Reclaiming Independence: Discovering the Lost Duties of Leadership

Chapter 4 – Mental Health

In a world where united Americans reclaimed their independence, and our government was under the control of passionate, intelligent servants of the People, addressing the issue of mental health is one, and in my opinion the most important, problem we should immediately begin solving. Without addressing our mental health needs, we will never reach the national attitude required to address many of our other issues as well. For example, we can never improve our education systems without first addressing the mental health needs of our children. It doesn’t matter how nice the school is if children within that school are willing to do harm to one another. And despite any gun laws the left and right both debate in order to avoid the subject of mental health, while also taking funds by pharmaceutical companies who create anti-depressant drugs, addressing the mental health needs of the child willing to commit such harm is the only way to keep it from happening, period.

Without addressing our mental health needs, the attitude and morale of our working class will continue to decline, and our labor participation rate will continue to fall. With gut-wrenching debt to hold us hostage, workers continue to churn out our seemingly meaningless labor in exchange for another two-week’s worth of survival, void of any notion of duty or sense of accomplishment. More and more Americans struggle to find purpose in their work while stuck in the revolving cycle of doing it, motivated only by the fear of what stopping the cycle will bring.

Without addressing our mental health needs, more young Americans will fall deeper into a pit that was essentially designed for them from birth. Whether from a parentless home, a victim of abuse or neglect, pushed into drugs or sexual exploitation, or any of the other numerous poisons inflicted on the American youth, they are all fed a substandard education and given little, if any, preparation for their lives. They are growing hopeless at a young age in increasing numbers and will only be relied on more heavily in the future by an aging population. There has become little incentive to be successful, and with it, little motivation to achieve.

Without addressing our mental health needs, drug addiction, homelessness, crime, racial tensions, gender dysphoria, and a growing suicide rate will all continue, creating disastrous conditions throughout our country. Mass shootings will continue to happen. Open drug use will continue to occur. Tent cities will only grow. Crime will keep rising, education will continue decaying, and more people will become confused at how their genitalia applies to who they are as a person.

There is a mental health epidemic in America, one created from a variety of sources, but also one we must overcome for the very survival of our nation. Although there may have been several sources of initial infection, they are diseases that have nonetheless spread throughout our society. Many of the source contagions aren’t single invaders but entities with the ability to affect multitudes at a time through media outlets instead of spreading infection by jumping from host to host. Considering that, I’m willing to argue that this epidemic is possibly the worst epidemic we’ve ever confronted.

It seems today everyone is on some sort of anti-depressant medication, and it’s no wonder considering the way the world is today. But do we really believe taking medications because of bad experiences is the best way to resolve the mental conflicts that arise from those experiences? Do we really think the pharmaceutical companies making billions of dollars, and are largely to blame for the inflated cost of healthcare in America, are properly investigating the full effects of the drugs they feed to the public at the same time they pay for the campaigns of the corrupt officials tasked with ensuring their will is met? Are we all really this stupid?

About 10% of our population has depression, while 10% has ADHD and another 5% has a debilitating disorder such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, or other extreme mental health illness. Additionally, 20% of young Americans have experienced gender dysphoria, and at least 15% of Americans have a drug addiction. There is surely overlap in these figures, but our own CDC confirms that 20% of all Americans experience a mental illness each year.

So, while one out of every five Americans are dealing with a mental health issue, how many people around them does that affect along with it? How many family members are affected? How many work or school relationships are hampered by mental health? How many victims of crimes get infected? While one out of five are diagnosed, the truth is that we’ve all been infected.

Statistics aside, we all remember how different the world used to be not so long ago and we don’t need the CDC to tell us our society is mentally unwell. Do those who remember 9/11 consider their mental health to be better or worse on September 12th? Weren’t we all introduced to a new type of evil that people are capable of as we watched those towers fall? How about any one of the thousands of school shootings or other mass shootings we have lived through? When the shooter in Vegas unloaded from a hotel window, didn’t it offer to us all a new possibility of evil we hadn’t quite thought before? The truth is, the more exposed we each become to the violence and evils of the world, the more it affects our ability to process information in a natural way, something I confess to wrestle with to this day.

If anyone knows the suffering caused by trauma, I can assure you it’s me. I’ve spent a good portion of my life in the most hostile environments imaginable. I was suffocated in a waterbed when I was just seven weeks old. I was tortured by that older brother, who also molested some of my siblings. He ended up with a swastika tattooed to his forehead, to give you an idea of the type of guy he was. But I was also abused by my parents, who wouldn’t just beat me and my siblings physically, they would trample us emotionally as well, especially our mother. I began life far from what you’d think was a healthy developmental path for a child. But it was also this path that gave me the ability to look at the world through a different lens than everyone else. It was ultimately what guided me through my difficult journey through PTSD in a way that left me more positive and optimistic than ever.

For my twelve siblings and me, our childhood wasn’t filled with pleasant memories; in fact, it was quite the contrary. That said, regardless of what I perceived as struggles at the time, I have always done my best to express my understanding to my parents that, despite everything else, I respect and honor the notion that my life does not exist without them. For that, above and beyond anything else, irrespective of my personal history or feelings toward them, I will always have nothing but love for them and remain only grateful to them if for no other reason than the phenomenon of the miraculous, centuries-long chain of events that had to take place for my life to exist in the first place. Besides, if you knew the childhood my parents had, you’d realize that they only did what they knew based on what happened to them, much like most people. To judge them would require judgment upon their parents and so on, and there is no point in that aside from feeling sorry for yourself and blaming others, not the road I want to travel.

That’s what our parents are to each of us, no matter who we are, how we feel about them, or whether we even know them or not. Whatever they mean for whatever reason, they will always remain the representation of the existence of each of our lives, period. Respecting life starts with respecting one’s own; meaning we should all have a special place in our hearts for our parents, no matter who they are or what they’ve ever done. The odds we each exist are so unfathomable that regardless of the lives we’re given, we should all find ways to be grateful for the lives we have.

But the fact remains that my childhood was riddled with horrors applied so brutally it only drove us apart from one another, a separation that pretty much exists in my family today. My earliest memories involve both physical and emotional abuse that only continued as I struggled to navigate my way through a house riddled with violence, drugs, abuse and even child molestation. From a young age I was surrounded by people I didn’t trust with a mission to grind my way to freedom.  Void of birthdays, Christmas, or any semblance of intimate affection, our parents would tape our mouths shut, or our hands over our heads, sometimes for hours at a time. They had a specific paddle for beating us as a slaveowner might have a whip and would even carry with them at times for intimidation. When I was seven or eight, the paddle broke right down the middle during a particular episode involving one of my older brothers and my mother, but it was celebrated because after it broke they had two paddles instead of one. To honor the occasion, my mother gathered us to sit in a circle and pass the two paddle halves around, writing words like “wham” and “whack” on it for her amusement.

I also had my toes smashed in a doorway and a lacerated eyeball when I was five, one a careless accident and the other a brutal act of psychopathy. One day, one of my older brothers told me he wanted to play a game. As all five-year-old children would when asked to play a game with their big brother, I happily accepted. He took me by the hand and led me up to the stair top foyer in our house. Now, the floor in the foyer was linoleum while the room on the other side of the door was carpeted, and there was a brass-colored metal strip in the doorway that held down each room’s floor edges. My brother explained that to play the game I had to line my toes up on that strip and close my eyes.

I did as he instructed, but my feet weren’t positioned the way he wanted for the game to begin. He tried explaining what he wanted but I didn’t understand. Eventually, he dropped down on his knees and physically positioned my feet into the place he wanted, more of a duck-toed stance, with my toes squarely lined up on the metal strip. He never got upset with me through the entire set up, he was very kind when talking to me and repositioning me. He held my hand up the stairs, and as a small child who was accustomed to help from older siblings, I never felt anything but excitement and eagerness to play with my big brother.

Once my feet were set to his approval he stood up and told me to close my eyes, so I did. My brother then slammed the door as hard as he could, smashing all my toes simultaneously in the process. The door did not shut. Instead, the force against my toes bounced it back open. As I dropped to the floor screaming in pain, my brother was standing over me laughing hysterically until our mother approached him from behind, picked up a wooden chair, and literally broke it over his back.

I don’t remember many other details about what happened after that. To be honest, I don’t even remember the pain, but I never forgot the confusion and mental turmoil from the moment it occurred. It took several years to fully grasp the magnitude of it, as well as other events, and years more to move on from it all in an optimistic way, something that really remains a process but never totally ends. Throughout my life I’ve always approached the topic of my childhood with the most liberal lens possible and have always sought to reveal the absolute good that has come from my experiences under the struggles of it. Our childhood was nothing short of a nightmare; something every single one of my brothers and sisters would agree with on one level or another. But again, as the first to stand up in forgiveness of my parents, and with respect to the magnitude of my own sins in life, this is a story of perspective and not victimhood.

My trauma did not stop there. By the time I was sixteen, I was living on my own and surviving on pizza that the Papa John’s I spied on next door to my apartment threw into the dumpster. I struggled to complete high school, forced instead to confront the responsibility of paying bills instead. My first apartment was in a two-story building one of my older brothers and I rented together. He’s three years older than me, but he also moved out at sixteen, sort of a family tradition. We spent all the money we had on our deposit and payments to get utilities going, and had nothing for food. Also, the little money we made was barely enough to cover our rent. But hunger makes you act, it doesn’t let you just sit there and do nothing.

Directly next door to my apartment was a Papa John’s. At one point of desperate hunger, I walked in there with two dollars and asked the manager if there were any orders that didn’t go out, I could give him my only two dollars for, to which he declined. I got the idea to ask him after noticing how many pizzas they would just throw into the dumpster and waste while my brother and I sat next door and watched in pain.

So, instead of paying for them, we began watching the back door from our apartment. Once someone threw away some pizza, we’d run down and grab it from the dumpster, as disgusting as it sounds. But that’s the type of stuff genuine motivation comes from, and it didn’t take long for me to have a plan. I had watched them throw out quite a few pizzas by then, and I knew the way they did it. At the time, the dumpster was off to their right as they came out the door and there was a barrier around it on three sides. Instead of walking around to the front of the dumpster, the employees would just throw them over the side wall into the open dumpster. My plan was simple, to sneak down there and close the dumpster lid so that when they threw pizzas over the wall, we could retrieve them off the top. And that is how I survived at sixteen.

But again, this is all about perspective, and sharing these stories are only meant to help share what drives the perspective I have today. My childhood was engulfed with trauma that saw no treatment but was instead pushed into more trauma. And it was not just my childhood, either. I grew up with eleven brothers and sisters, all with mental health issues arising from child abuse. I had a front row seat watching their lives develop and have a great understanding of how some of them ended up where they are today. None of us are particularly close, but at my last count I have at least four brothers, maybe five and a sister even, who have been locked up for more than six months at a time. Two of them for sure ended up in maximum security prison, one of them when I was just seven. Only seven of us twelve made it through high school, and it is also worth pointing out that four of the oldest five are among us, meaning only three of the youngest seven got through. And at least seven of my siblings have been homeless for extended periods of their lives. I know for sure of one brother who has been homeless for the past twenty years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two others were homeless today and I don’t even know about it. At least seven of them, close to the same seven who’ve experienced homelessness, also struggled with alcohol and drug addictions, as well. At least three were sexually assaulted at a young age by none other than our swastika-tattooed brother, and the number of life threatening and life altering moments that occurred for us all, in place of family intimacy, is enough for a book, or maybe even twelve, on its own.

But as my own life progressed beyond my family, things didn’t get much better to improve my mental health, either. At nineteen, I was in Afghanistan, and just three days into my deployment, stricken with the memory of a poor woman who got blown up, losing an arm and her opposite leg. The remarkable part of the story is that she managed to cover her baby during the blast who was left uninjured. I am forever engrained with the smell of that woman’s blood and burnt flesh, and the sounds of that baby’s screams reaching past the roar of the chinook’s engines and blades. The hour flight it took to fly them to the Egyptian hospital that could treat them seemed like an eternity. And memories like this only continued to compile until my final day in Afghanistan, nearly eight years later, when I found myself at my limit as I collected the biometrics off the Taliban fighters we killed during an overnight attack. As dozens of bodies lined up for my inspection, many of their eyes open as if I had an audience of the dead, I had just lost enough of my soul by then and wasn’t going to do it anymore.

I developed a sense of hyper-vigilance very early on in my military career, something that never went away after coming home. But it wasn’t until 2011, when I started having such regular dreams that I didn’t want to go to sleep, before I ever stopped to think that I’ve got to do something about the things going on in my mind. I was in North Carolina at the time building the biometrics training program for the Marine Corps, a job that kept me ensconced in a combat-minded environment. I single-handedly wrote the curriculum for the Marine Corps’ biometrics training program from scratch, and trained Marines during huge exercises with live Afghan role players, for days or even weeks at a time. The job allowed me to keep living in Afghanistan in my head but be physically back in the safety of the United States. After some time, I began having dreams, taking me back to awful places I had been, and awful things I was a part of. Some dreams were so vivid that my wife would wake me up from my screams that woke her up in the middle of the night, bringing me back to reality but not releasing the hold on my heart. Feelings from the worst dreams would sometimes take days to finally be free of.

None of my combat experience is worth sharing other than to maybe sell a story. They are only memories that conjure up the most soul-emptying feelings you can imagine, the ones I will face God one day to pay for. There is no pride or glory in them because I didn’t invade two countries and destroy lives to defend my nation and protect Americans, I did it as a servant to the agenda of the military industrial complex and other elites who make fortunes from war. I did it for the politicians who sent me there only to receive financial backing from the military industrial complex and same elites making fortunes in return. For me, realizing that was when my own depression started growing. I struggled my entire childhood to escape the tyrannical abuse of my own family only to travel the world and commit tyrannical abuse on nations of people with complete impunity and power. For everything I hated and sought to escape, I had become a thousand times worse than what anyone ever was to me.

My outlook today is much brighter, but the long, dark tunnel I travelled to be where I’m at now is no less treacherous for others as it’s been for me. I’m not a mental health professional, but I have enough of my own experience to know that no matter how deep the pit becomes, if you’re breathing, you can get yourself out of the mental and emotional traps you’re in, just as I have. It has taken many years for me to recover in a way that allows me to find optimism, a process that doesn’t actually end. But what I’ve learned on my own path is that with the right approach, any of us can overcome the mental pitfalls our society has generated that culminate into the mental health crisis we collectively face today.

Every single mass shooting involves a situation where mental health treatment could have prevented the murders of bystanders. Every single drug overdose involves a situation where mental health treatment could have prevented the deaths of addicts. Every single gender transition surgery involves a situation where mental health treatment could have prevented self-mutilation. And nearly everyone homeless is in a situation where mental health treatment could help them begin to improve their quality of life. Assaults on our collective mental health has affected everyone whether through foreign wars, drug addiction, homelessness, financial and economic stress, domestic violence, gender ideology, mass shootings, or a host of other sources such as the dopamine fix from video games, porn and social media, or the increase in dependency from anti-depressants.

Let’s make it a national priority to fix these problems, heal Americans, and brighten the overall outlook we collectively share. Leaders’ worth electing won’t just be those who refuse to accept corporate campaign contributions and are willing to serve with integrity, but they will also be able to demonstrate a commitment to addressing the dire circumstances surrounding mental health in America. And a commitment doesn’t inevitably involve those leaders having the solutions, rather they only need the wisdom to approve solutions found throughout a communal effort and discussion.

For example, the best PTSD treatment I ever received was psylocibin, an illegal drug with, until recently, very little case study involving its use to treat post-traumatic stress. Based on my own experience, I believe that if the federal government is funding research for mental health treatment, then we should be using some of those funds to study the effects of psylocibin as they pertain to post-traumatic stress and its impact on the brain. But I am not anywhere near an expert on the situation and in no way believe my own individual experience supersedes the knowledge experts have on this subject. If mental health professionals can use reason and logic to convince me it’s better for the nation to go in another path, I’d have no problem adjourning my own perceptions and accepting the consensus of those around me. That’s how our leaders should be making our decisions, period.

The leaders we need will listen to experts who were long ago devoted to the subject of mental health and submit their expert opinions free of bias. The leaders we need should be open to the logical ideas our experts suggest that resolve the multi-faceted mental health attack on our country. Then, in a government reclaimed with authentic representation, perhaps our congressional committees can again be filled with the spirit of curiosity and intellectual debate rather than speculation and divisive intent. Maybe then, our executive administrations can once again be staffed by experts who are seeking out what’s best for the American people instead of guiding the ship into a direction only favorable to the elite. In a proper representative republic, great minds would be ushered in to teach our leaders, to guide them, to testify even as to what their expertise has led them to understand, ready to execute plans that guide mental health treatment into the right direction.

We are all different, and I don’t believe that my path to mental health recovery is a cure-all for everyone, but there are aspects of it I believe apply to us all. To begin with, we each could be doing more to improve our relationships with God, no matter who we are. We each could do more to acknowledge the fact that if energy is neither gained nor lost and only transferred, then somewhere long ago an initial transfer of energy must have originated from a single place so powerful to create, not just life, but the laws of nature and abilities of intellect we have along with it. I’m trying to keep things very simple here, but how could we ever deny the idea that an unknown composition of energy more capable than us is responsible for our creation? I truly believe each of us, individually, has a place deep within us that knows unequivocally there is a God. Who that is may be a mystery, but cultivating a relationship with our Creator is something we each should be doing individually, and it would improve our mental health altogether.

You don’t need to find a religion to find God, nor do you have to be in a Christian denomination to believe in Christ. Personally, I approach religion as I do government or any other entity that yields power yet is built upon a corrupt hierarchical structure. I try to peer beyond the traditional setup of religion and seek out the message beyond man-made rituals and hypocritical doctrine. I don’t find solace in the formalities of traditional religions, as our most powerful religious institutions are responsible for some of the vilest grievances against oftentimes the most vulnerable among us, past and present. Even so, that doesn’t mean a person won’t better their life by humbling themself in recognition of their Creator. I believe we would each, no matter who we are, benefit by increasing the amount of thought and consideration we give to the notion of an eternal God.

But in my personal mental health recovery, I also found isolation to be beneficial. I am an avid primitive camper and love it for a variety of reasons. First is the isolation, which gives me no other option but be the person I am. There is no one else around to impress or judge, no one else’s thoughts or feelings to consider, and no social sacrifices to make. When I’m out there on my own I can only be who I am by default and nothing else. I would always have my dogs with me, two of the most loyal, intelligent, and obedient boxers one could imagine, Rocky and Adrienne. Although Rocky died early on, and Adrienne just recently, together we’ve roamed hundreds of miles of American wilderness, even uninhabited islands, for days and sometimes weeks without speaking to another person. No matter how difficult it was at times physically, they were truly therapeutic experiences that helped me have the perspective I have today.

The beauty in nature is a close second reason to love camping so much, and the pure honesty that exists alone in the wild is irreplaceable. Whether it’s the stars visible at night, the sun on our horizons or the innumerable variations of life on display, there isn’t a more satisfying way to immerse yourself into the beauty of God’s creation than a week alone in the wilderness. Everything in nature is exactly what it is. It will not lie to you, it does not have ulterior motives, it presents itself to you exactly as it is, and at times, forces you to confront yourself in the process. For example, there’s nothing to help your self-realization better than when a mama bear is charging to protect the two cubs behind her once she perceives you a threat, a situation that I’m grateful to have safely navigated while bringing no harm to the bear or her cubs. All it took was two warning shots from my pistol for her to change her mind and run off with the babes into the woods, it was a black bear after all. But it remains one of those irreplaceable moments where I was only a man confronted with the world around me in its purest form.

When left alone long enough with no one to talk to but God and nothing to stimulate you but His vast creation, confronting even the deepest and darkest pitfalls within you start becoming attainable possibilities, or at least they did for me. To be perfectly honest, if I didn’t have a wife and kids, I would seriously consider becoming a permanent camper. I’d pull a trailer with my truck across the country, picking different locations to set up as a temporary headquarters while I roamed the wilderness a week or two at a time. It’s harder to find a place on earth that makes you feel freer than being the only one in sight. And one day, if I were ever able to successfully share the message of this book with others, and a resurgence of leadership redirected our nation upward again, once my kids are grown and wife is tired of my company, I’m sure that’s where I’ll gladly end up.

But aside from knowing what worked for me, I don’t have the answers to solving our mental health problems, nor do I believe any one person does. Finding solutions will involve tapping into the vast knowledge and expertise our collective mental health professionals possess. I also know improving our overall mental health can’t be accomplished without solving a vast array of other issues in America such as curbing drug addiction, eradicating homelessness, fixing financial systems that produce income and wealth inequalities, rebuilding a quality education system, and establishing an effective healthcare system, to name a few.

Mainly, it will involve individual commitment from ordinary Americans, ready to stand up and take over the positions of leadership in America with the power to implement change. It will take Americans willing to look in the mirror and recognize their own small contributions to large problems, then look to the horizon and see the future those problems are leading us all toward. We can once again be a nation full of promise if we choose to be, roll up our sleeves, and fix our problems ourselves, the American way.

I believe that all over this country there are talented healthcare experts among us willing to find mental health solutions with zero political implications if we simply provide them with the same resources that those in power have today. I bet they would also become far more creative and efficient at resolving our mental health issues than anything our government has ever provided. A successful Presidential candidate surely must identify such experts for top positions; however, finding new leaders that encapsulate the spirit of our citizenry should bring along new expectations from voters, as well.  

We can’t disqualify those among us capable of leadership who lack the established relationships that well-connected, and well-funded, career politicians have built for themselves. Let’s instead be willing to build new relationships with those of us who acknowledge the corruption that controls our government and are doing something about it. Dunning-Kruger Effect aside, there is a clear distinction between those who possess the capabilities of leadership and those who perceive it for themselves. By working together in search of American leadership, we will find it, period.

If there is ever anything I can successfully get across to the American people, it is that voting for an experienced politician means nothing other than voting for those who have historically brought us to a point of failure. If we ever expect our future to look bright again, let’s change the way we’ve been looking at things all along. We absolutely can be better, both as a nation and as individuals. We absolutely can do more to make tomorrow better than today. We can be mentally healthier, safer both physically and financially, better educated, and a host of initiatives that will shift our nation into an upward trajectory if we stand up to do what’s needed to get us there together.

We are facing plenty of imminent threats; however, with the exception of nuclear war, addressing the mental health needs of our nation is a prerequisite to addressing the others. Our poor mental health affects literally every aspect of our society in harmful ways, and fixing our issues can never be achieved if we allow this root cause to linger. If it takes “Mushroom Mondays” for us to mellow out and reset the part of our brain quick to create turmoil, so be it; but whatever it takes, we should all be willing to do together. We absolutely must get a handle on the changes that technology has brought to our society and how those changes are affecting us mentally. And in a world where the perfect ass or the right porn video can make you a billionaire while those of us who genuinely care for others struggle to ever be heard, we’ve got to recalibrate our moral compass as a society and do more individually to make our country better tomorrow than it is today.

So, while I don’t have the exact answers on how to address our mental health needs, I’m fully aware that solutions will come from tackling the issue on many different fronts after collaborating with many intelligent minds. I believe that much improvement will come from the renewed spirit and attitude that would undoubtedly derive from the energy a completely new wave of leadership could have upon the public. Just imagine how united we’d be knowing that we have plenty to figure out, but we at least came together to elect a class of leaders capable of having discussions and debates leading to solutions that benefit the American People.

I struggle to understand how a nation of people capable of creating the greatest society in history are incapable of maintaining that society so long as they remain true to the foundational ideas our nation’s strength and prestige was built upon. We simply need to wake up, turn away from corporate backed propagandists, find leaders focused on the service of representation, and support them anyway we can. Look in the mirror, ask yourself if there is a leader inside of you. When lined up against the competition you might be surprised at how attractive you might look to others.

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