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RB61: An Unquiet Mind

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Nov, 8, 2017
“An Unquiet Mind”
by Marci White

Rabbit Box collaborated with Nuci’s Space this month to host “An Unquiet Mind,” a show devoted to stories about coping with mental illness. Nuci’s Space’s mission is to prevent suicide. “With a focus on musicians, Nuci’s Space advocates for and helps to alleviate the suffering for those living with a brain illness.” They also work toward ending the stigma associated with mental illness.

The emcee was Jesse Houle, who was the perfect emissary, since he works both with Nuci’s Space and Rabbit Box. Jesse told about his own journey with severe depression at “The Kindness of Strangers” show in January of 2016.

Ivan Sumner knew something was very off about his housemate, who seemed delusional and threatening. At his wit’s end, he went to Nuci’s Space seeking help, and they promised him they would assist with an intervention as long as his housemate wasn’t violent. When Ivan drove back to his house to assess the situation, he found police cars in front of his house and a scene that validated his concerns and stoked his fears. What would happen when his housemate was released from the mental hospital?

When Elsa Durusau was told that her young son, whom she had placed for adoption, had symptoms of autism, she was in disbelief. Her son’s personality resembled her own quite a bit, and others in her family, and no one had ever suggested that she was autistic. Hesitantly, she began to look at the symptoms to see if that label could help to explain some of the oddities in her own, very multi-faceted personality.

Having been born to a troubled mother who struggled with depression and drug addiction, Kyrie Amos had a rough childhood. Her father tried to protect her, but also had his own issues to cope with. An excellent student, Kyrie won a scholarship to college and seemed to have escaped the demons that plagued her parents. But as a young adult, long-repressed, difficult feelings rose to the surface, leading to illness and depression. At first, Kyrie did whatever she could to push them away and numb herself. Ironically, when she thought she had hit rock bottom, a new drug showed her unseen possibilities for how to work with her difficulties and overwhelming emotions.

Though it took him awhile to understand it, Stephen Cramer’s mother coped with mental illness for much of her life. She may have had schizophrenia and/or a personality disorder. Whatever the case, her son adored her and was “proud to be a mama’s boy.” Luckily, his mother eventually found the right mix of medicines to alleviate her symptoms. Stephen showed no signs of any real problems while growing up in Detroit; everything he did was “good enough.” But after high school, depression and suicidal thoughts became the new norm. He didn’t have a sense for how not normal this was and that he needed help until his wife forced him to go see a doctor. Since then Cramer has not only become proactive about his own health but become an advocate for others struggling with mental health issues. To that end he started a music/speaker festival called Brain Aid.

The name pulled out of the Cracker Jack box at the end of intermission was John Roper’s. John told a funny and edgy story of being pulled over by the police, who found a small bag of cocaine in the door pocket of his car. The officer was sure that not only was the cocaine John’s, but that he was on cocaine when he was pulled over. But the officer had only circumstantial evidence and his own assumptions. It was up to John to prove to the judge that the officer had gotten it all wrong about him.

As a U.S. Marine, Chad Whitworth was doing his job and his duty when he was assigned a dangerous mission, and things went terribly wrong. His hearing was seriously damaged, and his knees were hit by shrapnel, requiring surgery. But more damage was there, unseen, and with debilitating symptoms. A screening at the VA shone some light on the situation.

Julie Peters told us about her beloved younger brother who was “all boy.” As a kid he was rambunctious and lovable. As he got older he had trouble in school; the family learned he had learning disabilities. Still he was a big favorite with the girls. Eventually he dropped out of school and had problems with anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. He never talked about his problems and never asked for help because that’s “not what real men do.” Medical expenses and health problems exacerbated his despair until he took a decisive step.

Briana Wells, an exceptional student, left her violent mother and her childhood home with academic honors and a bright future ahead of her. But as a young adult she found herself grappling with the frightening feeling of being possessed by the extremes of psychosis, as God and Satan waged battle within her psyche.

Prior to the show, our storytellers were asked what they thought we, as individuals and a community, can do to fight the stigmas in our culture surrounding mental illness and mental health. Here’s what they had to share, by Jesse Houle:

Ivan Sumner, a veteran Rabbit Boxer who considers storytelling at Rabbit Box his “therapy” and was glad to get “another session”:
“Recognize that all of us walk along the edge between madness and uncertainty, wobbling, with only a tiny nudge required for us to lose our balance, falling into madness on one side and despair and impotence on the other. To have real empathy, we must at least imagine it is us.”

Elsa Durusau, an avid writer and knitter who works at the UGA music library:
“I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life but only recently found out the biggest root cause of my problems. As far as fighting the stigma around mental illness and mental health… I’m not sure what the solution is. But perhaps if people just had a little more empathy and understanding of people who are different from them, then they would understand those who struggle with mental illness better.”

Kyrie Amos, who is studying social work with plans to specialize in addiction and chronic mental illness:
“The way that I fight stigma about mental illness and health is just by telling my story to anyone I meet that will listen. I talk openly about my struggles on a regular basis because they are part of who I am. I also talk about the therapeutic value psychedelic substances have had for me and think we need to open up the conversation to include alternative medicine and therapy.”

Stephen Cramer, who recently founded Brain Aid with a mission of combating stigma, encouraged folks to help with the project:
“I founded a new nonprofit organization, Brain Aid Fest, earlier this year to combine my passions for events, music and comedy with mental health advocacy.” Stephen also coordinates Duded Helping Dudes, an online forum and weekly roundtable discussion on Thursday evenings at Nuçi’s Space.

Brianna Wells, a local musician, artist, and mental health advocate:
“One of the most important parts of fighting the stigma and experience of mental illness is to work toward validating experiences. Treat the ‘illness’ as a normal response to an abnormal event or as a medical concern when necessary, not the fault of the person inside. What makes us human? Our broken souls seek the light. Surviving darkness should be rewarded, not nailed to a scarlet letter.”

Chad Whitworth, while humbly referring to himself as “just a simple man”:
“As for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness, education and acceptance for those who are dealing with mental illness is key. Much like any other illness it is real and palpable – no difference with mental illness than cancer, HIV, or diabetes. If left untreated it can cause great pain or even death.”

Julie Peters, who founded TREK Foster Care which operates from the Advantage offices to recruit foster families:
“I am trying to fight the stigma of mental illness by telling my story. I think the more we talk about it and educate people about it, the more we can bring it out of the shadows. Lots of people have some sort of mental health issues and it is only by normalizing it and understanding it that we will bring people to acceptance of it.”

Julie’s sentiments echo our mission here at Rabbit Box. If you’d like to share your story and help us build community one story at a time, please let us know!

For more information on mental health resources and fighting stigma, please visit the website of our event’s cohost, Nuçi’s Space or follow them on Facebook.