Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Secret World of the Indigent

I grew up enjoying an affluent lifestyle. My dad was the owner of a popular Chicago nightclub. The house where I lived, along with two siblings and both my parents, boasted 10 large rooms with a finished basement. Summers, we vacationed at our lake house in Delavan, Wisconsin. During the school year, my parents sent us to an elite private school.

When I broke my collar bone (twice) I was rushed to ER in a cab where the situation was immediately tended to. When my sister came down with measles, the doctor came to our home to treat the condition.

Food, shelter, clothing, and medical needs were more than amply met. My world was safe. Needs and wants and greeds were at my fingertips.

Many years later, I was employed with a school district and I had insurance. When my  children came along, they were included on my medical care. Though we weren't wealthy (on a teacher's salary) we didn't lack for much.

And here I am, many years later, on the brink of retirement, caring for my adult son who is mentally ill and has been unable to work for 3 years. Thankfully, he is not on the street as so many are. Matthew lives in my home.

For three years we have applied for social security for him. I say 'we' because Matthew is unable to do this by himself. Finally we secured a lawyer to fight that ongoing situation.

Meanwhile, Matthew is with a wonderful Denton, Texas organization MHMR. I will forever be grateful and indebted to them for literally saving my son's life. Matthew is on a cocktail of ever changing meds, has a team of case workers, a full-time psychiatrist, and a nurse who comes to the house to treat him and check on him each week.

And then it happened. His anxiety rose to dangerous levels and his blood pressure went through the roof. He ended up in the ER twice. And then went back to the hospital two more times for sciatica, and experienced a very unsympathetic doctor who only handed him a list of exercises to do.

"Mom, where do I go if I have a medical need?" he asked. "I can't keep going to the ER."

Good question.

Not only am I now in the world of fighting for disability for my ill son, but he also is developing physical problems. Where to go? No insurance. I haven't money to pay out of pocket. I only knew a world of earning a paycheck for working, and paying a deductible for doctor visits.

I woke up. I had to find new ways to help my son meet his needs. Surely, my son was far from the only one with these problems. There had to be an underground network. How could I tap into that? Where should I go? Who to ask?

There is a world of people who are homeless; no shelter, a bag of questionable clothes, churches that provide lunch, but where is there help for medical needs? I had no idea.

Many suggested I ask for credit and then pay it off monthly bit by bit. When one is already financially stressed, its not really a possibility.

Last night Matthew and I went to Walgreen's to find something to help relieve tooth pain. Before we left, a friend suggested I ask the pharmacist about any charities (charities can be hard to find and they must be flooded with requests). The pharmacist suggested First Baptist Church of Denton, where I spoke last fall about one of my books. I felt right at home calling.

The church sponsors First Refuge. It's run by dentists who volunteer their time on certain days. The indigent must qualify. According to their guidelines, Matthew should qualify (fingers crossed, prayers said).

In these past months, I  learned that there is a secret world of the indigent. The people we sometimes do not notice, or care to notice, living on the fringes of society. Hungry, dirty, needing medical and perhaps psychiatric assistance.

I think back to my happy, lazy days of summer. How easy life was for me. How blessed I was.

Not everyone has had it easy. It makes me grateful for what I do have. But I need just a bit more for my son Matthew because he needs it....

just as millions of others need it; children, men, women, teens, vets. Please lets not forget.

Let's stop arguing about who is using the bathroom, what face is on our dollar, and tackle real life problems. Make a difference.. If we all pitch in, what a beautiful difference we can make. We are God's hands on earth. Let's use our hands and open our hearts.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saturdays with Matthew and My New Normal Life

 I used to be afraid of those with mental illness. I didn't understand it.  It was spooky. Unknown. People with mental illness didn't act within the norm.

I glided through most of my life without giving it much thought until my adult son was diagnosed with Schizoeffective disorder, PTSD, anxiety disorder, and paranoid His life living skills, along with much of his personality, changed.

Neuron's in the brain can cause a lot of damage to one's perspective, and how one chooses to live life from that moment forward. It involves ongoing care with close psychiatric monitoring, an ever changing cocktail of medications, constant monitoring, and being there for someone 100%  24/7. I never knew what that really was like until my son's illness bloomed.

A new normal means setting aside your entire life, forever, to be at the whim of someones brain function. It's not only my new normal, but his new normal as well.

Many have suggested I put Matthew into a mental health community. First of all, there aren't any, unless you have millions to spend.

I want Matthew to relearn what its like to live a life as fully and as normally as possible. Part of that is education. Not just education for my son, but educating others, who like I once was, are afraid.

I will not isolate my son. If someone has cancer, we do not even consider  putting the cancer patients into a community, hiding them away. We envelope them with our love, acceptance, and make life for them as normal as we can.

I want to give you a peek into our typical Saturday.

"Matthew, I have errands to run. Want to come along?" I ask.
"Yes, let me get dressed."
Translation: I need to put on my clothes, take a handfull of pills, and sit on the backporch to gather my thoughts.

Thirty minutes later, we are in the car.
"Where are we going Mom?"
"I need to stop at Lowes. Will you be able to come inside with me today?"
"I will try."
Translation: I am really afraid of the unknown. I have to wait to see how many people are there before I decide.
We arrive at Lowes. My son swallows hard and looks around. "I will try."
He follows me inside and gets a cart. As we walk through the household plant section, he becomes mesmirized and wants to look at each plant. I, on the other hand, am in a hurry. "Why don't I leave you here with the cart? Stay right here. I need to pick up a paint brush. Give me 5 minutes. Stay here, okay? Matthew, do you hear me? Wait here?"

But, it takes me 10 minues, not 5. I return to the succulents, exactly where I left him. Matthew and the cart are gone. My heart beats hard. Where is he?

I walk back into the main part of the store and search. Finally I see him running toward me pushing the cart in front, screaming, "Mom! Mom!"

We leave the cart and return to the car. He works at getting himself together--measuring his breaths, trying to calm his heart rate. He heard voices taunting him from the vents.  He tells me that I am his anchor and I was gone.

We go home.  I finish the errands alone. Later he says he would like to try going out again.
"How about if we go for dinner somewhere?"
He picks a place he went a lot before the illness overtook him. He feels safe there. We sit in a booth. He puts on his headphones to block out voices that arent there; they are there for him. We make it through a meal. He is fine. We return to the car triumphant.

I remember I forgot something at the grocery store. Matthew decides to wait for me in the car. He refuses to go inside. Thats okay. I never push. I get the item and a few more. We go home.

He sits on the backporch.

The sky is dark now.

He feels safe.  

Do NOT feel sorry for me. Do NOT feel sorry for my son. Instead, seek to understand the mentally ill.  Understanding is the perfect gift.

I am far from the only one who goes through this with my son. My son is far from the only one who is cursed with this. You will make us both feel less alone by understanding and acceptance.

PS Today is Sunday. We went to the grocery store again. This time Matthew ventured inside with me. He clung onto the cart as though it was his life preserver. His hoody was draped over his head in a hiding manner. An elderly lady stopped him and sweetly commented, "I love your beard young man! Its a wonderful beard!"

Matthew lit up. He smiled, and pulled off his hood so she could get a better look at his face and the foot long red beard. "Thank you very much!"
He glowed.
I cried.
We both were ecstatically happy.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

I Found It! ...And Other Matters of Loss

Have you ever lost misplaced your car keys, or a pair of earrings, or important papers? What do you say when you find them? "I found it!" Or, when you find the perfect dress to wear on a special occasion. "I found it."

Have you ever felt you have lost your mind and couldn't locate it? Hold that thought for a moment.

I was hired at Ottawa Township High School in Ottawa, Illinois, straight out of college. The year was 1975 and I was now the new special education teacher with one additional class of Sophomore English in general education. I called my mom, "Guess what? I found it! A job!"
A few weeks later, I bought a car. Happily I squealed to my best friend, "I found it! A cool green Dodge."

A year later, I renewed my faith and joined the popular Jesus Movement of the time. Taking off on the idea of what was lost, is found, was the motto, "I Found New Life in Jesus", or the shortened version, "I Found It!"

I had that sign hanging on the door to my classroom. One of my sophomore students said, "I'm so glad you found your room this morning."

Fast forward 30 years of lost loves, lost opportunities, lost dreams, lost friends; I find I have gained more than any loss. In fact, most of my losses have turned out a gain for something better.

And yet, there is a great loss that is unrecooperable (I coined that word. Hope it works for you) for my son; his mental illness. It has stolen his personality, his freedom, and his future. These days we are 'recalculating' his entire life. Sometimes, he will go to the places he used to go before his nuerons began to miscommunicate. Once in a while he will feel fearless enough to go to the grocery store with me. At times, he will walk two doors down to the library. His world has shrunk. As a result mine has too.

Its been three years since  Matthew has been unable to work. Trying to live with the constant voices in his head, the creatures he now sees, and the invisible bugs he feels crawling on him, I have helped him apply for social security time and again, and again, and again. Always,  he is turned down for various reasons. The first time it was because he isn't blind. Sweet Matthew, who always thinks of others first, said, "Someone who is blind does need it more than I do." He had no idea it was just a put off response. I will spare you of all the paperwork, the social security office visits, and phone calls I have made trying to get assistance for him. Its been an impossible journey.

Nearly two years ago, we secured a lawyer. This Thursday, after waiting 3 years, we finally have a court date. Its in Dallas. My daughter knows my feelings of driving along the high five in major morning rush hour traffice. FRIGHT. This morning, Matthew and I did a dry run before the big day of April 14th. We found the place! I FOUND IT!

I bought the respectiful  navy blue dress for the court. I found it! My son has a wardrobe he will actually wear and I found it! Let's hope we can sleep between now and then.

As Matthew finds his way through this life peppered with invisible threats, and I find my way to Dallas on Thursday morning, may you find your journey in life to be an easy road so you may help others find their way.

God Bless.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Widows Mite & Raising an Adult Child with Mental Illness When Only One Part of The Village is Involved.

My son has always been a bit quirky. I sloughed it off to him being a team member of special education plus he was a boy.  He'd cry when I dropped him at school mornings until he was in 5th grade, claiming monsters were after him and said terrible words. Actually, a teacher on the way to school myself, I felt the same, but meant it figuratively. I never knew, until much later, it was literal for him.

He never liked being outside. Most kids get grounded and can't play outside. I would ground him to go outside just so he'd to get sunshine. Matthew also hated Field Day. I'd try to tell him how much fun it would be without struggling inside with reading and writing and math. "You don't understand Mom. There's grass and sun and air out there."

Then at 16 years of age, we got the phone call from his high school counselor saying Matthew had plans to end his life. I immediately went into panic mode digging out insurance cards to get him help. My then-husband explained to me, "Matthew is fine. He's just wanting attention."
 "Let's give it to him!" I responded.

That was his first stint in a behavior unit.

After several years of counseling, things seemed to smooth out for Matthew. Its also when my husband and I split.

Matthew and I moved to Denton, Texas, and took an apartment, while my ex remarried and moved to Dallas; 30 minutes away.

Matthew already took a six week course to become a certified nurse's aide and he happily landed a job at a all-care facility where he worked for several years. But then the voices returned. It coincided at the same time we moved into our new house.

Change was always hard for him, but this time they brought on multiple psychotic breaks, followed by  hospitalizations.

 I'd sit all night beside him at the hospital and somehow manage to go to work the next day. When he was admitted to mental health facilities, I visited him every chance I could. I spoke to doctors, filled out endless paperwork, applied and was rejected many times for his SSI; this went on for a few years, to the point of my utter exhaustion.

I struggled with finances, as I cared for him. 

Finally, Matthew was granted food stamps. A true godsend! And now he has a lawyer for SSI. Our court date is soon.

The last time Matthew went to the ER was for high blood pressure due to anxiety attacks. It happened twice in a few days, back to back. I sat with him until he was dismissed at 3 am one time, and 2 am the next. Again I went to work.

Its a blessing to help my sweet son. I am here for him, and will be, until I no longer walk this earth.

As I told Matthew's story to help dispel the mental illness stigma, single Mothers and Fathers of mentally or physically handicapped, and mentally ill adults have contacted me. Like me, they feel it an honor to care for our children; feed, cloth, drive to appointments, take time from work, give financially, total emotional care, and so forth.

 I am certainly not the only one. Sooner or later, everyone has challenges in life.

I must admit that it is hard to go through this alone; totally alone without someone to lean my head on. Without someone to hold my hand and tell me it will be alright.

One night, not so long ago, I was praying for us single Moms and Dads who walk down this chosen path without village help. In tears I prayed for God's grace and strengthAnd, then God spoke to me about The Parable of the Widow's Mite Mark 12:42. A widow gave all she had to the Lord's work, 2 mites (pennies). It was most pleasing in the eyes of Jesus after he had witnessed others who gave a lot, but never gave their all, nor their best. I knew God was pleased with what I did to help my son. 

My heart leaped.

Suddenly, I am not alone.
Mother, Father, you are not alone.
Jesus sits with me.
 Jesus sits with you.
He holds my hand as I lean my head on his shoulder.
He holds your hand as you lean on his shoulder.

 He says, it will be alright.
He tells you that it will be alright.

When I feel I cannot take another step He holds me up.
 He holds you up when you feel you are about to fall.
When finances are tight, unexpected money arrives in the form of a low utility bill, or a restaurant gift card from a silently listening friend.

When I am awake most the night with my son, God gives me the energy to make it through the next  day.
 And he does the same for you.

 Do not despair.

Male or female, you are that widow with the two mites, and with it, you have given all you have. Jesus smiles. He sees us. He hears our prayers. He cries with us.

And best of all, sometimes,  I hear my son really laugh with happiness. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Ugly Christmas Tree, God's Eyes, and Tori Spelling

I spent part of last night reading an online article about Tori Spelling. Evidently, she doesn't have enough money to purchase a deluge of Christmas gifts for her four children, creating a holiday bust.

Christmas translates into holiday parties, festive decorating, and finding the perfect gift for those we love, our friends, our co-workers, family, and the list continues. The pressure is on not to disappoint.  Some find themselves uber happy. Others, deeply depressed.

Let's make a detour on this Christmas road for a personal look. I will begin with my story. Okay, two stories. They are short. We might just end up in an unexpected spot.

My first married Christmas, my then husband and I had just arrived from serving overseas as missionaries. We rented a flat in Illinois and counted our money. To my dismay there was nothing left over for a Christmas tree, nor ornaments. We were about to host a family Christmas dinner to boot. 

Then, like the Christmas miracle it was, I found a faux tree, bent over garbage bins in some alley. I pulled it out, straightened it a bit and took it home, treasuring my find. I lovingly handmade each ornament and tied it onto the limbs with red yarn. Upon completion, I stood back to admire the recreation. So lovely, it took my breath away. 

Christmas baking complete, I set the kitchen table and the card tables with my grandmother's starched linens along with my garage sale dishes. The cheery faced guests began to arrive, dusting freshly fallen snow from their coats. Festive music belted from the radio and our warm little place filled with aroma of delicious food. 

When the last guest stepped inside, I heard her shout, "OMG, that is the ugliest tree I have ever seen!" My heart tumbled along with my joy. Surely she was jesting. The sweet tree I had salvaged and decorated and loved was called ugly! I looked long and hard at the tree. There was not a bit of ugliness. There was only beauty. When I remember that moment, I still feel a bit of leftover sadness.

Fast forward thirty years to my single, online dating foray when I made an 'appointment' with a gentleman. We met at a Christian coffee house and greeted one another by shaking hands. I took a seat across from him. At first his clothing puzzled me. His clothes didn't match and looked worn, as if left over from the bottom of a Goodwill box. His hands were soiled. His hair, unkempt. 

My knee jerk reaction was to bolt. Yet, I stayed. We chatted a few minutes before someone offered a half eaten lunch. "Want this?" the college student asked the older man.

I was appalled.
 'Roy'  was excited. "Yes, I sure do. Thanks!"

He dug in with his fingers, shoving almost all of it into his mouth with one scoop. As though as an afterthought, he held out the box to me. A corner of a sandwich remained. I politely declined, doing my best to hide my surprise. It was then I realized he was homeless, and probably contacted me through one of the public computers in the room.

Roy talked about his tough divorce, how he threatened his ex with a shotgun while on drugs. In prison, he allowed Jesus into his life. Since then he slept on the streets and at times in a halfway house, picking up work here and there.

When I felt it was time to leave, he walked me outside and we said goodbye near a dumpster. I could see him eyeing it, so I told him to help himself. The lid shot up and he tore open discarded garbage bags to find food and shoved it into his backpack, stopping to offer me some at times. By now, I had decided he clearly wasn't my type, but my heart went out to him and everyone else who led this hard life. That moment changed me.

I never saw Roy again, but I think of him each time I drive past the Christian coffee house, or see a wanderer on the street. Even if there is just a few dollars in my purse, I press it into their hand and wish them God speed. Its important. On one date, I handed a homeless woman in a wheel chair my restaurant take home food. (Never saw that date again.)

Like the discarded Christmas tree I found eons ago, we all see the discarded people trudging up and down the streets. 

Have you ever wondered what  they are thinking? Feeling? How did they end up here? Are they hungry? Are they cold? Where are their parents? Is anyone trying to find the lost?

Jesus. Jesus finds the lost. He found me in high school. He found Roy in prison. He found my son on a mental ward.

And like the Christmas tree I once decorated and thought so lovely, Jesus straightens up our bent over life and decorates us with His love and mercy and joy. We are clothed in beauty.

We are Christ's hands on earth. Lets get our hands dirty by sharing our blessings with those in need. 

Can you see their beauty? 

Pictures from Denton County Homeless Coalition

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Upper Kingdom Living *Musings of a Paperback Writer

To my feeble historical knowledge, there were several Egyptian kingdoms. Although dissimilar in every way, I see my life divided into these kingdoms: Lower Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and Upper Kingdom. The Lower Kingdom years were my elementary, high school, and college years. Middle Kingdom was marriage, children,  career and un-marriage. Now, I have entered into what I refer to as my Upper Kingdom years (near retirement): wind down my career, find fascinating interests, write a best seller, buy a new dog collar for Sadie, and dust my dresser.
Gazing back on my Lower and Middle  Kingdom years, I realize, try as I may, I didn't save the world, or the Rain Forest. Nor did I ever get world peace for Christmas. Furthermore,  I wasn't able to raise much money for the Native Americans on the 24 mile walk I participated in while in college. And the Viet Nam War didn't come to a grinding halt because I marched against it. (note to guy who broke up with me eons ago because you thought I was pro-war, take note.)

Now, during my Upper Kingdom years, my dreams are simple--less complicated.  A good night's sleep is always welcome. A new book is the best gift ever. Being published is an incredible high, and I also have plans. Big plans. I imagine a lovely new chenille couch front and center in my living room. One with a lounger on one side. Raspberry in color would be so nice--or, a dove gray, even better. 

Reality check. I already have a couch. A black one. It pretends to be leather. Stitched in white, its okay. Utilitarian for holding 3 dogs, 1 adult son, and 2 small grandsons that like to sleep there when they visit, and occasionally lose bladder control during the night, due to too much apple juice after 7 pm.

Next to the black couch is a lovely antique settee from the days of splendor. Short legs, which makes standing,  after sitting, an event. But the curved lines on the wood and the small original print of the fabric is still so pretty to look at while sitting on the black couch.

My laminate is a pretender too.It wants to be wood. I just found out the flooring comes from China and used formaldehyde as a preservative. The laminate was ruined by a slow dishwasher leak,  and also by a slip and slide contest held by my little grandsons while I was on the phone. Living in the Upper Kingdom, one sometimes finds, mistakes are good. Had it not been for the water, I never would be able to get wood floors.

Water damage. Poisonous gases. dishwasher leak. Broken disposal. Slip and slide. A lump of a black couch smack in the middle of my living room ruining my design. An ill adult son who needs attention and medical care.  I realized I was allowing myself to be eaten away by the small and big stuff in life. 

Calamity and stress stole the moments of  living in the Upper Kingdom.  The act of focusing on imperfection pulled me from inner peace. Had living through turbulent Lower and Middle Kingdom years taught me nothing about overcoming,?

My life is comprised of what I hold in my heart, not in my hand. I have found freedom in letting go of stuff. I enjoy  making do with what I have (cheaper too).

 I don't dream of visiting Paris, nor living on a peninsula away from people. I dream and pray for my son to continue his walk toward wellness, for my daughter to slow her crazy work schedule, and for  my grandsons to visit me soon. 

But, I still want to slay dragons. I want Upper Kingdom living to be smart living. Tackle what matters. Do what I can to make a difference. Help the poor. Feed the hungry. Dry tears. Inspire someone. Encourage. Make someone laugh.

What does living in the Upper Life mean? I remember my mom telling me, she wanted to put what she valued the most in life into her car and drive away from the rest. (Granted she had a much larger car than I have).  

What matters to you?