Their Voices Will Not Be Silenced

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November 29, 2019-

I read, a few days ago, about a homeless man in the Phoenix area, who had committed a heinous crime, whilst suffering psychiatric illness.  The story stated that this man had been passed through the Arizona mental health system, for over a  decade.  He had enough of an understanding of his own condition to ask for a shower and a follow-up appointment with one of the original counselors who had first met with him, when he was brought into a facility, by the police.  These requests were denied, according to the newspaper account, and he was back on the street, largely against his wishes.

In Maricopa County, there are at least a dozen agencies, which purport to address mental health issues.  I once worked, briefly, for the agency that, also briefly, worked with the man in question.  I was not successful in my endeavours with that agency, partly because of my also serving as Penny’s caretaker and partly because the ego feathers of the agency branch’s leadership were ruffled by my personality and manner of talking with my clients.  The agency, in the case cited above, was one of several which dealt with that man, and somehow they all dropped the ball, not knowing of each others’ presence in his life.  He remains a person whose only security comes when he is incarcerated.

I mention this, because in dealing with the mentally ill, each of us finds self in  a bind, of sorts.  When someone dear to me faced a severe mental illness, many years ago, I chose to address the matter head-on, but not address it alone.  There was a team of professionals, who helped solve many of the problems and it was left to me and others close to this person, to resolve  the rest.  We were, however, not left alone and the person has gone on to lead a masterful life.

I have had a few people present their issues to me, over the years, both in Phoenix and here in Prescott.  Two of these people stayed with my family and me, during the last two years of Penny’s life.  We were able to help one of them orient his life, but the other was a work in progress, when I moved to Prescott.  At that time, my own grief was still raw and I was the one who needed compassion.

Time passed, I was able to help one homeless man get situated and centered, albeit with some difficulty.  Once he trusted in the agencies with whom I put him in contact, things went better.  The second person I tried to help, at the behest of a mutual friend, turned out to be someone who had already tried all the resources I recommended, and was irritated by my personality and foibles, to the point where we are no longer in contact.

The beat goes on, and I am open to those who have difficulties, who don’t know to whom else to turn.  I will maintain, to anyone who is suffering mental or emotional health difficulties, to not rely on social media for resolution, nor to rely on any one person for same.  I am a loving soul, but I am also far from perfect and the last thing I want is for my own lifestyle, activity level or personal mental state (mild Asperger’s/autism) to waylay the progress of a person whose viewpoint, regarding  that progress, is at variance with how I see things.  I had a brief online conversation, this evening, with such a person. Besides, each of us is marvelous complex.

That individual is right about something, though.  Mental illness is anything but a laughing matter.  You will not find me including someone else’s affliction as a punchline, in my repertoire of jokes.  He’s also right about people paying attention to his problems.  That attention, first and foremost, needs to start with family and one, committed team of professionals, of the individual’s choosing, in consultation with family.  Random people, no matter how compassionate they are, can’t direct a suffering soul towards the light, in the way that family can.

The voices of the suffering will not be silenced and they will not “go quietly into that good night.”

Gratitude Week, Day 7: The Finest Fruits

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November 24, 2018, Prescott-

I have decided to end this week of gratitude, by looking back at the ten best choices I ever made.  I am grateful to the Universe for having placed these in front of me and I have a measure of self-gratitude for having made them.

10,  Serving in the Army– At 18, I had little to show for my life. There was no discipline, of which to speak and my world consisted of drooling over girls and imbibing too much alcohol, too fast.  Other-imposed discipline gave me a regimen, which I could add to the work ethic that my parents instilled in each of us and it set me on  a course of self-reliance, which I still need and use.

9.  Studying Psychology- It didn’t make me wealthy and barely got me a job, but knowing something of what makes the human mind tick has given me insight into myself and has made me more understanding of others.

8. Living on the Navajo Nation- I have a strong genetic memory of the Indigenous. I am not much, in terms of blood quantum, but my nature fairly burns with the feeling that I belong in the woodlands; that I am a gatherer and a sharer; that I am one with the Universe. Being on the same page, day to day, with Dineh (Navajo) and Hopi people reinforced that unity.

7. Blogging-   Writing is a skill that three of my four high school English teachers saw as a talent that I needed to sharpen.  They gave me the tools to keep on sharpening that talent.  College brought it up another notch.  As a caretaker, and then as a widower, far from extended family, blogging gave me an outlet, one step up from journaling  (which I also still do) and a wider appreciative audience.

6, Returning to work, full time- In 2016, having been a substitute teacher, with a couple of other jobs, whilst being Penny’s caretaker, I found a niche at Prescott High School.  My place there was, more or less, secure and I was urged to return full-time, for the years leading up to my retirement from education.  That work has been fulfilling, and will remain so until I reach 70, two years from now.

5.  Working as a counselor- As a school counselor, I was able to impact thousands of lives, over the span of eleven years, between Tuba City and Keams Canyon/Jeddito, and some of those lives were saved.  I am haunted by  a few lives that weren’t and by those I couldn’t reach.  The majority, though, learned life skills and resilience, and knew that someone had their backs.

4. Settling in Prescott- The job aside, moving here after Penny’s passing was a lifesaver.  I had the anchor of a house, for the time I needed it, and of a Faith Community with whom I was already familiar and who were not intimate with Penny’s suffering.  That last was important.  I could not have the constant reminders of all that we had endured together.  Since then, I have made many new friends and branched out in several directions-all healthy.

3. Widespread travel-Besides going back and forth from Arizona to the East Coast, for family visits, my wanderlust has taken me to western Europe, Hawai’i, the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska.  I took in a small swath of eastern Canada, last summer and am likely to cross our northern neighbour again, in the summer of 2020.  California, Nevada and Colorado have also seen a lot of me, these past seven years, as have the South and Midwest.  This is an essential part of who I am.

2.  Getting married- I have always been crazy about girls and women.  There isn’t much about the opposite gender that I don’t like, though I am proud to be male.    Self-dislike got in the way, though, when I found myself drawn to one young lady after another.  Penny didn’t fall for any of that, and we built a solid foundation, by which both of us were able to tame most of our demons and raise a fine young man, who has taken his full place in the world.

1. Recognizing Baha’u’llah- I received a solid spiritual foundation, having been raised in the Roman Catholic faith. As I matured, though, the rituals and practices began to feel automatic to me, and I have always known that there is a continuity to Divine Revelation, superseding any one of the faiths or denominations that are commonplace.  In 1972, I heard of Baha’u’llah, and the Baha’i Faith, for the first time.  Nine years later, I embraced Baha’i as my own.  I have found its precepts teach everything in which I already believe, and the teachings regarding health are exactly what I needed, to tame the demon of alcohol dependence.  Far beyond those, however, are the vision of planetary and human unity-dispelling the darknesses of racism, nationalism and excessive materialism.

I am sure I will have other choices to make, in the coming days, months, and years.  Perhaps a life-changer will be among them, as well.