Armenia, healthcare, law, mental health

The Peace Corps is being sued over mental health policies…

The featured photo is the public domain version of the Peace Corps logo that existed when I was a Volunteer. It has since been updated, unlike the Peace Corps’ mental healthcare policies. 😉

Friday, at last! I’ve been waiting for today all week, because it means that tomorrow, we’re out of here for about ten days. I’ve been eagerly awaiting our trip for some weeks now, even though the first three nights of it will be in Germany because it’s time to see the dentist. I don’t love going to the dentist, but I don’t hate it, either. At least my teeth get nice and clean.

Facebook is telling me that we went to the dentist at this time last year, too. But last year, we stayed at a luxury hotel in Baiersbronn, which is a very pretty town in the Black Forest. I remember being stressed, because Arran was newly diagnosed with lymphoma, and I was afraid he might decompensate while we were gone. But he pulled through fine, and afterwards, we started his chemo, which gave him another five months with us. That might not seem like a significant success, but five months is a long time to a dog. And it meant that when the end of Arran’s life finally came in March, we could both be there for him. He also made it very clear to us that he wanted to live.

I think our time in Czechia is going to be great fun. The hotels we’ve booked have all contacted us with final details. I hope we find lots of art, and I’m able to take plenty of photos. The Cannstatter Volksfest is also going on right now. I just tried on my Dirndl, and I can still get into it. But I don’t think I’m going to bring it with me, because it really needs to be dry cleaned. Also, I think Bill and I are probably too old and crotchety for Wasen, even though we usually go on Sunday afternoons, when it’s not so crowded. Maybe we’ll go to Ludwigsburg instead, and see some huge pumpkins. We always seem to miss the pumpkin festival.

Yesterday, I noticed an article in The New York Times (temporarily unlocked) about the Peace Corps being sued over their mental health policies. Regular readers might remember that I served as a Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia for the Peace Corps from 1995 until 1997. Things have clearly changed a lot since my days as a Volunteer. In my day, you didn’t get your invitation to serve until you’d successfully passed the legal and medical clearances. From reading up on this lawsuit, I gather that prospective Volunteers can now get invited before they finish medical screenings. This policy is causing problems for a lot of people, hence the lawsuit.

It’s not that simple, folks.

According to the article in The New York Times, a group of three people, whose placement offers were rescinded over mental health treatment, have decided to sue the agency. They accuse the Peace Corps of “discriminating against applicants with disabilities in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination in programs receiving federal funds.” Further from the article:

The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, includes accounts from nine people whose Peace Corps invitations were rescinded for mental health reasons. The suit alleges that those decisions were made without considering reasonable accommodations or making individualized assessments based on current medical knowledge.

I was interested in this story because when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I totally suffered from clinical depression and anxiety. I did not get treatment for it until about a year after I left Armenia. In my case, depression and anxiety were chronic parts of my life that were so normal to me that I didn’t realize I was suffering as much as I had been for most of my life. It got pretty bad in 1998, when I was feeling really hopeless and worthless. Some of it was because of my service, but most of it had to do with genetics and having to live with my parents while I picked up my life.

Mental health treatment was a lifesaver and a game changer for me. It was a huge shock to me when we finally found the right antidepressant and I started feeling “normal”, for the first time. I stopped crying and hyperventilating at the drop of a hat. I stopped feeling worthless and hopeless. Indeed, four days after I took my first dose of Wellbutrin, I decided to go to graduate school, and I started taking decisive steps to make it happen. Within a few months, I had offers of admission to two universities.

I quit taking antidepressants in 2004. For the most part, I don’t miss taking them, although I gained weight when I got off of the drugs. I have been pretty stable, mentally speaking, for a long time. I’ve managed to finish two master’s degrees, and am about to celebrate 21 years of marriage to a great guy who treats me like gold.

However, after reading the article in the New York Times, as well as some anecdotes from other former Volunteers and applicants, I feel pretty sure that I would fail the medical part if I decided to reapply to the Peace Corps today, even though mentally, I’m a lot more stable. I am also a hell of lot more mature and experienced today, than I was in 1995. I’m sure I would be a better Volunteer today, in spite of my mental health treatment history.

I would probably fail the medical clearance due to having a history of mental health treatment, but I might also fail it for physical reasons. They gave me a lot of grief in 1995 because of my weight, which was less then than it is today. After sending me a nastygram about my weight, they did ultimately let me serve. I didn’t have any serious medical problems to speak of during those two years, nor have I had any in the 26 years following my service. I’ve also seen photos of recent Volunteers and it looks to me like maybe they’ve backed off somewhat from weight standards. Some of the people serving today are clearly bigger than I was in 1995.

The comments on this story are pretty divided. Quite a lot of people, including former Volunteers, think the Peace Corps should be very selective about allowing people with mental health histories to serve. They point to the fact that Volunteers are sent all over the world, and a lot of the countries they go to have very primitive healthcare facilities that can take hours to get to by public transportation. I got that.

However, I also know, from my own personal experience, that not every Volunteer lives in a jungle or a mud hut, nor are they all isolated from each other. Accommodations of all kinds vary widely in the countries where the Peace Corps serves. While certainly not every place has cell phone or Internet access, quite a lot of countries do have those technologies today. That can make treatment more feasible for Volunteers who need counseling. And in other countries, there’s really nothing easily available… so those places should get the healthiest Volunteers. Common sense, you see…

Armenia, where I served, was considered a “hardship” post in the 1990s. In those days, it really was a “true” Peace Corps location, although it wasn’t like the experiences someone might have in Africa or South America. Every country has its challenges, though… and some locations are tougher or more austere than others are. Armenia still has a Peace Corps program, although Volunteers don’t serve in the capital anymore. I was based in the capital, where I could get help somewhat easily if I needed it. I mean, I couldn’t even call someone across the street with my rotary dial phone, but I could easily walk or take a bus to the Peace Corps office. Armenia is the size of Maryland. If I’d been in a much larger country, it would have been a different story.

Granted, the Peace Corps is a vastly underfunded agency. Even though I know firsthand how valuable the work is, and how it helps foster trust and relations between US citizens and host country nationals, most Americans have no idea. I noticed a lot of people who clearly knew nothing about the Peace Corps opining on the article. A couple of people were bold enough to state that the Peace Corps is a waste of money, since the US shouldn’t be trying to “save the world”. They don’t understand that the Peace Corps has three goals:

I talk about Armenia all the time. I even spoke to one of Bill’s colleagues about Armenia recently, to help her understand the country that our military is now being tasked to help. I’ve also talked to school kids as well as people in the community about my service. And God knows I’ve written a lot about about it. I truly can’t say my time in Armenia was wasted. In fact, it changed my life and my perspective.

I do think it’s prudent to screen potential Volunteers for health issues of all kinds. I also agree that serving in the Peace Corps is a privilege and an honor, and not a right to all US tax paying comers. BUT… I also know that any agency affiliated with the US government, including the military, has very antiquated policies regarding mental healthcare. And I think that ought to change. I think it will HAVE to change, because there’s been a lot of work done to destigmatize accessing mental healthcare in the United States. More people than ever are seeking services to treat minor mental health crises.

In 2007, when Bill was deployed to Iraq, I did a supposedly mandatory Exceptional Family Member Program screening (EFMP) because we were going to move to Germany. I was forced to join EFMP– a program that is supposed to allow commands to consider the “special” needs of family members before sending them to certain assignments. I remember being really upset about that situation, since the doctor who screened me said I could suffer mental health issues in Germany, as Bill could go “downrange” (and he was already downrange when I spoke to her). Then she said there was a shortage of mental health professionals in some areas. Duh… I have a master’s degree in social work. I could have gotten licensed and they could have hired me! I would have just needed to pass an exam and pay a fee. I wasn’t some 19 year old bride, with no experience or ability to take care of myself. But that is how I was treated.

In my case, the military’s EFMP screening was utter bullshit, and in the end, it wasn’t even a problem for us. The National Guard didn’t care about my history of depression, and they’d already cut Bill’s orders for Germany before I even got the screening (that wasn’t supposed to happen). It was a waste of time. I totally could have skipped the whole fucking thing, which really pissed me off. I felt like I was being punished for doing the responsible thing and getting help for my depression and anxiety, and then being honest about it for the EFMP screening. I can see by comments left on the article that people affected by Peace Corps’ mental health policy feel similarly.

It’s not a small ordeal to apply for Peace Corps service. In my case, the whole process took less than three months, but that was only because I applied in the 90s. There were a lot more slots to fill at that time, as eastern Europe and many former Soviet countries offered chances to serve. In my day, people were getting invited to countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, both eastern and western Russia, and the like. A lot of those programs have since closed, which means there aren’t as many programs that need Volunteers. That means it can take a lot longer for a person to be accepted and sent off somewhere.

But consider that there’s a lengthy application and interview, you have to have references– I think it’s three now, but it was six when I was a Volunteer– and you have to clear legal and medical. The medical exam is very thorough and arduous. I was fortunate enough to get mine at a military treatment facility /sarcasm, although at least it was provided free of charge! If you don’t have health insurance or the money to pay for the physical and dental screening, it can get pretty pricey. I also remember having to go to the county jail in my Virginia hometown of Gloucester and get fingerprinted. That was an experience!

Peace Corps staff members now apparently send invitations to applicants before they’ve passed all of the qualifications, which means that offers get rescinded after people have told their friends and families, sold or given away their possessions, quit their jobs, given up their housing, and made other life altering decisions. Consider also that many people who serve in the Peace Corps often tend to be high achievers, and having an offer rescinded can be personally devastating to them. The rejection, in and of itself, can cause mental health issues.

I read that this new policy of inviting people who aren’t completely cleared came about in 2012 or so, also because of the Rehabilitation Act. I’ve also read that the policy changed because Peace Corps is “competing” with graduate programs and jobs, so they have to make these offers before the applicants decide to go to graduate school or take a paid position. I suppose there could be some truth to that explanation, too.

Anyway… given what has happened in the world since 2020, I can’t imagine that the Peace Corps can continue this practice of screening out people who have sought mental health treatment. I have read that some people were successful in appealing decisions to rescind offers, although it doesn’t seem to be the norm. But– today’s youth have had to deal with a whole host of shit that my generation didn’t have to deal with– from 9/11, to school shootings, to two wars and terrorism, to COVID-19– they have really been through some tough stuff. They have also come of age at a time when people are being encouraged to seek mental health care if they need it. I think the Peace Corps will find that the pool of applicants with no documented mental health history whatsoever will eventually become very scarce.

Bwahahahaha… when I was a Volunteer, we were all issued a copy of this book. It was pretty useless in Armenia.

I do wish the plaintiffs luck with their lawsuit. It’s not because I think the Peace Corps should be sending anyone and everyone out into remote areas “where there is no doctor” (heh heh hehe… IYKYK). I just think the Peace Corps– like the US military– need to reevaluate their policies regarding mental health treatment. There’s a big difference between someone who gets counseling for situational depression and takes medication for awhile, and someone who is bipolar, has a serious eating disorder, is an alcoholic, or has schizophrenia (and some of those people do manage to slip into service, anyway). They shouldn’t punish people for being honest in their medical screenings, nor should people who do the mature thing and ask for help be penalized for taking care of themselves. And for Christ’s sakes, go back to offering invitations to service AFTER the applicant has jumped through all the hoops, so they don’t uproot their entire lives for NOTHING!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Not a day passes that I don’t think of my time in Armenia and how much it changed my life, opened my eyes to the world, and altered my perspectives. I was not one who dreamt my whole life of serving in the Peace Corps, but I’m so grateful I did. I would have really hated to have missed that opportunity simply because I very responsibly sought mental healthcare for depression and anxiety before my service, instead of afterwards.

And I dare say the people I served in Armenia would have missed out on knowing me, too… a few of them even liked me. 😉 I look forward to seeing them soon.

Well, that about does it for today. Time to get on with my Friday. Have a good one, folks.

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Duggars, law, mental health, money, narcissists, Reality TV, YouTube

No amount of money is worth your dignity and self-respect…

Happy hump day, y’all. I wasn’t planning to write about the Duggars again today, but I saw Katie Joy’s recent video about fallout in the Duggar Family over Jill Duggar’s book. You can read my review of Counting the Cost by clicking here. I wanted to add a few of my own thoughts about what allegedly went down in the Duggar compound regarding Jill’s “bombshell” book. But first, here’s a link to Katie Joy’s video, from her channel, Without a Crystal Ball.

I don’t know how much of this information is 100 percent accurate, although based on Jim Bob’s long established behaviors, I have a feeling there’s probably a lot of truth to this report…

Jim Bob Duggar has gone through quite a tough few years. Less than a decade ago, he was seemingly on top of the world, with a successful reality TV show and huge brood of camera ready children who were ripe for marriage and starting their own families. Yes, people criticized him, and his way of life. But he was making a lot of money on the show and the many rental properties it enabled him to buy, rent out, or fix up and sell.

Of course, it turned out Jim Bob’s seemingly squeaky clean Christian kingdom was built on a swamp full of the worst kinds of sins and lies. Once the stench from the swamp leaked out from under his Tinkertoy Mansion in Tontitown, the kingdom started to crumble. With every passing year since that day in May 2015, when the world learned about what Josh did in 2002, things seem to have gotten worse for Jim Bob. And now, if we’re to believe Katie Joy’s reporting– which I know some people don’t– it looks like Jim Bob is starting to panic. He’s allegedly resorting to threats and harassment to keep his massive family in line.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think Jim Bob is much of a Christian. I say that, even as I admit that I’m also not much of a Christian. Everything I ever learned about Christ painted him as an endlessly kind, humane, loving, gentle, decent, and service oriented person. Jesus Christ was not the type of person who aspired to be rich, powerful, or in control of anyone. He preached goodness, service, and kindness. And everything I’ve seen and read about Jim Bob makes me think that when he does do anything for anyone, it comes with many strings attached. Most of the “Christian” behavior I see from him is very much about image. It’s all surface oriented stuff designed to deceive.

I don’t know how accurate Katie Joy’s comments are regarding Jim Bob’s reactions to Jill’s book. However, based on what Jill wrote in her book– and I do believe her— I have a feeling that Jim Bob has threatened his children. According to Katie Joy’s video, posted above, Jim Bob has told his children that if any of them comment about Jill’s book or support it, he will disinherit them. And since Jill’s book dropped, there have been a couple of videos put out by Jessa Seewald and Joy Anna Forsyth, seemingly to distract the public from their sister’s book. They address some of the things Jill claimed in the book, such as the ban on dancing, the focus on the IBLP, and Jim Bob’s hoarding of monetary resources.

In the most recent videos by Joy Anna, her daughter, Evelyn, is shown dancing with joy with her brother, Gideon. She also said that she and her husband, and their children, are out of the IBLP. I don’t know if they are or not, although the IBLP is more of a belief system than a specific church. I also notice that they use music that has a drum beat. This was something Jill stated that was not allowed in their house when they were growing up. I see she has her kids in swimming lessons, and the older boy, Gideon, is swimming in normal trunks rather than “Wholesome Wear”. I like Joy Anna. She has a beautiful family, and she’s always seemed pretty normal to me, as Duggars go.

The day before Jill’s book came out, Jessa and Ben announced their fifth child is on the way. I like Jessa, too… She also has a beautiful family. At the end of their most recent video, they are shown on vacation in Florida, as they leave their kids with Michelle for a few days. I see Jessa and Jana are wearing pants, and Jessa is on the beach, not wearing a regular bathing suit, but not wearing Wholesome Wear, as they famously did when the reality show was on television.

So all of this seems to be making it seem like the Duggars are more “normal” now, and Jill’s book was exaggerating how things were when they were growing up. Except there’s a literal video history of how the Duggars did things. Yes, it was well edited, scripted, and whitewashed, but it’s still out there. And we’ve seen how Jim Bob acted when Josh was in court. He actually had the audacity to try to tell the judge what to do when he was testifying. According to the link:

According to People, when Jim Bob was asked to read the police report, he called it “tabloid information” and said to Judge Timothy L. Brooks, “I’m not going to allow it, are you going to allow for that?”

Apparently, the judge didn’t take too kindly to that, because he replied, “If there is [an] objection to be made, someone will make it but it won’t be you.”

That’s just one relatively recent example of Jim Bob trying to be in charge when it wasn’t appropriate for him to try to be in charge. And it’s pretty common knowledge that it comes to his children and grandchildren, Jim Bob believes that he is the Grand Poobah of all things. The idea of disinheriting one’s adult children when they behave in a displeasing way is certainly nothing new. I used to read a lot of “exMormon lit” and I’ve followed the Recovery from Mormonism message board for many years. I’ve read countless stories of people disinheriting and/or disowning their children over their decisions to leave the religion or do something that isn’t pleasing to their parents. So it certainly is within the realm of possibility that Jim Bob has told his children they’d better stay in line, or he’ll cut them off financially and disown them.

In fact, Jill even brings this up in her book:

Yes, we allotted, at different times, amounts to our children, for tax purposes, because each one of our children were benefiting from having all of their needs met (food, clothing, shelter, utilities, music lessons, education, travel, instruments, vehicles, phones, medical insurance, medical bills, etc.). Here are some low numbers of what was approximately spent on Jill in the last few years:

Apartment rate rent $750 x 24 months=$18,000

Utilities discounted $600 x 36=$21,600

Midwife education $5,000

Honda Pilot $9,000

Harp $15,000

Furniture $5,000 (If you don’t want the furniture, we will buy it back after 4 years of use for $3,000.)

Cell phone @ $50 x 120 months=$6,000

Car insurance $50 per month x 8 years=$4,800

Vehicle fuel (8 years) x $50/month= $4,800

Eating out $100/month with family debit card for 8 years=$9,600

Clothes & Goodwill on family debit cards $1,000 per year x 8 years=$8,000

Eating at home $3 per day x 12 years=$13,140

Gift to Dillard Family Ministries $10,000 (You paid yourself a salary from this, stated there was only $1,200 left when you closed it out, so you must have eventually received it. You can refund this ministry gift, and we will give it to you directly if you want us to.)

$129,940 is just the beginning of Jill’s expenses paid by Duggar family over the last several years. Most of this was made and spent on Jill before you two were married. Also, taking into account many other ways that we have spent money to help you all, for example, installing the AC in your home to El Salvador, the stove, the washing machine, etc. The total on Jill’s tax returns was $130,250. We would be willing to write a check for $20,000 to settle this once and for all.

Jill, when Mom and I pass on, you are set to receive 1/19th of everything we own that is set up in a trust for you kids.

If you attack us, probably your inheritance will be lowered significantly.

I love you, but I am grieved by the disrespect and the accusations that continue.

I have asked for forgiveness, and I hope that you will also, you have deeply offended your mother and I.

We love you and forgive you for the things you have said & done.

$20,000 is a one-time offer, take it or leave it, please let me know by Monday night, or the amount will be zero.

Love, Daddy Duggar

Duggar, Jill. Counting the Cost (pp. 218-219). Gallery Books. Kindle Edition.

The above passage is regarding Jill’s and Derick’s questions about the $130,000 Jim Bob reported that they were paid for being the reality show. They never saw any of that money, but it was reported to the IRS. So Jim Bob justifies what he did by saying that he paid for things on Jill’s behalf… including things that he was responsible for paying, since she was a minor at the time. Then he threatens to disown her, claiming that she’s been disrespectful to him and has “deeply offended” him and Michelle. Never once is it mentioned that Jill presented Jim Bob with a bill for all of the chores she did, to include practically raising several of her siblings, helping to build Jim Bob and Michelle’s house, cooking and cleaning, and the actual labor of being on a reality TV show.

This was when Jill and Derick hired a lawyer to represent their interests. That’s when the shit hit the fan:

Pops went ballistic.

First, he hit the phone. There were texts and voicemails and calls every day, but in none of them did he give the answers we requested. Instead he was calling for us to get things resolved, to move on and work things out. We told him that we wanted to do that too, and that all he had to do was communicate through our attorney, with the information requested.

He didn’t.

Then came the next wave, a consolidated effort from several of my siblings. They hit the phones, sending voicemails and texts all day long, each one pleading with us to get this resolved. When that didn’t work, some of my siblings started visiting. They’d want to spend hours talking it through, trying to figure out what our problem was and why we weren’t doing what Pops wanted. I felt obligated to at least hear them out and show them we cared by listening. I could just about cope with the daytime visits, but when they wanted to stay up until midnight talking with Derick and me, when Derick had law school exams the next day, we finally told them no.

“What? How come you won’t talk?” they’d say. “This is way more important than law school.”

Duggar, Jill. Counting the Cost (pp. 220-221). Gallery Books. Kindle Edition.

What I’d like to tell the Duggar children, though, is that no amount of money is worth your dignity and self-respect. Especially if you’re claiming to be a Christian and trying to influence other people to follow your example. Christ wasn’t about money at all.

Moreover, Jim Bob’s wealth is certainly not what it once was. The younger Duggars and their spouses are probably better off focusing on building their own wealth, rather than “counting on” (see what I did there?) inheriting a lot of money from “Daddy Duggar”. By the time he dies, there may not be much left. There are lots of legal bills to be paid, and not so many people are interested in hearing Ma and Pa Duggar speak anymore.

I think inheritances can be a real burden, anyway. I’m kind of glad I was born into a family where there isn’t a lot of money to go around. I’ve never felt like I had to live my life according to my parents’ wishes, at least not once I became an adult. Once I got married and established my own household, they mostly left me alone. Or, at least my mom did. I don’t have any expectation of inheriting anything, so I don’t feel burdened to try to kiss anyone’s ass. I’d much rather be free to do what I want to do with my life.

I guess the bigger deal, besides the money, is the prospect of being disowned. I realize that’s not an easy thing to ponder, either. My husband was temporarily disowned by one of his daughters, and has apparently been permanently disowned by his older daughter. As a result of their behaviors when Bill went to war in Iraq (in 2007), they are not currently named in our wills. When we eventually update the wills, younger daughter probably will inherit whatever we have. She has a relationship with us. Older daughter can inherit whatever Ex and #3 leave for her and her other siblings. But I don’t expect it to be a big deal anyway, because Bill and I don’t have a lot of money or property, and I don’t see that changing much.

Younger daughter has her own family and her own money. We don’t tell her how to live her life, and she doesn’t condemn us for her father’s divorce from her mother and his decision to leave Mormonism. She also understands that the divorce was absolutely necessary; I wasn’t the cause of it; and Bill never had any intention of being out of her life for so many years. The “disowning” was solely her mother’s idea. Jim Bob Duggar and Ex have a lot in common, actually… right down to controlling their children with threats, other family members, religion, and money. Trump is kind of the same way, too… I imagine the only reason Melania is still hanging around him is because she’s been threatened into compliance. This is a very common thing among narcissistic, hyper-controlling types. Once you’ve experienced it and escaped, it’s very easy to spot.

Bill and I can speak from vast personal experience that shitcanning toxic, controlling, narcissistic people is a pathway to peace and joy. We’ve been broke before, thanks to Ex. Eventually the broke time in our lives passed. She grows ever more pathetic, while we thrive and enjoy living lives on our own terms. It’s a beautiful thing!

What would happen if the Duggar adult kids en masse simply decided to REFUSE to comply? Would Jim Bob cut all of them off? Would he sue them all? What would that do to his image? I think Jim Bob needs his children much more than they need him. And while I certainly don’t cheer for family strife, I do applaud anyone who manages to break free from narcissistic abuse and control freakery and lives their lives on their own terms.

I’m sure Jim Bob is scared. He’s getting older and that kingdom he built is falling apart. A natural part of getting older is loss, and I sense that he fears losing… everything from money, influence, power, and even his own life or Michelle’s. So he’s trying hard to hang on to his power by threatening his children with disowning and disinheritance. It’s nasty, and not Christ-like behavior at all! So I am rooting for the children– at least the ones with a clue– to rebel and get out of that cult. Life is much better when you’re free to live it the way YOU want to live it. And that goes for anyone reading this.

/sermon is now over. 😀

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Germany, healthcare, law, mental health, YouTube

“Du bist nicht allein…” There’s always someone helpful out there…

Last night, after Bill left for his TDY to Bavaria, I was left watching YouTube videos. Because I felt a cold coming on, and my stomach was bugging me, I decided to eat some bland leftovers and drink sparkling water. Then, once it got respectably late, I figured I’d go to bed.

Because of the nature of the videos I ended up watching, my mind started wandering to dark places. When you watch a lot of cop videos, you see people in varying states of mental, emotional, and physical distress. Some cops are really good at helping people in crisis. They treat people with basic respect and decency. Some are even kind and empathic. Other cops are rude, dismissive, or just plain mean.

I watched one video last night that I had seen before. It involved a police officer named John Kovach, Jr. from Lorain, Ohio, whose 18 year old daughter, Katlyn, was dating a guy he didn’t like. Katlyn’s boyfriend, at least circa spring 2018, was Makai Coleman. Because her dad didn’t want his daughter dating Coleman, and Katlyn was by then a legal adult, she decided to leave the family home and stay with friends. She refused to speak to her dad, which was her legal right.

Below is the video of the subsequent confrontation that got John Kovach, Jr. fired from his long held job with the Lorain Police Department. I’m sure it also didn’t do much for his relationship with his daughter, at least in 2018. I don’t know if they’ve mended fences since then.

A serious abuse of power…

One of the many troubling things Kovach said as he started to arrest Coleman, for no apparent reason, is that he’d be “making shit up” about Coleman’s “charges” as they headed to jail. But then, once he saw his daughter hiding in the back of Coleman’s car, John Kovach, Jr. decided to turn Coleman loose and force Katlyn into his police car. Clearly, it was inappropriate, as Katlyn is his daughter, and he’s not exactly objective about this situation.

But as John Kovach, Jr. was making his adult daughter get in the back of the squad car, he justified “arresting” Katlyn, because he claimed she was “suicidal”. He said she’d made a comment indicating suicidal ideation the day prior. Katlyn, who was by then screaming and crying, reminded him that he wasn’t with her the day prior, as she had rightly escaped his home to be with more rational people.

According to an article by the Washington Post:

Kovach said that when he spoke with his daughter on the phone, she said, “If I can’t be with him, I don’t want to be here anymore.” He told investigators that he believed his daughter was threatening suicide.

Kovach said he intended to take Katlyn to the hospital for a “psychiatric evaluation”, since she was “suicidal”… which she obviously wasn’t. He just wanted to exert control over her. There were other claims made about how Kovach had threatened to make Makai Coleman’s life difficult. The young man had wanted to join the military, and Kovach said he’d be talking to the lad’s recruiter and otherwise abuse his authority to threaten and harass Coleman.

The way Kovach behaved on that day in 2018, though, was totally beyond the pale. Soon, he’d gone from overprotective father to abusive cop. It was absolutely right that he was fired from his job for behaving in such an unhinged way. Kovach also harassed Coleman’s sister and mother, threatening them with jail and fines for trying to intervene. Meanwhile, Katlyn was screaming and crying, while her father went into creepy control freak mode, barking at her to “knock it off.” I don’t know if he actually took her to the hospital, but it seems like it would have been a real waste of time and resources on many levels.

After I watched that video, I started thinking about life in Germany, wondering if the Kovach family drama might ever happen here. Then I started Googling. I already noticed on YouTube, watching any video that mentions the word “suicide” prompts a notice in German– “Du bist nicht allein…” (you are not alone). Yeah, you can say that again. Big brother is always watching!

What I see when I search for anything with the word “suicide” in it. YouTube includes an explanation here.

I’m kidding, kinda. I mean, it’s good that they have resources for dealing with people who are mentally or emotionally shaky. The YouTube prompt was a link to a page where there are volunteers standing by, willing to talk to someone who feels alone, either by phone or chat. That’s a good thing… although it does kind of lead one to wonder why someone would do that in their free time. I know there are caring and kind people out there who do it because they genuinely want to help people. Those people save lives. But then there are also people like Ted Bundy, who answered suicide hotlines for awhile before he became a notorious serial killer. Ted Bundy reportedly did save some people from offing themselves. He even worked on the suicide hotline with the late true crime author, Ann Rule, who later wrote an excellent book about him. She verified that he ended some lives, but he also saved some.

One thing I do think is enlightened about the German hotlines is that they don’t just address the suicidal. They have nine hotlines that are designed to address a host of issues, everything from abuse to supporting others who need help. They even have a dedicated help line for Muslims.

I got more curious about this topic as the evening wore on… remember I did study this stuff in school, sorta. So I dug a little deeper, and soon found myself on Toytown Germany (a discussion site for English speakers in Germany). In 2006, someone had posted about a someone they knew who had attempted suicide. The person went to an emergency room, was treated for a couple of days, then released. The original poster was shocked, but other people soon chimed in on the subject– some of whom were shockingly insensitive. One person said that they knew someone who had spiked his vodka with dishwasher tablets. The guy was similarly treated and released. The Americans on the forum were saying that in the United States, the person would get a 72 hour hold at least.

Some people were making ignorant comments about suicide and suicidal threats. Realizing that the thread was started in 2006, I realized that things have only gotten worse since then. People are pretty jaded these days. Then someone mentioned that an attempt would probably warrant a “stay at Haar”. That made me curious, so I went searching for information on that.

I discovered that Haar is a psychiatric clinic near Munich, and it gets pretty horrible reviews on Google. I’m sure there are other psych hospitals in Germany. Maybe some of them are helpful… but then, you have to consider the source of such reviews. They’re typically written by people who are in crisis and the crisis isn’t necessarily solved by a stay in a hospital. In some ways, it may get even worse after medical and psychiatric “help”, especially if one ends up with a doctor who is an insensitive asshole or something. On the other hand, I realize that it’s not easy for providers, either. Mentally ill people can be very challenging to deal with, especially when they are non-compliant or apathetic. Mental health providers are human, too… and sometimes, that kind of work can lead to burnout.

Actually, watching YouTube videos of American cops and paramedics is a pretty good study in burnout. I’m sure a lot of people initially decide to go into police work or emergency services because they are kind and caring, and just want to help. Some people want to feel useful or powerful… or they want to make a difference somehow. Some of those folks never tire of the work or become insensitive or impatient.

On the other hand, some people do that work simply because it’s a job and there’s always a need. I think of the man who worked as an emergency medical technician in Brooklyn, New York and hit my friend, Matt, with a borrowed Rolls Royce. Matt died of his injuries, and the so-called paramedic never even stopped to render the most basic of aid. He just let him die, while he sped off in the luxury car. This man was an EMT, but he didn’t care about Matt. Now he’s in jail, but he’ll be out before Christmas. Matt, on the other hand, is gone forever.

That’s another things I’ve noticed, too… A lot of people, at least in the United States, act like total barbarians when they get arrested. Some of them do go to prison for a long time. Others, in spite of being totally awful, get their charges dropped or a slap on the wrist. It seems to me that involvement with the police is kind of the same as involvement with hospitals. You never know what you’re going to end up paying in the long run. It depends on who you are, what your coverage is, and which state you’re in when the event happens. You can go to an emergency department and get charged varying amounts, since there’s no regulation of fees. And you can get arrested and end up with any number of penalties, depending on the cop or the jurisdiction… or, again… who you are.

Anyway… this was just one of the darker rabbit holes I’ve been down. Unfortunately, I’m in kind of a bad mood today. I caught a cold somewhere over the weekend, plus my stomach hurts. I’m sitting here with a runny nose, scratchy throat, and a dull ache in my gut, wondering if I may need to call for help myself, at some point. But my guess is that I’ll just be grouchy and thirsty, as I always am when I catch a cold. I think I’ll close today’s post and get on with the day, so I can go back to bed. I’ve got to walk Noyzi and practice guitar before it’ll be time to fall back down the emergency services abyss and see what else I can dig up to discuss. 😉

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Alabama, healthcare, law, obits, politicians, politics

Why in the HELL are women staying in Alabama?

The featured photo is a public domain image of the Alabama state flag.

Don’t answer that. I know moving isn’t so easy for most people. It costs money to move. It requires the ability to travel, and the time off work to be able to make the move. It just galls me about the latest news about the abortion ban in Alabama, where Attorney General Steve Marshall has said that “he has the right to prosecute people” who aid and abet women who travel out of state for the purpose of getting abortion care.

Make no mistake about it. Abortion bans will hurt poor people the most, as they don’t have the money to go where abortion is legal. So when abortion is made illegal in almost all cases, that means these poor women are forced to stay pregnant, even if they don’t have the ability to provide for a baby. People with money will be able to travel without help from someone else, so they can go somewhere else for private, compassionate, respectful medical care. But poor women are TRAPPED.

I know a lot of people would say something along the lines of the women should have thought about the abortion bans before they had unprotected sex (what a romantic thought). However, it’s not really that simple… as a lot of women have sex because they’ve been pressured, cajoled, or even coerced by a male partner, many of whom won’t wear a condom. Many of the same women can’t afford birth control for themselves.

Or the women are victims of rape or incest, or they have medical problems or economic issues that make abortion the best decision for them. WHY IN THE HELL IS IT ANYONE ELSE’S BUSINESS if they travel to get an abortion, or who pays for the travel? Aren’t Republicans the ones who scream the most about medical freedom?

Alabama is not a good place to be a young, poor woman…

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s incredibly creepy and gross that so many conservative white men are so interested in whether or not a woman is pregnant. Especially given how these same disgusting MEN don’t want to do fuck all to hold the MEN who get them pregnant accountable! And they don’t want to pay for any programs that will make pregnancy healthier and more affordable, and parenthood easier for these women.

Listen… I don’t cheer for abortion. I was the poster child for NOT having premarital sex. I actually waited for marriage before my first time. But the vast majority of people don’t do that, and WON’T consider doing it. We don’t have enough resources for the people who have already been born! And we have far too many people in jail, already… although not enough of them are MAGA Rethuglicans.

I have been trying not to write too much about the insane situation going on with US politics over the past ten years or so… I find it very scary and kind of unreal. But these people in power have clearly forgotten that the United States is supposed to be the “land of the free”. These disgusting invasions of privacy into the personal healthcare decisions of pregnant women are not what America is supposed to be about.

I don’t have to worry about ever needing an abortion, but I know there are so many young women who will find themselves in need… and not just because they were “careless”, but because they could die without one. We’ve just got to get the politicians out of our wombs. Otherwise, things are going to get much worse for anyone who isn’t wealthy enough to travel in secret. These assholes don’t care about the women or the babies who will be born into poverty and potentially abusive situations. They only care about money and power, and they are flexing their muscles against people who are least able to fight back. It’s absolutely SICKENING.

I’m glad to see that Mr. Marshall is rightfully being sued by the non-profit organizations that want to help women who need abortions and deserve privacy. I hope he gets his ass handed to him. I would encourage women to get the hell out of Alabama and move somewhere safer, where they aren’t regarded as second class citizens.

In other news…

I just learned that Jimmy Buffett, the great master of laid back beach music celebrating the Caribbean and Florida Keys, has passed away. I was not as big of a fan of his music as a lot of my friends were/are, but I do have an appreciation for his persona. And I have many great memories of listening to his music, especially when I was in college.

Rest in peace, Jimmy.

Alas, I will never have the chance to witness Parrothead mania at one of his concerts. But I still enjoy his live albums, and the festive mood they always bring… and I’m gratified to know that even though he spent a lot of time in Alabama, Mississippi, and of course, Florida, Mr. Buffett was not a Republican.

May he rest in eternal peace…

I also heard that Mohammed Al Fayed, father of Dodi Fayed– Princess Diana’s late boyfriend– has also passed away. He was 94 years old.

I hope he is now at peace… He died the day before the 26th anniversary of Diana’s and Dodi’s deaths in 1997.

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law, mental health, musings, narcissists, psychology

The great awning collapse of 2017…

Good morning everybody. It’s August 30th, which means that summer 2023 really is on its way out…

Here in Germany, it actually feels like summer is ending. I can’t say that it’s a given that cooler weather routinely arrives in Germany at the end of August. I do remember coming to live here in mid September in 2007 and needing to buy a jacket, because it was already chilly.

But ten years later, three years into our second Stuttgart area stint, I remember it being super hot on August 30th. It was so hot that I decided to unroll the ugly orange awning that covered our patio. I was told by the landlords, when we moved into the house in 2014, that this was one way to keep the house somewhat cooler during the summer months. I’d never had an awning in any other house I’d lived in, but our next door neighbor also had one and used it all the time during the scorching summer of 2017.

On August 30, 2017, the awning was 17 years old, and had recently needed to be repaired. Our former landlady sent her very handy husband to fix it, and it appeared that he had succeeded. Ex landlady wrote in an email that her husband had “fixed” the awning, but it was old, and they weren’t sure how long the repair would last. It was blazing hot outside, and I wanted to allow for air flow in the downstairs. So, instead of lowering the Rolladens, I unrolled the awning to block the sun. Some time later, there was a stiff breeze, and the damned thing collapsed with a resounding thud. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed when it fell.

I’ve already written extensively about what happened after the awning fell on August 30, 2017. Our former landlady went on the warpath. First, she wanted to know if we had liability insurance, something that most Germans have as a matter of course. Most Americans don’t carry it, and I think she was counting on us not to have it. But, thanks to Max, our former dog sitter, who strongly advised us to have German insurance, we did have both liability insurance and pet liability insurance policies.

I think ex landlady was disappointed, because she no doubt saw this event as an opportunity to get us to buy her a brand new awning, rather than settle for the low settlement from our insurance company. I’m sure she also realized that by taking a settlement, she would not be able to ask for anything else related to the awning without having to deal with the insurance company. She couldn’t easily manipulate them, like she thought she could manipulate Bill. But again, I don’t think she expected us to be insured. When ex landlady demanded the insurance, she also limited her ability to negotiate a better deal on the collapsed awning.

Frankly, I don’t think we should have even had to give her our the insurance information. Nothing I did caused the awning to need repair; it was simply old and ready for retirement. She sent her husband to fix it, rather than hiring an actual technician. It was part of the house and, naturally, I assumed I was allowed to use it. She never said not to… and I don’t control the wind.

I’m pretty sure it really burned her up that we were wise enough to get insurance. It likely especially annoyed her that we also had German legal insurance. When we moved out and she tried to cover the cost of a new awning by stealing our deposit, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to be sued. And we sure didn’t want to sue her… but I’ll be damned if I willingly allow someone who treats us with such obvious contempt to get away with it. She was NOT going to be illegally taking our money and acting like a complete jerk on my watch. At least not without a fight.

I’m writing about this subject today because I saw the photo I took of the collapsed awning in my Facebook memories today… and it reminded of me how we ended up moving to Wiesbaden in late 2018. But it also reminded me of how reluctant I was to move. Isn’t that crazy? I actually worried that our new landlord might be even worse! That’s how completely mindfucked I was after four years of living in that house.

It was about five years ago that Bill’s bosses in Stuttgart told him that his job was being converted to a government service job. Consequently, his choices were to:

  • Stay in the same job, but become a GS worker at significantly reduced pay and without a housing allowance,
  • Find a new contracting gig in Stuttgart, either with the company he currently works for, or another company,
  • Move to another location with the company he works for or a different one,
  • Move back to the States and work for the same company or a different one,
  • Retire and live on his pension, while hoping I write the great American novel. That option would have also required a move. 😉

Neither of us wanted to move, even though we hated dealing with our ex landlady, and we didn’t really like living in her house. It only had a few things going for it. The rent was relatively cheap, although I doubt a German would have paid what we were paying. It was in a pleasant town near a beautiful nature park and close to the Black Forest. The neighbors were nice and relatively friendly, especially for Swabia.

But the house itself was old and charmless, furnished with old, nasty carpets in the upstairs, and it had outdated appliances. It was originally meant to be two apartments, so the layout was weird and kind of sterile. It was a duplex, and while I really liked our next door neighbors, who were actually pretty cool people, I don’t like sharing walls with people. I’m sensitive to noise, and I don’t like feeling like I’m making too much noise. We had two beagles who I know were loud. I wanted a free standing house… and Bill and I were, by 2018, in a financial position to be able to afford the rent on one.

I still dreaded the idea of moving. I was comfortable with our vet, our dentist, and getting around the area. I’d had a total of six pandemic free years of experience living near Stuttgart. It has its issues, but the area is very beautiful and inspiring. The idea of moving somewhere else seemed daunting. And again… I worried very much that we might land in an even worse situation. Our former landlady was very unpleasant to deal with, especially in the wake of the great awning crash of 2017. But at least with her, we knew what to expect.

So, when Bill was told he should apply for a job in Wiesbaden, I was initially reluctant to consider it. I think he was reluctant, too. Moving is a pain in the ass. Then, as we decided we’d try to stay in Stuttgart, he went to Africa for a TDY, and I was left alone in that weird house…

One night while he was gone, I was sitting there with Zane and Arran, looking around that house, and thinking about the broken orange awning that had caused the former landlady to verbally abuse me in my own space. I realized that I hated the idea of being beholden to her. I hated dealing with her intrusions, which had become less frequent since her outburst to me and my declaration to Bill that I would not be tolerating that again. He sent her an email telling her to talk to him when she had concerns or issues about the house. Naturally, she really resented that request. She clearly didn’t think I was worthy of the consideration, even though she and the former tenant were trash talking us, and it was likely that when we weren’t home, ex landlady was entering the house without our knowledge or consent.

I thought about how I hated the kitchen, the crappy flooring, the cat piss reeking carpets, the weird, mostly useless tiny rooms on the ground floor, and the annual projects the ex landlady did to the exterior of the house… She’d opted to put in a partial new fence and driveway rather than upgrade the antiquated upstairs toilet that clogged three times due to its “water saving” feature and inability to handle American toilet paper. Toilets are a necessary feature of any home. The upstairs one did work, but it was old and actually didn’t save any water, because it required at least two long flushes whenever either of us took a dump. I hated dealing with it.

And then it dawned on me. WHY IN THE WORLD WAS I FIGHTING TO STAY IN THAT HOUSE? I didn’t even LIKE that house! It defied logic. If there was ever a sign from the heavens that it was time to move on to bigger and better things, it was when that awning crashed on August 30, 2017. But I was kept there because I was afraid that the worst was yet to come. I also knew that when we moved out, ex landlady would be a colossal pain in the ass. I expected that she’d try to take our deposit. I wasn’t wrong.

I remember Bill came home from his trip and I told him I’d had an epiphany. I said “I want you to apply for the job in Wiesbaden.” It turned out that he’d independently kind of come to the same conclusion, even though neither of us had initially wanted to move. Also, the folks in Wiesbaden, having seen Bill’s resume, actually asked why he hadn’t applied. He was perfect for the job they were looking to fill, and people with his unique skill set aren’t easy to find. His boss in Stuttgart even told him that if he applied, it was pretty much a given that he would be hired. And that’s precisely what happened.

We were much more careful when we went house hunting in Wiesbaden. The house we live in now was the seventh one we toured. In over twenty years of life together, Bill and I were never as picky about our house as we were when we moved to Wiesbaden. It paid off, because our current landlord is extremely nice and very considerate. He’s also our next door neighbor, and he’s an excellent neighbor. The house itself is also much, much nicer than our old one was, although it lacks the beautiful views and places to walk the dog(s).

Life here isn’t perfect, and I do miss a lot of things about Stuttgart… but I definitely wouldn’t go back to where we were. The move to Wiesbaden was difficult. It took a long time to process the mental anguish and damage wrought by our experiences in our former house. The lawsuit was painful, especially since the wrangling was going on during the height of the pandemic. But… I thank GOD we were in Wiesbaden for that, instead of living in that weird house.

I am grateful we were able to change our situation. I know it doesn’t always work out that way. But thinking about the great awning collapse of 2017, I realize that we were probably a bit “trauma bonded”. This is a phenomenon that can happen when people are in abusive relationships where there’s a power imbalance. It often happens between people who have romantic relationships, but it can also happen between kidnappers and captors, bosses and employees, and yes, landlords and tenants.

In the article I linked about trauma bonding, the author mentions that people often feel the need to reach out and “try again”. I can honestly state that while I did feel regret that things ended the way they did with our ex landlady, I have no desire to ever see or speak to her again. She violated our trust and tried to fuck us over, and she underestimated both of us. That was a big mistake on her part. Not trusting my rather nervous gut feeling when I met her was my big mistake. One life lesson I have learned is that it’s smart to take heed when people demonstrate who they are. Learn from the experience.

Also, we were much too nice when ex landlady egregiously violated boundaries. This is a problem we still struggle with, as Bill and I have both been traumatized by abusers before and trained not to get into conflicts (in spite of his Army career). That’s why, in July, when those awful window workers were in my home, acting like complete assholes, I didn’t throw them out. I also wanted them to finish the job. Now, I realize that I should have marched over to my landlord and had him deal with those guys, as they put their feet up on my patio furniture. Next time there’s a big construction project, if we’re still here, Bill is going to try to work from home. That way it won’t be just me, dealing with the disrespect.

I really do not try to get in other people’s ways. I keep to myself, most of the time. Somehow, I still manage to find myself in these situations with people who act like narcissistic jerks. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of teaching me something new.

Anyway, we are mostly thriving in Wiesbaden. I am truly sorry that the awning fell on August 30, 2017. I certainly didn’t plan for that to happen. I didn’t do anything to directly cause it, other than unroll it on a day that happened to suddenly get windy. But it was the start of a necessary shift northward. Just like Mary Poppins, we stay until the wind changes… and in our last house, that’s pretty much literally what happened. The wind changed; there was a big crash; and we moved on to our next destined place together. It was a good, healthy thing to do. I don’t know when the wind will change again, but I don’t regret our move up here. I just shake my head in disbelief that it took so long to realize we needed to make the move. That’s what happens when you’re stuck dealing with abusive people in your life.

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