Shopping at Moods-R-Us

square784This is a peeve I’ve had for a long time. I can understand the reasoning, but I don’t like the additional implications. Due to the media, folklore, and other cancers of popular culture, the phrase “mental patient” acquired some bad connotations. Some people didn’t want to be labeled with it because they had been wrongly committed back in the days when psychiatrists called anything that moved “schizophrenic”. Others didn’t want to be painted with an ax in their hands.

But the phrase we replaced it with was “mental health consumers”. I am all for mental health — isn’t that the reason why I am on so many medications? — but the notion of me being a “consumer” irritates me. It suggests that I am in Psychiatry Land because I am looking for a high or because I am looking for the latest brain fashion accessory. Out there, there must be a mental health superstore — a “Moods-R-Us” where I can pick and choose from the latest manias, depressions and mixed states, each colored to match my attire1 .

There’s a worse implication here: consumer suggests whim. It suggests that our syndromes are less devastating than other physical conditions. Do we hear talk of diabetes consumers or cancer consumers? “Oh, yes, I would like some Taxol to go with my new uterine tumor.” People would rise in anger and cry out in rebellion.

If we are just consumers, then our illnesses aren’t serious and don’t deserve insurance coverage. That’s the bottom line here. It’s a door to disenfranchise us from decent health care. And no one who suffers from genuine psychiatric conditions should just stand by and allow that to happen.

  1. I have a friend who showed up to her psychiatrist wearing ultra-bright clothing. The shrink said “Are we feeling a bit manic today?” “No,” my friend said. “We are feeling depressed and the only clothes we have to wear are the ones we bought when we were manic.” []

Personal Choice, Charity, and a Cardboard Box

square747I don’t like mentioning this, but Lynn and I came to a decision some years ago. We could get by on her then much lower salary and insurance so we decided not to seek state disability, SSI, or Medicaid to cover my personal and medical expenses. There was no “I won’t take anything from the government because the government is evil” motive behind this. We both hold that the government offers the best and fairest way to provide health insurance to those who need it.1 This idea that “I want people to get health care unless they happen to be black or have schizophrenia” strikes us as wicked. We want people to have health care, period.

It has always been hard for some people who truly need health insurance to get on Medicaid. There are also limits in the amounts that this government is willing to provide and that amount is getting smaller. Because we recognize that there are others who do not enjoy our relative affluence, we have chosen not to take advantage of the system even when, in poorer days, we could.

I know for a fact that there are reactionary Republicans who depend on the system, who manipulate their finances so that they can enjoy these entitlements. I know for a fact that there are followers of Ayn Rand who milk the government for all they can get. Paul Ryan — who now calls for abolishing Medicare and Social Security — got his education by saving the Social Security checks he received after his father’s death. We’re liberal-progressives and because we see the picture beyond ourselves, we choose to act in a way that supports the greater good. We cannot in good conscience act like these or support their hypocritical politics.

I cannot do otherwise because I know the faces of those who are in worse straits than me. If we abolish Medicaid as this wastrel Republican Congress proposes, I see many of these ending up on the streets. There have always been promises to help the mentally ill and other disabled, but no one ever comes through on these. The Republican plan for the mentally ill seems to be as it always has been: a cardboard box over a heating vent. The Tea Party and the rest of the GOP cry about “forced charity” but say nothing about “forced war-making” or “forced subsidies”. That they have zeroed in on charity betrays their essential lack of compassion. These are not Christians, but the antithesis.

Vote them out of office.

  1. Yes, we like the idea of single payer health insurance. It would eliminate a lot of infighting. Private insurance companies could still offer supplemental packages like they do in Canada. []

The Man Wearing Paisley and Denim

square743He came in wrapped in blue and yellow cotton paisley cloth around his chest and over his head, faded denims around his legs. He carried a pink paisley bag. Sat down near us. When Lynn said something to me, he said “You can stop talking now.” He got up and moved to the table behind us.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“I’m fine,” he said. The waitress took his order from the senior menu. Lynn started telling me about an article she had read about Weinergate.

“You can stop talking now!” he said as Lynn continued her story.

Our food arrived. I heard him drop a salt shaker on the table. “You can stop talking now.”

“Can we move?” I asked the waitress. She showed us to a table on the opposite side of the restaurant.

The man stood up after she went into the kitchen, grabbed his bag, and rushed from the cafe.

I could not but think that if the Republicans get their way, there will be more like him. He might be unwilling to take his meds. But what about those who do take their meds and won’t be able to afford them when Medicaid is wrecked? What will they say when the streets are filled with such people?

What have they said in all the years since they first closed down the asylums? What have they done to create the infrastructure to support these people?

It saves a few hundred dollars to not give people like the man in paisley the medications they need. It wrecks thousands of lives to save those dollars.

The Health Care Reform That Has Yet to Happen

square726A plague is sweeping the nation. Three out of four Americans suffer from it. It is virulent and contagious. It destroys living tissue and bone. Bacteria at the point of infection inject their poisons into the bloodstream, exporting the destruction to other parts of the body. [[Cardiovascular disease]], [[joint problems]], [[pancreatic cancer]], [[diabetes]], [[asthma]], [[osteoporosis]], and even [[Alzheimer’s disease]] have been associated with it. Yet normal insurance does not cover its treatment. It was not part of health care reform. Most Americans are covered only to the tune of a couple of thousand dollars a year or less.

Bacterial plaque of the mouth is vile.1 Most people think it only causes [[caries]] or [[gingivitis]]. But recent studies show that the bacteria dump their waste products into the blood stream — a phenomenon called bacterima — causing problems in other parts of your body. If left untreated, the acids and other waste products will erode the bone of your mouth. This cannot be replaced. You will lose your teeth and if the condition is serious enough, you won’t be able to replace them with dentures or other dental appliances.

Healthy, mentally stable people think it is a simple matter to keep your mouth clean. Consider the third of the population who suffer from major [[depression]] though. When you twirl and fall into the morass as I did, you see your mouth as a hopeless cause. Why brush? Why floss? The commercials all say that your teeth must be white.2 You look into the mirror and fail to see the brilliant flash that advertising and employers say must be there. Even professional polishing fails to brighten your grimace. As conditions worsen, the costs of repairing the damage increase. It becomes more difficult to chew. Your jaw aches. So you give up.

Clearly, this is yet another symptom of the psychiatric disorder. But despite the broader health implications of the [[biofilm]], insurance companies and the public in general view dental care as cosmetic — about as important a medical concern as shaving or getting a haircut.

Insurance treats your mouth as an alien camper in your body. If you turn your lungs into a cancerous sac by smoking, your costs are covered to $750,000. If you become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, your rehabilitation is paid for. But most people are covered only to the tune of $1,500 or less each year. Beyond that low bar you have to pay out of your own pocket.

Do you see the discrepancy? Diseases caused by smoking and alcohol are equally caused by a lack of self control, yet they are covered. You can get your oxygen paid under Medicare3 and a heart bypass covered under most insurance, but there’s nothing out there for a dental implant if you need it. It cost me $40,000 to fix my mouth. Most of this came from my family and a large contribution by my Quaker meeting’s sharing fund. It has taken us years to recover from my melancholy-induced negligence.

In 2008, Congress mandated mental health parity. This meant that my bipolar disorder — which had indirectly caused my dental disaster — was now covered. Barring changes by this Republican Congress, regular care for this life-threatening condition of mine was now possible.

Given the wider damage wreaked by bacterima, it’s about time that there was parity for dental work.

  1. Plaque occurs in layers. It looks like a thick off-white goo. As it builds up, the most destructive bacteria migrate to the bottom where they exist in an environment that is without air, light, or food. The longer you don’t brush your teeth, the thicker these colonies will be. And it is important to brush regularly: the bacteria growth or [[Pellicle_(dental)|pellicle]] can reestablish itself in only twenty minutes! []
  2. Their natural color is yellow. []
  3. At least for now []

My Lack of Health Insurance Nightmare

square682Lipstick Chronicles is mourning the passing of Melissa Mia Hall who died because she could not afford to see a doctor. “She knew she needed medical care,” writes Sarah Strohmeyer, “but feared a visit would result in a lengthy hospital stay that would “ruin her credit rating.”

Twenty years ago I worked at a company with the most minimal of health plans and employers who believed that they had a right to scrutinize every claim the insurance paid out. I knew I was sick — anxiety clutched my chest, depression kept me from sleeping, and, for brief intervals, I felt the boundless impulsiveness of mania. But my employer did not believe in “wasting his money” on a plan that included mental health benefits. So in these pre-parity days, I held on as best I could in a company that kept me in layoff after layoff. Pressure mounted and in the end, after the company folded, I responded by going into mania and volunteering to work in former Yugoslavia.

Several things would have been possible if I had had single-payer health insurance. First, I could have quit that awful job and educated myself towards a new, more appropriate career. Second, I could have received the psychiatric care that I needed. In 1994, while on my wife’s plan, I did receive some, though I was misdiagnosed for 11 years. I’m afraid that it was too late for me, though. Though therapists have tried to push me back into working again — always imagining a world where an intelligent, fifty three year old man with 16 years of unemployment can go back to school and start again as a professional — I’ve been locked out by my illness and by economic realities.

Like Melanie I was afraid of what would happen to my credit rating, so I did not do what I needed to do for my health. I couldn’t afford decent therapy or psychiatry. And it cost me my credit rating for a time, my salary, and my dignity.

The Extreme Right’s Plan After Tucson

square675Proposals from Right-wing extremists about Tucson amount to this: Blame the mentally ill for what happened. Stigmatize the mentally ill. Do nothing to help the mentally ill obtain needed health care and medications to contain their illnesses. Cut back on programs for the mentally ill. Do nothing to make it harder for anyone to obtain assault weapons like the 30-round Glock that Loughner used to mow down the crowd. Accept no blame for the violent rhetoric that obviously influenced the gunman to zero in on Gabrielle Giffords. Keep up the same old Tea Party show. Undercut the partisan pause.

In other words, the plan is no plan. Just run on automatic knee-jerk.

Destroyed by Lack of Insurance

*REVISED* 8/23/2009

square595Twenty years ago, a young man was in serious difficulties. Waves of depression paralyzed him at a terrible job in a declining small business. He had difficulty sleeping at night. He had unexplainable chest pains and dizzy spells. When he went to the trailer in a warehouse that served as the personnel office, he learned that his insurance covered next to nothing. Mental health was a joke and therefore an unnecessary expense, so he could not get help for the anxiety that drove his life into goo. The mood disorder distorted his perspective: he did not believe he could find a job elsewhere.

The decade before his employment with the tiny plastic injection molding company, he had gone from job to job, never finding a place where he had health insurance. He did work, but mostly in temporary and part time jobs which didn’t offer an insurance package1 . His bizarre behavior sometimes cost him positions. He held on to the lousy job because, driven by his undiagnosed conditions, he believed that he could not reach for sanity. There was no money for it.

When the company finally folded after an unionization attempt, he was a nervous wreck. Using his wife’s insurance after she received a raise, he finally sought help and was diagnosed with major depression. Prozac was still not enough. He got into frequent fights on the Net, sometimes waking his wife up at impossible hours to watch them. Using his credit card, he pushed his family $40,000 in the red2 . Video and online games were his self-medication3 .

Ten years later, doctors discovered a congenital heart condition and eleven years later, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He held no job during this time.

I believe that the life of this young man — who was me — would have been different if he had had insurance. I know that if I could have afforded reasonable care during my twenties, I would not be a house-husband today. I could have worked. I could have taken out loans and gone back to school. But my mind was a swamp and I panicked at every thought.

The current plan proposed by a Blue Dog-Republican coalition will not guarantee insurance to all nor bring down insurance premiums. How many other lives will be wrecked by lack of insurance? Give it to them.

  1. It is often said that the people who lack health insurance in this country are lazy. It’s the opposite — they often hold down more than one job to pay the bills, working hours that squeeze their hearts with stress and wear down their brains []
  2. Excessive spending is a hallmark of mania []
  3. I don’t believe video games make you crazy. I think they are a magnet, however, for people limping along with obsessions. []

Anti-Health Care Thugs

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

square591The name of the game is intimidation. The evidence is in: lobbyists for the health care industry are promoting disruption in an attempt to stop us from enjoying the same quality of health care insurance as is enjoyed by millions in other civiilized countries. Their goal is to prevent any kind of conversation from occurring because they know that they are losing the arguments!

What can we do? One thing is to track the lobbyists back to their lairs and hector them at every turn. Shake them up like they are shaking up elected officials. The scenes you have seen from around the country are not spontaneous: they are organized and their leaders PAID. Expose them at every turn. Demand that the media stop covering their protests. Turn the cameras back to us.

Second, use disorderly conduct laws to throw a few of these loons into jail. Let their friends in the lobbying firms pay to have them released. Enough fines might be incentive for them to stop.

And stand up for health care at every turn. Shout back. Point out that they are the victims of RACISM: the corporatists think they are a bunch of gullible hacks who will do anything they ask for nothing. When they go to the country clubs, the race-baiters and disruptors LAUGH at these white people. Remind them of that.

Remember that these people aren’t just out to stop health care: they are out to steal America after decisively losing an election. Appeal to the silent majority of whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, men, and women to not let these hypocrites — the ones who gloated when Bush stole the 2000 election — destroy our commons, the commons of free speech and intelligent debate.

Save our family, save yourself some bucks

square587We have good insurance, provided by Lynn’s job. She pays extra so that I am covered. If it were not for this, we’d be paying thousands of dollars for my medications that protect me from the effects of my various medical conditions which include bipolar disorder, diabetes, asthma, gout, and coronary heart disease1 .

I suppose in some reactionary’s Spencerian thinking, I should be culled when society’s interest in keeping Lynn employed diminishes. To the private concerns that keep our country moving, I’m little more than her pet, a non-producer.

But then society has other concerns. “Take your meds” it says to me, the bipolar. My meds are very expensive, thank you, and I do take them even though we pay hundreds of dollars in co-pays to keep me on them. If I were to stop and do something illegal because my insurance ran out, no judge or jury in this country would have pity on me. “You elected to stop taking your meds,” I would be told. There would be no winning except for the fact that in jail they would put me back on medication. You will get to pay for that.

For personal reasons, I have elected to stay off of the public dole. I do not take SSDI because I consider my wife and I to be fortunate. The money that we save the government can be used to help another person in more needy circumstances. Or make your burden less. Yet every day I worry that Lynn will lose her job and we will be left without insurance to keep me on my medications. It’s a valid fear.

The point I wish to make is that our family could be yours. How close are you to finding yourself without coverage and needing it badly? Would sickness of you or your spouse or one of your children put you in a vulnerable position? We are lucky not to be bankrupted by my medical conditions, but cancer could strike your family. Heroic measures could lock you in the thrall of a bank for the rest of your life. Your dreams of owning your own business, enjoying retirement, etc. could be erased that quickly.

It says a lot that every major nation in this world has created a health care system that is unlike ours. Germany, which has the best health care system in the world by all measures does use private insurance, but insurance companies must be NONPROFIT which makes coverage cheaper. It is only here in the United States that health care is seen as a business rather than a service. And greedy businessmen fatten themselves to the tune of millions of dollars. Nowhere else does a high school graduate decide whether you can have the MRI your doctor ordered or not. The money that pays these unneccesary cogs in the machine could be used to help you meet the costs of fighting your cancer or other delibating disorder.

We have come to a critical hour: we can change the world. Private health insurance concerns are fighting the public option for this reason and this reason alone: it will require that they must use the capital which we invest in them to cover our medical needs. They can still function for profit, but they will have to compete with the public option and with each other.

The same forces that forced George W. Bush on us and slathered in his trough want the idea stopped. That should be reason to change our minds. Think of me, then call your representative and Senator, especially if your senator is a centrist Democrat. We cannot afford to have bad health care. I don’t want to be a burden on society should Lynn lose her job. You shouldn’t have to pay for the costs that will accrue if my conditions are allowed to degenerate into their worst possibilities. Help us to be able to pay our way no matter how Lynn is employed.

  1. This was detected early through preventative medical procedures. I haven’t even needed a stent. []

Democrats, Take Notice

square585The Democrats must understand this: if you do not provide meaningful healthcare reform, you will lose the 2010 elections. Especially the centrists who are holding out for their contributors because progressive democrats will stay home and let Republican challengers take your seats.

This is not a threat. This is reality. I am not one who can afford to keep voting for candidates who do not deliver on health care. One job can mean the difference between whether I receive the health care I need to manage my heart and mental health conditions or not. I cannot afford you if you do not realize the precariousness of my position.

Do you want me dead to preserve the ridiculous profits of an institution that should be founded on service rather than profits?

This is not a matter of loyalty to your party and it’s progressive wing or to the president. It’s about loyalty to your constituents. They will not tolerate your selling them out. Listen to people like me. We are not being helped.