Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mental Illness

I came across this piece on another blog this morning and thought it was worth putting on here.

Written by Liza Long, republished from The Blue Review
Friday’s horrific national tragedy -- the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut -- has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
While every family's story of mental illness is different, and we may never know the whole of the Lanzas' story, tales like this one need to be heard -- and families who live them deserve our help.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork -- “Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
For days, my son insisted that I was lying -- that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise -- in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill -- Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree!

About 3:30 this morning I heard a crashing sound, but figured it must have been a dream because I did not hear our dog bark, as he would if something happened in the house.  Then RW got up at 5:30 and came downstairs, and this is what he saw:

 That's our 9 foot Christmas tree sitting on the piano.  I guess I'm not finished decorating after all.

I did take a few shots of other decorations in the daylight:

The tree standing upright again, sans about 50 ornaments.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's December already?

Can't believe we're half way through December already.  It's been busy at work, getting recommendations from professors and  recruiting tutors for next semester, holding our End of Semester Pizza Party, doing attendance statistics for our semester report, etc.  I finally got the shower invitations and my Christmas cards out this week.  Then this week we also went out to my mother in law's to finish cleaning out her apartment.  She is not doing well at all; she's been hospitalized twice in the past two weeks for dehydration.  She won't eat or drink anything and has gotten too weak to even get out of bed.

Now I just want to decorate my house and shop and plan for Christmas, not to have to be bothered with work.  I took off today and almost finished up my decorating, but once we heard of the shootings in CT we were kind of glued to the T.V.  I don't know when our country is going to wake up and outlaw guns.  It's just happening more and more frequently.  My daughter from Boston called this evening and told me that a little boy who sits next to Corinne was expelled from school today because he had a loaded gun in his back pack; they are fourth graders.  I don't know what she's going to do.  Corinne is in a public school for the first time this year, in an advanced placement class. 

Here are some pictures of our decorations, though they aren't too good because I just took them in a hurry this evening: 

I'll take some better pictures this weekend.  I need to get to bed because I'm going to my youngest grandson's basketball game at 8 tomorrow morning.  It should be fun watching a bunch of five year olds running all over the court.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ten on Tuesday

1.  We're moving along on our kitchen/bedroom addition.  The architect came a couple of weeks ago and we told him what we wanted, then he came back last week and measured the whole house.  He said the most difficult part is putting a one-story addition on a two-story house and making it look like it was not an addition.  He is doing the preliminary drawings now.

2.  Last Thursday was RW's Birthday.  Now we are the same age for three months.  We went out to dinner with Amy and Dave and the kids to celebrate on Friday evening.

3.  I couldn't eat much at dinner, because I had a colonoscopy that morning.  The worse part of that was the preparation, and the nurse trying to get the I.V. in my hand.  She would get the needle in a vein then it would collapse and she would dig around and try to get it.  After the third time sticking my hand she said she thought I was dehydrated and called in someone else to do it.  Of course I was dehydrated after eating no solids for 24 hours and taking all kinds of gross stuff to empty me out.  The phlebotomist stuck it in my arm and got it the first time.  My hand is all purple and yellow.  It ended up that I had polyps which the dr. will biopsy.  He told me I really need to go on a high fiber low fat diet.  I guess I better do that.  I'm getting tired of going to doctors and finding out my health issues are caused by my weight. 

4.  We went looking at kitchens on Saturday.  Our new kitchen will be 13 X 30, long and narrow.  RW and I are arguing over an island.  He says the room will be too narrow, but I've seen islands as narrow as 26 inches.  I'm sure I'll win in the long run.  I like a little bit from each of the kitchens below--white, glass front cabinets, farm-house sink, small red island with butcher block top, touches of blue.  RW wants a white tile floor, and I prefer wood, but I'll let him have his way on that because I'm making most of the decisions.




5.  We spent a lot of time this past weekend digging up plants, flowers and bushes, preparing for the addition.  RW is afraid the ground will freeze and we won't be able to get them out later.  I'm sectioning of an area in the back of the yard and going to make a children's garden.  The grand kids love to plant and water stuff, so I'll let that be their garden.

6.  My mother in law is not doing well at all in the nursing home.  They transferred her from the apartment to skilled nursing about three weeks ago.  Now she just wants to die.  She woke up Sunday and kept complaining that her hip hurt, so they took her to the hospital and called RW.  He went out there about 8 in the morning and didn't get home until after 4.  They admitted her.  They couldn't find anything causing the pain but she did have a kidney infection and they want to moniter her.

7.  RW's brother and sister are coming in from out of town this weekend, and the two of them and the brother that lives here in town and RW are going to go out to her apartment and divide things up.  They decided they would go without spouses, and that is great by me.  Apparently she had a sort of will where she had her jewelry appraised and divided up amongst the four of us, and RW's lawyer brother said there is going to be trouble because the sister is not getting everything she wants.  I'm so glad I won't be there this weekend.

8.  I got the invitations out for my niece's shower.  They turned out pretty cute.  We're having the shower on the 29th of December.  We'll just have horderves because we'll have around 30 people and my house is not big enough to seat everyone.  Next year it will be.  Yipee!

9.  I forgot to mention we will also have a wrap around porch that wraps on the side with the new bedroom.  The part by the bedroom will be screened in, and we'll have french doors off the bedroom onto the porch.  The architect said we might have a problem with city hall because they won't let a porch go any closer to the street than other houses on the block, but our current porch is six foot wide and we want at least eight foot.  I've got lots of pictures of porches saved on Pinterest, but I'll save them for next week because I think I've already added enough pictures.

10.  We are in the last week of the semester at school.  My how time flies when you're having fun!  I've been doing a lot of Christmas shopping on-line.  I've just about got the grand kids finished.  Oldest grand daughter's birthday is Dec. 21, so I need to get her some more gifts.  Also I have two sisters who have birthdays this month, and another sister is having the Fancy Aunt Lunch on the 16th, so I need to get their gifts also.  I haven't even gone into a store or mall, but I'll have to so I can get some gift certificates. I might make RW do that.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ten on Tuesday

I think, since I haven't done this for awhile, I finally have ten things to write about.  I actually started this post on Tuesday, but now it's Saturday.

1.  We finally had the builder come to talk about our addition the night before we left for Cincinnati.  He gave us the name of his architect and the architect is coming next Monday.  I had thought we would go abour 12 feet out from the house, but RW wants to go 18 to 20.  That's fine with me--usually I have to talk him in to anything that costs money. 

2.  Grandson Michael spent the night last Friday.  His big sisters, Katie and Sara, participated in Girls on the Run and their final run was a 5K downtown.  Each girl had to have a parent run with them, so both Amy and Dave went.  We had a really good time with Michael.  He's such a happy little fellow.  I was on the computer and he was talking to himself and moving all around playing with animals and pillows.  I asked what he was doing, and he said, "I'm playing with my imagination.  Don't you know little boys have imaginations, grandma?" Last week after their cleaning lady had come and made his bed he was upset that she put his Fredbird next to Tyrannosaurus Rex, telling his mom, "They fight all of the time.  We can not put them next to each other."

3.  RW had to put his mother in the nursing home last Thursday.  He took her to the Dr. on Wed. and Friendship Village, where she had a apartment, insisted on moving her into the "health center" the next day.  It was pretty hard on RW because his mother was very angry.  They lied to her and said she was just going to the health center temporarily to get some physical therapy and to regulate her medicine, but she'll never move back to her apartment.  We all wanted a private room for her, but none were available yet, so she has a room mate.  She's a little better this week; in fact she told my sister in law yesterday that she might just stay where she is because her room mate needs her to take care of her.  I think that will help her a lot, to feel needed.

4.  We had a fancy aunt lunch on Sunday for my niece Clare and sister in law Didi.  It's always fun getting together and my sister Kay made a delicious casserole for lunch.  Another sister just let us know she will have a fancy aunt lunch next month for my sisters Lorie and Nancy. 

5.  I'm planning a baby shower for my niece who is having a little girl the end of March.  Another niece is going in on the shower with me.  I thought we would have it at my house, but the one having the baby wants to invite five friends in addition to our family, which is over twenty people.  I'm thinking about asking the minister of the church next door if we could use some space there.  We're having it the Sat. after Christmas, so almost everyone will be in town.

6.  RW's older sister was in town and stayed with us from Sunday until Wednesday.  She came to get her mother's apartment cleaned out, at least the closets.  It was great because my husband just has one brother here in town who works out of town, so RW has to do so much for his mother.

7.  I went to the pulmonologist this week and my lung capacity has gotten better.  I think it was at 48% capacity last year and this year it was at 56%.  When I first went a couple of years ago he told me I would never get any function back, but hopefully we could stop the progression with medication.  Unfortunately, I had not lost any weight in the past six months, and he told me I needed to start working on that again.  At least I didn't gain back any of the weight I had lost.

8.  On Monday evening we were sitting here in our family room talking with RW's sister, and we kept hearing sirens.  I looked out the window and saw lights flashing everywhere.  The house about three doors up was on fire.  They were not home and the fire was coming out of the back of the house.  There were six fire trucks, though I don't think they needed all of them.  It was awful watching them breaking the windows and see the black smoke pouring out.  We learned later that they were having a new roof put on, and the roofers were using a blow torch on the back porch roof, and they think a spark must have ignited the roof.  Luckily the neighbors behind them saw the flames and called 911.  I heard the damage was confined to the attic and one room upstairs, but the whole house had smoke damage.

9. Granddaughter Corinne had her Feis in Rhode Island last weekend.  She did not win any ribbons, but I think they had a good time anyway.  She is in a more advanced level now and the competition is much stiffer. 

10.  We had a nice Thanksgiving.  We only had 12 people at our house, since none of our out-of-town kids came in.  They will all be here for Christmas.  I went to take a few pictures and the battery on my phone camera was worn down.  We went to my youngest sister's for dessert, but I was pretty tired so I didn't stay long.  It was really nice seeing all of the little ones.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Busy Week & Picture Overload

We had a great time in Cincinnati.  Stephanie is so cute and has such a darling little personality.  We played with her a lot and ate a lot and took lots of pictures.

On Saturday we went to the park with a friend of John's who is a photographer, and he took pictures of Stephanie in her Christening gown and pictures for their Christmas card.  It was a beautiful day and Stephanie did really well.  Her favorite part seemed to be swinging when it was over.

We got wonderful news--Stephanie is going to be a big sister.  The baby is due June 1.  We're all praying for another healthy baby.

We got home Monday afternoon and I started working once again on Corinne's Irish step dress.  It was too short so Kate sent it back last week.  I had to order more material to match the skirt but got it done Tuesday and sent it priority mail.  I just heard from Kate and they got it this morning but the zipper broke when she tried it on.  Luckily Kate found a cleaners who replaced it and they are going to Providence at six tomorrow morning.  Kate said Corinne told her she wanted to start planning her next dress with me, but Kate told her to wait a few years and not grow any more.