Monday, June 29, 2009

Misadventures in Clothsline Hanging

I decided recently to return to the tradition I learned from both my grandparents and, for a few years, my parents, of hanging washed clothes on the clothesline during the summer. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, there was really no point trying to use the clothesline in the spring, fall or winter. It used to rain a lot during those seasons.

Currently, I live in Minnesota and, though moderated, our winters are still long and below freezing. I can imagine the protest I would get from my family for freezing the laundry. But now it is warm and sunny most of the time, a perfect time to begin utilizing the natural, clean energy sources of wind and solar power to cut down on my electric bill, and perhaps help out a tiny bit in the global problem of excessive CO2 emissions.

So I loaded up the kids in the car and headed to one of those home and garden megastores. Having made it through the parking lot safely with the kids, and through the first temper tantrum when my youngest saw the only available car-shopping cart hybrid so popular among the under 3 years demographic, snatched up by another mother/child duo, we were in the store. I asked for help locating the detractable clotheslines I saw on-line and was so impressed by. Just think of the convience, I could pull it across the yard when there was laundry and detract the ugle thing into a tiny eye nuisance descretely screwed into the side of the garage when the laundry was done.

I found what I was looking for, but instantly became suspicious. It was a plastic number made in China. I was recently burned after purchasing a couple very simple contraptions for around the house that broke within weeks. These products became just more plastic garbage after their brief lives that included being manufactured thousands of miles away, shipped using huge amounts of petro products, finally to arrive in my home, where they were of use for a profoundly brief moment then shipped off to their final resting places for something like an eternity. Screw that.

I bought instead a length of rope and some wooden clothspins, leaving the store with five dollars worth of materials that will likely be with me to my dying day and hopefully not too long afterward.

Once home my kids watched with wonder then anticipation, "What is she doing and do I get some of that rope to play with?" It took a few minutes to put up the clothesline and the extra length of rope I lent them to play with until such a time as I need it for another clothesline or to tie one of my cats to the ski rack on my car (kidding).

I washed a load in my washer in cold and was actually excited about hanging the laundry. It was a sweltering hot day and I expected to be able to get all the laundry washed and dried in a few hours. I pinned the laundry to the line and took off with the family for a couple hours on an outing. We got back tired and cheerful. I quickly unpinned the laundry and dropped it in the basket.

That night we had a terrific storm which dumped inches of much needed rainwater. I enjoyed the stormy weather and slept comfortably. The next morning I looked outside at my new clothesline while sipping coffee and generally feeling optimistic about my new environmentally-conscious choices. And then I noticed it, the laundry basket with a day's worth of wash sitting atop a soaking lawn, uncovered.

I later mentioned the fiasco to my sister who noted that it is a challenging thing indeed to change one's habit. How right. Next time I'll remember to bring the laundry in from the rain.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Awake now, it is time again"

I enjoyed the Bill Moyers interview with poet W.S. Merwin aired last night on PBS. One of the quotes read from Merwin's poetry was the one above, "Awake now, it is time again." This was a line in a poem about, in part, the ancient tradition in Macedonia of women singing the land awake again after a long winter.

This line resonated very deeply with me as being an expression of such ancient intelligence. These women called out what they knew, that they were a part of this natural world, and all that was in it began again anew.

Although I love the big ideas, it occurs to me that I need to live the small ones. Moyers and Merwin talked in the interview about tossing and turning at night awake with the terrible knowing of the world they leave behind them. Moyers in particular spoke about being haunted by the thought of his grandchildren inheriting a terrific mess.

Of the multitude messes, one is most immediate: the degradation of our environment. Being married to a biologist, I am continually aware of the burgeoning research. Having lived in the far north for a few years and still having friends there, I hear of the climactic changes so obvious to them and predicted decades ago by the scientific modeling of the greenhouse effect. I know that our industrial complex has reached a level of interaction with our ecological systems where a recursive cycle is under way and is gaining momentum.

If all industrial pollutants were to stop being added into the system today, the effects of what we have already done would continue for generations. To continue as we are is expediting the process and making a solution less likely. We're shutting our life support system off on ourselves.

Folly. Human folly is so well known throughout the entirety of recorded human history and one assumes, as long as humans have walked upright, we cannot hope to escape it entirely. But this particular folly could pull the curtain on us entirely. Human drama cannot continue without the Good Earth as stage.

There may or may not be big answers to this mess. But there are small answers everywhere. It is a matter of the very mundane, the way in which we live. I am in the process of remembering what I knew as a child, what I was taught by my grandparents. I am learning to see my small yard as a solution to the problems of my lifestyle. I am researching ways I can reduce the impact my family is having on the environment within our economic realities.

I have begun with modest projects. I'll write about this ongoing process of relearning how to be in the world in a more careful and sustainable way. Please, anyone reading this with simple ideas on how to better align our lifestyles with ecological realities, respond to my blog. Changing lifestyles is no easy matter. It will take inspiration and commitment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Need for Long Term Care of Mentally Ill Unmet for Decades

Having worked with people living with serious mental illness for several years, I have seen the sad cycle many of their lives rotate through. During times of severe impairment due to psychotic episodes, severe depression, and/or extreme substance abuse, people with chronic mental illness will often find assistance in local hospitals. The staff will help them get stabilized on medications and sober then send them to outpatient programs that often are short of duration. Within weeks or months, many will be suffering again with serious symptoms and unable to care for themselves or make good decisions.

I first worked with the children of people with serious mental health and substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, many people who are unable to care for themselves have children that they cannot take care of either. Many of these children end up in the truly unhappy and often utterly dysfunctional child welfare system. I have seen families where the children of mentally ill people grow up and suffer with mental illness and themselves have children who are put into the foster care system. It's a devastating cycle for those in it and can be deeply saddening for those professionals who work with the families.

It is a system of perfect madness.

During the 1980s, under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, state run institutions lost federal funding and the hospitals that provided long term care for mentally ill people went by the wayside. Community programs were supposed to take their place and provide less restrictive environments so that people with mental illness could interact with the community. Unfortunately, this variation on the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" theme has failed to address the serious needs of millions of people. Many of the people who previously lived in state facilities are now basically homeless. This situation presents many dangers both for people with mental illness, and often to family and community members when some of these people become violent.

We need a system like whole cloth that sanely addresses the needs of people with mental illness. For those most afflicted, on-going, life-long care is simply needed. Finding funding for this kind of care is a tough task, especially right now. The U.S. systems for resource distribution aren't even managing to get basic health care to millions of children, let alone sophisticated mental health care to the chronically mentally ill. We have such a distance to go back towards our humanity when it comes to the care of our most vulnerable.

But I argue that the emergency only care many people with mental illness receive is extremely costly as well. One of my current patients is in a facility that costs thousands of dollars a day and is designed for acute, short-term care. Unable to find appropriate housing, he's been at our unit for weeks. As with anything else, failure to plan often ends up more costly in the end.

Our nation needs determined leadership in the field of psychiatric care.There are highly effective and economical systems being developed to address the needs of the nation's very large elderly population. Perhaps we in the mental health field could borrow some of these ideas.

Having facilities that can address a spectrum of functioning levels as they have in retirement communities could work. People in these communities have options for fully independent living through end of life care in one facility. A comparable facility for people with mental illness could function similarly except people may be able to live in different sections at different times during their illness. For example, people stable on their meds could live in less restrictive environments, but people whose symptoms become more severe or who abuse substances are moved to more restrictive environments.

Innovative answers are out there. This, like the other issues that need to be addressed in our country, requires great will to support follow through.