Meditations On The New Year

Christmas is about to be over. New Years coming up soon and I’m not typically a procrastinator.

Fact is, I rarely make any New Years resolutions. If I see something I need to change in my life, I examine what changes need to be made, plan and implement the changes as needed, any time of year.

This year, I see changes needed which just happen to coincide with the coming new year. This is less a list of resolutions than a list of life lessons learned which I need to meditate on and more fully assimilate. With some resolutions maybe thrown in.

Focus on now. For years, I have had a saying, “Learn from yesterday, plan for tomorrow, live for today.” Problem is, I’m not so good at living by the today part. I am really bad about deferring to later my own satisfaction. Even worse, I am bad about allowing others to defer my needs. Hence the next point-

Focus on me. I have a long history of focusing on things which benefit others too much and allowing myself to be denied too much for too long. I need to be more discerning and demanding for my own needs in the present. That doesn’t mean to not be empathetic but I seriously need to place more stringent limits.

Focus on present actions. This goes from the personal to the geosocial. Promises for the future mean nothing without actions in the present.

Focus on healthy emotions. People who insist on remaining driven by fear, anger and angst will remain driven by the same emotions and will prefer those emotions over motivation, happiness and hope above all else. On an emotional level, they will take more from others than they offer consistently until nothing is left. It is draining to deal with and it eventually leads to resentment and further division.

I have allowed myself to fall into ancient, unhealthy emotional patterns. I know the eventual effects. Not the first time I have been here but I intend to make it my last.

I am not an emotionally selfish or arrogant person by nature and won’t become that way. However, batteries run dry when drained and not recharged. I need to upgrade my recharging system.

I will say clearly much of this is rather personal but not all that uncommon, as these can be applied in many ways. Maybe others will take up similar resolutions and revelations.

Epstein Case Highlights Widespread Issue

I am going to state up front that I believe Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. There are now reports of yelling coming from his jail cell just before his time of death. He had too much dirt on too many powerful people.

However, I expect as much truth to be revealed on this as I expect the truth to be revealed in Seth Rich’s murder. It is very possible the same people at some level were involved in both deaths.

Be all that as it may, this highlights a widespread problem in our jail and prison system. The inadequate access to mental health care in our incarceration facilities and inadequate quality of care in those facilities.

In 2016, there were 372 suicides in local jails across the US. In 2014 there were 4371 reported suicides in state and federal prisons. Those are only the successful suicides, not the number of attempts.

Keep in mind that most of these people who took their own lives were not rich, were not famous and did not have access to the kind of legal representation that Epstein had.

We know Epstein was guilty and flaunted it. “Lolita Express” was not some nickname ascribed to his jet by the media, it is the ACTUAL name which HE had painted on his private jet. He even kept the name on the jet after suspicions and legal charges arose. Any innocent human being would have asked themselves what such a name looked like in the first place and definitely removed it in the face of such criminal charges.

That said, being incarcerated is a highly stressful, life-altering, life destroying event for many. This is even more true for those who are incarcerated while innocent yet see no way they will be exonerated. Others fear the violence in jail and prison. Still more are subjected to rape and torture. Most incarcerated long term lose everything, their jobs, careers, professional licenses, homes, vehicles, savings, spouses and children. Just the very realistic threat of such loss can drive those prone to depression (like many arrested for drug use) over the edge into suicide.

As a prison nurse myself, I ca attest that we have inmates on suicide watch on a daily basis. Some are trying to avoid debts they owe and cannot pay to other inmates. For good reason because the threats they face are very real. Others are genuinely suicidal. The reason doesn’t matter. I have had inmates who said they would rather take their own lives than have someone else kill them. There are gang wars and race wars in jails and prisons.

Yes, there are dirty officers who bring drugs into the prisons and are part and parcel of the violent conditions. They won’t get their hands dirty, they pay someone else to do the dirty work and then turn their back for a few minutes. All it takes to be a target is saying the wrong word to one of these officers, being “disrespectful” and your life is over. Who does an inmate tell but another officer. who may be in league with the one reported? Did you think this was all drama on TV and movies?

I agree, some people belong in prison. I deal with them face to face, so it’s not some abstract concept to me. Others not so much. Do non-violent offenders incarcerated for drug possession deserve to be in such conditions? What if the person is not even guilty? We see reports continuously of police planting evidence on innocent people.

No matter whether a person is incarcerated for justifiable reasons or not, what does it say about our system, our society when those facing emotional crises are not kept safe? When someone is supposed to be on suicide watch yet not watched? When counseling consists of a few seconds of questions a day by an apathetic worker who doesn’t want to be bothered? Could you merely accept these conditions if it were someone in your family?

Even the conditions for inmates on suicide watch, while rational and necessary, are highly undignified. All their clothes and shoes are taken away. They are given a padded smock and a bare mattress and placed in an isolation cell with concrete walls and floor which can sometimes be very cold. Isolation. Just what you need when you feel emotionally isolated.

What does it take to be removed from suicide watch? Just say you are no longer suicidal. Seriously, that’s it. Many inmates commit suicide immediately after being removed from suicide watch.

I suspect the actual suicide rate to be much higher than reported. The most common methods for an official suicide pronouncement is wrist cutting or hanging. Others may obtain drugs and intentionally overdose. Others may start a fight which they intend to lose with the most violent inmate. These are not reported as suicides.

Our prisons have been overrun with people with chronic mental illness increasingly for decades. Meanwhile, mental illness is on the rise due to the general conditions in our society. Treatment is poor and focuses on prescribing pills with little therapy, if any. That’s not only true for inmates but as a whole. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide has been on the rise for years. In 2017 (last reported year), there were 1.5 million suicide attempts and 47,173 suicides. Suicides cost the US an estimated $69 billion. Yet that is only direct cost which does not include the human cost on those left behind, years of therapy for survivors, etc.

You can have your conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death and I will agree with some of them. I have my suspicions. Even if he did commit suicide, in the process he victimized his victims even more by denying them the chance to confront him.

Otherwise, we need to use this as an issue to raise awareness of the very real problems we have in our society. With how our citizens, including our inmates are treated when faced with depression. Whether you like it or not, inmates are members of our society. We would likely have fewer inmates if we lived in a society that cared more about each other than the “cost” of caring. In other words, not caring costs us far more than caring would.

As a final note, I will state that this is not an abstract issue for me. I attempted suicide three times when I was young. They were very real attempts, not attention seeking stunts. Somehow they failed and I was lucky, though did not feel that way at the time. Karma? Fate? Fucked up body chemistry? Who knows? Personally, I am no longer at risk. I could have easily become a prison inmate, considering my upbringing. In which case, I would not be writing this. I would not be a nurse, my daughter would not have been born, I would not have saved the thousands of lives I have saved. Each life has potential value in some way. We need to recognize this.

Guns Are Not The Problem

A favorite trope of the propagandized, Neanderthal gun nut mindset is “More guns will keep us safer.”

Okay, how many guns? Be specific. How many guns? Because guns already outnumber people in this country.

If more guns keep us safer, explain why countries with fewer guns have less violence overall?

If more guns keep us safer, why have there been multiple concealed carriers at multiple live shooter events and they did nothing but hide? We’ve even seen armed police and security officers hide while children were being gunned down. The heroes we hear about have been unarmed teachers and veterans saving others during these WHITE SUPREMACIST TERRORIST EVENTS.

If more guns will keep us safer, who gets to carry those guns?

Where should we have guns? Malls? Churches? Movie theaters? In our living rooms and bedrooms?

If all public events are to require paid “authorized” gun carriers to be present, if they fail to respond, shouldn’t they have an automatic indictment against them?

If civilians can carry guns, how do police tell the “good guys with guns” from the “bad guys with guns”?

How large a gathering should require armed personnel? 100 people? 50? 10? 2?

Do we start REQUIRING people to be armed? Who? Teachers? Preachers? Store clerks? Doctors? Nurses? Daycare workers?

What penalty do we impose for those that do not want to be armed? Should unarmed people be considered terrorists and thrown in jail? For how long?

Do we start a “Stop and frisk” program to make sure everyone IS carrying a gun?

What kind of guns?

Who pays for the guns?

Who pays for the training and accuracy testing?

What happens if you fail the accuracy testing?

How many times should you be allowed to retest?

Who inspects the guns? How often?

If mental health is the problem, shouldn’t anyone who purchases or owns a gun be required to have a mental health examination before purchasing and at regular intervals for as long as they own a gun?

Who makes the decisions on all of this and by what criteria?

Who writes the criteria?

Who do we blame? TV? Movies? Video games?

Then shouldn’t we be placing limits on those?

Who decides the criteria for those limits?

Can a given media have one gun? 12 guns? No guns?

How do we resolve that with freedom of speech and expression?

If we require guns to be on every street corner, in every mall, church, theater, medical clinic, daycare, school, bar, public gathering of any kind, when do we admit that this has become a police state? Martial law? An entire nation which has become a war zone?

Yeah, guns aren’t the problem at all…

We’re All Mentally Ill

I’ve said something in the past which I want to repeat here. We are all mentally ill.

That is, according to the psychiatric field. If you listen to the psychiatric field, or at least the way it is portrayed, every human being walking the face of the planet has some form of mental “disorder” which we can be diagnosed with.

Of course, that’s not true. The truth is that the mental health field only considers something a disorder when it impacts your ability to function at a normal level. The truth is public perception, driven by media portrayal and exaggeration. Honestly, the most mentally deranged people in our society work for the media and corporate management. They will push any agenda at all, no exceptions, for profit.

Personally, I have a long string of “disorders” which could be applied to me. Bipolar disorder is one. I genuinely do have this but did not know it until I was in my 30’s, in nursing school. It was later confirmed unofficially by a psychiatrist I went to for voluntary stress management. He asked if I wanted to be treated for it. I said I was already in my 30’s and had not been treated for it up to then, so no. We agreed and it was never entered in my medical file because of the problems such a label can cause. Fact is, many overachieving people who are quite accomplished have been bipolar. One Surgeon general. Many artists like Neil Diamond and Billy Joel. Billy Joel wrote a song about it, “I Go To Extremes”. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll understand. I had someone say, “You just like the manic state.” I looked at them and said, “Yes, I do. I get a lot done when I’m manic. It helped me through nursing school.”

I’ve been called OCD. Then again, name a good nurse who does not have OCD to some level. I know I have ADD but I compensate by maintaining multiple interests at all times. It does suck when I get bored. I have made people quite fearful if I was bored because they had no idea what came next. Especially when I had access to explosives in the military. Nobody got hurt, so I have no regrets.

Only a few months ago I realized I have PTSD. Growing up in a rough neighborhood near a military base during Vietnam, having been beaten, stabbed, shot at, gone through two live shooter events, three bomb scares and being in the Army in Germany the day The Wall came down and they refused to tell us why we were issued live rounds and guarding one of the largest ammo points on the planet all have a cumulative effect over time. Imagine that. Oddly, I remain calm in a crisis. I just avoid loud environments and disorganized crowds. Oh, and never put your hand in my face, you may lose it.

Sometimes it’s not a weakness but a strength. I know many people with PTSD, usually from domestic abuse. They tend to have strong responses to certain triggers but nearly every one I’ve ever known internalized their reactions unless things escalate beyond a certain point. It is abusers who are most likely to escalate situations. Those with PTSD tend to be more rational and attempt to deescalate tensions, talk rather than argue, reason rather than fight.

I know many with bipolar disorder. They are generally highly functioning once they learn to balance.

Those with ADD are usually people most capable of multitasking without becoming overwhelmed.

Is it really a “disorder”? So, I fail to see how these things amount to disorders. They are all different normal human conditions, either by biology or conditioned response. Of course, one can take drugs for these things. Most of the time drugs are not really necessary. Like I said, I was in my 30’s when I learned of my ADD, 40’s when I was called OCD and reasoned out the PTSD at 56 years old. Oh, well. I consider them all means to understanding myself better. I’ve never considered myself “normal”. I look around at what is considered “normal” and will always reject that label.

Change your view. The real fact of the matter is that what may be considered a “disorder” is often not. It all depends on how you, yourself view a condition, whether you learn to balance and compensate for it. Be open with friends and family members. Are they supportive or judgmental? If they are judgmental, it may not be you who has a problem at all. I will be honest and say some people will use their own labels as a crutch for aberrant behavior or substance abuse. Though substance abuse is an issue and illness all on it’s own. It is rare that a psychological condition resolves one of personal responsibility, aside from schizophrenia.

Of special note. Some people use labels as a means to justify emotionally abusive behavior toward others. They try and use labels to make themselves feel superior. In reality, what they reveal is their own apathy and insecurity. Strong people do not have the need to demean others

Stop labeling. One of the biggest problems with any such “disorder” is that too many people define a person by the label. Sometimes they define others by a label, or they may define themselves by a label. I’m not “a bipolar”, I am a person with bipolar “disorder”. Likewise, a person with an anxiety disorder is not necessarily an anxious person, they are a person that has a problem with anxiety. In all cases, what comes first is that each of us is a person. We are human. We have problems, we have flaws, we have individual personalities.

Societal evolution. Over the last few decades, society has undergone an evolution. Where any form of mental problem was once a stigma, many forms of mental or emotional issues have become mainstream. In some circumstances and cohorts, a person may well be considered an outsider if they do not have certain “disorders”. Depression and anxiety disorders have become overly mainstream among young people today. Medications have become trendy. Celebrities use discussing their own “disorders” not as a means of spreading awareness but as a means of gaining more popularity.

Striving for balance. This is the biggest challenge. We all must strive to reach a balance. To accept various aspects of the human condition as exactly that, while reaching for understanding when a condition may reach a critical juncture. Which means we cannot rely on a pill bottle for all the answers. We cannot define ourselves or others by only one aspect of an individual’s personality.

Teams play to each member’s ability. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Not all baseball players are great pitchers, not all pitchers are great hitters. Teams arrange their playbooks according to the strengths and weaknesses of the players. In healthy relationships we tend to seek and accept partners with qualities which compliment our own. If both partners had the same strengths and weaknesses, the relationship becomes unbalanced. Of course, if partners or team members judge and attack one another, then the relationship and performance suffer and may lead to failure.

Medications are not enough. Psychoactive medications have become things used all too often as chronic, lifelong prescriptions leading to dependency. Those medications really should not be used in this way in many cases. Some, yes but not as much as they are. Psychoactive medications are meant to be used in conjunction with therapy. The ultimate goal for most people should be to gradually decrease or even eliminate the need for medication by increasing the coping skills and ability to adapt by the patient.

Self acceptance. The absolute best thing a person can do to maintain emotional health is to learn self acceptance. Though this does need to be in a way that does not cause harm to themselves or others. Abusers can accept themselves, that does not mean they are mentally healthy. Stop seeing yourself as flawed, stop thinking you or others have to be perfect. The day you meet someone who is perfect, let me know.