Friday, November 13, 2020

The Insipid Seduction of Sameness

 



It's 3:30 am.  The house is still and quiet except for my husband's steady snoring on the bed behind me and the clattering of my keyboard keys as I type.  I wish that I was asleep, curled up next to him and our dogs.  However, I awoke with an urgency to write.  I tried to push it down, close my eyes, and fall back to blissful unconsciousness.  But the pressure only grew, spreading from my heart into my fingers.  I knew there would be no rest until I laid out what has been heavy on my heart.

Like so many of you, I have been concerned and heartbroken by our country's tumultuous state.  The past year has only served to spotlight the division, which has been growing within our nation for years.  In many ways, my marriage is a microcosm of that great divide.  My husband and I exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  To say that this election year has been strained in our house would be an understatement.  We have tried to erect a firewall and avoid all political conversations, but that has become increasingly difficult.  The issues at stake are so important, and our views and opinions are so strong on those issues that staying quiet feels like a betrayal of our beliefs.  Certain words are sure to trigger a rousing "debate" between us; words like 'Trump,' 'Portland,' and 'pandemic' are off-limits according to our kids, who are tired of hearing the same old arguments from us.

We are disconnected on a deep level and have each gravitated towards groups of like-minded people.  Sometimes you just want to be heard and understood.  You don't want to have to defend your position or argue the merits of your beliefs.  You want the comfort of someone to understand.  And so it begins, the quiet and insipid seduction of sameness.

What we are experiencing here on a micro-scale is happening all over the country on a massive level; more and more people are leaving the public debate and sequestering themselves among others who are like them.  It isn't only one side doing this; it is all the sides.  We are taking our toys and going home, so to speak.  We are segregating ourselves more and more.

Relationships that were prized above politics are now torn apart; husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, and loyal friends have vilified each other.  Those relationships are replaced with a cacophony of like voices on social media and the news outlets we choose to believe.  We have exchanged relationships for echo chambers, and the divides between us grow.

The draw to sameness is strong.  It is reassuring; it is comforting, and it is toxic.  A look back at our not so distant history teaches us the dangers of segregating ourselves.  The Jim Crow years and the hard battle for civil rights and racial equality should have taught us how devastating it is to surround ourselves with only those who think like or look like us.  When we only hear our own thoughts and opinions repeated back to us, we develop an us versus them mentality.  The "us" is always right, even righteous, and the them is always wrong, even "evil."

We all want to be understood; to have our opinions valued and validated.  We are tired of proving our point and arguing our position, of hearing the rhetoric of the "other side."  It is so much easier to vent to those who agree with us.

But we forget the fundamental truth of life; real relationships take work.  They are not always easy.  Most of the time, they are challenging on some level.  But it is that tension, that struggle, and that hard work that causes us to grow together.  This process changes us as people and helps us grow in our compassion and understanding.

Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." We need each other to grind off the rough edges and to sharpen and focus us.  Yes, there is a seduction to the ease of sameness.  In the difficult struggle to understand those unlike us and the fight for their understanding, we will change ourselves and our nation.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Cates to the Beach!




Let’s Send the Cates to the Beach!
I am starting a fundraiser to send the Cates family on vacation to the beach.  With all the madness going on in the world, you may wonder why this family deserves your support.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to this fantastic family.
I have known the Cates family for more than ten years; we have attended church together, our kids went to the same schools, and we participated in the same community events.  When I met them, Cotton was an officer with the county sheriff’s office, and Krysta was a stay-at-home mom de jour.  She was a leader in the PTA, the homeroom mom of every class, volunteered to read to the kids in school…honestly, the list goes on and on.  Cotton coached the kid’s sports teams when he wasn’t busy as an officer.  They gave more to the community than I can say.
Fast forward ten years, the kids are all growing up, and Krysta is now a teacher in a local middle school.  Life is going well, the oldest is graduating with honors, the other two kids are excelling in their classes and extracurricular activities, and Cotton has been in the sheriff’s department for 20 years.
Cotton is a good man and an excellent officer.  He is the cop that we are all looking for right now.  The one who stands up and says, “this isn’t right” when he sees wrong done in the name of justice, by the very people who are tasked with upholding the law.  Instead of being rewarded for standing up for what was right, he lost his job.  He is looking for a job but so far has had no luck.  The stress of the past year is wearing on the entire family.  When asked how we could help, all they asked for was a way to bring their kids to the beach for a short vacation.  This way, they can have one last summer vacation with their oldest before he heads off to college, and the entire family can take a break from the incredible stress they face.
We, as a nation, are demanding that good police, like Cotton, stand up for what is right.  When someone does just that, they deserve to be rewarded, not pushed out of their job for breaking the thin blue line.  We may not be able to change what happened to Cotton and his family, but we can show our support to him and through him to the many other officers who have paid similar costs for doing the right thing.  Let’s use our dollars to support this good man and his family.
Donations can be made to venmo@Krysta-Cates.com
Thank you for your support.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Glimpse of White Privilege

 

Good Morning, friends.  Because I've been so busy writing for work, my blog has been neglected.  I figured it was time to dust off the cobwebs and give it some tender loving care.  And how better than to take on the very politically and emotionally charged topic of white privilege? You know me, always ready to delve into the deep waters.


The truth is that I have stayed clear of politics on this blog, quite purposely. This blog is about Skiffdom and my thoughts while living in our chaos.  That fact has not changed; this is not a political blog.  This very Skiff experience led me to a deep understanding of what white privilege is and how my family benefits from it.

I have to be honest. I used to scoff at the idea of white privilege. It wasn't that I was purposely racist. I just looked at my life and couldn't understand how anyone would consider it privileged. I was raised in poverty, where we didn't always know where our next meal would come from. My Dad worked harder than anyone I have ever met, but with a family of ten, there just wasn't enough to go around. Our pastor would often show up at our house with groceries because he knew we needed them, even if we didn't talk about it.

 Our clothes were second-hand hand-me-downs, shoes were worn-out,  and the furniture was given to us. This is not a complaint. Our house was always full of people, yet my parents somehow managed to turn a widow's mite into enough to feed whoever was there. They gave to others even out of our need. But I would not ever apply the word privileged to my childhood.


I was bullied in school because I was always different from those around me.  My mom once said I was born old. I just came into the world older than my years. My friends were in their late twenties and thirties when I was still a teenager.  I was the girl that stayed after class to pick up all the spitballs the rest of the class had spat at me while the teacher was in the hallway, the girl who matured physically too young, the one who spent her time reading a book instead of playing with the other kids. 

 I definitely wasn't privileged.  My whiteness didn't stop the bullies, keep food on the table, or stop me from being abused by others. It didn't keep me safe or warm or make me feel secure. How is that privilege, I wondered?


Once married, my whiteness didn't protect me from having kids with autism, it didn't make my marriage a good one, and it didn't keep the mental illnesses from wreaking havoc in my children's and my husband's brains. It didn't keep food on our table, a roof over our heads, our house heated, or any number of other things that we lost or went without. In fact, my experience was much more like that of many of my black friends than that of my white friends.  So, where was my privilege?

My friends, I apologize from the depths of my soul. I was so blind to the privilege until an experience in December tore the blinders from my eyes in a most dramatic and heart-wrenching fashion. Is there any other way in Skiffdom? LOL

It was a typical day in Skiffdom.  I was picking the twins up from one of their last high school days before Christmas break when my phone began to blow up. I couldn't answer one call before another number was beeping in. When I finally could pick up without my phone disconnecting, it was a police officer. He told me there had been an incident with my youngest son at the bank two blocks from our house. My son was fine. How long would it take me to get there?  I was at the high school less than a mile from my house and had been gone less than 15 minutes. When I left, everything was fine. What could have happened in that short amount of time? Why was my son at the bank? He didn't answer my questions. He just told me to get there as quickly as possible.


 I got the story from the police and my older son later on. It seems in the 15 minutes I was gone, he and his oldest brother had gotten into an argument about who had to bring out the dog. My youngest, who was closing in on a manic episode, just snapped. He ran out of the house barefoot in a total meltdown and into the bank a block from our house, ranting and waving his pocket knife around (why I don't know, he has no memory of doing any of this, so I can't get answers from him).


After the relief that he was safe, I ran over to my son and hugged him; while hugging him, my first thought was, "Thank God he isn't black, or someone would have shot him for sure." At that instant, my blinders fell away, and I completely understood white privilege. White privilege isn't that my life has been easy. It isn't that I have money or even opportunity. White privilege is the fact that my mentally ill, autistic son went into a bank, with a small pocket knife, in a meltdown and came out alive. White privilege is that underneath all my excuses and reasoning, in a moment when my soul was stripped bare, I knew that the only reason he was sitting on that curb and not in an ambulance or a body bag was that he had white skin.

This is Texas. I can guarantee you any number of people in that bank were armed, besides the bank security and the police. And I could hug my son and get him the mental help he needed.  I knew my good friend, who has two autistic boys who are more severe than my son, would almost certainly have been unable to do the same had it been one of her boys in the same situation. The difference would only have been the color of their skin. That breaks me in ways I can't even begin to put into words.


This is how broken our society is. This is white privilege. Now that I see it, I will do everything in my power to make sure it changes.  To my friends of color, I can only beg your forgiveness for my years of blind ignorance. I am so sorry.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Glimpse of Vanilla

 

Hello, my friends.  I'm back!! A lot has happened over the past year (thus sporadic posting). I've written and released a novel and a children's book. I'm writing a second novel and have another children's book in the final stages of illustration and editing. There have also been a lot of personal mountains to climb, which I will address in future posts. But in my first post back, I have something slightly more scandalous on my mind.  Here is your warning; things are about to get hilariously hot and spicy. So if you are easily embarrassed or don't want to laugh out loud in the office, stop reading now!

 I like peppermint ice cream. I love peppermint ice cream smothered in hot fudge, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. And hell yes, I want sprinkles too!! The more whipped cream, hot fudge, cherries, and sprinkles, the better. I'll sit down and devour every sinful bite, savoring each lick of the spoon. Yes, I love a good sundae.


But there are days when I only want a good, old-fashioned vanilla cone, just one scoop of vanilla on a plain Jane sugar cone. No, I don't want a waffle cone. No, I don't want to mess with sprinkles. No, I don't want a second scoop of your hand-made horchata cinnamon flavor. Yes, I do know that there are 3.5 million flavor combinations available. But damn it, I just want a simple, no fuss, no muss, vanilla ice cream cone.


I'm like this with a lot of things. Some days I just want a plain sugar cookie or a good old-fashioned McDonald's cheeseburger. Sometimes I want to wear my old comfortable tennis shoes with my most comfortable pair of worn-out jeans. And sometimes I like plain, vanilla, no-frills sex! There I said it. Yes, I know toys are fun. Swinging from the ceiling in chains and leather is exciting. But some days, I don't want the hassle. Some days I'm tired, and I want comfort above adventure. And hell, some days I just want to close my eyes, think of the Queen and get it over with (and I'm not even British).


I feel like, as a culture, we have decided that everything in life needs to be a unique and exciting experience. We even want our coffee to be a unicorn (looking at you, Starbucks Unicorn Frap). Every day has to be a holiday and every holiday has to be an over-the-top celebration.

When I was a kid, we wore green on St Patrick's day and ate corned beef. That's it. There were no leprechaun traps, green milk-covered Lucky Charms, or piles of golden chocolate coins to be found at the end of a glitter-dusted rainbow. You wore green so that you didn't get pinched and maybe, if lucky, colored a four-leaf clover color-by-number worksheet at school. Then you went home—The End. Mom was not up until four in the morning, hanging rainbows, setting leprechaun traps, or coloring your milk green. And that was okay because you enjoyed not getting pinched and color-by-number worksheets. But I digress.


I am blessed to run an online group for women where we talk about sex and all kinds of scandalous things. The group was started by a dear friend, Emily Dixon, after she wrote a revolutionary book, Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don't Talk About -But Probably Should (you can find the book 
here). If you are a woman and want an incredible, supportive group of hundreds of women, you should check us out on Facebook (sorry, guys, this is a women-only group). However, the group can get pretty Scandalous at times. So be forewarned.

 I bring this up because I am fortunate enough to interact with hundreds of women daily. And I have noticed that plain Jane vanilla sex is no longer considered okay. Every sexual encounter should be a combination of the Kama Sutra and a porn movie.


I was lucky enough to be the mother of young children before this was a thing. I mean, sure, my husband and I had some exciting sex. But we didn't have a fully outfitted BDSM dungeon in our basement.  I didn't have to worry about my anal beads and our babies' amber teething beads getting mixed up (full disclosure: my kids didn't have teething beads either. Nope, it was good, old-fashioned, BPA-loaded plastic teething rings for them). I wasn't rushing to take down the sex swing to hang the Johnny Jumper.

More than swinging from the ceiling, I remember falling into bed dead, exhausted from a day of keeping those tiny humans alive and bathed.  We had sex (obviously, we have five kids), and we even had some excellent, hot and heavy, toys-included sex. But we also enjoyed a lot of plain vanilla sex because that was all we had the energy for. Because sometimes it's about the comfort, not the thrill.  Sometimes you are just in the mood to have a quick vanilla ice cream cone. And that is okay! It's normal. It's even healthy. Not every day is Christmas; that's what makes Christmas special.
Also, if you need help keeping those anal beads and the teething beads organized, this could be for you:

I'm here to help.  Much love, Kristine

Monday, July 9, 2018

What If I Fail?

Am I strong enough to face my fears, all of them? Am I strong enough to fail, to fail spectacularly?  Am I strong enough to shed all my protective layers and be honest? Am I strong enough to do what I dream without considering the consequences? Am I strong enough to fight for the weaker, disadvantaged, and those on the fringes of society, regardless of the cost? Am I truly strong enough?




You know what, I no longer care if I'm strong enough or not.  I've spent too much of my life caring about these things.  Now I have come to a fantastic realization.....wait for it: No one cares! No one cares if I fail. No one cares if I am strong enough or not. No one cares if I fight or lay down and bury my head in the sand.  If I choose to be an ostrich, no one will know that I ever had the thought to fight.  And if I fight, they will just assume that is who I am and will have no idea or care about the internal battle it took for me to get there. 

 Nobody cares because it's not about me! It never was. It was only my insecurities and pride that ever made it about me.  So I no longer care. I no longer am going to wait to be strong enough. I will no longer live my life trying to protect myself from failure, even spectacular failure.  I'm 41 years old and have so many things I've wanted to do but haven't because I was too consumed with myself; my self-doubt, fear of faiure, fear of what people think, and my all-consuming need to do it right.  Yet even with all that analysis and anxiety, I have still failed.

I have been broken into so many pieces that I couldn't even count them. And do you know what has happened, even in that failure? I survived. I grew. I glued myself back together into a whole different kind of woman.  And then I broke again. And once again, I pieced myself back together; this time, the pieces came together more quickly. Failure happens.  Breaking happens.  I no longer fear the process because I have survived and will survive again.

 So, I no longer care if I'm strong enough to take it.  I'm going to give it my best shot. To hell with success. To hell with failure.  To hell with me and my insecurities. So, I no longer care if I'm strong enough to take it.  I'm going to give it my best shot. To hell with success. To hell with failure.  To hell with me and my insecurities.

None of it matters.  All that matters is: have I lived my life with true integrity? Have I been kind?  Have I been compassionate? Have I been honest, even with myself? Have I loved fully and completely?  Have I tried with everything in me?  Have I shot for the stars? Have I dared to believe I could live the dream? Have I truly failed? Have I spectacularly failed? When I die, I hope I can honestly answer that I have.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Glimpse of the Avalanche

Yesterday I was blessed to meet another special needs mom as we both waited for our boys to be finished with camp for the day.  Her son is around the same age as my oldest.  We talked about the struggles of having a child who is legally adult but in no way ready to "adult" on their own.   There is a bond, an affinity, between special needs parents that is hard to explain. Whatever our race, creed or politics, it doesn't matter.  We share a commonality in our daily life experiences that few can comprehend, much less understand. So we sat and commiserated for close to two hours, both of us ignoring the work we had brought to accomplish while waiting.
  I felt a distant rumble as I walked away from that conversation.  It felt like the start of an avalanche, high in the mountains above, as you stand in the valley below.  You stand in the warm spring air, the sun shining upon you, knowing that if you don't take emergency measures NOW you will be buried under tons of snow and ice.  You start shouting and running, trying to warn everyone surrounding you of the frozen fury that is about to rain down upon them. But they look at the green grass and blooming flowers, feel the warmth of the sun and shake their heads.  You are Chicken Little crying"The sky is falling".  You point out the distant rumble that is getting closer every minute. They laugh and say it's just a train going by.
So you do your best to fortify what you can and try to save your family.   But there has never been an avalanche in this valley.  There is no evacuation route. There are no shelters. You furiously start throwing together what you can with the limited time and resources that you have. Off in the distance, you see a person here or there doing the same as you are.  You know if you could combine resources you would all have a better chance of survival.  But there is no time.  So you nod at each other, offer a slight wave and continue with your own preparations.  All the while the rumble is getting closer and it is picking up speed.



There is an avalanche coming to your community and it is coming quickly. My oldest was diagnosed at the forefront of the huge increase of ASD diagnoses. We could spend all day today and tomorrow discussing the WHY's of it all. But really the why doesn't matter at this point because the results are the same. In 1992 1 child in 150 was diagnosed as autistic, by 2006 that number was 1 child in 59 (statistics by the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html). Children born in 2000, when we just starting to see the rise in diagnosis, turn 18 this year. They become legal adults.  However many, like my oldest, are not capable of being independent yet.  Legally, we as parents lose the ability to manage their medical and psychological needs, to help them navigate the legal world, to have a much needed voice in their education.  Many of the services they currently receive they will age out of when they hit the magical 18 year mark.  We as parents have the choice to get partial guardianship (a complicated and hard process), sue our own child for full guardianship (which is an expensive and heart wrenching experience) or just throw them on the mercies of the very ill prepared system.

Many of you are reading this and are thinking "That's sad but it doesn't affect me or my family.  I've got my own crap going on."  Oh my friend, you could not be more wrong!! There is an avalanche coming for you and there is no place for us to direct it.
The U.S. cost of autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability, or $1.4 million for a person without intellectual disability.

-35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.
-It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism.  (The average cost of educating a student is about $12,000)
-In June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed, meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed. (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed.) (all statistics compiled by the Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/facts-and-statistics/)

For the last 18 years, we parents have absorbed much of the cost of caring for, treating and getting therapy for these kids.  We  have 5 kids with disabilities in our family.  Even with that large number of diagnosed dependents, we did not receive a single dime of public assistance, with the exception of services provided by the public schools, until 4 months ago.  Now we are only getting help because some amazing people found loopholes to get my kids further services that they desperately needed but we could in no way do on our own.  I am not complaining.  I don't begrudge my children the care they needed.  We are parents. We simply did what good parents everywhere do, made it work for the sake of our kids.  However, all those very needed therapies, interventions, etc we pursued for our children, on our private insurance or simply out of pocket, quickly begin to go away when they turn 18.  Unless a plan is in place, our kids will lose all those services that make them as functional as they currently are.  Without the necessary support, our kids begin to spiral out of control and we don't have the legal authority to step in to help. Quickly those young adults become a burden on the already  dysfunctional mental health and legal systems.  YOU, the taxpayer, will pick up a much more expensive tab because nothing was in place to help these kids transition into adulthood safely.  The incredibly frustrating and heart breaking  part of this is that the entire spiral is completely avoidable!! Keep in mind, we aren't talking about a couple of kids here or there.  We are talking about 1 in 59 kids all coming of age within a few years of one another!!! That is a huge strain on an unprepared and at times willfully ignorant system.
"How can we prepare?" you ask.  Write your legislatures! Demand that they begin to fund transition services for special needs kids coming of age. We need educational outreaches for the parents of these kids. The process of getting any kind of guardianship is confusing.  Setting up trusts for your kids future is extremely complicated, time consuming and expensive.  Ask lawmakers to stream line the process for parents to get partial guardianship of their disabled children.  Volunteer to be a mentor for a teen with special needs.  Donate time or money to the underfunded, private organizations that struggling to give services to the multitudes coming their way. There is an avalanche coming your way. We few advocates are not enough to stop it from crushing not only our kids but also the entire system.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Glimpse of the Cuckoo's Nest

There are moments in time or things we experience that have the power to change us forever, to define us, and bring clarity to our callings.  Such a moment happened to me two weeks ago while in the midst of a family crisis.  It was one of the most heartbreaking, shocking, and enervating experiences I have ever had.  It broke me in the best way possible. 

 I write this today because most of you will never have the chance to experience this moment.  Most of you will never see the reality with your own two eyes. Most of you will only get the sanitized version from the news or a story you read online.   You will never have the privilege of seeing the truth or having your heart broken and your protective instincts fired.  Even after reading this, most of you will choose to go back to your sheltered existence. Choosing to believe the experiences and sights I am about to share with you could not possibly be as bad as what I am going to portray, and even if they are..... well, those people had it coming. 

 I know this little blog post will have little impact on the grand scheme of things.  However, I would betray everything I stood for if I did not speak out. If I did not use what little voice I have to scream from the rooftops how broken and dangerous our mental health system is.


Here's my story.  I swear to you not a stroke of this keyboard is an exaggeration or manipulation of what I have witnessed.   Sit back and read this with an open heart and mind.  If we don't make changes immediately, I fear for the future of our most vulnerable children.

During the past month, my youngest son's behaviors had started to spiral again, and he was experiencing side effects from one of his medications.  His psychiatrist advised that we change his medication under his supervision; he referred him to the children's hospital for PHP (partial hospitalization program).  He was to go to the program 8 hours a day for observation during the med changes and therapy.   It took two weeks after the doctor wrote the order for the program to have a slot open for B.

On the first day of the program, we grabbed breakfast and started bright and early. B was happy and chattering the entire hour and fifteen-minute drive to the hospital.  We arrived and were led to a private room by a hospital therapist to answer the intake questions. There had been a breakdown in their system; had they done things correctly, they would have seen he had been a patient in their facility in September, and PHP was ordered by one of their doctors.  If any of these facts had been communicated as they should have been, we would not have had to do the entire intake process again, and the rest of this story would not have happened.  But as is often the case in our healthcare system, there was a breakdown in essential communication between coordinating facilities. 

If you have never done intake for psychiatric purposes it is a little more time-consuming than intake for your typical ER or hospital visit.  You have to answer many questions concerning your mental state, thoughts, home life, etc. It can be overwhelming to anyone. 

The process is especially challenging for my youngest son, who struggles to discuss anything emotionally without breaking down on his best days.  Because he was there primarily to change his medication protocol, I had not given him his medication either. He needed to see the doctor and start his new regiment.  Within two minutes of beginning the intake process, my son was starting to work up.  Within five minutes, he was in a full-blown meltdown.

For those who don't know what a total meltdown looks like, imagine a 250-pound, five-foot-nine teenager screaming, hitting his head on the wall, scratching his arms, trying to run off, and swearing at the doctors and security officers. To be clear, this is not a choice. He isn't "acting out." His brain is so over-stimulated that his logical thinking process has stopped. He doesn't even remember what happens during these episodes once he has come out of them.

 We gave him medication, hoping to calm him enough to complete the intake.  Instead, he worked up even further.  The therapist apologized because there was no way to admit him to PHP in this menta; state ( an obvious conclusion we all agreed upon).  He needed to be placed, inpatient.  It took two armed security guards to escort us to the "special" ER ( as I call it).  We were in a room with a bed (with restraint hooks) attached to the floor,  a single chair made of the same material as the bed, and NOTHING else. 

A doctor quickly examined him and ordered the therapist to find him a pediatric bed at one of the area hospitals.  Though we were already at the hospital, it was the children's hospital.  They do not take children over 12 in their behavioral (psychiatric) ward.  My son melted down for a full two hours, even after being given medication to calm him.   We spent the next eight hours waiting as the hospital called every behavioral hospital with a teen ward in the area, looking for a bed for my son.  We live between two major cities (Dallas and Fort Worth). More than a dozen behavioral hospital wards and hospitals in our area matched the needed criteria (most of which I would not recommend, but we will get to that later).  It still took eight hours to find a single pediatric bed.  This is not unusual. It is normal for people to be turned away from the hospitals when they seek help for their kids because there are no beds available. This is also a problem for the adult population. But for this article, we are focusing on the pediatric aspects of the mental health system.

 After waiting hours, they found him a bed at Dallas Behavioral Health in DeSoto, Texas. We have been dealing with our kids' mental health issues for a while now, meaning we have a working knowledge of the hospitals in our area.  I had heard some questionable things about this particular hospital.  When I told my husband where they wanted to send B, his initial reaction was the same as mine, no way!  But we had already spent eight hours in the ER with the therapist calling and re-calling every hospital looking for a bed.  This bed was literally the ONLY bed available in all of North Texas.  My husband did what research he could online. He found that the hospital had improved its facilities and recently won a few awards for its behavioral unit.  So with reluctance and no other options, B was assigned the bed.  It was a voluntary admission, but they would have admitted him under the Baker Act (non-voluntary admission) if I had not cooperated.  That would have severely limited the amount of control I would have to make medical decisions for my son.  So though we had a choice, we didn't really have a choice.

We waited for the ambulance to arrive to take us the hour and a half to Dallas Behavioral in DFW rush hour traffic.  The entire ride, B was chatting away, asking questions about all the equipment in the ambulance.  The paramedic asked me twice if he had received the correct transfer paperwork? Was B actually supposed to be transferred to DBH?  Yes, I assured him, the paperwork was correct.

 



We exited the ambulance into a different world from the one we left.  Because B had been labeled a flight risk during his earlier attempts while melting down, we were sent to the locked flight risk intake ward.  Before I begin, let me say I have gone through intake with my kids on many occasions.  I have visited the behavioral ward of different hospitals in many states as a missionary and parent.  This was not my first rodeo, and I am not easily shocked.  However, this intake waiting area managed to shock and horrify even me.  I will try to capture what the experience was like, but I don't think even I can do justice to the absolute chaos that assaulted us as we were ushered through the large locked doors.


The first thing I noticed when walking in was the smell.  The pungent odor is not new to me.  I spent years doing homeless ministry.  I lived above a homeless mission and worked there full-time for my college internship.  The smell of un-bathed, inebriated individuals with dirty clothes and no access to hygiene products is not new to me.  It was, however, new to my son. He immediately asked why it stank.  Milling around the narrow halls were adults waiting to be admitted. Some were rocking, others were screaming, and one lady kept trying to take off her shirt and have everyone feel her stomach and her "baby."  She would start screeching and yelling if you did not acknowledge her imaginary baby. She was demanding to leave so she could have her "baby." 

Around five police officers crowded the narrow hallway as they brought in two patients.  One patient was a young teen girl ( I later learned she was 12 years old).  She had handcuffs over bandages where she had attempted to cut her wrists and was held between two large, muscular officers. Several of the male patients tried to touch her or engage her.  I was grateful to one officer for keeping them at bay while he was there. Of course, he left as soon as he signed the admission papers.

 To our right was a large waiting room with more adult patients waiting to be admitted.  They were sprawled across chairs and on the floor.  Some had blankets; others just sat on the floor talking to themselves.  They wandered the halls freely, with no visible supervision. 

To our left was a room with teenagers.  Adult patients kept wandering in and out, even though the nurse would kick them out of the room the few times she walked past the door. Most of the teens were unaccompanied, having been brought in by law enforcement.  B and I were instructed to stay in the cramped, loud, and poorly monitored hallway until the staff could "get to us."  They dealt with the patients brought in by the police. B kept pushing himself between the wall and me, scared.  He didn't know what to make of the chaos that surrounded us.

 Finally, they called his name. It was our turn to meet with the admission nurse.  Our belongings were locked in a locker (standard procedure at every psychiatric hospital), and we were patted down and scanned with a metal detector wand.  I was surprised when they told me to bring B to the teen room. After standing in the hallway for over an hour, I thought we would be doing the admissions paperwork. But instead, we were being shuffled off to yet another waiting area. When I asked what was going on, I was told I could leave if I wanted.  I did not want to leave. At this point, I wasn't sure if I would be leaving him at the hospital at all, the Baker Act be damned!

 As we waited for several hours, more patients were brought in by the police or nurses. Some were loud.  Some looked high; others looked utterly beat down by life.   Some were violent. One began beating on the doors with so much strength he shook the entire ward.  The teens were terrified. One girl looked at me and asked if he would be able to break the glass windows of the room we were in.  I assured her we were safe and that security would deal with him. After twenty minutes of the nurses ignoring him and his behavior, they finally called security. However, security took nearly 10 minutes to show up after they were paged.

 One adult patient kept stripping naked, over and over again. They would barely get clothes back on him, and he would take them off again. Having autistic kids, I understood his behavior. But it made the teen girls very uncomfortable to have a large adult male wandering around completely nude.

 While all of this was happening, the teens were unprotected in an unlocked room with adult patients wandering in and out. When the nurse returned, I asked that the door be locked to protect the kids.  She only complied after demanding to know who I was.  I explained I was a parent and knew that teens should be seperated and protected from the general adult population by law.


During our wait, I talked with the kids who were there. They were dying to be listened to.  Most of them had been inpatient before and began comparing the facilities, which had good food, the best staff, and places with the best therapist. 

One thin boy with the saddest eyes I've ever seen told how he had been a patient at a different facility over the Easter holiday.  The nurses had sneaked patients Easter candy, and a kind doctor had ordered the entire teen ward pizzas for dinner that night.  He said he had asked to be brought back to that facility when he had been removed from school by police in handcuffs because he had been overheard threatening to hurt himself.  The sad boy explained that was the only facility where he had made progress because the staff cared.  But the officers said it was too far and they could only bring him to DBH.

As I sat there listening, my heart was broken over and over.  The beautiful girl brought in by law enforcement in cuffs with her wrists bandaged began to talk to me.  She had just been released from inpatient two days before.  She had tried to slit her wrists again, so she was brought back in handcuffs after they bandaged up her wrists.  It is just standard procedure to handcuff our youth.  So common, in fact, the kids were all comparing their cuff bruises while we waited.  Most of the teens had been waiting 6-8 hours for a bed.  They were not given food or even water the entire time they waited.  To get to the bathroom, they had to wade through the sea of adult patients wandering the halls without supervision.

After three more hours, we were finally admitted. So for those of you keeping count, we drove an hour to the PHP program, waited eight hours for a bed to become available, and drove an hour and a half to the hospital. Then we stayed in the hallway for an hour and waited three more hours to be admitted. And we were "rushed" because he was transferred from another hospital and I was making waves about the lack of proper security or supervision for the kids who were alone with adult mental patients.


Once I looked over the ward B would be on (well, what I could see of it from the place I was told to stand), I was reassured that he would be completely separate from the adult population while on the teen floor.  I signed the last of the paperwork. They did a complete physical exam of B (again standard procedure for psychiatric wards), documenting any scratches, rashes, bruises, etc.  They skipped any more intrusive exams because of his autism. I am grateful for that.  He would have been even more traumatized if they had done a rectal exam.


B was there for eight days with limited visitation and phone calls.  Their doctors were able to balance his meds, which with B is no small feat.  However, the teens were allowed to put whatever they wanted on the TV after therapy. They chose horror movies.  My son had never been exposed to graphic horror movies before his time there and has had nightmares since returning.  I don't understand how it is healthy for teens in a mental facility for self-harm or violence to be exposed to violent, gory, rated R movies with full nudity at the hospital that is supposed to be treating them.  The people on duty would watch the movies with the kids, so they knew what was being played.

Eight days later, B came home.  The doctors had been able to balance his medications, but the hospital experience was traumatizing to him. 

I go to sleep haunted by the faces of the kids I waited in the intake waiting room with.  So many of these kids were traumatized by things and situations in their lives.  They are crying out for help.  As a society, our solution to that trauma is to slap cuffs on them, and stick them in an unsafe and traumatizing waiting area, alone.  Then we admit them to hospitals with little supervision, drug them and send them back to the very environments that traumatized them, to begin with, in many cases.   Kids have died in mental hospitals in our area.


We have a national mental health crisis with our young people today.  You only have to turn on the news to know I speak the truth. How can we help them if the very institutions meant to help are so overcrowded that it takes nine hours to find one bed in a vast metropolitan area ( and we were lucky to find that one, I was told repeatedly)?  How can we help them when they are dropped into traumatizing situations like I described, with no one to advocate for them while they are waiting?  How can we help them if, while they are in the hospital, they are exposed to more violence, gore, and sexualization?

Some of you are reading this thinking that this does not affect you, so why should you care? Or maybe you think those kids have it coming to them because they wouldn't be in this situation had they not earned it.  You are wrong.  How many school shootings and mass public attacks will it take before we as a nation wake up to the mental health crisis we are facing? 

 I want to be clear that most people who suffer mental health problems are not violent (someone with a diagnosed mental illness commits only 3% of violent crimes).   You may be lucky.  Maybe you or someone you love are not affected by mental illness. However insulated you think you are, let me assure you that you know someone that struggles with mental health issues.  According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness.  That is 20% of the adult population. Of those, only half receive ANY treatment at all. Here, I included a link to NAMI's statistics on pediatric mental health issues here. I encourage you to click the link. There is a lot of important information there.


I know this is a very long article, but I needed to share our experiences with you.  We need to change our mental health care system in this country.  The only way those changes will happen is if we demand them.  The only way we can demand them is if we know the actual state of the mental health care system in our country.  Unfortunately, many people in our society who need things to change the most are unable to advocate for themselves.  So we must be their voices. 

 I reported our experiences to the hospital and, more importantly, to our insurance company. I am writing this blog.  I purposely did not obfuscate the institution we visited because I want to see changes.  I demand better for the most vulnerable members of our society.

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