Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marking time

I have to admit that I rarely have a moment when Gabriel's schizophrenia does not weigh on my mind. I suppose that's because, relatively speaking, its onset has been recent. I mean, I rarely think about my other kids' disabilities. Since they have been disabled from the day I first met them, indeed from the day I first heard about them, their cerebral palsy or spina bifida or dwarfism is just a given. Yes, occasionally I still think about what their lives would have been like if they hadn't had a disability, but I can set those thoughts aside. But with Gabriel's schizophrenia, it's different. I know that's because the disease has taken so much from him. The Gabriel I knew for 20 years---the impish, vivacious, charming child---is gone, and in his place is a moody, withdrawn stranger, without affect or motivation. Sometimes that stranger makes me uncomfortable, sometimes he gets on my nerves, sometimes I feel so sorry for him. And of course I feel guilty for feeling that way.

Most of the time the pain is a dull ache, but sometimes it pierces my heart. One of those piercing moments occurs almost every week. Most young adults mark time by referring to their age or what grade they were in when something happened. For example, "Boyz II Men was my favorite group when I was in 8th grade," or "Remember when I was 13 and we went to Padre Island?" But Gabriel marks time in a completely different way that breaks my heart. He'll say, "I remember that time we went to Burgers Lake, before the voices started."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hijacking MLK Day

I often cringe when I see businesses hijacking noble commemorations for commercial purposes. The historical achievements of George Washington and the lofty ideals of Abraham Lincoln are now marked only by "Presidents' Day Sales." Likewise, instead of remembering the fallen on Memorial Day or reflecting on the sacrifices of veterans on Veterans Day, most Americans observe those holidays by kicking off summer or by (once again) shopping Memorial Day Sales or Veterans Day Sales. (Veterans Day Sales? Really?)

So far, at least, the stores have not appropriated Martin Luther King Day for special sales promotions. But here in St. Louis, this day has been hijacked by something even worse. A local promoter has booked the "State of Emergency" tour for Monday, Martin Luther King Day. The concert features rappers Rick Ross, Wacka Flocka, Trina, and others. Ross is known for glorifying drug dealers. The lyrics of Wacka Flocka's "Oh, Let's Do It" glorify drugs, glocks, and money. (It's not known if Wacka will be able to make it, since he recently was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, firearms--he’s a convicted felon--, hydrocodone, and violation of probation and the state’s “Criminal Street Gang and Terror Prevention Act.”) Trina, in the words of the promoter, "has continued to push the envelope of rap, with often-offensive, sexually explicit lyrics." The promoter claims that he is furthering the work of Dr. King, because in the time between sets, he and others will preach a message of non-violence. Uh-huh.

Dr. King is probably turning in his grave, or, more likely, wiping a tear from his eye.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Ah, so now it begins: the scapegoating of all people with schizophrenia. This evening I had been to visit Gabriel on the locked psych ward where he has been for the last week. When I came back home, I checked the updates on Facebook and read the following comment:

"Simple soon as they sign up for SSI and claim a mental illness as the reason lock ' em up, restrain them, and medicate them thru shots or iv's. They wanna be state sucks let 'em live in a state hospital!"
I was spitting mad!

First, I thought of all that Gabriel has suffered during his 24 years. In the younger grades, he struggled in every area. Because of his OCD, he almost never turned in an assignment, because after he worked on it, it wasn't perfect, so he would wad it up and start over again...and again and again and again. Even in kindergarten he was acutely aware of his difficulties, and he would come home and ask me, "How come Matthew can spell hard words and I can't?" In primary grades he got invited to lots of parties, because it was the social custom to invite the whole class so no one's feelings would be hurt. In the upper elementary grades, that custom fell by the wayside and the invitations ended. He had Tourette Syndrome, with a number of facial and vocal tics, and that certainly didn't help him fit in. In middle school he was hospitalized twice, for a total of five months, with severe anorexia. When he was admitted the first time, he weighed 69 pounds and, in the words of the doctor, looked like he had been in a concentration camp. During the second hospitalization he was first diagnosed as psychotic. When he was 20, he had his first major psychotic episode, and was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia, the type with the worst prognosis. He spent 7 months in the state hospital. The disease robbed him of his cognitive skills, his social skills, and his vibrant personality. When he has a setback, the voices are unbearable, and once he said he thought about stabbing himself in the head to make them stop. And now here is a person who says he should be treated as an animal, locked away and restrained and drugged. Here is a person who sees him as nothing more than a parasite, a "state suck."

And then I was angry on a political level. This person, needless to say, is a right wing conservative. These are the people who castigate the mentally ill because they won't stay in treatment, but at the same time, refuse to adequately fund mental health services. These are the people who don't want "those people" on the streets, in view, but begrudge them the measly SSI payment that puts a roof over their heads. These are the people who don't want the government meddling in their own lives in any way, but they think it is proper for the state to lock up people for the "crime" of being ill. In short, these are the people who are bald-faced hypocrites.

This, my friends, has been a terrible weekend. Apart from the tragic loss of life and grave injuries that will change the victims forever, it has exposed America for what it has become. This is the America that the hatemongers have created. They have made their bed, but unfortunately, we all sleep in it.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Connecting the dots

I feel so stupid. After the shooting in Arizona, I was sure that those who have engaged in violent rhetoric and hate speech would step back, take a breath, and take stock of their actions. I just knew that they would realize that the toxic climate had contributed to this tragedy. Much to my shock and sorrow, the right is doing anything BUT taking the opportunity for self-reflection. They steadfastly assert that this was the action of a crazy man, who apparently lived in a vacuum. And it didn't take long for the right to start taking swipes at the left, accusing them of "politicizing" the terrible events.

Well, to the right I answer this: we are NOT politicizing this! Since you are apparently unable to connect the dots, it falls to someone to try to explain it to you. I submit the following sampling of what we have been exposed to in the last year:

When the President of the United States went to Arizona to deliver a speech, these protesters, openly bearing arms, stood across the street from the hall where the President was speaking.

Rep. Giffords' opponent in the election seemed to think that this was an appropriate way to promote his candidacy: by holding a fundraiser where supporters could shoot a fully automatic M16 with him.

The astroturf movement, funded by Dick Armey et al, mobilized thousands to disrupt town hall meetings. After Rep. Giffords' town hall, a gun was found in the hall, dropped by an attendee.

The following signs need no explanation: they are a small sampling of signs displayed at Tea Party rallies.

Anyone who argues that a climate like this does not contribute to the violent acts of unbalanced individuals is, in my opinion, in denial or incredibly obtuse.

Words have consequences

When I heard about the shootings in Arizona today, I thought that surely the vast majority of reasonable people would wake up and recognize that the climate of vitriol and violent rhetoric that has engulfed this country in the last two years contributed to this tragedy. I was wrong. Many of my conservative friends assert that this was just the work of a disturbed mind and that the anti-government rhetoric, the talk of "second amendment remedies," the use of violent imagery in our political discourse had nothing to do with it.

Since my son has schizophrenia, which it appears the shooter could possibly have, this tragedy has made me think a lot about what could ever push him to commit a crime like this. Fortunately Gabriel's delusions and paranoia usually involve the Russian mob and the Mafia, not the government. But I got to thinking...what if our political extremists were calling Obama and the Democrats mobsters instead of socialists? What if Obama were pictured as a Mafia boss on all those protest signs, instead of Hitler, Stalin, or Lenin? What if the right wingnuts were scaring the public about mob hits, instead of re-education camps? And what if talk of using "second amendment remedies" or "hello Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson" led him to go buy a gun? I have no doubt that if that rhetoric was bombarding him constantly, it could push him over the edge.

I whole heartedly agree with Sheriff Dupnik of Pima County AZ: " Let me just say one thing, because people tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriole that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech. But it's not without consequences."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the locked ward again

Reprising a poem that I wrote during Gabriel's first major psychotic still rings true today as he once again finds himself wrestling with the demons behind locked doors.

On the locked ward

They walk.
Through pale green halls
They walk.
Perhaps they flee their demons
Or maybe they pursue them.
Pacing, pacing back and forth,
Pacing racing thoughts,
Moving to define
The boundary between themselves
And the world in which they move.

They watch.
With haunted eyes
They watch
A scene unseen by others.
Others can only see the reaction
On their faces:
Bewilderment, horror,
Amusement, interest.
The silent movie plays
For an audience of one.

They listen.
To compelling voices
They listen.
Voices that will not be still
Cajole and threaten,
Command and seduce,
Demanding to be heard
Through their own resounding echoes.