Pets, music help support group fight illness
Flo rocks. Not just because she was born in Coney Island and married a doting man she nicknamed Cookie.
Nor merely for her ability to spin hilarious yarns about her miniature pincher who is as fat as a moose or her two chihuahuas who engage in more antics than the year has days.
But because she is living with a debilitating and often fatal condition and is kicking its butt.
Flo, no last name please, has had depression for so long she can’t even remember when it was diagnosed.
While it’s taken her up, down, sideways and to the violent point of throwing rocks at Cookie’s head, the 64-year-old grandmother is still around to talk about it.
She joined several others at a recent Wednesday meeting at the Northside YMCA where they sat around discussing what ailed them. Unlike those hit by seasonal, holiday or economic anxiety, the people at the meeting cope with their conditions year-round.
While Tucson’s Desert Rat Chapter of the Depression and Biploar Support Alliance meeting may seem like it could be, well, depressing, there was definitely more laughter than there were tears.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure anybody cried at all.
Not even when Doug’s mom, who was there for support, told of his plight. Her son once had a job, wife and nice house, stuff that all went out the window when his bipolar illness was diagnosed.
Now he’s not sure what his mind-set will be from one day to the next.
“He can’t plan anything,” his mom said.
“It’s like a switch,” Doug added. “I’m fine once day and wake up the next and it’s the worst it’s ever been.”
Group President Ron Melzer, too, got a bipolar diagnosis, a condition marked with ecstatic highs and manic lows.
Jimi Hendrix sings about it, but the only song going through some folks’ heads may be one filled with rage.
“I was a very angry individual,” Melzer said. His kids used to tense up if they did the smallest thing wrong. Yes, he mentioned the proverbial spilled milk.
“Now I’m on mood stabilizers and I’m Mr. Mellow,” he said.
Medication coupled with therapy has an 80 percent success rate treating many mental illnesses. Unlike the group members, only a handful of folks seek that help.
Some may be unaware they are suffering from a mental illness. Others may not want to admit it.
“For me it was hard to accept I was sick,” said Lori, another bipolar group member. “Once I got on board, things got better.
“I learned that mental illness is a genetic disposition that was brought about when I was under enormous stress.”
Flo attributes much of her depression to her traumatic childhood.
Her cousin regularly molested her. Her older sister repeatedly beat her. Rather than crumbling, however, Flo became enraged.
Once she got big enough, she said, no brick, no garbage can, no barstool, bottle or table was safe from being hurled across the room.
“The first time I was locked up,” she said referring to her stay at a mental health facility, “I terrorized the whole place.”
She then became suicidal.
Husband Cookie found his wife overdosed on 90 Xanax.
“Thank God, I walked into the bedroom,” he added.
Only later was Flo able to change her attitude. “I decided that I love myself,” she said.
Meeting members shared other coping techniques. Regular exercise, eating right, sleeping enough and talking about their woes work wonders.
Other pluses are pets, even a miniature pincher as big as a moose, and supportive friends and family such as Cookie.
Music is another mood shifter, not necessarily Hendrix. Flo’s favorite pick-me-up tune is “Play That Funky Music (White Boy).”
One more must is a determination to overcome the condition rather than allowing it to consume you.
“I won’t let it,” Flo said.
“I won’t let it take me to the dark side.”
Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter whose favorite mood-lifting music includes Franz Schubert’s “The Earl King” and anything by Igor Stravinsky.
TO LEARN MORE
• Wednesdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. (no meeting Dec. 31)
Northside YMCA, 7770 N. Shannon Road, Room 303
• Sundays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
University Medical Center, 1501 N. Campbell Ave.