The contribution

As we pulled out, I waved to my family. My aunt commented that my mom was really crying, and she seemed surprised that it was that hard for her to see me go for two weeks. I hadn’t been away from home for more than a night before that.

I was going to stay with relatives for two weeks and come back to our family reunion with them. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades. We didn’t have middle school then, so the coming year was the first of junior high. I had kind of been manic in the latter half of the school year, though it would be years before I knew that’s what it was. It was kind of good in that it broke me out of my shell. I was always very shy and quiet. Unfortunately, that returned by fall and lasted for a few more years.

So, we were off, amidst the tears. I realized years later that my mom was crying because she felt so bad about my brother not getting to go too. My aunt had called my mom and made the suggestion.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough room in their car for everyone on the way back with luggage and all, so only I was going.

It begs the question, why extend the invitation at all if it was only going to be for one? Then I thought maybe my mom should have declined the invitation. I guess she didn’t want us both to miss out. My brother and I were just 14 months apart in age, he the older one, and we did everything together.

My brother was gracious about letting me go. While he was close to our cuz too, he knew that I always had a special bond with him. I’m sure he still felt left out, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of things, or go places, because we didn’t have the money and my parents didn’t get much vacation. I don’t know if they had any paid vacation. My mom was working at a blouse mill and my dad worked at a hardware store.

Once at my cousin’s house, I had a really nice time. It was early in the summer, and the weather was great.  As I said, my cousin and I had a special bond. We only saw each other once a year, but we always picked right up where we left off. They lived in a city, and we went to museums and other fun things.

We also ate out two or three times. Near the end of the trip, my aunt asked me for money for those times we ate out and they had paid for everyone, including me. I was surprised that she was asking for it, but being only 11, I didn’t protest. The problem was, that I had only $13 at the start of the trip, some of which I had spent on a puddle jumper at the Children’s Museum.

My aunt’s response to that information was, “You mean your mother sent you out here with only thirteen dollars?”  Instead of feeling angry at her, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt inadequate. I was aware that my family was poorer than most everyone else I knew, but this was kind of a painful reminder. And, she still took the my money. I had wanted to get my brother a souvenir of some kind. My aunt said I could pick something out of a box of items she picked up here and there for our annual Christmas gift exchange via mail.

I selected a fancy plastic ruler with “wood” grain through the middle. I’ll never forget the disappointed look on my brother’s face when I presented it to him.

Well, that was more than three decades ago. (Is that possible?) I must admit I still feel resentment when I think of that incident, but I have forgiven it. I remind myself of her good qualities, which I’ll share with you now. She was fun to be around and had an infectious laugh.

My uncle worked for the post office and he used to joke that she gave him job security, because she sent cards to everyone for birthdays and anniversaries and such. She was very good about that. She kept track of everything. She worked hard selling Tupperware to help support the family. She actually won a sales contest not long before my visit. The prize was the station wagon we rode in.

She also had diabetes for as long as I could remember. She was on dialysis for the last ten years of her life, until heart complications took her too soon. I think she was 72, so she made it pretty long, considering. We all still miss her.

In and out of the crowd

I live close to a big music festival which anyone local knows as Musikfest.  It’s been going on for 35 years now.  I’ve gone every year for about half that time, or a little less.  My cousin would come to stay with my brother and me for many of those years, when we were still talking.  Then we’d all go together.

I’ve seen a lot of great musical acts and met a lot of interesting people.  I’ve eaten a lot of different kinds of food, drinks and enjoyed the artisan vendor tents.  I’ve gotten some cool stuff at those tents. I also bought a bonsai tree about four years in a row.  They never made it to the next year.  I finally gave up out of guilt for killing something that was so beautiful and that someone spent 5 years training.

Those are the good experiences (except for the bonsai), and why I’ll keep going. There are downsides to it though.  In fact, many locals make it a point to stay away.  There’s the parking. You either have to pay $10 or park very far away and walk in. It has also gotten to be rather expensive to eat and drink. The music is still free, which is great, but who doesn’t want to eat or have a drink while they’re there?

Of course, the biggest factor is the crowds. Some people just don’t like being in a throng of people. I have to admit, there’s a lot more rudeness than in years past, especially talking during a performance, so you can barely hear the band.

Festivals are a showcase of human behavior, both good and bad. I have to be in the mood, but I do like going into the crowd sometimes. There’s a certain energy and a sort of primitive communal spirit of gathering around a small venue stage or street performer, like the minstrels of old, or the storyteller around a fire back in early human history.

I’ve seen people spontaneously dance with strangers, interact with the band members after the show, someone giving a stranger a food ticket or two when they’re short, and help someone when they’ve fallen.

I particularly like a South American group called Runa Pacha that’s there every year. I always find time to sit on the grassy bank by their set-up and listen to the pan flutes, guitars and traditional Native American drumming. As other people join me in a moment of respite on the grass, I imagine myself being high in the Andes or on a cliff top overlooking the sea. It’s so relaxing and refreshing.

So, I get both sides of the argumnt. Sometimes, I’m kind of done with the crowds and ready to get home by the time the night is over. But I like to go to take in some music and do some people watching, and enjoy the charm of the historic district and closed streets full of fest goers looking to have some fun with friends and family for a moment of our busy lives.

As for tonight, I’m perfectly happy sitting on my deck writing this and enjoying the night air. For tomorrow, I ‘fest’.

Exclusion: Defense mechanisms

I’ve talked about exclusion of the “different” people.  Perhaps there’s a flip side. Maybe you’ve experienced it when you tried to reach out to someone.  You try to be nice, but they act as if they want nothing to do with you, or may even be hostile, or rude. Maybe they’re just a little guarded or aloof. These are, of course, defense mechanisms.

When a person is used to being excluded, or teased or rejected, they are suspicious of everyone and end up pushing others away, because they’re convinced they’ll just end up being hurt.  While no one can blame you if you let it drop at that point, it could be fruitful to give it another shot.  If you’re sincere, they’ll see that.

It shouldn’t be purely out of pity.  Nobody wants to feel pitied. It also shouldn’t be done out of a sense of obligation or an overactive conscience.  If it’s not your forte to be an ambassador to those left out, the “socially challenged”, that’s okay. But if it is your thing, give them a couple chances.

If you’re one of the people who is feeling left out, be ready for opportunity.  Be yourself and don’t assume everyone is judging you or that they think they’re better than you. You must also give them a chance.

We’re all in this together.

 

 

Exclusion

Yesterday, I mentioned about my sister’s chattering driving me nuts, and it concerns me for her own sake. It’s hard for people to tolerate it, and I want to see her have a healthy social life.

While I can’t blame people, and I think she has to work to change that, I think people could give a little more of their time to talk to those who are a little different. I’ve been on the receiving end of exclusion and it hurts as much as direct bullying or snide remarks, if not more.  I’ve been excluded even by friends when everyone did something without me.

I was shy and quiet in school and had anxiety,  which made me socially awkward.  I get that people don’t want to deal with that. I know I’ve done it myself, avoided someone who was “strange” or talks too much, or something.  But, I have learned and grown from experience.

I think everyone has the capacity to do that, if given the chance.   The more a person is around other people, the more “normalized” they become.

Is there someone in your life who needs that chance? Take the time to reach out to them once in a while. I know sometimes you just don’t have the time, or you’re tired or stressed, and that’s fine. You have to take care of yourself. But when you can, be inclusive.

Mental health update, 7/30/18

I’ve had technical issues and other distractions, but I wanted to give another update on my sister.

She came home after about a week.  As predicted, the insurance company decided to send her home early, against the doctor’s recommendation and the social worker’s protestations. There was not even enough time to bring medication changes to the full dosage. Fortunately, she was well enough this time to stay stable in the meantime. She continues to do well. I just had a nice talk with her.  We’re both trying to lose weight and we trade successes and challenges on that front, among other things.

We can also talk about mental health issues, since I have bipolar depression and anxiety myself. I have pretty good insight into what she goes through.  I like to think I offer some help in coping from what I’ve learned.  And, I’d like to share more about that in coming posts.

I’m relieved she’s doing well, but I still worry about the coming years. There’s the financial issue, and the social. It’s hard to meet and keep friends when you have a serious mental illness. It’s even harder to meet a significant other.

I have to admit that she drives me nuts sometimes when she chatters incessantly. She also tends to turn the conversation back to herself a lot. I hope that I can help her to see that, and maybe learn to listen more. It’s not totally her fault. Her mind races and it’s hard to keep it all in.

It’s a hard knock life.

 

Mental health update

My sister was transported in the wee hours of the morning to a facility an hour and a half away from her home. At least she didn’t have to wait days for it.

I’ll have to drive my elderly parents there to visit on Saturday during the one hour all day that the facility allows visitors.  She’ll probably be there about a week before an insurance company makes the medical decision that she should go home. She will most likely not be ready.

I hope that I make it as a writer so I can help take care of her in the coming years as funding for Medicare and Medicaid is cut down more and more.  It’s scary to think about. It’s enough to think about how my brother and I are going to have time and energy, or be available to help her when our parents are gone.  Hopefully, the services she will need to rely on will still be there. We simply can’t do it all while working full time (with overtime).

I hate to be so negative, but a guy’s gotta vent sometimes. There are good things that come along and make it bearable, and she does have a caseworker who has been helping her to be more independent in the last couple years that she’s had her own place.

I know that I must have faith in God to provide, and I do, but I also believe that God works through His people. We must fight to make things better for all, while we do what we can for our own loved ones.

 

Behavioral health: a misnomer

This post was sparked by news I just received from my mom concerning my sister.  She has a psychiatric diagnosis. The specifics will remain undisclosed for her privacy, but let me first address the general term.  For some years, the psychiatric field has taken to calling things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. by the phrase “behavioral health”, rather than the older, and more accurate, mental health.

It’s a misnomer because it implies that the patient’s behavior is somehow causing the problem. It’s mental illness, not behavioral illness.

My sister was already kind of  “on the edge” lately, emotionally and mentally with her ongoing illness. She’s had many hospitalizations over the years when the symptoms of her illness or the medication management thereof, become too much to deal with.

Then someone from her church, whom she thought was turning out to be a new friend, invited her to a Christian coffee house last Friday. That was not the problem. They both enjoyed it. It was a couple days later that this person said something to my sister about the devil putting a bug in her, or something to that effect, referring to her mental illness. I’m getting a third party relay of information here, but I’ve heard it before.

I myself have bipolar depression.  It was more than twenty years ago, that I tried Biblical counseling. During the months that I was going there, I began to realize I was missing something. It was the fact that I, like my sister, had a mental health issue. When I shared this with my counselor, he told me mental illness is a misnomer. I never returned. I felt betrayed that I had spent time and money there, and shared intimate things, only to be met with a brick wall of ignorance and rejection.

I sought medical help and through medication and God-given inner strength, I have fared much better than my sister, thankfully. As someone I met through NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) once said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

So, this night, my sister waits alone in the ER for a bed among the mental health departments of any area hospital.  Somehow, none are available in the expansive, profitable “non-profit” hospital networks of our area, save for one an hour and a half away, which somehow qualifies as part of this network area, as far as the profit-gorged insurance companies are concerned.  She’s alone after my exhausted 86 year old dad and 77 year old mom went home for the night, having spent most of the day with her, waiting.

Visitation will not be practical, if she ever gets to that bed. The social worker said it sometimes takes days to arrange a transport from one facility to another of that distance. What a system.

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. A moment of tough love from a sibling. While the church member should not have said what she did, I wish my sister would learn to assert herself. Hell, tell her off, and be done with her, rather than build it up to this dramatic event. I understand that she has an illness, but that’s what therapy is for. Sounds harsh, I know, but what are sibling for, right?