Saturday, January 3, 2015

Telling the Sob Story

In reading about Kelli Stapleton I was struck by this statement: “She had gotten her child into a residential placement, there were some issues with her school, but she had been getting a whole lot of help — including securing almost continuous care in the home, a level of support far higher than almost anyone else in the state was receiving”
Kelli Stapleton tried to kill her disabled daughter Issy, and she has been telling her story about how stress and despair drove her to do it.  She got a whole show on Dr.Phil. But reading that statement about how much help she had I wondered if  the driving factor of the attempted murders wasn’t that Kelli had  an unusually tough time raising her daughter but that she had fallen the habit of telling a sob story.
A culture that doles out help and consideration in proportion to a perception of need that is indexed by the evocation of pity encourages telling and retelling of tales of woe that creates a narrative of pityable ness. Our disability services system is designed to let a web of gate keepers direct limited government resource to those who need them most. So in order to get the extraordinary services, to get upgrades to the basic level of support, you have to present a narrative of why you really, really need the extra resources. The social workers and other helping professionals you deal with will be empathetic people who will respond to how deeply you feel and how passionate your cries for help are.
By Laura Beaudin from Edmonton, Canada
(Crocodile Tears) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Telling sad stories of how abused and downtrodden you are, can change your perception of reality and depressed and desperate, worsening your subjective situation. Negative self-talk can be a contributing factor in depression. This effect must magnified when you are not only telling yourself but telling others and presenting a coherent picture of need and helplessness. Regardless of how desperate the situation is objectively, subjectively the situation will be worsened by making the negative to focus of your speech and your relationships.
This can lead the needy and vulnerable to a downward spiral. While help received in return for the need being convincingly expressed can help the situation, it can also set-up a pattern. If the answer to life’s problems becomes convincing everyone how pitiable you are, then if you aren’t satisfied with something, the solution can seem to be talking yourself into seeing your situations as even more miserable than you already feel. At some point the help received doesn’t surpass, doesn’t even balance out, how much worse you’ve made yourself feel. But the solution to that which will feel natural is to wallow in missery more strenuously.

Kelli Stapleton's statement: “We obtained the single opening for the Michigan children’s waiver for the whole state!  So Issy has funds for staff at home.  Her very own human for nearly all of her waking hours!  Can. You. Imagine?!” is a declaration of triumph, her strategy has worked. But it also represents something darker. It appeared on Kelli’s personal blog actually called “The Status Woe.”  As I read it I’m struck by how much focus there is on how Kelli is put upon both by her daughter’s condition, by people who don’t do what Kelli wants them to do to help her, and just by the inconveniences of life that get magnified when you deal with a disability.  
            I see the same underlying strand in other deaths of Autistics, like Jude Mirra. When I read about his murderer and mother, Gigi Jordan, I’m struck by how unlikely it is that all of the many accusations she makes of people abusing her and her son can all be true. She had the money to get practical help. But instead she seemed obsessed with making things hard on her self, and flying around looking for a savior, a miracle worker, who could answer her cries with help that would somehow make everything match her vision of perfection.

          This problem is not just Autism community. This situation is endemic among those America is tying most to help. Danusha Goska sums it us:

“They don’t know about believing in themselves, or stick-to-itiveness. … My students know — because they have been drilled in this — that the only way they can get ahead is to locate and cultivate those few white liberals who will pity them and scatter crumbs on their supplicant, bowed heads and into their outstretched palms. My students have learned to focus on the worst thing that ever happened to them, assume that it happened because America is unjust, and to recite that story, dirge-like, to whomever is in charge, from the welfare board to college professors, and to await receipt of largesse.”

             We need to stop encouraging people denigrate themselves in hope of receiving extra help. We need a way of making needs assessment that is less dependent on the ability to craft a sad narrative. Even if that makes me seem heartless towards a person who is practically having hysterics. The harder a person starts sobbing is the face of denial the more likely it seems to me that that person is addicted and needs an intervention rather than another fix.
We need to find a way to reward the needy on the basis of how much effort they are putting out. So there can be concrete motivation to work to get yourself out of poverty. There also needs to be positive recognition and even rewards given for those achieving results, rather than just a snatching away of benefits. We need to value this once again:

“The “broken people” are out there everywhere, inviting us to their pity parties. But I think about my ancestors, and I also think about Muhammad Ali, the best boxer in history. Of all his many great moments, his greatest was a fight he lost. In 1973, Ali fought Ken Norton, a Marine Corps veteran who broke Ali’s jaw — yet Ali did not quit. He went the full 12 rounds and lost a split decision to Norton, but the fact that he finished the fight with a broken jaw is a testament to Ali’s toughness.
                -Stacy McCain


  1. What a great post--I saw your comment at Xenosystems today and am glad I hit the link. Thanks for an inspiring message.

  2. Thanks! Love you blog title. I think the concept of Pyle has great potentional