Colin Kaepernick and Brock Turner

Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was released from jail this week after serving only three months for “sexual assault,” also known as rape.

This is precisely what we wanted.

Yes, us.

Meanwhile, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been raked over the coals for sitting down during the National Anthem this week. He says he’ll stand when minorities are treated like human beings in our country. As we chastise him and try to silence him, we should carefully consider that what we are actually doing is trying to perpetuate a system wherein a rapist like Brock Turner can get out of jail after three months – a system that privileges rich white people over everyone else – minorities, immigrants, and women.

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t pass on my money; pass on my work ethic.” In case that doesn’t make sense to you, the person is saying that poor people are poor because they are lazy. When we live in a society where that person doesn’t have enough friends who tell him how horrific his bumper sticker his, that means we live in a culture where we’d rather allow someone to be a bully than to put ourselves through the discomfort of confronting a bully. And that’s what causes the bullied to end up dead by their own hands, raped by their peers, and silenced when they would like to protest. All because many of us don’t want to be put through the trouble of defending those whose voices are smaller and weaker. And really, just imagine the opposite situation: if a black person from the inner city drove around with a bumper sticker that said, “If it weren’t for those elitist white racists, maybe I could get a better job,” it scares me to think of the reaction that might invoke.

So what does this have to do with mental illness? A lot.

My friend who has been incapable of working due to depression for over five years has every doctor on planet earth say that she needs government disability, yet she has been denied twice, forcing her to hire a lawyer she can’t afford in the hopes of finally getting the whopping $1,400 a month she hopes to get. She’s the little guy; she has no power. Yet she is lucky enough to have connections who know a lawyer who can help her. Most aren’t so lucky.

There are those who criticize “all those lazy people looking for a government handout.” To them I say please try living off of $1,400 a month for awhile…after living off of $0 while you fight the system for a few years trying to get that meager sum. Think how defeated in spirit someone has to be to “live” off the government when that life means subjecting yourself to a life of poverty because you have no other option besides homelessness or death.

This site is called “to know we are not alone” because my passion, even more than speaking out about mental illness, is to speak out against loneliness. And one of the loneliest places on earth is being the little guy whose voice doesn’t really matter – the inner city mother living on welfare, the mentally ill person living on disability, the black kid whose life doesn’t seem to matter as evidenced by the people trying to silence someone who stands up for him, the girl who gets raped by a peer but whose voice doesn’t matter because her rapist’s parents have means…these are all the same.

The troubling reality, though, is that once we dress bullying up a little bit as adults, many of us unwittingly become a part of the crowd that bullies and oppresses. Our victims don’t usually end up hanging themselves in their parents’ basement, like the victims of a middle school bully. Our victims get sent back to the projects, further convinced that it’s impossible to climb out of the hole they’ve been born into. Our victims get sent back to Honduras or Haiti or Guatemala, separated from their wives and children who, for some reason, got to stay here. Our victims get raped and then told that their rape doesn’t really matter that much to the rest of us. And our victims sink further and further into the mental nightmare that won’t end – as trapped in their mental health hell hole as the kid from the projects who knows he’ll never escape.

This isn’t where I tell you who to vote for. It’s just where I tell you that there are a lot of people whose voices don’t seem to matter. If you want to know what happens to those people over time, just go visit an Indian Reservation. The fact that we’re still calling them “Indian” Reservations shows how little their voices matter. You wonder why the inner city looks like it does? It’s not because those people are lazy; it’s because those areas are just another version of an Indian Reservation… “Let’s put them there and then blame them for failing to rise above their situation,” is what our society has said from day one.

Please, I beg you, there are a lot of “little guys” out there, and they need for you to mount a protest on their behalf. If you don’t, then please don’t post things on Facebook about how awful it is that Brock Turner just got out of prison.
 
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Podcast: Self Harm

Show Notes:

  • Statistics taken from: http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/self-injury/self-injury-self-harm-statistics-and-facts/
  • Self-harm is more an act of self-preservation than self-destruction.
  • Aron Ralston: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston
  • Tim shares first-hand stories from 3 people’s self-harm experiences.
  • Tim discusses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy 
     
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    Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!

    *****

    Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]
     
    *Image from: https://trojantopher.wordpress.com/tag/to-write-love-on-her-arms/

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Trolling for Columbine

I have a mighty struggle that rages within me as I write these posts. On the one hand I can write something that will inspire and motivate you. Those posts always perform much, much, MUCH better than the other ones. But here’s the problem: the other ones are, frankly, more honest, more real, more raw. But you don’t seem to like those as much, unfortunately.

You don’t like my anger or my confrontation or my aggression. And I get it. I would skip those posts too. But if you want the news from the front lines of mental illness, you’ll have to read those posts. This is one of those posts, I’m afraid.

I’ve been sinking lately…hard and fast. Everything hurts me. Everything upsets me. Everything makes me want to be done living this life. Everything.

A former student posted a picture of herself holding up a rebel flag. I confronted her. She got upset. Others saw the encounter. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or proud of myself.

Another person called me an intolerant liberal who criticized those who defended gun rights while allowing those such as gays and transgender people to shout their opinions from the rooftops. He thought this was inconsistent.

Yet another friend told me I was “willfully ignorant” because I didn’t want to shoot his AK-47. He was convinced that, if I shot it, I would realize how much fun it is and would thus quit calling for it to be outlawed.

The fact that I felt the need to respond to these posts, some call “trolling”…someone who goes around looking for fights on the internet. And maybe that’s what I was doing. Or maybe I was just reacting to all the evil in the world, the police shootings, the massacre of police officers, or just the run-of-the-mill racism I hear every time I go to my once-favorite cigar shop and am forced to listen to both Fox News and the real-life people who think Fox News is the only truthful news. Lately, though, I can’t take it. All I hear are racist and anti-liberal comments spouted as if there’s no way anyone in that shop could possibly disagree. I disagree, but I keep my mouth shut. I know an unfair fight when I see one.

I’m angry. I’m hurt. I want to run away from humanity because so much of humanity seems to suck a giant dick. I can feel you cringe when I talk like that, but it’s how I really feel.

In 2002, filmmaker Michael Moore made a movie called “Bowling for Columbine.” If you’re not familiar with Columbine, you should be. Go look it up. But the movie calls attention to the problematic gun laws and attitudes in our country. Moore is an unpopular figure, at least in conservative circles, because he unabashedly calls attention to the ways that the conservative agenda (never heard that one, have ya?!) is perpetuating the problems in our country. And I agree with him.

I often feel like Michael Moore: someone who feels compelled to point out the absurdities and atrocities that so many people seem to ignore. I once heard Moore interviewed, and he claimed that he didn’t really want to be the whistleblower for these issues, but he felt like he had no choice. That’s a bit how I feel in this post. I don’t want to be an angry asshole, but I want to be honest with you: All of the negativity in the world takes a giant toll on me – from the obvious negativity of the recent news to the micro-negativity of people who don’t listen, don’t understand, don’t care, or don’t have the first clue how to interact with someone who is mentally ill.

I’m tired. I’m tired of being more sensitive than everyone else about the horrible things that happen in this world. Being mentally ill is really fucking hard. It’s hard to walk through the daily morass of idiocy that bombards us each day. I might be oversensitive and mentally ill, but I’m not stupid. I have a right to be angry. Sometimes I think everyone else is stupid for not being more angry.

So I take my anger out on my Facebook friends for posting pictures of rebel flags and pro-assault rifle propaganda. It’s easy to say, “Tim, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook.” And you’re right, undoubtedly. But my brain goes fucking crazy, wanting to be heard, wanting to have a voice, wanting to be listened to.

I suspect many of you have quit reading by now. This post is too angry, Tim! We want more of the posts that encourage us…that tell us how to get over those speed bumps in our lives. But this post is one of those that acknowledges that the speed bumps can be insurmountable. The anger can consume us. The outrage can be too much to be contained. The hurt feelings, even when no one was aiming their hatred in our direction, can be so painful that all we know how to do is to direct our anger at the next person who does something stupid – a driver, a Facebook poster, or a family member who just doesn’t seem to “get it.”

It’s hard, having these fucked up brains. They don’t work right. And even if we know they are malfunctioning, just like someone with Parkinson’s who knows his leg won’t behave properly, we still can’t seem to get them under control. Please bear with us. Please forgive us. Please love us. We know we are angry and spiteful, but we want, more than anything, to be someone worth loving. We are trying, trying, trying…in both of the ways that can be taken. Please be patient with us.
 
 
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Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!
 
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40 and Killin’ It!

40

As of Saturday, April 30th, 2016, I will be 40 years old. I’m right where I always thought I would be: I have left behind two great teaching jobs over the past two years because my fragile brain can’t keep pace anymore with the energy of people half my age; I have been forced to leave behind the home of my dreams for something more modest…something I could afford what with all this leaving of jobs; my wife has gone back to work to help us survive; and I moved out of my house for six months of the past year, probably leaving my kids with some confusion and a scar or two…Just how I dreamed it up!

But despite all of this recent trauma of late, most troubling of all, I’m still scared of the dark. At age 40.

So after the separation, my wife and I are trying again. One of the things we’re working at is intentionally spending more time just the two of us. Kids, after all, make meaningful conversations impossible. I swear, some couples must go 20 years without actually talking to each other while they’re raising kids.

Last weekend, as a surprise for my upcoming 40th, Ann arranged for us to go up to Lake Hartwell for two nights away while her parents were in town and could keep the kids. I grew up going to the lake in the summers, and it is, without question, my happiest place on earth. This particular rental place was rather out of the way, and getting to the house required driving past many, well, to put it politely, very run down mobile meth labs. I mean homes. Sorry, I’ve been binge watching Breaking Bad.

Truth be told, I got a bit concerned about where we were going after we hadn’t passed a lawn without a wheel-less car for seven miles. I know, I know, I’m making terrible assumptions about people with rebel flag covered windows and “Guns don’t kill people; I kill people” bumper stickers on their cars, but remember: I’m a liberal, so I make these sort of unfair judgments about people. I mean really, just look at the unfair things the liberal media is saying about Donald Trump for proof that liberals just aren’t fair to conservatives.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was a little worried that Ann had rented us some sleeping bags under a holey tarp when we finally found our weekend home. It was very nice after all: two bedrooms; one bathroom; clean…just the right amount of cabin/real home mixture. And a spectacular view of the lake.

As soon as we walked in the door, we dropped the bags, looked at each other with that “game on” look in our eyes, and did what any couple who was finally kid-free-for-the-first-time-in-forever would do: we opened a bottle of wine and drank the entire thing.

But back to being scared of the dark…When it came time to turn in for the night, it hit me how physically far from anything familiar I was. We weren’t quite Bear Grylls out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, but I was grateful that I knew how to skin a deer and make a delicious stew out of its spleen thanks to Mr. Grylls, just in case. At my real home, I know my neighbors and could walk to 50 people’s homes I know before starving to death. Here, on the other hand, I wasn’t entirely confident I was still in Georgia, or North America. I’m not great with directions to begin with, and we had taken the scenic route to get there, so there was literally no chance I could drive myself out of there on my own. Cell phone service was non-existent, so as I lay there trying to fall asleep, I couldn’t comfort myself with useless news or scrolling through Facebook. I remembered what it was like to be a little kid, lying awake in the dark, 100% sure that I’d be dead in some horrific way by morning.

The thing is, I didn’t actually feel alone or frightened. Instead, in that moment of uncomfortable, overwhelming solitude, I was entirely comforted by the simple fact that Ann was there too, even though she was sound asleep. And then something truly fundamental to my human existence struck me: It literally only takes ONE other person to alleviate someone’s loneliness.

There I was – truly in the middle of nowhere, essentially alone and isolated from anything familiar. But right next to me was just ONE person who knew me, who cared about me, who would know where to look for my body if went out looking for the source of the banjo music and never came back. I’m sure of this: had I been literally alone, I wouldn’t have slept too well that night. I’m not really all that scared of the dark (I lied earlier for literary effect), but I’m scared as hell of loneliness…of isolation. If I had to lie there truly alone in that strange house, deep in the woods, far from everything I’m familiar with, I would’ve slept like a baby…with colic.

And I realized that I had the perfect metaphor for what this blog is about: it’s about helping to alleviate the worst of all human burdens: loneliness. In this case, I’m interested in specifically addressing the loneliness created by mental illness, as it just so happens to be THE raging reason I have suffered from excruciating loneliness throughout my life. If it were up to me, we’d all just naturally care for each other even when everything was hunky dorey…it would just be a part of the human fabric to stick together whether things were good or bad. Sadly, humans aren’t very good at the sticking together when things are good part, and it takes tough times to remind us to keep giving those hugs. Another way of putting it is this: It takes poop to make fertilizer (sorry, but FB won’t publish these with naughty words, so you’re getting a somewhat-less-than-intellectually-honest version of foul-mouthed me). And the poop of both mental illness and loneliness have fertilized in me a desire to help others feel less alone – to be someone who lets them know they’re not alone…or, better yet, just helps them find that one person. It doesn’t have to be me. Maybe it’s you.

And that’s what I want this blog to be about – connecting those of us who have suffered from the loneliness inflicted by the illnesses in our brains. We need each other, and I want to provide a way for us to connect.

So, drumroll please…I’d like to formally announce this: At the beginning of this post, I wasn’t just complaining about my job status…I was foreshadowing (see, I’ve taught English for 20 years, and it’s hard to stop doing English teacher-y things). I am currently without a formal job, but I’ve invented one: I am going to start a non-profit organization called To Know We Are Not Alone. On top of continuing to write, I would like to begin doing more speaking (anyone out there need a speaker sometime soon?), and I will be developing both online and face-to-face resources where people who suffer from any and all mental illnesses can find each other and feel a little (or a ton) less alone in the battle. I am also hard at work on creating a podcast…should have it out early next week. Otherwise, in the coming weeks and months, I’ll add addendums to my posts to let you know what’s going on. For now, if you’d like to send me a check for $5,000 or even just send me a word of advice or encouragement, I’d certainly welcome it.

Oh, and please make checks out to Tim Blue since I don’t have an official entity called To Know We Are Not Alone just yet.

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Please Stop Saying That

Hang in there Fuck You

If you’ve ever put your foot in your mouth around someone with a mental illness, this one’s for you, friend. (Disclaimer: These are not my personal gripes. I took a poll on Facebook looking for common things that people with a mental illness get told. These aren’t directed at anyone specific out there who might have said one of these, I promise.)

Hmmm, where to start. I think with the guy who, after I had told him I had OCD, told me that he LOVED hiring “those people” in his business because they were so organized and meticulous. When I tried to stop him, he went on: “That’s a great quality to have, man, in the right scenario!” I chose not to physically harm him, but I wanted to. I just seethed because it was so invalidating: him saying that this disorder which has taken so much life from me is actually an enviable quality in the workplace. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they would make a great hat salesman what with the bald head and all, would you? Yeah, so please don’t say that sort of thing to someone who’s mentally ill.

Then there’s the good natured, rampant suggestions that those of us with mental illnesses should focus more on our physical health: exercise more, eat more barley, try the latest cleanse, quit eating cheese pizza that uses GMOHGTLMNOP in the sauce, etc. A few years ago, my boss pulled this one on me very unexpectedly. I went into his office to talk about who knows what – NOT mental health. Somehow the conversation meandered around to anxiety, from which he also suffered. But his was the sort that one can get rid of by running around the block. So, kindly, he suggested that I should exercise more regularly. I thanked him, told him I’d give it a shot, and ran…to McDonald’s. Okay, I had two. Then I slashed his tires. But really, I’m quite sure that physical health has plenty to do with mental health. However, I have yet to find someone who is severely mentally ill who has been cured by running a marathon. Most of us have tried that to no avail (for the record, I’ve gone through prolonged periods of exercising many times a week, but I’ve never seen an improvement in my mental health from it). It’s not that we don’t know that you exercisers mean well; it’s just that it feels like you’re telling an amputee that taking fish oil might turn them into a mermaid/merman, thus effectively replacing their legs.

And here’s one that all of us who have been depressed have probably heard: “Just think of all you have going for you! You’ve got this and this and this and this to be thankful for. You’re looking at it all wrong!” When I was suffering from my worst (and first) bout of depression ever, I was basically on suicide watch. I didn’t even feel safe being in a different room of the house from my family. During this time, a friend of mine thought he’d do me a favor by suggesting how much worse off I could be. He shared with me about his friend who was currently in Hawaii. Well, good for him, I thought. Then he shared the reason: his daughter was dying of cancer and it was her Make-a-Wish request. Surprisingly, this did not help with my suicidal depression. In fact, it heightened the urge to find that cyanide pill I had hidden somewhere. If you take nothing else away from this post, try to remember this: mental illness is not about someone’s unwillingness to see things in a positive light…or the “right” light. It’s about THEIR INABILITY to do so. Depressed people are fully capable of understanding that something should make them happy. But they still can’t feel happy. Anorexic people are just as aware as you are what an appropriate meal consists of. But their brains won’t let them act on that knowledge. People with OCD know their obsessions are idiotic. But that’s all they think about, night and day, until, sometimes, they end their lives to make the unwanted thoughts stop. Think of it this way: People who are paralyzed understand how walking works, and they most likely want to walk. But they can’t. A pathway is broken, and we simply don’t know how to fix it just yet.

This last one (for now…there’s plenty more out there) is tricky because it’s been said to me so many times by so many really, really, really thoughtful and well-meaning people. But still, it’s warped. Here it is (well-meaning friend speaking to me): “Ann (my wife) must really be a saint, Tim.” First of all, these people are absolutely right: she is a saint. Ask anyone who knows her; she’s probably the best human on earth. I mean that whole-heartedly. I wrote in my book five years ago that I would’ve left me a long time ago, so let me just say that first. So what’s so wrong with saying that, then? Well, would you say it to someone with cancer whose spouse stayed with him even though it was a terrible road to walk? You might say it to the spouse in private, and that would indeed be appropriate encouragement. But you wouldn’t say it to the cancer patient because that would make him feel like shit, obviously. You might as well say, “Dude, you’re a fucking burden.” On this one, we mentally ill folks don’t even help ourselves because I think most of us feel like a burden and even push our loved ones away so as not to be a burden on them. I know I do that a lot. I feel ashamed and worthless when I can’t earn as much money as I used to or help as much with the kids as I’d like to. Still, please, I beg you, don’t tell me what a saint my wife is unless you want to make me (and others) feel like a pile of maggot diarrhea. Tell our spouses, our parents, our friends what saints they are. Just don’t tell us.

As I finish this post, I feel a bit like a jerk for pointing these things out. I was hoping for a funny tone but fear I’ve landed more on derisive. Take me with a grain of salt, though. Remember, I’m just a mentally ill guy who’s not doing a good job of thinking happy thoughts (oops, was that derisive, too?). Oh well, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me as I try to make this point. And if I’ve offended you, now you can write a post called Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Just Trying to Help. Be sure to tag me so I can read it!

Other things that I don’t have the time or energy to address right now:

  • I’m praying for you.
  • I’m a little OCD, too.
  • You shouldn’t cut yourself because you won’t like those scars on your arms.
  • Please add more in the comments section below!

EXCITING NEWS: Tim’s new podcast called, cleverly, To Know We Are Not Alone, is now available on this site or on iTunes.

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What’s What (in my brain)?

Confused-Image1Six and a half years ago my brain declared a shock and awe attack against me. I had been fighting a difficult but not debilitating war with my thoughts – my OCD – my whole life. For twenty-five years, my brain attacked me in a First Gulf War sort of way…it was rough, but I fought back diligently by trying to pray it away. Once I finally identified the enemy and got on medication, I experienced a few years of peace. In a sense, I feel like I came out the winner – or at least ahead – in that battle.

But the past six years have seemed more like my 2nd Gulf War: aka The War on Terror. It has been an unending, never-certain-who-or-where-the-enemy-is, this-enemy-wants-to-burn-me-alive-on-international-TV sort of affair.

During my personal war on terror, I’ve been on more medications than I can count, I’ve been hospitalized twice; I’ve become so familiar with suicidal thoughts that I view people who want to live to be 100 as a PeeWee Herman/Denis Rodman kind of weird; I’ve had to leave two jobs because my brain couldn’t muster the stamina for them; I’ve nearly lost my marriage; and I’ve applied 12 times to be on the show Naked and Afraid because I want people to be awed at how big the blur has to be to cover “me” up. (Okay, one of these is primarily for levity. I’m not saying which one.)

Much like the real War on Terror, for the past six years, I have been entirely unsure what exactly I’m battling. The most natural conclusion is “depression.” But depression meds don’t do much for me. Some of them have really weird side-effects for me. Which means I might be bi-polar, but bi-polar II is hard to diagnose because the mania looks like productivity or intensity or agitation. Most people, like me, don’t go into their doctor and say, “I was really productive this month…we need to medicate me so I’ll be less intense next month.” So bpII goes undetected, as has probably been the case with me. When I take bp meds, I do better, for a little while. But eventually, I always feel back to where I started: depressed and hopeless. So my supporters tell me, again, to find a good talk therapist.

And then I uncover what I already knew: that I’m still very angry at a God I don’t believe in; angry at the religious dogma under which I was raised; angry that my career hasn’t panned out the way I wanted it to; angry that I am not the super dad I had/have hoped to be…nor the super husband; that I’m scared to make any radical changes because if they don’t work, then what?; that I feel like a failure because I’m not working in a traditional job these days; that I feel so incapable of controlling my ups and downs that it often feels like everyone would be better off without me; and so on.

In other words, on top of having mental illness(es), I have no small number of issues I need to work through that are only partially related to mental illness. Which just makes it all the more confusing. Where do I start? How long do I stick with a therapist that I’m not sure I’m connecting with? Should I see a therapist that takes insurance or pay the $6,093 an hour the other ones charge? What does it look like to do my part in all of this? I mean, as far as I can tell, I’ve worked really hard to get better, so I don’t think I’m being a resistant patient. But doesn’t anyone give up after awhile when they aren’t seeing results?

All of this might sound like a rant, but I do have a point: It’s hard to know what’s what inside our brains. If you have a tumor in your liver, they can take a picture of it and see that it’s pressing on such and such a spot and that’s what’s causing so and so to happen. There’s no such thing with the brain, though: I’ve had the best pictures they can take, and all the doctors had for me were guesses as to what the images might mean. Their suggestions felt like glorified leeching or bleeding.

This isn’t to disparage the good people who are trying to make inroads to understanding brain chemistry. It’s just to express the frustration that I and so many others feel. It’s like we have a college-level Calculus problem and we are being helped by elementary-school-level mathematicians. It’s not the elementary school kids’ fault; they’re trying to help. It’s just that they simply haven’t caught up to the problem that exists inside our chaotic heads.

So, my friends, I’ll wrap up my point: this stuff is really hard. It’s confusing. You get mixed answers from people. Some want you to exercise more while others want you on 10 medications. One doctor says you have OCD and the next one thinks it’s ADHD. Who are you to believe? I don’t know the answer to that. But I know that you’re not alone and, as with any complex problem, one of the best things you can do is to talk to someone who understands. Not someone who knows the answer…go ahead and give up on that for now. But someone who knows what it’s like to get told conflicting advice by two different doctors…or friends…or therapists. Find someone you can vent to, cry with, throw plates into the fireplace with, or whatever.

And that’s what this blog is all about and I think that’s largely what life is all about: We are all confused and we can all meet each other in the midst of that painful reality. When two brutally honest people come face to face what happens is usually called Friendship. For you, my hope is two-fold: 1. That you will know it’s okay to be really, really confused, scared, lonely, and broken. 2. And most importantly, that you will find friends for your journey – not the kind who stand above you with ideas and answers, but the kind who stand next to you, offering nothing more than their authentic, simple presence.

 

PS. A word for you supporters out there: I know how frustrating it must be to deal with our all-over-the-placeness. I know that there are times you’ve given us perfectly sensible advice and watched us go and do something entirely senseless. It must be maddening. But please know…it’s maddening to us, too. I mean, you’re talking to someone who thinks he might have contracted Ebola from the door handle at McDonald’s. Just bear that in mind next time you expect me to act sensibly.

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Love. No Matter What.

Love no matter whatLet’s begin where all posts about unconditional love begin: with serial killers.

Jeffrey Dahmer. If you don’t already know who he is, DON’T look him up…you won’t sleep tonight if you do. He might well be the most despicable human being I have ever heard of. The methods he used to kill people are so graphic that I don’t even want to detail them here. It’s beyond the stuff that horror movies are made of.

But you know what’s weird? His dad still loved him. (Note: love does not equal approval! In fact, those we truly love are the ones we are honest with, even amidst disapproval.) In an interview with Stone Phillips from the 1990’s, Dahmer’s father sits right next to him throughout the interview, and even tells Phillips that he still loves his son despite knowing everything he did. I’m not sure it would be right to say that Jeffrey Dahmer’s father was in his Fan Club, but he certainly still cherished his son as only a parent can.

And then there’s the Ted Talk with the first person to get an interview with Dylan Klebold’s parents…Klebold being one of the “Columbine Killers” from the mass school shooting in Columbine, Colorado on Hitler’s birthday in 1999. The speaker asked them what they’d say to him if he were here today. His dad expressed anger, but sort of like the how-dare-you-wreck-the-car anger, not how-dare-you-kill-20-innocent-people anger.

But Klebold’s mom said something remarkable: I’d ask him to forgive ME for not knowing how badly he was hurting. AND I’d tell him I forgive him even though no one else would. She just wanted her son back, under any conditions. (Paraphrased from my memory)

Then there’s Ted Bundy’s mother who told her son “You’ll always be my precious son” on the day he was executed for committing around 30 murders (ladies, please don’t go read about Ted Bundy either!).

And then we have the Green River Killer…he confessed to almost 100 murders, and at his trial, the victims were allowed to have a few minutes to confront him in court. He seems to take sick pleasure in their hatred of him, because, I suspect, a serial killer’s number one goal is to have control – complete control – over others. So, the families’ hatred of Gary Ridgway was just what he wanted.

Then there was this Santa-Claus-looking father of one of the victims who had the audacity to tell the monster that he forgave him. Ridgway breaks down crying. Think about that. Nearly 100 separate times, this man looked someone in the eye and killed them. Then one man tells him he forgives him, and for less than a minute, this monster becomes human…broken…wanting to be loved and forgiven just like the rest of us.

I promise I’m not as obsessed with serial killers as I probably seem, though I don’t think I’d be alone in finding them intriguing (and then wondering what that means about me, but for the record, I don’t even kill most of the spiders in my home. I take them outside or foster them until they can be adopted into good homes). But what I am somewhat obsessed by is the radical versions of Love and Mercy that come out of these terrible stories. I don’t really know what to make of it other than how profoundly it expresses the ultimate oxymoronic nature of human life: On the one hand, there’s the unexplained chaos that leads the news and makes every generation proclaim that The End must be near. But right alongside the chaos, there are moments and acts of truly Unconditional Love and Grace – the sort that extends the hand of Compassion to even the serial killers of the world.

It’s become a bit of a cliche (thanks, Rob Bell) to say that “love wins.” But these sorts of stories do seem to indicate that Love does win. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary throughout human history…despite all of the serial killers and Hitlers and bin Ladens…despite the stories of senseless tragedies that befall good people, something inside of us keeps believing in the power of Love. For some reason, we keep reading and writing and watching the same story over and over – the one where terrible things happen but the Good Guy wins in the end.

(Tim goes to sleep, gets up, rehashes this post, and still finds himself stumped as to how to conclude on the “right” note. He knows that somewhere in internet land, he’s now being investigated by the FBI as a possible suspect in all sorts of unsolved murders. Please visit Tim in a yet-to-be-determined Federal Prison where he will still be trying to figure out how to end this post.)

 

Links to the aforementioned references:
Dahmer’s dad

Bundy’s mom

Klebold’s parents (at the end)

Green River Killer

 
This is a link to Amazon’s page when you search “love wins”.

This is a link to Amazon’s page on Serial Killers. I won’t (outwardly) judge you for clicking on it.

 

Please subscribe either on the home page or at the very bottom of this page. You’ll get an email of encouragement a few times a month, and I promise not to give your email to people who sell fake Viagra.

 

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A New Acronym for Tim: PTSD (On top of OCD, ADD, MDD, and JKLMNOP)

Acronym postOver the course of my journey with mental health problems (my whole life but only 15 years since I saw a doctor for the first time), I’ve been diagnosed by various doctors with the following mental health problems: OCD, Anxiety, ADD, Depression, Bi-Polar II, and just recently, PTSD. This is NOT to say that I necessarily have all of these issues, as any decent doctor will admit that diagnosing mental health issues is a moving target. Even the best doctors in the field can never be entirely sure what diagnosis someone’s symptoms mean. As my doctor says, “I treat symptoms, not diagnoses.” I appreciate her honesty.

So the PTSD diagnosis came from my trip to the Amen Clinic to have my brain scanned…not that they know what to do with the pictures of my brain, but hey, us Type-A folks need to feel like we’re making progress, ya know. Through the conversations, tests, and scans, the Amen Clinic doctor added a new diagnosis (should I call it a “guess” instead?) to my profile: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Hmmmm. I’ve never been to war or robbed at gunpoint or left alone with a drunk clown…In other words, I’m not sure exactly how I could have PTSD as my life is largely trauma free, other than the fucked up brain. Then again, as I’ve researched PTSD, I’ve come to realize that the actual traumatic event isn’t even necessary. What matters is how one responds to his/her environment.

Example: Baseball practice.

As a child, I was mortally afraid I would be abandoned by my parents – obsessively afraid might be a more apt description. Because of OCD, when I was left anywhere by my parents, I immediately began to obsess about whether they would return or not. I watched the clock as I imagined how it would all go down: Everyone else’s parents would gradually come for them; the adults who were supposed to wait until everyone was picked up would need to leave for some reason, reassuring me as they left me waiting alone, “they’ll be here soon, I’m sure. Gotta run! See you next time.” Then I would wait and wait and wait, growing increasingly terrified that my worst nightmare had come true. In the coming days and weeks, no one would believe my story and help me find my family. Instead, I’d become truly homeless, truly alone. (Yes, I’m well aware this is/was illogical. What, are your fears all entirely warranted? Don’t be all judgy, please.)

For some reason, this fear was particularly acute at baseball practice. It was so bad, in fact, that I remember the year I quit playing baseball. The decision wasn’t an easy one because I really loved playing baseball. But the torment of practice – the lead-up; the drop-off filled with questions about when and where my parents return would happen; the inability to pay attention to anything during practice because of the scenes running through my head; the terror that increased when my parents weren’t the first or second or third parents to retrieve their child; the holding back or hiding of tears that would make me look like a sissy to the coach and the other kids…the all-consuming relief when they finally arrived; the shame I felt when I assumed that they could see right through me and must be thinking, “Were you seriously afraid…AGAIN!!!…that we wouldn’t come back?!”; the internal promise that that would be the last time I let my brain torture me like that; and then, the next day, the dread of next week’s practice would begin, unceasing, until I saw my parents’ car returning for me the following week, and the few moments of relief would begin again. Oh, and the shame.

So after a few years of trying to quit being such a damn baby, I gave up and decided that simply quitting baseball would be the simplest solution. I made something up about why I wanted to quit that sounded more credible (cue the obsessive fears of having told a lie and being damned to hell) than “because practice scares the shit out of me,” and I never played organized baseball again because the trauma of going to practice.

Wait. There it is: Trauma. Not the kind that everyone would see as trauma, like surviving a landmine explosion that leaves the people on either side of a soldier dead. But here’s what I’ve come to learn as I’ve studied this: Like beauty, trauma is in the eye of the beholder.

If someone is traumatized by the Slinky that chased him down the stairs as a child, who am I to judge him for his refusal to drive within a mile of a Toys R Us? If we’re all honest, we all have irrational fears. But some are more traumatic than others thanks to the way our various brains process them. All that matters is that the person with PTSD experienced something as traumatic.

(Amusing side note and a true story: I once had a friend who was so petrified of cockroaches that she stayed with her parents (this was a grown woman) after waking up in the middle of the night to something tickling her face. It could’ve been her hair or her sheets, but because it also could have been a roach, off she raced to her parents’ house where she would be safe from the trauma of roaches. Supposedly.)

Funny, no? Unless you’re the one whose terrified of something that others don’t give any thought to.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve realized that I don’t have PTSD, I have PTsSD: Post Traumas Stress Disorder. There’s no singular trauma that caused this doctor to diagnose me with PTSD, in other words. My traumas were the small sort that an overly frightened child experienced as he went to baseball practice. Oh, and school, and Sunday school, and friends’ birthday parties, and well, just about anyplace that didn’t involve his parents’ presence.

Itsy bitsy teensy weensy daily, hourly, minute-ly, second-ly, baby traumas that raised my antennae to high alert. All. The. Time.

And there you have one of the key components of PTSD: hyper-vigilance. Like a soldier who can never feel at peace because that landmine went off when he wasn’t paying attention, so if he just pays attention ALLTHETIME he’ll avoid the next landmine, I, too, pay attention allthetime because the things I’m afraid of can “explode” out of the jack-in-the-box at any moment. I live on high alert for indications that people might abandon me as a friend, that I might get fired, that my children might die suddenly…that something atrocious WILL happen if I’m not alert. It’s sort of like a superstition that tells me, “Tim, it’s the people who don’t pay attention to whom disaster happens. Keep paying attention and you’ll ward off the horrific TRAUMA through your vigilance. But you’d damn well better stay vigilant. OR ELSE!”

So because of all this, I’m trying a new and very funky form of trauma therapy: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Here’s how it works: I bring to mind a specific traumatic moment from my past and a therapist moves his finger back and forth while I am supposed to “track” his finger AND keep the trauma in mind. That’s it. I think of a trauma and move my eyes, and I pay $150 an hour for it, too.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s a highly researched and promising new form of trauma therapy. The current theory is that the eye movement has a similar effect in our brains as REM (not the band, the Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. For whatever reason, moving our eyes back and forth triggers something in the brain that helps it process information in a healthy way. Feel free to Google it if you think I’ve been hoodwinked by a snake-oil salesman into expensive “therapy” sessions that will do nothing more than leave me with tired eye muscles. It may not work for me, but it’s certainly a growing form of therapy in a field that needs to make some progress quickly! I’ll write a future post or two about EMDR’s impact, but for now, as always, it’s nice to have a semblance of hope that something might actually help fix my brain. We shall see.

At the end of the day, the reality is that we all have irrational fears and “baby traumas” in our lives, so I don’t write this to complain or to prove how badly my brain functions. It’s just been eye-opening for me to take note of how hyper-vigilant I am, and thus how “on track” this new diagnosis might well be. And since writing about things helps me to process them, I share this with you who might be encouraged by my over-sharing ways. Mostly, I write because it helps me (yes, I’m selfish like that). And because it might help someone else (this part makes me feel better about myself). Whatever the reason these sorts of burdens are placed on various shoulders (I’m the farthest thing one could be from a “God-gave-me-this-struggle-so-I-can-help-others” person…happy to share the flaws in that way of thinking with you in a different conversation), perhaps my attempts to process my own confusing existence can be of help to you or someone you know.

Finally, let’s have some fun with our fears…

I’m hesitant to put this out there for fear (irrational?!) that no one will respond, but I think it could be both amusing and relieving to other readers if some of you would share your irrational fears. If you’re up for it, post a comment with your irrational fear. Feel free to use a pseudonym if that helps you get past your irrational fear of responding to this post for everyone in the world to see, thus causing you to become a Monica Lewinsky-like pariah whose only hope for a future job is to write a memoir about what life in hiding is like and what possessed you to do something so foolish as to put your irrational fear on the internet in such a cavalier manner.

But really, I can say with 37% certainty that you won’t regret it as much as Monica regrets her indiscretions.

(Scroll down and take the poll)

 

 

**Help me grow this blog by sharing it using one of the links below. Or follow the blog via email at the very bottom of this page, or on the home page.



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Why Don’t Doctors Give More Hugs?

need a hugA few weeks ago, I went through a thorough brain evaluation at a place called the Amen Clinics (I really hate that name as it sounds like some hokey pray-it-away sort of religious place. It’s not, but so far they have ignored my comment card suggesting a new name), and part of the work-up involved sitting down with one of their therapists to go through my entire history with mental health problems. When I sat down on her couch, I saw here Wake Forest diploma on the wall and we initially connected over having both gone there. Over the course of the interview, it came out that we had also gone to the same high school, were both the 4th of 5 children, and had dealt with nearly the exact same sort of behaviors and coping mechanisms throughout our lives. It was both eerie and extremely comforting to meet someone who is so much like me.



After the meeting was over, I stood to leave and felt that rising awkwardness of uncertainty as to the appropriate physical gesture in this situation. Under any normal circumstances, it would’ve been one of those long, I-just-met-you-but-we’re-already-life-long-friends sort of hugs. But these were “professional” circumstances, and the normal gesture would be a handshake, even though that felt remarkably formal and awkward, too, given the conversation we’d just had with our own dopplegangers. In true OCD/anxiety fashion, I gave her an awkward hug and then proceeded to second guess myself for the next week about it.

This encounter reminded me of the time 5 years ago when “the cheese fell off the cracker” (as a friend puts it), ultimately leading me into a 3-day-stay in the mental hospital. As said cheese was falling, I was desperately grasping at any help I could get from a medical professional. As such, I visited my primary care doctor for a second opinion after my psychiatrist (not my current one) told me I was “just depressed.” Well, duh.

As usual, the doctor’s visit was preceded by the nurse who took my blood pressure, etc. When I told her how I was feeling, I started to sob – something I did more of in those few days than the rest of my adult life combined. She did something very, very weird and extremely “unprofessional”: She hugged me. And I mean it was not just a pat on the back hug; it was a long, let-it-all-out-now-Tim sort of hug (just in case a few certain friends who shall remain nameless, who can turn buying deodorant into a sexual joke, are reading this, I feel the need to clarify: this nurse wasn’t one of the sort that Matt or Kevin (oops, I outed them) are probably imagining. She was a grandmotherly sort of nurse. Sorry guys!). Ironically, the doctor himself couldn’t have been more opposite in his reaction. He acted almost offended that I was seeking a second opinion from him and said in no uncertain terms that anti-depressants CANNOT cause depression despite the black box warning on all of their labels (I was convinced that my depression had to do with a new anti-depressant I had tried). He literally said this to me: “Anti-depressants probably make suicidal people feel just enough better to act on their impulses.” Ohhhhhh, that makes sense, mister doctor! Someone who can’t even get out of bed finally feels well enough to do so and his/her first thought is, “Finally I have the energy to load my gun and off myself. Thank God! Actually, I’m feeling so much better I might just draft a doozy of a suicide note, too!”

In reflecting on these two encounters which took place in the same examination room 5 minutes apart, I came to 2 conclusions. First, just because someone is “book smart” enough to become a doctor does not make them emotionally intelligent or even good at their job. As one of my friends who actually is a doctor once said, “Doctors are essentially highly trained mechanics.” My translation: Doctors may know the human body, but they may not be very familiar with the human condition. Second, doctors of all sorts should give more hugs.

I know, I know…they’d get sued. But I can say from a lot of experience with all sorts of doctors (my brain isn’t my only problem. Soon I’ll be starting blogs about back pain, digestion issues, sinus problems, and heart palpitations) that doctors are some of the least qualified people to care for the suffering of humankind. I’ve encountered so much more in the way of common human decency from teachers, counselors, ministers, etc. than from the sum total of doctors I’ve seen. When I wrote my book and expressed my dissent from the traditional Christian view(s) of hell, I worried that everyone I knew would tell me I was wrong and attack me. But that only happened with 2 people: a Southern Baptist and, you guessed it, a doctor. Everyone else who read it expressed what you’d hope – compassion, understanding, and care for me and my internal struggles. I find it interesting that a doctor was one of the ones who was more concerned with being right than with expressing human decency. As for the Southern Baptist, well, you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip now, can you?

In my doctoral dissertation, I essentially made the same argument about teaching that I’m making here about doctors: Both professions involve a fundamentally human encounter. In the English classroom, we encounter the human experience in the form of literature about the human condition. In the doctor’s office, we (doctor and patient) encounter the reality of our human frailty. In the doctor’s office, we come face to face with the fact that we are sick; we’re actually in the process of dying, and nowhere is this more obviously true than in a doctor’s office. But in both the classroom and the doctor’s office, too many professionals prefer to “keep their distance” and to BE “professional.”

But I ask this to every professional who comes face to face with the human condition: Would you rather keep your distance and miss the chance to help hold someone who’s suffering up for a brief moment or take the chance of being misunderstood once in awhile while acknowledging our shared humanity with the people we work with and for? Either way there’s a risk involved. In my opinion, the risk of ignoring people’s suffering and simple humanity is fraught with far greater potential danger than the dangers involved with a gesture of compassion like a hug or shared tears or a personal email/note acknowledging the common ground we all share. Sadly, when I make this argument, I always feel the need to add the caveat that I’m not suggesting candlelit dinners with your smoking hot clients so as to affirm their humanity. I’m not suggesting free back rubs for your patients, students, or clients. Yes, these things will get you fired rather quickly (or divorced, or imprisoned). But why do I even need to say that? Of course those things are improper. But when a patient is sobbing in a doctor’s office, what’s so wrong about hugging that person? Or when a client turns out to share your exact same background in nearly every way, why can’t the meeting end with a hug that acknowledges our need to connect with others, to be understood?

So, though I am not a medical doctor, here is my prescription for everyone: Give more hugs. And while you’re at it, be honest enough with people about your own humanity that you might get a hug or two as well. We’d all be a lot better off with more decency, more compassion, more honesty…

And more hugs.



PS. As I’ve been doing lately, I’d like to encourage you to think of someone who might need a hug or a pat on the back or to read this post and reach out to them. The purpose of this blog is for you to know you’re not alone in your struggles. If this has done that for you, please share the love and let someone who might be suffering in any way, shape, or form know that they are not alone. How you express it doesn’t really matter…just do it. (Sorry, Nike!)

And one final plea for your help: If you find this blog helpful, you’d be doing me a big favor if you’d “follow” it by entering your email address either at the bottom of this page or on the home page (right-hand side) rather than relying on Facebook or Twitter to get these updates. I’m trying to develop this blog into something that broadens beyond my immediate circle of friends, and the more people who follow the blog, the more likely that is to happen via search engines, etc. You’ll get an email when I post…otherwise, nothing will change. And I certainly won’t ever do anything with your email like sell it to cats.com so you can get cute cat quotes and pix (though, who wouldn’t want that?!). But really, it would help me out if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

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Spanking and Adrian Peterson: Today’s Reason for Depression

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/vikings/2013/10/17/adrian-peterson-attended-sons-funeral-tyrese-robert-ruffin/3003117/My brand of depression is a chicken-egg sort of quandary: I can never quite tell if my bad brain chemistry starts me down the road of existential doubt or vice versa. Perhaps it works both ways for me; that’s my current conclusion. One thing I have known for a while is that I cannot pay attention to the news when I am depressed. Obviously, “if it bleeds, it leads” works for the news stations, but for me, it sets me reeling, asking why there is so much injustice in the world, doubting what little shred of faith I’m still clinging to…and down the hole I go, deeper, deeper, deeper. When my depression is bad, I have to simply avoid the news as much as possible.



As an escape, I gravitate to sports. Given that I like things such as literature, deep talks, etc., some people find my passion for sports a bit surprising. One student even told me once, not entirely in jest, that her opinion of me had gone down a few notches when I admitted to loving football. I chose football over improving her opinion of me and stuck with my passion for a good old weekend of college and professional football…barbaric men using physical force to assert their will and dominance over other barbaric men (when I put it that way, I guess I see why that student lost her respect for me, but alas, I love it!). When I told a different group of students about my avoidance of the news in favor of sports and sports news, one of them pointed out that sports news often involves “bad” news just like the “regular” news. I agreed, but since the majority of sports news is about who wins and loses, who made a great play, what games are coming up, etc., it has always been a fairly safe form of news for my brain.

Until Adrian Peterson had to go and “spank” his 4-year-old…you know, the sort of spanking that involves a tree branch, bruises, Peterson’s arrest, $15,000 bond, suspension from his job, and a lot of lawyers. That sort of spanking. This is the same Peterson who recently lost another child to child abuse…as in, the kid died, but not at Peterson’s hands. Take all of this and then add in the fact that Peterson not only admits the “spanking” but he claims he was doing it in love, and he defended his actions’ appropriateness by saying the same was done to him as a child by adults who loved and cared for him.

For a normal brain, this is probably simply “sad” or “disturbing” or perhaps even “a bunch of nonsense trumped up by the media over our culture’s unwillingness to discipline children the good old fashioned way.” For me, it has me on the all-too-familiar brink of despair. In part, I suppose it’s just because I hate seeing a 4-year-old harmed, but it also must have to do with the fact that I am surrounded by so many people who defend spanking as a legitimate, even “Godly,” form of discipline (see Prov. 29:15 for the typical “spare the rod…” defense of spanking).

Now before I address this subject from a logical and/or philosophical standpoint, I feel that I should offer true confessions about my own biases regarding spanking. As a child, I was spanked. A lot. Suffice it to say that I resent it and am undoubtedly biased in this discussion. In fact, when I bring this topic up, most people tend to look at me like I’m over-reacting to an obviously-healthy form of discipline. A fact that I find odd, and in that very oddity lies the slippery road of existential depression:

Why does no one else see these sorts of things like I see them? Why aren’t other people as outraged as I feel by news stories like Peterson’s? Why do people post things on Facebook about our need to “extinguish” our enemies because we have a God-given right to our own ideals (paraphrased from an actual post recently on a friend’s wall), failing to realize that such rhetoric is dangerously close to the bad guys’ rhetoric?

And on and on, endlessly, aswer-lessly, maddeningly. And what do all my questions do for me or for the world? Well, seemingly absolutely nothing other than make me feel somewhat hopeless.

Now that I’ve confessed to my own biases and probably depressed you, I’d like to attempt to tackle (football pun…get it?) the issue from a (hopefully) more objective vantage point. Two simple points will demonstrate why I think spanking is a dangerous form of discipline, even when it doesn’t result in criminal charges:

1. If you change the word from “spanking” to “hitting” and no one in their right mind would say they’re okay with “hitting children.” I actually tried a poll in my AP English class the other day. About 2/3 of them said they were okay with spanking as a form of discipline. When I asked how many of them were okay with parents hitting their kids, not one hand went up. Hmmmm.

2. Consider this scenario: A child whose parents use spanking (let’s say it’s the kindest, gentlest version of spanking that involves hugs and love from the parent immediately after the discipline has occurred. Shoot, let’s even say the parents cry every time they have to spank their kids; it hurts them “worse than it hurts the kid” in a very literal sense) comes home from 1st grade with a note from the teacher that little Johnny got into an altercation on the playground that involved him punching little Freddy in the arm to get the ball from him because little Johnny had it first. Mom and Dad read the note and know what they have to do:

  • “Johnny come here, please! … Is this true what your teacher says about you punching Freddy to get your ball back?”
  • Little Johnny, tearful: “Yes, but we had it first and he just stole it. He does that all the time. All of us get sick of it!”
  • “Johnny, you know our rule. We’ve dealt with this when you get angry with your sister, too. You can’t hit people to try to get your way. Unfortunately, (mom and/or dad start tearing up at this point) we have to give you a spanking for this. That’s the rule, buddy.”
  • “Mom, Dad, please no!”
  • “I’m sorry, Johnny, but when you hit someone, the way we have chosen to handle it is to spank you, but know that we love you so much. That’s why we discipline you.”
  • Little Johnny suddenly takes on the persona of blogger Tim Blue and says, “But mom and dad, don’t you see what you’re saying? You are going to hit me to teach me that I am not allowed to hit other people. That makes no sense!”
  • “Johnny, it’s a spanking. It’s different than punching someone in the arm.”
  • “But how? Just because it’s on my butt? At least I didn’t hit Freddy with the wooden spoon you’re about to use. He didn’t even cry; he actually laughed at me. But you’re about to do something that hurts bad enough that it makes me cry. How is this logical? How is this fair? Just because you’re physically bigger than me and can exert your will over me at this point in my life, why does that make it okay for you to do something that would get me in the worst trouble I’ve ever been in? I can’t imagine what sort of spanking you’d give me if I took a wooden spoon to school and smacked somebody with it just because I was bigger and I thought they needed to learn a lesson!”
  • Mom and Dad stand in stunned silence as the curtain closes on this dramatic scene. The audience sits in stunned silence and the slowly, gradually gives Tim Blue’s inaugural play a 30-minute standing ovation. Blue becomes world famous. Spanking is outlawed everywhere. Parents apologize to their children across the world. Blue goes on to become an advocate against any and all forms of illogical discipline, and when he dies, his name sits next to people like MLK, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela as an advocate for peace and justice. (Or nothing happens and Tim just feels a little bit better for having verbalized his long-held opinions on spanking despite the fact that he has yet to convince anyone to adopt his view no matter how often he has shared it over the past 15 years.)

3. I have trouble counting, I suppose, since I promised only two points in this already very long post, but most of you have probably quit reading, so I might as well keep going until I have said what I want/need to say. So, speaking as someone who has obvious mental health challenges, I think this form of discipline has potentially very dangerous consequences for children whose brains are already chemically imbalanced. I won’t use my own experiences, though I am confident that being spanked had plenty of negative consequences for me and my brain. I’ll simply quote a student of mine who said that to this day she hates being touched and she thinks it’s because she was spanked as a child. Whether or not this is the case, she said she definitely harbors resentment toward her parents for the physical discipline, and she suffers from a lot of anxiety, though it manifests as perfectionism and over-achievement. Generally speaking, she’s about as put-together and smart as they come, so the consequences will not necessarily be outward or obvious, as in cases of blatant child abuse.

Even if I’m wrong about this third point, why take the chance by choosing spanking as a disciplinary tactic? There are plenty of other options that still teach children important lessons. A friend of mine whose kids are grown and who feels the same way I do about spanking raised three very intelligent and responsible adults who any parent would be proud of. My kids are only 4 and 7, but even if our strategies for discipline backfire later in life, I can at least say that we have yet to hear that they behave badly or disrespect authority (they certainly have their bad moments…plenty of them, but I doubt anyone would say they are generally undisciplined or wayward).

Why have I bothered writing this post that is only tangentially related to mental health? I suppose it’s since because this issue has long been one of those that causes me to lose sleep and sanity. Other than my classroom, this is the best platform I have to stand up for an issue I feel passionately about and one that I’m semi-confident has a potential impact on people’s mental health. So, since it’s all I can do, I’ll simply use this particular platform to make this plea: Don’t use Adrian Peterson’s form of discipline OR his excuse: “This is how I was raised, and things worked out okay for me!” That argument is the equivalent of this one: “But so and so does such and such, so why can’t I?” which doesn’t get most teenagers far with most parents. “Someone else doing it” has never made anything morally right. Ever.

Next, consider the double-standards our culture endorses and get angry about them. Then do something or at least say something about them. My previous post about my friend who died due to mental health and addiction struggles led me to the same exact conclusion, so I beg you yet again to not sit around thinking “we should really do something more about such and such.” Go ahead and DO SOMETHING. You don’t have to change the world, and you don’t have to take up the cause of ending spanking. But if you are troubled by some societal injustice, the only way to alleviate feelings of impotent rage is to take one step in the direction of justice. Then one more. And who knows? Maybe you’ll start something BIG. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll have done what you can.

For me, writing about things helps me process them. Writing this post has been cathartic in a way, and there’s that not-so-small part of me that hopes this post adds a little bit of good to the world…keeps one spanking from happening or one family from thinking they have no other disciplinary options. Who knows? But at the very least, my thoughts are more organized, and I feel like I have voiced my opinion, and I know for a fact that voicing my opinion is critical for my mental health. I hate feeling ignored and/or neutered, and if you’ll let me have my say, I’m usually willing to move past my frustrations. I’d be lying if I said I feel 100% better because I’ve written this post. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I feel 38.52% better. But hey, that’s something, so find your “something” and help yourself feel 38.52% better by doing it. What do you have to lose?

 

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