Posts

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program

This week an article was posted to the Topeka Capital-Journal website concerning a program the Topeka Police Department has requesting citizens with behavioral health issues to voluntarily enroll in “Premise Alert.” The goal of Premise Alert is so responding officers will know ahead of time that there is an individual in potential mental health crisis, allowing officers to “make more informed decisions” because they know they are encountering a peer.

The goal is honorable. Safe, positive encounters between peers and police is what all of us want. However, I’m not pleased with programs like Premise Alert because I feel officers should be trained to deal with unique crisis situations and NOT an assumed predetermined threat. Education. I’ll say it again and again.

Following is my response to the article.

—–

Topeka police encourage those with behavioral health issues to enroll in Premise Alert program
http://cjonline.com/news/local/2017-04-02/topeka-police-encourage-those-behavioral-health-issues-enroll-premise-alert

—–

I am president of DBSA Albuquerque (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance based in Chicago, Illinois) and sit on the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the DOJ mandated committee of community stakeholders who volunteer their time to help the Albuquerque Police Department develop better skills in engaging peers in crisis.

Our chapter collaborates closely with APD, including the 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training that was once a voluntary additional training and is now required of all APD officers. Peer involvement in creating those solutions that will protect both peers and police in crisis situations is key to successful, positive outcomes.

Many times, the topic of voluntary peer enrollment in a program such as this has been brought up at behavioral health meetings, and every time the concept meets with nearly instantaneous resistance to outright moral outage from peers. As one peer from our focus groups said last year, “Do they expect me to volunteer for a Tag & Release program?”

As an individual managing the symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD, my reaction to this concept is also more than hesitant. The reason I share this is because often foreknowledge of a person’s behavioral health history can unduly affect a first responder’s attitude and readiness in a crisis situation. It may even have the exact opposite effect, something I can attest to personally. In one encounter with APD, officers focused entirely on asking if I was dangerous and not what help I needed.

Beyond the practical considerations of crisis response, there is a larger, more far-reaching concern among peers that has to do with the archiving and use of any database generated from an enrollment program. Let me share one example.

Say we have a peer who deals with alcohol misuse and schizophrenia (a condition the DSM V defines as co-occurring). Alcohol misuse exacerbates this individual’s schizoid symptoms to where police involvement is regularly required. However, when not misusing alcohol, this individual functions well and does not generate the type of crisis intervention needs.

Let’s say this individual voluntarily enrolls, under the auspices of “protecting all involved.” The idea doesn’t seem too horrible. Who doesn’t want to be safe?

Now, let’s consider this scenario:

A neighbor calls to report this individual’s yard is messy and the individual isn’t being cooperative in cleaning his yard. In fact, there was a heated argument over this to where the neighbor calls for the police.

The police arrive, already aware this individual has a prior co-occurring crisis history with police. There was an argument and police are dispatched “ready” for a situation where the individual.MIGHT be in crisis.

There are a few truths to consider:

1.) This individual is not symptomatic and in crisis.

2.) Neighbors get into yelling matches from time to time.

3.) They have been neighbors for 20 years.

4.) This individual experienced several crisis calls with police, and his neighbor witnessed this.

5.) The individual is 12 years sober.

6.) This happened to a friend of mine.

Granted, there was no enrollment program, and the foreknowledge provided police is from the neighbor of 20 years. But there was no crisis and responding officers treated my friend as if he was in the throes of co-occurring crisis. My friend is 12 years sober and only was a safety issue when drinking.

This illustrates striking concerns. How far does the enrollment record go back? How do you get yourself off the list once enrolled? What kind of information is collected and is this information guaranteed confidential? After all, the police are not medical providers and aren’t bound by mandates like HIPAA.

There are so many possible and real scenarios that all ultimately speak to one thing:

People with behavioral health issues are more than their symptoms and do enjoy significant recovery.

I’m not a sum total of my bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. I don’t say “I’m bipolar.” If I’m trotting out self-proclaimed identities I’d go with I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a geologist, I’m a boyfriend, I’m a peer advocate, and I’m a really great left defender on my soccer team. Enrollment in a program like this places symptoms I manage with exercise, medication, therapy, peer support groups, and personal responsibility above who I truly am. It’s too easy to mistake having foreknowledge as being forewarned.

The real, sustainable solution is education. Officer preparation doesn’t come from a list, it comes from training officers with the skills necessary to help peers help themselves to make good decisions. A single peer’s crises are not the same thing every time. Every potential crisis situation involves a unique individual under unique circumstances. Education is the key to being well-prepared. Crisis intervention training allows for officer safety, peer safety, and deescalation through a spirit of collaboration rather than predestined community peacekeeping.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.
Originally published April 5, 2017.

As peers, we’re really counting on you to “get it.”

I was intending on including this in the prior article. However, it’s a crucial concept that , as said, folks from agencies from DRNM to NAMI seem to neglect from their empathy toolbox and thusly their understanding of the Peer Experience.

Listen up.


As peers, we REQUIRE you to listen and understand when we are generous and share our life experiences.


Anything short of this is morally disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. What is the hazard? It’s simple.


Good intentions with bad information is the recipe for poor behavioral health policy.


To this end, Stand Up To Stigma has our first fully-trained Peer Focus Group that will be attending many public forums and advisory committees to ensure the proper information is shared and understood. Good information, good intentions, good policy.

What do you do with a dog with no legs?

You take him for a drag.

Gotta be me.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Advice for Muggles concerning AOT – Assisted Outpatient Treatment – Kendra’s Law

This will be one of the shortest articles I offer on Thoughtcrimes, and it is special advice for the Muggles in the audience.

When it comes to AOT (Assisted Outpatient Treatment), rather than trying to convince peers AOT isn’t forced treatment try sharing what AOT can do to benefit peers instead.

Start the conversation with:


I appreciate you feel AOT is forced treatment, and there might be benefits to peers being overlooked. I’d like to share my thoughts with you.


This will require some homework and analyzing AOT from a peer perspective. I feel we’re worth the effort.

You’re welcome.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

How did you find such a well-hidden scab, you Mind Sculptor?

I need a better opening line than “As a peer…”, like “As the superhero Indiana Jones” or “As a fleshy bag of mostly water…” this being a Star Trek The Next Generation quote. I did watch TNG for a while until this episode when Data said “Much like deep sea divers experience nitrogen narcosis, we are suffering from a form of temporal narcosis.” Because that makes a lot of sense. Time is supersaturated in the blood at great pressures and returning to STP (Standard Temperature Pressure . . . pretty much sea level in Huntington Beach), time begins to bubble out of solution in the blood forming painful, often lethal time bubbles in the blood vessels. TNG should have the temporal contemporary title Tool Time because the writers and actors are a collaboration of tools . . . who collectively think time dissolved in blood is a real thing. Tool Time. I’m out.

As a peer, there are a lot of horrible things that have happened in my life. Not getting my geology degree(s). Meeting my future wife who during the divorce told my mom on the phone, “I always get what I want, so you better say goodbye to your grandson because you won’t see him until he’s 18.” Getting fired from job after job, not knowing bipolar has the propensity to make it impossible to go to work as well as making me a complete tool when I did get to work. Tool Time!

Lots of this stuff gets pushed down, buried, ignored, dismissed, and hopefully forgotten with time. And then you get a therapist hired to help you work through the wreckage of your life, which includes the wreckage of your past sometimes. Only sometimes. And you get to therapy that week, and the therapist is thinking, “Damn, four garden variety anxiety peers today. I’m bored. Let’s see what I can do to spice up the next patient session!”

And that’s you. Or rather, that’s me. It’s been me. It’s been me too many times. Example: Somehow, my therapist once weaseled out of me that my ex-wife said, “I know all your triggers and I’m going to push every button until you kill yourself so I get full custody.” I don’t like that memory. And I had taken thirteen years to repress that particular memory and pain. But my, what a rich, painful, profitable vein to mine. So much for the successful repression.

I’m told, “Repression is unhealthy because you never come to terms with the pain and the situation, and this will continue to affect your mental heath if you don’t talk about it. You’ll never learn to handle the stress and you’ll never know how to handle the situation if you encounter it again.”

And I reply, “I taught myself how to handle it. I won’t marry Susan again. Problem solved. And thanks for somehow worming that to the front of my awareness again and getting me to talk about it for 50 minutes. You’re a Miracle Worker, where I never knew how to feel pain until you taught me. Water.”

What’s the harm in repressing pain, where’s the worry in not thinking about painful memories at the fore of the mind, how is it a crime pushing the wreckage into a tiny cube into the deepest hole in my heart where happy happy joy joy memories are a depleted uranium barrier keeping access to and from that repression from surfacing?

It takes a lot of work, repressing painful memories. Think about doing triple bypass surgery on yourself. And think about doing this even though you show no signs of heart disease, and you run marathons, and you swim La Manche to and fro just to get to work in Dover from St. Malo. My heart is healthy. And think about doing this because someone you pay to help you feel better says, “Today, I think we should crack open your sternum and play with your heart a bit.” You see what I did there? I got it around to “play with your heart” which in Hellenistic times was considered the receptacle of emotion. Clever boy.

Repression is the scab that need not be picked at. I’ve invested thirteen years worth of thrombocytes scabbing over my life with Susan. I let my bleedy nose drip all over my shirts for twelve of those years to dedicate as many thrombocytes as possible to scabbing over the open wound that was Susan. And now you want me to open that wound again? Where did you get your psych degree? Sending in four box tops from your Cheerios?

What would be ideal is to save those box tops, pour yourself a bowl of Cheerios, and while pouring your milk, notice that the picture of the “Missing Child” is a picture of Susan. And she’s been missing for thirteen years.

What am I getting around to? It’s a self-empowerment thing. It’s the ability to tell my Mind Sculptor, “We’re not going there. Let’s talk about my date last night, where the girl’s cumulative brain power for a year could toast a slice of raisin bread, but only lightly, and one side only. That’s a painful mistake that has not scabbed over with depleted uranium, and a mistake I don’t want to make any longer.” Current. Unscabbed. Worthwhile.

My therapist holds a dual role. Sacajawea and Mechanic. It’s important to have a guide into the unknown, although Lewis and Clark had no need for the lass to backtrack to last night’s camp site because one of them (Clark, because he was a directionless fool) forgot his  iPhone. It’s the current stuff I need help fixing, or at least the most current stuff that is like dragging an anchor through a sea of magnets. For me, that’s losing Clare. Not being married to the Queen of the Sirens thirteen years ago. Here is your tarnished crown, your Majesty.

My therapist says, “What should we talk about this week?”

And I say, “My inflamed hemorrhoidal tissues that have begun seeping puss and blood lately.”

And my therapist says , “What? I’m not a proctologist!”

And I say, “It’s a metaphor. The thoughts of Susan are a pain in my ass. I’m trying to repress, again, the memories of Susan you dredged out last week. Of course, people do say my head is full of shit. Perhaps I need a proctologist after all.”

– Dedicated to Stephanie’s puppy, Poppy.

Not everyone appreciates metaphors of uncomfortable truth

It’s not a secret held close to the peers’ collective chest that peers sometimes run into criminal trouble when experiencing the severe symptoms of a full-on, full-force, and full-blown crisis situation. At these magical times, law enforcement are often called to assist a peer. And some of these magical times, peers are transported to inpatient service rather than criminal incarceration. Score. Bonus score.

Things get a little iffy at this point. Let’s say a peer is in crisis with some regularity. And let’s say the peer pings on the law enforcement radar with some regularity. There is an idea that these peers require being on a “special list” so responding officers are aware this peer is a frequent flyer. In addition, MOUs (Memorandum Of Understanding) are attempted so psych providers can share HIPAA protected information with law enforcement. This is requested in the hopes of better serving peers.

The thing about it is not every peer wants their mental health information at the ready for responding officers, and peers really aren’t thrilled about providers sharing their information with law enforcement. Want proof? Check out this article on the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Constitutional academic arguments aside, the problem with a program like the Premise Alert is it’s very easy for foreknowledge to become forewarning. Not every crisis situation is like the last. Every crisis is entirely unique as is every peer is unique. As is every person is unique. Foreknowledge or forewarning? Is it any surprise that the volunteer Premise Alert has no volunteers?

When I brought up the Premise Alert at an MHRAC meeting in 2016, the idea was met with nods of agreement, that the Premise Alert made good sense and peers should support such an initiative in Albuquerque. So, yeah, I didn’t bring it up as a suggestion. I brought it up as what the Albuquerque Police Department should be avoiding. The idea is de-escalation, that’s the training I developed for APD’s Crisis Intervention Training. Having peers on a list easily referenced by responding law enforcement is a threat to peer safety, not a benefit to peer safety. The Premise Alert works entirely contrary to everything I was training APD to understand about the peer experience.

There was still confusion amongst the MHRAC Muggles. What is Steve saying? Won’t peers feel safer if officers knew they had mental health issues? Wouldn’t peers want the police to have this information ahead of time? No matter which vector I attempted in explanation, my reasoning was met with skepticism or outright hostility. So I decided to come at it with some Word Art.


The Premise Alert is the same as asking peers to volunteer for a Tag & Release program.


An almost immediate motion was made by an MHRAC member. Immediate.


I object to the term Tag & Release and make a motion to strike this terminology from these proceedings.


The motion was quickly seconded and was voted upon by Muggles who apparently took issue with my metaphor. Score. Bonus score. They found the terminology offensive. Finally. I was able to get them to understand the peer experience and what the idea of law enforcement keeping referenced information on prior contacts on hand when responding to a mental health crisis. My response . . .


I’m pleased I found a way to connect with the committee in such a way where the moral outrage peers feel about a Premise Alert is mirrored by your moral outrage at such a harsh analogy. First amendment guarantees outweigh a motion, second, and vote by this committee. So, if I feel using “Tag & Release” is a necessary insertion into our proceedings, that’s what I will share. I’m not here to make you comfortable. I’m here to have you understand from sharing the peer experience. And what I have to share is often an uncomfortable truth.


Here is my full response shared with the Topeka Capital-Journal:

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Tag & Release. Foreknowledge versus Forewarning. Uncomfortable truths. You’re welcome.

My neighbor of 45 years needs some SUTS education

My Dad lives in my childhood home; our family moved in just before I turned three, and it’s been a Bringe stronghold ever since. I get to sleep in my childhood bed when I come home to SoCal, a bed I outgrew when I was 12, where I began sleeping on the diagonal progressing to tucking my knees under my chin to remain completely upon the available sleeping area.

Today, before heading down to my HB stomping grounds at the beach, my neighbor who I’ve known for 45 years now came over to chat and catch up on what he’s been doing and what I’ve been doing. He’s a retired aircraft engineer (I think . . . he is an engineer of some flavor) so most of his conversation centered on his two girls and what they’ve been up to in their adult life. It’s tough thinking about the little girls next door being old enough to have adult lives. I’m aging. It happens to the best of us.

If it hasn’t been mentioned, ever since I was a very young child my academic and career trajectory was lasered in on being a geologist. I think my neighbor was expecting me to be talking about geology, which I did, although it was talking about geology in the terms of the pure joy of exploring the world (like when I was a kid) and not gazing upon the world as a commodity (which is where my mind naturally matured, since geology was now my profession).

Instead of talking about my latest geology gig, I said I had repurposed myself and was now working with Ryan and Sarah (and Megan) on behavioral health advocacy and education. I talked about developing and presenting peer-experience education for the Albuquerque Police Department – there was some discussion of the DOJ mandate because that’s where most people who have heard of APD want to go – as well as community presentations and going inpatient places like Turquoise Lodge Hospital.

It was that mention of Turquoise Lodge Hospital that revealed my neighbor has severe misconceptions of peers who receive inpatient services. I explained the Laugh It Off program and how we do a peer support group as the wrap up, or more accurately, how we use humor to let our friends in Turquoise Lodge know it’s safe and fun talking about our struggles with mental health issues and substance use issues.


His reply was, “That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

My reply was, “Really, it’s a lot of fun. It’s my favorite presentation of the week. And, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

And his reply was, “I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

And my reply was, “What do you mean?”

And his reply was, “It’s dangerous, those people.”

And my reply was, “I’m one of those people. And it’s a serious misconception that peers are dangerous. That’s only what the media enjoys reporting because it’s sensational. Peers, we’re pretty straight forward and non-violent. Kind of like everyone.”

And his reply was, “So what do you have?”

And my reply was, “Bipolar, PTSD, and anxiety. Don’t worry. It’s not contagious. Except avian bipolar. I don’t have that.”

And his reply was, “……………………………………..”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’m messing with you. Avian bipolar is a joke.”

And his reply was, “Yes?”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’ve always been a wiseass. Don’t you remember how many times I made your kids cry with my teasing?”

And his reply was, “Yes, I remember that. So you’re still funny?”

And my reply was, “Yep. And it has nothing to do with the bipolar. And you’re ample proof my bizarre sense of humor predating the bipolar stuff. Can you be a reference for me next time someone attributes my humor to having a mental health diagnosis?”

And his reply was, “Sure. Did you know I went to Branson?”


Let’s get back on track. I’m going to pull out the salient parts of the conversation for reflection now, the part of the conversation dealing with our Laugh It Off program presented in Turquoise Lodge Hospital.


“That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

“I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

“It’s dangerous, those people.”


My neighbor is a great guy. He helped me with calculus 2 when I was in high school. He’s a great dad and loves his family. He is well-read and very creative. Still, he harbors a kneejerk stigma very close to the surface. From his unfiltered reaction, going into Turquoise Lodge Hospital is inherently dangerous because the inpatient peers are inherently dangerous. I explained I’ve been inpatient a good dozen times since 1999, and that I’ve had issues with binge drinking through my recovery journey. I’m not a dangerous dude. Nor are the folks we meet inpatient.

So, unlike folks in the behavioral health industry and disability rights industry who have difficulty grasping the importance of peers sharing their life experiences, I felt no disappointment with my neighbor. What I felt was:


The peers who present with Stand Up To Stigma . . . we have a lot of work to do.

Challenge accepted.


– Steve Bringe

Why are peers expected to be volunteers?

This is one of the weirdest stigmas known to peerkind. It’s perplexing at best and audacious at best. Best to explain what I’m sharing with you. It’s not anything so significant as being relegated to “Crazy” and “Not Crazy” elevators (that was a thing at a provider service I once frequented – I kid you not – it was kind of my fault – we’ll be talking about this in our podcast) although it is significant because it suggests peers be unemployed and broke, and having money earned to spend on necessities like food, rent, mortgage, and full-on way-radical limited edition Pokémon cards are real challenges for many peers.


Why are peers expected to volunteer their personal time and life expertise?


While I’ve always been sensitive to this specific stigma, where folks from Disability Rights New Mexico, The Rock at Noonday, the Albuquerque Police Department, the University of New Mexico, and various miscellaneous assorted politicians turned private business owner turned politicians (hats off to my main man Ricky) sit at the same advisory table as I do yet are being paid to be there, it never really struck me as immensely ingrained in the behavioral health culture as it is until a peer openly criticized me for wanting to launch Stand Up To Stigma so all peers can also be paid professionals sitting at the same advisory table (hats off to my main man Robby). Said this peer:


“You’re just in this for the money. It’s an honor to be invited to the table. You’re doing this for the wrong reason.”


Bam. There it was, a peer stigmatizing another peer and a peer directly stigmatizing himself. Let’s break this down, misguided point by misguided point.


1.) You’re just in this for the money.

You betcha! The service Stand Up To Stigma provides the community has every last bit of worth as DSNM lawyer-person advocate, director of The Rock at Noonday, Albuquerque police officer, UNM provider, and politician person (I’m not certain what service many politicians provide . . . can you imagine what sort of projects could be funded if campaign funding was diverted to social services instead?).

Peers have value. Peers sharing their personal experiences and uncomfortable truths has great value. Value is not only in the vital service peers sharing of themselves provides the community, value is also monetary.

Everyone else at the table is being paid. Why not peers? After all, if it wasn’t for peers having mental health symptoms, nobody would be at that table discussing mental health needs at all.

I’m uncertain why peers being compensated for their worth to the community by drawing an income is a bad thing. Being able to generate an income from a unique skill set is the definition of employment. It’s also incredibly empowering supporting oneself. Guess what? A cornerstone purpose of Stand Up To Stigma is helping peers empower themselves. How is being paid for our expertise a bad thing?


2.) It’s an honor to be invited to the table.

Yeah. Stating it flatly, the dynamic suggested is backwards. To feel it is an honor – as peers – to be invited to a table where the issues, concerns, and needs of peers are being discussed, planned, and implemented is happening without direct peer advisement seems ludicrous. It’s like inviting an astronaut to sit in on lunar mission briefings. This does not happen. Astronauts are required at the briefing table at every step of the mission development and implementation. Personally, I’m not going to strap myself into the tip of a 50 story chemical cylinder bomb if I don’t know what’s going on. That’s what test monkeys are for. It treats peers like test monkeys. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe. Sure. Give me a banana and this month’s copy of “Just So We’re All on the Same Page, I’m Not an Astronaut Test Monkey.”

Peers are required at the table. They are not invited to the table. Why would there be peer discussions not involving peers?

Personally, I feel peers must be calling these meetings and inviting those who dedicate their lives to making our lives better (thank you, truly and honestly) to our table and discussing what is important to us, what we need for our successful recovery and wellness, and how we want it done. The honor is in peers bravely and openly sharing of themselves and the collaborations we require to ensure our successful recovery and wellness. “Being invited to the table” is such a miscalculation. Invitation? It’s our table!


3.) You’re doing this for the wrong reason.

I feel my expressions on the prior two misguided points touches on why the statement of “wrong reason” is so unintentionally ludicrous. What are the reasons I’m an active and dedicated peers advocate of the past eight years? There’s the being compensated for our value thing. There’s the helping peers empower themselves thing. There’s the making sure our voice is primary and our voice is heard thing. There’s the keeping both peers and the community informed of what’s important to peers thing. There’s the making sure our needs and the policies and projects implemented address and fulfill these needs thing. There’s the importance of peer education programs to be developed, managed, and engaged by peers thing (there are “peer education” programs where peers are invited to participate by Muggles). These hardly seem like “wrong reasons.” All said, do you know why I’m an active and dedicated peer advocate?

Because I care deeply about people.

Stand Up To Stigma is just as dedicated to ensuring peers earn monetary compensation when sitting at the table. Our mission and plan details just how. We don’t expect peers we train to be volunteers forever – we ask only for their support as we initiate the go code. And yes, Sarah, Ryan, and I are making Stand Up To Stigma our livelihoods.

We offer SUTS education programs free to the community; this means we ask your kind financial support in our fundraising efforts to make our dream of peer empowerment and community understanding a reality.

Go ahead. Tell me anything I’ve just shared is the “wrong reason” to go to the moon. Hold up. I’m stuck on the moon thing. Guess what? I always wanted to be an astronaut. A geologist astronaut. The moon is too close. God willing, I’ll get to go much farther than that. There are those who are passionate about reaching out to touch the stars. Then there are those who insist on touching the stars.

Peers are the stars.

And one way to touch the stars is to change perceptions on peers being considered first as volunteers and paid professionals second. As a community, we can change this stigmatizing perception. And Stand Up To Stigma is dedicated and prepared to do our part as peer community leaders. So maybe I’m getting to be an astronaut after all. All I needed to do was care about people. One small step for peers. One giant leap for peerkind.

– Steve Bringe

Becky Rutherford and Steve Bringe with Dr. Harrison Schmitt
Apollo 17 Geologist Astronaut and personal hero.

A very funny meme from AutisticNotWeird.com

A peer presenter with Stand Up To Stigma passed along a meme for posting to our site. Rather than just post the meme, it’s better to write out the dialog, which comes courtesy of Autistic Not Weird.


Dude #1: “I’m autistic, which means everyone around me has a disorder that makes them say things they don’t mean, not care about structure, fail to hyperfocus on singular important topics, have unreliable memories, drop weird hints and creepily stare into my eyeballs.”

Dude #2: “So why do people say YOU’RE the weird one?”

Dude #1: “Because there’s more of them than me.”


Classic.

Want to see a grown dude weep in front of his son? Just get me all hyped up on patriotism.

Back in 1997 I took my son, Scott, who just barely turned three years old, on a cross country trip to Boston. The thought was I might salvage the grad school offer a severe one year bipolar depression effectively sabotaged for me. By that I mean i didn’t return any phone calls or official letters, etc. Instead, I crawled inside my blanket fortress and waited for the blissful moment I blinked out of existence.

My wife suggested (read: threatened to divorce me if I didn’t try to get my academic career back on track) I get my lazy arse out of bed and get a meeting at Harvard. Hmmm. The parenthetical read a lot like the non-parenthical. My wife loved me so much she always reinforced her threats with threats. That’s just good operations research.

It continuously escaped her that the one year depression coincided with my senior year at New Mexico Tech, where I perfected the safety factor of 34,770 on my blanket fortress. I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t go to class, I didn’t graduate. It was going to be a tough grad school sell in Cambridge lacking the BA sheepskin. Smart girl considering how stupid she was. Definitely a sharp-dull lass (read: She was drowning in a sea of her own oxymorons).

I’ll snip the story a little here to get to the good stuff. I never went to the meeting at Harvard and instead turned the trip into a vacation for Scott and me. I dig the National Park Service, with most on the East Coast being historical in theme. Beacon Hill, Charleston, Orange, NJ, Valley Forge, Fort Maswik, Cumberland Gap (that’s a cool meteor impact that punched a hole in the Appalachians), Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fort Smith, Lexington-Concord… we hit a ton of sites with all the spare time generated by not begging Harvard to take me in. By the by, I hated Boston and North End Italian food is one rung below Chef Boyardee’s arm pit stains on his Chef Boyardee chef shirt. So there.

Cool photo, yeah? Are you digging that frothy puff of follicles I used to sport? And how cute is my kid? And how cute am I? Shit, I’m wearing Tevas. I swear, I wasn’t a Greenpeace warrior throwing myself in front of harpoons and chain saws. I don’t care about whales or spotted owls in the least, although it’d be funky seeing a flock of spotted owls feasting upon a beached whale.

Okay, the photo is cool for a much better reason. This photo was taken at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This photo taken at a very specific room in the Pennsylvania State House, later renamed Independence Hall. This building holds a special place in the history of the United States of America. It’s where our country was born. And Scott and I are standing EXACTLY where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. We are standing where our country was born.

Usually, you can’t access this part of the room. It happened that the day we were there, the period pieces, artifacts, and other historical paraphernalia decorating the room had been taken to Washington DC for cleaning and restoration. So, the National Park Service was allowing tourists to enter the room and stand where our country was born. EXACTLY where the United States of America was born.

A really sweet college lass offered to take a photo of Scott and me, and that’s what you see above. What wasn’t photographed was me feeling a great swell of overwhelming significance, where I dropped to my knees and proceeded to weep openly in front of my three year old son and about 40 tourists of various miscellaneous assorted nationalities., along with a smattering of Americans. The sweet college lass ran to me and just held me in her arms. She started crying, too. And two other American came over and started crying. And the various miscellaneous assorted tourists of other nationalities chuckled and took photos.

YouTube was still a decade or so off, and that really sucks. I wish I had a video of that moment. I’m actually misting up right now thinking about that day. I’m going to go ahead and squirt a few salty drops out of my orbs. Pardon me for a few moments.

It’s so sad my son was too young to remember that day. It’s Bringe Family Lore all the same, and that photo holds a place of pride on the wall just under the baseball mitt my dad had in high school when he was pitcher. If you ever drop by Chez Steve, I’ll give you the tour.

And to close this out., that was a real emotion I was gifted that day, not some bipolar “overreaction.” And what’s non non non non non heinous is that moment of patriotic pride is what finally jump-started my brain out of its one year bipolar depression.

Those plaid Caddyshack shorts, I remember those. I tore them getting out of the Dumbo ride at Disneyland a few months later. Probably for the best. 1990s fashion mistake went unnoticed while I was weeping openly and publicly in Philly, After trotting about the Magic Kingdom for the day, I had to toss the shorts in the trash at home, being ripped beyond repair. I had to keep hiding the rip with a $40 Mickey Mouse sweatshirt tied backwards around my waist for fear of exposing my root to a bunch of kids at Disneyland. I think I would have been crying different tears having to register as a sex offender. Such an unfortunate placement of the rip.

Oh! One more story. Did I mention we stopped in to Valley Forge? Yes? Okay. While the Minutemen and such were outside freezing for the winter, General George Washington took up board in a cute little farm house, a two story deal where the general slept upstairs in the one room up a very narrow, low stairwell. I went up to check out the room, and on the way down I nailed my forehead on a wood cross beam and landed on my arse, totally from reflex than head injury. It’s a soccer thing.

Anyway. The National Park Ranger, dressed in period garb and trained in period lingo (she told me “Thar be leeches, goodsir” when I was splashing around in the stream outside in my Tevas… stupid Tevas), totally dropped character and gasped, “Oh my God, are you okay?!?”

I’m 6 foot 3. General Washington was 6 foot 5. Without missing a beat, I said, “That was so cool! I nailed my head where the first president of the United States of America must have hit his head a billion times!”

I like interactive history.

 

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”

When I first started having troubles with bipolar and was frequenting the hospital with some regularity, my parents bought a house in Albuquerque so they had someplace to live if I needed them to help me for an extended length of time. My parents are my heroes.

I check on my Dad’s house a couple times each week. Mostly, it’s to make sure the weeds are murdered – I like vegecide as much as arborcide – as well as making sure the roof isn’t leaking. Yes, in Albuquerque, we get stuff falling from the skies that damages roofs. Usually it’s frozen water. Frozen water falling from the skies. This global warming thing . . . somebody got it wrong. Somebody got it very, very wrong.

Where was I? Right, I know. Once, on checking upon my Dad’s house, I found the front door had been kicked in. The intruder tried to bolt with the TV in the living room (the only TV in the house) but my Dad’s got it wedged into this walled shelf above the fireplace, so how I found it was slightly askew. I’m telling you where to find the TV, that there is only one, and you’ll never get it if you break in to my Dad’s place. So there.

I did a quick assessment of the damage and because it seemed significant enough structurally I made a call to the police, so I could file a report in case Dad needed one. Interested neighbors are universally famous for congregating at times like this. Perhaps it’s with the hopes of potato salad like on the July 4th block party, perhaps it’s with the hopes that their home doesn’t also fall prey to a frustrated bandit. Did I mention he didn’t get the TV? Classic.

It turns out that one of Dad’s neighbors is a retired Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant. He shared that there were contractors working on the house next door and this meant there were also subcontractors. That my Dad’s place was vacant – there’s really only the TV to steal, by the by, and you can’t get it out – did not pass unnoticed, and the Lt. also shared that usually with this type of break-in the perp is a subcontractor. Contractors, do background checks on your subcontractors, please. I guess. I’m itching to turn this tale into a parable.

Oh, wait, I got it! Parable, start your engines! So I shared with the Lt. that I was active in training APD in understanding peers in crisis and ways that officers can help peers, and themselves, in deescalating a crisis call. This was not long after the James Boyd thing and APD was very sensitive to any discussion of mental health and law enforcement. We spoke for some time about what I was doing with APD, and the Lt. offered this.


“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”


I couldn’t hold back laughing. Openly laughing. Not about a perceived shortcoming of the Lt. I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing at me and the stupid stuff I’ve done when in crisis. My arborcide story is legend and deserves its own article. For now, I’ll say I’ve done some incredibly weird stuff when in crisis, stories I enjoy sharing with APD in their training. It’s helpful to see me when I am well because the only time APD has seen me at my abode is when I’m not well. It stands to reason. We don’t call APD when we’re not in crisis. Unless we’re lonely. I guess. Hi, it’s Steve. How are you? Just calling to see how everyone’s doing. So, fighting a lot of crime today?

Off track again. My reply after the hearty laughter was very self-aware and self-assessing. With the Lt. I shared . . .


“Dude, you’ve never been to my house when I’m crisis. I really don’t have the understanding, awareness, or capacity to ‘respect the law’ when I’m at my worst.”


The Lt. looked somewhat perplexed. I expanded upon my statement. “Lt., you only see peers when they are at their worst. You don’t see those times when they’re not in crisis because there’s no need for your services when we’re doing well. Crisis situations are infrequent for many of us. When we first started talking today would you have pegged me for someone who had police response for psychosis? Probably not. We walk amongst, sir, we walk amongst unnoticed because we aren’t always sick. And that’s when you see us. When we’re sick.”

He took it in, chewed it about, and shook his head in understanding. No words were necessary. He got it. And that felt so freakin’ great to make that connection.

This is a story I’ve shared with APD during Crisis Intervention Training. And it’s a story I’ve used in helping to develop CIU training. If there’s a moral to the story, law enforcement needs to understand that we aren’t our symptoms and we aren’t always symptomatic. Many officers have approached me after trainings and when they recognize me in the street. I always ask if what I’ve shared with them has helped them in the field. Many say they’ve had more successful outcomes, many say they now feel safer in mental health crisis situations. The most warm-fuzzy satisfying feedback I’ve gotten is just this:


“Steve, you’ve helped put on a human face on things for me.”


Score. I don’t know if we’re allowed to hug a police officer on duty. It might be assault on an officer. These are uncertain times with the DOJ hanging about. What is certain is peers sharing their stories with officers is making things more successful and safer for peers and police.


This is the cornerstone of the SUTS education program

Peer & Police Safety


What a lovely parable. Brothers Grimm, you can just clean between my toes until they are clean to my satisfaction. I’ve totally smoked your ham on this one. Take your spankin’ and scoot on back to Saxony. Score.