I had to search the archives of my brain this week to remember exactly at what point in time we shifted from having a somewhat grounded view of social responsibility to other human beings, to such a money and greed motivated machine that has no problem oppressing the masses in the name of profit. Maybe this factor has always been present to some degree, but has just become more amplified in the past few decades.
I got a call from one of the clients we were helping to taper off three different psychiatric medications this week. He had been clear of all three drugs for just a couple of months and was just frantic with withdrawal symptoms still. He has no family and his friends have no idea what he is going through. He told me he had been suicidal because he didn't know how he was going to continue working in his current condition, and that he had to work or he would end up homeless. He told me he just couldn't handle the idea of being homeless, yet he really didn't want to give up. He was beside himself as far as knowing what to do.
This sent me back to revisiting my own experience with being homeless after my head injury with nowhere to go, and with being too ill even have any comprehension of what was happening to me. I believe now that this was the beginning of an era where we were just beginning to see the problems of having an emotionally fragmented society, and how ill equipt we were in having programs set up to support an individual who had mental health problems. Especially ones that were outside of the "norm" when it came to their circumstances with being displaced. With the onset of medication withdrawal issues, I believe we are going to see more and more of these types of cases as time moves on.
I had been really ill with a double parasite infection in addition to the head injury, and I was very unaware how the benzos had been impacting my health at that time. I was staying in California at the time with my brother who was also on benzos, and I was totally unaware how they were effecting his behavior toward me as well as his own health issues.
The circumstances had grown increasingly intense to the point that I had to get out of his house, but I had absolutely nowhere to go and didn't know a single soul in that area. I had frantically called every agency in the area, and I finally found one that helped people with disabilities. I will always be eternally grateful to the women at that agency who was instrumental in pushing my disability determination through, and who helped me find a shelter under some of the most dire circumstances I could have ever imagined.
The first night was a living hell because I was so sick I had to drag an ice chest of soft food with me so would at least have something available that I was able to handle eating. I remember how shocked I was to find that there were absolutely no services available to a single, disabled women who had no kids, wasn't being physically abused or that didn't have an addiction to street drugs or alcohol. Even though there were beds available in some of the women's shelters, they wouldn't house me because they could lose their funding if it were discovered that I didn't fit their guidelines.
I was in an impossible situation because this was a first come, first serve shelter. I would have to be out by 8:00 in the morning with nowhere to go all day, and then I would have to come back at 5:00 p.m. and wait in a huge line to get back in. I knew I would have to find somewhere that I could stay long term where I could have my own bed and where I could rest.
I was so distraught, that I went down to the local mental health services offices and threatened to throw myself into an oncoming bus if someone didn't help me. They quickly found a place for me in a long term stay shelter that helped the mentally ill, and it wasn't pretty. There were people there that were in just horrible shape with schizophrenia, fetal alcohol syndrome and some other mental health disorders. I quickly realized how incredibly fortunate I was.
I had a good counselor, and the woman at the disability office was able to petition a senator to expedite my disability determination, so I could go back to Arizona and stay with a very good friend of mine. This experience changed my life forever and made me realize how poorly we were treating people with severe mental illness in the country. This was one of very few shelters that remained after many of the mental health hospitals were closed in the 80's and 90's. Many of these people only had one month available to them at the shelter, and then they were released to roam the streets until enough time elapsed that they were able to come back to the shelter to stay for another month. I also couldn't believe how many drugs they were all taking. This was the point that I had suddenly become aware at how our society had become quick to medicate people, and just send them on their way with little or no emotional support.
The reality of talking to so many single people that were in the same boat I had been in, really struck me because it was unclear to me how we could help them. How many more people were in the same situation I had been in because of these drugs, and with no services available to support them either?
I found myself wondering what kind of mess we were going to have given we are totally unprepared to handle a crisis like this in our country. These were all professional men and women like myself, that had all been self supporting and very capable of making their way in the world, and the drugs were ripping all of that away from them as it had with me.
How could this even be happening in America? I'm wondering where we turned that corner, and where so many people had begun falling through the cracks with our social services system. Then it hit me what a huge crises this could turn into if these drugs continued being doled out in such a haphazard manner as they currently have been. I suddenly found myself in the same position as the counselor had been with me at the shelter, with no answers to give these people for how I could help them. In my heart, I knew there was no darker place to be, than to be this sick and living in the streets.