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.

Why I Am Not Suicidal Now (I’m Not Saying I Won’t Ever Be Again)


Right now I am not having suicidal ideation. Well hardly any. It is a great gift from God and I believe it is a result of some changes that he led me to make in my life. I know that many people who are dealing with suicidal ideation feel as I did that nothing less than a miracle would help. When my PTSD and the accompanying thoughts of suicide started to ramp up at the beginning of this year I couldn’t understand why since it was over a year since the precipitating cause of the PTSD, my husband’s suicide, had occurred.

Earlier this year while praying it occurred to me that I hated to go to my church. I felt that I had worn out my welcome, that people couldn’t understand why I didn’t just get over my husband’s suicide. Richard and I had originally started going to the Baptist Church several years earlier because a neighbor recommended the woman who was teaching the Sunday school class. Having stopped attending an Orthodox Church several years earlier and having become functional agnostics I knew we needed to return to our faith. I also knew that I needed to immerse myself in the Bible. This seemed more important than liturgy or the sacraments so we began to attend.

When Rich took his life the Baptist Church really helped me through the ordeal of the first few weeks. They helped me with the funeral and the practical issues following Rich’s death. God bless them, they were there for me. But my not getting over Rich’s death just became too much for them and as I prayed I felt that God was prompting me to leave so I am attending an Othodox Church. I am still going to a Bible study taught by Pat the Sunday school teacher from the Baptist church but it is being given at a retirement home and because they know nothing of my situation it is non-threatening.

Another change I made was to begin to seriously study the Bible on my own. I am spending at least an hour and often two studying and praying over the Bible with good commentaries. I returned to prayer with more discipline and while I can’t say that I always see great benefit I know that it does help over the long-term.

Finally, after no longer being able to work as a hospice caregiver because I injured my back I felt I was able to volunteer again. I had several unpleasant volunteer experiences early on after Richard’s death and was afraid that I wasn’t capable of doing it. But after I had a very positive experience as a hospice caregiver I decided to begin volunteering at a Christian homeless shelter and I feel God’s presence there. The clients are people who are at the bottom and every little thing we can do for them helps. None of the workers or volunteers is interested in me, we are simply focused on the people who so desperately need the basics of life. Food, a shower, clean clothes and a place to get mail. Some of them are able to get counseling and are transitioning out of homelessness but most are either too mentally ill or are too dependent on drugs and alcohol to find those services of benefit. But we treat each of them with kindness and respect. Volunteering there has helped me feel that my life makes a difference in other people’s lives and that is something that I badly needed.

God has blessed me. I think that the prayers of many good people have made me able to move on and make changes that have improved my life. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner but I think that it is all in God’s time. The PTSD remains. I expect to have relapses but I hope that I will remember how kindly God has dealt with me and know that he will do so again.

The subject of suicide and Christianity is very close to my heart so I will probably continue blogging about these issues. So many people visit the site seeking help with their own suicidal impulses or the loss to suicide of a loved one. If they can get any comfort from this site that would be a great blessing to me. Thank you all who follow this blog and write to encourage me. Please continue your prayers for me as I so desperately need them.

Living In A World In Which I Am Invisible


In my fifties I started to notice that I was becoming invisible to most people.  What I mean is that most people no longer met my eye when we passed in the street or had an accidental coming together in a public place.  I first noticed it with men and young people.  Even if they had to go to great lengths to not see me they would do so.  Then as I aged and lost the status of a profession this general non-recognition spread to most people. 

You may know what I mean.  If you go to someones house and they have teenagers, they don’t see you if you are an adult.  The parents may force them into some recognition of you but they usually make it quite clear that they don’t want to recognize your existence.

As an older woman it seems to terrify any man I meet to acknowledge my existence.  I have a feeling that men feel that if they acknowledge me I will then think they find me attractive  Having blessedly reached a point in my life where I agree with Gloria Steinem’s dictum that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle I would still like the recognition of my humanity.

It amuses me that when I am going into a store or walking down the street the one person who will meet my eye is an older women.  We acknowledge each other with a wry smile that allows us to affirm our existence to one another in spite of the world’s judgement.  I treasure these moments. 

So what is the point of this reverie?  It has made me more sensitive to others that don’t exist.  Who are they? People who are unattractive or handicapped or have mental problems or are of low status or like me simply old.  I have learned to try to acknowledge these fellow non-beings when we encounter one another.  Often times they are so used to being ignored that they don’t even realize I am trying to meet their eye.  Sometimes the destitute when recognized ask me for money which is a grace from God if I can help them.  What I give them isn’t enough to really make a difference and may even be used for drugs or alcohol.  None-the-less I hope they felt recognized in a simple friendly human glance and a smile.

One of the benefits of being invisible is that it can result in humility.  After my husband died my invisibility made me feel desperate to prove that yes I exist.  When I wasn’t acknowledged by others I despaired of ever being significant to anyone.  This contributed to my suicidal desire.  I wonder if Job felt that way?  Especially since he was the richest and most important man in the land.  I wonder if the most difficult thing for him wasn’t the loss of health, property or even his children but simply the loss of his identity?   He no longer was who he had been.  He was a man sitting in a garbage dump scraping his skin as it peeled from his body.  He couldn’t give lavish gifts to his children even if they still existed.  He had nothing.  Maybe he thought his children wouldn’t have wanted to know him if they still lived since he had sunk so low. 

The turning point for me was that moment when I knew that I exist even though the world may not care.  I exist because I was created by God who loves me and sustains me.  At that point my prayer became like those wry smiles I exchange with other older women, God and I share the recognition that I exist because he loves me and that is simply reason enough.

The Incessant Chatter


It’s funny, I go about my life taking care of myself and my dogs.  I go to church and bible study and work in the kitchen to help prepare the communal meal every Sunday.  I have even taken a job looking after a 91-year-old woman a few hours a week and like doing it. 

My house is clean.  I have food of sorts in my house. I don’t owe anyone a debt and I pay my bills on time.  Most mornings I hike in the foothills with my dogs for over an hour to give us exercise and help my mental state.  My guess is that I would be called a highly functioning adult.

Yet I have this fairly constant whisper in the back of mind that I am going to kill myself.  It is something I think about many times a day.  Sometimes I shut the voice up with the promise, “OK, I’ll kill myself this fall.”  

While I care deeply about others I can’t get close to anyone. I guess that isn’t too hard to figure out since my husband killed himself two years ago.  My final arrangements have already been made and paid for. There are no funeral arrangements since I have no family or close friends.

My dogs are what really deter me emotionally.   Would my plans for their care happen as I planned or would they wind up in the pound, frightened and eventually put down?

Not desecrating the life God has given me with suicide deters me spiritually and intellectually.  I pray as deeply as I can and I study the Bible.  While I pray I feel close to God but the whispers sometimes continue even then.

It is my suspicion that the people who know me best never dream that I am thinking about suicide most of the time.  In fact sometimes the thoughts are so insistent that I can’t really focus on conversation.  But I put on an interested expression and let the other party talk and no one suspects.

Medication doesn’t work.  It makes it worse.  I frustrate the doctors and psychologists and they quickly lose interest since they really can’t seem to help.  How many times have I been to a therapist or shrink in the last year and a half?  Often their solution it to have the police pick me up and take me to the hospital for a psych evaluation and then I am released with a referral to see a shrink.  So now I don’t go to the doctor or the shrink.  

This post has been all about me.  I know there is a greater world out there and I hate the fact that I am so self absorbed.  I do care about the future of our nation, about the persecuted Christians throughout the world, about hunger and children dying.  In fact the hopelessness of these issues when I think of them keeps me from reading and listening to the news since it increases the chatter.

I don’t know what to do.

Cleaning Up My Mess So Others Won’t Have To


Like so many people I have stacks of paper that I don’t know what to do with. In the last few days I have sorted through and thrown out unwanted paper work and miscellaneous stuff.    All this industry has had the effect of clearing out my head as well.  Getting my estate in order and not leaving a mess for others when I die seems quite important.

I am redoing my will and the Transfer on Death and Power of Attorney forms as well.  I did all this originally in the months following my husband’s death two years ago but my decisions were hasty and now need a thoughtful redoing.  Not having family means I am passing my assets to my church and a couple of friends

I don’t know if my death will be suicide or a natural one but in any event these preparations are just the usual course of events for any 72-year-old.  When my husband died two years ago he left nearly a thousand pages of writing much of which was personal to him.  But among those pages were a few important ones that made me glad I had sifted through it all and not just tossed it out.  I don’t want others to have to go through this when I am gone.

Since I have no family or old friends here in Albuquerque it has been especially difficult asking someone to assume my Power of Attorney in the event I can’t make my own decisions.  While I have tried to specify what interventions I would want taken if I am seriously ill or harmed in an accident, there are still situations where this person might have to make a life or death decision.  Since most of my friends in Albuquerque are older than I am and might not survive me, I decided to ask a young man (he’s 35) I have known for a couple of years to become the designee.  While our interactions have been casual they have also been honest and reached deep.  I shocked him when I worked up the courage to ask him but after he thought it over he agreed to do it. What a great gift to me.

As a hospice volunteer for several years I saw first hand the kind of messy paperwork so many leave behind.  So often people keep papers with the thought that they might need them someday.  In my case I have found solicitations for money from charities and political organizations that I thought I might be able to give to but are now months and even years out of date.  I found ads for concerts I would like to have gone to but happened months ago.  Also I found letters from former health insurance providers that were out of date or unacted upon.

So cleaning up, sorting out and updating is my gift to the living once I am gone.  Much as I wouldn’t invite someone to dinner at my home if it were a mess while I am alive so I also don’t want to leave a mess to those who must carry on after I go. I guess that this is a posthumous application of the Golden Rule.

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.