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When You're Down and Out …

September 15, 2005 By:
Gunter David, JE Feature
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She's a published poet, a writer of short stories and articles, an artist, a former newspaperwoman and a psychotherapist.

But Ruth Deming is also a manic-depressive, one of an estimated 2.3 million Americans whose moods can change from hour to hour, from day to day, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But for Deming, 59, of Willow Grove, her illness became a challenge to start a new life and help others do the same. She is the founder and director of New Directions, a support group for manic-depressive (or bipolar) men and women and their families.

Started in Deming's apartment 20 years ago, New Directions has hundreds of members, with an average attendance of 50 at its meetings.

"There is nothing like telling your story to someone who understands exactly what you're going through, and can listen with empathy and compassion in silence," says Deming.

A single Jewish mother of two, Deming was assistant editor at an art publication when one day she was overcome with "intensive anxiety."

For several days, she had extreme difficulty swallowing.

Two weeks later, she became "truly a spectacle to anyone who could see me," she recalls.

"I couldn't sit still, my mind moved a million times a minute, my thoughts were unstoppable."

Deming, 38 at the time, was living in a Hatboro apartment with her young children.

"The children were sleeping," she continues, "but I was all over the apartment, making crazy phone calls all night, dancing all night, leaping on the furniture."

In short order, a police car arrived.

"I was involuntarily committed to the Montgomery County Emergency Service," she says. "I spent the worst three days of my life there. It was hell on earth, to be locked up in a locked ward. I told myself I was never going back. And I never did."

At the facility, which is on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital, Deming was officially diagnosed as manic-depressive.

"I was severely traumatized by the hospital stay and the diagnosis," she says. "But I have a very strong work ethic. The day after I came out of the hospital - shot full of medication - I completed work on a manuscript for Art Matters, where I was working."

Determined, with young children dependent on her, Deming says, "I always moved forward. I never stayed a day in bed because of my illness. I had responsibilities and a love of life."

Faithfully taking her lithium, the medication prescribed widely to control bipolar patients‚ Deming was referred to a support group, which she attended two weeks after her discharge from the hospital.

Taking the Initiative
"There was no leader. People just sat around waiting for their lithium," she says. "It was horrifying to be in that group. So I decided to start my own."

Deming, who holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Temple University, placed a notice in a newspaper. "I had a strong will to survive, to get better," she says.

On an evening in 1985 "a lot of people showed up in my apartment. It was the beginning of New Directions."

Deming's professional life took a new direction as well.

Having lost her job at Art Matters, she was hired as a copy editor and feature writer at the Intelligencer, a daily newspaper in Doylestown.

"I didn't tell them about my illness," she says. "It's not a good idea to disclose that you have a mental illness, unless you know someone really well and can trust them."

And then, "in a wonderful coincidence," while at the newspaper, she came across a graduation announcement from Hahnemann University's group-therapy program. She applied, and was promptly accepted.

After five years at the Intelligencer, she left her job for training in a new career. With financial support from her family, and working part-time at a public library, she earned a master's degree in group process and group psychotherapy.

Upon graduation, she began work as a psychotherapist at Northwestern Human Services of Bucks County in Bensalem, and later at Family Service Association of Bucks County, in Langhorne. All the while, she continued running and expanding New Directions, to which she eventually devoted herself full-time with the help of grants from the Patricia Kind Family Foundation and others.

She's also the editor and publisher of The Compass, a quarterly mental-health journal, circulation 5,000, for patients, families and mental-health professionals; the journal deals with mood disorders and related illnesses. In addition, she produces The Kaleidoscope, a literary supplement of Compass. Members of New Directions contribute to the publications, as does she.

The group meets the first and third Tuesday of each month, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., at the Abington Presbyterian Church, in Abington; these meetings feature a guest speaker.

Daytime meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the food court on the third floor of the Willow Grove Mall. Each meeting is preceded by a social, in which members have specific roles.

As part of the program, Deming, a published poet and short-story writer, hosts semi-annual "coffee-shop shindigs," with music, poetry and dance performed by members of New Directions.

What is the most important thing New Directions offers?

Replies Deming: "A feeling of hope." u

For more information, visit: www.newdirectionssupport. org.

 

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