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ADDING A STORY HERE
If I can help be a beacon of light in your own struggle, help ignite even a spark of questioning about where and what your own situation might be and lead you closer to your truth. Then, I have done my job. Thank you so much for the incredible time it has taken for you to read this.
I apologize in some ways that it was long, but there’s a lot to say after not being able to speak for a lifetime. And if your story is just as long or longer, that’s fine with me. I just think it’s important to tell it. It’s important to our human community. And you never know who may resonate with it and find a piece of themselves in it.
Now you also know why I have a website called nomorelabels.us. Because in my world it was the labels that did and continue to do the most damage. It is that which ultimately has and continues to divide us. Because as long as you don’t have one, you’re safe. So who would in their right mind ever willingly give up that safety zone? The problem is that it’s a false safety zone and no one knows that better than those who have been given a label.
I survived without ever being given one except for by my family, which did enough damage to make people believe I’d been given one. And those who’ve been given one to feel a certain kindred spirit with me. What does that tell you about the power of them?
So why not then listen to and learn from those who have had the strength to come out the other side of those labels? It may be just like getting stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel… they may have the best view of all.
So I encourage all the “experts” to let go of their labels and all the letters after their names that give them supposed greater and more credible value and try going without for a while. You might find that it just might be the greatest view you’ve ever seen. You may just see your own authentic self. And finally see that of others. As my dad used to say, “try it, you might like it”.
If there is anything you get from my story I hope that is it. Beware of labels both “good and bad” and beware of taking them on or dishing them out. It is human understanding to me that should be sought the most, not labels.
I realize in telling this story, yes I’ve gone into the past. But there was a reason. I wanted you to understand who my father was from the beginning, not at the chapter when he became two words. I realized as I was writing it, I needed to rewrite his history, if not, just for the sake of my own family and posterity. So that-those after him who maybe didn’t know him pre-diagnosis understand he was so much more than a diagnosis and also what he went through as a result of it. But mostly that they know he was a rich and full human being with so many incredible life-giving qualities.
In many ways, my dad was pure love. Yes flawed like all of us but just if not more beautiful, deep, rich, funny, kind, incredible, inventive, creative, filled with a passion for living at the heart of which was a desire to simply and truly connect.
I’m not interested in rehashing tragedy, but moving out of it to rediscover ourselves, the parts of ourselves that got shutdown or hurt along the way. To open the door back up to them again and allow them to live again, free of judgment. And injected with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning – and to understand the real definition of power.
The purpose of this website is to chart a new way forward for us. Only to revisit the past, in the sense of moving beyond it and getting validation that the problem may not have ever been YOU! It is a very flawed system and it needs our help to improve!
If you are in the system and being massively medicated. Your behavior may be explained by the effect of these drugs. Yes, these drugs may have made you act crazy or feel crazy. Read “Anatomy of An Epidemic” to find out exactly how and why. Or find Peter Breggin’s “Simple Truths About Psychiatry” on Youtube or go straight to his website and begin reading his books!
The only problem is that coming off of these drugs is incredibly dangerous and must be done with a doctor’s supervision. In fact with some you can actually die if you come off cold turkey and they state it in their black label. It is true of benzodiazepines, and it is a condition called “status epilepticus.” Also you can look up “drug-induced parkinsonism” which these drugs can also cause along with a host of other horrific side effects. This is what my father suffered from and I believe died of.
And this is where we still have much head way to make. Because while there are plenty of doctors who will get you on these meds, few actually really know how to take you off of them safely. So we have to work together as a community to help support each other in finding ways forward whether it be on or off the drugs.
Hopefully this can bring to you what it did for me and my father-a vindication I could never have imagined and a new life of greater freedom and choice - one where I have felt welcomed back into the human family and a community I didn’t know existed.
It is a literal international movement calling for change. And I definitely no longer feel alone. You can find much of that community at madinamerica.com...and on the Dr. Peter Breggin Hour and hopefully here too in growing numbers. And all the places they refer you to.
This information literally gave me the ability to do again what I imagine my father would have wanted most for me - the ability to self- define. My hope is that what you find here will do the same for you.
I am putting together a group of people to present these stories in in theatrical format. If you are interested in getting involved, please let me know.
I have considered starting support groups for families and consumers alike like AA or Al-anon, one for each, but I notice that we are not a community to whom group activity comes easily, perhaps because of our backgrounds, or our fierce independence by necessity or nature, and the traumatic experience of coercion.
This is why I have just created it as a gathering place and leave it up to individuals to reach out to each other and each build their own support networks that work best for them. Some people you may click with more with than others. But support is the salve to the isolation born from shame and stigma. It is the belonging that we all need as human beings. Thus my latest definition is we are “the human community”.
If you have or know of any resources for information or alternative treatments, please post them on our resources page, share your information. Reach out, or just visit occasionally whatever works best for you.
Above all at least you know we are here. And you are no longer bound by the label you may have been given. It’s time to free yourself, re-invent and redefine! SELF-DEFINE!
The goal of this website is to be a resource center and place of support where you can come to find empathic support and understanding, not societal judgment and isolation. We do however support children so if any of your content is mature, this would not be the place to explore those kinds of experiences. Thank you for your consideration and time!
I hope you will check out our #metoo/NOMORELABELS! social media campaign and participate! Simply write on your hand, “NO MORE LABELS!”, snap a picture of yourself and post it in our gallery, then onto Facebook or do it using one of those fancy apps on the phone like Wordswag or Over, which lets you superimpose words over a picture of yourself. Or feel free to also save and share any of my memes like “the definition of crazy: EVERYONE”…
I’ll be working on getting a line of t-shirts out with my different sayings soon that are in the t-shirt/meme gallery! And feel free to tune in any time to my radio show, which I will also be posting on the website here, but also on my youtube channel, “comealivewithmk” in my “people’s radio show playlist”.
If you’d like to come on my show as a guest and tell your story I welcome you with open arms! That’s in large part what it’s for! And please stay in touch or join our community to find and meet other people like you. That’s what it’s about! I’m paying out of pocket to host it, I hope you will use it!
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There were so many like-minded people from Irving Kirsch, Peter Goetsche and David Healy, to Joanna Moncreiff, Bonnie Burstow, Lisa Cosgrove, Sami Timimi, David Oaks, Kelly Brogan, Nicholas Rose, Alan Frances, Jennifer Bahr and an endless number of them, even with their differences of opinion – their root message was on point. The need to save the human experience and stop pathologizing it.
I discovered one after another, from working professionals to experts by so called “lived experience”, which was the category I came under. I’d wished so much that I could have discovered this when my father was alive, but once again even the stigma had gotten in the way of that. And I don’t say this to berate the point but to expose the many layers of its persistent existence and to highlight the need for it’s removal.
Because when I came across Robert Whitaker’s website, madinamerica.com, I remembered it from my previous days researching on the web years before my dad died during my Thomas Insel days when I was led to believe it was a “brain disease”, yet another explanation that only half worked.
But it’s name with the use of the term “mad” steered me away from investigating it. At first glance, my stigmatized state made me not want to get anywhere close to anyone that used the term “mad”. I hated that word or any like it as much as I did the drugs, if not more. But, after what I discovered once I was into the website, I more fully understood what and why the term “mad” was chosen. And I was mad.
Mad at what had so tragically happened to my family. Even rageful but I used that anger to fuel me to find out everything and anything I could to learn more. I now understood why they chose to keep the term and it fit, perfectly.
If I couldn’t help my dad, perhaps at least I could help someone else. Others in the same unknowing predicament.
I signed up for their webinars and joined as many as I could. And within that process, I discovered yet more experts like Bruce Levine. And even more that aren’t on the MIA website, but on their own journeys with very similar messages, like Harriet Fraad and Dr. Hammerschlag, most of whom I’ve had on my radio show. And I continued to discover only more via madinamerica.com-Another of my leading favorites is Daniel Mackler, a film maker and outspoken critic who is the visionary and boldly leading the way for this next generation, you can find him at wildtruth.net. And others like Laura Delano, and Debra Lampshire.
Most recently I had the distinct pleasure of meeting yet another extraordinary woman, via Dr. Peter Breggin’s radio show who I define as a psychiatric miracle… Sarah Price Hancock, who has an amazing unbelievable story where she survived over 100 electroshock treatments and is now a psychiatric rehab counselor and circuit lecturer in charge of training working professionals to become better educated on “trauma-informed” care: the treatments that can actually cause more harm than helping. She can be found at psychiatricrecoveryandrehabilitation.com and has her own podcast every Wednesday.
And there are so many more extraordinary people like Emily Sheera Cutler from MIA and revolutionary pioneers bringing things like Open Dialogue into this country like Louisa Putman and Kermit Cole, and others like Kevin Hennely who works specifically with people who hear voices, and Ron Coleman founder of the Hearing Voices Network. And artist Rararabbit who uses lucid dreaming to help deal with his hearing voices. And cutting edge assisted living facilities who work to de-stigmatize people suffering mental distress like Casa Milagro in Santa Fe, New Mexico, founded by Meryl Lieberman where they encourage art, ownership of pets and community belonging. The list goes on and on.
Another ground breaking book for me that was helpful was introduced to me via a madinamerica.com webinar and that was “Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis and Drugs”. It is written by Doctors Stuart Kirk, David Cohen and Tomi Gomory. And the reason I like it so much is because it is THE comprehensive view of exactly what happened to my father, family and me. It is the entire explanation on paper.
There’s a great interview about it all on Madness Radio with Will Hall, another pioneer helping people withdraw from the drugs in his internationally acclaimed “Harm Reduction Guide To Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs And Withdrawal”. And you can find my interviews with both Cohen and Gomory in my archive files from my “Dialogue” radio show.
Kirk, Cohen and Gomory’s “Mad Science” book brought all the pieces together for me in a way that summed it up. They use the term “biomedical industrial complex” to describe the overall mental health system. Dr. Breggin describes it very similarly.
Also, important to my journey out of a life of misinformation ironically was an incredible therapist who was his own person and who always treated me with an equal voice and who helped me find and hone mine. I’ll never forget his words, “you may be bent but you’re not broken” and who among us isn’t a little bit broken if they’ve lived at all? But just as central as all this information was to me - was the whole host of extraordinary people I have met in this process that are my peers. And critical are the friends in my life like my dad’s friend Drew who loved and accepted me despite the labels, for whom most never endorsed. And supported me in fighting them.
I now have a community. Sometimes we talk to frequently, other times not. But those of us previously silenced and shamed - at least now know that we are out there in the world. I would mention their names but I haven’t okayed it with them yet. I’ve encouraged them to tell their stories and am still waiting to hear them. This has been an incredibly therapeutic process to me, just finding people who understand.
And I find that most people out there in the world do - to my still great surprise, not unlike my real friends. Ironically, I have found the people in the mental health field the most resistant, except for the visionary and bold ones. My colleague calls those resistant to this information “learning averse”. What does it reveal about their own agenda, fears or shame when people are so resistant?
And education in mental health is not necessarily a sign of superior knowledge or expertise. In fact in many ways it is a sign of only further indoctrination which is difficult to unearth, especially when people’s professions rely upon it and their sense of safety.
It’s unfortunate when education actually leads people down the wrong path yet, because they have it, are led to believe they are on the right path - but isn’t that the way it should be after all? Isn’t that the very purpose of an education? To learn more and become an “expert”. You have only to read the book “Psychiatry Under The Influence” to understand the level at which the pharmaceutical companies have infiltrated our universities and governmental agencies with their billions of dollars in budgets to influence and literally help shape public opinion on “mental illness”. One that has led many “experts “ to unknowingly cause a lot of damage in the one area they went in to try and fix.
Yes, there are still plenty who just don’t get it nor have any interest in doing so. But, I’m not so worried about those folks anymore. I just figure we walk in different circles and for now, I’m just interested in walking forward together with my new community and keeping my eyes on that prize. And what a prize it is! We are finally now all free to be ourselves.
There are still those suffering within the system, but at least they don’t feel as alone as they did once before. And hopefully even that is a move in a forward direction. Extracting oneself from this system can be a very difficult process, especially the drugs, but equally the learned helplessness and addiction to labels that have enabled our literal identities albeit mistaken. What’s most important to me, is that I don’t feel stigmatized anymore. I understand that I am not the problem, the system is. And I don’t care what others think of me anymore even that small percentage that may call me “crazy”.
I now realize that in many ways because all this began happening to me when I was a child, I literally became unquestionably “indoctrinated”. This is why I now use that term to describe what happened to me. And I believe even rob my family from me whether any of them might or might not agree with me.
My mother had been a nurse and herself came from a generation where you trusted what the doctors say. And as a type 1 diabetic, insulin had allowed her to live a rather normal life. The same was in some ways true of my father only he also knew better, being a doctor himself. He was a medical whistleblower in some senses by calling out or questioning the system as he went along. But there is a reason whistleblowers usually don’t survive well. He had no real support. This is what the mental health system so often exploits. It thrives and profits from it. Isolation.
But there was one thing that I am thankful for that allowed me to find these answers - and that is a somewhat still childlike heart - the part I never let the system get a hold of. The part I was determined to protect - no matter what it cost. And my mother’s advice to always listen to my intuition, which I believe is it’s seed.
Because it was my heart that read the plea in my father’s eyes at the time of his death. And the desire to reinstate his dignity and find the evidence for what I’d seen with my own eyes. And now I have a renewed sense of life I would never have imagined existed. The opposite of that previous nightmare – and now a community I would describe in many ways as the best definition of heaven on earth, simply from the hope and new life it represents.
And I followed that child-like yet wise heart regardless of what the doctors had said, or how much they denied it. I trusted it after a lifetime of swallowing their maybe well-intentioned but rather useless and in the end deadly explanations.
Sadly this new information has only further ruptured my relationship with my mother. That is another story to tell for another day: the nightmare of waking up from the worst nightmare you’d already had to discover it never needed to happen in the first place and the resistance people have to that awakening and/or even information. In some ways it introduces a new loneliness. The family I thought I could get back didn’t happen.
My mother still doesn’t believe the information I have discovered or that it might have the level of legitimacy that it does. I attribute that to her own unfortunate shame and guilt about everything that happened, which I believe the biomedical industrial complex only makes worse, maybe even helps create and most certainly enables.
And it works to protect them from lawsuits. Because if we could unite, we could sue the bastards for the damage they’ve done. But, the stigma is too cemented in, my mother’s perception of me too skewed to even give me or her own self a chance for reconciliation yet only more fall-out from the bio-medical industrial complex and its biggest weapon - stigma.
But they can’t stop me from speaking the truth and as Janis Joplin says, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. My retribution to the bio-medical industrial complex will be hopefully the lives I may deter from going into that system. One life alone is worth far more than any settlement I might incur.
I wonder about my mother’s inability to process what I have to say, perhaps it is just simply too much to process at the end of an already long and too difficult life, too much of a lie to comprehend, too great a betrayal. My middle brother is most likely gone forever. The rift between us too great to potentially ever mend.
However, my oldest brother and I have reunited in a way I never imagined. And now I even feel as though I have a piece of that family that I lost so long ago. We talk almost every day and he is a huge piece of my network of support. And I feel extraordinarily lucky to have him and his wife and their children in my life. They are a literal blessing that does not go uncounted – EVER.
And I have a new family of sorts, as they say a chosen one.
I have my new answers, the ones I have sought for a lifetime and along the way as I have shared this newly discovered information with people, I have found many more like me. And that’s why I am here.
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To me, there was no dignity in dying by overmedication, especially for my father.
But once again, what got in the way of hearing my complaints as the one family member who had known the most about his medical care before he went into their custody? Stigma.
No they didn’t hear me because, well I was the daughter of that crazy man, so I just had to be guilty by association. Treated as though my concerns were a matter of mental vulnerability or weakness not legitimate medical concern. Never mind that I might have just simply been right that he was overmedicated for the fourth time. Any time he had been before they would back off on the meds and he would get better.
But this time, my complaints went entirely unheard and there was nothing I could do. I tried calling people, reaching out, finding anyone who could help me in any way, but the clock was ticking. I knew it would only be a matter of days, which quickly turned into hours. And as always and of course it all fell on the weekend.
I will never forget the look in my dad‘s eyes as I saw the meds taking over his entire body and inhibit his ability not just to move but in the end swallow or even speak. The look in his eye was that of a man trapped in his own body unable to get out and without understanding exactly what was happening to him or why, pleading with his eyes to help him. The opposite of the empty eyes I’d seen those many years before. This time they had all the presence of a man screaming from the inside in utter helplessness.
I knew unquestionably at that point it was the meds. I’d seen their affects plenty of times before. I could only ask myself why they would give an increasingly fragile old man even more drugs he was already potentially toxic to?
Desperately trying to walk that fine line of not losing my mind - once again - that line between not going absolute apeshit crazy pissed off and telling them all to go fuck themselves to attempting to peacefully placatingly quietly and ever so patiently tell the doctors and care-givers with as much seeming compassion as I could possibly muster that they and their drugs were yes, about to kill my father. The kind and compassionate approach didn’t make a bit of difference.
So, yes I finally went maybe a little apeshit crazy. But not enough to make a difference, nor for them to take me away thank god. It didn’t matter anyway. Wouldn’t have, guess that’s finally why I let myself go temporarily insane for that moment. I had to, or I’m not sure I would have survived it. I might have then for the first time in my life maybe actually even gone legitimately crazy.
But it didn’t matter. Nope, nothing did. None of it changed a thing. Not the slightest impact. One way or the other.
I finally lost the battle. Yes, the bastards actually won.
My beloved and devoted father died. The one who no one could ever entirely take down even against all odds, finally got not just knocked out but entirely taken down. My butterfly pop’s wings were finally broken, gone. Forever.
By the time the doctors even began considering that I just might be right, it was too late. They didn’t even bother to call us to tell us he was getting that close to death despite my having been there for the past four days knowing full well that I would have wanted to be there along with my oldest brother. No, instead they reassured me that hospice had been there to help “make his passing more peaceful” by having given him a little added morphine on the way out. My dad hated drugs. All drugs, except maybe a little occasional pot with best friend Drew, the only friend and definition of a real one, who’d remained a friend even after the label.
They knew we wanted to be there at his time of death and that we cared. We were not an unloving family. But somehow they couldn’t be bothered enough to give us a call to let us know he was getting close to death. And possibly weigh in on what he might have wanted for his death. How he might have wanted to go. No, they made that decision for him just like the rest of the ones they’d made for him in the second half of his entire life.
And once again - what had gotten in their way of making that potential call to the family, that call that most families have the dignity of receiving? Stigma – how and why you might ask? Stigma renders us inhuman, unworthy of that consideration.
And that was the beginning of my journey back.
I did not shed a tear when the rest of my family showed up. I was determined to be strong for my dad, not an emotional basket case. I have never felt so alone in my entire life. And that’s what psychopharmacology did to my family and me. It destroyed it.
Long gone were the days of my once happy childhood. But my love for my father remained as it always had - and was now only stronger than ever before. Because see, love can’t be killed. Bodies can - but not spirits. And I was still alive. And my dad’s spirit alive in me, perhaps even stronger than ever before. Death has a way of bringing us closer to our loved ones. And perhaps even more able to see what I might not have before and – him – at last and more clearly than I’d ever been able to before.
Now, the anger of a lifetime of not being seen or heard rose up in me and transformed itself into sheer determination. I would find out what had happened to my beloved father and give him back the dignity he and we deserved. I knew these drugs had hastened his death and I was going to get to the bottom of exactly how and why. And that’s when the world changed and shifted in a way I would have never imagined possible. I knew what I had seen with my own eyes and ears and nothing and no one could or would ever convince me otherwise. The drugs had killed my father.
THE JOURNEY HOME AND A FINAL UNEXPECTED TWIST:
Just previous to my father’s death, I had begun doing something I never did before and that was finally talk about what it was like to grow up with a father who suffered from “mental illness”. And I credit this in large part to one man by the name of Douglas Crawford and his non-profit organization thecrookedhouse.org. It was a day and conversation I will never forget. His website is devoted to bringing voice to children affected by parental “mental illness”. It was then that I began realizing that this had affected me and my family more than I’d ever imagined.
Because I could finally begin to speak my truth about exactly what had gone on. I didn’t have to pretend I didn’t have any problems anymore, because when required I could be queen of pretending all was ok when and if I needed to. One had to in order to survive it all.
Doug and I shared many similar things, even a common language of sorts, much the way Al-Anon folks do - but an experience all our own and quite different than that of AA or any other group I’d ever known. It was like finding a long lost tribe member. We mostly shared what it was like dealing with the stigma and chaos brought on by erratic behavior.
But when it came to the meds and diagnosis, we had a slightly different experience. His mother was never officially diagnosed. My father clearly had been. And while we did share similar experiences, I realized that this distinction was important. Not better or worse per se, but critical to my own internal voice.
Why? Because once again, my dad’s label had been societally sanctioned. It carried with it a certain power as did his involuntary hospitalizations. And they impacted me. I couldn’t hide that reality away, even if Doug and I had suffered a similar silence. I knew of a power few people would even believe existent, and I had witnessed it with my own ears and eyes. It wasn’t the family secrets of chaos that can be hidden away. It was about knowing a reality few people would even believe and if you tried to explain or share it, most would just think you were crazy or be too scared to hear more about. It wasn’t something most people wanted to talk about much less know about.
And it’s coercive threat could be and often was used against me, albeit silently. It was the ultimate subtext – getting put away and drugged against one’s will. It didn’t need to be asserted by anyone. It just was - a reality I never wanted to know. Maybe even scarier in my own mind than reality but I had no desire to test it. The silent threat of that potential living nightmare always loomed in the background and it wasn’t an imaginary one. My father’s life, the evidence.
And I had seen it destroy him. The idea that it could potentially do the same to me terrified me. So I railed against it – and got called “so angry” all the time – only furthering the set-up. And trap of being damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
I could never accept his involuntary treatment as “normal” despite everyone wanting to paint it into pretty pictures of “loving treatments for his own good”. “Loving treatment” that came with an insistence that felt like it was being shoved down my throat whether I liked it or not. And if I didn’t accept it, the price was to be cast out in one way or another. I was essentially robbed of any voice. The price of admission into that world meant the negation of my own self, my very existence.
Their “for his own good or safety” explanations never entirely worked for me, mostly because I saw it not work for him, even when I had to employ them for the seemingly same reasons. My dad only went along with it to survive it -out of pressure and pressure alone, not his own free will. And that is what bothered me most of all. It robbed him of a voice, a self-determined destiny.
I was the youngest in my family and the only female. So, this made me an easy target for the next generation of scapegoat. I had also witnessed the long-term use of drugs that had out right disabled him. And now to my mind killed him.
So, I continued my journey researching the drugs and that’s when I came across Robert Whitaker’s lecture on youtube and later his website, madinamerica.com and award-winning book “Anatomy of an Epidemic”. When he described these drugs as potentially addictive in nature and that there was no real scientific proof of the “illnesses” listed in the DSM, all the pieces finally came together for me of exactly what had happened to my dad.
When I began to understand exactly how these drugs worked. Everything I’d ever seen and questioned over a lifetime finally came together. This was the explanation I’d been searching for- for so long: The answer to the eternal question of whether my dad was actually ever really even crazy at all or not.
His normal rebellious reaction to the abnormal treatment of being stigmatized and coerced alone explained a lot of his initial so-called “crazy” behavior. But the meds cemented it in. And this new information explained exactly how. When he would go off the meds, he would get so much worse. Thinking back I could almost put a graph up to it in relation to his meds and hospitalizations which always involved the further tinkering of his meds. In retrospect, it made total sense that much of his so-called “crazy” behavior could have very easily been in fact, a withdrawal effect of coming off the drug, not “his disease returning” as the doctors said it was.
It was the most plausible explanation. It just made sense. It was the truth of what had happened to my dad and finally explained it all. It was in my mind exactly what had happened.
Wow! It was the answer I’d been forever seeking and that no doctor could ever explain. Now I understood why I’d spent a lifetime half believing that my dad was crazy because he was!!! Half crazy - and why in large part he’d never returned to normal again.
Now I could see how he had in large part been crazy due to the effects of the meds, the on and off again cycles, the hospitalizations and then simply slightly tranquilized once he leveled out. Not to mention the effects of “the diagnosis”, the stigma and coercion. It was also why he never really got back to normal.
In the end, my dad was right he wasn’t crazy, we were and certainly without a doubt, the mental health system and its treatments! And why it alone had felt so crazy-making, because it was! In more ways than one!!It also explained why we’d always somehow inherently disliked the drugs and treatments so much, no matter what the doctors said. Our reservations always remained.
This explanation fit. It explained the previously persistently inexplicable.
This also meant that I too was now equally vindicated. Welcomed back into the human family again as even potentially a credible member of society. And maybe even a chance to get my own family back - that family I and we had always yearned for from so long ago. Only time would tell.
I knew as the proverbial scapegoat it would be difficult to provide a convincing argument. The stigma once again overshadowing and upstaging my own voice. In fact I would go so far as to say it replaced my voice. But it wouldn’t stop me from at least trying. I’m a fighter, remember? After all what did I have to lose? Pretty much nothing. This experience had already taken most everything away. I had only to gain.
Meanwhile, I also had the incredible luck of coming across Al Galves, an activist and therapist from mindfreedom.com. When I met him, I could only have wished he could have been my father’s therapist and if so it would have been an entirely different story. It would have changed our lives. He would have never given him a diagnosis. He didn’t believe in the benefit of them.
I also soon thereafter discovered Dr. Peter Breggin, the legendary man who was behind stopping the lobotomy. That in and of itself told me a lot - after all which doctor would you trust ? The one who stops the lobotomy or the one who advocates for it?
From what I understand he did so nearly single-handedly. Apparently at the time he tried to reverse the lobotomy, there were plenty who supported it, just like those who today support the continued use of these psychiatric drugs, while he once again - against the grain - warns against them and psychiatry’s treatments.
This told me all I needed to know as far as whose medical word to trust. When I then went on to listen to his “Simple Truths About Psychiatry” on youtube, and ordered the pluthera of his books, from Talking Back To Prozac, to Toxic Psychiatry to a host of many more and read through his website, it only solidified this newly discovered information. It was the origin of much of it.
I’d discovered the doctor, I wish my whole family had known. It even felt as though he and my dad could have been buddies. If he had met my dad, he would never have let happen to my father and family what did. It was all both tragic and a huge relief to find all of this out. Yes, tragic in what had happened to us, but it also provided a vindication and validation of what I’d always known to be true in my heart about my father and my family - and now that previously shattered heart sang with joy and victory.
When I went onto Robert Whitaker’s website, madinamerica.com, and began listening to the Dr. Peter Breggin Hour, (Dr. Breggin’s radio show) I discovered a whole host of working professionals and experts in the field who agreed with my perspective, which only gave it more professional credibility, especially because they were driven mostly by integrity not profit.
And all this time I had felt so alone in my struggle, too consumed by it to even look up or around to discover the many more like me. And I couldn’t get enough of them. This was indeed the exact long lost tribe I’d been looking for.
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I remained protective I suppose of my father. All too often it was used against me. It has been said because I was the youngest, I was the most affected. I would say it affected all of After being diagnosed, I saw a man fighting like hell – for the rest of his life - for his life. I mostly saw a man struggling to regain his previously hard won credibility after having been given an officially and certifiable “crazy” label. A man of many degrees and accolades that had all been stripped away overnight by one word that came to define him.
I needed only to put myself in his shoes for a second to understand the justification for his anger, even rage. Who were these people who had the “authority” to tell him what and who he was? After all, he was a doctor, let’s not forget, with multiple degrees that now meant nothing. But he understood the limitations of medicine. I saw what it did to his pride and sense of belonging. And I saw what it did to my family - and to all of us as children and former wife who were now also potentially guilty by association.
After all, we’d been told by the doctors of the potential “genetic implications”. My eldest brother was lucky enough to escape by being old enough to leave home before the shit really hit the fan. The rest of us just imploded, nearly eating each other alive or deteriorating mostly from externalizing or internalizing the exorbitant shame. And our monetary status dwindled down to living off of my mother’s income alone as a public health nurse. We went from living in a three story house to what we used to call the “shack” down the street. In the long run, it devastated us as a family financially - all of us including my father and his career.
But we knew how to put on a good front - always good at first impressions.To this day I have to believe there was something good at the core of my family – yes, love. But psychopharmacology and it’s “biomedical industrial complex” as authors Cohen and Gomory call it made sure to obliterate it.
My father went in and out of hospitalizations from the time he was diagnosed. He went on and off drugs, that “worked” and then didn’t, even a bout of homelessness on the streets. It was, as some have put it, like “waking up into your worst nightmare only to find it had become your life”.
And all the while, you were supposed to just go with it, definitely not talk about it, swallow what the doctors said, despite your own internal reservations and questions, pretend it wasn’t happening - talk yourself into solutions that never seemed to make sense, and treatments that seemed to do more harm than good – and ones that seemed to steal his soul. Mostly because they were always presented as the lesser of two evils, a crazy seemingly out of control father or a medicated one with “potential” negative side effects.
I will never forget visiting him in the hospital and he wanted to get out so badly. He was wound up about being in there and hated it. He pled with me to help him get out. And I could nothing to help him. In frustration, he laid down on the bed falling back in resignation. I looked over at him to discover, he’d gone blank. His eyes suddenly empty. There was no one in there at that moment. I tried to talk to him, reach him. His eyes fully open but he just simply went away. To where, I have no idea, but anywhere was better than As the children of a divorce, we were also left to deal with it ourselves, no extra parental support from my mother. Not to say she didn’t help because she tried too. And even as a divorcee she couldn’t escape the stress it vicariously put on her through us. And it had clearly exhausted my mother who did her own best to survive it, fighting off her own trauma which I think only worsened things for her. And in many ways – made her own demons grow.
It was a battle too big for us to fight - A force and system too great to penetrate.
The scapegoating that ensued robbed everyone of their best and greatest potential. It just enabled everyone to get sicker, offering us no way out but deeper into solutions that didn’t work and only ever worsened problems.
My only advice to anyone considering entering this system. Don’t do it. Run as far and fast as you can and do anything and everything but IT. IT, the biomedical industrial complex is a well-oiled very profitable recipe for disaster. Where your pain will only become a resource for endless profit.
But that’s what this biomedical industrial complex is founded upon, exploitation of the vulnerable, scapegoating and gaslighting where they blame the victims, from the “patients” to even their loving families who often get demonized in the process. And definitely shut out.
Despite things never entirely adding up to their proclaimed “diagnosis” in an absolutely undoubtable manner, we and he complied, or at least attempted to do our best. He remained a loving and devoted father and yes flawed like the rest of us with meanderings that some wouldn’t approve of, not even me. But many things he thought or did just seemed to be bad decisions made by a father going through a hard time – and yes there were others brought on by what seemed to be the so called “illness”.
Now I know better - what it was really all about - but that comes in the latter part of this story. But initially what got him into the system in my mind, was no worse than the rest of us - making stupid decisions - he was just more honest about it all. Looking back I have to wonder if it was his honesty above all that got him in trouble.
I remember him talking about the need for it and just how important it was and how fed up he was with all the lies. He agreed to take his meds only for “the love of his children”, because we were convinced that was the best “medical “ option despite his strong disapproval of them. And even our own internal reservations. Deep down I always hated the drugs right alongside him. But did my best to follow the “medical protocol”.
He often protested, “I’m not crazy, you are!” And there were more times than not, I silently agreed with him especially when dealing with the insane reality of what his treatments consisted of. His anger far too often felt like quite simply righteous indignation. Only I was too pressured by the power and influence of coercion to ever really see straight enough to find the words to advocate in a legitimate way for him or myself.
And I didn’t’ even understand that I was under the influence of coercion, I just knew I needed to follow the doctor’s advice on how to help my father, even if it didn’t seem to make much sense. Follow the rules or end up in the lion’s den right alongside him.
We asked for proof of his illness but the doctors said there really wasn’t any – but that the best way to describe it was that “it was like insulin for diabetes” and he needed to take his meds just like a diabetic. My mother was a type 1 diabetic so we knew the importance of taking her meds.
My dad spent years going on and off of them, when he would go off, all hell would break loose. And the doctors would tell us it was “his disease returning”. So, it seemed to make sense on that level. But something deep down never registered for me about any of it.
The mental health system seemed in too many ways more insane than my father. It was the only area where they seemed to dictate what was to happen to him, where he had little choice, voice or input in the matter, nor did we. That didn’t seem like any kind of genuine or quality health care model I’d ever encountered before and both my parents were medical professionals.
If anything, we, the family, were pushed out of the process, literally locked out, unable to see him. And the “mental illness” never really added up in my mind. Something was amiss. Not only did I not like the term, as in nothing was wrong with his “mind” that I could see, perhaps his judgment or behavior at times, but I didn’t like the term and all that it implied.
I still cringe at the word “mad”, even in the “mad” rights movement, I hate it and all that it implies or any words like it. It is far too one-dimensional and somehow still seemingly permanent. It is too “othering”, placing him outside the human race. A serial killer I might describe as “mad”, but outside those rare extremes it’s a word that feels too charged and above all irrelevant. It seems an internalization of the stigma implied it implies that invites the fight it claims to ward off, rather than just making it irrelevant which is exactly how I see it. Inaccurate at the least.
My father’s actions never added up to being entirely mentally “ill”. They were too inconsistent, and didn’t add up to the father I’d known. It felt like being on a merry go round of confusion trying to figure it out, there were times, he seemed full blown undeniably crazy and still others not, sometimes the most sane one alive. It was hard to keep track of, all I knew was that my life had turned into an anxious ball of concern over his safety.
Within the moments of highest stress, there was little else one could think of. It’s hard to get a call from your father when you’re miles away trying to start your new young adult life when his update is that he’s just had a bout of electroshock treatment and “didn’t mind it at all” - literally willingly offering himself up as a scientific guinea pig - when in my heart I knew better. Electro-shock treatment was the last thing my father would have ever wanted for himself.
No question he became “difficult to manage”, but every time I would have a heart to heart, he always made sense. In many ways, it seemed since the system had rejected him, his only way to reclaim himself was to reject it in return. His crazy behavior in many ways, was a big “fuck you” to the system that had fucked him over.
But, he never put it that way. In fact, while he was going on and off his meds, in and out of hospitalizations, there was no question he was erratic, but the true nature of my dad to me, was always that steady eddy. He didn’t get really riled up about anything that didn’t make sense to get riled up about. He was actually pretty easy going.
But he didn’t like being defined by others that was for sure. Yet who does? And that’s what with this label had done - it had defined him and robbed him of his exquisite ability to self-define – the very thing that had given him his confident and playful identity.
And this is why in many ways, he always somehow continued to make sense. But, I was helpless to help him. I couldn’t talk about it to most people. Most people had no idea of my experience, no frame of reference.
I used to wish my dad could just be an alcoholic like the rest of my friends. I had to pretend it wasn’t happening or that it was all okay despite feeling exactly the opposite. It caused its own trauma in me and in many ways rendered me useless in being able to help him in the ways I had often so desperately wanted to. And even myself.
I was too busy trying to rectify following rules that made no sense to me and survive my own stigmatization. Fighting back the stigma placed on me seemed to become my new full-time job - from something I hadn’t even earned except via the natural innate compassion a child has for their father. Silently fighting the depth of the injustice of it all ironically only rendered me all the more useless in defending myself against it - until my fight resembled their accusations just enough to keep me in a perpetual state of panic – unable to escape. And just enough to be the next generation of scapegoat.
It would become so ingrained, it would be many many years before I would even understand what stigmatization actually even was. And what it’s effects would be on not just my dad, but me and my entire family. I didn’t realize in many ways it was the reality of my own experience that made me feel the way I was, but instead I all too often simply viewed it as my own failing and flaw. The system had trained me to do so. Offer myself up as the ever-willing scapegoat. I internalized it all as my problem. And I was simultaneously resented as “the martyr”. All the while, all of what was happening never made entirely enough sense.
And so we all hung in there in the best way we knew how, but it was a massive disruption and a far cry from that near ideal childhood I’d once known and the father who had helped create it - or family that came with along it and/or any sense of stability I’d ever experienced.
It was replaced by anxiety and a hyper-vigilant need to defend myself from potentially allowing myself into the hands of that system. And standing watch over my dad was always in the background of my life which it just simple overshadowed.
My life became secondary to his “illness”. His life lost to it. It was all consuming. I vowed to myself, I would never let that happen to me. In fact, I unknowingly made it my full time job to fight against it, out of what felt like sheer necessity - which became its own all consuming battle on the forefront of my own life. It would be years before I would understand it’s full impact.
But in the end, I did escape that system. I did survive. And never got snatched up or “caught”. I did escape. But not unscathed.
Post diagnosis, my father became one word, “bi-polar”, not the man I described to you in all his full dimensionality, and enough incredible traits, previous accomplishments and accolades to fill sheets of paper with, not to mention just an incredible rich human being. No, he became “someone and something to manage”. Or at least that’s how the world viewed him. And in many ways it also became the new reality. But to me he was always my pop. I never stopped seeing him, the person who had been, still was and always would be my loyal and devoted father.
He was flawed like anyone, obviously not perfect but who was? As “unstable” as he might have become, I can say that in all of it, I never doubted his love for me. What else really matters?
Now looking back, I can say there was a lot of unnecessary drama, mounds of it, most of which was battled out within my family’s walls, but mostly born not from my father or family but us trying to come to grips with this horrific event that had basically ruined our lives - stolen our father and he from himself.
There was enormous wasted life energy and loads of lost potential. Not just in his life, but all of ours, I can certainly say there was in mine. It shattered my family - The burden too great to carry. And this is why families burn out. It puts too much stress on any family to withstand, even the closest. It certainly challenges everyone at their core. The “treatments” didn’t work and often only either complicated things and in my case definitely made them worse in every aspect.
But as we were going through it, we talked ourselves into believing that it was working, well, it was better than my dad off the drugs. But on them, he never became “normal” again and it wasn’t the drugs to me that truly destroyed his soul. They devastated his body and physically hastened his death without a doubt, but it was the label that really killed him and his spirit.
The stigma was too hard to fight against so in many ways he just gave into it and became the walking personification of a rebellion against it. In some ways it was the only intelligent choice if his life was to remain his own.
Trying to win against the system of psychopharmacology is a battle most don’t want to take on for good reason. In retrospect, I now look back and think that in many ways, my loving adventurous fun father was replaced by literally the power of the state and its threat of coercion.
After all, look at what they’d had the power to do, take down my almighty father and destroy my family. But that didn’t stop him from at root fighting. Perhaps in some ways it made him fight harder. We’ll never know.
And at root I fought along with him in my own way. We all did perhaps in each of our own ways. I came from a family of fighters after all-of course most always for justice only now justice seemed to become somehow strangely remote and newly and strangely unreachable.
I took the heat of what it meant to advocate for him, the equally questionable stares and stigma incurred from whomever, family and people, alike looking at me as though I just might be crazy too. But I never let that system get a hold of me. I made sure of it, I knew better. It was worse than prison as far as I was concerned. And how or why we’d ever had to enter it was beyond my comprehension.
On more than a few occasions, my mother would urge me to take the doctor’s “suggested drugs” to help me keep my sanity, but I never took the bait - even in my most temporarily insane moments, and I had plenty of them. If there’s anything that can lead one to it, this system is it. It knows how to deliver all the right goods.
Despite his hating the drugs and his on and off again compliance, in the end, he did comply until they made him too sick to ironically ever get off of. And in the end, he declined and deteriorated until his “illness” was replaced by an entirely new one - the inability to move from the meds he was taking. Those so long ago partially mentioned “potential negative side effects” had now become his new disease.
By that time, the children he’d “taken them for” were in large part too busy trying to catch up on the lives they missed out on to give him the visits he now yearned for that many miles away in his now near paralytic state. Locked out and away for the rest of his life. It was a wonderful facility as far as they go. But nothing replaces the salve of human connection. His doctor’s medical notes reveal checkmarks by “isolation and loneliness” as two of his largest ailments.
They called his deteriorated state the “paradoxical” effects of the meds. I prefer now to simply call them ineffective, harmful, disabling, dangerous and even deadly – and not just to the person taking them.
He never got his life back as they once promised. And neither did we. We never returned to so-called “normal” or anything close to it.
It ruined our family in more ways than I can count. I now blame psychopharmacology for its intrusion into my life and credit it for not just having ruined the second half of my father’s life but the first half of mine. By the end of his life, my father became so toxic from the drugs, there were very few he could even tolerate anymore, making him nearly impossible to deal with – his judgment so clouded by the effect of the long term use of the drugs. I tried desperately to implement alternative treatments which were costly and pulled money out of my very limited budget to pay for them.
I saw little improvement. And I’d done research that had told me that his “mental illness” was a “brain disease”, Tom Insel head of NIMH made the speech. I still have it recorded. So along with the mainstream treatments, poor guy was willingly loading himself full of all sorts of additional vitamins and alternative health smoothies, concoctions I put together from the incredible amount of time I spent researching to try and help my father. But by then, there was little left to do, he was so damaged.
And for the most part, I was on my own trying to deal with it. One of my brothers had entirely stepped out because he couldn’t deal with it, my mother long gone and my other brother far away. It was like a continual battle upstream that literally went nowhere. By the end of his life, he was so unmanageable that we had to put him away forever for his own safety. Yes take away all his rights and give him over to the state, where we would have no more say in any of his care. None of us had the resources to give him the care he needed. And I wanted to take care of him, but it was just simply impossible within the limitations of my own life.
He would have brought over all sorts of people to my house including drug addicts, prostitutes, and other dangerous types. I just couldn’t risk putting myself in harm’s way as a single female. And as much as I might have been his ally, he was ultimately never going to follow anyone else’s dictates but his own, and as a latin male certainly not his daughter’s. Perhaps his pride was too great, nor could he really trust me. After all I was part of the group of people who had been putting him away on and off throughout his life.
It wasn’t as though I could be entirely trusted even despite my best efforts. I was too restricted in what I could offer him. There’s nothing like testifying against your own father in court to put him away forever which you know will result in the removal of his civil rights, the ones he’d spent so many years helping others fight for and cherishing as an proud and legal immigrant to this country. He demanded to be sent back to his native country “Colombia” during the court proceedings as they courted him away.
By the time he was an old man he could hardly move anymore due to being mostly consistently overmedicated. By that point, it was no longer questionable as to whether my father was “ill” or not. He was diagnosed yet again with “Lewy Body Dementia” which was news to me five days before he died. A dementia that I believe and had often argued was mostly brought on by the long term use of the drugs which continually landed on deaf ears and usually only invited additional strange and suspicious looks about my own mental state from his practitioners.
Clearly all my life, I struggled with whether or not my dad was certifiably crazy or whether it was the system itself that seemed to cement it in.
Just before he died, I received a call about the fact that he was experiencing a steady and rather rapid decline.
When I showed up to see him, of course, I could see that he was once again clearly overmedicated, which I’d been trying to tell his caretakers for months. Later when I looked at his records his dosage had significantly increased from when he had entered the home. They said they needed the meds to “quell his aggression”.
To me, he was just still fighting for his own self determination and didn’t want all those drugs. The nurse even said that he’d held his hand clenched shut with the meds and wouldn’t open it. Wouldn’t that be a sign one would pick up on that would tell a person he didn’t want the meds?
Of course, my complaints went unacknowledged as usual and I was once again treated as though I was the one with the problem-I was accused of “just having trouble accepting my father’s imminent death”. I’d already experienced the loss of my husband. Death was a familiar thing to me. Certainly I knew my father was going to die and on some level none of us are prepared for it ever. But that wasn’t the issue, it was the manner in which he was dying that I had the problem with. Death by overmedication.
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My Story (coming soon on video also)
I Begin with My Story: Most Importantly May It Inspire The Telling Of Yours
Hello! Welcome to our website! The ABOUT US page talks about our mission which also informs my story.
I hope it may inspire you to write yours here! That’s what this website is about! Finding our words, correcting our language and sharing our truest selves in celebration of the community that can be found.
My story comes in three parts:
First: Recognizing the ability to speak at all by lifting the shame. Listening to the moments I felt muted by other’s dictates, and finding accurate words to express my truest self.
Second: Listening to my gut brought me to a truth I couldn’t imagine existed and that I had always wished for.
Third: Finding that there really were people who spoke my language and saw the world in a very similar way. And that books and independent education was the best therapy I could ever find. One really good therapist didn’t hurt either, who was more importantly an independent thinker and who honored mine. All allowed me to not just see but transcend the limitations of very flawed mental health system.
My story centers around unraveling the effects and ravages of a lifetime of stigmatization and un-indoctrinating myself. All of which provided a return to my truest self and re-entry into the human community from since I could remember.
I start by setting the stage.
CHARACTER: Young female me, only female in the family and the youngest -yet more adult in her posturing, serious, intellectual leaning, not very playful except for her dolls who were like her best friends.
TIME: Childhood, somewhere around the age of 10 - coming to terms with the not so great things about the adult world and the seeds of what would become my adult truth.
SITUATION: A rather happy household, not perfect, but in the realm of whatever “normal” might have represented – life was at least filled with the usual daily adventures of living headed by above all my father. My father was the epitome of success - a self-made oral surgeon/dentist highly educated Yale man, always adventurous immigrant and worldly man, a lover of life, the ultimate romantic, yet quintessential family man, loving and attentive father – And he was a highly contributing community citizen, forever interested in politics and in his own way always proudly pushing the edge.
THE EVENT: My beloved father, lover of life was DIAGNOSED - BIPOLAR - late 70’s early 80’s as a result of becoming involved with a counter culture movement and I believe what was a mid-life extreme spiritual crisis.
THE AFTERMATH AND POST DIAGNOSIS: My family who had always valued “family” above all - broke apart. My parents divorced. Our world shattered into a quietly controlled war zone filled with shame and blame... too much to go around or for anyone to single-handedly process. It got whittled down into an “us versus them” mentality - where it became a war of my mother and brother against my father and me. It set a new silent but strong unspoken undertone that seemed to move in and take over. Me, all the while fighting for my life against getting a diagnosis like my father so as not to suffer a similar fate.
CONCLUSION: I now understand that yes there is a select small group of people in the word that just might actually believe I’m crazy. But it isn’t my job anymore to prove to them that I’m not but rather their job to find out that I’m not. What they miss in the meantime will be their loss and my new and only job is living.
THE STORY: I begin at the beginning and it’s central character – my father and the person he showed himself to be to me.
I will never forget when he brought the militant brown berets (guns and all, which on the face of it might scare people, but the punchline is exactly the opposite). The Brown Berets were the very origins of the chicano movement. They stayed with us for a few days, and never for a moment did I feel unsafe. If anything just mobilized, even at my young 6 years of age by their larger call for justice, unity and equality. As they paraded through the streets, chanting their cause, I hailed alongside them. My father invited them to an event at the church’s coffee house - hosted by the little old white-haired church ladies and their coffee cakes. I’ll never forget the brown berets, their speeches or their clap, which started slow and steady and sped up to a collective vibration as they chanted “Viva La Raza!” That was where I also learned the “code” handshake, the proverbial “bro” handshake of today without the fist pump. Back then, it was a sign that you were “on their side” or “the inside” as it were. By the time they left, the little old ladies were shaking hands right along with them.
My dad helped make that happen. He prided himself on bridging divides-recognizing our similarities not differences. He loved stirring things up, for the sake of something grander– if only to not take ourselves too seriously-ever. And that was his essence – a lover of life and of people - mostly the underdog; always combining compassion and politics to help bring voice to those who had none. He traveled the world with my mother, spoke a variety of languages, from Spanish to Portuguese to French and Italian.
As a father, he was the ultimate playmate, helping us set off rockets in the back pasture, taking us camping and on a variety of adventures. But it wasn’t just what he did but what he taught us as he took us along. There was always a purpose behind anything he embarked upon.
For example, he would take us treasure hunting (literally) with leads from his archeologist’s friend’s maps. It was a reminder that anything was possible… and what did it hurt to keep the possibility of magic alive? What if we did find the treasure? Besides which, we would learn the names of plants and animals and collect goodies along the way. I even remember him sifting through abandoned red ant piles because he’d figured that the ants were the greatest archeologists of all, he uncovered enough tiny glass beads in the old ant piles to make my mother a pair of earrings.
And that’s not the only thing he made, he made jewelry for my mom out of gold he’d extracted from his left over patient’s teeth (which some might see as gross, I saw it as inventive and non-wasteful, besides he was a doctor and understood the importance of sanitation).
He often saw opportunity where there seemed none and encouraged us to do the same.
He would walk me through my fears to the other side until they were not just irrelevant but useless, and finally cumbersome. He was a master at redirecting and helping me keep my eye on the prize. In essence he taught me the meaning and importance of following my passion. It wasn’t just about living passionately but rather the passion was living. He would exclaim, “Everyone is so busy making a living, they’re not living!”
I remember my first time on a ferris wheel sitting beside him, in willing yet anxious trepidation. He made sure to keep my focus on how far we could see - when we reached the top and got stuck - that was the best view of all!
From then on, I loved Ferris Wheels, same with lightening storms. He allowed me count so that I could know just how far away the lightening was to enjoy the beauty of the natural light display until I no longer even needed to count. To this day, I love lightening storms! Fear took second seat to the adventure in front of us, until fascination replaced and upstaged it.
He taught me that my limitations were my greatest assets.When I finally got my first acting role in college, it seemed to take forever, and it was only a bit part with only one line. He told me, “there was no such thing as small parts, just small actors”. I put my all into it, got a standing ovation and my entre into lead parts.
He helped make my brothers award-winning derby cars for their Boy Scouts’ tournaments. But it was never about winning, only the joy of building the best car possible. He loved the challenge of anything new or even old if he could bring new life into it - like fixing up an old military Jeep when he knew nothing much about cars or making a go-cart with my brothers out of an old lawnmower motor.
For Halloween he made me a witch’s nose out of dental nose putty to go along with my mother’s home-made costumes. While most of the kids had the cheap plastic fake vampire teeth, we had real ones! They were actual dental teeth custom fit to our mouth where we could mischievously hide them from everyone until we opened our mouth to reveal them with an evil smile and laugh with a Bua ha ha!
On rainy days, he’d build us boats out of scrap wood and nails hammered into them with strings tied to the front so we could pull them upstream against the currents of the gutter - where we played outside for hours on end.
He showed us that something could always be made from nothing or what most might throw away. There was opportunity in everything, it was our job to find it.
He taught us to embrace nature and never be afraid of it – Praying Mantises were his pets and he let Tarantulas crawl on his hands. He even once caught a wild cotton tail rabbit by hand to breed it with my domesticated one so that I could have baby bunnies.
Our backyard was a natural Disneyland-like petting zoo with every kind of farm animal you can think of; from goats to chickens and ducks, ponies, horses, bunnies, cats, dogs, hamsters, salamanders, chameleons, parakeets and even a wild sparrow hawk – and our pet family seemed to always be somehow forever changing and expanding.
Our backyard was filled with wild fruit trees, something like 13 apple trees, one pear tree, one apricot tree, a plum orchard, wild rhubarb, raspberries and asparagus growing along the ditch where we often safely played. Not to mention our own garden, swimming pool, a swing set, a treehouse he built with us out of scrap wood and even a clubhouse in the attic.
I don’t say this as a means of bragging but as a means of saying my dad didn’t skip a beat - and of course don’t forget the sandbox.
Family time also consisted of dancing to Colombian and other music in the basement where we would dance and play percussion instruments. There was no need to play them “right” or perfectly - it was just about having fun. His favorite was the bongos which he played with the confidence of a musical oficianado, despite never having had a single lesson.
We regularly had barbecues whenever possible. And he was forever exciting our taste buds with interesting things like hormigas otherwise known as army ants, and no - not the American way- “chocolate covered” – but instead the “Colombian” way - just a little salt and a whole lotta natural flavor. Yum! And of course all the other South American treats like obleas with dulce de Leche, plantains, caldo con huevo with arepa, guanabana and more.
For lotion, he rubbed the leftover chicken oil from his food into his hands with a satisfying grin at breaking a little American etiquette. He never let us forget our Colombian heritage. He loved to rebel, keep us on our toes, never let us get too spoiled or comfortable.
He nurtured our international palette and honored my mother’s Swiss heritage with cheese fondue and strudel she slaved over for Christmas. Family dinners often included foreign exchange students, traveling performers, and even one mentally challenged friend, Gonzalo (our age) who had to wear a helmet at all times for safety.
Forever active in campaigns, meals would often involve political discussions, a global perspective on things, and fighting for the underdog. He gave far more free dental care to those in need than he ever asked credit for- because it needed to be done and he could do it.
My father was a lover of life and he was the engine that drove it! My mother and he had been married more than 20 years. He was forever innovative, forever throwing out new and inventive ideas or ways of doing things or just new things to do! And my mother his willing and sometimes not so willing cohort, and seeming unspoken solid base.
Life was the adventure and he made sure we were along for the ride, always encouraging us to create our own. There were conflicts like any other household but nothing that ever stood out as particularly pathological - Or at least nothing that I could see from my child perspective.
He valued being unique and made sure we did the same. With a huge sense of humor, he laughed at anything and everything possible. A continual practical joker, he never took himself or anything terribly seriously. Nothing was ever a big deal, not even death. It was all just life, something to make our best way through, no matter what we were given. Making people laugh he later considered one of his “missions in life”, even long after his diagnosis. His spirit was unconquerable.
His uniqueness was in many ways a huge source of pride for him, a fun contest of sorts and he’d made it work for himself-quite successfully. You could even say that was exactly what made him successful in all the ways that mattered most.
But once he was diagnosed-everything changed. Life would never be the same.
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