They Will Thank Us in the Future: Help the Kids Who are Hurting

There’s too much silence when it comes to talk of mental health issues and kids. That is, too much silence for the right things, for the soul and the need for heart-comfort, while there is so much vocal fear of societal alienation. Total anonymity, as an attempt to protect the sufferer when they are minors, only isolates them more. By keeping news of mental suffering secret from the people who would really help them, the suffering young person does not find relief.

Obviously, there are the right and wrong people to tell, but the trustworthy pool of people for every young person needs to be widened. Once, I was at a staff meeting at the private elementary school I worked at. The topic of the meeting was student health protocols. We talked about asthma, Epi-pens, seizures, diabetes, concussions, broken arms. We named names in confidence and protection of this sensitive information, but discussed these cases openly as it related to our ability to help these kids. I asked if there are children with mental health diagnoses we should know about. I was met with a glare from my middle manager, a ring of silence.

“That kind of thing is usually only shared with the school counselor,” said the director.

“And only if the parent chooses to share it.”

So, a parent’s social fear increases a child’s social fear, and the terror of stigma is passed on from parent to child. And that kind of thing, with all the stigma already implied in the manager’s voice, persists.

This is all incredibly stupid and isolates people, making the condition itself even worse. People with diabetes or cancer don’t get the same treatment. Depression, anxiety, PTSD; all these thrive on silence, isolation and shame. At the very least, all the adult professionals responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including teachers and childcare workers, should be entrusted with this information and taught what to do with it, how to appropriately protect it, and how to understand and take care of the child who has it, no differently than a child with severe asthma or a broken bone. It helps enormously to know what a kid is going through: whether their inappropriate behavior is merely a cranky growth phase for a kid, or if there’s something more serious underneath, such as depression, trauma or the death of a loved one.

Some of the same stigma follows diseases such as AIDS. Treat all blood as if it’s contaminated, says the protocol. I worry that this is ultimately bad for humanity, to suspect that all blood is awful and dirty and carrying contagious death. It would be better to have compassion on those who certifiably have a blood-borne pathogen, treating them with respect and the care they need, but openly, so that we do not live with the terror of our own human blood.

I’ve worked in after-school childcare programs that deal with these things. I was siting with a second grade girl and a first grade boy one day, coloring pictures together. I commented on how pretty those flowery paper decorations are on the wall, the ones we pulled out of the leftover bin in the supplies closet. The little boy said, somberly,

“Those are from A’s dad’s memorial.”

“What?!” was my response. “Did he die?”

Both kids looked at me like I was an idiot who hadn’t heard.

“We all stood in a circle to sing and remember him,” said the little girl.

Apparently everyone knew except me. A was a fifth grade boy at the time who who was a regular in the after-school program. He had been misbehaving only a little, but I noticed many other adults coming by to tenderly ask him how he is doing. The program director hugged his mother. I wondered what happened, but figured that if it was my business, someone would tell me. But it turns out it sure was my business. I had missed a mere email relaying the news –really, a damn email announcing the death of a parent we all knew. I found out from two small children what I should’ve heard verbally from my adult colleagues. Good thing I didn’t say, “Hey, A, is your dad picking you up today?” –totally not knowing why that would devastate him. It was part of my job to interact with the parents at pick-up time and get the kids signed in and out. This was something I needed to know.

… … …

A younger relative of mine, when she was sixteen, went through a terrible episode of self harm and depression. I remember that I had called and emailed her to just ask how things are going, wanting to hear her voice. I had no knowledge of what she was going through. She had been hospitalized, the whole psychiatric works, and I didn’t know. Her mom had to clear the house of all objects my young relative could hurt herself with. It turned out her parents were also getting a divorce at the time, further breaking my family apart, and I didn’t know about it.

This, a family, isn’t some legalistic place of employment, but a paper-free biological web of relationships, of deeply personal memories, bound by ancestors and land. The human family should be there for its own more than any other human social unit in the world.

I pulled the truth out of my reluctant uncle, spilling the beans, and my grandmother, thwarting this life-threatening silencing.

“But I was trying to protect her privacy,” he said. 

Yeah, I thought, and you’re  also protecting the growth of her silence, shame and isolation while your at it.

And maybe my young relative did, at age sixteen, want all this to be kept a secret, but that didn’t make it the wise thing to do. Luckily, this story concludes well for her sake: she’s come far from those days and, last I knew, is doing extraordinarily better as a young graduate of high school confidently heading to college. I’m enormously proud of her, and relived that she was supported. And I still miss my family, the few who are left, more than I can say.

We are supposed to protect and empower minors. To hell with their massing embarrassment when real help is on the line. A good adult will know how to meet that feeling of shame with deep honor and respect for the young person, so that they know they do not have to feel ashamed in the first place. They’re not able to help themselves yet. They will thank us in the future.

 

 

 

Recomposed from an original journal entry written September 1st, 2016

Prayer for the Inmost Light

Beloved Creator, God of the Universe, open my inward vision to the beauty of your hidden presence. This morning, each day, in all places, may my mind be seeking you in love and delight, most Beautiful Presence. May I be able to see you and know you when you appear in the grace of the world. Fill my mind with good thoughts and deep joy. You are the One who looks out through the eyes of all creatures. Inspire my words and actions to reflect your delgiht, great Light who never expires. You make the darkness shimmer in the night with the stars of your inmost light.

 

 

Originally Written April 2nd, 2016

Photo by Mark Kamalov on Unsplash

Greatly Loved In Its Wildness

I’m an ex-cradle-born-Unitarian Universalist for good reasons. I’m politically moderate. I converted to sparkly Roman Catholicism at age 21. I am Jewish-curious, and am deeply attracted by their cohesive peoplehood and long, honorable struggle with a crazy God. When I was 22, I did something like animism and nature-based rites of passage in a community, but that community didn’t stick, even though the spirituality sure did. I don’t believe in fairies, I believe in birds. I don’t believe in unicorns, I believe in equines. I don’t believe in dragons, I believe in reptiles. The World is what’s real. Prayers and spells don’t save you; human research and evidence-based practices do, but a really grounded spirituality makes it all worth living through. Now I’m a scientific panentheist (is it really necessary to differentiate between pantheist and panentheist? Really?) who believes in a Creator that lives, breathes and moves in all created beings. I don’t claim that this Creator is always or ever going to do as we wish, or can even be trusted the conventional sense, though it can be greatly loved in its wildness. Nature is violent, insane and unjust, and we have every reason to think that any Creator who wrought it might be the same way. But Nature is also, simultaneously, beautiful, life-giving and deeply good. And so the same must be for this mysterious Creator. Such is life on earth. Sometimes I wish I were born in an Animist hunter-gatherer tribe of 30,000 years ago. Then again, I’m grateful for the gift of reason, evidence, vaccines, the internet and refrigerators. What I want most of all is a real tribe I can belong to. I wander, but I am not lost.

 

 

 

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Capacity to Wonder

Where would the Abrahamic religions be without their precious conflicts? I say “precious” because all the Abrahamic religions have developed largely by thriving on conflict to such an insidious degree that they experience a crisis of purpose when not faced with some constant, huge moral drama of problems to suffer and fight against. Abrahamic believers can never let themselves be at peace with the life of the world’s profoundly normal and anciently functioning natural cycles of life and death. They must always look for some problem to throw themselves against, and when they do not find one, they invent one. They are bored with peace, because peace does not bring about their sick fantasy of armageddon. They have become so entwined with their need to fight everything that even the world itself has been sorrowfully vilified by their holy texts that resent the creaturely body and the ground itself. What a poverty of spirit when the whole living, physical world is decried as your resented enemy keeping you from some imaginary disembodied heaven, instead of your natural, creaturely, beloved eternal home.

To truly educate is to bring out what is already inside a person. A teacher may input information, but authentic education uses this imparting of information to draw out the animistic aliveness of the student in their capacity to wonder.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash