Present Day, April 14th, 2018

My daughter is a sophomore at NYU. She also interns (and has interned) with organizations which focus on the rights and advocacy of individuals based on gender, race, and mental health based issues.

Recently, she was researching CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) New York Police Department trained officers. These are police officers specifically trained to assist with situations involving mental illness, development disability or emotionally disturbed peoples. Following are some of the statistics and bullet points from her research. Take them for what they are worth as food for thought and information to ponder in our modern-day struggle to provide quality assistance and help to people struggling with mental health and in crisis situations.

  • In 2016 in NYC there were 157,000 calls involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD cannot guarantee that CIT-trained officers will be deployed to incidents involving people in mental crisis.
  • The NYPD currently handles more than 400 mental health crisis every day.
  • Currently, data collection regarding mental health crisis is fragmented across departments.
  • The NYPD currently trains between 20-25% of officers. This training lasts for 40 hours over a 5 day period.
  • The NYPD does not currently have the capacity to track the special skills of officers. This includes not only CIT but also language skills, domestic violence training, etc.
  • Nationwide, in 2016 police officers shot and killed at least 251 people who had exhibited signs of mental illness.
  • The addition of a CIT coordinator would: consistently connect with the community, serve as a liaison with outside agencies, be available to make training adjustments and assist in conducting data analysis
  • Current NYPD policies call for assigning a “designated shooter”, but do NOT specifically call for de-escalation if possible.
  • The AIDED Card system rewards an NYPD officer by allowing them to document when an individual receives medical treatment but is not arrested. The AIDED Card system is NOT specific to individuals with a mental health crisis. Out of 157,000 crisis calls in 2016, only 19,328 AIDED cards were issued (12%).
  • Currently, just 25% (5,500) of nearly 22,000 patrol officers are CIT trained.
  • NYPD Call dispatchers receive 2 hours of CIT training out of 45 days training (.5%)
  • Even if unarmed, not violent, and willing to leave…ad individual in mental health crisis may be taken into custody.

Present Day, March 4th, 2018

As someone with a constantly racing mind, a new found practice of mindfulness has been a welcome place of rest. It is still very much a “practice” for me, and one that I struggle to successfully achieve for as short as a 10 minute period. However, I look forward to it each and every day and feel the calmer for it on the other side. At the same time, it does cause me a significant predicament.

I think we are all wired and prone to have an acute awareness of contrast. For example, severe changes in the weather. The audio launch of a rock concert. A bite into a particularly spicy dish. From level ground to a steep incline during a forest hike. We tune into these things, and they cause a sensory response in our bodies. Be it touch, hearing, taste, or even sight and smell. Contrast is simply a part of how we differentiate and how things are set apart in our minds and feelings.

The practice of mindfulness magnifies a rather extreme contrast in my living environment. I am already rather introverted and silent. I already value solitude and quiet above the average person. And I already struggle with the, at times, lack of appreciation other people might share for these same qualities. Couple that with the “contrast” of mindfulness sessions to regular life…and I can go from a state of peace to set on edge pretty rapidly. I know, totally contrary to the whole purpose of my mindfulness practice.

In fact, just finding a peaceful and alone time or location to engage in as little as a 10-minute meditation can be a challenge on some days.

The company I work for is owned by a Japanese corporation and therefore utilizes many of their workplace ideals. One example is the open workspace. Picture Dunder Mifflin from “The Office”. No cubicle walls. No offices except for the few at the top of the food chain. It is also a bi-lingual environment. Meaning that I am often working at my desk with a full volume conversation taking place over my left shoulder in Japanese, and a full volume conversation taking place over my right in English. Mind you, neither of which involve me or are of any importance to me. This environment makes my lunchtime mindfulness session 1) invaluable and 2) often immediately forgotten upon returning back to work. The contrast can be overwhelming.

This is my predicament. The practice designed to bring me peace can highlight an overall lack of peace. The practice designed to help me with a singularity of focus can highlight an ever run amuck mind. The practice designed to calm my life can often do little more than emphasize a greater lack of calm in my moment to moment existence.

For now, I look forward to my 10 minutes a day. And work on accepting the other 23 hours and 50 minutes in all their chaos.

Present Day, February 25th, 2018

The lack of societal progress in dealing with mental illness is as easy to see as attempting to determine if it is a disability. For this simple journey will make it rapidly clear that we still have no idea how to identify what we are dealing with.

This became clear to me during my recent (and latest of many) employment searches. Most applications now conclude with three voluntary questions that are largely demographic in nature. One dealing with gender. One dealing with military veteran status. But a third dealing with disabilities.

The questions itself could not make things clearer. It simply requires a yes, no, or choose not to disclose affirmation. For someone with a diagnosed illness, such as myself with bipolar, it gets even easier. Because it states in plain English, “Disabilities include, but are not limited to…” and then proceeds to list roughly 18 specific disabilities to include such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and yes…bipolar.

Here is the logic: disabilities include bipolar. I have bipolar (as has been diagnosed by no less than a hand full of independent professionals). Therefore, I have a disability. Right? Not so fast.

If in fact you have a disability that severely limits your daily function and ability to adjust to daily work, you qualify for something called Social Security Disability Insurance.  However, in the case of bipolar, or a number of other mental illnesses, the emphasis should be put on “severely”. This is because the criteria to qualify for benefits becomes much greater than any criteria that were originally utilized to result in a concrete diagnosis.

Put another way, the system is set to credit corporations and business for diversity hires of us mentally crazed individuals, but not set to do anything to help us. Get them in the workforce, and keep them there. Short of announcing my legally private mental illness to the employer, there will not be any consideration of accommodations, or assistance for living with what has already been defined as a disability. Begging the questions, what do they think it disables me from doing?

Why do I care? I mean, I go to work. I have a job. I have stayed employed for the majority of the past 30 years. What should it matter to me?

It matters because work is the single largest deterrent to my quality of life. For people with depressive disorders, and others, getting out of bed in the morning is a major chore. That chore is followed by a second one of getting out the door and engaging in a profession. The vast majority of my emotional energy Monday through Friday is exhausted simply attempting to stay gainfully employed. Day after day. One step at a time.

Now, granted, I think our country suffers from a larger systemic problem. Namely, we have made work the centerpiece of our lives. Just compare time off in other developed countries to America. Especially as it relates to things such as maternity (and or paternity leave…total novelty!), sick time, and personal time (for such things as doctor visits, and basic life care that is almost impossible to take care of outside normal work hours). I am not advocating a country of sloths, but how did it ever become the intention that we work in order to be able to live rather than work as a part of living?

I am less than six months into my latest place of employment, and I am fried. I am largely sedentary for eight hours a day staring into a dual monitor set-up conducting data entry. I shake off the hangover of my medications in the morning just soon enough to plop down at my desk and fall back into a full-time stupor of what can at times be fairly mindless activity. But I had to change jobs. Again.

I had to find something with at least some time off. With at least some form of decent benefits. With at least some compensation that could pay a majority of the bills. And while my family, my sanity, and my overall personal life suffers…I come nowhere close to the government definition of someone in need of disability benefits.

Which is kind of ironic, because that same government has joined the long line of doctors declaring that I am in fact disabled.

Present Day, February 20th, 2018

Doctor: “On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being your best day ever, how have you been feeling?”

Me: “Wow…umm…2? Maybe 3?”

Doctor: “Damn.”

 

Life is hard.

Present Day, November 21, 2017

Reminders…

…pills

…therapy

…paranoia

…dark depression

…racing thoughts

…no pleasure

…irritability

…pills

…constant fatigue

…suicide ideation

…shame

…medication management

…lack of concentration

…pills

…lethargic living

…instant anger

…insomnia…

followed by stuck in bed…

…catastrophizing

…more pills

…and more pounds

…and more reminders.

Present Day, November 12, 2017

There is a strange but somewhat consistent and often proven out as true phenomenon surrounding death. I have witnessed it myself. It typically centers around the passing of an elderly person. In this scenario, it is often a grandma or grandpa who has been on their deathbed for some time hanging on by god only knows what power. Everyone, including the medical professionals, anticipate that their last heartbeat would have…should have…already occurred or take place at this very moment. But it doesn’t.

In fact, it is not until a certain visitor arrives. Maybe a loved one from out of town, an estranged child, or just someone with more of a life than the ability to simply stand vigil. It is with their arrival that things begin to change. Yet the arrival is not enough. Typically there is a very specific act, let’s call it “words of release” that are uttered…and death comes. Almost instantly.

“I made it grandma. You don’t have to fight anymore. I love you. Goodbye.”

“It’s okay dad. Be at peace.”

“We promise to take care of everything. Please don’t worry anymore. Just rest.”

And the battle to stay alive ceases. The last breath is drawn. Tranquility comes.

At my worst, this is how I feel. Like I am just waiting to be released. To be freed to quit fighting the demons in my head and find peace. Maybe it is just a survival mechanism or subconscious form of self-preservation, but without that release, I struggle to take those final steps. I envision them. I feel them in the depths of my being. But I am held back by something or someone who will not allow me to “go.”

I think the suicidal urges and ideations of someone with a mental illness are maybe hardest to understand from the outside looking in. The darkness of them is impossible for me to put into words. The tangible “realness” of each impulse.

I have just come through a rather dark period. I mood chart daily and have a level that indicates a particularly bad, desperate kind of day. After having only two of them through a four-month period I had six of them in three weeks. It was rough. And there were days when I just wanted to be released. I just wanted those closest to me to indicate they would be fine without me and that I could finally end the pain. To just hear the words that would allow me to end my torment.

They weren’t spoken and I survived another fall. Is it just me? Does anyone else know how this feels? Has anyone ever longed to know that it’s okay to never again want to feel not okay?

I wonder at times how my life will end. Will I get old? Face cancer? End up in a hospital or hospice care? Whatever the scenario, I think I will be holding on loosely. And when the words come…I will go. Quickly.

Present Day, November 1, 2017

“Is it real…or is it in your head?”

I heard a version of this line recently during one of my guilty pleasures, Stranger Things. It reminded me of another question I often like to repeat: “Why is it either/or rather than both/and?”

There seems to be a suggested thought that if things are “in your head” they are not real. It is one or the other. This actually goes contrary to a rather significant pile of historical philosophy that says quite the opposite. Namely, that if something is real it is because it is “in our heads.”

More importantly to me is the fact that what is in our heads is very real to us. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Grandiosity. Voices. These are not just whims or figments of wild imaginations. For someone with a mental illness, maybe even someone without, within our minds, they are very real. And therefore, by natural consequence, outside our minds, and in our daily lives…they are real. As real as the chair I am sitting on or the computer I am blogging on. It is not some either/or declaration, which is really a way to convince us that they are not real and we just need to accept that to be healthy. It is a both/and, which really means we have to develop skills and techniques for coping with our reality of thoughts and existence.

You actually can see this portrayed in Stranger Things. Those who have experienced “the upside down” have had a very real experience which is now haunting their lives AND minds. Those who have not…are not sure what to believe. At least those who choose not to simply scoff away what they are hearing. They ask the question because we all seem at some level to desire a black and white line. Reality…or in our heads. We think they should be separated rather than embracing a merging. A merging of what people experience mentally and within their reality.

It is my belief that this merging is critical to empathizing, understanding and even helping a friend or loved one with mental illness. When someone operates from a paradigm that tries to exclude what is taking place in our minds from our reality it only makes us feel crazier. Maybe even makes us crazier. However, joining in with our paradigm, where what we are experiencing mentally IS our reality…that can remove a sense of isolation and loneliness from our lives. Not to mention providing a greater sense of unity between mind and reality for the individual attempting to administer care. And it is obviously also my belief that at some level we all would benefit from a greater merging of the two in our lives.

Not either/or. Both/and. Not “real…or in your head.” In our heads…and therefore, very real.