Category Archives: Mental Illness

End the Stigma of Mental Illness

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, or the like, I urge you to review this Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. We must show kindness, to ourselves and others. This is an important first step toward ending the stigma that plagues those suffering with mental illness (and other types of illnesses). I welcome your feedback.

Some Thoughts on Mental Illness

I recently sent my final draft of the manuscript of my memoir to my publisher. The book is broad – everything from my childhood to adult history of overcoming bipolar disorder. One of my objectives is that this book helps to remove the stigma of mental illness from both the patient and everyone else.  When you come down with cancer, others now exhibit sympathy and empathy.  Why should mental illness be any different?

And mental illness has its cures, from medication to talk therapy to the support of family, friends and employers/fellow employees—IF the patient is willing to participate and try.

Human justice requires us to treat mental illness no differently than physical illness.  Many cultures already are ahead of America in that vital area.

Now let’s not forget that suicide – many times with very talented, brilliant, kind people – occurs due to what I call “internalized stigma.”  This stigma comes from others and the patient’s own identity with the diagnosis and its effects.

I’ve thought from time to time that persons with mental illness perceive the ills and feel inadequate to act.  Think of Winston Churchill who did act and Abraham Lincoln who did act. Let’s help others attain their own greatness!

Mental Illness and Kindness

The stigma of mental illness must be eliminated as more and more of humankind knows more and more how to treat them – just like breast cancer, diabetes, and on and on.

One by one, we have our strengths and weaknesses.  Trying to accept others as they are, perhaps helping them with some form of kindness – is an important part of the formula toward Heaven on Earth. Kindness is just the opposite of hate and allowing and promoting it within ourselves and others is what makes the human condition capable of a joyous state – through ups and downs. So, please join me is spreading kindness as we march toward Heaven on Earth!

Daddy and Me

Here is an essay that I wrote for a writing class that I am taking at Loyola University. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my personal life.

 

Daddy and Me

            Daddy was the silent controller of our family, a circumstance that I only learned explicitly late in Mother’s life. She told me that he pointed out our shortcomings and left it up to her to correct them. It was pretty much a whole lot of tough love for me, the oldest, as well as for my two brothers and the youngest, my sister.

I guess that I really implicitly understood Daddy’s power from a young age. Later in life, when he had built a fortune through superb investments in one stock—Aflac—his control was quite apparent to all in the family and otherwise.

From an early age I have emulated and sought the approval of Daddy and also from my brilliant, avid reading and well-educated Mother.

While Daddy lacked the college education—something that was not unusual in his time—he had the opportunity of observing a superb entrepreneur, his father for whom I am named. So when he joined the board of directors of Aflac, he recognized in its founders–the three Amos brothers–especially John Amos; exhibited the stuff of great entrepreneurs. He also understood the superb business talent in the second generation—Dan Amos who was instrumental in building the corporation. Dan is a natural leader with wonderful insight and performance; enhancing the stakes of customers, employees, agents, management, shareholders as well as operating as a genuinely good corporate citizen too.

Yes, Daddy made his mark in investing. While each of us had our own cases of bipolar disorder, he never understood even at an elementary level his condition—he may never have been informed of his diagnosis. But he was and is my hero—tough love and all. I pray for Daddy and Mother each night.

Daddy died at 85 and Mother at the same age about a year earlier. There’s a certain resilience that can arise from tough love—especially in my case if it is backed up in the long run with superb and extraordinary psychiatric care, something Daddy really needed, yet never sought or received.

I never saw Daddy when he was in the manic phase, but I did observe him in the depressive state—something that I myself suffered many times.

One would think that Daddy and I would identify with each other in our depths. I did visit him in Meridian, Mississippi many times during my depression. I still very much admire him for his investing success in Aflac and his savvy nature with money. Financial literacy is something that we all should seek in order to take care of ourselves, families and others.

My parents had a profound influence on their children and grandchildren. Daddy’s “leadership” of the family and his tenacity to carry on without medication or therapy is something that I would advise no one with bipolar disorder. But, through it all, I genuinely admire and respect him (Mother too).

He wasn’t a sophisticated and educated person and he had the challenges of his illness. He also had all sorts of personal problems, yet he demonstrated great tenacity in his method of investing—99 percent of his liquid assets in Aflac stock. But he carried on. Unfortunately, he was able to experience only one season before his death; that is at Davis Wade Stadium at Mississippi State University. It’s a football arena that seems to exhibit his toughness and resilience in a demanding sport. Our family–thanks to Daddy–have a 50-yard line box suite to see bulldog football. The intelligence and rigorous nature embodied in the sport reminds me of Daddy who played the game in junior college. He cared for our family and bulldog sports in a special, yet somewhat quiet manner.

Thank you, Daddy and Mother.

Love,

John

New Orleans and Me

I grew up in small towns in Mississippi and Georgia, got my accounting degrees at the University of Georgia, lived in Atlanta for several years and Montgomery, Alabama for several months.

In 1977, at the age of 32, I moved to New Orleans for health reasons.  I remember my first taste.  I walked into Coliseum House, a mental hospital in a suit and tie.  I had been in Mississippi helping Daddy make a timber sale of well over a million dollars.  After that deal was consummated, I set about trying to organize the family timberland into a formal business.  A bipolar episode ensued and thus the trip to New Orleans.

Somewhat soon after I entered the hospital, a fellow “prisoner” remarked, “You’re not going to make any deals in here.”  And I thought to myself, “He’s absolutely right.”

While my introduction to New Orleans was less than awe inspiring, it actually turned out to be a pivotal point in my life, eventually…

After hospitalization I moved into an all-adult apartment in a suburb of New Orleans.  My brother, Paul, came to town to visit and stayed with me for several years—first in Metairie and then at his request, Uptown.

With Daddy putting up the cash we purchased a condominium on St. Charles Avenue on the traditional Mardi Gras parade route.

We moved in right before carnival season in 1980, and I’ve lived in Uptown ever since—this area simply shines in my mind and heart.  At 3201 St. Charles Avenue, all one had to do was walk out front during the Mardi Gras parades and they were there—forecast in the distance by the marching bands announcing their presence.

Later, I would court and marry my second wife who was a former New Orleans debutante.  She would introduce me to a social scene that lasted from 1982 till our separation in December, 1998.  Since then my social life has been a mere shadow of my years with her.  But slowly, New Orleans has taken on a new shine, one of spiritual awakening, one of purpose and meaning that I never had before at any time in my life.

New Orleans is a place.  But it is also an idea, an emotion and a wholly different and unique city, especially since Katrina.  We have our own words (such as “making groceries”), characters, music, architecture, food and love of the moment—all present in some way throughout its history.

We now have our charter schools, thanks to Katrina and concerned citizens.  We are trying to be better, and have even won a Super Bowl along the way since that devastating hurricane.  But Katrina was a defining event for our Crescent City.  We weren’t killed or vanquished—not all of us—and we came back stronger, not only in football, but in education, business, music and perhaps most important of all—our own concept of our city.

I now call New Orleans “home” because I have a deep connection with this place—everything from the symphony to the Saints—and a whole, whole, whole lot more.

Internalized Stigma and Healthy Self-Esteem

I believe just about everyone suffers from some type of internalized stigma – some much more than others, very much a matter of degree and the source of the stigma.  That does not mean that there aren’t many people with healthy self-esteem.  But many of these people, sometime in their life, experienced internalized stigma.  Overcoming this stigma can and does create both wisdom and that healthy self-esteem.

Overcoming Internalized Stigma

I have for some time written and spoken about my “internalized stigma.”  That concept could also be applied to race and religion, for all sorts of people, from the caste system in India to poor people globally.

It’s a matter of low self-esteem due to society’s view of you, or more pertinently, your own view of yourself through that eternal prism.  This also pertains to gender, appearance, and so many human qualities.

What is the solution to these external factors which are then internalized?  Some of these difficult stigmas can be overcome if one by one, million by million, billion by billion, we come to realize through faith that each of us and all of us have a “little piece of God” since the dawn of humankind.

Since 1963 I have lived with and eventually overcome the internalized stigma of bipolar disorder, and whatever other mental difficulties I received through my environment.  My experience was that building genuine self-esteem with humility and without arrogance was no easy task with mental illness.  I suspect this would be the same for others, whether they are overcoming stigmas associated with gender, race, religion and other human conditions.

We humans tend to label people far too quickly.  The reality of it is that we are much more alike than we are different.  I believe one essential key to overcome humankind’s toughest problems is to reach out globally to invoke a faith that each of us and all of us have a “little piece of God.”  Thus, we must be kind to ourselves and all others, including those that don’t fit our perceptions of “our kind of people.”  After all, we are all God’s children and we should not judge others with bias and prejudice, especially from appearances alone.

Government and charities can help in terms of health and education.  But only business can solve the world’s poverty, especially for the 2.7 billion people who are living on $2 or less per day.  Gandhi stated that “violence begets violence.”  I fully agree.  The reverse is true, too, as I have written:  “Kindness begets kindness.”

I want to be, and it is my calling to be, a pathfinder toward Heaven on Earth, whether that involves being a public servant or serving like Gandhi did.  That will be up to others to assess.  I thank God for the opportunity to serve in whatever I am lead.