California Author Uses Dark Humor — And a Bear — To Highlight Flawed Health 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, discovered 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 cellphone being routed from one workplace to the subsequent to dispute the fees — insurance coverage purple tape that so many Individuals have encountered. A decade later, Founds captured her expertise in a graphic novel, “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Dangerous Well being Insurance coverage,” a richly illustrated, darkly humorous fable for adults concerning the nation’s dysfunctional well being system.

The ebook, revealed in November, follows Theodore, an clever however angst-ridden bear, on his quest for remedy 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 economic 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 individuals who can afford it. A brand new Gallup Poll reveals {that a} record-high proportion of Individuals — 38% — postponed medical care due to high costs in 2022. Federal and state “no surprise” laws of the previous few years search to guard customers from sudden medical payments. However they don’t forestall expenses like high deductibles or fees hidden within the tremendous print of their insurance coverage insurance policies.

“Bipolar Bear” joins different current works to shine a lightweight on well being inequities — a part of the rising style of graphic medicine. It consists of seminal illness narratives similar to “Mom’s Cancer” by Brian Fies and nurse MK Czerwiek’s “Taking Turns: Stories 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 remedy for bipolar dysfunction.

Descended from the underground comics of the Nineteen Sixties, graphic drugs has grown into a brand new field of scholarship on the medium’s position within the examine and supply of well being care, stated Ian Williams, the Welsh doctor who coined the term again in 2007. “It’s very best for exploring topics having to do with one’s life and well-being in an ironic and humorous manner,” he stated.

As Founds places it, humor is a robust weapon towards despair.

The 40-year-old mom of two teaches English at a neighborhood faculty 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 finding out for a grasp’s diploma in fiction writing at Syracuse College in New York. Her 2014 novel briefly tales, “When Mystical Creatures Attack,” is a few 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 put in writing a ebook a few bear with bipolar dysfunction?

I’d been making youngsters’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 each time he’s in a clumsy state of affairs, a burro who desires to be a unicorn. My objective was to put in writing a novel. However each time I used to be too depressed to string a sentence collectively, I’d draw bears. Then I spotted that anybody coping with a psychological well being challenge on this nation goes to should cope with the labyrinth of medical 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 path, it was not a youngsters’s ebook.

Kathleen Founds’ cat, Baroness Von Stinkleshanks, impressed the medical insurance government cat in her ebook “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Dangerous Well being Insurance coverage.” That grasping feline heads WeCare, a shady firm that earnings from a lopsided economic 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 search out skilled assist. I simply type of muddled by way of it. Then, once I was a sophomore at Stanford, I had my first manic episode. I had a collection of realizations concerning the nature of the universe, and I didn’t sleep or eat very a lot. Then, in graduate college, I went to a clinic as a result of I used to be going by way of a despair, and the psychiatrist requested me questions like “Was there ever a time if you had lots of power and didn’t really feel a must sleep?” And I stated, “Oh, positive, however that was a non secular 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 way of my curiosity in nonviolent social change. When I’m severely depressed, I really feel like life has no objective. So, following a code that claims life does have that means, that we’re all related by a drive of affection that undergirds the universe, is one thing that has helped me loads.

Q: Why animals?

Persons are arduous to attract! Cartoon animals are loads simpler. I wasn’t considering artwork in class — really, once I began drawing was throughout that first manic episode. I don’t suggest writing a 200-page graphic novel with no inventive coaching. I imply, it took 13 years, however I did end it.

The graphic novel “Bipolar Bear and the Horrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Dangerous 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. Once I lastly completed it, I used to be so excited. I used to be able to see it on bookshelves inside a yr. I despatched it to my agent, and he or she wrote me a really good e-mail which stated, “I really like this. It’s very inventive. However there’s no manner 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 stated, “I can’t take this on, however it’s best to strive Graphic Mundi, which had revealed a number of novels within the subject of graphic drugs.”

Q: What made you need to write about medical insurance?

Our system is definitely killing folks. We’ve got a high suicide rate on this nation, and individuals 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. If you happen to go right into a room of 10 Individuals, 5 can let you know a medical insurance nightmare story.

However I additionally wished to discover what it means to develop a wholesome life-style and develop a powerful neighborhood and undergo all this progress and therapeutic that Bipolar Bear goes by way 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 Health Care Foundation.


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