Category Archives: Contemplations

Unlike doctors who write books about what they know, I wrote one about things I don’t know. This little part of my blog is a place for me to ruminate on the universe of ideas I’m still struggling to understand.

20th Anniversary of Worcester Cold Storage Fire

The 20th anniversary of the Worcester, Massachusetts Cold Storage fire is coming up. I wrote about it in my book. Today, I live just down the street from the site of the fire. I park my car in what used to be the abandoned lot I parked in that day when I stopped by to pay my respects. I share the story here:

Worcester, Massachusetts is famous for just a few things: Triple-deckers. Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.  And the guy who invented the smiley face.

On December 3, 1999, Worcester became famous for a horrific building fire that killed six firefighters. It took days to put it out and recover their bodies. Our community was devastated.

When it came time for a memorial service, everyone came. Even the president. I took a couple of hours off work and walked downtown to watch the funeral procession. What struck me most were the 30,000 firefighters from around the world who came to pay their respects. Some were dressed in their best uniforms—polished buttons and crisp pleats. But most just showed up in the only thing they had—their turnout gear. The sight was incredible.

When it was over, as I walked back to work, I passed by the city’s main fire station. Hanging on a chain-link fence were several hand-drawn posters. Messages from local school children to the lost firefighters. I slowed to read them.

I was struck by one:

“May your house be safe from tigers.”

I burst into tears.

A few days later, I made my way down to the fire site. A makeshift memorial had sprung up nearby. A fire truck, parked by the side of the road, was festooned with mementos left by people coming to pay their respects. Flowers. More of those notes. Flags. T-shirts.

I collect things. I’ve been doing it for years. I call it “Real Word Stuff™.” It started with sand from some of the beaches I’ve visited. It has grown into trying to collect some little something from the places I’ve been that will remind me of that special day. Some of the things are straightforward: Confetti from the millennium in Times Square. Water from The Great Salt Lake. A dining room table. Others are more esoteric: Light from a Leonid Meteor Shower. Fog from the Sargasso Sea. I keep some of the stranger stuff in little glass bottles I have for just this purpose.

As I walked up to the fire truck, I kept wondering how I could collect something that would remind me of this solemn place and time. I certainly wasn’t going to take something someone else had left—that’s not how I do it. Maybe I’d find some soot. Or maybe just a smell would be enough. As I came around the truck, in the back, amid all the flowers and the other stuff, was a baseball hat. With four letters embroidered on the front. FEMA.

It took my breath away. I burst into tears again.

I went back to my car, opened the glove compartment, took out two of my little bottles, and walked back to the fire truck. One by one, I opened each, filled it with my breath, and sealed it up again. I left one on the truck’s bumper. The other went into my pocket.

Some things are bigger than one person, or one family, or one community can handle. For Worcester, it was that fire. We needed the whole country to support us. And they came.

Mental illness, like fires, strikes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. The victims and those trying to support them aren’t always in the best position to be able to handle it themselves. And even if they don’t always know the right thing to do, sometimes, we need our government to throw its hat into the ring, too. To help us make our houses safe from tigers.

—Pages 220-221, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

My Breath

Much has changed in 20 years. But just as much remains the same: Mental health is still bigger than one person.

Bob

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Anthony Rapp is Back in Massachusetts with “Without You”

I have my ticket and I’m going back to see Anthony Rapp in “Without You.” He is doing his one-man show from September 9 to 13, 2015 at the Carling-Sorenson Theater at Babson College just outside Boston. I encourage you to go and be part of something incredible.

I went twice in 2012 when he came to Massachusetts. I wrote about it here (below). His story and his message have stuck with me ever since.

Years later, I continue my life as Mark, still trying to live, while others live and thrive around me.

Bob

Anthony Rapp in “Without You”

Posted on June 20, 2012 by bob

I went to see Anthony Rapp tonight in Boston at his one-man show, “Without You,” at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University. It was incredible. I’m going back on Sunday to experience it again.

The timing of this is a bit serendipitous. I’ve been a huge fan of “Rent” for many years, and particularly of the character played by Mr. Rapp. There is something about Mark that reminds me of my own self and the relationship I have had with my daughter Patricia as she has struggled over the years. This week, I am finishing up my book, a memoir about those difficult times. Unlike “Rent” and AIDS, mine is about mental health, another difficult, but just as taboo subject. For some reason, “Rent” and Mark have found their way into its pages. Twice.

As I was leaving for the theater tonight, the UPS guy showed up with some new uncorrected book proofs. I thought for a second about bringing one and trying to figure out how to give it to Anthony — maybe he’d like to read it — to see how his story fits into ours. But I quickly dismissed it — he’s just an actor. He’s not Mark.

But as I sat there tonight, it occurred to me that Anthony, in telling his story, was doing the same thing that Mark had done in “Rent.” He helped us live as he watched others live. And in doing so, Mark (and Anthony) got to live, too.

Anthony was alive on stage tonight. In his music and stories, he brought with him those same feelings I’m drawn to in the “Rent” experience. Thank you, Anthony, for letting me live tonight, too.

Go. Live.

Bob

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Letter to the Editor

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker made me mad when he submitted his new budget. So I wrote a letter to the editor of The Worcester Telegram. In some strange Turing Test, they published it today.

Here is the link.

Here is the letter. They added the title:

Governor shouldn’t cut RLC funding

When my teen-aged daughter first attempted suicide, the Collaborative Assessment Program came to her rescue and helped save her life by getting her hooked up with the Department of Mental Health. Later, when the Legislature cut that program for everyone except children of families with Mass Health, I told them it will be their fault every time the next kid with private health insurance dies because of their shortsightedness.

They still haven’t fixed it.

Now, years later, my no-longer-quite-so-suicidal daughter has found a safe and welcoming place at one of a small number of DMH-funded Recovery Learning Communities across the state. Here she has found innovative and cost-effective solutions, including peer supports and a hearing-voices group, a place to accept and find meaning in her voices — the very same voices that always come back no matter how hard the doctors and hospitals and their antipsychotics try to silence them.

And here she finds the camaraderie of others, struggling, as she does, to remain in the community rather than locked away in some more terrible place. Now the governor wants to cut RLC funding by 50 percent. This seems to me like another shortsighted, unsafe, and, ultimately costly idea.

BOB LARSTED
Holden

Published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 23, 2015.

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It’s Not About The Nail

As one who tries to fix things, I think it really is about the nail.

Bob

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How Many Diagnoses?

All throughout high school, I thought one diagnosis was enough. We had a “good” one, one that opened the doors for services. Schools said yes. Doctors would treat. State agencies would try to help.

But recently, I’m beginning to wonder about all those other diagnoses — the ones we stopped talking about when something better came along. Maybe they matter too. Because when there is more than one thing going on, maybe it’s important to be working on all of those things and not just the main “issue.”

Because maybe the main “issue” is really just a collection of a bunch of other issues, all of which have names, and all of which need some attention.

Bob

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First Episode Psychosis

I went to Psychiatry Grand Rounds this week at UMass Medical School. Eduardo Caussade-Rodriguez, MD, gave a talk entitled You Want Me to Order What? The Medical Workup for First-Episode Psychosis. He talked about all the tests psychiatrists routinely order for new patients with psychotic symptoms. They include a bunch of blood and other bodily fluid tests, an EEG, MRI or CT scan, and on. They are all very expensive. And they are all designed to rule out other causes for the psychosis rather than Schizophrenia, something you’d rather not be diagnosed with.

I remember all these tests. They took a long time. My insurance company paid a pile of money to get them done.

Although those tests must be important, I now wonder why they spend so much time and money trying to find out if the psychosis is caused by something other than what they hope it isn’t, rather than working on fixing what it probably is.

I now wonder if it might have been more productive if we had spent those resources talking to the psychiatrist, instead.

Bob

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