Michael Madness: The Hurricane Rolled Through

“The fury of Hurricane Michael hit the Wiregrass late Wednesday afternoon, less than an hour before the eye of the storm passed near Gordon in Houston County as a Category 3 hurricane.

The storm felled hundreds of trees, caused thousands to go without power and led to flash flooding in several areas. Wind gusts were reported near 90 miles per hour on the east side of the eye and more than 60 miles per hour on the west side.

It could take days before the full extent of the damage is known, but it appears Hurricane Michael is the most powerful storm to hit Houston County in recorded history,” as reported by the Dothan Eagle on October 11th.

dothaneaglepicWhere I live, near the small town of Ashford, just southeast of Dothan, Alabama, at least one tornado swept through within 1/2 mile (.8 km) of my house. The power went out early on during the storm and is still out. The work load for Alabama Power is overwhelming, to say the least, and the rural areas are, unfortunately, low on the totem poll. In fact, my best friend ~ also my next door neighbor ~ told me just this morning that power lines were still down all over the immediate area.

Very thankfully, we were both sparred any substantial damage and, of course, came through Hurricane Michael without loss of life or limb, as did everyone in my family who lives in the Wiregrass Area of the state. However, one of my sisters had a rather large tree fall on one end of her house. Thankfully, they were all in the other end of the residence … which is an interesting story in itself.

It seems they were watching the local weather the night before the raging storm, and the meteorologist cautioned his audience that the winds would actually be rotating around and down from the north, making it very advisable to seek secure shelter in another part of whatever home or building. My sister and her family took him at his word. Everyone abandoned their bedrooms on the north end, opting to camp out in the living room, which is slightly lower anyway (in their slightly split-level house.)

MichaelTreeSure enough, the large tree came crashing through, but they were safe! As soon as reasonably possible, they called the local news channel to thank the weather man for his life-saving advice and, of course, we were (are) all very thankful! Trees and power lines down is one thing. We can live with the inconvenience. (Hell, most of the world lives with this “inconvenience” 24/7!) But loss of life, or serious injury, is another matter altogether. A roof can be replaced. So can power lines. But the life of a loved one? No.

To my readers and fellow bloggers: Sorry I haven’t been on here posting and reading, but as you can imagine, I haven’t had Internet access till now. At the writing of this blog, in fact, I’m at my other sister’s house. More later… Blessings to one and all!

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Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs

Mental health technicians, in my humble opinion, really form the backbone of group home and day treatment care of the mentally/emotionally/psychologically-challenged. Much like CNAs (certified nursing assistants), they are “down in the trenches,” so to speak, and fighting alongside the “consumers” (as we are, unfortunately, called) in our daily battles against our illnesses.

mental-health-technician-women-s-t-shirtI found this to be very much the case while living in the Samson (Alabama) Group Home, and marvelled at just how much patience and understanding was required of MHTs. Not that I have a clear and complete picture of MHTs across the state and country (and, I suppose, the world), but my limited experience gives me at least an informed appreciation for the work required in this profession.

At the group home, with which I am familiar, it falls to the MHTs to lead group sessions, to prepare (or help prepare) meals, to dispense medicine (except to “self-medicators”), to mediate disagreements among residents, supervise chores, and so very much more. Indeed, it takes a very special kind of person to be able to do this sort of work, all the while truly caring about the flesh-and-blood human beings they are serving.

Of course, this in no way implies that everything was hunky-dory while in the group home. MHTs are by no means perfect, and I brushed shoulders with some who, quite honestly, needed to find another type of employment. For example, I encountered one young girl ~ young enough to be my daughter ~ who treated us as if we were toddlers. At one time she actually threatened to put one resident in time out as a form of discipline!

Needless to say, MHTs are every bit as human as “consumers,” which means they have their own faults, failings, and shortcomings just like everyone else. There was another MHT that I clearly recall, who took it upon herself to openly, and rather brashly, criticize individuals who received disability benefits… She did this numerous times, dogmatically asserting they didn’t need this income; they ought to be out working, she complained.

Well, believe it or not, all in all she was (and is) an excellent MHT. No, she certainly should have kept her opinions to herself (on the matter of disability benefits, anyway), but being human is being human, and this means that we all sometimes spout off and say things we shouldn’t. Overall, this MHT really did do her work very well …. and residents, in turn, really did (and still do, I presume) respect her.

But I also think of one sweet, little girl ~ and by the way, there were no male MHTs where I was, for some unknown reason ~ who also could have been my daughter. She was very petite and quiet. At such a young age, and being so tender, I really felt as if she’d been thrown to the wolves, in a manner of speaking. Not that residents in the group home are wolves (exactly); she just didn’t have what it took to exercise authority.

And this is, of course, one of the greatest challenges an MHT faces, that is: To exercise at least some modicum of control over the environment and various situations with which they are confronted on a day-to-day basis. After all, if an MHT cannot establish and maintain leadership, then they are very unlikely to be able to accomplish any of their numerous responsibilities. Point in fact, they will get run over, and very quickly at that!

Overall, my experience with MHTs was good, and as time went by I learned to appreciate and respect them more and more deeply. Of course, when I finally decided that I wanted to enter into some form and fashion of counselling (eventually), it did occur to me that I’d have to be able to live up to their examples; after all, counselling entails at least as much pressure … perhaps even more, at least in some ways.


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

Putrescent Political Circus

Sham proceedings in capital circus,
Political purchase of judicial corpus,
All to qualify going awry
Despite the people’s woeful cry…

Forget arrogant, virulent reactions,
Elision, division, and lack of vision,
Gross incision, and split decision

Roll the dice and make men mice,
Move to vomit, forget the price,
All to elect unpardonable vice

And so many blind follow behind ~
No cringing, twitching, or shrinking,
Or any thought of who’s been bought

And now will the nation surely suffer,
Having no longer any court buffer,
As clowns go on in Washington town

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

Reams of dreams rolling through my mind
That bind me fast to my unpleasant past
Without recourse to complete forgiveness
In the business of living,
Giving no berceuse of peace for me to be
An healthy man for this old world to see
Instead of one daunted by haunted dreams
~ Jonathan David Noble

About half-way through my stay in the Samson (Alabama) Group Home, which is to say about seven to eight months, I began having very strange dreams ~ perhaps nightmares, truth be told ~ with one particular, recurring element: Alcohol, specifically trying to get alcoholic beverages, mostly in the form of ale. Again and again, I would hurry and scurry about, whether in some grocery or convenience store, attempting to purchase some ice-cold beer with the ever-present thought that I’d have to hide this from nearly everyone.

Well, for almost my entire adult life I’d used alcohol to self-medicate, along with benzos and pain-killers. By the time I’d been properly diagnosed and medicated, I’d already become an addict. In the final analysis, alcohol and drugs had ruined my life to an enormous extent. Certainly, it discolored and warped family relationships and friendships. Alcohol, primarily, had simply become part and parcel of who and what I was … tragically.

However, by this time in the group home, I’d been clean and sober for a couple of years, so I really didn’t understand the repeating theme of trying to drink in almost all of my dreams. (And, by the way, this was the first time in my life that I could actually remember most of my dreams. Before this, I could count on two hands the number of dreams I could recall.) Interestingly enough, my dream efforts to drink were always frustrated somehow, which was good, I suppose.

Restout.Jean-Bernard.1736-1796MorpheusorSleep.BRTo attempt interpretation of these dreams may prove to be folly. After all, “as one who catches at a shadow and pursues the wind, so is anyone who believes in dreams.”¹ Still being curious, though, especially since this them is ongoing, I investigated possible meanings online. One site suggested that I might be attempting to acquiesce “to some concept or circumstance,” or that I might be trying to cover up guilt and remorse.²

“Alternatively, the dream may be reflective of waking issues and problems of alcoholism. Recovering alcoholics often have dreams of drinking which results in feelings of guilt. Such dreams help to reinforce their sobriety,”³ which seems more likely to me. But why after so long being sober? Well, I suppose two years is not really that long. Besides, I also started infrequently dreaming, or experiencing flashbacks, of terrible mistakes I’d made … sins I’d committed.

I can truly say I was surprised by the suggestion that dreaming of past memories, especially mistakes and sins, indicates that I am ready “to rid (my)self of (my) old ways and undergo a transformation,” and/or that I am “ready for a new outlook in life.” If this is true, then at least these dreams are encouraging. Of course, if a memory dream included drinking, then if this interpretation is right, it would mean that I am finally ready to move on beyond past addictions. Wonderful! I believe this is true.

Now if I could only progress in a couple of other areas of my life, I might be the happiest man in the world. Still, I am very thankful that God has allowed and certainly aided me in making as much progress as I already have! And I pray you find yourself making strides forward, too! As always, peace and blessings to you!… 


¹ The Wisdom of ben Sirach 34.2 (NRSVCE)

² Possible interpretation(s) offered by www.dreamforth.com as accessed on 10/06/2018

³ Alternative interpretation provided by www.dreammoods.com as accessed on 10/06/2018

4 Ibid accessed on 10/06/2018


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

‎­

We Kill What We Do Not Understand

And the call of the roads is upon me, a desire in my spirit has grown
To wander forth in the highways, ‘twixt earth and sky alone,
And seek for the lands no foot has trod and the seas no sail has known
~ C. S. Lewis, “The Roads,” in Spirits in Bondage

It’s called “agnostophobia,” and it simply means “fear of the unknown.” (The other related word, “xenophobia,” means quite specifically “pathological fear of strangers,” foreigners.[i]) This is what many people with mental illness face in society at large, and it can be very uncomfortable. Point in fact, it usually is, unless the one who suffers the illness has grown a thick hide, so to speak.

“People fear what they cannot understand,” said Andrew Smith, “and they hate what they cannot conquer.” Touché! And more specifically to the point of mental illness, Elyn R. Saks, associate professor at the University of Southern California and mental health expert and advocate, hit the proverbial nail on the head when she opined, “Stigma against mental illness is a scourge with many faces, and the medical community wears a number of those faces.”

Even in this 21st century, in the Western world, where we are supposed to be so advanced and so enlightened, we are still culturally very ignorant of mental illness (and mental health,) which is largely why there is an ongoing stigma revolving around those who are psychologically burdened and suffering.[ii] This is all the more amazing when we consider the fact that fully one out of every four adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, however short might be the duration.[iii]

fear_of_the_unknownMuch of the continuing misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental illness can, of course, be attributed to the world of popular entertainment. Consider for a moment so many popular psychopaths, such as: Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Sybil Dorsett, Annie Wilkes, Norman Bates, and many others. But then there are the real-life psychopaths that the media (in all forms) has consistently brought into our homes via television, radio, newspapers, the Internet … such as: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Amy Archer-Gilligan, etc.

But then there is the lesser, “minor” mental illnesses that people commonly misunderstand and, thus, stigmatize. For instance, depression and anxiety. With clinical depression those who suffer may very well be, and often are, told to just “get over it … put a smile on and face the day! No need to ‘wallow’ in depression!” Of course, the antagonist here simply does not understand that one doesn’t just “get over” depression. Likewise with anxiety. The sufferer hears someone say, “Just calm down, everything’s alright. No need to worry,” or the horrid question, “Why are you falling apart? Nothing is wrong!”

Whether it’s one of the “biggies,” like schizophrenia or oppositional defiant disorder or pyromania,[iv] or one of the “littler ones,” Patrick Corrigan and Amy Watson are right:

Many people with … mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people.[v]

So what can those of us who suffer, or who have a close family member or friend who suffers, from mental illness do? Well, from my own personal experience I would suggest the following:

  1. Know Yourself: Come to know who you really are, constantly calling to mind that you are not defined by your illness. Grasp this truth. Celebrate it. Expand upon it as you look ever more deeply into yourself.
  2. You are not Jeffrey Dahmer, Jason Voorhees, or Sybil Dorsett… And even if you do happen to struggle with, shall we say, inclinations in that direction, there is still much help for you. Yes, you can lead an active, healthy, good and satisfying life. It’s there for you.
  3. Know your illness. Know as much as you possibly can about what afflicts you. After all, knowledge truly is powerful. Knowledge also gives you greater ability to confront, manage, and perhaps even improve your overall situation. Look, it’s happened before!
  4. Knowledge also gives you an advantage over the ignorance of other people, and, who knows, you might actually have an opportunity to educate someone.
  5. Know and remember that there are an untold number of “normal” individuals out there, who simply have not been diagnosed! They struggle each and every day with some mental illness … or, maybe, many. You are more likely to be able to spot those people. Have compassion on them; they need it, and lots of empathetic understanding, too. And don’t be surprised if, at some point, they trust you enough to open up and share with you their struggles, suffering and pain. If you can help them, then help. Just be sure not to lose yourself, or “drown,” in the process!

There are probably many other suggestions I could relate, such as referring folks to NAMI or NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) for more (and accurate) information on the various mental illnesses and how to best relate to someone who suffers one or more mental illness. Also, where you yourself are concerned, it’s always important to practice good mental health. Personally, I find physical exercise, meditation, and prayer, among other activities, to be good activities leading to good mental health.

What about you? What has been your experience with mental illness? Have you faced stigma? What about your mental health, whether you bear the burden of mental illness or not? Do you practice good mental health? If so, how? Share your answers and comments below. You don’t know who you might be helping in the process!


[i] American Psychological Association, APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1006

[ii] Judy Marshall, “Mental Illness: Stigma and Reality,” as accessed on 09/22/2018, at www.psychmaster.com

[iii] Pete Etchells, “Mental Illness Stigma Has Not Gone Away,” as accessed on 09/22/2018 at www.theguardian.com

[iv] Cf. David Kupfer, Darrel Regier, Dan G. Blazer, et al, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5), 90 – 122, 462, and 476 respectively

[v] Corrigan and Watson, “Understanding the Impact of Stigma on People With Mental Illness,” as accessed on 09/22/2018 at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

I eventually came to embrace my diagnosis of bipolar with major depressive disorder. Yes, more than once in my past I’d experienced a hypomanic episode with feelings of grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, sensitivity, distractibility, etc. as well as marked feelings of depression, which brought opposite feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, hypersomnia, thoughts of death and/or suicide.¹ There is even more to it than this: I sometimes found myself almost completely dysfunctional.

carrie-fisher- princess-leia-11I say I finally embraced my diagnosis; however, this was not fun or easy. It did help some to know I was not alone, either in the group home or in the wider world. For example, “in 1997, (Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame) suffered from a psychotic break…” and says of her experience, “At times … being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of.”²

Strangely enough, after I embraced my diagnosis, it seemed to change. I realize I’m not qualified to state this emphatically. Then again, who knows me better than me? And I can read the DSM-5, and I’m intelligent enough, in my humble opinion, to comprehend the diagnosis… So, with that said, I felt like I “moved” from bipolar disorder to dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, which was, again in my opinion, a better state of affairs largely because my depression was mild to moderate, not severe.³

Thankfully, I was allowed to decrease my medications and even stop taking two prescriptions altogether. As I’ve mentioned before, I had been taking 2000 mg of Depakote per day; this was lowered to 1500 mg, still quite high. I was also taking 600 mg of Seroquel per day, which was lowered to 400 mg. Finally, the psychiatrist lowered my intake of Prozac from 60 mg a day to 40 mg. So I was very pleased, because, after all, I don’t want to take more medicine that is absolutely necessary!

It was during this same period of time ~ perhaps six to eight months into my stay at the Samson Group Home ~ that I began really wrestling with my past. Horribly distasteful memories leapt to the fore of my mind, over and over again, and I felt deeply and strongly compelled to cry out (within my soul) to heaven, pleading, “Oh God! Please forgive me! I’m so, so sorry! Please forgive me!” And I couldn’t shake these awful memories. They flooded over me like tidal waves.

I h2908254-YZHLFGOH-8ad a really hard time believing I’d made so many foolish mistakes in life, that I had sinned so profusely, that I’d been so stupid so many times… And there was nothing I could do to undo my past. The load of guilt was crushing, but it was weight I had, throughout my life, placed upon myself. I could blame no one else; it was time for me to own up to my own gross shortcomings and follies … to embrace these just as I’d embraced my diagnosis.

I did. This did not make any of it go away, but it did mysteriously relieve some of the nearly unbearable pressure. I suppose in doing this “owning up,” I was consciously laying claim to part of my personal, soulish property, so to speak. I was looking upon my very Self in a clear mirror, seeing myself for who and what I was, coming to better grips with what kind of transformation had to take place and to what degree. None of this was easy, and it’s still anything but smooth sailing … but at least I am sailing, not drowning!

Thank God, the almighty, for forgiveness!


¹ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), 123 – 139, 296.41 – 296.89 (F31.31 – F31.81); Note: I believe I specifically have Bipolar II, cf. Susan Krauss Whitbourne and Richard P. Haglin, Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, 169; or see the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Bipolar Disorder,” as accessed on 10/02/2018 at www.nimh.nih.gov 

² Whitbourne and Haglin, Ibid, 168 – 169 

³ Cf. DSM-5, 168 ff., 300.4 (F 34.1); Whitbourne and Haglin, Ibid, 166; or see NIMH, “Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymic Disorder), as accessed on 10/02/2018 at www.nimh.nih.gov


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

After a few months in the group home, I actually felt more comfortable than I did in the outside world. Every outing seemed like an encounter with something foreign, something I’d known in a previous life but with which I no longer had much of any familiarity. Well, the truth is, I was around people who no longer had any masks to wear. They were simply who they were, no more, no less, and I liked it that way. Conversely, so many folks I encountered in the outside world seemed somewhat fraudulent. 

I know, I know. This seems harsh to say, but I’m only being honest about my feelings at the time. (And, really, I still feel this way. Going to day treatment in Dothan now feels like reuniting with family, whereas elsewhere with other people feels a bit alien.) At any rate, it eventually struck me that people on the outside pretty much felt the same way about us; they looked at us as if we were personis non grata foreigners. Well, no, perhaps I shouldn’t go quite this far. Most individuals were at least courteous.

However, I do remember very well the day we went to Wal-Mart in Enterprise (Alabama) and two (Caucasian) cops stopped three of our group home residents, who happened to be African-American, on their way into the store. They not only questioned them; they actually went so far as to patting them down … right there in the middle of the parking lot, in broad daylight, when those three young men were simply walking up toward the sidewalk! They hadn’t even been inside Wal-Mart yet, so why the frisking???

It was utterly humiliating, but do you know that those three men did not complain. I can’t say why. They had every right in the world to make a fuss over how they’d been treated, (and SpectraCare should have lodged a complaint on their behalf, but instead did absolutely nothing!) Maybe they were, unfortunately, used to be treated that way? I was told by someone ~ and I don’t know how they’d know this ~ that someone say our van pull up and called the police. Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea, except… 

There is a stigma that surrounds mental illness. When you add to this the fact of being an African-American (or member of any minority), then you’re pretty well f***ed up! Sorry to be so blunt, but this is an issue obviously close to my heart. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, courtesy, and respect … at least until they forfeit that privilege. These three young, African-American men had not in any way, shape, or form forfeited this right, though, and those two cops should have faced disciplinary measures.

This may have been the most egregious experience of being treated differently, and degradingly, that I witnessed, but it was not the only one. In fact, there was another episode that I was only told about (because I was at home on a weekend pass.) The group home went to a new restaurant in Samson, only to be treated horribly! The proprietor was arrogant, pushy, demanding, impatient… One of the MHTs (Mental Health Technician) told me it was obvious he didn’t want them there.

Do you remember Sally? This man complained that she was taking too long to order, even though no one else was in his place of business! (Except for the group home residents.) And to beat all, after everyone ordered, they had to wait anywhere from an half-hour to one hour to be served! Wow! But again, SpectraCare did nothing. I think I would have at least had someone in the SpectraCare hierarchy call this man and give him a good tongue-lashing… But that’s just me, I suppose.

To tell the truth, I have never lived with sweeter and more down-to-earth people in my life than my second family in the group home. No, they were not perfect. They had their bad habits and dispositions, but after all was said and done, with very few exceptions, I couldn’t have asked for better housemates. So to see or hear of them being treated so poorly really rips at my heart, and fuels my righteous indignation. And you know what else? They also impressed me as being safer to be around than many on the outside.

Yes, for the most part they were/are kinder, gentler, safer, and more unassuming than most “normal” people. Really it comes down to this: These dear souls have simply been diagnosed, whereas people on the outside have not been. Other than this ~ diagnosed as opposed to undiagnosed ~ there is precious little difference, unless you take into account so many of the prevalent, stinking attitudes that “normal” folks display and contrast that with the meek, humble, and friendly attitudes of the mentally ill!

Forgive me if I’ve offended, but I’m just calling like I see it … especially after months (and, really, years) of personal experience. Thank you for listening, and God bless!


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God