Psychiatry in Alabama

This subject is a very familiar one within my blog but I write about things I know and this particular subject is one I’ve been exposed to every weekday for years, so I know a little bit about it. I think it is an important subject and should be talked about more often, but I seem to be one of very few people willing to openly discuss mental health in my local area. However, we have a problem, and the problem seems to only be getting worse.

The internet, in my opinion, is both a blessing and a curse. With the ease of use and access to tools we never before imagined possible, half of my life has been engineered to adapt to these technological advances and increasing speeds. The problem is that many people in my neck of the woods have resisted these advances for decades. But thanks to passing generations, and with most processes becoming automated, common people are basically forced to adapt or opt out of particpating altogether. As a result, we have seen more and more (for lack of a more accurate term) backwoods people either learning how to use the internet, or learning how to make meth.

We have also seen how this has impacted society over time- on any level you prefer to measure. But for the sake of my argument, I’m keeping it local– and appropriately so, as I’ve been incessantly encouraged to shop, eat, listen and live my life locally within the confines of this triangular county for as long as I can remember. That alone can drive a person to the brink of insanity- as I begrudgingly learned during the God forsaken pandemic.

The impacts of social media and the increasing access to the world wide web has done a number on the locals. On one hand, it’s driven people to a level of crazy I didn’t think possible. On the other, a lot of people are getting a deeper understanding of how truly important it is to care for your mind, and not only that- but also that there is no shame in doing so. The stigma around mental healthcare is beginning to dissipate around here and that gives me hope.

I think about the year I was going door to door to offer flyers for a clinic, and the confused, eye roll, or otherwise brutal reactions I received, and compare that to my day today, when the phone endlessly rang as people on the other end were biting their nails, praying for an appointment. Unfortunately, offline access and resources are incredibly limited, and it’s wearing me the fuck out.

I’ve worked in patient access and as a front desk receptionist for three different mental healthcare facilities across the Tennessee Valley for basically a decade. I have helped two of those companies in marketing, intake coordination, scheduling, insurance verification, and more. I have seen first hand how difficult it is for a person to get on a schedule to see a provider. I have seen the quick turn arounds of providers within facilities. I have witnessed countless patients come and go based on their levels of income or whether they were able to have access to insurance. And, as I mentioned yesterday, I have received news of suicide more times than I can count. My heart has been broken on a regular basis for a very long time, and my God- something needs to change.

My plea and prayer is that anyone who works in the field of Psychiatry and has a heart and maybe a nugget of bravery take a moment to examine the dire need of prescribing providers within the sick, sad state of Alabama. Every single day I see reports of child rape and abuse, domestic violence, drug convictions, murder, and so forth. I realize that it is everywhere, but these are the lines that are published on a daily basis- these are the stories that are shared. Each day that passes, I count higher numbers of intakes that I conducted. People are trying to take care of their psyche and the wait time to see a provider is up to nearly three months into the future.

Locally, we have two facilities that house M.D.’s who are able to write prescriptions for psychiatric medications. Our ever expanding population is making it more and more difficult for low income families to have any mental health access at all because many are unable to make the forty-five minute drive north or south to Huntsville or Birmingham. So they feel literally stuck, with no one to turn to. This is disastrous for a growing town. Jobs have increased dramatically, which is great, but access to schools, housing, and medical needs have not. It is creating great problems for facilities like that in which I answer phones for. It is gut wrenching to me when I have to inform someone seeking help that, well, sorry- we can’t take your case. And here’s the only other number I can give you to try elsewhere. And good luck, because their turnover is atrocious because they don’t get paid shit.

If you are qualified and willing to take on a great challenge, Alabama needs a helping hand that can write drug names on prescription pads.

A Simple, Southern Man

There is a 2018 documentary about the legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd called If I Leave Here Tomorrow, which became available on Netflix last month. I hadn’t seen it yet, but having been born and raised in Alabama, I felt like I knew enough about them and the music they wrote and performed. When I finally watched the documentary (I’ve reached the halfway point twice now, and still haven’t finished it), I was able to get a little more information as it features never before seen footage and never before published stories that made me appreciate the musicians and their art that much more.

My dad was in a classic rock band called High Noon, birthed in Mobile in the 1980’s- just like yours truly. They did a lot of cover songs, as well as original tunes, even cutting an entire album called It’s About Time. They played gigs every weekend, and would invite other musicians to pick and grin with them on stage- including members of Wet Willie (Keep on Smilin’).

Many of the stories my dad likes to recollect revolve around those times- the times before the happy accident came along and complicated those visions of almost fame. One of my favorite stories to hear involving the band is- without a doubt- my dad’s all time favorite story to tell. (I’ve heard it more than twice.) It involves a stage in Mobile, Alabama, a crowd of twenty thousand people, and the song Free Bird.

Free Bird is a song that probably almost every person on the planet has heard at least in passing. Nine minutes and eight seconds of pure, raw, hard, Southern rock. High Noon played several Skynyrd covers, but on this particular night, they took a chance. Twenty thousand mostly drunk or high (likely both) long haired Southern rock ‘n’ rollers were dancing their asses off and getting wild. Mobile’s finest approached the stage to tell High Noon- “Hey, we can’t control this crowd- wrap it up so we can all go home before it gets out of control.”

“Alright, we’ll play one more and it’s over.”

After informing the crowd this would be the final song of the evening and then everybody needed to get on home, without even introducing the song, they began playing Free Bird to an already feelin’ good crowd that, upon hearing the first chord, went absolutely ballistic. They got about twenty-two minutes into it before the cops unplugged their amps, forcing them to abruptly end the best performance to their biggest crowd of their collective music career. And that was that.

Two and a half years passed and after my sister had been born, my mom had had enough of the parties and the drinking and the gigging and was ready to reprioritize. That’s when we moved five hours north. My ditch digging dad’s dreams of being a professional drummer for a Southern rock ‘n’ roll band were scrapped. He became a Deacon, and our lives completely changed. He didn’t know it at the time, but my mom would later settle in Jacksonville, Florida- the very birthplace of Ronnie Van Zant, the great Prophet and (forever, in my book) front-man of Skynyrd.

If I Leave Here Tomorrow allowed me to get a backstage pass to get to know a band I thought I knew well enough. I always appreciated their musical and writing abilities, but didn’t think too much about their views or personalities or personal lives. The documentary allowed a peak into this secret world of Skynyrd I hadn’t known before. I finally understood what my dad had been hyping my entire life. He had been desperately trying to get me on board this ship that I couldn’t be a part of first hand back in their hay day in the late ’70’s. I finally understood what he was talking about when he described the experiences in seeing them live (countless times). The crowd- the energy. The fact that a Rebel flag was the backdrop to a band playing for a crowd full of mixed races and faces. Based on the things I knew and studied in the classroom, this scene was confusing to me. I had always tried to get a picture in my head, but after seeing footage from the rock doc, I finally understood what I’d been missing my whole life. I also reflected on what (and who) I’ve been missing as of late.

The first half of the documentary more closely represents the South I know and love. When you are born of artists and musicians, you tend to gravitate to others like this. I’ve touched on this before, so if you’ve been reading, you know how important music is to my family and me. Something magical happens when you surround yourself with people like this- the diamonds in the rough who would rather quit school than give in and cut their hair to meet the school’s dumb requirements. We are the ones who fell through the cracks and landed in some trippy place, unknown to the others. We are the rebels with or without a cause, and either way- it don’t matter, we’re just here for a good time.

One thing that always bothered me about being born and raised here is that no matter how hard we try, we are misunderstood to anyone who was not born and raised here. It’s as though we’re trying to kill everyone with kindness, but instead give off an odor that says “We’ll kill you with guns if you trespass here.” This is not so for the overwhelming majority of us in Alabama. It sucks when one or two people have to go and pull the plug to a good time. But this is something I’m more aware of as time goes on.

I’d like to finish the documentary, and I probably will at some point. For now, I’ve reached the bit about Neil Young singing Southern Man and Ronnie Van Zant sitting at the edge of the swamp, writing a rebuttle in his mind, Sweet Home Alabama. I cried twice. Because I finally understood.

If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?

The Devil, Jesus and Me

Well, it is the first day of fall and I love it! I enjoy the autumn and spring seasons the most, and I like summer, too. Outdoor activities are my life. Winter can kiss my ass, but only because Alabama winters are just sludge and gray and bleak and depressing. Not into it. But today was beautiful and the temperature was perfect and the breeze was calming and the air was crisp. And I am thankful.

It’s interesting that I’ve written more lately and even more interesting that I am writing about something so simple as the season changing, or the weather. I’m writing the way I used to, before I started becoming gravely concerned about everything and everyone around me. Now, I feel like in taking a step back, away from anything related to social media (besides WordPress) and current events, I have transitioned back to my happier, more carefree self. I’m smiling and laughing more, just the way I used to. I’m feeling stronger, healthier. These are good things, I think.

I feel like I can finally say with confidence that I have reconnected to myself, and this is something I have been actively working on for a number of years. I even wrote about this (trying to reconnect to myself) years ago here in this blog, so it is pretty cool to have this ability to physically see my progress through my writing. Writing is something like an anchor for me. Bob Ross had his paint, I have my keys.

Besides writing, my faith is something that keeps my mind and heart feeling happy. I’ve touched on this subject before, but I’d like to dig into this subject this evening because after some events played out today, I felt like I was naturally heading in this direction anyway but was shoved into it by unseen forces.

If you have traveled along the main vein, Interstate-65, through the state of Alabama, there is a chance you have seen a large, wooden sign just north of Prattville that looks like this:

This Scythe, Your Ass

I went to The Hanging Lady- a horror/oddities shop in Hanceville- recently and bought a bumper sticker replica of the sign above, so now anyone behind me who feels the need to ride my ass has the pleasure of being reminded or enlightened that they’re actually unworthy regardless. SO get off my ass, or feel my wrath.

This obnoxious but kinda funny sign has been a permanent fixture along the busiest travel route in Alabama for decades. Another more recently erected fixture is Gardendale First Baptist Church’s enormous, 125-foot cross that is illuminated at night, visible for miles. CLEARLY seen here:

A Huge, Expensive Cross

These gentle, subtle reminders that a literal heaven and hell (which have been determined to be actual places) do in fact exist are unabashedly settled at every corner, every nook and cranny, on the inside and outside within my home state. It is super hard to feel like the power of Christ isn’t compelling you in some way, shape or form (kinda like… in the form of, say, a crucifix).

I work at a Psychiatrist office and there are Bibles, crosses, butterflies, and so forth along the halls, in the lobby, and in providers’ offices. I am constantly reminded that the good Lord is present in every single place I go, whether I like it or not.

Heaven help me.

I have mentioned being raised in a Church of Christ and my running away screaming as a teenager, and then some other things happened in my mid-twenties, and now I am a whole hearted believer in my mid-thirties, full of love and gratitude for both my Creator and all of Creation. With this in mind, now this: I ventured back to my home church and got to work. I was volunteering, teaching Sunday school lessons to orphaned young mothers. I was participating in art classes. I was volunteering my time, equipment, and talent in graphic design. I was involved in the mission again. I felt like I was doing something important, for others, which I feel is what church is all about. Or at least, what it is supposed to be about.

I was actually really enjoying reconnecting to people who had strongly impacted my life, when a new member decided God was telling him that I would be his companion. This was a guy who had found Jesus in jail, and had struggled with substance abuse and relationship issues. Because I was so friendly and down to earth, he mistook my friendliness as an open invitation to ask me out. I declined, and afterwards, learned that he was still struggling with drugs, and his associates who also attended church, were in the same boat. Actually, they all lived in one great big house. And this house was a house I would never feel comfortable sipping a cup of coffee in, and it made my church house feel no different when they were present. One man had even had a relationship with my sister years prior, and was physical with her and her dog. There were a few more incidents that occurred, and things said to and around me that made me uncomfortable, and so, once again, I left the church. I even sent an official letter to express my regret to resign, especially since my great-grandmother was one of the founding members. It was sad. I still get sad about it sometimes. I even hear from old members who still remain hopeful that one day I will return.

But I’m never going back.

Two men, who are very different, interacted with me today. And I wanted to share these stories because one is very much the reason I left the church, and the other is very much the reason why I miss my church.

A man, probably in his late twenties, came into my workplace today. As he did this, he ignored a couple of very obvious signs. One was a sign that said “Mask required”, and the other was a sign that said “No soliciting”. This unmasked man had a stack of painted, decorative wooden crosses, and a small flyer.

Hey I’m with so-&-so and I just came by today to spread the good news and offer some of these crosses for sale.
-Nice crosses! Unfortunately, you walked into a Psychiatrist’s office, which is a medical facility, without your mask and we don’t accept solicitors. We take patient privacy and safety very seriously here. I’m sorry, but you need to please leave.
Well someone who works here said it was okay. (He hands me his small flyer through the tiny mouth hole.)
-Oh, I see. Still, that really doesn’t matter, and nobody alerted me that anyone would be visiting to sell crosses. Again, I’m sorry, but you need to please leave now. Thanks anyway, though.
Do you believe in Jesus?
-Um, yes sir? But my personal faith has nothing to do with what I’m saying to you. (He interrupts me.)
Well, our Lord and Savior is good, isn’t he? (He’s getting agitated at this point.)
-Okay, look. (More sternly, but still patient and professional:) You’re putting me in an awkward position. I have to turn patients away to go retrieve their masks from their car when they walk in here without one. And those are people with appointments, who pay to be here. We have people who come here that are on oxygen or have other major health issues. You are not a patient, this is not a walk in clinic, this is a medical facility, and you come inside the building without a mask to sell something, which is 100% not allowed. I’ve asked you nicely to leave and then you ask me about my faith. None of that is truly your business, but being that I am faithful in love and kindness, I’ve been patient. Please don’t make me get my manager. Thanks for checking, but next time, please pay attention to the signs that signify whether or not this kind of thing is allowed. Most businesses reject solicitors.
He grumbles and says something, impatiently and trailing off, gathering his crosses and making his way to the exit. I found out five minutes later that he had approached one of my co-workers while she was smoking inside of her vehicle on break. She told him to get lost, and not so politely.

Now, why the fuck did I have to go to this extreme so someone would simply listen to reason?

BECAUSE SOME OF THESE ASSHOLES ARE UNREASONABLE AND EXACTLY THE REASON I NO LONGER WORSHIP GOD BESIDE THEM AND UNDER ONE ROOF.

Done and done. *clapping the dust from my hands*

HOWEVER, there are some diamonds in the rough around here. This next fella is one of those shiny diamonds of a human. My dentist. I saw my dentist today for a cleaning and his family is very dear to me. When I was an angry, confused, resentful teenager in mourning, his mother took me in like a lost little lamb. We shared many precious moments together. She took my sister and I to the zoo, and we would watch movies in their home theater, and go paddling on the lake, etc. She was one of my heroes. I wrote her a poem about storms and how scary life can seem sometimes, but eventually, there will always come a ray of hope that guides us home. Years later, she told me she kept that in her little locker, and it helped her get through many tough times. Years later still, I returned to church, and it wasn’t long after that her husband, Doc, had suddenly suffered a cardiac arrest and dropped dead during a family get together. She was at church the next Sunday anyway. She is a pillar of spiritual strength, no doubt.

So Little Doc saw me today, and I had my cleaning (I can still say I’ve never had a cavity!) and we were able to do a quick 5 minute catch up with one another. Swapping the “how is your such and such and how is so-&-so”, etc. He then said, “Mom’s in Texas right now but she’ll be back in a month. You should call her.” Our brief exchange of words and smiles was enough to remind me of the goodness that can come from communion, and how sometimes, I do long for a reunion.

Shitty people can ruin good things for people. Don’t let them. And this is the next thing I’ll be actively working on. Hopefully, this process won’t take four years.