FACES OF CARSON
Celebrating 50 Years of Real Help with Real Life 1963-2013
The Carson Center for Human Services
Story #51 Faces of Carson In Review - December 24, 2013
In order to write the Faces of Carson stories this year, I had to first listen to what happened to people and then find the place in my heart where I could feel most connected to what people told me about their lives. The stories are written from connection.
Images that show up in the stories come from my own life, too. Those hands are mine and my father's, who used to waltz with me. That's my brother who hid in fear under the bed; my cousin who was left as an infant on the shelf; my friend whose car and life was smashed in that accident before graduation; my autistic son's poem, "Yellow".
Those details from my experience were woven in with the true, accurate details that were not mine. Instead, they came from the stories of the people served by Carson--a sock as a foster child's only doll; the mother standing behind her son as he proudly swears into the military after overcoming an adolescence of struggle; a troubled child's first act of giving: a peanut butter dog treat for a shelter dog.
This weaving together of their powerful symbols and mine showed me how we make one story--one human story, where my desire to live a whole-hearted, healthy and satisfying life joins with theirs with one outstanding difference: the people I write about face multiple challenges that most of us do not, that most of us never will.
I had to bow my head and bend my knee to really take in what it means to lose the life you had to a Traumatic Brain Injury--or to experience an inner world that isn't neurobiologically balanced, causing me relentless worry or fear--or to be born into abject violence or violation and now what do I do?
What do I do? What do we do? There's only one answer, really--I join in.
Hand over heart, I become willing to take in what I could not previously imagine. I cried with gratitude for almost every story I wrote because being willing to witness a life courageously moving forward makes my heart bigger. My spirit becomes more generous, kinder, and I feel filled up, compelled by that connection to greater clarity in my life. Because I understand that it's time to do what I can do, what we all do best. It's time to take care of one another.
Thank you, dear readers. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. We'll see you here next year.
(Posted 12/30/2013 by admin)
Story #50 Salini - CTBIS December 17, 2013
Shalini's mom was, as all mothers of teenagers are, totes annoying, you know? She would not let Shalini sit up front until she met the weight and height requirements. And because Shalini was lightweight and short, this humiliation went on for years.
"It's safer in the back, anyway!" her mother would always chirp. Shalini would roll her eyes.
Shalini had been up front now for a couple of years. At seventeen, she wished it were her turn to practice driving, but her mother rarely gave her a turn, especially in the winter.
One icy day, they were driving passed some open farmland on the way to the grocery store. Shalini's mom hated traffic and took back roads whenever she was able. Shalini was texting her friends, when her mom exclaimed, "Whoaa," just as you would to a horse. Her mom slowed the car to a stop.
In front of them was just the kind of thing Shalini's mom would slow to a stop for: in the bend ahead was a tree. She didn't stop just for a tree mind you, but for the way the light hit the tree. Shalini had to admit it, if she peeked just above the screen of her phone, she could see it was all pretty spectacular.
The light hit the massive old tree in a way that made the bark appear a brilliant white. High up, certain of the tangle of branches intertwined like a Celtic knot, an intricate crown of sharp white shone against a winter sky.
Later, Shalini often thought how, at that moment, she'd urged her mom to keep moving, but her mom had said that the light would change and the beauty would fly away, so why rush? That cars were too fast-they were metal objects hurtling through space, and she was more a horse and buggy kind of person, anyway. Why couldn't everyone just slow down?
Even though she was seated in the back, Shalini was the only one badly hurt that night, two weeks later, when her friend drove the car into that same tree. Her friend, the driver, had been texting about how the Quarterback was throwing to the wrong jersey and when he looked up, he said, "Whoa!" and the car hit the tree instead of turning the bend. The crown was dark and broken.
Shalini had five strokes on the way to the hospital. A brain infection followed and so did a coma, and blindness. She can't feel one of her hands and one of her feet.
Shalini came to Carson's Traumatic Brain Injury program with questions. She found some goals. She wants to have a career. She wants to live independently. But what would come right now? On her first new footing, she decided to go to schools to talk to young people about texting and driving. She had been a gifted athlete. Now she uses those physical sensibilities to find her way down the long halls of those schools, to the microphone on the stage. She can hear the students shift and breathe as they wait. She can hear the clicking of the covert texting. She'll pause after the funny parts of her talk and listen for their laughter. She'll wait at certain moments and listen for their growing awareness at what it means to careen forward, carelessly, and then what it means to have courage. More than any young person would like to admit, Shalini is like her mom; she looks for beauty. Her Carson worker doesn't need this discipline; she looks at Shalini and beauty is all she sees.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/19/2013 by admin)
Story #49 Silvia - "Normie" December 10, 2013
Silvia had given up on acting like a "normie." Normie is the term she used to call people like her foster mother and foster sister. Normies can be exhausting in their ignorance of life. It took so much effort to act like a normie that Silvia just stopped trying. But still, she watched them with fascination.
Normies. People who sit at the table together and talk over supper. People who ask about you and mean it. People who open doors and greet strangers in passing. Normies are those people who walk holding their kid's hand and you can see that the kid feels it and that grownup normie feels it and together they make a normie family.
In foster care, Silvia watched her foster mom and sister carefully. They brushed their teeth before they slept and at night they slept. Normies sleep and dream good dreams. When they have a nightmare, they wake up and they realize that their life is not a nightmare, so thank goodness that bad dream is over and it is time to start a good day.
Silvia heard her foster mother say this to her daughter during an argument: "The most important thing is that I love you and that you love me. We'll cool off and figure it out later." It seemed rather miraculous. Silvia saw her normie sister roll her eyes when her mom said it, because of course, her sister had always had that kind of love whenever she needed it. It was that thing her normie sister thought so obvious that she assumed everyone had it, like a coat and a good pair of sneakers.
At Carson's Teamworks afterschool program, Silvia met people who knew what was up. They already knew what she needed to figure out-she didn't have to explain it to them. The staff had these fun ways of showing her how to deal with the edginess inside her-the worry and the rage. They helped her figure out how to calm her inside self right down, which helped her sleep at night. Over a couple of years, Silvia began to notice a change. As they fished in the fall or packed holiday packages for the soldiers overseas in the winter, Silvia was feeling a little space inside; she was feeling a little freer. It occurred to her: this is what they have-those normies have. ease.
Silvia noticed that sometimes a new kid would come into the program tight, unsure, and closed down. She got it. She didn't wonder why; she remembered why. When the new kid's fish was too big for the bucket, it was Silvia who made him laugh and stop cursing. When the Carson staff got them lost on their way to sledding, Silvia was about to settle into that dark cold place inside when she felt that thing instead: The most important thing is that we care about each other. Let's cool off and figure it out. She thought it and then she said it out loud. It was still kind of miraculous.
When Silvia was graduating Teamworks, her friends there each told a story about how she had helped them, about the things she had learned to make and do. They wrote words that reminded them of her on little papers that they slipped into little beads. The beads were then strung into a necklace. They hung the necklace around her neck as her Carson friends clapped for her. Silvia keeps that necklace where she can see it. She has read the little notes inside the beads so many times that she has it memorized. She touches a bead and the loving thought comes to her. It's like a rosary of goodness. It's a necklace she can wear all the time, even when she leaves it at home. It goes with everything.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/11/2013 by admin)
Story #48 Thanksgiving and Valley Gives - December 3, 2013
The end of the month is when it is hardest to stretch those last dollars, especially when it has gotten so cold and we have to pay to keep the heat on. Sometimes folks choose between heat and food, or just make do with not quite enough of either.
"I just press the toaster down and I have Graciella put her fingers just above it, where the heat comes out the top, before we go to school, because her fingers get so cold," says Maritza. "At least it is warm at school." She is sitting around the table for a Parent Support and Education meeting of her Carson Under Five Thrive program. Under Five Thrive is a program for pregnant and parenting young people who are studying to get their GED, applying for jobs, or who are transitioning to college.
"Did you put your name in for a turkey?" asks Sally, who also participates in Under Five Thrive.
Sally is referring to the Thanksgiving Day Baskets at the Carson Center at Valley Human Services in Ware. For more than twenty years, students and faculty of Pathfinder Vocational Technical High School and staff of the Carson Center collect and buy enough turkeys and food items so that families can have a turkey with all the trimmings and dessert.
At first we were worried that we didn't have quite enough turkeys for the families that needed the help the most, but then an anonymous Carson employee donated ten turkeys. Fifty-four baskets were made. Some workers drove the baskets to families' homes, as arranged; some families were able to come and pick up the baskets themselves.
This is also the time of year that some Carson staff search their closets for gently used kids' clothing, wash them and bring them in for families who might need them. It isn't an organized effort, like the Thanksgiving Baskets; it just happens naturally.
A Carson staff person was in the conference room waiting to help one of the families who was coming to get a Thanksgiving Basket. She was opening her donation bag with some children's coats in it, when a mom and her son arrived. The day was bitterly cold. The son looked about seven years old. He was wearing a thin sweatshirt.
"Hey, do you know of someone who might need a boys' winter coat?" the Carson staff member asked.
"We need a coat," the mom said. She gestured to her son. The Carson staff member kneeled and helped him get his arms in the coat and placed some winter mittens in the pockets. "Wow!" said the boy, "This is so warm!"
The mom and staff member wrestled the heavy Thanksgiving Basket off the table. The mom handed her son a cherry pie in a box. "Can you please help me by carrying this out? You have to be gentle."
"Do you have a good recipe?" staff asked, nodding towards the heavy frozen turkey.
"This will be the first time we've ever had a turkey on Thanksgiving, so, I guess I better find one!"
Staff opened the door, so they could pass through, arms full.
If you'd like to help the folks we serve, too, go to our website at www.carsoncenter.orgon December 12th. On that special day, Carson is participating in Valley Gives. Valley Gives is a one-day online fundraiser for hundreds of nonprofits in Western Mass. On December 12th, once you get to our website, find a place that reads, "Valley Gives" and add your gift. The more gifts we get, the greater chance we have of winning a special monetary gift from Valley Gives that will make your holiday giving grow much bigger.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/6/2013 by admin)
Story #47 - Max - Kamp for Kids November 26, 2013
Max loves the original Star Trek television series from the 1960's. He loves how the character Spock finds emotions fascinating, but doesn't really 'get' them. Spock is from planet Vulcan.Vulcans are a fully logical people; they have to learn the rules of social relationships that all these earthlings take for granted, because the social rules aren't obvious to Vulcans. That's how Max feels about social relationships, too.
Max came to work as a counselor at the Carson Center's Kamp for Kids under an internship through the Urban Youth Collaborative sponsored by the MA Department of Developmental Services. Kamp for Kids is a summer camp for kids of all abilities. It's a place where kids can play in the spray park, do arts and crafts or explore the expressive arts. They can play noncompetitive sports and learn social skills. Some of the campers come with social learning challenges.
Here was Max, a young twenty two year old counselor intern at Kamp, helping Jeremy, a ten year old young camper. Max was explaining to Jeremy that when Max asks Jeremy if he had given him the right kind of milk, that Jeremy's barely perceptible affirmative nod and the impassive face wasn't quite enough for a really effective social exchange. Deep in his heart, Max was saying to himself, "I get you; we are from Planet Vulcan. We're brilliant and we are different. These Earthlings need so much more from us than we are used to giving. Earthlings want us to answer questions showing feeling, while we are just interested in the fact."
So Max showed Jeremy how to open his face into a smile, nod his head up and down in affirmation, to murmur a short, "thanks." Jeremy practiced. Max handed him the chocolate milk asking, "Is this the right one?" and Max nodded clearly, smiled a bright smile and replied, "Thanks."
"Nice job! Good smile. Good head nodding. Good use of language. Did you feel more connected to me?" Max asked.
"Well..yeah, I did, really," Jeremy replied.
"So did I," said Max. "Now I want to show you another thing that helps connection with other people. When I finish a sentence, when I pause, can you glance at my nose? You don't have to look me in my eye, but when I pause, just glance up at my nose. It will let me know you are following the ideas. Can we try it?"
Max talked about his favorite dinosaurs. At every pause, Jeremy glanced at Max's chin, just as he was asked.
"A little tiring?"
Jeremy nodded a hardly perceptible nod with his impassive face. Max raised his eyebrows
"Oh!---Wait." said Jeremy, who then nodded clearly, smiled and said, "Yes."
"That's okay; we'll practice 'till it gets easier."
Max knew how tiring it was to glance up at the nose of the people he was talking to when they paused because he'd had to learn the same. He knew how hard it was to figure out what to say when someone told you something-how to figure out the appropriate follow-up questions. And phone conversations could be torturous. In person, the nose was easier to glance at than the eyes-the eyes were a little overwhelming. The nose was his favorite trick-it had helped Max in the interview to get this internship. Every time Max taught Jeremy or the other kids at Kamp a social skill, he was reinforcing it for himself. There they are, side by side, strengthening the skills that keep us connected.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 11/26/2013 by admin)
Story #46 - Counting Doors - November 19, 2013
Sometimes I count doors. It's one of my things. The door to the bus. The entryway door. The door to the Carson Center waiting room. The door to the office. When I sleep, I still hear the doors to the cell clanging shut. I tell myself before I even open my eyes that I am not in jail anymore; I'm staying with people who are helping me out, just until I can get my own place. But the cell doors still slide and slam in my head at night. It's a metal sound. A "Nobody Coming For You" sound. It's a "It's Come Down To This" sound.
There are some doors that should stay shut, was always my thinking. Like what happened to me-ain't nobody need to know all about that, I thought. Or especially in jail; you got to just shut yourself down to get through.
And I had to watch my back all the time when I was inside. Nothing good was going to happen. Now my Carson doc says I got some paranoia on my back. I thought this was how everybody felt. Don't trust nobody. I got the right meds now. I got somebody talking me through it. She don't push on no doors-she lets me open them up when I am ready.
I had a hundred pounds on me of Don't Trust Nobody. My body was that prison, too and the door was shut inside me. I could eat and eat and I wasn't feeling it, you know? I was chewing and not feeling. I was acting and not knowing. Back then, the street drugs got me put inside, and really, after awhile, they didn't help either. I could use and use and I wasn't feeling that either. That was a door to nowhere. A door to prison. I got that one shut now, though.
The Carson Center people are helping me out. We tried to get me into the GED classes, but I tested below what they got classes for. So they helped me set up some tutoring. I am going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and I am clean and sober. I am on the waitlist for a place of my own. I walk everywhere I got to go. I left hundred pounds on the sidewalks moving my life forward. If you see them, don't pick them up.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 11/20/2013 by admin)
Story #44 Marty - CBFS November 5, 2013
It's getting cold out. Marty hated when the freezing rain blew sideways into his tarp shelter and soaked everything. He was careful with his campfires in the woods. Marty loved animals and wouldn't want to hurt them through carelessness. Animals felt more like his people. It seemed that way to him, that animals were good people and people were dangerous animals. He didn't want to be around them, so he was staying in the woods, keeping out of sight, in his shelter.
The animals he respected wouldn't come up and kick you in the face while you slept. They wouldn't take your coat. It was quieter out in the woods, too. But there were hard nights, like when the fisher cat takes down a red fox. Those desperate wails made Marty put his arms up over his ears as he lay, trying to sleep. Once he cried so hard he shook. It seemed like that fox said it all to him; it was a long hard go of it and no one was coming to help.
Marty could get on okay. He would walk or hitch into town and the people at the church's food pantry left him alone enough. At the food pantry, a small guy with a giant laugh named Shorty told Marty about some people at the Carson Center that you could trust. Marty knew better; he just smirked in reply. Shorty said that Marty should try to meet them for one day-what could it hurt? It was warm and dry over there, anyway. There were good people. They can help out. And they had coffee. "No way," thought Marty, and then he saw the tattoo on Shorty's neck. It was a fox.
If the wind hadn't blown so hard that day, if the rain wasn't hitting like small icy pellets on his head, if he hadn't seen the sign of the fox, maybe he wouldn't have gone. But he did go.
Marty lives in an apartment now. His Carson Outreach Worker comes and helps him get to his appointments. They talk about his next steps and what he's accomplished this past year. He goes to therapy and is on a medication that works for him. It doesn't seem as if people are as bad as they used to be. Even his mom; he started talking to his family again. Marty has two cats. The cats lie on his chest while he relaxes on his bed. Some nights he opens the window next to his bed all the way and he breathes in the air. Marty's warm, breathing in the sharp fresh air, lying in a soft bed with his cat people rumbling happily into his chest. He'll see his Carson worker tomorrow.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 11/6/2013 by admin)
Story #43 - Get Off the Couch - October 29, 2013
"I want to let you know where I was. I was at the bottom. My life was so small. Depression robbed my early life. It robbed me of many years. But I can't sit around thinking about what I lost. I have today.
I did go to get help. I went to the Carson Center. I went week after week and the doctor there told me that here I was saying, 'I want it! I want it. I want to live a different life,' but the truth is that medication was going to help me just a little bit and the rest I was going to have to fight for.
So I started with just a short walk. That's what I promised my therapist and my psychiatrist. That I'd take a five minute walk around my house. I had to get off the couch and take that walk. Five minutes turned into ten minutes. Ten minutes turned into twenty. Twenty turned into a 5K walk. I joined a group called Couch to 5K and I did it. They gave me this medal.
And then there was more I needed to do. You know how when people say something really bad-use really bad words about you, how that feels? I had that happen to me, but also I was doing it to myself. I was telling myself all kinds of negative things about myself. I say now that I was Speaking Death to Myself.
I had to learn to Speak Life to myself. At first I couldn't speak the good words to myself out loud, because I didn't believe them. So I wrote them. I put a big sign in my hall that read, "You Are a Winner." I'd see it every time I passed. After awhile, I started to believe it. And then I felt it inside-in here. Now I Speak Life to Myself.
And I Speak Life to the people I help. I got a job at the Carson Center. How 'bout that? Couch to Employee!"
Words of LM by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/29/2013 by admin)
Story #42 Kidstop Children's Center - October 22, 2013
There are moms and dads dropping off their kids at Carson's Kidstop Children's Center this morning. You can see parents kneeling, helping coats off, giving kisses and hugs meant to last the day. Those kids tuck those hugs and kisses in their pocket. They take them out at naptime or they dunk them in their milk along with their cookies. The children play dolls and paint with the love that sustains them; they build blocks and look at books with a full heart. They practice sharing until it is time to squeeze the knees of mom or dad or grandma who comes to get them at the end of the day. You can hear the nonstop stream of chatter about what magical project they made today as they put the coats back on and head out back home for supper and Book Time and Bath Time and Bed Time.
That's true for most kids at Kidstop, but not for Devin. Devin walked in from the door by himself. He doesn't have a coat and he is wearing the same clothing he wore yesterday and the three days before. He's tired. His hair is matted and hangs long in his face; he brushes it out of his eyes unsuccessfully, swearing like a tired, angry and desperate adult might. Recall the kids that build blocks with a full heart? Devin does. He likes to aim blocks right at their happy, clean little heads. And cookies? He can steal them faster than they can yell, "Stop!" and trip them, too, so they'll really have something to cry about. Besides, Devin could shout and yell right over those cries, creating a great big unhappy mess. Because that's the way it is. For Devin.
When Devin was old enough, he was moved in with the big four year-olds. The four year olds had a different teacher, named Todd. Todd was very tall. He was kind of a giant of a man to Devin, and Devin watched him like a hawk. In fact, Devin began to follow Todd around, imitating, or trying on, the way his teacher stood and spoke to others. He became quieter until the day he craned his head to look up to Todd, who seemed to live at the top of another world, and asked him, "Can we talk about my life?" Todd kneeled, and they did. And they did for many, many days.
Soon Devin became Todd's classroom helper. He held doors for other people. He helped carry the toys to the park. He held the hands of the younger children when they went for walks. When it was time for kindergarten, Devin was ready for success. He knew his letters. He could do puzzles. He could look at books with Todd in his heart.
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/29/2013 by admin)
Story #41 - Stan and Sheila - October 15, 2013
Stan sat across from his Carson Outreach Worker, Kalinda. It was their first meeting. Every three or four seconds, he would jerk his head a little to the left, sharply, blink twice and then clear his throat with a little abrupt 'hec' sound. These involuntary body expressions, or tics, happened more frequently when he felt stressed. They looked at each other without speaking, both wondering how they were going to get from here, this awkward moment, to anywhere else.
Kalinda tried to ask Stan about what kind of help he wanted, but Stan couldn't say. He literally couldn't figure out how to get past his hec, hec in order to tell his name to a person he didn't know, never mind say that his Dad had died two weeks ago. How could Dad have died? It was strange even thinking that thought.
When Stan had seen his Dad's casket being lowered into the ground, he'd thought, "Dad will never approve of this!" Dad was such a big man, a force. He never stopped doing things until he fell off that roof he had been fixing. Telling a person who had never known his Dad alive that his Dad was dead, meant that Stan was a person whose Dad was dead. Stan was not ready for that.
Even without his grief, Stan struggled with what his doctors call Autism Spectrum Disorder. That's how they describe the way that words often fall out of his mouth and to his feet like misshapen blocks of sound, meaning nothing to anyone; the way that he doesn't know how to be with people socially-what do they want from him with those prying faces? So each time after Kalinda spoke during that first meeting, Stan replied in jerks and blinks and coughs that said, "Right now, I'm afraid I'm a can't." And Kalinda, new to Carson, new to the work, thought, "Oh, no, what if I can't do this?"
Five years later, Kalinda listened as Stan showed her his Feelings Journal. Inside it, the pages had gone from single "feelings words" to full sentences, paragraphs, stories and pictures that traced Stan's inner life. With Kalinda's help, Stan had joined a Day Program, where he made a friend named Luke. Stan called him Luke Skywalker. When he discovered that Luke had never seen Star Wars, Stan had brought in a DVD of the film for the whole Day Program group to see. Now everyone used the nickname. There were many Star Wars themed drawings in the journal.
Sheila, Stan's younger sister, also became part of Stan's Carson team. She showed up to the first team meeting wearing her work boots and a tough attitude. Sheila spoke out of the side of her mouth, "kind of like Popeye," thought Kalinda. "If anyone bothers my brother any more, I will smash him!" announced Sheila. "Or maybe Stan just can't be trusted to have money if people will take it from him!" Kalinda sighed. How to work with Sheila?
Ten years later, Sheila and Stan are living together. They supported one another through the death of their mother and the selling of the family home. Kalinda helped Stan get a job get involved with The Special Olympics, which he loves. Luke Skywalker visits often. Sheila has found her balance supporting Stan, yet not controlling his choices.
"I saw Stan today, talking up a blue streak," says Kalinda. "I thought about Sheila-still talking out of the side of her mouth, you know-- and what a supportive nurturer she became. They are such a part of me," she says, touching a Star Wars figurine on her desk. "We all grew and figured it out together."
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/17/2013 by admin)
Story #40 Dan At the Bottom of the Pile - October 8, 2013
Dan was at the bottom of the pile. The gun and the knife were out of reach, where the police had thrown them. He couldn't tell how many police were on top of him; they were all so heavy he could barely move. He shifted his leg slightly, feeling the broken pieces of the Global Positioning ankle bracelet that they'd been using to monitor his movements. The lawyer had said he either had to wear that ankle bracelet or go to jail. Would they make him pay for it now, too? He couldn't even pay his probation fees. The police were talking in voices that sounded like they were dealing with someone dangerous.
Dan felt the cool floor under his right cheek. "How did I become the Bad Guy?"
The last thing Dan remembered clearly was how excited he was for his pizza. Sal's makes the best cheese with pepperoni. When Dan saw the pizza delivery guy glance down at his ankle bracelet, he tried to put him at ease by talking about the Red Sox pitchers. They are looking very good right now. Dan was pulling out a twenty dollar bill from his back pocket, but his pocket knife was on top, so he'd had to get that out first. Pizza Guy took one look at the knife, threw the pizza down and ran away from Dan's doorstep.
That's when Dan saw it clearly this is who I am now. I am the guy with the knife, who could do anything to hurt you. You can't trust me. I'm the dog on the electronic leash.
Dan realized that it didn't really matter that he'd stopped doing drugs-it was too late. His Probation Officer's voice, polite and steady enough, told him everything he needed to know: I am one of them. I am one of the thousands you, Ms. Probation Officer, see every year going through the courts. You are bored by my hopelessness, saddened-a little-when you notice that I don't yet know who I am to the world.
Dan went to his bedroom to get his gun to kill the Bad Guy himself.
Danny. He felt his mom's voice inside of him. He pulled out his cellphone. He should say good-bye to her. He told her what he was going to do, that he loved her and he hung up. His mom must have called the police. Told them about his gun. Now here he was, alive, at the bottom of the pile.
"Why did you fight the police?" his new Carson therapist asked Dan.
"What a stupid question. Who asks that question?" thought Dan.
Dan learned, over time, that 'who asks that question' is most of the rest of us. We are the ones that were not nearly drowned, suffocated or beaten daily by our cousin and brother while our parents lay in drugged stupor. Most of the rest of us can't imagine Dan's life and how Dan had learned to survive in it. Dan felt the same way about his therapist. At first, he couldn't believe what his therapist was trying to describe to him. That things could be different. If there was one lesson any seven year old knows in this world, it is this: fight back as hard as you can, and don't stop hitting until they stop moving. Right?
Dan had always felt that his readiness to go to battle, his feelings of terror, worry, depression and constant agitation were just the way his life was. He'd used drugs because it relieved him, temporarily, from this bloody restless vigilance, until it didn't anymore. His Carson therapist had a crazy way of talking-she spoke with a voice that seemed to expect that Dan deserved to live a life of freedom from his constant internal terror and readiness to attack. The things she said invited him to leave the bound and cuffed floor of The Way Things Are, to come to the commanding front of I Am More Than This.
Dan is still at the bottom of his pile, but he is coming to Carson every week. He really likes his therapist's crazy talk.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/17/2013 by admin)
Story #39 Autism - October 1, 2013
Randall is three. He can't talk with you right now because the seam on the end of his sock is not completely straight. He can't do anything, really, until he puts that seam right.
I'm not being entirely truthful. The truth is, even if Randall's sock were perfectly straight, he won't talk with you right now, and he won't look at you. There are only four people Randall will look at, and about six people he'll talk with, and chances are, you aren't one of them.
Randall's therapists describe him as being on the Autism Spectrum. He finds most of our social expectations and habits, things like small talk and handshakes and random smiles, completely meaningless, and worse-emotionally overwhelming. Randall's world is also louder than yours probably is; the colors in his world shine brighter, textures are coarser. A breezy day sitting under trees and blowing grass completely sends him to pieces. THERE ARE BUGS IN THE GRASS. THE GRASS IS TOUCHING ME. I DON'T LIKE IT OUT HERE, he will inform one of his six talk-to-people. Randall manages his world by sticking to strict routines that help him feel calm. He likes to fix his socks. He likes the windows and doors to be closed in his room. From time to time, he likes to rock a little on the edge of the bed, with a pillow wrapped over his head, covering his ears. Please don't interrupt him-it won't go well if you do. He will feel that he absolutely has to explain to you that you are ruining everything, and he'll explain this to you by ramming his hard little three- year -old head right into your stomach or.lower. This is painful.
Randall is also in foster care. He was removed from his home by the Department of Children and Families due to abuse and neglect. Foster care is not part of his routine. This, too, is painful.
Randall was given a scholarship to go to Carson's Kamp for Kids this summer. It's a summer camp for kids of all abilities, a place where they can play in the spray park, do arts and crafts or explore the expressive arts. They can play noncompetitive sports and learn social skills. When he arrived, Randall made sure everyone understood that Kamp for Kids was not part of his routine. He chose a group leader to give one word responses to, and the rest of the other Kamp counselors felt his little head give them the hard message that things were changing way too fast, so he would not be participating in activities.
Yet Kamp counselors knew how to slow things down. They knew how to break down the activity into small pieces, how to make the expectations manageable. How to meet Randall in that inner room of his, if just long enough to invite him out.
Randall's foster mom stood with the Kamp counselor at the end of his summer sessions. They watched as Randall ran with a friend, laughing and talking. He stopped to greet a couple of the other counselors. He then told his friend that he wanted to go get a drink of water and he had something to do-he'd be right back.
Randall approached his foster mom and told her how they'd just finished the cardboard mice they'd been working on. Randall wanted to put his mouse in a safe spot he found for a rest, he explained. "It's cool and quiet in there, and he might just need a little break before he comes out. Everyone is different and we have to learn how to take care of him so he can feel okay." His foster mom nodded.
So maybe I'm wrong-maybe when he's done fixing his sock, Randall will look at you, and say "hello." But if he doesn't, you will understand now about routines, and socks and mice and small people telling you in their own way that they are searching, wanting to be met by friends in places like Kamp for Kids.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/2/2013 by admin)
Story #38 George - Psychiatry - September 24, 2013
To be around George is to be around intelligence and intensity. George sees and feels the world deeply; he finds meaning in everything. The Carson Center's psychiatrist worked carefully with George over a long period of time to find the medication and dosage that would allow him to function, not to be overwhelmed by the constancy and intrusiveness of all his thoughts, the periods of dark sadness, and yet to preserve the sensitivity that marks who George is in the world. His Carson Outreach worker and therapist also work to help George find his balance in his unique way.
On a fine early fall day, George's Outreach worker, Sam, found George waiting for their appointment to fill out paperwork for fuel assistance for the coming winter. George was clearly lost in thought, staring at the tree next to him. Sam sat next to George and waited.
"The leaves are tired," said George. "They are letting themselves turn to flame, getting ready to let it all go and leap into the earth soon enough. No more bud sized promises all busting with hope, no more exhaustingly gorgeous blooms.when I noticed the traces of wither just now, I wanted to reassure the tree, but then of course, she is reassuring me about the winter to come.let's go fill out those fuel assistance papers!"
It took awhile for Sam to get used to George. Sam could see how George would get lost in his reflections and not follow through on the tasks that would keep his life going. How was his bank balance? Were there enough groceries to make it through the day? Wasn't he going to apply for that volunteer position at the library? George saved up his insights to share with Sam-he even wrote notes; but he wouldn't follow through on his goals because he believed then he would lose his epiphanies, and they were precious to him-they gave his life meaning.
"Make them, then!" suggested Sam one day. "Then you can put them aside and later you can show me what they look like. That way, you can spend the rest of your time on your goals."
George loved this idea. When Sam showed up at the next visit, George showed Sam the helium red white and blue balloons that he'd gotten at the dollar store. He'd fastened to them a hanging figure he'd made-a rag covering a tennis ball, a desperate expression drawn on the ball's "face". This was George's representation of the stress on the average American worker following the "radical redistribution of wealth over the past thirty years, which began with the inflationary period following the fake oil embargo in the 1970's." Once they admired the work together and discussed it, George was able to leave the thought, and his creation, in its place so that he could take his next steps in his life.
Many months went by where George worked through his thoughts by making things of them, and also worked slowly towards living a satisfying, independent life in the community.
"Sam! Sam! Come in! Wait 'till you see! I was thinking about what I've been talking about in therapy about being put into foster care and then, well, look!"
Sam had transformed the main living area of his apartment. There were bouquets of flowers, pictures of dogs and cats and smiling children made into collages and tacked to the walls.
"I've been thinking, Sam!"
"You, George?" Sam teased.
"Listen! What if some version of reincarnation were true? Then my very being would be braided with the love of countless good mothers, friends, brothers, sisters, cousins and fathers! Your every step would be lifted by the gratitude of all those royal cats and plebian dogs you served, the cranky children who grew in your care, all the neighbors you forgave. The great crowding goodness would grow in each hair on your thoughtful head, every pore of our smiling faces.I'm more than the sadness of my past, George. I feel like I have so much more room inside."
Together they stood and looked at what George had created. "Do you think it's good?" George asked Sam.
"Oh, I think it's beautiful."
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/26/2013 by admin)
Story #37 Kamila - Under Five Thrive - September 17, 2013
When Kamila put the pancakes in front of her three children, she added blueberries for eyes and an applause-inspiring smile made out of whipped cream. The nose was always big and red ("like Rudolph's!") as a fresh garden strawberry. There is a unique pain felt by parents who give their children the love and attention they did not themselves receive. When Kamila, covered with powdered sugar, struggled to keep the sides up on the disastrous gingerbread house lopsidedly decorated with whatever candies escaped her children's mouths, her three kids squealed with delight, hoping for a collapse. And at that table, she laughed and felt her own seven-year Kamila-self there, too: her young self, awkward and in shadow, laughing less, entirely less free, but present with her children.
Everyone around her noted what an incredible mother Kamila was. There was Bath Time and Book Time and Singing Time and Blessing All Our People Time, when the kids would send often surprising blessings out to people who had crossed their minds. For every broken dish or accidental lamp crashing, Kamila practiced caring first about her child and second about the object. She watched as her children moved from momentary fear of being 'in trouble' for the accident, into a place of deep ease where they tried to help clean up or repair what was broken. That's when Kamila felt the pain the most.
As a child, Kamila's father had hit her every day with whatever object he could find. He liked to show off his terrorism to his customers who came to buy drugs. He'd be high, break something and bellow at her, "Did you do this?!" Her bruises were too frequent, her silence too telling, and finally someone at school noticed. Kamila was eventually placed in a series of foster homes. She dropped out of school and started working, met her partner and had a family. Her partner worked hard and long hours as a house cleaner to support them all. When Kamila set the table for herself and the kids, she had them use real napkins and she lit candles, even for lunch.
"Are you really, really, really thirsty?" she'd ask.
"Yes!" they'd chorus in anticipation.
She would turn around with a tiny shot glass filled with chocolate milk.
"This ought to do it!" How they laughed, even though (perhaps because) she'd done it a hundred times before.
This is how she had always thought it should be-yet in all her hoping and dreaming as a child, she never was able to fathom the immense, transforming power of safety and peace, how it becomes the vast, unseen hands that hold up the lucky. The ease with which her children left her embraces and scampered off into a life of discovery and growth left a part of her bereft, without the trademark confidence the steadily-loved enjoy.
Kamila's seven year old son Roberto sat at the table with his sharpened pencil in his hand. Roberto watched his mother's face carefully as she sat next to him. He began to understand that she could not help him complete his first grade homework. He didn't know why she hadn't learned these things in school, but he knew there was nothing his mother could not do, and do with joy, so he told her, "Don't worry, Mommy. Someday you'll be smart, too!"
Bath, book, singing and Blessing time was a little quieter that night. Kamila was paying attention to the shadow fourth child inside her, so hurt at not being "smart," at being forever left behind the happy crowd. When the kids quieted down, she went into her bedroom, looked in the mirror and explained, just as she had done a thousand times with her own kids, how that girl looking at her could do this, could learn and become what she wanted to be. How her neighbor kept telling her there were people in town from Carson Center's Under Five Thrive, who would take her to the Adult Learning Center, help her watch the kids and help her come out and move forward.
"We can do this," she told herself. And she did.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/18/2013 by admin)
Story #36 Sonya - In Home Therapy - September 10, 2013
At fourteen years of age, the last thing that Sonya wanted to do was live for four more years under the direct line-of-sight supervision of her mother. Since Sonya was nine years of age, her mother would not let her ride her bike or learn any sport. She was allowed outside after school and on week-ends, but only if her mother could directly supervise her.
Five years previous, Sonya's mom, Tamara was told by her doctors that Sonya had an inoperable brain tumor and that it was possible that a blow to her head could be fatal. What loving mother wouldn't want to wrap her daughter in plastic bubble wrap at that point? But Sonya was suffocating in that loving wrap, and soon was referred to therapy for her rage and her frequent bouts of refusing to speak.
Carson's In Home Therapy started slowly, with Sonya refusing to talk and Tamara nervously describing what their lives were like, and what she hoped they could be like. Eventually, Sonya agreed to meet alone with her therapist, as long as they could go outside and walk, maybe even throw a ball around.
The steps were slow over the course of two years. A helmet was bought. Tamara shed many tears facing her fears at her-and every parent's-ultimate inability to protect her child from the world's hard surfaces and sharp edges. But she also saw her child was longing to grow and her anger grew with the size of her longing. Tamara cried when she realized she couldn't remember the sound of Sonya's laughter. And so she unwrapped her.
Sonya now rides her bike right out of her mother's sight. She rides down the street as her home becomes smaller and smaller behind her and her horizon grows bigger. Then she turns around in time to be home for dinner, helmet on.
Sonya just tried out for the track team. Yet the most significant change her mother and her Carson IHT notice is how she speaks up for herself in school. Sonya questions all uses of authority by her teachers; it's not really an effective approach to achieving success in school, but it is an important step in her growth and healing. Her constant challenging of every rule and limitation certainly annoys her teachers, but they all know how important it is for Sonya to insist that she know why it is exactly she can't do a thing because Sonya is becoming a young woman who can, with a mother and an IHT who supports her.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/11/2013 by admin)
Story #35 Homeless - Circle of Friends - September 3, 2013
"I was that guy yelling at you on the street for no reason, the one the police knew by name. I'm sorry about that. I really am. That's not the person I wanted to be-but there was no telling me that. My mother tried. My sister tried to tell me. I wouldn't listen to anybody. I thought everybody was trying to poison me with their words. When I look back now about what I was thinking then, things just didn't make sense inside me, but you could not tell me that.
I was homeless; it came to that. I'm not ashamed to say it now. Here's one thing about being in that situation that I bet no one has said to you: I knew that I smelled bad and that I was dirty. I was so dirty even to me. I couldn't stand it. But you have to stand it, so you just kind of push yourself deeper into yourself, far away from the stink and the bugs and all the filthy mess of living feet- level, with the gum wrapper you dropped without knowing it. That was me down there, against the building, looking at the underside of your shoes as you walked by me.
I did something important last night. I was asked to talk about the Carson Center and how the Circle of Friends and all their services helped me turn things around in my life. I was invited to a restaurant to talk, and it turned out that it was the very same restaurant where I used to wash dishes years ago. But here's the thing: the time I was washing dishes at this restaurant was the very same time that things had started going very wrong. In fact, I had quit my dishwashing job at this restaurant, storming right out of the kitchen, yelling into the dining room-through the very same swinging doors they sat me down in front of last night to talk to people about how I had changed. Leaving the dishwashing job years back was the last step before losing my apartment and becoming homeless. It was my fault, not the restaurant's. I had stopped taking my medication.
There I was, years later, back in the same restaurant, being asked to talk about how Carson had helped me change. I was facing those same swinging doors. Isn't that something? I kept looking at those doors when I was telling the group how a guy from Carson's Circle of Friends kept coming by my street corner and inviting me in. I talked about how I tried his group and I left it, but then the Carson people asked me to come back and I did--I tried again and it stuck. Carson's doors were never locking me out.
I did what I needed to do. It was hard, but not as hard as living the way I was living. Medications have side effects that I don't like, but I can't help it if I was born with an imbalance. I need the medicine to stay balanced. I have another job now. I organize things in an animal shelter. I love being with the animals. And I have my own apartment. I had my sister over for lunch that I made for her. I look good, too. Smell pretty darn good. I get that soap that smells like orange flowers. Holy cow, you'd think you could practically eat that stuff it smells so good. Now I help other friends like me in Carson's Clubhouse program. I can tell when someone is stuck way inside there, the way I used to be. I will just sit right down next to them and tell them that together we can make it back."
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/4/2013 by admin)
Story #34 Maude - Care Coordination - August 27, 2013
Maude's Carson Center Care Coordinator had a point. Even though she was mad as all get-out at that Department of Children and Families' Social Worker, it wasn't helping her get her kids back when she threatened to cut his legs off with her chainsaw. In private, Maude asked herself, "Where did that come from?" Maude wasn't a violent woman.
Things felt unfair to Maude. DCF took her kids away because her boyfriend had broken her nose in front of them and she refused to kick him out. The house they were living in was owned by his mother; his brother lived next door-his other brother was a police officer. Where was she going to go? If she got a restraining order, how much was that piece of paper going to protect her? How would she feed the kids?
The foster mother who had her kids drove her nuts. She fed her son and daughter "gluten free pancakes." Have you ever had that stuff? It tastes like wet cardboard. And DCF thought SHE wasn't a fit mother? The ladies in the Carson Healing Alliance Support Group laughed with her whenever she spoke about the cardboard pancakes. They knew how she felt. It was a support group for women healing from domestic violence. The Carson Domestic Violence Advocate who ran the support group helped each woman see what strength she'd held onto, but also how she'd changed over the years dealing with all the nonsense they had to deal with. Maude never drank before living with Todd. It was the only thing that would take the edge off after a day worrying about what he might do or say. And now she had a service plan from DCF that said she also had to get help for her drinking before she could get the kids home.
Maude's Care Coordinator asked her about bringing her therapist to a Care Coordination meeting. Maude was worried about all these people getting together-the DCF guy, the kids' school counselor, the In Home Therapist, her therapist, even her domestic violence advocate. They could gang up on her and make this nightmare worse. But the Care Coordinator told her that she'd only invite who Maude wanted there, and that Maude would set the agenda.
The meeting was nothing like she expected. It was hard to remember anything other than when the school counselor and the In Home Therapist talked about how much the kids wanted to come home to Maude. It'd been almost two years at the foster home. The visits were going well; their therapy was going well. The counselor said, "These are good kids. They are happy, polite and so sweet and creative. In spite of everything Maude had to put up with, she did a really good job with them. They want to come home." The In-Home Therapist said, "The visits are going well; their schoolwork is great. It's really time for the next step." Maude's eyes burned with tears and her throat swelled with anguish and the thought that the pain of separation might soon be over. Maude's therapist jumped in and said she was really happy with the skills Maude had learned that helped Maude to manage her feelings now that she wasn't coping by drinking anymore. With Maude's permission, the Domestic Violence advocate had called the DCF worker and let him know that Maude was attending every support group and working with her individually. She'd found housing and was receiving benefits, just as the service plan recommended. It was at this meeting the DCF worker said he'd recommend to his supervisor that they move forward on reunification.
It was two months after the reunification when she was talking with her Carson therapist that Maude realized how it was that seeing her two irreplaceable children taken by their hands out of her home that bloodied night so long ago had cut the legs of her life out from under her. And how this whole team had helped her stand again, without Todd, without alcohol, and with her children by her side.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/30/2013 by admin)
Story #33 Ella - Art Therapy - August 20, 2013
Ella couldn't tell her Carson Art Therapist what had happened to her. At three years of age, the things that she'd survived in life's first year were locked inside her as memory that had no words attached, because Ella had no words back then. Even her adoptive parents didn't have many details about Ella's history; they knew there had been enough "abuse and neglect" that Ella and her brother had been removed from their biological parents' custody. They could see that Ella cringed in terror at the sight of most men and often awoke with night terrors, so they knew she needed help. But they could offer no more information to the Carson Art Therapist.
Ella loved the Art therapist's large rolls of paper and beautiful Cray Pas oil pastels. On this visit, she drew colored shapes, and then, with the happiest face, Ella grasped a black pastel and colored assiduously over every bright shape and color. She deepened the pressure on the pastel and paper, and expanded the black until it covered everything. Ella's face stiffened; she took the black pastel and broke it into pieces.
Her Carson Art Therapist peeled back the edges of the paper on the broken pieces and handed them back to her, encouraging, "Even the broken pieces are yours." With great focus, Ella grasped the black shards and colored until the black Cray Pas wore away to nothing. Her small hand was in command of the great darkness she drew out of herself and onto the paper. She then took a new Cray Pas, a deep red color. She drew a looming, relentlessly jagged shape in the upper corner.
"What is the story of this drawing?" asked her Carson Art Therapist.
"It's a scary storm, and a scary monster and I don't want it anymore." Ella deliberately crumpled and then folded the black parts of the large paper. When she came to the red shape, she raised her voice and sharply commanded, "GO!"-and then, appearing suddenly frightened, she turned for help from her therapist, "Fold it all up!" which her therapist, of course, did, asking Ella to direct her as she did, "Like this?"
"Come, Ella, let's draw together now. How about your family?"
Ella's breathing evened out as she sat in front of the new paper, across from her Carson Art Therapist. She drew her Daddy's arms wondrously long and encircling around her and the family. Her mommy's feet were drawn large and solidly planted next to her. Mom and Dad formed a circle around her and her brother.
Emma's Art Therapist noticed that Emma drew her own hands large and with each of her ten fingers distinctly articulated. Her mouth, with teeth, was similarly complete. These were hands and a mouththat were capable of drawing out her own truths, at her own pace, and resolving them with her drawings and her stories where she is the narrator and the artist, and no longer powerless. Together, through the facilitated art process, Emma would reset the stones of her earliest foundation, so that her life ahead, full of color and love, will be well supported.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/20/2013 by admin)
Story #32 Carlotta - EMDR - August 13, 2013
"Mangia! Mangia!" Carlotta held up her right hand just the way her Grandma Chizzy would-all fingers and thumb pulled together to a point as though holding a tender morsel, evidence of what is waiting for you while you waste valuable time away from Italian heaven-a fully set table, a mouthful of magnificent food. Eat! Eat! Friends await you.
This was the best job Carlotta ever had. She got to prepare and serve food to people every day. The groups of people she served-veterans, people without shelter, came to know her by name. A couple of folks would always arrive early to help her prepare. Carlotta loved this part. They would sit, peeling potatoes or carrots, and talk about the best breadcrumbs for the meatballs, just the way she had with her Grandma and her aunts. She liked how they talked over each other, the clanking of the silverware and glasses, the feeling they were mixing their ironies and simple joys together into this community meal.
Only Carlotta was completely faking it. She was pantomiming herself with her hand in the air and her forced insistence that people join and eat. Carlotta's joy for cooking was gone. She sat in her Carson Center's Trauma Therapist Anna's office hoping that Anna could help her get her boisterous old ways back.
"I was sitting across from Adam," Carlotta explained. "And I saw that he was struggling with the way the knife he was using wasn't getting the peels off the potato very well. The strips were coming off so short, so I asked him, 'Wouldn't it work better if you use a potato peeler?' I had one right there to hand to him. Instead of taking the potato peeler, Adam starting cutting himself all up with the knife! I know it wasn't my fault, but still.I can't stand hearing the silverware anymore. And I just don't like any of it..I can see the whole thing at the strangest times... I can see me asking him if it would work better with a peeler, and then.if I only hadn't asked him."
Anna asked Carlotta if she'd like to try Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) which is a therapy approach that for many people can reduce the lingering effects of being so shocked and overwhelmed by painful events. Anna described it and Carlotta hesitated. Was this moving-your-eyes-as-they-follow-my-finger-thing really therapy? Could it work? Well, if it could bring her back to joy, then what the heck.
Anna and Carlotta sat across from one another. They weren't seated exactly face-to-face, but seated so that when Anna raised her finger, it would be easily in front of Carlotta's line of sight. There were questions: What was the most positive thought that Carlotta could hope to come out of the situation with? Anna asked her to give her emotions a scoring from 0-10 and then, most interestingly, to name where she felt these feelings in her body.
Carlotta realized these feelings were in her stomach, and a little bit in her throat, where everything got tight. But noticing this made the feelings and sensations change a little. Anna started moving her finger at eye level, and Carlotta followed its rhythm back and forth. "Just notice what's happening," suggested Anna. Don't try to make anything happen.
Carlotta noticed she felt a little sick and nauseous. She had some thoughts. She told Anna about them. They talked and, in turns, were quiet while for about ten minutes, Carlotta followed Anna's moving fingers and noticed what was happening in her body.
"Is there an image, anyone or anything that you could invite in that could be helpful?" Anna asked. Suddenly Carlotta gasped. "Do you want to tell me what it is?" asked Anna.
"Well, I don't know why, but I was imagining a large female lion. She was kind of like Grandma Chizzy in a way, but a lion, and she was circling me, round and round, and then, suddenly she jumped in my middle!" "And what is that like?" asked Anna.
"It's great! And you know what, of course it's not my fault! I was just trying to be helpful! Oh, Adam.. I hope he gets some help. I feel differently. I just feel.relieved. I didn't think it could happen like this."
"Well, it doesn't for everyone in such a clear way."
"I'm so happy!" Carlotta jumped up, and though it isn't the way it is usually done, she held her Carson therapist's face and planted a kiss squarely on each cheek, announcing "THAT's from Grandma Chizzy!"
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/13/2013 by admin)
Story #31 Color Days - August 6, 2013
The house is still clean, your bed empty and made. There's no need to run the dishwasher; not yet the washer; they fill now at a quarter the rate. The machines are as startled and relieved at this sudden break in the constant stirring as I am. The food is still there in the fridge, diminishing so slowly that some soup and greens turned, uneaten by you, my ravenous new recruit, my son.
Today I felt you tug at me around dinnertime, right before your call. Massachusetts's gave us a long summer day with blue, rasp and blackberries that fill my pie dishes and the bears, unseen and watching from the wood. There are cubs now curling up into the north's late and sudden summer dark, but you are no longer a cub.
Three years ago, you only grunted in response to the questions your Carson Home Support Worker asked you; sometimes you sat there saying nothing. Maybe we increased the Lithium too much, I don't know. But we all had to try something after you came home from the hospital still threatening and kicking me.
You couldn't find your "yellow," is how your Carson Home Support Worker put it. Even the most minor disruptions sent you from a good-to-go green into a violent red zone: if you had to clean your room before going fishing, if you had to get up in time for the bus to take you to school, you would go "red". There was no place for just noticing, no place for a yellow caution and an open pause.
I found this in the bottom of your backpack back then:
My Yellow Days
The color yellow feels long and skinny like a pencil writing a poem
Light and crunchy like mid fall leaves
Or the way that light that burns in the stove shows on the ceiling
There are days like squeaky wheels on a bus when it comes to a stop, or like when the whole file falls to the floor from the teacher's desk; these are yellow, too.
Honey on a spoon, perfumed like that lilac the wind blows out back by the door. The space in between-my yellow days.
You surprised me with your yellow, you and your Carson Home Support Worker talking about feelings, about what yellow feels like in your body-talking, walking, playing ball, practicing facing all of life's "no's," "not yets," and "not enoughs." Feeling and facing the good-byes and the losses. When we all decided together to pull the Lithium, you said you emerged from a fog, but that the fog had helped for awhile. I saw your sharp edges come back. You made friends; we moved you out of the specialized school and back into your town's high school. Your Carson worker practiced with you for your first job interview, a success. And then, the following year, you began the research into military service-all of your uncles vying for your loyalty to their branch. Your Carson worker helped you study for your tests, helped you self- talk your way through the fears that restrained you in your exams until you passed. The Army won you.
We stood behind your broad back at your swearing in; I stood long after you deployed. This house is not empty. It is filled with yellow.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/6/2013 by admin)
Story #30 Bill - My Fist Your Palm - July 30, 2013
Bill was a stonemason, he himself made of ledge. His Carson Family Partner was a patient woman, who knew well the long wait for words from this father with the sharply cut face.
Bill hadn't been participating in any of Carson's services for his daughter until his Family Partner, Donna, joined the team. She had a way about her that he trusted. She didn't talk too much and she didn't tell him not to be mad at his daughter, who was back in the hospital again after attempting suicide. Bill had worked so hard to give his daughter a good life and she, in return, had ruined every holiday and family gathering since she became a teenager. And now this.
Bill had walked out of the psychiatrist's office. He felt that only Donna really understood how he'd felt in that meeting. There was a way in which he knew his daughter's world like no doctor could. He knew what she was made of because he was made of the very same things. He knew Saturday's music and Sundays's reading. He fixed her car because she rode the clutch. They both knew where the best gas station and the cheapest milk could be found in town. He knew without saying just why she loved the horses they kept and about her profound disrespect for the chickens. He cooked the meatloaf and string beans that made her very bones-and now he was told that she wasn't quite right-that she was "imbalanced"-maybe born that way? And she needed to take medicine to make it right. She'd seemed right to him for so many years. How could this world of diagnosis and medicines be more real than the world he'd known with her?
Bill didn't want to see his daughter; that he knew for sure.
"How 'bout we just go sit in the waiting room?" the Family Partner Donna asked. Bill thought that seemed alright. They drove to the hospital and together he and Donna sat in the chairs where families wait for whatever comes next. Bill's head was hanging down; his fists were clenched.
His daughter's fist, once and long ago, had been grasped around Bill's thumb as he taught her to waltz while held up high in his arm. Later, she grew big enough to graduate to stepping on Bill's feet to learn the steps, her hand then a full half of his. He would press the rhythm of the music and moves into her fingers. As they danced, she'd press back.
Donna saw the change in Bill's grieving face. "I'll bring you in. C'mon, let's go." Donna led him down the hall to the right room and pulled up the chair for Bill to sit next to his sleeping child.
"I'll be in the waiting room," she told him.
Bill reached for his daughter's hand, curved in its sleep, the I.V. bandaged in place. Maybe some of this was true, he considered-she'd had those long periods of sadness, just like his own mother had had. Maybe things were 'off' inside of his daughter after all and she needed help.
He put his palm under hers, hand to hand, forming a soundless clap or prayer, fingers matched one to one. He played her fingers like keys, in the rhythm of their life's beating waltz. He raised his eyes to hers when he felt her softly pressing back. There were new steps ahead for both of them.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/30/2013 by admin)
Story #29 Help through the Months - July 23, 2013
When I think of a year, and all the months in it, I picture it as a bunch of "month cards," arranged in kind of an oval with some months' shape stretched out or bigger than others. How do you picture it? Right now my June, July and August are very thick, and so is my September and December. I like those months. I like summer and fall and Christmas. I see February, March and even sometimes April as just ragged and dark. I hate the wet and cold and snow.
I think of my life this way, too. I'm in a June part of my life now. It's summer for me now because of the Outreach workers, the Day Program, the medications I take, the Outpatient Therapy and my group, all at Carson at Valley Human Services.
I have been thinking about what I wanted to tell you all and I think it is this: sometimes you are seeing people in their February or March, you know? And we shouldn't forget that this isn't what they could be like. There's got to be a June and July for everybody!
Now, I hate January, too, and February is even worse for me. I was born into January, really, because of a chemical imbalance. You would've seen a quiet little girl, playing with her Barbies, but really, I just didn't want to be with anyone else. When I was ten, I cut myself, but didn't tell anyone. By high school, I wanted to kill myself most of the time. There was a day that I was arguing with my dad, and then, right in the middle of the argument, I started hearing voices in my head telling me to kill myself. So I went right upstairs and I swallowed bunches of pills. Everything I could find.
I was hospitalized for two weeks. The doctors gave me medication and told me about this place called Carson Center at Valley Human Services. I met the nicest guy there. He explained what was happening inside me and gave me some choices as to what I could do to feel better. But you know what? It was still JANUARY in my life, so I went home and did nothing he suggested.
I didn't care about myself or anyone in my life. I wanted to be alone. I hid in my house and started to sleep during the day and eat as much as I could. I gained a lot of weight, which depressed me even more. My family talked to me. They told me that I had changed for the worse. I thought about it. I made myself look in the mirror. It was worse than I thought: FEBRUARY.
I went up to Carson at Valley Human Services and I was saying to myself that I would do anything, anything at all to get the heck out of February. A friendly, caring lady said to me, "Hello, my name is Raquel and I am here to help you." I just had a feeling that this was going to work out. When I told Raquel that I didn't care about myself or others and I beat myself up with negative words, she never gave up on me. I can still hear her saying, "I know you can do this. I know you are a strong woman. I know you are a smart woman." All those positive words. April.
I started thinking about my life and how, after awhile, I was ready for a big change when Raquel asked me if I was ready to meet some people like me. I said, "Yes." She walked me down the hall and into a room with people who had troubles, imbalances, just like me. Everyone was so friendly and very compassionate. I joined that group and went everyday. Then I decided I wanted even more, so I joined Weight Watchers and I lost 102 pounds. May.
I started to learn skills to work with my emotions and manage my fears and then Raquel helped me find the Ware Adult Learning Center so I could enroll in school.
I am so proud of myself. You know, you have to help yourself before you can get better. I am so thankful for how kind they were up there at Carson. They took me in January. They took me in February. They cheered me on, to April. They walked with me to my June. I want that for everybody.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/24/2013 by admin)
Story #28 Ruth - Traumatic Brain Injury - July 16, 2013
It was a busy hour at the bank and the lines went nearly to the door. It seemed that everyone was trying to do their banking at the same time, including Ruth. People in her line were grumbling, starting to make louder and louder remarks about how long their line was taking to move when compared to the other lines. Some folks were leaving the line, tossing comments over their shoulders like, "For goddsakes!"
Ruth had been working with her Carson Outreach Worker on just this kind of situation. She was managing her feelings, trying to focus on what her goal was, what banking she needed to conduct, when one more, "I can't believe this!" stirred her enough to say something.
From the head of the line, where she had been working with the teller and her Carson Outreach Worker, she said clearly and slowly to those behind her, "I-I-I am. So. Sorry. That. This. Is. Taking. So. Long. I. Used. To. Be. Fast. Like. You. Before. My. Accident. That. Injured. My. Head. It. Is. Hard. For. Me. To. Focus. I. Need. A. Little. More. Time. Than. You. I. Am. Really. Sorry. To. Hold. You. Up."
"You take all the time you need, dear," said the older woman right behind her in the now nearly silent bank.
The bank opened another window to accommodate those waiting. New folks coming in the door went right to the open window. The Carson Outreach Worker for the Head Injury Program noticed that most everybody from Ruth's line didn't move. They stayed right behind her the whole time.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/17/2013 by admin)
Story #27 Kelvin - Therapeutic Rec Program - July 9, 2013
Kelvin was sick of his mother being sick all of the time. She hadn't been out of the hospital for more than two months in a row in over two years. He was now eight years old. The Department of Children and Families had him staying with his Aunt Maria and cousins during the week and his Grandma Faith on the week-ends. He saw his mom a lot, whenever she was home, but the tubes she had and that little bag freaked him out. He just wanted her and everything to be normal again and he was really, really mad at her for ruining everything by getting sick. Kelvin was trying to make it all go away; that's why he pulled the tubes out that time he was visiting her.
It didn't make it all go away.
His Carson Center Home Support Worker was trying to get Kelvin to learn new ways to notice his feelings, to name them and describe them and then, to learn new ways to be with those feelings. He needed to learn these things so that he could be safe at home with his cousins and when visiting his mom. Kelvin had come pretty far noticing his feelings, naming them and describing them. But he was overwhelmed with how else to be with his feelings of grief. His Home Support Worker started bringing Kelvin to Carson's Therapeutic Recreation Program ("Rec"). Rec offers horseback riding, tennis, camping, canoeing, biking and many other activities. There are also piano lessons.
After watching the piano teacher introduce the piano to them at Rec, Kelvin sat on the piano bench himself, sort of scandalized that there are two hands and two scales and both going on at the same time and all the pianists everywhere seemed okay with this preposterous set up.
The first time Kelvin played a chord, just three fingers from each hand, he pressed gently and caught his breath at what he heard. For a moment, the sound of the chords soothed the constant horror he felt at his mother's condition. There were so many things to learn that he felt completely absorbed by it. Kelvin wanted to get it right, and would sit with his Home Support Worker, occasionally saying things like, "I've never used my left pinkie for anything before. Now it's got a C Sharp Extension Job". When he put his fingers in the wrong place, it just sounded wrong, and he would move them to the right places where it sounded right. "You know, it's such an easy way to be wrong," he told his Home Support Worker, "It's not going to help to make a big deal about it; I just have to change what I'm doing." They smiled at each other, knowing the lesson was not just for the piano.
Kelvin didn't practice so that he would get better. He declined the chance to do a recital with Rec, but he kept coming to the lessons. He played because he loved being a child in music's great house. He loved its endless rooms, where in summer it is good to be barefoot and running through the cool stone halls and in winter there is room for him at the fire. He played because he felt that somewhere, across time, the people who wrote this music, and many who played it, knew exactly how he felt. They knew that this music was the place to say all those things that needed saying, it was the place to hear what others knew about the nature of loss and love and yet he couldn't say them or hear them until he did his part. He took a deep breath, sat up straight, lined up his hands, and focused on the small black markings on the page.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/17/2013 by admin)
Story #26 Becky - CBFS - July 2, 2013
Becky was annoyed with her Carson Community Based Flexible Support (CBFS) Outreach Worker, Shayla. Becky had been going with Shayla to her Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step meeting three days a week, as agreed, for six months. Becky had not taken one single drink the entire six months. Becky had also apologized to her husband and her kids for all she had put them through. They were still mad at her and Shayla said there was more work she probably needed to do on repairing her family relationship. "I said I was sorry-!" insisted Becky, "What more do they want?
The eight and ninth step of Alcoholics Anonymous' Twelve Steps reads that a person in recovery from alcoholism needs to 'make a list of all persons they had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.' It also suggests that the recovering alcoholic 'make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.' Well of course there were things that would hurt, Jim, her husband, so she wasn't going to answer his questions about who she hung out with when she was drinking. And it would hurt the kids to answer their questions about why, when drinking, she had told them, "I choose the bottle, not you!" So Becky wasn't going to talk about that stuff. They can't go and 'take my inventory for me' thought Becky. Wasn't getting sober enough? Why was Shayla bothering me about this?
All Becky's family seemed to do, now that she was sober, was complain. Her husband was saying that first they'd lost her to alcohol for years and now they'd lost her to her new friends. There were secret AA meetings and secret AA chants and special AA coffees and private AA phone calls and special AA coins they gave each other. It was all excluding the family again, just as her drinking days had.
But Becky wanted a closer family life, and so, for six more months, her Outreach Worker Shayla worked with Becky to design a card for her to use called An Apology Map. On it, they figured out how Becky could take those eighth and ninth steps-the steps to making effective amends.
- Hear them until they are done. This might take months or longer. You took years; they will need as much time as they need.
- Tell them what you did with no excuses, even the hidden things.
- List for them the ways you see that it hurt them. They can add more.
- Tell them what you regret, what you apologize for, what you failed to do. Don't leave out anything either one of you mentioned.
- Tell them what actions you will take now that are different than what you had done.
- Find meaningful acts of kindness and responsibility that will make their lives easier and will make them feel important.
- Ask for forgiveness and know that they might not give it to you for a long time, or ever. The choice is theirs.
The Carson Center for Human Services
(Posted 7/3/2013 by admin)
Story #25 Tracey - CBHI Services - June 25, 2013
Tracey had tried medications before. It was just that she didn't feel like herself when she was on them. She liked her personality! Yes, it was true she could get excited. As when they had picked her husband's family up at the airport that time they had flown in for a visit. On the way from the airport back to the house, with her husband's relatives in the car, tired from the flight, surrounded by all their luggage, Tracey had insisted her husband stop the car so that she could run into the Tatoo Parlor they had just passed on the highway; she'd always wanted to get her belly button pierced and Tracey was just a spontaneous kind of person! They could wait! Why should she turn out so.boring? So like everybody else?
Tracey's therapist and the psychiatrist said she had Bi-polar Disorder or something or other. Sure, she got depressed. Tracey thought, "I get depressed every few months-it's seasonal. Everybody gets depressed sometimes. Can't we just say I'm depressed? But I am definitely not "Bi-Polar". That would mean I really need help in a mental health kind of way. I've got three kids-of course I'm overwhelmed. I know it wasn't right I grabbed my girl by the hair and shook her and yelled at her. I was fried. If the kids would only listen.but I know plenty of people who are worse off than I am. Why would you say I'm the one needing help? My sister-in-law lives in California and goes to this big hall every morning to sit on a square cushion with a bunch of strangers and hum to herself and focuses on her breathing. Why is that normal?"
Tracey had worked with Carson Center's Care Coordinator to invite her In-Home Therapy Team, her Outpatient Therapist, the Therapeutic Mentors and the DCF Caseworker to the family's Care Team meeting. Tracey wanted to make sure that they were all there with her husband and kids and the Carson Family Partner because she wanted to find out once and for all what the big deal was about her medication. Tracey's Family Partner had been talking about how much better Tracey's kids might do if Tracey followed through with the medication plan her providers had recommended. The Carson Family Partner had asked, would Tracey try out her new meds for three months and then meet with her family to get their thoughts about any changes they might have experienced in the family as a result? Tracey had agreed and this was the meeting. She was relieved the meeting was finally here. Then everyone could see, finally, that the medication did nothing but slow her down and had nothing to do with helping anybody, especially not herself.
The kids were there with their Carson Therapeutic Mentors. Tracey's best friend, after whom Tracey had named her first daughter, was there, too. They began, as planned.
"Mom, I like how you've been spending so much more time listening to me and talking about my stuff."
"Things are just better at dinnertime without all the yelling."
"Tracey, you aren't running so hot and cold when we disagree. Sometimes you'd go for weeks without talking to me, and it's been so great having my best friend back in my life in a dependable way."
"Mommy, you aren't getting so mad anymore."
"Honey, it's been great the way we've been able to follow through on our plans, like going to the Berkshires on the weekend. And it's been really good how we've been able to talk things through when we have a problem. Things have been going better at home-we can do our parts in the kids' plans now-and you even said things are better at your job."
"The truth is," said Tracey to her Carson Center Family Partner the next day on the phone, "I didn't really think there was much of a difference at all in me. I don't really see it, except that I don't feel as good as I used to and I think I'm kind of boring now. But I guess I don't feel as bad as I used to get, either. I thought they were all acting differently these past few months, not me. And maybe they were-maybe it's a little bit of a back and forth kind of thing. My mom and ex boyfriends had said some really mean stuff about me in the past, so I had stopped listening to people who were critical about my personality. They were jerks. Nobody was being a jerk at this meeting, though. It just wasn't what I thought they were going to say. I think the truth is that if I want a good family life, I'm going to have to think more about this.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/26/2013 by admin)
Story #24 Rosetta - Art Therapy - June 18, 2013
At seventy-six years of age, it took Rosetta a while to glue each tiny plastic pearl in its place on her sturdy shoe-sized cardboard box. For weeks, Rosetta had been gluing small pearls and painting the tiniest of cornflower blue flowers, so many, in fact, that she dreampt of fields of blue flowers at night. Dreaming of flowers was better than the nightmares she usually had. Nightmares about the restraints from the hospital stay long ago, or what her brother had done to her when she was just a young teen, when her eyes were clear and brighter blue.
If this was therapy, this was great. Rosetta loved her Carson Center's Art Therapist. They didn't sit awkwardly in chairs, looking at each other, waiting for words to untangle something that wanted to stay tangled. They talked about the feel of these sturdy materials, about mixing color, and about making a Comfort Box. What would a Comfort Box for Rosetta look like? What would it hold?
Rosetta found beautiful pictures and soft materials-a kind of white fur and even satin--to grace her box. Inside it were things that said everything, without demanding words. There were the pine needles that reminded her of the soft and forgiving bed under her feet that awaited her in the woods, even if she couldn't get there much now. There was birch bark, a love letter from her favorite tree, which reminded her of her mother's white skin, their shared love of the water and how it is that this tree, and her mother, would weaken and die under too much battering stress. There was water in a jar, with seaweed. Sure, that would have to be changed often, but so too do we have to often freshen and change the way we care for our always changing self. There were seventy-six years of reflections in this box. Every time Rosetta opened it, there was something new to discover.
Like the young woman on the cover. Her Carson Art Therapist had shown her how to use the materials that made the picture shiny and stick permanently among the flowers and the pearls. Rosetta had labored especially over this picture she'd cut out of a young woman. She added tint, found the right brightness to surround her with, making sure she was ensconced in beauty. For many weeks she had labored over her art and, once complete, for many weeks more she sat at home with this breathtaking box.
"I know who she is," Rosetta said with surprise and some finality in her voice. "She is my daughter."
And so Rosetta told what she had not told to her many helpers over the decades and what she could tell with the grace of that box and all its months of comforts filling the place that opened in the telling. "When my brother forced me, I went to that hospital where the attendant forced me, too.. I became pregnant and they made me have that operation.I think this is what she would have looked like." Rosetta sat with her Art Therapist.
Together, they mourned. Together, they found more ways to paint and cut and color and move and hold the many things this shining face had to tell them.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/20/2013 by admin)
Story #23 Janice - Therapeutice Rec Program - June 11, 2013
Janice could see the television screen just over her corrective leg braces, which were propped on the coffee table. She'd worn them as long as she could remember. Maybe she could figure out things to do with friends other than biking or running around, but she didn't have any friends. There had been one neighbor she played with, but when he teased her that one afternoon, she broke his nose and got sent back to Providence Behavioral Hospital because no one was sure that the medications were right anymore. Now that she was twelve, all her body chemistry was changing so rapidly and it was even harder than usual to regulate her erratic moods. But still, things were turning around. Janice hadn't hurt her little brother in a long time. For weeks she hadn't tried to run away and for months, she hadn't even thought of trying to burn the house down.
The Department of Mental Health recommended Carson's Therapeutic Recreation Program ("Rec") in Ware. Janice went for a short hike with Rec, got so tired and frustrated that she threw herself down and rolled around in the mud. But Janice didn't see herself as a quitter. She came back to Rec wanting to try everything and right away. Instead, she had to watch first and learn from the Rec staff. Hey, we all know the song, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," how hard could actually rowing be? In fact, it was a little hard for Janice to learn, but she went on her first All Girls Overnight Rowing Trip and she got really good at it. Eventually, Janice was ready to try horse back riding. Janice felt the horse was responding to her, communicating with her. She spent a lot of time on the horse over many months and this made her legs so strong that she didn't need her corrective braces anymore. When the horse finally threw Janice, she got right back on her friend and kept going. Hadn't she thrown people off once or twice in her own life? Janice's rowing improved so much that she was able to row out to the islands in Boston Harbor to camp. Two year's in a row, she bicycled all the way to Montreal and back on their annual bike trip.
Soon Janice wanted to share her new skills with her family and others. She invited her brother and sister and her mom to the overnight trip to New York City, where none of them had ever been. Janice began helping the new members in the group who struggled. She could be heard telling them about her braces and her falls and her challenges -- encouraging them, coaching them, inspiring them. She began joining in on Rec's volunteer work, cooking giant meals for the homeless, playing Bingo at the nursing homes and going to the Soldier's Home. Janice went door-to-door Christmas caroling with Rec and discovered that she had a good voice. She joined the choir at her church. Janice would tell stories around the campfire during the overnight camping trips. She started writing stories down and submitting them to the local paper, where a couple of them were published. She made a friend at Rec. Then, Janice made friends in school.
When Janice turned eighteen, she and her family relocated to another state. She packed up and carried with her the ability to get up when she was thrown, to row, row, straight against the current when necessary, to sing with gratitude, to serve others and to show others who struggle that it is possible to get stronger, to cast off the braces and to join in.
By JAC Patrissi
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 6/11/2013 by admin)
Story #22 Sam - CERT - June 4, 2013
The Giganotosaurus shook the floor underfoot and his roar changed things about Sam. Even with computer imagery and a great story, it's hard to reconstruct from bones and dust what it was like for Sam to hope, in shame, that it would be a brother, just not he(please, please not me) who would be thrown by the tail or trampled underfoot.
In prisons, sometimes the Correctional Officers have to call the Correctional Emergency Response Team to immobilize an usually threatening and dangerous inmate. By chance, one of Sam's neighbor's was one of the refrigerator-sized men on the CERT. His job was Left Leg. Sam told his Carson therapist what it was like to hear this. He thought of all those nights and weekends when his Dad came home and things turned Jurassic. He kept turning the image over in his mind; imagine, in the prison, they called in five refrigerator sized men wearing plastic gear and carrying batons to calm his Dad down! Sam described to his therapist how, overhearing the neighbor describe the CERT intervention. he'd looked over at the bottom of the closet where he and his brother used to hide and had had a sudden surge of pride.
"We did it without a CERT," he told his Carson therapist. "But we sure could've used one."
Left Leg isn't a job on Sam's inner team. But there are other skills inside Sam that he learned at Carson -- like turning into a bird who flies high to help you see something differently, or swimming like a sea otter in our absurdity or sealing up like the armadillo when a closet isn't available or when it is time to stop trying. For a year or so now, Sam has been working on how he responds to his mother when she does something that he believes she should be doing differently. He has learned to regulate his emotions with most other people, but when girls at school or his mom do things he doesn't think they should, like playing sports, he stomps and roars like a small reptile. He'd admitted that he could regulate his emotions, but he doesn't think he should have to in those cases. Now eleven years of age, Sam is getting older and bigger, and he knows he will have to change if he wants to be the kind of person he hopes to be. All of his work on recognizing and changing his belief that it is okay to intimidate a girl when she does something he doesn't like seemed to be going nowhere, and slowly.
Two days ago, Sam was in therapy. He described how a girl he'd known since kindergarten beat him in an arm wrestling match. She was a witty girl and her humor had helped him over the years in ways he'd never told her.
"I want to thank you for all you were trying to teach me about treating girls with respect. I wasn't getting it. But I want you to know, before I opened by mouth, I asked myself what you would say to her. I could hear you telling me that getting in a rage wasn't going to get me anything I needed and that good relationships with caring people will pay off. I told her she beat me fairly and I shook her hand." A roar became a bird.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 6/5/2013 by admin)
Story #21 Carson Foster Mother - May 28, 2013
She was missing a few teeth, weighed many hundreds of pounds and didn't have a degree. She was easy for a certain kind of person to mistake. She was incisive as the best clinician, rigorous as a Marine, and compassionate. She was poisoned, spit on, chased with knives and had her precious kitties murdered by the foster children she cared for as a veteran thirty year foster mother for the Carson Center at Valley Human Services.
She was the Last Chance for more than six hundred souls who lay their heads in her home over the years. She wasn't old - she was in her mid-fifties.
This winter you said, "I'm going to die tomorrow." You always kept your word.
At the cemetery last week, neighbors, friends, family and Carson Center colleagues gathered for the memorial. People in their thirties spoke in their ten year old voices to tell us how she showed them that love is real; that there are true human beings - actual good people -- in the world, and that - as impossible as it seemed -- their lives could open into love. She did everything we can hope to do in this world, and she did it with really good food. Chicken soup when her Carson colleagues were sick, meatballs for the neighbors, cookies for the neighborhood kids. We didn't all speak at the gravesite, but there are things that Carson staff want to say now: Thank you for being so funny when we had to figure out what to do witth all those lost and reckless young souls. Thank you for never once judging us, your Carson Center colleagues, by our differences, something that can be easy to do in a small town - too fancy, too young, too educated, a different color or height or size. You judged us instead by the content of our characters and the skills we could share. You searched each of us for our ability to love wisely.
We know you were done, but we miss doing it all with you.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/29/2013 by admin)
Story #20 Paula - Under Five Thrive - May 21, 2013
Paula learned her early math skills by dividing equally the drugs her mother was selling and putting them into little baggies for sale. She always liked math. Math made sense to Paula; the rules were consistent and predictable and the variables were manageable. She felt reassured that all the mathematical problems she encountered had definite answers and a clear way to get there. When the Department of Children and Families finally pulled Paula from her home and put her into foster care as a young teen, that answer only created more problems for her. She was sexually abused by another child in the foster home. Paula thought she would try out her own answers for awhile, so she ran away to Massachusetts, where an aunt lived.
Paula's aunt was struggling with addiction, but she didn't want to turn her niece away, so she let Paula crash on the couch. Paula eventually got involved with an older guy who would come over with his friends to hang out and get high at her aunt's house. She was soon getting high regularly, until she learned she was pregnant. Then she thought about her life a little differently. She thought about motherhood and she thought about her mother. She vowed that she would give her child a different life than the one she had.
Paula found her way to the Ware Adult Learning Center to find out about how she could get her GED and get her life moving forward. They told her that they collaborated with Carson Center at Valley Human Service's Under Five Thrive Parent and Child program, which could provide her with childcare while she attended GED classes, a ride to and from classes and a host of other services.
There was no way she was going to let her child be watched by some strange daycare provider, so at first it seemed the whole plan was not going to work. Paula felt similarly suspicious about Robin, the Under Five Thrive therapist who specialized in helping young parents manage their emotions. There was no way she was going to spend time in a group talking about that stuff. Besides, she was a New Yorker - everybody yells at each other in New York, so what was the big deal? And this Under Five Thrive Domestic Violence Advocate? Just because she'd had a hard time with the father of her child doesn't mean she was a "victim" or anything ... and how could the Under Five Thrive Caseworker, Darcy, help her get DCF off of her back anyway? So what if she spanked her kid or yelled?
With encouragement, Paula gave it a try. She watched the Under Five Thrive Lead Teacher, Sandy like a hawk. she saw how Sandy treated the little children in her care -- protecting and respecting those little people, talking to them with a kind of thoughtful honesty that she knew she could trust. In fact, Sandy seemed like the kind of person you could talk to about being a parent. And Robin did have some good ideas if you wanted to be able to stay in class the whole time without leaving because you were so mad about something somebody said. And it was kind of cool the way Jackie talked about things that happen in some relationships that Paula had thought had only happened to her. And who knew that DCF would be so glad to see these Under Five Thrive goals and know that her Under Five Thrive Caseworker was driving her to court and to her child's medical appointments until she could affort her own wheels.
Eventually, Paula got her GED and continued her studies. She became a better parent and a person more in charge of her own feelings. She became an accountant. She'd always liked math.
Sometimes in life, the variables can be too damaging to manage all alone. Carson's Under Five Thrive Team helps sort out the right next step forward for real people managing real life and all its unpredictabilities.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/23/2013 by admin)
Story #19 Rosa - Therapeutic Respite Services - May 14, 2013
Rosa was eleven years old and struggling. Rosa had a therapist and was on medication for her emotional issues, so she wasn't without help. Still, Rosa's mother sometimes needed a break from the way Rosa would scream and throw things and threaten to kill herself over things that seemed small to her mom -- like when they ran out of the kind of frozen French fries that Rosa wanted. Rosa's mom needed Rosa to take short, overnight breaks in a therapeutic setting so that she could step back and figure out what to do. During these times, Rosa's mom would ask herself why things were not getting better. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse. Sure, there had been a lot of changes in her life in the past year, but these were positive changes. Rosa's mom had re-married; their economic status had improved and Rosa was now able to begin the horseback riding lessons that she had always coveted. She had always been a sensitive and loving child, so her mom had expected there to be an adjustment period, but she hadn't anticipated that she would act out so fiercely.
Rosa came for our therapeutic respite services for children at a Carson Center at Valley Human Services' respite home. She would spend the weekend in this home setting, away from her family. At the respite home, she started to learn skills to manage her feelings so that she could bring those skills back home during the week. She challenged her Respite Mother on every rule; she tested every boundary. After the fourth weekend, Rosa seemed to accept the rules and settle into a routine. She and her mom seemed to both be benefitting from the break.
After about the second month of weekend respites, something changed during one weekend morning. Rosa wasn't down at the breakfast table first thing in the morning, as usual. The Respite Mother went upstairs to discover Rosa sitting on her bed, crying. That was when Rosa disclosed that she was being sexually abused by her new step-father, that she hadn't told anyone, and that she didn't want to go home anymore. At the Carson Center's respite home, Rosa felt safe and supported enough to act on her courage and tell the secret that had been destroying her.
The Respite Mother called the Department of Children and Families. Rosa's mother worked hard with law enforcement and clinicians to make the changes that would protect Rosa and allow her to take steps towards healing.
Our therapeutic respite for children is a planned break where kids and parents can step out of their normal routine. In that space, they can see themselves and their lives differently; they can imagine new possibilities and face seemingly unbearable truths as they prepare to bring change back home with them.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/15/2013 by admin)
Story #18 Diane -Traumatic Brain Injury - May 7, 2013
Like thousands of eighteen year olds across the country, Diane went out on graduation night to celebrate with her friends at a party. She was the designated driver. Sober, she shepherded her tipsy underage friends and drove them home by their curfews a few hours later. She was careful never to use a cell phone when she drove, so she called her mom to tell her she was on her way, then tossed the phone into the back seat so she wouldn't be tempted to use it. Diane had been a volunteer in the hospital, which was what had helped her decide to go to college to become an x-ray technician. She would start school in the fall, but first, a summer of freedom, and volunteering at the hospital, lay ahead. At the hospital, she'd seen way too many patients who had been involved in distracted driving or drunk driving crashes. She did not take safety for granted. She buckled in her seatbelt, and headed home to end the last day of her life as she had known it as a responsible high school student.
The paramedics used that phone to redial her mother in order to tell her to meet them at the hospital Diane had come to know so well. Diane's car had been struck by a drunk driver and she had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Over the next couple of years, her high school friends walked far into their new lives at college, while Diane spent her days at home doing physical, speech and occupational therapy. Every word she spoke came out three times, even when she thought she was saying it once. She worked long and hard to use the walker. She had severe short term memory loss. Back in high school, before the crash, she would experience a panicky feeling when she thought she couldn't find her phone, only to realize that she was talking on her phone while looking for it. Now every few minutes she had that panicky feeling about...everything. But now there was no humorous resolution at her ear; she just kept dropping the thread of her own thought, and she didn't know where to look for it.
Diane came to Carson's Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Services for help. Her Carson team taught Diane more about the consequences of her brain injury and some suggestion as to how to compensate for short term memory loss. She used a series of sticky notes, alarms on her phone and small drawings to help her find the thread of the thoughts that kept dropping. She decided she wanted to go back to volunteering at the hospital where she'd felt so inspired as a volunteer, and so cared for as a patient. That first day back, she was so relieved not to be the patient any more.
Diane began in the Materials Management Department, where she inventoried items received for patients by checking off a list and placing labels on each item. When she mastered these tasks, she was moved to the Administrative Department, where she collated intake packages for patients. This was a challenge for Diane because she needed to recall the sequence of tasks for assembling the packets properly. Within a year, she was able to complete the sequence independently and without her aids. She was able to teach the other volunteers how to assemble an intake packet.
After months more work with her Carson team, Diane applied for and was accepted to a local community college. She obtained a part time job as an Administrative Assistant in an optometrist's office and was able to save up enough money to pay for a car and insurance. She continued to work on her therapies with the same diligence she applies to everything in her life. She recently obtained her drivers' license. When she decided to leave her volunteer position, the hospital recognized Diane with a certificate that honored her commitment and the number of hours she had worked. Hospital staff stood with her Carson TBI worker and applauded the spirit that had moved everyone she touched to try a little harder and to have a little more faith in our ever unfolding lives.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/8/2013 by admin)
Story #17 Linda - Crisis and Respite - April 30, 2013
"Let me tell you how this works. Everybody is always mad at Linda. She isn't supposed to put her hands on people's shoulders she doesn't know when she talks to them. She isn't supposed to go home with men she just met. She isn't supposed to talk so loud and she certainly isn't supposed to curse a blue streak at people trying to help her. She isn't supposed to stand up and run off -- actually take off running away -- from people in the middle of conversations. She isn't supposed to yell to get what she wants.
She was always doing everything wrong and, as her thirtieth birthday approached, she was feeling like she just didn't want to bother living anymore and she had a pretty good idea how to end her life quickly. But when you say THAT to other people who are always trying to help you, you end up in inpatient care at Providence Behavior Health Hospital's Adult Psychiatric Unit. For two months, you try to prove that you can be safe enough to get to the Carson Center for Crisis Stabilization and Respite Services.
If you can make it to Carson's Crisis and Respite, like Linda did, then the 24 hour a day staff also won't want you to put your hands on people's shoulders that you don't know. They will want you to figure out what "triggers" your frequent outbursts. They will want you to follow rules like 'Stop asking just any man to go out with you', and oh, yeah, they won't want you to just run off in the middle of conversations about all of this. They are sensitive like that. Oh, and, worksheets. They have these papers where you are supposed to write down a log of what is making you angry and your notes about the skills they are teaching. Some of us try not to put anything in writing that will give anybody a chance to show us how come we are all wrong again.
Here's the thing. You have to hang in there. After five months at Carson's Crisis and Respite services, I stopped getting into people's space. I learned how to describe what I want, how to let the other person know I'm interested in their point of view and how to suggest what we can do. I learned to practice being gentle. I got good at comforting others, which, I tell you, feels great. They taught me to break things down into small steps and get there, one bit at a time. And you know what? Feelings are not facts; the big ones you can ride out like a wave and take a little break from. No need to run out into the cold all the time. I got people in my life now, and so, well, I'm not so interested in just any guy.
The worksheets? Not my favorite, but, when you see it all on paper, you see you have choices and the big drama situations aren't really who you are. They're just an opportunity to try one of these things: 1) change your mind about the situation; 2) change the situation; 3) leave the situation or, 4) stay miserable. Guess which one I'm NOT doing anymore.
I'm Linda and I'm not always doing everything wrong all the time. And I never was. Nobody is."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/1/2013 by admin)
Story #16 Melissa - Center for Development - April 23, 2013
Melissa was nine years old when she and her mother came in for therapy at The Carson Center for Development. Melissa had been born with hydrocephalus, a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain. For Melissa, this means living with a seizure disorder, semi-paralysis and intellectual disabilities. At nine, she had already undergone more surgeries and medical procedures than a person in average health undergoes in a lifetime. Melissa's mom, Alice, had just divorced. Alice, Melissa, and her brother needed to figure out a new daily routine now that Dad wasn't living with them. Not only was the adjustment a challenge because of Melissa's medical conditions, but also because Melissa would yell loudly and refuse to cooperate with the family plans when she became frustrated, which was often.
A year and a half later, many things had improved. The family had new routines and for the most part, they were working. With help from her Carson therapist, Melissa had learned how to ask for breaks before things got too overwhelming for her at home. But still, Alice felt like she was at the end of her rope. For months, Melissa had been occasionally refusing to go to school, which would cause Alice to miss her job. Now it was happening more frequently. On this morning, Melissa absolutely refused to go to school again and Alice felt in her gut that her job was finally at stake. Alice called her Carson therapist and told her she was considering having Melissa moved out and into a setting where she could be cared for by professionals. Alice's circumstances are more demanding than that of most parents, but what parent does not, eventually, at some point in the parenting path, stand full-stopped with the same overwhelming conclusion, "I can't do it like this anymore. Something has to change"?
Alice's Carson therapist asked her to describe her relationship with Melissa at its very best. It took some prodding, but then Alice remembered a time where they both found it so very funny that the neighbor had backed out of his driveway in a hurry and drove off with part of his hedges lodged in his back bumper. The absurdity of the shrubbery tucked in the bumper as he sped off just tickled their funny bones and they laughed without restraint together. They hadn't needed to talk about it. There were times like this when they were just easy together -- on the same page. The schedule for caring for Melissa had its own rhythm and beauty, too. Alice knew there was no other relationship in the world where she would, year after year, say, "I have a cold and the house is a disaster. I'm under a big deadline at work and I need time by myself, but come on in and I will take care of you." It is the importune nature of the whole undertaking that makes parenting such a profound lesson in love and service to others. Alice also reflected that having time for herself, having clear rules, even for someone so challenged as her daughter is, made for times when they both felt a lot more secure and relaxed.
Her Carson therapist asked her to name the kinds of strides they had made together over the past years. Alice named many. And then her Carson therapist asked her, "What kind of people make these strides?"
"Courageous people. Strong people. Committed people. People who love each other truly...I see what you mean." Alice's own answers to her therapist's questions reminded her of their many skills and essential attributes. Alice paused and then continued, "...Tired people! People willing to make changes when they need to! I need to talk to Melissa and call the school and figure out a plan that works for everyone to get her there and keep her there!" Which is exactly what Alice did.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 5/1/2013 by admin)
Story #15 Steve - Serenity Pond - April 16, 2013
At fourteen years of age, Steve dresses exclusively in sweatpants. He has done so since he got out of diapers as a toddler. Steve doesn't like to wear clothes that rub him the wrong way, which includes pants with zippers or buttons. He also doesn't like the texture of certain foods -- rice pudding is out of the question, but yogurt is okay. He can't bear loud sounds or crowds. Steve's mom understands his sensory sensitivities; she knows that her son isn't trying to be difficult, it's just that he experiences the world as though it were turned on "loud," and it overwhelms his senses. Steve feels, hears and tastes things in a way that most of us don't. Steve's mom has done her best to adjust their home life to meet his needs.
When Steve's Carson Center Therapeutic Mentor (TM) met his family, Steve's mom said that what concerned her the most was not that Steve had to have things a certain way. She knew that in some fashion, this would always be true. What concerned her was that, as a teenager, Steve had entered a time of his life when his horizons should be expanding, but weren't. In order to get out into the community and try new things and meet new people, Steve was going to have to learn to manage his feelings of anxiety related to his sensory sensitivities. He was going to have to learn to be okay when things didn't go his way, if he was going to manage real friendships. Steve was going to have to learn to do his laundry, and to take care of his body if he was going to mature into a young adult that fit well into his peer group.
Steve's mother had such compassion for her son. She knew why he was so overwhelmed with his chores and with the prospect of reaching out into the world. She knew why cleaning the bathroom attached to his bedroom seemed like an impossibility, why using mouthwash and taking showers stopped him in his tracks -- the sounds, the smell and touch were just too overwhelming. She knew that Steve couldn't just ride his bike to the Community Center and try out a new sport. If he managed to overcome his fears and ride his bike there, what would he do when he entered the gymnasium full of active kids? What would it sound like and smell like to him?
When his TM asked him what calmed him down the most, Steve said he imagined water. The water was in a pond in a sunny clearing off a shady wood. There were cattails growing and bass jumping in his imaginary pond. His TM asked Steve to imagine that as he breathed in slowly through his nose and blew the air out through his mouth, he was also emptying a bucket of clear, cool water into his imaginary Serenity Pond. Steve and his Carson TM talked about how the things that stressed him had been drying out his imaginary pond, and that Steve needed to take time every morning and every evening to breathe in and out so that he could fill that Serenity Pond.
When he did this, Steve was able to calmly figure out with his Carson TM how to clean his bathroom with non-toxic cleaners that didn't smell so strong. He realized he could use hygiene products that were made for people who are sensitive to scents. With his Serenity Pond full, Steve was willing to go with his TM to the Community Center where he discovered they had a swimming pool. It was true that it smelled like chlorine and it was awfully noisy with all the splashing people, but here were hours when the chlorine was less strong and there were fewer people in the water. With a full Serenity Pond, Steve now sees a world in which he can eat his yogurt, wear his sweatpants and carefully try new things.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 4/17/2013 by admin)
Story #14 Barbara - Peg Carson - April 9, 2013
One Woman's Determination
"In 1963, I was thirteen years old. That's when I met Peg Carson at 20 Broad Street in Westfield. She was my therapist.
I wouldn't be here now without her. I have tried suicide. Things got really rough for me. You see, I was one of eleven kids, and I'd been sexually molested by both my Dad and my brother. Back then, people didn't talk about these things.
I was down and out when I had to go to court and when it hit the papers. People in my own family were so hard on me. I wasn't even going outside anymore. I wouldn't want anybody to go through what I did. My brother went to jail for it. And things got worse in my family for me, because when he got out, he was killed by a drunk driver and somehow everyone laid the blame for it all on my shoulders. But there I was all alone, except for Peg Carson, and my sister, Sharon.
I saw Peg Carson for nine years before she retired. And then I would go and see her in the nursing home. There's just never going to be enough I could say to thank everybody at the Carson Center. After Peg, there was my other therapist, and my psychiatrist and my Outreach Worker. People were there for me 24/7 when things got rough. They helped me. They made me believe in life. They made me believe that there is something out there for me. They helped me try.
If you can believe it, I went into the service and learned about electronics. That's where I learned a lot about life. I met a world of different people from everywhere and you ask yourself 'What are you doing for your country, for others?' I saw there was more out there than me. There's more to life than dwelling in the past. When I got out, I worked on putting parts into electronic games -- making prototypes for the handhelds in Research and Development at Milton Bradley. I was the only female. I had my own desk and a phone. That's when I started to feel worth something, like what Peg Carson had always said about me was really true. I met some wonderful people there.
My sister Sharon worked in people's houses for eighteen years. She was put in for Employee of the Year and she won it. The day after the ceremony, she died from pancreatic cancer. All those years, people wanted her to go into management, but she wanted to be with people, not paper. and no one even knew her own husband had schizophrenia. My sister knew how people struggled, and she spent her life helping them. Sharon believed in me. Like the people at the Carson Center. There wasn't a day she didn't stop by or call. I want to be like that. When Sharon died, some of the old bad feelings came back. The Carson Center was there for me. I had phone numbers to call my therapists. They taught me to be around other people. Hibernating will get you in a heap of trouble. Once I start getting depressed, I'm like, 'Get your butt up and move!' And you know what I say now? Don't be afraid to ask for help. You know, there is so much stigma. You know, it's not fair that people think bad things about people who need help -- there's nothing they could have done. It's not their fault.
I've got all my positive thoughts to fall back on. Everybody at Carson has given me the momentum to keep on going. Now I will do anything possible not to get depressed.
It is 2013. I am going to be sixty in July. I want to be a Peer Advocate myself. I have gotten to the point where I know I am worth it and I want other people to know they are worth it. The Carson Center staff made me believe in life. I don't want everything they have done to go to waste. They have helped and I want to give back. I want people to know they are worth something. Now I am getting to be like my sister, Sharon was, like Peg Carson was. I thought it was all lost for me, but it's just getting going. All because of one woman's determination to make a place for people who struggle."
By JAC Patrissi
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 4/10/2013 by admin)
Story #13 Andrew - In Home Therapy - April 2, 2013
"Otts-Otts. D'Laire!" shouts ten year old Andrew from his living room. He is feeling "juice-ful" if not entirely "cheese-ful". Andrew has roped his whole family and his Carson In Home Therapist into employing his ever new, always heavily intonated make-believe and happy exclamations, so that even in the quiet morning corners when his mother untangles his sister's knots before school, his sister will approve of her work with a short "Otts. Cheese-ful." He has hand gestures that go along with his made-up expressions; they capture his unbridled exuberance for being at home and not at school.
At school, Andrew is not exceedingly juiceful. He maintains straight A's, but struggles to find a good friend. When he gets bored with the material at school, the teachers let him tutor the others. Otts-Otts. For a year now, he has worked with his Carson In Home-Therapy Team to help him strengthen the things that are hard to do when you live with Autism -- like forming and maintaining social relationships, seeing the big picture, seeing things from another's point of view, hanging loose and letting life change and move on. He's never had any accommodation in school; his parents are very excited to hear from the school counselor that Andrew is completely passing as neurotypical -- he seems to others like a regular kid, just a little shy.
But all that focus on reading between the lines in the language of social relationship at school winds Andrew up. When he gets home, he explodes into the relief of Otts-Otts. At home, Andrew no longer has to strain to attend to so many complicated social relationships with peers' inconvenient needs and mysterious feelings. When Andrew has depleted his excess of the Social Relationship Humors, he falls back inward to his withdrawn self. His sister, bumping a knee, wails and seeks comfort from the eyes of her brother, with whom she had been so cheese-ful just hours earlier. Instead of compassion, Spock informs her that the volume of her cry is hurting his ears. The In-Home Therapy Team works with his sister and parents to help them understand the struggles that Andrew has with feeling compassion and expressing his tender feelings.
One day, Andrew told his Carson Therapeutic Training and Support (TT&S) Worker that he'd made a new friend at school. She was excited for him. "Tell me about him."
"Well, Mrs. B sat him next to me. His name is Stuart and he is really, really smart. I mean, he is even smarter than me. He wanders around the rows making noises."
"Otts-otts?" asked his Carson worker with a smile. Andrew didn't respond to this, but continued. "He makes charts with people's grades on homework and tests. He came up to me and said, "Andrew, what is Rosie's problem? She says that I am bragging just because I was telling everyone the number of points they got lower than me on the test." Andrew's eyes filled with mirth as he told his TT&S worker the story. "He wasn't getting the social relationship you taught me about! Do you think he has Autism, too?"
About a week later, Andrew said to his TT&S, "Rosie came up to me and said, 'Stuart says he has AUTISM. What's AUTISM?
"What did you say, Andrew?" I said that it can be when you are very, very smart but it's hard knowing how to talk to people. That's how it is for me. I didn't say that part to her..."
"Are people nice to Stuart?" "Well, he shouts out the answers when people get things wrong. Kevin isn't very nice. But Mrs. B had us all grade each other's papers in pairs. She put Stuart with Kevin. Stuart marked all of the answers wrong on Kevin's paper except for one. He handed it back to Kevin and said, 'Disappointing,'" Andrew's face was wide with smile.
"Mrs. B. is a genius," said his TT&S. "What did Kevin do?"
"Well, he got up and put his paper in the trash." Andrew's sister was listening. She got up to re-enact the whole scene. She tried several "Disappointings" to Andrew and the TT&S's completely juiceful otts. When they settled back down, Andrew concluded, "I really like him. I am glad Mrs. B sat him next to me."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 4/3/2013 by admin)
Story #12 Elena - Kidstop Preschool Center - March 26, 2013
At five years of age, Elena had figured out how to get her and her seven brothers and sisters what they needed to get through the evenings during the months when her mom was gone. When they got hungry for dinner, they could just walk to the local bar and their Dad would get them some chewing gum and water. This would tide them over until morning when Elena and her siblings came to Carson Center at Valley Human Services' Kidstop Preschool Center in Ware. At Carson's Kidstop, they washed their hands and faces in warm water. They had a good breakfast and snack and lunch. Sometimes Elena would find a box of graham crackers tucked in her backpack when she got home.
When Elena was ten, her mother died from her addiction to alcohol and drugs. Elena would make sure her younger siblings had their shoes tied and their backpacks packed before they headed off together to Kidstop's school-aged program. There, they could go before and after school, and full days during school vacation. Elena and her siblings ate well during the summer. Elena loved learning about the food pyramid. The teachers took them to the grocery store where they had to do a scavenger hunt by reading labels and finding foods to put in the cart that reflected healthy food choices. Then Elena learned how to prepare some simple foods.
Elena got plenty of exercise with Kidstop. Her teachers took her to the pool and the park. They taught her to swim and to play games. They took her to community parades and events. Her favorite times were when the teachers would play music and everyone would dance together. She also got homework help at Kidstop; the teachers made math so fun, helping them figure out the very best way to spend a dollar. At home, her Dad still struggled terribly with his alcoholism, which made every day unpredictable. At Carson's Kidstop, the rules were clear and consistent. If you didn't follow them, the consequences were swift and fair. After Elena graduated the program at the age of thirteen, she would come back every week to stop in and catch up, watching the teachers talk and laugh while helping all those younger kids learn.
Elena has her own children now who attend Carson's Kidstop programs. They are taught by one of the same teacher's that taught Elena.
"Elena is such a hard worker," says her old teacher. "She has two jobs all the time to make ends meet. That doesn't surprise me; that girl always worked so hard. but you know what amazes me? After being raised the way she was, she is a GREAT parent. I mean it. She is one of the best parents I have seen in all my career. Her kids are so well behaved and happy. She gives them lots of love and clear consequences. She has them in all the community activities, all the sports and swimming. She brings them to all the community events. And though they don't have much money, the family goes out together to a movie once a month. She packs the best food for them -- healthy and well-balanced meals! Just beautiful. I tell you, it is incredible to see. She is giving them a good family life. She shares meals with her brothers and sisters family three or four times a week. It's cheaper that way and they really enjoy it. And you know what they do after the meal? They turn on the music and have Family Dance. Isn't that a great idea! I tell you, she is a real success. I don't know where she got her mothering from -- she is a truly, truly good mom."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 3/28/2013 by admin)
Story #11 Dillon - Marriage & Family Therapy - March 19, 2013
Before he was six months old, the Department of Children and Families removed Dillon from his mother's custody due to abuse and neglect. On an unannounced visit, the DCF worker found Dillon's mother drunk and high in the living room, while Dillon lay in wet diapers alone, silently staring up from the bottom of a laundry basket that was placed on a shelf in the pantry closet. Dillon was removed from her care and placed with his father, and then his grandmother. Both father and grandmother struggled with addiction, and Dillon was removed from their care within months. Dillon was placed in a series of foster homes. Each time he was moved to the next home, he was told he had to leave everything he owned behind him, but for a Hefty Bag filled with his clothing. By the time he arrived at his adoptive home at the age of six, Dillon had just a few clothes that fit in his Hefty bag and a toy that no one but Dillon recognized as a toy, so he was never made to give it up; this was "Mr. Sock."
When Dillon was twelve, he and his adoptive parents turned to Carson Center's Marriage and Family Therapy for help. It seems that Dillon's adoptive Dad, Mike, was an alcoholic and was verbally abusive to Dillon's adoptive mom, Sarah. They were in therapy because Sarah had had enough; she had told Mike that if he didn't get help, she and Dillon were leaving him. As painful as it was to reach out, Mike wanted his family more than he wanted to avoid looking at what he was doing. He also knew how unfair he was being to Dillon, who, above all, just wanted a happy family life.
In therapy, Mike was able to see what he had done to bring his family to this point. He realized that he had deep feelings of shame for most of his life. He was so uncomfortable with these feelings that he drank excessively to escape the pain. Because he'd been actively addicted to alcohol, his bonds with Sarah and Dillon were now strained. He felt like he was left on the outside of the family. Like many men, Mike was raised to believe that Sarah didn't have the right to be upset about his alcoholism or to tell him how he was creating so much strife. So Mike had called her degrading names and yelled at her whenever she addressed him on what he was doing. His therapist helped him see that he didn't have the right to degrade Sarah, no matter how shame-filled or left out he felt.
Mike had broken Sarah and Dillon's trust. As Mike's sobriety strengthened, and as his attitudes about respecting his wife changed, Mike began to make real amends to Sarah. Sarah began to trust him a little more. But Dillon didn't want his adoptive mom to get hurt again. Dillon had seen too many verbal assaults and drinking binges to believe in Mike when Mike finally started to make changes. In therapy, Dillon began to see that he loved and trusted Sarah. And he didn't really want to lose the special bond he felt when it was just the three of them against Mike: Dillon, Mr. Sock and Sarah. The more Mike and Sarah began working as a respectful team, the more Dillon felt distress and turned towards the comfort of Mr. Sock. The family continued in Carson's Marriage and Family Therapy throughout Dillon's teenage years, helping Mike earn Dillon's trust again and helping Dillon learn to respect Sarah and Mike as parents working together.
Like most kids who don't get their earliest needs met, as he grew, Dillon did not want to take on the additional responsibilities and privileges that come with the older teenage years. He didn't want a driver's license. He didn't want to learn to do his laundry. He didn't want to make choices about what he wanted to do in life. He didn't want to spend time with peers his own age. Part of Dillon was still on that shelf in that pantry closet, desperate and overwhelmed in sheer panic that a good mother won't be coming to care for him and that the world is not safe. He needed more than your typical teenager. Carson's Marriage and Family Therapist was able to give him that extra. His adoptive parents and his therapist joined together to help support Dillon, who stepped out into the world this fall by attending culinary school. Before he left, he gave his Carson Therapist Mr. Sock.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 3/20/2013 by admin)
Story #10 Margaret - CBFS - March 13, 2013
At fify-five, after years of hard work, Margaret had learned enough about managing her own mental health that she felt emotionally stable most of the time. Now she wanted more. Margaret talked with Carson Center Community Based Flexible Support (CBFS) staff for awhile about making her life better. She thought about some new goals for herself -- maybe she would look at engaging in the community and improving her social skills. Maybe she should pursue a job. But in the end, she declared, "I'm too fat for anyone to hire me! You know how people 'call in sick' to work ... well, I'm 'callin in fat' to life! I've got to change my weight so I can get on with life."
Though she was funny, Margaret also knew that her negative self-talk was making her feel badly about herself. Margaret was already working together with her psychiatrist to fully participate in her recovery from the mental health challenges she faced. She knew from this experience that if she devoted her energy and will to a goal, she could achieve it. It was time to stop putting herself down and get on her own team. Margaret decided to fully participate in her goal of losing weight and getting physically healthy.
With the support of her CBFS Peer Support Worker, she started attending a Weight Watchers meeting held at Carson Center in Ware. In the first six months, she lost twenty-five pounds. Feeling lighter and more able to move, Margaret felt renewed motivation to go back to the gym where she already had a membership. Exercising made Margaret feel like her smoking habit was starting to hold her back -- she got winded so easily. Like millions of others, Margaret made one of the most popular New Year's resolutions, "I will quit smoking." But unlike millions of others, Margaret had the support of her Carson Center CBFS Peer Support Worker when she quit her one-and-a-half-pack-a-day habit all at once.
The new session of Weight Watchers started, and now, with her lungs healing, Margaret started to exercise in earnest. Today, Margaret has lost a remarkable eighty pounds. She is very close to her goal weight. She maintains a healthy diet and is still free from nicotine. She inspires her Weight Watchers group. Since no one could fail to notice the outward changes in Margaret, her neighbor began talking with her about her hard won success. She began coaching and supporting him on his own weight loss journey. "Here I am," says Margaret, "engaging with my community and improving my social skills, just like I wanted to. I'm not 'callin in fat' to life anymore. I'm showing up with everything I have to give."
Margaret's journey continues. She and her Peer Support Worker are looking at using tools like yoga and meditation to help search for meaning and to improve the quality of life. "I can't be hard on myself like I was," says Margaret. "By getting healthy myself, I'm showing others it can be done. That's my job -- to be the healthiest person I can be."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 3/14/2013 by admin)
Story #9 Art Therapy - March 5, 2013
"Blessed be the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape." This humorous aphorism reminds us that in some essential way, the ability to respond with flexibility to whatever life has to offer us is one of the main avenues to an emotionally balanced life.
The boys who came to Carson Center's Art Therapy group did not know each other when they started their project, but they did have this in common: when it came to figuring out who should do what, and how and when, they were ... inflexible.
The Carson Center Art Therapists divided the group of ten boys into two smaller groups of five. They gave the boys a goal and a deadline. They had six weeks to create a sea-worthy structure out of recycled materials. Exactly what it looked like, what it was made of, would be up to them to figure out. The boys, varying in ages from ten to fourteen, were excited to begin the project whose name reflected the creative design freedom they felt, "Anything That Floats."
First would be the flag. What would it look like? What would it stand for? For weeks, the boys argued. They knew what the flag should not look like; they knew what the flag should not say - that is, whatever the other person thought it should. The six-week deadline was fast approaching and they were not any closer to building their floats. The flag was their first defeat and their first important lesson. It taught them many things. Without a shared vision, they would not succeed. Without the ability to hear someone else's point of view and ideas, or to ask themselves just how willing they were to try a new way forward, they would not succeed. They also realized that there was so much to be done that they needed everyone's participation, even the kid next to them that annoyed them so much. It didn't matter very much if everyone in the group became a friend; it mattered that you could appreciate one another's work enough so that you could get to your goal -- get that boat on the water.
The boys began again in earnest. The Art Therapists helped them find places to collect their bottles and plastics, wooden and rope materials. The more outgoing boys stopped horsing around and started going out of their way to encourage the quieter guys, who had begun to tentatively experiment with attaching pieces to the base. "Hey! Look at what Tom did! That's really cool - and that'll hold. Let's try it over here..." As the deadline approached, their teamwork increased, until they had two complete and ragged looking rafts that would be tested on the waters of Carson Center's full-sized swimming pool in Westfield.
To prepare the boys for the launching of their boats in front of friends and family, the Art Therapists focused their remarks on what the group had learned in the process. The boys had learned to focus, to calm themselves when disagreeing and come back to the relationship, so that they could continue to plan and build together. They learned to focus on a larger goal, rather than their immediate feelings or reactions. They learned to try an idea, and bring it all the way to fruition, making adjustments along the way that took into account their environment, their limitations and their opportunities.
Away from the boys, the Art Therapists prepared themselves for the disappointment they anticipated the boys would feel when the Armada of Discards would not float -- because, looking at them, how could they float? How would the Art Therapists ever keep up morale as the group fished the pieces from the bottom of the pool?
But the boats held; the collaboration and hard work paid off. Friends and families cheered. Carson's Art Therapists exhaled. Not only did they hold their own on the water's surface, each raft held the weight of six proud kids who had learned a creative lesson for life when the waters get rough - try not to go it alone; build anything that floats and get on, and that's where we'll start.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 3/6/2013 by admin)
Story #8 Elaine - In Home Therapy - February 26, 2013
Every day Elaine would say goodbye to her mother and head off to school. After class began, Elaine would head to the girls' bathroom. From there, she would hide in the stalls, or slip into the cafeteria and then outside, away from class, away from school -- away. Elaine managed to show up at school just enough; she intercepted phone calls and report cards home for long enough that her mother and step-father did not know she was failing. They were completely unprepared when, at seventeen years of age, Elaine dropped out of high school altogether.
Elaine's grandmother lived with them. Elaine didn't talk about the fact that she needed to crawl into grandma's bed every night to be able to fall asleep; it's just that there was no other way to find peace. In fact, Elaine didn't talk much at all, to anyone, and there was very little peace to be found anywhere.
When the police told her parents that they suspected Elaine had been sexually assaulted that night they had found her passed out at a party where they were called to a disturbance, Elaine's mom felt the gulf between her and her daughter widen. How could she reach out to support her daughter when her daughter wouldn't really talk to her?
For Elaine, a sense of safety and wellbeing was a distant memory. That is why she drank so much, smoked pot and took whatever drugs she could find. Eventually, Elaine felt so overwhelmed with anxiety that she couldn't leave her room. She felt so panicked that she couldn't breathe -- her world felt like it was closing in on her.
Carson Center's In Home Therapy Team met with Elaine and her family to help figure out what was most important to Elaine. Her parents felt resigned to the idea that things were not going to get better unless something changed. And that was something Elaine could agree with; they all wanted something better. For the next six months, Elaine struggled with Carson Center's staff. She only showed up for her meetings at home with the therapist half the time and when she did show up, she didn't have much to share. She didn't want to go to the horse farm, to the lake or anywhere that staff wanted to take her to help her try out some new skills to help her steady her emotions and soothe her senses. Staff kept trying and Elaine kept avoiding. When her parents lost hope for a little while, Carson staff helped them find ways to relate to their daughter. Then, after six months of struggle, something changed in Elaine. She begain to trust her team -- a little -- and trust her parents -- a little bit more.
Sober and just barely willing, Elaine started to practice the new skills she needed to work with her emotions so that she could live through a day feeling pretty good. She agreed to work on a plan to grow her independent living skills, now that she was nearing her eighteenth birthday. She decided to get her GED. Elaine is practicing sleeping alone, and using her new skills to find serenity when the anxiety rushes in. A little bit at a time, at her own pace, she is working through the traumas of her past, while she steps steadily, slowly into her future, her In Home Therapy team right beside her.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 2/28/2013 by admin)
Story #7 Team Works - February 19, 2013
As we move slowly into our snowy new year, the rush of the holiday season settles into memories that are warmed by our gratitude for them. Each year that the season returns and passes, our young children mature; they enter more fully into the sharing and planning of their community and family celebrations. Their middle childhood brings a growing awareness and appreciation of the bonds their families create through ritual and tradition. At season's end, we put away our decorations carefully, with the faith that they will be unearthed again next year in happy celebration of another season of hope and giving.
When November comes close and the holiday music begins to play, the promise of the season becomes painful for the eight to thirteen year olds who participate in Carson Center for Human Services' TeamWorks program. The children come to the after school program with significant histories of trauma and loss. Many are in a residential or foster care setting away from home; others live in families experiencing struggle and chaos. The distance between what the children hoped for and what is currently possible for them becomes too great, and they, still yearning, sag under the pressures of the holiday cheer that surrounds them. They feel bereft of the happiness that seems to be meant for everyone but them.
Year round, Carson Center TeamWorks staff always plan engaging activities that teach things like teambuilding and social skills. As the holidays approach, staff can see how the strain takes its toll on the usually exuberant kids. This year, staff talked with the kids about ways they could enter into the holiday spirit. They explored together the notion of giving, and how it is that giving can fill you up, especially when you feel loss. But giving is hard when you are young and hurt and still so much in need, and there wasn't a child among the TeamWorks group who could find the inspiration to create a traditional celebration as Thanksgiving neared. Planning a meal together was feeling to the kids like a faint echo of something they wanted, but couldn't really have the way they needed it to be.
That's when one of the TeamWorks staff suggested something everyone could participate in whole-heartedly: Thanksgiving Dinner for Dogs. Carson staff and the kids researched a dog-healthy peanut butter, oats, granola and honey recipe for home-made dog treats. They fashioned them into bones and brought them to the Westfield Animal Shelter where they were met with the kind of unhindered dog-thanks that showed every child that she or he had succeeded in giving. Sometimes our humanity is most evident among animals.
Their Thanksgiving success inspired the TeamWorks kids to make holiday cards for military personnel this past December. Now they are planning a community service project to help other kids get active sixty minutes a day to better their health. These TeamWorks projects are the beginnings of the kids' own community rituals. It is the beginning of their own lifelong season of hope and giving.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 2/20/2013 by admin)
Story #6 Sarah - Family Support & Training - February 12, 2013
"The thing is," says Sarah, "if you have a child with emotional problems, everybody wants to know what the parents did wrong. So not only do you have to deal with your child's issues, you have to deal with everybody looking at you like you are some kind of problem."
Sarah's son Jacob is fifteen. Soon Jacob will be released from the Department of Youth Services. The Department of Children and Families is also involved in her family. DYS had called Sarah to a meeting to plan for Jacob's return home. At the meeting, DCF showed her a plan for her family that included Sarah working with a Parent Aide. Sarah feels resentful of DYS; she doesn't think their decisions regarding Jacob were fair. She is very suspicious of DCF and she doesn't want the Parent Aide coming to her home.
"Who wants a Parent Aide in your house -- do you want a Parent Aide in your house? Besides, I know Jacob has his problems, but he is a good kid, a good kid, and everybody seems to forget that," says Sarah.
Sarah's Family Partner from the Carson Center for Human Service's Family Support and Training program knows that Jacob, whatever choices he may have made, whatever the mental health issues he faces, is "a good kid" in his mother's eyes. Holly knows what it is to see into the heart of your child, to understand his or her deepest intentions and desires, even when no one else seems to see those things. The Family Parner, Holly, knows this because Holly raised a daughter with serious mental illness, too. Holly's job is to work alongside parents and caregivers to help strengthen their confidence and abilities so that parents can create the best possible future for their families. Holly draws on her training and her own personal wisdom to help parents manage the behavioral health systems from an informed and empowered point of view, rather than a besieged and helpless one.
Over the first three months of working together, Sarah grew to trust her Family Partner, Holly. In the context of that trust, Sarah was able to admit that she didn't always get Jacob to his psychiatrist, therapy and dentist appointments because she didn't have a car and didn't know how to use the local bus system. Sarah also admitted that there were things the DCF Parent Aide had said that made sense, but that Sarah didn't really know how to do them. For example, Sarah knew that she should set firmer limits and clearer expectations in her house with Jacob, but Sarah was worried. How could she really disconnect Jacob's X-Box and internet access if he hadn't earned it that week? Could he handle it?
Holly asked Sarah which thing Sarah wanted to work on first. Sarah chose the bus. For days, Hoilly and Sarah practiced getting on and off the bus, and learning the different routes near her home. One day, the bus driver greeted Sarah. From that day forward, Sarah was at ease on the bus. She changed her son's psychiatrist, therapist and dentist to new ones who were on the bus route. Then she showed her son how to use the bus.
Next, Sarah decided that she really wanted DCF out of her family's life. She also wanted to be respected by her son as the authority in her home. Sarah planned and practiced new parenting strategies with her Family Partner. Sarah used her new system with the X-Box; Jacob respected the limits she set. The Parent Aide and DCF closed their case. Holly helped Sarah see things from the point of view of the DYS and DCF workers. Over time, Sarah saw that their work had helped Jacob become more responsible and mature. Sarah saw that Jacob was indeed more respectful to her when he had returned home from DYS and DCF's services.
"It took all of us, you know. The med provider, the therapy, and the stuff he got out of DYS and DCF. And me. I had stuff to change. What made the difference? My family partner got me. She understood what I was trying to do as a mother -- and all the stuff I had to deal with. She helped me take charge. I can still call her sometimes when I get stuck. And now, we're all right. We're okay."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 2/13/2013 by admin)
Story #5 Domestic Violence Advocate - February 5, 2013
"Suzanne" is a domestic and sexual violence advocate for the Carson Center in Ware. She also works part time in the liquor store downtown. It was pretty late in her shift at the store when a woman came in looking to buy a nip. The woman's hands were shaking as she rummaged in her bag for her i.d. Suzanne noted to herself the woman's disheveled appearance; her clothes and hair were soiled, her eyes, bloodshot. There are a few people who come into the liquor store like this. Suzanne felt put off. She didn't want to turn her back on the woman, in case she would try to steal from the store. "What is wrong with her? What a wreck," Suzanne thought to herself.
When the woman showed Suzanne her identification, Suzanne felt stopped in her tracks. As part of her work as a Civilian Police Advocate for the Ware Police Department, Suzanne receives referrals from the police as a follow-up to any domestic violence incident. Suzanne recognized the name and thought of how many times the woman's name had appeared on that referral list--and how many times Suzanne had called to offer support and information, yet she had never heard back from her.
Because of her work as a domestic and sexual violence advocate at the Carson Center, everything for Suzanne changed as she held the i.d. in her hands. She was reminded again how important it is to stop asking ourselves, "what is wrong with her?" and instead to consider "what might have happened to her."
Suzanne decided to just start talking--about how hard it is to be a parent sometimes, how tired she could get--how relationships can be a strain. And the woman began talking to Suzanne. She bought her nip and she stayed to talk. Eventually, Suzanne told her about her job as an advocate. She and the woman met and talked together on and off over the next few months. She learned how the woman had endured humiliations we couldn't imagine, like when her husband refused to let her get up from the couch as he hit and threatened her. He made her stay there even as she begged to go to the bathroom. One time, she soiled herself and he called in their children to witness "how disgusting" their mother was. He kept control of their finances, and he made sure he paid only the bills that were in his name. Anything that was in her name, he would be sure to skip payments, so that her credit would be systematically undermined. He monitored all the calls and most of her contact with others, so that she never received any of Suzanne's initial calls. Her drinking was her way of "self-medicating," of finding a way to bear the unbearable.
Suzanne hadn't hear from the woman in awhile when she came into the liquor store one evening. Someone else in the back of the store needed her attention, but Suzanne didn't want to turn her back on her, she was so happy to see her again.
"You look so -- healthy!" exclaimed Suzanne.
"Yeah. I stopped drinking. I moved out with the kids. I just -- I just wanted you to know," she paused, "that you were the only one who didn't spit on me."
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 2/13/2013 by admin)
Story #4 Gina - Intensive Therapeutic Foster Care - January 29, 2013
18-year old Gina arrived at the Carson Center's Intensive Therapeutic Foster Home in Ware by ambulance and in physical restraints. Her hand was in a cast, broken from her hitting it against a wall in abject frustration. Gina was a young person filled with contradictions. At night at the foster home, 18-year old Gina would go to bed with her "blankie" and suck her thumb.
The Carson Center's Intensive Therapeutic Foster Care is non-custodial, which means that the parents maintain all parental rights, unlike the foster care arrangements most people are familiar with through the Department of Children and Families. Parents voluntarily seek out this kind of temporary therapeutic care when their children have emotional challenges that prevent them from succeeding while living in their home setting. The children temporarily live at the home of a trained Therapeutic Foster parent. All throughout their stay, the children maintain close contact and connection to their biological parents. In the therapeutic foster care setting, the child learns new strategies to manage his or her emotions. Usually the child also needs help learning to solve problems in a way that respects their relationships with their parents, teachers and peers. As the child learns skills, he or she spends more and more time at home trying them out. Both the biological parents and the child can call the foster parents for support or to strategize how to manage their relationships during these visits back home. Eventually, the child returns home full-time, with a new set of skills. However, the path back home can be bumpy.
When Gina came back to her foster home after therapy one evening, proudly announcing that she had "trashed" her therapist's office, her foster parents promptly drove her back to the therapist's office. They insisted she clean up the mess and make amends. For two years, the Carson Center's foster parents worked with Gina, providing a loving and therapeutic home.
The young people who make use of these homes usually stay in casual contact with the foster parents for the rest of their lives; former therapeutic foster kids might drop a card, or call from time-to-time as their lives unfold. Because of this, the foster parents weren't that surprised to hear an unannounced knock at their door one night. Still, they were a little concerned, because it was kind of late for a visit. It was Gina. Though it had been ten years since Gina had lived with them, Gina was filled with an excitement she could not contain -- that just couldn't wait until morning -- she wanted to show her old foster parents her new engagement ring.
Gina has now been married for seventeen years. She has three kids of her own. She opened her own successful business. In her free time, she is a coach for a kids' baseball team. She says that she just wants to give back, and that the kids who give her the hardest time on the team are the kids that she understands the best.
The Carson Center's interventions last a lifetime.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 1/30/2013 by admin)
Story #3 Billy - Family Partner - January 22, 2013
At seventeen, Billy had just returned home to his mother after living for three years at a residential program for kids with complex emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Familes was involved with Bill's family. DCF thought it would be helpful to Billy's care, so they referred Billy's family to the team at the Carson Center.
Billy was anxious. His anxiety was so intense that he did not like to leave his room at home. When the van arrived to pick him up to go to his specialized therapeutic school, a staff member would come into his house and spend some time reassuring Billy and coaxing him onto the van every morning. At school, he remained hidden under the hood of his sweatshirt. He slept through class. Once in awhile, he would awaken to scrawl his name across the top of a page, but not more than this.
After school, Billy would not leave his house without his mother in the daylight. Late at night, under the cover of darkness, he would walk alone around the housing complex where they lived, ducking for cover behind bushes if he saw anyone. When his mother needed to run errands, such as to the Post Office or Walmart, she would bring Billy with her. Billy refused to enter the store. He would roll up the windows, even in stifling heat, and put the carseat into a reclining position to reduce the chance that he might be seen by anyone passing by in the parking lot. Sure, there were medications he could take, but Billy didn't trust medication.
The Carson Center team gathered together the few people Billy worked with and trusted. They asked him to tell the team what he wanted for himself. Billy really wanted to go to a public school. He wanted to feel less anxious around people. Billy agreed to invite the school therapist onto his team. Carson Center staff worked with Billy to practice going to the parking lot of the public school, then later to the door, and eventually to enter the school building. The team set up meetings at the school so that he could meet school staff in the quiet before the schoolyear began. He was given a tour of his classrooms while they were empty and a review of what to expect in his routine. Billy's mom began working with a Family Partner, a mom who had raised a son with severe emotional challenges. Together, they strategized ways that mom could respond to Billy at home. Eventually, DCF granted guardianship back to his mother. Billy invited a medication provider onto his team. He learned more about medication, and agreed to try it out.
So far, Billy has attended his public school every day this school year. He is earning B's and C's in all of his subjects. He has been more respectful to his mother and tells his team that he is learning to trust her. He takes his medications every day. Billy has been talking about going to college. When his mother and he go out to run errands, he goes into the store with her, only he leaves her to take care of his own shopping and meets up with her again when he is done. At his last team meeting, he told his team that he is very proud of himself and that he feels like a different kid, more like himself.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 1/23/2013 by admin)
Story #2 Rachel - OP Therapy - January 15, 2013
As any parent of an adult can attest, the years between 12 and 21 should begin with a posting of the orange, "three lane double reverse curve" traffic warning road sign - such is the intensity of changes during that period of time in any young life. Perhaps this was more so the case for Rachel than for most young people.
Rachel first started participating in Outpatient Therapy at the Carson Center in Ware when she was 12 years old. She came to the office and talked with her therapist over the years about how intense her emotions felt to her. She felt more than the usual adolescent awkwardness. She tried a course of antidepressants, but nothing seemed to help what she described as "intense feelings" and "feeling different" than others. Her therapist knew that Rachel had always described a vague sense of feeling different than other kids, but Rachel could never put her finger on why that was. Eventually, the anxiety and discomfort felt too overwhelming for her, and Rachel dropped out of school. With support from her therapist, she was able to obtain her GED at the local Adult Learning Center.
By the time she was 18, Rachel was able to secure a job, but the job presented her with new challenges. At long last, Rachel told her therapist, her trusted ally of so many years, what she had been afraid to admit, even to herself. The reason why she felt so different than other people, the reason why she was having so many panic attacks at her new job, was that she was hearing voices in her head that told her that people didn't like her. She felt certain that people were watching her through her computer, even though she knew rationally that this couldn't be true. She knew this is the kind of thing that "crazy" people feel and hear, and Rachel didn't want to be like this.
Courage is its own reward, and often it brings other rewards in plenty. Once Rachel risked telling the truth, she and her ally, her Outpatient Therapist, could better plan for her future. Rachel was finally given medication appropriate to help the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. With the medication in place, Rachel could use the skills she had practiced all those years, but without so much strain. Now her efforts bore more fruit. Rachel was able to get her driver's license and buy a used car. With her newfound ability to focus, she was able to apply for college and for student loans. She was accepted into community college on a full scholarship. She finished her first two years with a 4.0 grade point average. For so long, she had used her every waking moment to manage her responses to the overwhelming and fearful inner life that she was born into. Now she uses her energies towards a new dream. After she earns her associate's degree, Rachel plans to go on to the European studies. With medication and her own skillfulness mastering her inner voices, she experiences the world as interesting and inviting, no longer so threatening. At 21, the world welcomes her. Her Outpatient Therapist applauds her.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 1/17/2013 by admin)
Story #1 Alex - Traumatic Brain Injury - January 8, 2013
It was only a solitary bedroom with a hotplate at the YMCA, but Alex didn't want to lose it. He hadn't meant to clutter his room so dangerously with books and clothing from a nearby shelter. And he certainly didn't realize these things would be filled with bedbugs. But once again, the room was filled with vermin and too many clothes, and Alex was in danger of being evicted from the only home he had.
In the United States, 1.7 million people a year sustain a traumatic brain injury. The injury might be caused by any number of events -- a car accident or fall, a sporting accident or domestic violence. Like all people living with a traumatic brain injury, Alex had to find a "new normal" following his injury. Once a man who prided himself on his organizational skills, he now struggled to remember what he had had for breakfast or how to sort his mail. Once adept as an assistant in an accountant's office, he knew there was a way to make his money last through the week, but he couldn't remember just what he was supposed to do. Like most of us, before his injury, he never thought twice about what to say when you pick up the telephone, but now he was seized with anxiety at its ring. Not only might he forget the simple social greeting, "Hello?" but he feared he would be asked questions he couldn't recall the answers to right away. Under that kind of stress, he found he was making impulsive decisions, like agreeing to things he couldn't possibly do. In so many ways, Alex, since his injury, had become unrecognizable to himself.
The Carson Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Services of Western Massachusetts met with Alex to offer trained specialists in head injury and related rehabilitation. These specialists would figure out what meant most to Alex, and whether case management, rehabilitation counseling, vocational counseling, therapeutic recreation or neuropsychological services would best meet his needs and goals.
With assistance, Alex accessed the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission for vocational support and job development, obtaining a job on a maintenance crew. Carson Center staff helped him learn new strategies to manage his money. When you can't rely on your brain to function the way it used to, you need simple strategies to help you keep track of things. With his money, for example, Alex created a series of envelopes, one for each day of the week, with that day's expenses inside. He set up his phone to remind him of appointments, started a Memory Journal and made use of sticky notes to give him a visual prompt just as he entered his room.
Within a year, Alex obtained subsidized housing. He needed help finding furnishings that were clean and suitable, and he needed a hand to get them in his new apartment. The Carson Center's staff was there to help figure these things out. Alex got his own mattress - a new one, a dresser for his bedroom, and sofa and recliner for his living room.
With the new appliances in the kitchen, Alex started to shop and cook for himself, making him less reliant on community dinners.
Alex began exercising and joined a community gym. His balance isn't what it used to be, but with practice and support from the Carson Center, his gait is improving. Every morning he takes time to say "hello" to his neighbors in his apartment complex. He feels more "part of things and connected to people again," he says.
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
(Posted 1/9/2013 by admin)