struggling

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I am struggling. I thought I had found some answers for my foot problems by getting new orthopedic shoes from the VA on Friday. But today my feet were as painful as ever and I did not put on the shoes. I also was hit with some potentially devastating personal news that may or may not be true. I will have to wait for about a month to find out. I have cried a few times and tried listening to music. Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel mostly. Meanwhile I received confirmation that a fitbit is on the way as a reward from my insurance app. I have been earning points for exercise and the new shoes were going to help me. I made 11,000 steps Friday. I had noticed that my pattern had been to go all out for a few days and then be practically inert. I am hoping to become more consistent. But the wild card is what will happen with this personal news.

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Being grand parents

 

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Sometimes I regret not playing more of a role in my nephews’ lives. My oldest nephew, John, was born the year I graduated from high school. When I was graduating from high school, I was experiencing deep depression. I felt loss from a woman I loved. I was protesting the war in Vietnam. I wanted to be a part of history. I was a horny male teenager. The depression was the most difficult of those things to understand. I remember writing letters back home in lower case to try to make them understand I was not doing well. Depression was a family characteristic. My mother and older sister have also lived with it. When you are 17 or 18 everything seems so overwhelming. The depression was about what my mind was saying about feeling empty and lonely.

Nobody who is that age is old enough to understand. If there is one thing I regret I wish I had learned to understand myself sooner. My younger brother also lived with a mental illness triggered by use of hallucinogens. I believe that I survived because of a combination of nature and nurture. James left home as a teenager and went west at a time many people were feeling alienated and wanting to get away from home. I was old enough to go to Howard University and be a part of history and the largest anti-war demonstrations in American history.

When you are young and you are struggling you have more options than I saw as a teenager. For me, the best choice after dropping out of college was the military. But when I returned to civilian life, I struggled with economic security. I heard the voices of my nephews but I was in no shape to be able to help them. Now that things seem to be different and I have gotten help I am no longer being driven by depression or mania. I am doing well. I was part of my niece’s life at an event to retire the flags last week. I cannot go back into the 1970s but I am proud to part of the present.

The pursuit of happiness

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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.

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

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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

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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.