DBSA Board Chair, Cheryl Magrini, Shares Her Admiration and Issues a Challenge to All Chapter Leaders
I bring you greetings on behalf of your Board of Directors, made up of seventeen dedicated persons from across the United States. I was elected to the Board in 2012 and started my two-year term as chair January 1, 2014. I will confess, I was not quite sure what I was getting into! The Board consists of peers, family members of a person living with a mood disorder, those with business, corporate and managed care experience, a C.P.A., an attorney, clinicians, a certified yoga instructor, two certified Reiki masters, an author, myself as a minister, and more. Each person has in some way, had their life touched by a person living with a mood disorder. The national Bylaws state that 51% of the Board must disclose as living with a mood disorder and at present we are at 52%.
While the Board is charged with carrying out the governing duties of DBSA, at the forefront of the decisions made, are peers, their family members and friends, and the communities in which we live. At every meeting, we begin by sharing the writing of a peer whose life has been impacted in some way by being part of DBSA. Their stories shared are honest and inspiring as journeys of not only struggles, but of triumphs are told. In the support groups that I facilitate, I have a plaque on the table that reads, “Your Story Matters.” Your story does indeed matter.
I know firsthand how DBSA changes a person’s life. Taking the peer specialist training in 2011 transformed my work as a minister and I was so moved to hear the story of my peers in the training. My family founded the DBSA Chicago Loop Chapter also in 2011, located in the heart of Chicago. I started by no one showing up, then two, then needing a larger room in five months, and now we fill two rooms every week at both the Tuesday family/friends group, and the Thursday for those with a mood disorder. Always, always, a person says that they now know they are not alone, that the group is their family, that someone cannot make it through another day or week. We cry and we laugh. When I lost my vibrant twenty-three year old son to bipolar disorder in 2011, the DBSA family of the national staff were a rock for me in my healing journey. His memorial fund was donated to DBSA. However and wherever I can, I share his story. I hope that in I can then in turn be a source of strength for someone else.
I close with this challenge. Ask ten people whom you do not know, what inspires them and then share your own inspiration. Just this morning I met Dr. Don Breen from Phillipsburg, NJ, who is beginning a new support group in November at St. Luke’s Warren Hospital. I met Daisy Jabas, soon to be acting state director in TN, where her goal is to have a chapter in each of the state’s ninety-five counties. I am inspired by Don and Daisy.
As I say to close my support group meetings, “You are amazing, courageous, beautiful people in mind, body and spirit.”
Ordinary heroes: Drains honored for speaking out for health care equality
y Linda Braden
Larry and Linda Drain are quiet, unassuming people. But when circumstances arose that threatened Linda’s life, they both began speaking out, their voices ringing loudly to bring awareness to — and a solution for — themselves and others who have fallen through the cracks of the health care system in Tennessee. Their income is too high to qualify for TennCare, Tennessee’s public insurance program, and too low to qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
In acknowledgement of their efforts, the Tennessee Health Care Campaign presented the Drains with the 2014 Heroes for Health Award in August at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center, Nashville. The award was given “for your dedicated support to affordable access to high-quality health care for all Tennesseans.”
The event honoring the Heroes was part of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign’s 25th Anniversary celebration. In addition to the Drains, Laura Sell was honored for the major work she did as a volunteer to promote and support enrollment in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, collaborating with the Blount County Public Library.
Larry said, “It was a very eventful night. We got to speak to a lot of people, meet a lot of people that were heavy-hitters that we knew about or read about. That was neat. And to get people to treat us like we were important. As we were walking out the door, I said, ‘Linda, do you ever get over being surprised when people treat us nice?’ I’m surprised every single, solitary time. It’s just been a strange happening. When it first started out, we didn’t have a clue ... The way we look at it is that we are extraordinarily ordinary people, and the idea that people would know who we are or that people would listen to what we have to say — I wouldn’t have predicted that in a thousand, million years. Then when it took off, it went insane.”
The story began with Linda, who has been drawing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for some time because of epilepsy, brain surgery and additional health conditions. Larry said, “She has TennCare. She has to have the TennCare in order to live. If she does not have the medication, if she doesn’t have the medical care, she will die.
“Ten years ago, a good day for her was having 10 to 15 grand mal seizures. She went through brain surgery, and the last 10 to 14 years have been extraordinarily eventful, but the medication is her pathway to life.”
After Larry turned 62 last September, he decided to take early retirement and begin drawing Social Security.
“If I had to take all the dumb, stupid, worst things in my entire life that I have ever done, that one is so far to the top that there is not a second place,” he said. “The way we had it figured out, we could live if we took what she made in SSI and what I made in retirement. We weren’t going to be rich — in fact, we were going to be poor — but we would be able to pay our bills, do what we needed to do. We were going to be OK.
“After a couple of months, Social Security called us in and said, ‘You guys make way too much money.’ They were very nice, not cruel or mean or anything like that. ... But they said, ‘We have a limit on unearned income, and you guys are way over it.’”
Larry questioned how that could be, and was told that his Social Security retirement is considered unearned income. He said, “I asked them, how could that be unearned income? I worked 47 years for that. It’s my money. They said, legally it’s unearned income. They told Linda that her check for $720 was going to become $20. We were going to lose $700. I said, ‘I’ll just give the retirement back. I’ll just get another job and we’ll be OK.’ And they said, ‘Well, you can do that, but the only way you can do that is to give us back every single penny we have given you today.’ Well, if I could give it all back today, I would never have needed it to begin with.”
Larry thought he could continue drawing his retirement and also have a job to make ends meet. He said, “What they said after that has basically driven the whole situation. They said, ‘You have to understand, that because your wife is on TennCare, if you make over $85 in a month, she will lose her TennCare.’ So we went home, and we did all the figuring we could.”
Their projected budget for January would leave them with $30 for essentials such as food and gasoline, and the following months would be worse. “We looked at everything we could, trying to find a way. ... But there wasn’t a way,” Larry said. “We were in a position where, if I got a job to give us enough money to live on, it would kill my wife. It would take her insurance away, and it would kill her. If I didn’t get a job, we couldn’t live. We couldn’t live on a dollar a day. It just wasn’t doable. So on Dec. 26, after 33 years of marriage, we separated.”
The original plan was for Linda to stay with a relative until they could find her a permanent place so she could retain her SSI and TennCare. Larry would then find a place as close by as he could. Larry said, “At that time, our understanding was that, according to the way the laws were in the state of Tennessee, we would never again live together as man and wife.”
There were two possible solutions: Change Social Security laws or expand TennCare, the state’s managed Medicaid program which provides health care coverage primarily for low-income children, parents, pregnant women and elderly or disabled adults. Social Security laws were not going to be changed, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam could spearhead expansion of Medicaid. Larry said, “If he expanded Medicaid, then Linda didn’t have to be a member of a category, she didn’t have to be ‘disabled,’ to get it. All she had to do was be poor. If he expanded Medicaid, then she would have her insurance, which meant we could live together, I could get a job, and although we’d struggle, we would live. Without him expanding Medicaid, we had no help at all.”
Letters to governor
Larry began drawing attention to the need for TennCare expansion by writing a series of letters to the governor. Some were very personal, some general and policy oriented, but in each letter, Larry pleaded with Haslam to submit a plan for TennCare expansion. The 100th letter was emailed on Sept. 2. As of that date, the governor had not responded to the Drains, but he did announce on Aug. 28 that he plans to submit a proposal to Washington to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program. He did not release any details, however.
Larry said more than 1,200 individuals from across Tennessee have told him they also contacted Haslam. Larry’s 100th letter to the governor begins to list the names, and he plans to continue adding names in subsequent letters until every one is included.
Each letter is available atdeargovernorhaslam.wordpress.com and is viewed by 4,000 to 6,000 persons daily. In addition, a petition entitled “Gov. Haslam: Expand TennCare and Let Me Stay With My Wife!” at www.thepetitionsite.com has almost 46,000 signatures in support of the Drains.
The Drains’ story was told in the Nashville Tennessean and other major news outlets, drawing even more attention to those who, as Larry said, “didn’t fall through the cracks — we live in the cracks.”
Twenty-five miles separate this couple now. Linda is in Knox County, while Larry is in Blount County. They are waiting for the time when they can once again live together as man and wife without Linda losing her life.
Larry said, “I should not have to drive 25 miles to see my wife. It’s wrong in every sense of the word.”
Help available for dealing with depression
Beth Knoll 12:39 a.m. CDT August 27, 2014 The Jackson Sun
A life lived with depression can feel like a "deep, dark place," said Steve Brannon. But with a variety of pathways to recovery, hope is never out of reach — even during the toughest times.
Society often views depression in extremes, said Brannon, state director of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee, as depression is often seen as an untreatable illness — or not as an illness at all. Depression should be taken very seriously, he said, but it shouldn't be approached in a "fatalistic" manner.
"Depression is treatable, and it responds quite well to treatment," Brannon said.
Describing depression as the "common cold of emotional mental disorders," Paul Deschenes — clinical psychologist and director of counseling services at Union University — said most people experience depression at some point in their life
Deschenes said depression can be caused by a variety of factors, including the weather or the loss of a loved one. Because depression can be genetically based, it has the potential to be passed from one generation to the next, Brannon said.
In many cases, feeling depressed is normal, as no one is happy all the time, Deschenes said. What is not normal is when the grief and sadness continues indefinitely and begins to interfere with major areas in a person's life — signaling a more significant form of depression.
"They might experience things like negative thinking, self-criticism," Deschenes said. "They might experience feelings of hopelessness. Some people have thoughts of self-blame, and generally the thinking gets very negative, pessimistic. They might see the glass as being half-empty rather than half-full."
Additional symptoms can vary and even seem contradictory, Brannon said. Some people develop an increased appetite when they are depressed, while others may lose their appetite. Some people may sleep more often, while others experience insomnia. Some people may voice their thoughts of hopelessness, while others may not say a word.
Brannon said that a person with depression may stop bathing or using proper hygiene, and he or she may stay in the same clothes for weeks at a time. Deschenes also noted that a person may feel a loss of energy in accomplishing everyday tasks, as well as experience a decreased sex drive.
People who are depressed are more likely to develop other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, Brannon said. Their lifespan also can be shortened up to 25 years.
"It might affect their relationships," Deschenes added, because people experiencing depression often decline invitations for social engagements or drop out of church. "Ultimately, left untreated, some depression might get so bad that it turns to suicide."
Deschenes said a depressed person often wants to sit at home and be alone with their thoughts, which can fuel negative feelings. As a result, he said people should get out of the house and begin taking small steps to return to a healthy level of functioning.
Picking up an enjoyable hobby or volunteering can help ease depression, Deschenes said. Because depression can cause distorted thinking, spending time with positive people can halt irrational and harmful thoughts as well.
Exercise also can help people overcome depression and could be as effective as medication in some cases, Deschenes added. In addition, he encouraged people to return to church if they have stopped attending, as a person's faith speaks to issues such as hope.
"Whatever help an individual goes for, we recommend that folks not only be very religious about medication but also go to counseling," Brannon said.
With new medical treatment options introduced regularly, Brannon said treatments can include transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which part of the brain is stimulated with magnetic waves. While the success rates can vary, he said the results have been encouraging and the technology is expected to continue improving.
Brannon added that people with depression should develop a support group. The individuals who form a person's support group need to check up on how the person feels emotionally, know whether the person is taking his or her medication and be available to talk whenever the person may need them.
The support group also needs to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, as well as know when the depressed person is in need of medical attention, Brannon said.
Noting that teenagers and the elderly are more susceptible to suicidal tendencies, Deschenes said people should not be afraid of causing a suicide by asking if someone is suicidal. If someone is hinting at suicide or displaying suicidal tendencies, he said family and friends should approach the situation seriously and take the person to a mental health professional.
People also should not think that a suicide is inevitable for someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, Deschenes said. Most of the time, a person averted from a suicide attempt and helped by professionals can regain and lead a normal life.
"When people get into a deep, dark place like Robin Williams did, trust seems to go away," Brannon noted, as a dangerous sign of suicide is when a person stops trusting others to help them manage their depression. "It is times like that the support network has to realize that they can't help this individual they love — they need someone to call."
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached at 1(800) 273-8255, is a valuable resource for people contemplating suicide, Brannon said.
Brannon noted that Jackson also has a mood disorder support group, called "A Better Tomorrow." Meeting at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at St. Mary's Catholic Church, the group provides encouragement, education and information services for people with depression, as well as their family and friends.
The group often becomes like an extended family for members, Brannon said, as people with depression can understand what other group members face.
"It's something about being understood that's healing in itself," Brannon said. "That is so valuable for someone living with depression. You can't put a price on that."
To learn more about the Jackson depression support group, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee's website at www.dbsatennessee.org. The alliance also can be reached at (731) 215-7200.
Reach Beth Knoll at (731) 425-9641. Follow her on Twitter @merribethknoll.
What to know
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached at 1(800) 273-8255, is a valuable resource for people contemplating suicide.
• Jackson's mood disorder support group, called "A Better Tomorrow," meets at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at St. Mary's Catholic Church. The group provides encouragement, education and information services for people with depression, as well as their family and friends.
• To learn more about the Jackson depression support group, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee's website at www.dbsatennessee.org. The alliance also can be reached at (731) 215-7200.
Steve Brannon(Photo: Submitted)
Paul Deschenes(Photo: Submitted)
S.L. Brannon D.Div..