Changing Perceptions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term, Domestic Violence?

Is it Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts?

or the JLo movie, Enough?

Is it sensationalized headlines in local and national news media?

USA Today: Domestic Violence On the Job: Prepare for the Worst in Your Workplace

Portland’s 2013 homicide list: Domestic disputes, fights outside bars, gang shootings

What comes to mind when you hear the terms: Batterer, Abuser, Perpertrator? Is it all the various actors and actresses portraying soulless, remorseless, sociopathic, and psychopathic killers without a conscience? Is it the Pimp, the Drug Lord, the Alcoholic/Addict?

Who do you see when you think of a DV victim? Do you see the mousy, brow-beaten, kowtowing figure of a modern hausfrau? Does she look like someone you know?

What are your feelings about these images and notions of the kind of people who are involved in Domestic Violence? He’s bad? He’s evil? She’s weak? She brings it on herself? They’re both nuts, they deserve each other? What’s WRONG with them?

What if I were to tell you that these are some of the contributing factors to me staying and returning to my almost 18 year toxic and dysfunctional relationship? What if there are others, like myself and my relational partner, who don’t fit into these dirty, neat little boxes? What if, when we have tried to reach out, because our stories didn’t look or sound like these, we were dismissed, scoffed at, and scorned? What if we saw some of the things that fit, but they didn’t quite fit, and there were other things going on, like mental and physical illnesses, which we didn’t realize or understand are often part of the larger picture around Domestic Violence? What if we only thought we could get help if there was an actual crime?

What if these movies, headlines, and notions are true, but incomplete representations of what abuse means, what it is, what it looks like, and how it impacts the lives of the people experiencing in, whichever side they may be on?

I had an amazing conversation yesterday with Davonna Livingston, author of “Voices Behind the Razorwire” and founder of Changing Perceptions, “an organization dedicated to working with anyone who has been affected by abuse.”

Changing Perceptions is a nonprofit organization that utilizes peer-based support and a writing curriculum to provide measurable outcomes for victims of abuse and neglect. The program focuses on helping victims of abuse regain their feelings of control by encouraging them to stop thinking of themselves as victims and to begin to live their lives as survivors.
This transformation begins with having their experience validated and given a purpose.

I’m meeting with her in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually feeing excited, like something really big is about to happen from this. We’ll see.

In the meantime, if you or anyone you know hase experienced abuse or neglect, as a child or as an adult, consider exploring and sharing this resource as a tool for healing.

Recovery Resources for Healing, Growth, and Wellbeing

In yesterday’s post on Domestic Violence, I provided a couple of links to resources someone who is experiencing or has experienced Domestic Violence can access as part of their healing and recovery processes. The fact of the matter is that even if we aren’t in a relationship where Domestic Violence is present, we may still be in a relationship where there is major dysfunction happening, in any number of ways. If we are in a relationship with someone who experiences compulsive or addictive behaviors, or if we experience them ourselves, there is dysfunction which could create the same effects in our lives as if we were in a Domestic Violence relationship: Isolation, Loss of Identity, and Cycles of Abuse.

Cycle of Abuse image obtained from the University of Tennesee, Knoxville, Division of Student Life's Safety, Environment, and Education Center page on Relationship Violence

Cycle of Abuse image obtained from the University of Tennesee, Knoxville, Division of Student Life’s Safety, Environment, and Education Center page on Relationship Violence

I have come to recognize and realize that I have compulsive behaviors and tendencies in my relationships with others and in my relationship with food. These behaviors and tendencies are directly linked to the chronic depression I have experienced since adolescence and possibly earlier. This means that when I entered into the relationship I’m in the process of changing, almost 18 years ago, I brought in thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and experiences which contributed to the dysfunctions and the damage to myself and others from being in the relationship.

In order to heal and become more functional as an individual and as a mother, as a friend and co-worker, or any other relational role I will take on or find myself in, I have to take ownership of MY part and process. I have to let go of fear. I have to stop focusing on the other person(s) in whatever relationship I may be experiencing difficulty in.

I am a codependent. I am a compulsive over/undereater. I am a perfectionist who gets immobilized by the reality and truth that I will never be perfect or be able to do the things I want to do perfectly.

All of these things have played into and enabled the isolation, the conflict, the tension, and the difficulties in all of my important relationships. Being able to recognize and admit these things is just the beginning of the journey.

Therapy is needed, for sure. However, experience has taught me that therapy alone is not the solution. Gathering information and learning about these issues is helpful, but, again, it is not going to create the change which is needed. Self-will and self-determination have not worked either. I know because I’ve spent more than two decades trying to help myself and help those around me into being better, doing better, and very little has improved. In fact, sitting at my computer after having spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve alone, with poor physical and mental health, no income of my own, no family around to celebrate with, and the majority of my friendships being virtually sustained and maintained via my keyboard and computer screen, I can honestly say that it’s a miracle things aren’t worse than they are.

It’s time to return to The Twelve Steps of Recovery.

Whether the issue is Alcohol, Illegal Substances, Gambling, Shopping, Hoarding, Clutter, Sex/Relationship Addiction, Food Addiction/Eating Disorders or any other compulsive, obsessive, addictive behavior, there’s a group for that! There are local, face-to-face meetings, online meetings, and telephone meetings.

These are peer-led, peer-supported programs operated and served by people who have personally experienced the things which make our lives unmanageable. These are people who have learned a new way of thinking, of doing, of being. They’ve done so with the help and support of others. A majority of them have experienced healing, growth, and recovery as they have come to understand and surrender to a Higher Power. Others have difficulty with the Higher Power/God aspect of most Twelve Step Recovery programs and have established alternatives.

Here is an excellent online resource for those who are beginning to explore the Twelve Steps:

12Step.org ~ This is a comprehensive website dedicated to providing information and resources about the Twelve Steps and supporting those seeking “freedom from addictive behaviors.” Visitors to the site will find the following:

    • The Steps – a comprehensive look at each of the Twelve Steps, which have been generically adapted from the original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
    • Meetings – a page offering brief explanations of face-to-face and online meetings with links to resources for locating meetings.
    • References – a page providing an overview of sources for the Twelve Step Recovery process.
    • Tools – worksheets, workbooks, and other tools that can be helpful to someone starting to work through the steps
    • Journal – free, downloadable desktop software for Windows XP, Vista, & 7; Mac OSX version 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6
    • Directory – search for Twelve Step resources by a variety of ways: Addiction, Approach, Non-English and many other options
    • Social – an opportunity to engage in their forum for those in recovery

The thing I’m learning to remember is that there are at least two people in a dysfunctional relationship. Both people are part of the dysfunction. Both people need to seek their own path to healing, growth, and recovery.

If your partner or spouse, friend, child, or parent is an abuser of substances or one who is engaged in compulsive/obsessive behaviors and/or addictions, that person is responsible for seeking his or her own process, or not. You can’t force it or coerce it. If you are experiencing distress because of their choices and actions, you are responsible for choosing to live with it, leave it, work with it, or whatever you do. They are not responsible for easing your distress or creating your happiness . . . you are. So, figure out what you need to do, then do it. Easier said than done, I know, because I’m in it right now and it’s a struggle. But, I have hope that the struggle is worth the outcome.

A look at Domestic Violence

I’ve been in a long-term, emotionally toxic and co-dependent relationship with someone since we met and started dating in February of 1996. We have separated several times, throughout the years, only to wind up back in relationship with each other, primarily because one or the other of us went against our better judgment, in that moment, and slid the slippery slope of emotional dysfunction to wind up back together.

I was a single mom of two, in search of a man who was a Christian, not into drugs and alcohol, who would love and accept my children as much as he did me. I wanted a man who was connected to his family. I didn’t know I needed to expand that list to include someone with healthy boundaries, since I had no clue what those were myself. It didn’t occur to me that I should not just look for someone who shared the religious label, but someone who could reason, discuss, and converse about the complexities of beliefs and values and how to walk those out in our daily lives. After all, I was fairly new to faith and belief in God, since I’d only had brief and sporadic dealings with various Christian communities. It never occurred to me that it was possible to be overly connected and enmeshed in a dysfunctional family system. I had grown up as the only child of a single mom and my family connections were so disconnected and dysfunctional that I didn’t recongize or understand that toxic dysfunction exists inside of whole, suburban, families of “good” Christians as well as in the dispersed and disconnected families of lowly sinners.

I guess, somewhere deep inside of myself, I’ve always kind of believed that, even if things weren’t my fault, I was still the one responsible for how bad things were.

In our early years, during my late 20’s and his early 30’s, we were passionate and verbally volatile, both of us vying for dominance and control. We would get into tug of war matches over petty, stupid things like who got the remote control because I wanted the television off to get to sleep and he needed it on, with the volume loud in order to unwind enough to get to sleep. I was verbally and intellectually cutting and belittling. He reacted with harsh, angry words and the physical intimidation of throwing things, slamming doors, and the like.

He only ever hit me one time.

We’d only known each other three and a half months. He’d moved in with me and my kids within two months of us meeting. It was after the first time we split up. It was the end of the first week of our separation. It was my 27th birthday. I can’t remember what he’d come by for or what we were talking about. I’m sure I said something triggering, it was kind of a specialty of mine at the time. He slapped me. My kids were in the bedroom, but my son had a view through the short hallway between where we were, in the kitchen, and between where he was with his baby sister.

Somehow, we were back in relationship with each other before Winter that year.

I say, somehow, because I never have understood why I kept getting back in relationship with him. I didn’t realize that in the deepest levels of myself that there exists a belief that this is the kind of relationship I deserve and that he is the only one who will have me. I don’t believe he has ever said those words to me himself.

He has his flaws: anger management, impulse control, emotional neediness/clinginess, a seeming inability to accept personal responsibility for his own choices, words, and actions, among other things. Out of these things have come a lot of the behavior which has contributed to an atmosphere of tension, conflict, and chaos. There is definitely emotional manipulation, but it’s more on the level of the manipulations of an out of control child throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store to get mom to give in and give him what he wants, rather than the manipulations of a man who enjoys seeing the people around him cower in fear.

I didn’t have boundaries and neither did he. Over the years, as my depression grew and the physical symptoms of the depression intermingled with the ones from my fibromyalgia, I did so many things to fix us, him mostly. Even as I identified his anger as a symptom of possible undiagnosed mental health and cognitive impairments, I failed to recongize my own need for emotional and psychological healing. I pushed and prodded him to participate in various therapies, counseling, and classes with me, by himself, and with the kids, never really investing in my own process and just getting frustrated and upset that he wasn’t doing what I felt needed to be done.

Throughout it all, bickering, yelling, arguing about finances and how to parent my kids, kept our home in constant confict and tension. My children were acting out at school, at home, at church. He was the loud, angry, authoritarian, I became the placater, the one who caved and soothed the overly harsh treatment of my kids. By the time my son was 16 and my daughter was 9, there had been so much dysfunction, disruption, and chaos that my son went to live with another family because he didn’t feel “emotionally safe” living with us.

Still I stayed or returned to being in relationship with him.

Same patterns, same conflict, same chaos. I kept trying to fix, heal, mend, trust. I just enabled. I was on the verge of trying to break free again, when, after 12 years of being in relationship with each other, I found out I was pregnant.

In the past five years I have tried to do everything I could do to raise our daughter in a home with both her parents. The same arguments, the same conflicts, the same tensions, amplified because now it isn’t simply MY children involved, it’s HIS daughter.

All the shame and blame of all the things I did to him in our past continually and constantly eat away at him. My, now adult, daughter and her boyfriend were living with us and not making the best choices. I was enabling them all, it seems. Continually simmering tension kept boiling over into verbal conflict, until one night, a little over three weeks ago, on our daughter’s fifth birthday, a raging conflict between the three of them erupted, causing our daughter to be terrified.

I left again, three days after the conflict . . . after my oldest daughter and her boyfriend moved out.

I met with an acquaintance from church who reached out to me to offer her friendship and support. During that meeting, at her workplace, we talked about a lot of things and some realizations have been being made ever since.

First, Domestic Violence, isn’t just one thing. It isn’t cut and dried. It isn’t the worst of the worst, the way it’s portrayed in media. I have been resistant, and continue to be resistant, of the DV label for what we’ve gone through in our relationship. Partly because I’ve always believed that in order for something to be classified as Domestic Violence, it has to be intended as such. Like rape and murder are classified as such because of the underlying intent.

Second, people with unidentified and untreated mental and emotional disorders and illnesses can be perpetrators of Domestic Violence, even if they are unaware that their words and actions fall into the category of Domestic Violence.

Third, regardless of the type of Domestic Violence or how it manifests in individual relationships and lives the outcomes fall on the same spectrum:

  • Isolation: There is a loss and breakdown of relationships with others not in the closed system, especially for the “victim.”
  • Loss of identity: The “victim” in the relationship loses all sense of independent, personal identity that is not connected with the abuser.
  • Cyclical patterns of repetition: Honeymoon, build up, conflict – over and over and over again. Sometimes increasing in intensity, frequency, and escalation of the kind of abusive behavior, but not always.

I’m still learning about what DV is. I’m definitely still learning about the role I have played in this relationship. I’m now aware of the things I brought with me into the relationship which have played into the problems we have had together. However, I’m also learning that I don’t have to continue playing into it. I now realize and understand I need support and help to make the changes for me to be healthier and to raise our daughter to be healthier.

One agency that is helping me to do this is The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services. It is a centrally located hub for families who have experienced domestic violence to connect with resources to help them be safe, take care of legal issues, and receive therapeutic services for themselves and their children.

  • Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services (ARMS) has a lay minister who is available for prayer and spiritual support from a Bibilical-based, Christian perspective and has a weekly class/support group called Her Journey, “a series of (15) classes designed to help women walk through their healing from domestic violence and abuse.”
  • Lifeworks NW offers Support Counseling Services for Survivors through one-to-one counseling sessions and offers a twelve week Seeking Safety therapeutic group It is “a therapy for trauma, substance abuse, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
  • Home Free, Volunteers of America, Child/Youth and Family Services can be accessed through the center. They offer Parenting Support, Kids groups & classes, connection to a Child Advocate, and services to Teens.

There are many other services and supportive community connections which are accessible through The Gateway Center. The various community partners and staff I have encountered there have been compassionate, respectful, and committed to helping the individuals seeking services to heal, grow, and transform themselves in healthy and constructive ways.

Emergency Funding for Head Start: Angel Donors Invest in Children

Last week I wrote about the Head Start program and how the shut down had already begun affecting the ability of several Head Start Programs to be able to serve the children and families enrolled in their local programs.  Several Head Start programs were on the same fiscal year funding cycle as our Federal government, therefore, at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, there was no money available for them to pay their staff, purchase their supplies, or pay their bills during the shut down and families had to find other places for their children to go.

The good news is that some private people who have an understanding of the importance of the work that Head Start does for children, families, and communities, have stepped up and donated $10 million in emergency funding to the National Head Start Association. I received the following in an email forwarded from the director of our local Head Start Program:

Philanthropists Keep Head Start Open During Government Shutdown; Laura and John Arnold provide up to $10 million in emergency funding to help children and families.

This is amazing news and such a wonderful gesture. However, it’s a finger in a few holes in a wall with large cracks forming and the overwhelming pressure is building up behind it. That ten million helps approximately 7,000 kids in six states for the current fiscal year, which just ended or will end at the end of October. Program years where the funding had already been approved and supposedly allocated to be distributed to the programs for the 2012 – 2013 Fiscal Year, which ended right as the 2013 – 2014 academic year was beginning. The 2013 – 2014 Fiscal Year that Senate, Congress, and POTUS cannot or will not agree on, was supposed to start on October 1st for some programs. The rest of the programs are supposed to start November 1st.

At the end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in six states (AL, CT, FL, GA, SC and MS) were closed, leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without access to Head Start. More than 11,000 additional children risk losing access to comprehensive Head Start services if the shutdown continues through October. If the government does not reopen by November 1, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. Territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding.

Something that bothers me about the article is the fact that we are still counting on our government to fix their problems and do the right thing by all of it’s citizens. With each new administration, each new election, each new war, recession, and economic downturn, politicians who may once have had good intentions, vision, and ideals, fail their constituents and fall into the self-perpetuating engine of political posturing, self-promotion, and catering to whoever has the most resources to make the biggest noise. Now, once again, we, the people, are arguing in social media about whose fault it is, vilifying each other for still believing or trusting one party or the other, when our children are not being supported with the educational services they need in order to become the hope for the future they truly are.

“The entire Head Start community and the at-risk children we serve are tremendously grateful to the Arnolds for their compassion and generosity,” Vinci said. “The bottom line, however, is that angel investors like the Arnolds cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution to the funding crisis threatening thousands of our poorest children. Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year.”

Why don’t the people with these kind of resources: the shareholders, the stock owners, the corporate heads and their CFO’s pool the money they try to hide from the IRS and create a non-profit educational foundation that manages investments and funds the education of their future workforce? Create financial foundations to be the core funding for teaching Americans how to fish and provide the supplies with which to do so?

The checks and balances of our democratic system have ground our government to a halt because the government has outgrown the original and intended purpose. All of the services and programs the government administers serve real needs and some version of these programs are definitely needed by those who receive the services. However, government bureaucracies are not creative, innovative, or inventive. They are administrative. Creative solutions, innovative ideas, and inventive concepts come from those who have something at stake besides the electoral or popular vote. They come from people who have the incentive to survive, grow, and thrive. Invest in the people who are most in need of finding a solution and stop limiting them by saying government is the only way to get our citizens’ needs met.

The most effective programs and solutions have proven time and again to be from a synergy of people with the resources making them available to the people who have experienced the problem first hand. So, let’s get the people and companies with the money, together with the program administrators, the families who’ve been in the program, and the educators who have made Head Start the stellar program it has been over the past fifty years, and create something new whose funding is not attached to bi-partisian bickering and temper tantrums. I think it could work.

I think the same thing could work for programs like SNAP, TANF, ERDC, and so many others. What do you think?

Accessing Social Services: Where do the rules come from? Follow the money.

Agencies and organizations that provide assistance to families in need, at any level, will always have a list of Rules, Rights, and Responsibilities. A lot of the time it’s about two, double-sided pages long, and is a form which is provided as part of the initial application process. Usually there are two copies, one which the “client/applicant” signs and submits with the application and a copy for the client/applicant to retain. Signing and submitting this form states that the client/applicant has read, understood, AND agrees to abide by the terms and conditions set fort in that document. I believe that one of the biggest reasons for stress, tension, and conflict between the client/applicant and the agency personnel is the fact that a majority of people fail to read and understand these documents before signing and turning them in. Then, when they unintentionally violate the rules or fail to follow through on the responsibilities, they complain that their rights are being denied.

Where do these rules come from?

Generally speaking the rules come from the source of the funding. Private sector organizations, called private, non-profits, are organizations which provide services for which those receiving the services do not pay or pay a minimal amount. Free and low-cost services still require financing. The employees of the organizations have to earn a living wage, the building has to be maintained, supplies have to be paid for, as well as the actual services which the client receives. Somebody, somewhere is paying for that. Business 101: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!

The most common analogy I can think of is commercial television. Prior to digitization, cable, and satellite, it was possible (and still is, although it isn’t well known or easy to understand how to access) for people to plug in their television, attach an antenna, and watch “free” television programming. However, that programming isn’t really “free.” Somebody is paying the costs associated with airing the programming: the salaries of the employees who handle all the behind the scenes support for putting the programming together, the “talent,” (the faces and voices the public wants to see and hear), and provide profit for the shareholders of the various companies involved in program development. This is where the dreaded commercials come in. Companies which have products they wish to market and sell to the same public who is watching the programming, pay for commercial time during shows which likely are watched by their target audience. So, these companies purchase advertising slots, during the shows in which to tell the viewers about their products and try t convince them to purchase the products.

Social service agencies receive their funding from various sources; usually a mixture of government funding at the federal, state, and local levels in combination with money they have received from corporations and foundations who have approved grant applications, and donations received from corporations and individuals who have contributed money to the program’s cause. Government funding comes from collections of taxes and fees which have been associated with specific laws and regulations put into effect by our democratic process. All public money comes with layers and layers of political and legal language specifying how the money which has been collected from the citizens can be used in service to the citizens. As a result of people trying to legislate and regulate real and perceived abuses of public funds, an overwhelming number of regulatory rules have been attached to every penny of public money.

If the organiztion which has received public funds to run specific programs fails to be in complete compliance with all of those rules and they are audited, the organization can be fined and have its funding removed. Therefore, the rules the organization has to abide by, get written into the the rules which the clients have to adhere to. A clients failure to understand and follow the rules, if not caught and appropriately corrected and resolved by the program administrators, can result in the loss of services to all of the clients in the program because the funding could be yanked for non-compliance.

This is also true for funds which come from corporations and foundations. Money that comes from these sources are like scholarships which have to be applied for at regular intervals. Every application period has multiple private, non-profits competing for the money to fund their programs. Grant proposals are written which detail every aspect of the program they are trying to get funding for. The grant proposals talk about the target population for whom the services are being established. It identifies the need and where that need comes from. The grant writers have to explain step by step what the mission, goals, and expected outcomes are and how these things are expected to be achieved, including what the program rules and expectations will be for those who are receiving the services. If the grant is approved, chosen over all the other grant proposals received, the funding is provided with the expectation that all of the details of program development and administration will be adhered to. These are then written into the rules, responsibilities, and expectations the client/recipients are required to agree to. Failure to comply and adhere to the terms of the grant can end the possibility of that grant continuing to be funded and result in the loss of services.

When we request services from any agency or organization, we must understand that these services are not free. Someone is paying for them. As part of that understanding we have to accept that what we aren’t paying for in money, we are paying for with our time, our attitude, and our performance in adhering to the program requirements and meeting our agreed upon responsibilities. If we fail to comply with the terms and conditions of the program, because we didn’t take the time to read and understand the rules and responsibilities of participating in the program, then we have likely given up some of the rights associated with them as well. Our willful ignorance of these things can and will result in loss of services which we need and could potentially result in loss of services to other families and the inability of the agency to continue to provide those services to the community.

The Connundrum of Accessing Social Services: Control, rules, and authority

There are a lot of agencies, organizations, and programs designed to assist people and families that are experiencing subsistence level needs of all kinds. Government administered programs through county, city, and state offices such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrtional Assistance Program or “Food Stamps”), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (Cash Assistance or “Welfare”), Medicaid (OHP/OHP Plus and other health care coverage administered by the state), and ERDC (Employment Related Day Care assistance) are the most common programs thought of, but there are many others. Other programs are administered through community based social service agencies and CDCs (Community Development Corporations) such as Human Solutions, LifeWorks Northwest, and Hacienda CDC are just a few.

It can be quite overwhelming for a family experiencing life crises, especially crises that are economic in nature, to know where to start or how to deal with the complex and seemingly arbitrary rules associated with accessing the services. If family members have been exposed to, grew up in, or have prejudicial attitudes toward those who access government benefits and assistance, it can be even more challenging. For families which have been caught up in generational patterns and cycles of poverty, it can be even worse because of the stigma and prejudices that are so widely prevalent in all forms of media. The degree of stigma, judgment, prejudice, and negative assumptions is very disheartening, demeaning, and undermining of people who genuinely are trying to find a way to dig themselves out of entrenched poverty cycles and for those who find themselves, for the first time in their lives falling into that trench.

Today, I want to address those who find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to ask for help through these programs and agencies.

Asking for help, regardless of the reason for needing the help, is a position most people find themselves in at one point or another in their lives. Everyone makes a mistake, makes a wrong decision, or encounters unexpected events they weren’t prepared for. It’s a fact of life. Some people are educated, trained, equipped, and have the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and psychological strengths to navigate these things with minimal externally visible effects. Many people are not prepared and may experience any combination of things which combine together in ways that show unmistakable effects, often identified as negative.

If you are someone who is feeling overwhelmed with panic and axiety about your circumstances and who has experienced a lot of hardship and difficulty, reaching out to strangers behind a counter and having to explain your need for their assistance can feel like you are walking into the lion’s den. I’ve been in your situation. I understand what it feels like to fill out packets of forms, then get interviewed and have to explain the answers on the forms. I know, firsthand, the conflicting feelings of defensiveness and desperation, which make you second and third guess every word that comes from your mouth as you watch every eye twitch and body shift of the person you are being interviewed by to determine how they may be judging you and and your words.

I think one of the biggest problems for those of us needing to ask for assistance from these programs is the fact that we are required to disclose every detail and facet of our personal information and provide documentation that we are who we say we are, then justify the fact that we are in a position needing assistance. We often face people who may see tens to hundreds of faces like ours with stories like ours, day in and day out, and our stories and circumstances are not unique in their experience. So, they become numb, jaded, and immune to what we are experiencing emotionally. They appear bored, indifferent, jaded, cynical, matter of fact, and uncaring a lot of the time. There is little to no empathy or compassion displayed and while they may say they understand, they do little to demonstrate that understanding of what we are experiencing.

Somehow, being in the position of requesting assistance, subverts our rights to privacy, autonomy, and independent action. We become accountable to the rules, guidelines, and policies, because they are the rules, guidelines, and policies and these people are the gatekeepers who get to say whether or not we are worthy of being assisted, after we have submitted to full disclosure and full exposure of our most sensitive selves. We become serfs, supplicating ourselves, at the feet of beaurocratic cogs in the system of funding streams, political posturing, and edicts established by highly educated academic theoreticians in think tanks who have little to no direct personal experience with the kind of subsistence and hardship we have gone through which brought us through the doors.

So, people who are feeling the heat of societal stigma, subjected to indifferent and seemingly uncaring administrators, while experiencing stressful and disruptive life-circumstances, who may not be experienced or equipped with effective communication and social skills, are expected to act in rational, compliant ways to make the jobs of those who are processing their requests easier, with little or no expectation that the person they are dealing with is equipped or experienced at interacting with the same level of communication and social skill competency they are expected to have.

Social Work Cartoon: Client, service user, what’s his name?

Do you see the conundrum?

Depression: Finding more threads to hang on by

20131005-005143.jpg

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve spent a significant amount of my almost 30 years of parenting dealing with chronic physical and mental health issues. I was first identified as depressed as a young adolescent. My first diagnosis of fibromyalgia happened by the time I was 20. My son was born when I was 17 and I’d just turned 24 when my oldest daughter was born.

The impacts and effects that living with a parent experiencing these things without sufficient understanding, knowledge, and support in dealing with them, have been very much like is experienced by children who grow up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent.

The mental and emotional instability which results in children taking on adult responsibilities (like parenting their siblings) combine with the parent’s inability to sustain basic needs with consistency: housing, utilities, and community resulting in chaotic lives lived from one crisis to the next.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – no one sets out to live a life of chaos, confusion, and fear-based decision making. It comes from a combination of nature and nurture. Things experienced in our environments as we grow up can trigger and exacerbate predispositions and latent tendencies.

Without early identification and constructive intervention to understand, educate, and train people in how to differentiate emotion from reality and self-regulate their emotional and psychological responses to stressors, children experience a variety of attachment disorders and act out in ways that are all to often dismissed as phases they will grow out of or attributed gender, class, race, etc. These same children get passed on, shifted around, and their maladaptive coping behaviors turn into character defects and personality disorders.

You can’t learn what you were never taught. You can’t grow seeds which were never planted. A broken vessel cannot put itself back together and generally isn’t responsible for breaking itself. Yet, every single day in all kinds of ways this is what we are expecting of ourselves and the people around us – to be capable of being and doing the things we aren’t equipped for and then deprecating, diminishing, and demoralizing ourselves and others for not meeting unrealistic expectations to be something we aren’t.

Mix that in with stessors such as job loss, death of a loved one, or a government shut down and the scenario for triggering a depressive episode in someone prone to depression, is pretty much guaranteed. Trying to make ends meet, trying to ensure my children’s psycho-social development needs were being met, all while consumed with guilt and depression didn’t work well. However, despite how difficult things were and the twisted paths they wound up choosing, some things must have helped, otherwise much more severe consequences would have been realized by us all.

Here are a few of the resources I have accessed over the years, which may be helpful to you or someone you know who is experiencing depression:

  • School-based counselors/therapists: middle school, high school, and college. If they can’t provide the level and depth of services needed by the individual and the family, they are the first person who has knowledge and access to resources which can help. They can meet with the individual and the family and create an action plan to address the current situation and beyond.
  • Crisis phone lines to help someone who feels too close to the edge of feeling overwhelmed with despair and/or rage who might be feeling on the verge of causing harm to self or others:

Multnomah County Department of Human Services: Crisis Number</a> 503-988-4888. Toll-free at 1-800-716-9769

Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000. Serving teens and parents in crisis. Suicide prevention.

National Parent Helpline: 1-855- 4A PARENT • 1-855-427-2736

  • Employee Assistance Program: Just about every employer has an EAP service, available at no cost to their employees, even if the employees are not eligble for any other benefits. Depending on the employer and the contracted services, the employee may be able to access their EAP for three or more sessions a year for free. Since it is so short term, the employee can utilize the available sessions to do some problem solving and goal setting around accessing longer term services. EAP is available to help with any employee issue that could impair that employee’s ability to perform his or her job, including things like compulsive behavior issues, substance abuse/addiction, grief counseling, and any other psychological, emotional, or relational disruption or disturbance. Even if you work part-time at a minimum wage job, the chances are high that the employer has an EAP program. Contact the Human Resources Department to find out for sure what is available.
  • Medicaid/State-based health plan (OHP): Under the Healthy Kids Oregon program, the state of Oregon has health care coverage for all children under 18 whose families income qualify for the program. This preceeded the Affordable Care Act which will open up Medicaid to many adults who are currently uninsured who fall within 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, effective January 1, 2014 (Unless Congress succeeds in unfunding the ACA as part of the shutdown resolution). At any rate, if the child is covered under the Oregon Health Plan, mental health services for the family can be accessed. Since a parent’s mental health is critical and essential to the healthy care and nurture of the child, a parent who is experiencing mental health challenges and disturbances can receive mental health services under their child’s benefits, as long as the child is included as part of the service planning and is identified as benefiting from the services.
  • Child Protective Services: This agency has a scary reputation because they have the power and authority to remove children from a home if a report of child abuse or neglect is made and the investigator determines there is sufficient cause to do so. However, the people who are working in that system genuinely care about the welfare of the children and know that keeping families together or working toward reunification is always the first preference for all parties. When parents are mentally and emotionally unwell and overwhelmed, it can feel like the workers are unsympathetic, uncaring, and as if they may have it in for the parents. This is seldom the case, but it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the parents are suspicious, fearful, feeling threatened and react with belligerance and resentment, often being combative and resistant to what the worker and the agency are trying to offer the family. Parents who reach out for help and self-identify as needing additional supports can often be connected with and referred to a community based service agency which can provide supportive services to help the parent through the initial crisis and get connected to ongoing services which will improve their stability and ability to successfully manage the multiple roles and responsibilities associated with parenting.

Essentially, the parent who is experiencing any form of mental and emotional disturbance, disruption, or detrioration needs to do the thing that feels the most dangerous and counter-intuitive. He or she needs to reach out and talk to a professional or trained volunteer who can and will help with listening in a non-judgmental manner, work with the parent to identify and assess needs, and provide resource and referral information and connections.

Related articles