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On Motherhood and Disability

On World Mental Health Day 2017, I wrote a blog post sharing that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to have biological children because of my genetic clotting disorder (Factor V Leiden) and my ongoing mental health struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and specifically with Bipolar Disorder.  Not only was I frightened about passing these disorders with a genetic component on to an unsuspecting child, but I was worried about my ability to parent a child or children with these disabilities when I spend so much time in my life simply trying to take care of myself and my own disabilities.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide.”  According to StopTheClot.org, blood clots kill an estimated 274 people each day.

Many people with disabilities are wonderful parents to both healthy and disabled children, but I simply didn’t feel that I was up to the task of risking my life and a baby’s life for a very dangerous pregnancy, only to not know if I would be physically and mentally able to care for my child or children.  I also have a hard enough time taking care of myself that I don’t feel like it would be a good idea to be completely responsible for a tiny human.  I enjoy sleeping through the night, going to concerts, going out with friends, and international travel.  I like being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it.  I appreciate that the only person I am responsible for is myself and that River is the only one who depends on me.  In short, on top of not thinking children are a good idea for me, I simply don’t want them.  If I change my mind about that particular aspect later in life, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States on any given day who each deserve loving family homes.

I began speaking to my OBGYN about permanent birth control options many months ago and she was incredibly supportive, particularly in light of the fact that having Factor V Leiden and a history of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs) means that it would be incredibly unlikely for me to have a safe and healthy pregnancy at any point in my life.  I slowly began sharing with friends, my mother, my father, and my brother that I do not want biological children and was planning on a surgical intervention.  While I expected to get push back and arguments, the responses of the people I chose to share with were overwhelmingly supportive.  A few people questioned if this is what I really want, but left it alone after I explained that it is.  The majority of people cheered me on for making a “responsible” and “selfless” decision.  The decision to pursue permanent birth control was not an easy one, but it was the right one for me.  My OBGYN and I discussed my different options, which were basically either a tubal ligation or a salpingectomy, and together we decided on a salpingectomy (permanent removal of both fallopian tubes).

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, my OBGYN, who I trust and adore, performed a bilateral salpingectomy.  I thought that I would feel sad afterwards because of the significant loss of not becoming a biological mother, but all I feel is relief: relief that I know I will never have an unplanned pregnancy, relief that I’ll never be put into a position where I have to decide if abortion would be the right choice for me, relief that I’ll never have to experience the heartbreak of multiple miscarriages that so many women with Factor V Leiden face, and relief that I will never have a pregnancy that could kill me and leave my child and/or future partner alone.

I sincerely appreciate all of the love and support I have received from people so far.  You all mean more to me than you know.  Whether or not you decide to have children, please know that I support your autonomy and support your right to make that choice for yourself and please know that I am a safe person for you to talk to about it.

 

 

 

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#FreeTheChildren

UPDATE: Last week, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that supposedly ends his own administration’s policy of separating children from their families at the border.  The Executive Order includes no plan about how to reunite the children who have already been separated from their families.  Without walking back his zero-tolerance policy, the Executive Order is largely unhelpful as it will result in children being detained in detention centers with their parents.  The Flores Settlement Agreement makes it illegal to hold children for longer than 20 days, so while the children may not be separated from their families immediately upon entry into the United States, they will still ultimately be separated as many families apply for asylum, which can take months or years.  The current administration is trying to get the Flores Settlement Agreement decision changed by the courts so that children can be detained for longer amounts of time because without a change to the settlement agreement, Trump’s Executive Order is mostly unenforceable.

 

 

Words are powerful. As Voltaire and Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  That’s why we need to have a little chat, family, friends, and strangers.

As you may or may not be aware, the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families when they cross the border, even if those families are seeking asylum from violence and devastating poverty in their home countries. Make no mistake about it that the administration is attempting to deter people from entering this country from our southern border.  It isn’t working.  May saw the highest number of family units apprehended at the border since 2014, when violence in Central America led to a surge in border crossings.

This should be a nonpartisan no brainer.  Children don’t belong in tent cities or former Walmart stores or detention centers or institutions.  Children belong in families.

Separating children from their families is, by the UN definition, torture.   Not only is it torture by definition, but it has similar effects on children.  According to an article in the Washington Post, “The science leads to the conclusion that the deprivation of caregiving produces a form of extreme suffering in children. Separating migrant children from parents, then, increases the likelihood that their experience in immigration detention will cause lasting mental and possibly physical health problems.”  Scientific studies have shown again and again and again that separating children from their caregivers has detrimental effects.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration policy and asylum seekers, surely your heart goes out to these children.  This is not the way to deter immigration.  It’s cruel and it isn’t working.

You may be thinking to yourself now, “Ok Catherine, that’s fine, but what can I do about it?”  Here are three simple things you can do:

I’ll even help you write the letter to your representatives:

For Your Congressman or Congresswoman:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is _________________________ and I am a constituent from zip code _______________.  It has recently come to my attention that the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families at the border.  I’m urging Congressman / Congresswoman _______________ to denounce this family separation policy and use all of Congress’ authority to stop it.  I am incredibly troubled by the forced separation policy for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that it is torture by definition.  The separation of children from their families has been scientifically proven to have adverse effects on mental health.  Please use all of your power to stop this policy.

Sincerely,

___________________

For Your Senators:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is _________________________ and I am a constituent from zip code _______________.  It has recently come to my attention that the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families at the border.  I’m urging Senator _______________ to denounce this family separation policy and use all of your authority to stop it.  I am incredibly troubled by the forced separation policy for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that it is torture by definition.  The separation of children from their families has been scientifically proven to have adverse effects on mental health.  Please use all of your power to stop this policy.

Sincerely,

___________________

If you’d rather call your representatives, the ACLU has created a script.  It says:

Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator / Congressman/ Congresswoman to denounce the current administration’s family separation policy and use all of her/his authority to stop it.

Adventure

On Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts

suicidal thoughts

 

**I want to very specifically note that what works for me will not work for everyone and that different people need different things when they are feeling suicidal, but this may help give you some information you didn’t have before.**

This week, the world lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to suicide.  Of course these losses were very sad and they are worth talking about.  However, since the news broke of each death, I’ve seen a plethora of Facebook posts and tweets urging people to call the suicide hotline if they are having suicidal thoughts and encouraging people to check on their friends who have mental health issues and those who seem the “strongest” but may be struggling without you realizing.  I have even shared a post or two myself.

I do my best to post about mental health on a regular basis, but there are some people who only seem to care about mental health and/or suicide when there is a school shooting or a prominent celebrity death.  This is disheartening for a variety of reasons, but what I really want to focus on today is the fact that there are ways that you can help someone who is actively feeling suicidal that are not posting the suicide prevention hotline number on your social media.  Posting the suicide hotline number on your Facebook wall is unlikely to help everyone who is truly feeling suicidal.  Not once have I been suicidal, seen the hotline posted on Facebook, and thought “well, that was helpful.  I’m all better now!”

It’s hard to talk about feeling suicidal because there is so much stigma surrounding mental health and, specifically, suicide.  Many people think that a person who dies by suicide has chosen a selfish way out, when in reality people who die by suicide do so because they believe that life will never get better and that they have exhausted all other options.  I know this because I have had suicidal thoughts in the past and because there have been times when I was so depressed that I considered it as a possible solution.

As my best friend so astutely posted on social media this week, when a person dies by cancer, people often say they “lost their battle” with cancer.  This also happens with other diseases.  What many people don’t realize is that depression and, subsequently, suicidal ideation are physical diseases.  They are diseases of the brain, which is an organ much like any other in your body.  When a person dies by suicide, it is appropriate to say they lost their battle with mental illness.  It is not appropriate (or in any way accurate) to accuse them of being selfish or cowardly.  Many people who die by suicide have been suicidal at other points in their life and successfully fought off their mental illness until they were in a place where they were safe again.

It’s important for people with suicidal ideation to know that even though it feels like things will never get better and you will always be stuck in a deep dark hole, there are people who really care and things ultimately will get better, though it may take time for that to happen.  I have been suicidal a number of times in my life but have only chosen to call the suicide hotline once, my freshmen year of college.  That isn’t to say that they aren’t a great resource for some people, but in my situation they weren’t what kept me alive – my family and friends were.

What has been helpful for me personally when I’ve been feeling suicidal is talking to people who don’t stigmatize suicidal thoughts.  Specifically, when I’ve let people know that I am suicidal it is helpful for them to check in with me every day or a couple of times a day to see how I’m doing and if I am a danger to myself.  Not everyone who has suicidal thoughts will attempt suicide and not everyone who has suicidal thoughts needs the police called on them or to be taken to the hospital immediately, though some people do.  If you are unsure, it’s best to call someone.  While this will likely piss off the person you are calling on behalf of, it’s better to have them pissed off and alive than not pissed off and dead.

What I have needed in the past is for people to check on me until I can contact my mental health providers and go to appointments with them.  One of my best friends and I came up with a rating system of 0-10 with 0 being so depressed and suicidal that I need to go to the hospital, 5 being fairly stable, and 10 being so manic that I need to go to the hospital.  While I was feeling suicidal, she would text me a couple times a day and ask “what’s your number?”  We talked about it ahead of time and decided that if I was at a 2 or lower, she had my permission to call my parents if she felt it was necessary.  If I was at a 0, she had my permission to call 911.  I don’t use that system with everyone and it isn’t always necessary for me to give someone a number on a scale describing how safe or unsafe I am, but I’m thinking of one bout of suicidal thoughts in particular when it was very very helpful.

I tend not to post about suicidal thoughts on social media when I’m actively suicidal as I don’t want to create panic for those who care about me and don’t want people to think that I’m just seeking attention, but maybe I should change that.  Maybe it would help other people to know that they aren’t alone and that they can survive even the darkest times.  Maybe it would help derail some of the stigmatizing thoughts that people have about mental illness and suicide.

Of people with my illness (Bipolar Disorder), 1 in 3 will attempt suicide and 1 in 5 will successfully complete suicide according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.  22 veterans die by suicide every single day.  These statistics are disheartening, but you can help change them.  If it seems like someone you know is struggling, reach out to them and let them know that you are a safe person to talk to.  Even if it seems like the people you know aren’t struggling, check up on them and ask how they are doing every once in a while.  Let them know that you really want to know how they are and don’t just expect them to say “fine thanks, how are you?”  Who knows, you may even save a life.

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Highlights from “Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection”, a report by the ACLU

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 8.28.20 PM

Many of you probably do not have the time to read the entire 50-page report the ACLU recently released about the neglect and abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  As such, I wanted to highlight some important information from that report.  This post will still be quite long as it is a 50-page document I’m pulling from, but not as long as if you were to read the whole thing yourself.

This report has been getting conflated in the media with another report that ORR “lost” track of 1,475 children after they left custody.  It’s sort of confusing, but there are actually 3 things going on right now.  1) The children HHS can’t find, 2) Separation of children from parents at the border, and 3) Abuses and neglect of children in Border Control custody.

In regards to the first issue, human and immigration rights activists have assured that those children mostly went to live with family or friends and that the communities most affected by this do not, in fact, want ICE to be paying closer attention and keeping closer tabs on children once they leave custody, particularly since they may be going to live with undocumented relatives who could potentially be deported.

In regard to the second issue, Glennon Doyle’s charity, Together Rising, is doing some amazing work to help reunite children with their families.  You can read more about that here.

While all three issues are terribly important and horrifying, it is the third issue that I’ll be focusing on today, the abuses and neglect of children in Border Control custody.

You can find the entire 50-page report from the ACLU here:

Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The ACLU, 22 May 2018

Introduction and Background
Tens of thousands of children from Central America and Mexico travel to the United States as unaccompanied minors every year in an attempt to escape violence and poverty in their home countries.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detains many of these children when they arrive in the United States.  1 in 4 children reported physical abuse, including sexual assault, the use of stress positions, and beatings by CBP agents.  Over half reported verbal abuse (including death threats) and denial of necessary medical care.  A staggering 80% reported inadequate food and water.  The report focuses on intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, refusal of medical services, and improper deportation that occurred between 2009 and 2014.

 Most migrants who come to the United States are risking their lives, “in search of safety, stability, and opportunity.”  UNICEF says that 26,000 migrant deaths have been recorded since 2014.  With the number of migrant deaths that go unreported, that number is likely much higher.  “Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, theft, human traffickers, and other criminal actors seeking to benefit from their desperation…children migrants are especially vulnerable, particularly when traveling alone.”

 “Children are forced to seek refuge in other countries to escape armed conflict, violent crime, endemic poverty, natural disasters, discrimination, and other forms of oppression.”

 In 2016 alone, 12 million of the world’s refugees were children. “In 2015, 10 [million] of the 21 million refugees seeking asylum outside their countries of origin were children.”

 Children migrating to the United States usually come from one of four countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  The “northern triangle,” which is formulated of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is considered one of the most violent regions in the world, with an estimated 150,000 people being killed there from 2006 to 2016 alone.

 Some abuses that took place while children were in CBP custody include officials pointing their guns at children, officials shooting children with Tasers for punishment or amusement, officials hitting or kicking children, and officials threatening children with rape or death.  Government reports and firsthand accounts also detail children “held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water;” children “forced to sleep on concrete floors or share overcrowded cells with adult strangers;” children “denied necessary medical care;” children “being bullied into signing self-deportation paperwork;” and children “being subjected to physical and sexual assault.”

 Apprehension
CBP officers and agents are only allowed to use “objectively reasonable” force and can only use force when it is “necessary to carry out their law enforcement duties.”  In practice, CBP agents and officers “regularly use force on children when such force is not objectively reasonable or necessary.”

 CBP officers and agents are allowed to use tasers and similar weapons, which they refer to as electronic control weapons (ECWs), if and only if “a subject [is] offering, at a minimum, active resistance in a manner that” the officer “reasonably believes may result in injury to themselves or to another person.”  In practice, CBP agents and officers use ECWs against children who are not resisting arrest.

 CBP policy says all CBP officers and agents are supposed to “treat all individuals with dignity and respect.”  Officers and agents are supposed to “speak and act with the utmost integrity and professionalism” and “conduct themselves in a manner that reflects positively on CBP at all times.”  In practice, the documents obtained by the ACLU show many examples of CBP officials verbally abusing the children they arrested, including death threats and threats of other violence.

Further examples of violence found in the documents include:

  • An officer stomping on a child
  • An officer throwing a child to the ground
  • An officer Punching a child’s head 3 times
  • An officer hitting a child in the head with a flashlight
  • An officer hitting a child in the head then kicking the child and yelling at him after he was placed in a patrol vehicle
  • An officer lifting a child by the neck and pushing him against a glass structure
  • An officer kneeing a child in the stomach twice
  • An officer elbowing a child in the stomach, causing him to lose his breath and double over in pain
  • An officer throwing two other minors on top of a child
  • An officer pulling a child to a standing position by his hair, yelling profanities at the child, and throwing the child to the ground, where the side of the child’s face hit a rock.
  • An officer kicking a child in the ribs
  • An officer tasering a child, causing him to fall on the ground before a Border Patrol agent kicked the child in the back while telling the child to get up
  • An officer running over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle and then punching the minor on the head and body several times

 Detention
DHS is required to treat children with “dignity, respect, and special concern for their vulnerability as children” and provide safe, secure, and clean facilities including toilets, sinks, showers, bedding, and basic toiletry.  CBP is also supposed to provide “adequate” food and water to detained children in addition to providing both basic and emergency medical service.  In reality, they do none of those things.

 Most children are only supposed to be in CBP custody for a maximum of 72 hours before being transferred to HHS/ORR.  The reality is that CBP regularly detains children for extended periods of time in excess of the seventy-two-hour maximum.  CBP is also required to provide adequate temperature control and ventilation for detention centers that hold children, but the CRCL documents showed that extremely cold hold rooms are the norm throughout the CVP detention system.

“In 2003, Congress enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to protect all persons in custody from sexual abuse. In 2012, President Obama directed DHS and other federal agencies with confinement facilities that were not subject to Department of Justice (DOJ) PREA rules “to develop and implement regulations to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse and assault.” DHS adopted PREA regulations in March 2014. Thereafter, and as required by these regulations, CBP issued a “zero tolerance” policy regarding sexual abuse and assault for individuals in CBP custody.  Unfortunately, “The CRCL documents show CBP’s failure to comply with its own ‘zero tolerance’ policies, the Flores Settlement requirements, and federal law protecting detainees from sexual abuse or assault.”

 “Among the many other instances of CBP abuse reflected in the CRCL documents are allegations that specific officials:

  • Failed to provide detained children with blankets or provided foul smelling blankets258 or threatened to take blankets away from children, despite freezing temperatures in hold rooms
  • Failed to provide trash receptacles for hold rooms
  • Failed to provide detained children with personal hygiene necessities
  • Verbally abused detained children, calling them dogs and “other ugly things”
  • Told a child who wished to speak to her mother that she “was a prostitute”
  • Tried to coerce detained children to comply with directions by threatening to withhold food or by threatening physical abuse
  • Denied detained children permission to stand or move freely for days, and threatened children who stood up with transfer to solitary confinement in a small, freezing room
  • Told a detained child who had not been allowed to shower for nine days, “if you wanted to shower you should have stayed in your country”
  • Hurried detained children during bathroom runs, and denied children the opportunity to wash their hands or otherwise bathe
  • Placed a child in shackles during transport
  • Distributed only frozen food twice a day, causing the detained children to become ill
  • Denied a pregnant minor medical attention when she reported pain and accused her of lying about her pain in order to be released; the minor’s pains were labor pains that preceded a still birth
  • Told a detained child to “suck it up” when she told agents she had not received food
  • Forced a visibly pregnant minor to sleep on the floor and called her a liar when she said she was pregnant”

 Deportation
The CBP officials regularly misclassified migrant children as adults, in spite of rules that CBP must notify HHS within 48 hours if they suspect or know that an individual in its custody is under eighteen.

 The CRCL documents also showed multiple times when CBP officials threatened or otherwise placed children in stressful situations in order to “coerce these children into ‘self-deportation.’”

 The CRCL documents also found that CBP officials did not safeguard detained children’s personal property, despite agency policy that requires agents and officials to create and maintain an accurate record of all detainees’ property.  Additionally, all items in a juvenile’s possession are supposed to “accompany the juvenile upon transfer to any other agency or facility.”

 Oversight Failures
“Beyond the misconduct detailed, the CRCL documents are shocking for the independent reason that they do not contain any evidence of disciplinary action or other meaningful account­ability for abusive CBP officials. Rather, the records indicate—at best—cursory “investigations” closed out via boilerplate language rather than thorough individualized assessments.  As noted, DHS includes several internal oversight agencies, including CRCL and OIG. Yet structural deficiencies (i.e., limited mandates) and insufficiently robust investigations mean that neither CRCL nor OIG has held the line against child abuse by CBP or the Border Patrol.”

Conclusion
“The CRCL documents reviewed herein represent just a fraction of the tens of thousands of pages of records obtained by the ACLU through its FOIA request and subsequent litigation. These documents provide evidence of systemic CBP abuse of children. At best, this abuse amounts to unprofessional, degrading mistreatment of vulnerable minors. At worst, the abuse amounts to unlawful and potentially criminal misconduct by federal immigration officials. The CRCL documents show that abuse occurs at each stage of a child’s interaction with CBP, from apprehension to detention to deportation. The abuse is not limited to one state, sector, station, or group of officials— rather, the CRCL documents reflect misconduct throughout the southwest, from California to Texas, at ports of entry and in the interior of the United States, by CBP and by Border Patrol. And, crucially, the CRCL documents show that various DHS entities, including oversight agencies like CRCL and OIG, are aware of CBP’s unethical and unlawful abuse of minors—and yet these DHS entities have failed to properly investigate, much less remedy, alleged abuse. There is no evidence that DHS has taken any action to address or rectify this pattern of abuse. To the contrary: the CRCL records indicate that urgent intervention is necessary to protect these vulnerable children from mistreatment, abuse, and violence, which is otherwise bound to recur.”

Adventure

Can Hospitality Change the World?

 

This is one of the best TED talks I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot of TED talks!).  Kindness breeds kindness.  Hospitality breeds hospitality.  Just in case you needed to hear it- “You and I are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or the worst thing that’s ever been done to us.”

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“Why I’m Done Being a ‘Good’ Mentally-Ill Person”

Things that came to mind while reading this:

Being allowed to take the tape dispenser into my room while hospitalized at an inpatient behavioral health unit.

Being allowed to hang things on the wall in my room in the behavioral health unit.

Being allowed to watch Harry Potter on the tv in the tv room even though a committee had voted and decided ⚯͛△⃒⃘H.P. Wasn’t appropriate for the inpatient behavioral health setting because of Dobby’s self-harm.

Being allowed to order grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese for basically every meal that wasn’t breakfast because I’m a VERY picky eater.

Never being told I couldn’t have pain medication even though I saw it denied to other patients.

Being allowed to hang out at the nurse’s station when I couldn’t sleep.

Being told at my last visit with a P.A. a few days ago that she couldn’t wait to see me on tv one day for something wonderful I will do.

Privilege is real and insidious.

Please read this article: Why I’m Done Being a “Good” Mentally-Ill Person