School Trauma

I’ve just spent my whole morning hanging out around the convenience stores near my neighborhood high school. That’s because my friend asked me to buy out medication so there wouldn’t be any for his kid to steal. My friend is what I would call a professional dad. He has been advocating for his kids for a long time. And my friend says his kid has a suicide plan.

I know a lot of people are hyper aware that we have a mental health crisis on our hands in this country. According to the CDC teenage suicide has increased by 76% in the last decade. The thing is I’m not sure that a person can truly understand suicide unless they’ve faced a crisis themselves. Suicide is pain relief. That’s the truth.

As parents we are pretty much left to handle everything on our own because our school system would rather not deal with these kids at all. And the schools do legally share this responsibility. The problem is everyone gets hurt when we advocate for the kids. Teachers get hurt. Families get hurt. Our kids don’t get what they need. People become worn down and sick. People lose jobs. It’s a terrible situation.

Our school system has forgotten that education is a human service for children. I’ve been working in the school system with a birds eye view so I know what’s really going on. Schools are a political business. It’s wrong.

There were too many products at these two stores for me to buy and people actually do need these medications, so instead I took it all off the shelves and got the store managers to agree to keep them off for a few hours. The people I talked to who work at the stores felt helpless. It’s scary. A person can end a life in so many ways if that’s what they set their mind to. Sometimes sick minds do sick things.

Luckily, my friend is relentless. And smart. He is a fighter. I think his kid is, too. I can tell. I’ve seen these kinds of things up close. I have kids and we have had a lot of sickness in our household. It would be an enormous understatement to say that it’s difficult to get the kind of help we need when we are sick these days.

And it’s not just kids. I know people are going through similar things with aging parents. Suicide rates are climbing across the board. It’s just plain hard. It can make you feel helpless sometimes. Sometimes that becomes overwhelming. And the truth is that sickness can be contagious. That’s why it’s scary. I think we can all relate to that right now.

Here’s the thing. Can someone please call Oprah or something because I’m beginning to feel like a broken record and everyone needs to know. MENTAL ILLNESS IS NO DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER ILLNESS. Does it really matter if it’s your brain or some other part of your body that gets sick? It makes no difference. Sick is sick. Let’s just call it what it is. This is a pain crisis.

✌🏼💌

What about Ketamine?

I want to share what I’ve learned about ketamine because over the last few months ketamine treatments have revived my 17 year old from a deep depression that has been disabling him since he was 14. Now Cole is like a doll that has come to life. My gentle, intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate, kind, witty, wise old soul is coming out of the woods. It’s a relief to this mom.

Chronic illness like Cole has experienced is exhausting and it can be scary. Just like a lot of other illnesses. I think that’s just personal. Just like treatment is personal. It is just different for everyone. Anyone can become sick and sometimes people need medical treatments. And sometimes you need to try something different. It’s all scary. That’s because it’s unknown.

What I’ve found is that there is a lot of misinformation and a lot of stigma about medical treatments like ketamine. These are a product of fear and ignorance, which can prevent people from looking into it for themselves and their loved ones. I think that’s a shame so I’m taking a shot at helping you to feel brave and maybe even hopeful by sharing a bit about our experience with ketamine. Please do your own research. That’s what we did after Cole’s biological father learned about this project healing veterans with PTSD. https://www.invictusproject.org/program-ketamine-infusion-therapy/

The following are some of Cole’s thoughts about his ketamine treatment that he has written himself.

Ketamine is most commonly known as a dissociative anesthetic, but it can also be used as a painkiller and a bronchodilator. It has been well established as a drug in the medical community. But recent studies have shown ketamine might have purpose as an antidepressant, and although these studies are few, they look to be quite promising. 

I’ve been struggling with depression for as long as I can remember. Around four or five years ago I was at my lowest, so I asked for help. Therapy and conventional medication only lessened the strain it put on me. I got more and more fed up with pills, and constantly going to doctor’s appointments. I was constantly tired. Maybe it was being fed up with it all that allowed me to take this risk. 

Ketamine is still experimental, but there was a clinic I could go to. It was a leap of faith honestly, I knew it was risky, but I was tired of just being like this, day in day out, waiting for drugs that didn’t even help much to fix me. They told me I couldn’t eat for something like half a day in time, and I couldn’t drink either. I went in and they had this big reclinable chair, with pillows and blankets. They hooked me up to an IV and blood pressure machine, and put some electrodes on me. The lights were turned off, and everything was quiet. My mom was sitting close by and so was the nurse.

They told me that it’d start to set in in about seven minutes. My body felt dead, like that numb feeling you have when you don’t have gloves on on a snowy day. I was aware and awake and could talk normally, but I felt peaceful. Like nothing in the world really mattered for the moment, and that was great. Everything I could see looked far away. Everything looked simultaneously blurry and incredibly detailed. So I just closed my eyes and relaxed. An hour and ten minutes passed and it was time to go. It was hard to stand and walk, I felt dizzy, but the first benefit I noticed was that happiness and peace remained. Mom drove me home and I talked the most I felt I had in ages for the rest of the night. I actually chose to interact with people instead of shutting myself away, because for once I had energy and I didn’t wanna waste it. 

I’ve gone back several times since then for maintenance, but I can say without a doubt it’s done me a world of good. I know some people are skeptical of the stuff, but who wouldn’t be skeptical of an experimental mood-altering drug? If your problem with it is potential risks of addiction, it’s been said to me by them that the treatment is not addictive. If it’s the fear that it might cause more harm than good, then I’d say that may be possible, but don’t entirely rule out its benefits, and even then you can always just try it out once and move on. This stuff has really helped me and was the primer for all those years of therapy and trying to suddenly make a massive difference in my life. So if you’ve heard about it and can’t ignore the possibility of relief from treatment-resistant depression, I’d say go for it. I hope it benefits you.

Cole began ketamine treatments in November 2019. His depression is now in remission. #endthestigma

Sweat, Tears, and a Prayer for Humanity

When I was in my thirties and my children were young I became very ill. I looked fine to most people, but I didn’t feel fine at all. I battled insomnia hard for about seven years. I was exhausted and severely fatigued. I ran on adrenaline most of the time. At the height of my illness I once went 23 days with only a few hours of rest each night, induced by Ambien. The pain was almost unbearable. My kids saved my life. Being here for them kept me going.

2008 photo by Kathy Nemeth Kayne

While chasing down my symptoms I ended up with several diagnoses. Fibromyalgia, Epstein Barr virus, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are the main ones that have stuck with me. Now I have learned that I am under the umbrella of conditions called dysautonomia. It took me a while, but I had enough doctors ask me about my level of stress and push prescriptions at me to understand that I just needed to biohack my body so that’s what I did. At some point I realized that my body had stopped sweating altogether. I found this to be more alarming than the extreme sweating I had been doing throughout my heart palpitating fitful nights for the few years before. Not sweating didn’t feel right at all. So I went back to the hot yoga my mom introduced me to when I was in college. It took me a few months of just going into the hot room and laying on my yoga mat three times a week before I finally broke a sweat again. I never really discussed it with anyone, but I knew that it was something important. Our bodies are made to hold and release water. I’ve realized through my biohacking that my body doesn’t always do that very easily on its own. I wonder why.

I’m the same way with crying. I just don’t do it very often. It is something I should probably start tracking because it can’t be good for me. I’m certain it’s as important for my health as being well hydrated or sleeping. I wonder if the sweating and the crying are part of my same wiring? What I know is that the sweating was something new that happened when I was sick and was never an issue before. But I’ve never been a crier. I’ve always been stoic. Sort of unflappable. I’ve become curious about the meaning of this part of my human design.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a robot. It’s not that I never cry or that I don’t feel things deeply. I absolutely do. I cry uncontrollably sometimes. Just not very often. During my sickness I experienced a kind of crying breakthrough. I remember being at a museum with my kids and our friends. It was winter break and we had a good time with our friends. I had nothing particular on my mind as I was driving us home and then out of nowhere the tears just came. There was no reason I could think of, but it became clear that my body just couldn’t hold whatever it was in any longer and the water was coming out in buckets. As it turned out, I did release a bunch of emotions that I had stuffed deep down. My thoughts about feelings I had over the years that I didn’t even recall at all came spewing out of my mouth in what felt like projectile verbal vomit all over my now ex-husband. It felt like a kind of out of body experience for me and an unwitting assault on him.

I think back on the few times I have cried hard like this because I wonder how the tears sometimes feel like they rush in with such intensity and without control and then other times not at all. I have experienced a lot of pain. Anyone who really knows me can see this. But the things is that I don’t feel like crying. Why? Recently I began wondering if there is a specific therapy that would release me from this human design feature that just feels wrong. Surely, I have enough pain stored up for a few weeks of uninterrupted bawling. But nothing until about a month ago when suddently every day for a few weeks I had tears running out of the corners of my eyes all day long. It was strange and annoying. Enough so that that I thought about chasing down the symptom. But then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. Fascinating. I interpreted this symptom as my body telling me that I better get more water out even if I wouldn’t cry. I haven’t found cry therapy, so back to hot yoga I go. It’s so good to sweat.

Today I sat with one of my teenagers as they wailed at the world that has been so cruel to them, especially the last few years. I listened and I loved my beautiful child struggling and I wept beside them. My heart ached as I listened to them wail about how humanity is lost. How they wish the world was just different. Given all we’ve been through over the last few years, I wish the same thing. What we have experienced and witnessed over and over again can make you lose faith in humanity. At least some of the time. I’ve been there. For me, I really just try to remain focused on the more immediate human problem rather than all of humanity.

What I see right now is that our school system is lacking humanity. So I pray for all of humanity that the adult human beings who are in charge of our schools will bring their focus back to the young human beings we are supposed to be educating. That’s all it really takes. Focus on the kids instead of the adults. In the meantime, I’m going to do everything I can to change it because there are just so many kids getting hurt. I know because I’ve got three of those kids myself.

I have faith that we can change the world if we can just focus on humanity.

1m3s ✌🏼

Lisa

Community is the Solution

I don’t actually recall if anyone has said it to my face, but I know that some people think that it’s my own fault that I have so many problems. It’s impossible not to see that I have a lot of problems if you’re paying attention. I have three teenagers. And who doesn’t have a lot of problems? I’ve found that life comes with an endless supply. Some are more difficult than others and there are always solutions.

A good friend of mine recently explained to me that I have five karmic corrections. I don’t exactly understand that, but it does give me some relielf. My friend is able to see in me what I already know. My life is hard. Now I know that it’s in the stars. Karmic corrections. It’s a tangible reason that explains why my life is hard. Otherwise, it looks like a choice or it looks like it is my fault. And I always knew that it is not. Even if others don’t see it that way.

Sometimes I know that people assume that I make my life harder than it needs to be. I guess that is theoretically true and maybe even actually true, based on my own abilities and inabilities. I am not perfect. But what people are really thinking is, do I really have to fight so hard? Yes, I do. It’s my life and I don’t see giving up as a choice. I’m pretty sure now that my soul might just end up with a sixth karmic correction if I don’t fight when I know that I can. The truth is that not fighting is not something I would ever consider. It’s my life. They’re my kids. It’s my responsibility. They are my family. I am also intentional about always trying to do what I think is right. It is my foundation. And I was born this way. A fighter. I feel fortunate to be this way. And I am very aware that not everyone is able to fight the school system for their kids like I am. Not everyone can afford to. They can’t make the time. They don’t have the money. They don’t have the skills. They don’t know the law. Not everyone knows their rights. Someone has to do it. It’s the only way that change is made for others. It’s why I am a civil rights lawyer.

The truth is that my life looks like a mess because I’m open about it. I’ve never really been afraid to talk about it, but I am aware that sometimes it makes other people feel scared so until recently I have tried to keep it close. Only those closest to me know what is going on in my life. This is still true. I have a lot of people in my life who really don’t know anything about me. They see as much as they want to see. It’s just not always comfortable. I certainly haven’t often written or spoken about my experience until now, but I wish I had. Maybe I wouldn’t be so isolated. Maybe the trauma my family has endured wouldn’t have been so intense if we had more people who understood what we have going on and what we have been through. The truth is that is the reason I started writing and speaking. People need to know.

Another good friend says that now I’m living out loud. I guess that’s true, but it doesn’t feel loud to me. I just wasn’t born to be loud. I’ve always been quiet and observant. Stoic. And I have learned a lot. That’s what living a hard life does for you. I am grateful for this wisdom. My life is a master class I am here to share. Now I can’t seem to get my story out far enough or fast enough or wide enough. Or loud enough.

Because I am a well-educated, middle class white woman living in a good neighborhood, I live in a circle of people who can often afford private services, private therapists, private evalutators, private schools, private whatever their kids need. I’m not criticizing this. I can afford some of those things. I am fortunate. These things have become necessities that many people cannot afford. That’s why they suffer. I also live in a circle of people who were raised in a privileged environment themselves. They were fortunate in that way, but that has not been my experience. I know what it’s like in the public school system and so do my kids. Sometimes I imagine how nice that protective bubble must feel. I don’t have time for envy. I have to keep moving and fighting. Sometimes it feels like I’m treading water or running in circles. And I am known to take others’ hands along the way because I know they need the support. It is a lot and it is a choice, but I know that’s what I’m here for and I believe that we are all in this together. Privilege is irrelevant to me.

Here are the facts. The education and health care system data reports show that problems like my family is experiencing (i.e., trauma, illness, truancy, dropout) affects only those who come from challenging circumstances like poverty, homelessness, and addiction. I’m here to tell you that this is not true and that these reports give people a false sense of security. It makes people think that they are not susceptible to such unfathomable things. It makes people think that these things are only challenging for people who have always struggled with these things. People who are not white or middle class. People who are not privileged.

I’m here to tell you that no one is immune to these problems. I know that this is just part of life at the moment because I am living it. I know this because I haven’t met a parent with a school age kid in quite a while, particularly those in our public school system, who doesn’t have problems similar to mine. Perhaps I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I want to make sure you do so I’m saying it out loud. Our systems are failing us and it’s because they have not been built to serve our needs and because they are only focused on money and not on people. Our public systems are not focused on you or me. This is the same world we are all living in together.

That’s all the time I have today. I need to get back to it. Be safe and take good care of yourselves.

Peace and light always,

LAW

And

Two days ago it was Christmas. I have struggled with my feelings on Christmas since I was a teenager. I think I finally understand why. Some years it just feels plain lonely.

I think it started because of a question I have been asked over and over since I was a kid. The question was asked in all kinds of different ways, but it always felt like it came down to an either/or. “Do you celebrate Hanukkah or do you celebrate Christmas?” The struggle was with whatever it was that was deeply ingrained into the people who were asking the question. But I was not raised in an either/or home. I am an and.

My mother was raised in a traditional Christian home in a small town in Wyoming called Saratoga. My father was raised in a traditional Jewish home in Denver, Colorado. When my parents met as freshman at Colorado State University, my father explained to my mother what being Jewish meant to him. As I recall her saying it, it was her first exposure to a Jew in the flesh. After my parents got married my mother went through a rigorous conversion process and she committed to raising me and my brother Jewish. That’s exactly what they did. I was brought up at Temple Emanuel, the same Denver synagogue my father’s family had been members of for generations before. It gave me a good solid foundation for my life. I am Jewish.

I grew up celebrating Hanukkah at home and Christmas at my grandparent’s home in Saratoga. I lit the menorah each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and got a gift and I tore open presents Christmas morning sitting on the floor around a lit up tree with my cousins. I loved it. I had the best of both worlds. These people were all my family. It didn’t matter that we belonged to different houses of worship. It was about family. It was about love.

But as a teenager the holidays seemed to become complicated for my family. My Jewish grandfather died when I was 14. My Christian grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 15 and my Christian grandmother became weak and eventually sick caring for him. My family still celebrated Hanukkah, but Christmas was disrupted. We no longer went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. Reflecting back on it now, this was about the time I became aware that my Jewish grandmother asked my mom if her gifts for me and my brother would be Hanukkah gifts or Christmas gifts. I don’t know if she was confused or just passive aggressive because I never asked her and I wasn’t close enough to anyway, but I do think she was raised in an either/or kind of family. I think a lot of our parents were raised either/or.

I have always loved the lights during the winter holidays. I loved lighting the menorah and I loved all of the houses decorated in our neighborhood. Everything felt joyful and bright. At some point in my young years I became aware that hanging lights on your house if you were Jewish was not okay with some Jews. This always blew my mind. Why were Jews anti-joy? I remember the year I decided to hang holiday lights on our house when my kids were still little and I’ve never looked back. I do it every year. There have been Jewish people in my life who have felt uncomfortable with my lights. I figure they will get over it or they won’t. That’s their issue. They’re either/or.

From my perspective, the holidays are hard in some way for almost every adult I know. And for a lot of our kids. These holidays are challenging for us, for sure. And we really need the joy.

So let there be light.

Happy everything and peace always,

Lisa

Mourning School Photos

I grew up in a home where our school photos from kindergarten through high school graduation were prominently displayed in framed collages for all to see. It’s one of things I still love about my parents house. The history. And my kids loved looking at those photos of my young self and my brother. My mom was dedicated to such things. I am grateful for that.

I strived to be like my mom in those kinds of ways and I still do. I felt really lucky when my own three kids were young because I was one of those fortunate parents who didn’t have to go out and earn a living for my children. Their father was their breadwinner. Just like my mom. When my kids were little I was one of those moms who planned class parties and baked. I had every intention of filling up those photo collages of my three beautiful and exceptionally bright kids.

Now I can’t even find those frames and the pictures are in messy boxes. And there are no current school photos to put in them anyway. This fond memory has instead become a source of pain. The last few years of school have been a struggle. That’s not because there is anything wrong with my kids. There is nothing wrong with my kids. But there is something very wrong with the school system where we live and they have all been forced off the public school track. It has made all of our lives hard.

I do have faith they will be fine and even stronger for what they have endured. I know they still have so much life to live. So much untapped potential. But I still mourn the childhood I imagined for them and that they did, too.

When I am feeling this way it helps me to remember that I am not alone and that this too shall pass. There is a very poignant essay that I have heard read often in my circle. It helps. It was written by a Sesame Street writer about raising her own child with a disability.

“WELCOME TO HOLLAND”

By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. All rights reserved.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

Peace always,

Lisa

Mental Health Center of Denver Lesson #1. Patient Says “Goodbye – A Public Testimony”

My Poem~ “Goodbye”
by Max Tucker
Spoken aloud as public testimony at the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force and Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind Town Hall Meeting on December 5, 2019

Do you not understand?

Or do you not care in order to understand?

Or do you not know how to practice empathy 

and compassion in order to understand?

What part do you not understand? 

Is it everything?

Or do you not know?

Let me tell you something about myself. 

I don’t trust a lot of people

Yet not knowing them well enough

I don’t trust their words and behavior 

I can have a hard time trusting their intentions too

I have been excluded

I have been prejudiced 

I have been overlooked

I have my heart played with

I have been othered 

I have been lonely. 

I have been frustrated. 

I have been furious. 

I have always relied on myself

I have always had this complex smile on my face, 

although people don’t understand that it’s not a 

possibility that I’m going to always be happy. 

I know myself a lot better than anyone else does

And all I hear is despicable lies going through my

implanted ears and that triggers my brain. 

If people don’t understand, 

then the last thing that I wouldn’t

allow myself to see is people leading me on. 

What am I, some kind of doll?

What am I, a back up?

What am I, a naive person?

What am I, a pushover? 

What am I, a child? 

Well, I am done with everything.

I am not angry 

I am not sad

I am just  tired 

Just plain tired 

I am tired to listening

to other people’s perspectives

Or excuses

I am tired of people “correcting me”

I am tired of reading some people’s 

solid expressions on their faces 

I am tired of the stupid stereotypes

I am tired of people defining me 

I am tired of people acting like they’re

always righteous and superior
I am tired of myself feeling negative

I am tired of being promised 

I am tired of disappointing myself 

And being utterly disappointed in this world

I am tired of drama, exclusion or anything else.

I am not clueless

Just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I don’t know how to read, damn it. 

I am not just reading people’s lips. 

I can read their body language, expressions and my surroundings. 

And I can read myself.

So I’m a lot smarter than some people thought. 

And I don’t need proof 

So I don’t care 

It’s not like I’m in a court case anyway

So better keep that in mind. 

I don’t care about anything anymore

I am only looking out for myself from now on.

And I will always do that. 

I don’t care about anyone’s reactions or words anymore. 

At least I’m trying not to

So be careful

Because that’s the conclusion and that’s final

I win in my life
And now that things are looking up,

I hope to keep that attitude forever.

Because if I’m not happy, then I will change things or cut ties off

with toxic people if that’s the reason. 

I will always look out for myself 

Even if the truth hurts

So the last thing to end this that I would say is that I don’t care about anything anymore 

I am putting myself first

Goodbye.

Mental Health Center of Denver Lesson #2. Polis’ Behavioral Health Task Force Public Testimony on 12/5/19

Public Testimony – Colorado Behavioral Task Force/Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind

Me and my teenager happy to be reunited and holding strong together at Denver International Airport international terminal after a school
trip to Japan with Denver Montessori High School. This was when we were in the first thick of this mess.✌🏼✌🏼

My name is Lisa Weiss. I am a children’s and disabilities attorney and an education policy specialist.  I am also the mother of a deaf teenager. Max is the reason I was asked to speak at this Town Hall meeting today and I want to thank you for giving the deaf community an opportunity to be heard. 

My deepest wish is for people to understand that deaf people are just like everyone else.  They are just people. I have found the systems in Colorado to be difficult because of this one thing. I know that the state agencies responsible for serving deaf people don’t understand.  This is not for lack of people’s good intentions. I know the people who work at these agencies care. It’s because of lack of exposure. It’s because assumptions are made about what deaf people need by people who are not deaf.  Over the last nine years I have witnessed the exclusion of deaf people in the meetings where their fate is being determined for them. To me, that’s the biggest problem. We need deaf people at every level of leadership and there are almost none.

I have the privilege of living with a deaf person and being a part of a deaf community.  I oftentimes work in predominantly deaf groups. I understand the barriers that exist when the communication is inaccessible.  I understand that inaccessibility is at the core of all of the struggles for our community. It is a barrier to everything. People are wired for communication.  It is a basic human need. It is the reason communication is a civil right. Without the ability to communicate there is no opportunity for meaningful understanding or connection.  For a meeting of our minds. What I wish people would understand is that this does not only affect the deaf person, this affects the whole group.  

What I also wish people could see is that for a person in an inaccessible community, this one thing often is the reason for their behavioral health care need.  Without access people can easily become isolated and withdrawn. We become depressed and anxious. I want you to try to imagine what it feels like to be fearful and to feel excluded everywhere because you can’t understand what is going on so you can’t connect.  It’s not that difficult to imagine that at some point you really only feel safe in your own home. That is Max’s experience and that is our family’s experience.

OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM IS NOT FOCUSED ON PEOPLE AND IT IS HARMING OUR KIDS

I want you to know that I was raised in our public school system.  I am a supporter. I moved back here when my kids were young because Colorado boasted of being a leader in deaf education and I wanted my kids to attend the same schools I did.  I wanted my kids to go to the schools where I felt safe. But this isn’t the same school system. Our school system is no longer focused on its mission. Kids. From my perspective, our childrens’ social emotional needs are ignored unless their behavior becomes disruptive.  Then they are restrained, suspended, or just pushed out and forgotten. There is little regard for our children, for our teachers, or for families.

Please understand that my experience is not just limited to Max.  I have three kids and I can tell you that life has been extremely challenging for my family.  All three of my kids have had adverse childhood experiences in the public school system and have been unable to attend school or have their needs met.  As a mom who has kids who are gifted and who also have disabilities, I can tell you that it has gotten to the point where it is nearly impossible to get kids like mine safely through our school system.  That’s because our school system has lost focus on the whole point of education.  

As for our deaf kids, I know they are being harmed. Their accessibility needs are being neglected because the systems of support haven’t ever been set up.  The services they need are too difficult and expensive for school districts so they just don’t provide them. I have heard often enough that parents are not complaining.  This is not true. I know that our deaf kids are being neglected because of systemic failure and Max has been traumatized as a result. Our family has endured a lot. Let me be clear.  I do understand that the accessibility needs are not just being neglected in the school system, but this is where I have been living until now and it is what I can personally verify. 

MENTAL HEALTH CENTER OF DENVER FOCUSES ON PEOPLE AND THEY HAVE COMMITTED RESOURCES TO ACCESS FOR DEAF PEOPLE

All that said, in terms of behavioral health care outside of the school system, I think I can fairly say that Max has been fortunate.  Especially relative to what I know about Max’s deaf peers. When Max needed it, I was able to find a private therapist who focuses on deaf adolescents and could work with Max. I didn’t have to worry about Max having access, which I know can take time to get set up.  

Now Max is fortunate to be recovering from PTSD and the effects of social isolation at school.  Max is benefitting from the programming at the Mental Health Center of Denver. There Max is able to participate in groups and activities with other teens.  That’s because MHCD has been compassionate and patient and generous. That’s because MHCD is focused on their mission. That’s because MHCD sees deaf people as people. 

What MHCD is also learning is that not all deaf people are alike. I have found this to be a real problem, especially in Colorado’s agencies. People need to understand that the deaf community is diverse. Deaf people speak. Deaf people use hearing technology. Deaf people use American Sign Language. Deaf people use something called Cued Speech. Deaf people use written language. There are many ways to communicate. The accessibility need varies depending on the person, the circumstances, and the setting.

THERE MUST BE A FOCUSED EFFORT ON THE DEAF COMMUNITY OR THEY WILL CONTINUE TO BE HARMED

Our deaf community looks to be relatively small. We are easily overlooked without focusing on us. The services we need are oftentimes costly for organizations to provide and most people do not even understand what we need.

I want to encourage this task force to make this community a priority. Organizations in Colorado must be supported to understand how to meet accessibility needs. Colorado needs to build an overall system of support. It requires education and it requires dedicated funding. Accessibility must be factored into every organization’s budget. And the system needs to call on a diverse group of the people in this effort who understand the accessibility need. The deaf people themselves are the leaders we need.

Thank you for your consideration.

Thank you to the Whistleblowers

I have not been paying much attention to the impeachment hearings. I know to some people that probably makes me seem like I am out of touch and maybe I am, but I know myself well enough by now to realize that I don’t need the impeachment hearings running through my head every day. Besides, my husband is deeply into it and he is a human being who is designed pretty much like a megaphone crossed with a tuning fork. That means that I am really not missing out on much and it still stresses me out. It also stresses him out, but he’s not as protective of himself as I have learned to be. I just hope it’s all over soon.

I don’t blame my husband for his curiosity. Back in the day I myself was devoted to following the OJ Simpson trial and I got caught up in the news scrum after the 2016 election for a few months, so I definitely understand the entertainment value. For the most part I have never really watched the news. It’s just not for me. I prefer to read my news. I just don’t have that kind of bandwidth.

transparency.org

But I do have a lot of respect for the whistleblower and for the civil servants who have been testifying this last week. I’ve heard the term whistleblower a lot lately, but I don’t know if there is much attention being given to who a whistleblower really is. The legal definition of a whistleblower is “an employee who brings wrongdoing by an employer or other employees to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency and who is commonly vested by statute with rights and remedies for retaliation.” This is what I found when I looked it up just now in the the Merriam-Webster.com Legal Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-Webster.com/legal/whistleblower. Accessed 23 November 2019.

What I think is that a whistleblower is simply someone who is willing to shine a light on something that they know to be wrong. Someone who is willing to put what they know on the record. What I know is that it takes an enormous amount of courage. I’ve heard enough of the impeachment hearings on NPR while I’m driving around town to know that these courageous people are being portrayed as hateful. I just don’t see them that way at all. From my perspective, these people have been called to action from a place of love, out of duty and honor.

There is also one thing about these impeachment hearings that is a constant reminder for me. It is something that has come up for me over the years whenever Rudy Guiliani is in the news cycle. You see, I was one of Guiliani’s lawyers.

This really isn’t a big deal. I defended the City of New York under Guiliani’s administration for a hot minute almost twenty years ago. I was just a baby lawyer trying to figure out how to practice law. Truth be told, my 29 year old self didn’t even think very much about my boss and I never even met the person. But over the years whenever it has come up that I was a lawyer under Mayor Guiliani’s administration it has felt awkward. There is something about revealing this truth that makes me brace myself for the person’s reaction. Just a smidge. It’s because I never know what kind of an assumption a person might make about me based on this professional association. Especially now that everyone is learning so much about him.

Oy. Guiliani really is a hot mess.

I realize now having worked under other administrations that my connection to Guiliani has always felt surreal to me only because he has such a high public profile and I am just the opposite. It is in my nature to fly under the radar. What I know is that everyone is connected a lot more closely than any of us usually stops to realize. I am one degree of separation from Donald Trump. If you know me, that means that you have only two degrees of separation. This is the kind of stuff that blows my mind.

Wikimedia.org

The degrees of separation between human beings has long been fascinating to me. Pretty much ever since I saw the movie Six Degrees of Separation when I was still in high school. The theory of six degrees of separation is that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.

What I’ve come to understand about this is pretty simple. Our connections to people, no matter how distant they may seem, do mean something. The closeness of my connection to Guiliani and now Trump is a reminder to me that what I do does affect other people. It does matter. No matter how much you think it doesn’t, it does. We are all connected and we are all responsible for one another.

I just learned through a website about an organization called Transparency International and that June 23rd is World Whistleblower Day. Who knew?

I’m proud to be among the people who are called whistleblowers.

Thank you, 5sf4m 👑

College Visits

I’m on a plane ride home. I was visiting a college with one my 17 year old twins.

Honestly, the whole college visit thing is a little bit foreign to me. I really can’t even remember doing it myself at the same age. Unless I count the time I drove up to Boulder from Denver with my girlfriend and our two guy friends we had asked to our high school winter dance. I’m pretty sure getting stranded at a fraternity house after a party and sleeping on the floor of their older brother’s room shouldn’t be counted as a college visit though. It wasn’t my proudest moment.

The point is that I don’t actually remember looking at colleges the way I am for my deaf child. When I was a senior I knew I was expected to go to college. I followed the path set out for me. Gap years weren’t a thing yet. I applied to a couple of in-state schools because that’s what my parents were willing to pay for. I was accepted to both schools and decided to go to the one where I slept on the sticky floor with my friends that one unfortunate night. I chose CU-Boulder because I knew I was going to have my friend as my college roommate. It was a good choice.

From my perspective, it doesn’t really seem like all that much has changed in the college choice process since 1988. The thing that has changed is amount of pressure on kids. And on parents. I don’t remember my public school friends applying to a dozen colleges like my friends‘ kids do now. Maybe I was just oblivious. It wouldn’t be the first time.

To me it just seems to be an exorbitant amount of stress that has resulted in parents getting too involved. I understand that parents are just worried about whether their kids will be able to manage without them. I get that. I talk to those parents all the time. We all know this. My god, there are celebrity parents facing jail time because of their messed up college choice process

Photograph made by me when we were visiting Gallaudet University 💌✌🏼

I’m not that kind of parent. I just am not interested in living that kind of hyped up, stressed out, competitive life. That’s part of the reason I moved back to Colorado from New York. I didn’t want anything to do with that pressure cooker. I didn’t want to raise my kids that way. I have never and would never encourage my kids to apply to a dozen colleges. I guess it’s because my own college choice process worked out just fine for me.

I think I am generally the same kind of parent to my three kids that my parents were to me and my brother. I assume that my parents trusted our capabilities or at least trusted that we would ask for their help when we needed it. They supported us when we really screwed up.

Choosing a school for my deaf child should actually be pretty simple. There are only a few schools to visit because there are only a few that they are interested in. They are the schools that have been recruiting my child for the last few years. You see, my child is deaf and wants to go to a deaf school. Or at least a deaf program. My child doesn’t have to go to a deaf school, but wants to. Not for the reasons that people might think. My child is able to get along pretty well in any school with effective access. Theoretically, my child could go to any college and get the communication access they need. But my child wants to be among their deaf tribe. I think maybe my child needs it. People may never be able to understand what it’s really like to be a parent to a child who is born deaf. I often find myself wishing that we were all deaf. The truth is that we are all becoming deaf.

The other day, the New York Times published an essay by a writer that we know. It was a cause for celebration in our world. Through her words she gave voice to so many of us who struggle with belonging in the deaf community. Like my child, the author is deaf with parents who are not.

One thing she wrote about was the fear some parents feel thinking that Deaf people will take their deaf children away from them. I do understand this fear. I have sensed it from some of the parents I meet and I have even heard it uttered by some of my friends. But I don’t share their fear and I never have. Here’s why. We are bonded. We are as close as any mother and child can be. Just like I am with my other children. That’s because we can communicate completely and naturally and without the need for hearing or learning any new languages. I can talk to my child at the same time I talk to anyone else and without changing my words or interpreting them into another language. That’s because we use Cued Speech.

Despite the bad rap that “hearing” parents get from some people in the Deaf community, I am actually the opposite of these fearful parents. I want my child to go to deaf schools. I love the pride deaf schools instill in their students. It’s important. I do my best to instill this sense of pride in our family. Deaf schools would have always been my preference for my child, but it just isn’t as simple as that. The deaf schools don’t understand or normally provide access for deaf kids who use Cued Speech. They insist that everyone conform to using American Sign Language. It is not a language that has been easy for us to learn.

Now as we take a good hard look at these few deaf programs, I am worried that the communication accessibility issue that should not be a factor at any school might actually be as complicated at a deaf school. These schools are recruiting my deaf kid yet deaf kids like mine face the same problems at these schools that Deaf kids face everywhere else in our “hearing” world. Why should any deaf person be required to learn a whole new language before they can get an education at a deaf school? How does this make sense?

So I am happy to be visiting these schools, but it is not exactly the experience that most of my hearing privileged parent peers are having. I am visiting these schools to make sure that these deaf schools will provide my deaf kid with the kind of access they will need.

My child is not a signer. My child is a talker and a Cuer. My child’s native language is spoken English, just like mine. Of all the schools in our country, these deaf schools must be able to understand and accommodate and accept deaf Cuers because when it comes right down to it they are all in the same boat. My child is deaf just like anyone else who is deaf. And believe it or not, my child is not the only deaf kid in this situation.

I hope they will do the right thing.

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