As many people know, mental illness runs in the family. All of us in my family have experienced different types of illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and manic depression. I was more fortunate than my brother in being able to recover and develop resources. I have friends who struggled along with their siblings cycling in and out of the hospital including forced treatment. i was never subjected to a mental hospital or picked up on the street for engaging in some bizarre behavior. Instead, I recognized that I was not the person who I had been told I would become.
I saw all the warning signs and decided to heed them. Again, I see a positive in my deciding I didn’t want to live like that. Recognizing that you need help and then actually need help can be painful. Some people literally may need to crash into a wall. And others unfortunately, may crash through the wall, leaving their loved ones behind to cry and wish that there something more they could have done. I am a peer support specialist certified by the State of Wisconsin and I can help see you through the woods.
I have had several crises in my life and felt like my life was out of control. I have made foolish mistakes, unfortunately the same ones, more than once. I refused to deeply examine the reason for my behavior until things were so out of control I had no other resources.
It was at that point I went to the veterans administration. In my years of hardship I kept my army discharge paper to be my ace. And it worked. I think that it is similar to the process people go through when they enter programs. I told a friend I had not heard from in many years what had happened. Someone that I had cared for. I spend my time giving back to the community. Perhaps I can pay it forward.
I am part of a group that has been attempting to launch a chapter of black non believers in Milwaukee. We had a couple of lunches last year at a coffee shop but mostly we exist on Facebook. Facebook is helpful because we are able to exchange ideas. The group has grown and we are up to 38 members. Some of us have posted about trying to organize a meeting for this month. Meanwhile we are able to post ideas and share information. Recently someone posted an article about 10 fierce atheists that was published on Huffington Post. I checked out one woman,Deanna Adams, who publishes a blog Musings on a limb about being a black mother, a professional and an atheist in Houston. She was an active member of the Houston Black Nonbelievers and is now a board member of the Houston Humanists.
Her blog is worth reading as I did tonight. I plan to check out some of the other people mentioned in the article. Most of my inspiration about secularism comes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation which has a wonderful essay contest for students of color. I posted a few articles from Freethought Today on our Black Nonbelievers page. My energy comes and goes so that is why I fall silent. I am very active on twitter which is where a lot of people read my thoughts.
One very interesting thing I checked out was regarding black lives matter. There was an article about the fact two of he founders of the movement are lesbians who intentionally include their vision and that was offensive to on man who became involved in promoting black straight pride. To me our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters have always been there. We haven’t always acknowledged their presence. Straight black people are not under threat. People don’t conduct referendums on whether straight blacks have the right to marry and their presence in movements is not considered controversial. It is time to make the equal protection clause of our constitution a reality. No more sitting in the back of the bus.
I have been reading for the past several hours stories about people trapped in debt by payday lenders, title loan lenders and aggressive student loan collectors. The worst case of student loan collection was in New Jersey where a mother received a notice after her son had been killed that she was liable for his student loans.
The state aggressively pursues people offering little information about loan forgiveness and instead sends collection agencies to turn your life upside down. There was also no limit on the amount that a family could borrow, way beyond their ability to pay. As a last gasp some people declared bankruptcy, which could not eliminate the debts, but it greatly reduced their payments.
The stories of payday loans were equally as horrific. I noted that some unscrupulous lenders affiliated themselves with Native American tribes to escape state regulations. And some of them began to mutate as soon as one loan product was outlawed another sprang up. Like the installment loans which offer longer payment plans but interest just as high as their predatory cousins, allowing the crooked lenders to squeeze even more money out of workers.
I consider payday lenders a kind of guinea worm sucking up workers’ blood. And being trapped by payday loans, title loans and high student loan interest could lead a person to desperation. I am going to start following the good guys in this battle and seeing what ordinary citizens can do. The guinea worms have set up fake grassroots organizations to comment on proposed federal regulations and they spread money around to democrats and republicans in campaign contributions. Remember, always follow the money. When crooked politicians say there’s already too much regulation, find out where their cash is coming from. Stand up.
Today I was at the First Unitarian Society at the invitation of my friend Mary, who had joined the church a few years ago with her husband John. We had seen them at a coffeehouse after an unsuccessful attempt to find the park where a black lives matter protest was being held. I searched and searched and all I could find was Ahmed Zolkowski, who was not black nor looking for a protest and only added to my general confusion.
I went home and told Liz my story and she said, let’s go to the coffeehouse. It’s cooler there and it will help your brains recovery. We left the cat home. He was texting his friends and pretty much ignoring us, anyway.
The coffeehouse was deeply air-conditioned while the outside and the rest of Wisconsin was steamy. The shock initially made me want to retreat outside but I adjusted. After a beer, here come these two ne’er do wells with beers. The people I had been searching for. They said they had marched inside a shopping mall and made people uncomfortable. Children asked their parents, what does black lives matter, mean?
We got to know each other and discovered that we had a lot of the same progressive values. In fact their personal lives suggested that they might have been the perfect couple for us to meet. And they also told me that there would be an interesting speaker at the First Unitarian Society and that subtle changes had taken place this past year that I was completely unaware of. Where did the Black Lives Matter Initiative come from, anyway?
I came away from today feeling more enlightened and wondering what I should do with this information. I have a habit of being totally present or fully gone. The church was something I had joined when I was living downtown. Now that I had moved far away, I needed more of a draw. Perhaps it is friendship. I’m not sure whether people were friendlier today but the speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Association said that the churches often aren’t very welcoming. Since I am not there to read the bible or fear god, then maybe I need a more personal connection. Knowing that there are other oddballs from my generation around protesting.
In the ideal world we would begin like the picture above and keep seeking out a wide variety of people to be in our lives. I have talked about Patricia Raybon’s book My First White Friend which centered on her experience as a child of integration and the change that came over her when a young white girl started talking with her. Raybon continued to experience isolation as an adult. After a career in journalism, she began teaching at a mostly white state university in Colorado. There she met and quickly married her husband, a very light skinned African-American.
In her classrooms, she was surrounded by a sea of white faces. But I did not get the sense that she was talking white her white co-workers either faculty or other staff. How where they responding to her? Did they think she was too angry? Did they tell funny stories?
The idea of reaching out across the life span made me get back in touch with my best friend during a turbulent time in my life when I was underemployed and wondering what to do. We both ended up going back to school to become librarians. I sent her a message reminding her never to underestimate the power that friendship can have. She didn’t show me the answers but with her help I was able to find my way.
Now in my mid 60’s I am hoping not to end up like one of the characters from I’m Not Rappaport. Ossie Davis, the African American old man was stuck there on a park bench with an irascible, foul tempered old white man, played by Walter Matthau. It was an entertaining movie but it would not be a life I would choose. Let’s have a nice tossed salad of people in our lives.
When I returned to the website of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee I saw information about events that the church made been organizing around the issue of Black Lives Matter. And so I felt more motivated. And I went for a walk. I had read that everything political starts with a personal choice. There was a movie on PBS by a man who lost his father to diabetes and his father was around my age. My heart skips a beat when I hear that people in my age group are dying from preventable diseases. The best way I can act as if I believe my my matters is my taking care of it.
Today I am proud to say I met my fitness goals. I am taking good care of the body my parents gave me. Almost as important, I sent a text message to a dear friend whose support helped me through a difficult time in my life. I said never underestimate the power of friendship. Patricia Raybon talked about the need for interracial friendships. I think this is something we need throughout our lives. We must maintain empathy for people who look and speak differently from ourselves.
It is true that we share different parts of ourselves with the people we meet. At the all black office where I am located most of the time, I talk with them about the Fondy Market a place where we can meet positive people including those who look like us. This is important because unfortunately in mental health, we are often dealing with people who are at their worst. That is why we need their help.
At the church I am a quirky older man who pops in once in a blue moon.
But what am I to you and why are you reading me?