communication, controversies, expressions, family

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Yeah, sing it, Avril…

Apologies for the old hit from Avril Lavigne. I’m not even a big fan of Avril’s music, but this song seems appropriate for today’s topic, which comes courtesy of Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. I had other topics in mind to write about today, but it’s Sunday, and I figured it would be better to write about something less serious. And today’s post from Carolyn Hax is definitely lighter than my subject matter has been lately.

Here’s the letter in question, which was adapted from an online discussion:

Hi Carolyn! 

I’ve recently started to attend family functions with my boyfriend. He always says I don’t need to bring anything, but I never go anywhere empty-handed.

His mom is preparing the entire meal for the next event, including desserts. I’m a baker and usually bring desserts but Boyfriend says mom might be offended if I bring a dessert when she’s already taking care of that. This party is for his sister’s birthday, and I don’t know her well enough to choose a gift, and he won’t give me any ideas because he insists I don’t need to bring a gift. I asked if I could at least get a card, and he said he’ll add my name to his card — but he and his sister have been passing the same card back and forth for 12 years as a joke. This is their thing and I don’t want to impose.

But I just can’t fathom going empty-handed. Any ideas as to what I can bring?

— Never Empty-Handed

Carolyn’s advice to the letter writer was to try to call the boyfriend’s mom and ask her directly what she should bring for his sister, if the boyfriend won’t “work with her on this”. She also said that the letter writer should explain to him that telling her that she doesn’t need to bring anything is easy for him to say, and maybe even well-intentioned by letting her off the hook, but it actually puts her in an awkward position. Carolyn further writes:

He is seeing this through the family lens, but you are not family and you’re newish to everyone, so you don’t know how you’ll be judged.

You want to make a good impression. If he wants to set you up to succeed, then he either needs to give you a token way to contribute, or be more thoughtful in explaining his family culture to you, or connect you to his mom (or whoever’s hosting) to find out for yourself.

This advice makes sense to me, I guess. However, there is also hopefully a good chance that Boyfriend is telling the truth. It’s possible that his mom and/or his sister really don’t want her to bring anything. Moreover, I would expect him to tell me the truth. So my response, which so far is being well-received was this:

I would just take the boyfriend at his word. If it goes awry, then I’ll know I can’t trust what he says and move on.

She can always warn the guy that if he’s not being truthful, and she shows up with nothing and his mom or sister thinks it’s rude, that will mean that she can’t trust him to be honest, and that might mean they shouldn’t continue the relationship. There is a good chance, though, that the mom and/or his sister really are among those people who doesn’t want guests to bring things. My mom is one of those people. She’s at a point in her life that she’s trying to get rid of things she doesn’t need. I have been the recipient of many lovely gifts people have given her that she just didn’t want or weren’t her taste.

If you think about it, bringing something for the host/hostess actually can lead to embarrassing situations. Here’s an example from my personal history.

Recently, I wrote about how I have a phobia of mushrooms. I can’t eat them or touch them, and I prefer not to look at them or smell them. One time, years ago, a woman invited me to her house for dinner. She was a vegetarian. Because I wanted to be a good guest, I baked two loaves of bread and brought one of them with me. Guess what… hostess wasn’t a fan of bread. And guess what else? The dinner she made was LOADED with mushrooms. And yes, it was very embarrassing. I explained to her, honestly, why I couldn’t partake of the dinner. Fortunately, she had a good laugh at my expense, and even told some of her colleagues about it.

People love to leave comments on the Washington Post’s Facebook page about this post, when it’s clear that they didn’t read the article. It’s mainly because they don’t want to pay for a subscription. If they had read the article, they would see that other people offered reasons why bringing the usual go-to gifts of wine, flowers, and candy might not be the best idea. Here’s what a couple of people wrote:

Re: Guest: Yes, please arrive empty-handed. I find hosting people who are compelled to bring something, anything, very tiring. Fine to ask if you can contribute to the meal, for instance, but if the answer is no, then accept that.

— Tired

Tired: Yes, yes. When I tell my guests what (not) to bring, I want them to take me at my word, not send me looking for a vase for the lovely and well-meant flowers.

In the case of someone new being invited into the fold, though, the standards shift a bit. The balance of power is more precarious. The boyfriend can be more helpful here. That’s all.

I have a policy that when people say they want no gifts, I take them at their word. I assume they had a reason for making that statement. If they didn’t mean it, they shouldn’t have written or said it, and they shouldn’t be upset when people abide by it. If Mom is annoyed with the girlfriend for coming to visit the family empty-handed that early in the relationship, that’s another sign that the letter writer might want to consider, should things go further in that relationship. I would hope that the boyfriend’s mom and other family members would be just as eager to make a good impression on his girlfriend, especially if there is a chance she might one day marry him, or otherwise engage in a more serious relationship. Because– that could one day be her mother-in-law… and you want to pay attention to red flags. Divorce is expensive, and marriage can be challenging enough without a mother-in-law with whom you don’t mesh. Fortunately, my own mother-in-law is awesome, and my mom adores Bill.

A lot of commenters seem to think that the letter writer should just ignore what her boyfriend says, and go against his advice on dealing with his family. I don’t know about other people, but it would really annoy me if I told Bill about what to expect from my family– people that I’ve known my whole life– and he didn’t believe me. I can understand the letter writer’s dilemma in not wanting to be rude, but I would consider not trusting my boyfriend’s word as kind of rude, too. I’m big on trust, and I don’t like it when people don’t take me seriously, even though I joke around a lot. Joking around is one thing, but I’m not the kind of person who would deliberately set someone up to fail. If I care enough to bring you home to meet the family, that means I’m serious. And I would not tell you not to bring a gift if I knew that not bringing a gift would make my mom or sister think you were a jerk. I would hope for the same consideration.

I also noticed that the people commenting were suggesting gifts that could be problematic. That bottle of wine might not be appreciated by someone who is fundie Baptist or LDS, struggles with alcoholism or some other health issue, or someone who just doesn’t drink. Flowers might not be appreciated by someone who has severe allergies or, like Madonna, hates hydrangeas… or whatever other flower. Some people don’t like plants because they have a brown thumb, and kill everything they touch.

Ouch!

Or maybe it will be an awkward exchange, like when Melania Trump brought Michelle Obama a fancy Tiffany box on Inauguration Day…

Nice of Melania to bring a gift. Too bad the Trumps didn’t have enough class to show up to the 2021 Presidential Inauguration.

Someone who prides themselves on being a great cook or baker might not appreciate it if you take it upon yourself to bring dessert. A lot of people go to great lengths to plan when they have a party. If you show up with a cake from a bakery or even one you’ve made yourself, it may send a very embarrassing message that won’t be well received. Or, again, it could turn out that someone has diabetes and has to watch their sugar or carbs for health reasons. I had a friend, years ago, who had an allergy to chocolate. She loved chocolate, but couldn’t eat it, because it made her break out in hives. Imagine showing up at her house with a lovely, expensive chocolate cake that took hours to bake. Hopefully, other people can enjoy it.

Here’s what I think is a fairly foolproof gift– sincere gratitude for the invitation, and authentic, attentive, and appreciative company. That’s it. Maybe that gratitude could be augmented by a handwritten note expressing thanks, mailed a day or two after the gathering. One of the nicest “gifts” I have ever received from anyone was a lovely, handwritten note from Bill’s younger daughter, who was considerate enough to think of me when he went to visit her in March 2020. I will treasure it always, for there’s no other gift like it. It came from the heart and, best of all, it cost her almost nothing in money, but yet it’s priceless to me. I will keep and treasure it always, especially since it doesn’t take up any room or collect dust.

Now THIS is what I call a good– and very classy– gift. There’s not another like it.

There’s no reason to sweat the small stuff. There’s no reason to make things more complicated than it needs to be. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. While giving a small gift to a host or hostess is usually considered good etiquette, when it comes down to it, the best etiquette is considering what will make the other person feel most comfortable and at ease. I would expect that the boyfriend in this situation knows his family well enough to advise his girlfriend honestly. She should take what he says at face value. If it goes wrong, that will be a sign of things that could be coming in the future. At the very least, it could be a signal that he’s not going to be straightforward about other things.

Damned right.

Some of the comments on this remind me of the American attitude about tipping. So many people seem to think that everyone loves gifts. Not everyone does… just like not everyone expects or appreciates a tip. Seriously… in some cultures, tipping is actually considered rude or just isn’t a thing. American culture is not the end all, be all, and there’s a lot to consider in any relationship. If you don’t know the guy’s parents, I actually think it’s better to wait before you bring a gift, unless you’ve been assured that they would appreciate one. Gifts can go awry. Besides, meeting new people is a two-way street. I see no reason to complicate that meeting by adding in an unnecessary element, like what gift to bring. Especially when it’s been made clear, by someone who should be in the know, that gifts aren’t expected or even desired. I think it’s smart to learn about the culture in any new situation before assuming you know what should be done.

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Ex, mental health, narcissists

This sentiment really resonates with me right now…

Last night, an online friend and I were chatting on Facebook instant messenger. We had started conversing on my Facebook page, offering our thoughts about the new abortion law in Texas. I had mentioned that I hate Donald Trump for his part in this… and for many other reasons. And yes, I know Trump didn’t act alone. He had a lot of help from Mitch McConnell and other MAGA asshats who just want to keep people trapped in poverty as they hypocritically lecture them about morals. But basically, Trump is the face of a lot of really horrible people who only care about themselves and everybody else can just go to Hell. That is basically the very essence of narcissism.

Yep… that’s about right. People with money will always be able to get abortions if they want or need them.

My friend had basically said that she doesn’t care about Trump enough to hate him. She sees him like she’d see a scorpion. It’s his nature to be cruel. He can’t help himself. So she doesn’t expend the energy to hate him. I, on the other hand, am not like that by nature. People irk me and I react to them more than I should. And before I knew it, our conversation had segued from Trump to Ex. I wrote:

I understand that mindset [of not caring enough about Trump to hate him]. I just can’t help myself. But there are people I dislike as much or more than Trump, like the Ex. Every time I try to feel compassion for her, remembering that she’s mentally ill, I am reminded that she stole from her own children, sexually abused my husband, and turns people close to her into her slaves. I just really hate narcissists.

I explained that I believe my husband’s ex wife is a narcissist. But I also think she is mentally ill. I’m not the only one. She has been diagnosed by professionals. But she’s also just a very manipulative, selfish, shitty person who has done real harm to others. Unfortunately, some good people are still struck in her sphere. There’s not much we can do for them until they help themselves. It’s an awful feeling to watch good people who are trapped, and haven’t figured out that they need to help themselves… or even that there are people who would gladly help them to help themselves. But, as they say, it is what it is.

My friend was skeptical that Ex is mentally ill. She asked me some questions about Ex, and why I believe that besides being a shitty person, she’s also got legitimate issues with mental illness. Some of it may be organic. Some may have been brought on by abuse and trauma. Some may be because she’s just a nasty person. I explained that I believe a person can be mentally ill, and they can also simply be mean. The two conditions are not mutually exclusive.

Then I PM’d my friend with some sensitive information that clarified things a bit. I didn’t go into specifics of what happened, because the specifics don’t matter. What mattered was that a few years ago, I might have simply excused Ex for being “sick” with mental illness. I can’t excuse her anymore, though, because she has done some things that are just beyond the pale and, I know they aren’t due to mental illness. In fact, she often uses mental illness as a crutch, excusing herself for being a shitty person. I didn’t find out about the personal stuff until a few years ago. When I did find out about what happened, I was absolutely livid. It forever changed my opinion about Ex– not that it was ever very high– and made me conclude that she’s plainly damaged beyond repair.

More wisdom.

The conversation with my friend continued, and she eventually took my word that Ex is probably both mentally ill, and a terrible person. But she’s not as bad as she could have been. Believe me, I have realized that she could have done more to make our lives hell. She’s no longer a threat to me personally, but she’s still a threat to Bill’s daughters and the family members who aren’t clued in to what kind of a person she is.

Personally, I am at a point at which I don’t really care much about Ex. I might feel about her the way my friend feels about Donald Trump. I might see her as a reptile who just hurts people because it’s in her nature to do that. But then Bill talks to his daughter, who isn’t quite ready to go no contact. If she goes no contact, there’s a good chance she will pay a dear price. She may lose contact with other family members, for instance. So Ex remains a topic of conversation, even though personally, I could probably move on from caring or talking about her at all.

And then, I noticed something posted by another friend. I don’t know this friend as well… but what I do know is that she’s been going through something with a narcissist. She’s been posting nothing but quotes about narcissism lately. I mostly don’t notice her posts, because I’m not big on posting quotes and memes without explaining the context. But every once in awhile, she posts a gem. Last night, she posted the below image.

This sentiment really resonates with me right now.

For most of my life, I have been trained to tolerate dysfunction. I’ve been conditioned to ignore bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs, so as not to upset the apple cart. I’m not as good at ignoring bad behavior as some people are. I do have a bit of a temper, and I will lose it when people go too far. Sometimes, when I feel like I can’t be assertive, I’ll be passive aggressive, which isn’t a good solution. But, for the most part, I do try to avoid conflict, and sometimes I give people too much power. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and will sometimes excuse them when they shouldn’t be excused. Or, I simply put up with bad stuff from people when I should let it, and them, go.

We’re living in some incredible times. The past five years have been awesomely hard for many people. Bill and I have been mostly fortunate, mostly because we haven’t been living in the United States. But we have been watching the turmoil from afar, and that has been very stressful and worrisome. I’ve found that living in Germany has given me some empathy for people who have come to America from countries where there’s a lot of strife. Bill and I are not in Germany illegally, but it’s still not our home. We love living over here, and we’re not in a hurry to leave. But we still have friends and family who are dealing with the strife as we look on from abroad.

Living in another country has its challenges, although things are pretty good for us. I’m not stupid enough to compare the United States with Afghanistan or El Salvador or Syria or Honduras… or any other place where things are just horrifying. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision is plenty horrifying, though… and it takes energy to process it and what it might mean for the future. Why should I let some low level idiot who is up to no good upset me? Especially when there really are much bigger fish to fry? They don’t care about me. Why should I care about them?

I don’t have the energy or stamina to put up with people who deliberately cause chaos, especially if I don’t have an investment in them, and especially when the chaos is over something really petty or insignificant. At this point in my life, I don’t have a lot invested in most other people. It’s probably because I do live in another country. I haven’t seen most of my family since 2014. I haven’t seen friends in that long, either. The ones I’ve made in Germany, by and large, aren’t real friends. They are friendly for a short amount of time, then disappear. So why should I tolerate any disrespect from them? Why should I let them upset me?

Of course, it’s probably in my nature to get upset. Just like I can’t see Donald Trump as a mere scorpion, I can’t help but be irritated by people who go out of their way to be manipulative, disrespectful, or just plain mean. I react more than I should, but lately, I’ve been trying to learn to let things go. I’ve been making a concerted effort not to get into it with people… especially people I don’t know. People who don’t care at all about me aren’t worth the tears. Peace is important, and I am as entitled to it as anyone is. So, instead of addressing stuff that I know will turn into something dramatic, I just quietly take out the trash.

As I was telling my friend last night, there are some people in the world that want to deny you your vote. Yes, some people literally want to deny you your vote in political matters, but I’m also talking about your vote in interpersonal situations. Like, for instance, when Ex unilaterally decided to have Christmas at my in-laws’ house, and demanded that I show up there for two days of hell during the biggest holiday of the year. She never asked me what I thought of the plan. I was simply expected to show up and shut up, forfeiting my right to enjoy Christmas.

Well… I realized then that I had a vote. I had a right to vote “no” to her Christmas plan, and stay home. Yes, there was a price to be paid for voting that way. She decided to punish everybody else for my choice. On the other hand, those people– most of whom were adults– almost chose to accept her “punishment” and disrespect. What they really should have done was tell her to fuck off and kick her out of their lives. It’s hard to do that when kids are involved… I know that. But, even in that situation, there were choices that could have been made. Bill had the right to take the Ex to court, for instance. Or, the in-laws could have told her and #3 to get a hotel room. Or they could have refused to host her little drama altogether. In some way, they could have REFUSED to tolerate her bullshit and just plain not shown up or stuck around for it.

I’m sorry if this post doesn’t make sense. It makes sense to me. As I have said before, I think the universe often gives us multiple chances to learn valuable lessons. This is one of those times. I got a lesson last week, as a matter of fact.

Last week, I got involved in some petty dramas that upset me quite a bit more than they should have. I was upset and frustrated, when I should have been enjoying the Black Forest, which was genuinely beautiful. The people who were causing the strife weren’t people I’m close to or care about. I was simply indulging them and giving them a lot more air time than they deserved. I’ve done that for too many people… Ex included. The vast majority of people are simply not worth the consideration.

I don’t like blocking, unfriending, or even unfollowing people… and I mostly don’t like it when people do that to me (although there are times when it was actually a mutual decision… they just acted first). But– I realize we all have our limits, and X amount of energy. The older you get, the more you realize that time and energy are precious. So it makes sense to spend those valuable commodities on people and issues that truly deserve them.

People like “Dick”, the wine group saboteur, Ex, Trump, and any number of other people with whom I can’t reasonably collaborate or cooperate, simply aren’t worth my time, energy, or attention. They don’t appreciate the sacrifice. And so, today I’m going to try to make a concentrated effort to kick those people out of my life as much as possible. I already feel a lot better having dumped a few of those folks… kind of like I did this morning, purging yesterday’s shit from my system.

And now… Noyzi and Arran are telling me it’s time for a walk. So I’m off to blow off some steam. Hope you have a good Friday… and as my friend Wilbur sings, “Don’t let life chew the sweet out of you.”

“Itty bitty problems” aren’t worth the stress. This song is non-sensical, but it makes me laugh.

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memories, mental health

Repost: The futility of advising someone to “let it go”…

I wrote this post in the fall of 2018. It was “born” out of a comment I got from someone who was irritated about my tendency to “trash” my husband’s ex wife. This person, who wasn’t someone who had been reading the blog for a long time, thought I was just a bitter second wife. I’m pretty sure I know who the “anonymous” commenter was, as she had been sending me private messages about moving to Germany. In those discussions, she told me she was a “first wife” of someone. I suspect that she thought I was attacking all first wives, when I was really just commenting about my situation with Bill, and how I felt about HIS ex wife. Bill’s ex wife is a special kind of terrible. And no, I certainly don’t think ALL exes are like her, and thank GOD for that!

Anyway, the offended person left me a comment telling me how “inappropriate”, “TMI”, and “negative” she felt my blog is, and advised me to “let it go”, or keep my negative posts about Ex private. She said I came off as “bitter, petty, and snotty”. I was kind of scratching my head at those comments. Was she really expecting me to take her unsolicited advice, especially when they were delivered in an insulting way? I mean, maybe I would if she was a friend of mine, but she was a random person on the Internet who had left me a comment with the moniker “Wondering Why”.

Maybe I would have considered taking her suggestion if people were paying me to write this blog… but as it stands right now, I don’t even take tips for this space. I only recently monetized this blog as an experiment. I may decide to demonetize it, since I don’t like looking at ads any more than anyone else does. But the travel blog is monetized– so far it’s raked in a big fat $1.70. I get far fewer hits on the travel blog, so I would like to see if this blog does better, and if so, how much better.

This post from November 2018 is left “as/is”. It came in the wake of a post I had written comparing Ex to “Wile E. Coyote”. I was inspired to write the coyote post after Bill told me about things his daughter had told him about growing up with Ex and some of the really fucked up shit she did (and continues to do). My husband’s former wife is legitimately toxic and crazy, and it was upsetting to hear about things she did to her own children. So I processed those feelings by writing about them in an admittedly “negative”, “personal”, and “snarky” post comparing Ex to a feckless cartoon character whose harebrained schemes never work out for the best.

Like Wile E. Coyote, Ex usually assumes she knows better… and in fact, she often seems to think she knows all. But the end result of a lot of her big ideas usually turn out to be disastrous, and they have ripple effects that harm innocent people– even people like me, who get upset at hearing about them and write blog posts that piss off clueless readers. I get rude comments, then feel compelled to write even more. 😉 See? More ripple effects!

I should mention that at the time, I was feeling especially stressed out, because we were about to move out of our last house. I knew ex landlady drama was coming, as well as the sheer pain in the ass of moving, so my mood was definitely affected. I still think there are some pearls of wisdom in this piece. I was pretty gratified that several then regular readers left comments for “Wondering Why”, advising her to move on if she didn’t like my material. I still think that’s good advice for anyone. So here goes…

About twenty years ago, I was working as a temp at the College of William & Mary’s admissions office.  While I was working there, I became friendly with an older lady named Peggy, who, like me at that time, lived in Gloucester, Virginia.  As I got to know Peggy, I learned that she had a daughter who had been friends with my older sister, Sarah, when they were in high school in the early 80s. 

Over the few months that I worked in the admissions office at William & Mary, Peggy and I got to know each other better.  The work I was doing was pretty boring.  It was mostly filing and data entry on an ancient (by 1998 standards) computer.  You might be surprised by what high school seniors were sending to William & Mary in 1998.  William & Mary is a very prestigious school, and it receives many applications from outstanding students around the country and the world. 

I don’t know if it’s still true today, but back in the late 90s, Virginia had a law that required in state publicly funded colleges to admit a certain number of students from Virginia.  That meant that gaining admittance to William & Mary as an out of state or international student was extremely difficult.  Consequently, not only did the admissions office receive stellar test scores, personal essays, and transcripts from hopeful students; it also received a lot of other supporting documents, all of which needed to be filed.  That’s where I came into the picture. 

It was really an eye opening experience to see what people sent to the admissions office in their personal quests to become members of the “Tribe”.  It was insane, and created a lot of work for temping drones like me.  I noticed that most of the extra stuff did nothing but add detritus to each applicant’s folder.  It was pretty rare that an extra supporting document would result in an offer of admission to someone who otherwise would have been rejected.  Some of it was entertaining to look at, though.

I remember one girl’s mother sent a photocopy of her out of state nursing license and a picture of a younger version of the girl standing in front of the Wren Chapel with her family.  There was a supporting document from the girl’s dad, a police officer, stating that the family planned to move to Williamsburg to support their daughter in her academic endeavors.  I recall that this young lady didn’t gain acceptance to William & Mary.  I hope she found a school that she liked just as much.  Having been rejected by my first choices when I was a high school student, I understand how rejection feels.  But then, I did manage to find a great school for my purposes, so it all turned out fine in the end.

Anyway, this story comes up in the wake of yesterday’s minor drama on this blog, in which a first time commenter advised me that I need to “let it go”, regarding my husband’s ex wife.  Telling somewhat to “let it go” is kind of akin to telling them to “get over it”.  Personally, I think it’s an extremely rude, dismissive, and short-sighted thing to say to another person, particularly someone you don’t know.  I do understand why some people think it’s constructive advice, although frankly, I think it’s futile to tell someone they need to “let it go”.  Sometimes, it’s just not possible.  I came to that conclusion while I was working with Peggy.  She offered an analogy that I’ve not forgotten in the twenty years since we met. 

I was sitting on the floor next to a giant filing cabinet and Peggy’s cubicle.  I had a huge stack of essays, drawings, certificates, test scores, and the like, that I was stuffing into manila folders dedicated to each new applicant.  It was mindless work that numbed my brain as it chapped my hands.  Peggy helped me pass the time by telling me about her upbringing.  It turned out that, like me, she was raised by an alcoholic.  However, while my dad was the alcoholic in our family, in Peggy’s case, it was her mother who drank too much.  Peggy’s mother was extremely abusive to her.  Consequently, Peggy grew up suffering from depression and anxiety, and she had lingering feelings of hatred for her mother.  There was no love between Peggy and her mom, because Peggy’s mother had repeatedly beaten her up mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I felt sad for Peggy that she had those feelings toward her mom.  I may not always love the way my own mom behaves, but I do love her very much.  She was the sane parent; which isn’t to say that I didn’t love my dad.  I did love him, and mostly try to remember him fondly.  He did have a good side.  But he was often mean and abusive to me, and those memories are hard to erase.  I am now kind of “saturated” when it comes to abuse from other people.  I simply can’t tolerate it.

Peggy explained that as the years passed, her depression lingered, even though in 1998, she was probably in her 60s and her mother was long dead.  Peggy didn’t seem depressed to me in person.  In fact, she was bright, funny, friendly, and cheerful.  A lot of people have described me in the same way.  More than one person has told me they think I’m “bubbly”.  Some people even think I’m hilarious.  In person, I joke a lot and laugh and giggle.  A lot of “funny” people are like that.  Humor is a way to mask depression and anxiety.   

In 1998, I, too, was suffering from significant clinical depression and anxiety, and at that time, it had gotten really bad.  I had actually had these issues for most of my life, but in 1998, it was especially severe.  That was the year I finally decided to seek professional help, and got prescription medication for the depression that had dogged me for at least ten years.  I was not under a doctor’s care when I worked at William & Mary, though.  At that time, I was too poor to get help, and I had no health insurance.  Also, I didn’t know I was depressed and anxious.  That was the way I’d always been, only it was much worse in ’98 than it was in the preceding years.  That year, I thought of suicide fairly often.  I still sometimes have those fleeting thoughts, but it’s not nearly like it was in those days.  I’m probably more dysthymic now than anything else.

I remember Peggy explained in detail what she’d endured during her formative years at home, when she’d had no choice but to endure her mother’s constant insults, taunts, and physical abuse.  She got away from her mother as soon as she was able to and married a man with whom she was not compatible.  They eventually divorced, and Peggy was left alone to raise her daughter, which was very difficult for her.  At the end of her story, I remember Peggy telling me that having clinical depression is a lot like trying to function with a broken arm.

If you met a person with a broken arm, would you tell them they need to “let it go” and “get over it”? Would you assume that you know what the timeline should be for them to “heal” from a physical injury?  I’m sure there are cases of people who heal from broken bones very quickly.  Maybe you’ve had a broken bone and bounced back in just a couple of weeks.  But does that mean that someone else can heal in that same timeframe?  Maybe the other person has mitigating circumstances that make healing more difficult for them.  I think it’s often the same for depression and other mental health issues.  Some people heal faster than others.

I have never forgotten Peggy’s comparison of clinical depression to having a broken bone.  In either case, the condition is crippling and painful, especially without treatment.  I was especially clued in to how astute the comparison is when I did seek medical help in 1998.  It took about three months, but I finally found an effective antidepressant that literally changed my life.  When I got my brain chemicals straightened out, I was amazed at how much better and more competent I felt.  It really drove home to me that depression is a real illness and not just made up bullshit in my head. 

For so long, I felt so guilty about who I am.  I thought there was something truly “wrong” with me.  When I finally took the right medication and eventually felt the way non-depressed people feel, I realized that I didn’t have to feel guilty about being depressed.  Depression was, indeed, a sickness that was beyond my control.  I couldn’t will myself not to be depressed.  I needed help to move beyond it.  In my case, potent antidepressants and counseling from an empathetic psychologist did the trick.

Now… this does not mean that a person can’t learn techniques to combat depression, and it doesn’t give a person an excuse to be a jerk to other people.  However, I did finally realize that depression is real, and it will probably always be a part of my life.  Being negative, grumpy, and bitter is a part of having depression.  Maybe some people don’t find that side of me pleasant and they think all they need to do is tell me to “get over it” or “let it go”.  I’m sure it seems that easy to them.  It’s not that easy for me.  I write in this blog to process those feelings instead of acting on them in a destructive manner.  In other places, I try to be less negative and bitter.  Some of my readers interact with me in other places and have seen that I’m generally not as “bitchy” there as I can be here.  It’s because I have a place to put most of the bitchy stuff, and that’s here in this blog. 

I realize that some people don’t like me or stuff I write.  Fortunately, I’ve gotten to a point at which I no longer feel the need to try to please others.  I do wish I were a more likable, positive, friendly, and popular person.  I have accepted that I will never be those things, and that’s okay.  I don’t take antidepressants now.  Maybe I will again at some time, but at this point, I’d rather not.  So I write blogs and publish them, and I make music.  Sometimes people like my efforts, though I think more people are either indifferent or think they can fix my problems by telling me to “let it go”.  My own mother has, more than once, told me to “let it go”.  I actually love my mom and I haven’t been able to take her advice.  What makes you think you’ll be more successful at giving me that advice than she’s been?  And why does it even matter to you if I’m “inappropriate” or share too much information?  It’s not your life, is it?  You don’t have to read this stuff.

I suppose I could make this blog private and I have openly suggested doing that before.  However, I have had several people tell me that they enjoy reading my blog.  So I leave it public for them and anyone else who understands.  If you don’t understand, and you find me unpleasant, I won’t be upset if you move on to another place on the web.  You’re certainly not the first one to find me unpleasant.  But please don’t glibly tell me to “get over it” or “let it go”.  That is a very dismissive thing to say to another person and it’s not right to discount other people’s feelings, particularly when you are a guest in their space.

As for my husband’s ex wife, I’m sure it would be amazing if I could simply “let it go” that she did her best to destroy my husband’s happiness, career, and connections to people who love him.  I wish I were that mature and magnanimous.  I’m not there yet, and I don’t think I will ever be there.  How do you forgive someone who sexually assaulted the love of your life and then denied him access to his children while spreading vicious lies to his parents about the kind of person he is?  I’m sure if it had happened to me, my husband would be equally angry.  So, you’ll have to excuse me for not “letting it go” where she’s concerned.  It will probably take a much longer time than I have left in life to completely get over it.  But with every day, there’s fresh hope. 

Don Henley’s good advice… but has it worked out for him? He’s still pissed at Don Felder, isn’t he?
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healthcare

The laundry hamper… don’t neglect it!

Proper hygiene is very important. It may be even more important today, thanks to COVID-19. The following anecdote was originally posted on my old blog, but I’m sharing it again as a lead into today’s topic.

My dad, who died in July 2014, had a habit of wearing clothes that probably should have been tossed in the laundry basket. He was a typical guy. Bill is better about putting his stuff in the hamper, but there have been a couple of times when I’ve had to tell him that his t-shirt is a bit rank. I definitely have a stronger sense of smell than Bill does.

I have three older sisters. One sister mostly upsets me when I’m around her, but she does have a knack for clever quips. One Christmas, we were all staying at my eldest sister’s house to celebrate the holiday. For his birthday the previous February, I had given my dad a sweater that he really liked. He wore it all the time, even when he should have tossed it in the laundry hamper.

My sister noticed and said, “Dad, you’ve been wearing that sweater for days now.  Don’t you think you should change?”

My dad responded, “I really like this sweater and it’s just easier to wear it since it’s already out of my suitcase.  If I have a high fashion affair to attend, I’ll change.”

And my sister snarked, “How about a hygienic affair?”

I have to admit, that was a pretty funny comment.  My dad good-naturedly smacked her on the head with a rolled up newspaper, which I also thought was funny and well-deserved. I think not long after that exchange, we had a fight. That’s what almost always happens at our immediate family gatherings. That’s why I live in Germany and don’t attend them anymore. 😉 But I do enjoy a clever witticism, and that was a good one.

The topic of hygiene comes up again today as I want to impart a PSA to my readers about face masks. I have a casual Facebook friend whose husband had to go to the emergency room the other day. The side of his face was all swollen and painful, and he and his wife didn’t know why. He ended up being admitted and, as of yesterday, was on two IV drips delivering potent antibiotics. Why? Because he has facial cellulitis.

At first, no one knew how he got the infection. But then a student doctor said that they had recently seen an uptick in facial cellulitis cases due to unhygienic face mask usage. People are wearing them repeatedly, but not washing or replacing them. The dirty surface comes into contact with the face, and bacteria enter the skin via a break– say a nick caused by shaving. Presto! You have a serious skin infection that lands you in the hospital!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I despise face masks. I know they are required– FOR NOW– and I know that they are necessary until we can get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. But I also know that they are problematic for a number of people, and I hope and expect that their use, at least among people who aren’t in the healthcare delivery profession, will soon be obsolete. Even if the masks are helpful in preventing the spread of the virus or preventing allergy symptoms, they do no good if they’re unclean. I would like to see us come up with something better than masks for slowing the spread, but for now I feel the need to remind people to use clean masks as much as possible.

The fact that this guy wound up hospitalized because he kept wearing a dirty mask is just one reason why the masks are a potential threat. Lots of people recycle their masks rather than washing them (if they are reusable) or replacing them. I don’t think it has anything to do with money, either. I think people are just busy or lazy or whatever, and they forget.

Folks… I have had facial cellulitis myself. It is not a fun experience. Cellulitis is painful and disgusting, and if you’re not careful, it can recur. Below is a somewhat graphic account, so brace yourself.

In my case, I was getting recurrent skin infections for awhile before I finally saw a doctor about them. I’m not totally sure, but I think I picked up some kind of wandering germ when I lived in Armenia. From June of 1996, I kept getting these nasty, extremely painful infections that caused my skin to occasionally abscess. It was painful and messy, but since I didn’t have health insurance and wasn’t systemically ill, I just kind of lived with it… even when a couple of the infections were in embarrassing areas that made sitting down extremely difficult and painful.

During one particularly excruciating period, I had a large abscess over my butt crack. One day, I noticed I was feeling better. I went into the bathroom, and found that it had burst all over my underwear. A week later, it recurred in the same spot. I didn’t know that was cellulitis and it hadn’t made me sick with a fever. It just hurt like the dickens. Unfortunately, I was temping at the College of William & Mary, broke, and couldn’t afford to see a doctor, even if I had relished the idea of showing my ass crack to one. So I put up with it, and soon got a job working at a popular restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. I planned to finally make some money so I could escape my parents’ house and get out on my own. But then, I got a case of cellulitis I couldn’t ignore.

The first time I was formally diagnosed with cellulitis, it was April 1998. I was living in Gloucester, Virginia and I had it on my stomach. It was a bright red, extremely painful, swollen rash that kept getting bigger. I eventually developed a high fever (102 degrees) and was really sick and in severe pain, so I went to the emergency room in hysterical tears, where I was put on an IV drip and given high powered antibiotics. That fixed the problem quickly, and I was able to leave the hospital that night. I spent a few days recovering at home, then I was back to work. My savings was completely wiped out, and I was soon buying health insurance!

The second time I was diagnosed with cellulitis was in January 1999, when I had it on my face. The infection started on my left cheek and the whole side of my face, as well as around my eye, was all swollen. That time, I went straight to the doctor. He wanted to put me in the hospital, since the infection was near my brain. He sent me to the emergency room, but the doctor there was less concerned, and sent me home. The next day, the original doctor called me at home and urged me to see another doctor in Newport News, Virginia. That doctor, who was the best of the lot, wanted to admit me to the hospital. I was insured by then, but trying desperately to save my money so I could escape my parents’ house. I told the doctor I didn’t want to be admitted. Since I didn’t have a fever and had never developed one in that case, he reluctantly agreed.

Fortunately, that doctor was very amenable to helping me avoid hospitalization. I got several shots of Rocephin in my hip and took powerful oral antibiotics. A couple of days later, my face deflated, and I looked and felt much better. But then I got shingles, thanks to being run down. The third and final time I got cellulitis, it was a few months later, and I got it on my waist. But that time, I went directly to the doctor and got it taken care of immediately, before it got too large or made me physically ill. I guess that last bombing of my system must have finally killed off the germ, because that was the last time I had cellulitis. Of course, every time I had to take the antibiotic bombs that kill cellulitis bacteria, I also got yeast infections. That was fun to deal with… NOT.

Anyway… after having had cellulitis three times officially, but more times unofficially, I know how uncomfortable, unpleasant, and dangerous it can be, especially when you get it on your face. I don’t have any pictures of myself when I had it, but I can assure you that I looked really scary. Click this link to see some photos of people who have had cellulitis on their faces– I looked a bit like them when I had it. I went in to the restaurant where I was working at the time, showed them my face, and they told me to take off as much time as I needed. I looked hideous. And that infection really can make a person very sick. Not only can it lead to sepsis, but when you have it on your face, there’s nowhere for the pus to go, so it can threaten your eyesight, among other things.

The pus, by the way, is super disgusting. Every time I’ve had it, it’s been thick, sticky, oily, smelly, and tan colored, tinged with blood. Granted, it’s kind of satisfying to see it drain, especially when you look and feel a lot better in the aftermath. But the process of draining it is really stomach turning. It’s just gross.

So… the moral of the story is, practice good hygiene. Don’t poke your face with anything dirty; wash your hands before you touch your face. Be very careful with your face masks. Make sure you wear a clean one as much as possible, and don’t wear the same one for weeks on end, not having washed or replaced it. Trust me. You do not want cellulitis on your face. It’s an unsightly, expensive, and potentially very dangerous problem. And now, more than ever, you want to avoid hospitals, if you can. I mostly survived that experience with no ill effect, except if I look closely, I can see a tiny reddened/scarred area on my face where all of the revolting pus drained out. Yeccch!

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family, marriage, musings

DINKs whose marriage might be about to sink…

First off, sorry about yesterday’s post. It’s a good one that took me some time to write, and it’s probably about 90% fine to share publicly. Anyone who wants to read it can send me a PM and I’ll give you the password. Actually, it’s 100% fine to share publicly… and I probably will at some point. Just not right now.

Now, for today’s topic. This morning, I read Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. Today’s letter was written by a 33 year old man whose wife, aged 26, has decided that she would like to have a baby. The man, who signed himself “Baby Rabies” explains that he’s looking out for his wife’s best interests. He claims that although they both have good, stable jobs and health insurance, she doesn’t realize how much work babies are and how expensive they can be. He worries that she will regret having a baby so “young” (since when is 26 too young for a baby?) He wants her to enjoy being DINKs (double income, no kids) for a couple of years longer, since they’ve only been married two years. He says her friends will have settled down and started having babies and she won’t be so “isolated”.

Apparently, the letter writer tried to tell his wife that his thinking is for her own good. She is upset because she thinks he’s “infantilizing” her. But he insists that she hasn’t considered the long term consequences of having a baby and what that will mean for their marriage.

Carolyn points out that yes, of course, this guy is infantilizing his wife. I would take it a step further, though. I have written about projection a few times in this blog. Many people don’t know what it is. I think this is an obvious case of projection. Letter writer is apprehensive, immature, and not ready to be a dad, but instead of owning up to that, he’s claiming that his wife isn’t ready because she’s “too young” and his statements indicate that he also thinks she’s immature, since he assumes she hasn’t considered how much “drudgery” is involved with caring for babies.

When I read this guy’s letter– a letter that is all about his opinions about his wife’s emotional and mental states– I hear a man who doesn’t want to become a father yet. But instead of simply admitting that HE doesn’t want to be a dad yet (or maybe even ever), he’s putting it all on his wife. And yes, he’s insulting and infantilizing her, because instead of hearing and understanding his wife’s thoughts about how SHE feels, he’s claiming that his opinions and impressions of her feelings are more relevant and correct.

I sure hope the two of them discussed their feelings about having children before they got married. If they didn’t, this marriage may soon wind up on the rocks. If I were “Baby Rabies'” wife, I would be very pissed off and offended by this guy’s overbearing attitude, especially regarding decisions about MY body. Moreover, if they aren’t on the same page about having a family, this is sure to be an issue that will cause a serious rift in their marriage. No matter what happens, they will probably end up deeply resenting each other.

However– that being said– I also think that Baby Rabies must have a say in their family plans. Clearly HE is not ready to be a parent. And ideally, he should be ready to have a baby before his wife gets pregnant. Since he wants to wait a couple of years and she doesn’t, she may want to consider– 1. whether or not she wants to wait, and 2. how long she’s willing to wait– for her husband to get on board with a pregnancy. I think that would be the wise thing to do. Unfortunately, when it comes to having a family, a lot of people don’t take the other person’s wishes into account. But then, maybe she’s like me and doesn’t find willing partners all that easily. 😉

As I have written many times before, Bill married his ex wife after she had already had a son. Bill was committed to treating the ex’s son as if he were his own, which, frankly, was a mistake, since Ex obviously considers her children to be solely her possessions. In the earliest months of their marriage, she got pregnant, claiming that the birth control failed. Bill was happy to be a dad, but they were not financially ready. Moreover, it’s clear to me that Ex’s birth control didn’t fail. She just unilaterally decided that she wanted to get pregnant and quit taking it. Meanwhile, Bill didn’t wear a condom (which he definitely should have, if he truly wasn’t ready for fatherhood). She did the same thing two years later. Then, when she married number three– sure enough, pregnant within two months and again three years after that. These were ALL her decisions alone, and it was unfair to Bill, and their kids (and their other fathers), although they could have chosen to wear condoms or abstained (but you’d think a man should be able to trust his wife when she says she’s using birth control).

I do think that men– prospective fathers– must have a say when it comes to family planning. I think that both parents should be fully prepared for the responsibility of starting a family and, as much as possible, ready to take it on, especially in this day and age, when everything regarding child raising is so expensive and complicated. It sounds to me like Baby Rabies simply isn’t ready to be a father yet. But instead of just admitting that he’s not ready, he’s putting everything on his wife, and being very insulting to her by claiming she doesn’t know how she feels or what she’s doing. That attitude is bound to piss her off.

Frankly, I think that the fact that he’s projecting his apprehension about having a baby onto his wife is a huge red flag, especially since he’s already seven years older than she is and probably thinks that means he’s “older and wiser”. Some women do like that– but a lot of smart, independent, modern women don’t. This ain’t The Sound of Music— we’re not “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, needing someone telling us what to do. (as an aside, I’ve always liked that song, even though the lyrics are incredibly sexist and insulting– the melody is nice.)

Blecch… in the end, it turns out that Liesl is a lot less of a child than Rolf is.

I think Carolyn Hax did a good job with her advice to Baby Rabies. I completely agree with what she wrote. But talking about this with Bill this morning reminded me of a truth that has served us well. When I married Bill, I knew there was a good chance we’d never be parents. He’d had a vasectomy when he was with his ex wife. And I am about to digress for a moment, so please excuse the next two paragraphs–

In retrospect, having a vasectomy was a very smart thing for Bill to do, since Ex uses her children as weapons and she clearly wasn’t done having them, as she had claimed before Bill had the surgery. She has had children with each of her three husbands, and when she divorces them, she forces them to take her side and denies them access to their dads. She did it with her first ex husband, and she did it with Bill. Number three is still married to her, but it’s reportedly not a very happy marriage. We’ve heard that Bill’s daughters were forced to call their stepfather “Dad” because he got jealous when Older Daughter once referred to Bill as “Daddy” in front of number three’s baby. Ex reportedly said that she didn’t want her third marriage to fail, so the kids were expected to latch on to number three, forgetting that they already have a father who loves them (which they evidently weren’t able to do, despite appearances to the contrary).

Now– I’m not sure if number three actually felt better when the kids started calling him “Dad”. My guess is that he knew it was bullshit, and he’s likely been unfavorably compared to Bill a lot. Ex probably told him many times that he doesn’t measure up to Bill. I only say this because this is what narcissists do to keep their victims in line. Once you’ve been around them, you realize that they all have the same playbook. They aren’t faithful; they constantly look for supply; and they always have to keep their victims just a little bit insecure so they’ll fight for their position. It takes awhile before the victims realize that the position they’re in is not worth fighting for. I did notice, some time back, that number three had a picture on social media of all of the kids and he referred to them as “All my kids”… but we later heard that it was mostly a sham, done only for optics, and a lot of that stuff was put out solely to punish Bill.

When I married Bill, I knew that I might not become a mom in the usual way. Yes, there are a lot of ways a person can become a parent. We could have adopted a child, although our nomadic lifestyle would have made adoption a challenge. Bill did undergo a vasectomy reversal, which did not result in my getting pregnant (and we aren’t sure why). We could have resorted to getting fertility assistance, which we couldn’t afford and I didn’t really want to do. Also– moves all the time made that prospect difficult.

Eventually, I mostly made peace with the idea that I won’t be a mother. What it came down to is that I decided I would rather be Bill’s wife than be a mother. I don’t think I could find anyone else who is quite as perfect for me. I wouldn’t want to try. I would not trade my marriage to Bill for a baby, although I know that not everyone feels that way. What I have for him is real love. I never saw him as simply someone to fertilize my eggs. I also deeply appreciated that he was willing to have the reversal surgery. He was fine with not having more children, although I know he would have loved to have had a baby with me. I was so grateful that he was willing to try, though. It meant a lot.

I don’t know Baby Rabies’ wife. It sounds like she’s ready to be a mother and has given a lot of thought to the prospect. It’s possible that having a baby is non-negotiable to her, and not having one, or at least trying to have one, will be a dealbreaker. She may have to decide if motherhood, right now, is more important than her marriage. If she does get pregnant and her husband isn’t ready, that could end up being bad for their relationship.

Or… maybe Baby Rabies will fall into line, kind of like the guy who insists he doesn’t want a pet, but then falls in love. It’s hard to tell based only on his letter, which frankly makes him out to be a bit of an overbearing and insensitive jerk. But that letter was probably heavily edited to give us the biggest bang for the buck. He may not have come across as so heavy-handed in the original letter. For all we know, he’s really more of a worry wart, rather than someone who’s boorish and controlling. I can understand a man worrying and being apprehensive about being a father. That’s understandable. I have much less understanding for men who think they know their partners’ minds better than their partner does.

Anyway… this is an academic situation for me. I am not going to have children. Instead, I will have dogs. I may, at some point, have livestock again, too… although that is looking more and more doubtful, the older I get. Fortunately, I am not one of those women who feels compelled to have a baby. I thought it was very important, but it turns out it wasn’t– at least to me. For all the shit we’ve been through in our marriage, I love Bill more every day. I count myself lucky. Hopefully, Baby Rabies and his wife will come to a consensus soon.

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