first world problems, healthcare, lessons learned, social media

Man dreams of dying by age 75… Internet goes berserk.

I ripped off today’s “clever” featured photo a couple of weeks ago, when I was engaged with the rude commenter who kept calling me “stupid” and “inane”. I think it’s a photo that invites a second look and says something unexpected…

We’re on the fast track to spring! Pretty soon, the trees and flowers will be bursting with new life. As beautiful as spring always is, it’s also the season when my allergies burst into new life. But at least there will be fragrant flowers, warmer temperatures, and longer days.

Welcome to March. This month promises to suck, as it usually does. Bill has a business trip next week, and part of the week after that. At the end of the month, we have a big trip to Stuttgart planned, so we can see the dentist and have procedures done. Meanwhile, Arran is still hanging in there. I will take him to the vet today for a treatment and exam. He really is an amazing dog with a strong will to live. As I’ve learned, after years of having dogs in my life, not all dogs are like that. Not all people are like that, either.

This morning, as I was waiting for Bill to come out of the bathroom, I noticed an October 2014 era article in The Atlantic that was reposted on Facebook. It was provocatively titled “Why I Hope to Die at Age 75”, and accompanied by the broadly smiling visage of a healthy looking man with glasses and grey hair. The author of the article, also the man in the photo, was named Ezekiel J. Emmanuel. He had subtitled his article with this thought: An argument that society and families—and you—will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly.

I was immediately intrigued. To be very honest, I’m not one of those people who wants to live for a super long time. I have a tendency toward depression, which means I often look at the dark side of things. I also had an angst ridden childhood that, at times, has been hard to overcome.

I know my childhood certainly wasn’t as bad as some people’s childhoods are. In fact, I’d say I probably had a very privileged childhood on many levels, at least in terms of material comforts. However, I often felt like I didn’t belong, especially within my own family. I never seemed to live up to other people’s expectations of me. After awhile, I had the same high expectations for myself, which I rarely managed to meet.

Frequently hearing my mom say things like “If you didn’t look so much like my mother, I’d swear I picked up the wrong baby at the hospital.” or “I never meant to have a fourth child.” or “Where did you COME from?” wasn’t helpful. She made it seem like my presence– which she and my dad were responsible for– was a huge inconvenience to her. That sentiment came through to me loud and clear, and it colored my world view.

Of course, now I know that my mom is imperfect, as we all are. Her comments were borne out of frustrations that had nothing to do with me. I just happened to be on the receiving end of them, because I was a child, and had no other choice. I eventually got away from that shit, but the memories still linger. I don’t have children of my own, nor do I have a burgeoning career, except as a blogger who writes things that few people read. Why should I hang around to be 100, like my Granny did?

So I read the article in The Atlantic, which leads with this hooky paragraph:

Seventy-five.

That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.

I’m not surprised that Emmanuel’s relatives are horrified by the statements he’s bravely uttered to them. It’s taboo to make comments indicating that one hopes for death at ANY age. Remember a few months ago, when Queen Elizabeth II died? She was 96 years old, and had lost her beloved husband less than two years prior. People were calling her death TRAGIC! Isn’t that insane?

Queen Elizabeth II lived for 96 years, a reigning monarch for 70 years in a modern country, surrounded by wealth, rubbing elbows with important people, and adored by so many people. She didn’t spend her last weeks languishing alone in a nursing home. She didn’t die at age 20, on the cusp of womanhood. She lived a full life, and it was simply time for her to move on. But people were calling her death tragic!

Emmanuel’s article was written in 2014, which was about six years before the whole world was caught in the grips of COVID-19. Countless elderly people died of the illness. People are still dying of COVID, although it seems like folks aren’t talking about it as much these days. Frankly, I’m glad they aren’t talking about it so much. I’m delighted there’s a lot less fighting over face masks and vaccines. Things are feeling decidedly more normal, although as I could see in the Facebook comment section for Emmanuel’s article, lots of people are still mourning the loss.

One lady bitterly wrote about how her elderly dad died “before his time” in a rehabilitation hospital, because people were fighting over wearing a “fucking mask”. I can tell she misses him. She’s still grieving his death. But did he really die too early? Or was COVID-19 just one of many diseases conspiring to end his life? She blames people for not wanting to wear masks, but even wearing face masks wasn’t going to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. All the masks could do was slow down the spread a bit.

I remember a couple of years ago, I wrote about the time I got a venomous private message from some guy who was upset when I took issue with a comment he made about an elderly couple who had just gotten married. The groom was 91, and his wife was 86. They wore masks during their wedding ceremony, but the wife’s mask happened to slip beneath her nose. Someone got a photo, and it was shared in the article about their nuptials. An all knowing MALE wrote that the bride’s improper face mask wearing was going to send her to an “early” grave.

In my post about this, I wrote:

I was a bit gobsmacked by the guy’s comment. I mean, these folks have already lived a normal life span. Millie is 86. Sam is 91. They aren’t going to be going to an “early” grave, regardless of what kills them. They aren’t teenagers, or even middle-aged. And they sure as hell didn’t need to be chastised by some busybody guy who feels the need to confront others about how they wear their masks on camera. I made a comment to that effect. Next thing I know, I’ve got a spam message from this guy who chewed me out, telling me that a death from COVID-19 is a premature death and calling me “stupid”. Of course he blocked me, so I couldn’t respond.

Likewise, a couple of weeks ago, I got repeatedly insulted by an Irish Times reader who took issue with my comment that “life is 100 percent fatal”. We were commenting on an article about a woman who was publicly fat shamed for wanting to order a cheese course. The person who called my comments “inane” and “stupid” was pushing for health promotion, writing to me as if I’m completely ignorant on the topic. As someone with master’s degrees in public health and social work, I’m literally not at all ignorant about health preservation. I just don’t agree that life should be about denying oneself simple pleasures over fears of a heart attack or a stroke.

Moderation is the key, of course, but we all have our own ideas of what moderation means. For some people, the fear of a heart attack or another chronic disease is enough to make them want to avoid certain indulgences. Other people don’t feel that way at all. They’d like to enjoy their cheese course in peace. That doesn’t necessarily make them reckless, foolhardy, or stupid.

After trying to maintain decorum and polite discourse with the insulting commenter, I’d finally had enough. I ended up telling off the stranger, who had relentlessly kept insulting me as she pushed her health promotion point. I explained that I would rather eat what I want with my friends, and live a shorter lifespan, than not eat what I want, and have to linger on this planet with “miserable bitches” like her. Then, I asked her to “kindly fuck off and leave me alone”, which she kindly did.

Ezekiel Emmanuel, author of The Atlantic piece that prompted today’s post, writes:

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

I see nothing wrong or controversial about what Emmanuel wrote here. I come from a long line of people who have lived for a long time. My Granny was almost 101 when she died. She was amazingly active and beloved in her golden years, but when it was time for her to go, I have no doubt that she was ready. Likewise, my dad, who was a very healthy and active man, died at age 81 after spending six years in the hellish cognitive and physical decline of Lewy Body Dementia. His brother, my beloved Uncle Brownlee, had a stroke in 2019 while he was out and about. Two weeks later, he was gone. Somehow, I think Brownlee’s death, albeit at a younger age, was markedly better than my dad’s.

Emmanuel further writes:

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.

Again… he’s not wrong. And it’s not that he’s saying he’s planning to off himself. In fact, in the next paragraph, he even writes that he’s against assisted suicide. He claims people who want help killing themselves are usually suffering from depression. Personally, I disagree with him on that. I don’t think a person has to be depressed to realize that a progressive brain tumor or Alzheimer’s Disease is inevitably going to rob them of their dignity and self-determination. I don’t think a person who wants to pass on before that can happen is necessarily “depressed”. To me, it makes good logical sense to want to get help in dying, especially under those conditions. I’m not the only one who feels that way, either. Moreover, living with unrelenting depression is also miserable. In a case when depression won’t abate, maybe assisted suicide makes sense.

But then he continues:

I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.

So basically, what Emmanuel is saying is, he’s going to stop trying to prolong his life beyond the age of 75. That means if a doctor finds out he has cancer or some other debilitating, chronic disease, he’s not necessarily going to seek treatment– particularly aggressive treatment. He might not bother with screenings. He recognizes that the older one gets, the more help they need into keeping going. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable observation. At some point, there are diminishing returns.

To read some of the comments on Facebook, though… So many people complained about ageism and devaluing the elderly. One person even compared the writer’s ideas to that of a Nazi, as the Nazis saw people in certain “undesirable or unproductive groups”, such as the elderly, disabled, LGBTQ, or those who weren’t white and Christian, as “useless eaters”. I saw more than one person complaining that the article was going to give people “dangerous ideas”.

All the guy did was share an opinion. No one is being forced to agree with or actively support Ezekiel Emmanuel’s ideas. They’re just food for thought. I see no need for offense or outrage on this subject. Emmanuel is not trying to say that all elderly people should have an expiration date. He’s simply sharing his thoughts, and perhaps stimulating other people to think about how they feel on this topic. He’s saying that when he’s 75, he hopes to die. It doesn’t mean he absolutely will die at 75. It doesn’t even mean that he can’t or won’t change his mind. It’s just a thought. Why are so many people afraid of people sharing their thoughts? And why do people have to be so critical and condescending when someone shares a thought with which they disagree?

One commenter wrote this, and I heartily agree:

Stunning how this article is being misconstrued by people with anecdotes about healthy old folk. I’m 77. Boringly healthy but I stopped all routine tests, pokings and proddings before I was 70. I may get some things done like cataract surgery since I am the family driver. However if I get something nasty I don’t plan on extreme measures. It’s in my will etc. For every healthy elder anecdote there are thousands of elderly getting major surgery when they cannot care for themselves at all. The “children” are desperate to …save Mom. Well, don’t save me (or the good doctor) if I can’t get to the bathroom by myself, thank you very much.

And others made really tone deaf comments, or complained when the tone deaf are rightfully invited to fuck off…

I don’t blame the first commenter for telling the second one to fuck off. What a dumb comment.

My Uncle Ed died last summer at age 85. I hadn’t spoken to him in some time, mainly because he’d slipped into Trumpian cognitive dissonance and labeled me a “liberal nutjob”. However, I did hear that Ed had a mass on his lung that he’d opted not to treat. Frankly, I can’t blame him for that. He lost his beloved wife, Nancy, in 2010. Donald Trump was no longer the president and the election wasn’t going to be overturned. What was the point of sticking around until age 86, when there were many loved ones who had passed before him? Maybe Heaven is real. At some point, it makes sense to pass on. Dying is part of living, and it’s something not a single one of us can avoid. If you were born, you will someday die. So you might as well live life on your own terms and enjoy it as you see fit, as much as you’re able.

I don’t have a problem with Ezekiel Emmanuel’s publicly stated thoughts about wanting to die at age 75. It’s just something to think about. Doesn’t mean any of us are going to actually do something to make death happen at a specific time. I don’t feel anger or fear in reading that idea, because in the grand scheme of things, that’s really all it is. Maybe it makes sense to him, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people. He should be allowed to speak his mind, and other people should have enough faith in themselves and other people to be able to hear his thoughts without feeling threatened by them.

Don’t tell people to “shut up”, simply because they dare to convey an idea that you can’t yet fathom. Be brave enough to hear them out. Maybe you’ll even learn something new.

These are just my thoughts, though. Please don’t take them as gospel… not that I expect anyone would.

Standard
book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story…

This is a repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog on May 13, 2014. It appears here as/is.

I honestly don’t remember why I downloaded Ned Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of A Funny Story.  It was published in 2010 and has been turned into a movie, but I think it was intended for young adults.  No matter.  I found Vizzini’s book very engaging and entertaining, even though it’s basically about an adolescent male who struggles with depression and suicidal ideation and ends up in a mental ward.

Craig Gilner is fifteen years old and attending Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School.  He’s a high achieving kind with visions of success and prosperity in his very bright looking future.  Getting that success means getting into the right high school, the right college, the right grad school, and marrying the right person.  So Craig works to achieve those lofty goals and soon gets weighed down by depression.  Craig realizes that compared to his classmates, he’s not all that impressive.  He stops eating and sleeping and one night, decides he’s going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

So he calls a suicide hotline.  At first, he gets routed to a guy who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.  The operator on the hotline tries to get Craig to do some exercises intended to reduce anxiety, but they end up making him more anxious.  He hangs up and calls another suicide hotline and is advised to get to a hospital.  He goes to the emergency room at a hospital two blocks from where he lives.  He gets admitted to Six North, where he gets help.  There, he meets people with some real problems… and isolated from his high pressure school, Craig is able to isolate the source of his anxiety and depression and change his life.

Author Vizzini has himself spent time in a mental hospital, so he’s able to make his story ring true.  He injects a lot of humor into a story that could be bogged down with too much of a heavy subject.  The end result is a very readable book that many people will relate to easily.  I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety, but I haven’t yet spent time in a mental ward.  I hope I never will experience such a thing…  but I’m glad Vizzini was able to turn his personal experiences into a story that will help and entertain others.

Yes, this book is intended for teens from 9th grade up, but as a 41 year old adult, I also enjoyed it.  That’s really saying something, because nowadays, I’m really more into true stories than novels.  I would recommend It’s Kind of A Funny Story, particularly to young people who feel stressed about the future.  Of course, most people worry about what’s coming next… but this book especially speaks to precocious teens and zany middle-aged people like me.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
mental health, psychology, social media

You just never know what someone is going through in life…

Today’s post is about suicide. If you think that will trigger you, please move on to the next Internet station.

Over the twenty years I’ve been in Bill’s life, he’s repeatedly told me stories about his friends from high school, and how they helped him through that time in his life. Bill owes his career, in part, to his high school days. At his mother’s insistence, Bill joined Army JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), and flourished as a cadet. He had grown up without consistent access to his father, so being in the JROTC helped him immensely, by providing him with positive male role models.

Unfortunately, Ex was also enrolled in JROTC, and that was how and where she and Bill met. She later tracked Bill down when he was in Germany the first time, and managed to marry him. We all know how that turned out. 😉 But in spite of the connection with Ex, JROTC was also a place where Bill met some great kids, most of them guys who were a lot of fun. His friend Mark, who committed suicide last month, was among them.

I wrote about Mark last month, even though I never had the chance to meet him. I was the one who told Bill about Mark’s death, as another one of Bill’s friends, who also “friended” me on Facebook, had announced it. Bill was really shocked by the news. He watched as his friends posted their reactions to Mark’s death, and their memories of knowing him. I felt sad for Mark’s friends and family members. Even though a number of them admitted that Mark had “demons”, they all had wonderful things to write about him. And even though they weren’t necessarily people who knew each other, they all shared in the commonality of knowing and loving this man who had violently left life on his own terms.

Sometimes, these things tend to happen in threes. When I initially wrote about Mark, I included some commentary about my cousin’s wife, who, in April, passed away of cancer. In another post, I also included some words about a guy I knew when I was in high school, who also had cancer and died on March 31st, having just turned 50 years old. I will be 50 next month, and I have been worrying a bit about my own health, lately. I have significant issues seeing doctors. So, although I’m sure I will need to pay a visit to one at some point, I’m having some trouble doing it. What makes things harder is when I hear or read about someone who commits suicide. Especially when they are presumably young and healthy. It makes me wonder what the point is of seeing doctors.

This morning, I’m realizing that the three deaths I thought had comprised that old adage of deaths happening in threes, actually weren’t that at all. Because since I wrote that post in mid April, two more people who have somehow affected my life have committed suicide. One of the people I’m referring to is country star, Naomi Judd, who abruptly ended her life on April 30th. Naomi’s death was tragic and shocking on many levels, but at least she’d lived a pretty full life. She didn’t live as long as she was physically able to, but she did live until an age at which a lot of people die for reasons other than suicide.

I wrote about Naomi, although I’m sure I’m not as affected by her passing as some people have been. I enjoy her music, and as a fellow human being who has experienced depression and anxiety, I have great empathy for the suffering she must have experienced to cause her to make such a decision. But this morning, I read an article on People.com about a man who spent some of Naomi’s last hours with her as they sat next to each other on a 90 minute connecting flight to Chicago. Strickland explained that Naomi “never met a stranger” and would talk to anyone.

At first, the man she sat next to on her last plane ride hadn’t realized she was famous. But they got to talking during that short flight, and Naomi had made a real impression on him. When he got news of Naomi’s death, he decided to reach out to her equally famous family via email. To my great surprise, I was feeling a bit choked up as I read about the man’s kind message to Naomi’s widower, Larry Strickland, who had been so concerned about Naomi flying alone. According to the People.com article:

“It’s a small comfort, I’m sure, but my life seems a lot richer after meeting your wife, however briefly,” continued the note, which visibly sparked an emotional response from Strickland onstage. 

“Obviously, I didn’t know Naomi at all, but I can tell you she spoke highly and warmly of you, and the life you shared together,” read the heartfelt email, which Strickland recited while choking up. “Rest assured she loved you and had no qualms about telling me, a stranger on a plane, that was so.”

The man concluded his letter by telling Strickland about the “measure and impact” his late wife left on him during the brief time they spent together, and Strickland told the audience the message provided “great, great pleasure and comfort to me.”

What a great gift this stranger gave to Larry Strickland. It’s a reminder to everyone that famous people are no different than non-famous people. I’ve thought about Naomi a lot, lately, but I am so glad that her husband was able to be comforted by a stranger’s loving message to him.

Now comes the part of this post when I write about third suicide that has sort of affected me on some level. It’s a convoluted story, so bear with me, and keep in mind that this is simply from my perspective. Other people, I’m sure, have different perspectives. This is just my version of the truth.

Some readers– especially those who remember my original OH blog– might recall that in 2019, I abruptly moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I made that decision for a couple of reasons. I had actually wanted to move the blog for awhile, since Blogger isn’t the most professional or functional blogging platform out there. But I put off moving the blog, because I knew it would be inconvenient, and I’d have to start over from scratch. I finally moved it when it became clear that the old blog was becoming a liability. I had some readers who weren’t friendly to me, and they were stirring up trouble. I needed the extra security and functionality that WordPress offers.

I was legitimately shaken by the actions of this woman I had perceived was “stalking” me, and was in cahoots with our former landlady. I’ll call her “Jodi”, though that’s nowhere close to her real name. She had lived in our previous house immediately before us. She and her husband had left ex landlady’s house in September 2014, which was about halfway through their stint in Germany. Since they were still living in the community, and back then, I was sharing my travel blog in the local Facebook groups, Jodi started following me. Because the travel blog was also on Blogger, it was easy for her to find my rawer original OH blog. She decided to follow that blog, too, which probably led her to make some erroneous negative assumptions about me, and my character.

Perhaps because she was feeling curious, or maybe even a little guilty about moving out of ex landlady’s house, Jodi was regularly monitoring my blogs, even though she’d left Germany in 2016, or so. Occasionally, she would leave me “friendly” comments, always with a fake name. At first, the comments were nice, but then when I started having trouble with former landlady, she would leave comments that were shaming or chastising. One time, she asked me to edit something I had written that she was uncomfortable with, since she claimed it had wrongly implicated her. Basically, I had wondered why she and her husband had moved out of that house halfway through their tour in Germany. She had told us that she thought of the ex landlady and her husband as parents to her, and claimed they were wonderful people. And yet, she had to move. The story she told me was one that didn’t ring true to me, based on my experiences with the Army. Jodi insisted that she’d told us the truth… but I still had my doubts. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Jodi was “buddies” with our ex landlady, and in February 2019, a few months after Bill and I had vacated our previous house, she sent me a private Facebook message that really upset me. I had already blocked her on social media before I even saw the message, so when I finally discovered it on my Facebook page for this blog, she showed up as “Facebook User”. In that post, she chastised me for a new fiction blog I was starting. She’d read my initial posts on the fiction blog and mistakenly believed that I was going to write a “hatchet piece” about our former landlady’s daughter. She wrote that ex landlady’s daughter read my blog regularly and would be offended. Then she implied that I’m “crazy” and begged me not to “harass” the ex landlady by writing about her.

Now… the fact is, I have NEVER met our ex landlady’s daughters. Putting it lightly, ex landlady and I definitely weren’t friends, and I don’t think she would have condescended to introduce me to her family members, other than her husband. I didn’t even know her daughters’ names, and had not so much as been in their presence. I’m sure Jodi wouldn’t have believed me if I told her that, because I think she was wholly convinced that I’m a mean, unhinged, person who lies. You can say a lot of things about me, but I am generally a truthful person. I’ve written a lot of negative stuff about Ex, for instance, but now that I corroborate my posts with actual evidence, you can see where my posts are coming from. I may express things that are “ugly” and negative, but by and large, I am truthful.

One time, Bill met one of the landlady’s daughters, and he was impressed by her. He said she was very bright and articulate. She had a physical condition that made her different, but Bill did not mention this condition to me. The first paragraphs of my now deleted short story included a description of a character that had a physical condition similar to that of the ex landlady’s daughter’s. Naturally, “Jodi” read it, assumed that I was going to write a mean spirited story about her friend, and decided to pre-emptively stop me before I caused offense. However, writing a mean story about this woman I’d never even met hadn’t been my plan at all, and she hadn’t given me a chance to develop the character to what I had envisioned. I also didn’t know that Jodi had been sharing my blog with our ex landlady’s daughter, and probably ex landlady herself. It pissed me off that she was so concerned about her privacy, but had no regard for mine, even though my blog is, admittedly, public.

In her message to me, Jodi wrote I didn’t have the right to create a fiction story inspired by people in my life (from where did she think authors get their inspirations?) She implied that I’m a “hack”, and “begged” me not to drag her friends through the proverbial mud, even though they had treated us unfairly, and she had even corroborated some of my complaints in comments left on my blog (most of which she later deleted). Jodi’s false accusations, erroneous assumptions, and continuous meddling in what was my business, really made me angry with her. I felt violated and misunderstood by someone I had met in person only twice. It caused a lot of psychological angst, and I was very pissed. Some of my earliest posts in this rehashed blog spell that out.

It never seemed to occur to Jodi that I’m not a total shit. I would not have written a snarky story on the level that she was assuming. Even though I did write a few snarky fiction story posts in my original blog that had characters inspired by real people who bugged me, some of my characters are neutral, or even positive. The character she’d clued in on was going to be one of those, and was not actually based on ex landlady’s daughter. Above all, it was clearly FICTION, and very few people even bother to read my fiction.

The vast majority of readers of my blog aren’t at all connected with the military. Even if I had written a mean fiction story about people we both knew, most people reading wouldn’t be any the wiser. I figured that if my fiction bothered Jodi and her friends, they could exercise some self-discipline and find something else to read on another site. But, because we were planning to sue the ex landlady for illegally withholding our deposit, I decided to delete the fiction blog after only a couple of days. I had intended to restart it at some point, but just couldn’t find the heart to do it after Jodi’s meddling. Her actions really did some damage to me, although I’m sure she never thought about that, and likely didn’t even care. She didn’t seem to have much respect for me, and clearly expressed that she didn’t think of me as a “real” writer. I had also noticed some hits coming from places where she had family. I had a feeling some of them were watching my blog, too, and that made me feel kind of paranoid, even though most of what I write should have been of little to no concern to them.

For the past few years, I’ve had Jodi blocked on Facebook. I didn’t look her up, especially since I knew that she was very concerned about her privacy on the Internet. I really just wanted to forget about the whole incident involving my blog, as well as her seemingly shady behavior involving our previous house. However, since moving back to the States, Jodi had gotten a job with Bill’s company, and he’d noticed her on the company’s email list. A few days ago, he told me that she was no longer on the roster. She also wasn’t listed as a government employee.

That seemed strange to me, since I knew she was very much into her career and she seemed to be on an upward trajectory. But I just chalked it up to her moving on. I never looked her up online, because I knew she kept a low profile. I just wanted to forget about her, and how she’d made me feel. But, sometimes I get into trouble when I get bored. Sunday afternoon, I finally did a cursory search of Jodi’s name. I didn’t expect to find anything. Imagine my surprise when I immediately saw an obituary for her, along with a video of her memorial service, which took place several months ago.

I called Bill over and said, “I just found out why Jodi is no longer listed as an employee at your company.”

Bill was curious, so I showed him her obituary, which listed her at just 34 years of age. The obituary made it sound like she’d had a very full and vibrant life. Naturally, we were curious about what happened. I unblocked Jodi’s Facebook profile, and eventually found out that she, too, had committed suicide.

Let me just say this, in case anyone who knows “Jodi” happens to be reading this. I am truly very sorry for your loss. No matter what I might have thought of Jodi and her actions toward me, I know there were people in her life who loved her very much and are devastated by her decision to commit suicide. I am especially sorry for her two children, who are still so young. Losing their mother at such a young age will affect them forever. All I can do is offer a sincere prayer that they will have as much peace as they can possibly have, under these circumstances.

After I discovered Jodi’s cause of death, I realized that she and I had some things in common besides the Army, living in Germany, and having had the same landlady. When I was growing up, I was a horse enthusiast, like Jodi was. I had a horse and worked at a barn to help pay for his upkeep. Jodi was a barrel racer, but my discipline was hunt seat. I spent my high school years showing my horse and going to fox hunts and competitive trail rides. I gave up my horse when I went to college, although I would have loved to have brought him with me to school. To this day, I miss having horses in my life.

Jodi was an animal lover, as I am. She had a cute little dachshund, whom I met when Bill and I toured the house we rented after her. I am a hound lover too, although mine have mostly been beagles.

I like to travel, just as she did. That’s why we moved back to Germany. I had remembered Germany as a beautiful place, and wanted to come back here to live for a year or two. I never thought we’d be here for as long as we have. I swear, when Bill and I met Jodi and ex landlady in 2014, all we were looking for was a place to live after a very rough summer. We weren’t trying to make trouble for anyone. But then, writers who don’t sometimes stir up controversy are often pretty boring and unsuccessful. No matter what Jodi thought of what I do, I am a writer. And yes, I have actually been paid to write.

Just like Jodi, I have also struggled with mental health issues. I was treated for depression and anxiety for several years, and I have felt suicidal at times, although obviously I haven’t yet committed to the idea. I haven’t been on antidepressants since my early 30s, but there are times when I think I would be better off with some chemical assistance for my moods. But again… I don’t like visiting doctors.

Jodi’s loved ones have posted many pictures of her doing things she loved, living in beautiful places, and reaching for her goals. I haven’t got the foggiest idea why she decided that suicide was an appropriate solution for her problems. I won’t even try to guess. I just feel compassion for those left behind… and yes, that includes ex landlady and her daughter, whom I know were her friends. I hope Jodi has found peace. I wish we could have had a mature discussion, so that the whole mess and the misunderstandings with my blog could have been avoided.

You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I had no idea that Jodi was troubled in any way. She seemed like a person who had everything going for her. Clearly, some things weren’t going right, in spite of her facade. Wherever she is now, I hope she’s out of pain.

Standard
family, money, musings, work

Repost: You’ll never make more than minimum wage…

Here’s a repost from January 16, 2016. I am reposting it because it sort of relates to today’s fresh content, right down to my sharing of Ron Block’s beautiful song, “Someone”.

Today’s post is going to be some personal, self-indulgent, introspective drivel that may not interest everyone…  apologies in advance.

Yesterday, a guy I used to work with who is now a Facebook friend posted a tribute to a retired Air Force colonel who recently died.  The colonel, whose name was Luke, had been a manager at the restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia where my friend and I used to work.  I never knew Luke, but I heard many stories about him.  He was one of those people who became legendary everywhere he went. 

My friend’s tribute to Luke was very moving and inspiring.  Luke knew my friend when he was very young and broke.  He stood up for my friend when others were against him.  He helped him become who he is today.  Luke was a few years younger than my dad and may have even run in the same circles with him a time or two.  He retired from the Air Force six years after my dad did; but he was a full colonel, while my dad retired as a lieutenant colonel.

The restaurant where my friend and I used to work was notorious in Williamsburg.  It had a great reputation as a place to eat, and a horrible reputation as a place to work.  The chef, who was also one of the owners, was rather famous because he’d been on television and written a lot of cookbooks.  He was also a Marine.  Having worked in his restaurant, I definitely picked up the military style that was used there to keep things running.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t chaos from time to time.  In fact, when I worked at that restaurant, my life felt like it was totally chaotic.  I was suffering from depression and anxiety and felt like I’d never amount to anything.  At that time, I was also living with my parents.  I was in my mid 20s and had a college degree and international work experience.  But I still felt like a big loser and was unable to find work that would help me launch. 

I remember the day in March 1998 that I decided to apply to work at that restaurant.  I’d had a huge fight with my father.  He told me he thought I was a very arrogant person and that I’d never succeed at anything in life.  He said, “You’ll never make more than minimum wage!”  At the same time, he and my mother were putting tremendous pressure on me to move out on my own.  I was paralyzed by depression and anxiety at the time, and their demands made me feel panicky, helpless, and hopeless.  I was also very angry about a lot of things, particularly that my parents seemed to be ashamed of me and didn’t seem to recognize that I really was trying to become a full fledged adult.

Immediately prior to working at the restaurant, I had been temping at the College of William & Mary.  I was there for several weeks, working in their admissions office, as well as several other places on campus.  I spent the longest time at the admissions office, where I filed away report cards, SAT scores, personal essays, and all of the other stuff hopeful high school kids sent with their bids to achieve admittance.  Having worked in the admissions office and in other places around the campus, I could see why people wanted to go there.  It’s an excellent and prestigious school.  Looking at all the stellar academic records and flawless personal statements written by potential students, I felt a bit sad for myself.  I was a college graduate working as a temp, filing endless reams of papers.  It was mind numbing work that didn’t pay well.

My sister is a William & Mary graduate.  She’s done very well for herself.  They never would have accepted me.  I didn’t measure up to my sister’s greatness, although I do have some things in common with her.  We are both returned Peace Corps Volunteers; we both have advanced degrees in public health; and we both worked at that same restaurant in Williamsburg.  She worked there when it first opened, and I worked there eighteen years later, when I decided I would make more than minimum wage and get on with my life. 

I remember being very determined on that day in March when I applied for the job at the restaurant.  It was my first time waiting tables, though I had worked with food in other capacities.  I had even been a cook.  I enjoyed working with food and thought I could be successful.  It also wasn’t lost on me that the skills one learns waiting tables can be applied to many of life’s trials.

As I sat for the interview, I thought of my dad and how pissed off he made me… and how much I wanted to get out from under his thumb.  It was my second attempt at getting a job at that restaurant.  I didn’t mention my initial unsuccessful attempt to the captain or the manager who interviewed me.  I knew if I got hired, I’d make money and be able to get away from my dad and his belittling comments.  I would someday prove myself.  I set my mind to it and got the job.  I’m still friends with the man who hired me.

Working at that restaurant was one of the most difficult experiences of my life.  It was even harder than being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The work itself was very demanding and stressful.  It was physically and mentally challenging.  I remember coming in every day, when I first started working there, and feeling like I was going to throw up.  I lost a lot of weight and learned how to wait tables.  I made good money.  I was also sick a lot during those 18 months.  I saw a lot of people quit and a lot of people get fired.  I was incompetent as hell at first and worried that I, too, would get fired.  One time, I accidentally spilled beer on a customer.  My dad sneered when he heard about it and asked if I still had a job.  I did.  I learned that if you were reliable, worked hard, and were honest, you wouldn’t get fired.  And eventually, I became competent and even good at the job.   

I was promoted a couple of times and made enough money to cover all my bills.  Living with my parents allowed me to save up for the next step I needed to take.  I sought help for the anxiety and depression I had been suffering from my whole life.  That process, too, was very difficult for me.  I came to some tough realizations about people I cared about and trusted.  After a brush with insanity and suicidal ideation, I finally felt a lot better and made the decision to go back to school. I took the GRE and applied to graduate school and was accepted.  I haven’t had to look back.  It was my final escape from Gloucester County after several dramatic attempts, one of which being my decision to join the Peace Corps.

Going back to school was a life changing experience for me… as much as the Peace Corps was.  But, I have to admit, working at that restaurant with people who knew and loved Luke, was equally earth shattering in the grand scheme of things.  I never knew Luke, but seventeen years after quitting, I am still friends with many of the people I knew in the late 90s when I was working at that job.  I have read their tributes and comments about Luke.  I can see that they all think of him as a comrade or even family…  Maybe they even think of me that way.  I hated the job when I was doing it, but now I’m honored to be in that group of people.  We were the ones who didn’t quit and had achieved some success.

This morning over breakfast, I was talking to Bill about all this stuff on my mind.  I remembered how my dad had told me I’d never make more than minimum wage and would ultimately amount to nothing.  Back then, that comment was devastating to me.  I was in my 20s, and unsure of what to do with my life.  I felt like I was really struggling, even though others surely struggled more than I ever have.  I kept doing all of these things that I thought would help me succeed, yet nothing seemed to lead anywhere.  But now I think of my friend who wrote the tribute to Luke; he actually slept outside a couple of nights because he lived far so away from the restaurant and had to take buses to and from work.  He’d missed the last one and couldn’t afford a motel.  He did what he had to do to succeed in the job and survived.  Now he’s thriving, living in Washington, DC and enjoying what appears to be a very good life.

Thanks to my parents, I never had to sleep outside.  But I felt like I was never going to launch.  Now, I look back on what my dad said and realize that he had no reason to be ashamed of me.  While I may not be the highest achieving person on the planet, I’ve done alright.  And I have made more than minimum wage more than once.  Maybe I didn’t end up being as successful and awesome as my sisters have, but at least I found someone to love, who loves me back.  I haven’t done anything really shameful or embarrassing.  In fact, aside from being overeducated and too fat for my Dad’s tastes, I’m even living an enviable life.  Maybe that was part of his problem with me.  Maybe he felt like I didn’t deserve what I have.  He probably thought I wasn’t living up to his idea of what my potential was… or maybe he was just projecting some of his psychic shit on me.  Who knows? 

Anyway, though I can’t say working at that restaurant was a whole lot of fun most of the time, I did learn a lot and met some fine people.  The skills I picked up have served me well in life.  In fact, I’d say in many significant ways, I ended up rather rich.  Reading my friend’s tribute to Luke made me realize something important.  Ripple effects can be positive.  Luke inspired and influenced my friend and my friend, in turn, inspired and influenced me.  I’d say that’s worth as much or more than minimum wage.  And I don’t have to be “someone” to be worthwhile.

This isn’t the way I feel about my dad, but it is kind of how I feel about success…  This song is called “Someone”.  It’s by Ron Block, a musician who has earned my admiration and gratitude.  The words are very wise and meaningful to me.  I think this song could be a theme for my life. (And at the time I wrote this post, Ron hadn’t shared a video of “Someone”, so I made one myself.)

Standard
family, musings

On being a black sheep who isn’t missed…

This is kind of a depressing post… but although I wrote it a few years ago, I found myself saying almost the exact same things last night. And although we had a fun evening at the wine stand, I started thinking about this stuff that I probably shouldn’t. I also think I need to see a doctor… but I can’t bring myself to make an appointment. The thought of seeing a doctor fills me with dread and anxiety. And, to be honest, I also don’t really feel like I’m worth the effort. Just the idea of asking for an appointment and getting there seems overwhelming and pointless. I worry that it will set off a cascade of other appointments that I don’t want to deal with. I probably feel this way because of the way I was treated when I was a lot younger.

For much of my existence, I’ve gotten the message from various important people in my life that who I am isn’t okay.  I was always too loud, too opinionated, laughed too much, weighed too much, said too many weird things, overshared too much, offended too much, and simply needed to be taught how to be a lady of some sort.  Many of the people who shared this message with me, either verbally or non-verbally, were close relatives.

I don’t know what Joanna Connor’s life is like, but I relate to her.  I suspect people have the same opinion about her they did about Susan Boyle, before they heard her sing… and the way some people do about me before they get to know me.

The most hurtful messages came from my own father, who often criticized me.  More than once, he left me with the message that no man would find me attractive and I would never make more than minimum wage.  Then, sometimes he’d reverse that comment and say I was “good looking” (after assuring me that he didn’t have to say that even though he was my dad) and, sometimes with surprise, he’d say I was smart.  Although I do remember a few times when he genuinely seemed proud of me and my accomplishments, other times, he acted like I was an embarrassment and a huge pain in his ass.  

Far from having a protective attitude toward me, my dad sometimes actually put me in danger.  I still have physical scars formed in childhood that were a direct result of his boneheaded decisions.  I have a deep scar on my left arm caused when he forced ten year old me to use a box cutter to break down cardboard boxes.  I wasn’t very adept at using the box cutter.  It’s not like he gave me a safety lecture beforehand.  Before long, there was an accident.  The blade slipped from the cardboard and punctured clean through all of the layers of skin on my arm.  I should have gotten stitches, but he didn’t bother to take me to the hospital.  I said I didn’t want to go, and he didn’t insist.

A couple of years after that, my dad took me bike riding.  He wore a helmet and I didn’t.  I had a pretty bad accident when my tires hit some gravel on the side of a busy road (Rt. 14, for Gloucester people who know the roads).  I fell and slid on the pavement, in front of several cars.  I got road rash, sprained a pinky, and had gashes on my face and legs.  I still have a three inch linear scar on the back of my thigh caused by the large sprocket on my bike cutting into my skin.  A nice lady picked me up in her car, while another passerby put my bike in their truck and drove me home. 

Dad rode home on his bike and, once again, neglected to take me to the hospital, even though I had also hit my head.  The next day was the first day of school and I went, looking and feeling terrible.  I remember I made a bad decision to wear an angora sweater.  Little hairs from the sweater were stuck to the huge road rash I had on my side.  There were other situations like this, where I was either neglected or forced to do things that weren’t age or experience appropriate.  I suffered the consequences while simultaneously hearing that I hadn’t been wanted and was a source of shame.    

I also think my dad was very jealous of the fact that I can sing.  In fact, I think he sometimes tried to compete with me.  Like, for instance, in 1998, when I decided to start studying voice privately again, he decided to take lessons from the same person.  He’d bring my mom to his lessons.  When I left the area to go to graduate school, he quit the lessons.

When I first told my dad about Bill, he made jokes about the fact that Bill was LDS.  In fact, everyone in my immediate family seemed to have doubts that I could be dating a really nice, good looking, gainfully employed man.  They also seemed concerned about my competence in picking my own mate.  I got comments from family members who said things like, “I’m surprised at how cute Bill is.” and “Are you sure you want to be dating an Army guy?”  More than once, I heard from my sisters about how unhappy my mom was as an Air Force wife.  They apparently wondered if I had considered her unhappiness when I made the decision to marry Bill.  

Evidently, despite seven years of post graduate education and two years spent living abroad, I wasn’t competent to think about these potential issues.  My mom was nineteen years old when she married my dad.  I was thirty when I married Bill.  Curiously, I don’t remember anyone in my family being concerned about Bill’s psycho ex, who has been the real source of any discontent I’ve experienced (and it’s been pretty minimal, actually).  Later, after we did get married, they mostly seemed to like Bill better than me.  Especially, my dad, who toward the end of his life, clearly preferred Bill’s company to mine.  I don’t blame him for that.  Most people prefer Bill to me.  I’d rather spend time with Bill than almost anyone else, myself.

Later, I’d hear criticism about how Bill and I spent our money (Are you sure you can afford a Mini Cooper?), my looks (Oh my God, you’ve gained weight), my behavior at age 30 (You’re causing a disturbance!), and how I spent my time (Why don’t you get a job while Bill is deployed for six months?).  Sometimes, family members would try to manipulate me into doing things instead of making respectful requests (How long does it take to drive from Atlanta to Durham, North Carolina?).  This was a question I was asked by a sister who felt she knew how I spend my time and wanted me to hop in the car, drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister, and put in an appearance at my dad’s hospital bedside so she’d feel less guilty about living in Minnesota, where plane tickets and time off from work are too dear.  Instead of asking me directly, she tried to be manipulative.  When I called her on it, she got nasty and accused me of being selfish.  

I’d also get criticized for the things I wanted to talk about beyond trivial subjects like the weather (Why do you always have to talk about such personal things?) or the way I dressed (Why don’t you put on some makeup and fix your hair?  Wear something nicer than what you have on?).  Often, when I’d call home to talk to my mom, I could tell she wasn’t interested.  Then, they wondered why I didn’t want to spend time with them and quit calling home so often.  Oh… and a lot of people in my family hate the way I laugh.  My dad said I sounded like a witch.  My sisters said my laugh sounded fake.  Even my grandmother complained about my laughter, which I will admit is distinctive.  I can’t help it, though.

As I got older, I started to recognize the same attitudes I got from my immediate family expressed more subtly by my dad’s side of the family.  Most of them are Christian Republicans who engage in very black and white thinking.  I didn’t used to notice it because I was surrounded by it all the time.  Then I moved away and started getting to know other people outside of the family.  It changed my thinking and a lot of my previous attitudes.  I started clashing with certain people in my family.  Others just simply seemed to stop talking to me.  In fact, the last time I went “home”, I literally felt like a stranger.  Like… there were family members who literally didn’t seem to recognize me.  Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket and hours of uncomfortable time on a plane to be treated like that?   

Some time ago, I noticed that a beloved cousin of mine, close to my age and someone I used to play with when we were little kids, kept commenting and responding to posts by other family members.  But she ignored me.  Like, I’d see her “like” something posted by one of my sisters or even one of their friends, but I never got so much as a “fuck you” from her.  It made me feel shitty to have to keep seeing that.  It’s not even like it could have even been a “two way street” situation, since she clearly looks at social media, but doesn’t post anything herself.  Or maybe she has me restricted.  In any case, repeatedly seeing her respond to other family members’ posts and not mine made me feel bad, so I decided to delete her.  It wasn’t easy to do that, but I think it was the right decision.  In fact, I doubt she’ll miss me.  

I deleted another cousin for whom I’ve had some hard feelings for a long while.  Some years ago, I discovered she inexplicably had me blocked on Facebook.  I’d see her at family events and she’d be nice to my face, but then I’d notice some shittiness leaking out that she thought she’d kept well-hidden.  In this case, I think it’s yet another situation where there’s some jealousy and insecurity.  Like me, she’s a musician and used to be the only “singer” in the family.  I sense she resents that I am also a female musical type and, while I don’t play guitar or write songs like she does, I have a much better singing voice.  That sounds like bragging… and you know what?  I don’t really care.  It’s the truth.  (ETA: I wrote this in 2018. This cousin died in 2020. I don’t miss her.)

A few years ago, when my dad was on his death bed, this same cousin, who once had me blocked, re-friended me on Facebook.  It didn’t take long before I began to realize that she mainly did it because my dad was her uncle and I was the most active Facebook poster in my immediate family.  It was like she wanted in on this particular chapter of family drama– to make a show of caring, probably because she thinks it’s the “Christian” thing to do.  I soon realized that even though she’s my cousin, she doesn’t like me.  And frankly, the feeling is mutual.  If we weren’t relatives, I definitely wouldn’t choose to be friends with her.

There were a couple of other cousins and relatives by marriage I deleted mainly because of a total lack of engagement or a subtle air of disapproval.  They’d become names on a friends list rather than “loved ones”.  A few years ago, I deleted a couple of cousins because they refused to do anything but argue with me about politics.  They weren’t interested in anything else.  Or they’d post smarmy, condescending bullshit about my being “loved and respected” while they proceeded to insult my intelligence. 

For instance, one cousin wanted to know what my master’s degree in public health (with a health administration focus) has to do with knowing how health insurance works.  He insisted that his time as a former life insurance agent meant he knows more about health insurance than I do, despite my having an advanced degree in the subject.  I certainly wouldn’t discount his experience and basic knowledge about how insurance works, since he used to sell it, but why couldn’t he acknowledge that I also have knowledge of the subject?  Maybe he’s just one of those people who thinks college is for chumps.  But you’d think he could at least recognize that I do know something about health insurance.  I didn’t buy my degree from a diploma mill.  My guess is that he sees me as a simple female, which automatically makes me inherently dumber than he is.  

For years, I’ve tried to be a bigger person about this stuff.  I’ve ignored subtle disses from family members.  Except on this blog, I’ve not really acknowledged that no one from my family of origin values any input from me.  I’ve tried to detach from the drama and mostly tried not to take things personally.  I think I’ve finally just gotten to the point at which I’m ready to be done with the stupidity.  Maybe there will be no one at my funeral.  Maybe I won’t even have a funeral. 

It makes me sad to see people with loving family relationships because I don’t really have any myself.  What I’ve had is basically a facade of a loving family.  Underneath that facade is the unspoken message that in order to fit in, I need to change who I am.  I’ve tried to do that and it just leads to major depression and anxiety.  So I’ve decided that the picture below is my new motto.  

Seriously… because a lot of the stuff that pisses me off is stuff that shouldn’t matter.  It’s better to cut bait and be done with it… and them.

I’m done with swallowing criticism from other people, especially those who aren’t even involved in my life.  From now on, I’m going to do what I want to do.  It may mean I’m done with attending all family events, once and for all.  But, I’ve had it.  I live thousands of miles away and it costs a lot of money and time to visit my relatives.  They don’t value my presence in their lives, so fuck them.  I’m going to spend time with people who actually want to spend time with me.  So far, that seems to be mostly Bill and my dogs.    

You probably have to go to YouTube to listen to this, but this song pretty much sums up how I feel today…

And here are the lyrics by James Taylor… a man who knows the trouble I’ve seen.

I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I mean, God bless the child that can learn to live alone, yeah.

Thinking about my cousin, what it was that did him in.
Could it have been that whiskey, rotgut, bootleg, bathtub gin?
It’s like it took a lot of liquor just to let him live in his own skin.

Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, you got to ride it on back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The ship set down on the shore of this uncharted desert island,
me and my people fanned out, I guess we settled down a little while.
Ah, but the devil came with the dark days of winter, man, the children ran wild.

I used to know why, no, I don’t know why anymore.
I used to know why, no, I don’t know why no more.

I get to wonder at the Kundalini thunder, down under my floor.

You got to ride it on back, take me back.
Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, yeah, do you wanna go?
Way back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Well… in my case, it’s Natural Bridge, Virginia.  But you get the idea.

Standard