Adventures at Walmart

The more I go to Walmart with clients, the more I see that they are providing a service, many services, to people who need them. This is not an original thought I had. Susan Ingliss argued the point on Facebook last week. She’s right. Today I went to Walmart with a client who needed a money order to pay his rent. He also needed to withdraw cash and cash some checks. He got all three things done at Walmart for pretty nominal fees. If he had wanted to, he also could have bought groceries, had a key cut, emptied out his change jar and had it counted and cashed (again for not a lot of money) and rented a movie.

I understand the arguments against Walmart. I’ve never been a fan. But the more time i spend there, the more I see it as a sort of neutral gathering place, doing services that need doing for a little money here, a little money there. And the more I go to Walmart with clients and nothing terrible happens to me, the theory goes, the less I will hate Walmart. So far, this is not the case. But I understand these things take time. Because I am a trained professional.

Today when I went to Walmart, all my anxiety triggers were there. Crowds of people, check. Shiny floors and fluorescent lights? Check. Random beeps, boops, bells and other loud background sounds? Double check. But what really got my stomach knotted was the Second Sedan.

One navy blue sedan with handicapped plates parked sideways across three parking spaces is and was obnoxious. I commented to my client that that person must be Very Important to merit three spaces with their sedan. In my mind I was thinking, huh. I guess even disabled people can be total assholes.

As I turned two lanes down to look for parking I saw Another Sedan (also navy blue, different make, and with no handicapped plates) parked sideways, across three handicapped parking spaces. Both were aimed in the same direction, no one in either car. My brain did some calculations, as it is often wont to do. National sideways asshole parking day? No. Cops? no, not Chargers, Crown Vics or even Mustangs. No spotlight, no cage. And a cop with a handicapped plate? No. Coincidence? Probably. But brains hate coincidences. They’re all about connections and meaning.

What did it mean that there were two nondescript and not matching cars parked sideways across the disability parking spaces of a crowded Walmart? Gabby Giffords, September 11th, Boston Marathon… And also I didn’t even know about these: http://walmartshootings.blogspot.com/p/running-list-of-2014-walmart-shootings.html, http://walmartshootings.blogspot.com/p/running-list-of-2013-walmart-shooting.html. The most salient explanation for the behavior of the people who drove these cars was that they were planning a terrorist attack and wanted to make a quick getaway.

I steeled myself. Remember there’s a client in my passenger seat as I’m making all these totally logical connections. Often the difference between the person who is the “mental health worker” and the person who is the “client” is just a teensy step. If I had been alone, I likely would have (not been in that parking lot, I grant you) left the store without going in and waited for the news story about the tragedy.

But I wasn’t alone. I went in, spent about 45 minutes in the store, the first fifteen were spent scoping out my hiding spots and pondering whether I’d throw my client in front of me if there was a shoot-out. Then I wondered about what kind of person I would be if I threw my client into the line of fire. Would people sympathize with my panicked mind? Would they judge me harshly? This line of thought led me to scope out hiding spots more thoroughly.

Maybe I should have called the authorities. After all, I did see something. Should I have said something?  I was picking out perpetrators (white guy, dark red hair, with his sunglasses on his forehead, ear buds in and carrying a large brief case), picking out first unfortunate victims. It just goes to show you…. Something.

Next Time

Dear bespectacled, angry woman who tried to zoom past me only to discover more outrageous idiots between you and your important business,

Next time you’re driving through the Lowry Hill Tunnel area and some idiot in front of you is only going 60 miles per hour, use your imagination before you start laying on the horn, waving both your arms and hollering.

Imagine the person in front of you has an elderly passenger with severe mental illness. Imagine that passenger has only a couple of teeth and near limitless capacity to speak with encyclopedic knowledge about events current and historical. Imagine he’s about 30 minutes from his last cigarette and another 30 minutes away from his next one.

Imagine the idiot driver has a general driving principle of keeping at least three car lengths between herself and the car in front of her under the best freeway circumstances. Imagine she’s trying to listen to instructions about which lane she should get into on the other side of that tunnel while trying to be respectful of the elderly man and his narrative.

Then glance down at your speedometer and remind yourself that 60 is pretty fast in a tunnel and around a curve.

Remind yourself that taking both hands off the wheel is pretty dangerous and that screaming might feel good, but that it actually ramps your anxiety level up rather than providing a release valve. Remember that when you honk, wave your arms and open your mouth to scream at the idiot in front of you, no one can hear you scream.

When you’ve come back to your right mind, try to imagine a situation where you have had to drive slower than the person behind you wanted you to go. Do a little math, and pay attention to the fact that the group of vehicles ahead of you and that idiot are only going 60 miles per hour, so even if you pass the idiot, you might not pass all the idiots in front of her, and you will likely both arrive at the next set of brake lights at the exact same time.

Remember that when you are traveling as part of a caravan of meat-stuffed metal projectiles, you are farther away from being the center of the universe than you have ever been in your life. Chill the fuck out.  We’ve all got places to be.

Living and Working

I just started my new job working with people who have been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness. Their lives are hard. Being them and getting through the day is hard. Sometimes being with them is hard. Usually being their family member is hard. It’s not the kind of life any of us would choose to have if we were given the choice. It turns out that I kind of like the part of my job that is getting to know these people.

They’re in your neighborhood, you know. They’re in mine.

Last week a young person I like a lot lost his grandfather. The man was in his early 60s. He killed himself. He hadn’t been well, but the family wasn’t expecting his death. They certainly weren’t expecting to find his body last Saturday morning in the home they all shared. He used a gun to end his life. It was traumatic for his family to say the least.

The cause of death was a gunshot. But it was mental illness that killed him. This man, who had a wife of over 40 years and 11 grandchildren also had gangrene that had invaded his entire body. He was terrified of doctors. He didn’t confide in his family, and no one knew the extent of his sickness until he was gone. It’s a heavy burden and a hard way to be.

Every time I see one of those Wayne Dyer inspirational posters talking about how you’re in charge of your own future and everything that happens to you is the result of your own choices, I think about people like that grandpa. Sure, he made choices. But what kind of positive good does telling him his life is the result of his own choices do? How is something like that helpful to anyone but people who are already happy and stable? And then, what the fuck good is that? For those people Wayne Dyer quotes are just self-congratulatory psycho-lube.

Sometimes I get crabby about Wayne Dyer. Also about suicide and about how life can be just a miserable slog for some people.

I’m writing unedited lately, so cut me some slack.

Don’t Get Angry At Me For Asking

I’m afraid to ask about this on facebook because people are going off their rockers, frothing at the mouth about this. As if it doesn’t happen all the freaking time. As if it’s a delicious scandal instead of a sadness and a worry. As if they can’t wait for the next outrage to post pictures of, and get outraged about. As if they know something the rest of us don’t know.

So there’s these two guys in the news lately…Let me see if I understand what happened with both these guys and their victims/loved ones. The first one guy punched his fiancee so hard that she became unconscious. He knocked her the fuck out, as my kids would say. That’s a hard hit. It’s unacceptable behavior. The law should be involved, and he (and she, and they) should get some professional help with anger management and trauma.

The other guy, he gave his kid what lots of people are calling a whoopin’. When I was a kid, we called that a beating. And when I was a kid, although I suspected that the beatings involving the dreaded wooden spoon and the blue plastic hairbrush were beyond the pale and venturing into abuse territory, I wasn’t sure. I never experienced the belt, but I think my brother did. I was sure that was in the abuse zone, I’m not sure why.

I digress.

The two things I haven’t heard (probably because I have tried to avoid the stories) discussed much are these:
First, is it the right thing to do for the families involved here to take away a lucrative career from the man and the income from the family, and leave that family with dysfunction AND economic distress? I understand these are special jobs in the public eye, but in my experience making people be poor doesn’t usually help heal dysfunction. In my experience, it can aggravate an already tenuous family dynamic. Is it the kind of consequence that will add something helpful to whatever the law metes out?

Secondly, is it possible that the kind of sports these guys are engaged in for a living has some sort of impact on their impulse control/inhibition? I don’t know much about that sport or those guys, but from what I’ve heard, they take a lot of blows to the body and head (both of which end up causing TBI’s). I’m just wondering about that.

I don’t mean to excuse these men. I don’t mean to question the badness of what they did. I’m just wanting to discuss these two aspects in a non inflammatory way.

groove tube

This is weird junky writing, but it was interesting to me at the time. Maybe I’ ll pick it up again some day. I may need to start drinking or something to ever become a fiction writer:

 

The world is being swallowed up by cheap music, tacky visuals, bad smells, meanness and artificial foodlike substances. This happens, has happened in the past. Will happen again.

The groove tube is invisible by not hiding. This is easy in the city. Throw a metal tube over it, or a metal box… people don’t even see it. All around mpls and saint paul there are groove tubes. The groove tube is used for what?

The groove tube is for music. It sends grooves up and around the city, from the city out into the country. It’s filled with a slurry of grooves, beats, melodies, riffs, tunes, bass runs, harmonies, rhythms, rhymes, songs, lines.

Grooves, beats, songs, rhymes

Tunes, riffs, melodies, times

Harmonies, tones, good vibrations

Echos, descants, incantations

Bent notes, straight notes, grace notes, trebles

tremolos, vibratos, arias and bellows

rhythms, hooks, codas, rests

pianos, fortes, birdsongs, trills

So they flow through there into the sewer system or into the gas system or electric lines. Then music is released around the city, pumped out to the country or out from the country. There’s a kind of musical density that wants to equalize. Sometimes there’s too much music out-state, that gets shipped into the city. Sometime there’s a glut of music in the city, that goes out to the suburbs for consumption there.

If the instruments don’t get back to their rightful owner, the flow of the groove-tube will be blocked and get stagnant. V and E and their rightful owner were actually a key part of the system of musical equilibrium. A song in, a song out. That’s the rule. But since TV there haven’t been as many songs in, people still took songs out, oh sure they did. Songs and music. Music was all sorts of things. Door hinges squeaking, cats purring, water flowing.

V and E needed to get back to Wizzary.

That way crickets and door hinges, waterfalls, aspen trees, chickadees, robins, tap-shoes, door-bells, soundtracks, train-tracks, all get to keep their music.

One thing that keeps things in line is the groove tube. The groove tube is filled with good, groovy things. Instruments, sweets, salts, spices, music, symmetry, balanced asymmetry, lines and circles, angles and intersections. It hasn’t always been a groove-tube. Once upon a time it was system of springs and underground streams. In places where the underground has been disturbed and remodeled, the groove tube had to be laid out on the surface.

It’s connected to cold-air returns, sidewalk vents and dripping faucets all over the world. If you really want to know about the groove tube, you’ve got to let go of whatever it is you think is actually being piped around the country in those random pipelines. Oh sure, some of them carry oil or natural gas, some are conduits for electrical and fiber optic cables. Sure. But some are full of inspiration. Grooves. And sometimes, just like with oil pipelines, they do spring a leak.

Why don’t you hear about an inspiration leak? Well you do. You just didn’t know that’s what it was. Silicone Valley? Massive Groove tube breech. Motown? Catastrophic break. Cuba? Slow leak. Southern Soul food ? Groove tube failure. The Gettysburg address? Random spring in the middle of nowhere, stepped in by a lanky gentleman racking his brains about what to say to a country ripped ragged. Memphis, New Orleans, Switzerland, Hollywood, Italy, Ithaca New York, Weimar in Germany.

Ideally, the groove tube disseminates inspiration evenly around the world. It works about as well as anything else, which is to say, meh, it’s ok. But without it, the world would be a bleak, bleak place indeed. There are agents of the groove-tube, there always have been. Mostly these are people with their own jobs, living lives completely under the radar, but maintaing the tube and the flow of inspiration.

In addition to the groove tube there are other groovy items. Instruments, pots and kettles, perfumeries, pencil makers who knew?

If these forces win, the world will be a bleak place indeed.

diversity class

I majored in Linguistic Anthropology in my undergrad. It’s all about culture, right? And language? How people can be different, how they can be the same. I did two (one an independent study) classes on the philosophy of race. Every program I’ve done has had a requirement for diversity training. Every class in my graduate program has at least a section on diversity. It’s cool. I like diversity. I like it a lot.

I did a certification program in interpreting for medical interpreters. In the end, I didn’t have the cojones to try to interpret in such a high stakes environment, but I learned a ton of really good stuff doing the classes. Some of the program was, as you can imagine, about being a cultural broker. At least half of the students were immigrants. We shared a lot about how people of different cultures can have trouble communicating, even when they don’t have a language barrier.

I live in a diverse neighborhood which borders a neighborhood where white people are the minority. I am conscious of racial, sexual, economic, religious and many other kinds of diversity in a very real way. I have said before, I am a racist person. I know it and I struggle with it. I believe anyone in our country who says they aren’t racist has little personal insight, little contact with people who are different from them on a daily basis, or is an extremely rare kind of person.

My last course in my Masters program is a class on diversity. As a liberal, I don’t mind being in the class. I understand why it’s a good idea for people to learn about their unconscious biases and do battle with them. There are conservatives in the class with me. I can’t help listen to the whole course as if I were one of them.

There are holes in the class.

I mean to say, if you ask a class full of adults to think of a way in which gender could be a liability in our society, it’s fair to expect someone to mention the whole ‘women are paid less than men for the same work’ issue. But when someone says that being male is a liability as far as life expectancy goes, you’d better be ready to accept that this is also true, because it is. And when someone mentions that girls’ math scores drop in middle and high school, you’d better be willing to acknowledge that boys and men consistently get lower grades and higher disciplinary referrals from kindergarden through college. Because they do. This is how gender can be a liability.

You should also be willing to acknowledge that every time a woman is assumed to be the best primary caregiver, or teacher, or nurse, it assumes a man isn’t the best primary caregiver or teacher or nurse. These are liabilities for men and women.

In my diversity class, when I suggested one of the above in answer to the question about gender liabilities, the professor was confused at first. He asked me to say more, which I did. I described some of the other liabilities of being male in our society. We were missing each other. In the end I said, “Did you mean to ask for examples of gender bias against women? Because forgive me, I have sons and their liabilities come to mind first.” He said yes, that’s what we were talking about, gender bias. But gender bias against women isn’t what he said.

He assumed we would all know that gender bias could only apply to women. Which is not only ridiculous, but dangerous and bad for his cause. Not just because we all need to be more aware of how hard it is to be a boy or a man in our society (it is), but because this professor has a captive audience consisting of liberals and conservatives.

I feel like I walk that line between the two because I’m a critical thinker who is acutely aware of the voice of my conservative friends and family members in my head. This guy has a chance to make some people aware of things they haven’t considered in the past. He can’t do it if he blows off some of the facts as not relevant.

If he doesn’t acknowledge that diversity is a complicated issue with at least two sides in every discussion about it, the conservatives will know he’s not telling the truth and stop listening before he even gets the chance to open their minds.

It’s ok to tell the truth, even if it seems like it calls your ideas into question. Especially if it seems like the truth doesn’t match your contention, you should acknowledge it and maybe even question what you think the real story is, because someone else might be waiting in the wings to call you on the details. And the truth matters. And the truth will eventually help the right cause. Don’t be scared.

 

Practicum Internship Lessons

A practicum is kind of like a residency. An internship where you do actual therapy work supervised by more experienced people who sign off on all your work. My practicum internship was hard. One of the hardest times of my life. But not because of the clients. Below is a reflection from the middle of my internship:

I look forward to most of the interactions with the clients. I like the kids (most of them) and I like their parents (most of them). I actually love the kids, it’s like my heart is made of velcro and almost all of them stick onto me. Not all, but most. I’m excited to meet each one and hear the story, try to put the puzzle together with the clues they share and the ones they hold back.

I like being the person who hears their complaints and their skewed versions of their lives. I know it will be very different from their parents’ versions, and their teachers’ versions. I like being the one who listens as if what they say is true. I also like gently pointing out their doublespeak, their evasive tactics and the holes in their stories.

I like making the really sad ones smile. Even getting them to furrow their brow feels like entre with some of them; the ones whose affects are flattened or who can hardly hold their heads up. It turns out that many of the things that make me awkward with adults, actually work pretty well with troubled kids. I am often impulsive, irreverent and weird. I have no poker face and other people’s emotions get under my skin quickly.

I wish I could draw people a picture of these kids and what I like about them. I find the boys especially easy to fall for. When I meet them, I want to hug them and hold their faces in my hands. What I do is shake their hands and look them in the eye. If they have a good handshake, I compliment it and ask them who taught them how to shake hands like a gentleman (even if their girls). If it’s a terrible handshake I make a mental note of that.

What they do is break my heart. The kids I see are on the troubled end of the spectrum. Somehow they’ve gotten onto the radar of the The County. Could be because the school social worker is worried about the mental health of a kid. Could be that their probation or parole Officer thinks there’s more to a kid’s truancy, shoplifting or assaultive behavior than just badness. Might be that a Child Protective Services worker meets the kid and family and believes there’s a mental health problem with the kid. Every once a while, it’s a parent who is desperate to get mental health attention for their kid and doesn’t know where else to turn.

The other big way I meet kids is if they, or their parents, or their school calls the children’s crisis line. For example if a kid at school says he or she wants to kill him or herself, they might call the crisis line to assess the suicide risk for the kid. I go out on crisis calls sometimes, even though my main job is to do diagnostic assessments on kids who are not in crisis at the moment. Often the crisis line will refer a kid for a diagnostic assessment and referral for services.

Often, there’s something wrong with the kid. I see lots of kids with anxiety, lots with depression (they’re best friends, anxiety and depression). I see kids with PTSD and kids who are grieving and can’t move through it without help. I see kids who are stressed out, who have personality disorders and kids who are just pissed off. I see kids who are low functioning intellectually, in low functioning families, in a world that is fast moving and tends to prey on the easy marks.

Some are, for whatever reason, just rotten or naughty. They are making their families miserable and they are unwilling or unable to behave and stay out of trouble. Some have lost multiple friends to gunshots, jail, heart failure, car accidents. Stupid bullshit to have to deal with when you’re 17. Two the kids had lost multiple friends in the previous year. And by lost I mean either to death or to incarceration.

Many of them have problems with drugs and alcohol. Almost none of those kids are ready to stop using substances that seem to tame their biggest demons, but sap their motivation, kill their ability to tell the truth and cause them to hurt themselves people who care about them.

One of my kids doesn’t sleep well. His apartment has rats and bedbugs and they wake him or scare him. Many of my kids have serious mental illness in their families. One kid is really worried about growing up to have schizophrenia. She has family members on both sides who are schizophrenic. Lots of them are unsure where and with whom they will live in six months. Christ! Of course they’re troubled.