(Interview 5/2013. Oil on canvas 40 ins.x 30 ins.)
Janet is doing very well. She wrote me this note. " I am still receiving those benefits and they are amazingly helpful. I would probably not have been able to do what I do without the help. I would have been living in survival probably.
Janet is still very grateful for the social program that pave a way for her to access healthcare. "Every now and then I call to God out loud and thank him for it. It will change in two years and I will probably have to earn less money to keep the Medicaid. I don't understand that, because people tend to get sicker as they age and need it more. I am nervous about it, because I don't understand how any of it works. I will ask for help.
Janet intended to jump off a mountaintop but the fall was not a straight drop.
"To catch you up, Phil passed away four years ago at 52. He was born with heart issues and lived 12 years longer than predicted at birth. In those 12 years, during which you met us, we created our magic together in mental health and suicide prevention. I now know that this is much of the reason we were brought together. I'd always wanted to do this work, but he gave me the courage to follow through and he put it on the virtual map.
"I am continuing that work on my own and with a few others, who are in a show I wrote about suicide and bullying. It's the story of my life encapsulated in a fantasy. It's called, 'The Wizard of Iz' and it's the story of a different Dorothy, who is put on trial for believing she has no choice but to end her life. It is poignant, yet whimsical and humorous. We have performed it now for hundreds of mental health consumers and clinicians with great success. We are now rehearsing it to perform live on a virtual platform.
"I am also serving on 2 statewide committees in NJ for suicide prevention and crisis response. I am writing a book on my history with suicide called Sui-love. That is the word I created after having spent much of my life hearing the word, 'suicide', repeating at the speed of light, in my head. This new word has made a groove in my head and is much more comforting. It's what I hear when fear comes up rather than the dreaded, 'suicide'."
Artist Note (2013)
Janet has had suicidal thoughts starting at 8 yrs old. Her mental illness continued into adulthood. She was in and out of mental hospitals. Janet struggled to hold on to her sanity. She eventually qualified for government safety net programs. Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid allowed her to get regular, uninterrupted treatment and set her on her way to wellness.
When I asked Janet what these safety net programs mean in her life she said.
“It means God. It tells me there is a God and he saved my life. I am so grateful for it. Having it allows me the time to do the work I do in suicide prevention. ...I don’t understand how it works, but it works. I also live in fear of losing it.”
Janet's first bout with suicidal thoughts came when she was 8 years old.A ticker tape ran in her head all day long. "Suicide, suicide, suicide, DO IT NOW!" Doctors declared her to be hyperactive. Her mother knew something more was wrong.
Janet went on to co-found Creative Crisis Care with her partner, Phillip Garber. They describe their work this way. "By using many forms of the arts, experiential games and creative role playing, participants are able to witness the mechanisms that hold them in suicidal ideation and behavior…what Suicide Anonymous refers to as an addiction. The power of the arts lies in the fact that they address cognitive as well as emotional issues."
(from a 2013 interview)
Workshop Facilitator and Performer, Social Security Disability Insurance qualifying subject for Medicare and Medicaid Age 55
Janet co-founded an organization that uses the arts and interactive exercises to approach the topic of suicide and bullying. She uses her talents as a dancer, artist, poet, professional mime and drama teacher to teach suicide awareness and bullying workshops. Janet also helps establish chapters of Suicide Anonymous© all over the world.
Janet believes the brutal teasing she endured as a child acted triggered her incessant suicidal thoughts
Janet's first bout with suicidal thoughts came when she was 8 years old. A ticker tape ran in her head all day long. "Suicide, suicide, suicide, DO IT NOW!" Doctors declared her to be hyperactive. Her mother knew something more was wrong.
The suicidal thoughts disappeared then returned when Janet was 19.
“The summer of ’79 was very manic.” Janet was dancing in the middle of the street in New York City, overexcited and approaching strangers. She was very promiscuous and doing drugs -- marijuana and psychedelics.
Janet was in college in Massachusetts at the time, studying psychology and drama, and losing interest in it. Janet wanted to do mime, dance, act, and study film. Her therapist suggested she drop out of school because she was wasting her parents’ money. “My mother freaked. Neither of my parents understood the depth of the problem. It was too scary for them.”
An old boyfriend returned after a breakup, and within an hour she felt suicidal. He knew her too well and realized her behavior was unusual. Others were impressed by this manic behavior, but he didn’t buy it. “My cover was blown.”
Janet believed that she was schizophrenic, not knowing enough about psychology to imagine what else it could possibly be. She moved back into her parents’ house.
Janet intended to jump off a mountaintop but the fall was not a straight drop. Her condition had so deteriorated that her therapist said she must be admitted to the hospital. In January of 1980, at 21 years old, Janet checked herself into a mental hospital and stayed for 2 months.
Janet ’s father paid her insurance premium even though it was a financial burden for him. Janet was adamant about earning her own living when the medical community suggested she might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance.
Janet got a job as an assistant, teaching special education students. The staff observed that she was good at drama and asked her to be the drama specialist. When the arts were being cut, Janet left the job.
Janet s father was still paying her insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Her job as a special education assistant did not offer benefits. Her guilt mounted. She worried about the pressure her father felt financially from paying her health insurance premium.
Janet went from being a teacher’s aide to becoming a nanny for her best friend, and supplementing her income with house cleaning. She did many odd jobs at the time.
“I was getting stoned and violent as a result.” In 1987 Janet checked herself into rehab for drugs and alcohol. She admitted herself into a long term treatment facility. Her father’s insurance covered 80% of the upscale facility's $500/day cost. Janet said she “didn’t feel good about the place.” They had taken her off her medications for observation and she began feeling suicidal. “I had to get out.” The facility let her leave against medical advice. Janet went home.
Janet’s parents did not know what to do with their daughter and her suicidal thoughts. Her father took her to the emergency room at a local hospital. The staff insisted she go to the mental unit or be sent to the state mental hospital. She agreed to stay in the mental unit.
Every night Janet woke at 3:20 AM. She got on her hands and knees and prayed to one day be able to help others in the same condition. “Praying on hands and knees is unusual for Jewish people to do.” In hindsight she sees now that this experience set the stage for the work she does now.
Janet was in the hospital for a month. She was forced to reach out to others for help which was a benefit, although she still felt great shame. Her father was still paying for her health insurance.
In 1990 another addiction required attention. Janet had been an obsessive compulsive nose picker (since early childhood) to the point of puncturing a hole in her septum.
She went to Self-Mutilators Anonymous. “It was scary to see what people did to themselves.” At the meetings the Janet talked about her feelings. The “suicide tape” would start one day, and she would be fine the next. She observed that she cycled through the suicide rants more quickly. The picking stopped in 2005 after therapy with an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) specialist.
From 1990-2010, Janet taught drama in schools and at after-school programs, all part-time work. Her father covered her health insurance until 1995. She was aware of the economic hardship she was causing her parents. Janet was having great difficulty working a full-time job. Mental illness was always in the way.
In 1995 Janet applied for and received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI provides a modest income. A person receiving SSDI also qualifies for Medicare health benefits after a 2 year waiting period. When Janet finally got Medicare insurance, she also qualified for Medicaid. She became what is known as a dual eligible. Medicaid covers what Medicare does not.
Janet felt a new guilt about receiving government money, even though her disability lawyer reminded her that SSDI is based on money she had earned. She believed she should have been working, but she needed treatment. She was seeing therapists and needed medication.
In the mid 90’s the medical community discovered she had lithium poisoning. Janet experienced small bouts of depression at this time. She described herself as “emotionally steady” compared to how she was when previously suicidal.
Janey managed to stay out of hospitals for 18 years.
In 2007, Janet had a relapse and slipped into suicidal depression. The suicidal thoughts lasted for 4 years. She was hospitalized 3 times in one year and had 35 shock treatments. Her friends didn’t recognize her. “They said I was a zombie.” Janet doesn’t remember much. At the time she could not remember her partner’s last name.
Toward the end of 2009 Janet told her psychiatrist that she was jealous of everybody’s good news. Her doctor then said she could no longer help her. He said she needed long-term treatment in a state hospital. When Janet refused, the doctor gave her one of two choices --more shock treatments or more Seroquel. Believing that neither would work, Janet opted for the least invasive choice, Seroquel.
For 5 days Janet pretended to get better with the intention of killing herself once discharged. The staff believed her act and released her that week. She had planned her suicide while her partner was at work, but was thwarted by the words she kept hearing in her mind, “Suicide denied.”
Janet put off suicide until the next day. But she heard the same words again each morning upon awakening. “Suicide denied.” Every day it was the same thing. Then she heard the words, “Shit or get off the pot,” followed by a dream about her leading a suicide prevention workshop. Janet designed a workshop called Creative Crisis Care: Suicide Denied, which she leads with her partner, also a suicide addict.
“ ‘Suicide Denied’ was all well and good but I still needed help.” Janet discovered a group called Suicide Anonymous©. Her sponsor helped her found a local chapter. She participated in several day programs and self -help centers where she now teaches Wellness Recovery Action Plan in the form of scrapbooking (called W.R.A.P. Scrap) and guided imagery.
The group therapy and art therapy sessions were the most helpful to her personal recovery.
In August 2010 Janet and her partner held their first Suicide Anonymous© meeting and workshop, Creative Crisis Care: Suicide Denied. The workshop was a “blazing success.” She is now the Outreach Coordinator for SA.
When asked what safety net programs and Social Security Disability Insurance mean to her, Janet said, “It means God. It tells me there is a God and he saved my life. I am so grateful for it. Having it allows me the time to do the work I do in suicide prevention. I don’t work well full time. Working part time keeps me from being mentally ill. I think of President Roosevelt who started SSDI. I’m grateful to him. I was so afraid that if President Obama didn’t win, I’d lose the disability. I don’t understand how it works, but it works. I also live in fear of losing it.”
Janet says that she has supported many people around the world in their struggle with suicidal ideation and behavior.
Today, Janet is 26 years clean and sober. She has had love, sex and food addictions. She’s been to support groups for co-dependency, obsessive compulsive disorder and suicidal ideation. Janet says “CAT scans show that addicts’ brains work differently from non-addicts’ brains.”
She does not get full blown episodes of mania anymore because she recognizes the signs, and can take measures to quell them.
A WORD FROM THE SUBJECT
In 2010, I started hearing another voice in my head that kept saying "Don't be a victim. Do something to address the issue of suicide. Use your talents to heal the problem." I discovered Suicide Anonymous© founded by a psychiatrist who had made 7 suicide attempts. I started Suicide Anonymous© meetings in Burlington and Camden Counties of NJ with my partner. These meetings have been such a safe haven where I can share my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. What’s great is that people from all over the world can attend our meetings by Skype or phone.
My partner and I also created a workshop called Creative Crisis Care, which uses art and interactive exercises to approach the topic of suicide.