A fork in the road

Carrie's Chronicles becomes FACEing Mental Illness

Since this newsletter is less than two months old, it’s a bit awkward to have come to the conclusion it needs a radical makeover. That requires some explanation.

Many, if not most of you came to know me through my work for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the arts, mental illness and, more recently the three-times-a-week column which ended last December.  I made the difficult decision to leave the paper not to retire or stop writing, but to have more time to devote to my own projects -- in particular, a book about my son’s recovery after a significant mental health diagnosis. 

I had no intention of creating a newsletter or blog, or even continuing the same type of reporting on local issues I’d done for the paper. I was looking forward to tackling a major project on a subject I’ve been passionate about since my trial-by-fire introduction to serious mental illness more than a decade ago. 

But I was torn. I’d developed such a loyal following at the paper and enjoyed such a frequent and fond interaction with my readers, I feared out of print might soon be out of mind. So when many of you urged me to continue writing somewhere, I started Carrie’s Chronicles.

And that instantly translated into the same routine, schedule and subject matter I had maintained in my previous position. (Which, understandably, is what many of you signed up for.) But more of the same is not what I had in mind when I put a pause on four decades of daily newspaper journalism. And, I’ve concluded, albeit belatedly, it’s not what’s right for me.

I think it’s pretty common that when you reach a certain age and stage in life, you realize there isn’t an infinite amount of time left to do something meaningful with your talents. The shorter that timeline grows, the greater the sense of urgency to do something that might leave the world better place for your having been in it. In addition, after decades as a journalist, which required me to maintain a professional distance from my subject matter, I’m now in a position where more advocacy is possible. 

That’s the point I’ve reached and the subject that compels me is mental health. 

Were it not for my son’s illness and the series I wrote about accessing help for his recovery; the mental health journalism fellowship that allowed me to create a year-long community engagement project; and the hundreds of people I have met and interviewed who live with mental health challenges, I might be content with limiting my writing to Sarasota issues for a local audience.

But those experiences fundamentally changed me. They made me hungry to do whatever was in my power to eliminate the stigma against individuals with mental illness, to reduce and resolve the trauma that can catalyze it, and to embrace, assist and empower those trying to build a fulfilling and productive life while dealing with a mental health challenge.

 I believe attention to mental health is one of the most important issues we face as a nation, and that it will become even more critical in the aftermath of the pandemic. Mental health is inextricably related to virtually every social challenge we currently face – homelessness, addiction, mass incarceration, gun violence suicide, isolation – and our refusal to make it a national priority will continue to exact grave costs, emotionally and financially, until we give it sufficient attention and funding.

That’s where I need – and want – to direct my energies. Which means this platform will no longer be “Carrie’s Chronicles,” but rather (after my previous project) “FACEing Mental Illness,” and the material I write about, while wide-ranging, will focus on the factors that facilitate mental well being, for both individuals and communities. I’ll be reducing the frequency of my posts to once a week, and often tapping the expertise and experience of people beyond the borders of our city or even our state. 

I’m also investigating other ways of telling these stories, among them, a podcast, moderated forums, speaking engagements and awareness campaigns. The goal will be not only to reach a national audience, but to fuel other projects, from books and videos/film to community engagement initiatives.

I know how much we need good, thorough and solutions-oriented journalism on issues right here in Sarasota and I know some readers will be disappointed that I won’t be supplying  it.  I’m hopeful that the talented journalists in our community will continue to keep us all engaged, informed and active.

As for me, I’ve belatedly come to accept that I can’t be much good to anyone if I’m not following my own heart and passion. And as a sort of famous playwright once wrote: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” It’s time for me to follow that dictate.

I hope you’ll stick with me, reading, listening and learning as I do, and continuing to provide your helpful feedback and support as I move forward in this daunting yet exciting new direction.