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When a friend asked how I thought revealing my personal struggles might impact my freelance work, I had already somewhat considered the risk.  Of course, some people will judge.  But, smart buyers will remember that the struggles of van Gogh did not negatively impact the end value of his work.  And, as an artist, I think it is a little dishonest to present a work of art without also addressing at least some of what created and influences its creator.  Plus, as I have seen from responses to previous posts about this subject, there are many who struggle with depression.  If my experiences can help one person, then it is worth the risk.  I plan to someday leave this world a little better off than when I arrived, just in case the Hindus and Buddhists are right and we all have to come back.

And, I’m an artist.  What is the risk, really?  As an artist, there is more risk in being closed.  I don’t have skeletons in my closet; I paint them and put them on display.  Part of an artist’s duty is to feel, experience, and express.  There are so many parts of the human experience which have been demonized, many people are denied the basic, simple privilege of talking about it.  We have free speech, but if you are an air traffic controller who was just put on psychoactive drugs for something like depression, and you go into work and talk about the freaky side effects around the water cooler, you will probably soon end up with a lot of free time on your hands.  And, perhaps in extreme situations with lives at stake, that’s for the best.  Most of us are not in that position, though.  So, why do so many of us hide it (or at the very least, refuse to talk about it)?

One of the unpleasant side effects of giving one’s depression too much direct attention is that it can feed the depression.  One of the unpleasant side effects of ignoring it is that it goes unchecked, like that giant dust bunny in the corner you’ve been ignoring for months but it’s about to carjack you.  It can be a tricky balance, and perhaps many people hide their depression, due to fear of unintentionally feeding it.  But, there is probably more to it.

When I first started to open up about my depression here, I remembered a conversation several years ago with a friend, in which he was warning someone else against revealing their own struggles.  “People will turn on you and abuse that information. In. A. Heartbeat.”, he said.  Some might, especially in certain professions.  Politics comes to mind.  In my own experience, responses have been supportive, and there have been a lot of “Me, too!” responses– though mostly sent as private messages.  At least.. the responses have been supportive recently.  When I was younger, I was misunderstood more often and the responses were less supportive.  I ended up being stressed out from hiding the depression, stressed out from feeling like I couldn’t just be *me*, and stressed out from all the ugly things some people do when they don’t understand you.

And that was after surviving childhood trauma.  By the time I was a teen, I had learned to mostly dislike humans (though I am now partially cured of that).  Have I really been coping with depression and PTSD for this long?

When I was 6-ish, I was enrolled in the “gifted” school.  I studied viola, art, ornithology, and so on.  How many 6 year olds can tell you what “dendrology” is?  By the time I graduated high school, my grades and attendance were such that the principal, as he was handing me my diploma, told me he did not ever think I would graduate.  One has to ask one’s self… What the hell happened?  Yet, if anyone ever asked, they did not find the answer or a solution.  I asked for help every way I knew how, then I gave up, shut everyone out, and went into survival mode, which later nearly became self-destruct mode.  If I had not eventually somehow landed in college, I suspect the outcome would have been tragic.

I suppose it is a small miracle that there wasn’t enough money to medicate me when I was a minor, otherwise I might have been a “zombie kid”.  As an adult, every time I have sought help for my depression, the first “solution” was always to medicate.  I’m going to tell you all a secret… those magic pills don’t work for most people.  Even according to the makers’ own studies.

Oh, yeah.  Then there are the side effects.

Last time I was put on medication, I kept telling them.. “It’s damaging my memory and I don’t feel comfortable driving while taking this.”  The solution?  Increase the dosage, add another pill, and see what happens!  I finally ended up stopping the medication myself, “cold turkey”.  The warning labels said not to, but by that time, my stable but depressed life had been pretty much turned upside down anyway.  If the worst thing that could happen was sudden death, I was ready for it.  I still sometimes have “zaps” from that, though it’s been a while since the last one.  (One of the lesser known side effects of stopping some medications is “zaps”.. it feels a lot like brushing against an electric fence, and you never know when it might hit.  *ZAP!*  Out of the blue.  Just like that.  Good times.)

Speaking of zaps and depression, a friend in the medical profession recently told me there are studies showing that ECT, aka “shock therapy”, has been shown to help fight depression, possibly even curing it for some.  I suspect those patients are only saying they feel better so the doctors will stop shocking them, but my friend reassures me the patients are anesthetized for the procedure.  I have no intention of finding out.

But, with all this talk of openness about depression, I haven’t been entirely honest with my readers.  Although I have focused largely on the depression aspect, the diagnosis was leaning toward bipolar disorder, and PTSD.  The PTSD might have its own series of posts someday, but not today.

With bipolar disorder, there are also manic states.  And those are kinda fun.  Especially after coming out of a depression.

With more severe cases, the manic half of bipolar disorder can be as destructive as the depression, but I don’t have the “leaping off tall buildings and pretending to be Supergirl” kind of mania.  It’s more like the “she’s having so much fun, I wonder what she’s taking” kind of mania.  And, actually, that’s not always a good thing either, since people really have at times mistakenly thought it was because of drugs.  Seriously, folks, stop jumping to those kinds of conclusions.

A lot of people do turn to drugs to cope with depression, bipolar, and any number of other things.  But, like so many “quick fixes”, the relief only lasts a short time, and most drugs bring their own set of complications.  However, recent research suggests marijuana might be effective for some, in dealing with the symptoms of a number of disorders, including depression, bipolar, and PTSD.  The reports are sometimes conflicting, but that is almost always the case.  Hopefully, there will be more research to clarify, but it could certainly help many who suffer from sleep disturbances and lack of appetite, and has already been approved for such uses in some states.

Meanwhile, here are a few of the things that have helped get me through it:

Remember, not every thought that pops into your head is true or accurate.  They’re just thoughts.  Challenge them.

Remember, no matter how dire things might seem today, change is the only constant.  It may not seem to come fast enough sometimes, but it always comes.  Be patient with the circumstances and with yourself.

No matter how severe your depression is today, do something productive, even if it’s as simple as skewering that giant dust bunny before it grabs the car keys.  Or, give it a name, glue some big googly eyes on it, and teach it to do tricks.

And, the older I get, the fewer things are funny, but always, always keep a sense of humor.  Even if you’re the only one who “gets it”.

If you missed the first 4 parts of “depression from the inside”, check the past blog entries for those. ❤

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My blog entries have been a little heavy lately, I know.  I do have some very good news to share next time, I promise.  I have most of it already written in my head.  But, I want to post this one first, while the thoughts are still fresh in my mind.

If you missed the first 3 parts, they are here:  part 1, part 2, part 3

This time, I decided to discuss social withdrawal since it is so common with depression, and so often misunderstood.  If you’re dealing with someone who is depressed and they are seeming more and more distant, yes, you should probably be concerned, but no, they probably don’t hate you.  In fact, it is possible that they like you so much that they don’t want to subject you to whatever they are going through.

While I cannot and do not speak for every person who has ever suffered from depression, I can say from my own personal experiences and observations that, yes, social withdrawal is a defense mechanism.  The world can be a harsh, unforgiving place, and it might be necessary to avoid it as much as possible when one is feeling especially vulnerable.  But it isn’t just about protecting one’s self.  It’s also about preserving the sanity of others.  I know moods can be contagious, good or bad, and I don’t want anyone catching mine when it is a rotten one.  Countless times, friends have expressed frustration at being unable to lift my spirits when I am depressed.  And, believe me, I know it is frustrating.  Sometimes I even frustrate myself.  So, when I am depressed, I hide.  Is it a healthy, beneficial response?  Maybe not, but it is “normal” with depression.

It has often been argued that, since moods are contagious, if one surrounds one’s self with happy people, it will help relieve depression.  Sometimes it does help, briefly.  Other times, it is only frustrating and depressing.  And, for someone who also has PTSD, socializing can be very stressful.

So, on the bleakest days with the lowest moods, when neither social withdrawal nor socializing will do, what does help?  Is there some way to be alone without really being alone?  I suspect this is part of the reason chat forums have been so popular for so many years.  Sure, there is the stereotype of the “creepy internet chatter”, but very few chatters actually fit that stereotype.

Studies have also shown that having a pet helps relieve depression.  For myself, having a dog helped quite a bit.  I always knew it helped, but never realized how much it helped until he died at nearly 13 years old.  I don’t care what anyone says about it being just a dog.  I lost a best pal that day, and that bit of it still depresses me.  I know some people prefer cats or birds or any number of other kinds of critters.  Pick a favorite; mine doesn’t have to be yours.   As long as it takes your mind off whatever is bothering you and puts you in the moment when none of that other stuff matters, it could even be a pet rock.  I hear those are very easy to care for, and you can teach them tricks, like “sit”, “stay”, “lie down”, and “play dead”.

Hobbies help, too.  Whether it’s art, or metalwork, or whittling, or basket weaving, or stacking dominoes, by focusing on some task, symptoms of depression are sometimes alleviated– at least for a while.

And, always, always challenge the self-sabotaging negative thoughts.  Many will not stand up to solid logic.

 


As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, I decided to write some articles in the hope of building understanding and dispelling a few misconceptions about depression.  If you missed the first 2 parts, you can find them here and here.

This time, I’ve decided to address some of those “positive thinking” clichés which might help some people, but since most depressed people will overthink them and they will probably not stand up to scrutiny, they’re not so helpful to us, and make a lot of us wonder if a lot of people are boneheads.

Positive thinking has it’s place, and it feels better than doom and gloom, but perhaps what would benefit more people is realistic thinking.  The glass isn’t half full or half empty.  It’s 4 ounces of whatever was put in there.

One of the clichés making the internet rounds recently is “If you think positive, positive things will happen”. Sure they will.  Also, negative things will happen.  And, if you think negative, negative things will happen.  Also, positive things will happen.  Because, to counter one cliché with another, “the rain falls on the good and wicked alike”.

One of the reasons these things bother me is that many of the clichés are a bit condescending and imply that people are depressed or have unpleasant things happening because they are doing something wrong.  Some of these clichés incorrectly imply that we have total control of our situations, whatever they may be.

Most people do have some control over their circumstances.  Some have more control than others, for a variety of reasons.  If someone was born and raised in poverty in an inner city ghetto, and subsequently became mired in all the problems that go with it, and you tell them “If you don’t like where you are, move! You’re not a tree”, without offering any real, viable solutions or giving them any of the resources they need to move.. you might only piss them off, because what you have just unwittingly told them is “I don’t really fully understand your circumstances, and am blaming you for sticking around, so am not really going to help you. So, I’ll just stand here looking smug and wagging my finger at you.”

When my mother was ill, some of the so-called positive thinkers I knew actually suggested abandoning her, in order to protect my own interests.  Naturally, I did not.  I dropped out of college, which also meant giving up my position as a student employee at the university.  I gave up a lot of other things, too.  It was depressing, to say the least.  And, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  What happened to all those positive thinkers?  They mostly moved on to “happier” things, because my very real circumstances didn’t make them feel good enough. Thanks, positive thinkers.

It’s another issue with all these positive thinking clichés.  In our culture of instant gratification, some of these clichés encourage even more magical thinking and the idea that if we are unhappy, we should immediately abandon ship.  It causes people to fail each other, and that’s pretty darned depressing.

Here is one more: “Grateful people are happy people.”  While I cannot speak for all depressed people everywhere, I can tell you that my issue is not a lack of gratitude, and it’s not the issue of any depressed person I have encountered.  In fact, the depressed people I have encountered have often been some of the most grateful, because we have to be.

If we didn’t count our blessings regularly, we’d lose our fricking minds.  In fact, I think I will go count mine again right now.

 


Since someone pointed out in a private note that I neglected to mention at least one other misconception about depression, and since I also neglected to mention a few other things that help, I’ve decided to do a “part 2”, and maybe even a “part 3” later.

“They’re just lazy, and they don’t care.”  While there probably is such a thing as laziness, it’s not the same thing as depression.   Due to the physical symptoms of depression, such as the sleep disruptions, pain, and fatigue, it’s not uncommon to find a depressed person napping at odd hours.  Sometimes they might even seem to enjoy it, because.. well.. what else should they do?  If I have lemons and make lemonade, don’t judge me for it;  all I’ve done is make the best of something sour.  Some people might say “I have those problems too, get over it!”.  If it’s true, good for them!  I commend them for setting a good example, but I also wonder how they have managed to measure the other person’s suffering in order to compare it with their own.  If it is some technique they can patent, emergency rooms all over the world will pay them big bucks for that time saver.

Most of the tools and techniques on which I have focused are centered on how a depressed person can help themselves.  This is because that is where the change has to be.  I realized some time ago that my own depression is not caused entirely by external things.  *This does not mean that it is never caused or triggered by external things.*  But what I noticed was that even when things were relatively good, I would be depressed and sometimes without even being sure why.  Nobody’s life is perfect, but in spite of even the worst of my traumas, I am probably one of the luckiest people in the world.  And, it is frustrating to have so much distress without being able to pinpoint a cause or cure for so many years.

The biggest difference between grief and depression is that grief typically has a specific cause, then subsides.  Depression lingers.  Among things regularly listed as causes of depression are loss, trauma, and even head injuries.  Mine could have started in early childhood with any of those things, and was probably compounded by various other things over the years.  Luckily, I have known some strong, stubborn people who refuse to give up, and they set some pretty good examples.

Depression tends to make one into a fatalist, wondering “why bother?” and thinking “none of it matters, anyway”.  Frankly, a lot of it actually doesn’t really matter– which celebrity is sleeping with whom to further which career, for example.  Seriously.  Who cares?  Frankly, it is a little depressing that so many people give so much attention to shallow, superficial things when we could all be devoting that time and energy to more constructive things.  Of course, for me, the realization of how numerous and widespread are the world’s problems can often make everything seem more daunting.  The thinking can become “no matter what I do for me or even for others, there will always be so many more who are suffering”.  Of course, the reverse of that is also true, though you might never hear a depressed person utter the sentence, “No matter how I suffer, it will never prevent the suffering of everyone else.”

But no matter how hopeless or daunting things might seem, most people are not entirely helpless.  No matter how hopeless one’s own situation might seem, everyone can do something to help someone else.  And, believe it or not, doing something for others can help fight one’s own depression.  It is one of the reasons I use a portion of sales to help local nonprofit groups, even though a certain friend keeps trying to point out that I can’t really afford it.  So far, I have not starved, although I do without a lot of things.  Life has seen fit to put me in a position where my own resources are currently very limited, but it does not mean I can not do anything for anyone else.  Nor does it mean you can not do anything for anyone else, even if your own resources are limited.


Having muddled through bouts of depression for so much of my life, I think I am qualified to talk about what has and has not helped me and others I have known, though I am *not* a medical professional.  This is an attempt to help myself and others to understand depression, and perhaps to help manage it.  The aim is mostly to build understanding, because there are so many misconceptions about depression and how to help someone who has it.  It is *not* an attempt to garner any kind of sympathy or pity.  It is also *not* intended to replace professional medical advice in any way.  It is a firsthand view of depression, from a long term survivor of it.

Contrary to what some believe, grief, “self-pity”, and depression are not the same things.  And, although I have at times referred to my own depression as “self-pity”, it’s not an accurate presentation, so I will try to avoid using the terms interchangeably.  I suppose referring to it as “self-pity” is a way of making it seem smaller and more easily managed.  But, it gives the wrong idea to those who already think depression is just that.  While it might include elements that seem like self-pity, depression is more complex and with a wider range of symptoms.  Being sad doesn’t automatically mean a person is depressed, and being able to crack a joke does not mean a person is *not* depressed.

Depression symptoms can range from mild to severe, and a percentage of sufferers can even have symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations.  Thankfully, my symptoms are not as severe as that.  I do have the fatigue/exhaustion, sleep disruption, anxiety, and pain accompanying the bouts of depression.  So, it does go beyond simply “being blue”.  I used to hide or mask the symptoms better, but it is just too exhausting.  Plus, it doesn’t help anyone, including and especially me.

From talking with others with depression, it seems the first instinct of a lot of doctors is to medicate.  This was my experience, as well.  I tried several different antidepressants over the years, some worked briefly, but none worked long term, and all had side effects that were as detrimental as the original ailment.  Another problem with medicating is that, with several of those medications, the patient is not supposed to suddenly stop taking it.  So, any lengthy interruption in health care results in withdrawal.  Yes, withdrawal.  “It’s non habit forming and non addictive, but if you stop taking it suddenly, there’s a slim chance you’ll drop dead…”  That’s not word for word, but…. Read the fine print.

It’s not that I’m against medications.  I’m not against them.  I’ve known many people who say medication worked for them, and with minimal side effects.  Antidepressants just did not work for me, which is probably for the best since I am currently one of the x thousands of uninsured, and would probably only have to suddenly stop taking them (again).

Alcohol also does not work.  Sure, it seems like fun at the time–at least, more fun than moping–but it actually worsens symptoms over time.  (Plus, it might wreck your liver, and then you’d be doubly depressed!)

Platitudes and clichés also do not help. “Get over it,” “Snap out of it”, “Count your blessings”, etc.. all sound like “Blah blah blah” to someone who is depressed.  Depressed people don’t want to be depressed.  It’s not a fun place.  Also, we already know there are other people somewhere with even worse problems than our own.  Reminding depressed people that there are even more depressed people out there.. is not especially helpful. Nor is it helpful to remind us that there are people who are managing even worse problems way more effectively than we are.  It’s not really just about the immediate problem itself, you see.

The emotional part of it would be enough, but depression comes with physical symptoms, too.  Headaches, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, sleep disorders, chest pain, digestive problems… and that’s just a partial list!  It can be utterly debilitating and interfere with every aspect of a person’s life. I think I can safely say that most who live with it would do almost anything to find relief.  Some resort to suicide.

“Suicide is not an option” is one of the platitudes often given by well-meaning friends of the depressed.  And, it’s not entirely true for anyone with the physical ability.  It’s just a really *bad* option, and is the one choice that removes all chance of ever making any other choice.  So, it’s not a viable option, and maybe it’s time to replace that cliché with something like… “I hope you’re not considering that. There are always better alternatives.” And, this one is true! There really are always better options, even if they’re not always clearly visible across a bleak horizon.

Of the things I have found to relieve the symptoms, nothing works 100%.  However, every little bit adds up.  The main trouble is that in the midst of depression, many of these things can seem impossible.  Also, it is undeniable that the source of depression for many is some life circumstance, which can be entirely beyond the person’s control.

Having a support system helps.  On the darkest days, perhaps it seems I only remember the disappointments.  However, I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family members who understand (or at least try to), and love me even on the days I mistakenly think I could hate the whole world.  And maybe I could hate it some days.  Sometimes when I look at the news, the world isn’t making a very strong case for itself.  But it doesn’t really have to.

The world isn’t bad.  Some people and situations are toxic, though.  More than once, I traced the trigger of an episode back to specific people or situations in my life.  Once I got away from the person/situation, the symptoms improved.  Of course, it’s not always possible to remove a trigger.  For these situations, I work to change my view of it.  Like advertising, sometimes it’s all about the spin.  Some things can’t be twisted into a positive, no matter how one tries.  Try not to dwell on it.  Push it to the side, say a prayer for it if you like, move on to the next problem, and come back to it later if you must.

Diet makes a difference.  Meat and potatoes might be yummy, but get off those for a while, and try something more colorful.  No, not the orange sherbet, nor the rainbow sprinkles.  Fruits and veggies.  *Real* fruits and veggies.  Not from a can, and not just for a day.  Long term.  I’m not entirely sure why this seems to help so much.  It could be the vitamins and so on, or a subconscious reaction to all the bright pretty colors, or both.  It’s probably both.  Of course, it could also be the time of year, and all the warm weather and sun I associate with fruits and veggies.  But if you are what you eat, and you’re always eating some sad critter….  Just sayin’.

Exercise helps too.  But all of these remedies can be much harder to apply than they might seem to someone who isn’t depressed.  Nobody is eager to go to an aerobics class when exhausted and everything aches.  Frankly, the idea of going to a gym and sharing equipment a bunch of other people were sweating all over… just freaks me out.  I’m sorry.  I’m sure everyone there is healthy and free of “cooties”, and I don’t have any kind of princess syndrome.  But there just aren’t enough of those sanitizing cloths in the world.  Oh, plus there are all those people.  It’s a strange thing.  I used to like socializing more.  Now, I tend to avoid crowds.  I’m not sure if that is part of the depression, or if it is from the PTSD.  Maybe both.  The point is.. when I exercise, I exercise at home.

Some swear by meditation and yoga, so much that when I say meditation did not work, they insist I must be doing it wrong.  Perhaps I will give it another try one day.

I found some of Daniel Amen’s teachings helpful, in particular the method of challenging “automatic negative thoughts”, based on cognitive therapy.  Basically, since “all thoughts are automatic”, and “not everything you think is true” (no kidding!), there are some automatic negative thoughts.  Depressed people tend to have more of these.  By challenging those thoughts, it is possible to re-train one’s brain to have fewer of those, and have more positive automatic thoughts.  This takes a bit of practice.  I could be working on it for a long while.

Another exercise is to list daily 5 things for which you are grateful.  I admit, the first couple of tries, I was not sure I quite had the hang of it…. “I am grateful for not being that person.. or that person.. or that person.. or…”.  I know, I know.  I went entirely the wrong direction with that exercise.  I’m only human.  And, depression doesn’t mean I’ve entirely lost my edge.  Plus, being grateful for being me and not someone else is a good thing, right?

If you’re curious about Daniel Amen, he has books, “webinars” on youtube, and his “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” video is below.  Although I am not sure all of the suggestions he gives are practical for everyone (there is no one size cure), there is a lot of helpful info:


When I saw the news of the attack on Senator Creigh Deeds by his son, I thought ‘If the Senator’s kid couldn’t get help, what the hell hope is there for the average citizen?’

The answer is…. virtually none.  If you have watched the news, seen the school shootings, mall shootings, random shootings and so on over the past several years.. and you still do not understand how desperate our mental health care situation is.. then perhaps you need mental health care, too.

It is virtually impossible for the uninsured to find adequate health care in Virginia, and the difficulty increases when the ailment is not considered “physical”, such as depression.  Sure, the emergency room is required by law to stabilize anyone who shows up.  This basically means, “We won’t let you bleed to death in the lobby”.   But, if an individual needs long term or follow-up care, it just isn’t there.

I do not understand how our representatives can claim any kind of morality when they allow so many to suffer in silence, and I am still angry at a system of legislators that do not care until something directly effects them.

However, now that a legislator has been directly impacted, and is willing to talk about it and work for change, he deserves our support.  He should also be commended for putting the blame where it should be– on our system of “care”– and not on the weapons used.

Speaking from my own experience, and my own fruitless pursuit of treatment for depression, I can guess how much it costs in lost productivity.  I, like “Gus”, was enrolled in college… when the depression I’ve struggled with for so many years returned.  When it became too intense, I had no choice but to withdraw from classes, just a few credits short of finishing my degree.  I still do as much as I can to be productive, but depression is debilitating at times.  In fact, it would probably be fairly easy for anyone to look at my history and see exactly at which points my depression was at its worst.  Productivity goes out the window.  And I know there are thousands just like me.

I was relatively lucky.  I entered a profession in which I am expected to be a little odd.  But, for many, lack of treatment leads to worse results, such as substance abuse and even violence.  This costs the state a fortune (more than enough to cover all my student loans, I’m sure).  Yet, the Virginia Sheriff’s Association is objecting to the lengthier holding time for the mentally ill, claiming it will overburden rural law enforcement resources.  I wonder if they have considered that by treating the mentally ill instead of ignoring them, there might be fewer crimes, thereby relieving some of the burden rather than increasing it.  Or, perhaps the Sheriff’s Association needs mental health care, too.

When there was talk of expanding our state’s Medicaid program, I was hopeful.  However, that hope soon disintegrated when the state chose not to expand Medicaid.  Currently, a person only qualifies if they are elderly, or if they have children they can’t afford to feed.  If you do not have kids you can’t feed,  you are on your own.  No help for you.  Now my friends joke, “Let’s make some babies!”.  I could go on a tangent about how this policy actually amounts to our state forcing low income people into having children, just to qualify for help, but that’s a subject for another day.  Back to mental health….

As research for mental illness continues, it is being discovered that the cause is often a chemical imbalance, which is physical.  So, perhaps it is time to stop calling them mental or physical illnesses, and just call them both “illnesses”.

The new legislation Sen. Deeds is proposing has a good chance of passing, in some form.  However, it will be nearly useless for low income individuals who will not be able to find follow-up care after they are released from the hospital.  If our legislators really want to help, they should expand Medicaid to cover the people who are currently falling through the cracks of the system… without making us all have babies first.  In the end, it might even save money for the state.

Seriously.  We can’t afford *not* to reform the current system.

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