condescending twatbags, mental health, overly helpful people, poor judgment

You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.

A couple of days ago, I was feeling a bit angry and depressed. I was sitting here alone, reading the local news, and there was an item about Angela Merkel’s latest desires. Mrs. Merkel wants to allow the federal government in Germany to employ an “emergency brake” lockdown for all of Germany. Normally, each individual state’s leaders make decisions for how things run. But because vaccination rollout has been excruciatingly slow here, and people are continuing to get COVID-19 and overrunning the hospitals, Mrs. Merkel and some of the public health leaders in Germany feel that this is a necessary move.

Germany has been in some form of “lockdown” since early November 2020. Apparently, closing everything and trying to restrict people from being in contact with each other has not been effective in slowing down the latest COVID-19 variants. Neither has forcing everyone to wear medical grade face masks. So, as each month passes, the end of the lockdown keeps getting extended. At this point, the estimate is mid June when we can have some semblance of normalcy.

Meanwhile, I watch as my friends back home are getting vaccinated and enjoying a more “normal” life. Actually, I think things have been relatively normal in the United States since the beginning. It’s just that Americans aren’t being allowed to come to Europe willy nilly, and vice versa. I still think Germany has handled the virus a lot better than the USA has… but the incredibly slow vaccine rollout is quite disastrous. Making matters worse is the fact that Bill and I were supposed to be getting our shots by the end of May. A large shipment was sent to German military installations for that purpose. But apparently, they’re Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and the CDC has just recommended holding off on using them until they can be investigated, since several women developed rare clotting disorders after being given the shot.

I was already in a crappy mood for a lot of reasons. The main one is that Bill is gone this week and will be gone for more than half of May on business. He hasn’t been vaccinated, yet he’s allowed to travel for work purposes while I sit here alone with my thumb up my butt– not literally, you understand. And I’m also pissed off because of some recent upsetting news we got regarding a close family member. Bill and I had a private chat about those matters. I finally had to ring off, because I was tired and in a really foul mood, and I didn’t want to talk anymore.

Just as I was about to go to sleep, I got a private message from another family member. This family member is a bit older than I am, and never seems to want to let me forget it. She also seems to assume being older means always being wiser. In her case, I don’t think it does.

Private messages are annoying under most circumstances, but since it was family, I indulged my relative. I was pretty upset after having read the news about the longer lockdown, Bill’s work schedule, and the news about our family member. She wanted to know why I was so irritated, so I explained. As usual, this particular family member starting giving me unsolicited advice, forgetting a number of things… like the fact that before too much longer, I’ll be pushing 50, and I’ve actually had some training in counseling and related subjects.

She immediately started telling me what she thinks I should be doing, even though I never asked for her opinion and was really more wanting to vent than seek advice. I really would like to have someone to talk to… someone who sees me as an equal and is willing to listen, rather than just offer unsolicited suggestions. She doesn’t seem to realize that most competent people don’t want advice or suggestions; they want insight and support.

On that night, I needed a friend, not a pseudo-therapist… especially not one who seems to think I’m naive and incompetent. I know I’ll always be a “squirt” to her, but I really am a grown adult, and I eventually assured her that I AM pretty competent in most things. I’m just fed up, most of all with this fucking COVID-19 lifestyle and Bill’s constant work schedule, as well as the fact that HE can travel for marathon work trips, but we can’t have any fun. It’s making life a colossal bore, and a drag, and I’m starting to hate being here… and my life in general.

Yeah, I know that sounds a lot like pathetic whining. Maybe, to some people, that’s what it is… After all, the bills are paid; we live in a comfortable house; and for now, we have our health. But being locked down, thousands of miles from home, sucks. Telling someone who is feeling upset to “buck up” or “calm down” is not really the best solution.

My situation doesn’t call for “toxic positivity” or invalidation, nor do I need an overly helpful person to suggest that I do things I’m already doing… like creative pursuits. My relative told me to take an online guitar course. Does she honestly think I’d be dumb enough to buy a guitar and not learn how to play it somehow? It’s like the morons who tell an infertile couple to consider adoption… as if that idea had never crossed their minds! And does she really think, as someone with advanced degrees in social work and public health, I need someone to tell me about narcissists and empaths? That would be like me telling her about her chosen field… which I will admit I know nothing about.

So anyway, all of this was the usual par for the course bullshit, when my relative dropped a bombshell. She’s been reading up on narcissists and narcissism, apparently not understanding that she’s a touch on the narcissistic side herself. She was telling me the usual spiel about narcissists, as if I had never read a single book or watched a single video about narcissism, let alone had many personal dealings with them. And then she said, “I really think you and I are empaths.

Well… I had to stifle a giggle at that. I wanted to respond truthfully, by saying “You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.” Seriously. I love this relative very much… but I don’t think she has much insight into what an empath is. I also don’t think she has much personal insight as to what kind of person she is.

I think I am capable of empathy. I can definitely try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I try very hard to see all sides of a situation. But I am definitely NOT an empath… and she is even less empathic than I am. How do I know this? Because I have been on the receiving end of MANY tirades from this particular relative. I’ve known her my whole life, and I’ve seen her lose her shit many times. One time, we were in a city park in Madrid and she got very angry with me for taking too long to find a newspaper. She’d had to pee, and didn’t speak Spanish. Silly me… I though at her age and with her world experience, she would be able to handle going to the potty by herself. But no… and she totally went off on me and called me a “motherfucker”. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

This relative also has a habit of “glomming on” without much situational awareness… and will ask favors, yet show very little consideration. Like, for instance, the time Bill and I had dinner reservations for my birthday, and she asked me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment because she was going to be on Valium. I told her about the dinner reservations, but she assured me she’d be done in time. On the way home, she wanted to stop at a restaurant for dessert. I was worried about the time, but she promised she’d get the dessert to go. Next thing I knew, we were sitting in a booth. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

She can be very manipulative and will throw epic temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. I’ve witnessed her being rude to wait staff and store clerks, as well as men who try to be overly friendly to her in bars. And she’s also been rude to me on many occasions. When we were a lot younger, she was occasionally legitimately abusive to me. I remember being verbally and physically abused by her, before I got big enough to fight back. She is capable of being an extreme bitch when the situation calls for it. There have been times when I’ve marveled at her ability to be a bitch… and, I must admit, even admired it. She’s not one to be fucked with by anyone.

On the other hand, she’s a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor. She’s also very smart and talented. She can be contrite and sympathetic, when the mood suits. When she’s in a good mood, she’s a delight and HILARIOUS. I do love her. But an empath, she is most definitely NOT.

However, in fairness, like I said, I’m not an empath, either. And that is not a bad thing. Empaths can often end up being taken advantage of by self-centered types. I do have a big heart and am fully capable of being empathetic to people. But that does not make me an empath. That’s a good thing, though, because Bill IS an empath. I think it would be disastrous if both of us were empaths. My being less empathic is good, because it balances out his tendency to be overly forgiving and kind.

I wanted to correct my relative’s thinking, but realized that if I did, it would probably lead to an argument. She thinks she’s an empath, though, and she’s wrong. And if she really thinks she’s the type of person who is constantly thinking of others and putting their welfare before her own, she’s also a bit delusional. She is definitely not one to take on other people’s problems. I have never seen her cry over someone else’s misfortunes. If anything, I think she’s on the other side of the narcissism spectrum. One time, I described a traumatic incident she and I had to my former therapist. He actually used the term “narcissistic” to define the behavior she had displayed to me.

Truly empathic people are unique and somewhat rare. My husband is an empath, and he attracts narcissistic assholes like his ex wife and his war time boss like flies on shit. These folks can smell it on people– those who will put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Bill will bend over backwards for almost anyone, is very slow to anger, quick to forgive, and has a “red line” that is way further down the line than mine is. He is genuinely a kind and compassionate person who almost never raises his voice and feels extreme remorse whenever he hurts anyone, even if just by accident.

Neither my relative, nor I, are like that. I will fully admit that I don’t have much regard for people who are disrespectful to me. I don’t go out of my way to be nasty, but I don’t have tons of sympathy.

I think Bill comes by empathy naturally. Both of his parents and, I suspect, his daughters are also very empathic people. They want to please others and they have overdeveloped superegos and guilt complexes. That’s why Ex runs roughshod over them so easily. Bill fully admits to this, too. It’s not that he’s spineless. It’s just that he hates to disappoint people, wants to make them happy, and genuinely feels for people. But he’s come a long way in his people pleasing ways and has become more assertive, which is something empaths must learn to do or be sucked dry.

My relative has no problem telling people off, taking legal action, or making people feel shitty. I know this, because she’s done a lot of those things to me. I haven’t been sued by her– at least not at this point– but I wouldn’t put it past her if she felt it was necessary. That is not the action of an empath!

I do think I am more empathic than she is, though… and although I could have told her to STFU the other night, I indulged her need to advise me on what she thinks I need to do. And last night, when Bill messaged me, I told him about it and we had a good laugh. Because he also knows that she’s not an empath. And he has frequently told me that he’s glad he married me instead of her… although I think it would have been funny to see how this relative would deal with his Ex, former tenant, or the land bitch from Hell. 😀 My guess is that she would not have handled any of them with much empathy.

Anyway… I wish she’d have a little more empathy for me and stop trying to give me unwanted advice. I’m not 12 anymore. And I wish Mrs. Merkel and her minions would get their acts together so we can all have our lives back.

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disasters, expressions

Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong…

As a new week begins here in the land of perpetual lockdowns, my mind is on a heartbreaking opinion piece I just read in The Washington Post. A public health nurse practitioner, writer, and former Army Captain named Jackie Munn wrote about how her parents both contracted COVID-19 a few months ago. Munn’s father, a 28 year Army veteran, had tried to care for his ailing wife, Julie Anne Oeser, while he was himself ill. Unfortunately, Ms. Oeser’s condition deteriorated and she had to go to the hospital. She had initially resisted going, fearing that she wouldn’t come home. Sadly, she was right. On January 26, 2021, as many people were getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations, Julie Anne Oeser died. Her family stood around her bedside. She had spent 11 days in the intensive care unit, battling the novel coronavirus.

Jackie Munn is understandably very angry that she’s lost her mother, who was 62 years old and had “few preexisting conditions.” She writes that her family had “done its part” to fight COVID-19. Munn’s sisters, Jess and Jenn, are also in healthcare. Jenn works as an emergency room nurse in a hospital east of Los Angeles, California. Jess is a medical laboratory scientist at a Kansas City area hospital. Their parents had taken the pandemic seriously and followed all precautions, to include social distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing face masks. Both planned to be vaccinated, although Ms. Oeser died before she was able to take that step.

Jackie Munn writes, “…as a West Point graduate and combat veteran, I was taught that good leaders chose the harder right over the easier wrong.” She acknowledges that her father and older sister, both veterans like her, and been trained to do things that might be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but serve the common good. And she’s understandably pissed off that so many Americans, many of whom were egged on by our former leader, Trump, have decided not to “do their part” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Birx speaks about the vaccines now available.

Munn blames Trump, of course, as well as Dr. Deborah Birx, who was herself an Army colonel and had been part of the COVID-19 task force in the Trump administration. She served as the COVID-19 Response Coordinator for Trump’s White House. Birx was recently in the news admitting that many COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if people had taken the virus more seriously and Trump had been a more responsible leader. I remember watching Deborah Birx on video, looking visibly uncomfortable as Trump spoke about COVID-19. She knew the truth, but unlike her colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci, she did not feel that she could say it out loud. She’s said that she had many “uncomfortable” discussions with Trump. My guess is that he threatened her.

She didn’t feel empowered to speak out during Trump’s reign. She says she should have been more outspoken.
These folks felt “muzzled” by Trump. Dr. Birx says that after the first 100,000 deaths, the subsequent carnage wrought by the virus could have been prevented.

Although I haven’t yet been personally affected by COVID-19, my heart goes out to Jackie Munn and the rest of her family. And yet, I also have some empathy for Dr. Birx. It’s easy for people to say she should have done more. They aren’t in the position she was in, and they weren’t directly dealing with a man like Trump, threatening, bullying, and browbeating them into doing his bidding. I can’t help but realize that Trump is a malignant narcissist, and if you’ve never had to deal with such a person, you have no idea how difficult it is not to bend to their will. They can be extremely convincing, even if they aren’t the U.S. POTUS… and when they are someone as powerful as Trump was, with many minions ready to carry out his wishes, it seems like an impossible situation to be in.

I don’t blame Dr. Birx for deciding to retire. I think it’s a shame that all of the legitimately good work she’s done over the course of her career, to include work in mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS, is going to be tarnished by her unfortunate connection with Trump. I think she was in a no win situation. I can see why it was so hard for her to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong,” even if doing so might have saved lives.

Naturally, I had to read the comments on Jackie Munn’s piece. It was a lot of the same polarized crap we’ve been reading for over a year now. Many people– I’d say maybe 85%– had nothing but condolences and commiseration to add to Munn’s piece. It really is a sad read, and it resonates with a lot of people. A few other people were obviously ignorant pro-Trump trolls, who are clearly belligerent and selfish. But I also noticed a few people whom I thought made sense being called “trolls” or angrily shouted down by the masses. Here are a couple of examples:

Those of you who “know” me, know that I’m not a fan of group think or echo chamber comments. So many people seem to want to pat themselves on the backs for doing the “right” thing, for the good of everyone else. I’ve seen so many self-congratulatory and outright pious comments from people who claim they have done everything correctly and figuratively spit on everyone they assume isn’t toeing the line created by the likes of Dr. Fauci. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Dr. Fauci’s work, and I think he’s a very smart man who knows what he’s talking about. He definitely knows a hell of a lot more than the average Internet user. I also agree that people should do their parts to control the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more rational discussion, rather than chastising and insulting perfect strangers online.

I had to quit reading the comments when I realized I’d started rooting for the people who were gamely taking on all of the arrogant lecturing and blaming done by those who are all about everyone being forced to do the “right” things. I am not a fan of forcing people to do right, especially when people take a black and white, zero tolerance view. There are always situations that require exceptions to the rules, and the people who require exceptions should have a chance to be heard without being screamed down by others. I don’t like to be the devil’s advocate myself, because I find dealing with the deluge of irritating comments from graduates of the Google School of Public Health too tiresome and ultimately pointless. But I do secretly cheer on those who take on these folks. Most of us can Google. Not all of us are going to come to the same conclusions. That should be okay. People should be allowed to share their thoughts and opinions if they want to, and the ones who make some sense should have their thoughts respectfully considered, even if their conclusions are eventually rejected.

I’m getting especially “prickly” when I see some all knower write something like “You do know that…” or “Pretty sure that…” or “And your medical/public health degree is from…” or “What about seatbelts and helmets…” I don’t think the COVID-19 situation is akin to the other safety measures enforced by law. Ms. Munn is obviously gutted that her mother has died. I can’t blame her for that. I don’t blame her for trying to place responsibility on other people, either. It’s only natural. But even if everyone was wearing a mask and social distancing, there’s a chance her mother still would have gotten sick. There may have been far less of chance, but the chance still existed.

Not everyone is going to get onboard with the new rules. Some people never will, no matter what we do. There’s a good chance those people won’t spread COVID-19, despite breaking the rules. On the other hand there’s a good chance they will. We don’t know who passed the virus to Jackie Munn’s mom, but we do know that it’s an extremely contagious bug, and even if someone does everything right, as Ms. Munn’s mom presumably did, people are still going to get sick, and some people are still going to die. Hopefully, with the advent of the new vaccines, those numbers will drop significantly.

I think it’s useless to point the finger at random people who aren’t doing what they’re told. Those people have their reasons for not cooperating. Maybe you and I think their reasons are stupid, but they obviously think they’re right. And unless we stop and talk to them and actually listen respectfully to what they have to say, they probably won’t cooperate, even if they’re dead wrong. How many random strangers are going to change their habits just because someone insulted them and left an angry comment? On the other hand, if we engage with them from a place of respect and decency, maybe we can come to a meeting of the minds. Maybe then, more people will “choose the harder right over the easier wrong.”

A few days ago, I got into a minor scuffle with some woman from Australia. Well, actually, she tried to start a scuffle with me. I ignored her, which probably pissed her off. Anyway, what happened was, I had read an article about a type of dermatitis that is being caused by mask wearing. Many people are getting perioral dermatitis and mistaking it for acne. The condition doesn’t clear up when they use acne remedies, and they have painful reactions, as their sensitive skin is abraded by constantly wearing the masks.

A woman posted that she was dealing with this condition herself. That’s when Tiffany from Australia responded that she’s owned a medical practice for twenty years, has to wear masks, and just sucks it up and drives on. The original poster came back and reiterated that the dermatitis was actually very painful. Tiffany still had no empathy for her. She wrote that she has the dermatitis too, but she still does her part and masks up. Here’s a cookie, Tiffany.

Enjoy.

I was a bit disgusted by Tiffany’s lack of regard for this woman and her valid complaint. So I wrote, “You made a choice to go into healthcare, where masks are required. Most of the rest of us didn’t. It’s not nice to discount other people’s legitimate problems.” Several people agreed with me, and I got quite a few likes for that comment… not that I needed the likes. They just told me that I wasn’t the only one who found Tiffany’s “suck it up and drive on” attitude annoying.

Next thing I knew, I got a message that Tiffany wanted to “connect” with me. I discovered her message maybe an hour or so after that exchange. I had a feeling she was going to blast me privately. I didn’t read her whole message, but saw enough of it to know that she felt I had no right to call her out for her virtue signaling and she was telling me off in my PMs. The end of her message was, “Cat got your tongue?”

If had responded, I might have said, “I didn’t even realize you had messaged me until I saw my phone. I don’t get those notifications on an iPad. Moreover, your decision to PM me doesn’t require me to answer you. If you want to address me, you can do it publicly and respectfully. Otherwise, I have nothing more to say to you.” What I really would have liked to have said to her, and anyone else who PMs me uninvited and is abusive is, “We don’t know each other, so piss off!” In the end, I chose to ignore her completely, which probably left her feeling like the wind was let out of her sails.

I wonder how many people would like to get in on the discussion and have valid perspectives to add, but choose not to because of bullies like Tiffany who want to call them “babies” or tell them to get over themselves. Likewise, while I completely understand Jackie Munn’s anger, frustration, and outrage that she lost her mother at age 62, I don’t think issuing a blanket blame toward anyone who isn’t doing what she thinks they should be doing is productive. Would she be just as angry if her mom had gotten the flu and died? How about if her mom had had an accident? Would she have felt better if many more people were wearing masks and her mom still died of COVID-19? It’s possible that could have happened, too. The bottom line is, the situation Jackie Munn is in is terrible, and it seems unfair. But we’re in a pandemic, and people are going to die, just as they die in wars and other catastrophes. It doesn’t mean the situation isn’t horrible and tragic– but unfortunately, blaming the world for her mom’s death isn’t going to bring her back from the dead.

Now… to wrap this up and get on with my day…

A few days ago, I wrote a protected post about a situation we’re in right now. It’s going to require some tough choices that may make things temporarily worse before they’re better. Or, they could make things permanently worse. And yet, Bill and I both know that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s something we should have done a long time ago. I was thinking of that situation when I read Jackie Munn’s words– the lesson she learned at West Point– “choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.” It’s so easy to turn a blind eye and let people get away with doing bad things. But in the long run, it can cost dearly.

I’m truly sorry about Jackie Munn’s loss. I absolutely appreciate all she and her sisters have done to fight COVID-19. I’m going to continue doing whatever I can to stop the spread. I stay home about 90% of the time and, on the very rare occasions when I do go places, I follow the rules. But unfortunately, I also know that the virus is very contagious, and some people can and will do everything right and still get COVID-19. It’s not necessarily anyone else’s fault when this happens, and I don’t think it’s helpful to blame others. It’s just a sad fact that until more people are fully vaccinated, people are going to get very sick, and some will die.

Yes, we should do all we can to reduce the numbers and cooperate for the common good. But there will be casualties regardless, and there will be heartbroken people who will suffer tremendous losses, no matter what they do. I also realize that I may very well be among those who will lose, as Bill and I anxiously await the vaccine ourselves. May God help us all.

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lessons learned, musings

Repost, plus new comments for 2020: Empathy: we can’t afford to waste it!

I originally posted this piece on January 10, 2018 on my old blog. I am reposting it today because as 2020 closes, I think we need a reminder. At the end of this as/is repost from 2018, look for a few new comments from yours truly.

When I was growing up, it was very common to see public service announcements on TV.  One PSA that I remember from my youth was one from the Department of Energy.  The ads had a very recognizable musical cue followed by a small chorus of singers who sang “Energy: we can’t afford to waste it!”  Their line would be followed by a very late 70s early 80s electronic musical flourish.  I wish I could find a video of one of those ads.  They used to run all the time.  As it is, I’ve only managed to find a picture of the record that used to be played for the radio PSAs.

I’m reminded of that campaign this morning.  The slogan was catchy, as was the dated musical interlude that came with it.  It’s sad that we no longer see PSAs the way we used to back in the day.  A lot of people could use a helpful reminder of what’s important.  Empathy is important.  We can’t afford to waste it.

Bill hates this story. I can’t blame him.

Last night, Bill and I were talking more about how he and his younger daughter have reconnected.  In the course of our discussion, the topic of empathy came up.  Bill was telling me about how his ex wife used to compare their relationship to the one described in Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree.  Bill hates that book, even though it illustrates a very effective lesson on empathy.  Bill recognizes the value in Silverstein’s story, but his ex wife had an annoying habit of using children’s books to make points about her perceptions of Bill’s “shortcomings”.  

You can watch the video above to get the whole story.  Alternatively, here’s a short synopsis.  The Giving Tree is the story of a boy and a beautiful tree.  They once had a loving and mutually beneficial relationship.  The boy would play on the tree and lavish attention on it.  The tree would provide shade, branches for him to swing on, and apples to eat.  Sadly, as the boy grew older, he began to neglect the tree.  His interests had changed.  His needs had expanded.  The tree could no longer give the boy all he wanted.  But she could provide the materials for him to give him what he needed.  She would suggest ways he could use her and he would thoughtlessly take her up on her offers to give herself to him.  

The boy used the tree over and over again.  The tree was happy to have him use her to make his life better, even though his endless needs literally took away pieces of her.  She was selfless, empathetic, nurturing, and loving.  He was thoughtless, neglectful, exploitative, and cruel.  Finally, the day came when they were both old, and there wasn’t much left of either of them.  In one last act of selfishness, the boy sat on the tree’s stump and rested.

My husband’s ex wife claimed that she was like the tree and Bill was like the selfish boy who used the tree over and over again for his own self-interests.  She claimed she was “happy” to let him “use” her.  In my opinion, Ex’s decision to use The Giving Tree as an object lesson is a classic example of projection.  She is one of the least empathetic people I’ve ever known, and her penchant for using children’s literature to make her points is one of many grating features of her narcissistic personality.

In fifteen years of marriage, I’ve heard many stories about how Bill’s ex loved using children’s books for “object lessons”, particularly books by Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein.  She repeatedly preyed on other people’s empathy and twisted things so she’d somehow look both wounded and virtuous.  She had an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what “lessons” she thought her victims needed to learn and would most readily receive, but lacked the talent to “teach” them with original materials.  Instead, she relied on venerable children’s authors to deliver her toxic messages, ruining their works for her victims in the process.  She would also choose the least appropriate times to employ her methods, like during major religious holidays, on birthdays, when the whole family was gathered… or when Bill was about to go into a combat zone.

Right before Bill went to war, he wanted to call his daughters and ex stepson and tell them he loved them.  Instead of cooperating with Bill and arranging a phone call, Ex sent him a children’s book about forgiveness that he used to read to the kids when they were small.  He never got to say goodbye to them.  Instead, he got another shitty “object lesson” from his ex wife about “forgiveness” in the form of yet another children’s book. 

Every day for several weeks, I would see that book lying on the floor in a spare room we had.  Every time I passed it lying there, I wanted to burn it or at least throw it away.  I did not do so, because it wasn’t my property.  The sight of it made my blood boil.  Finally, I asked Bill to do something with that children’s book so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.  He finally sent it back to his former wife with a note that read “You need this more than I do.”  Then Bill went off to Iraq for six months without saying goodbye to his kids. 

I noticed this canister yesterday while I was pouring myself a beer…

All of this build up leads me to an explanation of the above picture.  That is an unopened canister of chocolate protein powder.  It’s been sitting on that shelf for about two years.  I had noticed it before, but figured Bill had bought it for himself.  When he was still in the Army, Bill often bought supplements to help him maintain his physical fitness.  He had to take physical training tests every six months and, as he got older, the tests were harder to pass.  I thought maybe he was going to use the powder to get in better shape.

Last night, I finally asked him about the canister on the shelf.  It had been there so long that I actually wondered if it had been left by the previous tenants.

Bill said, “I bought that for you when you had oral surgery a couple of years ago.  I was concerned about your nutrition.  I thought maybe you’d have trouble eating solid foods and wanted to make sure you’d be able to get some protein.  I’ve had a lot of dental work myself and I know how it is.”

My mouth dropped open.  I have always known Bill to be empathetic and kind.  He has always been thoughtful and solicitous, sometimes to a fault.  But for some reason, it never occurred to me that he’d think enough of me to buy protein powder.

I am really grateful to be married to such a genuinely empathetic person.  I never asked him to buy me protein powder.  He thought of that himself.  He had anticipated my needs.  I gave him a hug and told him just how much I appreciated that he cared enough to buy me protein powder so I’d be okay after my oral surgery (which turned out to be no big deal).  In my mind, it was extraordinary. 

A lot of people have the idea that all men are thoughtless jerks who don’t consider others.  I somehow got lucky enough to marry a man who is incredibly empathetic and thoughtful.  Every time I think of what Bill’s ex wife so thoughtlessly threw away, I experience a weird combination of rage and gratitude.  I will always be grateful to her for being dumb enough to dump him, but it also angers me that she abused him for so many years. 

Bill’s ex wife repeatedly took advantage of his kindness and rarely appreciated thoughtful things he did for her.  As a matter of fact, when he would do thoughtful things for her, she usually regarded him as a chump.  The kind deeds would inspire contempt rather than gratitude.  It was like she thought he was a sucker for being considerate. 

After awhile, Bill stopped doing nice things for Ex and withdrew from her.  That behavior also inspired contempt and complaints from Ex.  She used Bill’s new withdrawn behavior as “proof” that, deep down, he was really an asshole.  She predicted one day he would leave her.  No matter how many times he tried to reassure her, she wouldn’t believe him.  She’d escalate her bad behavior and disrespect to the point at which he could no longer ignore it.  Finally, the day she told him she wanted a divorce (Easter Sunday while at the in-laws’ house), he agreed.  Her predictions that they would split had finally come to pass.  And then, after he forced her to follow through on her divorce threats, she made him an enemy not even worthy of saying goodbye to his daughters when he went off to war in Iraq.

I mainly write about this stuff, not just so I can process it, but also for other people who are in this situation.  Plenty of people live with others who lack empathy.  I write these stories for them, so they know that they aren’t alone and they aren’t crazy.  But I also write them, maybe because I know that there have been a lot of false stories spread to people who matter to Bill.  I know his daughters and his parents heard a lot of lies about the kind of person he is.  I have no doubt that the ex wife used The Giving Tree and other children’s stories to make her point to people who aren’t wise enough to see the truth.  Maybe this story is to try to undo some of the damage wrought by her constant lies and truth stretching. 

Let this tale serve as a PSA, just like the one from the Department of Energy in 1980.  “Empathy: we can’t afford to waste it.”  Choose to be empathetic to those who will recognize and appreciate it.  To those who won’t, move on, because life is short and resources are limited.  Just like The Giving Tree, you really only have so much to give during your short time on Earth. 

And for 2020…

I was reminded of this post from about three years ago this morning, as I was reading a Facebook post that my friend Elizabeth commented on, pictured below.

Hmmm…

One might not think this would be a controversial post, but it was. I read through the comments, which quickly became very contentious. This post, while admittedly kind of confrontational, was basically about being decent and kind to others. I noticed my friend becoming somewhat sarcastic when other people disagreed with her. Pretty soon, the whole thing devolved into insults. It didn’t help that someone tried to hijack the post with complaints about male circumcision, complete with a graphic photo.

I noticed one young woman was disagreeing with the post. As people confronted her for her “Libertarian” views and going against the grain, it occurred to me that we would get a lot more accomplished if more people had basic respect for others. That means trying not to fall into derision and name calling when someone disagrees.

Although I am definitely not a conservative anyone, there are a few conservative ideas I accept. This lady, who later claimed to be transgendered, was basically pointing out some things that were common sense and, at least on the surface, correct. But what she was posting wasn’t politically correct, and people were calling her out for it in very rude, condescending, and offensive ways.

I didn’t get involved myself, except to call out the lady posting about circumcision with this photo…

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have, but…

When she laughed, I clarified that I am actually against circumcision, but I am even less for people hijacking threads with off topic spam. I encouraged her to fight the good fight. Then I got back to the very interesting debate going on, in which one poster had referred to the self-reported Libertarian transgendered woman as “honey” and tried to school her.

I wondered what that attitude accomplishes. It makes you feel better, sure. I will even admit to sometimes indulging in it myself. But in the long run, being really rude and insulting when you try to take someone to school doesn’t really help. It turns into a waste of time in a hurry.

I do think we’d get further in making things better if more of us would listen to what others have to say and respect their right to disagree, if they want to. As long as there’s basic respect and empathy for the other person’s viewpoint, new ideas that make more people happy can be formed. But right now, there’s just a lot of polarized noise. Nothing is getting accomplished. And discussions about tolerance and kindness ultimately go nowhere.

Of course… most of us are in a pretty bad mood. 2020 has been a really hard year for many people. We’re all hoping for better days in 2021. I sure am, anyway… at least an end to the constant sickness and violence and hatred toward each other. I do think if we were all a bit more understanding and kind, maybe things would be better. And that means if you preach it, practice it. Easier said than done, I know… and I will even admit to my own hypocrisy at times. As human beings, we all bleed when we’re pricked… and when we encounter a prick, we all bristle.

I’ve been very fortunate to have found an empathetic man with whom I can enjoy my life. I look to him for inspiration. If I need an example for kindness, I remember how Bill wanted to be sure I had protein after oral surgery and bought me a protein powder supplement. He did that, even though I was liable to be cranky after my surgery. And I didn’t have to ask him. He did it because he was thinking of me. Maybe if more of us were like that toward everyone, the world would be a nicer place.

Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for the last day of 2020. Time to have some lunch with Mr. Bill. Happy New Year, y’all!

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business, complaints, money

It’s really not that simple, cuz– or, my husband invested in me and it paid off.

Yesterday, I ran across the below political cartoon. It was shared by my very conservative cousin from Georgia. Actually, he’s from Virginia like I am, but he’s lived in Georgia for decades. Anyway…

This is a rather simplistic cartoon. I was tempted to leave him a comment, but decided not to, since his sister is being memorialized today.

Full disclosure. I have actually paid off my student loans. They were paid off about nine years early, back in 2018. I was originally scheduled to be finished to be finished paying in 2027. I made paying the student loans off a priority, and I am fortunate enough to be married to an extremely kind, generous, and cooperative man who was alright with helping me (a whole lot) in my quest to lose this obligation that hung over my head for so many years.

My mother had saved some money for me to attend Longwood University (then Longwood College), and I also worked during the summers. I still left my undergraduate career with Stafford loans, some subsidized and some unsubsidized. I think I borrowed about $10-$12K, but I’m not altogether sure of the total amount. I remember my parents were thrilled when I got the financial aid during my junior year. It was, and still is, a state supported school, but the price of attending rose significantly when I was attending in the 1990s. That school is also in a rural part of Virginia, where jobs in town were relatively scarce, and employers didn’t want to hire people who weren’t staying there year round. I didn’t qualify for enough work study to make that a viable option for me at the college.

Nevertheless, when it was time to graduate, I attended the mandatory video session during which I was reminded that I had taken out loans and they would need to be repaid. And after graduation, I paid every month on time and in full, although again, it was with help from others that I was able to do that. I was lucky enough to be living at home rent free.

After my first year post graduation, I joined the Peace Corps. In those days, it was possible to defer student loans. I did defer, but also arranged to send $30 per month of my readjustment allowance (then about $200 a month, I think) to defray the cost of interest on the unsubsidized loans. When I finished my service, I worked for a couple of years and paid on my loans– I think it was about $125 a month.

Two years after I came home from Armenia, I decided to attend graduate school. Because I would be going to graduate school, I was again able to defer my student loans. I was also able to take out more loans, which I did. Although I attended the University of South Carolina, which was out of state for me, after my first semester, I was able to land a job as a graduate assistant at South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). That gig didn’t pay well, but it did reduce my tuition to about 20% of the IN STATE rate– a HUGE savings. I also had a part time job on weekends and some evenings. Still, I needed loans, and when all was said and done, I graduated with two more degrees and five figures of debt, courtesy of my Stafford and Perkins loans.

About two months after I graduated from the University of South Carolina, I decided to consolidate my loans. Doing that took me out of my “grace” period, but locked in a 3.75% interest rate. I’m not sure what today’s rates are, but I bet they aren’t that low. I’ll also bet that today’s students, particularly during the pandemic, don’t have as much ease in finding well paying jobs, which even twenty years ago wasn’t that easy. Anyway, when all was said and done, I had borrowed $57,000 for all of my education– that’s for all three degrees. Even in the early 00s, that wasn’t too bad for all I managed to get. But it was still a lot of money for me. I wasn’t sure how I would repay it, even though I had fully intended and expected to find a good job.

Well… as you can see, I didn’t set any records on fire in the employment world. As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, I was very fortunate in that I met and married Bill, who is an unusually empathetic and cooperative person. And once we were married, he was willing to help me pay for my loans. I started off paying $180 a month, which pretty much only covered interest and a tiny amount of the principal. At the time, we didn’t have much extra money because Bill was paying child support for three children and recovering from the financial disasters wrought during his first marriage. I was also trying to find work, but was unsuccessful.

I paid that same paltry amount for five years, until Bill went to Iraq and got a temporary salary boost. While he was deployed to Iraq, I used the extra money to pay off his credit cards in full. I also started paying extra toward my student loans. It wasn’t much at first– just $20 a month. Within six months, I was a full payment ahead. Slowly but surely, I added more money to the extra I was paying. It got to the point at which I started getting letters from my creditor telling me I didn’t need to pay. But I kept paying more and more until I was years ahead of schedule. And in 2018, when I was down to owing about $2000, I paid it off in one fell swoop. Put this in perspective– even after years of paying more toward my loans than I had to, when we moved to Germany in 2014, I still owed $40,000 on my student loans. By 2018, I owed nothing.

It seems crazy that I was able to do this. Looking back on it, it seems highly unlikely that I could have, if things had been any different than they were. If I hadn’t married Bill (who had a pretty checkered financial history– common sense should have told me not to marry him– in this case, I’m glad my heart won over my brain)… If I had had children (expensive even if they’re completely healthy)… If we had gone through infertility treatment or pursued adoption… If my parents hadn’t been self-sufficient… If we hadn’t stayed healthy… If Bill hadn’t been able to stay well-employed… If we’d had huge legal fees due to Bill’s ex wife and kids… If we had bought a home… If I had gone to a more expensive school… If I had dropped out or took longer than scheduled… If I had had a higher interest rate… If I had borrowed from private lenders… I also made a determination that I would pay off those student loans first, because they can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy and I didn’t want to have them hanging over my head if disaster struck.

Everybody’s situation is different. Yes, paying back loans is an obligation. However, I think today’s students have gotten a pretty raw deal. For one thing, even if a person chooses to attend a state supported college, states are not contributing as much money to higher education as they once did. That’s been the case for years. I remember one year when I was still at UofSC, tuition went up 15% because the state didn’t contribute as much. Tuition never seems to go down, either. For another thing, college has been vastly oversold, making degrees less valuable than they might have been. Not everyone should attend college. Some people aren’t ready to go. Some people aren’t academically inclined and should pursue a field that is more technical. But college should not just be reserved for the privileged who are lucky enough to be able to afford it due to the circumstances of their birth. It should be a place where academically talented people can go to build their skills in whatever field they want to pursue.

One of the comments I noticed on my cousin’s post was about how some degrees are “worthless”. It always bothers me when people scoff at any academic field. Maybe you don’t think a degree in women’s studies is useful, but it’s useful enough that people who have studied it have been able to get jobs teaching it, researching it, writing books about it, or even making fun of it. I know many people think the arts are “worthless” pursuits. I heartily disagree with that. I was friends with many music majors when I was in school. They were among some of the most talented, hardworking people I knew in college. They had to be hard workers, since they took so many one credit courses that met three times a week. Moreover, the arts make the world a better place to be. And ditto to those who think English is a worthless degree. Being able to write, think critically, read carefully, and speak the language coherently are vital skills that are lacking in many people. If you don’t believe me, hang out on social media for awhile.

I also think people should be careful when they dismiss the pursuit of certain occupations as a waste of time. Everyone is unique, and we all have different skills and talents. One could argue with me that I should have studied accounting because it’s a well-paying field. But I am not good with numbers and I’m not particularly detail oriented. I would have struggled in an accounting degree program and probably would have hated the job. That would have made me a mediocre and probably unsuccessful accountant. And that would also make me a lot less employable. I am, however, really good at music and writing. I would stand a much better chance of being gainfully and successfully employed in jobs that use those skills and talents, even if there aren’t as many lucrative jobs. The world doesn’t need any more shitty accountants. And maybe the world doesn’t any more writers or singers… but at least I do those things reasonably well and enjoy the work. Those skills and the personal qualities affiliated with them can also transfer to other jobs.

I will agree, however, that too many people choose to go to college when it’s not a suitable choice for them. And there are cheaper ways to get a degree, too. A lot of people are overly concerned about going to “prestigious” schools, when a state supported school or even community college would suit them fine. Lots of people get college education through the military. That’s what Bill did– all three of his degrees came from private schools and were mostly paid for through scholarships and his G.I. Bill. He even has some money left of his G.I. Bill. These are topics that are worth discussing, especially with people still in high school. BUT– I also think the government should take steps to reduce the cost of college and relieve some of the debt burdens on young people.

I am 48 years old. I finished paying student loans in 2018. I expected to be paying until I was in my 50s. I don’t have any children. One of my parents is dead, but the other is in her 80s. She is, thankfully, reasonably healthy and very self-sufficient, and I also have sisters. But what if I was having to pay my loans, support children, and pay for a nursing home for my mom? What if I also had a mortgage to pay? What if I also had a chronic health issue that wasn’t covered by health insurance? What if I didn’t have health insurance? Or… what if I had a financial setback that led to being late on a bunch of bills? When Bill and I first got married, he was recovering from foreclosure and bankruptcy brought on by his ex wife’s irresponsible spending and his failure to take control of his finances. It took years of effort to climb out of that hole. It took a lot of work. Fortunately, we weren’t distracted by the misfortunes that befall so many people. We were VERY lucky. I was especially lucky. I hit the husband lottery.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s not as simple as borrowing money and paying it back. Yes, I agree that repaying loans is a responsibility. But the cost of education should not be so heavy that young people are saddled with debts that make it difficult or impossible for them to ever get out from under the burden. And we need to do a better job of teaching young people about alternatives to college and encouraging them to take them. There should be no stigma toward those who choose a different path.

This morning, as Bill and I were talking about this, I looked at our investments, which I started doing on a very small scale back in 2012. I think I initially invested about $1000. Well, that amount has grown almost 50 times– before long, we will have investments that will total in value as much as that initial consolidated loan was in 2002. Without me, Bill wouldn’t have that money, because it never occurred to him to invest. He knew nothing about it and had neither the time nor inclination to learn. So I like to think of that as paying him back somehow… although he says that having me around is payment enough. See? I hit the husband jackpot! 😉 Perhaps I should think of it as Bill investing in me and getting a return.

P.S.– I made another song…

This is dedicated to the three relatives who are gone… and those who have been kind enough to help us grieve.

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Ex, family, LDS, mental health

Finally hearing each other…

This morning, Bill told me that his daughter sent him a long email. It was mostly about how her little daughter is doing with some physical therapy she needs. She also had tubes put in her ears, which has made it a lot easier for her to hear. The baby is now a lot less temperamental. In fact, Bill’s daughter said she had an insightful moment when she realized her daughter was basically hearing her clearly for the first time. It was probably a stunning experience for her.

I continue to be amazed, watching Bill reconnect with his daughter. For so long, we had the impression that she hated him. But once they started talking to each other, it was clear that the bond they had years ago was still there. Then they started comparing notes about what it was like to deal with Bill’s ex wife.

I know a lot of people, over the years, have gotten the idea that I’m just a bitter second wife. I guess I can’t blame people for having that impression. All most people get of our story is what I write, and I write with a bias. But, when two people who have had similar experiences with a narcissist get together and compare notes, it soon becomes a lot clearer what the problem is and who the culprit is. I may write with a bias, but what I write is based in truth, at least as I see it. And I do try to be fair as much as possible and, in fact, have even managed to change my mind about some things.

I used to feel compelled to write a lot about Ex. I saw her as someone who got away with terrible things against good people. I don’t feel compelled to write about her very much now. Because now I see that she isn’t getting away with anything, really. Sooner or later, the truth always emerges. I knew it eventually would in this case, too.

I’ve also found that the animosity I had toward Mormonism has also dissipated somewhat. I no longer feel nearly as angry at the church as I used to, mainly because the church helped fix this situation. Good people in the church helped Bill’s daughter leave a terrible situation. While I think she could have found help from many other sources, the Mormons were there for her. She’s comfortable with the religion. I don’t agree with a lot of the church’s beliefs or practices, but I have respect for the fact that church members did some good for Bill’s daughter. And I laugh a bit, since it was Ex that introduced the church to Bill’s kids in the first place, and used it as a means of alienating them from him. Now, that plan has backfired, as many of her harebrained plans eventually do.

Younger daughter has turned out to be a very kind, insightful, and unusually empathetic person. I didn’t see these tendencies in her when she was younger, but I guess she must have had them. And, of course, I was never allowed to get close to her anyway. The image that was projected to us was one that made her look a lot like her mother. But she’s not like her at all. I’m sure what we saw was carefully crafted to discourage others from throwing her a life ring out of the situation she was in.

When she and Bill visited earlier this year, they talked for hours. They compared experiences. She wanted to know about some painful things… although she doesn’t even know the half of what happened. But even as she was asking about those things, she recognized that talking about them might be painful for Bill. She even realized that he was a victim of domestic violence, which really impresses me. And she has said outright that she wants to avoid continuing the cycle of destruction and abuse.

Switching gears here… it just occurred to me that our new dog, Noyzi, could almost be a metaphor for what Bill has experienced with his daughter. Here he is, this very sweet dog born on the streets of Kosovo, a country where dogs aren’t necessarily adored like they are in Germany and the United States. When we first got Noyzi, he was so afraid of everything. He didn’t understand anything at all. He bumped into glass doors, because he’d never seen them before. He shied away from Bill and me, and didn’t want to eat or walk on a leash. In fact, his first day here, he didn’t want to come inside.

As time passed, he started to get used to life with us. It took him no time to realize that being in a house is a good thing. He quickly claimed his bed, as well as a spot by the loveseat, where I usually sit to do my jigsaw puzzles. He loves trying different foods and always accepts them gratefully and politely. He’s still terrified of Bill, but he makes progress every day.

It’s not unlike watching Bill rekindle his relationship with his daughter. It started very tentatively and has developed into something beautiful. And there’s new progress every day. It won’t be long until those old fears will be replaced by good memories and love. It’s so rewarding to work with him. Likewise, it’s so rewarding to see Bill and his daughter heal their relationship.

I watch a lot of videos about narcissism on YouTube. I’ve found several good channels. I like the ones in which the tone taken is one of empathy and kindness, even though I will admit my basic instinct is anger. Narcissistic people and others with character disorders are typically very abusive people who lack empathy. It’s hard to maintain empathy for people who have none, but I think it’s important to try. Otherwise, we aren’t much better than they are.

I have been feeling somewhat more peaceful lately. I haven’t forgotten anything, but I’m a lot less angry. When I see things evolving the way they always eventually do, it makes me feel better. The truth always comes out eventually. It may take years, but eventually, the jig will be up. And while I don’t take pleasure in seeing people suffer, I do think that bad behavior has to be addressed somehow.

Narcissists hate to lose. Just watch Donald Trump’s behavior as he’s being forced to reconcile the fact that he is about to be kicked out of power. But inevitably, they lose. Inevitably, their behavior causes them to be kicked to the curb. I find as I get older, I’m quicker at spotting them and have less patience for tolerating them. I think younger daughter is going to be even less tolerant at a much younger age. I applaud her for that.

Just as Bill’s granddaughter is finally hearing her mom clearly, Bill and his daughter are hearing each other, too. They’re learning new things, comparing notes, trusting and growing. And Noyzi is hearing kindness and love, and is learning to trust and grow. These are really good things. So that’s my positive post for today. Now, to get on with some music.

P.S. The featured photo has nothing to do with this post, but everything to do with how I’m about to start feeling.

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