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Look for the Helpers

I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers as a kid. He always kind of gave me the creeps. I had never encountered anybody that was that kind all of the time, and I doubted his sincerity. And now I need to add that to the list of things I should bring up with my therapist. Regardless, as an adult I have come to love and, in times of trial, cling to a quote of his: “Look for the helpers.”

helpers

There will always be helpers. There will always be hope. There will always be a way. I am still at a loss to fully express myself after the election. I sat down to witness history, and I did. Just not the history I had anticipated. I watched as an oft ignored part of our country declared in one loud, red voice that they would not be ignored any longer. That they would not let their way of life go quietly into that good night. They raged, and we all listened in disbelief.

To the rural Americans who feel disenfranchised because their America has been slipping away from them, I am sorry. I am sorry that we didn’t listen, that we didn’t care. I am sorry that we didn’t hear your cries and that even though everyone says you’re privileged you don’t feel that way living at the poverty line. I am sorry that it has come to this, and I hope that in the years to come your situation will improve. I truly do. We are listening now.

However, we need you to listen too. As evidenced by how close this election was, we are a country divided. A deep chasm exists separating one side from the other and because of that chasm neither side can hear the hopes, dreams, fears and wants from the other. And if we can’t hear each other, we have no hope of understanding or empathizing with each other. This is a problem. This country is big enough for all of us to exist together, but only if we can understand each other. The only way for that to happen is to truly listen and appreciate where the opposite side is coming from.

get-ahaed

I hold strongly to the belief that you don’t have to push others down in order to rise yourself, which is in direct conflict to the rhetoric of our new president. I respect the decision of our country to elect him, but I do not respect him or his hateful disparagements and I will not sit quietly by while they are said. I will not sit quietly by and watch rights being taken away from American citizens simply because they are different. There is room for all of us, and we can all rise together if we are willing to listen and try. And while we learn to do that, we need to have each other’s backs.

 

To the LGBTQ+ communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the people of color in this nation – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the women who seek equality and autonomy of their bodies – I am one of you, I am your advocate.

To the non-Christian religious communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

 

Now is the time for tolerance and acceptance. Now is the time for love. Now is the time for the helpers.

candle

 

This is a good resource talking about what to do if you witness or experience racism specifically, but the information can be expanded to other scenarios as well.

This is a good strategy to use if you witness Islamaphobic harassment. Again the technique can be used in other scenarios as well.

If you are LGBTQ and need a friendly forum to express your concerns or you need someone to talk to click here for an established community who are there to help.

If you feel that your rights are being infringed upon, please check out the ACLU.

If it all feels like too much and you are considering suicide, please now that you matter, and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for help – 1-800-273-8255.

Use Your Vacation Hours

I will never understand why people let their vacation time pile up at work.  I mean, if you are working your dream job and you love your work, then I can somewhat understand that. After all the big goal is to find a job that you don’t need a vacation from. However, even in that situation you still need to take a vacation every so often to refuel your batteries! Or to give your brain a rest, or visit loved ones, or just to do something different. I take it back, I don’t even understand letting vacation hours pile up in that circumstance. Taking time off is good for you even if you love your job!

I was talking to a co-worker today who has over 200 hours of PTO banked – my company doesn’t differentiate between vacation or sick, it’s all PTO. I’m fairly certain that my jaw hit my chest. 200+ hours!!! That is over five week’s worth of time off. Good lord! The things I could do with that kind of time off blows my mind, and she’s just sitting on it! When I asked her why she hasn’t used any of that, she gave several answers, but the one that stuck with me the most was this one, “Something might happen, and then I’ll need it.”

vacation

Okay, there’s some sense to that. Be prepared and all that jazz. (Name those two musicals) However, tomorrow you could drop dead from a heart attack, and then what good did it do stockpiling those hours? None! Those hours could have been spent pursuing a hobby, road-tripping across the country, or sitting on a beach reading a good book. Instead, you spent them sitting on your butt at work … just in case. I don’t get it. For perspective, I am the person who keeps fully stocked earthquake survival kits at home, in my car and at work. I am all about being prepared! But that does not translate to time. I refuse to stockpile time for future use.

The fact that I lost seven family members before I could legally buy a drink, probably has a lot to do with this. There’s something about watching people you love die, especially before their time, that puts a whole new perspective on things.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad when anybody dies, but somebody in their nineties has done one heck of a lot of living. Someone in their forties or fifties, not so much. My mom was in her forties when she died, and my aunt was in her fifties. They still had vacation time in the bank. Not literally, well maybe literally who knows, but I can guarantee that they still had things they wanted to do.

do-things

My aunt and I had been “planning” a whitewater rafting trip for over ten years. It would come up every so often when we were together and we would both agree that we really needed to do that, because it would be so fun. Then it would be filed back onto the ‘Do It Later’ list. It has now been moved to the ‘Can’t Ever Do It” list. I guess that’s why I decided to go to England next year. I can’t really afford it, but I’m doing it anyway. One of the things on my bucket list is to see a live performance of every play in Shakespeare’s canon. As it stands today, I have seen every one of his plays, except one. And wouldn’t you know it, The Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting that exact play in Stratford-Upon-Avon in late 2016 – early 2017. So I am flying half way around the world to see a play. Why? Because I can.

Use your vacation hours.

 

 

I Just Can’t

I am the suite safety warden for my company, which means that in the event of an emergency I am in charge. It also means that every year I have to attend the annual safety meeting. In three years, that meeting has gone from the main focus being earthquake preparedness – we are in LA after all – to workplace shooter preparedness. Everything from what should be in place at a company level to help prevent an incident all the way to what to do during an incident. There is a video – Run>Hide>Fight – the three steps to try to save your life should there be an active shooter. There’s a goddamn video. And please note, that what the video doesn’t emphasize enough, is that while you’re running out of the building away from the shooter, make sure that your hands are in the air, so the cops have no reason to mistake you for the gunman. And put your cell phone in your pocket just in case. Holding something shiny in your hand is probably not the best idea. This meeting was planned well before the Orlando shooting, but its timing was poignant nonetheless.

Last week was all about rape and abuse – Brock Turner and Profiles Theater – and it looks as if this week is going to be all about shootings, and I just can’t. I have reached the point where I can’t take another headline, video clip, Facebook rant or snide comment about hatred or violence or abuse toward a people or person simply because they are different. I cannot take another comment blaming the victim’s behavior, or second guessing the victim’s motive, or spreading advice on how not to be a victim. Not one more, ‘Well, if they weren’t living in sin . . .’ I can’t. I just can’t. The victim’s part in a crime starts when the perpetrator forces their presence on the victim. Not a second before. I don’t care what they do in their everyday lives. I don’t care who they love, how they dress, or how they comport themselves. They have no culpability in the crime itself. How do I know this? Look at the fucking definition of the word. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Victim

1:  a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite

2:  one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent

a (1) :  one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions

a (2) :  one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

b :  one that is tricked or duped

One that is acted on. Their only active role is to try to stop the attack if they can. Beyond that, a victim has no action. Why do you think one of the most common feelings of victims is a feeling of helplessness? Because they had NO PART in the crime committed against them. If they had no part in the crime, they can hold no part in the blame. Until our society can truly grasp and understand that, until our society at the leadership level can stop the moral damning and undermining of certain groups of people, you can give every woman in the US a rape whistle and a can of mace and there will still be rape. You can give everyone in the US a gun to carry and there will still be shootings.

Until it is clear – across the board from political leaders to religious leaders – that all human life is sacred and worthy regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation; until it is clear that the victimizing of a group of people simply because of their differences is not condoned, this will never stop. As long as victims are blamed for the crimes acted upon them, this will never stop. As long as people of influence preach fear and hatred towards those that don’t fall in line with their own doctrines, this will never stop. Until it is known, carte blanche, that acts of hatred and dominance toward others will NOT be tolerated for even a second, this will never stop.

This will never stop. I don’t know how we will fix that sentence, and I don’t know how to live happily in a world where that sentence cannot be fixed.

Scooby Doo

Where Heroes Go to Die

It was recently brought to my attention that someone whom I had considered to be my hero when I was growing up, was actually one of, if not the main contributor to the dysfunction of my childhood. Years ago I came to accept that this person fell far short of the label hero. However, in my mind they were most definitely ‘Team Kat.’ This person had my back, they were on my side and every other cliché you can think up. This person’s role in my life had been down-graded, but was most definitely still looked upon with esteem.

Then the PTSD hit, and with it came large amounts of therapy. If I’d been able to afford it, I would have seen my therapist twice a week, but as it was, it was a financial strain to see her once a week. So that had to suffice. This is not the first therapist I have seen. That list is quite long, and from experience I can say that there is nothing better than a good therapist. There is also very little, short of the abuse that sent you to the therapist in the first place, that is worse than a bad therapist. Now when I say good and bad, I mean in relation to how you work with that particular therapist. You can go to an award-winning therapist (does that even exist?), but if you don’t understand each other or you don’t jive with the way that they work, then they are bad for you. Of course, there are also therapists who are just plain bad at their job. I had one that half way through a session I started giving him advice. Yeah, I stopped seeing that guy.

It's you

At any rate, through this therapy, I began to discover that I had told myself copious amounts of lies while growing up. Lies to soften the edges of the truth, or to outright hide the truth and allow my young mind to survive intact. Those lies eventually shattered, bombarding me with the truths that I had been hiding for twenty years. Hence the PTSD. As I have sifted through the wreckage, sorting the fabricated from the real, I have discovered that the truth is where heroes go to die. All people have a dark side. They all make mistakes and they all do things unworthy of hero-status. The question becomes, how much of that are you willing to overlook? At what point do you learn too much for your hero to remain a good guy?

In my case, it turns out that the hero status was granted simply because a hero was needed. Therefore, all actions that would preclude that title were ignored and covered up. It was what I needed at the time, so I overlooked the foibles of the person in front of me and imagined the person I needed. When I no longer needed the hero, enough of the façade melted away to reveal a normal person. Almost a Superman, Clark Kent scenario. As a child I had only seen Superman, in my twenties I only saw Clark Kent. So what do I do now that the harsh light of truth has revealed this person to be Lex Luther* all along? Do I allow the truth to act as kryptonite and destroy my hero for good, or do I ignore the truth, allowing the childhood fantasy to persist? Even if only to preserve the memory of having one person on my side. A gentle lie to hide the harsh truth. I can’t decide.

 

*Okay, that’s unfair. I doubt there were any deliberate plots or machinations going on, but for the sake of my metaphor I’m gonna run with it.

Stop Feeling Ashamed

Since I started blogging I have devoted more than a handful of blogs to mental illness. I’ve been clinically depressed since I was 11 so I have plenty of firsthand experience to bring to the table. It is also through that experience that I whole heartedly believe that the stigma that surrounds mental illness has to go. It’s misleading and detrimental. I have a chemical imbalance, I treat it and I feel no shame about that. I’m perfectly comfortable taking about depression and answering people’s questions.

But lately I have been feeling ashamed. Not about my depression, but about something else. My grandmother was a nurse during WWII and during the Battle of the Bulge she cut her hand. It wasn’t a big deal. She wrapped a bandage around it and kept on working. However, because she was injured while deployed in a war zone, she was awarded the Purple Heart. She hated that medal so much, she gave it away at her first opportunity. The reason, she thought that it was absolutely asinine that she had been given the same award as boys she sent home with missing limbs. With burns over 50 percent of their bodies. In other words, her cut hand warranted the same award as a grievously injured soldier. She was ashamed of it.

appletree

I guess this apple didn’t fall far from that tree, because my shame has been coming from very much the same source. I’ve been struggling all year, but it was only recently that a doctor put two and two together and diagnosed me with PTSD. My first reaction was that was ridiculous. I’ve never been to war, I’ve never been in a life threatening situation, so how in the world could I possibly have PTSD? In my mind, I hadn’t been through enough to warrant that diagnosis. I felt ashamed that I had usurped the condition of Veterans and survivors. I felt like a fake.

So I got a second opinion and the same diagnosis. That’s when I started to look at my symptoms and had to admit to myself that despite the lack of something horrifically traumatic in my life recently, I have PTSD. The horrible anxiety and weekly if not daily panic attacks should have been a clue. The crippling nightmares that I wake up from thrashing and crying, should have been a clue. The insanely vivid and realistic dreams that I can’t escape from and wake up in the morning sore from tensing my muscles all night, should have been a clue. The constant debilitating exhaustion, yet fear of falling asleep should have been a clue. The waves of feeling like an empty broken shell that hit me out of nowhere, should have been a clue.

PTSD

But I felt ashamed that I was breaking down like this because of the death of my aunt. That didn’t seem like a good enough reason. People experience death all the time. Yes, it was tragic and it was sudden, but I got to say goodbye. I got to give her one last hug and tell her that I love her, will always love her. That’s more than I got with any other family member I’ve lost. And that my friends, is where my trauma comes from. Amongst other things, between the ages of eight and twenty, I lost seven family members. The seventh being my mother. Needless to say the majority of the emotions associated with all of that loss was buried instead of dealt with. So when my aunt died, the dam broke and in essence so did I.

I am not a veteran and I have never been in a war zone, but I have PTSD. They say the first step to recovery is admitting what’s wrong. So I admit it, and I’m not going to feel ashamed about it anymore.

It Takes a Village

I would hazard to guess that when something bad happens, or something goes wrong the majority of people have the same thought, “I want my mom.” I’m basing this theory off the fact that this is the reaction of my friends, and it is also my reaction. The former makes perfect sense. Some of my friends have absolutely awesome moms. The latter makes no earthly sense whatsoever, because I didn’t grow up with a mother. Yes, I physically had a mother until I was twenty. There was a woman with that title in my life. However, because of her disease she checked out mentally and emotionally over a decade before she physically died. Therefore, when I was upset, sick or injured it wasn’t my mom providing comfort. I honestly do not have a single memory of my mother comforting me. The truth of the matter is that she was often the cause of the upset, and the comfort afterwards had to come from me, myself and I. So if MY first reaction is that I want my mom, then I have a feeling that the majority of people have this reaction. I think it’s a societal training thing. Society tells us that mothers = comfort, therefore even if that isn’t your own experience that is still what you want.

Mom

Then it occurred to me last night, that while I didn’t get that comfort from my own mother, I can vividly remember times that I got that comfort from my friend’s mothers. Mary Kay wiping the dirt off of my face after a fall instead of simply pointing me toward the bathroom. Tammy genuinely offering to help me set something right and giving me a big hug because she knew I was upset, and no one else seemed to care. Lori teaching me how to make a meal from scratch, so I didn’t have to serve a Hamburger Helper at my first ever dinner party. Deb understanding that I had an emotionally impossible decision to make, so she told me what to do so I wouldn’t feel guilty about the choice. Amelia telling me not to be stupid, if I had to have surgery I obviously would stay at her house until I got better. Susan telling me that clearly I got the crazy from her side of the family.

I don’t know if they remember any of these moments, but they meant a lot to me. I didn’t have a mother, I had several and it has taken me years to realize that. To realize that they are the ones that taught me what I need to know. They are the ones that I want when something gets scary and I want my mom. I’ve had a bit of a rough year, and therefore I’ve wanted a mom on several occasions. None more so than this week. My fur baby, Bubba, tore his ACL. Not just torn, but severed completely. Surgery or a horrible limp for the rest of his life are the only options on the table. In my heart, I knew without hesitation what I wanted to do, but my brain needed that reassurance that can only come from a mom, that I was doing the right thing. I didn’t call all of my moms, that would be a bit excessive, but I did call one of them. I wanted my mom, and I got my mom. So thank you to all of ‘my’ moms for filling in where my own had to be absent.

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Future Bother

I was talking to a friend last week and gave them a piece of advice – don’t borrow from future bother. Which, is pretty damn good advice. I’m not patting myself on the back here, because I didn’t come up with that. I’m pretty sure I read it on a meme on Pinterest*, and I told the person that. I’m not gonna take credit where credit isn’t due. That aside, it is damn good advice. Don’t borrow from future bother. I have also come to realize that I need to take my own advice.

Future Bother

I’m not a huge worrier per se. I tend to be pretty good at focusing on solutions and preparations instead of problems. That wasn’t always the case though. In the past, I tended to always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was always expecting something bad to happen. I didn’t know what that thing would look like, or whether it would be big or small, but there would be some sort of crisis. I had every faith in myself that I would be able to handle whatever came along though. I’m great in an emergency. The only problem, is that it is exhausting being on ready alert at all times. Especially since, if I got to the end of a day and all had gone well, it’s not like I would let out a huge sigh of relief and pat myself on the back for a job well done. Oh no! I simply figured that I got by with a lucky day, but tomorrow would make up for it. So I had to be ready. It. Was. Exhausting.

You’re probably thinking that this is a conversation that I should really be having with a trained professional, and you are right. I have already had this conversation with two different trained professionals. I know why I did it. During my childhood, a member of my family died every even year of my life from the ages of 8 – 20. Needless to say, those last couple of months of my 22nd year were a little hair raising. Every time my phone rang, I assumed that someone had died. I didn’t realize that I had been doing this until I woke up on my 23rd birthday and a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was almost as if a curse had been broken.

Unfortunately, I have lost people since then, but it hasn’t been on any sort of a schedule and in 12 years it was only three. Huge improvement! Until last December, when my aunt died. I think it was probably the suddenness of everything that rocketed me back into my childhood, but ever since, I have returned to that old feeling of dread. That feeling that disaster is right around the corner. And I am exhausted. I don’t want to be on alert for trouble that isn’t even on the horizon. I don’t want to keep borrowing from future bother. When a crisis crops up I will deal with it, but worrying about it now, will not relieve any of the stress then. So no more shoes dropping, no more dread. The world gets to be a bright, shiny, happy place . . . until it’s not, and when it’s not I’ll deal with it then. For now – bright, shiny, happy.

I will not bother from future bother.

I will not bother from future bother.

I will not bother from future bother.

 

*Okay, I have no idea where I saw that, but it definitely wasn’t a meme on Pinterest, as I just had to make my own because I couldn’t find one!

Operation: Do All the Things

I have decided that this year is getting the code name, Operation: Do All the Things. Why? Because I have decided that this is the year that I am going to do all of the things that I have been wanting to do or get done. Why a code name? Because as Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring spy adventure, or nothing.” (At least that’s what she would have said, if Anne Sullivan would have let her play spies when she was kid.)

This is what she actually said . . .

This is what she actually said . . .

So far, I do believe that I am off to a good start. In the first month of this year, I have, in no particular order:

  • Rewritten/polished the first quarter of my novel (130ish pages) and sent it off to readers
  • Delivered my second children’s book to the printer for publication
  • Maintained my blog schedule (okay mostly, I’ve been slacking on the poetry)
  • Got a diagnosis and game plan to get my ankle fixed
  • Hired to do a series of articles with the possibility of future projects
  • Formed an LLC
  • Read the first two plays in Shakespeare’s canon (I want to read all of them)
  • Reorganized my bedroom/closet
  • Cleaned out my car (My trunk still had stuff from my move 2 years ago . . .)

Needless to say, I have been busy. Beyond the obvious benefit of getting things checked off my to-do list, it has also been a wonderful distraction. Distraction not only from my aunt’s death in December, but also from the anniversary of my mother’s death . . . which was Sunday . . . and I didn’t realize that until last night. I missed the anniversary. My initial reaction was to immediately feel guilty. What kind of daughter forgets the anniversary of her mother’s death? The guilt however, was quickly replaced with joy. For the first time in 12 fucking years, I didn’t spend all of January, and the first half of February bogged down by residual and remembered emotions. For the first time in over a decade I didn’t start off my year as a complete mess.

Okay, I was still a bit of a mess, but I wasn’t paralyzed into inaction. I wasn’t stifled or hindered. Instead I made strides and moved forward. I moved on with my life. Which is both bittersweet and fantastic all at the same time. I feel like I could use a good cry and then a cheers with good friends and a bottle of wine. I’m not forgetting my mother, I’m choosing to leave the pain behind. I’m not living for my aunt, I’m living in her memory. Therefore, I am going to do all the things. It is time.

do-all-the-things1

Comfort for the Faithless

I flew to Colorado over the weekend for the funeral of my aunt. She died way too young, taken very quickly by cancer. Fuck cancer! Let me say that again. Fuck cancer! As I had had the chance to fly back to see her before she died, my family told me that it wasn’t necessary to come back for the funeral. After all, two plane tickets in the span of a month can add up. But I know myself, and knew that I needed to go. For me the funeral helps bring closure. It is part of my grieving process. Yes, I have a grieving process. Sad to say, I have lost enough people in my life, that grieving really isn’t anything new. From the ages of 8 – 20, I lost a family member every even year of my life. Let’s just say that as the day of my 23rd birthday arrived I let out a huge sigh of relief. No one else had died. The streak had been broken.

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Now I just seem to lose people sporadically. I’m not really sure which is worse. At any rate, over the years I have come up with my own path of grief. My own beliefs of why these things happen, and why life can sometimes be so cruel. I had to come up with my own beliefs because I don’t believe in religion. I do not believe in god almighty, or that Jesus was our savior, or that if we live a righteous life we will go to heaven. I know that what I just described is Christianity and that there are many varieties and flavors of religion to choose from, but at the end of the day, I can’t find faith to believe in the teachings of any of them. I just can’t make that leap. So I have my own set of beliefs and mores that I live by and most days they suit me just fine and I am not left wanting.

But this funeral that I attended kind of shook me up. It was the most god-centric funeral I’ve ever been to. Before you ask, no, my aunt was not religious and neither is the person who set the whole thing up. So why the service consisted almost entirely of scripture, or explanations of said scripture I don’t know. It did though, and the priest offered up his condolences and then spent his time is reassuring us that this was god’s will, that Maggie was now in his presence awaiting the arrival of her loved ones. That we were to take comfort from the word and the promises of our lord.

This is all well and good, and from the looks of some of the people present, this did indeed provide them with some comfort. For that I am glad. However, my question becomes, where are the faithless supposed to go to find comfort? Where is our Gilead so that we may find a balm to soothe our aching souls? Is there any comfort for the faithless? That service was not meant for me, or anyone of my ilk. He may as well have been speaking in Latin, it would have meant the same. And I guess that isn’t an easy question to answer, as those without a proscribed faith all have different beliefs and therefore must find their own paths to peace of mind and soul. It’s really made me think and to some degree reevaluate the beneficial nature of an organized religion.

I still can’t make that leap of faith to believe myself though. I was however, able to find closure of my own amidst the very religious service. My aunt was a big Elvis fan, and one of the songs played was “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which I just so happened to write about last week. It is my favorite song, and unbeknownst to me, it was hers as well. So that is something that I will always have. Go figure. My balm was found in Graceland.

MemphisGraceland2

Looking Back at the Good

I haven’t been able to write since my aunt passed away ten days ago. I’ve tried, but haven’t liked anything that has come of it, with one exception. Two lines keep repeating themselves:

Remember me in the strength of our last hug goodbye,
In the “I love you” as we fought back the tears in our eyes.

I got to say goodbye and give her one last hug. Tell her that I love her one last time. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. It was the most important thing that I did all year. It is in that vein, and in her honor, that I recount the best things that happened in my life in 2014.

1. I was given the opportunity to say goodbye.

2. Published my first children’s book.

3. Wrote my 2nd children’s book, and got half way through #3.

4. Sold my first piece of jewelry that I designed and made.

5. Took definitive steps toward the completion and polishing of my Civil War novel.

6. Found clarity and solidified my long term goals for my life’s work.

7. Learned how amazing and supportive the people that I have chosen to be in my life really are.

8. Vacationed with friends and my sister in Alaska.

9. Reconnected with old friends in Colorado.

10. Made it to 2015 with my sense of humor intact and high hopes for the new year.

 

In Loving Memory

Margaret Lucille Michels

2/1/56 – 12/21/14