Category Archives: Uncategorized

Panhandling: What Exactly is the Problem?

I have lived in very high panhandling zones, but I admit to not understanding the beef with it. If there are crimes of subsistence (squatting, stealing food) the problem is hunger and lack of shelter — and those are not problems I face, but problems the homeless face.  If the panhandlers harass, then the problem is harassment; if the panhandlers are assaultive, the problem is assault – and so on.  Assault and harassment (etc.) are the problems I experience personally, and I can usually avoid them or remedy them easily.   I am not sure how panhandling itself is a problem.  So far as I can tell, no one forces passersby to donate, but if they did, see “harassment”.

So are we talking about a problem I have?  Or am I trying to solve the problems faced by the homeless?   If the problem I have is homelessness generally, or drug abuse generally, then I can act on the system in ways I think will resolve those issues.  Homelessness and drug abuse in specific individuals, and particular classes of people, are problems individual persons within those groups face.

I feel a personal conviction to help people deal with their problems, if they want to accept my help and want to change their lives.  But if I have a problem with the way individual homeless people are managing their homelessness, or the way addicted people are handling their substance use, that is bullshit.

Me, in my comfy apartment, indulging in my own vices of choice, backseat driving a person who knows far better than I do what the consequences of those choices will be.  I imagine it might make a homeless person feel the way I do when my mother chides me for blowing as much money as I do on high-speed internet when my taxes have provided me with a public library card at no charge.  My mother believes that you don’t need web access, for example, to get a job that pays a living wage — that you can accomplish this by walking in off the street, using a pencil to complete a paper job application, and impressing the business owner with your earnest assertion that “any job I don’t know how to do, I can learn.”  The last time this got her a job was 1982, and she worked there until her rotator cuffs gave out and they fired her, almost three decades later.

I adore Maman, but she does not understand my lived experience.  She does not trust me to know what the fuck I am talking about when I try to explain.  She does not accept that I know my needs and resources better than she does.  But most importantly, she does not know that it is technically none of her goddamned business, and that she has no right to judge me.  She can indulge in freestyle social criticism all she wants, but she has no right to demand an explanation from me.  It is operating on incomplete data to make assumptions about my choices and then judge me based on those assumptions. (It’s also rude as hell, but that is a matter of manners, not morals.)

Analogy always fails in the end, but to take this a step further:  what if I ask her for money?  Must I spend it according to her terms?  The answer is that it depends on the agreement.  She might be more likely to lend me money if I justify need and swear that I have no other money to use to that end.  But say she were to give me money — out of the kindness of her heart, because it is my birthday, or whatever.  Do I have to spend it the way she wants me to?  Can I buy gin with it, even if my mother deplores alcohol?  Can I use it to pay for an abortion, even if my mother believes it is murder?  Is it my money, after she gives it to me, or is it still hers?

Again let me point out that she was not compelled in any way to throw me cash. Do I get to use it as I please, or not?

You can care about a person and still have unreasonable expectations and poor personal boundaries, of course, but let’s be honest: most of us in these United States were raised with the Puritan heritage of societal judgment of others rather than a sense of respect for others.  Respecting others does not mean assuming they have the ability and the inclination to make perfect choices or even “good enough” choices; it only means that you don’t get to judge or decide for others, just as they don’t get to judge or decide for you.  I’ve been asked, “How would you feel if you gave a buck to a guy who used it to buy drugs and died of an overdose?  Or would you just wash your hands of him and say it’s not your responsibility, that you’re not your brother’s keeper?”

First, I assure you that I feel sad.  People die of society’s choices and treatment all the time, and their own personal choices and behavior.  I’m sad for middle class functional alcoholics who did their best to keep up with the Joneses as they were taught.  I’m sad for rich old reptiles forever chasing money, because they loved their Daddies and their Daddies loved the dollar.   I’m sad for desperate Mormon housewives whose lips would never touch liquor but who have huge benzo addictions to match their ulcers.  I’m sad for everyone who hurts.  Am I their keeper, too?  I feel sad that people die of neglect, of diseases caused and worsened by drugs of abuse, and by exposure to the elements.  Depriving them of charity is not preventing their death by overdose, any more than my not buying them a cheeseburger is preventing their death by arteriosclerosis.

Don’t think I’m blind to the fallout in society.  But if a person gets all het up by homeless people scrounging for change and charity, making the streets dirty, and daring to expose us Good Folk to their addiction…but doesn’t get the same “we must make good choices for them since they cannot be trusted to make the choices we want them to make on their own” feelings about other groups harming society and the world at large (middle class consumption filling landfills, carnivores and coal and consumerism destroying the environment, the One Percenters living off slavery, the government bleeding dry the populace to accrue wealth and power to those who already have an excess – on and on)… then there is a disproportionate attention and blame given to a vulnerable population who is arguably the least able and/or resourced to change things — including themselves.

If far more harm is done by people who have the bottom layers of Maslow’s pyramid squared away, why is so much ire disproportionately directed away from the wealthy, the secure, the educated, the people with enough power and influence to do real harm?  You can despise all those groups, but who is most likely to suffer?  The homeless.  If you need to change something, change the system.  If you don’t feel the urge to give, don’t.  It’s that easy.  But if you are going to judge someone’s personal choices (or unpleasant necessities), maybe start with people who harm others, people acting from greed rather than need, people who are in a position to fight back.

Because homeless people get addicted for the same reasons other people do:  looking for escape from fear and burdens; looking to self-medicate pain; looking to relieve stress; looking to self-medicate mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed); looking to feel good for one goddamn hour for a change.  So let’s not judge them for having the same problems we do (to a much greater degree) or for handling it in much the same way.  That includes panhandling – and if you think people with resources don’t panhandle, allow me to introduce you to GoFundMe and Indiegogo and other crowdsourcing applications.

From people who are irritated by panhandlers, what I hear is that they are disturbed by the subsection of panhandlers who (a) seem to have other alternatives and/or (b) make any degree of money at it.  It offends their sense of rightness.

I am open to hearing more about the problems people have with panhandling.  It’s just been my experience that the root arguments, once the superficial BS has been lovingly peeled away, amount to, “It’s not fair that I have to work when all they have to do is beg.  I have to work, so they should have to work.”  For it was written, by Coolio and by a disputed author in the second epistle to the Thessalonians:  “(T)his we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  It’s one of the classic Christian arguments against welfare of any kind, since pauperism and penury were considered to be immoral states and poor people were not in a state of grace.  When social workers fought to decriminalize destitution, many Christians disagreed.  But if trying to subsist as a homeless person is made illegal again, how are they to live?

Losing your home (if you ever had one) does not give you a heart of gold, a farmer’s work ethic, and Lifetime Network backstory of being a plucky saint who had a run of bad luck.

The individuals that I have met who were physically able but who declined opportunities for work included those who were confident in their panhandling skills but terrified of meeting “normal” demands to perform.  After having to live like an animal (and being treated like a stray dog by society,) not everyone has the confidence and dignity to step outside the place they feel a degree of confidence or mastery.  Somehow we accept that truth if the story is an ugly duckling who learns she is foreign royalty — however will I learn the ways of my betters? — but we reject it when a person who has no place to shower and no appropriate clothing and no goddamned toothbrush is scared (or angered) by the prospect of trying to fit in with people who sneered at her on the street the day before.  The tasks of passing for normal once you have endured more than a couple of weeks of having to shit and sleep in full sight of strangers can be daunting.  Some people would rather stick with what they know instead of further damaging their shredded self-esteem.  Some folks still have a defiant bravado, still have a lot of “fuck you” left in them — a lot don’t.

The experience of homelessness is one of invisibility and humiliation and danger, and the longer the trauma goes on, the harder it is to leave the war zone.  Most of the homeless people I’ve known have been assaulted on multiple occasions, had to steal or prostitute themselves for money, have suffered horrible intestinal and UT infections due to eating spoiled food and having no reliable hygiene, and had permanent losses in health or cognitive ability due to malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of treatment for other conditions including hypertension and thyroid imbalance.  Even those with no history of mental illness suffer depression, acute stress disorder, and PTSD secondary to living on the street.  Not to mention esteem and identity issues secondary to having been ridiculed and scorned and beaten and ignored.  This taught them how to regard themselves.  I can’t blame them for not feeling able, and I can’t blame them for occasionally saying “fuck you” — if you’ve learned to fight the hand that beats you, you’ll occasionally bite the hand that is trying to feed you.

(And some folks never entered the workforce.  If you have problems with attention and are not bright enough to compensate, you won’t be able to hold down the sort of boring and repetitive job that would get you into the workforce.  If you have a sensory disorder and are not bright enough to compensate, you will not be able to tolerate the low-level noisy / hot / smelly / nasty-textured demands of low-level jobs that would provide security.  If you are a kid who is kicked out as a minor for being gay / pregnant / whatever, chances are good you will develop a history of drug use and/or misdemeanor arrests before you are even legally old enough to work — so good luck getting into Harvard, or whatever else it takes to get a job these days.)

But back to our feelings about the role of substance use and addiction in homelessness.  Some folks have substance use habits that make them homeless; others pick it up after life changes that couldn’t be handled. But we’re not talking about how the homeless feel about drugs, or whether they are entitled to experience the same stages of change with regard to addiction and recovery that people with homes and jobs are entitled to.  I’m talking about people having opinions about drug use in other people — specifically, homeless people.

I wish I could create a flow chart to help people parse out how they actually feel about substance abuse and people with addictions, since again, the feelings that come out are usually strong, but you have to wade through All The Disclaimers; the layers of How I Think I Should Feel; and the list of Societally Approved Acknowledgements Because Everyone Has Problems I’m Sure.

Whatever.  Once you get past the lawyer’s page, some of the assertively expressed opinions I’ve heard again and again include:

“Sure, I drink like a fish – but I work for my money and buy my own booze, so I don’t have a problem.”  (Functional addiction is okay, but if I became homeless, I’d magically become a teetotaler.)

“Sure, I use prescription medication to cope – probably a little too much – but I have a really hard job and all these personal issues.  My meds keep me going.  But I take only prescribed medication under a doctor’s supervision – I don’t do street drugs.”  (Because you have worries, but homeless people have no worries.  They also don’t have full access to insurance, to authorized and empathetic prescribers, and to quality mental health care.  All homeless people are, one incorrectly assumes, eligible for Medicaid, and therefore are in possession of a sufficient degree of security and subsistence to be able to engage in insight-oriented treatment, which cannot occur in a traumatizing environment, and which is typically required to get Mommy’s Little Helper – or get into rehab.)

“I don’t blame the homeless for being homeless – but I’m not going to support drug addiction.”  (Sure, fine.  No one is saying you have to give. Just keep walking.  Or if you feel comfortable acknowledging a human being who has addressed you in a non-threatening way, do so.)

“I offered to buy a bum a sandwich and he told me to fuck off.  They don’t want food, just drugs.”  (Don’t pretend that homeless addicts have never bought a sandwich or a cup of coffee with panhandled cash.  But he didn’t ask you for food, he asked you for money.  If you don’t want to give money, fine.  If you really want to feed the homeless, walk up and offer homeless people food or restaurant vouchers.  But if your attempt at charity is conditional, and clearly denies agency to the recipient, particularly in a sneering way – “I would give you money but I don’t believe you can be trusted to spend it properly – i.e., in a way I personally approve” – then you are a patronizing asshole, and patronizing assholes don’t get told to Fuck Off nearly so often as would do them good.  Take that candid feedback to heart.)

But the most honest of the statements I hear regularly:

“They’re icky.”

“ They smell horrible.”

“I said no to one and he got mad at me – what the fuck!”

“ They just make me really uncomfortable.”

“I sat next to one on the bus and he had clearly shit himself some time ago – he had that cooked-in dirt all over him — I had to get up and move.”

“That dude was tweaking so hard he had pigeon feathers stuffed in his ears and was talking to people who weren’t there,” (insert other positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia, et cetera.)

To compare, the most recent chronically homeless client I’ve worked with presented as exactly fitting the profiles mentioned above.  A lot of staff hated this person because this person was prone to impulsive aggression, wanted LOTS of drugs RIGHT NOW, had to be coaxed to eat or wash or change clothes, and stood too close when speaking.  Just another tweaker.  Don’t bother setting up services; you know that person will just walk out and go looking for drugs again.

Knowing the person’s story since birth, from records prior to the initial homelessness and drug abuse, gave me more empathy.  Given the person’s drug-induced cognitive impairment, I might know more about TP’s history than TP remembers at this point. TP had come from an ostensibly good home, but one filled with physical and emotional abuse behind closed doors.  TP had been raised in a religion that believes there is no such thing as mental illness and that TP only needed prayer to get better.  TP got married and had a child — but spouse took child and fled when TPs symptoms got high.  TP was left penniless, homeless, depressed and brokenhearted, not trusting psychiatry, impaired by mental illness, and learning to rely on street drugs — but still young and healthy.  After being assaulted in a homeless shelter, TP could not abide sleeping in a room full of other people — it couldn’t be safe.  This led to isolation on the streets, stealing food, prostitution, jail time, and health problems including STDs galore, Hep C, renal failure from dehydration, and permanent cognitive impairment from being beaten and from living on booze and pills.  TP’s life was a direct line from a childhood trauma to the street.  But I’d give TP a buck any day.  It might go to a sandwich, or it might go for a hit.  Either way, it might keep TP from having to steal, or blowing a john.  Or getting sneered at by someone who has all the things TP lost.

So.  As much as circumstances are against some people at birth, and even those born to much may lose it and fall, there is no child on the playground who dreams of being a homeless addict.  There is no young adult who has a broad variety of options and selects homelessness and addiction as the preferred future life to build.  There is no mature adult possessed of judicial capacity and under no duress who calmly and thoughtfully declines a life of health and safety in favor of danger, discomfort, and misery.

You may not have compassion for people who are homeless and addicted.  You might feel certain that if you had a change in circumstances (due to external situations beyond your control, of course, and not any poor choices of your own) that you would perform better.  You might well be correct.  But not everyone has your confidence, your training, your health, your mental acuity, and your long history of having done well enough to feel confident you can attain that state once more.  Don’t look at all your assets and say, “If I can do it, anyone can!” – you  might be blind to how much you have going for you.  And you sure as hell have no clue what That Person was up against.

The Christians are Wearing Me Out

Sorry, Coach.  I have tried and tried to come to common ground with my former flock, and time and time again, they have made me regret it.  They get to say whatever they feel:  that God either acts or permits action; that God is Great and is In Charge; that anything not done by God is allowed by God.

They are literally on the topic of personal crime — violence against vulnerable others — and talking about how God allows it.  For Reasons.

And *I* am the bad guy for simply saying that anyone who could stop violence against the vulnerable, and does not stop it, is terrible, horrible, no-good, and definitely not worth worship.  For some reason God gets worshiped despite behavior you would not accept from an antisocial thug.

Many people I love are believers.  I used to be one myself.  When I did believe in God, it cut me *to the bone* to know that my God — the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent — saw what was happening to my early-grade-school-self and did nothing.  I broke up with God over that.  But I am unable and unwilling to break up with my family…despite the fact that they know all this and worship Him anyway.  It’s as if His need to be worshiped is more important than a child’s pain.  In their understanding of the universe, He watched what was happening to me and did nothing.  I do not give two shits what His ineffable rationale might have been; it could not possibly be good enough.

And if it sounds selfish for me to say that:  think, thou, on a neighbor kid…a grandma…your dad, your mom, your favorite person in the world…watching a child get assaulted…and staying glued to the peephole without intervening, without calling for help, without lifting a finger.  Would it not change your view of that person?  If so, why does it not change your view of your God?

And if it does not change your view of that person, why do you think that person’s inaction was okay?  Serious answers only, people.  Trusting that someone had a good enough reason, if you’re an adult, means you have an idea of what that reason might look like.  And if you are going to try to explain how an omnipotent being had to allow a child to get hurt for some reason, you don’t understand what “omnipotent” means.

Life taught me that people get to mistreat me with impunity, so I don’t ask that you explain why bad things happened to me.  Just explain why it happened to the other kids.  Why they deserved it.  Or why you worship someone who believes in harming kids who *don’t* deserve it.

The Cousin I Knew

When I was so young that my parents were still together, but so old that we had already moved out west, I got to meet my mother’s sister’s sons for the first time.  Back east, the cousins on my dad’s side looked like me:  white blonde, with a spattering of tiny freckles.  In summer, we played outside constantly — this was the time before sunscreen, mind you — and we still looked like underdone toast.   My boy cousins there all had buzz cuts or high’n’tights thanks to the triple influence of military, poverty, and the South.

We moved to one of the big square states in the West and my folks enrolled in college.  I went to Head Start and married one of the boys in a single-ring (pop can pull-ring) ceremony behind the colored block bin.  Meanwhile, my folks split up and Mom headed even farther west to live with her mother and stepfather.  Dad caught up and they tried to make a go of it again.  Mom and Dad divorced for the final time close to when my aunt’s marriage ended.  Aunt moved two towns over from us, bringing the two boys she and her ex had adopted off different reservations.  They bracketed me in age, and they were my best and most consistent friends over years of local relocations.

They blew my mind.  Their mom was a college-educated liberal, and it was the 70s.  She let them wear their hair very long, and fought the school to keep it that way to respect their families of origin.  She let them swear, en famille, but not in front of old people or anyone upset by it.  They had a regimented daily chore list, where my single mom and I lived with Grandma, who did everything.  My aunt kept her menstrual cycle noted on the kitchen calendar so they could be aware of her PMS.  It was as unlike my home as you could get.  In childhood we had occasional visits, and I lived for them — I was in a highly rural home with no kid neighbors — but around junior high we ended up in the same school district.

The older cousin was the one I was most like, and I spent a lot of time with him.  He was bright and funny and chubby and always laughing, very outgoing, infinitely curious.  His mother took a close interest in him and helped him in every way.  She got him a job for pocket money, bought him books and study tools, got him music lessons, and made sure he learned about his Native American heritage.  He got straight As in all the hardest classes, played in jazz band competitions.  He became a diehard Christian, and this brought him even more praise and approval.

His brother, two years younger, was the exact opposite.  Slim, quiet, prone to anger (but always eager to laugh) with a short attention span and no interest in school or books or learning. He was often left out of conversations between his mother and brother, even asked to leave, because he was not able to talk about (or interested in) the subject at hand.  He fought for his mother’s regard, but he didn’t try to imitate his brother to get it. He loved sports, but not school sports; he was a pool lifeguard in summer and a ski lifeguard in winter.  He made good money once, posing for a painting, but that was the extent of his modeling career.  He was unambitious, and always hungry for attention.

I trailed my older cousin like a comet, joining his group of friends whenever I could.  They were intelligent, witty, fun, and came from good families.  Aunt even let me come to one of their sleepovers (although she required me to sleep in her bed alongside her, which was not my preference but more than fair.)  I followed them, and I had great conversations with my older cousin, but we weren’t close in an emotional sense.  We could talk about very emotional things, but we didn’t feel them together.

My time with my younger cousin was again the opposite.  He would drop by and say, “Hey, Cuz, how’s it going?” and we’d make pointless small talk.  Sometimes he would tease me for being soft (I was anorexic at the time, but had no muscle tone) and flex his muscles at me, or he would ask if any of my friends would go out with him.  Very brotherly.  I would roll my eyes and shrug it off and see ya next week.  But on a regular basis, he would show up and say, “Here, sit down, just listen to this, tell me what you think.”

I remember sitting next to him, both of us still and quiet, listening to Robert Plant singing, “Sea of Love,” just blown away.  He came over once and asked me to cut his hair, which thrilled me — he was wearing his hair short and this was a very trusting request.  I gingerly cut his hair, a few strands at a time, while we listened to Robert Palmer sing, “Lonely Tonight,” a song that still runs through my head.  He gave me his Julie Brown tape, and “Goddess in Progress” became anthematic to me.  He would show up when my boyfriends came over, trying to top dog them a little, before giving me a hug and going off to his own fun.

One time he brought me a rose.  Just a single bouquet rose, not a long-stem — a dollar a pop at my favorite florist, with a little ming fern and a stem of babies’ breath.  It was out of the blue, and I was touched.  I fully understood that it was not a big investment, and that it may have been purchased for a date who stood him up.  And he knew that it would not be a sweeping moment for me, since I had been dating a boy for months who brought me a dozen roses every weekend and the dead bouquets were strung to dry all over the house.  This only happened one time, but it was typical: he would make a gesture, and I would be receptive.  He never had a steady girlfriend, and he had been progressively more alienated from his mother.  It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I might have been the only supportive female in his life, the only girl he was close to.

When I went off to college, he started having problem with alcohol and the law.  One summer, when I was still skinny and blond and on a break from my school beau, I ran into him while out cruising on Saturday night.  I had been flirting with a hot boy who was a year behind me, still in high school and chasing me hard.  When my cousin waved and shouted from a passing care, the flirt — who was the son of a very successful local doctor; my grandmother had begged me to date him while I was in school — said, “You know that stinky Indian?”  I stared him straight in the eyes and said, “That ‘stinky Indian’ is my cousin, and I love him very much.”  My tone was icy.  The flirt tried to make up, but didn’t apologize.  I let him squirm for a while and then ditched him.  This was not the first time something like this happened, but it was probably the last.

I went back to school, and cousin’s behavior got worse.  Aunt kicked him out, and my mom let him move into her attic, even gave him the car she originally promised me.  But I came home to find his attic room empty, except for some personal items and a forgotten cassette, which I appropriated and listened to on repeat — the first album by the Violent Femmes.  I finished school, got depressed, struggled to get my life on track, and didn’t come home for years.  I heard from Mom that he went to jail, went to rehab, went into Job Corp.  Mom whispered that he was physically and sexually assaulted while in jail, and suffered permanent harm including hepatitis.

My heart broke for him.  But there was no way to be in touch.  He loved long, pointless, frequent phone conversations, and used to call out of the blue with nothing to say, just hoping for someone to distract and amuse him. I was (am) phone-phobic in the extreme, strongly preferring to write letters — definitely not his strong suit.  We had never had a pattern of rich communication anyway.  But we had that shared feeling of sadness, and struggle, and support whenever we were together.

Years later I came home for older cousin’s wedding.  I knew everything about older cousin, as Aunt’s letters always detailed his latest string of accomplishments, but they never mentioned younger cousin.  It was great to reconnect with him.  He was happy, working regularly, and had been dating a dark, slender beauty who never left his side.  She brought no chaos to his life and handled his bad behavior without drama.  I was distracted by my own crumbling marriage and feelings of failure in life, not to mention the ambivalence of visiting my hometown after years away, but I was happy for him.  Over the next twenty years, I visited very rarely, but visits always involved a family dinner that he would join.  These time-lapse snapshots showed the changes in his life:  the pretty girlfriend became a smiling but haggard wife; they became parents of a darling girl he adored; and then gave her a precious baby brother.

Our lives couldn’t have been more different.  I got a divorce, stayed away, never had kids; he worshiped his children and saw his wife as a real partner even though his nose was always open to the ladies.  Years later, I found the man of my dreams and have been happily monogamous since the day we got together.  Cousin stayed home and became a dutiful son; I remained the prodigal child and designated black sheep.  We both got fat, drank too much, and struggled to keep the family times positive and friendly rather than bitchy and judgy.  He would always leave early (with my mother and sister snorting and huffing and hissing “so he can keep boozing!”) — but he would always give me a long, tight bear hug and say, “Love you, Cuz. You should come home more.  And call me sometime, okay?”

The drinking caught up with him.  And the hep.  I imagine his life of construction work played a role, too, not only in terms of wear and tear, but medication.  Every guy I knew who worked in hard physical ways tore through the NSAIDs like candy.  And let’s not forget the stress.

After a brief period of abdominal illness, great pain, and repeated hospitalizations, he died on the last Thursday of 2016.

I didn’t go home for the funeral, which was yesterday.  I haven’t called his mother or his widow, or written, or sent a card.  Wrong of me, but I can’t bear it.  If we lived in the same town, I could be present.  I could grieve with them and they would know I wasn’t being callous or indifferent.  But I don’t have words.  The connection I had with him was not like that.  It was sitting together, feeling the music, smiling and nodding, and a bear hug at the end.  I can hold it together at work, and I can make small talk with friends, but I cry a lot, and when I least suspect it. I never could have made the trip home.  I never could have left without that hug.

We never minded the long absences.  We were tight.  Nothing ever came between us.  I just can’t think of this as permanent.  It’s just another time apart.

 

 

Crazy Heavy Period Bleeding – A Public Service Announcement

My last Pap / Gyn visit was in 2008.  I am pro-science, pro-medicine, pro-vaxx — but I am anti-invasion if there are no symptoms or no reason to expose myself to a non-disposable speculum.  This has been supported by recent studies backing off the high-frequency GYN exams for people who are low-exposure, but I anticipated this trend by some years.  Around three GYN exams in the past 15 years and no problems.

But I’ve always had Crazy Heavy Periods.  They run in my family, like high cheekbones and short fingers and wide feet.  I have missed work at about the rate of one day per month  when working in places that didn’t allow frequent bathroom breaks (missed zero during the work-from-home years) but the manageable bloodbath and occasional day-off for uncontained murder-scene-level bleeding has become unmanageable.

Now that I am perimenopausal, I have begun having a period between my periods.  Imagine having a ten-day period, with ten days off, followed by an eight-day period.  This has now happened three times in the past year and it’s no longer a fluke.  I called the nurse line and was asked other questions:  is intercourse extremely painful?  (Yes, it’s been overwhelmingly painful for years; I figured it was just that I had gotten fat.)  Do you have breakthrough bleeding at ovulation?  (I do now.)  How many pads do you go through in an hour?

God, how I hate that question!  I use the best pad in the world, Always Infinity with Flex-Foam, and they are too expensive to waste.  My flow isn’t steady; it’s a trickle that is sometimes non-existent.  Then there is a little “pop” feeling, and a gush.  Old Faithful Erupts.  I dash to the loo for that.  When I  was at work yesterday, in a situation where I couldn’t hit the loo for 50 minutes, I *soaked* an *overnight maternity pad* — and my panties, and my most heavy-duty dark denim jeans, in one gusher.  So I left work and called the doc.

She scared me shitless, with “come in immediately for an endometrial biopsy and a lab screen and a Provera shot” after hearing my answers to her questions, and I exercised control over the situation by scheduling a visit for  next week and No Thank You Very Much All The Same to the shot.  I don’t mind needles, but I do mind hormones.  When I was on the Pill in college, I was suicidal, homicidal, and generally out of my mind.  I know it’s not the same hormone, but it’s still manipulation that has an unpredictable effect.

PSA For Crazy Heavy Periods Per The Nurse Line:

600 mg of ibuprofen can reduce bleeding by up to 40% — per Nurse, “It’s what the doctor has me telling everyone since that new study came out.”  I am not a medical professional and do not pretend to have evidence to support this, personally; I did not even have ibuprofen in the house and have not tried it myself.  I am writing this down to remember it for another time.

Iron-rich foods:  we are out of heme iron sources at home (I don’t eat liver anyway, except as a cutoff in mystery meat) but I chowed down on fortified rice, pineapple juice, and my complementary salad of cruciferous vegetables and glutathione vegetables with some ham.  I drank pineapple juice and tart red cherry juice and took an iron pill that nauseated me.

Water:  drank lots.

Protein:  ate lots.

I think they helped.  And I go to the doctor Tuesday.

I am Bad at Respecting My Own Boundaries

When you see a friend posting witty banter and wicked barbs and being the life of the party…but you notice minuscule clues that say she’s posting from a medical treatment center rather than a hotel…do you:

  1. ask outright?  HEY, that is clearly a hospital blanket, are you in hospital?
  2. jump to conclusions?  OMG are you sick?  How serious is it?
  3. ignore her “context clues” and send a private demand for information?  “We are your friends, and you can be open with us” (even if you don’t want to, are not ready to, and worry that you would break down if you did).
  4. match her witty banter, offer convivial spirit, and end with an undemanding message of approval and affection?

If you are me, options 1-3 are oblivious, callous, and appalling.  I strive to provide option #4 as valiantly as possible.  But…

If you are me, you will want, a good portion of the time, option #5:  to see the light dawn in your friend’s eyes, and have her throw her arms open to hold you, and say, “Oh god,” just from knowing, and sharing, or being with you.

At least, you think you want it.  If confronted with it, given your (my) Norwegian prairie farmer upbringing, you would probably cringe internally, insist that Everything Is All Right, and end up comforting your would-be comforter.  Comfort doesn’t get the cow milked, feelings don’t help you chop wood, and when the baby died, I just went out and painted the barn to get over it.

It’s hard for me to accept nurturing.  It terrifies me; it makes me feel weak.  It’s one reason I’ve always gotten along better with men, who were raised to be alienated from their emotions.  When they have decided it was safe to give me a punch in the arm and say something half-insulting, half-reassuring, I was safe to take it and not be overwhelmed.  I could recognize that my boys from home did not throw that crumb of support casually, that it was really a feast, and they struggled to provide it.

But when a waitress calls me “Honey” and keeps my coffee hot, when a porter calls me “Kiddo” and doesn’t wait to be asked for help to give it, I tip big, and I get choked up later when it comes to mind.

 

 

“Romance and sex for everyone!”: Simon Ashworth Wood gets the Gentle FJM Treatment

In response to an open post on FB:  https://www.facebook.com/notes/simon-ashworth-wood/romance-and-sex-for-everyone/1130062180377582

 

“Many men have asked many women to go on a date and all of the women said no, and those men got upset and gave up. …  I have already tried for 3 years since my wife separated from me, and no success. If nothing changes, men like me will continue with low self-esteem, wasting many years, suffering upset after upset, and many men and women will die alone.”

 

“If nothing changes, men like me will continue with low self-esteem.”

So many problems.

First, and I say this with love, maybe something about you is getting in your way.  Your approach, your personality, your choice of women, your…assumptions that women are supposed to be the answer to your self-esteem problem, or anyone’s.  Frank assessment is your friend here.  If you think everything is perfect and you have no idea why you are not aces with the ladies, you need to bring another set of eyes to bear on the situation.

Second, and I can’t stress this enough:  the problem of your self-confidence being tied to people (women) outside the locus of your control..  If your self-esteem is not based on earned self-respect, no self-respecting person will be able to connect with you.  Not as an equal.

Problem 2.2:  if your self-respect truly is tied to women saying yes, and if you are truly unwilling to change that self-destructive, healthy-relationship-killing position, then pick easy girls and get some. I mean it. This isn’t a put-down aimed at easy girls; it’s exactly the opposite.  It’s applauding the universal benefit of loving people who need it.  It’s leaving a dude in happier shape than you found him.  But they know, and you need to learn, that they don’t know you and they don’t want you specifically – they see that you need love and are willing to give you some of their abundance.  It’s not pity.  It’s giving a random dude a chance.  For folks who lack the internalized memory of mother’s loving regard, it is a working substitute.  There are many dudes walking around with memories that make them smile and walk a little taller and feel a little less lonely.  And that helps everybody.

 

“…men who are…rejected because of prejudices and women being judgemental” [sic]

The thing is, my friend, a person’s reasons for not wanting to be with another person don’t have to be rational, measurable, listed, objective, testable, or subject to anyone else’s approval.  It gets down to Want or Not-Want.  No one has to explain or seek permission for whether or not they want someone else.  The fact that this is not apparent to you is a red flag for potential partners.  (Especially if you think that one of the only valid reasons a woman should say no to a dude she does not crave is already having a partner.  Your statement ignores the right to Not-Want.  It implies that women are slot machines waiting for you to want to play them.  If you don’t understand why that is true, it’s an even bigger red flag, indicating a self-centered lack of empathy for anyone perceived to be withholding what you want.)

 

“and these men given little or no compassion or support” (because this is dating.  You sing the blues to your buddies, and THEY give you compassion and support) “then go on to treat women as objects without feelings.… I know that after I failed and was rejected by some women who I really liked, I did this with a number of women.”  Just because they weren’t interested didn’t mean you failed.  But you still can’t see why your attitude about women is not making you friends among them?  Take a moment and think about why women might not be eager to take on a guy who exacts revenge for things other women have done to him.  It’s no good when women do it to men, it’s no good when men do it to women.  People who do that are not fair or reliable.  It’s one thing to have trust issues; it’s another thing to cheat and blame it on some girl from way back when who wouldn’t put out.

 

Put simply:  the threat of eye-for-an-eye retribution in relationships is not an incentive to date you.  It does not make me think, “Oh, no! I might be used callously for consensual sex and – gasp! – never called again!”  It makes me think, “This guy got hurt – not even abused; just ego-bruised because he didn’t get the women he wanted – and tried to use that as a justification for treating other women callously.  This guy is not only showing his ass in public.  He is trying to blame the women he wants for his behavior toward the women he doesn’t want.  AVOID AT ALL COSTS.  He needs you for his self-esteem, he will make you pay for the perceived slights of the women who came before you, and he will not stand up like a mensch when he screws up.  He will cheat on you and blame you for what he did.  DANGER.”

 

“REAL solutions include…people being more compassionate, caring and supportive to men”

At this point, you may have a better idea of why Not All Men should have “people” (i.e., women) being supportive of very childish behavior.  If so, we are at the meat of the matter.  And please accept my sincere compassion.  You are right that people should be kind to one another.  No question.  People who bravely step forward to try to engage others should be warmly handled and graciously accepted or rejected.  Please be understanding of the fact that women, like men, are not perfect.  Sometimes there is clumsy treatment of others due to feeling nervous, or confused, or unworthy, or a million things more trivial or more harsh.

Please also understand that you might be the nicest guy in the world – but that some of the most dangerous dudes deliberately camouflage themselves with mildness and come across exactly as you do.

Please understand that there are shitty and immature women in the world, just as there are men.  Most of us are messed up units and need to cut each other slack.  I recommend this to women who think men hold all the cards, and I recommend it to men who feel likewise powerless.

 

“…WOMEN choosing to be less superficial and prejudiced and instead get to know a man before rejecting him….”

 

Let me say that if you tried to get close to women, and they hurt you, they are to blame for the meanness.  And yet you might ask yourself whether you are attracted to callous women.  I’ve said the same thing to many girls:  what’s with the attraction to hard dudes?  Don’t answer me, but be honest with yourself.  If bitchy, callous females do it for you, and you don’t care to break the habit, accept it.  Learn how to love them.  And never forget that being attracted to scorpions means getting stung.  You refer to the women who rejected you as superficial and prejudiced.  Why are you attracted to superficial, prejudiced women?  Honest question.  If you only found out after you were rejected, you dodged a bullet.  Bless the knowledge.  But if your sole evidence for these labels is that they didn’t want you, that’s not enough.  That doesn’t make them bad in any way.  Just not right for you.  The fact that they said “no” is evidence enough that you two would have been a good match – it’s just that they saw it first.  Learn from it and move on.

 

The more you look at the situation objectively, the more you will learn.

The more you aspire to be a better person, the more you will connect with your deepest values and truest self.

The more you are true to that self, in word and action, the more self-respect (and true confidence) you will have.

Then you will be ready to find a partner who is past all her main growing pains and ready to be with someone congruent to her, just as you are past the petty hurts of youth and comfortable in your experience.  Confident.

Until then, go with a lot of girls.  Be honest, be real, be respectful, and enjoy it – don’t abuse the privilege.  Find a buddy (not a wingman!) who can be there for you in the bad times – even better if he has a lady who can fix you up, or fix you pancakes the morning after you show up with a six-pack to sing the blues.  The more experience you get, the more perspective you get, and the better prepared you will be to recognize a keeper when she comes along.

I’m Black: A Friend and Mother’s Rant

Experiencing insomnia on 7/7/2016. Dealing with one shooting before finding out about another.

Source: I’m Black: A Friend and Mother’s Rant

Scratching at old wounds.

Isn’t that one of the signs your pet is getting a little mental?  It’s true for humans, too.  I can’t really talk about the actual things that are burning me down from the inside, so I’ll talk about all the little irritations that are safer to discuss.

Wedding: it’s wedding season, and I don’t know if I can spend more than five minutes pretending to be normal around people who are ten years younger than I am, make twice as much, have supportive families, never made a bad decision, and you get the picture.  Skinny, gorgeous, mentally healthy to the point of absurdity, and exactly the balance of dominant culture heteronormativity / earnest liberal naif that drives me insane.  I love the little darlings, I do, but if I spend more than five minutes in their presence I want to excuse myself so I can find the nearest titty bar, do dollar shots, and get a raunchy tattoo.  It’s not enough to summon the mothership and return to my home planet.  I need to go to a place where no one is talking about whether to buy a second home in Hawaii or Belize.

Family:  demanding my presence.  Not because they like me, but so they can punish me for staying away so long.  On the phone:  please please come stay.  In the background:  shitty comments ranging from “she’s not coming, oh NO, she has WAY more important things to do” to who-the-fuck-cares.  I miss my family.  I’d rather miss them than fight with them.

Work:  most of what I can’t talk about, because my new boss is a stalker.  New Boss reminds me of a guy I used to know, boyfriend of a friend, and he was definitely evil.  Not a bad guy — just evil.  Raised rich, youngest boy in a family of girls, definitely a “free love” guy so long as someone else was providing it, and son of a lawyer.  Used to pull body language cues guaranteed to “turn chicks on” (straight from the manuals advertised in the back of 70s mags) and lived his life according to Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.  What a piece of work.  And now I have a boss who overshares useless things, hoping to glean blackmail nuggets from employees; someone who puts patients last; someone who has ambition rather than a calling.  It’s all of yuck.

Interwebs:  NEWS FLASH!  Click bait is annoying me too much.  Breaking Story:  IQs drop during election years.  Also, people still don’t know the difference between “inferred” and “implied”; film at eleven.

Weight:  new high weight = new low in self-esteem.  Apologies to all my friends who are struggling with weight; my struggle isn’t with my weight, but with what is making me fat — namely, my need to eat my feelings.  Cooking is fun, as is shopping for ingredients, as is eating, as is overeating.  It slows me down — a good thing when I am anxious.  It provides a pleasant external focus for my attention, a sensory pleasure, a diversion from my racing thoughts and crushing ennui.  Even the best gruyere is cheaper than valium, and does not lead to early dementia.

Weight loss:  I do best with a low-carb way of living, since my ancestors lived on little oily fishes and big fat sheep.  My friends who came down from the highlands do best on oats.  Some folks can do dairy, some can’t, and some are addicted to it.  It doesn’t matter; it’s all good.  When we talk about weight loss, I look up stories.  The deck is stacked against me.  I’m short.  I’m pushing 50.  I have poor exercise habits.  I am so sedentary it hurts.  When I look at weight loss success stories, the “after” photos still show a person who is obese, and I am not inspired.  The main thing is:  it doesn’t matter what you eat.  If you eat too much, you’ll gain weight.  If you eat too little, you’ll lose weight.  I hate feeling hungry, and it’s hard for me to cut out my drug of choice (cheese), and cutting calories is a reliable (possibly the only rock-solid reliable) way to lose weight.

I feel for my friends who follow guidelines full of Shoulds and Supposed-To’s.  We’re supposed to eat breakfast every day.  We’re supposed to have 12 servings of whole grain per day.  We need to limit protein to four ounces of the world’s driest, most flavorless chicken breast.  We need to consume six servings of dairy to prevent bone loss and eight servings of fruit to get vitamin C. And we’re supposed to do 20 minutes of cardio or 10,000 steps daily.  On and on.

Guess what?  When you complain that you’re still fat, it’s because you are eating like a 20 year old white male, which was who all that was designed for.  The exercise you do has almost no effect on weight loss — it makes you stronger and improves your metabolism, but the 200 calories you burned on the treadmill were exceeded by one of the many pieces of fruit you inhaled.  If you want to lose weight for real, calorie restriction is part of the program.

Here I go, talking to myself again. And I’m still not to the meat of the matter….

226.6

I’ve been depressed for a while now. It didn’t seem like depression because it was a process, an extenuation and worsening of the negative side of normal. I would have caught it sooner, I think, if it hadn’t been for my inner Pollyanna and her relentless cheerleading. She works hard to keep me going, but part of her snappy patter is refusing to believe things are That Bad. Well, sometimes they are, and finding the upside of a crummy situation results in continuing the crummy situation rather than saying WHOA, this is fucked up, time to start changing things. It dovetails nicely with the Puritan farmer mentality I grew up with – but unfortunately, both of those are geared to help you ENDURE hard times rather than solve the problem. In short, it helps you put up with shit rather than fix it.

My attempts to get back on track have all failed. This is probably due to not addressing the cause of the problem. Pressuring myself to do better is just adding pressure if there is zero motivation for change. Add shame to the mix. Sometimes I would have a balanced moment and acknowledge that I wasn’t trying to change right now but that I recognized the need to take better care of myself. But most of the time, all I could do was chide myself and hate myself and concoct schemes to jump start my motivation. Unfortunately, false starts and dead ends and restarts get me down – way down. Failure might light a fire under some fannies, but not mine. It drains me of motivation and makes me hate myself more when I try and fail and try again and fail again, despite the well-known quote from Samuel Beckett, as seen in a thousand earnest tattoos.

Over the holidays it got worse – more food, more drink, more escapism. I got fatter, and that made me sad, even though I had applied myself so diligently to those activities that make me fat. After the new year, the depression didn’t get worse, but things happened that made me turn to my recently cultivated Bad Habits™ to cope. Alan Rickman died, David Bowie died. My favorite patient, the person I’ve worked with longest, died, as did another patient a few days later. These things did not help. One of my aunts is still dying, and that’s sad enough without factoring in the effects on her brother and childhood best friend, who happens to be my father. The three-year mark passed since my husband had a job. My own work stress accrued. A new boss started at my work, and the change stressed me. She seems very nice, but there are perhaps a dozen reasons why I can’t stand her. The capper: because I have Teacher’s Pet Syndrome, I need to please her and I can’t seem to, ever (only another Teacher’s Pet will understand how vexing this is.) And then there is the SCA. Stopped playing before Thanksgiving, so no breaks, no socializing, no dressing up, no letting off steam. It’s for the best, given the local crowd, but like work, it’s one more coping tool that’s not working for me, while food and beer and Netflix are.

And then there was the PMS. And the perimenopause. And the hideous problems that come from stuffing myself like a Strasbourg goose: constipation, skin breakouts, lower libido, snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors, hormone changes, headaches, poor sleep, and other effects from clogging my system with excess matter. I have been eating so much that it has overwhelmed my magical machine for processing and filtering and fueling and eliminating. Poor old wagon, overloaded, and trying so hard to keep me going.

My house is dirty. This says more than anything else. And I’m hairy: hairy pits, hairy legs, unpolished toes and fingernails. These are all signs, for those who know me. And Honey knows me better than anyone, but he accepts me wholly and without judgment. If I want hairy legs, he supports me in that. The problem is that I don’t – but I have zero motivation to shave. All I can do is lie here, hating myself, and occasionally wondering what that rustling-leaves sensation is between my calves when I walk. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I realized it was the fluffy leggings I grew myself. I have known gorgeous brunette girls with dark, straight body hair that looks sleek and strong and which lies flat against the legs. Mine is sparse and nearly invisible and sticks straight out every which way. My legs look downy, like a baby bald eagle’s. Now I can laugh, but there was great disappointment in myself when I realized that this was yet another one of the ten thousand things I was neglecting, wrecking, or half-assing.

Sunday was my iron wedding anniversary with my darling man, and this summer will mark 15 years together. All in all, this is delightful, although my pleasure was dampened severely by my feeling more and more certain that I am a worthless sack of shit as a human being. On Sunday I called home to talk to Mom — it had been longer than usual, maybe a lot longer — and after chatting a bit, I asked if she was feeling well because she sounded kind of croaky. Mom said that was a little bit of news: she was done fasting.

DONE FASTING!

Ten years ago January, my grandmother died, after a long and painful deterioration. Her birthday is coming up in a few days, and I always try to be extra supportive of Mom from Jan to March. When Grandma was dying, I had no idea what was happening. Long distance bills were still a thing and I was earning too little to call. And Mom was too busy to talk. She was working with Grandma’s husband in shifts to perform personal care during her final weeks. Round the clock feeding and cleaning and soothing and medicating, and the emotional attrition wore them both down, and out. They would have qualified for respite care if they had put her in a home, but they sacrificed their time and health and well-being to help Grandma die at home. This is everything to me, since I remember my Great-Grandma begging to die at home and her children not allowing it. I like to think they were hoping for a miracle, but she knew, and I am still horrified to think of her dying in a sterile ward instead of in the home she and her brothers built by hand just after World War I.

Mom, in the process of caring for Grandma, neglected herself; and having no time to prepare her own food, relied on nutritional supplements for all those skipped meals. Then Grandma died. Mom still couldn’t eat more than supplements, couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Mom had to put Grandma’s house in order, make all the funeral arrangements, deal with the insurance and banking and paperwork and wills and deeds and titles and taxes. Weeks passed and still no solid food. I came for the funeral and stayed a month – but I had to retreat to my aunt’s house for part of the visit. I don’t know if it was dust or stress or pet dander or constantly being choked up, but I literally could not breathe. I had never had an asthma attack or shortness of breath and it was terrifying.

Mom took this personally and wanted to fight about it all the time. She accused me of everything from giving place to demons to hating her so much that I couldn’t stand to be around her. Every word hurt like hell, but I was too busy gasping for breath to fight or defend. In retrospect I feel it might have been Mom blaming herself for Grandma dying, Mom taking her grieving anger out on me, but I know my gasping scared her and my moving out wounded her and made her feel abandoned all over again. By the time I returned to my own home in February, Mom still hadn’t resumed eating food — she would drink coffee but nothing else hot. No solid food. No broth or real food liquefied, either. The Lord told her not to; the Lord told her to fast. The Lord told her to rely on nothing other than the little jars of nutritional supplements she had been living on since Christmas.

At one point, some months later, my sister called me outside of Mom’s hearing, to talk about the fights they had about it. There were even larger fights in following years. My sister and I spoke with a different aunt about an intervention, even calling the county to do a wellness check. It never came to pass. Eventually we just accepted it.

Last week Mom asked the Lord what to do about this cold that’s been plaguing her, and asked a peer to pray for her. Her throat was so bad that she couldn’t swallow her nutritional supplements and she was getting weaker. The peer told Mom out of the blue that God told her that Mom’s fast would be done when she could no longer drink “those things”, but she didn’t know what that meant. Mom did. She started with a little chicken soup and the next day she had a poached egg on toast. She said it was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten.

Just writing this makes me weepy, and I was choked up on the phone. This didn’t last long, of course, because our joyful chatter turned into a bigger argument than we’ve had in months (catharsis?) and a period of banal conversation to normalize things afterward. I was still upset and stayed upset for many hours, taking refuge as I usually do, in eating too much, drinking too much, and planting ass firmly in cushion. I figured I felt terrible because of the argument, and the physical symptoms of my PMS. It didn’t occur to me to consider that I might be getting sick, too. But I was freezing and aching and my throat was sore, and my weeping was also mucky eyes. Not exactly typical for Hormone Hell Week.

Woke up at three a.m. drenched in sweat, but weirdly euphoric. I took a shower and tried to rally for work, but still felt another wave of miseries coming on and breaking over me. Between the continued symptoms (especially the fever) and the VERY short night, I felt justified in calling in. But despite the physical horridness, I still felt peaceful, even cheerful; as if a burden had been lifted. I felt free to make good choices because I actually wanted the better choice and wanted the better outcome for myself, rather than knowing the right answer and not wanting it but choosing right out of guilt or shame or “should”.

I felt like I wanted to take care of myself again, not because I had to (and *need* to — I have neglected myself for ages, really given up) but because I felt, deep in my bones, that I was worth caring for and doing maintenance on and even nurturing. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way. And I didn’t feel hungry! Didn’t feel the desperate urge to go fill myself with food. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way, either. For ages now, I’ve been an insatiable glutton, all binge and no purge. And it’s not that I don’t have a larder full of tasty treats. It’s just that I didn’t feel that anxious and urgent need to eat myself tranquil.

Other strange feelings: I wanted to take out my earrings. Three steel hoops in each ear, and I’ve not taken them out since having them pierced four years ago, almost to the day. I didn’t, but I keep feeling the urge. I would do it right now, but I don’t have a place to put them to keep them separate, keep them safe. (If I didn’t organize them properly, I’d never be able to put them back in due to screw direction and so forth. But once I find the wee bags, out they go.) One thing I did really want to do was cut my hair. So I took off over 12 inches of it. I weighed myself and have hit a record high that I recognize as needing to be addressed sometime, like remembering to take an old suit to the cleaners. I feel light as a feather.

The reason why Honey and I chose 3/20 as our wedding date was because it’s Nowruz, Persian New Year, as well as the first day of spring. Fresh start. I will celebrate any new year designated on the calendar and deeply feel that every day is a new opportunity to change. But this morning I didn’t wake up thinking I needed to change. I woke up feeling that I already had.

I am just doing what I feel supports the change. I don’t want that feeling to go away.