Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid

Laura Begin

Springfield School of Social Work

MSSW 612 Policy II

People with mental illness are discriminated against resulting from both personal and public stigma associated with mental disorders (Cummings, Lucas & Druss, 2013). This was demonstrated by a group of participants from a Mental Health First Aid Training class when asked to develop an “A to Z” list of adjectives describing mental illness. The following is the list they composed: agitated, ballistic, crazy, depressed, extreme, frantic, grandiose, homicidal, insane, jumpy, killer, lunatic, manic, neurotic, oppressed, paranoid, quirky, resistant, scary, traumatized, unstable, violent, withdrawn, extreme, yo-yo and zany (personal communication, 2014). None of the attributes are positive or conducive to improving the perception of mental illness and treatment.

The purpose of this paper is to illuminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. The intent of the Mental Health First Aid Act 2013 is an effort to educate, inform and activate the general public toward eliminating bias and barriers to humane care for mentally ill individuals. While some components of stigma may reach beyond the scope of federal legislation, augmenting previous legislation aimed at eliminating discrimination of the mentally anticipates breaking down stereotypes and prejudices that prevent just provision for this growing population.

According to issue five, the latest of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), there is more than a 50 percent chance that you’ll have a mental disorder within your lifetime. The previous version, DSM-IV, put the approximate numbers of Americans being diagnosed with a mental disorder at 46.4% based on a study from 2005. The new manual will likely make getting a diagnosis even simpler and include more of the population. (Rosenberg, 2013).

There are several reasons for the increasing numbers. The swelling epidemic can be attributed to better detection of mental illness. Also, more of us are becoming mentally ill than in previous generations and with earlier onset in our lives. Another rationalization for amplified incidence of mental disorder is reflected in our culture. Some behaviors once considered within normal range of human practice are currently regarded as pathological in the continuum of mental health care. Essentially, the definition for mental illness now encompasses more people (Rosenberg, 2013).

DEMOGRAPHICS
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that:
• 61.5 million people; 1 in 4 adults, experience mental illness is a year
• 13.6 million live with a serious mental disorder
• 20 percent of youth experience a severe mental disorder in a year
Substance abuse – like alcoholism – are not in the estimates despite being in the DSM-V.
It may be argued that with the most current data, nearly 1 in 3 Americans suffer from a mental illness, which translates to over 75 million people (Grohol, 2010).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports there is still stigma surrounding mental illness despite the widespread affliction of mental disorders affecting Americans. A 2007 survey reported that only 57% of Americans considered people to be sympathetic and considerate toward persons with mental illness. More importantly, only 25% of people with mental illness believed that people were concerned and supportive of them (“Burden of mental,” 2013).

PUBLIC PERCEPTION
It is no secret that what makes headlines and floods social media is what influences public opinion. With the rash of mass shootings in the U. S. over the last few years, the mental health of the shooters is what has drawn mental health into the spotlight and as a result, has been the focus of public opinion and new legislation. As recently as the first week of April 2014, mental health deliberation continues. There has been great attention and legislative action in our nation’s capital. Under comprehensive legislation, Medicare reimbursement for mental health physicians passed both the House and Senate and is pending the President’s signature. An eight-state “pilot-program” intended to streamline services by community mental health clinics is one component of the bill. The second approves a “demonstration program” of federal grants for outpatient treatment of people suffering from mental illness who are not participating in treatment and have experienced significant adversity such as incarceration, repeated hospitalizations or homelessness. (Carolla, 2014).

At the National Press Club, Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds, whose son died from suicide last year, spoke about the continued need for extensive mental health reform. A hearing that focused on the shortage of psychiatric hospital beds supported Deed’s perspective.
Mary Gilberti, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), also acknowledged that in addition to there not being enough beds to meet the needs of people living with mental illness, other services are severely lacking. Those services involve:
• Early intervention mental health screening
• Crisis response and stabilization programs
• Discharge planning
• Outpatient services
• Peer Support
• Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)
• Supportive Housing
• Jail Diversion
Additionally, a hearing for the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was scheduled for early April 2014 (Carolla, 2014).

On April 2, 2014 the debate concerning mental health and gun control was reignited after another shooting at Fort Hood in Texas. The shooter was identified as having behavioral and mental health issues and was being assessed for Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Issues of security and gun restrictions at Fort Hood were raised. Rules about carrying firearms on bases were highlighted. Soldiers are unarmed while on post and are prohibited from carrying privately owned guns. After the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood there was a rash of suicides on post and consequently only law enforcement and security personnel have weapons while on post (Krayewski, 2014).

There is no shortage of pundits criticizing the mental health crisis, pushing for gun control while opponents insist responsible gun owners aren’t the cause of violence. Unfortunately, mass media gives these incidents the most attention and by doing so link mental illness with gun violence.

SOCIAL JUSTICE
Nonetheless, diagnosable and treatable mental health illnesses such as anorexia, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and more are the leading cause of disability in the United States according to the National Institute of Health (“The numbers count,” 2012). All across America individuals and families struggle. Someone has a parent with depression or a friend who is bipolar. Someone else has a neighbor who returned from war with PTSD or knows a co-worker who is suicidal. Or someone has a sibling trying to get sober. These are real threats to our well being as a nation yet many people suffer in silence and don’t seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental illness. Others remain aloof and detached from those who are afflicted with mental illness rather than speak up or to offer help. Some reluctance is due to ignorance. Some is due to ambiguity; not knowing what to say or do. And in the case of those with severe mental illness, they are unrepresented unless advocated for by others on their behalf.

HISTORY OF CARE FOR MENTALLY ILL
In 1843 Dorothea Dix submitted her Memorial to the legislature of Massachusetts imploring those in leadership and authority, to advocate for the inhumane conditions that brought unjust suffering to the mentally ill. Dix’s efforts were in stark contrast to Social Darwinism and survival of the fittest. She appealed to their honor and humanity, begging them to “put off the armor of local strife and political opposition” and to “raise up the fallen; succor the desolate; restore the outcast; defend the helpless…” (Parry, 2006).

Unfortunately, not many strides have been made with regard to the social welfare of the mentally ill since the mid nineteenth century. In David Gil’s essay in which he outlines his understanding of social justice on the levels of individual human relations, social institutions and global human relations, it can be argued that the plight of the mentally ill has remained paralyzed. In Dix’s era, ignorance was largely responsible for the callous treatment the mentally ill suffered. Psychology and pharmacology had not developed to comprehend or respond to mental illness and consequently mentally ill people were regarded as incurable (Vinney & Zorich, 1982). That lack of knowledge may explain society’s ignorance in not knowing what to do with the mentally ill, however, ignorance doesn’t justify or excuse inhumane treatment. The responsibility of how to treat fellow human beings lies to individual, societal and cultural character, integrity and morality.

There is a saying that a person’s character is reflected in how one treats those who can do nothing for you. Aside from those who would debate whether or not morality could be legislated, this moral imperative is what Gil alludes to in defining social justice and a society’s response in meeting its member’s intrinsic needs. What a society values is reflected in its social, cultural and technological development. The outcomes determine people’s quality of life (Gil, 2004), thus a social system’s policy is equivalent to humanity’s core values and choices to either address or ignore them. Finally in the U.S. mental health parity is now law, yet mental health care is in crisis.

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guarantees that ‘no one be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (“The universal declaration,”). Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was well intended to uphold human rights by closing mental hospitals and transferring patients to community-based mental health agencies; however, the lack of forethought and provision for patients once released can be reasoned as a societal failure. The consequences of such moved many mentally ill people out of mental institutions and into jails, subjecting many to repeat hospitalizations and homelessness (Torrey, 2014).

The CDC’s findings in their Mental Illness and Stigma study from 2007 highlighted the need to educate the public about how to support people with mental illness and the need to reduce barriers for people seeking or receiving treatment for mental illness (“Burden of mental,”). Actress Glenn Close stated, “The mentally ill frighten us and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation “ (Close, 2009). With discussion and education the stigma surrounding mental illness can be dissipated and impediments to treatment minimized.

LEGISLATION
In President Obama’s Now Is The Time report, he called for Mental Health First Aid Training to enable educators and school staff to recognize the symptoms of mental health disorders in young people and find resources for their care. U.S. Representative Ron Barber of Arizona originated a Mental Health First Aid bill after the Tucson mass shooting in January 2011 in effort to decrease gun violence. It received strong bipartisan support. The gunman was diagnosed with mental illness, however Barber has stressed that over 95 percent of people living with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators (U. S. rep, 2014).

Barber contends that 60 percent of people with mental illness are not receiving treatment in part because people are uncertain about how to respond to a person with mental illness (U.S. rep, 2014). Broadening public awareness about mental illness symptoms by training educators, fire fighters and police officers, emergency service workers and members of the public sector about mental health services is the objective of the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 (Mental health first, 2013). The Act provides $20 million in grants, which fund Mental Health First Aid training programs throughout the nation. The training aims to teach participants how to recognize the symptoms of common substance abuse and mental health disorders. The program instruction also includes de-escalating crisis situations and introducing appropriate referral to available resources (Mental health first, 2013).

MEDIA JOURNAL
American Psychosis by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey
Dr. Torrey is a psychiatrist who believes the federal government is responsible for ruining treatment for the mentally ill. He traces the history of deinstitutionalization and gives critical analysis of the results. He contends that the development of Thorazine, a drug to treat delusions, hallucinations and manic symptoms of severe mental illness, gave misguided though well intentioned hope to decision makers. He contests that relying on drugs as a panacea for treating the mentally ill has proven to be insufficient and damaging to the mentally ill and society at large. The errors he charges, are in closing mental hospitals, misunderstanding what is involved in community treatment and federal financing of mental health care (Torrey, 2014).

He condemns the change in the American Psychological Association’s original intent from treating mental illness to mainly functioning as a lobby to protect economic investments of psychiatrists. He asserts that the mentally ill have been abandoned. While there may be agreement on what services should look like, there is no consensus on how to organize care or how to fairly fund it. Torrey argues that federal programs prohibit improving mental health care because of conflicting political interests striving to maintain the status quo of a capitalist economic society. He cites the Nursing Home and Home Care industry’s motivation for profit as a major impediment to properly caring for the mentally ill (Torrey, 2014).

Torrey goes further to point out that the public has a mistrust of psychiatry that is further compounded by society’s misunderstanding of the civil rights of mentally ill people. Those that claim the mentally ill homeless have a right to live without an address on park benches, under bridges or in jail are missing the mark. People whose mental capacity is compromised are not living by their free will. Their actions are commanded by delusions. Mental illness is the only illness where the brain can distort reality and prevent the patient from knowing he or she is ill (Torrey, 2014).

Much like the paradoxes Deborah Stone speaks of, when it comes to mental illness there is no clear distinction of how to best meet the needs of the mentally ill and the general public. There is a trade off between a market model and a political model (Stone, 2012). Both populations need protection and provision. As quoted by Torrey, (2014) Psychiatrist Gary Maier has said, “When the personal freedom of the mentally ill is given priority over all other considerations the tyranny of some will jeopardize all.” This illustrates negative liberty where mentally ill persons have freedom to – live according to their free will and positive liberty where the public wants freedom from – security pertaining to the mentally ill (Stone, 2012). As a society we are faced with the dilemma of how to protect the rights of all our citizens.

Nonetheless, failure to provide appropriate treatment to people with severe mental illness is perpetuated by society’s lack of understanding. Torrey emphasizes that much of the public believes mental illness is psychological and not biological in origin, however, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and severe depression are brain diseases, as are Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease (Torrey, 2014). Therefore, public education is a vital component in providing comprehensive care to the mentally ill which may in turn reduce the stigma surrounding the predicament.

National Public Radio
A First Aid Kit for Mental Health Emergencies
October 18, 2011

Host: Neal Conan
Guests: Bryan Gibb – Director of Public Education, National Council for Community Behavioral HealthCare

Clare Miller – Director, Partnerships for Workplace Mental Health

The Talk of the Nation program featured two guests who provided information and education for the program entitled: A First Aid Kit for Mental Health Emergencies.
Mental health is a distinct issue separate from gun violence as evidenced by this public radio program. It is important to recognize this interview took place before the influx of the more recent mass shootings linking mental health to gun violence. The key points taken from this episode are important in educating the public and shifting the ambiguity many people feel when it comes to dealing with people experiencing mental health challenges.

Bringing training to the workplace is instrumental for eliminating stigma. Many human resource departments welcome and provide training for traditional physical health emergencies such as CPR for heart attacks and the Heimlich Maneuver for choking, but when it comes to emotional first aid there a void. Co-workers need to know how to respond to mental health crisis as well because there is more chance for a mental health issue arising in the workplace than a heart attack or choking incident (“A first aid,” 2011).

The mental health first aid course prepares the participants to be aware of subtle changes in a person and how to respond to them. The human resources department has responsibility to protect its valuable resources, its employees. If a person were to develop symptoms of diabetes, he or she would be directed to services in an effort to help maintain the employee’s viability and productivity. The same model needs to be applied to employees with mental health concerns. The employee needs to have intervention which includes addressing what is observed and if necessary directing them toward resources. Often this is in the context of employee assistance programs (EAP’s) (“A first aid,” 2011, “National survey on,” 2013).

The mental health first aid program doesn’t impart diagnosis or treatment methods. It teaches participants to recognize, confront and refer the same way a supervisor observes, informs and recommends. In the workplace privacy can be a concern. The program doesn’t deter from legal or professional obligations. In a definitive emergency when someone is at risk for harm to self or others, standard emergency protocol prevails (“A first aid,” 2011).

Job security is an issue for employees who are reluctant to seek help for fear of being fired if they reach out for help. The double standard between physical and mental illness needs to be eradicated. If diagnosed with a mental illness, job security, hospitality and support from co-workers are usually hard to come by. A listener who called in to comment illustrated this. She had experienced mild psychosis over a two-day period because her meds had been altered. She was fired. If she had experienced a heart attack, she would have been welcomed back and probably had casseroles delivered for a few weeks after the incident. Firing an accomplished employee for a treatable mental health issue is an injustice that must be corrected (“A first aid,” 2011).

Employers and business owners of the free market can be considered penny wise and pound-foolish when their highest priority is their profit margin and at the expense of their employees health. Depression costs $50 billion in lost productivity every year while substance abuse costs $200 billion a year in lost productivity. Employers need to work smarter and invest in their employees by funding mental health care and preventing unnecessary loss (Impact & cost, 2013).

The New York Times
Sunday Review Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Kristof
Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail

Mr. Kristof highlights the irony of the truth; that the same society that detested locking up the mentally ill in mental hospitals now locks them up in jails. He summarizes sobering statistics from the National Sheriff’s Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center: three times as many mentally ill people are housed in jails as opposed to hospitals. Forty percent of people with severe mental illness have been arrested. They aren’t incarcerated because of their psychiatric issues directly, rather indirectly. They end up getting arrested because their violations stem from offenses that result from their mental illness The Justice department reports mentally ill inmates are preyed upon and receive more injuries than those without mental challenges (Kristof, 2014).

Kristof points out that incarceration of mentally ill inmates costs American taxpayers between $300 and $400 a day. Often the mentally ill will stabilize and be released, and once back into the community without supports, they go off their medications and their symptoms escalate. They eventually re-offend and break the law again and the cycle repeats. He argues that fiscally it doesn’t make sense to incarcerate because it would be more cost effective to manage their mental health care in the community and maintain their stability with caseworkers and other community supports (Kristof, 2014).

SUMMARY EVALUATION

The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics focus is to improve
the well being of humans by meeting their basic needs and enabling the vulnerable, oppressed and impoverished (“Code of ethics,” 1999). Social workers are distinctively prepared to advocate for the dignity of every human being by upholding basic civic and political freedoms at the micro, mezzo and macro levels.

Being agents of change, social workers commit to work on the behalf of vulnerable and oppressed populations, particularly toward fostering social justice. The construct and implementation of the Mental Health First Aid Act promotes this objective as well. Educating about mental health by providing information, directives and resources for the public to recognize symptoms, intervene and refer compromised individuals to professionals is critical for the benefit of everyone in society.

The implementation of the Mental Health First Aid Act is foundational toward affecting positive change toward the mental health crisis in America. Shifting the focus from sensationalized media reports linking the mentally ill with gun violence to promoting factual information to the public is the first step of many in combatting the personal and public structural stigma of mental illness. Engaging the general public to aid the mentally ill serves both populations. Given the anticipation of the numbers of persons who will develop a mental illness in a given year, the demand for mental health care will be staggering. This legislation addresses early intervention, crisis response and peer support, but doesn’t impact the present problems of stabilization programs, discharge planning, out patient services, supportive housing or jail diversion.

Momentous federal legislation has made headway in defeating discrimination of the mentally ill within the areas of healthcare, education and employment. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) targeted the health insurance industry to provide equal coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders treatment. Where the MHPAEA lacked, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) filled in gaps by requiring inclusive coverage for substance abuse and mental health disorders within benefit package plans by insurance companies and with coordination betwee Medicaid plans (Cummings, Lucas & Druss, 2014). Building on these landmark pieces of legislation, the Mental Health First Aid Act may serve as an impetus for radical change toward refurbishing the present complications that resulted from deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill.

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Out of Suffering

coelho-fear

I woke from a sound sleep. I was in pain. It was too familiar. I knew what it was yet in my thought process I needed to invent a myriad of other possibilities hoping it would disappear or morph into something more manageable. And by morning I was thinking I could deal with this level of discomfort if this was as bad as it was going to get. In hindsight, my tolerance and threshold for pain in all its forms seems to be limitless because I’m still here. Growing. Engrafting. Being.

I had things to do. I had to get my roots done and get my daughter to her piano lesson. Those were the essentials and pretty much all that was accomplished that day. It’s hard to remember now. I think my fever coma eradicated a lot of connections and memory. Or maybe the fuzziness is from head trauma since I passed out?

The pain, it was not leaving, it was deepening; reminding me I wasn’t getting off easily. Having another kidney stone journeying through my ureter uninvited and unwelcomed wasn’t something I could manage on my own. I relented in fear. I wasn’t afraid of the pain. I was familiar with what that felt like and knew what it would do to me. I was mentally pacing myself for the process. My issue was not having insurance. I’m not stupid. Stubborn? Yes. Is this where I should plug in don’t judge me?

I stopped carrying insurance because I was paying over six grand a year and not using it. Essentially throwing money away. My alimony income is finite hence the push to get as credentialed as I can because I’m going to be sitting across from some thirty something telling him or her how valuable my life experience is to them and that they should hire me even though the last time I signed a paycheck was when Reagan was in office.  I’m reasonably fit and make effort to maintain my health. I had minimal “coverage” through my undergrad school as a student, but that expired with graduation. So technically I’ve only been without medical insurance since June. I will be on my grad school’s required coverage in a matter of days so it wasn’t complete negligence on my part; more of just the way my life tends to unfold.

By day three, a Friday, I was getting anxious. In the medical and business world the weekend is not a good time to seek treatment. I knew I could play the system by going to the ER. They have to treat you even without insurance. But I knew I needed a CT scan before anyone was going to deal with me. I wanted to be treated with some amount of dignity I knew was absent in the ER of most major hospitals. So I surrendered to my circumstances and I texted my Urologist. That may come off as a minimalistic no brainer to you but for me, it took a lot of courage. I started out apologetically by saying I hoped I wasn’t interfering in a vacation or something, but was pretty sure the stones were active and that I was trying to discern whether or not I needed to be seen. I’m still suffering from put yourself last syndrome and I don’t want to bother anyoneitis. As it turned out, she was in the Caribbean.

In my August 2005 kidney stone attack I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. By then I’d already endured several hours of agony, had turned blue, passed out and I don’t really know what else happened. This was after my morning run and my Kashi breakfast. So not fair. It was a rapid onset and yes as they say the pain was worse than childbirth because kidney stone pain is relentless. It doesn’t rise and fall and let you catch your breath. There is no reward at the end that makes the effort expended worthwhile. For me it was not knowing what was wrong with me that made the anxiety as consuming as the pain.

They told me my stone was a big one, a centimeter and not likely nor advisable to pass. I had Ureteroscopy surgery to break up the mass. It wasn’t completely successful so I had to be scheduled for lithotripsy surgery. I left with a stent in and the lovely little apparatus to strain your urine through. I was somewhat uncomfortable from what I remember. I was still bleeding from somewhere and doubled over in pain while at the Rolling Stones Concert that same day I’d been discharged. We had 9th row seats. That’s something you don’t pass up. I didn’t make it through the entire show. I was more concerned about being vulnerable to jabs and shoves if the crowd erupted into a mosh pit. I had the lithotripsy surgery two days later. My urologist was good to me and took out the stent on her day off because true to form, my schedule didn’t allow for illness or down time. I was starting Massage Therapy School and could not take the time off.

So here I am eight years later. I’ve been home for a week after my healthy vacation with family, which consisted of exercise, good nutrition and rest. I’m anticipating the start of grad school and wanting to tie up a thousand loose ends and then~whammo. I’m forced to put life on hold, a hostage in my own body. Only now, I’m both divorced and widowed, insuranceless and friendless, living on my homestead, climbing out of a black hole from several years of trials and loss. I don’t live in an estate anymore, I don’t have the army of support I had then. And I’m removed from civilization.

As the day progressed I knew I needed to take action. I made an appointment with the Urology group. I had to see the doctor who was on duty. I needed a CT scan and was able have that done in the same building. I had to decide which credit card I was going to put it on. $900, plus the office visit fee. My cortisol level was climbing because I am just a couple more months from being on task with paying off debt and it seems like there is always something to derail that goal. I mean I’ve gone to great lengths to save where I can. I stretch out my root job appointments and commit chemical malpractice on my hair to save money.

I was getting ready to leave for the appointment with my arsenal of credit cards in hand when I got a call on my land-line. I rarely if ever answer that because the only people who call on it are business related. I only have it for my security system. But for some reason in the middle of my turmoil I felt I needed to answer it. That was confirmed when I heard the caller ID say North Carolina. My mom lives in NC. I could feel my pulse quicken and my throat tense.

But it was my step-father. He went through the polite formality of hello while we both knew he needed to get to the punch. We don’t talk or call each other… unless. I asked what was wrong. There’s something that happens as soon as you know your loved one isn’t dead. You immediately muster the resolve to brace yourself for what you don’t want to hear because you know what’s to  follow is still bad.

Hearing my mom suffered a heart attack and stroke and was paralyzed made me envision her as one of the many patients I worked with in nursing homes. One of the bitchy nasty hostile ones who would scratch me and try to smear their feces on me. Her carotid artery is 98% blocked. She is a ticking though erratic, time bomb. I know full well what her future may look like. A part of me will have to deal with the reality that my mom, who has never been here for me, will be even less available now. My pollyanna dream of some sort of reconciliation or semblance of a relationship is shot. I hung up and tried to pull myself together and shrug it off since that is a battle I surrendered to a long time ago, or so I had thought.

The flood of tears came. I couldn’t hold them back. My first thought was that I couldn’t even call anyone because no one cares about her. My two brothers hate her. I wouldn’t know how to reach them anyway but that wasn’t the issue today. She has no relationship with any of her living siblings. And my cousin, who she once took in, has no love loss for her either. I’m it for my mom.

In radiology I waited in the overcrowded waiting room trying to be grateful because I was discounted a percentage for paying up front. My radiologist was real. I could tell because I was able to pick up on her energy. I spilled my reader’s digest version of my scenario and asked her if she could shoot my ovaries too while she was at it because after eight pregnancies I know they are in revolt.  I’m certain my uterus is on strike as well. I suspect ovarian cancer, but that’s for another story. I was grateful to have an authentic exchange with a real person amidst the craziness of my life. It gave me hope to continue on and go upstairs.

In the Urologist office upstairs every socio-economic demographic of class was represented in the waiting room. There was a sweet man in a wheel chair with an aide waiting for a transport company to take him to what I assumed was some sort of home. I was preoccupied with what his life might be like. He stood out to me. His warmth and his positive energy struck me. He was probably someone often overlooked by many. He was so personable and intent on making contact with everyone. He included me in his chit-chat with the other patients. When I pulled away by taking out a book he commented that I must like to read. He did too.

The doctor on duty told me that I was indeed passing another stone. This one was about 5 mm. He said I was scheduled for surgery on Monday and I’d need blood work done down the hall. I interjected with my questions. Wasn’t there something I could do at home, what if I could pass it? He said the stone still had a long way to go. He handed me a packet with a few pills in it and said he didn’t want me to get an infection. There were no labels or instructions for dispensing them. He exited saying if the pain subsided I should call early Monday to cancel but I might need lithotripsy as well so I should keep my schedule open.

I was supposed to go sailing Tuesday and Wednesday.

In the middle of my melt down in my car in the parking lot I got a call from the surgery scheduling people at the hospital. The woman was very empathic. Someone from the Urology office must have warned her about my emotional overload because she knew about my mom. Then she dropped the bomb. Didn’t anyone tell me I needed to have someone pick me up from surgery? I thought I’d be  able to drive myself there and back. I could get a cab there but that wouldn’t fly for the ride home. That was when bitter reality set in. I live in a rural area that everyone else considers the boon docks, so far away. I don’t have family close by. My cousin just moved out of state. I don’t have close friends. I have acquaintances but no one I felt comfortable enough to ask, “Hey would you mind ripping up your Monday commute to head to Hartford and then out by the airport and sign off responsibility for me after you’ve worked all day just to bring me home?” No I couldn’t do that. I don’t have that luxury anymore. My divorce extinguished those who I thought were my friends. My relationship with my now deceased fiancé and subsequent move finished off the others. Of my life-long friendships, one I let go of because it was a toxic relationship. My last surviving friend is literally that. She is now living with emphysema and on oxygen. I couldn’t ask her either.

I felt like my mother. That’s the worst possible thing in my world. In black and white my situation looks a lot like hers from the outside. She is a woman with no friends who isolated herself and pretty much said F… Y.. to the world, I don’t need you. In contrast I don’t know anyone who hates me, and contrary to her lifestyle, I have tried to maintain the relationships that matter, yet my circumstances mirror hers too closely for my liking.

People loathe her. I know who she is, who she isn’t and who she was, but I still hold out respect for people just because they are human. We are all fallible. She is my mother. I don’t feel like she did much mothering with my brothers or me, but I have managed to hold on to some of the good I was able to find in her. I used to joke because selfishly I was relieved my dad died instantly from his heart attack. With him in Florida it would have been very difficult for me to care for him if he had a long term illness. I knew I wouldn’t be so lucky with my mom. She will hold on and fight forever. She has amassed ample resources and insurance to maintain her island status especially at the end of her years. I’m sad to admit that I’m breathing a sigh of relief that she has serious health issues before my step father because if he went first, I’d be left to deal with my mother. I know I can’t take her on. This woman has her head stone erected in place just waiting to etch in the date of death. The story she’d like us to believe is that she didn’t want to put me through trauma of making decisions when I would be emotionally compromised. That sounds commendable, but the truth is that she doesn’t want my step father buried next to his ex-wife. Even in death she’ll be calling the shots. She isn’t expecting me to intervene in her care. She wouldn’t allow it.

I knew I was desperate when I contacted my ex-husband because Mr. Fix It or Forget It would offer some solution and I needed one.  I had to tell him I wasn’t going to get my son for the weekend. Ours is a strange relationship after thirty plus years of battle. It’s quite humbling to have to resort to depending on him in instances like this when in relationships he doesn’t have what it takes. He’s usually good at grounding me in base emotions. (I’m being sarcastic here.) When I hung up with him I tried to collect myself for the commute home, then it hit me. I remembered and felt the pain.

Once home I busied myself with household tasks and collapsed on the couch and wondered why the MD hadn’t given me anything for pain.  I live on Motrin and Allegra on a daily basis for my perpetual sinus issues. I thought I’d pull out the big guns and try Advil PM since I knew I needed to sleep. Yeah right.

I went to bed in sweat pants and long sleeves. And so began what I call my fever coma. I vacillated between profuse sweating and chills for days. I didn’t do anything but shudder and keep my eyes closed. I only got up to pee. Thank goodness I only had five steps to the commode and the path is committed to memory even in complete blindness.

At some point during the night I got up to refill a water bottle and in my feverish stupor passed out at the threshold of my bedroom door. Should I have known that since I hadn’t walked that far in a couple of days maybe the odds weren’t in my favor? I was woozy and nauseous and had to brace myself along the way. I knew I had to strategically support myself in intervals just to get to the refrigerator, but rational thinking wasn’t my strong suit just then. Breathing, sipping and shuddering were all I could manage.

I kept thinking about passing out. I thought you sort of knew when it was happening like when you’re dizzy, but you don’t. I just wanted to get back to my bed. I felt my face hurt and I think I felt insulted or offended by that. Then I felt my face on the floor and at the edge of the carpet and knew something wasn’t right. Then I realized the rest of me was me on the floor. I felt around with my hand and found the carpet. I figured I should go in that direction. My bed was on the carpet. I crawled back to my bed. A tidal wave of a rush overcame me. The sweat trickled from my matted hair and ran down my face. I could taste the salt in the droplets. I couldn’t open my eyes. My college age daughter has since informed me that she could identify since passing out is what she considered a good night of drinking. Sigh. I can’t relate. I never had the typical childhood or college scene. I’m not regretting that.  I’m just reminded of God’s sense of humor with that child. I used to pray for people like her and keep my children from them, now I have one of my own.

The next day my other adult daughter came up. She made me a smoothie, made me laugh and changed my sheets. I made myself get out of bed and try to get some sort of nutrient content in me. While she sat on the couch yapping, I felt semi coherent and present but not fully. I was able to engage in conversation but I felt disconnected like I was having an out of body experience. I even looked at my phone, but didn’t have energy to do more than that. I was still nauseous and feverish and barely functioning.

I didn’t know if the fever was from the kidney stone moving or what, but I didn’t have flank pain anymore. It had been replaced by body aches and a massive head and neck pain and pressure.

I cancelled the surgery. I could barely get up and walk to another room besides the bathroom, and my head felt like it was in a vice. The sweating and chills kept me horizontal and with my eyes shut for another day and night. I felt like I’d aged a lifetime, my muscles were atrophying. I understood why an elderly person needs to rest after doing the most minimal task.

The next day I took a shower and got dressed; a major accomplishment. I even made an appointment at the medical group where I’d had a physical done for school. I was leery of the drive. I mean I hadn’t been upright and coherent for more than twenty minutes at a time in a several days. I didn’t want to endanger myself, or anyone else.

The office visit wiped me out. Thankfully I had dressed in leggings and long sleeves because the temperature in there made me feel like I was in a refrigerator. I had to lie down in the exam room. I was in a fetal position and teary when the PA walked in. I didn’t care. He asked how I was feeling and I just looked at him and asked, “really, do you want to know? Look out because I’ll tell you.”

I told him that in a matter of a few hours I learned about my mom and was scheduled for surgery and that ever since, I‘d been in a fever coma. When I told him about my no insurance woes he remarked he didn’t understand why someone like me wouldn’t have insurance, since I was attractive. That didn’t make sense to me. I think I was still suffering a time delay effect because it took a minute to register. I thought he must have meant to say that I looked smart.  I replied by saying I was smart, just not always practical.

He diagnosed me with the flu and said that the kidney stone had probably moved or I’d passed it. He was more concerned with my current status with my head/sinus/ear issues that have plagued me for several years. He showed me the billing code and ended up charging me the least amount he could without being fired. Then he gave me his card and told me to call him because if we could work out health issues that didn’t require an appointment over the phone, he’d be willing to do that to help me out. What a deal.

Yesterday I woke and finally felt like my body and mind were in synch operating in unison again. I felt hunger and had an appetite to taste food again. I stretched and moved my body beyond mere necessity. I haven’t done much of anything except to organize an area in my kitchen. That took all of ten minutes. I did get back online and plugged into the things that had evaporated in my health hiatus. I listened to music, and I knew I needed to write.

My first venture out was my favorite type of venue, a small intimate concert. The fact that this was a Christian concert was comforting. I needed a spiritual fix and part of me needed to take baby steps and to be inside a church enveloped by Christian people and music. Inside those walls I can let tears fall and not be conspicuous. So many spiritual life and death issues have been weighing heavily on my heart. I’ll need to work out the issues surrounding my mom and how this turning point in her life will affect both our lives.

It’s when life comes to a stand still that I’m reminded of what I value and my thought pattern is redirected. It is through suffering that I am most appreciative for the simple aspects of life I’ve taken for granted. Not being able to do anything but be conscious of my pulse and breath was sobering. Much of my experience lately has been drawing me to be present, in the now.

I’m thankful to get out of bed on my own. I am grateful to have an appetite and taste buds and the ability to keep food down. I was reunited with my dental floss and was giddy. I delighted in doing my dishes. I took stock of all the visual clutter around my home and while it has been burdening me because of the emotional drain in getting rid of it, I choose to see all of it as a lot of life lived and an abundance of blessing. And if I let my thinking evolve to the bigger picture, I’ve survived another nasty battle. I have relative health, enough resources, a home and family and opportunity.

But more importantly, I know what it feels like to be without insurance. I know the fear of needing medical intervention combined with not wanting to go into debt to receive it. I know what it feels like to be completely alone and desperate when you can’t even get out of your own way. I know what it feels like to be betrayed by your own body. And I know the dreaded ambivalence of waiting for the dawn while uncertain of whether or not you want what may come with it.

I continue to grow stronger because I’ve been down and out. I’m grateful this latest hurdle is behind me.

I am a bit more seasoned and that’s a good thing, right?

Newtown, Their Faces and Their Names

Now that we have the faces and the names of those killed in Newtown, I am stilled, stirred to the memory of my experience at the Holocaust Museum in Israel. There also, my heart and my mind could not contain it’s entirety. I couldn’t take on the depth and magnitude of the travesty. My mind could not bear the burden or absorb the whole of what I was exposed to there.

Time has eroded clarity of all that my senses took in, but what does remain too close to the surface is the gripping anguish that engulfed me as I moved through the children’s memorial; a narrow corridor of darkness.

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The only light; the images of their faces.

The only sound; the recitation of their names and age of death and where they were from.

I thought that maybe the reason that memory is strongest is because I was thousands of miles away from my own children and the thought of outliving them unconscionable. But Friday morning I realized why.

Life was stilled. Lives were eradicated from existence and generations lost.

Now from so close to home, Newtown, we have their names and their faces and the bits and pieces of their lives.

The children.

The teachers and other administrators. The nurturers who led by example. They were protectors of their children. I have an adult daughter. She is a music teacher. Her students are also her children. She is equally devoted and protective of them as she is her own son. I think many of us can attest to a great teacher who has impacted our life or that of our children.

The adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, their valient sacrifice and dedication to their students also reminds me of another exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. The statue of Janus Korczak.  The statue sits surrounded by pebbles. Visitors can place pebbles on the statue in memory of the children.

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The Korczak Square recalls the bravery of Jewish/Polish educator Janusz Korczak. During the Holocaust, Korczak refused to abandon the children of his Warsaw orphanage, perishing alongside them in the Treblinka death camp. Located in the square is the statue “Janusz Korczak and the Children” by sculptor Boris Saktsier.”

 

In Sandy Hook, visitors are leaving flowers, candles, balloons, teddy bears, Christmas trees and toys these children should be receiving in life, not death.

I have not lost anyone to homicide. I do not understand the pain of the survivors of these 27 souls. But I do know the grief of suicide.

When researching the difference between suicide bereavement and other forms, suicide was often lumped into a category of traumatic death which included homicide and that of parents who have lost children via trauma. This is when I learned that our language doesn’t have a word for such a tragedy. I resisted the label of widow and technically don’t qualify by the letter of the law. Yet in my heart I do. I needed a word to cling to. I suspect these parents who have lost their children unnaturally do as well. Friday, I researched again and found a mom who lost her son, who found the word ~vilomah~ which means an unnatural order of loss. I sat with that word for a while. It may suffice for those searching for a label. The more I thought about it, I came to think that maybe the reason we don’t have a distinct word for such, is because there shouldn’t be one, because as parents we can’t even compose a word to give death to the life we create.

I have learned that sometimes grief is like water. Constant, capable of changing shape and taking on many forms. In my experience grief doesn’t leave. It is like an ocean. Sometimes, I can stand at the edge on the shore and while I appear to be rooted firmly in place, the pull of the tide is taking grains of sand underfoot from my stance. I’m forced to move. Sometimes depending where I am on shore, the water barely reaches me, making its subtle presence known only as the salt water foams around my feet. Other times, the waves knock me down like a relentless tidal wave, pulling me under, disorienting me. I resurface and want no more of it. But traumatic grief becomes engrafted into your DNA. One is forever changed and you learn to live together coinciding with grief and the love we have for those we lost to horrific death.

Tomorrow, we won’t have the luxury of a weekend to grieve with the media and all the other trappings of tragedy. In time, the candles will be extinguished, the teddy bears gathered up and people will have to go back to their lives.

The families, parents and siblings have to buy coffins and cemetery plots. They will have empty beds in their homes and unfillable holes in their hearts and lives. They will gradually learn to live without their loved ones. Their need to grieve will live on as will the spirits of those who died this Friday. Remember their need to grieve.

I pray that Newtown will find a way to memorialize their love of these precious souls taken before their time.

Please also find room in your heart to remember The Lanza family who lost their mother and son. Adam was also a brother and a son. I believe his father and Ryan have lost their son/brother twice, first to mental illness and then to a senseless death.

Aside

A Jar of Mayonnaise, Laughter and Tears

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How can a jar of mayonnaise move me to tears? Let me try to explain. I am two finals from my Bachelor’s degree. Thirty years in the making while having six children, ending a bad marriage after 26 years only to find the love of my life and having to relinquish him in death. Finishing…anything…well…has eluded me for decades. It used to be so important to me. Now, the closer I am to completing my degree, the more of a non-event it becomes. Filtering life through death will do that. I’m also 51 years old and I still feel love for a dead man. The kicker is I’m a Psychology major and aspire to be a counselor. I confess I’ve not had the emotional reserve to contribute much to my on-line support groups lately. I’ve been functioning more as a voyeur. I easily become lost in cyber-world connections because I am immeasurably grateful and needy of the instant family of support that unites us all.

So back to the story.

I finally have time to make tuna-fish and I grab a jar of mayo out of the pantry. I bought it from the warehouse store so it’s a big one. I decide I should check the expiration date and I feel the tears come. That is one of the many love things Dennis always did for me.

As a full-time student and a single Mom consumed by life and other no need to mentionables, time is a resource I never have enough of. Dennis went through my pantry once and found things 3 years old (gasp) and made it a mission of his to keep me healthy by keeping my pantry current. So, I start to open the jar, but it’s too big for my hands. I can’t do it. I blubber as I curse him for checking out on me. And as I’m sobbing, aching from the anguish I’ve been stifling as I go through the motions of life, missing the arms and warmth and protection of my guy, I’m also laughing and irate at how grief is just so relentless in every nuance of my life.

Part of me wants to be angry at the menace of grief, but another part of me treasures the thoughts that are both painful and the most loving at the same time. This is what grief does. Sometimes I think the pain lingers because I don’t want to lose all the memories. I just don’t want to lose any more. The mayonnaise jar moves me to tears of happiness because he loved me so. So tenderly, so-just-right-for-me. The mayonnaise jar moves me to tears because I don’t have him anymore ~just the memories~ of the love he gave me.
I was able to open the jar, remember to check the date and continue on amidst laughter and tears.

Expectation

Expectation

I should have been ready for it. After all, I listened to Michele; her talk on “What the Grinch Taught Me About Love.”  I left the Camp Widow West conference with confidence in my position. I’d been feeling like I’m not doing grief right. Like I am falling short in measure. I still grieve inconsistently with highs and lows, sporadically with varying intensity, daily. Powerful intense emotion is just under the surface still dominating from time to time and I can’t hold it back.

It’s not that I want to hold it back. No. I feel that if it’s there I need to be with it, sit with it, and muddle through it no matter how unwelcoming inconvenient or depressing it is. We are close companions, Grief and me. There is no point in pretending or denying we inhabit the same being. Grief came when Dennis left and hasn’t let go of me and I’ve learned never will.

The depth and magnitude of Dennis, his love, is in my DNA. He is part of who I am. That comforts me. I don’t have to defend it, explain it, share it, or squelch it. He fills part of my heart. His place within the chambers of my heart belongs to him alone. That doesn’t void my capacity to love again. In fact it enables me to do so. I hold that place for him. Grief is the expression manifested because of the loss, be it in the gamut of emotions from anger, laughter, tears or quiet reflection and introspection.

I made these resolves as a result of the conference. We widows talked of the expectations of others. When someone is leading with the question, “So how are you?” Or remarking, “I’m so glad you’re better now,” I don’t need to have the assumption that I’m failing grief 101 because I’m not feeling “better.”  Life continues and I immerse myself in it, but that doesn’t negate the shadow of grief ever present. Better is not a word I could ever apply to my life without Dennis.

So when I mustered the courage to post hundreds of pictures of him and us and even make personal commentary on some, I was stunned when one of his friends asked, “So how are you?” His question was pleading for the expected answer: better.

I couldn’t appease him. I told him so, that he’d like me to say better but I couldn’t. I don’t have a word for how I am now. The English language isn’t equipped with many words that hold several meanings at once. The only one that comes to mind is bittersweet. The words in this quote circulating among widows on fb comes close to giving voice to what some widows bear.

“To love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you, I will love you, again.” ~ Ellen Bass ♥

People who have loved and lost by no choice of their own have a heightened sensitivity. We purpose to live and love.

So though well meaning family and friends want to eliminate our suffering, what we need most is time, space and assurance that they’ll let grief have it’s place alongside each of us. Expect it to be there with us.

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Infinite Tears

Infinite Tears

My Tears

My Tears

I’ve been reading a lot of posts in different forums on Suddenly Widowed a group from Widowed Village and also on facebook. I know I’m drawn to them because it affirms things for me and also exposes me to things I haven’t thought of. I gain new perspective. I just had a new take on my tears. I have felt almost apologetic and guarded because I have cried every day since losing my fiancé to suicide 12/31/10.  When admitting that, I sense people step back emotionally as well as physically and assume I’m nuts or at the least severely depressed. The tears have ranged from consuming, wrenching anguish that frightened me, to warm, fond, sentimental longing and gratitude and everything possible a tear can represent.

Why was I thinking or measuring “progress” by an absence of tears? I know I’ve gotten stronger. I am quite tired of that word being attributed to me. I would gladly forfeit what others perceive to be my strength. I know my “strength” is the result of having endured. What they don’t see is the refining process: the ugliness, the consuming anguish, the doing the next thing through numb repetition, the somber, the solemn, the fear, essentially the release of unspoken liquid composition via my tears.That unsightly part is as unwelcome as speaking about death. Suicide doesn’t get talked about.

The clichés of being “over it” and going through it are meaningless to me. Dennis is part of who I am, eternally. His absence in the flesh should be evident in my life. How it plays out is where I need to put myself in check. Am I functioning? Am I looking forward as well as to the past? Am I taking care of myself? Am I stifling the grief or letting it have it’s time and space? Am I realistic (have I accepted he’s not coming back?) When the tidal waves topple me, do I get back up? Am I finding that I’m grateful for all that we did have together? Do I consider myself blessed and fortunate for his life and the impact he had on it, on me, and my children? Can I see the good in spite of the suffering? These are the ways I want to “measure” my grief. It will never be “over” as long as I am breathing. My life without Dennis is like stained glass. His essence colors my being clear through to my soul. He and I, our love, took on one form, now it is reassembled and still equally as beautiful. I was broken, and I’m putting myself back together. I’d like to believe I’m more beautiful on the inside because I was loved by my best friend. What he brought to my life is part of who I am. That makes him live on. We didn’t have children together, yet I love his daughters out of the love he had for them and I see evidence of his character in my children who are all richer for having known and loved him.

Change brings loss, yet I want to fill the void with the warmth that radiated from the best man I’ve ever known. In fact, I’m going to stop counting the days of my tears.That would make my love finite. It’s not. Loved doesn’t divide in life and death, it multiplies.

Blonde or Brunette – It’s Still Judgement.

I was blonde with Dennis. I’m a brunette now, for a few reasons. I don’t like looking backward being reminded of who I was with him. Also, my daughter who was in cosmetology school did my hair for a nominal fee but now lives in Boston, so to save money I do it. I can’t stand any measure of roots showing so that means every 3-4 weeks I commit chemical malpractice on my hair. I had gone to the salon asking to be a shade darker. (I had a gift certificate) I came out with darker and red hair. I don’t like the color and have been trying to improve on it, but over the last few months the roots were lighter than the rest. It’s comical really. Every time I look in a mirror I’m startled. Same thing when I look at myself and see who I am – post Dennis.

My point. Yesterday I was at my son’s soccer game. It was a cup game. The lead ref had a larger girth than my 48″ waist when I was about to give birth. I thought, “Come on, it’s a cup game, can’t they send someone who can do the job.” I judged him, on the spot, by his appearance. I assumed he couldn’t do his job. Me, who claims to be an advocate for the underdog. Me, who knows what it’s like to be judged. Me, who can relate to being on the fringes, on the outside looking in, never part of the “in” crowd. Especially after becoming widowed. My excuse – I was feeling the shunning. I reacted in kind. You see, I’ve never been the mom who was at every soccer game. My ex, my son’s father, had my son’s activities and I had the girl’s. I wanted them to have the father/son thing. With six kids we had to divide and conquer. He’s never been to my youngest daughter’s cello lessons or dance class in another state every Monday or choir practice. Get it? So I never made the relationships with the other parents. They probably assumed I didn’t care. Even at after parties etc. I couldn’t connect. My ex and I are very opposite. He holds the crowd and the attention. I was in a bad marriage and held back. Once we were divorced, there were only one or two moms who would even speak to me, yet it was because they had to.

I was devastated when my friends, mainly from church, dropped me like yesterday’s news. One woman told me the women would let me around their children, but not their husbands. I was crushed because I was now looked at as a threat when I had been esteemed as a role model. I’d been a pillar of example, part of what everyone thought was the perfect couple and family every Sunday as we paraded our family of eight. Life changes in an instant. I went from one extreme of abuse to being treasured by a good man. Dennis and I went to my church, but we lived together and for that I was chastised as well. We had more truth, love and commitment in three years than my legal and God-endorsed marriage of 26 years ever had. I married that man every day. Dennis and I managed to get to a few of my son’s games, so the parents were aware of my relationship with him, but we kept to ourselves. After, when he died and because of the way he died, the deliberate isolation and avoidance was palpable. I have never felt more like a leper, like I was contagious, than at church and these other family institutions.

I showed up at the game yesterday as the divorcee in the convertible with another new hair color. So the looks, the oh-my-goodness-what-has-she-done-now glances, and the deliberate exclusion hurts. I’m sure their imaginations are much more vivid than the reality of what my life actually is. They don’t see a mom who regrets not having been there for so many games. They don’t see a woman broken, on the edge of despair who was sobbing moments prior, trying to put on the public face of I’m tough and I deserve to be here. Nor do they know what it takes to get there. They don’t know that I have been in survival mode for the last 7 years  getting divorced, moving 3 times, having a child with a potentially life threatening illness, dealing with a combative ex daily and in court, all while being a full-time student. I thought life was finally turning around for me. I had a good man who loved and respected me. I was anticipating, looking forward to building a new life with him and my children, only to have all that shattered. They don’t know how hard it’s been just to get out of bed every day, let alone be thankful for each breath. They don’t know how consuming grief is for me and my children. They lost Dennis too and I grieve for them, for all that should have been. They don’t know that I’ve sold everything I can to pay for tuition, including my motorcycle because my desire for the open road died with Dennis. I didn’t inherit his name, or any insurance. I just helped pay to bury my best friend. They sleep next to their spouses. They have support. They have takeitforgrantedness. I don’t. I like to think I have gained wisdom. I like to think I’ve become a more sensitive person in spite of my hardships, but after yesterday I have to admit I acted like a person I don’t want to become. I’m ashamed.

The stigma of suicide is suffocating. The disenfranchisement of unwed widows is relentless and death changes the way you live your life. That’s why I bought a convertible; with all wheel drive, with trunk space for groceries and a back seat deep enough to feel confident my grandson will be safe in while in his car seat. Because I’m that radical divorcee whose fiance commit suicide and I change my hair color like underwear and I must be wild and crazy, living the carefree single life. Yeah right. So Mr. Referee, I offer my apology. I saw what I was looking for until I chose to see a man who invested in kids. A man who made conversation with everyone. A man who seemed to have a sense of justice. Please forgive me for my shallow perception. I was wrong.

Should We Censor Science?

(In reference to: Science and Censorship: A Duel Lasting Centuries by William J. Broad, NY Times)

What that has been censored remains so? In this instance with a federal advisory panel asking two journals to self-censor, the underlying issue is ethics and the duty of two separate institutions, the government and the scientific community.  In this instance, censorship is a well-intentioned protection from few for many, especially when driven by fear and ignorance (as stated in the article by Abigail A. Salyers), but at what cost? What purpose will it serve? If we become a nation motivated out of apprehension and fall prey to the tactics of terrorists and misguided government, when will it end? Allowing censorship, even asking for it, thwarts the goal of science to test, predict, learn and know and with that knowledge, to collaborate and distribute findings for the benefit of all. The duty of science is not to discern if and when knowledge and power, may or may not be misused or abused.

As stated in the article, science is driven and dependent upon its openly collective studies and reports. The reality is that most likely there are documentation and communication in existence pertaining to the work in progress. The suggestion of limiting sensitive data in publication to a select few is unrealistic. Even if it were plausible, setting such a precedent would unleash more problems than protection or prevention meant by it. Who would decide what information, who gets it, when and how much? Wouldn’t such deliberate withholding spark more controversy and fuel the flame for demand of the data even more so?   Philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote, “As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible to measure, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.”

Chances are that there are presently unscrupulous people with detrimental intent secretly at work advancing the causes of terrorism in many forms. Furthermore, we are already co-existing among nations with potential for mass destruction with several other countries that possess capability for nuclear and/or chemical warfare. Perhaps time, effort and money would be better spent in impelling the research on both sides of the issue with regard to preparing for the potential of harm and how to combat it. Let the scientists do their job.

Likewise, the intent of government is to protect its citizen’s inalienable rights, which includes preserving public communication.  Censorship is from Latin meaning to give one’s opinion, to assess. Opinion is individual and highly subjective. As stated by Henry Steele Commager, “The fact is that censorship always defeats it’s own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.” Governing ourselves is our own responsibility.  The saying that you can’t legislate morality holds true as with the ideology that guns don’t kill people, people do. Or that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps the gynecologists and obstetricians and Octomom Nadya Suleman, should have asked more questions before they went ahead and implanted her.  It isn’t the job of fertility experts to mandate how obstetricians implement the knowledge and power available to them and at their discretion any more than it is the duty of government to squelch the advances of science because of a perceived threat that may or may not be realized. Both the institutions of science and government have distinct boundaries that should be upheld to ensure the objective of fulfilling their original intent and purpose. As history and humanity have demonstrated, from an ethical standpoint, censorship by any institution is ineffective.

Violating A Social Norm

Violating a Social Norm
I’ve discovered I am a prankster, not through this assignment though. I’ve coined the phrase that I believe humor is the flip side of critical thinking. I see things differently and often wonder, what if? When considering ideas for the assignment, I wanted something with a bit more shock value. I often find myself jumping up and down in a checkout line because I usually have to go to the bathroom, and it’s worse in the winter. I have also been known to break into the song, “If you don’t know me by now….” in a crowded elevator. It has elicited laughter and usually breaks the tension. If people entered with stoic blank public expressions, they leave with smiles. I often wonder what the people waiting outside the elevator door think when we exit smiling. So when I was given permission to violate a social norm, I immediately knew what I wanted to try.
I have commented to a few of my older children that some day, I wanted to stand at the bottom of the escalator near the baggage claim with the limo drivers who hold up signs with the name of the party they are contracted for; only I wanted a sign that read something humorous, that would catch patrons off guard…just to see the reaction I would get. I ended up going with 3 options: Kidney for Sale, Mr. Right, and I’m here for YOU! For some reason none of my daughters wanted to come with me.
I had fun introducing myself to the people at the base of the escalator, two of which were drivers. They seemed to find the situation or the potential scenario amusing. I hesitated with the kidney sign and ended up not using it at all. I think it had great shock value, but I was more concerned about offending someone. As a licensed massage therapist who went through a medical massage program, I’d spent time with people forced to live on dialysis. It’s no laughing matter. I am sensitive to the plight of others and just didn’t feel comfortable exploiting someone else’s misfortune to fulfill my intention.
I must say I was inhibited to hold up Mr. Right. I didn’t want to look desperate or like I was soliciting. But then I chose to adopt the thought that I could be meeting my boyfriend and this was a joke for him. That mindset gave me the courage to endure the scowls from women and grins from men. I was also deliberately avoided (eye contact) and some people just didn’t get it or find it funny. No one said anything negative to me directly, but I sensed it might have sparked comments. Two guys did ask if I found him or was still looking.
My maiden name was Wright and my dad was a ladies man. He had a nametag he wore for work. He told me he used the line, “Didn’t your mother tell you you’d meet me some day?” That must be where my sense of humor originated from and why I’ve wanted to act out the fantasy! The other sign didn’t have as strong a reaction. The consensus was more of confused bewilderment mixed with polite smiles. I was pressed for time and didn’t hang around for another onslaught of people. I came away with a lot of reflection about myself. The public response was in line with my expectations. I definitely felt gender bias in reactions from women compared to men. I’m sure my age and self-concept allowed for my ability to risk. I also believe I have acquired strength and conviction to “stand alone” with regard to concepts that aren’t as light and amusing.