homosexuality, music, psychology, YouTube

Phil Donahue inadvertently introduces me to a virtuoso…

Monday, after I had finished my usual chores, I was trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. Suddenly, I remembered the old talk show, Donahue, which aired the whole time I was growing up in the 80s. Hosted by the follicle blessed Phil Donahue, husband of actress, Marlo Thomas, this was a show I heard a lot about in those days, but never watched. It was a precursor to Maury Povich and Geraldo Rivera, and even Oprah Winfrey and her protege, Dr. Phil. But, as I was a child in the early 80s, I wasn’t interested in watching talk shows. I do remember the theme music, though, because I think my mom was a fan, even though Donahue was pretty liberal for those days.

Anyway, I went searching on YouTube, and sure enough, someone had posted episodes of Donahue that dated to the early 80s. The first episode I watched was particularly engrossing, as it aired on November 17, 1982. I was ten years old, and AIDS was becoming the latest public health terror. Prior to that year, AIDS existed, but rank and file Americans didn’t hear about it, because people mainly got it in Africa. On that November 1982 episode of Donahue, there were several fascinating guests. There was, Dr. Dan William, a doctor who was one of the pioneers in treating AIDS. Phillip Lanzaratta, man who had Kaposi’s sarcoma was there to talk about the then rare cancerous lesion he had because of AIDS. And there was also, Larry Kramer, a leader of a gay men’s crisis organization. All three of these guests are now dead, although Larry Kramer died fairly recently– in 2020, I believe.

If you have time and are interested, this is a fascinating episode.

What really struck me about the AIDS episode of Donahue is just how new and terrifying the disease was, and just how little we knew about it. I grew up in the time when kids who were unlucky enough to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were not allowed to go to school. Ryan White was one of my contemporaries; he was six months older than me. Years later, I also read the heartbreaking story of Ariel Glaser, daughter of actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch) and his late white, Elizabeth Glaser, who started hemorrhaging when she was giving birth in 1981. She was given a blood transfusion that, sadly, was contaminated with the virus. She breastfed Ariel, who contracted the virus that way. Elizabeth didn’t know she had the virus until 1985, when she and Ariel both mysteriously got sick. Ariel died in 1988, and her mother helped found the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Elizabeth, who died in 1994, also had a son with Paul Michael Glaser, Jake. Jake was born with HIV, but has survived into adulthood. Before she died, Elizabeth wrote a book called In the Absence of Angels, which is a great read. I read the paperback version years ago. Maybe I should try to read it again.

Joshua Bell’s dad!

Since I had nothing better to do, I watched the next episode of Donahue that came up on YouTube. That episode, which aired October 14, 1981, had to do with homosexuality. The episode’s title was “Are Gays Born This Way?” I don’t think Lady Gaga was yet born when this show aired. 😉 The guests were Alan Bell, Ph.D. (author of “Sexual Preference”) and Lawrence Hatterer, M.D. (Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University), each of whom came to their respective conclusions in different ways. I was particularly interested in Dr. Bell’s comments. He was very emphatic about his conclusions. He also reminded me of an old soap opera actor I used to enjoy on Guiding Light, Ron Raines, who played Alan Spaulding in the later years of the show. Interestingly enough, he took over a role that was played by the late Christopher Bernau, who was gay and died in 1988 of a heart attack that was brought on by AIDS. Bernau was only 49 years old when he passed– same age I am now.

Are Gays Born This Way? Yes… but it would take many years before Lady Gaga gave us the news.

I got caught up in the commercials, too, which were very different back then. They were longer, involved actual acting, and often starred people who went on to big fame. For instance, during the Donahue show, the actor Ian Ziering (of the original 90210 fame and a former Guiding Light alum) is in an ad for Scott paper towels. I’m pretty sure I saw Shelley Long, before her film and Cheers days, hawking furniture in another ad.

I looked up Alan Bell, and learned that his son, Joshua, is an incredibly gifted violinist. Much to my shame, I had no idea. He’s a few years older than I am, and very cute. Joshua Bell’s mother, Shirley Bell, worked as a therapist, and his father, Alan Bell, was a highly regarded psychologist at Indiana University. Shirley Bell’s mother was from Minsk, in Belarus, and her father was from Palestine; hence, she was Jewish. Bell was of Scottish descent. No wonder Joshua Bell had such great musical chops. 😉 The story goes that when Joshua was very young, he used rubber bands to make strings across the nine knobs on his dresser. His mother caught him plucking out music he’d heard her playing on the piano. Being a savvy sort of mom, Shirley Bell found her son a violin teacher. Now, Joshua Bell plays a Stradivarius and makes absolutely beautiful music. Seriously, I’m listening to him play as I write this… he really is extraordinary, and he doesn’t just play the classics.

The song I was just listening to… SIGH!!!!
And Joshua Bell playing “live”.

I also learned that Joshua Bell had a touch of his dad in him. Some years ago, he conducted an experiment for the Washington Post, donning a New York Yankees baseball cap and playing 45 minutes for free in the Washington, DC metro station. He earned $32.17 from passersby, not counting the $20 someone who recognized him gave him. Three days prior to his “free” concert in the metro station, Bell earned a whole lot more money playing for paying customers at a concert. Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his article about the experiment.

Fascinating! You just never know who’s busking.

As an aside, I always make a point of giving money to buskers. I know how much goes into learning how to play music, and I appreciate the ambiance they contribute, especially in Europe. There have been a few occasions when I’ve even cried listening to some of the more talented street players. Like, for instance, a certain Polish guitarist Bill and I met last time we visited Florence (in 2013). We will be going back to Florence at the end of this month. I hope I run into Piotr again… and I’m so glad we bought his beautiful CD.

My friend Donna used to work at a classical radio station when she was a teenager. She said she had a huge crush on Joshua Bell back then. I’m ashamed to say that I simply hadn’t heard of him until two days ago, but last night, I bought several of his albums not having heard them before. I am listening to them now, and I’m not sorry I bought them. And to think I have Phil Donahue to thank for this! Who says you can’t learn from TV? Or from YouTube, for that matter?

Speaking of YouTube… about a month ago, some people on RfM who had endured some of my videos told me that I should try singing on camera. I don’t typically do that, because I get very self-conscious about my appearance. Also, I don’t put on makeup or regular clothes unless I’m going out in public, which I don’t do very often these days. But one poster was pretty adamant that I should try it. He also looks forward to seeing me play guitar and sing at the same time on video. I decided to buy a mic stand after that discussion, but only got around to making an on camera video yesterday. No, I’m not quite ready to play and sing at the same time, but yesterday I decided to record my version of an Alison Krauss cover of “Dreaming My Dreams With You”. I got notified by my favorite karaoke track vendor that the recording was available, so I downloaded it… and since yesterday, it was chilly and cloudy and I wanted to stall walking the dogs, I decided to try it on camera. I kind of cringe watching it, but the music turned out nicely, I think.

No makeup, no bra, and in fact, that is one of my nightgowns I am wearing… But it was well-received, anyway. I shocked a few people who knew me in high school, when I didn’t sing.

I don’t know what today will hold. Wednesday isn’t a big household chore day for me, so I’ll probably watch more Donahue. He does seem to be pretty interested in homosexuality… or at least he was in the 80s. But what really blows me away are some of the comments from the audience members. Listening to some of these folks is a reminder of how different society was in the early 80s. It’s a poignant look at what people who weren’t (or aren’t) straight had to deal with in the days before many people started to accept that not everyone is cisgendered. I generally have a lot of compassion for people who are different, but I am especially compassionate towards people who grew up at a time when it was especially difficult to be who they really are without risking huge consequences. And listening to some of the callers and audience members talk about homosexuality really just drives home what a challenge that must have been for so many people. My heart goes out to them.

Well, so ends another blog post. I’m going to practice guitar and maybe walk the dogs… and then I might look for another rabbit hole to fall into. Later, y’all!

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communication, family, mental health, psychology

Once more with feeling…. “Get down off the cross, SMIL!”

I could certainly write more about my banking woes today, especially since I just read news that indicates that my misgivings with USAA are not unwarranted. They just got hit with huge fines “for failing to timely report thousands of suspicious transactions by its customers.” I don’t know that this incident has much to do with my current issues with USAA, which mainly have to do with them erroneously flagging my account for fraud, but then missing actual fraud… and then when I shifted payment methods because I don’t have access to the violated account, I got another false fraud alert. I called about that, and spoke to a very rude customer service guy who basically treated me like he wanted me to “keep sweet”. I had some fun tweeting at USAA last night, noting that I wasn’t the only one who is pissed off at them. Anyway, Bill and I are now hunting for a new place to do business. I think we found one, so today’s business will be to get the ball rolling with that, so at least I can start the process of divorcing USAA. I am done drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now… on to today’s topic. This one is about family, so if you find my “family” posts inappropriate, you best move on to the next Internet station. I’m in the mood to vent.

A few years ago, I blogged about how my husband’s stepmother has a habit of sending manipulative private messages as a means of getting people to pay attention to her. Her late husband, Bill’s dad, also used to lay guilt trips in a bid for attention. Since my father-in-law is now dead, I’m just going to focus this rant on SMIL.

SMIL used to send manipulative messages to Bill, mostly about how his dad was “getting old” and wanted to see Bill. Bill would get really upset about the PMs, which were loaded with fear, obligation, and guilt. She finally quit sending them when Bill had a rather direct discussion with her about her guilt mongering ploys. He told her that if his dad wanted to see or talk to him, all he had to do was place a phone call, send an email, and make a mature, direct request, instead of sending passive aggressive text messages and private messages on Facebook.

SMIL has apparently been hosting Bill’s ex wife all week. At one point, SMIL (or perhaps Ex using SMIL’s phone) tried to call younger daughter. She decided not to answer the call, because she’s busy. And she also didn’t answer because when she does call SMIL back, SMIL doesn’t bother to answer the phone and “ghosts” her. Younger daughter, thankfully, is pretty smart and resilient, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to drop everything to attend to her step grandmother’s “needs”. But because she’s a decent, basically caring person, these texts are still upsetting and troublesome.

Younger daughter is pregnant and has two young children. Her husband has a demanding job, and they don’t have tons of money. But SMIL apparently doesn’t care… or maybe she just hasn’t considered what’s going on in younger daughter’s life right now. She still sends those maudlin text messages that are all about her. I just want to tell her to get down off the cross!

We are preparing a box of gifts for younger daughter, which we picked up in France a couple of weeks ago. In the box, I have included a well worn copy of Dr. Susan Forward’s excellent book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I bought and read it years ago, when Bill and I were fairly newly married. It offered great insight into the emotional blackmail perpetrated by Ex, SMIL, and, on occasion, late FIL. I could just send younger daughter a new copy of that book, but I want to send her my copy because I see it as a sign of solidarity. Having watched Bill deal with these bullying tactics over the years, I have an idea of what she’s going through.

Last night, after I finished complaining about USAA, Bill and I talked about this situation. I suggested to Bill that maybe he should ask his daughter if she would be friends with someone who treated her in that way. Legally, SMIL is basically not much more than friend. Younger daughter doesn’t owe her anything. But because SMIL has known her for so long, she knows younger daughter cares about her and values their relationship. So SMIL uses that caring nature as a tool against younger daughter. SMIL is also the type to hold grudges and declare people “dead to her”. But honestly, who’s got the time for such nonsense? Especially when there’s so much else going on in the world?

I was prompted to write about this today because of an article I read in Carolyn Hax’s column in the Washington Post. A woman wrote in about how her sister-in-law loves ski trips and tries to guilt her and her husband into going on them with her. But, for many completely valid reasons, the letter writer doesn’t like ski trips. She writes that her sister-in-law is the type to get drunk and cry when people say no to her. She doesn’t want to be subjected to the guilt trip.

You know what my response is to that? “Just say no.” Seriously. That was Carolyn’s advice, too. If sister-in-law has a meltdown, that’s on her. Hang up the phone. Block her on social media. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s abuse. Or, if that seems much too harsh, just tell the sister-in-law, in a kind way, that you don’t like skiing. Then offer to participate in a different activity that you like better. If you know sister-in-law also enjoys it, so much the better.

Bill loved his father very much, but he didn’t enjoy calling him. Every time he did, his dad would lay tremendous guilt trips on him about not visiting more often or calling him. But then when Bill would call, his dad would be busy. Or he would lay a bunch of manipulative crap on him designed to make him feel bad. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of guilt when they make a phone call? I know I don’t. Life is painful enough as it is. If a person’s aim is to get someone to call more often, shouldn’t they make the call a pleasant experience? Seems logical to me that that would be the goal.

I do understand that it’s hard not to be a victim of shaming. I’ve been there myself a lot of times. I have a sister who used to try to manipulate me in similar ways. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant to say no to her. But eventually, she came to realize that I make my own decisions. She finally quit with the emotional blackmail, and life has been relatively more peaceful ever since.

If you do give in to the shaming, chances are you’ll just feel resentment. If someone really loves and cares about you, they don’t want you to feel shame and resentment. A healthy relationship should be respectful, kind, and even loving. It shouldn’t be based on fear, obligation, and guilt. I know I can tell when someone resents me and is faking being nice. I’d rather be alone than be with someone who feels compelled to spend time with me.

Anyway… I know younger daughter does love SMIL. She cares very much about her. But these messages are not welcome or helpful in preserving the relationship. I also know that if younger daughter tells SMIL this, it probably won’t go over too well. But again… you can’t control how other people feel or react. If the relationship is really that important, SMIL can try to adapt. I doubt she’ll ever change, but she can certainly try… or suffer the consequences.

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healthcare, mental health, psychology

“Please, Doc, don’t weigh me unless it’s really necessary!”

Yesterday marked the first day of National Eating Disorders Week 2022. Fittingly, a few days ago, I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about a new trend in U.S. healthcare. It involves special cards that one can hand to a physician. See below:

I like this idea.
From the More-Love.org Web site.

I haven’t seen a doctor since 2010. One of the main reasons I don’t visit doctors is because I once had a very traumatic and unnecessarily physically painful and humiliating experience with one. I did see doctors a few times after the traumatic experience, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten even harder to make the phone call for an appointment. I know very well that this isn’t the greatest policy for promoting my personal longevity. I could definitely use a check up. However, for many reasons, visiting medical people causes me a great deal of stress. One of the main reasons it’s stressful is because of that goddamned scale, and my long history with eating disorders. No, I don’t mean the obvious ones that might put a person in the hospital. There are actually a lot of eating disorders out there, and most don’t get diagnosed. But they do exist, and I’ve struggled with them for years. I have less of a problem with them now, mainly because I have a very loving and understanding husband who doesn’t body shame me. I would be lying, though, if I said those problems have gone away entirely. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it.

I know I usually have less of a problem going to see a doctor if I know I won’t have to be weighed. For instance, in 1999, I had facial cellulitis that almost put me in the hospital. I had to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor for treatment. He was a great doctor, but one thing that I especially liked about him was that he didn’t force me to get on a scale. He simply looked at the mess on my face and prescribed antibiotics. The family practice doctor who sent me to the ENT guy was kind of an all knower, but he actually reassured me that my weight wasn’t that bad. At that time, it wasn’t that bad, since I was waiting tables and lost a lot of pounds because of that. However, I was never so sick, so often, as I was in those days.

Although I know weight is an important measure for some health issues, I think it’s pretty cool that someone has realized how absolutely mortifying getting on the scale is for some people. The above cards were offered at Element Primary Care in Omaha, Nebraska. A 30 year old woman named Dani Donovan, who is an attention deficit/hyperactivity advocate and suffers from binge eating disorder, happened to see the cards at the office. Donovan reportedly avoids going to see physicians because of the stress of being weighed. She happened to find a practice where, apparently, the staff recognizes this issue, and how it prevents people from seeking care. According to the WaPo article:

“I didn’t even know that saying ‘no’ to being weighed was a thing you could do,” said Donovan, 30, an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder advocate who has a binge-eating disorder and often avoided doctor’s appointments because being weighed was so stressful. The card led to a good conversation with her doctor, Donovan said, that helped build trust and make her feel empowered.

Donovan took a photo of one of the cards and posted it on Twitter. It’s caused quite a stir.

These cards were developed in 2019 by a Los Angeles area eating disorder coach named Ginny Jones. Jones is a survivor of several eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Jones came up with the cards after many experiences she had when visiting physicians. A lot of them would praise her for losing weight, even when it was noted in her records that she has had eating disorders. She now offers the cards for sale on her Web site. When Jones was contacted for a statement about her cards, she said:

“I wish I could say I was surprised by the ‘controversy’ around the cards. I created them to address weight stigma, and it’s basically fatphobia to jump to conclusions and say blanketly that asking not to be weighed is unhealthy.”

Personally, I think these cards are great, although I can’t imagine presenting one to any of the military doctors I’ve seen in my lifetime. But then, again, I haven’t been to see a doctor in about 12 years. My blood pressure shoots up whenever I’m in a military healthcare facility, and they usually take one look at me and assume I have any number of health issues just by my appearance. I have found that a lot of doctors aren’t good listeners, either. That is especially true with military providers, in my experience.

In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I actually wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor for 24 hours to prove that I didn’t have hypertension, because my blood pressure readings were so high in the office. As soon as I stepped out of the military hospital, my blood pressure was completely normal and stayed that way. I came back to the office the next day with a bruised arm and documentation in my file that I have white coat hypertension. That may no longer be true today, given my family history, but the way the providers acted during that last visit put me off of going back, even though the person I saw was actually very kind to me when I told her what had happened to me at the hands of an Air Force gynecologist back in the 1990s.

The Air Force gyno I saw back then gave me my very first (of two in my entire lifetime) gynecological exams. It was so painful and distressing that I left her office traumatized and horrified, and actually felt violated on the level of sexual assault. Besides really hurting me with her instruments and not apologizing for the pain she caused me, this doctor also fat shamed me and predicted that when I went to Armenia, I would gain tons of weight. In the 90s, I was dealing with eating disorders more acutely than I do today. Today, I seem to have replaced eating issues with drinking issues. Again… not healthy, and I probably should see a doctor, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Even having these cards probably wouldn’t get me into the office, although I do think they would help, if I found a kind and understanding physician who was sensitive to these issues.

According to the Washington Post article, as well as my own anecdotal experience, there are a lot of physicians who have a bias against obesity. They seem to take obese patients less seriously, especially if they’re women. The article reports, “one piece published in the British Medical Journal found that weight stigma actually led to increased mortality and other chronic diseases and ‘most ironically, (weight stigma) actually begets heightened risk of obesity.'” There have been a number of articles about how the medical community tends to focus on weight, even when a medical issue is clearly not related to the patient’s weight. Like, for instance, someone comes in with a broken arm and gets told that weight loss would benefit them. There’s no doubt, weight loss would be beneficial, but that’s not why the person came in to see the doctor. In that sense, I can see how these cards could be useful. If you’re going to see the doctor for a specific issue that has nothing to do with obesity, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to skip the scale, at least for that visit.

Of course, some physicians will never be onboard with avoiding weigh-ins. In the WaPo article, a physician named “Umbereen S. Nehal, a former chief medical officer for Community Healthcare Network in New York and a board-certified pediatrician,” reported that she strongly believes patients must “be weighed every time, regardless of when they were last weighed or why they are in the doctor’s office.” The doctor claims to be have sympathy for patients like Donovan, but she’s not convinced that avoiding the scale will improve healthcare outcomes. She says, “Is the hypothesis that somebody who is obese, let’s say, if we don’t weigh them, fatphobia will go away? Those visual cues will not go away. So my beef with this is that it disrupts processes in the system for efficient data collection and that data are used for a variety of things.”

My answer to Dr. Nehal is that a lot of people avoid the doctor entirely because of this issue. She may be getting more data when she weighs patients at every visit, but a lot of people won’t even come see her because of the mortifying prospect of being weighed, the psychological stresses that come from that experience, as well as the potential humiliation that comes from a fat shaming doctor. Seriously… if you’re feeling fine, and you don’t want to deal with the discomfort of being weighed, how likely are you to schedule screenings? Is that the outcome Dr. Nehal wants? For people not to come in to see her at all? Then she won’t get ANY data, and the person will show up in the emergency room instead. And that will not only lead to poorer healthcare outcomes, but it will also lead to much higher medical bills.

Another doctor who was quoted in the article, Fatima Cody Stanford, an internist who specializes in obesity medicine, also insists that weight is an important measure. She notes that U.S. medical schools do a terrible job teaching students about weight, and that many people don’t visit their doctors very often. Stanford says she would tweak the card to something that says:

“I’m happy to get weighed but please do not provide any negative or derogatory comments associated with my weight.”

That way, the doctor gets their data, and the patient doesn’t have to deal with fat shaming. I would add, though, that in my case, it would not be true that I am “happy to get weighed”. I hate being weighed every time. It causes me a lot of distress, and that’s why I avoid doctors unless I’m about to croak. So I think Dr. Stanford might want to rethink that wording, although I appreciate that she recognizes how upsetting being weighed is for some patients.

I looked at Element Primary Care’s Web site, and it appears that their approach to care is different on many levels. For instance, I notice they offer telemedicine appointments, focus on keeping their practice small, and it appears that instead of using a traditional insurance model, they provide care for a monthly fee. This eliminates co-pays and insurance deductibles, and allows patients to access care when they need it. The direct primary care membership plan can be combined with a high deductible/less expensive insurance plan which would cover hospital care or other unforeseen care needs that still use the traditional insurance model. I have heard of a growing number physicians’ practices eschewing traditional insurance coverage, which allows them to be able to make medical decisions that don’t have to go through third parties at insurance companies. I think it’s a great idea, although it will probably take some time for it to catch on nationwide. Change can be slow, but I do think overhauling our health insurance model could be a game changer for a lot of people.

At Element Primary Care, about half of the patients decline to be weighed, but some will weigh themselves at home and report their weight that way. Or, if they have a condition that requires their weight to be monitored, the patient can turn backwards on the scale, which is how many eating disorder patients get treated. That way, they don’t have to know that number, and it won’t affect their psyche. The cards allow the patients to advocate for themselves and be more of team member in their healthcare. It may also make them feel “safer” from judgment and humiliation. Personally, I don’t weigh myself at all anymore, and when I have gone to see the doctor, I don’t let them tell me how much I weigh. I know from personal experience that knowing the number can lead to distress.

I think the pandemic has caused a lot of issues with weight and mental health. I recently read that a number of young people have developed eating disorders during the pandemic. Even President Biden is addressing it, which is very fitting, since National Eating Disorders Awareness Week begins today. Kudos to Mr. Biden for bringing this up, since I know Trump doesn’t care about helping people with eating disorders. I recently read that doctors are seeing a lot of adolescents in emergency rooms, dealing with eating disorders. There’s also a lot of depression and anxiety being reported, due to the pandemic. I think any measure that makes seeking help easier is commendable.

While it may not always be medically appropriate to skip stepping on the scale, I like the fact that some healthcare professionals are noticing and addressing this issue. And I think it’s amazing that some people are empowering themselves by presenting these cards, although I would not be surprised if some people get lectured by their doctors for not being weighed. I would like to see less lectures from doctors as a general rule. People need to take ownership for their own health, and physicians need to stop seeing patients as people who need to be given orders or lectures about taking care of themselves. Especially if they are competent adults.

Anyway… I probably won’t be going to see a doctor anytime soon, and in fact, I hope I don’t live to be super old. I think it’s overrated. But I definitely think the cards are kind of cool, even if I’m sure they don’t always go over too well with more traditional physicians. I know that if I had given one to my ex psychiatrist, for instance, he probably would have laughed me out of his office. And he never weighed me once– but he did fat shame me quite a few times before I told him to stop. He also gave me a prescription for Topamax off label, hoping it would slim me down. Is it any wonder why I hate seeing doctors?

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bad TV, domestic violence, LDS, mental health, Military, poor judgment, psychology, true crime

You’re gonna have to face it; you’re addicted to DRAMA!

This post is potentially triggering, as it involves discussion of child abuse and death. Proceed with caution.

Over the past few days, and much to my chagrin, I have fallen down the Dr. Phil rabbit hole. I am not proud of myself for this habit. When we last lived in the States, I would watch Dr. Phil on TV, feeling a little dirty as the entertainer with expired and surrendered counseling credentials brought on one trainwreck after another. And I’d sit there and watch, as the people told their stories, and Dr. Phil would lob witticisms at them and, at times, bully, berate, and humiliate them with his overbearing Texas style. A lot of people genuinely like Dr. Phil McGraw. I really don’t like him, but I will admit sometimes he brings interesting stories to his show… interesting in terms of personal drama. And it’s easier to watch that show than try to read a book, as my eyesight gets less acute.

Someone on YouTube uploaded a bunch of episodes from 2014, and I started binge watching them earlier this week. Some of the shows have been downright ridiculous. A few have been sad. One or two were funny, but in a tragic way… like the woman who was married to a very dramatic and controlling man with anxiety issues. I made Bill watch an episode that featured a guy who treated his wife like a child, right down to shaming and scolding her as if one would lecture a six year old. But we saw an episode yesterday that actually made Bill cry… (not that it’s hard to do that… he’s a very kind and sympathetic person, and this episode was sad on multiple levels)

This show, which I think might have been taped in late 2013, was the story about Matt, his ex wife Mindy, and to a lesser extent, his second wife, Heidi. They’re all members of the LDS church, which of course drew in my attention even more, since Bill is an ex Mormon. You might think that Mormonism isn’t relevant in this situation, and maybe it isn’t in the grand scheme of things. However, at the beginning of the program, Mindy talks about texting her bishop as Matt held her and their four young children hostage. Then they showed a couple of typically Mormon-esque picture perfect family photos that were classic “families can be forever together” propaganda. I’ve gotten to the point at which I suspect a family is LDS simply by how they look in photos. Most of the time, I turn out to be right. Some of my ex Mormon friends refer to this special knack as “Modar”.

This episode of Dr. Phil was a real humdinger…

This episode was dramatic and, frankly, very sad. Matt was a member of the Utah National Guard and had deployed to Iraq. He was also, at one time, a sniper in the Marines. It’s very possible he suffers from PTSD and possibly, a traumatic brain injury, and that was brought up on the show. Maybe that could explain the sheer craziness of his life that, unfortunately, was visited on his four children with Mindy, and at least one child with Heidi. Here’s a quick and dirty list of the things their family faced in 12 years of marriage, before Mindy divorced Matt while he was incarcerated:

  • On January 31, 2008, Matt held Mindy and their children hostage inside their Eagle Mountain, Utah home at gunpoint. A SWAT team was dispatched to end the crisis. He had two pistols, two rifles, and a shotgun, as well as plenty of ammunition. Matt would spend 490 days in jail for this stunt.
  • The hostage situation arose that morning in 2008 because Mindy had “refused” intimacy.
  • Matt made his daughter lick the floor around the toilet to prove that she had cleaned it properly.
  • Their five year old son had gone through many surgeries due to kidney stones. One time, the boy was in so much pain, he told Matt he wanted to die. Matt handed the boy a knife and told him that if he wanted to die, he should just stab himself in the chest. Matt claimed he was trying to find out if the boy was “serious”, and assess “where he was mentally.” Then Matt told Dr. Phil that he would have stopped his son from harming himself if the boy– five years old, mind you– had tried to harm himself.
  • Matt whipped his children with a belt.
  • Matt duct taped his son to a bench when he was two. At the time of the Dr. Phil taping, that boy was 15 years old and in foster care. Mindy says she put him in foster care because he assaulted her. Matt said he wanted to take the boy home after his treatment.
  • Matt took the family dog, and his young son, out to the desert, where he shot the dog 15 times, because he deemed her a “danger” to the family. The young son was forced to bury her.
  • One of the couple’s daughters died of osteosarcoma just three weeks before this episode was taped.
  • Matt remarried, and his second wife “hates” Mindy, because she thinks Mindy is a controlling and manipulative liar who “pushes Matt’s buttons”.

I guess they had to stop at just these incidents, since each episode only runs for about an hour. Obviously, the most dramatic incident, of quite a few dramatic situations that occurred within this family, was the one involving the SWAT team. On the morning of January 31, 2008, they had an argument, and somehow, Matt decided he needed to hold Mindy and their children hostage. According to Dr. Phil, there were fifty police officers involved in that situation, thirty of whom were SWAT team members. Fortunately, Mindy was able to text their bishop, who called the police. Otherwise, there might have been some fatalities that day.

This particular true crime incident is well documented in the press, and it’s pretty easy to find news articles about it, even though fourteen years have passed. According to Deseret News in 2008, Matt “was arrested after refusing to come out and talk with police officers for nearly four hours. He has since been charged with aggravated kidnapping, domestic violence in the presence of a child and making a terroristic threat.

But the worst part of the story for both Bill and me, was the part about how he took the family dog to the desert and shot her in the head fifteen times, in front of his son, who was then forced to help bury the pieces of her that he could recover. I can’t abide animal cruelty, especially when it’s coupled with child abuse. According to Matt, the dog had escaped the yard and knocked over a child, then ran to a neighbor’s house where she attacked another dog. The story is kind of vague. I got the sense that Matt was just overcome with rage and wanted to kill something. So he took the defenseless dog and his son, claiming that his young son wanted to be a part of executing the family pet in an egregiously cruel and violent way. Personally, I think he should have gone to jail for doing that, but I prefer pets to most people.

Shockingly, in spite of the well-publicized violent crime perpetrated by Matt, he managed to remarry. His second wife, a woman named Heidi, also said that Matt had been violent in their home. However, at the time the show was aired, he hadn’t yet held her at gunpoint. She said he had destroyed pottery by throwing it at the fireplace.

Close to the end of the episode, the family shares part of the story about the daughter who died of cancer. Matt complained that Mindy would not allow him to see their daughter, who was hospitalized with cancer and immunocompromised. Matt complains that Mindy withheld visitation, and kept him from seeing their children. Personally, I can’t blame her for withholding visitation, given Matt’s violent nature, BUT… she also had four children with this man, and stayed with him for twelve years. And I get the sense that she enjoys being a victim and the drama that goes along with that. I can plainly see that that while Matt is obviously the worse parent in this scenario, Mindy is definitely no great shakes herself.

I got so invested in this story that I went looking for more information on the people who appeared on it. Sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find Matt’s ex wife. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Mindy was apparently later involved with yet another dangerous and violent man. I found a news article about how her ex boyfriend had burned down their home in 2019. At first, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t someone else who had the same name as hers, but the physical resemblance was right. And then I found Matt’s second wife on Facebook, and saw that she “liked” a Facebook page that was dedicated to Matt’s and Mindy’s daughter, who died of cancer in 2013. I did some digging on that page and discovered a couple of posts about the house fire. The GoFundMe that was set up to help Mindy and her family recover did not mention arson. I was thinking to myself… what in the hell? Was it not enough for her to be married to a violent man? She also got involved with another violent man who resorted to arson? Those poor kids!

I paged through the Facebook page for Mindy’s and Matt’s late daughter. I was a bit shocked to see that several times, Mindy had posted one particularly traumatic photo of her daughter being held down for a painful cancer treatment. The girl is in obvious distress, mouth open, eyes wide in fear, and there are several pairs of gloved hands holding her down. One person commented that she thought it was wrong to post that photo of the girl being traumatized like that. She wrote, “What on earth??? Who would think to take a picture…. not me that’s for sure.” Others wrote that Mindy was just trying to show everyone how terrible childhood cancer is. People shamed the woman who expressed shock at the photo and said it reminded her of taking pictures of child abuse.

I noticed that Mindy posted that horrifying photo of her daughter in distress several times, not just once, which makes me think that maybe the drama and the attention Mindy still gets by proxy is attractive to her. The more I looked at the page dedicated to the girl, the more I was reminded of Bill’s ex wife, who posts the same kinds of stuff. If you don’t know Ex, you might think she’s the mother of the year who is all about her kids. She’s constantly posting platitudes about what a caring person she is. In fact, Ex recently publicly posted the below photos on social media. But behind the scenes, the truth lies. In Ex’s case, it’s been affirmed by at least two of her adult children. She puts this stuff out there for strangers to see, obviously hoping to impress them and bask in the dramatic glory, while she alternately ignores and exploits her children, and other supposed loved ones in her life.

Sadly, Ex, in your own children’s lives, that’s not you… But keep posting these public platitudes. Maybe someone will believe your bullshit.
Could she be markedly different today than she was a few years ago? Maybe… but I really doubt it.

On the Dr. Phil episode, Dr. Phil says that Mindy’s and Matt’s eldest daughter wrote him a letter. In that letter, she wrote about the way her father treated her, and why she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Below are a few screenshots from the letter the girl wrote:

At the end of Dr. Phil’s recitation of the excerpts of the daughter’s letter, Matt almost sounds like he’s going to cry, as he says he’s repeatedly apologized, but his daughter won’t accept his apologies. And there’s nothing more he can do; his therapist said that it was “all on his daughter”. I would agree with that.

Next, Dr. Phil talks to Heidi, who says she has a lot of animosity toward Mindy and she “hates” her. As I listen to Heidi, I can kind of empathize with her, on one level. She sounds a lot like I do, when I talk about Ex. However, the big difference is, my husband is NOT abusive or dangerous at all. He doesn’t even raise his voice, let alone resort to violence. I actually can’t blame Mindy for keeping their children from her ex husband. He is clearly a very violent and abusive man. On the other hand, I can also see why Heidi dislikes Mindy, because she does seem to be very egocentric, attention-seeking, and manipulative.

I don’t know if Heidi is still with Matt today, but I was really taken aback at around 29:00 into the video, during which she describes one of Matt’s violent outbursts toward her. She says he’s called her filthy names and threatened to beat the shit out of her if she called the police. He said he was not going to jail again unless he “deserved it”. At the time of that threat, she was holding their infant daughter. He took the baby from her, not because he was concerned for the baby’s welfare, but because he didn’t want her to take the baby from him. Heidi says she loves Matt, though, in spite of his obviously dangerous and violent nature.

Below are screenshots of Matt confronting Mindy about “stealing” his time with the children. You can see he’s on the verge of exploding. But Mindy looks dispassionate as she responds, “You stole my son’s childhood.” I would say that they both stole their children’s childhoods. She made a choice to stay with this man and have four children with him. Did this violent nature arise only at the end of their marriage? Maybe if he became violent only after going to Iraq, I could see it. I still definitely would have left after he killed the dog.

This story was quite the colossal trainwreck. I almost felt bad for watching it, because it was just so horrifying on so many levels. Yes, I know Dr. Phil brings people on his show that are trainwrecks, and he makes a living out of presenting cases of people who are in fucked up situations to be judged by the masses. It’s pretty terrible that this family’s drama was turned into entertainment… and I am slightly ashamed that I watched this episode, even though the drama was very compelling and, frankly, fascinating. But then, these folks agreed to go on the show, which they didn’t have to do. And the fact that they went on the show, apparently thinking that Dr. Phil would take a side, just shows that they’re all pretty delusional. I also found a recent Facebook post by Heidi that indicates she’s an anti-vaxxer who enjoys watching Tucker Carlson and Fox News.

There wasn’t any talk about Mormonism on this program, except for when Mindy says she contacted the bishop, who thankfully called the police when Matt was holding her and the kids hostage in their home. I do wonder, though, if people in the church noticed how completely crazy that couple was together. I doubt Mormonism helped them much, as bishops aren’t always qualified to counsel people in their wards, not that counseling would have helped this couple. I also notice that Mindy still uses her ex husband’s last name. I don’t know if they were endowed members of the church, but according to LDS beliefs, if they were “sealed” in the temple, she will be with him after they’re all dead. Comforting thought… NOT.

Dr. Phil ends this episode by telling the adults that the children did not “buy a ticket for this trainwreck” and they need to “declare peace.” I’m sure Dr. Phil knows that declaring peace is much easier said than done. It sounds to me like Matt does have a medical problem. It probably was brought on by neurological issues, perhaps due to his time in Iraq. But I also think his ex wife has some serious problems, and those problems existed even before the tragic death of their daughter. And while I can sympathize with Heidi, having been a second wife to a man with a dramatic, attention-seeking ex wife, I think our situations are very different. My husband is not violent at all, and thank God for that.

Maybe it’s wrong for me to write about this. I was a bit triggered, though, and I write when I’m triggered. I think people who go on reality TV or talk shows are kind of fair game, particularly when they augment their stuff by being in the news and posting public social media posts that are designed to get attention from the masses. Unfortunately, as we have learned from watching families like the Duggars go down in flames, going viral, seeking widespread attention, and being famous is a mixed bag. You can’t always control public perception. I think Mindy, like Ex, wants to portray herself in a certain way, but it’s pretty obvious to me that she’s playing a role. And while I might be able to excuse her for marrying one very violent and abusive man, the fact that she got involved with another violent person– one who apparently tried to burn down her house– and then she went on the news to complain about it– tells me that she enjoys being portrayed as a victim/saintly mother type. I would be a lot more impressed with her if she took some responsibility for herself and her children and focused on making sure they are safe, even though I’m sure her surviving kids are adults by now.

I guess today, it might be good if I went back to watching dog grooming videos.

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mental health, nostalgia, poor judgment, psychology, social media

AITA? Nah… I don’t think so, even if you do…

Lately, I’ve been following Reddit Ridiculousness on Facebook. Every day, the person who runs that page shares certain over the top threads from the Am I The Asshole page on Reddit. I don’t follow Reddit much myself, but it seems to me that the person who shares the threads on Facebook deliberately picks the posts in which the person asking is very obviously NOT the asshole. Sometimes, the posts are a little bit triggering and provoke unexpected enlightenment. I share them with my friends and conversation develops. I like it when conversations develop, since they promote understanding… especially among people I actually know offline. A friend might reveal something about themselves as they comment on these threads which offers insight into who they are as people. Sometimes, I can relate.

For instance, back in my college days, I had a lot of “issues”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. The reason I didn’t know I was depressed was because I had been that way for so long that it was “normal” for me. I was always a very emotional person. Everything affected me, even really stupid things that should not cause me a moment’s pause. I would either think something was insanely funny and laugh inappropriately, or I would be so overcome with shame, humiliation, or anger that I would melt down in tears. I had a real problem regulating my emotions to the point at which some people thought I was bipolar (I’m not). I’m now surprised I got through those years without some kind of black mark on my permanent record.

I was also suffering from “disordered eating”. I hated my body, so I would attack it by doing unhealthy things. I used to skip meals all the time, which would make me kind of temperamental and mean. I hated going to the dining hall for many reasons. One time I didn’t eat for a few days, but then I broke the fast by drinking a lot of beer. I tried to exercise a lot. I wish I could say I did it because it made me feel good, but I probably mostly did it for optics, and to escape my roommates. I often thought of suicide, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with myself or why I was born.

My problems with dieting started when I was about eleven years old. I grew up with three sisters, and they were constantly dieting and running to lose weight. One of my sisters was like a rodent. She would always eat half of things and leave the rest in the packaging for someone else to find. We actually did have mice in our house, so this wasn’t a very hygienic practice. It was also very annoying for obvious reasons.

I never was one to be ritualistic about food. I didn’t count bites, hide food, or eat a certain number of bites. I would just skip meals. Because I went to a highly residential college, people would notice and sometimes say things to me. I would feel both embarrassed and kind of gratified that anyone cared. I’m sure it was annoying behavior, though… and I’m not particularly proud of it. Sometimes I did it for attention, and sometimes I did it because I actually wanted to self-destruct.

There were other times, besides my college days, when I engaged in these kinds of weird food related behaviors. I usually did them when I had to live with other people who weren’t family, but I did it with family, too. Often, I would skip meals after my dad yelled at me, criticizing my weight or appearance or touching me on the back, telling me I had “fat” I needed to lose. I remember one distinctly humiliating incident involving my father. My mom had been trying to force us all to lose weight and I ate more than my dad thought I should have. So he screamed at me and said, “You hog!” A few days later, my mom asked me what I was “living on”, since she hadn’t seen me eat. That was the only time I remember her ever being concerned, even though I regularly skipped lunch at school. My parents were very image conscious, and I never really did seem to measure up, at least when I was a child. They often had a complaint about my appearance, personality, the way I smelled after being at the barn, or even the way I laughed. So I tried to change, sometimes in the very needy, attention seeking ways that I thought might “show them”. It was all very stupid and immature, but I was definitely not the only one doing it.

There were times when skipping meals caused negative consequences… like the time I lost out on Champion of my division at the state 4H horse show because I had neglected to eat. I was so dazed when we finally got in the show ring that the judge never saw me and my beloved Rusty. We had won first place in the first class, but didn’t even make the “cut” for the second. After the class, we went back to the barn and I was unbraiding Rusty’s tail when I heard my name, summoned back to the ring. It turned out we’d ended up tying for Reserve Champion and had to hack off for the honor, which Rusty and I won. As I was accepting the ribbon, the judge asked me where I had been! Maybe the end result would have been the same if I hadn’t been so focused on not eating instead of what we were doing. Either way, I felt like such an asshole after that class because we hadn’t done our best and it was my fault.

We won this class out of maybe 75 ponies or so… I was shocked.

We could have been champs! Oh well… this was still kind of a thrill. Not a day passes that I don’t miss Rusty. He was my best friend.

Although I was never a thin person, I did used to skip meals all the time. Most of the time, I didn’t seem to suffer any ill effect, except on the occasions when I would faint. But even those episodes didn’t seem to be because I skipped meals. It was more because I would be drinking something on an empty stomach, swallow too hard, cause myself a lot of pain, and have a vasovagal response. I haven’t had one of those fainting episodes in a long time, but when I was younger, they happened occasionally.

When I think back on those days, I feel like an asshole for wasting my youth on so much nonsense. It really was a waste of time to be so obsessed with something as pointless as dieting and weight loss. But in those days, it felt very important. I felt like no one cared, even though I know now that that wasn’t the truth. The truth was, in those days, there were people in my life who cared about me. They just weren’t necessarily my parents. I do know my parents loved me, but they had their own issues, and were trying to run their own business. And I had “crashed” their party by being born when they thought they were done having children. I was too loud, too opinionated, and too rambunctious and obnoxious at a time when they had hoped to relax.

Because I often cracked jokes, people thought I was witty and funny, and they equated being funny with being happy, which I definitely was not. The ability to make people laugh is not a sign that a person loves life. Just look at the number of comedians who have committed suicide or suffered from substance abuse problems. I know a lot of people like to point to Robin Williams as an example of a brilliant comic who committed suicide and hold him up as a poster child for treating depression and suicidal ideation. Personally, I don’t really lump Robin Williams in with people like Richard Jeni and Ray Combs.

Although Robin Williams did commit suicide, he also had a devastating neurological illness that was going to kill him after it made him lose his mind. Robin Williams had Lewy Body Dementia, which is absolutely horrifying. That was the disease that ultimately killed my dad, and after seeing what my dad went through, I would never judge someone for opting for suicide instead of going through that hell. Actually, I generally try not to judge people for committing suicide in most cases. I don’t think it’s my place. Now, I might judge someone for attempting suicide when it’s obvious they’re doing it to be manipulative. But even in those cases, I figure a person has to be hurting a lot to go to that extreme for attention. On the other hand, having to live with someone who pulls kind of manipulative bullshit is also hell.

It bugs me when people hold up Robin Williams as someone who just needed a caring friend and some antidepressants, and that would have prevented him from killing himself. Although he reportedly didn’t know he had LBD when he took his life, he did already have the symptoms of it. Having seen my dad go through that disease, I can tell you that it legitimately makes people irrational, taking away their minds as it wastes their bodies. Think Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Alzheimer’s Disease and all of the indignities that go with either of those diseases; then think of having to suffer both at the same time. That pretty much sums up LBD. Robin Williams was diagnosed only after he died, and doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. And it had come for him heartbreakingly early. Robin Williams was only 63 when he died. My dad was 81 when he died, but he’d been suffering from LBD for years.

In just a few months, I’ll be 50 years old. I don’t know what I have to show for it, which sometimes bothers me. But then I realize how much time is wasted on stupid shit, like social media. Yesterday, I quit a Facebook group because I got “modded” for something really trivial. In the past, I might have stuck around and tried to argue with the admin. But when I got a message saying that a comment of mine was “removed by an admin” and I should “click for feedback”, I just shrugged and said to myself, “this group is not for me.” And I said “fuck it” and clicked the “leave group” option. Then I wondered for a moment if that was the admin’s goal… to drive people away. But they’ve got 15k members, anyway, so my presence isn’t needed. Then I said “oh well” and took the dogs for a walk. By the time we got back, my mind was on something else… finishing my latest jigsaw puzzle, which I didn’t manage to do.

Why so serious? I’m in the middle, second row, looking depressed, as I often did in the early 90s… and also in the 80s. I was a lot thinner and prettier in those days, too. I should have enjoyed it more, and fretted and obsessed much less. I came very close to quitting this choir because of a row I had with someone. Ironically, it was my dad who talked me out of doing that.

I remember college to be a lot of fun, but it was also a cesspool of people who were dealing with personal problems that most of us knew nothing about. There was often a lot of silly drama and high school antics that went on in those days… things that I thought were so significant at the time, but I now see were ridiculous. I can remember judging people for the way they behaved, without ever really considering why they behaved that way. Years later, I have had the chance to reassess a few people I used to dislike because I didn’t know them very well, and they didn’t know me. I don’t always get those second chances, though, so when they happen, I try to be grateful.

I have since learned that most people who seem like assholes really aren’t; they’re just dealing with something big that no one else knows or cares about. And I think people in their teens and twenties tend to be mired in a lot of drama, anyway. In many cases, it’s really petty drama, but even petty drama can seem huge when a person doesn’t have the life experience they get as they age. On the other hand, there are some unfortunate souls who never learn from the petty dramas and act like they’re about sixteen when they’re in their fifties. Those types of people are always fun to deal with… and in many cases, they really are the assholes that become the banes of everyone else’s existences.

These days, I don’t skip meals very often. It’s probably because Bill notices when I’m hungry and feeds me. He says he can tell when I’m hungry by the way I look, and the fact that I will sigh a lot and get short tempered. I’ll flush red, then get pale and shaky, then plunge into confusion if it goes on for too long. It amazes me that I used to be able to go without eating for as long as a couple of days or more. I can’t do it anymore. I feel pretty sure if I tried, I’d probably pass out… or Bill might decide I am the asshole and file for divorce. I do still have issues with depression, though, and sometimes anxiety, although that’s not as bad as it once was, either. I don’t even cry very often at all anymore, although I still laugh a lot and crack inappropriate jokes… or fart loudly at the breakfast table. Okay, maybe I am the asshole for doing that. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind laughing with me.

Thanks to Livingston Taylor for this… it could be my theme song for life with Bill.

Even when I feel like a huge failure when I look at my life and where I feel like I *should* be, I realize that where I am isn’t actually a bad place to be. At least I managed to marry someone who likes me just the way I am. Yes, he also loves me, but more importantly, at least in my opinion, he likes me. He doesn’t want me to change. He doesn’t call me names or tell me I’m disgusting. He doesn’t say he’s sick of me, as my father did on more than one occasion. He also doesn’t do things like pee in the toilet and leave it for me to discover, as my dad did on occasion when I was in my twenties and temporarily living in his house. Somehow, in spite of everything, I found the right man… at the very least. As Livingston Taylor sings, “I Must Be Doing Something Right”. 😉 At least he doesn’t think I’m the asshole, right?

There’s a lot of wisdom in this song. Just remember… just about everything is insignificant, when it comes down to it.
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