Since the past mid-term election, I have been chomping at the bit to talk about why I'm a liberal. Why I feel like I have to defend my position shouldn't even be a thing, but here in the buckle of the Bible Belt right ring conservative South, I often feel on the defensive. In fact, at bible study last week, three days after the election, I felt like an Auburn fan right after the 2012 Iron Bowl. The fans for the other team were laying in wait to remind me of the resounding defeat. No less than three people told me that night that I would come around. What? I'm 47, I've worked and paid taxes for more than 30 years and I've voted in virtually every election since I was 18. I may have missed a couple of times during the lost decade, but that may have been for the best, anyway. Point is, I'm around, no more coming.
Also, it's not a game. It's people's lives. Let me tell you a little story about a scare I had today. Sometime before lunch, one of my youngest sister's friends contacted me to see if I had heard from my sister, that nobody had heard from her since 7:30 Tuesday when she talked to her brother and said she would be home in 5 minutes. Keep in mind, she has 3 children ages six, five and three. They were at home with their uncle and grandfather. She never showed up and all attempt to reach her had failed. When her friend contacted me, she was on her way to the police station to file a missing person's report. I called the local hospital to see if she was there, and the sweet, patient, receptionist said she was not but she gave me the phone numbers to 7 hospitals in the Beaufort-Hilton Head area. Things got real, my mind went everywhere, all I could see was her wrecked somewhere hurt or dead. Thankfully, I didn't have to call 7 hospitals, and her friend did not have to file a report. My sister made contact and informed her friend that she was ok, that she had felt overwhelmed and suicidal so she drove to Charleston to stay with an old boyfriend until she felt back in control.
What does this have to do with being a liberal, you may ask? Because if my sister had access to basic mental health services with consistent care, she might not be in this position. When I talked to her this evening the first question out of my mouth was, are you taking your medicine? She said kinda, mostly. I asked her if she was seeing a counselor, and she said she was, but she owed over $300.00 and couldn't go back. I asked her if she had medicaid, and she said, yeah, but they don't pay for that shit. My sister has a history with mental illness, she has struggled since she was 12 or 13, but she can't afford the care she needs.
Ok, I can hear the grumbles and complaints, let her buy her own insurance like the rest of us! She shouldn't have had all those kids, they aren't our responsibility, she needs to take care of them! She needs a job and needs to quit living off the system! How much does she expect us to pay for? On and on, arguments I've heard again and again.
Well, here's the rest of the story. My sister had a rough upbringing. Not the worst, I'm sure you, your daddy or somebody you know had it worse and did better, but it still wasn't easy. My Mom suffered from the same mental illnesses and was basically incapable of caring for her (or me and my other sister for that matter). Her dad is just a case. I have no explanation. However, she went to school nearly everyday, she HATED missing school. When she was a senior in high school, she had to come live here in Birmingham to finish high school. And she did! With good grades and a job at a dentist office. Two months after she graduated, not long after she got pregnant, unwed, our mother died. That's a blow for a 17 year old. She moved back to South Carolina, got married, had the baby and started college. (She was able to attend because she kept her grades high and had a Palmetto scholarship, money provided through the state lottery...another liberal and progressive idea we will never see in this state). Along the way she had baby two, but still continued attending college and graduated magna cum laude.
Since graduation, she has worked. Not in her field, because she needs a master's to be certified, but she has had a job mostly in doctor's offices. She's paid her taxes and tried to raise her kids. She benefitted from WIC and food stamps, but still has struggled. Two of her kids are now in public school, but the third goes to daycare. They weren't able to attend Head Start because they are too bright and there are no real alternatives to pre-k education for the working class and poor. And now for the last two years, her illness has been rearing it's ugly head on a regular basis. Not long ago, she did attempt suicide, therefore today's scare was very real. It shouldn't be difficult for her to receive the care she needs. We don't cut a patient off dialysis if they get behind on the bill.
I don't want to paint the picture that she is perfect or a victim. She has made some pretty questionable choices that haven't helped her situation in the least, but I don't want to dwell on how the cart got in the ditch. But I am sick and scared over this. I'm helpless in this, just like I have been my entire life living with this illness that has riddled my family for generations. I can't talk, yell, counsel, hold her hand, not hold her hand or fix any of this. I don't know if it will ever get any easier for her. But I can continue to support and vote for programs that might offer that hand up. I can expect our extremely wealthy country to take care of all of it's citizens and welcome in others who want to be here so bad they would risk their lives and their children's lives. I can support legislation that protects human rights, even sometimes at the cost of individual rights. I can continue to support and encourage inclusion of all people, no matter race, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity.
I can hope that mental illness is viewed as a genuine disease that needs to be treated, not cured by trying harder. And I can pray for a society openly or privately, to whatever God I want to worship, for these things to happen.