Archive for September 2013

Help Us Care About Changing Seasons

I wasn’t sure what to expect after I talked to the woman on the phone.  She had an accent I couldn’t quite place.  I had no idea what the agency was like that I was about to visit.

I reached Changing Seasons, and the first thing I saw was a group of people gathered around a table playing Scrabble.  They were sort of huddling over the game; they seemed really into it.  I did a scan of the large room and saw people from end to end, engaged in various activities.  

A woman stood up, leaving the Scrabble game, when she saw me enter the room.  This was Maha, the woman I’d spoken with on the phone.  I learned that she is Egyptian, which explains the unusual accent.  She greeted me warmly and invited me to sit down.
Changing Seasons is a part of Coleman Behavioral Health, which provides behavioral health to adults.  Coleman is funded by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin counties.  Changing Seasons is basically a safe haven where adults can come and socialize with other adults, a place that isn’t the streets where people sell drugs, a place that isn’t the bar, where people get drunk, a place that isn’t the outside world in general, where people are tempted to commit crimes.

I sat down with a few people when I was there, to get their feedback.  Karen Sue said she likes Changing Seasons because it’s a place to come socialize and do a lot of activities.  “I enjoy doing the artwork and playing games.  I love to sing and do karaoke.  I also love to write,” she said.  “I’ve made a lot of new friends, and they’ve supported me in a lot of things.”  She continued, “We’re also having an open house soon, and I’m looking forward to that.  Not a lot of people in the community know about us,” she said.
I then sat down with George, who also said he likes Changing Seasons because it’s a place to socialize.  “I like the people,” he said.  “We’re just a bunch of friends.  It helps my anxiety and gives me a positive attitude, raises my self-esteem,” he said.”  He continued, “It’s a secure place to come.  No harm is gonna come to anybody here.”

When I sat down with Lawrence, he said, “Changing Seasons is somewhere to go.  If this place weren’t here, I’d be doing nothing.  Here I can play pool, play ping pong, just keep busy.”  He went on, “If this place weren’t here, I’d be in jail.  This place keeps me out of trouble; I’m not out fighting or stealing now.”  He said, “It’s a fun place to be and meet people.  I try to come every day.”

Once I sat down with a few of Changing Seasons’ regulars, I talked to Maha about her thoughts.  “People need something like this.  It lessens crimes.  People can come here and eat.  That way if they’re hungry and have no money, they won’t be stealing from a store.”  She also mentioned the open house that is coming up.  “We are doing an open house for donations.  Lots of people don’t know what Changing Seasons is,” she said.  “This place is very much needed.  If we had more money, we would update the bathrooms, paint the walls, get better furniture, and update the kitchen.”  

Before I left, I told Maha that I’d love to volunteer and help with anything they needed.  I was very moved by what I saw at Changing Seasons.  Everyone was so nice and welcoming, and it just made me so happy to see a place like this.  A place where the lost, the lonely, the misplaced, the addicted in recovery, can go.  These are all great people who’ve finally found a place where they belong.  And I want to support it in any way I can.  As Maha stated, more funds are needed to improve Changing Seasons and keep it going.  Keeping it going means that many people are safely inside playing Scrabble, not out on the streets committing crimes.

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is trying to pass a levy which would provide more money, which in turn would help agencies like Changing Seasons.  We care so much about all of the agencies and organizations that the MHRSB funds.  Agencies like Changing Seasons.  If you’re skeptical, I urge you to visit some of of these places and see how much they’re helping the community.  

Please, help us care.

I was sitting in bed, eating my Greek frozen yogurt while surfing the Internet.  Anderson Cooper was on as background noise.  (I need that.)  Something pulled my attention away from Etsy, however, and it was a girl crying on TV.  She wanted everyone to know that her mother was not just a number.  She was a person.  Not a statistic.  She liked Hall and Oates.  She counted bluebirds for a local refuge.  She was months away from retiring.  She would do anything for anyone.

I watched the tears streaming down the girl’s face, thinking about how I was sitting there eating yogurt and aimlessly browsing online, when that girl on my TV…

That girl is real.  

She’s real.  This person has just lost her mom, due to a senseless act of violence, and I’m just watching her.  The same way I watched the Boston bombing survivors on TV.  The same way I watch any tragedy unfold.

I have never experienced the level of grief this girl must be going through.  I can’t even begin to understand it.  And something about watching this particular outpouring of grief on national TV suddenly struck me.  

Another mass shooting in this country.  Another time to ask, “Why?” and interview bystanders.  Another chance to broadcast the heartache of people who are strangers to us.  At this point, the mass shooting sprees seem to happen on a weekly basis; there are so many.  It’s hard to keep track of them anymore.  Not even shootings.  Sometimes bombings, like Boston.  Acts of violence.  But have we started to view it as if it were a movie?  Have we all become completely desensitized?  

I believe we have, at least to a degree.  I’m sure I have, and I don’t watch violent movies or TV shows.  The thing is, though, instead of always trying to put the pieces together after the tragedy’s happened, why aren’t we doing more to prevent it from happening in the first place?

This time it happened at the Washington Navy Yard.  Aaron Alexis killed twelve people.  Twelve people.  Twelve people.  Twelve people.  Let it sink in for a second.  Think about it.  Think of the twelve people you love most, and imagine if they had been the victims.  

Twelve people.

It’s not fair.  It’s not right, and it’s not fair.  Unfortunately, it’s already happened, so there’s nothing that can be done to prevent heartache in this case. Yet we should be learning from these acts of violence.  What always comes out as soon as the gunman, or bomber, or bad guy is identified?

Mental.  Illness.

It always goes back to that.  How was the person’s psychological health?  It’s already coming out that Aaron Alexis was mentally ill.  I realize hindsight is 20/20, but could more have been done?

Were the signs there and ignored?

Of course, it would be impossible to prevent everyone from committing violent acts.  Other factors besides mental health come into play, and many people can hide their symptoms.  I do think, however, that we can do more to help those who are in need of mental health services.

In this area we have the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties.  The MHRSB provides funding for several services.  The Coleman Center treats adults for mental health issues and also provides drug and alcohol treatment.  The Family Resource Centers help children and youth with mental health issues, offer drug and alcohol treatment, and do school outreach programs.  PVFF specializes in prevention programs for safe kids and communities.  UMADAOP offers alcohol and drug treatment and intervention.  SAFY focuses on youth and adult mental health and alcohol and drug treatment, and also does school outreach programs.

While we can’t prevent the tragedy from happening in Washington, we could possibly prevent one from happening here.  We can all do our own part in helping to create a dialogue about mental illness.  We can help erase the stigma.  We can help refer someone for treatment before a tragedy happens.

We can help keep grief-stricken, crying daughters off the news.

A Survivor's Story

She thinks of him every day.  There isn’t a day that he doesn’t enter her mind.  Some days, he’s all she thinks about. 

September is Suicide Prevention month, dedicated to drawing awareness to a very prominent and prevalent issue in our society.  More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.  Locally, in 2012 there were 18 suicides in Allen County, 3 in Hardin County, and 4 in Auglaize County.

Valerie Coffey lives in Wapakoneta.  Six years ago, her17-year-old son, Scott, died by suicide. He had multiple mental health diagnoses, and still it seemed that doctors never quite got it right. Scott had been involved in several situations at school and with the law, earning himself the reputation as a troublemaker.  In reality, he was a teenager who was misunderstood.  He was unable to perform to the standards people were placing on him, and he didn’t always realize how he was coming across.  He was being construed as being bad, or a criminal, when in actuality he was simply hurting inside.

“It became exhausting for all of us; we didn’t know what to do with him or the system anymore.  Everything seemed like it was broken,” said Coffey.  The year before he died, however, he started going to Apollo Career Center in Lima.  “It seemed like everything had changed.  He could be a college student, something we thought could never happen,” Coffey said.

Scott had a car accident a couple months before he died.  He suffered a head injury from the accident, which left him with some frustrating difficulties with his thinking.  He then was involved in an incident that got him into trouble with law enforcement again. He was afraid he would end up going to jail, or losing his license, or being on probation.  He was afraid.  Scott was also having some issues with his girlfriend. He had a big change in his meds four days before he died.

The morning of his death, Scott crashed a guy’s motorcycle.  He was afraid of the consequences there, too.  It was, as Coffey described, a “perfect storm,” and he didn’t know how to get out. That night, Scott’s girlfriend called, wondering where he was. Coffey looked in his room, and he wasn’t there. There was worry in Scott’s girlfriend’s voice when she said, “You better look for him.  Something’s wrong.” 

Scott’s mom finally found him behind the fence in their backyard. She then saw that he had a shotgun.  “He said, ‘You can come back; I won’t hurt you.’ We talked for 15 or 20 minutes. I Hoped things would de-escalate. I just couldn’t seem to talk him down from the place he was.”  Coffey said that in retrospect she should have called 911, but she didn’t know what to do. 

Just then Scott’s girlfriend and her grandmother showed up.  “We tried to tell him people loved him, that he was loved, that nothing in life was big enough to do this…”  Scott’s phone rang and it was the boy he’d borrowed the shotgun from. “Scott started saying, ‘You have to go,’ and I was thinking that no one would do this in front of someone.  We were pleading with him,” Coffey said.  “I was afraid for him, and for us,” Coffey said.  “I started backing up, and Scott’s girlfriend and her grandmother ran away. I dialed 911.”
The second the dispatcher asked what the emergency was, the gun went off.

Everything just stopped for a second, time just stopped.  Stood still. “It was like slow motion, everything is not in real time, but it is,” Coffey said.

“ I feel like I never stopped feeing sorry for his situation. It was so pitiful that he felt like he had nothing else to do. He was just afraid it would be more trouble, more misunderstanding, more misdiagnoses. His hope was just shot. He just couldn’t do it anymore,” Coffey said.   “You just look back and wonder…he had some suicide talk, but it was just like teenage talk.”

“No matter how benign it may seem…when people talk about hating their lives, to them, they think this will never end,” Coffey said. “You have to ask those questions.  Do you want to hurt yourself? Are you thinking about killing yourself? Do you have a plan?”

After Coffey went through the loss of her son and the PTSD that she’s experienced as a result, she feels that she has to share her experience with people who hopefully don’t have to go through the same thing, and people who have gone through the same thing, to know we’re not alone. 

“It doesn’t necessarily get better. It gets different,” she said. “You learn to cope. There are gifts in tragedy. You figure it out and you get the tools.  It helps to have a community who embraces your loss as if it’s their loss. I want to be an understanding, compassionate, empathetic person and point people in the direction of where they can get hope. Families are so devastated by this but they can’t really support each other, even if it’s the same family member. You had different relationships with that person. You’re all having such a rough time yourselves; it helps to have someone who’s not in the inner circle.” 

That’s why events like the Suicide Walk, to support survivors, are so important.  Coffey is a regular attendee of the Walk and said that, “We all really found that doing something together as a unit and everybody who was there for that same purpose was really helpful. We do some grieving by ourselves, and do some collectively. It’s a good outward showing to the community that might make people stop and think a little bit. It makes people think about what the situation is.”

The Mental Health Recovery and Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin counties provides funding for several programs and agencies such as PVFF.  PVFF is a part of the annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk, which is on September 28 this year, from ten until noon.  It begins at the We Care Crisis Center, located at 799 South Main Street in Lima, and goes to the Square and back.  It ends with a memorial service and balloon release to honor those who have died.

Because she will never stop thinking of him.

Mental Illness in Children

“The middle one scares me.”

This is what Ryan said to me when we sat down to talk about his mental illness, and his suspicion of his child’s mental illness.
“I believe what I have is passed from my mother – she has nine brothers and sisters – four are bipolar, counting her.  Three of my cousins killed themselves; they were also bipolar.”  Ryan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 12, the same age he was when he tried to commit suicide.  He said it “got swept under the rug” within his family when he tried to kill himself, and that his mom is in denial about her own disorder.

He has now learned about his mental illness so he can handle it while living life and raising a family.  “I’ve enlightened myself on my disorder, my triggers.  Knowledge is everything.”
Ryan said he is just now noticing signs of mental illness in his middle daughter, who is now 12, the age that “it all fell apart” for him.

“I can definitely see it in her,” he said.  “The highs, the lows.  The cloud that follows her.  She’s a dark child.  She’s not very social, she’s depressed a lot.  And then she’ll be really happy for a while.  It’s extreme behavior.”  Ryan said he’s been around kids his entire life, and that he knows his daughter is “just not normal.”  He said, “I can see it.  She’s so much like me, it’s crazy.”

There are various warning signs to look for in children when it comes to mental illness.  According to the Mayo Clinic, you should watch for mood changes, like feelings of sadness that last for at least two weeks.  Also look for severe mood swings that cause problems at home or school.  Intense feelings, like overwhelming fear or worry that interferes with day-to-day living should be seen as a warning sign.  Rapid breathing or a racing heartbeat can accompany these feelings.  Children who exhibit a difficulty concentrating or who have a hard time focusing and sitting still when they should be, could be showing signs that mental illness is present.  Changes in behavior or personality could also denote a mental illness in a child.

While these are only a few of the signs to look for, if you’re concerned that your child might have a mental illness, what matters is that you start somewhere.  It’s important to identify if there is any mental illness in order to help the child cope and receive treatment.

Ryan said he and his whole family are going to start going to family counseling.  “After my last episode, I sat them down and told them I’m bipolar, this is what it is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”  Ryan continued, “They asked some questions, but I think they pretty much know.  It was almost a relief for them, I think.  It opened up some things that we’ve talked about since.”  As for his specific fear for his middle daughter, Ryan said, “I’m doing my best to try to make things easy for her.  I talk to her a lot and try to do what I wish people did for me when I was her age.”

To learn more about how to detect mental illness and substance abuse in children, you can register for the free summit hosted by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties.  The summit is on September 26 and will be at the Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in Lima.  You can learn more about the summit and register at

I Love/Hate Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg has both greatly enriched - and ruined - my life.

Facebook is one of my addictions. It’s no secret to anyone. It’s awesome to stay in touch with high school and college friends who I never would otherwise. I enjoy seeing what people are up to, what they ended up doing with their lives, what their children look like. I also love to write, and I love to make people laugh. So it’s perfect for me.


I love Facebook. And I hate Facebook. As much as it has the power to elevate my mood, it has the same power to crush it. It makes me feel good to entertain people. I’m sarcastic in my everyday life, and I just update Facebook the way I talk. I’d prefer to be with friends in person, having a conversation, but since that’s not feasible with our busy lives, jobs, and kids, a social network will have to do. So I’ve become addicted. It’s hard for me to ignore a notification. I want to respond to it. Right away. And then they keep coming, and coming…

I’m a people pleaser. I wish I weren’t. I’ve been trying to change this my whole life. I want everyone to like me. Logically, I know that’s not possible. Not everyone likes Oprah, and I can’t even fathom that. So I should know not everyone is going to like me. I mean, I’m not giving away cars or Uggs for no reason at all.

I feel good about every “like” or positive comment I get on a status update. It gives me a rush, which fuels the addiction. At the same time, when something “bad” happens, like I notice a friend has deleted me, I feel like a knife has been shoved through my heart.

 Not so much when it’s someone I didn’t know too well, but definitely when it’s a person who I’d considered a real friend.
I’ve been told Facebook isn’t “real life,” but I don’t know what that means. My updates are things that I’d actually say, which is part of my personality and who I am, so to me, a person deleting me is his or her way of saying he or she doesn’t like me. I know I’m overly sensitive. I am. I take everything personally.

I know part of this mindset comes from being bipolar, which has been described as “having no skin.” So everything hurts me. When I’m manic, I update Facebook. A lot. It’s like I can’t stop. I used to drink. I used to smoke. Now I write little snippets detailing stuff my kids say or observations about random happenings throughout the day. I’m sure I annoy people. I know I must take up some people’s entire newsfeed. Still…

I can’t stop.

I’ve taken breaks. It’s hard. Every time I get a thought in my head that I think is funny or clever, it’s like I’m bursting at the seams to let it out. I’m not sure why. But on the upside, at least this addiction isn’t destroying my lungs or liver.

What I’d really like to do is get a hold on my addictive personality. It’s always been there. If I could manage it better, maybe I could relax and not feel as strong of an urge to update this social network as often as I do. Maybe I could begin to learn that not everyone likes me, and that’s okay. Maybe. Or maybe I should start Facebookers Anonymous. Yeah. 

I’m gonna go make an update about that.

About Me

I have an MA in literature from Eastern Michigan University and I write a couple of regular columns for The Delphos Herald. I am the mother of two young girls, and the wife of a firefighter. I am also bipolar (with generalized anxiety disorder) which somewhat accounts for my occupied mind. I rely on sarcasm the way others rely on oxygen.
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