Today’s the day after Christmas. It’s a day I should be writing my year-end blog where I tell you what wonderful things happened in 2011 and how joyous and grateful I am. And for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with me through Twitter or Facebook (since I haven’t been very good at blogging this year), wonderful things have happened in 2011.

Magician Kent Cummins sawing me in half for the Bess Whitehead Scholarship Fund.

  • In May, I finally finished the sex book.
  • In July, my publisher, Berkley Books, informally accepted the sex book.
  • In August, I accepted an offer to write a screenplay about a topic that takes me back to my undergraduate studies and dreams.
  • In September, I got to spend a night in San Francisco reconnecting with dear friends. I got to start research for the screenplay and had some fabulous experiences doing it. And I got to get sawed in half as a fundraiser for the Bess Whitehead Scholarship Fund.
  • In October, Berkley Books gave me a firm publication date for the sex book — October 2012. And Red Line Films/Dick Clark Productions interviewed me about my true crime book Wasted for the new Investigation Discovery Channel TV show Deadly Sins, which will premiere in Spring 2012.
  • In December, I got a dog from Cocker Spaniel Rescue of Austin/San Antonio. Jacob and I are very simpatico — he likes to spend his time eating and sleeping in front of the TV. And Berkley Books gave me the official title of the sex book – Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.

On set for interview with Investigation Discovery's "Deadly Sins."

By Christmas day, I should have been filled with joy. Instead, I struggled with depression, barely able to write, shop, workout, or enjoy Jacob. Worse, I felt guilty for my self-absorbed sadness when I all I have to do is read my friends’ Facebook posts to know how lucky and blessed I am. One friend learned she has cancer. Another’s mother died. Another struggled with her dying father’s Alzheimer’s and the lack of caring for him by the rest of her family. And still another friend, whose son died years ago, just endured the death of a grandchild, as well as another family member.

Then there are the stories on the news: A Christmas-celebrating family in Grapevine, Texas, shot to death by a presumed family member dressed in a Santa suit, who then killed himself for a total of seven dead. A Connecticut mother lost her three daughters and mother and father – who was the Saks Fifth Avenue Santa Claus – in a house fire as the mother screamed, “My whole life is in there!” Oh, God, that breaks my heart.

I have my family, my health, a dog who loves me, the knowledge that I’ll have a roof over my head and food in my fridge no matter what (thanks to my family), and a book coming out and a screenplay that’s due. I should be screaming from my roof, THANK YOU, JESUS! And part of me does say thank You over and over again. But as I told my sister, the worst thing about depression is that it won’t go away even when you know you have no reason to be depressed, even though you know you are blessed far beyond what you deserve. She understood. Not everyone does. That makes me grieve, and it makes me angry.

Jacob, my "therapy" dog.

This weekend I asked a man, who lost his job last spring and is still unemployed, how his stepdaughter is. I knew she’d had problems, even though even the broadest of details have been kept secret. I surmised the problems had to do with legal issues due to a mental illness. The man’s reply was an angrily whispered, “She’s a sixteen-year-old Casey Anthony.” Oh, God, his comment makes me cry for his stepdaughter. How does this child have a chance with so little support from her own family? I say that because, as far as I know, she hasn’t had a baby and hasn’t been accused of murdering anyone. And either before or after my conversation with the stepfather – my memory is fuzzy because of the stress and shock of the day and learning what I learned – I overheard (though not from him) that the girl had attempted suicide, had been in a coma, and was apparently still in the hospital recovering.

I want to give this man a break and say his ignorance and insensitivity about mental illness are due to the stress of his unemployment, lack of job prospects, and money troubles, and the child’s suicide attempt is beyond what he can bear. I did say to him that I’ve been concerned that the child suffers from schizophrenia. She is of the age when the symptoms begin to appear. Or maybe she’s bipolar. I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist. All I know is that mental illness is not a choice. It’s not a desire. It’s not a call for attention. It’s not being melodramatic. It’s not a matter of bucking up or not praying enough. It is a disorder. A brain disorder. An illness.

Think of it this way, if this child had leukemia, there is no way that she purposely f***ed up her white blood cells to cause leukemia, and there’s nothing she could do to reorder the structure of her white blood cells to make herself healthy. She’d need great doctors and great medicine to have any chance of regaining her health. And everyone knows that and accepts that.

Similarly, a child with a brain disorder did not purposely scramble her brain so that she could be “crazy,” get attention, or cause problems for the family. And she can’t re-order her brain, as if it were a Rubik’s cube that could be twisted and turned until it’s miraculously put back in order. Like a leukemia child, she needs great doctors and great medicine to have any chance of regaining her healthy. Sadly, not everyone knows that or accepts that.

After all, people don’t talk about what a f***up a child with leukemia is or how bad she is or how she’s ruining the lives of everyone in the family. They certainly don’t compare her to Casey Anthony. And they don’t wish her away. Rather, they contact Make-A-Wish Foundation, take her to Disneyland and celebrate her. They pray for her and try to get her the best treatment for possible. Let me repeat: the child with leukemia did not cause or create her disorder of the blood, just as that man’s stepdaughter did not cause or create her disorder of the brain.

So, if there’s one positive thing I can do at the close of 2011, I think that one thing is to attempt to create some understanding about mental illness. Understanding doesn’t just make it easier on the one who is suffering from the brain disease — it increases the chances of recovering mental health. Perhaps equally important, understanding makes it easier on the friends and family members, too. After all, isn’t being empathetic, patient, and caring a heck of a lot easier than being angry and hateful?

Now I’m going to try to practice what I preach – get over my anger at her stepfather and be understanding toward him. After all, a lot of wonderful things happened in 2011, and I have a book coming out in 2012.

Click on the below for additional reading and information regarding brain disorders:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Breaking Point by Suzy Spencer

Austin American-Statesman columnist Andrea Ball on being bipolar

And posts from my blog:

Update on Tracey Tarlton from The Fortune Hunter

Strong Legs, Fragile Brain: A Guest Post by Diana Kern

A Dark Cloud of Desperation: A Joint Post with D.H. Gregory

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