Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

In all the chaos and hurry of trying to get everything cleaned up on my desk and in my inbox, I was stopped in my tracks a couple of days ago.  I was reminded of why I do the “work” I do.

I received a call from a Jane Doe, woman on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Okay, that’s nothing new for me.  I talk to a lot of folks there.  Jane is a woman I have actually visited and with whom I have spoken quite a few times.  She is a pleasant, soft-spoken woman who is  a wheelchair bound paraplegic, the result of being rearended in an auto accident by a drunk driver.

You would think Jane would be worried about herself and the fact that she lives in a small, non-ADA compliant apartment.  But several months ago, she told me the story of her two nieces.

Both her nieces are adults.  Both of them are mentally handicapped.  The two women had lived with and been cared for by their parents until the parents passed away.  At that time, one of their adult siblings was given guardianship over the two women.  The guardian decided to put the two women into a home of some sort, many miles away from the reservation and from all that was familiar to them.  No one from their immediate family visited them and, in fact, the guardian moved away to the East Coast and left them alone.

Jane Doe was the only one who visited her nieces, in spite of the fact that her car was constantly breaking down.  The women cried when she left and called her crying when she was at home because they were so lonely.

Jane, though disabled herself, was so concerned about her nieces that she went to the tribal court and sought guardianship of the two women.  They have been allowed to come to visit her — sleeping on the floor of her living room on top of sleeping bags and quilts.

Jane recently received guardianship!  However, they cannot come to stay with her permanently until she has a place for them to sleep that is not the floor. 

The living room is the only place in the apartment that they can stay.  Truly, Jane and her nieces need a proper place to live — one where a wheelchair will fit through the doorways.  But that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Jane would like to have her nieces home by the holidays, she told me when she called to ask if I could help her find a pull-out sofa bed or bunk beds for her nieces.  It’s so hard to say no to someone as generous and kind-hearted as Jane.  But it isn’t what we usually do, since a sofa bed, the best option, can be quite expensive.  I, personally, would hate to ask 38 and 40 year old women to be climbing into bunk beds, however.

We have actually located a sofa bed for $1000 that can be delivered to their home.  I’m not sure if that included tax — probably not, right?  But we don’t have a spare $1000 at this time.

I’m hoping that there will be a donor (or donors) who thinks that these 2 mentally handicapped women deserve to live with their aunt, who is so loving and giving in spite of her own needs.

If you know anyone who would like to help, direct them to ONE Spirit at http://nativeprogress.org to make the donation.

I, personally, am going to keep Jane Doe in my mind as I prepare for the holidays of giving thanks and giving gifts.  She is willing to give of what little she has out of love for her family.  She is a true inspiration to me!


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I thought yesterday I had a great new story about a Lakota woman who had some real dreams that were being hindered by life on the rez.  That was before today’s phone call from a sponsor who had distressing news from the elder she sponsors.  Now I had another story line.  What should I do?  Write 2 stories or try to combine them?

One the surface, it didn’t seem as though these stories had a lot in common.  But I never just stay on the surface, I guess.  The more I thought about the 2 women, the more I realized that both these women were being frustrated and stressed by the conditions on Pine Ridge.  In the words of the Law and Order narrator, “These are their stories . . .”

Story 1

Woman #1 is in her early 50’s.  She has been wheelchair bound about 15 years as a result of an auto accident – she was rear-ended by a drunk driver.  I have written about her before, describing the small, non-accessible apartment she lives in.

Yesterday, when I spoke to her, she told me about a house she yearns to have.  She wasn’t asking me for it.  She was just expressing a yearning for a home.  It already has a ramp entry and everything.  She has been making the rounds of the tribal offices involved, trying to find out what she needs to do to be eligible to the house.  She also told me the story of why it is so important to her to have that house – or one like it.  At the very least she needs something bigger than the apartment she is in.

She told me about her 2 cousins who are in their 30’s.  They are sisters who used to live with their parents.  They are also mentally challenged.

When they were young, they were in the “special education” classes at school.  They were mocked and called “retarded” by the other kids at the school.  Rez schools are small and they could not seem to avoid it.  They transferred to another school.  It was further away from their home in a different rez settlement, but they did not endure the same taunting and bullying there.  After their schooling was complete, they lived with their parents.  They helped with the daily chores and were capable of taking care of their own personal care.

Their mother died first and more recently, their father died as well.  The only family they had left were an older brother and sister.  The brother did not have much to do with the family.  The older sister was appointed guardian of the 2 handicapped girls.  She went to court to have them placed in a home with the stipulation that they must be kept together.  Then their sister moved away from the reservation.

The 2 handicapped sisters were placed in a kind of group home — in Hot Springs, SD (over 60 miles & one hour away), not on the reservation they had known all their lives.  They are the only Native American women at the home.  There is one Native American man who is much older than they are.  They are very unhappy to be so far from home and from anyone they know.

The woman I spoke to on the phone would like to have her cousins come live with her.  She is the only one who has visited them (a difficult trip for this paraplegic woman).  She has arranged with the court to have them visit with her for a couple of weekends, especially for the 4th of July fireworks.  The court has said it would give her custody if she had room for them to live.

And so we are back to the house this wheelchair bound, paraplegic woman desires so much.  It isn’t just that, as she said, “I’m 50 years old and want a place of my own.”  It is that she needs the extra room so that she can bring her 2 handicapped cousins back to the reservation, the only home they know, to live with her.  Officials have already told her it cannot be done while she is in the small apartment that barely accommodates her and her wheelchair.

She told me that she watches “that show with Ty Pennington” and thinks, “Hey Ty, I need your help.  Can you come to the rez and help me?”  She said she cries right along with the families that get the new homes because she knows how much it means to them.

She is a sweet, gentle woman with a lot of love to share.  I do not know how to find her a new home.  I usually deal with the smaller things, like toilet paper and school supplies.  So I will leave it to you, readers, if you know of any resources that can help this woman.

Story 2

Late in the afternoon I got a call from a sponsor.  She had just been speaking with one of the two elders she sponsored.  The elder was very upset because she was basically being evicted.

Apparently one of this elder’s teenaged daughters is acting out and getting into trouble.  The landlord, who is somehow related to the elder, “doesn’t want any trouble,” so he told the elder that she and her daughters had to leave.

I’ve written about this woman before as well, in fact quite recently after we visited her on our trip to the rez in June (the second story in “Two Amazing Lakota Women 6-24-11).  I had written about the crushing poverty I had found at her home.  Now she was to lose even that.  She had called the sponsor, crying, with nowhere to go.  She needed a home.

She told the sponsor that she would be forced to move to a shelter in Rapid City since she had no one on the rez who could take her in.  I thought of this woman whose health is so fragile, who depends on oxygen tanks for life, and I wondered how she would survive in a shelter.  What would her daughters do?  Would they take care of their mother or set out on their own and leave her alone in the world?

I do not have any way to get housing for people on the reservation.  There is a severe housing shortage.  The tribe needs thousands more homes if everyone who needs one were to have one.  I will make some calls to find out what is available to assist this woman.

My title with ONE Spirit is “Area Service Coordinator.”  But it means that I try to match people on the rez with the services that we, as an organization, supply — OKINI, food, wood, sponsors.  I am not intended to be a social worker for the two areas I serve.  I do sometimes feel like one.

Sometimes, all I feel is frustrated.

Frustrated that I am not aware of all the services and programs available to individuals on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Frustrated that the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) does not have the means to meet the needs of the Oyate (their people) and does not appear to manage what they do have well.

Frustrated that the OST does not have a better way to communicate with the people about resources that are available to them.

Frustrated that a culture which values family, which considers women and children sacred, doesn’t have ways to assist those very groups in their dire need.

As I always say, I don’t have the answers, just the questions.

Right now, I also have a lot of frustration that I would be happy to share.

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I finally got to speak with my “godchild” from Pine Ridge.  This is the daughter of my Lakota friend that we started out as sponsors for 6 years ago.  I’ve written about her and her problems many times before.  For once I have good news.

In case you are not up to speed on my blog posts from the past, my husband and I first met this girl when she was 10 years old.  She will be 16 in July 2011.  In the years between, she has had many problems – some that she caused herself and some that were caused by others.  She became a chronic runaway.  She began to drink alcohol.  She was raped.  She was beaten.  She was taken away from her mother because she was uncontrollable.  She was raped a second time; she  became pregnant but miscarried as a result of the rape — this while she was in state custody hours from her home on the reservation.  She was finally placed in a treatment facility in Utah because the state of South Dakota had no facility for her.  The Utah facility is a 12 hour drive from her home.

However, the facility in Utah was the first good program she entered.  They appear to have gotten through to her and ……{drumroll for the good news} ….. she is due to be released from custody at the end of the month.  I’m sure she will be on probation of some sort.  But she will be able to go home.

We spoke to her Sunday for the first time in months.  She sounded different.  Calmer.  More reasonable.  More sensible.

She wants to go home to her mother on the reservation.  She misses her family.  Yet she is also a bit afraid to go there.  She will have to find new friends and not be able to hang out with her old friends.  Too many temptations to relapse there!  She is also afraid of the family of the young man who raped her.  They have harassed her before, because she testified against him and he went to jail.  She is afraid that will happen again.

I think she will be able to make it this time if she gets adequate support.  She had a lot of anger before and it’s difficult for me to believe that it’s suddenly all gone.

So I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I am still concerned about her future.  It’s tough to be 2000 miles away.

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I spoke with my Lakota friend today – the one we met when we began to sponsor her then 10 year old daughter.  Her daughter is now 15 and some months.  We have been friends for all these years now.

We are visiting the reservation in early June and hope to travel to Utah with our friends to visit the young lady who has been quite a challenge for her mother to raise.  If you are a regular reader, you know the many dramatic adventures she has put herself in.  She is now in a resident program in Utah that I believe has some hope of helping her with the issues she now has.  Traveling from the part of Pine Ridge Reservation in which her parents reside to the institute in Utah takes about 12 hours of driving.  That is not exactly convenient for folks on the rez who have unreliable vehicles and no gas money.  So we suggested the trip as out treat – stopping overnight so we can be refreshed for the return trip.  It ought to be an interesting drive.  One of the reasons I called my friend was to ask her to make sure that her daughter can have visitors once we arrive.  It would be very upsetting to arrive and be turned away.

I asked about other family members I have gotten to know many over the years.  My friend’s sister, with whom she has not had a smooth relationship, is now living with my friend and her husband.  My friend’s mother, who owns the trailer in which my friend now resides, is still a thorn in her side.  Her middle daughter, 19 years old, has moved out to live with her boyfriend (whom my friend dislikes).  She told her mother she was of age and could do whatever she wanted.  Her mother agreed, but said not in her house.  So daughter and boyfriend moved out.

My friend’s eldest daughter is the mother of 2 toddlers.  They live with her also.  So does the father of the children.  That young man had been kicked out at Christmas time after he came home drunk and started beating the children’s mom while she was asleep.  But he is back and behaving – so far.  That’s good for those children.

My friend’s other sister died last year.  Her children were mostly teens and young adults.  She also had grandchildren.  Apparently one of her children has abandoned her children, whom my friend has taken in.  The woman, my friend’s niece, was seeing a man who didn’t like children.  So she made a choice.  She took off with the guy and left her children behind.

According to my friend, the children had not been well taken care of before she left.  They are in need of serious dental work and other care.  I know she will see to it that they get what they need if she can.

Of all the drama, this is the event that has really bothered my friend the most.  I don’t mean to say the drama with her own children hasn’t been upsetting.  But she truly cannot understand a woman just abandoning her children to run off with a guy.  I had to agree with her on this.  There were certainly times, when I was the mother of young or teen-aged children, when I felt like just packing up and leaving.  Parenting is strenuous work!  But most of us ultimately put the needs of our children before our own needs.  This woman did not and it really has upset my friend.

I suspect this is not really uncommon in a population where many of the adults grew up without adequate parenting and thus have a need to be the center of someone’s world.  If you add in the alcohol problems many have, it becomes even more understandable.  It is far easier to do hurtful things when you have anesthetized yourself to the pain others will feel.

Still, I look at this from the perspective of the children who have been neglected and abandoned.  What issues will they have as they get older which will stem directly from this event?  Will they become promiscuous, looking for affection and love?  Will they have illness and poor health as a result of receiving poor health and dental care as children?  Will they become diabetic and/or obese because they’ve learned to drink soda pop instead of water and juice?  Will they take up smoking to calm frayed nerves – or do drugs to self medicate?  Perhaps they, too, will turn to alcohol as a form of recreation or self medication.  Will the suffer from PTSD as a result of the abandonment?  Will they grow up without hope, perhaps adding to the statistics of the reservation youth who have lost hope and attempted or succeeded in committing suicide?  I think my friends sees all these possibilities.  I think that is why it weighs on her so heavily.

But I think the hardest part facing my friend is when she has to find an answer for the questions the children will bring to her:

Where’s Mom?

Why did she leave me?

Did she love me?

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Dear Nick,

I learned about you entirely by accident.  Someone in my “community of friends” on Facebook posted one of your YouTube videos which I decided to take a look at.  I was, of course, mesmerized, as I’m sure most people who see them are.  But I was perhaps moved by a different spirit than the spirit of simple amazement at someone who has overcome fearsome obstacles.

I should at the start admit that I, too, have a disability.  I do not say this to compare myself to you, for my disability is invisible.  I have Fibromyalgia and have had it since I was 13 years old.  It didn’t even have a name back then – in fact many doctors thought it was imaginary, you know, “all in your head.”  I suppose they were right to a certain extent.  Since Fibromyalgia is primarily a pain problem and since pain is actually felt in the brain, it is all in our heads (to twist a familiar statement, no brain, no pain).  Unfortunately, there isn’t any good way to treat it and many people become very depressed, sad, angry and miserable to be with.  That was never me.  By the grace of God, I have always been a positive, happy, giving person.

That last line leads up to the reason for my letter.  In recent years I have found a passion in life that is greater than any passion that I have had in my 57 years on this planet.  I have discovered the Oglala Lakota people who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  As you have found a calling in inspiring people to live their best lives in spite of any disability, real or perceived, I too have found a calling in working to improve the lives of the folks on Pine Ridge, especially the children.

I work extremely hard to do this in two ways.  One is tangible – I work for an all volunteer non-profit organization which matches sponsors with children and elders in need of support on Pine Ridge Rez.  But the other way I try to improve their lives is in advocacy.  I write   … and write … and write.  My primary goal in life is to enlighten people in this nation regarding the conditions of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Life on the reservation is more than difficult.  The waiting list for housing can be 10 years long.  Relatives care for each other, which means that, even if you are truly homeless, someone will take you in.  The result can be 10, 12, even 20 people living in a tiny 3 bedroom house (the rooms are not much bigger than a queen sized mattress). The houses are sub-standard construction and not insulated – in fact many are falling apart.  There are people who have no running water, use outhouses, have no heat in the South Dakota winters, no jobs (80% unemployed therefore) so no money to pay bills.

The reservation has about 50,000 people and 2 million acres.  There are big distances between settlements.  Most cars are over 10 years old and have suffered on the dirt and gravel roads.  No way to get to a good job perhaps 50 miles away.  I could go on and on.

But I figure by now you are sitting there wondering, “Where is the world is this woman going with this?  What has this got to do with me?”

So I’ll get to that point.  There is, in the past few years, an epidemic of suicide on Pine Ridge Reservation, especially among the youth.  At one time, at least one child was killing him/herself every week.  If that was the statistic anywhere else in this nation, the country would be aghast.  But the children on the reservation feel how forgotten they are.  They have lost hope.  They feel that no one knows what they deal with and no one cares.  So they see suicide as the only alternative.

I can see the lightbulb has turned on in your mind.  These children, more than any others I know of, need to hear your message.  I do not have the contacts to set this up.  I do not have the authority.

But I do have the moral authority to ask you to check into the despair and hopelessness these children face.

I don’t know if you charge for your appearances.  I don’t have the resources to pay for something like that.  I can say for a fact that the tribal budget does not have funds for it – they can’t even pay for housing for all their people.

But I do know that I have to ask for you to help these children and their families.  Because if I didn’t ask, I would not be fulfilling the calling that God has given me.

I have many other posts in the past years that tell about rez life.  They tell of the many challenges faced living on Pine Ridge Reservation.

These children NEED inspiration!  I respectfully ask that you look into their lives.  I promise you won’t be the same if you do.

Thank you for reading this lengthy letter.  I am adding a link to one of your YouTube videos so that anyone else who reads this can see the wonderful work that you do.



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I have been sort-of AWOL with regard to my blog this summer.  It seems that, between vacation and the construction/siding being done on my home, I have not been able to focus on writing.  It wasn’t that there were no topics to write on.  I just didn’t write.

I had a phone conversation this morning with a young woman on Pine Ridge Reservation which has spurred me to get off my backside and get back to work.

What was so important about that conversation, you ask?  It was the story.   It’s always the story.

The young woman I spoke with lives in Oglala, SD.  You might think that, if I tell her story, it will be simple for those who know her to figure out her identity.  You would be wrong!  The story is hard to hear.   But even more compelling is the fact that it is repeated over and over again on this reservation.  There are too many young women just like this one.  That is what lit my fire!

I will call this young woman Beth because I have not yet come across that name among all those I have come across on the rez.  She is probably in her early 30’s, based on the ages of her children.

Beth lives in a 3 bedroom house with her husband and 3 children, whose ages are 4 (daughter), 7 (son) & 16 (son).  If that sounds good to you, I ask you to reserve your opinion until you  reach the end of the post.

Beth’s children are doing well.  Her husband and she are both unemployed, however.  That is quite common on the rez, where jobs are as scarce as hen’s teeth.  Not like the rest of the country, which also is currently short on jobs.   No.  Scarce as in 80% are unemployed!  If you don’t work for the tribe or the few businesses on the rez, you need to travel 50 miles or more to get to the nearest large town/city where you might find a job.  Her husband was employed at one time and currently receives $257 per week.  They are indeed fortunate!  Many do not have that resource because they have not been able to find work.  Do you think they worry about what the government will do to support unemployment benefits?  Nope!  They are too busy getting by day to day.

They have something else that makes them fortunate – a car.  Pay no attention to the fact that it’s a 1990 Chevy Suburban and likely needs repairs they can’t afford.  It is transportation.  Getting around is more important that pride on the rez.

The family also receives food stamps.  You remember that program?  I written about it before.  $1 per person per meal.  You can do that on a permanent basis, can’t you?

So, unemployment benefits, a car, a roof over their heads and food stamps.  What more could a family want?!

But wait a minute!  They aren’t alone in that 3 bedroom house.  They have extended family – a lot of extended family – living there too.  In addition to Beth, her husband and 3 children, we have:

  • Beth’s uncle, who lives in the basement
  • Beth’s brother
  • Beth’s sister, brother-in-law & nephew

That’s 4 more adults and 1 more child, in the 3 bedroom house.  That’s a bit crowded.  And no one else works or collects benefits.  That’s a LOT further that the unemployment benefits and food stamps need to stretch to feed and clothe the household.

But wait!  There’s more!

This past week Beth took in her sister and her sister’s 3 children.  The children include a 9 day old baby.  Her sister is suffering from severe postpartum depression and tried to commit suicide last weekend.  So Beth has taken her in to keep her and her children safe.

Suicide, which is reaching epidemic proportions on Pine Ridge Rez, is particularly frightening to this family.  Sometime this past year, Beth’s brother took his own life.  He hanged himself.  They found him in a closet.  He had a little girl who will grow up without her father.  Beth could not let that happen to another child in her family.  So they made room for her sister and the children.

So, now that you’ve got the full picture, tell me if you think that 3 bedroom house sounds good.  Do you think Beth and her family are leading the good life?

I am trying to find sponsors for Beth’s children.  I will do what I can.  I am waiting for the rest of this country to open their eyes and their hearts.  Because for every sponsor I do have, I have at least 50 children or elders who need one.

It makes my job very difficult!

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Not too long ago I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen or spoken to in 40 years.  If you read my blog often, you may be saying to yourself, didn’t you write about this already.  Yes and no.  I know, I can’t have it both ways.  If you read the post “In A Muddle”, you are correct, that was about a friend from 40 years ago.  It was a different friend that I had a different relationship with.

It has happened again.  This, however, was a high school friend, not an old college flame.  I never dated this man nor did I even “hang around” with the same crowd.  But I liked him as a friend.  He was really smart, funny and cute (and still is all of these things).  Maybe I was, too, back then.  He was one of those people who, decades after high school, you find yourself wondering, “I wonder what happened to …. .”

The social networking sites sometimes answer those questions, which is what happened here.  Suddenly I knew.  A series of comments, chats and messages has allowed us to reconnect.  Actually, I think we have connected in a far deeper, better way.  I really enjoy having this “new” friend to share with.  He is one of the few people I know with whom I can hold both frivolous and erudite conversations.

But I am concerned for him as well.  He is a very complex human being who places reason about feeling many times.  I lived like that for a time and it was not productive – or healthy – for me.  I made decisions based on logic, rather than listening to my “inner voice.”  You know the voice I’m talking about, the one that tells you “don’t take that path” or “look in the other direction.”  You ignore it only to your detriment.  Some call it conscience, but it is truly more than that.  It is the connection you have to the universe that tries to guide you to the things that are best for you.  Just you.  It might not be the same for the next person.

I do not know the reasons that my friend has become the person he is right now.  He lives far from me (those who read here frequently will be asking “So what else is new – all your good friends live far away from you?”) and I am not able to just sit down for a few hours and really get to know the history he has lived.  I have had a bad experience with trying to find things out too fast for another person, so I have learned patience.  I will wait until he feels ready to share them.

My friend seems to have a lot of anger simmering inside.  He acknowledges having been hurt by many people and, rather than forgiving and moving on, he has used his pain to hold the hurt close to him.  He has not let go.  I believe that anger and hate are a poison in our hearts and souls.  They make us sick and cause even more pain than the original hurt.  My friend seems to be clinging to this poison with all his might.  Many people are like this, but they are not all my friends.  This man is my friend.  It hurts me to see him in so much pain.

His pain seems to have become a badge of honor to him.  He flaunts it for all to see.  He tries to rile up his friends, perhaps to see if he can push them away or if they are true?  He spends much time stewing over the people who have hurt him and thinking of how he would like to hurt them back.  I think he spends an awful lot of time and energy reliving the pain that could be spent in far more productive ways.  In better, healthier for him ways.

In this way, he is sadly like the first 40 year friend I found.  He, too, had significant pain that he could not discuss or let go.  It destroyed any hope of a renewed friendship.  I found that very sad.  I learned from that, however, and will work damned hard to not let that happen again.

My high school friend drinks more than most people would find healthy or smart.  He says he can handle it, has been doing it for so long it doesn’t have the same effect on him that it would on me.  I only buy the second part of that argument.  He brags about how good his liver function tests are.  I wonder why the drinking is necessary.

My high school friend smokes cigarettes – a lot of them.  I wish he didn’t.  I’ve seen the health issues they can create.  I won’t say a word for now, though.  I wonder how it happened that he needed them so much.

My high school friend has used drugs in the past, though I don’t believe he does anymore.  That’s what he’s told me and he is usually painfully honest, so I believe him.  I wonder if the drugs did any lasting damage.

My high school friend has attention deficit disorder (ADD).  He uses it to both understand and justify his behavior.  I wonder if all these self-destructive behaviors began as ways to “self-medicate” for his ADD.

I am a person who cares deeply and loves completely.  I have been blessed to be given the strength to overcome my pain and become more loving for it.  I wish I could give that gift to others, but I do not know how.  It makes my heart ache to see those I care about in pain and be unable to take it away – or even tell them how to get rid of it themselves.  But I know it is possible and I know the path is love.

So I will continue to care about this friend.  I will pray for him.  I will give what I can.

Honesty and love.

It is, after all, what we all need.

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