Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

The Struggle You Don’t See

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(I am human, I consider nothing human foreign/alien to me.)
Publius Terentius Afer: The Self-Tormentor;” Act I, Scene 1, line 25 (77)

In 2001, I find myself at the top of a skyscraper. It is windy this high up. The city is lovely, the air is crisp and autumnal. And I catch myself thinking something that scares me. I immediately leave the balcony, take the elevator to the ground floor, and sit on a bench. I cannot cry. I wish I could. I don’t care that I’m in public. I am terrified of myself. .  

I am a college senior. I am severely depressed. And I have just had my first suicidal thoughts. 

Yes. I do believe, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, something along the lines of “I wish I were dead” or “they’d be better off if I died” drifts through our minds when we find ourselves in a really unpleasant situation.

But the thoughts in 2001 weren’t like that. This was not a fleeting thought. I was seriously contemplating…

My thoughts were focused on planning. The how-to’s. And you will hopefully note, I am not going into detail of that planning. 

Later that week, I went to a mall, just to watch people and attempt to distract myself. That ended up pretty much the same way. I had a GREAT plan in place for that mall. 

Alas, I over-think things. I couldn’t do that to my family. Or the people at the mall. Or….the possibilities of many people I felt I owed my continuing existence, even if I wasn’t fully convinced I was right and they’d get over it. 

Again, I left. I blinked back some tears this time. I safely drove back to my dorm and called my parents. They were and are amazingly supportive. I assured them I was not going to do anything to hurt myself, but I told them that I was scaring myself. (I think my mom said something along the lines of, “I don’t think you will hurt yourself, we believe in you, but I do appreciate you telling us this.”)  Lucky for me, a fall break for school fell on the very next weekend.My parents arranged for me to come home and see a new psychiatrist. 

I was diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression.”  This means, simply, that I can be on anti-depressants and I’ll sometimes need to “jump start” the uptake of serotonin and all those other incredibly neurological chemicals with a new medication. I did start an additional medicine, and in a short time (less than 2 weeks), I was felt–well, not depressed. More like a person who enjoyed things in life, rather than going through motions so as not to stand out. I started cognitive behavior therapy, which trains me to recognize and deal with the dark thoughts when they bubble up.

I’ve found, over the years, I’m quicker at picking up when the black dog approaches, and take appropriate steps, thanks to kind support networks of family and friends. They hug me. They don’t always accept “fine” as an answer to “How are you?”   

They sit with me in silence. We share stories. They invite me to lunch or tea (and as I heal, it becomes a happy habit.) We laugh (yes, people with depression do laugh on occasion.) We listen. Serious, hardcore listening.

In essence, they accept that I have a chemical imbalance that benefits from medicine, like many forms of diabetes. Only my chemical imbalance doesn’t occur in my pancreas, but in my brain.

I really do not talk about it online. For starters, it by no means defines me. Yes, it is a part of me, but I am more. True friends know this. They know, for example, about that time I misspoke and said “promiscuity” in a course when I meant to say “potential” …

You get the idea.  

So while the US invaded Afghanistan, I threw myself into reading about Japanese war crimes in WWII. By no means is this a happy or even “meh” topic. It’s sickening. But I had read a book (prior to the depression reoccurance) about Hiroshima. So I threw myself into my school work, and when that was done, educated myself about Japan during WWII. 

This, I realized, is how I cope. I throw myself into academics. I can distance myself from my self. It works for me.

When I learned of Robin Williams death yesterday, I was sad. 
When I learned the death may have been a suicide, I was further saddened. 

But I saw people posting things on facebook and twitter that, quite frankly, frustrated me.

Take, for example, Friend Z. Friend Z knows about my depression, but their response when I confided in them was, “You have nothing in your life to be sad about. Just cheer up and stop thinking about it.” 

Um….thanks. I cannot imagine why no one told me that before, and I also had no idea Friend Z knew everything in my life.  

So Friend Z is posting about how we need to treat depression as a real illness (agreed, because it IS). But the justification from Friend Z was something along the lines of “because we lost someone famous.”

What am I then, Friend who tells me to just cheer up or “be happy?” What are we non-famous people who suffer from depression? And yes, it’s truly suffering. What are those who have/has or are suffering from depression supposed to make of that? We’re not as important? We should just, in Z’s words to me a while back, “be happy?”

Now–to switch gears a tad, let’s fast-forward a few years. I am in a long-term committed relationship, and the person starts having delusions and psychotic breaks. I find myself on the “other side” of mental illness, and it’s really hard. It’s trying for us both personally, but I’m not leaving because of many reasons. Love is a strong bond. Staying by this person’s side and talking them through an episode is trying, but essential–at least to me. 

I’ve been asked by people why I didn’t leave at the first break. Again, love. But also…the opening quote. “I AM HUMAN….” 

Now, there is no shame is acknowledging that you don’t understand whatever the illness is; there is no shame in admitting you have an illness!

But fully, 100% deserting someone you know is suffering–I cannot fathom that. I understand being fearful of unusual behavior, changes in behavior; call a helpline FOR yourself, do not assume the person who appears ill will call just because you gave them the number. It’s a good thing to do, but calling yourself can help equip you with tools for yourself and the person. 

Sure, I don’t understand it, but I get that you’re afraid and I will hold you tight and talk you through this, or just reassure you I’m here, you’re real. And I will help you get help, whatever form that help may be. 

I think, by my own nature, I would do this for anyone. Maybe it’s selfish on my part? I don’t want anyone dying or hurting themselves or feeling alone when I could have possibly stopped it. You will not scare me away. And if I am scared, I will gather a team of people I trust, who know and understand mental illness, to help me help that person.

We are all in this life together, and we can make it better or worse for someone hurting from a wound not visible to the eye.

I understand the frustration from not understanding an illness you cannot see. I cannot claim that I was always as sympathetic as I am advocating now. Live and learn?

If Williams’ death is ruled officially as a suicide, then let’s continue to live, and let’s learn from this tragedy.

Research. Learn that mental illnesses are biochemical and what the person is experiencing may be absolutely terrifying to them. 
Reach out. You may be turned away, but keep reaching out. “Let’s have lunch at X at noon on Friday.”

I could go on, but these are just my opinion/thoughts. 

I highly recommend the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website as a starting point for more  information on mental illnesses, the politics of it, symptoms, support (for everyone affected, family members, etc.), and advocacy. 

Addendum: An attempt at suicide should not, in my opinion, be viewed as a mere cry for help or attention. It should be taken as exactly what it is: an attempt at ending your own life. 

[Crap, it’s 2014 and I have to write that?]

If you’re struggling, if you have struggled, if you’ve supported someone who’s struggled with mental illness…I send you big hugs. Nothing is alien to me. If you need help getting treatment, check out NAMI’s state chapters, your parish or county’s public health options, etc. 

The most dangerous thing is to not address this. Please, let’s keep this dialogue open and flowing. 

What’s goin’ on?

Things we’ve been reading:

First, a friend of mine shared this.

I lightly broke it down (do read it) with this response:

1. Referring to yourself and/or group of friends as “bro” seriously might as well be a sign you’re a douchcanoe.
2. “Midnight or after, if you have been talking for awhile and they’ve had a couple drinks, ask if they want to dance. If you see an untalked to group or a solo girl, go up to her and ask if she wants anything to drink. If she says yes, get her a drink and then ask if she wants to dance. If she says no, ask her to dance. DANCING IS FUN!!!!! Always try to dance. If she does not want to dance and is with friends, say “aw thats no fun” (or something like that) and then ask one of her friends.”
I thought the stereotype was that guys don’t like to dance, which made the all caps insistence DANCING IS FUN massively humorous. But is DANCING FUN with creepy guys who call each other “bro?”
He really does need to learn about the body though. There’s a lot in between “just under the boob” and “fingering her.”  Just sayin’.
3. “If she starts putting her hair over her ear, THAT MEANS SHE WANTS A KISS.”
I had no idea this was part of the mating ritual of humans. I’m sure my husband is stewing “That feminist bitch I married never puts her hair over my ear, dammit.”
WTF is he talking about? Well, he sure is fond OF ALL CAPS.
4. ” 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) ”
No, I’m sorry, I don’t follow, care to explain? Preferably in ALL CAPS, AMIRITE BROS? How many women do you think this “bro” *shudder* has so cleverly used this MASSIVELY AWESOME ADVICE ON, [name of friend]? Success rates count.

Also, why are people so stupid to think emails won’t be leaked, etc? Geez.

In other news:

A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

American Civics 101

English: Sandra Day O'Connor, 1st Female Assoc...

English: Sandra Day O’Connor, 1st Female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance.” ~Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

On September 5, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave a speech at Boise State. During that talk, she lamented the fact  that the American public is largely ignorant of basic American civics facts. To name a few:

  • Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court Justice;
  • About one-third can name the three branches of government;
  • Less than one-third of eighth graders can identify the historical purpose of the declaration of independence (“and it’s right there in the name,” she added).

Those are highly depressing statistics. Here are eight basic questions I think everyone should know (and no Googling!):

Who is the governor of your state?

Who are your senators?

Who is your Congressional representative?

Name 4 of the 9 current Supreme Court Justices (I believe one should know all nine, but I’ll cut the reader some slack).

Who is the Senate Majority Leader? Minority Leader?

Who is the Speaker of the House?

Who is the current Secretary of State?

How old do you have to be to vote?

In 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test–38 percent failed. Immigrants taking their naturalization tests to become citizens know more about American civics than many natural-born Americans. Democracy requires informed citizen participants. Too many people prefer to sit back and let others make the rules that affect their lives and then complain about it when policies negatively impact them, their families, or their communities.

So what to do? Making civics a major part of K-12 education, again, is one solution. Ms. O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 “to reverse America’s declining civic knowledge and participation. Securing our democracy, she realized, requires teaching the next generation to understand and respect our system of governance.” This web platform teaches children basic American civics through educational videos and games plus there are lesson plans for teachers. These teaching materials have been used in schools throughout all fifty states. It would behoove adults to take a look at the site too. We live our democratic principles by knowing how our government works, who is leading us and what responsibilities for governing their roles include, and what actions we can take to influence policymakers.

Democracy only works when people voice to their elected officials how they feel about the issues, when they actively participate, whether it is voting, writing a letter or email, working on a campaign, or advocating for some project in their community. Some citizens do this already, yes, but they may not have your best interests at heart. It takes all of us expressing opinions, sharing facts, debating and engaging in the policies of this great country.

Too many people feel they have no influence so have given up. Life is hard enough without having to make time to consume enough news—and a variety of it—to be informed or to get involved in politics, even at the local level. However, if you don’t believe you can make a difference just look at the 2012 Presidential election. In states where citizens felt they were being prevented from voting—that their right to vote was being suppressed—they said, “No you won’t.” Activists spread the word about voter suppression tactics and on election day, some voters stood in line for up to eight hours to cast their ballot. Regular people can make a difference. Yes, big money and corporate interests are too entrenched in our government, but ordinary Americans can change that if they care enough.

Caring starts with knowledge. Once the knowledge is there, then the desire to engage is sparked, and that spark can make a huge difference in the future trajectory of this country; a country where everyone is encouraged to participate and most do. We will never eliminate money in politics completely, but we can lessen its influence and that is what democracy is about – all of us having a say, not only those who possess the most capital.

Take a look at iCivics, show it to your kids, ask their teachers to utilize it. How well would you do on the citizenship test? Once citizens know how our democracy functions and how it was established, protecting it becomes that much more important. Knowledge is power. Don’t let a few make all the rules for the many. Learn and engage. American democracy depends on it; American democracy depends on you.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal

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Who Wrote This?

Many of you may not know this, but one of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome.  After many years of trying to force public schools to meet his needs, my husband and I decided to school him from home.  Public schools, and how they educate pupils with special needs, deserves a post of its own.  Wait for it, it is coming.  But that is not what I want to discuss today.

Virginia utilizes a “Virginia Studies” course for fourth grade students.  The curriculum mandates instruction and retention of information about the state’s history, ranging from Jamestown to the Civil War.  Naturally, there is no way to not include the plight of the Native peoples and Africans.  My child noticed right away how the language used, in an official textbook, didn’t describe events, as they truly happened.

(Him)  Wow!  This book is really not accurate, Mom. 

(Me)  Well, no, son.  It does not tell the whole story.

He saw right through the book’s attempt to force the Natives into the role of aggressors.

(Him)  How can the English really be called pioneers?  Pioneers settle land that hasn’t been settled before.  This land was settled.  And how come my book calls them savages?  And why weren’t they (the settlers) nicer to the tribes that taught them how to survive?  This book is not good!  Who wrote this thing?

He laughed at how the enslaved Africans were portrayed.

(Him)  Everybody knows that the slaves wouldn’t be laughing and dancing after all the work was done.  Slavery was not fun!  This book is stupid.

He is nine years old.

In all fairness, Aspies tend to have highly focused interests in certain topics.  The Powhatan tribes are one of his “things”.  But what of those children who trust what is written in their textbooks?  What message are we sending when Native peoples are seen as wild things who just needed to be tamed?  And the atrocity that is slavery is made out to be just a job, with singing and dancing at night?

Then, I was reminded of the fight in Texas.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a block of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

And this, in Louisiana.

Really?  Dinosaurs and humans?  The KKK a decent organization?  Slave masters and the Great Depression were not so bad.  Really?  Because math is too hard and we have good reason to doubt climate change.  No use fighting the rapture, ..excuse me..,  globalization.

Is it really a surprise that our children are falling through the cracks?

Look.  I get it.  We are Americans.  We want our children to be proud of their country.  We want them to recognize that America is one hell of a great place to live.  We, Americans, feel exceptional.

Recently, we were reminded of the dangers of exceptionalism.  Our newest BFF, Vladimir Putin, had this to say:

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Many of us are leaping to the defense of our new friend.  But keep in mind, he has also said this:

We will not allow someone to impose their will on us, because we have our own will! It has helped us to conquer! We are a victorious people! It is in our genes, in our genetic code!

This is all to remind you that every country feels it is exceptional.  History and facts are not ours to change, shape, and mold.  Our children deserve to know what happened, as it actually happened.  They deserve to hear many sides of the same story.  What we have been giving them, and seemingly want to continue to give to them, is propaganda.

Adam did not ride the back of Brontosaurus.  Slavery was not a club.  Natives were not savages.  The KKK and the Great Depression were horrible.  There is a separation between church and state.  Climate change is real.

Our children truly are our future.  Pride in our country is all fine and dandy.  I just don’t want to hear my grandchildren asking, about their textbooks, …Who wrote this thing?

On Labor Day.

Some of you are working today. Some of you have the day off from work.

It’s time to reflect on what Labor Day was intended to be and what is has become–and where we can take it, what we can make it.

Via:

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

This movement shortened the hours per day worked (from up to 16!! to 8), mandatory breaks, promoted safety legislation, and–as the bumper sticker brags–gave us the weekend (or days off).

But it seems we’ve lost some steam as a country making our labor better. More work doesn’t equal efficiency. Other countries take better care of their workers and are more effective in production and that fleeting thing known as “quality of life” and “happiness.” The bottom line is once again the most important in many industries, and there are deadly accidents in the workplace. Yes, the bottom line is no doubt important, but it shouldn’t come at a severe human cost, physically and emotionally draining and killing us.

Other Labor Day thoughts:

via

I’ve spent the last few years studying medieval Europe, and in part, reading about feudalism and the class based systems. The serfs, or peasants had almost no hope of rising above their station and were bound to the same land for the majority of their lives. Six days a week, sun up to sun down, no sick days, no weekends. It would take hundreds of years before people would begin to rise up and change the system. Because of these people, the Labour movement, we now have the rights to fair working conditions, days off, benefits, et al. Because handfuls of brave people stood up and fought for these rights which we take for granted. However, our labour system today is far from perfect today. Groups of people are bent on rolling back some of these rights in the name “capitalism” and the “fair market”. I’m far from an expert on economics, but I believe that keeping these rights will not kill our nations economy, as it hasn’t for the last 200 years. As a matter of fact, these rights should be expanded. Why is the US the only developed country without universal healthcare? Or paid maternity leave? These benefits have not killed the economy of Europe and they will not kill ours. So while we’ve come a long way from the days of serfdom, we still have quite a ways to go.

Edit: While the medieval peasant had an extremely hard life, it seems thanks to the mandated church holidays and feast days, they had *more* time off every year than the American worker. Read more here.

And still, neither have decent healthcare.

via:

What is labor? And what is its relationship to capital? I believe President Lincoln spoke for me when he said…

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

The simple truth is that labor has provided us with all the rights we enjoy today. Children are no longer gainfully employed before hitting puberty. Nor are we working 6 or 7 days a week for pennies. We enjoy a regular work week, holidays, FMLA, a minimum wage.

Now, that is not to say that the war has been won. No, no, no. A minimum wage is not equivalent to a decent minimum wage. College graduates working low wage jobs is not acceptable. Only hiring part-time workers to avoid paying for health insurance is not winning. The way handicapped/mentally ill persons are treated is not winning. Unemployed veterans..also, not a win. Equal pay for equal work is not yet a reality.

I could go on and on. So, the fight must go on. In today’s economy, the fight is more important than ever. Corporate entities seem determined to return us to a feudal society. We need to remain equally determined to stop them.

Why do we need a strong labor movement?

“Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

via:

As I sit here contemplating whether to fire up the grill or just bake some fish, I realize that Labor Day, like almost every other holiday we celebrate, has pretty much lost its meaning. Anymore, it is just an extra day off – hopefully with pay – or if you have to work, a day with extra pay. For most, it’s a good excuse to sleep late, drink a few extra adult beverages, and add to our arterial plaque collection.

But we need to think about what this day means. It is about the people who worked hard, often under dangerous conditions and for obscenely low pay, to build this country we now enjoy. The ones who worked from “can see to can’t” yet never seemed to be able to get ahead.

Too many of us think that was in the “old days” and doesn’t happen anymore. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. The ranks of the working poor are growing, not shrinking. People who perform functions that continue to be the backbone of this country (surprise! information workers do not form the backbone of this country!!!). Service workers who don’t make minimum wage because their wages are to be off-set by tips…which they sometimes have to share with management. Agricultural workers with unclear immigration status who work and live in deplorable conditions, getting bottom dollar for their labor but paying top dollar for pretty much everything else, especially their substandard housing. Minimum wage workers who struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads as their labor further enriches the super-rich corporate moguls. And even though we don’t like to think about it, all those off-shore workers who have absolutely no protections, but whose labor keeps us looking spiffy and bargain prices.
For many, every day is Labor Day. Hard Labor Day. Maybe we need to change the name to Workers’ Day. Have marches and speeches instead of naps and backyard barbecues. Because we are all brothers and sisters. And when one suffers, we all do, whether we feel it or not.