Homelessness And The Loss of Roots


homelessnessVolunteering at a St. Martin’s Hospitality Center which is a day shelter for homeless people has given me a new perspective on rootedness.  No matter what happens to me I always know I can go home and how much this contibutes to my sense of who I am. If I had no place to go I think I would feel less a person.  Somehow my sense of myself is partly rooted in where I live.  The people who are homeless have lost this piece of their identity.  I think that a large part of our mission at St. Martin’s is to help them hang on to the whatever part of their identity they still retain

The shower station is my spot when I volunteer.  I help people sign up for a shower giving them towels and soap and shampoo.  When a shower is free I page them and they get to take a shower using the small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner which kind people carefully save for us when they travel and then donate to us.  They can use a hair dryer or a straightening iron if they want.  Most of all they seem to want scent to put on after their showers.  Especially the men.  I breathe a sigh of relief if when I arrive to volunteer if there is at least one bottle of fairly decent men’s cologne.  Often I buy some if I can find it on sale since I hate saying  sorry I don’t have any scent today.  The people are always kind about it but I can see the the disappointment on their faces.   Right now I can’t find any scent on sale because it is the Chistmas season.  I am planning on hitting Walmart before I go to the shelter early Monday morning and buying something decent even if I can’t find it on sale.  After all it will be Christmas Eve and a bottle of Ralph Lauren will bring big smiles to their faces.

As to rootedness,  homeless people have lost most of their  roots.  The Shelter tries to help.  It provides long term storage where with just an ID, someone can store one box with whatever is precious to them for whatever period they need.  Our clients can also receive mail at the shelter and people can leave phone messages which they can return on phones provided to them.  Since they can’t wash their clothes we give them up to 3 outfits of donated clothes a week.  I think that the hope is that these services provide a sense of belonging to people who are struggling to get from one day to the next without a disaster.

Many years ago in Los Angeles I volunteered at The Downtown Women’s Shelter on Skid Row.  It was a day shelter as well.  My job was to make lunch for the 30 or 40 women who came in each day.  There was one woman called Lydia who was obviously paranoid.  Probably schizophrenic.  She came in each day for lunch.  She took showers and got clothes.  After several month we pieced together the fact that she was sleeping in the parking lot at the Methodist Church.  Finally I talked with her one day and she told me that she was over 65 and had worked for many years before she became too mentally ill to work any longer.  She said when she went to the Social Security office they wouldn’t let her apply for social security 

The next day I came to the shelter wearing my best business suit.  Lydia and I walked to the Social Security Office and we were able to get her though the application process and within a few weeks she was receiving a check.  She didn’t want to leave Skid Row.  But we talked her into getting a room in one of the hotels there.  I will never forget the look on her face when she walked into the small dirty little room with a bed and a sink and a chair.  She felt rooted I am sure.

Lydia’s brother who had been trying to find her for over 10 years called us at the shelter.  Apparently the Social Security Office notified him as her next of kin.  He came to see her from Ohio.  He came to the shelter from the airport and Lydia would not speak to him.  We were able to tell him about her being off the streets and having enough money for a room and life’s necessities.  While he was saddened that she wouldn’t talk with him he was relieved to know where she was and that she had a base.  I think this was the most we could hope for for Lydia.  But she was satisfied in her own way.  This was probably all the rootedness she could handle.

God bless you all and I hope you have a Merry Chistmas.   Give a prayer for those on the streets on Chistmas that they too will find whatever rootedness they can handle.

Learning How To Live From The Dying: Part I


A few months ago I learned that my dog Billy has skin cancer.  To pay for the cost of his care I decided to go back to work.  Since I had long experience as a hospice volunteer in several states I decided take a job as an in-home hospice caregiver. 

My first assignment was to give care to and 89-year-old woman who I will call her Molly.  Her regular caregiver was on vacation for a couple of weeks so I was filling in.  She has  a rare form of  Parkinson’s disease that has attacked her  throat and her ability to speak.  Her husband Harry who is 82 is her primary caregiver.  He is a difficult man who is very critical but is attentive to his wife’s care.  Molly also has a daughter who lives in a distant state.  She is very angry at and suspicious of Harry and the two of them can’t get along. Neither the husband nor the daughter are able to express much affection to Molly.

Each day when I arrived Harry would have already given Molly her breakfast and I would try to get her up for the day.  She didn’t have much to look forward to since she would spend most of the day in front of the television watching reruns of Bonanza and Matlock.  So I looked for things that would make her the day more interesting.  First, after getting her dressed I would take her for a walk in the streets outside her home.  We would stop and look at flowers or an interesting bird or even a new car.  While I pushed her wheelchair I would recount tales of my life especially foreign travels and tell her about the people and funny or unusual experiences.  Sometimes she would try to talk with me but she could only manage a hissing sound.  At first I found it difficult to talk about myself but I realized that it was comforting for her to hear these stories and it built a connection between us.

One day I decided to take her out to a local restaurant that offers a free slice of pie on Wednesdays.  It was a difficult a project to get Molly into my car with her wheelchair but she was happy to get out of the house. Molly had a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream and a cup of coffee.  It took over an hour for her to eat it and she ate every bite. When she had finished and I started to get her ready to go to the car she looked at me and smiled and said the only word she ever spoke to me, she said “good.” 

An unfortunate incident occurred  her husband put her in her wheelchair in the yard to get some sun.  Somehow she fell over into a cactus plant. She went to the emergency room for treatment as she had reacted to the poison in the plant.  A few days later I was filling in for her regular care giver and took her to a new doctor to look at her throat.  While we were in the waiting room I asked her how she was and if the cactus wounds were painful.  She shook her head and held out her arm to show me the large bumps that were a reaction to the cactus.  Impulsively I kissed the spot and told her that it would make it well.  She laughed!  Never before had I seen her laugh or have any instinct to mirth so we laughed together.

What I learned while caring for Molly is how important it is to find moments of joy in the life of those who have lost so much.  Neither her husband nor her daughter were capable of giving her much affection so I would lavish hugs and kisses on her, telling her she looked pretty after I had combed her hair and she had put on lipstick.  How much she needed the affirmation and how good it felt to give it to her.

The funny thing is that being able to help her helped my soul heal.  Being old and without family means that I rarely find moments in the normal course of my life when I am able to help someone.  What a joy it is to do so.

Because Molly and Harry aren’t believers the most important thing I could do was to pray for them and I still do.  I ask you to pray for them as well.

Anti-Depressant Drugs Can Cause Suicidal Thoughts


Last week I went to a psychiatrist for help with a high level of anxiety . He prescribed  a low dose Lexapro, an antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug.  My appointment ran for 1 1/2 hours and covered my background.  He diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the suicide of my husband a year and a half ago and by childhood physical abuse and neglect. 

I believe this is the correct diagnosis.  However the drug is the wrong drug.  I started having suicidal thoughts within 5 days.  I read the literature that says the drug can cause suicidal thoughts in people less than 24 years old.  The pharmacist I spoke with said that while it is rare the drug can trigger suicidal thoughts in older people as well. I sent an email to the psychiatrist who responded  with questions about what I had done to develop new interests.  I reminded him that I have plenty of interests and am well-disciplined in keeping up a daily regimen of activities.  I questioned whether he knew which patient he was emailing. He sent me another email which did not address the possibility that the drug was causing the problem.  Yesterday I cancelled my next appointment and went off the drug.  This morning I am already having fewer suicidal thoughts.  I believe that this is an example of a serious problem within the mental health profession. 

I went to this psychiatrist because he recommended by a psychiatric case worker who was sympathetic to my having been forcibly sent to the hospital by a doctor when I asked for an antidepressant drug a few weeks ago and although I admitted to suicidal thoughts I stated I had no intention of following through with the act.  The case worker told me that competent psychiatrists no longer take insurance and I would have to self pay.   Obviously this is not true of all psychiatrists who take insurance but the ones that I have had under medicare were clearly burned out and not interested.  They were unreachable in a crisis.  So I thought I would spend a precious $250 to see a private one.  I would have to say he was just as burned out as the medicare psychiatrists.

Perhaps the problem is that the profession is trying to treat a medley of problems with drugs.  I think that the primary cause of mental problems is probably spiritual.  Drugs may offer a bridge of support to the patient while therapy and spiritual guidance  have a chance to work.  However, in the last 20 years insurance companies have decided to reimburse psychiatrists for drug treatment only.  Any therapy is left to social workers who are much less trained.  These workers are perhaps competent to moderate in couples therapy and problems that are amenable to practical solutions.  This leaves people with serious disorders with no real alternative for help with resolving deep issues.

Since I am a Christian I have support unavailable to many patients.  Prayer definitely helps me through crises.  I just wish that I could find help in the mental health community that wasn’t outright hostile or simply concerned about avoiding law suits. This is realistic fear for mental health professionals since patients are often eager to sue and lawyers are certainly eager to oblige them. I think only a complete overhaul of the system can remedy the situation.

Detroit 7 Year Old Commits Suicide


A reader sent me the following a news release about this story :

May 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Detroit boy, 7, who died was depressed, mom says

  • By Oralandar Brand-Williams, George Hunter and Christine Ferretti
  • The Detroit News

Detroit— The mother of a 7-year-old boy found hanging in his bedroom Wednesday told police her son had been depressed over the separation from his dad and bullying by schoolmates.

The boy was discovered by his 14-year-old sister hanging from a bunk bed by a fabric belt at the family’s home in the 700 block of Pingree near New Center.

The sister, looking through a keyhole of the boy’s bedroom, saw the child hanging. She summoned her mother, who quickly grabbed him and held his body upwards “to relieve the stress of his body weight” as a neighbor removed the belt from around his neck, according to police.

The mother told police the boy was bullied at school because he was being raised in a mostly female household. Neighbors said he was the only boy among his mom’s four daughters.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said authorities are continuing their investigation, although they suspect suicide.

“The report from my officers indicates bullying may have been the genesis of this, or had a connection,” Godbee said Thursday. “To a person, it’s difficult to comprehend a 7-year-old planning a suicide like that, so we’re keeping all possibilities open. We haven’t come to a final conclusion on anything, and are waiting until we do, but preliminarily, that’s what we’re going on. I spoke to homicide, and they won’t leave any stone unturned. We’re going to investigate this fully.”

While results are pending from the autopsy completed Thursday, a neighbor whose child played with the boy said there was no sense anything was wrong with the youngster.

Tina Garrett, a neighbor across the street, said the little boy played with her daughter, 8, as recently as Wednesday.

“He was a bubbly little boy. He went back in the house. He seemed to be OK,” Garrett said Thursday.

The child attended University Preparatory Academy in Detroit. “We’re diligently looking into everything,” Sgt. Eren Stephens, spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department said Thursday. “On the surface, it appears to be a suicide.”

Schools officials refused comment on the incident, as did family members. Garrett said the little boy often played with her daughter, riding up and down the street on his bike.

Garrett said she had to explain to her daughter what happened to her friend.

“She cried so bad last night; she didn’t want to go to sleep,” she said. “I told her, ‘If someone bullies you, don’t get depressed. Come talk to me so we can solve it.'”   

Kevin Epling, who advocated for the passage of the state’s first anti-bullying statute, said it’s a growing problem that students are being confronted with daily.  “A lot of adults think it’s not that big of an issue or no worse than it was when they were in school,” said Epling, who lost his 14-year-old son, Matt, to a bullying-related suicide in 2002. “It’s a totally different environment today in schools. There are a lot more pressures at younger ages on students. We as adults need to understand that it’s a different world.”

Epling said Thursday he’s “very saddened” by the boy’s death, but said it’s too early to make assumptions.

“We need to step back and wait for the information to come in,” said Epling, who is also co-director of Bully Police USA, a grass-roots anti-bullying nonprofit. “Right now the family needs the community’s support, especially the boy’s friends need support and guidance on how to deal with a loss and how the school needs to deal with the loss.”

Epling added he’s not heard of any suicides in children this young in the area.

“This is really the low-end of the scale that we’ve lost someone this young,” he said. “We have to really figure out what was going on in this young man’s life and draw the best conclusions we can without jumping ahead of the game.”

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins, who has introduced an anti-bullying ordinance for the city of Detroit said, “For any child who thinks their only option is death, it’s heartbreaking (and) devastating.”

Jenkins added: “It just bring tears to my eyes to think about what that family is going through and what that baby was going through. Bullying, in general, is a difficult issue that can be dealt with. It takes everybody being on board and putting forth the effort to stop bullying. Fortunately for this chief, it is a priority.”

News staff writers Darren Nichols and Josh Katzenstein contributed.

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts


Most people have had thoughts of ending their life.  When you are grieving the loss of someone you love, or when you are lonely or afraid, it is common to think of it.  But it is one thing to think about suicide and quite another to feel a compulsion to kill yourself.

Since my husband killed himself nearly two years ago, thoughts of suicide have been my frequent companion.  Several times these thoughts have resulted in my going to the hospital for evaluation.  Sometimes, but not always, I am also depressed when I feel this terrible compulsion to kill myself.  I call these compulsive thoughts of suicide the Whisperer because it feels like someone is urging me to kill myself.

I have worked out a strategy to handle suicidal impulses.   It isn’t a sure-fire solution but it does help.

First, I pray.  I can find comfort and assurance in prayer.  Reading the Bible and reading authors whose work I can trust also fall under this dictum of prayer.  I  find especially helpful a couple of books by Patrick Reardon, The Trial of Job and The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ.  Understanding that Jesus  was really human, that when he underwent temptation he felt tempted.  When Satan took Jesus into the desert at the beginning of his ministry and told him to throw himself off the mountain because God would save him, we know that Jesus was genuinely tested.  He wasn’t walking through it like playing a part in a film.  He felt the temptation.   This makes him a savior I can relate to.  If you search back through my other posts you will find that Job’s trials helped me to understand the impulse to kill myself as a trial by God.  God isn’t standing aside being repulsed by my urge to kill myself, he is loving me and giving me the spiritual strength to endure.

What if I can’t pray?  Then I ask the Holy Spirit to pray for me as described in Romans 8:26.  I also ask friends and fellow Christians to pray for me that God will comfort me and strengthen me.  Send me a comment asking for prayer and I and others who read this site will pray or you.  Not just once but every day.

Second, I do the things I love even though I don’t want to do them.  This takes tremendous will.  I love to hike and since I  live in New Mexico near the Sandia Mountains I am able to hike when I want.  It always helps.  I come back restored to who I really am.  Sometimes I go every day.  Just knowing that I can go hiking the next morning gets me through those terrible nights with the Whisperer.   I also take photographs when I hike and sometimes I  go out in the city to take photographs in the evenings when the Whisperer afflicts me.   Seeing through a camera lens changes my perspective and cleanses me of my own preoccupations with age, loneliness and fear.  In the evening  I go to places where people are shopping or eating in restaurants and take photos of faces and grouping that catch my eye.  Amazing how purifying that is.

Third,  I seek out people.  Since I don’t have many friends, I usually go to a restaurant where I know the servers and talk with them.  We just talk stuff.  None of them know my problem.  They tell me about their kids and problems with jobs and sick parents.  Somehow caring about another person helps me to forget myself.   It always takes an effort to get beyond myself but when I do I find it liberating.

Fourth,  Send me an email at msscholz@aol.com and I will respond as soon as I get it.  Let me know your telephone number if you want me to call you.  Maybe we can pray and talk and that will help.  If you don’t want to email me then call the national suicide hotline and they will connect you with local help.  The number is 1-800-273-8255.

Just remember, Friend, that if you can make it until the morning or for a couple of hours you will see things differently.   Whether you are lonely or afraid, abused or old.  Whatever the problem, it won’t go away but it can get better.  There are people who care.

I care and want  to help you.  I will pray with you, listen to you and give you a shoulder to cry on.  Just don’t take that final step.  You will be glad you didn’t and so will I and a lot of other people who read this blog.

God’s Final Word to Job


Presuming on God is a dangerous business and I wish not to be guilty of it. By comparing my trial with that of Job I don’t compare myself to the great Job. But I believe we are given the story of Job to understand what it means to be tried by God. Right now, I wonder if my temptation to suicide is subsiding and may not continue. What am I to make of this trial? What lesson am I meant to learn? What is the meaning of this experience? Of course, this may simply be a lull in the Whisperer’s attack.

God addresses Job who is silent before God. Why? God hasn’t answered Job’s questions about his suffering. Yet God has satisfied Job because God has spoken to him and that was what job really wanted. God then asks Job who is more righteous God or himself based on the evidence.

In Job 40:8 God asks:
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

So what did Job gain from this trial? According to Fr. Patrick Reardon, “One observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from consideration of his own sins, but by his experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.”

The modern world does not greatly value humility. Certainly it is rare for parents to stress humility as a virtue for their children. You need self-confidence is a common dictum to children. I am no different. I have valued my independence and self-reliance as much as or more than most modern people do. My husband’s suicide and the subsequent deterioration in my mental state with suicidal ideation has certainly caused me to reconsider my reliance on self. In my current state self-reliance seems delusional. In my temptation to suicide God’s power and my weakness are exposed to both me and all the world. Fr. Reardon says of Job’s trial “Instead of pleading his (God’s) case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood sense of awe and of wonder. It is the Lord’s last word in the argument.” Certainly as a result of my temptation and trial I am more aware of my complete dependence on God. Every breath I take is because he wills it. This is something I have always known intellectually but it now has an immediacy and actuality that is more real than all my human concerns.

In wisdom literature the doubling of Job’s fortune and life and God’s direct interaction with Job are definitive. In my life I learn more slowly and I must wait to see if this trial is ending or if it is simply an interlude. In either case I am grateful for the much-needed rest.

Aging and Suicide


Today a release in the Albuquerque Journal Staff Wire headlined “Brother, Sister Die in Likely Murder-Suicide.” Police identified the victims as Kenneth and Shirley Robson, both of whom were in their 60’s. The brother was a caretaker for his sister and they lived in a mobile home. Police detectives speculate that either health or financial problems prompted the murder-suicide.

Perhaps their problems might have been spiritual. I wonder if loneliness and fear were the motivating factors. Our society is one that promises a “safety net”. But what is the safety net for despair? Did the brother in seeking help for his sister get handed a lot of forms with stern admonitions about qualifying for help. Was he met with hard faces at the agencies where he went for help? Did he belong to a church? Did the church look beneath the surface to see the despair? Or were they just overlooked by all these organizations of help as a an unnecessary impediment to their mission.

People over 80 have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Why? They are too often left alone to cope on insufficient incomes and illness without people who befriend them.

While there are many people genuinely trying to help people like the Robsons, I don’t think that government agencies or even churches are the best way for them to get help. Neighbor’s who look out for warning signs, who visit even though they have busy lives, who try to understand the neglected and desperate are the foundation of help. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to the desperate.

How often when I have tried to help someone who seemed needy have I been rebuffed or perhaps my help was abused; the need was feigned. As a consequence I have found myself looking away from problems and letting myself grow cynical. When I do this I miss the chance to help someone genuinely in need that God is calling me to help. I am sure that what I have done is a terrible thing in th<a
Let's look around us and notice those in need. Those who aren't visited, who remain alone day after day and remember what our Lord said about helping our neighbor and the widow and the orphan. Let's not wait for the agency to step in but get them the help they need.

Please let me know what you think about the Robson's. It may be that nothing could have been done. Yet again something might have been done and wasn't. God forgive us if that is true.