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