What May Means To Me

May is Mental Health Month.

What May Means To Me…

Fifteen years ago, May became the meanest month. Jimmy was broken- hearted from his separation and looming divorce, he had torn his labrum and could not surf for one of the first prolonged times in his life. He was feeling a bit over-whelmed with the success of Camp Surf and the huge responsibility he felt towards his students, their parents and the City of Manhattan Beach, as Camp Surf was (and still is) the official Surf School of the city.

There had been many factors leading up to Jimmy’s break with reality on Memorial Day Friday. What we do know now is that Jimmy used his love of surfing and the physical action of being in the water and catching waves, as a form of personal therapy for most of his life. He followed his passion and was able to build a career centered around surfing, helping others, traveling and teaching kids. Those things remained constants in his life. As a world traveler, Jim taught hundreds of people to surf. From Africa to Ireland, and from Fiji to Tahiti, he brought his special brand of laid back and “pure surfing” to kids and adults all over the world. He was “living the dream” and it appeared to all of us that despite some personal and physical set-backs, his life was pretty golden. There was no known mental illness in our families, and Jimmy had never shown any indication of a serious mental illness or depression. He followed the beat of his own drummer, but that was just “Jimmy.”

On that Memorial Day Friday, Jimmy calmly told us that people had been spying on him and gone into his trash to get personal items. He firmly believed that he had broken laws and that his company was in jeopardy. He was worried about people “getting in” his computer and leaving him messages. This was definitely not the Jimmy we knew, and the intensity of his insistence of guilt for everything that touched him, frightened all of us and moved us into taking some type of action.

Living in a community like Manhattan Beach, one would think we would have resources to call when a loved one becomes delusional. We realized we only knew one person in the mental health field, and we immediately called her. As a working psychologist, she just happened to be her office on this holiday weekend. She counseled us to bring Jimmy in to speak with her immediately, and thus began our first experience with the odyssey of finding mental health help.

She did an assessment of Jimmy, speaking with him privately and then asking him if it would be OK if his parents came in to hear what she was thinking about next steps. As an adult, Jim had the right to refuse, but he quickly said he wanted us to be in the room with him. Her suggestion shocked us, but also gave us a glimpse into the world of the mentally ill.
It was suggested we get Jim to UCLA Medical Center, to be evaluated by their psychologists and psychiatrists, and make a plan. He was delusional and had a break with reality, and was in danger of harming himself.
We followed through with her advice and spent a long and ultimately frustrating day at the ER at UCLA. The final verdict after 10 hours in the ER, was to take Jimmy home, keep an eye on him, give him some medication, and find a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Not the easiest thing to do on a holiday weekend.

The reason I am sharing this story with you is that I want you to know that so many people are at risk for mental illness. And it happens in families just like yours. Even the most well adjusted “golden boy,” who seemingly had it all, was harboring fear and depression. From his initial trip to the ER on Memorial Day weekend to his death in August, we raced from expert to expert, Jimmy stayed in Cedars Sinai psychiatric ward under his own choice for two weeks, and started intensive out-patient therapy and medication that made him drowsy, gain weight, and ultimately, he discarded.

We firmly believe that if Jimmy had kept surfing and he continued to use the release of endorphins and the joy he had experienced almost every day of his life, that he would still be alive. We understood much later, that when people give up the things in life that have always given them the most joy, that they are in serious danger.

This is one of the many reasons we formed the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation. We knew we needed to help others experience the joy and release of surfing. And we wanted to give them a safe place to express their feelings about their experience. When Carly Rogers approached us a few months after Jimmy died, and shared her thesis for her concept of Ocean Therapy for at-risk kids, we knew that this was a way to help the mental health of everyone who could participate. And in the past fifteen years, we have helped thousands of people feel the joy and release that Jimmy felt every time he stepped in the ocean.

We celebrate JMMF and Jimmy’s legacy on Saturday, May 18 with our BeneFiesta. Benefit +Fiesta! The funds we raise will go to our continued efforts to enhance the mental health of every participant and volunteer that joins us. Our Ocean Therapy Program has grown from 4 sessions to more than 50 sessions a year. The need for alternative therapies like Ocean Therapy keeps growing, as we face new challenges of mass shootings and the devastation of the drug and opioid disasters. We have started on the road to help these new populations and need your help to keep sharing the live-saving grace of surfing and therapy. You can change the meanest month to the most meaningful month when you join us at the Benefiesta.

This Mental Health May, I hope all of you take time to take care of your own mental health, and reach out to those you believe may need help.
There are so many happy endings that are available to everyone. And in the meantime, we will just keep helping ourselves and others heal, one wave at a time.

With love,

You Say It’s Your Birthday

You Say It’s Your Birthday

As Lennon and McCartney sang:

“You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too —yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you!”

Birthdays are meant to be shared. Joyous occasions, celebrating new life, another trip around the sun, and ice cream and cake. Jimmy’s birthday is April 28 and in our family, we always made a big “do” on the actual day if humanly possible. Or rather, as the only female in a household of guys, including the cats, I was the one “doing!” From parties with piñatas in the back yard to crack of dawn surf trips for as many kids as could fit in our white and brown chevy van, we shared the kids birthdays with their tribe. Homemade chocolate cakes eventually were replaced with Becker’s Bakery masterpieces, complete with blue waves and surfboards, crashing down upon a realistic portrait of Jimmys face. Captain Crunch in the morning, Doritos all day and pizza for dinner were the ingredients for a perfect celebration.

Jimmy loved the trips and craziness of his birthday parties, but was never really comfortable with all the attention on himself. I learned this the hard way, when I sent a singing, dancing pizza man to find him at lunch time in middle school. “What could be better,” I thought. “He loves pizza and would be stoked to share it with his friends. As he relived that “the single most embarrassing experience in his entire life” to me (years later) I wondered how I could have been that thoughtless and unaware of how standing out in the school yard would be so cringeworthy. It got me to thinking about how well we really know our loved ones. Maybe I was creating something I would have loved at that age, but instead, created trauma for Jimmy. As an adult, he loved to tease me about the “pizza man incident,” and our whole family always laughed as he described the debacle each birthday. And yet, I wondered.

As Jimmys 50th birthday approaches, the question of how well do we really know our loved ones resurfaces. My heart is filled with joy and remembrance, and so much love for the incredible human being who we lost almost 15 years ago. His last birthday was one of our family’s happiest. We spent it in our backyard at 524. I remember the smell of the jasmine, the softly burning candles and the fact we didn’t need jackets or sweatshirts in April at the beach!! Jeff and Alissa had just gotten engaged and we were all so excited and looking forward to sharing an amazing time together. I made the old fashioned chocolate brownie cake with his name and the number 35, with a huge red heart around it. It felt like we had come full circle, back to his happy place. As we started to clear the table and go back inside, Jimmy leaned over and whispered, “Mom, this is my best birthday.” That’s the Jimmy I knew.

“I’m glad it’s your birthday, Happy Birthday to you!”

I’ve Been Thinking

It’s impossible to think that Jimmy left us 15 years ago. If you are reading this note, you probably get our newsletter, read our social media, or have supported the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation in some way. We are so grateful for your devotion over the years. Many of you knew Jimmy. You grew up with him, attended Robinson, Center or Mira Costa. Some of you learned to surf on 14th and 4th Street with him and encouraged that 8 year old to keep trying, and that it was OK to fall and get back up again. You may have gone to Cal with him and surfed that crazy cold water at Pacific Beach. Perhaps you traveled with him, to all corners of the world, in search of great waves and even greater adventures. Some of you were Los Angeles County Lifeguards, Taplin participants or shared his favorite job, teaching Junior Guards and instituting surfing and the “biggest sandwich” competitions. As time went by, many of you were his first “Pure Surfing Experience” students, campers, counselors and cooks. Your parents entrusted Jimmy to take you to Jalama for a week of “pure surfing,” camping and discovery. His passion was his profession, but there was always time for the travel! From Hawaii, Indo, Mexico, Peru, Spain, France, Morocco, Canada, the BVI’s, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Viet Nam, Israel, Egypt, and that’s just where I can think of as I write this note. Jimmy could get more on one postcard than most people could write in 6 pages! For many years, Jimmy wrote for the Beach Reporter, each month sharing his surf experiences with thousands of followers, who vicariously lived through his adventures, escapades and close encounters with sharks, smugglers, outlaws and rogue waves! Only a few of you know where “Spot X” is, and that’s the way he hoped it would be!

This year, I have been asked to write a monthly column about Jimmy and JMMF. I am reaching out to all of you to ask me questions, share an experience or photo, or just drop us a line about how Jimmy or the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation has touched your life. I know how you have touched my life and the life of our family and board members. Our motto is “healing ourselves and others, one wave at a time,” and all of you have helped us along in this journey.

With love and so much gratitude,