compassion

Not Alone

I seem to be straying from my original intent to focus on my job readiness journey this month. But, perhaps not. Today, I’m talking about mental health.

Here’s why: If you’re struggling with mental illness or emotional instability OR you have a loved one who is OR you have experienced trauma OR any combination of the aforementioned, you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I want you to know that, despite however weak, fragile, overwhelmed, and incapable you may feel right now, you are one of the strongest, most courageous people you know.

Feeling the way you feel, experiencing anxiety, depression, hyper-reactivity, mania, having compulsive self-harming behaviors, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or any other “wrong” thing does not mean you are “less than,” unworthy, insignificant, or “damaged beyond repair.”

You see, I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I have friends and family who have been or are there. I’ve known those who didn’t make it and know those who make it one day at a time, if not moment by moment.

Last night I had the privilege to speak with another mom, who is facing and navigating challenges similar to those I have experienced – some of which I’ve come out on the other side of and some that will ever be with me. A history of physical and mental trauma, mental illness, and parenting a child with mental health and behavioral challenges through childhood and into adulthood.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and thoughts of permanently packing it in are all things I’m more than familiar with and gave me the empathy she needed. I was able to listen with understanding. I had knowledge of resources and professionals better equipped to help her than I am to offer her. I was able to share some of my stories, giving her hope and shoring up her faith.

By the end of the call, we had established a rapport and a bond borne of shared experience and the knowledge that neither of us is alone in our struggle. She seemed genuinely hopeful, a 180 degree turnaround from where she was when we first began talking.

My lived experience of surviving trauma and mental illness has equipped me to be of service to others who are living through similar things. Even though I still have my struggles and even though I’ll never be “fully” healed and recovered, I’m far enough along that I have something good to offer.

I have a friend who says, “God doesn’t waste a wound.”

While I am not of the belief that God punishes and wounds us by causing trauma and devastation in our lives, I do believe he is present in and with us throughout these things. Furthermore, I believe that, if we are able to participate in the healing process, he redeems our personal tragedies in ways that can bring good.

This is what I want to do with my life. I want to walk alongside others on this healing and recovery journey, bolstering them up when they’re walk is shaky and help them stand back up, dust off, and get going again.

That’s what it’s about, right?

We all stumble. We all fall. We all get exhausted, worn down, and overwhelmed. We all need a little help getting by.

Now, due to several factors, prior student debt to a private institution being chief among them, going back to college isn’t a feasible option. Especially if I want to start working ASAP.

What I CAN do is get a certification to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist.

I didn’t get into the certification training I wanted to, this go around. But, I’m only getting started and there are other things I can do while I figure out how to access the training I need.

Today I start a Peer to Peer class put on by NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will help me be less isolated on my own journey and add to my toolbox of coping skills.

Wish me luck!

Untitled

In the land of the free
And the home of the brave,
Fear and greed
Create the mind slave.

In what was believed
A land of abundance,
Writhes hate unrelieved
And lost moral compass.

Not the lost you may think,
Facade’s fake appearance;
Words and deed don’t sync,
Cognitive dissonance.

Against humanity
A legal crime
Political insanity
Time after time

Right is illegal.
Wrong wears the crown.
No longer an eagle.
Now an orange clown,

Playing the people
With words of false faith.
We’re called sheeple
Considered weak wraith.

We must together,
Stop vanity’s fight
From God’s aether
Let truth take flight.

Let compassion rule.
Let empathy drive.
Make justice true.
The spirit will thrive.

Take a stand.
Walk the talk.
Be peace in our land.
Make love the bedrock.

©️ 2019 lem

Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.

Crazy

You’re not crazy. You’re pain is not a pathology. Your pain makes sense…You’re a human being with unmet needs.
Now This Op-Ed video about depression

Crazy.

“She’s just crazy. I’m done.”

“That’s just crazy talk.”

“How crazy is that?”

“What are you, crazy?”

Crazy.

How often do we throw that word around? We use it as a throwaway label for people and situations we don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to try and understand. It’s mostly a word which people who consider themselves as “normal” use to explain away and dismiss the abnormal.

Guess what? It’s ableism.

What is Ableism? According to The Urban Dictionary, “Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people who have disabilities. Ableism can take the form of ideas and assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment, or larger scale oppression. It is oftentimes unintentional and most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions.”

This definition isn’t only about physical disabilities, it also counts for those experiencing mental health issues due to atypical brain structure and neurochemistry.

Bipolar Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
PTSD
Anxiety disorders
Addiction
Compulsive Behavior disorders
ADHD
Asperger’s
Autism Spectrum Disorder (high functioning)

These are but a few examples of things which people with non-neurotypical brains and brain chemistry experience.

Crazy

It is a word which holds a strong stigma. The thought of being “crazy” often causes people not to seek help for symptoms and behaviors which make them feel mentally and emotionally out of control. They don’t want to be labeled as “crazy.” WE don’t want to be labeled and dismissed as being “crazy.” We don’t want to be treated as defective or dismissed because having atypical brains makes us “less than.”

I say “WE” because I have a Bipolar brain which has been affected by ongoing and varied trauma experiences. Four and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type 2, and PTSD. Around the same time, my youngest child was educationally identified as having “High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Recently she received the official diagnosis of Autism AND ADHD.

These things cause us to think, react, and act differently than those who have neurotypical brains. We aren’t “crazy,” we aren’t disabled. We are neurodiverse and differently abled.

The thing about the word, “crazy” is that it’s such an inherent part of our American vernacular that even those of us who have been affected and marginalized by the term frequently use it ourselves.

I’m not going to “go off the deep end” (another phrase often used instead of “crazy”) and call out everyone, every time I hear the word used. However, I will start with myself and maybe those closest to me. I haven’t figured out what to say instead, but, I’m working on it. I’ll keep you posted.

Maybe you’ll think about it the next time you hear or use the word.

In case you’re wondering, the August Scrawls Day 3 word is “atypical.”

Six Word Friday: Kind

Kind
May kind ribbons encircle each heart

bleeding from conflict, abuse, and terror.

May empathy and compassion set apart

judgment for understanding, regarding every error.

May healing from a sad start

instill Love, Hope, and Faith forever.

(c) 11/20/2015, lem

Six Word Fridays are hosted by Adrienne at My Memory Art. Please go visit to discover more Six Word Friday creativity!

Welfare vs Work in the USA 2013

Warning: Political triggers. If the topic of welfare incites your political troll, then troll on by. 

Disclaimer: This is long, but necessarily so. There are “from the horse’s mouth” facts and information about several “welfare” programs.

A woman I admire and respect tremendously, someone whom I share a spiritual faith with and value as having been a positive influence in my life, even for the brief time it was face to face and has now become another meme and link sharer in the Facebook news stream, shared something today that really lit a fire inside of me.

“No wonder we have the highest unemployment. . . .

On Labor Day 2013, Welfare Pays More Than Minimum-Wage Work in 35 States

A mutual FB friend, who is a member of the same church community where I met my friend had this to say: “Good ol’ Oregon!” to which my friend replied, “I want to move to Texas…”

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

That’s how I feel about right now, especially the, “Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” bit. I am beyond heated, I am bubbling, boiling angry!

I am angry because the researchers and writers and propagandists are essentially stating that people on welfare would prefer to stay on welfare handouts because it is more profitable than working a minimum wage job. Then, the end of the article laments at how companies who essentially have built huge fortunes for their investors off of wage-slave laborers are being hurt by Obamacare’s requirements.

What?!?!

I’m sorry that the billions you have made off of the time, energy, health, and well-being of your workers and the ones most vulnerable to the insidious marketeering of your employment practices and non-nutritive, styrofoam valued products and services are now being threatened because legislation is now forcing you to do what being human should have inspired you to do on your own – take care of your employees and enable them to actually not become indentured servants in this post-postmodern era.

When this article talks about “welfare,” it lumps in a large variety of programs: SNAP, TANF, WIC, medicaid, housing assistance, utilities assistance, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Let me talk about each of these programs for a bit.

First let me establish my credentials: I worked for three years as an assistant manager for a for profit professional management company which contracts with housing owners who receive funding from federal programs under a variety of tax-credit and subsidy programs, the most commonly known of which is the Section 8 “choice voucher.” I worked for almost five years as a customer service representative for an electric utility company. I worked for three different fast food franchises of two of the named companies at the end of the article. I have worked for a community based social service agency while stationed in a state “welfare” office. I have been a single parent receiving cash assistance, food stamps, and medical benefits. I have been a working, single-parent receiving food benefits, medical, and childcare assistance. I have received WIC. I have received utility assistance. I have received emergency food. I am currently a non-working parent in a two parent household with the other parent being unemployed living in subsidized housing, receiving food benefits, and in between looking for work, waiting for a determination on the Unemployment Insurance claim, and not receiving cash benefits.

In other words, we have only the change in our daughter’s change jar and nothing else to buy food, pay bills, or purchase toilet paper. The only reason I can write this is because he worked hard enough to get caught up on all of our bills before leaving the over the road job, so he could find a job closer to home, because our family needed him here. But, I digress.

WIC – Women, Infants, and Children: $6 a month to purchase fresh or frozen produce or seeds for planting produce. A 16-oz loaf of bread or whole wheat tortillas. A dozen eggs. An 18 oz jar of peanut butter or a 16 oz bag of dried beans. 36 oz of specifically approved brands of cereal in their specified options. A couple of cans of frozen juice or their bottled equivalent. 1 lb of cheese. Approximately 3 gallons of milk +/- half a gallon. Breastfeeding mothers get a few cans of tuna or extra beans. Babies on formula get several cans per month, but I don’t know how many (Formula is EXPENSIVE!). Per month. Per child under 6 years of age. I could be misremembering some of the amounts, like the milk, and forgetting an option or two. All together, I would imagine that maxing out each available voucher and using them all in a month equates to less than $100/month per child.

TANF – Lifetime, time-limit per adult household member = 18 – 24 months, in most cases, to my knowledge. A single parent with two children receives less than $550/mo cash assistance in the state of Oregon. Prior to receiving cash assistance the adult(s) have to attend one – four weeks of job readiness and work-search classes. There are mandated job search requirements and action plans and goals that have to be adhered to or the adult members get “sanctioned” off of the benefits, reducing the monthly grant by their portion.

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still known as Food Stamps: A household of three with zero income might receive $500 +/- each month to purchase ONLY food. No toilet paper. No diapers. No feminine sanitary products. No shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, or household supplies of any kind.

Utility Assistance: a) Every utility customer pays a few cents to a few dollars on each utility bill into a fund that provides energy assistance, including “welfare” recipients who pay for utilities (when there is enough money left over from paying rent and buying toilet paper). b) Once every twelve months. Different community service agencies administer different sets of energy assistance funds and how much is available is kind of dependent on how much money the utility companies received from their customers in the area, so there is no gurantee funds are available when needed or that a household will have the ability to call and get an appointment at the exactly right time. c) Maximum yearly assistance per household is $300 +/- for the year.

Emergency food: see Utility Assistance. Different programs administered by different agencies. A food box provides 2 – 5 days worth of food per household member. However, the government provided foods are insufficient to meet need. Which explains why I can get a food box with lots of cheap carbs like Hamburger Helper, but no hamburger to use with it, and cheap, knock off junk foods because people can go to the Dollar Store and purchase the required number of non-perishible items to donate so they can go see a movie at Regal Cinemas for “free” once a year. Some agencies allow emergency food boxes once a month, some once every three months.

Housing Assistance: Multiple programs, multiple funding streams, multiple income guidlines and eligibility requirements. Section 8 choice voucher or project-based (subsidy stays with the unit not the people living in the unit) uses the following formula to calculate how much rent is paid. Let’s use our single parent of two children who is receiving TANF:

Child credit $480/child x 2 children = $960/yr.

Utility allowance is the average cost of usage for same size unit in area, calculated annually.For our example let’s say $70/mo.

Monthly Cash Assistance: $550.00
X 12 months $12.00
Annual Income $6,600.00
– Child Credit -$960.00
Adjusted Annual Income $5,640.00
X 30% 30.00%
Annualized rent $1,692.00
/ 12 months $12.00
Monthly Rent $141.00
– utility allowance -$70.00
Monthly Rent $71.00

Wow! $70/mo for rent. WooHoo! That leave this parent $480 for electricity, household goods, laundry, diapers and/or replacement clothes the children are outgrowing, and transportation. A monthly bus pass is $100, unless there is a certified medical disability, then a monthly pass is $26.

If the property has the voucher, the parent waited 1 – 7 years to get a call that a unit was coming availabable and to drop everything and come fill out a new application ASAP. Bring all proof of citizenship documents for all family members, fill out a 1/4 inch thick stack of papers and documents authorizing all assistance agencies, people who help with periodic assistance, whatever form it may take, and any banking institutions, then wait 1 – 3 weeks for all documentation to be returned from the requested agencies and organization and for the management office to input the data and send paperwork off for approval or denial at the corporate level. If they are approved, then they give their 30 day notice where they are at, but have to move in and pay move in expenses concurrently with existing rent due at current place.

The housing provider gets to charge going market rate in the neighborhood. Project based housing is often in neighborhoods that have been targeted for gentrification, thereby raising property values and what market rate is for housing in the area. Brand new, eco-friendly, energy efficient apartments with all amenities can charge $850 – $1200/mo. in my neighborhood. My apartment was built in the 1970’s. No amenities besides the requisite apartment sized refrigerater and range oven. One laundry room with one coin washer and dryer set shared between six units. Less than 1,000 square feet. Market rent for this unit is almost $900/mo.

Sure the single parent of two on welfare is only paying $70/mo. rent. The housing provider is receiving almost 13 times that from the government in subsidies. This is just one type of calculation for people receiving housing assistance. There are many, many, many other types of Affordable Housing Housing Subsidies which fall under the heading of Housing Assistance.

As soon as the adult gets paid employment, they begin a transition off of TANF and receive Employment Related Daycare, meaning a portion of their earnings is paid in co-pays to a child care provider. At the same time, rent gets recalculated and increased with a slight modification for having to pay some child care expenses. SNAP benefits get reduced, and eligiblity for other services are reduced as well, including loss of Medicaid for the adult member after a transitional period. Oh, let’s not forget that all benefits are calculated off of gross earnings, not net. So, not only do all benefits decrease as the income increases, the increased income is taxed, resulting in a net paycheck that could wind up leaving the family with an overall decreased ability to be self-sufficient.

Oregon Minimum Wage is $8.95. Very few if any of the minimum wage job providers offer full-time employment. Let’s be generous and say that a fast food vendor is offering 30 hours a week employment at $8.95/hr. That’s $268.50/wk multiplied by 52 weeks, that is $13,962 year, more than double the cash assistance. Rent jumps to $255.05. Food stamps might drop to about $250 – $300/mo. Childcare copay could be $100 – $200 +/- each month. 

Let’s abolish most of the taxes, tax credits, and various forms of corporate welfare, mandate that all jobs are paid a standard living wage that doesn’t keep people from wanting to pursue their best selves, establish laws requiring employers to provide for their employees before their stockholders and owners, at least for business that are earning billions for owners, upper managment, stockholders and the like while crushing their labor force or eliminating it altogether and shipping jobs to other countries where human rights are not expected to be upheld.

Let’s establish a public child education and wellbeing system that begins at conception to help support, educate, encourage, treat, and build up ALL families, providing truly equal access to medical, vision, dental, mental health, art, physical education, and academics which promotes excellence in cooperative advancement for all, instead of falsely weighted apples to oranges competetiveness, one upsmanship, and building one’s success on another’s failure.

Let’s stop blaming the people and start fixing the problem.

Attitude: Minimization or Amplification? How does your attitude affect your life?

There are a lot of quotes and conversations floating around “out there” about attitude and it’s impact on our lives.

I had the opportunity to watch two different Google Hangouts where the role of attitude came up. The first was a conversation between Robert Kennedy III and Julia Neiman, “What Success Looks Like.”  The second hangout, with Marc Schelske and friends, looks at, “The role of attitude in spiritual growth.” 

At 10:20 into the conversation with Julia Neiman, Robert asked, “What do you do daily to encourage or inspire yourself?”

Julia referred to a daily practice she has, “The 10/10 List,” where she spends time every morning going over ten things she’s grateful for, as part of entering into a daily, “Attitude of Gratitude” for the rest of her day:

“If you are in an attitude of gratitude, you are in the zone. And you cannot help but feel happy if you are grateful. When you’re feeling grateful and in an attitude of gratitude . . . things come to you, when you are grateful for what you have.”

I used to hear this kind of thing while I was busy being anxious, depressed, stressed, and miserable. The only things I could focus on that I had, were my troubles and difficulties. The disruption, pain, and chaos from my past, which had come to define who I was and was an ever present part of my existence.

“So, I’m supposed to be grateful for ______?!?” Fill in the blank with the problem du jour, and you have a pretty good representation of my attitude: incredulity, disbelief, disgust, and bewilderment. I couldn’t see the value in being grateful for the painful, difficult, unjust, and downright ridiculous issues I had dealt with most of my life.

I know a lot of people like this. I’ve known them in all eras of my life. People who hold onto their pain, contempt, disdain, and offended sense of everything that is wrong with the world, their lives, and the people around them. The critics, the victims, and the ones we tend to carelessly, however justified, label as manipulative, crazy, and hateful.

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter the other day about such a person. A woman who is my age, and the mother of a couple of my daughter’s friends. Apparently this woman uses, manipulates, and abuses anyone and everyone she comes into contact with. During a text conversation where she was threatening and abusive toward my daughter, she sent screen shots of the conversation to one of her daughters. When our daughters met up, the friend said something like, “She was completely in the wrong for doing that. But you know how it is, it’s my mom. It will blow over and she’ll be okay.”

She was really frustrated and bewildered because she couldn’t understand how this woman’s behavior could be excused or accepted in any way, shape, or form. She’s convinced that because everyone around her lets her get away with the behavior, that she’s never going to change or be different and that it’s the fault of those who put up with it and accept it.

I suggested that it sounds as if this woman might have some mental/emotional health issues and a personality disorder or two. Her response was rather explosive. The idea that people who have these kind of challenges being allowed to have a “pass” on disruptive, destructive, and devastating behavior, simply because they have a mental/emotional health problem and everyone else just has to be okay with it, is one which my daughter finds distinctly unpalatable.

For me, this all hits me in tender areas in my heart and mind, spirit and soul.

Matthew 7 3 5

Matthew 7:3-5
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
3 Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!

I’ve been this kind of person in the lives of others at various times in my history, in various ways. Every single person I’m related to and whom I love, have had these kinds of things show up in their actions towards myself and others.

How do I condemn another for something I can recognize inside of myself? How do I hold them accountable and not hold myself accountable? By what measure do I determine where to draw the line?

The position, or attitude, that focuses on the wrongs of others and external things as the source of our misery or happiness is one that minimizes the role we play and the effect we have on our own lives through our choices based on thoughts, beliefs, and experiences.

Like the overwhelmingly strong and powerful adult elephant in the circus who is kept docile and harmless by a braided rope, we are kept limited in our effectiveness, by the experiences and beliefs we gained from them when we were younger, weaker, less knowledgeable, and under the care and responsibility of those who may not have had our best interest at heart.

Sovann Pe on spiritual growth

We have the ability to do some self-examination and self-reflection to identify where our own limitations and boundaries are false beliefs limiting us, creating and attracting all the negatives we perceive as keeping us down in our lives. When we are ready to stop focusing on everything and everyone else, when we become willing to look at the log in our own eyes, that is when our attitudes and the things that form them can begin to change.

I know this because it is the path I’m on now. I am discovering that the more I adopt an attitude of acceptance, self-awareness, forgiveness, and trust the more powerfully I am able to accomplish constructive and positive things in my life and the more I am surrounded by others who are engaged in similar journeys.

What attitudes may or may not be working well in your life?

Additional Resources: