Ruth Deming is an award-winning writer and psychotherapist and director of New Directions of Abington, PA, a nonprofit organization she started in 1986 to provide help and support to people with mood disorders. People like herself. Two years before she founded New Directions, seemingly out of the blue, Ruth had a manic-psychotic episode that escalated into her assaulting her mother, knocking her to the ground, and being hauled off by the police to a psychiatric ward.
“That was my introduction to bipolar disorder,” Ruth says.
At the time, she was a 38-year-old divorced mother of an eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. On that life-altering day, she stopped off at her mother’s house and started making frantic, inappropriate phone calls to work associates. After she left to pick up her children at school, her mother, concerned and bewildered by Ruth’s behavior, followed in her car, which evoked Ruth’s anger and attack. “Thankfully,” Ruth says, “the fall didn’t hurt her.”
Of this “horrible” experience, Ruth remembers feeling “as if I had a hole in my chest. I’d never felt anything like that in my life.” She recalls also that as she stood by the side of the road before the police came “I was hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the sounds of the cars whooshing by and the swaying of the tree branches.”
In the hospital Ruth was given an antipsychotic and an appointment to see a psychiatrist. She was subsequently stabilized on lithium, for decades the drug of choice for the treatment of bipolar disorder. While its therapeutic effect was not perfect—there would be days when she would have to fight hard against her demons—she never lost her intellectual curiosity and drive.
Newly exposed to the world of psychotherapy, Ruth was inspired to study for a Master of Group Process and Group Psychotherapy (MGPGP) degree at Hahnemann University, in Philadelphia, which she received in 1992. In 1998, she won a prize for creative nonfiction from the Leeway Foundation, an organization that supports women artists in the Philadelphia area, for a series of articles about her experiences as a psychotherapist. The founding of New Directions came about when, after seeking and not finding a support group in her area, she decided to start her own.
For 16 years, Ruth took her lithium faithfully until, as has happened to others, it damaged her kidneys and she was faced with the choice of dialysis or a transplant. Luckily, her daughter, Sarah, was deemed a good transplant match and willingly donated one of her kidneys, “a gift of love,” Ruth says, “for which I am forever grateful.” In a surprising turn to this story, Ruth has found that since going off lithium, her symptoms of bipolar disorder “have appeared to vanish. I’ve had no mood swings for eight wonderful years.”
Nowadays, Ruth devotes much of her time to New Directions. “We have a fantastic team of people who lead nighttime and daytime groups. We have lectures, outings and offer counseling for a broad range of subjects.” This summer the organization will honor guest speaker Karl Rickels, M.D., founder of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Section at the University of Pennsylvania, with a donation in his name to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Ruth has been a longtime supporter of the Foundation with the hopes that better treatments, with fewer side effects, will continue to be developed for a broad range of mental illnesses.