BEYOND MY UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT BEING HUMAN MEANS by CJ Hanson (PART TWO)

To my twin sister, Linda Rippee,

I just came on Facebook, after taking a nap. I could barely read through your post without tears flowing down my face like a stream from a mountain top. A stream that never ends. I didn't think I had this many tears left. I feel so helpless, with my own illnesses, that I am unable to help with a physical presence. The responsibility and the experience of actually interacting with Mark have fallen on your shoulders.

Is there such a thing as survivor's guilt without having actually lost someone? I can't describe the pain I feel any other way, so I’m at a loss. I’m at a loss at the pain and suffering he endures every day on the streets, knowing that we have no legal right to force him to live with the few of us left, nor is it even possible. Knowing that we have fought for 32 years trying to help him and make his life better, and knowing that he blames us for allowing him to live as the doctors didn't believe that he would. Knowing that the laws in this county, state, and nation are against families of loved ones who suffer from traumatic brain Injury and serious mental illness. Knowing that, no matter how hard we’ve fought every day to change minds, hearts, rules, and laws, so far we have failed. We have failed.

I have such a hard time believing that we’ve failed, but we have. It matters not that we have fought every day. Every single day for 32 years. Yes, for a while he was able to live a somewhat normal life until the mental illness set in. The doctors said it would happen eventually, but what has happened to him since? The apathy of people with the power to change policies, rules, and laws is a clear indication that, not only have our efforts failed, but the lawmakers have failed. How many potential bills have failed over and over as the lawmakers insist there is more legislation now for the seriously mentally ill than ever before. That may be true, but they keep failing. Failing the sufferers. Failing the families. Failing society. No human being should have to live without options like our brother. I am having difficulty understanding anything anymore about this travesty.

Facing my own mortality only makes me feel more like a failure. I still have in my mind that 12-year-old boy who tracked me down at a friend’s house after I had moved away from home at 18, and clung to me begging me to move back home. I still have in my mind seeing Mark that day of the accident, barbecuing at Mom and Dad's house and telling us how he wasn't going to keep that motorcycle but was putting it up for sale. I still have in my mind that he was on his way to my home, in Fairfield, that night to see me when the accident happened.

Did I fail him, Linda? Did I fail him by making the decision to let the doctors try to save him? Was I wrong to want him to live? I thought I was making the right choices while I actually had power of attorney back then. I'm not so sure, now. What are we to do now? Lawmakers and officials have tired of our continued efforts and have turned their own blind eyes away from the situation. No one, who has any power to give families back their rights, or to change the laws preventing us from helping him, cares. Not really.

I have no faith in lawmakers’ motivations anymore. Not one has proven that they care enough about the families of the seriously mentally ill to truly push through what needs to be done to make a real difference. I can't stop crying — for Mark, and how he lives and suffers; for you, being the last one in our family to be able to go out and find him; for myself, for being so helpless in my own infirm condition and disability; for Mom, who will leave this earth knowing her youngest child will most likely die on the streets; for all the ignorant and uninformed people who find such joy in blaming our family; for those in the community who do care and have tried to help Mark and us for so long; for our society; for this very world.

My despair and tears are beyond my ability to explain anymore. Beyond my understanding of what being human means.

See Linda’s story yesterday, June 26, 2019. “Rewind and Erase.”

Mark

Mark

REWIND AND ERASE by Linda Rippee (PART ONE)

Today, I went and found my brother, Mark. He was lying on the sidewalk at a busy entrance to a shopping center. Cars were whizzing by. Another man was sitting there with him and, as I approached them, I could see that Mark was giving him money and asking him to count it. I was immediately suspicious. I asked my daughter to remain in the car.

I walked up quickly and called Mark’s name as I always holler his name before approaching him so not to startle him. I waited until he recognized my voice before I began conversation. Mark pulled another dollar bill from his pocket and asked me what denomination it was. I was concerned that maybe he was buying street drugs. No, that wasn’t it. Here sat another homeless person who had talked my blind brother into giving him all his money to buy a gold pocket watch. He laid out $14.00 which was all that he had. Unless that watch could verbally tell time, what on earth would a blind, gravely disabled man need with a pocket watch?

Good thing I had brought him food, water, and clothing. Mark was shirtless, but had a very heavy coat on. Today, the temperature is supposed to reach 98 degrees. I begged him to take off the coat. He refused saying the coat would be stolen. He was extremely sunburned already. The wounds on his face and around his empty eye sockets were still badly infected from two different beatings several weeks ago when he was robbed. Today, all he had with him was a small blanket. His clothing was disintegrating as he wore the same pair of pants all through the winter and spring. He didn’t have a cane to guide him. He has had 11 different canes this past year.  

I sat down next to Mark and, within seconds, it was obvious that he was delusional. He grabbed my hands and slapped them down, hard, on his leg that has a metal rod from crotch to ankle. He held both my hands down with his hands. His hands looked like leather and were cracked and bleeding. Regardless, he continued to hold my hands tightly. His entire body was trembling. He said, “We have to go back and erase each year that has passed since June 21, 1987 (the date of his motorcycle accident). Rewind and erase.”

I was shocked that he still knew that date. Yes, it was Father’s Day, but he still remembered the actual date. He proceeded to say each year backwards to 1987. With each year, he said, “Rewind & Erase!” He shook, violently, until he reached 1987. Then he grabbed and hugged me and said,” Now, don’t you feel better?”

I told him, “Yes, and I hope you do too.” He began to argue with the voices in his head, screaming that the police were implanting and growing people inside of people and controlling them. I tried to calm him and get him to eat the food I had brought him. He would take a bite, chew tiny bites, and then spit it out.

He brought up my twin. Mark doesn’t always comprehend what I tell him, but I continue to tell him the truth. CJ, my twin sister, had gotten bad news about a medical diagnosis. I shared her condition with him. He began yelling at the voices he hears and blaming those voices for all the pain and suffering of those he loves. The intent of his body language was to beat himself up. I hugged him, and once again reminded him that I love him — as I do on every visit. He didn’t want to let go and held on tight for a while. As I was saying goodby, he began crying. He said, “Someone disconnected me from my mother. They’re cutting out pieces of me.”

I slowly walked away, feeling sick to my stomach. If only I could “rewind and erase” all the horrible memories, delusions, pain, and suffering he’s had for the last three decades. Yes, Mark, I would feel better.

Linda adds: Every letter/email I’ve sent out has also been sent to the County Board of Supervisors. I’ve sent out over 1200 emails and my twin, CJ, has sent as many. Each time, we copy agencies and politicians. We’ve saturated them. We’ve sent out thousands of private messages all over the state, and made thousands of posts and comments in over 100 social media groups all over California. CJ authored the petition for AB1971* and we collected 56,000 signatures that went to the full assembly and senate. I’ve made 30 speeches speaking at public meetings. I’ve testified twice at the capitol in support of AB1971.* I’ve gone to the capitol and told my brother's story to support several other bills. There have been 12 news articles and TV interviews. Mark’s story has been published in three national blogs and used at medical conferences. We’ve friended, and are in contact with, several well-known national mental health advocates — Ron Powers, Teresa Pasquini, Leslie Carpenter, Dede Moon Ranahan, and DJ Jaffe to name a few. The Board of Supervisors are ground zero. They are aware of all that we’ve done. They stay silent and do not converse with our family. The next project we are working on is a documentary. I have many, many videos of my visits on the streets with Mark. We will make the videos available to politicians and to the public. They are undeniable. When they are shown, Solano County should hang its head in shame.

Note: Solano County has declared Mark to be competent.

*AB1971. This bill would, until January 1, 2024, expand the definition of “gravely disabled” for these purposes, as implemented in the County of Los Angeles, to also include a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for medical treatment, if the failure to receive medical treatment, as defined, results in a deteriorating physical condition that a medical professional, in his or her best medical judgment, attests in writing, will more likely than not, lead to death within 6 months, as specified.

See Linda’s story, “I’m Past Anger. I’m in Complete Despair.” June 6, 2019, in the archives.

Mark

Mark

PLEASE INCLUDE SMI IN YOUR PLATFORM by Dede Ranahan


Hi Mental Health for US

Just discovered you and your platform asking 2020 political candidates to talk about mental health in their campaigns. I see no specific mention of serious mental illnesses (SMI) such as schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. Some people are not able to recover from SMI and languish in prison, in solitary, in not-so-good care homes or in their parents’ back bedroom for years and years.

I belong to a dozen Facebook groups of families of the SMI. Their stories are horrific and from across the nation. They’re not able to find help anywhere.

I want to support your efforts. I’ve been sending letters to candidates and calling on Facebook and on my blog for 2020 candidates to step up, speak about, and put forth national plans for SMI that do the following: Reform HIPAA, repeal the IMD exclusion, do brain research into these insidious brain diseases, provide for long-term care and short-term outpatient services, improve access, provide housing, supported education, and family supports. Not simply mental health. Not simply drug and alcohol addiction. Serious mental illness.

Would Mental Health for US be willing to expand its platform to include SMI - specifically spelling it out, not simply lumping it into mental health?

I hope your answer is yes.

You can read stories about SMI individuals and families — across the US - that I’ve been posting for 31/2 years on my website and blog. You can also read my own story in my book about my and my son’s struggles for over 25 years to get help for his SMI. He died in 2014 on a hospital psych ward. He was transferred, without my knowledge, out of county (lack of beds), his records weren’t forwarded with him, and I couldn’t get doctors to talk to me (HIPAA) even though I was on my son’s Advance Care Directive.

I unwittingly captured the last year of Pat's life in my book which, among other things, includes his story and many stories of individuals and families being failed by the system.

I will sign on and volunteer to help you once I’m satisfied that this undertaking includes SMI and specifically mentions it in your platform.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dede Ranahan

www.soonerthantomorrow.com
A Safe Place to Talk About Mental Illness in Our Families

Sooner Than Tomorrow — A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family, and Everyday Life
By Dede Ranahan with Patrick Ranahan
http://www.bit.ly/soonerthantomorrow

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https://www.mentalhealthforus.net Please read this platform and send a message asking that it include SMI. Thanks.

http://www.bit.ly/soonerthantomorrow

TRAVIS & ME - OUR JUNE PRISON VISIT by Dede Ranahan

On Sunday, I visited Travis. I didn’t see him in May because our visiting day fell on Mother’s Day which I spent with family. He walked into the visiting area and, at first, I didn’t recognize him. His hair’s been shaved short — for summer — and he’s growing a beard. He looked great. I told him, “I really like your haircut. And your beard.”

We hugged and Travis said, “I finished reading your book.” (His mother, Kathy, sent him a copy.) Then he said the most perfect thing, “I love Pat. I love all his Facebook posts. He’s so funny. And smart. I think he’ll be an influencer for our generation. I copied the list of his favorite books. I’m going to read all of them.”

Travis’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke. My eyes filled with tears as I listened. Travis was clearly moved. “I totally get him,” he said. “I like him so much.” More tears.

I’m getting such heart-felt reactions to Sooner Than Tomorrow. In reviews, in emails, in cards and letters. Many have commented about Pat and his sense of humor. But, hearing about him from Travis, in person, with tears in his eyes, was mind-blowing for me.

I reached for his hand. “Thank you,” I said.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading your book. And then I couldn’t put it down. You’re such a good writer.”

Travis is reading other books, too. He’s taking a college health class during the summer. “It’s really interesting. I’ve read the first three chapters. It’s about physical health, mental health, emotional health — about keeping everything in balance. I’m ready for these college classes. I wasn’t ready for them before I was sent to prison. My self-esteem is much better now. I know I can study and learn.”

Travis was also pumped about a basketball tournament he took part in on Saturday. His team (“We were the ‘crazy’ team. All of us have psych issues.”) beat five other “normal” teams. “We were champions for the day. We never played together before and we just clicked. Sports are important to me. I ran 10 miles (around the prison yard) for the soldiers who died on D-Day. To honor them. I’m in the best shape of my life.”

I asked Travis if there had been any more discussion about transferring him to a prison closer to his family in Southern California. He said, “They’re not going to move me right now. My psychiatrist and my psychologist are going to take me off lithium. It’s affecting my thyroid. Then I won’t be taking any medications. They want to watch me and see how I react. We’re all hoping I can function okay without meds.”

Travis likes his medical team. He thinks they’re competent. He thinks they care about him. “They like me,” he said. “I tell them about my feelings and my emotions. Not every client is open with them and they appreciate that I am.”

“I’m growing,” Travis continued. “I’m making the most out of my time in prison. I’m working out. I’m reading. I’m writing songs for our church service. I’m a better person than I was.”

“Travis, it sounds like you’re focusing on the positive aspects of being here. Do you think other inmates do that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to judge anyone else. Probably not everyone does. There are fights and other bad stuff happens. Being here is forcing me to know how to interact with others. It’s not always easy living with my cellie, but I’m learning about relationships. I was kind of a recluse before I came here. I managed a motel in the mountains and I spent a lot of time by myself.”

It feels like our conversations are evolving. Travis asked me questions, too. “How are you doing, Dede?” (good) “How’s your mom?” (good) “How’s The Jazz?” (good) “What books are you reading?” (Mama’s Last Hug by Frans De Waal, I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott, Another Rubber Chicken Dinner by Bev Chinello)

Visiting hours ended. It was time to leave. “Have a good month, Travis. I’ll see you in July.”

I always turn to wave at Travis as I walk away. He’s always waiting. And he waves back.

Travis & me - before his haircut.

Travis & me - before his haircut.

http://www.bit.ly/soonerthantomorrow

MY POINT IS, SPEAK OUT ALWAYS by Pamela Armstrong

Sometimes people amaze me. As a social worker and drug counselor, I find that most people are kind, but every now and then, I run into people who are clueless and sometimes down right cruel.

There is one man in my building who has been homeless twice and who is dying and who is a born again Christian. He hates the homeless with a passion. There is another resident here who told me he wished that all of the homeless would die. There have been three tent cities across the street from me. They were quiet. They picked up their rubbish and all three were made to move. Folks, I am sure it was because of the complaints of many of the seniors who live in my building and are on food stamps and section 8 housing. We are all here because this is senior affordable housing.

Now, I have also run into two other homeless people who have put the homeless down. One man had been an addict for 20 years and got clean and sober, and finally got into housing. He said, “I’m sick to death of addicts. I am sick of these homeless bums.” Wow, I thought.

Then I worked with a nurse who didn’t become one until later life. For 20 years, she had to rely on food stamps to feed her kids, and other public resources. Then she married a very rich doctor and, all of a sudden, she grew intolerant of poor people and those with mental illnesses. At the time, I was so depressed and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was being subjected to terrible verbal abuse from my mom while helping her through her illnesses. The nurse’s daughter's life was a mess. She, too, was crippled with on and off depression and severe mood swings. The doctors told this nurse that her daughter had bipolar, but she didn’t believe them, and neither did her daughter. She didn’t want her daughter to take meds. So, I guess suffering was okay for both of them.

This same nurse told everyone I was just a weak person. Three people in the office bullied me and all were social workers. This really got to me so I retired early and this contributed to my nervous breakdown. I was furious for many years. Well, up until three years ago. I was furious over every single thing. I’m not sure how I got to the place I am, today, but I think it has to do with my own suffering. And seeing so much suffering in my clients, in the homeless, and in the world. For some reason, since I was in elementary school and growing up in the South, where black people were treated like scum, I got it pretty early. Now, I have learned to count my blessings and I have great support from both of my sons who live in Seattle.

My point is, speak out always. Don’t be afraid to say you have a mental illness, and write your politicians. My motto in life is, if not us, who? I try to lay down my anger as quick as I can, but note it took me a long time. Take as long as you need. Frankly, I use my anger, now, to motivate me into action. Yes, some things still make me furious.

Pamela

Pamela