The pursuit of happiness

young stud

On the pursuit of happiness

I have been reflecting lately on two very different periods of my life. I had a long stretch in which I felt dissatisfied with a lot of what was happening. I was working in toxic environments, I was in bad relationships, and I felt unsafe in my neighborhood. Notice that I am using the word happiness as a measure of my life and whether or not I was feeling it. This is very deliberate as I want to avoid the impression that I was depressed during this period. I was not achieving my goals and I saw that it would be a long time before I would make any progress.

I tied a lot of things to get out of this rut including watching inspiring movies like the Will Smith movie I am referencing in the title. Self help books like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People gave me some pointers. I underwent counseling and seriously considered the advice I was being given. In addition I talked with my older sister and changed relationships and careers. It was not the sort of thing I could do overnight. I almost forgot one tool from the mental health field which was the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. I wrote and revised my plan several times before bidding it farewell a couple of years ago.

On the Hidden Brain podcast a few months ago there was a story about how people ruminate or continue to think about their past decisions. I also go through this process of thinking about what I have done and wondering what I might have done differently. And I also learned that as time passes, you have to let go of what might have been and move ahead with what has happened.

The surprising result of this effort is that I feel happier than ever. I can think back to things that happened and how they improved my life. And I improved the lives of people I met along the way. That is the person I have become and I hope there will be greater happiness in the future.

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Adventures in exercise

 

 

Despite the fact I am mostly introverted, I do have my moments of fun in the community. I usually find some money for a gym membership. I have belonged to the Jewish Community Center, several branches of the YMCA, Bally’s and now the latest is Planet Fitness ever since they opened a branch near our office. I have been dissatisfied with the rather worn down Bally’s that I have belonged to for more than a year. The Bally’s was taken over by Blast which promised to invest money into the business. Thy have done nothing to the equipment, the locker rooms or anything else. Their only advantage has been convenience, they are not far from our house.

Recently I learned they had closed one of their branches and the one I have been going to may be next on the list.  Now I have a reason to tell them goodbye. Well I signed up to Planet Fitness yesterday and the results have been impressive. I spent time in an exercise chair and an exercise bed. Those were very relaxing. I also got stuck in something called a body enhancer which demonstrated the difference between my girl friend and me. She would not step inside a gym but in the things she does, she thoroughly reads the instructions before doing anything.

Me I figure I don’t need no stinkin instructions. Which was how I ended up stuck inside the terrifying, not body enhancing machine for 10 minutes. I almost thought of yelling for help but I figured there were probably simple instructions on how t escape printed somewhere. Well, it’s all good, I got out without breaking the enhancer. It turned out the massage chair was more my style, anyway.

53206

Tonight I attended a screening of the 53206 movie at the First Unitarian Society. The movie showed the impact of the mass incarceration of African Americans focusing on a few families in this impoverished zip code. The zip code has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. I remember years ago being at a sign of hope in the community, a business incubator that was intended to help small business formation by African Americans. The businesses are long gone and what remains is the empty building.

The 53206 movie was shown at a Unitarian church in downtown Milwaukee to a packed crowd many of whom I did not know. There was an organizer from the 53206 project and talk about the lives being wasted and the depiction of a family hoping and waiting for their father figue and husband to return. He was denied parole, which is the most common result of parole hearings in Wisconsin. The governor plans to cut the parole department staffing even more.

The situation is complicated by the fact Wisconsin passed a truth in sentencing law in the late 1990s mandating that prisoners serve the full term of their prison sentences. But there are thousands like the man in the movie who are eligible for parole like the man in the movie but find the door slammed shut time and again. There is a lot of discretion still in the system and there are alternatives to long prison sentences but the fact we are not using them means that people are making money keeping things just the way they are. Who will have the courage to speak up? We signed cards tonight asking for changes but this is a long term project.

Farewell, old friends

black women friends

A friend is feeling sad these days because of the loss of her long time companions. People who know you from 30 or more years ago are really special. The people who were there through different hair colors, relationships, songs, concerts, having children and having grandchildren and stuff in between. The ones who you could tell anything. People who know what to bring and what not to say.

We meet these people at a certain stage, maybe when we have just arrived in the city and are wondering what will happen. Or maybe we meet them when they move into our neighborhood at a potluck and ask, who made that dish. And before weknow it we are sitting down and talking together.

A lot of this is theory for me because I have difficulty maintaining close friendships. I remember an old girl friend asking me about who were my close friends and not being able to figure that out. But for people who do remain close over a long time, letting go is so painful. But at some point our bodies give way. It can be sudden, in an accident or it could be the gradual wearing away due to diseases. And then there is sadness.

You will always have those many years of memories but you won’t always have those friends. This is the circle of life. Farewell, old friends. Know that you are loved and will be in one another’s dreams.

 

Old Friends

by Simon and Garfunkel, who ironically, were not friends

Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears

What went wrong

happy-african-american-father-son-family-18886952

 

I just realized that I was still thinking about the story of the young man who committed suicide in a New York State prison. So many things in the system failed leading up to that tragedy. How did Lonnie Hamilton III,  end up in the Marcy Correctional Facility and what stories had been written before I found the article in the New Yorker. If you google Lonnie Hamilton death, these are the stories you will find

http://bronx.news12.com/news/family-says-it-wasn-t-told-that-man-died-in-prison-1.11826349

http://jezebel.com/seven-months-later-still-no-answers-for-family-of-man-1787820640

We have traveled the road from the usual tragic story of a young man’s death to the possibility that the corrections officers played a role in worsening his mental health issues. The failure of the officials to disclose his worsening condition to his family is inexcusable. If my son was breaking down I would sure as hell want to know. And there was contact between Lonnie and father for some time while he was in prison, so I would think it would have been easy to find him and arrange a visit. Separating a person from their family and then not providing the proper mental health treatment is surely a way to kill our young incarcerated people.

America,we have a problem here. We have the problem of removing people from our community to be sent away in white rural communities fr extended periods of time. We have the problem of inadequate treatment in these facilities. We have the problem of the discretion parole and probation officers use to re-incarcerate people who don’t re-offend. And we have a problem of preventable deaths. This is the issue. Although the original focus of this blog s mental health I find that I am missing the big picture if I don’t look at how mental health intersects with criminal justice. You can expect more stories such as these.

The Valentine’s day stomach flu

love

I have been home with a lot of intestinal nasties the past two days. I slept most of yesterday while my sweetheart used the car. When she asked if I needed her to pick up something from the store I asked for some homemade chicken soup and ginger ale.

She let me know she was on the way home and I slipped out to get her a Valentines Day gift. Conviently there are a bakery and a chocolate shop around the corner. I checked the bakery but they had closed so off to the chocalate shop I went with most of the black men in the neighborhood. I found my trusty debit card and got a nice pair of hearts. I slowly walked home and got back on the futon where I had been all day.

I gave her my gift and was somewhat surprised to learn that the Valentines day card I had seen over the weekend was for her grandson. I went to bed feeling a little sad. However this morning she showed me the card she had made for me saying I was loved. It was like what they say chicken soup for the heart.

I have struggled over the years with Valentines day including having a woman break up with me. Some small things lime this mean more as I grow older. I am listening to jazz, my intestines are returning to nrmal and thinking about being loved.

The poor ask, who will care for us?

80850-walker-evans-depression-era-portraits

In the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the front page story asks, are health systems failing a moral test? My question is simpler, who will care for the poor? I have worked in several levels of mental health including apartment programs, the crisis resource center, the mental hospital and case management, for more than 10 years.  And much has changed during that time. The most dramatic is the downsizing of the mental hospital which now sites half empty. At the same time resources have been shifted towards improving people’s access to resources in the community. There are more organizations dedicated to ensuring that people don’t need the things that inpatient care provides.

When I worked at the hospital, nursing staff morale was low because they saw where it was going. I saw former nurses at a recent listening session held by the Milwaukee Mental Health Board. It was hard not to feel some sympathy for them as they talked about the end of their careers while in their 50s and early 60s.

There are multiple sides to this story. There are tragic stories of people who died at the mental health complex. There are people who did not need to be housed in the long term care units who were assisted in transitioning into the community. There are some acutely ill people being turned away from the mental hospital because there are not enough beds and not enough staff to care for them.

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex has always served as the safety net for the sickest and poorest of our residents. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks which of the profitable existing private hospitals will take it over and serve their patients. People who had no insurance always knew the the county was there for them. But those days are rapidly coming to a close. They asked the advocates what they hoped for but I don’t recall anyone asking the people who sometimes become too ill in the community what they would like to see.  If I was a poor person looking at these choices, I would be afraid. And the nights are still cold.