This is a Story about Depression

(I didn’t write this, it’s by Elizabeth Esther, but this is pretty accurate.) 

This is what Depression feels like for me: I’m walking along the beach enjoying the sunset when suddenly, a rogue wave rises up from nowhere and smashes down, sucking me underwater, pulling me out to sea. I toss and tumble, swirl in a black vortex. I can’t scream for help because I am choking on saltwater. I can’t swim to the surface because I don’t know which way is up. Worst of all, I don’t know how long this will last.

Hello, there. I didn’t mean to disappear. But Depression is what happened to me last month and I couldn’t tell you because I was busy drowning in it. You were right to be concerned. Thank you for the kind emails, for the “where are you’s?” on social media, for the texts. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond—I’d lost my words and to be honest, I feared they might be gone forever….but I found some words today and so here I am, writing again.

: : :

One morning last month I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t physically sick but I hurt all over. I had zero energy. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was in such deep emotional pain that I was literally squirming.

I went to a therapist. And then another therapist. And then group therapy. Finally, my husband insisted I call my psychiatrist. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want that to be my problem. Not again.

Maybe we just needed to sell the house and move to the country! Maybe I just needed to go back to school! Here, I know: MAYBE I NEEDED TO BECOME A NUN.

Nope.

So, I landed in my psychiatrist’s office. He looked at my chart, raised his eyes to mine and asked why I’d gone off my medication three months ago—without consulting him.

I didn’t want to answer that. I wanted to be sick with something else. I wanted to say: Hey, maybe this is diabetes. Or early menopause! Right, doc? That’s a possibility, isn’t it? This can’t be Depression again. I’ve already talked about and written about all my pain! I’m HEALED, see?

But I didn’t say that.

Instead, I looked at my doctor through puffy eyes and said: “I went off my medication because I thought I was all better. I thought I didn’t need them anymore. I thought I was cured.”

And that’s when he told me I probably should be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life.

: : :

Hello darkness, my old friend. You’ve really humbled me this time. I’m done pretending I don’t know you. This time, I’m taking you seriously. I don’t really have a choice, do I? You made sure of that. You took me down so fast and so hard this last time that I’ll never forget how bad it felt. True, I suspected you were coming. I could sort of feel the storm gathering. Of course, I ran away! That’s what I do. I’ve been trying to get away from you ever since the first time you showed up, back when I was just a little girl.

: : :

It took me almost forty years to get my chronic depression properly diagnosed—mainly because I didn’t think Depression was real.

Mental illness is just not something we Christians talked about when I was growing up.We talked about weak faith, doubt and disobedience. We talk about trusting Jesus, writing gratitude journals and praying more as a way to “increase joy.” But we rarely think of mental illness as a real illness. If we did, we wouldn’t advise our depressed friends to just go for a walk and count their blessings.

My family history is rife with mental illness—most of it unacknowledged and undiagnosed. Mental illness isn’t something we talked about in my family until just recently. Now that we’re naming the shadow that’s plagued our family for generations, it’s easy to see how much of it has been here all along.

As soon you name the shadow, suddenly, you start understanding why you had a maternal grandmother who used to lock herself away for days at a time. You begin wondering if your paternal grandmother’s inability to deal with reality was also sourced in mental illness. Remember how she used to be “sick” for months at a time, confined to her bedroom? Remember how she was forever on the brink of death with some inexplicable illness? When you start acknowledging mental illness as part of your family history, suddenly you really want to talk about your grandmother’s sister: you know, The One We Never Talk About. The one who committed suicide.

I’m not blaming my family for not talking about it. I don’t want to talk about it either.

I understand why we keep silent. It scares us.

Mental illness doesn’t feel manageable like other illnesses. There aren’t vaccines. It isn’t curable or predictable. Courses of treatment aren’t standardized. We don’t talk about mental illness because we can’t contain it with words and thereby control it.

Mental illness reminds us too much of our human limitations. It reminds us too much of our powerlessness. It makes us feel helpless and that helplessness is something we can-do-Christian-Americans try to avoid at all costs.

: : :

It’s taken several weeks, but I’m beginning to stabilize on new medication. The worst has passed and I’m feeling a little better each day.

These little white pills don’t magically fix everything. Basically, medication just levels the playing field. It makes getting out of bed possible. I still have to do my part: get enough rest, eat healthy and exercise. Also, I pray. I’m praying more now than I ever have in my whole life.

I’m learning how to take care of myself again. I’ve re-committed to therapy. (Apparently, it’s not enough to just talk about childhood trauma, you also have to process it out of your body). I’ve set some new boundaries—my tendency is to over-work and burn myself out. I can’t do that anymore. My body just won’t let me.

I’m also trying to make amends…because while I was off my medication I hurt some people I love very much. I wasn’t myself and I was making decisions while emotionally compromised. I owe it to myself and to them to get and stay healthy.

Mental illness has become a larger part of my story and since writing is how I process my life, I suppose writing about mental illness is going to become a larger part of this blog.

I hope you’ll stay awhile.

Tom Barrett’s extortion of St. Marcus

Typically, when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett opens his mouth, stupid falls out. Case in point – his never-ending idea to create a 2.5-mile trolley using $65 million in federal transportation funds. Or his brilliant idea to create a gun violence hotline when we have a perfectly functional 9-1-1 system.

However, Barrett’s latest idea is not only stupid, it may possibly be criminal.

Late on Thursday, Barrett decided to shake down St. Marcus School for a cool $1.3 million. He said the “tax” would make it more likely that the city would back the school’s efforts to purchase the vacant Lee Elementary School at 9th and Meinecke, currently owned by the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Really Tom? Did you just ask St. Marcus for a bribe? Did you just make them a “deal that can’t refuse?”

Barrett said the $1.3 million, paid over the next decade, would offset the lost revenue to MPS for the choice students that would attend St. Marcus. He said that Milwaukee taxpayers are disproportionately paying for voucher students and that this would help MPS stay financially afloat.

St. Marcus Superintendent Henry Tyson told the mayor no deal.

Responding to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyson said, “We won’t pay a tax like that because it’s evident that we bring a huge net benefit to city taxpayers,”

St. Marcus posts some of the best tests scores in the city, with a student body made of mostly poor and African-Americans.

Barrett’s idea is seriously flawed. Taxpayers and voters in Wisconsin have whole-heartedly supported school choice and the funding of it with public dollars. We have seen the results, better test scores, lower high school drop-out rates, higher high school graduation rates and as is the case with Hope Christian High School, 3 years of 100 percent of their graduating seniors enrolling in colleges.

In addition, the people who benefit from St. Marcus are already paying a tax for education, which is simply being diverted from the failing Milwaukee Public Schools to a successful choice school. Why should current and potential St. Marcus families be asked to pay another tax?

To make liberals and school choice opponents happy? Definitely no.

So Tom, take you shakedown politics somewhere else and let St. Marcus have that vacant, money pit called Lee Elementary and allow them to offer a decent education to another 750 students in the inner city. In the end, the benefits will be there for Milwaukee with a highly educated workforce and informed citizenry that will increase the city’s tax base.

A peek at my trip to China

Some photos I shot when I traveled to China in 2012.

What Makes St. Marcus Great

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This story first appeared on www.rightwisconsin.com.  

In light of the recent fubar with MPS selling the Malcolm X school campus to a developer for $2.something million and then agreeing to rent it back at $1 million a year, I just wanted to let you know what the commotion is all about.  St. Marcus should have been allowed to buy that school and educate over 900 students who are currently held hostage by the Milwaukee Public Schools.  Here’s a story I did last month following a speech by St. Marcus’ Superintendent Henry Tyson. 

As shared in previous posts, St. Marcus School in Milwaukee is an exceptional Milwaukee Parental Choice school. It regularly scores higher than MPS and other choice or voucher schools on statewide achievement tests and a majority of its students graduate from high school in four years and move onto higher education.

But on Thursday, St. Marcus Superintendent Henry Tyson discussed what exactly makes his school great and why more quality educational seats are needed in our nations urban centers. He also expanded on St. Marcus’ battle with the Milwaukee Public School Board over the purchase of the vacant Malcolm X Academy.

Tyson spoke to an audience at Marquette University as part of the On the Issues series hosted by journalist Mike Gousha.

Tyson didn’t mince words about the focus of the school – Jesus.

“We are mission driven to teach these children that they are children of God through grace alone,” he said. “And that kind of message is reflected in the classroom. When they know they are children of God, they learn they have value. And when they know they personally have value, they start to value others.”

With that mindset, Tyson said students are ready to move from being defensive and aggressive to an attitude of love and respect, which translates into the ability to learn.

While St. Marcus is unapologetically Christian and follows the teachings of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Tyson said there is another focus in the school – no excuses for failure.

“We expect all our students to succeed and to live up to and beyond their potential,” Tyson said. “And we measure that by having all 8th grade graduates ready to excel in high school and graduating within the prescribed four years.”

After tracking graduates for eight years, St. Marcus alumni average a 91 percent graduation rate from high school in four years and another 6 percent graduate from either a GED program or alternative high school. MPS currently has an graduation rate of 62 percent and the state graduates 87 percent of its high school students in four years.

Many school choice naysayers will claim achievement in choice schools and behavior problems are skewed because they don’t have to take special needs students or those students from the worst home situations.

However, six percent, or 50 of St. Marcus’ students are considered special needs with educational or physical disabilities. In addition, 94 percent of students are African-American or Hispanic and are from the most impoverished census tracts in the City of Milwaukee.

To deal with students that come from troubled homes, St. Marcus has instituted some new ideas for the school day. First, the school day is longer, running from 8 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. Second, if a student has a grade point average below 2.0, they have to stay in class until 5 p.m. And for some, with working parents, they stay at school until 9 p.m. enjoying a meal and tutoring until it is time to go home and sleep.

Additionally, St. Marcus holds classes on Saturday mornings and conducts a summer program for four weeks. All this to instill a love of education in both the students and parents and to keep children in school and away from trouble.

The cost for all this? According to Tyson, St. Marcus educates a child for approximately $7,800 per year – including Saturdays, summers and evening programming.

The state’s school voucher program pays $6,500 per student, leaving $1,300 per student to be made up by the school. Not a problem, said Tyson, who credits not-for-profit foundations, community members and the congregation with making up the difference.

On the other side of the ledger, MPS proposed to spend over $14,200 per student during the 2011-12 school year and the state average is $11,774 per student during the same time period.

Tyson also isn’t afraid to put up his students achievement rates on standardized tests, such as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WCKE). But he wants people to make sure they are comparing apples to apples when interpreting the results.

He spoke of the breathless reporting by the local newspaper which stated MPS students scored higher than choice schools on the most recent WKCEs. However, the paper compared all MPS students scores (including middle and upper class students) with the scores of only voucher-using students (those below the income standard at the time) at choice and charter schools. This unfairly skewed the results according to Tyson.

Tyson also addressed a recent article written by MTEA President Bob Peterson asking why taxpayers should pay for an education that teaches religious values that promote homophobia and women-hating. This was Peterson’s description of the doctrine and beliefs of the Wisconsin Synod.

Tyson deflected on the scriptural questions, urging Peterson to sit down with St. Marcus’ pastors to answer those; but he described Peterson’s tactic as missing the point.

“According to the story on the BBC (still Tyson’s preferred choice of news, as he is a Brit) there are more blacks in jail here (on average) than elsewhere in the country,” he said. “This is an education issue, where without an quality education they will either end up dead, in jail or unemployed.”

“There is a raging fire in this city and there are many little fire trucks that are trying to put it out with a quality educational product – St. Marcus, Milwaukee College Prep, Bruce Guadalupe – and Peterson is pushing a small distraction instead of paying attention to the fire.”

“I’m focused on education and I think Mr. Peterson should be too,” Tyson added.

In regards to St. Marcus’ efforts to purchase Malcolm X Academy from MPS, Tyson didn’t mince words – he thinks the “plan” to turn the vacant building into a community center is a smokescreen.

They (MPS) is more concerned with their market share than with providing the quality educational seats for the children of this city,” he said.

WI Legislator calls for tuition freeze, UW System president’s resignation

HAN834_nass_200x160Outraged over the recent fiascos within the UW-System (i.e. UW System Surplus and the UW-Milwaukee response to Palermo Pizza protestors), Rep. Steve Nass is calling on the state’s Joint Finance Committee to remove any new funding for the UW System in the 2013-15 biennial budget

Nass (R-Whitewater) is the Chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee and he is calling on both the Governor and the Legislature to get serious about addressing the administrative crisis within the UW System.

“I’ve heard from many parents and taxpayers boiling mad about the state’s weak response to the defiant actions of the UW System under the leadership of President Kevin Reilly,” Nass said. “I have concluded nothing will change in the system unless the Governor and Legislature utilize the pursestrings power to compel needed leadership reforms.”

Nass’s solution? A proposal that there be an absolute tuition freeze and no new taxpayer funding for the UW System unless Reilly resigns or is removed by the Board of Regents. He added that Governor Walker’s own appointees to the Board are enabling the incompetence of Reilly and other UW-System administrators.

“President Reilly can no longer be blamed on Jim Doyle. His ability to continue damaging the UW system is now the problem of Governor Walker and his appointees to the Board of Regents,” Nass added.

Nass said his vote on the proposed budget will be determined on how the Joint Finance Committee handles this key factor.

UWM closes down Palermo’s Pizza stand after labor protest

When they couldn’t get their way with the National Labor Relations Board, Voces de la Frontera took to the streets, protesting and picketing Milwaukee-based pizza maker Palermo’s for supposed wage, safety and benefit violations.

 

And while it has gone on since last June, on Tuesday the protest moved to the UW-Milwaukee campus, where Voces and students occupied the Palermo’s pizza stand in the school’s union.

 

According to a blog posted on the Hispanic News Network, five students took over the stand around 11 a.m., closing it down. Another 40-50 students joined the protest, chanting “No justice, no pizza” during the lunch hour on the campus.

 

Many of the students who saw the protest assumed it was disgruntled student workers wanting more pay.

 

“If they don’t like the pay, get a job at the Taco Bell stand next to it,” said one female student who did not want her name used.

 

Another student, Walter Wenzel (full disclosure – this is the writer’s son) said it was about time that students protested the fast food stands in the union.

 

“Palermo’s isn’t a socially conscious citizen,” Wenzel said. “And neither is Taco Bell or Burger King or any of them. It’s time for the school to get rid of these bad corporate actors.”

 

Wenzel will get his wish, since UW-M Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jim Hill decided to close Palermo’s stand down through the summer semester. The protest came to an end at 1:15 p.m. when Hill made his decision. He could not be reached for comment regarding his decision.

 

A similar action against Palermo’s was staged at UW-Madison last month, as students took over the interim chancellor’s office in protest against the pizza maker’s products being sold on the campus. The students were taken into custody in Madison and the campus’s chancellor, David Ward, refused to give in to their demands.

 

Voces and disgruntled employees have staged protests at Palermo’s Menomonee Valley manufacturing headquarters and at executive’s homes over the last year after Palermo fired over 50 employees who did not have proper work documentation. The NLRB ruled that Palermo was correct to release the employees and has found no wrong doing on the part of the company.

 

Voces and the employee strikers claim Palermo fired the undocumented workers in retaliation for an attempt to organize a union at the factory. They have also been demanding better wages, safety and more sick time.

 

Palermo’s executives have repeatedly said they would welcome a organizing vote at the plant but that they will not reinstate the undocumented workers.