Living With Authenticity

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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.

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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!

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“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.

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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

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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? Our Mentally-Vulnerable & Gun Control

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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 pretty 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. Lets 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 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 has to 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’ve 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 whom also challenges your definition of the word “unconditionally”, its 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 one’s who are not only broken, but who oftentimes break everyone 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, in reality, earned a reputation as becoming 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 really 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 medication because the medication 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 undesirable psyche medications, then summarily released back to his own care which would begin the cycle over and over again. When that system failed, he’d spend months in the county jail with predatory room mates and guards that treated him horribly, instead of humanely.

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 ever more impressive. 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 more fair to incarcerate mental-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 mentally-ill loved ones are being treated like criminals when 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 on a daily basis 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 is ill in any other way. The complicated part rests in the physician’s responsibility to the patient versus his/her responsibility to society. But, that’s only because they have no 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 principle 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 that is 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 amount 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 population from legally purchasing firearms. We desperately need places that know how to care mentally vulnerable people – long term, and we need a national registry of those people that is integrated in our NCIC database that alerts 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.

American Politics: An Illegible Mess!

Americans are very fortunate. Our rights, privileges and entitlements are massive in comparison to what citizens of other countries enjoy. We may not be able to afford it, but we are very happy to have it? Just imagine a life without something you maybe never think about; the freedom of information. No one now living in America can comprehend living life without such a basic right. But citizens whom reside in many 1st world countries are living such an existence every day. Life and government in places like Italy, China or Russia are oh so different. Government corruption is so pervasive in those places that I’m not sure it can be stopped and the citizens there have no rights to know of the details.

Does government corruption exist in America? Absolutely. There is and there always will be some level of corruption in American government for at least one very good reason…power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton 1887). But, the biggest difference here is that with our Freedom of Information Act, we have the ability to uncover most if not all of what occurs in our government so long as we know the right questions to ask. Couple our right to all non-privileged information with the advent and widespread use of pocket communications devices with video/audio recording capabilities, social media mania, mass media and the occasional whistle blower and you end up with a place which presents big problems for people who tend to abuse power for illegal or unauthorized purposes. Just ask Edward Snowden, he’d be happy to let you listen to an NSA wiretap and show you surveillance photos of you stealing a box of crayons from Lucy May’s lunchbox in 1973 then later bragging about it to your brother on your Midland hand held walkie-talkies while playing army in the back yard.

If you are able to expose corruption, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will listen nor does it mean that people will care. It just means that the information is usually available for anyone who wants to know. Mass media, in particular, news and political journalism, presents its own set of problems. Blogging, what I am doing right now, essentially rose in popularity out of two things…access and popularity of social media together with a desire to present both unfiltered or alternatively biased news and information. Much of the motivation to blog was brought about by the widespread abuse of bias in mass media. When we read something in a newspaper or watch it on the Nightly News broadcast, we once assumed we were learning facts. But in reality, Walter Cronkite is dead and so is non-biased news reporting.

The end result is multifaceted. On one hand we have a large demographic of people who only watch or listen to liberal media, a large demographic who only watch and listen to conservative media, a large demographic who are repulsed by both, and a large demographic who couldn’t care less because it is ALL seen to have no credibility or in some cases they just don’t really care at all. In my opinion, the divisiveness we see in Washington DC is a direct by-product of what our mass media has unintentionally created. In a narcissistic way, mass media conglomerates decided years ago that they were smarter than the average Joe and they could use that intelligence to embed ideas into their stories or frame a particular story in a certain way in order to push the American consciousness toward whatever agenda they supported.

The problem is that Joe was a lot smarter than was expected and Joe’s political perspectives, if they were naturally opposite from those propagated by media bias, became much more serious and perhaps a bit extreme. But Jane, in reaction to Joe’s spirited contempt for opposing political views, became more protective of her own political views in order to promote her own agenda. Now, instead of having a broad centrist political ideology in America as we once did, we have two teams fighting for their lives for a collective of ideas in which we may only agree with half. The few remaining centrists are so hamstrung by focused ideological positions that they have little influence and no voice. Probably half or more of the die-hard conservatives or die-hard liberals really subscribe to ALL of the platform of either party. The rest of them only support the party vigorously because they want their party to win, regardless of their more centrist leanings.

Journalists in general can be divided into a few small groups: the independents and bloggers (few, heroic and frequently marginalized), the slaves (numerous, exploited and paid per article to have a particular opinion), and the great mouthpieces of the system hired or appointed to important positions by the parties and the lobbies (newspaper editors, editors in chief, famous names, or academics who are well-known in their field). Although we have this wonderful power over our government, The Freedom of Information Act, how that information is framed and presented to us is determined by whether that actor/hero/offender is a friend or foe of the media giant who is providing the information. We don’t get the whole story and decide for ourselves if it is good or bad, we get only bits and pieces of the story that appear to be either wholesome, moronic or demonic, depending upon how the media wants us to view it.

Who decides whether we will get the CNN version of Hillary Clinton or the FOX News version? I ask this because the two versions are rife with differences and anomalies you wouldn’t otherwise hear about from the other side. It is, of course, we ourselves who decide what we listen to but it’s the decision itself that bothers me. Why are we forced to watch biased news? We as Americans are forced to make a deliberate decision to have our news filtered to our own ideological standards. If news weren’t biased, then we wouldn’t have to watch the version which most appeals to our sense of right and wrong. If this weren’t happening, would we really be so disagreeable in the political spectrum? Could we then expect our politicians to actually accomplish things in Washington as we once did?

Our un-governed and unlimited 1st Amendment has worked to completely eradicate the role of “statesmen” from the American vernacular. George Washington himself could not have survived the onslaught of media bias in today’s political environment. Abe Lincoln would likely have been pinned a radical tea-party wacko and closeted girly-man for his rumored sleepovers with his BFF. Perhaps the brilliant statesman known the world over would never have emerged at all because he’d have been too busy poling voters and defending his awkward man-scaping. How many would-be statesmen have we sent to Washington that will never realize their potential – our potential – because of sleazy political correspondents whose sole purpose in life is to ruin the career of a candidate who represents a certain political party? It’s a sad reality when we would so quickly deny ourselves of a great leader just because he liked to wear onesies and wake up next to a bearded assistant.

Americans are being manipulated by the parties, the banks and by industry and these all use the media to distort reality. America has become one enormous reality show of three hundred million people that listen to fairy stories, and fantastic tales in such massive doses and for so long that they have transformed the country into a gigantic “Truman Show” in which truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. The more the system decomposes, the more the media becomes the last ferocious rampart (in fact, there is no further line of defense) losing every scrap of restraint and shame.

We witness the in-fighting and feigned hate in political dialogue, especially at election time, and I say to myself that it is incredible that anyone could accomplish a single goal. The ferocity with which the disagreements are carried can only result in a complete inability to listen to anyone who disagrees. And the worst part is that most of it is staged anyway. The majority of those guys who are beating each other up on stage are having dinner together to discuss strategy afterwards. They’re just pandering to the vocal majority of each of their particular groups. In reality, they just want to keep you entertained long enough to get another 4 years. In Washington, you’re either at the table or on the table. Strong public support gets you a seat at the table so you can feast on the carcasses of the once principled and incorruptible.

The moral of my blog today is that America has many items which should be on a to-do list. But in order to check them off that list, our system of collaboration (House of Representatives and Senate) requires that we hold the hands of others as we grasp the pencil to write. If one is left hand dominant and the other is right hand dominant, the pencil remains unmoved or scratches an illegible mess on the paper. Both hands must find balance and each must allow the other to have its moments. The incredible system we have never allows for an all-out win…never. Such a feat is impossible and for good reasons. You must accept each win with some concessions for the opposing force or you must accept abject failure. The American system of government, as I understand it, does not allow for tyrannical dominance, even if the views of the tyrant are pure or even best.

On that to-do list, first and foremost, should be the creation of some 1st Amendment don’ts for mass media and some sweeping election reform. There are some limits to free speech…you can’t yell “fire” in a movie theater unless there is a fire. So, let’s also make political comments free from annotation. Until we can erase media bias as a go-to lexicon for American political commentary, we will continue to propagate divisiveness and political radicalism. The term “spin” should be a dirty word. Both sides do it and both sides are wrong. Its manipulation plain and simple and it should be illegal because the fabric of a strong government rests on an educated public, not bamboozled bobble-head dolls.

Am I crazy or did our American forefathers study thousands of years of civilized society and politics in order to invent something original, lasting and as close to perfect as could be possible only to allow modern politicians, in an attempt to make it more perfect, try to change it into quasi-versions of other failed political and economic systems from fallen or bankrupt governments all over the industrialized world? I mean, what part of “almost perfect” don’t you get? Nothing is perfect except one thing and I promise you He/She/It will not have anything to do with running our government.

So everyone please forget the idea of sweeping change, it is an impossibility in the democratic system of government. Expectation is everything. Instead, look for a scaled and reciprocal approach which will have the ability to be hung and flown on a pole. Then democratically choose the pole. Otherwise, we can begin creating bronze plaques that read, “On this the 14th day of October in the year of our Lord 2014, NOTHING HAPPENED”.

Luck: The Good Choices We Had Nothing To Do With

“You’re so lucky”, how many times have you heard that? Luck — good and bad — plays a big role in all of our lives, right? I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I am ever so grateful. I
am lucky to be alive; I am lucky to be healthy; I am lucky to have been born into a family that could care for me, and in a place where I did not have to fight medical odds just to survive infancy; I am lucky to possess the DNA to let my body develop in a way that is acceptable to my mind; I am also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity to steer me where my luck may provide advantage; I am lucky to have a healthy and intelligent child who loves me back and who I can proudly observe as he discovers all the things I write about independently of me; I am lucky to have found and successfully trapped a wonderful woman who loves me like crazy and whom I love the same way back; I’m lucky to have a good job when a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet; I’m lucky to have a fantastic mother who has always been attentive to both my physical and mental well-being; I am lucky to have wonderful siblings who have continued to support me emotionally throughout my entire life; yes, I am one lucky SOB.

Every single one of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on this planet. I had nothing to do with most of those things, partial responsibility for a few, and I am lucky as crap they all went in my favor. Heck, one time I found a McDonald’s bag in a rental car with $500 cash in it…that’s pretty darn lucky huh? Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just plain ole crappy times. But none of those things – good, bad, lucky, indifferent, or unlucky – are what defines us. We’re way more complicated than that.

The way in which each of us handle good as well as bad luck is what best defines who we really are. If we are willing to learn, the way we deal with both positive and tough times can teach us a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. If things go your way do you get cocky or appreciative…if things go South do you pout and feel sorry for yourself or just try again and again? The knowledge gained from both situations becomes useful in many situations, but especially when we face hard decisions and potential life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have the best opportunities always seemingly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest use of that opportunity. More often, it’s what you’ve learned from failures that will be the thing that propels you forward when an opportunity presents itself.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2 BC-ish)

I drank it

Making the most of any opportunity, indeed even to recognize an opportunity for what it is, you have to be prepared. You must do the hard work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when your “luck” shines upon you, when you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you have been waiting for, which sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for. Luck has a strange sense of humor. She is a 1st cousin to karma.

What happens at that point is called choice.

No matter our relative luck levels and no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations…that choice – that free will — that is what makes us human, right? The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious. But sometimes we do not notice an opportunity for what it is because it is up to us to really make it one. That cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared to do that. Circumstances sometimes limit our choices, but even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is too a choice.

Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the highest rewards, are called “tough” for a good reason. So how do we become more self-prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know better who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious, what makes you intolerable — and you do not learn that kind of thing in the Valley of Unicorns and Leprechauns.

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Polonius told Laertes, his son, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice yes, but the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not, where you want to be, and an amazing amount of other knowledge about yourself that you never even knew you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Although that particular line in Hamlet is one of the more recognizable lines, another of Polonius’ lines I find to be equally valuable is, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Remember that line when you’re out on a limb doing something unorthodox and people are giving you a funny look.

In case you are looking for some sort of reward for all that hard work – your journey to self-awareness not only becomes enlightening along the way but it WILL make tough choices down the road a lot easier for you. Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue on the path you have now chosen. And now we are getting to the real important part, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life” I mentioned in my last blog.

This very blog, the one you are reading now, was written because of a series of small choices made each and every day. I love writing and I love teaching. Making the choice to write more, to teach those around me who I really am inside, to help those I care about navigate life’s up and downs…these are all things that I can do because of decisions I’ve made in my life that allow me to do it – and some good ole luck which provided me with the DNA needed to develop a love for words. The doors we open AND close each day will decide what we become and how we live our lives.

But, sometimes doubt creeps in because I would dearly love to be writing for a living. My failure or lack of initiative or lack of time and money and other distractions in my early life has delayed my own ability to finish what I started with my formal education. I continue to tinker with it but I never seem to find the time to just commit to finishing school. I changed majors 3 times and finally I know what I want to do, I just haven’t done it. That lack of a diploma closes a lot of doors for someone who likes to write…thus some bad choices were made.

Hey, no one ever promised that living life on our own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me, I never found that pot-o-gold at the end of a rainbow, and I still do not have a rocket propelled jet-pack to travel back and forth to work on. Perhaps I would if some rocket scientist out there had taken an unconventional path instead of the NASA path of least resistance. But, that’s another story. Getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, is based on what you should now know to be true – and that is experiencing life to the fullest without fear of failure. I do not know of any better way to move closer toward Shangri-La, which, by the way, is a moving target if you are doing things right.

Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t let them. How lucky are we? How lucky are people with luck? Well, if we have learned anything at all I think it would be that lucky doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Make choices and make every choice matter – good or bad. Living deliberately doesn’t give you the key to every door, it IS the key to building your own door.