Bullying and Depression

One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.

 The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.  

 Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.

 When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.

 Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.

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So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.

 Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.

 Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.

 If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life. 

 My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.

 It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.

 Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.

 Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.

 If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.

 As I’ve written about previously, if the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.

 Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.

 Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.

Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.

 Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done. 

 

Good Luck.

Emily; A Whole ‘Nother Year

OK, I’ll admit it. When it comes to outwardly living, acting and reacting to emotions, I’m a curmudgeon. I don’t laugh out-loud near enough to express how happy I am and I don’t cry nearly enough to express the deep emotion that helps you to know that I’m not some weird robot from outer space. I’m sure you sometimes read the things I blog about and probably wonder who is this guy eating leftovers off my plate and what did you do with my husband? My mind is always jam-packed with thoughts but they just seem to come out better through my fingertips than from my mouth.

I do get it, I’m not the most outwardly expressive person on the planet; probably not even in the top five billion. I’d venture to guess that there are probably a few ISIS soldiers who are more emotionally expressive than I am. When you’re laughing out loud, I’m just grinning. When you’re overjoyed to tears, I’m just smiling. But what you don’t realize is that those tiny little expressions on the outside of my face are representing billions of happy neurons colliding among the fat cells underneath. I do love and I do feel things strongly, my face just doesn’t always cooperate with my mind.

I like to believe that you get me, that you know the real me beneath my dull and undemonstrative exterior. In a utopian world, you would appreciate the rock-like foundation that supports who you are and what you’re doing no matter what mood I’m in or what has happened at work. That’s utopia, not Fairfield Pike, so I guess it probably helps to get a personal dose of emotion and passion from your husband now and then, especially when it’s your Birthday. This might be an attempt to do you some justice as you are far too important to me and your friends to be let down by the one you lift up so perfectly.

First of all, Happy Birthday! I wanted that to be a sentence all by itself but then I looked at it on paper and decided that it looked lonely. That just wouldn’t do. I never want you to be lonely. That is why I can mostly be found clutching your hand in mine. Your hand is, to me, a perfect hand. It touches me and comforts me in ways that are difficult to write about. It’s the thrill of a soft caress and the solace of a late night head scratch that heal me. It’s the kneading of biscuit dough or the mechanics of a sweet thank you letter that move me. Your hands untangle the knots in my soul while they weave a life worth living. You have the kind of hands that are worth holding and I love holding them.

You are the best friend a person could ever hope to have. I love that you are still friends with most of your childhood friends. That demonstrates that you are loyal and kind and thoughtful. I’m so thankful to get to be the guy who wakes up with and falls asleep beside you. I never suffer from a lack of sleep because I’m forever at peace knowing that I won. I beat the odds and I beat every single other man out there who was looking for the perfect wife. They lost and I won. My rewards and reminders are the long red hairs I find daily entwined in my clothes and in precarious places on my body. When I find one, I laugh (internally of course) then pinch myself to remind me that this whole amazing thing is actually real – that I get to be the one who kisses your lips and holds you close every day of my life.

I love your laugh. You have an infectious laugh and I guess that is why my laughs seem so insignificant and barren. Your laugh makes my laugh look like an indifferent mime without the cool striped mime costume and makeup. Who could ever smile as big or laugh as hard as you? No one can. That awesome laugh cheers me up and makes me want to deserve you. The lines on my face are from 8 years of perpetual smiling. I’m totally getting wrinkles on my face because of you and I don’t even care.

I think you are absolutely beautiful. If you were a president, you would be named Babe-a-ham Lincoln. In Latin, you would be called “babia majora”. If you had lived during the Renaissance period, it would be called the Emily period as all of the masters would have painted you. You hair is like silky sunshine and your eyes are like maple nut goodies. If you’d let me, I’d lick you all day long. That’s creepy I know but, alas, no licking allowed. It’s ok though, because you do let me hold your hands quite a lot.

I could never write great things about you without mentioning your amazing cooking but I really don’t need or want to because your fantastic cooking has more to do with the love you have for each of us than it has to do with skill. For you, cooking is a metaphor for love. It’s just one of the many things you make an effort to do that reflects the size and capacity of your heart. You love harder and stronger than anyone I’ve ever met and that makes you an amazing wife and an incredibly rare friend. I pray I never lose you.

I hope that this Birthday is one fraction as special for you as is it is for me because for me it means that I just got to spend a whole ‘nother year with the woman I love and the best friend any person could ever hope to find. My love for you grows exponentially each and every year as I continue to discover more wonderful things about you. Just when I think I’ve seen the whole of you, another rosebud springs forth that redefines the meaning of perfection and the vernacular of love. You are absolutely amazing!

Happy Birthday Emily.

See, I did give it its own line.

Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big?

(Warning: Almost 5000 words)

Lately, more than ever before, I’m finding it very difficult to digest some of the more popular dialogues being discussed in this country. Am I really all that disconnected from reality or so naïve that I can’t comprehend what’s supposedly happening before my eyes? Perhaps I’m subconsciously hiding from the truth as a result of guilt or maybe I’m just so caught up in my own life that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Whatever it is that is causing this denial, conscious or unconscious, has left me feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. Either I’m in denial, I’m being intentionally left out, or the whole damn world has gone crazy.

25 years ago I was attending this lecture at the University of North Florida Institute of Police Technology and Management as a part of a Drug Unit Commander school and the instructor was lecturing about crowds, riots, and mob violence. Apparently there is a whole psychology built around crowds. One of the few things my tiny brain remembers from that lecture was something called the Emergent Norm Theory. The Emergent Norm Theory is a predictor for how mob violence occurs, how it is instigated and how it is perpetuated through an event from a psychological/clinical perspective.

Obviously I’m not qualified to lecture about the science but in summary it essentially states that when a large group of people crowd together for a common cause or complaint, they initially may have very little if any real unity except of course for that original singular common theme or complaint. But during a period of milling and spouting about, the key members or alpha personalities start suggesting actions to be taken by the group. If there is a lack of negative response from within the crowd itself, then the whole group will typically stand together in agreement to the legitimacy of their (The alpha members) message no matter how inappropriate their suggested actions may be. We’ve seen that a lot lately haven’t we?

So to all of my readers, friends, family, acquaintances and haters who might be hating on me…if you find yourself in a group of protesters who are pissed off about…hmm – maybe something I might be labeled with… and someone in the crowd yell’s “lets stone him!”, then please speak up and do your part to be the voice of reason because scientists all agree that if you don’t then some fool standing on the hood of a car with a bull horn and a can of spray paint will direct the crowd to start throwing rocks at me.

I was born in 1964, the same year that our most recent civil rights act was passed by congress. That said, I and others my age are among the first generation of racially integrated American school children. I can’t say that there were huge numbers of black kids going to school with me back then, maybe 5% of the student body, but we certainly integrated much better than our parents probably expected we would. My son, born in 1989, grew up much differently. Integration to him was likely just some old-school historical reference used to describe the way African-Americans worked to overcome racial injustices back in the old days when uneducated white men wore powdered wigs, fought injuns, and dined on opossums.

The point I’m trying to make here is that for modern white American’s, racial injustice is mostly considered a thing of the past – something we’d like to forget – and scarcely even thought about. The biggest reason for that is because America is only about 2 generations in to equal opportunity law reform and our kids don’t have any experience with racial injustice. Another factor that plays a bigger role than you’d expect is that all of the people we baby boomers tend to closely associate with the days of widespread bigotry are now mostly dead and gone. Maybe third on that list is that we don’t like to believe that it was our loved ones who perpetuated those atrocities…it makes us feel bad. White people see this world through a different lens than black people. That doesn’t equate to racism, but it could be considered dismissive of the black experience. What it really goes back to is the tried and true theory that perception equals reality. The perception is that the world is fair now so we should all just put our big girl panties on and forget about all that negative stuff.

I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents who warned me not to trust the government and who had horrific personal stories of tragedy, slavery, violence, rape, and an overall destruction of the family unit that were perpetrated by mostly everyone, sanctioned by the government, and substantiated by the church. I think – I don’t really know – that growing up black would be quite different from growing up white whether we feel comfortable recognizing that or not. The minds of black people are exactly like the minds of white people. They just have an alternate experience. Whether or not they have personally experienced racial injustices or not, they all carry the weight of it from birth which causes many of them to react differently to the same news stories papered on the rest of us. Their perceptions are different so their reality is different.

Just think for a second about the popular website and the corresponding television show, Ancestry.Com, and the interesting stories behind actors and other famous people as they work with historians and genealogists to uncover these compelling family stories that have been mostly forgotten by time. Have you ever thought about how black people respond to that show? For the most part, white people not only denied their African slaves of a present life, but they also denied them of a family history. To this day, black people do not have the simple luxury of going to visit a family cemetery or to research family genealogies because those graves don’t exist and their families were sold and traded like baseball cards. Few records exist for them at all.

When white people see an ignorant redneck on television who is obviously still fighting the civil war, we just see one lone racist with a mullet…we don’t think that much about it. When a black person see’s the same guy on TV, I can imagine that it is both evocative and personally felt. There is a real disconnect between our races that no one really discusses but it’s very important to recognize. In some ways, we have become the Divided States of America because we white people feel hamstrung by political correctness instead of just being real and thus black people are forced to digest that canned insincerity that modern political correctness forces white folks to use – which leaves them feeling manipulated. We are both left wanting for anything resembling something real.

Ferguson, MO 2014 is an perfect example of much of what we are discussing here because all the elements came together in one imperfect storm. They had the rioting and the mob violence perpetuated by a few people who completely distorted the facts of the case but somehow illogically managed to engage an entire nation including some National figures (ala Emergent Norm Theory); and, you had lots and lots of white people who were honestly trying to empathize with the black community but couldn’t really because they had no idea what the facts were and they have no idea what it really means to be black (ala Political Correctness meets Empathy); and, you have a nation of black people who now know the facts but really don’t care because their sense of identity as historical victims has been re-ignited even though there were no real reasons (In Ferguson) for that to have happened (ala News Media Fanning the Flames for Ratings). White folks are laying in the streets side-by-side with black folks but neither knows why.

There are literally black Americans out there who have grown up in a mostly color-blind country and whom are enjoying the fruits of their own successes without any racially inspired obstacles to education or employment who are now suddenly talking about 2015 like it’s 1965 when the only thing they have in common with the black folks in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday is the color of their skin. That’s not happening because it’s real today…its happening because it once was real and the media has fueled the embers of a flame which may likely never go out. White people are appalled by it, black people are moved by it and our country is paralyzed by it.

I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in this country because clearly it does. We’ve also had dozens of police killings of black people since that Ferguson incident which have further fueled those flames and a few of them have surprised me too. The cop who shot the black man in the back nine times as he ran away was definitely an eye opener. But, as a white guy who spent 20 years wearing a badge, I see a rogue cop doing a terrible thing and trying to cover it up. It doesn’t look racist to me because a bad cop like that could just as easily have shot and killed a white person and reacted similarly. But, I can totally see how a black person could see this as evidence of racial injustice perpetrated by police.

Our country, like every country, is a combination of the haves and have not’s. It’s not only a symptom of a capitalistic society but a very natural and necessary one. God and nature have very systematically produced nearly equal numbers of men and women just as he/it/she has produced people with different skills, strengths and weaknesses in order that we all rely on one another for survival. We take all that for granted but if you stop for a second to think about how organized the human species really is then good luck trying to justify your atheism. Depending on the century you live in, different skill sets have demanded differing levels of income thus creating division among us. Have you noticed lately who is finally starting to earn a decent living? Yup – farmers. Farming is finally getting cool, just when there is a shortage of pork and beef. Who’d have thunk it? No matter your skill, we all have our time in history when our skill was or will be a highly sought after skill – be patient.

Tinkering with the natural balance of things usually results in failure. Carl Marx recognized the unfairness between the social classes of the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat’s and became the founder of a political system we now call socialism. Although his ideas are considered valuable in the overall understanding of the dynamics between social classes, we’ve learned through historical contexts that socialism doesn’t work because it eliminates the drive to produce and create. If you want the government to help people, somebody has to be earning enough to pay those taxes – as it turns out the top 5% are paying 90%. Those people don’t exist in socialistic societies. Thus, here we are with an incredibly wealthy society with some very poor people living among us and a disproportionately large percentage of those poor happen to be black.

Is that by chance? I think not. I think that black people have two things working against them which have kept them demographically among our poorest. The first element is that the institution of slavery itself and its common practices of selective breeding and denial of education has yet to be fully overcome. We are only a few generations beyond the days of slavery and even fewer ahead of equal rights and educational opportunities. That says nothing of the psychological weight and stigma it carries if you happen to be among those who’ve been born with the legacy of it. An inheritance of victimization creates two kinds of people in general, one who challenges the status quo with conviction and distrust and one who accepts his fate and believes that he must be flawed and imperfect. Animosity and apathy, a legacy born of victims – our victims.

The second element is the social welfare system itself. For those who are born into it, moving beyond it forces you to not only be different, which attracts negativity and sometimes violence, but it also forces you to peel away the arms of a protective mother only to jump off a cliff of uncertainty and competition. Competition that you’ve not been prepared for or exposed to. Most of us have no idea just how difficult it is for someone rise up from those circumstances. For the people who grow up in that environment, they have little that is precious to them nor do they have the same respect for laws and rules which have done more to protect white people from blacks rather than protect blacks from whites.

It’s really similar to what’s happening in the Middle East. If those Shiites and Sunni’s who hate each other but collectively hate Americans had a decent income, an Xbox and satellite television then why in the heck would they choose to strap a bomb on their chest and kill people they really don’t know anything about? In every country where Muslim’s are a minority and living in societies where they have opportunities, they are generally passive with the exception of either low-functioning individuals who’ve been radicalized or by those who’ve immigrated for the purpose of conducting terrorism. In every country where Muslim’s have a majority and where all of the wealth is centered on those in charge leaving the citizens destitute and poor…guess what you have? Yup, terrorism, despair, hunger, and an overall lack of humanity.

Not every Muslim country has a ruthless dictator who steals all the money for himself. In those countries who share the wealth with its citizens – a la the UAE, they have stability, a robust economy, and peaceful relationships with others. Personally, I think the religion itself promotes intolerance of other cultures and religions, that’s just me looking through my own lens of life, but you can certainly parallel how poverty and despair effect lifestyle, opportunity and political views even if the motivators are unique.

Similarly, in America, some of our social welfare systems, while good intentioned, have been allowed to manifest themselves into perpetual class makers whose unintentional outcomes have resulted in a separate society of the mostly self-disenfranchised. We’ve long since recognized the consequences of that system gone amuck but no one has stepped up to the very hot plate of political correctness to fix the broken system. Those who are stuck in that place between veritable impoverishment and a safety-net have little motivation to do anything other than what they’ve been schooled their whole life to fleece. Why would they – life without a net can be difficult. If you pull the rug out from under those who have grown up dependent on it, what would we do to prepare them to live without it? It’s very complicated.

White people get especially roused up when black people start talking about reparations for slavery but when you stop to hear the argument, it actually made sense back then. I’m not smart enough to know if it makes sense now, I’ll leave that one up to you but here me out. This country made it legal to enslave human beings, mostly Africans, from about 1619 until the conclusion of the civil war in 1865. That’s almost 250 years. During that time colonists, farmers, plantation owners and simple households alike were allowed to inflict any form of oppression over their slaves as they saw fit because those people were not considered, under our laws, to be human. Of significant importance was that they denied their slaves of all forms of education – social, scholastic, legal, or otherwise – to ten (10) successive generations of human beings. Those human beings are now our neighbors, friends, co-workers, preachers and soldiers.

It took another 100 years (4 more generations) for the US government to recognize that blacks deserved the same rights as any other American – with some white Americans kicking and screaming all the way. When blacks were finally set free, America just handed them a green card and said, “Here ya go”. No one offered to help educate them or assist them in their assimilation with the rest of the country or offer them any financial means of self-reliance to get started. These people were woefully unprepared to live autonomously anywhere but somehow they did. We put them in boats of isolation and poverty and yet we marvel at how each vessel has traveled in alternate paths, never really able to reach the same destination. Maybe we do owe them some penance to help them catch up. It’s difficult to rationalize the fairness of it 150 years after-the-fact but it’s also difficult to ignore the consequences of not having done it.

Last year, I re-connected with an old friend from middle and high school who happens to be black. It’s kind of funny because Emily was out-of-town for work and the TN Walking Horse National Celebration was going on in town so there were these food trucks situated all along Madison Street selling/grilling BBQ and since I was technically a bachelor that week I decided to visit one of them and get some take-out for dinner after work.

All of the sudden, this great big black guy comes up and gives me a huge hug. It was late August and he’d been grilling BBQ in the high heat which made him quite sweaty but he was so expressive and affectionate that it scarcely phased me…I just wanted to know who he was. “Chris White! Damn I sure have missed you, I think about you all the time.” All of the sudden I recognized Isaiah Kelly from school. We played drums together in Jr. High and played football together on a team my dad coached. I ended up hanging out with him for at least an hour or two catching up on him and his life since school then stopping in again the next afternoon to get more BBQ and another big sweaty hug. I had also dropped by the horse show grounds to get a box of Optimist Club doughnuts to give to him and his crew which was a big hit.

For Isaiah and I, there were no barriers of race or history or distrust, we were just two 12 year-old’s both turning 50 and happy to be doing so. Just two happy Guinea Pigs, one white and one black, from a 1960’s social experiment that seemed so very ordinary and normal to us. It’s funny that when you talk about race on a macro scale, it always controversial but when you bring it down to a personal level it’s always just about personality. Once you wipe off all of the dust that gets kicked up by people who don’t know or understand each other, it’s just you and I that remain. While Isaiah may have his doubts about white folks in general and while I might look over my shoulder in a bad part of Nashville, he and I have no doubts about each other and I have no doubt that time, honest conversation and a ban on political correctness could heal much of what plagues us in America today.

Going back to our conversation on reparations, what if black people would have been treated differently after emancipation? What if we would have offered educational opportunities, a place to live, and some spending money? What if white America would have embraced those terribly mistreated souls instead of segregating ourselves from our own shames and what if we would have admitted the horrible mistake of slavery instead of being indignant about it? Do you think that perhaps America would be different today? Do you think that a natural assimilation of the two cultures could have emerged, trust would have prevailed and we’d all be speaking, acting, living, working and praying similarly?

Looking through my own lens on the world, I seem to see a lot of that anyway. I see our country as mostly healed and I see lots of black success stories both on television and in our community. But, the one thing we all have to remember when we begin to put our judge robes on…we all don’t live in the same city, we all don’t have the same life experiences, we all don’t have the same familial and generational stories and backgrounds, we all don’t have the same political ideologies and none of us are privileged to see things from the same viewpoints, heights and angles.

I cannot help to think that America may be repeating the sins of our colonial cousins today, only with a new victim…homosexual people. Yes forgive me, I said it, gay people are being mistreated horribly, just like black people were back then. Of course no heterosexual male stereotype worth the weight of his own pot-belly wouldn’t first say up front that “I AM NOT GAY” when trying to write about a subject like this. I guess I might as well say “up-front” that I’m not black either. Anyway, with all the proper documentation now expressed, let’s now proceed and put this blog to bed.

Humans, no matter what generation we live in or what behavior we are trying to support or condemn, we can always find biblical references to support our beliefs. If you’re a supporter of capital punishment then you subscribe the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). If you’re debating the legitimacy of capital punishment then you would cite Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill”. During slavery times, it was just as easy to find supporting scripture to justify your behavior, i.e., Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9, “They asked who should question the word of God when it is said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”, or “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect”.

I’m not suggesting that the bible contradicts itself, what I’m saying is that there are contexts with which those scriptures are written and they are not to be used selfishly and without a thorough understanding of their meanings within the contexts and confines of the particular message being conveyed. It’s not hard to find all sorts of biblical references to all sorts of common behaviors or lifestyles especially homosexuality, but, when you choose to make a personal judgement are you not missing the forest for the trees? Opponents of gay marriage follow a very literal approach to the bible when they cite Old Testament passages that declare, “You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)

There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that passage, however, shouldn’t Christians be citing passages from the New Testament instead of the Old Testament? Why did God put Christ on this earth anyway? John 3:17 clearly states, “For God sent not his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 12:47 says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
You see, we as humans are not capable of understanding everything that God has put before us. There are some things that are beyond our abilities to fully comprehend. We, as humans, like to put things in neat little boxes so that we can be comfortable and safe in our little worlds. But God knows our fallacies and our accomplishments without explanations or YouTube tutorials. Clearly we should not be judging anyone as even Jesus Christ did not think it was his place to judge us, but God only.

I’m carrying a few extra pounds and that would be called gluttony in the bible and thus a sin. But God knows my troubles and my weaknesses and he forgives me. Some people might smoke. Some people might covet another’s wife or husband. Some of us, including me, have lied a few times and have used God’s name if vain. The bible says we are all sinners. Every stinking one of us. We cannot escape what God says we can’t escape. We are born to be sinners. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better, it just means that one day we will all be judged for something.

Maybe your sin was small and mine was big but I made amends for mine and felt genuine guilt and empathy for my victim and yet you felt nothing and did nothing but try to conceal your tiny little sin. Maybe God gives me a pass for my big sin and fry’s your ass for your little one. Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. Again, just another reiteration for you… “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…”(John 3:16 (17)(18).

What I’m saying is that we should stop looking for ways to condemn anyone for anything, whether we personally accept or approve of the behavior or not because we all have offensive behaviors and we are all sinners and none of us have the biblical authority to judge other human beings. If Jesus Christ said that he doesn’t have the biblical authority to judge or condemn people then I’m terribly sorry to inform you that you don’t either. If a gay couple gets married, it’s not taking a single thing from you. Why should you care? If you think that it offends your religion because marriage is a religious institution then stop personalizing Christianity as being yours. It’s not. It belongs to anyone who accepts ALL of what it teaches, including but not limited to homosexual people.

The New Testament values faithfulness, love, sacrifice and promise-based commitment. Those things can be just as prevalent in a gay marriage as in a heterosexual marriage. Your faith is a personal relationship you have with God through Jesus Christ (if you’re a Christian). Your sins are between you and God and He knows your heart, drives, weaknesses and sacrifices. The rest of us don’t know all those things about you and thus should not be doing the work of God without all of the personal inside information with which to conduct a fair assessment of just how great or terrible you really are.

All that said and 4892 words later…please stop all your judgement’s for just one minute and start to think about your faith and your influences on those around you. Are you perpetuating and teaching positive things or negative things? Black people deserve to be heard and their voices shouldn’t be silenced just because the dialogue makes us feel uncomfortable. I get that you’re a generation X’r and that you have no idea what racism is…that doesn’t negate the fact that racism still exists or that black people are naturally going to feel more threatened by the perception of it. There are messages inside those speeches and on those posters that we all need to digest so that we don’t dismiss the very things that are causing so much dissension and chaos among us.

Gay people deserve to be heard too. All they are asking for is to be treated equally. If you or I don’t understand why their brains are programmed the way they are then it’s ok, we will all survive. I don’t understand a lot of people’s brains but that doesn’t give me the right to decide whether or not they deserve to be treated equally and/or with some dignity. We need to stop thinking of homosexuality as a behavior and start to recognize it as simply an alternative way of thinking. It’s a brain thing not a penis thing. If you’re born with the instinctive attraction to the opposite sex then we like to consider you a heterosexual. If you’re born with an instinctive attraction to the same-sex then we like to call you a homosexual. They’re words not swords. At the end of the day, we’re talking about that which is instinctive, not that which is decided. Gender and Sexuality live in our brains, not our sexual organs, and they are not always going to be consistent with our genitalia because they reside in separate places in our brains.

God says I can’t be all-knowing because I’m human – SO, even though it pisses me off to say it – I hereby officially accept that I don’t know every f’ing thing. I get that not everyone will agree with me. It’s a controversial subject.

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

Many of us are living lives that could be somewhat characterized as having started off in one particular direction, confident that through our efforts we would become this or end-up doing that. But, instead of locking in to that initial hand-picked path and following through till the end, we got a little distracted along the way and dove head-first into a glistening new pool, only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the onset.

We all just knew, with the confidence of General Patton, that our paths were certain. We were going to marry a certain someone, have X number of kids, have a well-paying job with excellent benefits, then retire with a great big house overlooking God’s glorious creation in its most subjective splendor. If you’re reading this blog through the eyes (or mind’s eye) of the fairer sex, your dreams may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, girls would be lucky to find a guy who regularly washes behind the ears or plucks his ear and nose hair, so if you’re still waiting on the sparkly crown, I shouldn’t have to be the one to inform you that your high expectations, not a regression of mankind, that may be to blame for perpetual loneliness.

You could be one of those people who are still thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad, or instead, you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your initial prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably living somewhere in-between being pissed off at our parents for not being honest with us about our true capabilities, or, just happy to have a decent car, job, mortgage, and income/debt ratio.

To put it bluntly, where I am today and where I thought I’d have been at fifty-years-old couldn’t be much further apart. I actually thought I would grow up and become a psychiatrist.

A short stint in college majoring in Pre-Med cured me of those dreams as I quickly realized just exactly what I was a naturally gifted at and what I sucked at. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love giving advice or tinkering in psychological subjects. It just means that I wasn’t prepared for everything else that comes with an education in science, particularly all the stupid crap I don’t like. Maturity might have played a role….?

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations?

In many cases, our parents have pushed us toward our most outwardly apparent aptitudes or instead the things they always wished they’d have done and our teachers push us toward the trending job market. We were provided with lists of job-titles along with their equivalent salaries and were immediately driven toward the big 3 – Pilot; Doctor; Lawyer…?

Sometimes we have dreams that don’t fall into any of the above categories. Maybe you wanted to be a musician or a dancer or an artist but you were discouraged by worried parents. Aside from psychiatry, I was a very good musician and had teetered on becoming a studio musician instead.

School was very easy for me. I honestly never really took schoolwork all that serious and my grades were high enough that my parents never worried about me enough to check on what I was doing or not doing. I just sort of did what I wanted and floated through school never concerned in the least about my grades or challenging myself. My parents had much more serious challenges with another sibling so I guess it was easy for me to fall between the cracks and pretend that I was doing everything I should be doing.

That it all came to a head in college when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really paid all that much attention in high school. A perfect example of this was in my sophomore year of high school. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class.

On our first day of school I showed up to Ray’s class and took a chair beside him because I just wanted to see if I could pull it off. When the teacher, in her first roll call, failed to call my name from her list of students, she asked the class, “Is there anyone here whose name I did not call?”

I raised my hand, she wrote my name down on her list, and I ended up spending that year in a class that I could sleep in and still make straight A’s. The good thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the system; the bad thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the very system that was otherwise programmed to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally by now, instead of writing for fun. On another note, maybe if I hadn’t have done all of those stupid things in life, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

Of course, I might also not have spent so much time and ingenuity overcoming adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions, to have gained the perspectives I now have, all of which led me to the wonderful life and the precious wife and son that I have today. It’s kind of like the song by Rascal Flatts called Along the Broken Road, “Every long-lost dream – led me to where you are…God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The lyrics are a metaphor for adolescent stupidity mixed with a little luck or a lot of grace, whichever form of mercy you subscribe to.

Broken roads and broken dreams are just part of the plan it seems. We don’t realize it when we are fifteen but most of those dreams are pretty lofty anyway. Plus, that girl you like so much turns out to be bi-polar at forty, and the football quarterback with dimples and a hairy chest is on disability, has diabetes, and plays video games well into the wee hours of the morning. Fifteen turns out to be way too young an age to determine just what is and what is not a good quality for a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing indeed, but if that girl doesn’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

resilience-dandelion-through-asphalt

Resilience, the subject of this blog, is something you learn from all of the little and big faux pas we are destined to make along the bumpy, curvy, divided, and forked road of our youth. Even though you’re way smarter at fifteen then you are at fifty (Just ask Jeff Foxworthy), you don’t have enough real-life experiences with which to relate all that natural born brilliance.

You end up learning a lot more about the real world from good ole Murphy than you ever would have, had you’d actually listened to all those lectures. You must know that Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses, yes, but he could also destroy your confidence and leave you crying in a fetal position if you’re not prepared.

Never afraid to pack up and move or to take on some exciting new adventure – my mistakes and misfortunes have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some stunningly stupid experiences. Yes, I have a tendency to brag.

That kind of adventurous free-spirit comes with a price. I was talking to my wife, Emily, a few weeks ago trying to figure out just how many times I’ve moved since I first left home as a fledgling adult. The number was much more difficult to figure out than you can imagine because the number was pretty high; like 26 or something. It was this painful exercise that inspired me to write this blog.

Each one of those moves, however haphazard it may seem now, had something to do with career, emotion, opportunity, relationships or going broke. I’ve certainly never been afraid to try new things. That has probably been the defining statement of my life.

The excitement that always comes with some new discovery has driven me almost on auto-pilot. You might say I have the repertoire of an articulate hobo. I’m sure my mom must have been pretty worried about me for a long time, but all of that uncertainty and seat-of-the-pants living contributed to the broad vernacular you see in my blogs today. And don’t believe for one second that every move I made was done so by choice.

That resilient protective layer I’ve been talking about comes from standing in the batter’s box and taking a few wild pitches into the torso. Just being honest and good or generous doesn’t gain you any immunity from trouble at all. It turns out that Murphy is also an Atheist and doesn’t care that you sent $50 bucks to Joel Osteen last week.

There is a literal cornucopia of chaos that life can throw at you at a moment’s notice. Surviving these moments grows our experience-knowledge and helps us to nurture more buoyancy and assuredness so that we are able to survive and cope through the next wave of pandemonium. That level of comfort grows and grows with each struggle until we emerge with something very close to confidence. Then our confidence can yet again be shattered when we learn that Murphy also throws a great knuckle ball.

An old Chinese proverb says “Failure is the mother of success” and I believe it wholeheartedly. But sometimes people get caught up in the failure itself instead of the lesson. Failure is never a person; failure is an event.

How would anyone ever know how sweet success really tastes when they’ve never tasted the saltiness of sweat and failure? So you strike out every now and then…knuckle balls are hard to hit. The players that make it in the big leagues learn how to ignore the pain or embarrassment from occasionally striking out, and to absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve the odds of their next “at bat”.

In discussing our near future a few days ago, Emily and I were talking about what type of home we may build on the farm. She said to me that she’d come to a place in her life where she no longer cared about what people might think about how she lives or how successful others may think we are or aren’t.

The crux of her response was along the lines of building exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget – not some sort of monument to our professional achievements. I think that moment where you live your dreams not because of what it will prove but because that is all you want to do is the definition of contentment. I’m very lucky to have her.

Being married to Emily has helped me to realize that love is not always about winning or losing. Perhaps real love is more about a few sweet moments in time, followed by an eternity of growth and discovery. The fruits of a healthy marriage can last indefinitely through our children and the people we touch.

From this perspective, I realize that we not only benefit in life from the one’s we love the most, but we also benefit from the love’s we have lost and the relationships that have failed for whatever reason. We as spouses both get to benefit from each “other’s failed endeavors and “practice marriages. There was this one bitch though…oh never mind.

That level of recognition comes from the ability to let go of baggage, hate, failures, and the heartaches in your past. Letting go of unnecessary baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care about that person or that endeavor anymore it is simply the realization that the only person you really have control over is yourself.

If the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to be a part of your history or a part of your destiny.

Letting go of anger and hate is also an incredibly important concept in moving on. If you hate something or someone it/they will always be with you. You may think that you can move away from a person you hate but as long as you are feeling the emotion of hate then they are going to be with you metaphysically.

Discovering that you possess the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers which are Resilience, Courage, Dignity, and Peace.

  • Resilience we learn from getting back up after being knocked down and discovering that no matter how hard the punch – we will always be able to find a way to get back up.
    • Courage promotes discovery which contributes to wisdom. We obtain courage from ignoring our fears and just being ourselves, trusting we will be OK.
    • Dignity is a personal emotion that is derived from doing the right thing even when doing wrong would better serve you. Resilience and Courage allow us to maintain our dignity even when others question our motives.
    • Peace comes when you no longer even think about any of the aforesaid attributes. Peace is not caring either way. You know you’re going to do what’s right so why waste time worrying about what others think. Your resilience to criticism and your courage to stick to your guns give you a place of peace that only time and experience can buy.

The rest is all up to God, thus forget trying to know what all that means. God knows; man thinks. It is how knowing differs from knowing-about or wisdom. Man thinks he gets to know when he thinks, but he never does because he only thinks from his own singular experiences.

Each of our human perspectives about life, the world, family, sexuality, war, or whatever are molded and shaped by what we have personally observed and learned in the way a blacksmith hammers and forges iron. Our brains are like hot furnaces that shape, anneal, and organize whatever metals get thrown inside and what comes out are products of that very individualized mixture.

No matter how smart you think you are…you really don’t know much in the big scheme of things so get over yourself and be real because cousin Murphy is always watching for an opportunity to let some hot air out of you. “Chris, what’s that smell? Is that you?” “No dear, it was Murphy.”

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not a single, solitary, human on this earth that is not also a sinner or otherwise worthy to tell you what kind of life you should be living. Insecurity, especially religiously oriented insecurities are like Kudzu to the psyche. It climbs, coils, and latches onto every part of your life if you allow it. There are few things in life that can be as destructive to your soul as the counterfeit son of Man.

As I already stated: God knows; man thinks. If I cannot really know you as God knows you and if I cannot really know why you are the way you are or why you do the things you do then how can I judge you in a religious context?

I have no problem judging you as a singer, a cook, or a mechanic, but judgement of the soul is reserved for God only. Interpreting the word of God is not just about reading specific words; it about reading the whole book and understanding the context in which those words are describing something. Something few, if any of us are truly capable of doing.

Example:
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

What I’m trying to point out is that we all have this very modern and contemporary view of religion which always involves some particular sub-faith being taught to us by some other particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners. All of which who have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing, such that these same people are less likely to be asked what they themselves might be doing.

Even the idea that one church has a higher favor with God over another faith is an arrogant and sinful concept. It’s exactly what we humans do. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the generation before so we evolve our beliefs and attempt to gain followers in order to prop up our own arrogance. Your faith, or lack of it, exists inside you and is a personal relationship you have between yourself and your God. Simple as that.

Whatever your weaknesses and guilty pleasures may be – you can be forgiven by the One who really counts. It’s not up to me and not up to your neighbors. Stop allowing the judgement of others to undermine your own confidence and self-esteem.

You are always going to be whatever you are – always. If you believe that you’re sinning by being yourself then also believe in the concept of Grace. God knows that human biology creates an occasional misfire and sometimes those misfire’s can be beautiful. It’s a Grace thing. The God I know is anything but mercilessness.

There are enough land-mine’s in life and enough bully’s to fight without having to deal with them in a place of worship. Stop worrying about your failures and start looking for the hidden carrot in those failures.

We all have weaknesses; find out what you’re great at and do that instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If you cannot find that special job – create it. If you can’t find that special person – be that person yourself and maybe someone a lot like him/her will find you instead. Above all, do something. Resilience is partly about fighting back. Be brave, be bold, and behold!

Fully Automatic Prozac – The Weapons of Delusion

What comes to mind when you hear or read the words Sandy Hook Elementary? What about Columbine High School? When you and your family go to watch a movie nowadays does the 2012 Aurora Colorado movie theater massacre come to mind? When you drag your hand across the bottom of the popcorn bucket and pull up 30 kernels of buttery corn goodness, do you stop to remember those who’ve lost their lives in the line of movie-going before shoving the whole thing into your mouth – grateful to have skipped the latest Liam Neeson film? What are people thinking about now that all of the media-hype and sensational reporting are mostly over?

Members of the media and other left-of-center political advocates want you to believe that some “reasonable” level of gun control could have saved these and hundreds of other victims of gun violence over the previous couple of decades but is that really true…or should I say more sensibly, is that really probable? How do you feel about gun control and why? Does the issue of public mass-shootings make you believe that our government should amend the constitution and eliminate the private ownership of guns altogether or pass laws that limit or control gun purchases and ownership?

I have an opinion and I’ll share it with you at the end of this blog but I’d prefer for now to just share some historical facts and ideas with you then allow you extrapolate your own opinions intellectually instead of emotionally. I personally think it’s impossible to write any story about any subject which doesn’t contain some level of writer’s bias and my blogs are certainly no exception because of course I have my own personal life experiences which have shaped and honed my world perspective thus I share my thoughts with you under the inebriation of those experiences.

Politically, few of us are what I’d call dumb. We are all just ignorant of the other person’s perspectives. Although intentional bias does occur, especially when it comes to guns, race, conservatism and religion, most writers do form their opinions honestly and we ALL THINK we are in possession of the BEST ideas. That said, lots of people will disagree with me here and I get that. It’s one of the reasons I seldom write about guns even though no one who knows me would question my expertise on the matter. But controversy aside, I felt a strong personal obligation to write about this subject today.

OK, let’s move on to the more subtle but well-meaning bias…I mean theory. I opened this blog in the first paragraph with a number of well-studied and reported mass killings. What do they all share in common with one another? The number one thing that we all focus on is that they all involved the use of guns. So in theory, if there were no guns then there would have been no mass murders right? But are there other more important commonalities that matter to us more than the issue of firearm ownership?

crazy-gun-weapon

To answer that question, one needs to study a couple things, motive and causation being two but also whether it could be possible that mass killings would occur without the use of or access to firearms. In other words, do we now know the motives behind the killings and what caused these people to commit seemingly indescribable acts of violence? The answer is yes. After the dust settled, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have pieced together a substantial amount of information related to the perpetrators, their motives, causation’s and other contributing factors.

The answer to the other question about whether killings could occur without guns is a resounding yes. Although one could argue that knives or other weapons may not be as efficient at killing as guns; that has not discouraged a number of people who lacked access to guns to try and mirror what the armed kids have done.

Stabbing deaths and injuries occurred in schools on 17 different incidences just in the year 2014 alone; one of which occurred in Murrysville, Pennsylvania on April 9, 2014. That particular incident involved a 16 year old student, Alex Hribal, who allegedly went on a stabbing rampage through classrooms and halls of the Franklin Regional High School only apprehended after 25 victims were stabbed – 7 with “life-threatening wounds” to the torso and back. That’s an enormous number of student-victims for a kid with a knife which demonstrates just how dangerous any committed killer can be.

If a person is inclined to kill people and committed to die themselves, they will use whatever tools they have available to them to execute whatever heinous agenda they have. That said, it’s a pretty convincing argument when I point out that all of those 17 different incidences occurred in 2014 – not over a decade. I might also sarcastically point out that many of the Neanderthal skulls on public display in the Smithsonian show evidence of death due to blunt force trauma from the very rudimentary weapons of their time. This is to say that it is an historically proven fact that big ole rocks are pretty effective weapons for killing people in the event you can’t get your hands on a gun, knife, bow, deep pit, bluff, billy-club, sword, piano wire, axe, fire poker, frying pan, lamp, aluminum flashlight, spear, shuriken star, sharp stick, or poison.

What then is the other thing I spoke of; the most important thing that all of these mass killings have in common?

Without exception, every single one of these events as well as 100% of the last 20 incidents of mass public or school shootings were perpetrated by individuals who were in some way mentally impaired. The single largest common denominator in all of these shootings is the FACT that all of the perps were either taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been taking them in the immediate past before they committed their crimes. Additionally, there are scientific studies going back more than ten years as well as internal documents from pharmaceutical companies that preponderantly demonstrate well-known but under-reported side effects from the use of SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors) that include suicide and other violent behaviors.

It might be hard for a ten year old to understand all of this stuff but most adults, including myself, have had family members or close relationships with someone with whom suffers(ed) mental illness in varying degrees of severity from depression and eating disorders all the way to bipolar schizophrenia and murderous psychopathy. Many of these individuals are taking these powerful SSRI category drugs.

By far, most people who suffer mental illnesses are benign and non-threatening to the rest of us. There are, however, significant numbers of others who are suffering from delusional thoughts with genuinely felt emotions that include killing and suicide as solutions to personal and community or world-wide problems. Many of them don’t want to be bad, but want to be recognized by others as important figures who brought attention to major societal issues. They know we all think they’re crazy but in their minds they are far from crazy which makes them feel victimized by friends, family and society.

A perfect example of this was Eric Harris, of Columbine High School fame, who suffered from bouts of depression, anger and suicidal thoughts. He was prescribed Zoloft and Luvox – anti-depressants, to treat his growing anxieties but sometime before the shooting decided to stop taking his prescriptions.
The FBI published a report saying Harris was a clinical psychopath and his partner in crime Klebold was depressive. Harris having been the mastermind described by the FBI as having a messianic-level superiority complex and hoped to demonstrate his superiority to the world by bringing attention to the problem of bullying.

I personally think that someone like Eric Harris would have done something just as horrific and grandiose had he been denied any access to firearms – remember they found bomb making materials at his home – but his access to firearms by unwitting and irresponsible parents made his journey ever so easy. The same could be said about Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary. His mother, having grown insensitive to her son’s odd behavior for years with no government options to assist her – a broken marriage and disassociated father – took the path of least resistance which was to emotionally detach herself and try her best to live a normal life outside of her enormous domestic responsibilities to her son. How many parents do you know who fit that description?

If she’d have had options and help, she might have asked for assistance when her son Adam, already diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder, Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia started to become fascinated with mass-shootings, most notably Columbine High School and the Northern Illinois University shooting in 2008. But, she didn’t see it because she was emotionally missing, much like most of us would do under the same circumstances. So, he took her guns, killed her then drove to school and wreaked havoc on 20 innocent children and the adults who stood between him and his victims. His motive was that he had self-identified (learned through the discovery of his writings) as a pedophile who secretly advocated for the rights of pedophiles and mentally equated sex and killing. Seems odd huh? Of course it does because you’re not suffering from mental illness so you’re incapable of understanding it.

School Shooting Transparency

When you begin to get it – let the rest of us know so we can avoid you. I should have said that I would turn you in to the authorities but we all know that the authorities can’t and won’t do anything to help you in a case like that. That’s much of the reason I’m writing about this subject. We should all be smarter than we are – it’s 2015.

The idea here is that no law or rule or catechism of ethical standards could possibly dissuade a person from exercising their will, illegal or not, when that person suffers from that kind of delusional mindset. Additionally, school officials and police had all been made aware of Lanza’s behavioral issues but no laws or rules or procedures now exist nor government facilities that could have caused the Lanza kid to be observed and studied long enough to understand what evils lay entrenched in his fragile mind.

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting by James Eagan Holmes is yet another one that stands out. Holmes also suffered from mental illness. One month prior to the shooting Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who treated him, reported to the campus police that Holmes had made homicidal statements to her. Additionally, two weeks before the shooting Holmes sent a text message asking a graduate student if he’d heard of the disorder “dysphoric mania” and warning the student to stay away from him because “I am bad news.” The police knew about this and yet nothing was done because nothing can be done…we don’t have mental institutions anymore.

Does this surprise anyone? I will say it again: We don’t have mental institutions anymore because our government thinks it’s too expensive to provide institutionalized mental care. Now, we have community care programs which are designed principally for those who have no problem following directions, take their meds on their own, and generally live benign lives. What about the population of mentally ill who refuse to take their meds and have dangerous and delusional thoughts of mayhem? Well, those people are summarily denied assistance by the government for their real problems which are health related and instead they’re expected to commit petty crimes and end up in local jails so that local taxpayers are burdened with building new 30 million dollar jails to accommodate a growing percentage of prisoners who really just need a .30 cent pill, regular counseling and some oversight.

We are locking up these victims of mental illness and treating them as criminals when they’re really just sick. We are all afraid of them so no one cares until your taxes are raised in order to build new jails (the new asylums) or when it’s your brother or father who gets locked up alongside rapists, predators and gangbangers for something they wouldn’t ever have done if they’d just had someone to manage their care and keep them on their meds.

No one is saying that we should build scary Victorian looking institutions that conduct forced lobotomies and shock treatment. But we should have places that manage the ethical mental health for those who without appropriate medical supervision and regularly taken medications could carry out destructively deviant acts upon masses of innocent people – just as they are now doing. This is not a local issue, it’s a National issue that should be driven by big government and no longer ignored.

It is already illegal to transfer weapons to someone who is under the care of a physician for mental conditions but these individuals have not been branded on their foreheads with big “M’s” and it is illegal for the government to put these folks on any sort of register or database so in the end gun retailers have no idea that a prospective buyer meets those restricted sale criteria’s unless the purchaser himself/herself chooses to be honest on their application. That’s a lot to ask from a homicidal and suicidal maniac don’t you think?

What differs most between the diagnosed mentally ill and criminals with respect to the typical gun acquisition is that criminals usually don’t buy their guns from retailers and subject themselves to criminal background checks and paper-trails while mentally ill persons usually do buy guns legally but are dishonest on their applications. Since the criminal background checks that gun buyers are now subjected don’t include a registry for the mentally ill, the check only serves to disqualify honest people whose names are similar to convicted felons. The so-called “reasonable background check” advocates don’t consider either of those two issues and the only people who are burdened by these background checks are law-abiding citizens.

Have you called your insurance carrier lately or tried to get in touch with Verizon about your bill? If you do, you’re immediately confronted with a computer that is designed to cut labor costs for the organization you’re dialing and supposedly get you to the right department as expeditiously as possible. What really happens is somewhere between the movie Lawnmower Man meets Healthcare.Gov. The same thing is happening with gun purchases and background checks. Yes, it’s an unintended consequence but it is happening nonetheless.

In Tennessee, if you attempt to purchase a gun today, the retailer enters you name, date of birth and social security number into a State issued device and voilà; a computer which operates much like the one in the above described scenario decides if it shall kick your application aside which has the immediate effect of denial or instead approve you for a gun purchase. The problem is that there are plenty of people who share the same name with you and even the same or similar dates of birth so the computer software is intentionally designed to loosely interpret the data and kick out people who are close biographical matches to bad guys.

Otherwise, people who may have fraudulently obtained biographical data from innocent people might trick the system into approving a purchase. So, the state very intentionally denies innocents of gun purchases every single day which is justified by the low cost and simplicity of a computer doing an inexpensive and less burdensome investigation rather than hiring a number of persons who could simply distinguish individuals by social security numbers – intentionally not considered in the automated search.

So how does the State deal with these mistreated souls? Well, they require you to fill out a form and submit it to them which appeals that automated decision and nearly 100% of them are summarily approved – only like 30 or 45 days later. The good thing for the State is that they get to use this unusually high number of automated denials as a marketing tool that praises the good work done by this knightly and chivalrous computer; keeping guns out of the hands of thousands of suspected criminals. The bad thing is that almost 100% of those suspected criminals turn out not to be criminals at all – just regular Joes’ who happen to look digitally similar to a lot of bad guys. I suspect that the few applicants that make up the rest of that 100% are people who didn’t even file the appeal form in the first place.

Now that we’ve established the reason background checks don’t work, let’s get back to the issue of the mentally ill. The reason we have so many mentally impaired people who are perpetrating these crimes and other crimes is not because we have an out-of-control pro-gun lobby or because the NRA is too powerful. The reason these events are occurring and will continue to occur is because our own government has decided to opt out of the mental healthcare business and leave those problems for families and communities to deal with. Instead of owning their own failures and decisions to get out of the mental healthcare business, they’ve decided that it’s easier and much more popular to make the NRA and the 2nd Amendment their scapegoat than it is to actually solve the problem.

My personal opinion and one that I share with millions of other so called delusional conservatives is that guns are not the problem. We know what the problem is, we just need to acknowledge what it is in an honest conversation and recognize that until we convince our government that it needs to get back into a business it started one thousand years ago, mental institutions, then we will continue to have these unfortunate events occur. The only level of gun-control that would have saved these victims would have been a complete ban and confiscation of all privately owned firearms in America, some three hundred fifty million guns, which is not only impossible to accomplish but is something that is never going to occur in this country nor should it.

There is also some evidence that a restricted and HIPAA compliant National registry or database of persons diagnosed with certain mental disorders be created and available to gun retailers by a simple computer query with a simple YES/NO answer that assists responsible gun retailers in deciding whether to transfer or sell weapons to certain individuals – similar to the one used to perform criminal background checks. A simple fee at the point of sale will pay for the database and search.

The NRA is not the problem. Gun ownership is not the problem. A government which fails to take care of its most vulnerable citizens is the problem. Government officials who prefer to politicize pork projects and cater to special interests, spending thousands of millions of dollars on programs designed to tender votes instead of simply taking care of mentally vulnerable people who have no way to care for themselves is the problem. Local jails with up to 60% of their inmate population diagnosed with some level of psychological disorder and no special beds/dorms/segregation facilities available is a problem which ultimately costs local taxpayers in the expense of lawsuits and expensive new government mandated jail facilities is a problem.

If you really want results instead of rhetoric, don’t waste your time, money, energy and emotions on trying to outlaw guns which is contrary to our constitution, ignorant of the rights and needs of an entire populace, and lacking any hope whatsoever of being effectively enforced. Focus instead on doing something that can be done; should be done; helps innocent children live yet another day; keeps our most vulnerable ill from being further victimized in a jail environment; stops and/or mitigates the senseless acts of mass-violence in our homes, schools, movie theaters, restaurants and other places; saves tens of millions in tax dollars per community in the construction of new jail facilities; and finally, these things will help families to properly love and care for their mentally ill family members in an environment designed to respectfully keep them safe from us and us safe from them.

We need to stop chasing an ignorant socialistic dream which solves no problems yet creates a multitude of new ones. It’s the fully-automatic prescriptions of Prozac that delude our thinking, not the most ingenious piece of political expression known the world over – our United States Constitution.

Living With Authenticity

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been writing as prolifically as I seemed to be doing a few months ago…there’s a good reason for that. I’ve actually been writing quite a lot, it’s just that I’ve been working on a bigger writing project and you don’t get to see its progress on a weekly basis. My blog has just a fun way for me to be expressive and sort of think-out-loud from time to time. It helping me to live a more authentic life and introduce my friends and family to a side of my personality that was rarely expressed before I started writing.

What exactly is living authentically you say? Well, it generally means that we bring our actions closer in line with our actual thoughts and beliefs…quite simply to be ourselves. Living authentically requires us to identify what makes us feel alive, real, and vibrant and then have the courage to live and operate in that space while battling any fears that would inhibit us from doing so. My blog forces those thoughts to the surface so that I’m held accountable by those who read and care about the things and ideas I’m expressing.

Writing, for me, is the conduit that carries my most inner thoughts from the grey recesses of my mind into full-technicolor. Writing helps me to live more authentically because it exposes what is normally shaded and adds light and clarity to the way I think and feel about different subjects when my normal outward persona is perhaps less expressive or conservative.

It all sounds very simple, in theory, but it’s actually rather difficult for some of us to be outwardly authentic or at least sustain such a lifestyle for very long. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out a way to pry open our souls. Not everyone enjoys writing such as I do…we all have to find our own methods of free expression that work for us. Whether it’s societal, professional or familial norms and pressures or just our own inner monologues messing with our heads; finding and expressing one’s authentic self can for some be a monumental struggle.

Rooster

My sister Lisa is an artist. She expresses herself through a median which is perhaps less immediately identifiable than if you were allowed to just read her words from a page but they are her voice nonetheless. The amount of love and admiration she has for a particular subject is easily detected in blended brushstrokes, expressive painted eyes or a sculpted brow. The details of her life are forever etched into the fabric of each canvas, one needs only to look carefully before recognizing a bit of her own personality in every work.

Lisa is a person who authentically loves. She has chosen a path in life that allows her to express her love of humanity in a way that will last well beyond her own life. In a way, she’s been very authentic and un-pretentious her whole life. She’s always colored outside the lines. Most of us, however, take ourselves way too serious to be authentic. It takes a little time and a lot of soul searching to really understand the benefits of exposing what we consider to be a vulnerable underbelly.

In some ways I guess the idea of living with authenticity has become quite the “in” thing to do, or at least to strive for, though some ultra-conservative folks may still find some of what people do to be authentic a bit “TMI” (Too Much Information). When I was growing up, you rarely saw people, especially people on television, living authentically. Morality moguls and the FCC had a responsibility to protect “normal” folks from the evils of the real world. So of course women were supposed to look like Cheryl Tiegs, men were supposed to be like John Wayne and kids were supposed to behave like “the Beaver” and the “Brady Bunch”.
Deviations from those examples would have been, let’s say, outside the norm even though our society has always consisted of people who marched to the beat of different drums. I often wonder how my grandparents might have reacted to some of the television programming common to our generation.

I had certainly never heard the term “living authentically” until a short while ago so it wasn’t really a conscious goal of mine to be more authentic. Instead, it was more like an unrealized necessity brewing within an oyster shell. There was this imperfect pearl inside me which needed to be heard and I needed an impetus, the right impetus, to release the genie from its bottle. I wasn’t like my sister Lisa who had been perfecting her authenticity from an early age, instead I was like two people; one public persona and one private persona. Unless you really knew me well, you never got to know my thoughts and feelings or sadistic humor. My wife even said that I was “unapproachable”.

I remember distinctly when I was attending the Police Instructor Development Course (circa 1993). A very close friend of mine was attending the course with me at the police academy and had been called up to the board to give his mock presentation. In the very beginning he, very authentically, announced…”Uh, I can’t spell for shit so forgive me if I misspell something.” After the class, I warned him that in the real world, he might have lost his audience – off the bat, by exposing such a weakness to the audience. “Teachers aren’t supposed to have weaknesses.” I advised him that in a real classroom, he should just pick someone from the class and ask them to assist him at the board in order to conceal that weakness. I laugh about that today because I was essentially advising him to not be himself while today writing a blog about being authentic.

Living authentically doesn’t always equate to winning friends or making ourselves or other people feel comfortable. When we grow older, our need to be more authentic sort of trumps our desire to placate the whims and egos’ of family and friends. Sometimes our own children may feel neglected or un-loved as our desire to be real unravels the confidence of those we once praised unconditionally. When children move on to adulthood, a parents expectations of them evolve thus a once doting parent may seem unimpressed which forces our loved ones to uncomfortably reevaluate themselves.

Is that a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know but adult children must realize that they will never benefit from anything fake. They’ve been taught as children to believe they can do everything…now, it’s time to move on and amend that statement to, “You could have done anything, now, your choices are limited by the decisions you’ve made.” Regardless, as adults, we need to move on and accept that everyone else does too. Adulthood is different from childhood and we all need to be comfortable with our parents evolving too.

I think age and maturity, more than anything else, compels us to evaluate our lives and how we’ve lived them. We grow to care more about others but we care less about what those people think about us. We expect our friends and family to be mature enough to recognize that faults and flaws are the norm – not the exception. Writing about my ideas on life brings me closer to living an authentic life because my thoughts are exposed and unfiltered.

I’m a firm believer in the concept of “wherever you go, there you are,” but sometimes starting a new hobby, career, or relationship can give you the perspective you need to shed old labels and notions you have of yourself and gradually get to know the real you a whole lot better — and not the “you” the people around you have told you that you are for your entire life, or who you’re “supposed” to be or the “you” that a parent “wants” you to be or even the “you” that you believe you “should” be.

And that is a big part of finding your authentic self: releasing the past and living in the present. Being mindful of every moment and of those who surround you can better ground our souls while simultaneously allowing us to be open to new experiences as living authentically is a moving target. Mindfulness can also lead you to become more empathetic to the struggles of others as you accept not only yourself as you are but also others’ authentic selves as well.

Still Good, But Not Too Good

If you’ve been paying attention to my blogging for the past 6 months then you’ve likely noticed the wide berth of subjects I’ve written about. It’s kind of all over the place, much like my real life. If you know me personally you’ve probably wondered why I’m not writing about about the things I’m most familiar with…the things I’m sort of known for being best at. I’ve wondered about that myself.

The best answer I can give is that I’d very likely bore the crap out of you because I’m one of those detail oriented people who obsesses over minute details when I’m explaining things that I love the most. I’m that guy that rarely speaks but when someone asks me what time it is will explain the history of Swiss watch making in order you get a well rounded answer. So, if you want to know my opinions on guns and shooting, meet me at the gun range and I’ll be happy to oblige you. If you just want to escape sanity for a few minutes, stick to my blog as-is and we’ll burn a few of those brain cells together.

I actually have a technical training manual I’ve written on the subject of advanced combat handgun shooting based on contemporary neuroscience that’s more than 300 pages. It’s used by certain military training camps – not to teach them anything valuable but to see if they will wash out of training before being forced to finish reading it. Not exactly what I was shooting for when I wrote it but you take your wins wherever they’re found right?

Some writers struggle to develop topics or ideas about what to write about but I’m not really one of those people. I can literally write about anything or nothing, anytime – anywhere. This blog is a particularly good example of that useless ability. It’s probably because big-boy writers take themselves serious and attempt to stay true to a particular style in order they not disappoint loyal followers and fans. Since I really don’t take myself all that serious and have no real audience, I’m not required to filter out anything that might tend to make me look ignorant. There are some things that are so obvious about us that we’d be wasting our time to try and hide it from people.

I guess I fear that seriousness just a little bit. When my son was about 13 years old I came up with this lofty philosophical expression in hopes I would sound profound and worth listening to. I told him repeatedly, “When a man begins to take himself too serious, everyone else stops.” I actually came up with it as a response to a friend at the time who liked to embellish his life to the point of downright dishonesty. Instead of being a volunteer reserve police officer he became, to people not in the know, a CIA agent. Then, after a disability, he became a CIA handler who recruited covert operatives and planned international missions against terrorism right from his bedroom.

My mom, in this same situation, would likely say that he had a great imagination…”If you can’t say something good about someone then you shouldn’t say anything at all!” I hear ya mom. But, I’m a dad now and this man’s inadequacies inspired powerful teaching moments for father-son conversations. My son probably doesn’t even remember how cool I was back then. The last remaining fragment of coolness from my 50 year old existence is a full head of mostly black curly hair. Any other positive attributes are muted first thing every morning by having to pluck ear hair, taking handfuls of prescription cocktails and a sobering number from my trusty blood-glucose meter.

I used to enjoy rappelling off high cliffs, now I fear climbing an aluminum ladder up to my roof. Oh how my life has changed. I barely recognize myself anymore. It’s a great thing I didn’t meet my wife back when I was a real guy. She’d be sorely underwhelmed at how I’ve evolved. But since I met her in my 40’s, and since I do well at concealing my age inflicted inadequacies, she still thinks I’m pretty cool. Just wait till she finds out that it was a fear of heights and not forgetfulness that kept me from fixing the leaky roof.

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Narcissism Sucks!

“It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.” Henry Fielding said that in 1749. I like Henry Fielding as a writer because not only did he lace his thoughts in humor but he also had curly hair and a law enforcement background. I like people with curly hair and law enforcement backgrounds, I don’t know why.

Forgive me for ranting a little bit but this week has been just a little stressful. I don’t often have to deal with true narcissists in my job but when I do it’s a depressing reminder of my deceased brother who suffered from a mental illness late in life characterized by extreme narcissism. In defense of my brother, he couldn’t help it. He was principally a victim of circumstance, a war, and probably some crappy genetics. If you hang out with me for very long at all you will easily spot some of the crappy genetics I’m referring to (not from you mom).

There should be a test people take before being allowed to procreate. Men should have to account for all of the sperm they produce and pay a tax for any that escape an allowed allocation to partners who are on a list of government approved recipients. If your DNA has a genetic marker that could produce a narcissist then you should be sterilized. That way, the rest of us have some say about the kinds of folks we have to live with, deal with, subsidize or carry the burden for. I’ve met a few folks that have had some hard times but they’re so nice I didn’t mind them having an EBT card. I’ve also known a few folks that have no problem whatsoever carrying their own weight but really should have been aborted.

I’m not making any political statements here but I will say this about gay couples, at least when they decide to have children, they research the heck out of those eggs and make sure their kids are coming from good stock. Everyone make sure and watch the news tonight. When you see the barefoot – snaggletooth – meth mouth – blue gum – redneck talking about the latest UFO sighting at the local dairy dip then political correctness dictates that there’s only one thing you can openly say about the person with any real certainty…this person was definitely not procreated in a test tube. Next time you see a gay couple, hug them for saving the human race.

I digressed didn’t I? Oh well, sorry. Narcissism is a serious thing. I can’t imaging growing up with one as a parent. It’s probably one of the most difficult psychological legacies you can have. These are parents who are incapable of real love, who blame you for everything because they cannot make mistakes, who undermine your initiative because they fear your success, who dismiss your feelings because no one’s feelings matter except their own, who may adore a sibling because he/she is a reminder of himself/herself. These are some serious issues for anyone to overcome and grow up normal.

I’ve read that there can be some genetic markers for this but by and large everything I’ve read about them suggests that they are products of their own creation. It’s not an accidental thing, unless caused by mental illness, but a series of life-long choices that manifest themselves into problems which cannot be solved because by doing so it undermines an entire lifetime of embellishments and denial. They create their own disorder then go around inflicting it on everyone around them.

And somewhere along the line they all wander into my office and find me minding my own business. They ask for advice and information and I gladly give it. Then they pursue an agenda driven by a complete disregard for rules and a spirit of “I’d rather get forgiveness than permission” and ultimately fail. Then, unable to admit personal failure, they blame their problems on me as I was the one “who told them what to do”. Then, they punish everyone in their proximity because they were “against” them all along, not realizing that those same people have now become his/her victims and he/she may be going to need their support later on when he/she sticks his/her middle finger up and makes another go at it. Then they file a lawsuit against me and lose but because they’re a narcissist, cannot accept that they were wrong so they go about recording everyone in an attempt to capture “conspiracies and lies” so that they can one day prove that they were right all along.

narcissists

Or maybe it’s another type of narcissist who inherits a business and never has to work for anything but feels jaded because he knows that his intellect is far superior to those around him but life and luck superseded his ability to “prove” his own immense value. So, in evaluating those around him whom have worked hard to better themselves and who may get a little attention because of that hard work, he finds it unfair because he’s the one who really deserves the attention, he’s the real genius. His narcissism just cannot allow others to share the spotlight so he manipulates and undermines everyone around him in order to expose what he perceives to be weaknesses in the armor of his rivals for attention. His goal is not to accomplish anything, but to undermine the success of others. Why should he accomplish anything, everyone already knows that he’s awesome. Can we all make a very strong alcoholic drink and make a toast to this type of narcissist?

Let me get a breath of oxygen because that was a mouthful. Ok, what I’d love to impart in this blog is that no matter how smart or gifted you are, someone in this world thinks you are a complete dumb-ass. Trust me, I’ve met more than a few people who think that about me. I like words but I suck at math. My wife loves math and she sucks with words. God did a great job of equalizing and distributing the powers among us. None of us could live fully independently of others. We all have to accept our own limitations and inadequacies then praise and recognize those around us whom possess the missing puzzle pieces of our own lives. If you do nothing else this Christmas, give the gift of acknowledgment to your spouse or children or parents and friends that they matter and that they make your life a lot better. Then quickly pour some cold water on that ego. Don’t just listen to me, I’m not an expert on anything but I heard from a reliable source that Santa Clause thinks narcissists suck!

The Benign Beignet

It is Christmas time which means two things: you have to buy lots of presents for people who would have just as soon you give them cash AND it’s one of two holidays in the year that diabetics are legally permitted to eat whatever in the heck they want. It’s true, there are no laws preventing diabetics from eating candy corn and orange elephant peanuts on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Trust me, I looked it up. I did find a law that prohibits people from posting images online that cause “emotional distress” without legitimate purpose. For those of you who are dieting during Christmas, please don’t have me arrested if I post a picture of Emily’s famous homemade pecan pie on my Facebook page. You’re not supposed to take the law seriously anyway, if we did, the whole nation wouldn’t be arguing over whether a cop who is still in his car getting his face smashed in, by a robber who is trying to get his gun away from him, should have been allowed to defend himself. Oh well, some say tomāto some say some say tomăto.

During the holidays I become pretty much diet agnostic – meaning that I do not subscribe to know any particular food or recipe deity but still believe in such an existence to the extent that I must sample every dish and recipe personally before I will truly know. My relationship with food, as you can already tell, will probably contribute to my ultimate demise in some way because as educated and informed as I may be after 20 years of the diabetic experience I still foolishly believe that I can outsmart my own endocrine system.

Well, when it comes to dieting and eating healthy, I have great intentions but really all I’m looking for is a “weigh” out. After all, that’s what the insulin shot is for right? I mean, I could easily argue that I just have “way too much on my plate” right now but then that would be just stating the obvious. It seems that life with cake trumps body image all day long. Can I get an AMEN?

And don’t believe all that crap about there being emotional reasons for why we make certain food choices. It’s not emotional. The reason why we savor-the-flavor is because the daggum stuff tastes good. Not everything tastes good but whatever it is we are eating apparently tastes great. If people didn’t enjoy eating then we’d all be suffering from emaciation, maybe even a little grumpiness too? I know I would. I know I’m a lot more tolerant while my belly is full. Perhaps we should send Mac & Cheese to the Middle East instead of Special Forces soldiers and guided missile destroyers. We could start deploying weapons of mass consumption and do our water-board interrogations with egg nog and boiled custard instead of plain ole water.

So, for this Christmas season, avoid all of those healthy eating web sites and low carb recipes which will only serve to piss you off six months from now when you’ve gained all of the weight back anyway and you’re reminiscing about your Aunt Betty’s fudge that you didn’t eat at Christmas because you were really trying to lose that last 74 pounds. I mean, for God’s sake, Aunt Betty probably won’t be around for too many more Christmas’ anyway and you can never get that lost fudge back. Your relationship with food should be at least as honest as your relationship with Joel Osteen.

So, fire up that deep fryer and start mixing those beignets. Just remember, use lukewarm water instead of cold, soak up the extra Crisco on paper towels to cut down on saturated fats, and grind up two Metformin pills per beignet to mix with the confectioners’ sugar which will be sprinkled generously on top before serving.

Merry Christmas!

Now What? America’s Mentally Vulnerable & Gun Control

When I was a young fella growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I vividly remember the Victorian-era mental hospital that operated across the highway from the old Berry Field. Of course, many things have changed a lot from the 1960’s through today and most people no longer call the airport in Nashville – “Berry Field”. Now, the airport is most appropriately referred to as the Nashville International Airport and the location across Murfreesboro Pike where the old Asylum we affectionately called “Central State” used to sit is currently the Nashville campus for Dell Computers. If you were a kid living near or around “Central State” back then, your parents probably threatened you just like mine did with a short stay there when we were acting a little too rambunctious.

In my late teen’s, my cousin David White (DNA You Can Count On) worked security there. I don’t guess that I ever fully realized back then that the buildings were so old. I later learned, by means of an after-hours non-sanctioned midnight tour with my older cousin that the buildings were actually built during the mid 1800’s. When I was about 19 or 20, David and I jumped a fence and snuck onto the grounds late at night and we played pranks on the night-shift security guards to scare them. We actually did a pretty good job of it at that. But one of the things that struck me then that I still vividly remember were these old subterranean dungeon-type cells in the basement of one of the main buildings.

When we toured the old basement by flashlight, the hallways were mostly obstructed with modern HVAC ducting, water and sewer pipes and electrical conduit. The remnants of prison-esque cells along both sides of the long concrete corridor – many of which still had iron wall-shackles ominously hanging from cell walls – reminded me that the treatment for our mentally Ill was amazingly barbaric in 1852 when Central State first opened. This, of course, fueled my imagination with torturous and sadistic imagery, forced-lobotomies and electric-shock therapy, stuff that would excite the imaginations of any teenager.

I cannot imagine that those features were still being used when that institution closed for good in 1995. Let’s us say, I’m confident that they were not. But Central State Mental Hospital and many other psychiatric treatment centers like it were systematically closed in the 1980’s and 1990’s due mostly with a paradigm shift in public perception where such facilities were widely viewed as inhumane. But a political backlash between the Carter and Reagan administrations over institutional government waste also found the perfect expensive government program ripe for dismantling. Lastly, medical and psycho-pharmacological drug advances and other alternative psycho-medical treatments all contributed to the logic of shutting these dinosaurs down for good.

When you’re young, it’s difficult to relate to an object, place or story like that. It just seemed interesting or funny or pitiful or whatever. You can comprehend what it is, no problem, it’s just not relative to anything personal. But life eventually happens to every single one of us. Our lives become ever fuller, more complex and entrenched with the lives of hundreds or even thousands of other people. One of these days, no matter where your story begins, you’re going to have gobs and gobs of conversational experience to share when your own crazy uncle starts bringing up uncomfortable subjects at the Christmas dinner table. You’ll just have to trust me on that!

At that time, I could have never imagined that a member of my own immediate family, my brother who was 13 months my senior, would end up with a serious psychiatric disorder. Until then, that old building meant nothing. Now, at the precipice of 50, a father, a husband and the brother of a victim of a serious psychological illness that resulted in his suicide, my perspectives on life in general and of course my views on institutional treatment for the mentally-ill have percolated. I am at a place in my life where a person must challenge him/herself politically as well because there are always going to be valid arguments over certain social welfare programs which challenge even the most conservative minds of our time.

People who have never had to rely on welfare, obviously cannot find a profoundly positive reason to have it. The negatives, in their minds, out-weigh the positives. Similarly, those of you who’ve never been challenged to care for a mentally vulnerable family member who you love but who also challenges your definition of the word “unconditionally”, it’s impossible to know how valuable an in-patient mental care facility really is. These are people you love but people who scare you as much for what they could do to others but also of themselves and your family. These, in some cases, are loved ones who are not only broken, but who oftentimes break everyone else around them.

What happened to in-patient mental treatment? It’s mostly all disappeared except for a few temporary hospital wards and the VA Hospitals. The institutions which had been once hailed as a safe refuge for society’s most vulnerable men and women had earned their reputations as having become dehumanizing and prison-like. Before the 1980’s and 1990’s, pharmacology for mental illness was pretty much non-existent. We and the rest of the civilized world had been institutionalizing our mentally hopeless for many centuries as we knew well that regardless of the love we have for these people, they can and do cause great harm to others if we don’t take some sort of preemptive measures to control their accesses and ability to act on their impulses.

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Before asylums, the burden of keeping vulnerable individuals rested entirely on family. ‘Mad’ people, as they were often referred, who could not be kept at home wandered free, begging for food and shelter often finding neither. Families cannot be counted on to care for them because they often put so much stress on their family that it forced them to free themselves of the responsibility or suffer harm themselves. One must often choose between their spouse and children or a family member who, by no choice of his/her own, introduces instability, irrationality and fear into an otherwise happy home.

All that said, the de-institutionalization of our seriously mentally-ill has gone terribly wrong. There has been a steady decades-long push to move mentally ill patients out of mental hospitals and into community-based care facilities or no structured facility at all. This push coincides with a steady increase in the percentage of mentally ill prison inmates nationwide. Likewise, the rise of homelessness in America began to skyrocket in the 1980’s, ironically the same time mental hospitals nationwide began to close.

As psychiatric hospitals continue to close and our government leaders keep choosing to inadequately finance exploitative entrepreneurs in community-care and residential programs where no medical psychiatry exists, where are our mentally ill going to be getting their much-needed treatments? Just recently, the Obama administration’s Eric Holder began cracking down on states who still have psychiatric treatment centers. This continued attempt to move vulnerable people to community care programs where they have little or no access to any form of treatment other than massive cocktails of pills prescribed by general physicians who have no training whatsoever in mental illnesses is a prime example that our government still isn’t getting it.

Prisons & Jails are the new de facto asylums’ in the United States. Is it fair to jail our mentally ill instead of just caring for them so they’re not in a position to commit crime in the first place? What’s worse, real prison with real bad people or a prison-esque asylum? 65% of the populations of local, state and federal prisons are people with serious mental health issues. In 1970, it was reported that 5% of inmates were seriously mentally-ill. Studies from the 1920’s reported that only 2% of inmates were seriously mentally ill. In Philadelphia, for example, mental-illness related incidents increased 227.6% from 1975 to 1979, whereas felonies increased only 5.6%. The mentally ill are 3 times more likely to be arrested than the average citizen.

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My own brother followed these same statistical patterns. He would drift away from his prescribed medication because the psyche drugs brought about undesired side effects, then he would fall into a state of manic mental decline and depression. Just like the movie Groundhog Day, he would again and again do something incredibly scary to some innocent person with whom he would fixate his attentions, which would bring in the police and justice system. Then, we as a family, would attempt to speak with his VA case worker and/or physicians which resulted in complete incompetence, apathy, denial or forced acknowledgment of the HIPAA privacy law which was/is an excuse not to do anything at all.

After inaction on the part of non-existent medical healthcare and his VA social workers, he would be re-arrested for whatever scary thing he was doing to undeserving people. Then we would work with the District Attorney’s office to seek a more appropriate legal remedy which might or might not result in court-ordered treatment at the VA Hospital psyche-ward for a few months where he would be forcibly required to medicate. After a few weeks of treatment, he would slowly regain whatever equilibrium available to him through the use of always unwelcome psyche medications, then summarily released back to his own care which would begin the cycle over and over again. When that system failed him again, my brother would spend months in the county jail with predatory roommates and guards that treated him horribly, instead of humanely. Of course, they saw him as a criminal inmate, not a sick patient.

The only thing that would change was that each time he entered and exited the system, he would become increasingly more difficult to deal with. My brother would further and further push the boundaries of his fixations when he was off his meds, and his jail sentences would become ever longer because his record of arrest was becoming a more influential factor in how to deal with him. His experiences in jail and in forced treatment were also systematically crossing the fragile thresholds of inhumanity as his own bizarre behaviors, not understood by simple jail guards, invited such a response. Not just from workers in the system but also by other inmates and VA patients.

Jail/Prison staff and police officers are not properly trained in crisis intervention for the mentally ill. It is no fairer to incarcerate mentally ill persons alongside committed criminals as it is to ask untrained and unprepared jailers to appropriately care for them in a place which is not designed to render such care. Likewise, we as taxpayers are having to foot the bill for their expensive incarceration and hold our noses while our vulnerable loved ones are being treated like criminals. Many of them do get their prescribed medicines while incarcerated and are completely lucid and fully functional once they’ve been inside for a week. But we’re afraid to let them come home. You end up feeling incredibly guilty because you don’t want them in a jail, but you don’t want them staring into your refrigerator with glassy eyes either.

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Our current approach is way more archaic in some ways than the asylums of our past. Instead of questionable accommodations and horrible surgical procedures, we just lock them in jail with hardened criminals, expose them to prison rape, inmate assault and bullying daily along with an environment which exacerbates paranoia and distrust – the very thing that most of them live in fear of and try to avoid. In mental illnesses, it is difficult to draw a line between what is treatable and what is without hope. Confinement may be necessary for some to protect the patient and society from bizarre, irrational behavior but that incarceration should not be a prison cell with a rapist for a bunk mate and predators around every corner.

Hospitals won’t keep them due to demands of patient advocacy groups. They sometimes assault other patients and staff, which unfairly exposes them to libelous actions. However, such patients should be treated the same as anyone else with any illness. Physicians have the same obligations of care to the mentally ill as they do to anyone who has any other illness. The complicated part rests in the physician’s responsibility to the patient versus his/her responsibility to society. But that’s only because physicians have no medical options available to them otherwise. Our government has closed them all down.

Regardless of the position of a hospital or a particular physician, society’s principal loyalty and duty should be held in the best interests of any vulnerable American (i.e., infant, child, elderly, or physically or mentally handicapped). As a country, we can’t continue to ignore the needs of our country’s most vulnerable while subsidizing the lifestyles of citizens who can take care of themselves but refuse to do so. We must draw a line in the sand somewhere. If money is the issue, we must do what is necessary to care for our vulnerable first, then take what is left to divide among the bottom feeders. If that statement offends you, read a different blog.

The formal mental health care institution was among the earliest fruits of the American social welfare programs of the nineteenth century. Contemporary medicine and ideologies have allowed us to outsmart ourselves and take the self-aggrandizing bait believing that we can create pills that will eradicate mental illness. But instead of solving the problem we’ve just created a new demographic of society called “public mass murderers”. These are kids and adults who’s insurance companies require them to forgo any real psychiatric treatment for mental illness, get psyche pills from a general practitioner and pain meds from a licensed drug dealer (pain clinic), neither of which know a single thing about mental illness, then after living a miserable existence for weeks, months or years, decide to take a gun to school, a movie theater or mall and put as many people out of their perceived misery as they can before taking their own lives or being gunned down by cops.

I’m not suggesting the return of lobotomies or electric shock therapy, I’m suggesting the return of common smarts and a sense of loyalty to our most vulnerable population. We can’t afford not to care for them because they are killing us and themselves while we are loving them to death. Prisons are far more expensive to build than humane hospitals yet 65% of the incarcerated are now considered seriously mentally ill. How many new jails and prisons could communities forgo the construction of if we just did one smart thing and built a place to properly care for our sick with real psychiatrists and psychologists? We don’t have a gun problem; we have a crisis-level of incompetence and lack of common sense in our capitols who’d rather blame the other team than do the hard work to solve real problems.

I find it so ironic today that as a young guy, I tried so hard to get into one of these places when decades later my brother worked so hard to stay out of one. But, he’s gone now, another victim of a failed political policy and a broken bureaucracy. Yes, he was broken too, but that should have just amplified our responsibility to help him, not become an excuse to ignore him. Now, what?

Update – February 2018

The recent school shooting in Broward County Florida reminded me of this blog I wrote a few years ago. Once again, politicians are using victims as pawn in a political argument and once again, people are focused on the tool of a mad man instead of the mad man himself. Our police tell us, “See Something, Say Something”. But, didn’t people say something and didn’t they say it pretty often?

The problem was not the gun, the problem was not apathy on the part of the public. Nope, people did get involved and they reported him time after time. The problem was that the police had no options available to them. The man was obviously mentally disturbed, but he’d committed no crime that allowed them to remove him from the public. If the police had been able to arrest him for something long-term, would that have helped? No, because that’s not what this man needed, and the police are not the people who we need to solve these kinds of problems. We need mental institutions that are geared for long-term in-patient mental medical treatment and care.

If you see something then say something, what next? Well, uh, nothing is next unless what you saw was a serious crime. If what you saw was a warning sign of something terrible about to happen, what in the hell can the police do about a warning sign? Nothing people! Not one damn thing. So, stop with the “See Something, Say Something” mantra. It’s not ever going to work.

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This man should have been picked up and transported to a mental care facility and hospitalized, diagnosed properly, treated for his illness and cared for indefinitely until such time as he was safe to live among the rest of us. His physician should have been able to enter his name onto a HIPPA compliant Mental-Illness registry that is integrated into the NCIC Database which can be searched when a person makes a gun purchase. And when he attempted to buy that weapon, that HIPPA compliant registry would have triggered an automated response that wouldn’t tell the gun store clerk what he was diagnosed with but would deny the gun store the ability to sell that weapon to him – just like it would if he’d been a felon.

But that automated registry doesn’t currently exist, and that treatment hospital doesn’t exist. Nothing exists but jails and prisons and police. But jails and prisons and police can’t do anything until after the murders occur. So, “see something, do nothing” is perhaps a more appropriate jingle don’t you think? What’s horrible too is that disturbed young man will live out his life in a prison that will never treat him for his mental illness. Instead, he will live a hellish life of chaos and fear in a place he really doesn’t deserve to live in, and children are dead that should be going to school and dating and taking their driving tests and fulfilling and enriching the lives of their parents and siblings and communities. None of this should have happened and it all could have been prevented.

President Obama, in his first term, had control of both houses of congress and the white house…if he had thought gun control would have solved this problem, he could have certainly tried it. But instead, he put all his political capital in passing a health care bill that still ignored the mentally ill. He totally ignored gun control and was the only president in recent history who had the power to modify the way we buy guns.

I personally don’t think gun control is the answer because it can’t address the way criminals buy guns and statistics prove that the number of guns in the hands of a country’s citizens has zero correlation to the number of violent crimes committed. So, gun control is really an ignorant argument that is entirely predicated on political activism and not the greater good.

What we need to focus on are two things: What we’re doing with our most vulnerable populations; and, how to keep that specific population from legally purchasing firearms. We desperately need places that know how to care for mentally vulnerable people – long term, and we need a national registry of those people that is integrated in our NCIC database which can alert gun sellers that the buyer is either ineligible for his/her criminal past or because their name is on a mental health registry. The sellers have no idea why a person is denied now, except that it must be criminal, so what would be the difference if we added another layer?

We need to do whatever we can to keep our mentally-ill out of jails and prisons, and instead inside places that know how to properly care for them, and we need to keep them from buying guns without restricting lawful purchases of guns by law-abiding citizens. That’s it. There’s nothing political about it. It’s the right thing to do for the greater good of everyone.