Friday, November 6, 2009

"The People I Know" at College of Lake County

Last night Erasing the Distance performed "The People I Know" at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois.I spoke with Brighid O'Shaughnessy, Executive Artistic Director, about the show. She had a lot to share and without a tape recorder I couldn't keep up on all my notes! (So parts of this interview are paraphrased). In this interview, Brighid shares three powerful moments from yesterday's event.
Oriana: Good morning.

Brighid: Good morning!

Oriana: I'd like to give blog readers a feel for the experience of being at yesterday's show. So yesterday Erasing the Distance performed The People I Know, right?

Brighid: Yes. It was a somewhat tweaked version of The People I Know. It was a co-sponsored event by the Lake County Center for Independent Living and the Collage of Lake County. LCCIL originally wanted the signature show. But once the college became a co-sponsor, they felt strongly that they wanted to see more diverse ethnicities represented as well as the perspectives of college students. We removed the Ben and Cassie pieces and added the Jaron piece [about substance abuse and depression] and a new story about eating disorders. The show went really really well. Given the diversity of the audience (in terms of race, culture, age) it helped to have diversity on stage.

Actor Remy Ortiz (pictured) portrays Jaron

Oriana: What else stood out about yesterday's event?

Brighid: One poignant moment during the dialogue -- a Latina woman spoke up that after giving birth she had post-partum depression and she encountered a lot of stigma in her community.
She was having thoughts that scared her, and she was scared about what she wanted to do to her child and to do to herself.
With the help of a doctor, she started medication and seeing a therapist. She is feeling a lot better, but her friends and family still ask her why she has to keep seeing a therapist, why she couldn't just talk to them, "when are you going to be off this, you don't need to be on medication for life," and she said, "I just wish they would understand.

I told her "Your personal experience definitely reflects the data that there is significant stigma in the Hispanic and African American communities. But you are a warrior, you are paving the way for your community to view mental illness in a new and different way." The audience applauded her, and she said, "I'm proud of myself. I am not ashamed of what happened to me. I'm not afraid to tell my story." That was one really powerful moment.

Another moment was a mom, dad, and a young girl came up to me after the dialogue and asked if people can be misdiagnosed, and I said yes, that it actually happens frequently. There is currently no scientific test a doctor can use; they rely on their observation and use the DSM4 [Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], and often have limited time with the patient.The family shared that the daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
She hasn't experienced these symptoms for some time, but because this is in her file it follows her around [even if it is incorrect] and a doctor with her file might not see past it. They were very frustrated about this, and asked me what they could do.

I said,
"There is no reason why you couldn't get another assessment. You can get another doctor to reassess her. That first diagnosis doesn't have to stay in her file forever." They were very grateful, saying "Thank you so much! We hadn't thought of that."

Oriana: Wow.

Another woman wondered if self-injury was limited to cutting. Her son hits himself in the head until he is black and blue, and she is really worried about him. I told her "The fact that you are concerned is a great first step. It’s important however that you don't force him to stop immediately, as right now that is one of his only ways of coping with what he is feeling. It is important to get him treatment where he can learn other ways to cope. As a parent you can provide reinforcement, but it is important to work with a therapist because they are less emotionally involved and can help your son understand why he is engaging in the behavior and what other options he has.”

The dialogue lasted almost an hour! A lot of people were there. I found out later from our contacts that there were Lake County officials in the audience, faculty from the Collage of Lake County, and even a high school studying mental health came by bus.

Oriana: It sounds like it was a really powerful show. Thank you for telling us about it!

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