As I See it: My Friends are Dying Like Flies
By Marvin Spieler, Editor at Large Columnist
Try to Stay Healthy
Note: This article is reprinted from the fall 2003 edition of City Voices. Marvin's sentiments here reflect how a lot of us feel about losing the friends we have made in the mental health community; people who have touched our lives as the late Marvin Spieler had.
What does the title mean? It means very dear loved ones, friends, mental health advocates and acquaintances are dying like flies. Obviously they weren't flies. Not by any means would I ever think that. However, they are dying so regularly. So many are now gone I can't imagine who will be next. They are dying so often, in a sense they are dying like flies. My memory of who died and when is beginning to be a continuous blur of images. Dead acquaintances bother me a great deal. I knew them or admired their work as advocates and I miss them dearly.
I'm mourning the memory of my wife who passed more than three years ago. I knew Reta since 1975 and was married for a dozen years. All I can feel now is pain. Six months later, Ken Steele, a close friend, contemporary and mental health advocate of incredible achievement thanks to the right medication after thirty years lost in hospitals, also died. My mother left earth that year too. She is still in every one of my bones. The avalanche of deaths started with the great advocate Howie the Harp. The Peer Advocacy Center in Harlem, busy training consumers to become peer advocates, now functions in his memory and in his name.
Quincy Boykin, New York City's Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene's citywide consumer advocate's death scared the hell out of me. He had a stroke, which he survived. Months to a year later he died. Whether it was another stroke or a rumor he had a heart attack doesn't matter. He meant a lot to me, fought for us all, gained the respect of providers for all of us and empowered many consumers.
Dr. Aquila of St. Lukes/Roosevelt Hospital stated at a June 27, 2003 conference sponsored by the Manhattan Mental Health Council that consumers die ten years younger than the greater population. It was pointed out that suicide factored in.
The body doesn't age faster because of mental illness does it? If not, why the disparity? Two ideas immediately occur: we generally are overweight due to the psychiatric medicines and those who smoke or have smoked for many years are at risk.
I would ask, are we getting the quality healthcare we need?
Our diets are generally poor due to lack of knowledge and low incomes as well. A poor man's diet makes you overweight.
All this comes to mind yesterday with a phone call. I learned a friend had a clot in his lung. He was lucky to get to a hospital in time.
What can you do? 1) Stop smoking; 2) exercise on a regular basis; 3) improve your diet; and 4) consult your psychiatrist about your medicines.
I personally have stopped smoking recently. It's a big start. Believe me, it isn't easy. I crave a cigarette whenever I see a person with one, but resist smoking. It's a step in the right direction.
It's a start for me. However, how far has my body deteriorated? How much at risk am I? The younger you are the greater chance for changing old habits. Time is on your side. Use it wisely.