So, I wrote this article…

Monday’s article about mental illness and how we have and have not been dealing with it seems to have hit a nerve with a lot of people, as it has been shared and read well over 400 times by people in 5 countries.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with most people sensing that I sought to initiate a tough conversation that needs to be had in order to protect the general public, as well as the more dangerously mentally ill.  I’ve seen lots of the comments and discussions and not one called for any sort of witch hunt.  Everything that I’ve read was about people expressing care for the plight that this issue poses for the person with the illness, the parents and family, and the general public.

Then I get a scathing comment from an aspiring attorney so I checked out her blog…and her wisdom regarding her unemployment…and how she would appoint her dream office, so that I could get a feel for my detractor.  Her comment blasts me with what I have come to expect from the vast number of would-be experts and professionals who have never spent one hour, let alone months at a time, in a full-time setting with kids who have serious behavioral issues stemming from mental illness.  Here is what my ersatz Ally McBeal had to say:  “This is ridiculous, if not downright frightening and sick. It’s not time for a discussion about locking people up and separating them from society “for their own good.” It’s not time for a discussion about “humanely” denying people their due process rights and fundamental rights to freedom. It is time for a discussion about how people VIEW the mentally ill, how to treat them in such a way that they actually WANT to seek treatment (here’s a hint: locking them up isn’t going to make ANYONE seek help), and providing them with treatment that fits their particular circumstances.

I’m glad that Ms. McBeal took it upon herself to straighten me out.  It never occurred to me that the problem was how I viewed the mentally ill when I had to restrain a student that was throwing D-cell batteries as hard as he could at a female college student summer staff who might have weighed 105 pounds and was one of the kindest, gentlest women I have ever met.  I also should have taken the time to treat the student who was trying to molest another student in such a way the he would want treatment and not just separate him from the group by putting him in his own tent for the remainder of the course.  In fact, because of Ms. McBeal’s comment, I am going to have to contact every mentally ill student that I have ever stopped from committing felonious assault, attempted murder, and any number of sex offenses and let them know that I am sorry for violating their basic rights to due process and freedom.

Or not.

You see there are some problems with the assumption that I have some draconian attitude towards those with mental illness.  I can still remember cleaning defecation off a student in a river in Pisgah National Forest because he was having an episode, had soiled himself, and could not take care of his own needs.  At the time I was 4 days and 9 miles of hiking from my next shower.  Oh, and there was that time that I worked 60 days straight with no time off on a course with 8 students because my staff partner flaked-out and left the group for 6 days and I felt that it would be unsafe for the kids if I took more than an hour away from the group.  This suspicion was later confirmed when said staff partner had one of our students committed the day after I left on vacation, so when I got back I had her removed from the course and returned the student to the group.  I could go on, but that would merely be self-serving ego-stroking.  Simply put, I am an advocate for getting caring, appropriate, and effective treatment for the mentally ill.

Still, I’m glad the pre-bar exam McBeal made her comment.  It gave me the perfect illustration of one of the two most irritating problems with getting people with mental illness the help they need without endangering others.  My personal opinion (see how I did that to exempt me from litigation) is that there are way too many attorneys who want to project this idealistic notion of protecting the rights of the mentally ill before they hurt another individual…and then they want to sue them and their families into oblivion when one of these people hurts another person.  Everyone spends so much time with forms and audits and protocols and hearings that it is a very long time before the person with the dangerous mental illness gets any mandated treatment.  In actuality it is often several incidents into a problem before anyone can get the ball rolling on removing a dangerous person from the general populace because everyone is so busy covering their buttocks from litigation.

The other vexing problem is the parent with the checkbook; no real time for their child, no patience for the hassle, and definitely no concern for the safety of other children.  These lovely individuals merely write the checks that clean up the messy situations that their child creates.  They are essentially the same as a lot of bad parents, only their child has a dangerous mental illness and needs their time, love, and attention way more than anything else they can provide.  Yet these folks spend their time discounting the opinions of professionals, ignoring advice from doctors, and generally keeping their kids in the mainstream which is a danger to both themselves and others.

I’m going to keep hammering this nail and many others until people start paying attention.  This country has run off the rails in so many ways and until we start fixing some problems, we are going to continue to see the sort of destruction that we saw last week in Connecticut.  This is not about demonizing the mentally ill.  It is about completely changing the system to protect everyone…especially the patient.  In fact, the one person who keeps me in check when my life runs off the rails in someone who has been institutionalized with mental illness.  We all need someone to step in and take the reigns when we are out of control.  Why should we not afford the same kindness to the dangerously mentally ill?

If nothing else, THIS is something that I know…

I worked with youth from the time I was 18 until shortly after I turned 38.  During that time, I was blessed to work with a large number of special population children in a wilderness therapy and outdoor education program.  Special population is the nice, friendly, technical term for kids with some sort of psychological or psychiatric diagnosis.  For the most part, I worked with kids that were Learning Disabled and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (those in the business refer to this population as LD/ADHD for short).  Although there were certainly a lot of challenging times and students, I can honestly say that these were some of the sweetest, smartest, and most tenacious kids who were on their way to being amazing adults.

I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that there were some times that I was genuinely scared of some of my students.  There is this thing called comorbidity, which means that a person has one or more diagnoses or illnesses.  Sometimes we would have kids that were admitted to the program whose parents had not been honest and either neglected to mention or drastically understated the seriousness of their child’s mental illness.  These were kids that weren’t just LD/ADHD; they were diagnosed Bipolar or Oppositional Defiant Disorder or any of a number of serious mental illnesses or behavioral disorders.  I can even remember one student that we had to drive into town once a month to get a Lupron shot.  Lupron can be used as a form of “hormonal castration” to keep kids from being sexually predatory towards other children.  Think about that for a while and see if you don’t lose some sleep tonight.

To provide some context, I am just over six feet tall and during the time that I was working with these kids, I never weighed less than two hundred pounds.  My staff partners ran the gamut in both gender, size, and disposition.  The only times that I felt like I wasn’t the last resort on behavioral outbursts in the field was when I worked with my friend Brendon, who dwarfs me in both size and strength.  If you think it is disturbing to see a kid have a mental illness-related behavioral incident in public or in someone’s home, you should try being in the wilderness, thirteen miles from the nearest trailhead, and an hour and a half drive from the nearest working phone.  Live through that a couple of times and then talk to me about what you know about adolescent mental illness.

Please don’t think I’m down on kids with serious mental issues, either.  I once had a kid in my group that my staff partner had committed to a psych ward because he made her uncomfortable while I was on vacation for two weeks.  When I came back, he returned to the group and finished the semester…she did not.  Sometimes kids just need a caring advocate, but other times kids need serious intervention and their parents need help.  The problem is that for kids with dangerous mental illnesses and their parents, there is no real help.

I read this article that my wife found online:  I have known parents like this.  I’ve seen them grasp at straws because they knew that if something happened to them that no one would be around to protect/guide/manage their child.  I’ve seen the pain on their faces when they have lost hope.  I weep for these sorts of parents.

I have also seen the other parents: the ones in denial, still trying to “mainstream” a child with serious behavioral and emotional problems.  These parents endanger the other families in their communities because they try to keep their children in a public school system that simply does not have the resources to adequately assess and meet the needs of their children.  These parents often find false hope and encouragement from mental health professionals in a post-deinstitutionalization system.

These mental health workers are constantly trying to keep these sorts of children and eventually adults in an out-patient care scenario because that is what is “humane” and that is what our mental healthcare industry has been doing since the 1970’s.  Since then, and increasingly so in recent years, it has been almost impossible to have people with mental illness committed to a long-term care facility.  We used to call these places asylums, but I’ll give you a $100 if you can find one psychologist or psychiatrist in this nation that will use that term today.  Mentally ill individuals that are in the midst of crisis or having serious behavioral problems are funneled into one of two places: Hospital Emergency Rooms or Police Stations.  If you don’t believe me, ask a police officer or an ER nurse.  In either event, the mentally ill person either ends up in a short-term psych ward until their release or in a jail cell.  Neither of these is an acceptable answer for people with long-term illnesses.

The tragedy in Connecticut has sparked much debate, mostly about gun control.  There are not words that can express how awful this tragedy is for the parents of those kids or anyone else in that community.  Everyone grieves for those lost.  My question is this: What is it going to take for us to finally talk about developing a tiered system of long-term institutionalization for the mentally ill in this country.

We need a system that can provide long-term supervision, accountability, protection and residential care for the mentally ill.  We need a system where those who need help with minor mental illness can check in and out and still have somewhere to sleep at night so they don’t end up homeless because they can’t cope.  We need a place where people with profound mental illness can get appropriate care and 24-hour-a-day supervision.  We need system that keeps both patients and staff safe.  And finally, although no one else seems to want to say it, we need a place where we lock the violently disturbed away in such a way that respects their rights and provides the care they need while protecting the general public.

I want people to wrap their heads around this set of facts and really think about them without any media spin.  The shooter in Connecticut has a brother that hadn’t spoken to him in two years.  He shot and killed his own mother and then gunned down a bunch of small, innocent children.  I’m willing to bet that somebody, somewhere knew that he was unstable.  James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado theater shooter had a history of mental illness.  It seems that lots of people were concerned about him and their own safety but that he was being shuffled around by the system.  We have seen a large number of murder-suicides in our country in the last several years and the trend appears to be increasing.  We simply can not escape the fact that we have mentally ill people that need serious long-term help and who need to be removed from the general populace for their own safety and the safety of others.

It is past time for us to have this conversation as a nation.  Let’s not let another group of innocents die before we take the time to figure out what we should do with our “emotionally disturbed students.” our “serious behavioral problems,” and our “criminally insane.”  Let’s talk about institutionalization.  Clearly, the out patient care isn’t getting the job done.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I have to admit that I like watching “reality programming” on Discovery Channel.  I love shows like Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Fast N’ Loud.  Although there is certainly a lot of “Hollywooding-it-up” for television, I think that at the core, these are shows about people working and what that has a tendency to look like.

As a result of my love for Fast N’ Loud, I ended up watching this year’s bike build-off and last hoorah for American Chopper.  It was a four-way competition between the Teutels, Jesse James, and the guys from Fast N’ Loud (Aaron Kaufman and Richard Rawlings).  The rules were simple:

  1. Build whatever you like.
  2. You have 6 weeks to complete the bike.
  3. The bike must be able to pull itself up a 40 foot ramp.

Personally, I would consider these rules to be these easiest set of parameters for a motorcycle build-off in human history.  For men who are in the business of building custom motorcycles, these should have been a slam dunk.  Well…apparently not…at least not for Jesse James.

Jesse spent the weeks leading up to the build-off trashing his opponent’s bike building ability while lauding his own stellar skills.  Then, when 6 weeks was up, he asked for another 2 weeks.  When that 2 weeks was up, he then stated that he was not constrained by some “bullsh**, made-up television deadline” and that he would have the bike ready in time for the live show, thus giving himself over 10 weeks when everyone else had agreed on almost half of that.

How did this work out for the competition?  Well, Paul Sr. from Orange County Choppers used the extra 2 weeks to do some more finish work, so he benefited from the extension.  Paul Junior’s bike was done, so he just waited for the event.  The guys from Fast N’ Loud?  Well, I guess they worked on other projects, drank a few beers and took it easy.  Their bike had been completed in 4 1/2 weeks…well before the deadline.  In fact, Aaron Kaufman was so confident in his work that he hopped on the bike and drove it over 1,300 miles to Vegas, for the main event.

So, how did the voting go?  How did the build-off end?  I’m sure that for many of you it will be no surprise that Paul Jr. Designs won the event, with the bike from Fast N’ Loud coming in second.  Jesse James’ masterful design?  It didn’t even place.

I say all of that in order to say this:  My dad spent an immense amount of time during my childhood teaching me that it is unacceptable to be “a day late and a dollar short.”  As a kid, I thought that he was being too hard…as an adult, I couldn’t agree more.  Dr. Tom Jones, one of my college professors, used to close and lock the classroom door at 1 minute past the class starting time.  Other professors at my university would take 1 letter grade off of a paper for every day it was late.  Why all of this pressure  to be on time?  Because being late means that you’re unreliable, disrespectful of others, and quite often, just plain lazy.

I know that there are people out there that have no concept of time because I am one of them.  Still, we all develop ways of being on time unless we just don’t care.  All of us will occasionally be late because of circumstances beyond our control, but if we respect people, we will respect their time.

Last night, Jesse James did me a favor.  He reminded me that it doesn’t matter how much skill and talent that someone has unless they can meet a deadline.  He reminded me that we all need to play by the same rules.  Most importantly, he reminded me that people with his attitude are people that I would do well to avoid.


Not Entitled To Hate…Ever.

This morning I awoke to the media barrage surrounding the Ellen DeGeneres Christmas ad for JC Penny.  I watched the ad to see what was so offensive and threatening to the moral fabric of our nation.  Yep, just what I thought.  Nothing.  All the controversy is merely because a company hired a lesbian (who happens to have a huge following with substantial brand recognition) to be in their commercial.

I’m going to keep this short and to the point for all of my Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors AND our enemies.  This means that we are not entitled to hate anyone…ever.  I know that we are all imperfect and sinners and that it takes the work of the Lord in our lives to get there, but it just seems like most of us aren’t even trying anymore.

I’ve got to go now.  I just realized that if I’m going to live by this that I have to find a hipster, buy him an expensive coffee, take a moody photo of him with a retro camera filter on my smartphone, post it to Facebook and then ask him if he would like to come to Christmas dinner.

Jesus’ words are hard.  Being self-righteous and hating people is easy.

Black Coffee and Cigarettes

There are a lot of days when I have a very large amount of regret for the fact that I don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes.  When I was growing up in my Dad’s auto parts business, that was what real, working men did while they productively got their jobs done.  That’s right…actually smoking inside an enclosed building while getting their jobs done.  I especially remember one man, Roger McPeters, who worked for Dad for a long time.  Roger smoked a pipe, which I thought was classier than the cigarettes and made him look way cooler with his awesome mustache and his toboggan (some of you call these knit caps or beanies).  Anyway, I digress.  The main point is that I ought to give my father a medal for raising me around such men and in that atmosphere.

We had a Bunn commercial coffee system with multiple warmers and a hard-plumbed brewing system.  I knew how to make coffee before I could get a work permit and I don’t even like it.  Dad bought coffee by the case and we provided it free to the public and our employees.  Did you hear that coffee snobs?  Free coffee to the public!  In fact if you are a contractor or someone who has a real job, where you actually break a sweat or get dirty for a living, you will still find parts and supply houses that provide the same courtesy.

I wanted to share that memory so that I can say this:  Today, as with many other days, I have been reminded that something is terribly, horribly wrong with our country.  I won’t blame it all on Keurigs and flavored coffee (although I think that is a good start), but that is at least one of the indicators that something is not right…at all.  If commercial coffee in a disposable cup or a heavily used and stained mug was good enough for our fathers, why are we paying over four dollars for something that those guys would have put in a sippy cup for kids to drink?

Something is wrong with us.  Few of us work as hard as our parents and we certainly don’t work as hard as our grandparents.  How’s this for a memory?  I can remember Dad hooking up the plow to our horse and plowing in our garden because he didn’t feeling like going to the hassle of changing the attachment on the tractor to plow eight rows of corn.  Oh, I’m sorry, you were saying something about what a hassle it is that something isn’t working right on your smartphone?

My father retired last year…at eighty years old.  He can barely hear and can’t see so well, either.  His kidneys are failing and they have been for 10 years…and yet he works.  He still works at home with yard work and since we measure their yard in acres, I would say that still qualifies as work.  I’m not saying he that he is as steady or productive as he used to be, but I would be willing to bet that even at his decreased pace that he gets more done than most of us…you know, because we are too busy checking our cellphones or Facebook.

So…just for the record; today, I am angry…and disappointed…and ashamed because of what we have become.  We are lazy and unproductive.  We are late, we don’t deliver, and we are full of excuses.  We are pompous and entitled and we suck.  Oh, and guess what?  If we are one of the few that has a work ethic, we are likely surrounded by a bunch of clowns who we are to afraid to confront and tell them to get off their asses because we are politically correct or worried about their feelings or being sued or fired.  Yep, that is what Hell looks like to me.

Today, I started my day with the memory of my father’s business at 7:55 am on a typical day and the smell of black coffee and cigarettes and it made me cry a little.  I’m not sure if the crying is for the loss of the business and what it did to my Dad or because that entity doesn’t exist anymore or because of who we, as a nation, have become.  Whichever it is, I’m at a loss.