Jeanne Siphron: Fit to be Crazy

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I met Jeanne Siphron when we were both part of a support group called Even Keel. As you might guess from the name, it was a support group for people suffering from manic-depression, clinical depression, or other mental illness. (My two major bouts of depression, one after the birth of my second child and one while going through menopause and divorce at the same time brought me to Even Keel. More on “my story” in another posting.)

When Jeanne dropped me a note about her book, Fit to be Crazy, I immediately sent $15 for my own copy. (Ordering information below.) What Jeanne has experienced throughout her life is laid bare in this memoir. Because she was not diagnosed until a few years ago at the age of 67, she has lived almost her entire life without knowing she needed help. (For 13 years before her diagnosis, Jeanne now realizes she was clinically depressed, functioning poorly during these years.) Even as a child, her mother constantly reprimanded her for not sitting still and saying, “Behave yourself,” so Jeanne grew up with the label of being the “black sheep” of the family. Her mother’s religious fanaticism only added to her bad feelings about herself. As Jeanne said in our interview, “I was choking on the church.”

Despite her swings between mania and depression even in her youth, Jeanne graduated as a religion major from Vassar College. Her roommate labeled Jeanne’s undiagnosed depression as laziness. (Remember, back in the 50s and 60s, depression was not readily treated as a mental illness.) Jeanne also received a Masters degree in innovative education from Goddard College in Vermont. She went on to found Wightwood School in Branford, CT in 1971, which still is in existence. However, she was fired from this school for “inappropriate (manic) behaviors,” which she now realizes was part of her illness, still undiagnosed at this time. For example, she emptied the school of children when the furnace was smoking, but she herself went down to the furnace room to inspect the problem, which could have resulted in major injury to herself.

All through these years, she was a whirling dervish at times and depressed at others. Both her marriages failed because she overwhelmed her husbands with her swings from mania or high enthusiasm to deep depression. Finally, she was diagnosed as manic-depressive at Stanford, CT Mental Hospital after a “whopping manic episode.”

Now, at 72, she is living with her illness with the help of lithium, a drug that she feels has saved her life. Jeanne told me that lithium is the best-established and continuously most effective treatment for manic depression. Jeanne understands now that manic-depressive people are generally creative and over-achievers, as she is. She also told me that during a manic episode, her brain seemed to work at warp-speed, catching on fire, with a heat build up in her head, frightening her. Her illness is for real, not just a person with too much enthusiasm or someone depressed who can “snap out of it.”

Her advice to older women with symptoms of manic depression or depression is to become more knowledgeable, discussing it with family and physicians to decide which road to follow. Jeanne told me this: “Since my diagnosis and treatment in 2002, all my abilities and desires that make me who I am are fulfilling me every day. I tap into them and have never felt this good in my life. For the first time I am balanced! I no longer feel out of whack or weird. I’m no longer crazy!” Jeanne now homesteads in the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania.

Jeanne’s memoir is filled with experiences that I found riveting, given her undiagnosed illness for most of her life. I also admire Jeanne for being so outspoken about her illness. If you think being green isn’t easy, just try being crazy!

If there is someone in your family (or yourself) with symptoms of mental instability, this might just be the book you need to read to get a handle on how to get help. Fit to be Crazy can be ordered from Jeanne directly. Send your name and address and $15 (postage included) to Jeanne Siphron, 169 West Ridge Lane, Warriors Mark, PA 16877. You will receive the book within 10 days.

If you want to hear/see Jeanne interviewed, go to Penn State University’s website: www.psu.edu On the Home Page click on local shows and under the listing of Pennsylvania Inside/Out click on the December 13th program called Fit to be Crazy.

Note: The APA (American Psychological Association) changed the name manic-depression to bi-polar disorder around 1990, but Jeanne feels that this re-definition that the disease is more medical than psychological is actually incorrect. She believes it merely sugarcoats the illness and destigmatizes mental illness rather than explain it. Instead, Jeanne notes we need to educate the public about manic-depression instead of just changing its name to make it sound more acceptable. The irony is that you need to use the words mania and depression when discussing or describing bi-polar, so why not call it by its “right name,” says Jeanne. Her preface explains this is detail.

11 thoughts on “Jeanne Siphron: Fit to be Crazy

  1. I am hoping you can give this message to Jeanne – we lost touch after she moved to Philipsburg and I moved to Florida. I am back in PA, and moving with my son, Domenic, to Osceola Mills. Jeanne, I have thought of and missed you so often in the last 3 years!!! Wishing so much that you will receive my phone # 904 382 7462 and call me. MY NAME IS AMY CARSON….and I know you couldn’t have forgotten me!!!! Hope to hear from you! Love u!

  2. Just stumbled across this. I am now living in Connecticut. If someone wants to reach me, post an email address here and let me know.

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