Faces of Carson 2014
|Celebrating 50+ Years of Real Help with Real Life|
The Carson Center for Human Services, Inc.
Blank 11 12-16-14Maria didn't care much that her husband was away on business for a month in Arizona. She didn't even miss him much; when Tom was gone, there was one less person to take care of. When did it get like that?
Maria and Tom came in to see a Marriage and Family Therapist at the Carson Center. Maria described returning home one evening from a day out all together with the family. She helped the children off with their coats and shoes and began to prepare for bath time. She asked Tom to begin the supper.
An hour later, after the three children were bathed and dressed, Maria brought the hungry and tired children into the kitchen to find that Tom had not begun any kind of supper. Instead, he had decided to fix a lamp that he'd been meaning to fix. Maria felt desperate and abandoned.
But Tom felt desperate and alone, too. He had hidden from Maria the growing requirements he faced in order to get through each day. He needed to check every drawer in each room, several times a day. He needed to open and close the refrigerator four times in a row, at least twelve times a day. He checked the pantry, the closets and the lock on the front door hourly. Once he remembered the lamp was broken, he did everything in his power to tell himself to attend to it later, but this he could not manage to do. He soothed his feelings of failure by playing video games.
All Maria saw was a man more interested in himself and his games than his wife and family, so she had begun to live as if he weren't there. On weekends she went out with friends and didn't think to invite him.
Tom got his own Carson therapist to deal with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In Marriage and Family Therapy, they were asked to tell the original love story that brought them together. From there, they identified the fears and misunderstandings and loss of connection that had gotten in the way of their relationship. They saw how OCD had undermined their connection. They hired a babysitter to help them spend time alone together. Tom kept going to therapy.
In six month's time, they could sit, holding hands, while they told their Carson therapist that they'd found their way back to one another. When they celebrate their wedding anniversary now, they buy one another a small token, and spend an evening out together. And they send a card to Carson, too.
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/23/2014 by admin)
Traumatic Brain Injury 12-9-14Cole didn’t even own a cellphone back then; he didn’t like them. Now he uses one to read him his e-mail and even books. It was too hard to learn Braille because the brain injury makes it hard to retain new information.
“Thank God for my wife. You know, after I had the accident, they put this metal plate in my head. They had to remove part of my brain that was damaged. I like to say that my wife is that part of my brain now. She keeps the checkbook and does the bills and remembers the things I don’t. I’m a lucky, man.
“I was glad Jimmy offered me a ride home that night. My car was in the shop. There was a minute—it was seconds, really, now that I think about it, but they stretched out into a whole world of time--I saw that we weren’t turning and I saw that he wasn’t even looking up at the road. He was reading a text from his girlfriend. It must have got him thinking for two seconds. He didn’t survive, so I don’t know what he was thinking. I do remember what I was thinking. It was, ‘This is gonna hurt.’ It did.”
We forget, you know, how everything really works. That we are all depending on each other out there. We’re just hoping that we’ll stay awake for each other, stop at the reds and slow at the yellows because if we don’t, we crack to bits.
The driver’s girlfriend came to see me in the hospital when I woke up. It was almost a year later. I didn’t know who she was. She wanted to say she was sorry she sent the text. She knew he’d be driving, but she thought he’d look at it later.
I wasn’t very good at putting my words together then. I couldn’t find any for her. I wasn’t thinking about her sending the text or his reading it. I was wondering how I was going to live. There’s a lot to get used to when you lose your sight. I’m still not always sure the chair will be right there under me when I go to sit down. I decided right then and there just not to be afraid of it all. Being afraid just wasn’t going to help any.
The people at my Carson Traumatic Brain Injury group help with all of this stuff. They get me out of myself. They help me remember how good it is to be part of something while I figure out this new way of living.
Well, as some of the young kids say, “X to the text. ”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/15/2014 by admin)
It Was Warm Enough 12-2-14It was warm enough to take off their jackets, even though there was a little snow on the ground. Stephen wasn’t sure if he should say anything to Josh about keeping his jacket on. He wanted to take the lead from Josh. It would be a Dad-kind-of-thing to tell him to keep warm. It was a Dad-kind-of-thing to be throwing this football back and forth.
Stephen wanted to make sure his throws were good—not make Josh work too hard, but not make it so easy so that it wasn’t any fun. He wanted Josh to know that if he could have taught him to catch years ago, he would have. Josh is twelve now. A slight boy, athletic. Looks just like Stephen.
“Is he just like me?” Stephen worried.
It was mental illness that got in the way. The voices, the things he saw that nobody else saw. Then the drinking to cover it up. It was much easier being a raving drunk who saw things and who everybody thought would sleep it off and wake up sober than to be the crazy person everyone avoided. Stephen knew he shouldn’t, couldn’t, safely be around his baby boy, so the best thing he could think of doing was leaving. The boy’s mom said Stephen wasn’t doing anybody any good hanging around if he couldn’t take care of himself. She was right in her way.
First there was the drinking to take care of. But to give that up would be to admit the world that lay underneath. So that took a while. When Stephen finally got sober, he really felt crazy. But the hospital helped him out. They hooked him up to the Carson Center’s program for adults with serious and persistent mental illness. They don’t just help you with symptoms, they help you with life. After a couple of years in the program, Stephen started to realize that he really was now like his friends in his Carson group that he’d always admired so much. He had an apartment. He managed his money. His medications were just part of the routine now and really helped. He celebrated holidays with his friends. He solved problems. He began to think of his boy. Would his son want a dad who was an ex crazy drunk? Or would it be better to just leave him to his dreams of a dad?
Stephen talked about this a lot with his Carson workers, but he couldn’t make his decision. Then he had a dream. In it, his grandfather was making a wooden boat, the way he used to. He gave Stephen the boat and told him to get out on the water, that it was getting late. Stephen woke up. That day at group, he told his Carson friends he was ready to make the call and see what happened.
The sun stayed strong enough as Josh and Stephen threw the ball back and forth. Stephen learned about his son’s days, his school, his classes, his friends.
“You ready to get a burger?” Stephen asked. Josh nodded.
“Grab your coat? Getting chilly.” And Josh did, the way a son might when his Dad asks him to.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/2/2014 by admin)
Hope 11-25-14I wake up every morning exhausted from the burial. In the dream, I am so worried that everyone will find the body and know what I’ve done. In real life, I didn’t kill him. I hit him as hard as I could, twice, before he pushed me off of him. But I wanted to kill him. Then I called the police and told them that it was my Dad that had hit me. They called the Department of Children and Families. He got in trouble. We had only seen each other here and there over the years. He’d come in on birthdays, sometimes. He’d come in to make my mom and me dream about a different life. This time, he’d said I could live with him in his nice house.
I could tell after a week of school that the whole idea of having a kid, even a teenager who didn’t need much, had gotten old for him. I tried to be perfect. I tried not to talk too much. I heard him on the phone with some woman who wanted to come over, I guess. He told me it wasn’t working out, and I hit him.
My Dad kept saying, “How could you?” when the police came and I kept crying, “How could YOU?” I wasn’t acting. I lied about his hitting me, but I couldn’t find the thing to tell the police that they would care about. He hadn’t paid his child support for my whole life. He had let mom skip meals so I could have food. He wore nice clothes and drove a nice car and had a respectable career while we froze in that little box at night, where all the neighbors were fighting over their heroin. He’d given me hope that I had finally been good enough so he would take me in now that mom was so sick with cancer.
I tell you, I couldn’t hit him hard enough.
I’m with my aunt now. I’ve got a lot of the Carson services. My aunt got someone to talk to about learning to raise me up for the next few years. I got a mentor. We have a therapist who comes in to work on helping me become part of this family. They tried to give me a guy-therapist at first. Apparently there aren’t a lot of male therapists and everyone wants one. I told Carson that someone else could have him. Nice guy, but I couldn’t deal. I guess I have anger issues. They gave us a lady instead. I also got my own counselor, just for me. We talk about how hard mom fought for me. She loves that I am a fighter, too, she says, but wants me to fight for good things. She wants me to fight for my future, for my idea of myself as a person who is, you know, worth good things. I can’t imagine either one. I still dream of burying my Dad and feeling so guilty. We talk about grief and loss. She is helping me build a little box of remembrance for the things I’d spent my nights hoping for as a child—the things that I lost that day Dad decided I was in the way. She believes that my hope is buried in that dream. We’re going to find it, she says. I like her.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 12/2/2014 by admin)
Ed 11-18-14Shirley and Ed had been reading the Faces of Carson stories in the paper. It gave them confidence that they could bring James over to get involved in the Carson programs for adults with developmental disabilities.
Shirley and Ed had been fierce protectors of James. Now in his adulthood, he had everything he needed—they saw to it. There were no people in his life who were unkind. In fact, there were hardly any people in his life.
At the Carson program, James was friendly, but apart. He sat waiting in the eating area while others cooked in the kitchen. He sat quietly as the group made decisions about their next trip and project. The holidays were coming up and James was excited to see what everyone would have planned. He looked a little uncomfortable.
“James, we’re headed out!” said his Carson worker.
“Okay. Can I have a hat?”
“Did you bring a hat, James? Where did you put it?”
“No, I didn’t. My mom has the hats.”
Carson staff realized that some of James’ challenges came from just not having practice making decisions and figuring things out. His parents had loved him and protected him, working that delicate balance between love and liberty, erring on the side of protection. And so James didn’t know how to choose what to wear, or what to eat, or how to help make lunch, or how to weigh out a decision. In fact, he wasn’t even sure what his own preferences were. So staff began their work.
As James became an active member in the Carson group, he asked staff for help in talking with his parents. He wanted his home life to change, too.
“I didn’t think this is where it was going when we signed him up,” Shirley admitted. Ed took her hand.
“But he keeps telling us that we made him feel safe and he’s ready to grow. It’s just that I… it’s just that we….needed to get ready, too.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 11/18/2014 by admin)
EMDR 11-4-14Ellen didn’t want to pick up the phone when her best friend called. She was embarrassed. All she wanted to talk about was Paul, so she decided to just let the phone ring and sit with her own thoughts rather than bore her dear friend again with her worries about Paul. Ellen had dated Paul twenty years ago; she’d broken up with him after he had cheated on her. Paul had been married and divorced since. Ellen had had her own child and had been in her own committed relationships. But there were times when she was seized by the terrible feeling that she had lived her life all wrong and that the wrong turn was breaking up with Paul all those years ago.
The thing is, she didn’t even miss anything in particular about Paul. Yet every time she saw a movie that showed former couples reigniting their relationship after finding one another on Facebook or by chance, she fell into a profound sadness. Ellen wanted her life’s movie to go like the ones she watched in the theatre, where it would be clear there was a plan waiting just for her all along.
Ellen felt like this about many other things, too. She’d gone to law school, but wondered all these years later if that had been a big mistake. She moved back to her hometown when her Dad had fallen ill. She loved it there, but was that a wrong turn? She loved her college experience, but had she picked the right one?
Ellen had tried therapy, but nothing budged. Her Paul Sadness always returned, and with it, the core feeling of being essentially wrong. She heard that there are Carson therapists trained in a kind of therapy called EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It was supposed to be fast and effective.
Over the next three visits, Ellen watched her Carson therapist’s finger as it moved back and forth in front of her eyes. As Ellen watched, she let herself experience the thoughts and feelings she associated with her first memory of feeling essentially wrong. She was a very petite person, and the only girl in her family of athletic brothers. She just couldn’t get the soccer ball in the yard. Her three tall brothers popped and passed it with agility all around her and laughed as she ran to and fro, never once able to touch the ball. Ellen experienced these and other memories and sensations like a wave passing through her as she watched her therapist’s finger passing back and forth. It was with a profound sense of disbelief, that Ellen spontaneously began to feel that she was essentially right, capable enough and good enough to live her life.
“I can’t believe this works! I read about it, but I didn’t really believe it. I’m telling my friends…the thing is, I never even really liked Paul all that much!”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 11/7/2014 by admin)
Essential Story LM 10-28-14“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 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 11/7/2014 by admin)
Sunflowers 10-14-14The trees never mind bursting into flame and jumping off into the darkening world. They give me courage. My sister’s boy Michael went down to New York City for his eighteenth birthday. He had told us all that he’d enlisted in the Armed Services, like his Dad had, and that was hard enough to imagine. We anticipated the worst. He was so young and sunny and brave, a daredevil. We didn’t want him to go.
He shouldn’t have been drinking, underage, in the city. When Mike and his buddies realized they were on the wrong side of the tracks, Mike dared his friends to run across the track to the right side where they belonged. They did—and made it. He was right behind them, and didn’t.
It’s been almost three years now. I think about him all the time. My sister is grieving hard, but moving through it. I helped with the funeral arrangements. I helped his friends make a Facebook page where they post music and poems and things they remember about him. I helped with the fundraiser for a small memorial prize the school will give in his memory. I went to see a therapist at the Carson Center because when I wasn’t helping with these things, I just felt stuck, frozen, like I couldn’t get the tears out. I thought if I started to really feel it, everything would fall apart. How could he be gone?
I see sunflowers all the time. The real ones, and pictures of them. They are him. I’m just at the beginning, but I want to live fully through the grief. My therapist and I talk about this. I know the grief will change and that I will change with it. I know that it can deepen me and my life, that it can open me. He calls me to be brave, even now, as my world darkens for a while.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/14/2014 by admin)
Mary O'Neil Interview 10-7-14“I love ‘Real help with real life.’ That just says it all—it’s real life.”
Mary O’Neil is talking about the way in which the Carson Center’s catchphrase normalizes the challenges we all face at some point in our lives. Our families, our neighbors, we ourselves, will all need help at some point—with daycare or with domestic violence, with a sudden brain injury from a car crash or with the stressors and losses that can overwhelm us for a time. Some of us are born with abilities and needs that are different than most people, and we need help making our lives work. This is our community; our struggles are part of real life. The Carson Center is here to support the well-being of our neighbors.
Mary O’Neil is a lifelong Westfield resident, as were her parents, after her grandparents settled here. She represents Carson’s work to the community and is an active volunteer and donor. I spent some time talking to her about why she volunteers for Carson and what she wants people to know about volunteering for us.
“Remember the woman in the Faces of Carson column who said she didn’t think she would get out of the hospital alive? Or the boy who couldn’t find his ‘yellow’—couldn’t find the place to handle stress without getting really angry? When you are helping out the Carson Center, you are helping people who are facing obstacles, helping them make their lives the best they can be. As they overcome, they integrate into our community. It makes it better for the whole community. When you volunteer, you know you played a tiny part in that.”
“We can give our time, talent or our treasure. I really got involved when one of the ambassador’s wrote a personal note on an annual appeal letter that said, ‘We’d appreciate your support.’ My mother taught us at a young age to give back to the community. You know the old adage, ‘Every little bit counts?’ It does. People fear they don’t have enough time or talent, but you don’t need to make a sensational gesture or give a huge donation. No one is asking you to run the organization or to be there every day from 8 to 5! A little goes a long way to make these programs available.”
“I have a small group of friends that meets regularly. When one of us has a health related issue, we ask each other for support. We’ll say, ‘Will you go through this with me?’ I want to see us get to the place where we could say the same thing about mental health issues. I’d like our friends to be able to say to us, ‘Susie I have Depression. It would really help if you’d stop by and see me. Will you go through this with me as I get help?’ Part of the work of the Carson Center is to help people feel comfortable that things like Depression and other mental health issues are treatable. We are stronger as a community when we help every one become an active member.”
The Carson Center wants to thank Mary and all of our volunteers. If you’d like to find out more about us, please join us for an inspiring evening of stories from people whose lives have been changed by our shared efforts. You are invited to our Annual Dream Builder Event, October 22nd from 5-7 pm at Tekoa Country Club. Please call Wendy to reserve your seat at 413-572-4108 ext 114. We’d appreciate your support.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/14/2014 by admin)
Antoine 9-30-14“Can’t you just get him to take his medication?” Sylvia pleaded with her new Carson Center therapist. Her son, Antoine, had been receiving services at one of the community based programs of the Carson Center for five years. These last three years had been the best of his adult life, until this past month, when he suddenly stopped taking his medication and showing up to services.
“Antoine on medication is the person we all know and love. He is how he wants to be. He told me this. His real self. I don’t know what to do with him like this. He’s not hurting himself, I know. Or anybody else. But he’s ruining everything he built. He quit his job after making sure they heard all about his theories. He gets wild about the drones and the government spying on us. And his obsessions. Oh, I thought we’d never see him counting license plates again. He looks for messages in them. When he sees a vanity plate with words on it—forget it. That just reinforces the whole fantasy! He’s already gone to the hospital once, and they let him out and he still won’t go back on the medications. He says he got better!”
“Sylvia, why do you think Antoine feels that way—that he truly got better and would honestly not need his medication and services anymore?”
After a pause, she smiled and shook her head. “…Because it was working. He was feeling free. He told me he could remember the things he had been thinking were real, like the time he thought there was a whole party on top of the roof of the house. He said that on his medication he could recall exactly what he thought was happening when he wasn’t on it, the sounds of the music, the knives and forks clanking together. But he could now see that it wasn’t real. I didn’t know he’d be able to see his own thoughts that way, you know, from the past. He felt like he could see why people reacted to him like that. That he was all mixed up and kind of scary to us.
And he said he felt clear. Like he could just do the things he wanted to do. He fit in. He used to talk about that. What it meant to be in the break room at work. To be the guy who could fix the computer problems everyone has. Watching people grumble and complain about it being Monday and they had to go to work. He said he would never understand people who took their lives so much for granted that they’d complain about having a job to go to on a Monday. He looked forward to it all weekend. Fitting in, being part of a team.
But now. Now he says he’d been brainwashed by the capitalist system to fit into a mold that serves the corporations or something. He says the medications took away his freedom. He looks terrible. He won’t answer his phone today and I’m not sure where he is. Can you find him? Can you make him better?”
“His Carson team will be here for Antoine when he’s ready,” said the therapist. “They’ll be there at the hospital if he needs them, but if Antoine isn’t a danger to himself or others—“
“—I know. You can’t make him do anything. Does this, does it happen a lot?”
“It happens, yes. Antoine is learning what he needs in his recovery, what he can trust, what he’s in charge of, what happens. His team will support Antoine as safely and respectfully as they can through that process. My role can be to be here for you. Let’s see what we can do about supporting you through this.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 10/14/2014 by admin)
Safety Fences 9-23-14We’d stopped trying to go out in public—no grocery store, no dry cleaning runs. I couldn’t risk it. I stopped answering the phone when the school called saying I’d have to pick him up; I let it go to voicemail. I’d had to leave work so many times that I had to give up my law practice.
I gave up everything. My credit is shot. When your child is throwing a fit and trying to run out of the house and into traffic, really that’s the only priority you can think of. I’m very organized, but I couldn’t keep the appointments with the school and the psychiatrist and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Mental Health (DMH) straight. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to write the appointments down—I was on the phone with one eye on my son. To be totally honest with you, I was ready to voluntarily give up custody. I love my son, as much as you love your children, so you will just have to imagine how many sleepless, hopeless years it takes to make a person come to that decision.
Then my DCF worker told me about the Carson Center. I got a lot of help from them. It took a couple of years to really turn things around, but you know, they started with what mattered to me most. I wanted my son to go OUTSIDE again, so they helped me find a way to get some safety fences between my yard and the road.
I’m sure I was crying about a lot of things as I stood there, looking out of my window in the middle of the night at those fences. They meant safety. They meant sunshine and fresh air. They meant I wasn’t alone and I didn’t have to do it all by myself. They meant somebody understood and was listening.
My Carson Family Partner called me every day. I mean that. Every day, even Sunday. I did not know how much I needed to say until I started talking. I didn’t want to talk with a therapist. The Family partner had raised her own child with autism. She got it. Period. She knew how crispy fried I was. How I couldn’t think anymore. She also helped me figure out where I needed to step forward. I needed to go to the school meetings. In fact, I needed to volunteer, get involved. I needed to take my son out into the world as he managed himself better. To get back to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter Dinner and my own sisters and their families. I’d given up our lives and hadn’t even noticed where or when I could start getting it back.
My daughter can read now. They said she never would. I’m sitting outside as I tell you this story, and she is doing just fine at an afterschool program. I am thinking I am going to start practicing law again. And when I do my pro bono work, it’s going to be for a family like mine.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/23/2014 by admin)
Amanda 9-16-14Amanda and her Grandmother understood that it was better to stick together in a world so big and fast. They also stuck with the people at the Carson Center who understood their developmental disabilities. Amanda didn’t hear those voices in her head anymore, and she didn’t feel as worried about her growing blindness. The medications help with the voices, and being with people who understand her helps everything else.
Grandma lived a long time and had a good life. That’s what everyone says. She was ninety.
At forty, where could Amanda find a family?
Carson staff helped Amanda find an adult foster home. Her new family understood her. They put really pretty frames on Grandma’s pictures in her new room. Amanda could feel with her hands how intricate the designs were. And they tried to make the noodle casserole the way Grandma did, but they don’t ever get the cheese right. Amanda wouldn’t say that out loud to her new family, but her Carson worker knows it is true.
At sixty, Amanda’s back surgery didn’t go very well. They needed to do it again. Her Carson workers could see how difficult it was for Amanda to answer the doctor’s questions. Over twenty years they had come to know her so well that seeing her face told them she was in overwhelming pain, but unable to express this fully. Amanda and her workers found her doctor and made a plan to have Amanda’s pain managed better.
Over the next weeks, her Carson worker held her hand as they talked about adjusting, about a plan for healing, about getting back home again.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/23/2014 by admin)
Let us carry the hope for you 9-9-14“I’m never going to get out of here alive.” That’s what I told the psychiatrist during my tenth admission to the inpatient psychiatric hospital. I don’t really know for certain if it was the tenth admission; I stopped counting. I could also say that I had stopped hoping, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I had never experienced that thing called hope. Depression is what I had always had—a deep, dark, bottomless pit of despair, taunting me with no way out. No one overeats for no reason. I had 400 pounds of reasons I wasn’t dealing with.
“Let us carry the hope for you, until you can carry it yourself,” the psychiatrist said to me.
I started going to individual therapy at the Carson Center with a therapist named David. I came in with Major Depressive Recurring Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Anxiety with impulse control. I began the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) program that teaches skills to help regulate emotions, to deal with intense feelings and to interact with others effectively. I learned to be honest with David and the DBT group. We worked through situations together. We set goals. We fought. He made me angry. I definitely made him angry. There were a couple of times I wondered if when I came back, someone else would be sitting there instead of him, but he was always there. We made a relationship built on trust and respect.
I could feel that I was getting better, but I still didn’t have energy to do much. I told my Carson psychiatrist that I was feeling less depressed but that I thought the meds were making me too lethargic. So, we made a shift with them and that made all the difference. I had more energy; it was easier to lose more weight. I even went back to school. I finally became abstinent in my 12-step program, Overeaters Anonymous. OA is a program for people who want to stop using food to hurt themselves. So far, I’ve lost over 200 pounds.
When I first started at the Carson Center, I wanted my therapist to wave his magic want and to make me better. I was angry HE wasn’t working hard enough to fix me. But I am the one who has to do the work. I need to go to the meetings and do the worksheets and follow the plans and get honest.
Now I only have Minor Depression. Not only do I have hope, I’m here to give it: A diagnosis is not a life sentence. You know how it can be on a fall day, right after a quick rainstorm, when you are looking real hard for that rainbow on the horizon, looking all around, and suddenly there it is, the rainbow? Hope is like that. Keep working, keep looking, and there it will be for you. You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, we can’t really do it alone. Come on over—we’re right here for you.
Edited by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/9/2014 by admin)
HCC 9-2-14I’m going to Holyoke Community College online. For me, it’s better to go online because it’s more private, in a way. I can read the posts in my Psych course that show what students in my class really think about people like me. It’s not bad. It gives me a lot to think about. I think about how I was the same way as they are before I knew better-- talking hard about people and circumstances I didn’t know much about.
I did time because of the drugs. I got into the drugs when my prescription ran out. I had my prescription because of the pain in my back. The back injury was from my time in Desert Storm. I had some problems with my emotions, too, after I got back. There were some meds I was taking for that for a while, but I couldn’t afford the co-pays, so I stopped. I didn’t have money for a place, either. I was on the street. I bet you wouldn’t be surprised what college kids have to say about middle aged homeless people.
The Carson Center has this program. They started by helping me find a therapist and a psychiatrist. They helped me with the medication and teaching me some ways to handle things. My Carson worker helped me get some benefits, and an apartment. I saved up for a car. With a car, there was a way to get to work—some side jobs. It was my Carson worker who suggested college. I told her all my reasons for not doing it: I couldn’t handle it, I told her. I’m not that kind of smart, I said. I was talking hard about myself and circumstances I didn’t know much about.
So I’ve been adding some things to the class discussion online. I have been telling them about some of the challenges a veteran faces. About not wearing that “Hobo” costume for Halloween before thinking about how people get on the street. And that striped “jailbird” costume—how some people end up there and what it means. About what it really says about you when it’s so easy for you to say that people are “just crazy,” “nuts,” or “mental.” I don’t think I could have said these things in person, but I did a good job online. My professor wrote me to thank me for my “invaluable contribution to the class.”
The more I figure this stuff out, the more I have to share with my support group at Carson. Those people, they’re my “invaluable”.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 9/4/2014 by admin)
Blank 5 8-26-14Breezes, blue sky and barefoot weather. It was as though summertime itself was staying up all night talking with Frank, until she had to go--helping him get the very most out of this vacation. Even though school was starting in two days, it seemed like a perfect early July day. It smelled like happiness out there.
Frank usually hated summer. He was entering eleventh grade. For the first time, this fall, he'd be able to understand his classmates' universal grumble about their return. Frank had always loved the order and predictability of school, with its bells and strict schedules and rules.He'd always been the first one in school to get on the Fast Math Hall of Fame. Fast Math was a computer program that tested individual student's mastery of their year's associated math functions. Third graders worked on multiplication, for example, and had all year to do so. In May of every year, hardworking kids' names would appear on the Hall of Fame, which featured the first five kids in each grade who mastered their math early. Every year, Frank's name was up there on the Hall of Fame by the end of the first week of school.
There were plenty of other things for Frank to focus on learning at school. He was shaken to the core by his struggle with the complex set of unwritten social interactions that appeared in middle school. There was Sarcasm 101 and Gender Role Expectations 201; Subtle Cues 102 and Metaphor 300. As a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, Frank had failed all the classes of this invisible social curriculum. His old friends laughed at him and went to their sports afterschool and their parties without him.
He hated parties and sports, anyway. Yet though he loved his projects and his solitude, Frank didn't want to be alone all the time. For a few years, it helped hanging out with kids who were a lot younger than he was, because the social expectations were familiar and easy, as in, "Want to play chess?" But as an older teen, he didn't blend in so easily anymore.
When Frank's mom insisted he go to Carson's Kamp for Kids for the summer, he was mortified. Wasn't that for little kids? They had promised, she said, to find something for him.
When Frank arrived, he made a mental note of the way everything was organized. He paid attention to the routines. He was immediately relieved by the atmosphere. Carson staff talked to him as though he were his own age, not younger. But they also explained things to him that most people don't, like what exactly was going to happen next and what was expected of him. Teens and adults usually wait and figure that all out by themselves, as they read social interactions silently and figure out their role. Frank knew this was the way it was out in the world. It exhausted him emotionally, and often made him feel aggressive.
But at Carson's Kamp, he never felt exhausted in that way. When a staff member misplaced her attendance clipboard one day, Frank knew where she had placed it down when she was picking up her relay cones, because she always placed it there. He knew her routine. He told her where it was.
When she retrieved it, she looked at Frank and asked him if he wanted to take attendance for her. He began reciting aloud who was absent and who had been absent, each day, all week. It was the kind of thing Frank remembered.
"I'm sorry, Frank, I meant, do you want to do this as a job here? Would you like to write it down and turn it in at the office?"
He took the clipboard and the new role. That day he also began setting up for activities, and then breaking them down. By the end of the summer, he was helping the younger kids in their activities, explaining and demonstrating things the way he knew they needed him to. On his last day, Carson staff asked him if he'd return the following year as a staff intern.
The summer was still warm and lingering for Frank. It smelled like happiness out there.
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/29/2014 by admin)
Blank 4 8-19-14Dear Debbie,
I know I haven't seen you in over a year, since we terminated our therapy at Carson. Robin Williams' death prompted me to write to you.
I never told you that more than twenty-five years ago, my college playwriting and creative writing professors gave me stellar feedback regarding my nascent talent for the craft. I remember my singular, life-altering internal response to their belief in whatever talent I possessed:
I can make you cry and laugh, or feel transported, but really, most of the time, I want to die. I'm barely holding on. I have a choice. I can pursue career success head on. I can have a good few years and join the rest of the women of talent who are best remembered for their self destruction. Or I can remake my internal life, seek help, as much as it takes, as long as it takes, to reset the stones of my foundation, and let the art follow as it may.
I wanted to live the life I could create on paper.
Not everyone has to choose one or the other to focus on. There are those who are more skilled at life and more gifted--whose skills and gifts feed one another graciously. Not me. I just had to figure out how to get through the day without collapse.
Every time an artist of gargantuan talent self-destructs, there is a part of me that says to the rest of us who bear witness--didn't you feel it? Didn't you feel the desperate press right there below the surface--calling to us--? I know some of us feel it because we are still climbing or have just climbed out of a personal hell. We know that just because you see beauty and whimsy, just because you create it, doesn't mean you know how to live it.
The gorgeous talent will always take care of itself--the rest is what we need each other for. We need one another for help with the messy, dark and terrifying underbelly. Thank you for helping me learn how to live a peaceful life, so that I can add my talents to the world.
Your grateful former client,
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/25/2014 by admin)
Small Town Care 8-12-14In small towns, many questions are already answered: that laugh is your grandma’s, that limp-- from the game in ’79, that car--because your business had a good year with the sale of the old building. We know where you go to school and sometimes go to church. We gave you your first job cleaning up at the restaurant across from the river where most everyone, for generations, goes at least once in a while. We’re glad that you are there because we like seeing how you are doing and we like seeing our old friends in your face.
Most of Carson’s clinical staff live out of town. That’s helpful for folks who want that added layer of privacy. It can feel more secure for some people to talk to a therapist who didn’t go to second grade with your aunt.
For Carson’s pre-school and childcare staff, things are a little different. Some senior staff have been teaching there for decades, which means they did not go to second grade with your aunt, but they did have your aunt in their after school program in second grade. It means they are by your side for the long haul.
The Jacobowski family had nine kids. Both parents and the kids lived in a two-room apartment. Dad had not mastered a trade nor gone to college and jobs were hard to come by. Mom’s health was too fragile for work. Dad hunted and fished with the kids to keep the food coming in.
The children all went to Carson’s childcare programs. At least seven Carson clinicians ended up helping out. Staff held parent groups, made home visits and trips to the grocery store to help the family figure out how to prioritize and manage. Four of the children had their own special needs. As the Jacobowski Family matured, the older kids were willing to accept support from school adjustment counselors and other programs in the community because things had gone so well at Carson.
For many years now, the Jacobowskis have been out of Carson’s care. Every once in awhile a teacher or clinician will get a call from one of the family members who say simply, “Hi, it’s me,” knowing that the question of who we are has already been answered. We are neighbors.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/12/2014 by admin)
Blank2 8-5-14Marie understood that people said, "Hello, how are you?" without having to actually know the person they said it to. She saw this happen many times in Macy's and in Starbucks. She watched the barrista start up a conversation this way with a customer when it was slow. She watched the mannequin-like perfume lady in Macy's say this to less mannequin-like customers with children. When addressed in this way, the strangers spoke, they were lifted up out of their day into a kind of friendly nodding recognition of one another.
But it didn't work very well when Marie tried it. Almost all of the time when she said, "Hello, how are you?!" to strangers, they did something with their voices that made the answer, "Fine, thank you," sound much more like, "I don't know you; stop talking to me."
Her Carson Center outreach worker explained to her that it wasn't okay to stand directly in front of a person's path when greeting someone this way (even though it was the best strategy for getting attention.) Her Carson helpers also described how it is that her excited voice sounds too much like an angry voice and that people don't want to be asked those follow up personal questions such as, "Where are you going?"
Refraining from these kinds of greetings was part of Marie's social skill lessons. There are a lot of skills to keep track of. For example, when you shake a hand, you should let go of it while talking (even though it feels like you are listening better if you hold it the whole time.) You should not tell people that you think they look like a movie star or that they look a whole lot fatter than the last time you saw them. People are very tricky to get right. It's getting easier. Someday Marie would like to work at the Dollar Store.
Once in awhile, Marie sees people with a certain smile on their certain kind of face. Even though she doesn't know them, she breaks the rules and greets them because she knows when they answer, "Fine; thank you!" they make the words sound like, "Hello, Friend." She knows her Carson worker would understand.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/6/2014 by admin)
Team Scrabble 7-29-14“We can play Team Scrabble first,” explained Anita to Becka. “We’ll be on the same team until you get the hang of it.”
Becka had seen the game on the shelf and had asked her Carson therapist, Anita, if they could play it together. It was their third visit. It had been hard for Anita to gather a history from Becka. Becka liked to talk, jumping from subject to subject, but she didn’t like to talk about why she was there , or what she wanted to get out of therapy.
“I got one of these Scrabble games when I was in school. They gave the kids in the special classes presents at Christmas. When I brought it home, my mom took it out of my hand. She said, ‘Oh, you can’t play this.’ So, I’ve never played. I’ve always wanted to play.”
Anita wanted Becka to succeed. Becka was almost thirty now. She struggled with some form of cognitive or developmental delay, but Anita didn’t know much about it. There were no records to go on, as Becka had never sought any kind of help before. Together they looked for words to form from the pieces in front of them. As they looked, Becka explained that she was good at math. They had kept her doing “plus-es and minus-es” at school in her special class, even though once they gave her the wrong worksheet and she’d filled out the multiplication problems all correctly.
“The teacher looked at the sheet and said, ‘How ‘bout that!’, but they kept me in my plus-es and minus-es group anyway. ”
Becka eyed the board and her words strategically. “My mom had a man live with us when I was a teenager. He had sex with me and he beat me up. Mom said that we couldn’t do anything because he was paying money. I did know division, you know, even though everyone thought I was too stupid. I saw how much money he left on her dresser every week and I figured that was twenty dollars every time he had sex with me and that the beatings were free.” Becka spoke matter of factly . “Here! I’ve got it! FIFTY POINTS!”
Anita turned her attention back to the board and counted.
“Becka, I can honestly tell you that of all the people I’ve ever played with, this is the very best beginning anyone has ever had.”
“You see?” said Becka proudly, “I knew I would be great at this therapy stuff. I have bad dreams about losing the baby after a free beating,” she added, arranging letters in her tray, “You can help me, right? That’s what the lady said when I first called.”
“Yes, I can help you and yes, you are going to be great at this therapy stuff.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 8/6/2014 by admin)
Aspergers 7-22-14None of the baby books said anything about this. Dante would not stop crying. He wasn’t hungry, not thirsty, not too hot nor too cold. He wasn’t wet and he wasn’t alone. Stacia remembered she had one of those little round activity centers that her sister had given her at the baby shower. Because it was for older babies, she hadn’t even taken it out of its wrappings.
Since a three month old can’t hold himself aright, she rolled up towels and placed them all around Dante so that he could sit in the little fabric seat in the middle of the activity center. In front of him were buttons and knobs, musical instruments and other easy to manipulate toys. The moment she placed him down, Dante became quiet and got to work with the little toys. Could it be that her three month old son had been…bored?
When he was two and a half, Stacia went into Dante’s room late one night to straighten his covers. “What are you doing up so late?” she asked.
“I’ve been thinking about the number twelve. Twelve breaks into threes and fours and twos. Isn’t that so pretty, mommy?” Division.
At four, a neighbor at church asked Dante, “How high can you count, young man?” “Numbers don’t end,” he explained. “They go to infinity.”
“Oh! Well, yes. Yes, of course….they…do.”
Dante loved numbers. In elementary school, Dante would spend hours decorating the house with numbers that corresponded to the days of school. The numbers were written on little symbols—either fall maple leaves, pumpkins, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas trees, Valentine’s hearts, spring flowers or suns. Each symbol corresponded to the season during the school year in which the numbered school day occurred. They symbols were taped in order on the walls of the house. Where a doorway interfered with his order, Dante strung yarn, and found a way to hang his numbers across the yarn. The house was filled with his beloved numbers. Similarly, Dante loved clocks and keeping track of time. Every moment of life had an associated set of numbers. Joy.
People were not as predictable, reliable and as easy to understand as numbers. When Stacia said they would eat dinner at 5:30, Dante would become extremely agitated at every minute that passed following that time. 5:34 was so unacceptable that Dante would scream, “Why did you LIE to me?”
By the time he was nine, Dante had decided that the world was filled with liars. “I’ll be there in a minute,” was at least as much of a deception as a cheerful, “Just a second!” The timing of televised sports games as in, “There’s only two minutes remaining,” felt scandalous to Dante. Two minutes in sports was at least ten minutes in real clock time.
Language itself had so many hidden meanings that Dante was exhausted searching for them. People said his mom Stacia was “on fire” when she sang and, it turns out, she was definitely not on fire; she wasn’t even feeling unusually warm when she sang. They spoke of a “monkey wrench in the works” when there was no monkey to be found in any room in the house.
Stacia just wanted to have family dinner together with Dante without fighting. She, too, was exhausted. Translating the world for Dante who argued every point had taken so much of the happiness out of mothering.
Carson’s In Home Therapy team came to help. They started by introducing Dante to the idea that most people talk in averages, in approximation—most of the time, they mean something close to what they say, but not exactly what they say.
“Only math is perfect,” his In Home Therapist told him. It’s a big idea for Dante, with lots of applications. So that’s where they are. Practicing.
When they are stuck in traffic and his mom despairs, “We’re never going to get anywhere!” Dante remembers what his Carson team told him. He doesn’t yell. He doesn’t panic. He says to himself, “Yes, we are. It’s just going to take longer than we thought.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/23/2014 by admin)
TBI 7-15-14In 1985, the eighteen year old Matt would have loved to have known how the fast the future was going to be. Matt loved to race his bike, his car; he loved to run, downhill ski, to water-ski.
Yet once the future brought e-mail, instant message, text, Instagram and little computers in your phone so that you could answer everyone at any time and immediately, Matt begged for it to slow down. It took a long time for him to figure out why.
In 2013, Matt had a wife he loved, friends they valued, a home they both cherished and until recently, he’d always had meaningful work. Interviewers could see what his wife Natasha could see, that Matt was steady, capable, insightful, and skilled. His employers also eventually noticed what Natasha knew all too well-- that he would not follow through with agreed upon plans. That he remembered things quite differently than explained to him, and that it took him just too long to respond, too long to take action. There were no dramatic problems. Instead, many small mistakes accumulated. After seven years or so dedicated to a job, his employer would reluctantly let him go. After he lost his fourth job, Natasha confronted him with her suspicions that he was using drugs.
But he wasn’t. When he reached out to his buddy Jim, Jim told him that he also thought Matt had a drug problem. He asked his buddy Jim to Google his symptoms. (He didn’t like computers; even the ones his friends complained were “too slow” were just too much.)
“Okay, what do we have here… I don’t know, Matt, but, have you ever had a head injury?”
That summer of ’85, after high school had ended. He’d gone on a beer run and flipped his Camaro and landed in the road. They’d always told him how lucky he was when he recovered.
Staff at Carson’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program helped him identify the symptoms he’d been living with for so many years. They helped Natasha understand how to help, and helped them both come up with systems that could help him make things work more smoothly. Matt realized he was eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. There was a Carson group, too, a community of people who saw that Matt was steady, capable, insightful and skilled and that Matt could, with some help, remember things as explained, and that the time he took to respond and to take action, was time they were glad to be with him.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/23/2014 by admin)
Did you see my hair clip? 7-8-14Did you see my hair clip? It’s so pretty and tiny. It’s my daughters, but I like to wear it, too, because of the flowers. My daughter is a problem, though. I think she’s abusing me, the way she screams at night and keeps me awake. My mom is in a wheelchair and when I leave the house, I put the crib right up next to my mom, in case she wakes up. The Department of Children and Families doesn’t want me to do that. They don’t want me living with my mom because she wasn’t good to me when I was little.
They didn’t know about that then; they found out about it when I was a grown up. So now that she can finally do something to help me, why should I get away from her?
Also, I’m in GED classes. This is my third try. It’s really hard. I’ve never been good at school. People say mean things when I walk to class, because I’m overweight. I pretend not to hear what they say, but I do. I do shower, you know.
I don’t really trust nobody, not after what my mom let those men do to me when I was little. My Community Support Worker Cathy from Carson promised she would sit in my first sessions with a therapist. DCF said I had to go. I will do anything to keep my daughter if I can. They are still thinking about it. Turns out, I really like this therapist so far. She’s at Carson, too. I have to go to parenting classes. I thought that was a dumb idea, but they do have smart things to say. They said that I have to get up at three a.m. even when I’m tired, if my baby is hungry. I don’t like that part. I thought I could just leave a bottle in the crib, but then the formula doesn’t stay fresh and you are not supposed to put soda in the bottle. Soda would stay fresh, but it isn’t good for a baby to drink because of all the sugar and stuff in it.
Sometimes I think I can’t do it. I mean ANY of it. I wake up and I think “Why even try?” and then I remind myself that I am still enrolled in the GED center. I have my new therapist, May. I am still here. It can get better. I can talk to Cathy. She always answers when I call. She said maybe we can even go to Weight Watchers together. When I think of calling her, even when I don’t do it, things seem better.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/9/2014 by admin)
Crystal 7-1-14Past the metal space aliens in the gym, over by the wall, the treadmills seemed the most unassuming to Crystal. You had to apparently fold yourself into the other alien-looking machines. The metal chairs and benches with shiny arms seemed to wrap down and around the skinny people. Then the skinny people moved their limbs with great concentration and got skinnier in the process.
The treadmill seemed to demand the least of Crystal. You could be any size to use it. You could also face away from everyone-- another plus-- until you considered that everyone would see your backside jiggle. Trying to think positively, Crystal reasoned that on the treadmill you could walk and walk but not have to go anywhere new. You could put on headphones and not have to talk to anyone. And the televisions were a lot nicer than the one Crystal had at home, if she could only figure out how to use the remote.
Another advantage Crystal was counting on was that the treadmill seemed only to demand that your feet move. She could hold herself steady and just move those feet and the legs would follow. This was a good plan because Crystal only lived in her body below her ankles and above her neck. Everything else in between was a kind of grey, numb void. Sure, there was all the fat, but even under there, it was just cold.
After three months of orientation visits with her Carson outreach worker, this would be Crystal’s first workout in the gym. Her worker understood that she would NEVER be changing or showering in the locker room with all those strangers. Her worker nodded when Crystal explained she would never fit into the aliens. And her worker hopped on the treadmill right next to her, so that they could start moving in place side by side.
The steady walking on the treadmill awakened more than Crystal had bargained for. The ankles do move the legs. The legs move the backside. All the breathing stirs the belly and kindles the heart. For Crystal, when the warmth overcame the grey cold, she was sickened with fear and grief. Their plan had been to get Crystal to join a gym to address her health and her social anxiety. There was nothing in the plan about opening the doors in her body and leaving her no place to hide in safety. A few treadmills down, some lady ran with sweat and abandon, like a little shiny horse in a race. She looked both beautiful and impossible to Crystal, stirring an emptiness so profound, Crystal just wanted to get a little something to eat to help fill it.
The Carson worker helped Crystal slow the treadmill down to a walk. There, they focused on her breathing. They’d start here. Just for ten minutes. They would talk on the way home about aliens and horses and what was warming in Crystal. They agreed that if Crystal was going to move into her body, they’d do it one room, one breath at a time.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 7/2/2014 by admin)
David was in the dark 6-24-14David was in the dark, in his brother’s back laundry room, with the door closed. He lay on the mattress on the floor, near the dryer, under a sheet. His sister-in-law said this would be his last night there, but she’d been saying that for four nights, so David figured there was a good chance he could stay tonight, too. She didn’t want him here all day, though. So tomorrow David would have to figure out where to be all day long.
But that was tomorrow. Right now, he was planning on staying here, with the sheet pulled over his head. In fact, this seemed like a good long term plan. Outside of the sheet, they knew about him. They knew how David had lost the ability to see his son when his two year old found one of his needles and he wasn’t able to pass any urine screens. His family knew it must have been he who had stolen their mother’s heirloom jewelry. His wife, well, soon to be ex-wife, knew for certain it was he who had emptied their savings and withdrew her retirement funds to keep paying for the heroin David had started to use after his prescription for his painkillers ran out following his back surgery. Everyone at his old job knew what had happened. A Manager. A Family Man. From a Good Family. He’d thrown it all away, they said. So selfish.
Earlier today, David had spoken to Tom, this guy from the Carson Center in Ware. David didn’t want to talk to Tom, but his brother had insisted. He didn’t need someone to tell him he’d destroyed the life he had. He knew that already. But Tom didn’t say that. Tom told him he’d been in there himself, and that there was a way back. That he could get a life back, that he could be free again. He also said that this addiction was not a lack of willpower, or a personal failing of character—it was more like a brain condition. A brain condition?
Tom said the Carson’s program for addictions was starting next week, and that he’d talk to him tomorrow more about this brain condition idea. If that were true, thought David, it wouldn’t give him back his old life. It wouldn’t make his mother trust him, but it could mean he could stay here a little while longer. It could mean there was someone who wasn’t so angry with him right now. . It could mean there was something outside of this laundry room floor, outside of this old sheet. He had Tom’s number in his cellphone next to him on the floor. Tom said if he didn’t hear from David in the morning, he’d call him. All he had to do was pick up the phone.
David thought about that as he drifted to sleep. He could pick up the phone. He could do that. He didn’t even have to get out from under the sheet to do that.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/24/2014 by admin)
Tree and the Wave 6-17-14There was a painting of a tree in Lisa’s parents’ living room. They bought it on their last trip to Italy. Near it was a bronze statue. It was of an odd shape, one that made Lisa think of waves and shells and summer mornings. Lisa thought of the tree painting and the wave statue as good friends, life-long friends with one another. She believed they both took comfort in one another when they were brought to her parents’ house from Europe.
Lisa’s sister and brother were good with languages, as her parents were. They drove cars and read very heavy books, hooked up computers easily and had jobs where they were always making decisions and then talking all about it. To look at her little brother and sister and her parents, it was as if she were watching a time lapse film—they rolled on the patio on toddlers’ plastic Big Wheels one day and the next week, it seemed, her brother was leaving the driveway on his motorcycle and her sister was late for a flight out. Lisa and the Tree and the Wave would watch them as they left and returned for job interviews, then holidays, and then with children of their own.
Lisa was in her twenties when her mother died. At the time, Lisa thought her mother had been taken from her by the darkness that lurked in the shed behind the house. She thought that she needed to burn it down to get rid of it to protect the rest of her family. She didn’t do it, but she did tell her father the plan. Her father brought her to the Carson Center, where she learned that medication and therapy could help with the thoughts she had and the way her feelings seemed to have a mind of their own. Her Carson team also helped her find her own pace. When things got too busy at her job at McDonald’s, Lisa imagined running screaming through the kitchen with a knife, but she didn’t do it. Instead, she thought of the Tree and the Wave, as her therapist had suggested, and then when she went home, she sat with them.
When her father died, Lisa heard her brother talking to her sister about taking the Wave to his house. Her sister was planning on taking the Tree to hers. That night, it was Carson’s Crisis Team that helped Lisa say enough to slow her brother and sister down. In the end, her brother kept them both; he lived closer by, so that Lisa could visit. He also gave her many pictures of them.
Lisa is in her fifties now. She still has her Carson team, though some of its members are new. She has her own apartment. On her wall, is a great collection of bottle caps; some of them are thirty years old. If you knew how to look, you would see in the arrangement a tree. Not far away, in tin foil, sits the cousin of a Wave. The roots of the tree had many bottle caps from Lisa’s first therapist. Her neighbors bring her bottle caps and talk to her about her day. She struggles a bit now and again not to tell them every single thing she is thinking. Most of the time, she remembers to ask about their lives, too. She has learned work- speak and neighbor- speak. She, like her beloved family, is a master of many languages, living in the shade of a tree with many branches.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/18/2014 by admin)
Marlena 6-10-14Marlena held the beveled edges of a wooden handle in one hand and a pen in the other. The wooden handle was attached to a miniature stop sign that her Carson domestic violence advocate had made for her. The octagonal top of the stop sign was about a foot across. Just as with a street sign, the front was red, with the letters “STOP” across it. On the back, however, was blank, white space on which Marlena was preparing to write.
For a few weeks now, her Healing Alliance support group had been learning about healthy relationships and about how tricky it can be to figure out if you are in an abusive relationship at first. That’s because abusive relationships start out looking the same as healthy relationships most of the time. Both start with romance. Had Marlena’s husband Bill sat down with her on their first date and, after ordering dinner and complimenting her on her hair, offered her a lifetime of humiliation and controlling behavior, she’d have definitely refused. But in the early months, all the way up until they first became sexually involved, he offered her the kind of love anyone would want. Looking back all those years and thinking about what her Carson advocate had been teaching, Marlena figured that when they became sexually involved, on some level, Bill had decided that he owned her.
That’s when things had really changed. They were small signs, at first. Eventually, after they got married, he would sexually assault her, telling her that she was “his” and sex was his “right” whether she gave consent or not.
Her Carson advocate had asked her to write on the back of this stop sign significant things that she would want her teenage self to know about being in relationship.
Marlena held the pen and thought about her teenage self. Her hair had been red then, where it was white now. She wrote, “Have a good argument first, before you decide if it’s a good relationship. See if the solution is all about him and what he wants.” “Notice if he makes you feel good momentarily then puts you down immediately,” “Notice if you feel loved a majority of the time.” “Notice if he can accept influence from you,” “Notice if he punishes you when he is wrong about something.”
The tears rolled down her face as her mind moved through the forty years of marriage. There had been all those kids to care for.
“Notice if you’ve been isolated from your acquaintances. Notice if he shows any attention in your hobbies or interests AFTER he thinks you are committed,” she wrote to her young self. And finally, her hand pausing, she wrote, “Listen to your grandmother.”
Before Bill had stopped Marlena from seeing her, grandma had said many times, “Trust yourself, Marlena, no matter what. I will be here for you.” And that’s why she trusted her Carson advocate. Because that’s exactly what her Carson advocate says to her.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/11/2014 by admin)
The Woodpile 6-3-14Every season means a different wood-related activity when you heat with a woodstove in New England. Hot and sunny spring and summers mean stacking and drying season. The fall is hurry-up-you-should-have-stacked-it-already season. The winter you split, carry and burn the wood, then dispose of the ashes, until it’s time to order or cut all over again. Some folks have more than enough wood for two or three winters, and they keep it that way, always cutting and stacking for the years to come. But most people are just getting in enough wood to get them through the cold, and praying for an early spring.
Todd’s father had always had four years’ worth of wood dried and stacked in his lot, and that’s how Todd was, until they had the kids. There was just so much to do after the kids came, and money was so tight, he couldn’t ever get ahead. Todd thought that when his kids were older, they’d help out, the way he’d helped his father. There was nothing quite as satisfying as stacking a perfectly balanced chord of wood. Getting wood for the stove became a ritual. Whether the spring peepers were serenading him or whether the fresh winter stars were showing him the path in the snow to the woodpile, those regular trips outside formed the rhythm of his life with his Dad.
But his kids wanted nothing to do with it. They’d complain and argue and fight. They’d get wound up and it wasn’t safe to have them around the splitter or the axe. So Todd was outside or in the garage, working, and his sons were inside playing video games and maybe even getting high.
Mary, Todd’s wife, had gotten the boys some help from the Carson Center. The boys were signed up for Carson’s Therapeutic Recreation program. Todd just couldn’t see the sense of it. It was good the Recreation program was going to get them out of the house, but how was it going to help them with all the things the therapist said they were struggling with?
At first, the boys had trouble sticking to the rules at Rec. There’s a lot more than you think to rowing a boat correctly, if you really know what you are doing. Justin and Jeremy just wanted to get in the boat and get out there on the open water. But there was all this business about the grip and your balance, and the timing, and the curve and pull of the oar. The Rec people just made them slow down and take it one minute at a time. Staff made them practice, over and over. After a while, they got stronger. And more skilled. They could actually make the boat go where they wanted it to. And there was all the business about caring for the boat, launching it safely or getting it out of the water. And packing for trips. There were so many parts to everything. It was that way for fishing, too. It was also like that for cooking at the volunteer dinners they prepared with the Rec staff at the homeless shelters. There was the organizing the utensils, the food and the recipes. The measuring, the timing, the serving. Mostly, there was dividing big tasks up into small parts, taking one thing at a time, and appreciating what they’d accomplished.
It’s not like that playing video games from the couch.
After about a year, both Justin and Jeremy noticed how Rec had helped with their anxieties and with their social isolation. They didn’t worry about things so much; they didn’t panic. They both had the sense that they could figure things out, because they had faced so many challenges in Rec. And faced them with friends.
“Dad!” called Jeremy. Todd was in the garage when the boys approached him. “We have a new project in Rec this spring.”
“I think it goes into summer and winter, too,” added Justin.
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?” asked Todd.
“It’s called, “The Woodpile.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 6/3/2014 by admin)
Ray 5-27-14At eighteen, it was time to launch, but Ray felt done. It’d taken everything he had to get here. Ray had never lived in a house. Not an apartment. No trailer. There were bus stops and shelters. There were basements and people’s couches. He moved around every couple of weeks with his folks until someone realized Ray hadn’t been to school. It took fourteen years for someone to catch on to that. Once Ray saw all those ugly little letters on the pages at school, he knew they weren’t meant for him. He didn’t want them to wriggle into his brain the way his parents said they would if he let them in.
“You can’t trust nobody,” is what Mom and Dad always said. They’d both been told they needed medication and that the fears they had about television sets spying on them were unfounded. But they left those doctors to fend for themselves. And then they had Ray. They taught Ray what they knew—which was that the world is a cold, hungry place with few soft spots in it.
When Carson’s Intensive Care Coordination staff helped Ray figure out his age, he wouldn’t believe it. He still thinks there must be some misunderstanding. How could it only have been eighteen years? There are days that last a month. Those nights when his Dad hurt his mother took years to get through. There were winters that went on for decades. Eighteen? It couldn’t be so.
He knew he was “old enough.” His father had told him that for three years now. He should be working, he said.
Ray had wandered on his own into a church. They talked to him there. They gave him clothes and a warm shower. They found him these Carson people to talk to.
Carson’s Intensive Care Coordination worked with his friends at church and with the new people he was living with. They introduced him to services at the Department of Developmental Disabilities.
They helped him figure out what he wanted to do. Ray told his Carson worker that he felt like the people at church had helped him sleep at night. They made his heart quiet. But Ray had a dream: he really wanted to read. He wanted to let those squiggles enter his brain because, he said, his brain was hungry and lonely, too.
Ray has mastered his numbers already. When he fills out his paperwork, he writes “180” next to the place where you are to put your age. He and his worker know that someone will erase the zero. They will erase it because they have lived a life where you are born young, then slow and tire with age, one stage following the first the way numbers march in order.
“I will be 180,” said Ray to his Carson worker, “and I will take off years as I go. I took off 25 the day I met you people.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 5/28/2014 by admin)
I Dunno 5-20-14“I dunno; I guess so.” It was the best Sara could do with her Carson In Home Therapist. Sara’s mom had found her an In Home Therapist who was trained in Art Therapy because everyone who knew Sara knew that she drew all the time. Sara drew in class when she wasn’t doing her work. She drew in the movie theatre if the movie didn’t capture her imagination, or if it did. She carried a sketch pad wherever she went. She drew in the hospital when she was so overcome with depression that she felt like she wanted to die.
Still, it was the fifth session, and nothing seemed to be happening. Sara liked this therapist well enough, but she just didn’t think all of this talking was going to help. Sara wasn’t rude or defiant ; she just didn’t know why things felt so bad or why she was failing high school. What her In Home Therapist said sounded reasonable, but Sara just couldn’t connect with any of it. And today’s session was going really badly. Usually Sara could respond with a drawing to any topic. Today her hands were as stuck as her words.
“I dunno; I guess so,” she replied when her therapist asked her if she’d be willing to try something new.
“I’ve been watching your hands as you play with your markers. Let’s try this. Don’t look at the paper. What if your marker could draw in the air? What if it could make music as you moved it and no one could hear it but you? Can you take a minute and ask your hands if they have an Air Song picture they need to draw>?” “Sure,” said Sara uncertainly.
After a long pause, Sara lifted two hands together, her right hand atop the left. She moved them in a slow, deliberate wave up and away from her. She repeated this motion so tenderly that her therapist caught her breath and didn’t exhale until Sara lay both hands down softly.
“Like that?” asked Sara nervously.
“I saw this,” said her therapist, who repeated the gesture with her own gentleness. “I wanted to do it with you the moment you did it. How about you draw that? Here—lie your hands down and I will draw around them—an outline of your hands like that—and then you can draw within the outline of your own hands.”
Sara and her In Home Therapist met again the following week as planned.
“Did you notice the Air Song picture that you brought home any time this week?” her therapist asked.
“I dunno; I guess so….I kept looking at it and remembering that feeling. And the music of it. Every time I wanted to cut. Did I tell you I was cutting? Every time those feelings came over me, like I just had to cut, I went over to my picture and looked at it. And I didn’t need to cut. Was that right?”
Sara had never spoken about her self-cutting, the way she cut her arms to manage her feelings
“It sounds like it was just right for you.”
“Can we do more today?” “Yes,” said her Carson therapist. “Let’s fill the room with your Air Music Movement Drawings.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 5/21/2014 by admin)
Cats 5-13-14On Facebook today, I saw that my college friends’ children head off to college. A high school friend posted a picture of his award for Most Valuable Teacher of the Year. I could see that my cousin’s small children had made her a bowl of Fruit Loops for Mother’s Day and a crayon card.
I watched an old performance of Nancy Sinatra on You Tube that made me laugh, and one of Adele at Royal Albert Hall in London that made me cry. I listened to them both several times as I folded the laundry. My artist friend posted pictures on Instagram of his exhibition that I can’t get to because it is on the other side of the world and I am home with the laundry.
For all the complaining people do about our screen-saturated world, I am grateful for it. I had lost track of all these friends and family for a long time before the online world brought them back around to me.
We like to say that the door to this world stands open, so that anyone can walk in and join it. It is true that door stands open if you have a computer you can borrow internet access. It’s open if you know how to create an account, save a password and navigate all those buttons. And then, once you enter an online forum, you have to know how to figure out how to pick your online friends, what the right thing is to say to them, and how. And what’s with all the cat pictures, anyway?
The Carson Center has recently paired with the Springfield Westfield Area office of Department of Developmental Services to create an online community for people with intellectual disabilities to learn about friendship and computer skills in a safe online environment. Which means that Stan has a job to do. He’s been hired as the online community’s first user and now its promoter. He goes in person to support programs to help his peers with developmental disabilities become online friends. He’s teaching them about all the buttons, the account settings, how to pick your friends and what kinds of things to say online. He’s already solved the mystery of the universal habit of posting pictures of cats online: we love them. And he wants his new friends to love them, too.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 5/12/2014 by admin)
Matthew 5-6-14Matthew was the kind of young man who would never count the cost of doing something that mattered—he was ready to jump out of a plane for Doctors Without Borders. He could talk people into anything, too. He could negotiate his way through the border patrol to get the story for National Public Radio. It wasn’t fame that he sought, though he wanted the right people to know that he was the kind of guy who could get the job done. He wasn’t a homebody-family type, either. Maybe someday. Before he settled down, he needed to feel he’d achieved something—that he’d been part of something that called on his talents. Maybe the Marines would do that. That kind of brotherhood called to him.
Matthew had made it through his childhood. His father periodically beat his mother; his mother drank ‘till passing out most nights. His parents moved him and his brother every year, seeking a “geographic cure” to his dad’s abuse and his mother’s numbing.
He got good at sports, but the empty space in the stands where his parents might have been left him hollow. At fifteen, Matthew jumped out of the car to fight, proving himself to the drug dealer who drove. He became known as the man who got the job done at twenty when he made his point with a beer bottle to the head of the guy who tried to steal their profits. He was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon.
At thirty, he turned things around. He moved away, told people he had a college degree and worked for a financial institution. He didn’t get caught stealing for a couple of years.
At forty-five, Matthew was getting by in a little room, with an on and off girlfriend half his age that he drank a lot with. It was hard to find good work with his felony convictions. He could talk anyone into buying a car, though, so when economic times were good, he could pay some bills by selling cars.
Matthew’s brother had a life to which he belonged. There was a wife and kids, a career and a house, always something needing him, calling on him, showing him who he was.
Matthew had tried church, and it helped a little. His brother had begged him to go talk with someone. Though he said “no,” Matthew finally went after last night. He’d been thinking long and hard about the easiest way to die.
Matthew sat in his first meeting with his Carson therapist, Tom.
“I’ve made really big mistakes and I’ve paid my dues. I don’t really want to die--I never thought I’d live this long, though. I just want to get on with my life, but I’m stuck. I don’t belong to anything. Except my dog. Maybe my brother. I don’t know—can you help a guy like me?”
“I’m here to help you. Can I ask about this dog of yours?”
Matthew smiled broadly, “Yes. He’s my best friend…” And so they began the long walk home, Tom, Matthew, his brother and his dog.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 5/12/2014 by admin)
Respite 4-29-14The longer we live with open doors, the more the world comes home to us. Every older person is one of our parents, all children become ours. The guy who lost his job, he's just like your brother. The grieving moms, the wounded veterans, the exhausted parent, the woman fighting the chemo and the cancer--- the angry teenage son of the raging father--there are no strangers anymore. Nor is the leaping dancer or the brilliant inventor entirely unknown to us--we all have a fabulous cousin somewhere. And we all hope to feel safe and at home in this world, even if just for a moment.
When Don came back to the Emergency Department with thoughts of hurting himself, staff at the hospital referred him to Carson’s respite program once again. He didn’t want to hear about it. He’d been to the respite program and it didn’t work for him. Those Carson people. Always wanting to talk with him, always wanting to poke around in his head and see what he was thinking and feeling. Carson sent over what they called a Healthcare Navigator to meet with him at the hospital.
This one wasn’t so bad, Don thought. There was that little matter of the surgery the doctors said he needed on heart. That was one of the things that really messed him up inside to think about. How could he trust those doctors? What if they were making it all up about his problem? What if instead they really thought he was just too crazy—that’s what people said about him, he knew it-- and they had given up on him and they wanted to give his heart to some person that they liked better and that’s what this surgery thing was all about?
Carson’s Healthcare Navigator really heard Don. She listened to his worries and she answered all of his questions about the medical procedure and medications. The hospital wouldn’t admit him for his much needed surgery until he was stable and the mere thought of being admitted threw him something awful—he just couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. Carson’s Health Navigator and Don negotiated a solution with the hospital and the nursing and clinical staff at Carson’s respite. They made a plan that Don could live with to get him ready. It involved an acceptably minimum amount of poking around in Don’s thoughts and feelings, but just enough to get him where he was feeling confident and clear.
Carson’s Health Navigator visited Don every day at the respite program until he felt ready for surgery. She drove him to the hospital on the day, stayed through the intake, explaining everything in ways she knew he would feel okay about. She didn’t leave him until he was tucked in his bed in that awful johnny and prepared for surgery. When he was wheeled down the hall, he lifted his hand a bit to wave a good-bye. Carson’s Healthcare Navigator never saw him again. She heard that surgery did go well and that he was eventually discharged. Don never cared much for services. He hadn’t signed the release for her to follow up and he didn’t come by on his own.
Carson staff understand this. Don got what he needed from them at the time he needed it most. They know that the emotional protections Don has around himself are there for good reason. When a man places a “Do Not Disturb” sign on himself, as long as he isn’t hurting himself or anyone else, staff honor that. They just keep the doors open. If it gets hard for Don to find safety in himself in the world, they’ll be there.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/29/2014 by admin)
Cyndy at Rec 4-22-14When Cyndy was reunited with her mother after four years in foster care, she was ready for her mom to relapse, and she was ready for the world. She had learned what to expect. If Cyndy had used words to express her life’s motto, it would be, “It’s better to hit first, and hit them with all you got.” She got her message across without words.
When she was referred to Carson’s Therapeutic Recreation program, she liked the sports. There were all these pesky rules about not holding or pushing, but she could hit, kick or throw that ball as hard as she liked and people seemed to like that. Bicycling was boring. There was no point of contact—no tackle—to make her come alive. But still the steady push, push of the pedals moved through her body and kind of evened out her internal agitation.
After a year, the Rec program invited Cyndy to join a small group that went to a nursing home to help prepare the food trays and assist the elderly with feeding. Cyndy brought her tray over to a lady with pale white hair. Cyndy had no grandparents in her life and had never been close up to an elderly person. The name tag over her bed read, “Mrs. Monagan.” The skin on Mrs. Monagan’s face was like tissue paper and spotted Cyndy feared the unfamiliar cloudiness in her eyes. Momentarily, Cyndy felt braced for hurt, as she usually did. Then all at once, she knew that this woman could not hurt her.
Cyndy sat down in the chair, placed the tray down, and didn’t speak. She was overcome with the feeling of not being afraid.
Mrs. Monagan was is no rush. She smiled softly at Cyndy and waited. Cyndy picked up the soft peaches in the cup, spooned some out and held it gently to Mrs. Monagan’s mouth. When they made contact, Cyndy felt an infinitesimally small mouthed hope in her waken and lean forward. Like Cyndy, Mrs. Monagan didn’t need many words. She watched Cyndy feed her, carefully and efficiently, without pause. She studied Cyndy’s straight back, squared shoulders, set jaw and the two tears running down her face. Mrs. Monagan reached out a single finger to tap tap Cyndy’s wrist in tacit acknowledgment of them, to which Cyndy replied with a barely perceptible nod.
Over the years, Cyndy became a mentor in Carson’s Rec program, helping others begin, stepping forward as a peacemaker for those who stood ready to fight. Cyndy became a teacher, had her own children that she taught to ride and play. All through the years, even with graduate school and the babies, even now, she volunteers at the nursing home.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/29/2014 by admin)
Brian 4-15-14Brian had a car, but days like this were bicycle days. He’d ride to the construction site where he worked, put in a full day outside and then ride back home. It was the perfect start and close to a hard day of work. He’d never wanted to be a suit and office kind of guy.
Brian was great with his hands. He could build anything. Once his sister had wanted stone steps; he didn’t hesitate to build them for her, even though he’d never worked with stone before. His hands just knew how to make things fit together. He’d tap danced up and down those stairs when he finished. Brian could dance any kind of dance, even though he’d never taken a lesson. His feet just knew how to make the steps fit together.
Brian looked at the April sky as he headed home on the bike. It was Friday evening and the light was so strong, getting stronger every day. He isn’t sure what they hit him with, but he still remembers the metallic sound echoing through his skull. He couldn’t feel them kicking him after he hit the ground. It was as if he were watching himself from above for a few seconds, his body curled up on the pavement, dark blood pooling under his head.
Brian felt like crying when he saw his mother and sister’s faces when he awakened from the coma in the hospital. He knew their eyes and he knew seeing them made him want to cry, but he couldn’t recall their names. Brian felt a great press inside—a feeling that he had so many things to say, things he’d been literally dying to ask, but when he reached for the words, the tool belt was gone. He couldn’t build the sentence.
The place where all the words used to dance easily with his thoughts was a cold, empty hall. There were only a few stragglers left behind, “Mom,” he could say. It was his thirtieth birthday.
Brian moved onto the couch in his mother’s small apartment when they discharged him from the hospital. It was hard to walk. There are so many things to keep going at once, and in the right rhythm, if you think about it—arms and legs swinging and feet hitting at the right time in the right place so that you don’t fall over. His hands shook most of the time when they weren’t at complete rest.
Carson staff help Brian find a new rhythm. Staff helped him get a personal assistant, and connected him to rehabilitation services. Though he and his mom got help finding a bigger apartment, three years later, Brian is thinking about independent living.
He’s got an envelope and sticky note system that helps him remember the many steps it takes to open and close the doors and switches in a life. His new cell phone is his best friend. It tells him everything out loud—those next appointments and things that were just at the edge of his thoughts—and now he’s finding he’s even anticipating the phone, staying a step ahead sometimes. He was ahead of his phone today.
For six months he and his Carson worker had been talking about today. He sat in the passenger’s seat as they drove. They were headed over to the Habitat for Humanity worksite. He’d agreed to check out some of the building materials and review the cost estimates. Brian’s fingers were poised, at rest, on the hardhat he held in his lap.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/29/2014 by admin)
DEAR MAN 4-8-14It was DEAR MAN again for Carson’s Under Five Thrive program for pregnant and parenting young people. There was a lot of eye-rolling among the members of the group. DEAR MAN is an acronym used when teaching interpersonal effectiveness skills. The group had heard about these communication skills several times before: Describe the situation without judgment. Express your feelings. Assert your points. Reinforce the person you are talking with. Stay Mindful. Appear confident. Negotiate.
“Today, we are going to try something new; you are going to be DEAR MAN parents,” said the facilitator. We are going to practice using these skills FOR our kids.” The group looked puzzled.
“Let’s try it out to see what I mean. We have got Roberto and Sarah. Roberto and Sarah have the same exact toy, but they are fighting over one of them because they can’t find the other.” Smirks of recognition went through the group. “Roberto is SURE that the toy is his. Sarah says it is hers, too. What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to say ‘Stop that yelling! I’ve had enough! I’m taking the toy!” suggested one parent.“And that is one option. I’ve been that tired and worn out that I’ve done it, too,” said the facilitator. “I want to give you another option, because –whatever you do, you are teaching them to do.”
You know DEAR MAN, so help me out. I’ll start with the Describe and Express. ‘So, Roberto, you are so frustrated because you are sure this is your toy. And Sarah, you are so frustrated because you remember that this is yours. And you are both worried that your brother or sister will get the toy. And you both really want the toy!”
“It IS My toy! It’s MINE!” mimicked one of the parents.
“No, MINE!” improvised the other, laughing.
“Can you do Assert?” asked the facilitator.
A group member spoke halfheartedly, “’So we all want to find a way to figure out how you can both have the toy. Maybe that means finding the other one. Or maybe that means taking turns, I don’t know, but we want to solve it…..’ Oh, I might as well do Reinforce…. ‘I’m so glad you two are working this out with me and I’m sure we can figure it out…’”
“Thank you. Anyone for Negotiate?” asked the facilitator.
“Sure—I can do it,” offered a parent, slowly. “‘So, maybe we can take a break and put the toy here where we can all go into the toy chest and look under your beds for the other one together? If we find it, we’ll feel a whole lot better,’” finished the parent, sadly and entirely unconvincingly.
They were quiet, until one member of the group said what was on most of their minds: “Are you SERIOUS? No WAY! I’m NOT spending all that time over a toy!”
Then one of the older group members sighed and said, “You know, I hate to tell you, but she’s right. My oldest is eleven and I am not proud to say it, but I was a yeller. I would just yell and that would be that. And guess what I have on my hands? A yeller. If I knew then what I know now, things would be a whole lot easier at home. We aren’t even in the teenage years. And the older one is teaching the younger one the bad habits I taught him. He doesn’t listen; he’s rude and pushy. It’s like if you put in the work now, it pays off bigtime later.”
“But I can’t do it. I can barely do this for myself, never mind them,” complained a teen mom.
It was the reality of being a very young mom. After the baby shower and the excitement of the pregnancy and the birth and the new identity as “mom,” came all this endless…work…when they just wanted to be with friends.
“I know it,” said another young mom in the group, “It’s about learning to be and teaching your kid at the same time. But that’s why we come here. We got each other, you know?”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Three Men 4-1-14Jesus was still wearing his apron whites from his job at the restaurant. He waited for Dan to get in the front seat, so they could speed over to Pete’s. They didn’t want to be late, but it was better to be late to their Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting than to miss Pete; leaving Pete behind was not an option.
“Chicken masala!” said Dan, as he opened the Styrofoam container Jesus had had waiting for him. Dan lived in his own apartment with the help of Carson Center’s community programs. He could cook a few simple meals, he had a cat named Rover, and friends, but it was Jesus’ leftovers that made him feel at home.
“Look at it out there,” said Dan miserably.
Winter had overstayed. This early April evening was more like a brutal early March evening. Still, cold couldn’t last forever. The trees were dark and spindly, but far inside, they were slowly wakening from dreams, thinking in green, red, pink and yellow, patient for the bossy wind to gather his empties, and leather coat, and clatter on home to the arctic bar.
When it was warm out, Dan would share his community garden vegetables with Jesus and Pete. Pete was a plumber and repair man. He helped Dan keep his small place in good shape.
Jesus preferred speaking Spanish and he hated football. Pete spoke only English and loved football. Pete hated “foreign” food. The three of them had little of the things in common that make many friendships easy; they weren’t from the same generation, didn’t like the same food or teams, and didn’t share hobbies, but on the same night three years ago, they had tried to kill themselves.
They met at Carson’s crisis respite program. There, the team of therapists and psychiatrists helped them find new footing. Each one had lost their homes, their jobs, their relationships with their families and their hope-- to their addiction. During the hardest months of new sobriety, they could feel that even if it was just because they could talk to one another, that there was something in them waking from the cold.
Pete jumped in the back, closed the door against the wind, complaining loudly about the aroma of the spicy chicken in the car as they drove together to their meeting. Jesus smiled silently and steered with one arm for a short moment, as he passed back a second Styrofoam container to Pete containing a solid burger, still warm.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Hungry Man 3-25-14Jeff says that there are different kinds of cold and hungry. The Belchertown State School and then the Northampton State Hospital fed him and kept him warm enough. His food was divided into little sections on a tray. He is grateful that he could always feed himself—some of the old timers like him had had their healthy teeth removed back in the day, to make it easier to feed them. He is grateful he could always go the bathroom by himself; there were folks who sat, undressed, in their own mess until they could be attended to.
No one had wanted it to be this way. His home in the hospital city on top of the hill represented the will to do better than had been done before. His city was built with tremendous hope that the fresh air, the hard work, the regular schedules and the humane treatment would make things better for him and everyone else there with him. He was there for the tail end of the sorting out among residents. The place had been filled not only with people who suffered from severe mental health issues, but also filled with mother’s with post partum depression, people who just didn’t speak English, people who lived with complex physical disabilities or who were Deaf, folks who were old and alone and even folks who were just too rebellious and sexually active for someone’s approval.
When the State Hospital closed, Jeff walked from Northampton to Springfield. There were no corridors and no schedules. There were no more pills and no more clanking, weakly heated spaces. There were no more trays. Everywhere he looked, there were closed doors. Car doors, storefronts, front doors, garage doors. He was, at long last, outside the doors that had defined him.
When the New England outside cold bit his feet, his face and his fingers—when the emptiness of hunger ate him alive, he opened a store’s closed door, opened a glass door in that store and then drank a quart of milk, for which he was arrested and held in jail.
He hadn’t known he had a brother until a man arrived to take him home. The man was unkind. He kept him in a room, gave him one meal a day on those silver trays with the tinfoil on top that you peel back.
When his brother got sick, a social worker met Jeff and brought him to the Carson Center, where there was a self-advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities. Jeff watched carefully as the group members hugged and laughed in greeting. He did as all the others did—he filled his plate with the food they had made one another. He walked to a couch away from them, sat down, leaned his head forward against the wall, curled his body and arms over the dear plate and cried.
When he looked up, he could see that they were gathered around him, some sitting, some standing. Some hung their heads in respect. Some looked at him and cried, nodding. He knew that they knew that there is a chill only truly recognized by its absence, a kind of hunger only known once you are fed.
Jeff lives on his own now. He is group treasurer, helping to decide how dues are collected and spent. He is learning how to read.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Crisis - "He always said I was crazy" 3-18-14“He always said I was crazy.” Debbie cradled her head in her hands, waiting for her Carson Crisis clinician Robin to come back with the cup of water she had asked for. Debbie’s mouth was dry with fear. The truth was, she couldn’t see a way through this slow heavy darkness that seemed to press down on her. Tonight, dying seemed the only way to escape its intolerable press. She couldn’t breathe. Nothing seemed to make it better. There was nowhere to turn, so she came to Carson. “That makes me crazy, doesn’t it?”
When Robin handed her the water in a white mug, Debbie thought of her husband Andy holding up the coffee mug that had been her mother’s.
“Is this the one? Oh—too-bad,” he said, as he let it smash to the floor. When the kids rushed in to see what the noise had been, he explained, “Oh, your mother’s so uncoordinated, she is just dropping things again. You know how she is. Be careful you don’t step on any chards.”
When they left, he explained to her, “You see, no one will ever believe you. They know how crazy you are. I make sure they know you are a liar.”
And they didn’t believe her. Many years later, when their father died of a heart attack, the kids, now adults, mourned Andy deeply. After awhile, she tried to tell them just a little bit about the abuse she had endured from him all of those years. She tried to tell them that they didn’t deserve it when he would hit them or scream at them, but they wouldn’t, couldn’t, hear one word of it. When a person is intermittently loving and scary, we are bound to them even more tightly than if they were simply loving. It was one of the terrible barbs of her husband’s abuse that the children were bound so much more tightly to him, even in death, than they were to her. And he was charming. He’d charmed the pastor, the sheriff, the couple’s counselor and the neighbors. There was nowhere to turn.
Decades ago, Andy had stopped being even the slightest bit kind to her when not in public. The one benefit of this was though she had felt trapped by him, she hadn’t felt attached to him in the end. Today was the anniversary of his death. She and the kids had gathered at his gravesite, the way they have done for the past seven years. Today the kids were cold to her in that old, familiar Andy way. They left the cemetery and went their separate ways. She thought they might be gathering without her. Debbie’s thoughts turned darker and more painful as the evening wore on, until she reached out to Carson’s Crisis team.
“What’s on your mind?” asked Robin. Debbie held the mug with the water. She looked at Robin carefully, and then decided to try. It took awhile. She told about her life with Andy and the kids. She told about his death. She said the thing that she had not been able to say to anyone:
“I’m not sorry he died. I am so relieved. I am so grateful. I am so—happy—he’s gone.”
Debbie cried through a smile that grew wider as she spoke those words. Then, after a very long pause, she told her truth. She told story after story of the humiliations small and large, of the threats and the assaults. She didn’t rush. She deliberately opened every door and every window in the airless house with Andy where contempt had reigned. She talked and no one stopped her.
It was unlike any Crisis intake Robin had done, because sometimes--this time—the primary intervention is being the safe person in the safe place where the truth can be told and honored. “And I don’t have to punish myself anymore,” laughed Debbie as she sipped her water. “I don’t have to die because I feel so glad he’s dead or because I’m telling you what happened. And you believe me?”
“I believe you.”
“I can tell.”
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Sister 3-4-14“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” Sam sang the words to the classic children’s book as he struggled to put on his baby sister’s shoes. “I see a little girl looking at me!” He reached up and tickled his almost-three-year-old “Sister” ‘till she laughed. She was tired and he couldn’t fix that. Tired made her grumpy, but he could often fix grumpy. And sometimes he could fix hungry. Sam was only four, but if he climbed up on a chair, he could reach the sink to fix her a bowl of cereal and water. He’d never seen the Brown Bear book, but once when he was in the doctor’s office waiting room, he listened to a mother read it over and over to her son.
Their mom, Cassie, did what she could. Years of struggle with mental illness had taken its toll. There was just enough food to skinny by. There was often heat when it was cold in the small, rent subsidized apartment. The Department of Children and Families knew how hard Cassie worked to keep these children. Cassie was in therapy and trying a new combination of medications that seemed promising. One of the conditions of the Department of Children and Families’ service plan was that the kids had to go Carson Center’s Kidstop preschool.
When the Kidstop Teachers met Sam and Sister, he stood with his hand on her back, silently reassuring her. Sister looked excited to be around the pretty toys. Sam looked exhausted. The Kidstop teachers consulted with Sam. They learned from him that at home there was no such thing as regular bedtime, bath time or meals in their house. Clean laundry was a rarity. For days, Sam stood to the side of the room and watched the teachers like a hawk. After the first week, the Kidstop teachers let him know that they felt it was their turn to take charge of Sister. Sam nodded quietly. For seven hours during the days, they would tend to her. They would wash her face, comb her hair, put socks on her feet and find clean clothes for her if they were soiled. They sang to her and read to her and taught her games. When she burst into rages with emotions so much bigger than her little life knew how to handle, the teachers came close to her; they held her and they would not let her go. Sam and Sister and the other children ate and rested together on a regular schedule. And for the first time in his life, Sam played.
On Monday mornings, Sam would wake Sister up early, excited for the week at pre-school ahead of them. When it was time to go to Kindergarten, not only did Sam know his colors and his letters, he knew “Sister” would be loved at Kidstop. His teachers had read them Brown Bear so many times that he knew it by heart. At the end of the Going to Kindergarten Party, Sam gave a long hug to his favorite teacher.
“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” she whispered to him as they rocked in their hug.
“I see a Teacher looking at me,” he answered.
by JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Staff Thoughts 2-25-14This week I interviewed about a dozen Carson employees about their work. These are some of the things their nearly two hundred years of combined experience has taught them:
• I used to look for big leaps, giant steps, big turnarounds. But really change happens in small shifts, adding up. A different way of looking, a pause before acting, a five minute walk outside. A world of work is in play behind the scenes to bring about that one small shift, and I never used to see it, never mind celebrate it! Now I have a silent party inside when there’s a small shift.
• I used to get into debates with myself over ‘Can people really change?” I don’t even think about it as “change” anymore. I think about it as uncovering. Some people uncover who they are underneath all the things they struggled with and all the ways they learned to cope. They realize maybe that they’re funny or kind or have a happy nature, but they couldn’t be that before, until the uncovering was done. Sometimes its re-covery—stopping addictive behaviors to recover a lost self, but it’s always DIScovery—we discover together how to get to a better place. Uncover. Recover. Discover. That’s how I think about my work now.
• Sometimes I have to be the one to say the hard things that nobody else is able to say to a person. I have struggled my whole career with that. I’m not a jerk and I know how and when to bring the hard stuff up. It’s just that I never want to. I hate that part of the job. But it usually opens a door.
• The hardest thing for me has been helping kids see that sometimes their environment is not going to change to give them what they need and what they should have, even when we try our best. It helps us plan—it helps us grieve and move forward, but it is so unfair and so hard.
• You know what changed me? The woman who came in blaming everyone and angry all time. I disliked her so much until I started to consider how much she must be suffering. My compassion for her made me a better person and a smarter therapist because then I could honestly say, “This must be so painful. Let’s see how we can help you like yourself and live in the world more easily.” Not only did it feel good, it worked.
• Who do I think I am, anyway? That’s been my biggest lesson. I thought that I was so special. But the truth is that I am white and a man and heterosexual and I was born to middle class parents and I had food and clothing and a safe environment. All the television shows, movies and magazines all showed me that I was the ‘norm’ and that everything that was of interest to me must important to the whole world. I didn’t earn that King’s Seat—I was just born into it and that’s not fair. And still I struggled. I struggled with all the messages about how to be a real man; I struggled with finding my true voice, with how to be a deep listener. With how to be really and truly kind. And you know when I realized I didn’t know how to do those things? When I started to ‘help’ people! We are in this together. I may have some good ideas to offer up, to try—but really, it’s my job to support other people in doing the best they can while I keep doing my own work knocking the unearned crown off of my head. If I really need a crown, I can go down to Burger King and get myself one.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 4/10/2014 by admin)
Winter - 2-18-14The coals in the woodstove are thick as tomorrow's promised snow. Winter's hand pulls Dan under--to converse with his dead--his brother, his dad, his aunt, an old girlfriend.
"There are so many things I think about now. Things I see differently. I sit in front of my friend Jerry's woodstove and I daydream about things. It's kind of dark out all day. I'm not depressed; I'm grateful for what I see. I miss my brother. I couldn't really feel it all before, but now I do and it's good."
"I can see myself. You know, I can remember now how when I was off my medication; I thought there were people in the ceiling. Or I would think that I was on a rooftop somewhere when I was just sitting at the bar. It was all wrong, but it seemed normal and I couldn't understand why people were pretending they didn't see what I felt and saw. I figured they were all out to get me. Like there were rules to a game I had to figure out and the price was life or death if I lost. It sounds crazy now. And, I guess it was.
Being off your meds is no joke. What your mind can do to you. whoa. I'm glad I know that now. It makes me have more patience for people who have trouble in the ways I had trouble. And I was a big guy. Real big. I was in a panic all the time. I just ate and ate. When I was a truck driver, I was sitting a lot. Eating and sitting. I loved working as a mechanic, but I stopped being able to go to work once I started thinking everyone was sabotaging my engines just to get me. It wasn't really happening, but I thought it was."
Dan came to the Carson Center with goals in mind. He had already taken his own steps forward.
"Once I got back on my medication for the Schizophrenia, it was like I could feel myself again. and I felt heavy! I wanted to lighten up. The Carson people got me into a Weight Watchers group. What helped was the hiking group they had, too. There are ways I just never said good-bye to my aunt or my dad or my brother. Even my ex. Sometimes in your life you just need a long walk under a beautiful sky and fresh air. For me, I need a lot of long walks. Even when it is cold and rainy, I don't mind. I work things out that way.
Carson staff brought me to Alcoholic Anonymous, too. That was a no-brainer. Drinking was only the symptom anyway, covering up all the stuff I had to deal with, causing me a mess more problems than the ones I had underneath it all. I see guys come in to the AA meeting looking like I used to look-a hundred pounds overweight, talking stuff that makes people afraid of them. Times like that I know for sure that I have a purpose. We are meant to help each other, you know? And who better to talk a guy out of the idea that there are Martians in the coffee pot than me, you know?
And there's my mom. I can help out with her now. She's old. When I help her walk across the room, I can't help but think that this lady helped take my first walk across the room. She looks at me and pats my hand and I know that she's at peace because I'm at peace.
It's the winter now. It's a good time to think about what matters. It's like there's tangle in there, inside me-where I came from, what I feel. Winter roots. And right there, in the middle of that dark underground, I got hope. I can feel it. It's green."
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 2/24/2014 by admin)
Bones 2-11-14It was the third therapy session for Zeneba. Carson's Outpatient Therapist, Nancy, was feeling uneasy with their work together at this point. Zeneba talked with great pain about the impending death of her best friend. Her grief was very present, yet she was so cagey about the details of their friendship, other than to say they used to walk together everyday and that her friend had been there for her through thick and through thin, that Nancy was wondering what it was about her best friend that Zeneba wasn't ready to share. Could it be that her "best friend" was really her girlfriend, and Zeneba was worried about being judged as a lesbian? Could it be that it wasn't the best friend that was dying at all, but that Zeneba, at twenty-one, had a terminal illness with which she was struggling?
"Can I ask you some questions about your friend, so that I can understand more what she means to you?" Nancy asked.
Zeneba put her head in her hands and hid her face.
"If I tell you-you promise you won't treat me like I'm a fool?"
"I will not treat you like a fool," Nancy answered.
"My best friend is Bones. Bones is my sixteen year old dog and Bones is dying."
"I am so, so sorry your best friend Bones is dying," said Nancy.
And then Zeneba cried and told the things that needed telling. As a kid, it was the dog who got kicked when she did, who hid with her under the porch and who was absurdly and unabashedly explosively happy to be near her whenever possible. In the mornings, Bones wagged at Zeneba's outfit choices for school; Zeneba opened Bone's dog food can and then made herself breakfast. Zeneba was seven and Bones was two and they were family.
Zeneba blew her nose and said, "I go to college. I take psychology. I think I have 'Internalized Dog Syndrome.' You think that could be a real thing? I look like a person, but really the best parts of me are all dog. I am so good with the kids I baby-sit-dog. I am so happy in the morning. Dog. Love to play catch, walk in the rain. Dog. If you come home, I'm thrilled to see you. Dog."
When Zeneba grew into young adulthood and the ice cracked under her feet the way it does when you live in a place filled with crime and heroin, and her first boyfriend overdosed, what was there to do, but find her way back to fulltime Bones?
There are conversations you just don't want to have in words. There are times when other people just need to have fur (or longhair) or don't bother coming too close.
Her old friend, who smells like the earth and Fritos is becoming lighter. She sleeps now most of the time. She is deaf and mostly blind. She eats and drinks, but not as much. She isn't sick; she's just finishing up. All Zeneba can say to her is, "Thank you, my Bones, 100% Dog. You came to us and achieved 100% Dogness. A total and complete success," but Bones could care less what Zeneba says, as long as Bones is still kissing her, trying with her last strengths to fill Zeneba with whatever dogness she can before they launch onto their separate paths.
"And now, here I am," explained Zeneba. "I never needed a therapist before, even with all I been through. I don't trust people all that much with the real stuff." She took a deep breath, held her crumpled tissue in her lap, and looked at Nancy. "But..you're really okay, you know?"
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 2/10/2014 by admin)
Art Therapy 2-4-14People in the helping profession use all kinds of fancy words to describe what's going on with the people they help. Sometimes it is useful to have a special word that sums up a problem. Having a word for it tells you that you are not alone, because, well, there's a word for it, so, somebody else must have experienced something like this, too. There's some hope in that. Words can also feel like a plain cardboard box in which you are supposed to fit all the mountains and rivers of your world. Grief, for example. That word is just too short for the wide, yawning mouth of loss we face when someone we love dies.
Other helper-words are meant to help us not react too strongly. They help us inhibit our disgust. We pack up the unsavory feelings about what's happening in that plain cardboard box of a word and bring it to those helper-people who might know what to do with it. Like the word encopresis. But encopresis isn't even a plain word. It's mysterious and vaguely sophisticated. It sounds like a kind of Italian dessert. Or maybe even a Spanish dance. Or an expensive hair product.
But it isn't any of these things.
Encopresis describes what happens when five year old Felicia, who is mostly not using any words at all these days, starts defecating on the floor in the kitchen and the living room instead of in the toilet. Felicia hasn't used many words since she saw her father die suddenly at home last year. It was time to start kindergarten this fall, but that didn't happen because of the encopresis.
Our Carson Art Therapist went to Felicia and her mom's home for a session together. The Art Therapist invited the mom and Felicia to draw together. Felicia crawled up into her mother's lap and they drew together, hands and colors weaving a dance that left its colors on the page inside the shelter of their arms. All at once, Felicia got up and left the room.
The Art Therapist believed that Felicia was simply signaling that she was finished. However, Felicia came back with a soft blanket, which she arranged on her mother's lap. She crawled onto the softness, picked up her crayons to continue drawing for the rest of the session, responding in color to the therapist's gentle prompts.
Felicia's mom says now every night they take that blanket and they hold each other. And there hasn't been any encopresis since the day they drew nearer one another.
By JAC Patrissi
(Posted 2/10/2014 by drimsky)