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California Writer Makes use of Darkish Humor — And a Bear — To Spotlight Flawed Well being System

Mom-to-be Kathleen Founds made a routine physician’s appointment to debate the dangers of antidepressants in being pregnant. After the go to, Founds, who depends on treatment to quell the manic highs and despondent lows of bipolar dysfunction, realized the doctor was out of community.

She acquired a shock invoice for $650, launching her right into a maze of declare kinds and hours on the telephone being routed from one workplace to the following to dispute the fees — insurance coverage crimson tape that so many People have encountered. A decade later, Founds captured her expertise in a graphic novel, “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Unhealthy Well being Insurance coverage,” a richly illustrated, darkly humorous fable for adults in regards to the nation’s dysfunctional well being system.

The ebook, printed in November, follows Theodore, an clever however angst-ridden bear, on his quest for therapy for his personal manic-depressive sickness. However first he should navigate the calls for of the WeCare firm, a shady outfit run by cigar-smoking felines who revenue unfairly from a lopsided financial system and a corrupt justice system, amongst different issues. His fellow outcasts embrace such characters as an overeducated owl drowning in scholar debt and a bomb-sniffing pet affected by PTSD.

America is internationally identified for high-quality care, for many who can afford it. A brand new Gallup Ballot reveals {that a} record-high proportion of People — 38% — postponed medical care due to excessive prices in 2022. Federal and state “no shock” legal guidelines of the previous few years search to guard customers from sudden medical payments. However they don’t stop bills like excessive deductibles or charges hidden within the superb print of their insurance coverage insurance policies.

“Bipolar Bear” joins different current works to shine a light-weight on well being inequities — a part of the rising style of graphic drugs. It contains seminal sickness narratives similar to “Mother’s Most cancers” by Brian Fies and nurse MK Czerwiek’s “Taking Turns: Tales from the HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371” in addition to “Rx,” Rachel Lindsay’s memoirs about taking a job at a pharmaceutical firm to safe insurance coverage to cowl therapy for bipolar dysfunction.

Descended from the underground comics of the Sixties, graphic drugs has grown into a brand new area of scholarship on the medium’s position within the research and supply of well being care, mentioned Ian Williams, the Welsh doctor who coined the time period again in 2007. “It’s perfect for exploring topics having to do with one’s life and well-being in an ironic and humorous method,” he mentioned.

As Founds places it, humor is a robust weapon in opposition to despair.

The 40-year-old mom of two teaches English at a neighborhood school in Santa Cruz County on California’s central coast. She has by no means taken an artwork class and didn’t got down to write a graphic novel. The ebook started as a doodle within the margins of her pocket book whereas learning for a grasp’s diploma in fiction writing at Syracuse College in New York. Her 2014 novel briefly tales, “When Mystical Creatures Assault,” is a couple of trainer who suffers a nervous breakdown and communicates along with her college students from a psychiatric hospital.

KHN contributing reporter Rachel Scheier spoke to Founds about bringing Theodore to life. The interview has been edited for size and readability.

Q: How did you come to write down a ebook a couple of bear with bipolar dysfunction?

I’d been making kids’s books for my little brother. They had been all about angst-ridden animals: a lonely large squid, a possum with social nervousness dysfunction who falls asleep at any time when he’s in a clumsy scenario, a burro who needs to be a unicorn. My aim was to write down a novel. However at any time when I used to be too depressed to string a sentence collectively, I’d draw bears. Then I noticed that anybody coping with a psychological well being difficulty on this nation goes to must cope with the labyrinth of medical health insurance. And I believed it will be enjoyable to depict it as an precise labyrinth with trapdoors and man-eating flowers. As soon as I went in that route, it was now not a kids’s ebook.

Kathleen Founds’ cat, Baroness Von Stinkleshanks, impressed the medical health insurance govt cat in her ebook “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Unhealthy Well being Insurance coverage.” That grasping feline heads WeCare, a shady firm that income from a lopsided financial system and corrupt justice system. (Shelby Knowles for KHN)

Q: Was the ebook based mostly by yourself expertise with psychological sickness?

Sure. I had my first main depressive episode on the finish of highschool, however I didn’t hunt down skilled assist. I simply kind of muddled by means of it. Then, once I was a sophomore at Stanford, I had my first manic episode. I had a sequence of realizations in regards to the nature of the universe, and I didn’t sleep or eat very a lot. Then, in graduate faculty, I went to a clinic as a result of I used to be going by means of a despair, and the psychiatrist requested me questions like “Was there ever a time once you had a number of vitality and didn’t really feel a must sleep?” And I mentioned, “Oh, certain, however that was a religious awakening.” So, I needed to reframe my life story a bit after that.

Q: However faith nonetheless has a job in your life?

I’m a Quaker. It’s one thing I got here to by means of my curiosity in nonviolent social change. When I’m severely depressed, I really feel like life has no goal. So, following a code that claims life does have that means, that we’re all related by a power of affection that undergirds the universe, is one thing that has helped me lots.

Q: Why animals?

Individuals are onerous to attract! Cartoon animals are lots simpler. I wasn’t inquisitive about artwork in class — really, once I began drawing was throughout that first manic episode. I don’t advocate writing a 200-page graphic novel with no creative coaching. I imply, it took 13 years, however I did end it.

The graphic novel “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Unhealthy Well being Insurance coverage” follows Theodore’s struggles with psychological sickness inside America’s dysfunctional well being system.( Shelby Knowles for KHN)

Q: Why did it take so lengthy?

I labored on it on and off whereas I used to be writing essays and dealing on the beginnings of a number of different novels. After I lastly completed it, I used to be so excited. I used to be able to see it on bookshelves inside a 12 months. I despatched it to my agent, and she or he wrote me a really good e-mail which mentioned, “I really like this. It’s very artistic. However there’s no method I can promote it.” Most graphic novels for grownups are memoir — there wasn’t a transparent style. Then one other agent I reached out to mentioned, “I can’t take this on, however it’s best to attempt Graphic Mundi, which had printed a number of novels within the area of graphic drugs.”

Q: What made you wish to write about medical health insurance?

Our system is definitely killing folks. We’ve a excessive suicide charge on this nation, and persons are not in a position to entry psychological well being care. After which, after they do get assist, it’s not essentially the psychiatrist who determines the course of care; it’s the insurance coverage firm. Should you go right into a room of 10 People, 5 can let you know a medical health insurance nightmare story.

However I additionally wished to discover what it means to develop a wholesome way of life and develop a robust neighborhood and undergo all this development and therapeutic that Bipolar Bear goes by means of within the story, solely to have the despair come again once more. What’s the that means of my journey if I discover myself proper again the place I used to be earlier than? Finally, there’s no reply to that query, however there’s a proper factor to do, which is to ask for assist. We’re all saved by one another.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially impartial service of the California Well being Care Basis.



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