Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When To Take A Stand

I am my father's child. I vividly remember the day my father explained the workings of a handgun to me. I was nine years old. " It kicks" he said. He turned over the kitchen table one autumn afternoon at 415 Delaware Place, and we knelt behind it. If I ever had to shoot someone, my father said, I'd better mean it. "The only reason you EVER point a gun at someone is if you are ready to kill them. And it isn't like a video game. They don't come back." The day my dad became chief of homeland security, I remembered his words to me. He was a smart man. Because of this one lesson, I was not curious about guns. I regarded them as weapons capable of terrible things. Guns were to be respected. You never wanted to have to use a gun.

As a child, I often asked my father if he had ever shot or arrested anyone. The answer was always the same. " What do you want to know that for?" followed by a serious " No" which always ended my inquiry. I knew better than to keep pushing.

Even as a child, I knew that there was a very real threat to my family. My dad had dealt blows to some pretty serious bad guys. When he became chief of homeland security, he was assigned a bodyguard. Every morning the guard came and picked up my dad for work. He once drove me downtown to interview for a position as a lobbyist. He was such an incredibly nice person.

When I was little, a stranger once forced open the sliding glass door near the dining room while I was home alone. The intruder ran away, and I ran upstairs and covered my ears as the alarm blared. The wireless telephone was in my hand, and the lady on the other end was telling me to " Keep calm." The police were on the way. My heart was exploding within my chest. What could I fight with? Could I escape from the window? Could I outrun him if it came down to it? Did he have a gun or a knife?

My father's job was a source of pride, and of fear. I loved attending events with my family, during which I met foreign dignitaries, but I was afraid of the dark. Afraid of the things that happened to people in the dark.

With my father, everything was a lesson- a lesson in preparedness. Our play was rough. I was not allowed to cry when I scraped a knee or burned a finger.

When I was six years old, my father taught me to ride a bike by taking me to the top of the hill at Banniker Park and pushing me off the edge. And I learned. I learned to learn quickly.

I studied martial arts as a child, and I remember being pitted against a 250 pound man. I was afraid of him because of his size. I knew that I was about to be pummeled by the ogre coming at me. I knew that I would lose. Yet, a great deal of martial arts is about learning fearlessness...or learning to think through fear.

In the end, I was disqualified from my fight with the ogre b/c I wasn't fighting fair. I was kicking at his crotch, and I readied myself to claw out his eyes. I was 10, and he was about 50. It wasn't designed to be a fair fight from the start!

" No fight is ever a fair fight," my teacher said. I also learned in that fight, to never expect an adult to rescue me. In a real fight, the odds may be stacked against you. When that giant ogre lunged at me, I made it very clear that although he would win in the end, I would probably take an eye or two. Why risk losing an eye over a spar with some crazy kid? The man retreated. The fight was mine.

So flash forward to November 26th, 2012 and there is a strange man barreling down our driveway. He's looking at me with predator eyes. I know this look. I know he thinks he has me cornered.

And so I scream.

It is a blood boiling scream and it attracts attention. He knows he is being watched now. He knows now that he has less time to carry out whatever he has planned. He knows that he will probably be identified now, because I have brought attention to him.

I scream again for my husband as I try to retreat back inside with our precious puppy.

As soon as the man sees my husband, he flees. He turns around and speeds off.

I won that fight too.

There is no sweeter victory than the taste of avoiding confrontation in the first place.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Schofield Family: The Internship that Changed My Life

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and working closely with the Schofield family. It was one of those rare karmic collisions that just worked out. I was a university student somewhat obsessed with solving the riddle of schizophrenia, in need of an internship. I didn't really know who I wanted to work for, or in what capacity.

The notion of working with geriatric patients depressed me- I had served a brief and bitter stint as a hospice intern and had failed miserably. It was hard for me to be around dying people on a daily basis. At the hospice, patients kept asking me to read the bible aloud, to hold their hands, to retrieve their absent adult children...for answers that no twenty-something is really prepared to give. I felt stretched beyond my limitations, and I deeply resented my supervisor for cracking "death" jokes, and exaggerating visitation records in order to secure more company funds. Hospice work gutted me to my core. And so I quit. I hacked out an angry email to my supervisor's superior and turned in my badge. Hospice wasn't for me.

About a week later, I caught the end of a special on television which featured Jani's family. It made me sob. I was just wrecked. For as strong as Susan and Michael are, they looked so tired and sad. There was something in their faces that I recognized and identified with. At that time, I couldn't imagine how or why the parent of a mentally ill child might grieve, but I saw it in their faces. Loss. Inexplicable loss.

That night, I wrote Michael's name down on a napkin and stuffed it into my pocket. When I got home, I looked him up on facebook.

As luck would have it, I found out that they needed some help during their radio show on Sundays. I wrote a brief formal email introducing myself, and received an invitation from their family to come and try things out.

I remember my first day on the job. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing. Surely, my head was buzzing with psychological theories and ideas, but none of those theories really applied. I couldn't really think of anything to talk about, and so I made small-talk, asking about safe topics like family vacations. They couldn't fly, Michael explained. Keeping their children safe was their first priority.

I felt very at home with the Schofields. I burned a batch of cookies in their apartment the weekend before my wedding ( I was so nervous), and Susan was there to offer kind words. I miss those quiet conversations we shared.

Day by day, my determination to remain emotionally uninvolved and neutral dissolved into cookie monster impressions. I made teddy bears talk, and cars vroom.

I came to love their family. I mean, I really came to love them.

It's hard for people who haven't experienced extreme adversity to really appreciate the bravery of people like Susan and Michael. Each day, they get up and they keep going. They meet the skeptics and douche-bags head on, and they continue to fight for a new world- a world that understands mental illness and treats it accordingly.

We may not agree on everything under the sun, but we agree that things need to change. Mental healthcare should be taken seriously. Mentally ill children and adults need services and access to medication.

As a society, we shouldn't just leave people behind because they are ill. Broken legs and broken minds need and deserve treatment.

I have carried these mantras with me, inside of my heart.

Bravery means standing up and fighting for the rights of those within society who do not have a voice. I admire that the Schofields have been able to stand up and make this cause ( a cause that belongs to every one of us) heard. Susan is a visionary who grasps the importance of this work.

But I am also ashamed of myself.

I'm ashamed that my slated profession- my supposedly "acclaimed" community of therapists, doctors, psychiatric nurses, and psych interns etc. have not done enough to help the Schofields and families like them.

We are taught so much nonsense about mental illness in schools and by society. I am tired of people blaming the mentally ill for their woes. Mental illness is just as serious as AIDS. Mental illness kills.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a precarious position.

I have been asked to testify against a therapist that harmed and victimized me. I am faced with a choice. I can stand up and testify, knowing that I will face opposition- knowing that my medical records will be scrutinized, and my history with this therapist will be made public, or I can shirk away.

I made the decision tonight to testify.

I might lose. I might end up looking like the biggest fool on the planet. They might drag my entire sexual history out into the open, but if asked, I will testify anyway.

In good conscience, I cannot silently sit by and allow a monster-psychotherapist to continue to practice.

When I considered if I could emotionally handle the stress of a deposition/ or being placed on the stand, I asked myself what Susan would do...

Susan would go in there, and she would testify and she would WIN.

So will I.

I have so many flaws. Lord knows I am a mess! Friendships gone bad, illicit and crazy affairs with married men, history of depression, current diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder... but this is who I am and I will not hide.

If I hide, nothing changes. If people like me hide, nothing changes.

So, I'm dragging my tired, traumatized, grief-stricken, self through a trial, if need be. I will look my victimizer in the eye, and I will tell my story.

Michael's book " January First" tells his story. It is a story that you should read and pay attention to.

You can check out Michael's book here @ http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307719081

His Blog can be found here @ http://www.janisjourney.org

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Power of Ritual & Mental Illness

Psychologists have long been confounded by the power of rituals. The more scientific chaps within the field, often proclaim that rituals work in a way similar to how placebos work. You think the pill will help you, and so it does.

This leaves people wondering how much of any disease and how much of any cure is seated in the brain's perception of reality. I think it was Neitzche who said that " we don't see the world as it is. We see the world as we are." If we see the placebo, or the ritual as a cure, then it will probably do us some good. If we don't, it probably won't.

I've conducted and partaken in rituals with mixed results. I don't know many things for certain, but I do know that I can trust my instinct. My gut always knows when something sketchy is going on.

I'm wary of people who hold no spiritual beliefs, and equally wary of people who do hold religious beliefs fervently without any visible evolution in their process. If I've learned one thing in life- I've learned that the truth is fluid, like flowing liquid.

I listened to an anthropologist speak today. He had a unique take on mental illness. " One way of explaining mental illness is to say ' this person is sick. Another way of explaining mental illness," he said, " is to simply say this is just another type of person who will have a different place in society." He reminded listeners that in America, the mentally ill are isolated and often locked away. " Other cultures, simply don't do that" he said. It made me feel ashamed. We certainly can do a lot better.

I've noticed changes in myself since being here. I have a profound need to be in nature, to be around animals, to listen to people. I'm drawn to silence. Capitalism makes me uneasy. Society moves in polarity to my natural inclinations, and I keep pushing back- resisting. I think J.D. Salinger summed up human nature when he noted that if you have better suitcases than your roommate, the average person is going to constantly and begrudgingly remember this. In my opinion, the better among us have no suitcases at all :)

I'm not ready to believe that all miracles are hoaxes. There is something about that which I am unable to accept.

I don't subscribe to "all or nothing" fallacies either. Something is usually a little of this and a little of that. If you think of the human brain as a cake, 1 cup of rotted flour can ruin the whole thing. And there are still so many ingredients that we can't quite quantify. The anatomy of the soul is up for grabs. In 100 years we'll probably be able to make humans in a lab, from scratch. We'll probably be able to purposefully insert certain illnesses and traits with the stroke of a computer key. It might even happen within my lifetime.

For now though, there is something to be said for connecting with the earth and the land. There is something to be said for tradition and repetitions which root you to a place. For Ness and I, that tradition is Shabbas dinner. And then there are the simple things like kissing Jack on the forehead, and singing to him at bath-time.

I have real issue with scientists who believe that mental illness can never be healed, but can only go into remission. As with anything else in life, I think it just depends on the person. I've known plenty of people in their 40's who have had one...and only one episode of depression which never returned. I've known others who have ping-ponged their entire lives. I think it also depends on the life you are living. When your life is full of stressors and pain, that depression is likely to always be only an arm's length away and your life will probably re-affirm your depressive tendencies. If your life is filled with happiness and joy, the depression might be a little harder to reach. It might be a a football field away, versus within reach, right there on your shelf.

That is why I see value in spiritual practice.

There is something to be said for diving face-first into the abyss. Some of us can't help ourselves. For some of us, we have to seek the meaning of life. Some people suffer- and this creates a hunger to know why. Why do we suffer?

Buddhists say that we suffer because of desire. Christians say that we suffer because of original sin.

Regardless, suffering cannot be avoided in this life. So the best we can do is to prepare our minds to deal with the inevitable. The suffering will come regardless of if we want it to or not. The suffering will always show up to the party.

For some people, the solution is to stay drunk all day long. For some people the answer is to meditate all day long.

Therapists claim that one of these coping skills is maladaptive, and that is the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy mind.

I remember going through an experience with a dear friend a few years ago. My friend told me, " I hope you realize that you've built a prison with thick concrete walls around yourself for protection, and now you're starving inside and you can't get out"

My walls were made from patterns in certain interpersonal relationship. I loved someone I had no business on earth even giving the time of day. It was like throwing myself into a blade, and then asking why I was bleeding, and then going back and throwing myself into the blade again..over and over and over...without ever putting 2 and 2 together.

One of my favorite quotes notes that no one else can make you pure or impure. According to the guru, everyone will stain his or her own soul for himself and every man must make himself clean again.

We're all walking our own path.

It's very easy to be judgmental. In my last post, I mentioned my aunt and grandmother, and I arrived at the conclusion today that I'm really saddened by what they did. When I think of their behavior it stings, it aches my heart. I just don't see the point. But even weirder, I don't see the cause. I mean, do they have inferiority complexes that run so deep that they have to go out and crash someone's funeral? What kind of person gains satisfaction or self-worth from doing such a thing?

I understand that the world is often cruel, and for some people this instills a hatred against life. Some people become infected with this anger and they use this sense of entitlement to justify every shitty thing they do...but people like my wife don't. Some people can still carry on with love in their hearts, and they can be compassionate and kind.

That is the kind of person I want to be.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Difficult Choices: Death & Divorce

I didn't know my Uncle James very well. I was the flower girl at his wedding, and he picked me up in his strong arms a few times, but aside from that I don't remember him. I don't even have stories about James that I could share. When I think of his face, when I strain to remember his presence in my past, I see only a blur. It's as if my James file has been emptied out in my brain.

My Aunt married James many years ago- 20 something years, to give you a ballpark. Shortly after the wedding, something happened and he really did vanish from the family. No one talked about him, no one saw him. No one even mentioned that James had ever existed. My aunt appeared to move along as if she had divorced James, and all of us assumed that she did.

When he died, we learned otherwise.

They never got a divorce.

When my father told me that James had died and that he never formally divorced my aunt- I curtly mentioned that it sounded like a legal nightmare. As far as I know, he hadn't been with my Aunt in years, and he'd been with his girlfriend for over 13 years.

I was surprised when my dad told me that my aunt was going to the funeral. The marriage was decades ago, and as far as I know James and my Aunt had moved on with their separate lives long ago.

My Aunt and grandmother attended the funeral. My Aunt took the flag that was presented by the armed servicemen for James' army time. There were only four chairs graveside and my grandmother took one of those seats, telling others " I'm James' mother-in-law"...

All of this left me with mixed feelings. For my aunt- it was a matter of status and pride. She and James never divorced, and so she flew in for the funeral and quickly fit into the place of his wife.

My aunt kept saying that James' girlfriend knew he was married, and that this is what happens when you date a married man- even if the marriage was years ago and the "husband and wife" are living over 3,000 miles apart.

Yet, I can't help thinking that they were married only in name. She lived in Colorado- he lived in Baltimore.

My grandmother and aunt seem to think that this is the natural order of things. The wife gets everything ( even if she hasn't seen her husband in 20 years) and mistresses simply do not exist.

Maybe in the 50's. Maybe in the old world.

I can just imagine my Aunt, strolling into the funeral home with the class of Jacki-O, following all the upper-class protocol- treating James' girlfriend like a nonentity. Like a mistress and nothing more.

I can't say what was right or wrong in this case...

but my mind keeps going back to the girlfriend of 13 years- the woman who lost a man that she loved. My family gipped the girlfriend out of her seat.

The woman who was a current fixture in James' life came out of this with no recognition or support. I didn't know James, but I can't imagine why he would have wanted that.

The moral of the story.... make your wishes legal, make your wishes known...and if you are no longer with someone- divorce them.

James' benefits and death insurance etc will all go to my aunt. His girlfriend of 13 years will get nothing.

I think it's sad...and I really hope that this is what James wanted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Little Redheaded Prince

Our First Children's Book is Dedicated to Our Children with Love.

When I met my little prince- he was bouncing around with his underwear on his head. He has a laugh like no other and a singing voice that just makes my heart melt. The little redhead stole my heart in a flash. He is amazingly intelligent, and always offers a witty comment with a sly smile. He has made practical joking into an art form.

He's a lot like I am- musical, emotional, compassionate...confused with the way the world works.

" Why can't I just stay with you" " I thought you would be able to fix everything immediately"... and neither of us know what to say.

We can't talk about the custody case with him, and we wouldn't anyway... it wouldn't fix things.

The little redhead wants to be an adult now, wants to be included in adult discussions and decisions- but we want him to be a child, a very happy child.

He says things which concern me. He says things which turn my stomach over and evoke every protective mothering instinct I have. The things he says make me want to cradle him, to kiss the psychological wounds, to hold him until he stills. I want him to feel safe in the world.

My son is like an unfinished painting, right now...and I find myself praying that he can find his way out the catacombs of confusion (and possibly depression) and back into the light of childhood. " Do not let anger rest within your heart" is my mantra for him. " You can be angry, but you have to move through your anger and come out on the other side."

" Does X hate you? I think X hates you mom.." " Everytime you call X goes postal"

If you were small again, I would cover your eyes and ears.

He reminds me of the child in the book " The Little Prince", asking questions about the various planets. And right now he is in orbit, sailing through the black silent sky, searching for a foothold.

I do not want him to have a hard life. I do not want him to have to question and doubt the people that love him. I want the people that love him to be unified.