Never, Never Boomers

Books saved my life.

Just before I started third grade, my family moved to our first one family house.  After many years living on the ground floor of a duplex, we kids were thrilled to discover that there would no longer be any other family living upstairs.  My older sister and I now shared the luxury of a third-floor bedroom all to ourselves.  We even had our own bathroom.  The previous occupants had left us blue wall to wall carpeting and pirate-themed wallpaper.  Jolly Roger flagged galleons were manned by a collection of peg-legged and eye-patched old sailors.  Some of the pirates, for some reason as large as their ships, floated mysteriously against the azure sky, brandishing curved scabbards and smoking muskets.  

For several years around this time, Dad attended law school four nights a week, in addition to working all day.  Weekends, he crashed. In our busy household, it seemed that Mother was always engrossed with our many younger siblings. (Sheila was the oldest, and I was number two of the eventual ten children in our Irish Catholic family.)  Above all the hubbub, Sheila and I lived in our own little world.  Most of the time, that meant parents and the little kids did not ascend the third-floor staircase.  We could have Monopoly games going for days, and no babies would mess up the board.  In exchange for this privilege, we were required to do our chores and to GO TO BED when told.

We hated turning off the lights at night. That third floor was dark. As a compromise, we negotiated to keep the bathroom light on and leave the door ajar just a crack, which allowed a thin sliver of light to pierce the shadows. Unfortunately, the light also hit against the wallpaper and lit up the pirates’ eyeballs, which glared out, menacingly. In preparation for this problem, I would put my Jesus, Blessed Virgin, and Holy Family fluorescent glow-in-the-dark statues directly next to the light bulb of our bedside lamp for several minutes before lights went out.  Once darkness fell and the eyeballs glistened, I could line up my glowing Catholic talismans to defend me.

Then Peter Pan came to television, and Sheila and I were overjoyed to discover a world where little kids beat the pirates! Our game theme was set for the next few years.  Like Peter Pan and Wendy, we felt in command and unafraid of the wallpaper menace.  Unfortunately, though, we now faced an even worse peril: crocodiles.  Crocodiles under the bed, ready to snap at your bare ankles.  Crocodiles everywhere on the blue wall-to-wall sea. A trip to the bathroom became a mad dash on tiptoes. Sharp teeth loomed everywhere.

Sheila and I were avid readers, and books became our saviors.  We kept stacks of them at the foot of our beds and spread them, like rose petals, beneath our feet as we moved about the room.  They became our little islands on the ocean floor, and a nighttime trip to the bathroom was now accomplished by crossing our literary archipelago.  Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, the C.S. Lewis books about Narnia, the Enid Blyton Adventure series… even babyish storybooks were used indiscriminately for protection.  But heaven help you if you slipped off!  A crocodile could crush your ankle in his powerful jaws in less than a second!

In bed, waiting for sleep to come, I would fantasize that Peter came for ME!  He and I would fly off to Never Never Land, and live there forever.  For months I even left our dormer window open a crack for him.  If Dad felt the draft, he would tramp upstairs, huffing and swearing, “Jeez, waddya trying to do up here, heat up the whole town?  Close the winda!”  He’d slam the window shut with a bang, and I would scoot down under the covers, giving up on Peter for that night.  “Maybe tomorrow,” I’d think, as I drifted off to sleep.   The two fantasies coexisted peacefully; my fear of the crocodiles in our daily play was somehow detached from the dream to fly away and be free in a land where crocodiles roamed.  I could picture myself swimming in paradise lagoons, perching in tree houses, and floating over exciting new scenery, like a cloud.  No dishes, no homework, no diapers to fold and stack!  I wanted to live in Never Never Land, have adventures, and never, ever grow up.

For Sheila and me, adults were just legs who wandered through our scenery, like in the Peanuts comic strip.  And we were almost as independent of each other as we were of adults.  We often shared helpful advice for each other, such as, “You don’t have enough books in your arms to make it all the way to the closet.  Take more.”  Or Sheila told me to try using old National Geographics; they worked just as well as hardcover books, and they weighed less.  I shared with her my discovery that large, flat storybooks were the easiest to balance on – they provided a wide, solid foothold.  But when it came right down to it, it was every kid for herself.  No whining to parents to rescue us. Whether it was in real life or in the books we read, we believed that children could function almost totally without adults.  And as we moved into the sixties, we continued to think that we could get along without adult help and never have to grow up.   

Throughout it all, I generally felt quite capable of making sure I had enough books with me to get where I needed to go without ankle injury.  Don’t get me wrong.  Mother was a rock, and I depended on her for far more than I knew at the time. But, understandably perhaps in our large household, she was Mrs. No Nonsense,  Mrs. No Time for Sentiment.  “Time to get up.  Peel these potatoes for dinner.  Did you do your homework?  Fold that basket of diapers, would you?” And as I mentioned, my father was just sort of not there, except to yell if we broke the rules.  Never feeling particularly nurtured, not fearing the absence of warm bosomy embraces, I wasn’t afraid of leaving home.  

I really couldn’t figure out what all that fuss was about the Lost Boys and Peter wanting a mother.  I had a mother, and I didn’t feel any qualms at all about leaving her.  Becoming part of a gang of lost children sounded like fun. In choosing a college and after, my siblings and I seemed to have a contest to see who could move away the farthest and stay away the longest. California, Wisconsin, Montana, Massachusetts, Louisiana, North Carolina…  As each child graduated from high school, we received two suitcases as our graduation present, and off we went. For a while, we even had representatives in Zaire, Egypt, and Venezuela! And we took care of ourselves quite nicely, thank you, at least in all the practical things.  We learned to make a living, and we saved dutifully for retirement, although none of us actually believed that retirement would ever come.  

But time did pass. We Boomers couldn’t ignore it anymore.  We began to diet and exercise.  

And now both of my parents are gone. And since I’m in the famous first wave of Baby Boomers, I know that I’m not alone.  We Boomers, who were never going to trust anyone over thirty; who, into our forties were still asking each other what we wanted to be when we grew up; and who have been fighting against the signs of age hitting us, have never really faced the ultimate impact of the passage of time on our parents, much less ourselves. While my sisters and I were nervously whispering about what we would do if Mother needed nursing home care, she slipped away.  No nonsense, no fuss, a massive heart attack while we were sleeping, and we were cut adrift.  

Suddenly I feel alone and exposed, surrounded by crocodiles.  Funerals, estate attorneys, where to have Thanksgiving dinner this year, who to call for sympathy on that missed promotion. Do I take Social Security at 62 or wait it out to 67?  Unexpectedly, I feel empathy for the Lost Boys.  Sheila and I never felt like we had anyone to save us if we fell off our islands, but she and I, and our other brothers and sisters and friends have subtly, now, become each other’s islands. Like the Lost Boys, we are creating a new family structure for ourselves, hopefully one which will allow, even encourage, more closeness than before.  

The pirates and crocodiles are out there, but just as we did up in our room on the third floor, we’ve discovered that we can create a new island refuge.  And as each of us struggles to carry enough books to make it to where we need to go, we try to remember to look out for each other.  The next few years will be tough ones, and we lost boys and girls will have to stick together. 

***

For more stories like this one, I’ve published a memoir about growing up in this large family and caring for my youngest brother, who suffered from schizophrenia.

Male Myth and Guns

Where does the urge by young men to strap on powerful guns and shoot up a bunch of strangers even come from? Why do young men keep doing it? Why are they so angry?

For a possible answer, we might take a look at our society’s major myths. In the Western world, the familiar myths that help us make sense of the people and events around us glorify male archetypes, heroes who tamed wild, unknown lands. I’m thinking of the notation at the edge of old maps that say things like “Beyond here, there be dragons.” Often the myth that fuels our perception of events is that of the redeemer— the young man who journeys far from his home to fight unknown foes and come back to his home as a hero: Odysseus/Ulysses and Perseus in classical times; the Lone Ranger, Luke Skywalker and Spiderman in ours. This kind of hero uses his superior strength, intelligence, skill with weapons, and the favor of the gods to tame evil giants, one-eyed monsters, and greedy evil-doers.

The problem is that today, most of our worlds have been conquered. And so our continuing reverence for this kind of myth creates a tension that cannot be resolved without making trouble for society.  It no longer serves our tamed and heavily populated world. Yet, to the extent the brave warrior archetype is the one which fills young peoples’ imaginations, men will want to be the warrior and women will want to be with the warrior. All young people want approval, and hopefully admiration, of their peers and parents. But allowing this kind of myth to fuel their approach to the world only gets us all in trouble. this kind of thinking helps young men up so they face setbacks as if they have just drunk ten cups of coffee. They want to DO SOMETHING NOW!!  They don’t set themselves to studying and planning and working with others. They come to believe that strapping on a semi-automatic weapon and shooting the people at the church or synagogue down the road or their high school will somehow vanquish society’s enemies. Yet the real evil we must face is more likely to be a pervert in the apartment in the next building or a greedy corporate raider–not to mention climate change woes–not a one-eyed giant in a strange, far-away land. 

Now, before you start, YES, we have way too many guns floating around in the U.S.A.—an estimated 400,000,000 of them, including 10,000,000 – that’s millions – assault-style rifles, capable of shooting over 40 bullets in one minute.  We thoughtful people can’t seem to get our lawmakers to hear our demands for sensible gun control legislation.   And YES, some of these shootings are committed by people who are mentally ill. But it is a very low percentage, less than the occurrence of serious mental illness in the population. (And, by the way, we are doing almost nothing to help these people before a tragedy occurs. See my blog Following up on Parkland) And YES, violent video games might give people ideas. But women play video games, too, and they almost never commit mass shootings. 60% of Japanese people play these video games—more than in the U.S.A., but they hardly commit any gun violence at all. Men in European countries and Canada face problems with their jobs and anger over perceived unfairness in the workplace, but they hardly ever engage in shooting sprees.  So how do we make sense of this?

In the U.S. we are seeing the convergence of three problems: the availability of firearms,  the build-up of these economic and social provocations and stressors and a third factor—a lifetime of hearing and seeing this conquering hero archetype projected around them over and over again. The combination is deadly.

We need new myths.

There are still new worlds to explore and conquer. It’s just that they will not be discovered or explored by superheroes, cowboys and adventurers. The new worlds we face as a society will be explored by teams of people working cooperatively, depending on their intelligence, reasoning ability, and support teams—like astronauts, who depend on an extraordinary team of scientists and technicians to make their giant leaps for mankind. It will not be by loners, acting on their intuition, innate skill, and big guns. There are no one-eyed cyclops out there for us to shoot and save the world in an instant. We need great stories that give praise to intelligence and reasoning ability, skills that will fuel the ambitions of young men and women going forward. Our new heroes will be scientists and people who can lead people to work together to solve such problems as infrastructure needs and mitigating the impact of climate change.

How much happier the young men of our society—and the people around them—would be if they were raised to praise and wish to emulate the good father, rather than the man who abandons his family to have adventures. how much happier and better off if our young men held as their idea not Odysseus, but more like the Jimmy Stuart character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Or if they were raised to emulate the idealism and self-sacrifice of Jimmy Stuart again in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, making a difference without a gun anywhere in sight. Those movies were very popular in the past, but more recently have been replaced by comic-book strong, independent men or X-men who have no family responsibilities and who chase evil-doers with guns blazing. They’re not even pretending to try to get back to Penelope.

I think our society recognizes that the lone hero archetype isn’t quite right, but it doesn’t quite know how to fix it. Let’s all try.

Post Script

And where shall women find heroines to emulate in the old myths? There’s certainly no place for a lady in any of them, at least not as an actor having the adventures. another reason for some new myths. But my thoughts on that will have to wait for another day. Coming soon.

Why Not Believe the Women?

There is something that often gets overlooked in our conversations about #metoo, priestly pedophilia, Christine Blasi Ford, beer-swilling Kavanaugh, disgusting child rapists, and the range of sexual abuses that were simply not talked about for generations. That “something” is that two trends tend to play out in concert with one another in the issue. 

On the one hand, claims that a man has raped a woman or child are often not believed. Our society has declared that rape and child sexual abuse are heinous crimes, yet for some reason, most police, judges, jurors, etc., have tended to believe that the women and girls who report these assaults are likely lying. In their eyes, the very fact that the woman has had sexual relations—even if it was against her will—somehow defines her as a wanton woman. “Do you want to believe a prostitute?” someone inevitably says. Well, I say, “Do you want to believe the guy who frequents prostitutes? …A man who lures 15-year-olds into his mansion to give him ‘“massages?’ …A man who cannot sustain a consenting sexual relationship with anyone? Yet the woman’s claim is often not believed, she is verbally abused for making any claim, and the man goes free.

But there is something else that occurs — the man IS believed. That is, the fallback position if there is any doubt—do we believe him or her?— is that the man likely did not commit a crime; men in power believe the accused’s protestations of innocence. It’s not 50-50. So despite the fact that 19 (or more) women have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault, our legal system has done nothing to prosecute him. So a rich movie mogul can rape, abuse and torment young actresses for decades. So a known child predator and pornographer—Epstein—can operate in plain sight because he is rich and has a huge cadre of lawyers who pay people off or blackmail his customers or whatever they do so that their client does not end up in prison for life. Police, prosecutors, etc. don’t believe the women. They believe the men

This goes far beyond the innocent until proven guilty claim. Compare it to a claim of robbery. If I claim that I saw someone steal my car, and if I pick the guy out of a lineup, he will likely be convicted of that crime, no matter how much he protests his innocence. The jurors and judges will likely believe me. Yet men will repeatedly say about a rape that the intercourse either didn’t take place, or that it was consensual. 

In cases like this, unless the woman can show huge bruises and scrapes from being dragged through an alley, the claim that it was consensual, or that the woman is making it all up—the usual contentions of the man—is, more often than not, believed. It is as if the car thief claimed that I told him it was ok for him to take my car for a joy ride and the jury believed him. 

The D.A., judge, and jury would not believe that. They do, however, apparently believe that a fourteen-year-old girl wanted to become the sexual plaything of a bunch of rich perverts. 

I am so disgusted.

Why do so many men believe that women make this stuff up?

When will this change? When will sexual predators be locked up?

We need more women in authority. We need a woman president.

Not Thinking About Schizophrenia

Nobody really knows why the universe exists or how it came into being. But people through the ages have felt obliged to come up with theories and came to call them truth.

Nobody knows if our belated efforts to slow global warming will make any difference in the long run, but great efforts are made in the name of science

Nobody knows what will happen to our spirits at death. But people through the ages have devised theories and called them revelation.

Nobody knows – – so many things.

Do you know how a squirrel can manage to leap six feet through the air to get to the top of my bird feeder?

Or why mothers and daughters argue and so often carry resentment like a badge?

Or how to face caring for a parent or sibling who is slowly dying?

Do you know why 1.1% of the world’s population develops schizophrenia? Or why my little brother Paul–he, of the ten of us siblings–was one of the unlucky ones? Or why as a society we have abandoned people like Paul? Why is out of sight, out of mind, unless it’s your brother? Why are our mentally ill brothers and sisters dying in the streets? Why aren’t we doing more?

Nobody knows.

What I do know is that it is easier to try to figure out how to reduce carbon emissions or to theorize how the Big Bang may have reverberated through space, than it is to search for answers to what drives the human psyche. That may forever be what nobody knows.

 

Migrations

As a kid, I learned of great migrations —

early peoples who left Africa for the Middle East

and Europe.  Millennia later, people moved in family groups

across the Bering Straights, into Alaska, chased by ice

of spreading glaciers, on down the western American coast

and into the Great Plains. I never used to wonder why.

But now I’ve studied how people fled pogroms

and Jim Crow, the Great Hunger, and the Final Solution.

and I witness in real time our 21st-century migrations,

people fleeing Syria, Honduras and Guatemala in droves,

— now thwarted by a very different I.C.E. —

centuries after centuries, families seeking

a better life —  as Ice Ages and Climate Change destroy

old ways to make a living, and bellicose men seeking

power and prestige destroy others.

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Mother’s Day

My younger brother Paul suffered from severe and treatment-resistant schizophrenia. He developed the illness at age 16, in 1976, and never really recovered. He was frequently delusional and paranoid, and sometimes threatened violence. But our mother never gave up on him, always believing that one day soon, a cure would be found. It was our job to keep him safe until then.

At the onset of Paul’s illness, psychologists still tossed around terms that blamed the mother in some way for the condition. The terms “smothering mothering” and the “schizophrenic mother” were bandied about in pseudo-scientific literature. At other times mental illness was often blamed on repressed homosexuality or an Oedipal complex – Freudian beliefs still popular in some circles. And in many people’s heads, it was linked to the sufferer’s own sinful ways or to some God-assigned stigma. Mother knew this was nonsense – or tried to believe it was nonsense, and carried on, determined to do her best for her son.

Paul’s care was often hampered by lack of funding and accessibility to good care. Because of the many false beliefs in the general population, insurance companies were permitted to set lower lifetime limits for expenditures on medical care for mental illness and higher co-pays – often 50%. This is how my parents reached the point that they could no longer afford to care for Paul themselves. After about 18 months, after mortgaging the house to the hilt to pay hospital and doctor bills, they were forced to sign him over to be a ward of the state, and he was committed to a state psychiatric hospital. But no sooner was Paul admitted, than hospitals began to close. Little by little, the less severely ill were released.

The nineteen seventies and eighties saw a public zeal to release all mental patients from mental hospitals. I had been living in Minnesota when Paul became ill, but in 1981, I moved back to New York State to be closer to my family after a divorce, and I began to become involved in his care. I found that New York had already begun to empty and close all the state mental hospitals. This wasn’t unique to New York; it was a national trend. Beginning as a trickle, the great emptying had become a torrent by the mid-1980s. The United States had 340 public psychiatric beds available per 100,000 people in 1955; by 2005 there were only 17 beds per 100,000. And hospitals still continue to close every year, across the country. Much of this shrinkage in capacity at psychiatric hospitals during these years was a result, direct or indirect, of the introduction in 1954 of chlorpromazine (Thorazine), the first effective antipsychotic, which made it possible, for the first time, to control the symptoms of schizophrenia and thus discharge some patients. Paul was on Thorazine and similar medications for many years.

By the mid-1980s, the doctors treating Paul were well aware that a neurological component was primary to the disease; it was not a behavioral issue. Doctors were also well aware that not everyone benefitted from the new medications; some still needed long term, supportive care. But despite the rapidly growing body of knowledge that pointed clearly to biological, neurological causes, old stereotypes persisted, and they took form in efforts to release all patients from mental hospitals.

During this time, well-intentioned do-gooders, as my father called them, had sued New York State to close down the huge state institutions, made infamous by investigative reporting on places like Willowbrook, on Long Island, where developmentally disabled people had been mistreated. This movement was intensified by an aspect of Medicaid: its reimbursement schedules were written to withhold payments to large mental institutions, accelerating the closures nationwide. New laws called for smaller, more humane, community-based residential facilities for patients needing long term care. One by one the old hospitals closed; a few homes were built for people with Downs Syndrome and the like, but no one wanted crazy people in their neighborhood. Almost no smaller facilities were built for people like Paul.

The shrinking population of those suffering from the most serious mental illnesses rattled around on a few floors of hulking, ancient hospitals, many of them built a hundred years before as sanitariums for people with TB. Paul’s hospital was one of them, with bars on the windows and double sets of locked doors. We felt bad for him, but we knew he would be unable to care for himself on his own. The former patients who were released often ended up in slumlord- operated single room occupancy buildings (SRO’s) and adult homes, where they were still confused and unable to care for themselves and now had no supervision. The streets of New York and other big cities suddenly were full of mentally ill homeless people wandering around, sleeping in doorways, dying of exposure or getting arrested. Eventually, our prisons filled with mentally ill people who, only twenty-five or thirty years before, would have been humanely cared for in an institution—people who by law should have been cared for in new, smaller, community care facilities.

Every time there was a story in the papers or on TV about one of them, Mother cringed. A mentally ill man pushes someone off a subway platform. A mentally ill homeless person wanders the streets of New York City pestering passers-by, is killed in a bar fight, is found frozen on the streets…

Mother would steel her mouth into a thin line. This will not happen to my son. I couldn’t stop him from going mad, but I can try to make his life as good as possible, within its limits. She volunteered at the hospital library. She stopped by the ward on non-visiting days. My son is not alone, her presence said. I am watching. She joined NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a new organization which advocated for both patients and their families. Her focus at that time was always on making the remaining hospitals comfortable for Paul. We couldn’t imagine that he would ever be released.

Determined to keep her son safe, Mother stayed tuned in to public hearings and release meetings – sort of like parole hearings – at the hospital. She showed up for all of them, ready to insist that Paul stay hospitalized. “You can’t just release him. Transfer him to a nicer, smaller place, yes. But I can’t handle him. He’ll set fire to the house. He’ll get into bar fights. He’ll hurt someone,” she told anyone who would listen. She wrote letters to our Congressman and State Assemblyman.

Sunday after Sunday, Mother made the one-hour, forty-five mile, drive up Routes 684 and 22, from White Plains to Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center so often, she could recite every gas station, restaurant, fitness center, farm, antique shop, motel, bank, diner, lumber supply store, army surplus store, church, fast food joint, office park, bakery, school, ice cream stand, car dealership, nursery, and garden supply store along the two-lane state road. My house was about halfway between Paul’s hospital and Mother’s home in White Plains. She would visit Paul in the early afternoon, then stop off at my house for dinner. Her Sunday visits to Paul and me became a ritual.

Mother also made sure we included Paul at all our family gatherings, often making the long drive to pick Paul up for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner herself, and ferrying him to my house or my sister’s house for the afternoon. For his birthday she made cupcakes for the ward. He’s your brother, she would say to us. We can’t abandon him. He needs us.

Our mother died in 1993—too young, at only 71, leaving advocacy for Paul in the hands of his siblings. I  have often thought that if she had taken half as good care of herself as she tried to do for her son, doctors might have dealt with her cardiac condition before her sudden death. I’m ashamed to say we were not as diligent about Paul’s care as she had been; within a year after she died, Paul was released—delusional, confused, and unable to care for himself. We siblings tried to advocate for him with social services agencies, etc., but what he needed was supervised care. It didn’t need to be at the hulking psychiatric hospital, perhaps, but there were no smaller, community-based long term care facilities for him. And so began his downward spiral—group home to ER to group home. We siblings did what we could for him, tried to make sure he got medical care, and stood by him when he developed cancer. Unfortunately, he died at age 48, in 2008. Eleven years later, we still advocate for better care and speak out in his memory.

And on Mother’s Day, I remember my mother and thank her for not only her unstinting efforts to care for her son, but also for teaching her children our responsibility to care for those who need help.

Afterword

When Medicaid was passed into law in 1965, it took on from the states about 50% of the burden of caring for indigent people like Paul, who until this time had been housed in institutions funded completely by the states. But a little known part of Medicaid was something known as the “IMD exclusion.” Medicaid will make no payments to any institution for mental disease, or “IMD.” An IMD is defined as any facility of more than 16 beds where more than 51% of its patients between the ages of 21 and 65 are being cared for by reason of severe mental illness. Nursing homes caring for elderly Alzheimer’s patients are not impacted, nor are institutions caring for young patients suffering from mental retardation or illnesses.

While the IMD exclusion may have been meant to ensure that mental patients were not warehoused in huge institutions, in practice it made it impossible economically for state facilities to care for the people most severely afflicted with diseases of the brain. Not only is a facility precluded from being reimbursed by Medicaid for the individual’s day-to-day care, but individual patients’ eligibility for Medicaid is canceled while they are inpatients in an IMD. Consequently, to receive treatment for medical disorders not related to their severe mental illness, they must be discharged from the IMD, have their Medicaid eligibility reinstated, be treated in a medical/surgical setting, and then be readmitted to the “IMD”  Not do-able.

The number of people still needing hospitalization did not shrink as much as the hospitals did. Many people, like my brother, were not helped significantly by the new medications. They remained delusional and unable to take care of themselves, and often too prone to violence to permit their care at home.  Experts in 2016 estimated the U. S. still needs about 50 beds per 100,000 people to care for those suffering from the most severe forms of mental illness. With a population of 310 million, that means the United States needs 155,000 psychiatric beds but had only 53,000. Those seriously ill people have no residential setting to care for them. Many of them have ended up in prison.

In 2014, as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), demonstration projects in 15 states temporarily lifted some of the IMD restrictions. Under new leadership at SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more temporary stays are underway. Hopefully, the relaxation will help demonstrate that our current system of non-care, pretending that people like my brother Paul don’t exist, makes no sense. What needs to happen is a complete elimination of this arbitrary exclusion.

Who knows? Perhaps one day soon, a cure will be found. It is our job to try to care for our loved ones until then.

Further information regarding the status of Federal legislation and treatment standards for serious psychiatric illnesses may be found at  SAMHSA and The Center for disease control CDC

More information can be found at Mental Illness Policy Org. MIPO

To join the effort to advocate for better care for our mentally ill loved ones, visit the National Shattering the Silence Coalition website NSSC

Note: This essay draws from The Great Emptying, a chapter of my memoir about taking care of my brother, titled Shot in the Head, a Sister’s Memoir, a Brother’s Struggle.

Parade Season

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day; green shamrocks and leprechauns are blossoming everywhere. I dread it.

I grew up Irish Catholic, and New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held out as the premier event of the year. But it’s a horror show, really: a raucous crowd moving slowly toward St. Patrick’s Cathedral—newly sand-blasted and shining like heavenly light—presided over by a rotund patriarch who will condemn a girl to hell with no chance of forgiveness if she has an abortion, even after being raped, but readily forgives the man who raped her if he confesses and says a few Hail Mary’s. It all lost its glimmer for me a long time ago.

ROTC cadets march in uniform, mothers’ dear sons, a belief in invincibility propelling them to brass buttons and jaunty hats, as if we were back in Prussia 200 years ago and World War II and Viet Nam and Iraq had never happened, despite the casualties limping and wheeling along in the next regiment. Men in kilts play bagpipes. No snakes anywhere. I guess St. Patrick did his job.

The parade-goers—more carpe-diem types than the marchers—are cheering, midst bar-hopping with green plastic, 32 oz. cups, screaming and singing Clancy Brothers and Tommy Mackem pub tunes (which mostly seem to end in young Irishmen taking a stand for the auld sod and being killed by Englishmen) till finally limping and vomiting into the dawn. Chicago, the Twin Cities, St. Louis, New Orleans…the disease spreads.  More drunken revelers and irritating leprechauns. Is alcoholism really a defining genetic trait, one to celebrate? Does anyone find leprechauns enjoyable?

St. Patrick’s Day segues into Passover and Easter, women in outlandish hats taking the places of the marching ROTC cadets and vomiting 20-somethings on the Avenue. Matzah on paper doilies at the grocery. Baskets of green plastic grass laced with oddly-hued jelly beans and chocolate eggs and bunnies everywhere else. All topped off by lamb cake.

So the dancing druids of my Celtic, 20X great-grandparents celebrating the equinox have morphed into green beer, parades, and treats like pink marshmallow bunnies that will puff up like magic in a microwave. These festivities far overshadow the last Christian remnants of the ancient solar holiday—crosses of blessed palm fronds, groaning church organs and strange men in medieval robes blessing the congregation–or so I presume, since I gave it all up years ago. “I’ve lost my faith,” I explain to an elderly aunt, the last of her generation. “That I lived to see the day,” she tsk tsks, shaking her head.

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