During a talk on trade last week, Trump said that the U.S. has been taken advantage of for far too long.  He proudly proclaimed that the U.S. is a “smart” country again, not the “stupid” country that it was under past administrations.

In what has been a confused, hateful, misdirected disaster of an administration, this comment hardly stands out.  Trump has mocked the disabled, threatened all sorts of folks who think differently than he, praised white supremacists, and has thousands of documented lies to his name.  It even makes a sad sort of sense that he would call the US prior to his tenure as president stupid.

So what, in Donald Trump’s world, makes “America” stupid?  Without taking the time to go into specific details, I think this can be summed up as any policy – written or understood – and any law that defends civil and human rights, encourages cooperation with allies, protects or defends women – and the climate, the environment, and the animal kingdom – and generally anything that doesn’t generate a profit, either for the country or Trump.

(Many, many more things make Trump stupid, least of all which is his use of “America” to denote all the land between the borders of Canada and Mexico.)

Oh, and apparently abiding by the Constitution.

https://www.truthexam.com/2018/06/trump-just-exploded-on-twitter-our-laws-are-the-dumbest-anywhere-in-the-world/

And what makes this country “smart?”  Well again, generally, the opposite of all of the above.  Misogyny, racism, the defense of our southern border (without actually thinking it through first), anything which violates the rights of anyone who is not a white Christian male, destroying public land for a profit, denying years and years of documented scientific research, and…well, you get the picture.

Trump, like many “Americans,” is arrogant in assuming that the people in this country are not and have never been nationalistic.  He is, in his mind anyway, destined to create a national pride that will, of course, threaten everybody else.  “America First is very threatening to others. We don’t want to be threatening,” Mr. Trump said, adding that the focus is making America “great” again.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-celebrates-gop-tax-bill-live-updates/

The mere boosting of pride, industry, and self-determination is certainly not a threat to anyone; it is what every country works to achieve and maintain. It is what allows states to work together and make the world a more livable one.  But nearly everything Trump does is threatening – to our allies, to our own well-being, and to the safety of the world at large.  It has become evident over the last year or so, that what he thinks is great for the United States threatens a large portion of the population within its borders. We have become a country that has lost much (though certainly not all) of its compassion for those who are different and policies that will benefit them. We have a businessman (and not a very good one at that) for a leader who, because of his lack of knowledge, political sense, and diplomacy (not to mention a staff that will do his bidding at any cost) is working to create policies that pose a threat not just to us, but to the entire planet.

In ways that we’ve probably never experienced before, it is the duty of each and every one of us to protect the US and the rest of the world, not from the “stupid” country that we were, but from the stupid country we have become.

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Here we are again.  Every year 45,000 people kill themselves and even more attempt to. Although there is a deeper awareness of the problem of suicide among the general population, the number of people who kill themselves every year is rising.

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Why are more people than ever choosing to end their lives?

Back in 2014 after Robin Williams’ tragic death, I explored this question in some detail:

https://debaumer.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/continuing-the-dialogue-about-suicide/

The answers to that question of “why” are many, but they’re not all that complex to those who live with chronic suicidal feelings and thoughts and to many who work with people who have them.  The “why” is actually pretty simple; what is a bit more complicated and controversial, are the questions of “how” and “whether” we prevent the act.
Nearly everyone – at least in US culture – shares the belief that anyone who is considering suicide is mentally ill or, at best, emotionally distraught. And that they need to be saved, to be kept alive at all costs.  It is seen as a noble cause; certainty in the notion that life is sacred, people find personal satisfaction in knowing they have “made a difference” in the life of someone they have saved from killing themselves.  Professionals and lay alike use the now clichéd reminders to try to convince those who are thinking of killing themselves that they are misguided and life is, truly, their ONLY choice.  While that argument that life may not be the only choice is best held for another time, it is useful to remember that suicide does not always face the same stigma globally that it does in the US. Likewise, sometimes the only thing that is accomplished in saving someone is putting them back in the same situations they could not tolerate in the first place.
For many who have attempted suicide or who live in emotional turmoil and who view it as the only viable option, the efforts of even those who offer the standard clichéd talk are sought out and appreciated.  And those reminders are often successful, at least temporarily, especially with folks facing immediate danger of self-harm.  People go on to live their lives, sometimes bettered, sometimes not.  For others though, all the cliched responses and encouragement are met with a quiet desperation to be heard, to be understood, and to be allowed to consider the option openly and safely. As it turns out, providing the latter may actually lead – indirectly – to a greater appreciation for the life they have.
Few get that. And it is the intense isolation, that feeling that what people are experiencing is “bad” or “disgusting” or lacking courage that propels them further toward a final decision.
So what is the best response?  To know what needs to be said, we need to understand what often does NOT help:
“You are loved.”  “Your husband/wife loves you.”  “Your parents love you.”
It’s a common response to someone who is thinking about killing him- or herself. But in fact, it’s frequently seen as an uninformed and arrogant reaction, especially when it comes from a stranger.  People who want to die do not feel loved – they may actually feel hated by others or completely invisible – and simply saying they are will not convince them otherwise.  Reminding them that they, indeed are, is really a way to guilt them into staying alive.   It also may simply be incorrect.  Not everyone has someone to love them.
“You are not alone.”
In fact, the person who is considering suicide may very well be alone or at least feel that way.  Anyone who has experienced intense episodes of depression or other emotional turmoil understands that reluctance to discuss it with others and also knows how others often abandon them at the most critical times. We have stigmatized psychological problems and called them a “weakness.”  And unless there is someone who is willing to talk privately and safely and honestly, that person will feel isolated.  “You are not alone” is another of those declarations that may not be true.  To say it to a stranger, to write it, or to assume that everyone has the support of others is simply a way to make ourselves feel better.
“It can get better.”
This is a tricky one that straddles the border of acceptable/unacceptable.  It’s true – in many if not most cases, things can improve – but it’s often used as blanket statement to encompass everyone/anyone.  For the individual who combats past severe trauma, for the one who has lived with depression for decades, for those who suffer a brain injury or disorder that has a poor prognosis, things may not get better.
“You are not alone,” “it can get better,” and “you are loved” are no more than lip service designed to make the speaker feel better, even though hardly anyone recognizes that. Empty words are not going to change the desperation that some feel.  While they may be delivered with absolute genuine intent to help, they may have the opposite effect.  Sometimes those words let a person know that the speaker doesn’t get it.  That they have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes.
If our standard go-to’s won’t help, what should we say and do?  First and foremost, we need to learn to recognize the signs of someone who is struggling and avoid minimizing them with dismissive talk.  Prevention in all cases is preferable to crisis management.  If someone experiences the death of someone close, our presence and care throughout the entire grieving period – which may last months or longer – is far more effective than talking that same person off of a ledge some day.  If someone shows the signs of depression, our  love and support mean so much more than trying to convince them their life is valuable after they’ve experienced silence from us and isolation.  If a person is working through trauma, our encouragement is more helpful than paying lip service (even sub- or unconsciously) to a life that has become intolerable for them.
Simply, we need to invite compassion into our daily interactions. Show people they are valued, loved, supported, and cared for before they lose hope.  Listen to hear what scares them. And fight the stigma of speaking openly about emotional problems, grief, the effects of trauma, and suicide.

 

 

  • Not recognized by mental health professionals as a valid (or “billable”) diagnosis.

And still, it is…

  • Feeling like you always have to prove to everyone that you are good enough
  • Isolating yourself because there is no one you can trust
  • Having explosive outbursts of rage at the store clerk because he forgets your receipt or your cat because she threw up on your carpet or your friend because she didn’t answer your text
  • Not remembering the reasons behind your anger or your sadness or your hopelessness
  • Cutting yourself to take the pain away
  • Being sure everybody is angry with you and saying bad things about you
  • Wishing you could die so there would be an end to your pain
  • Feeling guilty because you didn’t suffer “real” trauma
  • Never living, but just surviving day-to-day

Complex PTSD is all this, and much, much more.

Very few people actually like going to the doctor.  In Western culture, though, it has become the expected norm to visit a physician for the diagnosis and treatment of medical illness and a mental health provider if the issues are believed to be psychological. Since this practice is so much a part of our culture – since we are nearly completely reliant on medical professionals for our well-being – it would be reasonable to assume that those charged with our care would have a greater-than-normal empathy and compassion for their patients.  In particular, when one of those patients is diagnosed with an illness that is seen as “invisible” or that has a strong stigma attached to it, it would seem that the medical community would offer additional, more focused support.

I have five of those illnesses/disorders, each one more stigmatized or “rare” than the next.   What I’ve discovered over the last three or so decades is that health care professionals  not only don’t understand – or try to understand – those things they seldom see, they often perpetuate the stigma society attaches to them.  Care is then delayed for people who are dealing with symptoms that don’t have a ready explanation and sometimes, out of fear, those people will not seek help or treatment and never receive care.

Although I have experienced this many times over the course of the last 30+ years, it was never more evident than after I was diagnosed with simple and complex partial epilepsy (recurrent seizures now called focal aware and focal impaired awareness seizures, respectively).  Although these are the most common types of epileptic seizures, they are not the kinds of seizures most people think of when they think of epilepsy.  In fact, with focal aware seizures, an observer would probably never know a seizure had occurred because these manifest as subjective symptoms – an odd smell, a visual hallucination, hearing words spoken as gibberish. The signs of a focal impaired awareness seizure are more evident, but sometimes resemble drunkenness or mental illness.

I became an expert on my own seizures and medication because even my neurologists questioned their validity. Few would commit to calling them epilepsy, even though anti-epileptic drugs worked to eventually control them and many were “classic” partial seizures. I was asked repeatedly about my drug and alcohol use (I never used either) and whether or not I had any psychiatric diagnoses.  I went through a 2-year period when I was having hundreds of seizures a day; I couldn’t work, couldn’t drive, and ended up in the hospital multiple times. Still, the neurologists and general practitioners I saw wondered if these “episodes” were, instead of seizures, tied in with my depression.  During this time, I became more withdrawn and more depressed; I was beginning to feel invisible to everyone and without their help, I was not going to get better.  I also feared the stigma associated with both epilepsy and mental illness; there were times when I wished I’d been diagnosed with something more “visible” – even if it created more of a burden for me – that people could see and accept.

After many years controlled on medication, my focal seizures have returned with a vengeance.  My current neurologist was hesitant to make a medication change – “if it works, don’t fix it” (except that it didn’t) – and wanted me to ride them out to determine whether they were “really” seizures or just stress.  I’m a much better advocate for myself these days and I pushed for a medication change, which I got.  My seizures did not fully stop, but they have been significantly reduced.

I am no longer quiet about my epilepsy or my depression.  And if asked, I’ll talk about what it’s like to live with complex PTSD or a Chiari Malformation.  But there is still a diagnosis or two only my closest friends know about and which I’ll likely never openly discuss. Because there remains an intense stigma attached to things people don’t understand. And when people believe the stigma, they stop seeing the person.

 

 

  •  Having trouble breathing.
  •  Holding your breath so no one notices you’re having trouble breathing.
  • Certain everyone can hear your heartbeat pounding against the walls of your chest and fearful it will burst through and land on the floor in front of you.
  • Wishing that the butterflies residing in your stomach would take flight and find another flower to harass.
  • Having knots in your muscles so tight it feels like you’re sitting on golf balls and you’ve been beaten with a baseball bat.
  • Worrying obsessively about whether your kid will get home safely from his first party and knowing with certainty that you’re now going to have to send him to rehab.
  • Spending half your shift in the bathroom.
  • Pacing back-and-forth, from bed to couch to kitchen and back again.
  • Multiple trips to the emergency room to ensure your chest pain and shortness of breath is not something fatal.
  • Isolating yourself to control your symptoms, because nothing else works.
  • Sleeping all day.
  • Not sleeping at all.
  • Having no appetite.
  • Eating everything in sight.
  • Going through the day with a smile on your face.
  • Feeling numb.
  • Dragging yourself through each day because that’s what others expect of you.
  • Always feeling like you are covered with a thick, scratchy, woolen blanket and huddled at the bottom of a well.
  • Not having enough energy to make a meal or do the dishes or vacuum the floor.
  • Hearing that this life is amazing and worth it and how you will see that if only you will exercise or get out more or volunteer somewhere.
  • Knowing that everyone is lying to you, knowing that you are really ugly and stupid and worthless.
  • Feeling like you’re walking through a suffocating blanket of mist and fog.
  • Needing to read the same page over and over in a book, and still not understanding what you read.
  • Sitting for hours on your couch, watching Andy Griffith reruns
  • Being told that your worse day is not nearly as bad as that stranger’s who was just diagnosed with cancer or the father who just lost his job and his house, even as you try to figure out how many pills it will take to kill you on that day you’ve chosen to be your last.

 

Depression is so much more than you think.

God In the US

Posted: May 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

Although the last several years have brought a resurgence of enthusiasm and public expression among those of the Christian faith, there seems to be an even greater (dare I say louder and more aggressive?) presence in just the last year or so.  But interestingly, with that presence has also come a complaint among some that this faith in particular is being persecuted and has become the object of prejudice.

I used to laugh every time I heard that; now I just close my eyes and sigh.  With the number of Christians in the US at about 240 million (about 70%) and representatives of all other religious groups significantly lower,

http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

it is hard to wrap my head around the idea that a vast majority of the religious population in this country is experiencing, as a whole, any kind of institutional or widespread bias.

As a non-Christian, I see things that Christians take for granted as demonstrating and perpetuating gross inequality in this country.  Monotheism has inserted itself in every aspect of our lives, whether we believe and accept it or not.  I hear about “God” every day;  the idea of “God” is thrust in my face, it is forced on me, like the unwanted sexual violation of an attacker.  I see it:

  • when I turn on the TV to political news
  • every time I go through the change in my purse
  • when I attend a sporting event
  • driving through the streets of every city in my state
  • if I seek care at the local hospitals
  • when I shop in stores months before major holidays
  • and much more…

In a country that was founded on the belief that we all share the freedom to worship and speak as we desire the majority has, without doubt or consequence, treated those in the minority with a combination of pity, condescension, threats and sometimes, death for being non-believers.  The examples are everywhere, from the witnesses that accost pedestrians on the street and insist on sharing the “truth” in our homes to the blatant threats and assault on those on the non-religious or who uphold a different faith.

During my exclusively pagan years, there were times we had to be walked to our cars after circle because locals were threatening anyone who was pagan with death. The oppression and fear was very real; Christianity and its followers are responsible for the murder of individuals who don’t believe and follow a different path and the berating of and arrogance toward both individuals and groups who do not share their ideas and beliefs.

I have been bullied because I don’t believe in the Christian God, treated (over and over again) like an unknowing child, and shunned by people who do believe. My experience is not unique. While not all Christians behave in this way and there are some truly beautiful people who are practicing Christians, the institution itself and its scripture preserve the Christian’s understanding and belief that theirs is the only true way.

Returning to a society that allows everyone to express his/her spiritual beliefs in their own way would create a space for tolerance, dialogue, and a more peaceful culture.  I’m not expecting that anytime soon.