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Archive for the ‘PTSD’ Category

This is going to be one of those short, musing pieces.  There are a lot of things I’ve thought of to write about while I’ve been in Canada, but I don’t have the time to really sit and focus.  So perhaps I’m meant to keep my Canadian thoughts to myself.

But I have been checking on friends’ posts on Facebook off and on, just to keep up on what is happening on the home front.  In doing that, I learned that my Lakota friend’s cousin/sister died.  Based on the tidbits I’ve read, it was alcohol related – liver problems.  Still, when someone probably 20 years younger than I am dies, it is unsettling.

More unsettling than this one death, for me, is the number of deaths that my friend has had among her family in the 6 years I have known her.  It has not been “the old ones” for the most part.  It has been her own generation or younger.

I’m trying to remember all of them:  an uncle, a sister, a brother, a teenaged daughter, a stillborn nephew, an ex-husband (the father of her children) and several other cousins/friends.  There may be some I have not heard about, too.  To me, at least, that is a lot of death in 6 short years.  It is especially a lot of death in close family.

It is, sadly, not unusual on Pine Ridge Reservation where they live.  I have heard stories from many who have had significant losses like that, though I can’t say I’ve heard of so many in that short period of time.  When you add to the frequency of death the many other traumas that people on the rez experience – accidents, illnesses, injuries, the struggle to get from one place to another, the trouble finding a stable home to live in, abandonment by parents, no money to buy the necessities of life, violence and crime – it is likely that a very high percentage of individuals on Pine Ridge suffer from PTSD.

I don’t know how it is possible to bear all of the grief and trauma that my friend has borne.  It is difficult being 2000 miles away.  I do what I can to support and mostly I pray for the family.  That is really all I can do, in the long run.

I don’t know a lot but I do know that my friend has encountered more than her share of loss through death for someone who is not yet 40 years old.

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ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook

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Maybe the heat has gone to my head or perhaps my blood sugar is crazy because I overate at the new snack bar we visited for dinner, but I find myself thinking about trauma right now.  Weird, eh?

Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.  I suspect my last visit to Pine Ridge set it off.  I didn’t see anything that was more traumatic than I had seen on any other visit.  That wasn’t what started me thinking about this.

The question I’ve been mulling over is what is worse, a single traumatic event (for example, a tornado destroying your home or a severe auto accident) or a lifetime of small traumas (for example, being shuttled from relative to relative as a child because your parents are unable to care for you, having to go without heat, the continuous small traumas of being bullied)?

I have experienced the single traumatic event personally.  My father died very unexpectedly when I was 12 years old.  He was 36.  In those days (eons ago, if you ask my children) there was no grief counseling.  You got a week off from school to grieve, then it was back to the same routine like nothing had changed.  But it had and you would never be quite the same again.

I have not experienced the frequent, multi-trauma scenario, so I really have no perspective on that one — save for what I’ve seen happening on the rez, where teen suicide has been called epidemic.

This is not my usual kind of post, I guess.  I’m not on a soapbox today.  I’m not pontificating or trying to educate.

I’m just mulling.

I think mulling is good for us, just letting things kind of simmer in your mind.  I don’t think we have to have the answers all the time.  But I do think it is important to consider the difficult questions now and then.  It keeps us human.

So mull on that question.  If you have thoughts on it, feel free to share them.

I’m going to sit here and mull, too.

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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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I got a friend request on Facebook today.  It was from a young women on Pine Ridge Reservation.  She lives in one of the areas I serve and we had spoken before – so I recognized her name and accepted.

She had sent me two messages.  The first thanked me for the card I had mailed to her when her step-dad died.  This was the second

I was wondering about were you able to find my 3 children a sponser also i would like you too know our trailor house had burnt down?

I had not found them sponsors yet . . . wait a minute . . . did I read that right?  Their trailer burned?!

I immediately found the phone number I had for this young mother and called it.  I got the frequent message one gets when calling the rez:  I’m sorry, the number you dialed is not a working  number.  Please check the number … .  Oh wonderful!  She had at one time said that if I needed to reach her I could leave a message with her area CAP (Community Action Program) office and they would get it to her.

I got out the CAP office phone number and called.  She had been there, using the computer, but she’d left a little while ago.  I told them I would try back later.

Apparently they were quite diligent at the CAP office, because I got a call from the young, single mom a few hours later.  She cried as she told me the story.

On December 23, 2009 she had been awakened by coughing.  There was smoke throughout the trailer.  She was able to get her 3 children, then aged 8, 5 and 4, out safely.  However, since the reservation is huge and the fire department is all volunteer, it took a while for the fire trucks to arrive.  She noted that she and the children watched the trailer and all their things burn up while they waited for the fire trucks. (This is an all too common occurrence on the rez.)  Talk about something to cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

I asked her where she and the children have been living.  “Here and there”, she said.  I knew what she meant – they had been living with one friend or relative until their welcome was worn out, then moving on to the next.  I asked her where she was living right now.  She said they were living with her grandmother, then began crying again.

She said, “All my relatives have a problem with alcohol.  All of them.  I don’t want that for my kids.  I don’t want them around them when they drink.”  Sadly, another problem for parents who want to set the right example but do not have housing of their own.

Housing is a desperate need on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I know people who have been on the waiting list for housing for 10 years!  I know homes that house a dozen people or more!  If you look at the statistics for homelessness on the rez, they won’t be accurate.  The reason is that many who are truly homeless have a roof over their heads thanks to the sharing of family – though it may be extremely overcrowded and some may sleep on the floor.  I always ask myself if that is really a home – is it any way to have to live?

I told her I wished I could help her with a home, but that is beyond the scope of the organization I work for.  She understood that.  I asked her what she and the children could use right now.  She told me she wanted nothing for herself.  She just wanted to take care of her children.  They needed shoes and some school clothes, even underwear and socks.

When was the last time you had to worry about buying your children underwear and sock?

I told her I would place her children on the OKINI (Lakota for sharing) list that we have for people who want to donate but not become sponsors.  She was grateful.  She gave me the address of a cousin for anything that could not be shipped to a post office box.  I asked if she could get there to pick it up.  She said she could probably walk.  My next question, obviously, was whether or not they had a vehicle.  No, she said they had no transportation.

She thanked me for calling her.

Do you know what struck me most about this conversation?  I’m sure you don’t.  But you can be sure I’m going to tell you!

What struck me most about my conversation with this young, single mom?  When I asked her how she was doing at the beginning of the conversation, she said, “Well, we’ve been kinda having hard times here.” Although she had 3 children to clothe, feed and find a home for, although she and her children suffered the trauma of watching their home and possessions burn, although she is homeless, unemployed and has no transportation, there were no histrionics.  Just kinda hard times.  The Lakota women I know are the strongest and most humble women I have ever met.

I know folks who pop a cork over not getting their favorite brand of coffee or their favorite designer jeans.

What would they say if they were in this young woman’s shoes.

Better question:  What would you say in this young woman’s shoes?

Most important question of all: What are YOU going to do about the many like this young woman on the Pine Ridge Reservation?

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I called my Lakota friend yesterday.  We live 2,000 miles apart and the only way to stay connected is by phone.  She had been on my mind a lot for the past week – ever since she told me my “godchild” was going to be DOC’d.

I didn’t know what that meant either.  But I did know my “godchild” had a way of getting herself into trouble so I knew it couldn’t be good.  This had to do with court, I was informed.

Today was court day, to find out how long she would be away.  But when I reached my friend, she was at the hospital.  I was confused and you may be too, if you don’t follow this blog regularly.  Let me backtrack for a bit . . .

When I first met this family, it was as a sponsor for a 10-year-old girl, who has since become my “godchild.”  She is going to be 15 this summer.  In the 5 years that have passed, I have become very close to her family.  And I have watched this girl grow farther and farther away from her family.  I have watched her become an inveterate liar.  I have watched her get into trouble for running away constantly and other assorted escapades.

I have also watched the pain of her mother, my friend.  She has done everything she can to help her daughter.  She has moved off the rez for her girls.  She has helped my “godchild” change schools and tried to get her into school off the rez.  She has made court appearances.  She has stayed up all night to watch her daughter sleep so she could be sure she didn’t open her bedroom window and run away.  She has driven around the rez trying to find her daughter before calling the authorities to try to keep her daughter out of the system. She worked to get her into a treatment program for the alcohol.

Nothing has worked.  Her daughter will not listen.  Her daughter will not learn.  She came home from the treatment program and within a couple of weeks she ran away again.

Her daughter has been raped.  Her daughter began drinking.  She may be using drugs, though she will not admit that.  She has been in fights at school.

What’s a mother to do?

The judicial system has decided that it will do what this mother cannot.  It will “contain” this child.  DOC’d means that the child is committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections.  She will be kept in detention in the juvenile system until she is 18 or 21, to be decided by the judge.  My friend is losing her baby.  Yet she will be required to pay child support (a ludicrous idea when you consider that this mother had to ask me for money for gas to look for the child because she, like 80% of those on the rez, has no job.)

So, back to the phone call yesterday.  When my friend answered the phone, she was crying.  I asked what was wrong.  This is the story she told me.

She was in court with her daughter to find out how long the judge would keep her in custody.  She was then going to have to leave for jail.  In the middle of the courtroom, her daughter had a seizure.  They ambulance came and transported them to the hospital, where they were at the time of the call.  They were giving her Dilantin and then they would have to return to the courtroom.  The proceedings would continue.

My friend was clearly terrified – and with good reason.  This was the first time my “godchild” had ever had a seizure.  But it was not the first time my friend had to deal with that medical issue.  In the past two years, another of her daughters (2 years older than my “godchild”) had had seizures.  The local medical practitioners had even sent her to Rapid City for tests and to see a specialist, to try to diagnose the cause.  They never got a final diagnosis.  Prior to that, my “godchild’s” sister died (March 2009).  The cause of death was drowning due to having a seizure while bathing in the tub.  [See my post “A Mother’s Grief in Pine Ridge” dated March 17, 2009]

Now my friend has a second child having seizures.  This child will be far away from her in the care of the state, not family.  My friend is terrified that something will happen to her daughter while she is in juvenile detention and there will be no one there to help her.  She is frightened that no one will try to find out the cause of her seizure.  She is reliving the nightmare of losing one daughter to seizures already.

I am 2,000 miles away, as I noted.  But it might as well be 2 million miles.  All I want to do is hug my friend and support her.  I want to be there with her in the dark times.  It cannot be.  We have learned that in the past 4 years, when she has endured unimaginable pain and I have been unable to be there.

I will do the only things I can do again – phone, pray, write.

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