Consternation of the Bees


“Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. Once thought to pose a major long term threat to bees, reported cases of CCD have declined substantially over the last five years.” –The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

I love science and history. And I guess I hate science and history. Mental illness is in every twist and turn of my science and history, imbedded in my DNA, in my family, in my culture and in my country. But I read because not only do they give me the bad and the ugly, they also provide understanding of cycles of weather patterns, cycles of imperialism and power, cycles of seasons and cycles of generations. It gives me patience. It makes me laugh at the way we see other cultures and other lifeforms. It gives me ancient blueprints and guides. Anne Lamott says, “How do we celebrate paradox, let alone manage it all? … We remember mustard seeds, that the littlest things will have great results. We do the smallest, realest, most human things. We water what is dry.

An abstract piece of art; orange, green, and blue shapes with a white line connecting pink dots throughout
“Trauma Map” by Jane Engleman

The colony of Los Angeles has collapsed. If you do not see it, you are living in a virtual reality staring into a carefully spun screen rather than out the open windows. You do not hear the silence, you do not smell the stench and you do not notice the empty rooms. The Environmental Protection Agency says that when a bee hive develops Colony Collapse Disorder, there may be several reasons, such as “disease,” “pesticide poisoning,” “stress due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services,” “changes to the habitat,” “inadequate forage/poor nutrition,” and “potential immune-suppressing stress on bees.”

This is not an essay on bees, but I am seeing parallels to the collapse of intentional communities in the tattered thrift-store remnants of the British Empire in California. California is the last edge of the new world. The refugees of New England are settled here. We have no place else to go.

Self-Care in Colony Collapse Disorder

From 1988 to 2013, I struggled with severe mental illness. As a missionary kid in New Mexico, I was shamed, confused, enraged and terrified, caught between neglect, violence and the paradoxes of what I know to be true in one culture and what I know to be true in another. I was given free hope and some community support in the board and care home provided by Homes for Life Foundation, and in the I-CAN program in Pasadena which became a Community Mental Health Center under the Department of Mental Health. If I had not had these, I would be dead, sacked out on illegal drugs in a tent on Skid Row or in jail, three outcomes which some in our society seem to believe can only be “managed” by forced assimilation through education, economic sanction, withholding primary healthcare, or even “scientific” euthanization of the “useless eaters.”

Killing or mechanizing bees and humans is not sustainable. Everything is connected to the flow of abundance. Killing ourselves through stress is not the answer, nor is living with walking corpses who are becoming desperately violent on every corner. But how do we manage paradox, let alone manage it all? Or, like Rumi, we can ask how to get back to that place where birds know how to nest?

While in twenty-five years in community mental health, the L.A. Department of Mental Health marketed at great expense the concept of “Recovery.” I found I-CAN after nine years doing everything possible to navigate society and my own confusion. I was in abject hopelessness, at zero resource. My family was at zero resource. I had no community. So I latched on to this concept of “Recovery,” and came to worship the idea that if I continued to be “compliant,” took “scientific” drugs approved by the FDA and squeezed into the tiny square box insisted upon in behavioral mental health treatment in the United States, I would come to that nirvana of “Recovery.” If I sat in my chair in a support group long enough, life would re-emerge.

Some practices remind me of Richard Henry Pratt’s attempts at the Carlyle Indian School: “Kill the Indian, save the man.” And when the experiment fails (when you find you cannot make a milk cow out of a honey bee), the statistics show that bees are useless. This substitute for science descends into insanity, a result of the arrogance of limited perspective; if the scientist, Isaac Newton, in the 1600s had found an uncharged cellphone by his bed, he might have collected it as an art object or stuck it in a box for future reference. The technology would have been useless to him disconnected from a tutorial or a wifi tower, and how ridiculous he would have come across in a freshman college class in 2022.

Empirical science is in its infancy in social work. Science is only as good as the innate work of the bees; whether or not you understand what you are looking at, you will find out why they are essential, one way or the other. And community systems have not been permitted in the United States. Education is focused on masculine projects. Civilizations collapse without intact communities and, by the way, villages cannot be sustained without the independent business networking of mothers. Women are natural community builders when respected, supported and left to our own devices. Educating a workforce includes more than an assembly of lines, cubicles and paperwork.

The Science of Community

Since 1917, when Mississippi became the last state to pass compulsory education, we have been given “the American dream.” And in mental health, we were given grand examples of the diagnoses of great European and American leaders who had suffered and risen to greatness. These great leaders are not the leaders who lived in hogans in the desert, nor were they the mothers of the black and white politicians, scientists and artists who raised them. When I began my journey, I believed that I could become strong enough to contribute to my country. Then I thought perhaps I could save my family. And then I came to believe that the only person I could ever rescue was myself. I was wrong. When colonies collapse, the bees are at the mercy of something outside themselves.

We cannot DO self-care when our environment has become poisoned by the seven sins, and only the rich believe they have the means to escape. I guess they could build giant air-rockets and transport “the bees” off to Titan to let the planet recover, as the British did with their poor and criminalized, shipping “prostitutes” and “murderers” to America and Australia, but finally, are the British any better off having “deleted” the problem?

The State has chosen to deport or oppress our workers, refusing citizenship to many, making debtors and slaves of the college students bred to be our nobles, doctors and Brahmans. The contamination of eugenics in “behavioral mental health” has created an epidemic of anosognosia in the United States. Now the assimilated can decide which cultures, genders and thinkers are insane and how they should be “managed.”

Researchers are deaf to the voices of history, geography and all voices not transmitted through established digital frequencies. “Special Ed” is the State solution for neurodiversity or difference. Unassimilated mothers do not teach the courses on the observed psychology of children from the perspectives of their own languages and cultures. And so, clients are beaten, forgotten, psychologically tortured, isolated, fingerprinted, drugged and finally ”put to bed.” And so the endless search for “more beds,” in jails, convalescent homes, “tiny house villages,” tool sheds on the freeways and beautiful new apartment complexes micromanaged and locked in after 5 pm.

How do we get back to the place where bees know how to hive, where unstressed mothers teach each other to breast feed, stop and rock and to discipline gently? Where artists are heard? I would ask if corporate scientists are temperamentally capable of accessing sensory input beyond what they see in front of their physical eyes?

More Quotes On Bees:
  • “Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list. They are critical pollinators.” –The BBC
  • “If delicate flowers are to turn into succulent fruits, they need the help of honey bees. Eighty percent of all fruit and vegetable varieties rely on insect pollination.” –Britannica
  • “Bees contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist.” –Action News 5
How To Get Back To That Place Where Birds Know How To Nest?

I never used to think of writing as hard work, or even necessary. Nor, after years of labeling by every white male psychiatrists with no understanding—of art, of the feminine principle or of indigenous wisdom—did I ever imagine that I have a reason to exist or that I could have a gift, that of beeing; I spend my days playing in the petals and pooping in the hive. I am a worker bee, and I am dying too. Death is a gift of urgency and energy with the beautiful peace of knowing that you are disabled and able to work in a flow in teams.

Animals and plants teach us how our teeny weeny individual strengths and innate wisdom contribute to the well-being at least of this continent, if not the world, if not the rest of space. I cannot be an activist in Los Angeles. I can only bee. Part of the beeing is sitting with Creativity who calls me gently to the network of restoration of independent intentional communities in Los Angeles.

Heart Forward LA is a restoration project for human intentional communities in Los Angeles. The Clubhouse model is focused on those diagnosed by State criteria, but it a model of the ancient and the contemporary movement to restore urban connected villages where seniors and the disabled, the orphans of insanity, workers, pets, plants and children can dwell together again. It is a pilot that can be replicated. If it can be done at the last seam of emigration on the planet, within twenty miles of the beach, with the most, most marginalized, it can be done anywhere. A clubhouse. A meeting place. The beginning of village. It won’t look like what we think. It will look like what we dance in time.

I end with the quote by the EPA with which I began: “Once thought to pose a major long term threat to bees, reported cases of CCD have declined substantially over the last five years.” Who knows why? Perhaps the pandemic has made an impact on Colony Collapse Disorder, or restoration has been made by some natural cycle of weather or planetary tilt, or maybe bees are returning because of continuing teamwork among bees, beekeepers, scientists and connoisseurs who love their honey?


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Jane Engleman
Jane Engleman is a poet, graphic artist, writer, and peer advocate for people marginalized in L.A. County for having survived diagnoses of "mental illness" by state agencies. In the emotional dysregulation caused by severe social and psychological trauma, every part of the collective intelligence must be addressed: mind, body, environment, cognition and human communication. Engleman contributes to this effort through the spoken word.


  1. Beautifully written. I hear you. Similar to you, I believe in the Terrain Theory in learning to bee. Everything must be addressed and adjusted within ourselves so that our external will become what we need to thrive in our hive.
    I did just this after my Crisis began in 1998. I grew up a military brat with all that lifestyle entails. I was in and out of hospitals, tried at least 2 dozen Rx drugs & came to the conclusion that the indigenous peoples had the right idea. I was having a spiritual awakening with no in-person guide. In 2011, I got off all the meds and rebuilt my life- an upgraded version to Cathy 2.0
    Thank you for becoming the best version of you and sharing your journey with others.

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    • What is Terrain Theory? Are you aware of the work of Mary Watkins, “Mutual Accompaniment,” or Dr. Alisa Orduna from Pacifica Graduate Institute, or Foundation for Intentional Communities? What I am seeking is a bridge between the real world and the island of British colonial kapo structure so that we CAN bee. How can we build intentional communities in L.A. without civil war? How can we burn the paperwork into bricks for buildings with kitchens and gardens for ourselves? How do we allow space for intentional migration and flow?

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      • Terrain Theory (as opposed to germ theory- one germ/virus causes an illness) is a theory where your environment and how you react/respond to it is what causes illness. I have applied it to society at large in my comment.
        I am not familiar with Watkins, Orduna, or kapo structures. My expertise is in metaphysics. Are you familiar with Miguel Ruiz “The Four Agreements?” While you are concerned with the exterior environment, and rightly so, (no judgment, just observation) my life is dedicated to assisting those clear up their interior environment. Becoming & feeling empowered on the inside allows outside forces to change, in my experience and those of my clients.
        We are all working toward the same goal, just using different approaches, in my opinion.

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  2. I have GOT to get “The Four Agreements.” I read a lot, but have thought that is one book missing from my library.

    I am 179 years old now, I guess (years multiplied by the algorithm of suffering). I went through what I can only see as British colonial paradigm of education (military tactics, dismissal of how mothers, teachers and nurses do our best work, and sit-learning as superior to labor-learning) {I refer you to “My Octopus Teacher,” and “Thinking in Pictures”, Temple Grandin}. Everybody’s different. Most people can learn a little from the other animals in our rooms, always keeping in mind that a buffalo cannot teach a dolphin how to get to Chicago.

    Since becoming ignorant, I have pondered particles and waves influence each other, and how breathing keeps us alive. I breathe a lot more than I used to. I sit and meditate, and get up to wash the dishes. I dance with Fred Sugerman every week in Medicine Dance. I carry that movement of meditation into my work. The challenge of my life is: I am an introvert, would prefer the cushion and the library; forty years of psychotherapy and twenty-five years of “support groups.” But never learned to breathe on the move.

    I saw a man rolling, sobbing in bags, on the sidewalk in Highland Park last week. We have rows of toolsheds on the 110 Freeway for people who choose to live inside a “shelter.” I have to learn to breathe through this agony. I have to work with it. I have to come home and curl up in mercy and go on out again with a bottle of water, or stay inside and do a Zoom group.

    There is plenty of room in the universe for particles and, in the experience of Mahayana Buddhism, Jane Adams’ Hull House, faith without works is dead. By the wiggle of your typing fingers in communication, you are moving. Breathing. The exterior is a direct consequence of the beauty of the interior. We have got to gently lift people up off the street who are lost, and allow free expression of the wildness of the wind and sunshine for those who choose to be independent. The environment is a spectacular meditation on the Divine.

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    • I live in East Tennessee. We have our homeless folks here, but fewer than LA. My daughter used to work at our local library and took a workshop on Homelessness. She shared with me much of what she learned. The library director at that time wanted them “banished” from the library where they would spend at least part of their days when the weather was bad. Many of the library employees wanted to enact a program to help those who wanted it. There is a new director now, so hopefully, it will come to pass.
      When my daughter was in elementary school, she needed tutoring in math. A wonderful math teacher from another school tutored in the afternoons. She went 2x a week. I watched him teach the kids and was amazed at his technique. He told them over and over in various ways that they were smart, they remembered how to do “this,” there was nothing going to hold them back, math was easy, and on & on he would say these types of things. I saw very little “math” being taught but the kids loved him and would bring in their test scores to show him how they did, including my daughter. I asked him about his methods. He explained that most kids needed someone on their side that cheered them on. He chose to be that person.
      My “works” have come to encompass a cheerleading aspect for people. Many of the women that come to me needed someone to cheer them on until they learned they could do it for themselves. I was one of those once, so now I show others how to care for & love themselves. Many of us care-taking types, which you seem to be among those who care, often put ourselves last. I am grateful you are breathing, meditating, and being.
      Besides The Four Agreements, Greg Braden’s- Fractal Time helped me tremendously. I looked at my life while I was in crisis and thought of all the seemly random things that had happened to me. Reading and applying Factal Time to my life, I saw a pattern emerge. I could then predict the challenge I was likely to face and prepare in advance. I cycled through various areas of life. Astrology is the science of cycles using the sun, moon, and planets. It became another avenue to my awakening.
      You said in your post, “The exterior is a direct consequence of the beauty of the interior.” I believe we were meant to have this conversation, to lift each other. The beauty in your words, the conviction you display, and the evident passion for those within your reach are proof enough that your beauty is making a difference. You and I may never see the full-grown plants we water, fertilize and watched over. Change is a long game. May we see enough of the tender buds, so we can have heart keep it all up.

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