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Sheila Hamilton: Learning From Mental Illness and How You Can’t Erase the Past

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

 

Sheila Hamilton and daughter Sophie

Sheila Hamilton is a well-known local broadcast personality. She is also a mother. Her daughter's father struggled with mental illness, and tragically lost his life to his disease. Recently, Hamilton started a blog to discuss how she has dealt with the issue. It is heartfelt and has not been an easy subject for Hamilton to discuss with her family and friends, let alone the public. That said, Hamilton felt it was time to tell her truth. Hamilton was just named one of Oregon's Mental Health Heroes by Trillium Family Services, the largest provider of mental health services to Oregon youth and their families. Hamilton shares her first blog post with GoLocalPDX below.  

Our daughter celebrates her birthday each June. I can’t help but measure her birthdays with an equal sense of apprehension and elation. She’s a teenager now, and still no sign of the brooding, the polarity, the darkness that descended on David like Portland’s thick grey clouds in January, refusing to budge. Yes, she has his intellect but she also has my relatively sunny nature. She is physically stunning with long, muscular legs and a waist that defies her voracious appetite. She has David’s European cheekbones. The color of her skin is his. Her ears have the same shape. There are times I find myself staring at one of her features for too long. She bats me away, “Mom, enough.”

But David’s genetics also carry a downside. “There’s a fifty percent chance your daughter will present with the same disorder,” a well-meaning psychologist once advised. “It is most common between the ages of 16 and 21.”  He exaggerated the percentage by a lot, but I understood his  point. Family history is the greatest predictor of bipolar disorder.

After David’s death, I’d read every book I could get my hands on about bipolar disorder. I’d measured the likelihood of a gene mutation against the things I could influence– her diet, her sleep, exercise, a sense of well-being and unconditional love. She is just fine, so far.  Becoming aware of our family’s genetic vulnerabilities was painful, but it provided a unique gateway to also focus on our genetic strengths, and Sophie has inherited a majority of the good stuff. She leaves for Stanford this fall with the sensitivity, compassion and intellect of a person who will be better than “just fine.”

We’ve also chosen not to keep our history secret. David’s parents may have known about his struggle with mental illness, but they never let on. It was only after David’s second suicide attempt that I learned his father also suffered from a similar disorder—at the age of 43, his father had hung up his Harvard MBA and abandoned a successful business career, because like Michael, he just couldn’t work for someone else.

Mental illness, unlike breast cancer, isn’t celebrated with big marches or pink ribbons. The stigma is stifling and it prevents most people from seeking help. David refused to accept the label of bipolar disorder. He could not imagine a life of medications and therapy, which did so little to help. David’s path is not unique. Suicide is now the ninth most common cause of death for men and women in America. Every thirteen minutes, another American dies from suicide. What could we have done differently? What should we have known?

It is my belief that many people could benefit from hearing more about how psychiatric conditions unfold. In the years, months and days leading up to David’s death, I didn’t classify him as mentally ill. I missed many signs. I ignored others, believing it could get better. And I scrambled, as the world came crashing down around us, I scrambled to maintain my own sanity and the health of our daughter.

In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll be using my blog to share what I’ve learned. I’ll be interviewing the world’s best researchers and scientists who are working to find a cure for mental illness. I’ll be sharing dispatches from mental health conferences and from my work at the Flawless Foundation, a mental health advocacy group. I’ll also be sharing my journey as I publish my first book, “All the Things We Never Knew.”

My interest is in preventing another loss of life as exquisite as David’s. I welcome your emails, your stories, and hopefully, your support. If you so desire, you can pre-order “All the Things We Never Knew” on Amazon.com and sign up for my newsletter at sheilahamilton.com. I’d be so grateful if you did both.

 

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By both lefty and righty analysis, a street fee to pay for road maintenance in the city of Portland fails. To the liberally inclined, charging every household a standard fee for road repair, regardless of how much they use or don’t use the roads, is inherently inequitable.

My neighbor, Esther, is housebound at 96. Her caretakers will pull out her car once a week and drive a few blocks to load up on groceries. The rest of the time her car sits in the garage. Under the proposal floated by Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales, she would pay almost $140 a year.

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Roy Jay: Latino Slavery in Portland

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You’ve driven by them many times, sometimes without giving it a second thought. 

Everyday about a block from the Oregon Convention Center, you will see groups of migrant workers from Mexico, Central America and South America strategically positioning themselves on the corners of the MLK Work Center as early as 6 AM waiting for a daily pick up to take them to some strange location for up to 10 or 12 hours a day.

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Scott Taylor: Portland's Passive Aggression Problem

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Scott Taylor: Five Things I Have to Say About Uber in Portland

Uber is just a glorified gypsy cab company with an app.

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Roy Jay: Why Portland Needs a Convention Center Hotel

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Jacob Grier: Why Oregonians Should Say No To GMO Labeling

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James Reilly: Cover Oregon Lawsuit Might Be Wakeup Call Oracle Needs

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Scott Taylor: Sick of Portland Street Kids Getting a Free Lunch

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As I peruse the buffet and cold-cut fridge I notice this tall, hooded, could be a tweeker, but not obvious, kid start to load up his, “TO GO” tray with heaping, loaded spoon full’s of chicken and a bunch of other delectables.

By this time in the day I was super hungry, because I hadn’t eaten and it was now 2:30 p.m. Watching this 20 something load his tray, my mouth started watering. I quickly overrode my involuntary salivating with my learned NY street smarts and considered the fact that after profiling him, (ooooooh he said the profiling word) this kid ain’t planning on paying for squat.

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Joe Cortright: Hey NY Times: Here's How You Got Portland Wrong

For the past five years at least, it seems like the New York Times has treated Portland as almost the long-lost sixth borough of New York, a sort of Brooklyn of the West, filled with bike-riding, beer-drinking hipsters and fashionable restaurants. 

Nothing invites snarky contrarianism more than a long string of upbeat reporting and, predictably, the Times delivered Sept. 21 with a story titled "Keep Portland Broke." In it, reporter—and former Portlander—Claire Cain Miller tells of bearded, kombucha-drinking locals and claims that “Portland has become a city of the overeducated and underemployed—a place where young people are, in many cases, forced into their semi-retirement."

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Bernard W. Sweeney: Science, Not Politics, Should Guide Clean Water Act Clarification

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But ongoing confusion over what “Waters of the United States” fall under the law’s jurisdiction spurred the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to propose aclarification. This would enable the agency to better protect our wetlands, small streams and other important watershed features without being dragged into court every time someone wanted to avoid compliance by exploiting an ambiguity. The public comment period for this rulemaking closes at midnight tonight (November 14).

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