musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Musings (Page 1 of 7)

On Your Birthday

MomRosesAndBabysBreath

It’s still your birthday, even though it’s dark now. But birthdays don’t matter anymore, do they? You are ageless and timeless now, fixed in amber.

If you were still here, I would have made you a card, filled with my lousy artwork. You never cared for store-bought cards. They were too easy, too automatic. Pick it out, make a purchase, scribble a tossaway line, “thinking of you” yadda yadda, and sign it. Address it, send it, and the person is quickly out of sight, out of mind. There are no lingering thoughts, no emotional commitment.

I made the emotional commitment that you treasured, and I would frequently be there to deliver it in person and hug you while you examined it. Though my artistic ability displayed no measurable improvement from when I was 6 to when I was 56, you appreciated those haphazardly pieced-together cards just the same.

So, where are you now? I often contemplate this, strange as it seems. My friends who are mediums, spiritualists, would possibly say that you’re watching over me — perhaps even now as I write this. It’s odd, but I never told them. I’ve typically been very open and honest with people, but for some reason, I suddenly became very private, secretive, withdrawn. It felt like the right thing to do at the time. Until, of course, I want to announce it to the world. But isn’t that me, the writer, always interested in good material?

With earth and her inhabitants in such abysmal shape — and you, the eternal caregiver — in my mind’s eye I see your spirit rushing from trouble spot to trouble spot, trying to restore peace and compassion, bringing comfort to those in pain and emotional turmoil. It seems like something you would want to do. You were never very comfortable being on the receiving end of care.

As a young girl, you cared for your family after your mother died, though it wasn’t something you chose for yourself, and it was too heavy a burden for an 8-year-old. You did, however, later choose to serve in the Navy, become a registered nurse, raise a child, collect old clothes for the poor, volunteer at the local blood bank and make frequent visits to an elderly neighbor whose own family had abandoned.

Free of the body that betrayed you in later years, are you now visiting parts of the world where your kind spirit is most needed? You never liked to travel, but no longer burdened by physical concerns like packing, luggage, planes, missed connections and stress, perhaps it’s different now. Maybe you’re guiding lost souls in the Middle East or in Northern parts of Africa, giving comfort to children who are homeless and hungry or to people in Puerto Rico who still struggle after the storm. Maybe you’re visiting one of the recent sites of a mass shooting, comforting the victims.

Is it silly for me to think that?

I was struck by what an expert in astral travel said on a friend’s radio show, that we hold our loved ones back from continuing on their soul’s journey. We summon them in spiritualist gatherings and keep them tethered to the earth plane so that they can help us and guide us. Is it our own attachment to forms that keep us from progressing here as well? Perhaps I have created an artificial distance as a form of protection. But I can’t help feeling, as much as I’d like to connect with you and feel your presence, that it’s a selfish desire and not driven by love.

Even before you became so frail, you said that you had enough of this life. Apparently life had not had enough of you! But now you are free. How can I mourn for you, when you were so ready to move on? I would only be mourning for myself and others who loved you, who must now muddle through on their own.

For you, I will honor and celebrate a beautiful life, in service to others and full of goodness. May I find the courage and strength to use whatever gifts I have to do as you did.

Happy birthday, mom, wherever you are.

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A Conversation with Myself

A Conversation with Myself“Are you awake?”

“Uhhhhh”

“Get up! You have a lot to do! In every second you let slip by, you could be having an inspirational thought that could be developed into a breathtaking essay, or maybe even a novel!”

“I seriously doubt that.”

“Why are you so negative all the time? And why are you so tired?

“Those are two separate questions. And I haven’t even done my yoga or had my tart cherry juice and my tea yet.”

“So, what are you waiting for? Get up!”

“Shut up and leave me alone.”

“What’s the problem today?”

“I had those dreams again, about driving my car down a deserted highway and not knowing how to get home — hell, not even knowing where “home” was. And then that other one, about searching for something to eat, and everything is horrible fast food.”

“The last time, you were in a restaurant and everyone at your table got up and left you there eating.”

“That wasn’t a dream. That actually happened. I’m a slow eater. I always have dreams about being lost. Lately, I’ve also been dreaming about having some kind of procedure done on me. I have thoughts in my dreams that aren’t mine.”

“Maybe you’re being abducted by aliens. I still don’t understand why you’re so depressed and miserable. You have a lot to be thankful for.”

“Don’t you think I know that?? Thinking that makes me feel even worse!”

“You’re a pathetic basket case.”

“I know that also. But sometimes I don’t understand how so many people can go along and be so absorbed and perfectly content in their own lives, and not be disturbed by all the violence, pain, misery and suffering in this world. How do they do that?”

“You have to focus on the positives in life and on those people who are doing good deeds and helping others.”

“Well, that sounds marvelously New Agey. Hang on, let me grab my Tarot cards and my affirmations. Oh damn, I spilled water on them and they got wet.”

“You’re so cynical.”

“How can you not be? Nothing really changes. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, mankind continues to shit on the planet that we depend on for our survival, corporation executives are greedy, politicians are self-serving and college students design artistic signs and protest. Nothing ever comes of it. Well, I suppose more people are protesting now.”

“A lot more people are protesting. People are slowly waking up.”

“Perhaps. I’m just so damned frustrated, and I feel like I’m doing nothing to contribute to anything that’s useful.”

“Well, you sure as hell aren’t by lying in bed and bickering with me.”  

“Yeah, you’re right there.”

“So, tell me what’s really bothering you and let’s get this done and over with so you can seize the day. Or at least, get your butt out of bed.”

“Do you really want to know? Fine. Can I tell you my worries and anxieties without you turning all judgmental and self-righteous on me?”

“Yes. Go ahead.”

“I feel burdened with many things in my life — not progressing in my writing, not having the time to read and do my yoga and meditation as much as I should be, problems with finances despite working all the time, deeply rooted family issues, my own stupid stress-enhanced health problems, the need to be alone for what I want to accomplish and yet gnawing loneliness, always feeling anxious and on edge. Sometimes I feel as old as Methuselah, and as knowledgeable as a baby. And then I feel guilty for feeling bad, because I’m so incredibly fortunate, compared to many, many others. And this, of course, makes me feel worse.”

“Sounds like first-world problems.”

“There you go again, you snarky bitch.”

“Sorry. Those are real problems, to be sure, and all problems are relative, aren’t they? You do sound like you have a lot going on right now, and important things you want to be doing. Maybe you should focus your efforts on what’s most important to you, don’t get fixated on the financial problems, and see if you can come up with some creative ideas on how to make enough money to pay the bills while still having time to do what you want to be doing. Don’t take on other people’s problems (at least, not until you have to). Don’t compare yourself to other people and don’t worry about this vague notion of “being happy.” Choose to chase after your life’s purpose instead. Remember when you would always tell me that you felt more “yourself” when you were writing and you were going to make something happen? What happened to that?”

“I got old and tired.”

“Ha. But all these tedious product descriptions and nutty things you do now to earn a bit of money, that’s made you a better writer, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose it has.”

“So, it hasn’t been a waste of time.”

“No, I guess it hasn’t. You’re right.”

“And you have a pile of literary journals to read, and a few essays you can submit.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“You’ve been through some challenging times this year. You dealt with it and here you still are.”

“True dat.”

“You should give yourself more credit. You truly care about other people, which is why you’re deeply upset with all the killing, all the wars, all the innocent children caught up in adults’ stupid, dangerous games, all the inequality.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe you should write more about that. Be angry. Be yourself. But don’t despair.”

“Yeah, you’re right. OK, I’m getting up now.”

“Good. Finally!”

“Ow, my neck hurts. As usual.”

“Go do some yoga. That usually helps, right?”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Oh, and happy birthday.”

“Heh. Thanks.”

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Poor Prognosis: The AHCA and America’s Mental Health Care

Prognosis_1000x473

[This article was originally published on The Depression Army blog. Thank you, Dr. R., for editing. Note – this was originally written May 29. Three and a half weeks later, the Senate has indeed written their own AHCA proposal, and their “discussion draft” can be seen here].

People who struggle day-to-day with a mental health issue don’t usually spend a lot of time following politics. When the world is closing in, it becomes necessary to shut out all that extraneous noise, push away the distractions and focus single-mindedly on one’s well-being. However, with a new administration comes proposed changes to the American health care system that may make it more difficult for the less wealthy among us to find adequate mental health support.

Difficult as it is to take in all the information, ignorance is not bliss. People who are struggling need to be informed about — and sometimes even stand up for — one’s basic right to decent mental health care.

Mental Health Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

On HealthCare.gov, the official site of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a mental health and substance abuse coverage page that clearly states the legal requirements of all ACA Marketplace health care plans. This includes behavioral health treatment (for example, psychotherapy and counseling), mental and behavioral health inpatient services and substance abuse treatment. Specifics depend upon where you reside and your health plan, but the law states that all ACA plans prohibit spending limits and must cover pre-existing conditions, which includes any mental illness. The ACA also provides “parity protections” for mental health services. This means that it enjoys the same protections as any other kind of health coverage in terms of deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket limits, treatment limits and care management.

In fact, there’s an entire government website devoted to mental health, with clear information about how the ACA has improved access to mental health services for many people, regardless of where they live and what type of plan they have. This official source says, “As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans also must cover mental health and substance use disorder services. These plans must have coverage of essential health benefits, which include 10 categories of benefits as defined under the health care law. One of those categories is mental health and substance use disorder services.” In the ACA program, mental health care is seen as an essential health benefit.

Despite the improvements to mental health care since the ACA first went into effect in 2014, a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center found that mental care access in the U.S. is still inadequate. Nearly one in 10 Americans who had mental health problems in 2014 didn’t have insurance that would allow them access to treatment. For approximately 10.5 percent of people, there were delays in receiving professional mental health treatment due to insufficient coverage, compared to 9.5 percent in 2006. In 2014, 9.5 percent of those suffering with mental health issues couldn’t afford to pay for psychiatric medications, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

The AHCA – Just Passed by the House of Representatives

The American Health Care Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, seeks to roll back federal guarantees of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment, instead leaving it to the discretion of individual states. Under the new plan, states can also opt-out of requiring that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Other Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) left to the states to provide or not provide include emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, chronic disease management, pediatric services and prescription drugs. The AHCA, as currently written, allows insurers in states that have opted out of covering EHBs to charge people more for their health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions.

What Do We Stand to Lose?

The ACHA bill leaves critical mental health care treatment and prescription medication coverage for poorer people up in the air. Depending on where you live, there may be state-provided financial assistance for psychiatric evaluations, counseling and potentially life-changing psychiatric drugs — or not. Should this bill go into effect, coverage that you’re currently receiving from your insurer, whether it’s through your employer or through the federal ACA marketplace, might go away. In a worst-case scenario, those families who need certain medical coverage for pre-existing mental health conditions may have to consider moving to a state where insurers will cover them. Unable to get proper care in their community, people with a serious mental illness are increasingly ending up in local jails, a sad development that is straining law enforcement. Mental Health America states that 1.2 million people living with mental illness are in jails and prisons every year. The Sentencing Project study referred to in the article found that six out 10 of those states with the least access to mental health care (Southern states) also have the highest incarceration rates.

The New Health Care Proposal: Here’s What Happens Next

As the House’s AHCA bill moves to the Senate for approval, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) has issued their findings on the House’s proposed bill. The CBO estimates that the AHCA will leave 23 million more people without insurance by 2026 than if the ACA were to stay in place. They also discuss the dangers of leaving coverage decisions to the states. A CBO breakdown confirms that a state opting out of covering mental health care and prescription medicines, as well as pre-existing conditions, could cause out-of-pocket expenses to significantly rise for that coverage, leaving many priced out of the healthcare marketplace. The good news is that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to approve the House bill and in fact, they’re writing their own version. The bad news is that there are senators who may not heed the warnings in the CBO report.

What Can You Do?

First, don’t despair! There are many people who are aggressively fighting these radical changes to a healthcare system that, although flawed and in need of fixing, many people rely on. However, if you’re someone who is especially sensitive to mental health issues, it is imperative that you add your own voice to the choir of discontent. Indivisible is a nationwide organization that encourages people to take local action to express their concerns and tell their personal stories. Town Hall Project has an interactive database of town hall meetings by members of congress that constituents can attend. Add yourself to the mailing list of upcoming events in your area. If you’re unable to attend a meeting in person, you can also contact your senators directly to tell them how important mental health care coverage is for you and your family. You can also contact your House Representatives. When your representatives aren’t legislating in Washington, they should be back in their states to meet with their constituents. You can view the senate schedule and house schedule for 2017.

Above all, keep yourself well-armed with information! Important decisions are being made right now that could impact your mental health care and essential support services. If you believe that healthcare is a basic right, and that those living with mental illness should have the same rights as anyone else who suffers from a crippling affliction, Speak Out and Speak Loudly!

Your voice matters, and the voices of millions of sufferers will be heard in the voting booths!

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Letter from a Jilted Lover

Letter from a Jilted Lover

Dear Beloved,

This is very difficult for me to write, but it’s extremely important that I do so. I have tried to be patient. I offered my gifts to you freely, as a lover does, and all I expected in return was that you would respect me and treat me well. But something sinister has come between us that threatens to rip us violently from our warm embrace. Read more >>

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The Twins

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

Drawing based on a photograph by Alaa Alyousef via AP

It was the photograph, really. There is always a defining moment when an awful situation reaches its apex. In this case, it was the image of the grieving Syrian father and his 9-month-old twins. He holds the eternally sleeping, dead from poisonous gas babies for the cameras, for the world to see, as if to say “See? See what our world has come to?”

And we did see. In one crystal clear, revolting moment, we were spun once again into a darkened dystopia. It is a reality seen in harrowing fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” where our humanity is reduced to pushing around a shopping cart in a barren world, trying desperately to pull scraps of food and hope from the embers. Read more >>

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On Making the Unknown Known

Alone with Friends

J. Stoller

Alone in the company of friends. These are strange times. I’m ashamed of the weariness I feel, worried by the emptiness and the confusion. I find I’m forcing myself to make smalltalk, feeling like a fraud as I do so. Bereft of what was once familiar, I wander around the ornate rooms as conversation swirls around me. But maybe that’s exactly the point and what must necessarily come before progress?

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

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Clinging To What No Longer Serves

Clinging to an old blanket

by J. Stoller

In times of trouble, people cling to the mundane and to the familiar company of family and friends. They gravitate to comfortable surroundings, to deeply-entrenched ideas and attitudes. They hold on tightly to old and tattered possessions to which they are accustomed, even if these objects no longer serve a purpose.

When feeling challenged and under siege, people will embrace what they already believe to be true, speaking in the same language, however tired or inappropriate for the new situation at hand.

Surrounding oneself with the theatrical props of stability is not the same as feeling stable, safe and secure in your heart. What is needed is a paradigm shift.

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What if… What then?

What if, just like MySpace, Twitter suddenly changed their code or shut down completely, and all of those clever things you thought up, all the people who “liked” you and made you an internet sensation for 24 hours, all of that disappeared into the ether. Erased from Earth’s fragile history, you’re left alone in your basement room, with your dusty books and hardened mind, while the real people you shut out of your life have drifted away to find more satisfying conversation and a more reciprocal love. What then?

These are false communications, as transient as a Tibetan sand mandala. But unlike the mandala, whose essense remains in the collective unconscious, your clever thoughts, in the morning light? No one will remember them.

Indeed, we are all fleeting, we are all grains of sand, though we disappear without a trace or our essence remains based upon the decisions we make — whether to truly communicate, or to build an emotional wall.

As you slowly discover that the old proverb is true, you reap what you sow, betray and betrayal, abandon and abandonment, disregard and disregarded — What now?

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Was 2016 The Year Mental Health Came Out Of The Closet?

Mental Health in the News

Overburdened law enforcement, soldiers and PTSD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, celebrities coming forward and election anxiety

The stigmatization of mental illness and the tendency to push mental health issues under the carpet is far from over, but the conversation has begun. The year 2016 has been chock-full of news stories, discussions and public figures in solidarity or coming out of the closet with their personal struggles. Whether your daily news source is the local newspaper, network television, NPR or Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard not to notice that mental health issues have been popping up with great frequency. Read more on Medium.com >>

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Winter Solstice Musings

Trying to unwind the gnarled thoughts from this fretful year, it seemed so very easy to sink comfortably into all the hatred and venom and take up arms. To become hardened to the perceived threat, rather than try to understand it. Gather comrades tightly around and fortify defenses, rather than reach out to the enemy. But all that did, in retrospect, was to widen the rift and poison the air around us.

It is far less comfortable, far less safe, to detach from and step out of enveloping womb of one’s world view. To gaze harshly upon oneself from the enemy camp and begin to question. Is there any room inside that hardened shell of righteousness for a different perspective?

In the quiet of winter, the cold hush of hibernation, there is the time and the space for contemplation.

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