At different times in my life I have felt that I was fighting a low grade depression. I carried out many of my regular routines of school, work or other things but in general I felt that the joy had gone out of my life. I mentioned to a co-worker that I was feeling that way.I develop headaches and other body issues. I drink more alcohol than is healthy. I struggle to make phone calls or do much of anything outside of my work. Completing the work day or beginning it can be very challenging.
I know the usual thoughts that will come to mind. I have been taking my medications as prescribed. I am satisfied with my jobs and feel that they bring me hope. Unfortunately, they don’t bring me happiness. So that is what I am working on. This is particularly ironic since a large part of my work involves inspiring others. And I have told people about the wonders that Vitamin D have brought me.
there is the song “What’s it all about Alfie?” which has a line “without true love, we’d just exist.” And that’s about where I am.
This week I learned that Joan Lawrence my former boss had died on Sunday. I was not surprised because when I saw her several weeks ago, for the last time, she didn’t look well. I spoke briefly about her at the farewell organized at Our Space on Friday. She practically invented peer support in Milwaukee and was responsible for spreading its use throughout the city. She was astute at politics and a shrewd fundraiser. She was an excellent grant writer and was proud of the organization’s sound fiscal health.
I have said elsewhere that Joan inspired many enemies and that it was not necessarily a bad thing. Joan and the agency were criticized over the years and there was a letter that sparked an investigation into the organization’s practices. I described my relationship with her as love-hate. It’s hard to feel completely comfortable when you’re threatened with being fired so often. It was also hard to earn a living wage. Evaluations were hard to come by. Joan ran things by the seat of her pants. She was the kind of person about whom people had strong opinions.
She did a lot for mental health in this county and possibly neglected her own health. She was a terrible smoker. I remember her struggling with the many issues presented by the long time building at 5th and Lincoln. A building with a leaky roof and a balky furnace. And I remember the cat she made the Our Space pet until it was adopted when Our Space moved to 15th and National.
There was a Led Zeppelin song about good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share. It was definitely that way with Joan. I got to where I am because of the training and experiences I received at Our Space and with her help. We never pretend that things are always all good or all bad but learn to understand the greys and in between.
In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there were stories of very flawed men. Father Matthew Gottschalk, who co-founded the House of Peace with Brother Booker Ashe, another troubled individual, retired recently after it was disclosed he had an inappropriate relationship with a minor years ago. Age and health issues had also played a role although he remained very popular. He was there when I interned at the House of Peace and was already in his 80s.
Another sad story involved a minister whose wife wrote to Miss Manners for advice because he had to resign from his ministry due to misconduct at a previous parish. Now the wife feels sorrow because she misses the connections she had with the young people at their former church. Some of these individuals are getting married but she and her husband are not being invite to the weddings. In her own way Miss Manners reminded the troubled wife that the misconduct must have been very specific and there were probably good reasons why no one would want to see her husband as they moved on with their new lives.
The final story of human frailty involved the story of Forrest Gregg, former Green Bay Packers half of fame football player and coach. He now lives with Parkinson’s, probably a result of his days being slapped in the head by numerous defensive linemen. He played in 188 straight games despite suffering numerous injuries including concussions. He was driven to play through the pain by his coach, Vince Lombardi. He tried to instill that same mentality in his players when he coached Green Bay. Unfortunately, the ethic of sacrificing one’s life for the team was waning and a lot of players resisted him. He ended his career as a losing coach. He stands as a monument to a time that showed what was wrong with sport. The unions are much stronger, the equipment has improved, the salaries much higher and there is greater understanding of the risks that players are taking. Players are more serious about concussions and some of them are retiring early to pursue other careers.
These stories about the flaws these men carry tell us about the struggles of men. It’s not all that easy to admit you have problems and to seek help. We have church doctrine about “infallibility” and yet people make mistakes. I’ve made my share, too.
I am part of the new wave of peer support being offered in the community mental health programming in Milwaukee County. The county contracts with agencies who provide case management for clients to help them lead better more productive lives. the case managers provide advocacy, assistance in securing resources such as housing, food stamps, medications and help for their consumers. often numerous physical problems. They meet with people sometimes on a daily basis depending on the severity of the difficulties and challenges facing consumers. Despite these efforts, we still find that a lot of people cycle in and out of crisis, showing up at various hospitals. Would it surprise anyone to learn that the individuals seeking help the most often are also the least likely to accept it? They may leave shortly after undergoing an extensive intake process The question of whether programs are resistant to consumers or consumers are resistant to consumers seems like a kind of chicken and egg problem to which the only logical answer is yes and so what.
A more useful question might be, how well does this system promote recovery? And how do we measure it? This is the model that we are using and which I have joined. As a peer specialist in housing I had very little clear idea of how case management operated. At the same time, the case managers had to be educated about our function. Now with this effort to integrate us into case management, it may become clearer how we are supposed to operate as a team.
It will be good to learn how Milwaukee County monitors our progress. I am wondering who else has been hired and at what agencies? In addition, what has been the experience of peer specialists working in community support programs across the country. I am interested in learning more about what is happening. Maybe some local oddball will respond to me.
For the third time in the 8 years I have been a peer specialist a consumer with whom I have been associated has died. Each time there have been warning signs and each time I tried to offer support. As an atheist I see death as a finality, the nothingness into which we will all vanish at some point. It is not something to rejoice in hoping to overcome the sorrows of life. I do not look forward to seeing anyone in an after life. Which is why I tell people cling as tightly as you can to the one, wild precious life we are given.
But sometimes their grip on life is loosened by circumstance beyond our control. Often by the time I meet consumers they have experienced trauma, neglect and abuse. Often they have lived on the street and endured frost bite, extreme heat and everything in-between. You try and tell people to take better care of themselves but ultimately the decisions they make are theirs. And whether and how long they survive is up to them.
Thinking about this I posted reminders to my facebook friends about doing something fun. The time is now to create positive memories for one another. I would hate for us to part in anger and then learn that it was too late to repair the hurt feelings.
Even though I know instinctively we are not going to be able to bring everyone with us on the road to recovery it is always hard when someone leaves us far too early in life. Let those of us who remain redouble our efforts to live healthy and productive lives.