family, hope, Inspiration, mental health, Uncategorized

Quarantine Lessons From A-Z in 500 Words or Less: Letter B

The Working Title Is…B is for Brian

Note:  I share this with my brother’s input and full approval.

Ever since we can remember, our parents celebrated the gift of adoption that led my brother and me into their loving arms.

Along the way, my mom shared what little detail she had about our births.  They played in my head like an ABC Afterschool Special – especially Brian’s, as his birth mother had (cue hushed voice) “some issues” that made her unable to care for him.  This was never a shock to me since Brian also had “some issues” for as long as I could remember.

As I consider lessons learned—and yet to be learned—from quarantine, Brian may be a shining example of one of the most important.

It’s imperative that “some issues” shake the whisper and come quickly into full voice.  Mental health must be discussed as openly and honestly as physical health. That is not an indictment of my parents, simply indicative of the times in which they lived.  And the times, well, they better be a-changin’.

Sandro Galea, MD, from Boston University School of Public Health, recently wrote[1] “We must recognize the pandemic that will quickly follow — of mental and behavioral illness.”  Adding, “In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety, depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence.”

My parents were incredibly attentive to my brother’s needs and sought care at every turn, especially after a diagnosis of schizophrenia and manic depression in 1980. However, Brian was a victim of time and circumstance enduring many hospitalizations until almost four decades later when a physician looked at the entirety of his condition and determined Brian had been misdiagnosed his entire life.  Three years ago, another physician armed with patience and pharmacology skills, helped Brian take his first steps into life with Aspberger’s and anxiety.  In doing so, he changed Brian’s life.  And mine.

We must heed Dr. Galea’s warning and practice self-care and advocate for the mental health of those we love and those on the margins of society.  It’s time to shake the whispered tones.  No one questions why a diabetic pancreas needs insulin. Why should treating the mind be any different?

Brian is now thriving in a job he loves.  He is filled with pride over working on the frontlines with a premier grocery store and co-workers who look out for one another.

Conversely, I have been quarantine-binge watching Peaky Blinders, so when I saw Brian at work sweeping up all the gloves customers have so cavalierly tossed all over the parking lot, my blood boiled. Lost in reverie, I reached for the imaginary razor blades hidden in my hat and looked to start pouring gasoline all over the offenders’ cars.

“What are we going to do about this?”  I squealed.  Brian, looked quizzically at me and calmly replied, “Well, I’m going to do my job and pick them up.”

Yes, yes, indeed.  A much better solution.

It’s time to take the blinders off and take care of one another.  Now, more than ever.

kmp

[1] https://www.physiciansweekly.com/covid-19-be-ready-for-the-coming-mental-health-pandemic-2/

 

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abuse and neglect, art, art therapy, children, family, foster care, Inspiration, mental health

The Working Title Is…The Power of Art

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

“Art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”

One quote is from, arguably, the most influential artist of the 20th century, the founder of Cubism, a master painter, sculptor, poet and playwright. The other is the musing of a rapper whose hits include “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Both Pablo Picasso and Mos Def understood the deep impact artistic expression has on the one who creates as well as those who admire, interpret and appreciate the piece, no matter what the medium.

So neither man would have been surprised to learn how I have been transfixed by a work of art and unable to think of little else than the story behind its creation.

The artist is a ten-year-old boy who is a resident of Christ Child House, an intensive residential treatment facility caring for as many as 31 boys, age five through 16. The young men who call Christ Child House their home suffer emotional, behavioral and physical impairment resulting from severe abuse and neglect. Located on Joy Road in Detroit, the philosophy of this very special home is “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

The dedicated professional treatment staff is supported by many volunteers and patrons who offer counsel, financial support and hands-on assistance.

One such program is weekly Art Therapy currently being organized by my friend Karen Kearns. Every Tuesday, Karen (sometimes with the assistance of volunteers and sometimes flying solo) will join the Art Therapists working with the boys of the Christ Child House on an art project.

On this particular Tuesday, Sadie, Christ Child’s Assistant Art Therapist, shared that ten-year-old Stephen* came into the art therapy session ready to chat about his difficult day at school. He talked about how upset he became when the teacher insisted that he button his shirt up to the neck even though it made him uncomfortable. Stephen’s response was to begin scratching his own face. He pointed to the scratch marks on his face and said that they hurt pretty badly. He wasn’t sure why he had reacted in that way other than because he felt upset.

As they sat and talked a bit more, Stephen asked Sadie how she handles things when she gets upset. Sadie shared that she likes to take deep breaths or go on a little walk. After Stephen took a couple of deep breaths, he agreed that sounded like a nice plan.

The project Karen was working on that week had the boys pick out an animal with which they identified…their “spirit animal” that they then colored in a way that reflected who they were as individuals. Stephen picked out a lion and gave the lion long claws and scratches on its face. As he continued to work, taking deep breaths, Stephen went on to draw band-aids over the scratches. Sadie asked Stephen what environment they should draw around the lion so the lion doesn’t hurt its face anymore, and Stephen decided he should make a protected path on which the lion would walk, surrounding it with things that would make the lion feel safe, and for Stephen that meant smiling friends and rain.

I can’t stop looking at that lion. I can’t stop thinking about Stephen and what path his life traveled that led him to Christ Child House. I can’t stop thinking about what he has seen and heard, been exposed to and endured over his ten short years on this earth. I take deep breaths and thank God for the commitment and dedication of each of the staff members who make it their mission to build these boys up again…and for the volunteers like Karen who lovingly attempt to bring truth to the decree that “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

While my thoughts have been focused on Stephen, this reminded me of a poignant art related moment I experienced decades ago when working for Hospice. I was planning an event to support our Children’s Hospice Program. In order to save money on a four-color invitation, I had them printed in black and white and corralled every volunteer I could find to help hand color the invites. As this quickly became a more daunting project than I originally surmised, I got creative and reached out to the Activities Directors of local nursing homes.

At one nursing home, I made my presentation IN A VERY LOUD VOICE to the elderly residents in the activities room and told them some of the heartbreaking stories from our children’s hospice, why our program so desperately needed the funding this event would raise and why I needed their help.

As I passed out the invitations and crayons, I approached a man named Matthew and the Activities Director called across the room, “Oh, Katie, Matthew has suffered a number of strokes and isn’t really able to participate.” So I smiled and told him I’d leave an invite to look at anyway because it was so adorable. I then left to visit other nursing homes and coerce additional elderly into my philanthropic sweatshop. When I returned at the end of the day, the Activities Director came toward me with a huge smile on her face. Matthew, although non-verbal, made it very clear that he wanted to color his invitation and spent hours working on the one I set in front of him.

I framed it so that I’d be forever inspired by Matthew’s desire to be in service to others despite his own challenges, so I’d never forget his perseverance, and so I would never question the power of art.

If Stephen’s story brings out your inner Matthew and you’d like to make a difference in the lives of the boys of the Christ Child House, there are many ways you can do that. Email Karen Kearns (karenkearns@me.com) and tell her you’d like to join her on a Tuesday and work with the boys on an art project. Or email Carol Roney (roneyfam@comcast.net) and tell her you’d like to support the Education program as a tutor. Or you might even consider making a financial contribution to Christ Child Society by clicking here.

It’s never too late….

kmp

 

*The boy’s name was changed to protect his identity.

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