, Sooner Than Tomorrow will be available in paperback on Amazon. Dedicated to mothers. Perfect for Mother’s Day! Please leave a comment on Amazon on my book page. I’m counting on word of mouth to attract new readers. Thanks so much!
FROM THE BACK COVER:
I had no idea, as I was writing my diary (June 15, 2013 — June 15, 2014), that I was capturing the last year of my son’s life. Pat died, unexpectedly, on July 23, 2014, on a hospital psych ward. Suddenly, my diary morphed into a more poignant record than I’d anticipated and, after he died, I discovered Pat had been making regular posts on Facebook. I decided to add his comments to my own.
One day, you know it will be your turn. Something alters your projection. There’s a major shift and then events will be referenced as “before” or “after.” Your life as it was versus the way it is now. In Sooner Than Tomorrow, I learn — right along with the reader — what will happen next. We’re all on a journey. Thank you for going on this journey with me.
Dede Ranahan weaves everyday events into her poignant account of her son’s descent into psychosis. She takes readers, with her and her family, on a harrowing journey — there is no guidebook — that too many of us are forced to take. Written in diary form, with entries by both mother and son, Sooner Than Tomorrow quietly exposes our nation’s shameful failure to help those with serious mental illnesses. It chronicles a mother’s unending love for a child and a son’s struggles to be well. An important book. A loving tribute. A powerful story that tugs at the heart and leaves readers asking, “Why can’t we do better?”
author of CRAZY: A Father’s Search
Through America’s Mental Health Madness
This book about psychiatric brain disease is poignant and painful, but, ultimately, a necessary read. In its well-constructed pages, you’ll find a mother’s diary of her wonderful son and his terrible illness. Every clinician needs a copy of this, every mental health worker, every doctor, and, certainly, every family. Sooner Than Tomorrow is as real as storytelling gets. There are no stories more honest than those of our children who live with mental illnesses. This book tells one such story beautifully.
mother of Zac, Board Member, SARDAA
(Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America)
Among the uncountable tragedies of the mental illness sub-nation, is its near-invisibility to its host society. So-called normal people live alongside neighbors—even friends—whose quiet pain, mourning, terror, and desperation would affront the nation’s conscience if it were better known. Dede Ranahan is among the heroic witnesses who are breaking that silence. Her memoir of the loss of her son — passionate, eloquent, revelatory, and unspeakably brave — brilliantly takes its place among the beacons of light and truth telling that point the way to the reclamation of our most helpless brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of
No One CaresAbout Crazy People:
The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America
Earlier in the week, Jerri Clark’s 23 year-old son killed himself. On March 28, Jerri wrote:
Today, extended family of our beloved Calvin Clark arrive in Vancouver, WA, to celebrate his brief but spectacular life and to mourn with us. Deborah Wang, reporter for KUOW, released this article (below).
Deborah interviewed my husband and me as we packed up Calvin's apartment in Seattle last week. She captured some of the complex emotions that flooded us that day and that continue to surge through our systems as we process this tremendous loss and seek a path forward. My goal is not happiness but human understanding and compassion within the complexity of life. I'd like to explain this a little more.
Accepting that happiness is a momentary and fleeting aspect of life and not the "goal" leaves room for grief, struggle, and confusion. Those equally important experiences cannot be disregarded as bad, wrong or something to avoid. Families impacted by mental illness can seek comfort in accepting that happiness is not the only experience worth feeling.
My family and I are going to be with our emotions this weekend, in all of their complexities. Peace and gratitude to all who have reached out with love. Please find courage to sit with whatever you are sitting with right now and see the path lit before you. What is yours to say or do? What does that action look like? How will you make it manifest?
Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world?"
Jerri Clark is the founder of MOMI - Mothers of the Mentally Ill
Read Deborah Wang’s article: Click here.
I don’t see you. You don’t see me.
Hope you have a good weekend everybody.
My book, Sooner Than Tomorrow — A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family, and Everyday Life, has been six years in the making. In a few days, it will become available on Amazon. The journey continues.
(page 445 in Sooner Than Tomorrow)
First, thank you to my son, Patrick. Thank you for your poetry, your Facebook posts, and your life. You’re the most courageous person I’ve ever known.
Thank you to my daughters, Megan Mace, Marisa Farnsworth, and Kerry Joiner, for reading Sooner Than Tomorrow and giving me permission to put it out there, sharing our family with the world. Your endorsements mean everything to me.
Thank you to everyone I mentioned in the telling of my story. We’re all in this thing we call “life” together.
Thank you to early readers: Ann Hedrick, Pat West Guinn, Kathy Hayes, Mary Lyn Rusmore-Villaume, Rosemary Sarka, and Irene Underwood. You gave me the cojones to believe in myself.
Thank you to the cheerleaders, those of you read my book excerpts week after week at soonerthantomorrow.com and sent me emails, text messages, cards, and letters: Joan Andersen, Tama
Bell, Chris Biswell, Judy Bracken, Madeleine Cunningham, Bev Chinello, Deborah Fabos, Anne Schmidt Francisco, Heidi Franke, Sheila Ganz, Jeanne Gore, Joyce Herrerias, Swannie Hoehn, Rose King, Nancy Krause, Joan Logue, Grace McAndrews, Jan McKim, Mary Murphy, Fran Neves, Liz Noel, Teresa Pasquini, Den Proudly, Karen Riches, Mary Sheldon, Stace Shurson, Sandy Turner, Kimberlee West, Annette Williamson, and to so many more of you who left comments, likes, and loves on Facebook. You kept me going, especially on the days when I thought, what am I doing?
Thank you to Sharon Lefkov, Kerry Joiner, and Michele Joiner for proofing my pages for spellings and typos. Thank you to my little brother, Jim Moon, for bringing my old photos back to life. Acknowledgments also to Sue Clark, my first editor, who read every page out loud with me and assured me, “Yes, this is interesting.” And to the Lincoln Library writer’s class who listened, in the beginning, when Pat was still with us.
Special hugs to Pat’s Facebook friends.
Thank you to Michele DeFilippo and Ronda Rawlins at 1106 Design for your professionalism and guidance.
And finally, thank you to all of you—those I know and don’t know—who are reading Sooner Than Tomorrow. Readers are the whole point of writing. The why in the what if.
P.S. Love to my heroes—the millions of mothers of the seriously mentally ill who fight for their children every single day.
Mental illness is a growing epidemic in the United States. Forty-three million Americans experience mental illness in a given year, but more than half never get treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been organizing clinicians to fight for improved mental health care treatment. In 2015, we negotiated a contract that forced Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit HMO, to hire hundreds more therapists, but far more still needs to be done. In California, Kaiser still has just one mental health clinician for every 3,000 enrolled patients, forcing patients to wait up to two months to see their therapists.
Seong and David Brown learned first-hand how long appointment wait times lead to tragedy.
One summer, their brilliant, beautiful teenage daughter, Elizabeth, returned home from college and confided in them that she was having panic attacks and cutting herself. But after getting an intake appointment at Kaiser Permanente, Elizabeth was told she would have to wait at least six weeks to see the Kaiser therapist again.
One year after Elizabeth’s suicide, the Browns are going public because they don’t want other families to suffer like they have. Last week, the couple was featured prominently in a front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle and CalMatters that examines the struggles families still face in accessing mental health care.
Now the Browns are telling their own story in THIS VIDEO we filmed with them. Please take the time to watch it and share it in your social networks.
The Browns had a good insurance plan. They were paying for quality coverage, yet Elizabeth never received the intensive one-on-one therapy or inpatient treatment she sought from Kaiser.
Would Kaiser, with its $46 billion in cash and investments, have denied her treatment for cancer or diabetes? Kaiser mental health clinicians won’t stop fighting until California’s largest medical provider finally takes real steps to fix its mental health services.
Sal Rosselli, President
National Union of Healthcare Workers
Hope you have a good weekend everybody!