Monday, November 30, 2009

End Discrimination Against the Severely Mentally Ill

I recorded a video for the Fred Friendly seminars while at the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) convention in July. It roughly outlines my brother Paul's life in the Mental Health system and my quest to get others to see that not all mentally ill people can live an independent life. To see me on You Tube, click the link below:

I'm on You Tube:

Also, please learn more about the IMD Exclusion: (Institutes for Mental Diseases). The report I linked to is very technical in nature, but basically it explains that when Medicaid and Medicare were created in the 1960's, people in mental institutions were excluded from coverage. The states, primarily looking for ways to cut costs, let their mentally ill patients out into the community under the guise of civil liberties. Released into the community, they were then covered by Medicaid and the feds helped pick up the costs.

However, the community support for these individuals was not, nor is it yet to be, available to the degree required for people like Paul.

The result: Hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people are now homeless or incarcerated - or like my brother Paul, languish in god-awful adult "homes". This is not what I would call honoring a person's civil liberties.

Since money is the only thing people care about these days, think about the costs to our local police and emergency rooms...then try to realize that these people are suffering needlessly...then remember that they are someone's brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend.

Please contact your representatives and urge them to support H.R. 619, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Johnson [D-TX30]. This would repeal the IMD Exclusion.

We have already passed insurance parity for the mentally ill. Now we need to put the final nail in the coffin that is discrimination against the mentally ill by eliminating the IMD Exclusion.

For more information go to the Treatment Advocacy Center website:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thank You David Bowie

I was a teenager during the ‘70s. During that time, we saw the rise of the glam rockers, including David Bowie. Wearing make up went to the extreme with Kiss. So when I noticed my teenage son was wearing make up, I really didn’t think too much about it. One morning I noticed that he had smudges under his eyes. I asked him if he was wearing make up and when he said yes, I said, “Well, wash your face before you go to bed because it’s all smudged.” What was I going to do, freak out about a little make up?

When I related this conversation to my friends at work, they said, “but he was wearing make up!” I replied, “So what? David Bowie wore make up? What difference does it make?” For more background on why this didn’t faze me, I am married to an audio engineer. When we met, he was a sound man for a very popular rock band in a college town in Illinois. He has worked with dozens of bands, as a sound man and then as an independent recording producer. So, to see a man wearing make up was not that uncommon in my life. Having said that, my son was a junior in high school and we lived in a small, conservative town. Kids can be very cruel, so the only thing I was worried about was how my son would be received by his peers.

Not long after I noticed the make up, two of my son’s friends were at our house and they sat me down and told me that not only was my son wearing make up but he was trying to look feminine. I had noticed that he was wearing his hair in funny ways – multiple ponytails or one big ponytail on top of his head, but as far as I was concerned, it fit the two criteria I had about hair; it was clean and it was out of his eyes. I had told him that I didn’t care if he dyed it purple, grew it down to his ass, or wore a mohawk (this was in the days before the “fauwhawk”). All I cared about was that it was clean and that when I talked to him I could make eye contact. But his friends also told me that he had bought make up kits and – wait for it – nail polish!

So, I asked my son about it. He admitted to purchasing the make up and nail polish, so what? I really didn’t have an answer for that. He was a good student; he didn’t do drugs and he didn’t get into trouble. So what? I agreed with him.

Not long after that, he started buying the most god awful clothes from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Again, if that was going to be his form of rebellion, it really didn’t bother me, except his sense of taste was atrocious. He later admitted to me that he did it on purpose to annoy people.

I did notice, however, that he was buying women’s clothing – pantsuits, sweaters, etc. Then one day he showed me what he was going to wear to school the next day. They were having “skirt day” at school so he had on a long black skirt and a turtle neck sweater. He borrowed the skirt from his girl friend. I joked around with him about his nice ass and he accused me of sexual harassment. I said, “Well, if you are going to dress like a woman, get used to it.”

All the while, I was updating my friends on the evolution that was my son’s looks. They grew increasingly alarmed and astonished that I would put up with it. “What am I going to do? Tell him he can’t wear make up and women’s clothes? He would just hide it from me. Don’t you remember what it was like to be a teenager?” were my standard replies.

I was still concerned about how he would deal with the backlash at school, but he was one test shy of becoming a black belt in Tai Kwon Do so I wasn’t that worried. He obviously had the mental steel to stand up to it as well. He told me, “I am comfortable with my own sexuality; I want those homophobes to be uncomfortable with theirs.” Did that mean he was gay? I never came out and asked him. His girlfriend was at our house all of the time and they seemed sincere. I called my sister to ask her about it. She also happens to be a Lesbian, so of course she was the subject matter expert to whom I would turn. She told me that many men who cross dress are heterosexual. But it really didn’t matter to me if he was gay. My only worry was that our society was still very hard on gays and lesbians – that and I only had one other child from whom I could get grandchildren.

One day he went to school wearing a skirt, a striped polo shirt and black sneakers. I told him, “Those shoes do not go with that outfit, but I have some sandals that might fit you.” If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Luckily, my feet are so big (women’s size 10 ½) that he and I could actually share shoes, at that point in time anyway. He declined my offer and went to school as he was. Another day, and unfortunately I didn’t see it for myself, he came home from school wearing a black mini-skirt and fishnet stockings (imagine his black leg hairs sticking out of the fishnet!). My husband works at home and when he saw my son walk in the door, he said, “What the FUCK are you wearing!” Up until that point, he was silent on the whole matter. He quickly said, “Never mind”, and that was that.

So on it went. At one point he told me, “By the end of next year I want to be a fully blown transvestite.” Okay…..I still kept my composure. I loved my son and would accept him for who he his no matter what that would turn out to be. My friends at work were another matter. They couldn’t understand how I could be so calm about it. I have to admit that on the inside I was a little nervous, but he was just following the non-conformist attitudes I had brought him up with, to the extreme perhaps, but that was of my own doing.

The climax of all of this happened months and months after this whole transformation began. One day he was wearing pink parachute pants that he borrowed from his girlfriend and some shirt that didn’t match. My husband commented that his nail polish didn’t go with his outfit. I chimed in that I had some that might go with it, would he like to try it? He declined and I said, “Well, if you want to dress like a girl, you should learn to coordinate your outfits”, or something to that affect. He replied that he did not want to dress like a girl. That did it. I said, “You told me that by the end of next year, you wanted to be a fully blown transvestite!” He yelled back, “I was just trying to freak you out and it didn’t work!” Ha! Yes! Imagine me clenching my fist and pulling in my elbow.

Not that I was glad, per se, that he wasn’t a transvestite. I was just glad that I kept my cool while he tried my patience. I really think that the key to dealing with rebellious teenagers is to not sweat the small stuff. That is why I had the hair rule. That is why I didn’t care about the make up and the clothes. I guess everyone has to draw their own line to define “small”. I am obviously more liberal than some of my friends.

The epilogue to my story is that on graduation day, he was sent home to change because they had a rule against wearing shorts underneath his robes. I told him that he should have changed into a skirt because they didn’t have a rule about that!

So, thank you David Bowie. You have no idea how you helped me deal with the trials of teenagers.

Woman Skewers Herself With Carving Fork - SATIRE

Update - 11/30/09: Some of my family and friends were disturbed by this...This is how I imagined the news article would read if there had been a sharp object in my dishwasher the night a big spider crawled out of my sink while I was doing dishes...I thought it was pretty funny, but you can decide for yourself...

November 11, 2009 - New York - A 49-year old woman was found dead on her kitchen floor with a carving fork protruding from her abdomen. Her husband was quoted as saying, “She often stays up late and sometimes sleeps on the couch, so I wasn’t concerned when she didn’t come to bed.” He found her lying on the floor at 6:30am when he came downstairs to make coffee.

The police would not comment any further, except to say that they found a spider wrapped in a dish towel, crushed underneath her body. She was lying in front of her open dishwasher.

The medical examiner found bruising on her shins, knees, and her right thigh, hip and buttock. He speculated that while doing the dishes, Ms. Wells saw the spider and decided to trap it and take it outside. She must have forgotten she had opened the dishwasher and ran right into it. Unfortunately, the couple had a roast the previous evening and she had placed the carving fork with the tines facing upwards in the utensil rack. When she fell into the dishwasher, she must have landed on the carving fork, then fell to the floor which caused all of the bruising.

“It’s all my fault”, said her husband of 27-years, "I have repeatedly told her not to kill spiders. To think that this would ultimately lead to her own death is unfathomable. I’m devastated.”

Police are still investigating, but they are confident that this was just a tragic accident.


OK, so obviously I didn't kill myself. There was no carving fork in the dishwasher, I eventually went to bed, and the police weren't called. However, everything else about the accident was true, except that I have no idea where the spider went. I ran into the dishwasher at full speed and bounced off of it, with my left side scraping the door before slamming into the floor on my hands and knees. The bruises are turning a lovely shade of purple and green.

Damn spider! Next time I'll just kill it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Don't Go Down Without a Fight

The first thing I remember is seeing a man coming towards me. He had a gun in one hand and the other hand was out, motioning me to stay put and be quiet. I was in my bed. It was 3am on a hot August night. I had nothing on but my underwear. As he came towards me, he took off his pants.

I didn’t have much time to assess the situation before it all happened. It looked like he had just climbed through my second story window; I found out later he had been in the house for a while. I didn’t know where my sister and her friends were; I found out later they had gone out to watch the thunderstorms. In the flat lands of Illinois, you could watch the storms cross the farm fields for miles, lighting striking the ground as it goes. It can be quite beautiful.

I had gone to bed early because I had to work the next morning. My waitress uniform was hanging up, ready to go. I was working my way through community college. My sister Grace and my two other roommates were grad students and had teaching assistant positions to subsidize their living expenses. One of Grace’s best friends from New York was in town for a visit. I left them downstairs partying with some of our other friends when I went to bed. Our two other roommates had not yet come back from their summer break.

The four of us had just rented a house together. The houses in the neighborhood were run down and the rent was low, which is a draw for college students like us. I got the smallest room at the top of the stairs and was given a break on the rent. We had put some sweat equity into the house; painting and doing some minor repairs before we moved in just days before. We didn’t even have our phone hooked up yet.
I think it was more of a crime of opportunity than anything. He saw everyone leave – not knowing I was still in the house – and decided to see what he could get. We later found a camera, a checkbook and some other smaller items on the floor by my window. Maybe this was just a first pass to see what we had and he grabbed items that would be easy to carry. When I woke up, maybe he decided I was an easy target. I don’t know. All I know is that when I did wake up, he was coming towards me.

Before I could get myself fully aware of what was happening, he was on top of me and had my arms pinned above my head, holding my wrists. I was very glad I had my underpants on. He would have to get them off before he could rape me. He started to put his mouth on my breasts, but he still had his gun in one hand. He put it down and that is when all hell broke loose.

I really don’t know what made me do it. I was always a tomboy. I was on the swim team and was pretty strong. I had a friend in high school who wrote in my yearbook that he always liked me even though I could beat him up. I was also brought up in an age of female empowerment. I was not going to go down without a fight.

Before I could think about the possibility of dying I grabbed for the gun, but he wrestled it from me. He put it to my forehead and pulled the trigger. The gun went off and I was momentarily stunned. Then I put my hand up and felt where he had fired the gun. I realized that I hadn’t been shot. The gun either wasn’t loaded or it jammed, or it was a starting pistol like they used in my swim meets. My forehead stung like I had a bad burn, which I did.

Then I got angry.

I starting punching and clawing at him, screaming every vile word I could think of. I basically went berserk on they guy. I guess he figured it wasn’t worth it so he got up, put his pants back on and left the room. I had won! I got up, turned on the light and put my bathrobe on. Moments later, he came back in the room saying he forgot something. It must have been the stuff he had gathered and put by my window.

I have no idea why, people tell me the adrenalin had worn off and that I was in shock, but I started to help the guy! I had dreams for months afterward that instead, I picked up a swimming trophy from my dresser and hit him over the head with it, sending him tumbling down the stairs, breaking his neck. I also had dreams that I shot an intruder, explaining to him that that I was killing him because of the other guy – sorry. But no, in reality I was helping the guy, but he must have been as flustered as I was. He left without taking anything except the tip money from my dresser.

So there I was, alone in the house with no phone and no idea where my sister and her friends were. I was afraid to go outside to get help, so I turned on every light in the house, got the biggest knife from the kitchen and waited for my sister and her friends to come home. It seemed like hours before anyone got there. When they did, someone rushed out to phone the police and my sister stayed with me. When the police got there, they were pretty impressed with me for fighting him off. I was just thankful to be alive. The possibility that it could have easily gone the other way was already sinking in.

I was taken to the hospital where they performed their usual rape kit screening. Even though I wasn’t raped, he had left behind certain evidence on my underpants and perhaps on my body and under my fingernails. The police bagged my sheets and my underwear.

I never set foot in that house again. I stayed with my boyfriend until we found another house to rent. Whoever did this gave us all another very good reason not to come back. When my sister and her friends were out running errands the next day, they found a machete stuck in the middle of the living room coffee table when they got back. The machete had been left in the house when we moved in and my roommate Jon decided to keep it, but he had put it in the very back of his very large closet. This means that whoever did this, found it and made a point of letting us know he found it. We got the message loud and clear. Grace and her friends packed all of my things for me that day and everyone cleared out.

The only physical injury to me was the nasty burn on my forehead which, thanks to vitamin E oil, left no visible scar. The mental injuries left scars that have taken a lifetime to dissipate. I am not even sure they are all gone, even after 31 years. My writing this is proof, I suppose, that those scars run pretty deep. I can only imagine what it is like for the unlucky ones, the ones that didn’t fight off and beat up their attackers.

The manager of the restaurant where I worked read about what happened to me in the paper. Instead of sympathy, I got a lecture about leaving my window open in a neighborhood like that. I couldn’t believe it. I was in my own bed, in my own house, in the middle of the night and somehow it was my fault. I can only imagine what it is like for women who are date raped. Did the man have no sense of decency? Thankfully, he was the only one that uttered such stupidity, to my face anyway.

A couple of years ago, I was telling my then 19-year old sons how vitamin E helped heal a bad burn on my forehead, backing up a recommendation Greg had made to Roy about using vitamin E oil to help Roy’s gums heal from oral surgery. When they asked about how I got the burn I decided to tell them the whole story. They were just a year older than I was when it happened. If I could live through it at their age, they might as well know about it.

When I finished the story, Roy said “Wow, Mom! Can I tell my friends? They already think you’re cool. Now they’ll think you’re really cool!” Of course I said yes. Now that I told them I had no problem with other people hearing about it. Maybe it would be helpful for their friends to hear my story. I’ve thought about that over the past two years and I think that my story may be empowering to other people.
However, I never told one part of the story to anyone – until now- which is perhaps the real reason that I am “going public”. I had one more opportunity to catch the guy and I let it pass.
When the police were at our house that night, they got a call that a man had approached a taxi driver wanting to cash in a bunch of change and one dollar bills. Could it possibly be the same man that attacked me? They knew he had my tip money. Deep down I knew it was him. I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I hesitated and said I wasn’t sure. I froze. I think I was just glad it was all over and that I hadn’t been raped. I had beaten the guy off and all he got was some loose change and a bunch of dollar bills. Everything could just go back to the way it was. So, they didn’t pick him up and that was that. They never caught my attacker.

Even though this has always nagged at me, it was due to my own personal disappointment and shame that I possibly let him get away. Given the recent news regarding a rapist who escaped prosecution because his 14-year old victim refused to testify, allowing him to go on to rape other women and children, I now realize my attacker also may have gone on to hurt other women. He may have even used a loaded gun the next time – if there was a next time.

My motto used to be: “Don’t go down without a fight”, now I add “and finish the job when you have the chance”.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Call me Bond, James Bond

Just weeks before we learned that my twin brother Paul had cancer, his case manager at the nursing home informed us that he could stay there indefinitely. This was music to our ears. This was the first place that treated him like a sick person (he had recurring pneumonia due to his emphysema - or so we thought) who happened to be mentally ill instead of a mentally ill person who happened to be sick. All of the staff members liked him. The head nurse nicknamed him “The Governor” because he said hello to everyone and shook their hands. It didn’t matter that he thought he was going to star in the next James Bond movie.

When we learned Paul had cancer, we bought him a portable DVD player and every James Bond movie we could find. We trusted that it and the movies would not get lost, stolen or given away, which we couldn't do where at the adult home where he had been living. Paul watched those movies for hours on end. We also bought him other movies. I bought him box sets of the Little Rascals and Spiderman (the original cartoon from the 60's) - shows we watched when we were kids. My nephew bought him a few Clint Eastwood movies, another one of his favorites. We made a list of the movies we were buying in order to prevent buying duplicates. In the end though, it was the James Bond movies I would always catch him watching when I came to visit.

This past St. Patrick’s day, I was at a fancy Italian restaurant for a business dinner. I had the Corned Beef and Cabbage special, of course. The next night, we went to the same restaurant, as it is my boss’s favorite restaurant in the area. We had the same waiter as the night before, and when he read the specials it seemed like he never stopped looking at me. It was a little hard to tell, though, because one of his eyes seemed to look in a slightly different direction from the other. However, everyone at the table made the same comment after he left, “Was that guy staring at you the whole time?”

The waiter had a thick Eastern-European accent, which turned out to be Russian. As we were leaving I asked him his name. He hesitated for a second and then said “James Bond”. I was floored. Of all the names he could have chosen instead of his own, which was very difficult to pronounce and which I now forget completely, he chose to use James Bond. It was the best reply I could have been given.

The year before, my family celebrated our last St. Patrick’s Day with Paul. He died six weeks later. It was the last time all ten of us siblings were together. I think that somehow, through this waiter, Paul was saying hello and reminding me not to forget about him. Like I ever could.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mother Clucker - The Wrath of Mom

You know the old saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation”? Well, this was taken to the extreme in the summer of 2004 when I took a long distance trip with my husband and our 17-year old twin sons. We drove to the Delaware shores from our former home in Wisconsin. The drive out was uneventful and we had a great time at the beach with four of my sisters and their families. However, the trip turned ugly on the drive home.

First of all, let me just defend myself by explaining what led up to my eruption. I am Irish. Regardless of the SPF level and how often I apply and reapply the sun block, I can never escape extended exposure to the sun without burning something. My nose got it on this trip and by the time we left, it was on its third peel. Another affliction of mine is fever blisters. I don’t get them that often, but this time I had the mother of all fever blisters.

So as we headed back to Wisconsin, my nose was peeling and crusty and I had a big fat lip. I also had the bright idea of visiting Gettysburg on the way home. Gettysburg is about an hour off the Pennsylvania turnpike, by way of country roads. My husband wanted to leave just about as soon as we got there. I was not pleased by this, but I begrudgingly made it a quick visit.

About 20 minutes after we left, in the middle of Podunk Pennsylvania, I heard some giggling from the back of the van. I turned around to see what was so funny. Instead, I was alarmed to see blood gushing out of my son Greg's nose. “Greg, what happened?!” I asked. Roy shoved a gum wrapper up my nose”, was his reply.

Roy had the back bench and Greg was in the middle. Roy evidently reached around and managed to get a wadded up foil gum wrapper up Greg’s nose. I found out later that Greg had thrown a gum wrapper at Roy so naturally he had to retaliate, and not in-kind mind you. Noooo, he had to step it up, don'tcha know!

Greg only managed to shove the gum wrapper further up his nose when he tried to get it out on his own, causing his nose to bleed. On top of that, he was covering for his attacker by trying to be quite about it. Those two have always been united in one thing - even when they were locked in mortal combat with each other - to never let Mom know what they are doing. My husband I and were clueless to what was happening behind our backs, until they started laughing. For some reason, they thought the fact that blood was spurting out of Greg's nose was funny.

Now, I have always tried not to use a certain word when I yelled at them in the past. However, they were now 17 – would be 18 in a few months – and I was not in a very good mood to start out with, to say the least. So, I quickly turned into a Mother Clucker.

“What the CLUCK were you thinking?! What are you, CLUCKING three years old?! You CLUCKING morons!” They couldn't help themselves and laughed louder. This just made it worse. “You think this is CLUCKING funny?!” I'm sure you can tell by now that the actual word I used only rhymed with CLUCK.

I yelled to my husband, “Stop the car! Stop the car!” I was reaching under my seat for the first-aid kit, intent on getting a pair of tweezers to extricate the foreign object from my son’s nose. Instead, he tried to tell me where the napkins were. “I know where the napkins are! Stop the car!” I yelled. He held tight, and kept driving. I think he knew that in my state, I should not attempt such a delicate operation.

“Great, we’re in the middle of CLUCKING nowhere! We’ll have to find a hospital. I’ll be so CLUCKING embarrassed! What the CLUCK were you thinking?!” Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluuuuuck!

I could just picture myself trying to explain how my son had gotten into this situation and how the nurses and doctors would burst into laughter. Luckily, Greg eventually got it out himself and we continued on our way. I tried to calm down, wishing we were the sort to bring alcohol on trips such as these.

Periodically, my sons would start laughing again. They took pleasure in seeing me so discomposed. This would just get me going all over again. “You think this was funny?! What are you, CLUCKING nuts?!” I am normally a fun loving person who likes a joke, but there is a time and place for everything. That was not the time, nor the place.

Luckily, I can also see the humor in things…eventually. A few days later, I overheard the story told by my sons to their friends. They did a great impression of me. It has now become one of my favorite stories and when I get to a certain point; I fold up my arms and flap my wings while I cluck away.