I’m Worried About Someone Who May Be Contemplating Suicide

We’re going to have a very frank talk about suicide.

Let’s start with me first.

Over the past week, since I began raising money again for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I’ve had several people (not one, not two – several) approach me to tell me they’re concerned that someone close to them is contemplating suicide. The conversation usually begins with, “I don’t want to trouble you…” or “I don’t want to trigger you…” So, let’s clear that air.

You will not trouble me, nor will you trigger me when it comes to this conversation.

I am not fragile. I have broad shoulders. What happened to Jay is absolutely tragic, absolutely preventable, and while it breaks my heart, it does not define me – it is a piece of me. Jay would not want his death to define me; he would insist I move forward. So when I post honestly and openly about his death and its effect on me, many of you grow concerned – very concerned. Many of you worry that the wounds I choose to share are indicative of an emotional outburst of sorts. They are not. I am not broken.

I am a fundraiser.

What does that mean? It means that in order to raise funds for this extremely important cause, I must pull back the carpet a bit so you can see the impact that a single suicide has on an individual. I must display my myriad scars because if I don’t, you cannot begin to understand how devastating the loss of one person can be – one who struggled with depression – one whose pain overcame their ability to cope – to hope. If I do not open up, you cannot understand why I’m so passionate about this cause, and why it’s so very important for you to support it – this cause that strives to raise awareness, to help fund education, fund research, provide much-needed services to survivors, and to lift the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues. Do not mistake my ability to share these stories with you as a sign that I am sad (sometimes I am – he was my person) or that an imminent meltdown in forthcoming. It is not.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

You can ALWAYS come to me on this issue. I will not always have the answers, but I will gladly point you to resources and to people who can.

Right now we are all working through the complications associated with this pandemic – lost wages, lost housing, a decrease in the ability to be around/get support from our community (family, friends, co-workers), etc. We’re more isolated, and we’re sitting in a perfect mental health storm. So, it’s ok to be scared, and it’s ok to reach out.

Due to the number of people who have approached me on this issue, I feel it’s important to post some information – especially for those of you who may have not wanted to come forward and talk to me (and that’s ok, too – that’s why I’m making the information easy to access).

What to Do if You are Concerned That Someone is Contemplating Suicide

Remember: Talk Saves Lives

Assume you’re the only person who is going to reach out and don’t be afraid to have the conversation. You will NOT put the idea to self-harm in their heads.

Guidance from the Mayo Clinic:

When someone says he or she is thinking about suicide, or says things that sound as if the person is considering suicide, it can be very upsetting. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice. Here’s what to do.

Start by asking questions

The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
  • Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?

Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.

Look for warning signs

You can’t always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

For immediate help

If someone has attempted suicide:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.

If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Please also consider contributing to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They are expecting a significant shortfall in fundraising this year, and this year, when so many are in pain, it’s critical that they continue to move forward with their mission Any amount helps. If you choose to give, you can give to AFSP directly by going to their website, or you can support them through my team’s fundraising efforts: The Jay Walkers

Remember

If you need to talk about this important issue do not worry that you’re going to “trouble” or “trigger” me. You won’t. I’m always here for you.

You Can Help Stop Suicide

I belong to a fairly exclusive “invitation-only” group on Facebook – one you must be vetted first in order to join. It’s a group no one seeks membership to, but once accepted everyone is so thankful to be a member. This “elite” group is for those who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide and every single day new survivors join our group. I read their introductions: “Please welcome… who lost her husband/his wife/their partner on…” Every single day – sometimes multiple times per day. I read their sadness, their pleas for help, their confusion, their “what if’s” and their “if only’s”. Honestly, some days I just “can’t,” it’s too much, it’s too hard, and then there are days where I’m the one who is lost and seeking their hard-won wisdom, their compassion, their understanding – clarity from the scarred. No one wants to be a member of this group, but we’re grateful it exists. It’s a place where we can safely show our wounds – our sadness – without being repeatedly shut-down with, “you should go see a counselor.” It’s a place we can say freely, “I desperately miss my person,” and be ok with remembering times when our loved one wasn’t reduced to just one single, horrific event.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and we need to talk frankly about suicide and how you can help.

The fact is, I wasn’t planning on starting a walk group this year. Right now, there are so many very worthy causes – so many people in pain – so many people in need of assistance. Then I read a post from one of my fellow survivors – a woman who was told by her partner’s family to stop mentioning how he died because it brought the family shame.

I was absolutely appalled, but not particularly surprised by the family’s reaction.

The stigma associated with suicide is very common, and it compounds the complicated grief felt by we survivors. The truth is, we do not get the same support from our community (friends/family) as we would have had our loved one died any other way. Our loved one’s death was an embarrassment – a reason for great shame. Their deaths should be hidden, tucked away, never to be spoken of again – as if the mere acknowledgment of how they died would encourage the visit of the ugly specter of suicide to visit their own house.

And we need to stop that.

We stop that by openly talking about suicide and by talking about mental health issues. We stop telling those suffering and in need of mental health services that they are “weak” when they express the need for counseling, or psychiatric intervention. It is not, nor has it ever been, a weakness or flaw in constitution to need mental health services, much like it isn’t a weakness or flaw if I have the flu. If I break my arm, I need a doctor. No one questions that. By that same token, if I have a chemical imbalance that affects my brain such as suffering from clinical depression, I need to see a mental health specialist. That’s where we fail in our understanding (and compassion) as a society.

That must change.

..and those changes happen when we’re willing to talk openly about suicide and mental health issues.

It changes when we recognize that mental health services are as important as physical health services. It changes when we stop stigmatizing suicide – when we stop stigmatizing mental health issues. It changes when it doesn’t occur to us to ask a person whose spouse/partner/child/parent/friend died by suicide to “please not mention it.”

So, here I am again asking you to walk with me on October 24th to raise awareness. This is a virtual walk between 9AM – 1PM – you choose the location. To join the Jay Walkers click here. If you raise $100 on behalf of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I will send you one of our fine Jay Walkers 2020 team t-shirts.

If you can’t walk (and even if you can), please consider making a donation to AFSP at our Jay Walker’s team site here.

Whatever you do, I need you to commit to talking about mental health issues, to supporting those who have been affected by suicide, and to never attempt to silence someone from talking about their loss of a loved one to suicide. (… and a very personal note, I need you to commit to never saying or suggesting the person who died by suicide was “selfish” – no, my friend, they had a mental health crisis and could not see any other escape from their tremendous pain.)

Let’s endeavor to be more compassionate and to make a difference.

I’m leaving you with some of the latest facts/figures from the CDC:

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

General*

  • In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.
  • Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States.
  • Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life.
  • Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • There are 3.54 male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
  • 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.

Depression

25 million Americans suffer from depression each year.
  • Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
The best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.

*Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Let’s make a commitment right now to have open, frank, and honest discussions about mental health issues and about suicide.

I Am an Athlete

Growing up there were many things I believed without question – negative things – things that have shaped me in ways that, to this day, drive those nearest and dearest to me absolutely insane – from my family and friends who have attempted to calmly apply logic, (Beth, you can… you are…) hoping reason would give way to those who have wanted to violently shake sense into me (only to stop short after begrudgingly coming to the conclusion that it might not be the orange jumpsuit opportunity they were looking for).

I’ve spent a lifetime riddled with self-doubt, what I would smugly describe as “self-realization,” and have rarely allowed myself to pause and celebrate my accomplishments. (Although, make no doubt that I have had some glorious “WOOHOO! Go me!” moment. I’m not a complete self-deprecating monster. Come on!)

I would try to unpack all of that, but you’d be here too long, and quite frankly, you’re not paid enough (or at all – turns out I’m cheap) to try and counsel me through it. Plus, I suppose I’m reasonably nice and don’t want to completely torment you today (although, no promises for tomorrow).

But for this post, I’m going to focus on one belief, and that is: “I’m not an athlete.”

My Mom was the athlete. She lettered in basketball, speed ball, tennis, and badminton. I grew up surrounded by her trophies decorating the shelves. My Mom bowled, swam, ice-skated, and played volleyball. A good time for my Mom would be any moment she was outside playing a sport – whether she was dribbling a ball, shooting hoops, spiking balls over a net, or endlessly batting one against the garage door. She not only loved sports, she was great at sports – like the rest of her family. In fact, all of my cousins were good at sports. That’s my family.

I came into the world a little different (like we all do). By 10, I’d had three operations on my eyes to correct issues with my vision – issues that would ultimately impact my depth perception. (Mind you, I can skillfully negotiate the world and very rarely walk into all of the walls.) But as a kid, I was thrust into team sports – family tradition – sports that required that finer hand-eye coordination (that thing I lacked) – softball, volleyball, tennis, and I proved to be simply hopeless. In fact, the one summer I “played” softball was actually spent becoming intimate friends with the dugout bench (you and me to the end, buddy). Our team came in first place that year. I’m told that was largely because the Coach had the foresight to keep me off the field. (She was an asshole.)

“You’re just not athletic.” That’s what I was told. That’s what I believed.

That became part of my identity, and that was ok. I didn’t need to be an athlete.

Fast forward to the day I met my trainer and she asked, “Beth, have you ever done sports in the past?” “Not really. I was told I’m not athletic. I’ll be challenging to work with.” Months later, “Beth, you move fine. There’s nothing wrong. I’ve trained people who don’t have athletic ability, and you don’t have those issues.” Ok.

I’m not an athlete.

I work out six days a week. I’ve worked out 5-6 days a week for 5 years.

I’m not an athlete.

I’ve rowed a half-marathon on a Concept II rower. I never stopped.

I’m not an athlete.

I deadlifted 165 lbs. last week, my personal best. I think I can do 170 lbs. Other people can do more.

I’m not an athlete.

During COVID, I started training with her husband as well. He asked, “Have you ever been an athlete in the past?” I’m not an athlete. “You pick up movements quickly.” Ok.

This self-doubt came to a head last week when I basically and quite rudely announced, “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe your other, stronger clients can’t do a physical task that I can do.” “Beth, I don’t need you to believe me. Can they do that same physical task? Yes. But it will take them multiple sessions to get to where they can do it properly three times in a row. I can hand it to you and say, ‘Do that 30 times’ and you’ll do it. The only way I can slow you down to where you can only do it three times is to increase the weight. The problem isn’t that you aren’t athletic, it’s that you have no self-confidence.”

Oh.

I talked to my trainer about that, and she agreed about my self-confidence. I then asked, “What would I have been good at if I’d discovered I was an athlete when I was younger?” She thought about it, and never said volleyball, tennis or softball (the sports I had been thrown into). Instead, she said: “Track – you probably would have been a good hurdler, distance jumper, sprinter, swimmer (which makes me miss swim lessons all the more), or even a defender in soccer.”

My DNA shows I have fast-twitch fibers, like Dad’s side of the family – muscles built for quick/powerful movements – not for stamina. I suspect Mom’s side was built for endurance. I wish we’d figured that out decades ago – that I was never going to be an athlete like her, but I definitely had athletic ability. Sure, I was never going to catch or hit balls (my eyesight wouldn’t allow it). I wasn’t going to run endlessly back and forth across a court. I was different, but I had innate ability.

I’ve spent too much time letting myself believe that “different” meant “incapable,” and that was never true. I just wasn’t an athlete like one parent.

The truth is: I am an athlete.

I say this on the 5th anniversary of training with Jenn.

I am an athlete.

And it doesn’t matter that I don’t look like one to you or perform exactly the same.

I breathe it in every single morning I wake up.

I am an athlete.

A Humble Brag, Mentoring and Some Things I Learned From the Military

When life hands you lemons, humble brag. At least that’s what I was taught. Hey, blame the Texas State Board of Education. We’re ranked #39 in the nation, y’all! (Just be happy I can write words is what I’m trying to get across here.)

Clearly, in what is about to turn out to be the world’s worst analogy, the lemons are the pandemic. You know the one currently preventing me (fine, I suppose it’s preventing you, too) from having grand adventures and sharing them. Which in turn prevents me from having material to write about. (Aside: Really, does no one want to drive to Colorado in two weeks?!?! I have two weeks off! C’mon! We’ll have a great time. We’ll stay in a lovely Air BnB in the Rockies. You’ll remain mostly unseen and unheard so I can zen out properly in the cool mountain air, and we’ll do it together yet separately! How can you resist? Seriously? No one is on board? Bring a book. You’ll be fine.) So, back to the lemon logic trail where I offer my services as your humble, yet extremely knowledgeable guide – a Willy Wonka of lemonade adventures, if you will (please don’t drink from the stream and mind the Oompa Loompas – they’re rather fussy as it’s kind of hot outside). Basically, I’m saying that I’ve been forced to humble brag. You see that logic, right? The “if p, then q” of it all. Look, I don’t like it any more than you do. Ok, I lied, I’m the one humble bragging (or about to). So, who are we kidding here? I’m about to enjoy the heck out of it. Also, I’m kind of loving this stream-of-conscious rambling I’m doing. I wasn’t sure where I was going and suddenly, I found myself here with you. Hooray!

Story Time

Let’s start with storytime where we reach back into the past – a past where I was much shorter, thinner, arguably quieter, and much more studious.

I started tutoring/mentoring in 4th grade when I was paired with my first student – a 1st grader struggling with math. By 7th grade I had Tabitha, a fellow 7th grader, who struggled with reading comprehension. (By year’s end she had gone up from a 4th-grade level to a 7th-grade reading level. Go team us!!)

I dropped mentoring for a long while until a couple of years ago when I mentored this wonderful young 3rd grader (who grew into a wonderful young 4th grader) as part of a program to help kids who had at least one parent who was incarcerated. She was absolutely delightful, and we spent a good portion of our time together elbow deep in science projects (she had mentioned to me she wanted to be a scientist). I introduced her to the scientific method-lite – “Here’s what we’re going to do – what do you think will happen?” FYI – she was almost always correct when she’d hypothesize about an outcome, and let me just say I shouldn’t have doubted her when she sent up all sorts of warning that my water balloon project was going to fail. It actually failed so badly that a custodian had to get involved (whoops).

Each week we’d almost always had a collection of other kids around us as we worked and made gloriously fun messes. For the record, I’m now an expert on slime – I can make at least three different types (who knew there were so many), and I make the best ghetto volcano out of a paper bag, water, red dye, and a little baking soda (THE go-to kitchen ingredient for almost all at-home science projects – pro tip there).

(Complete aside: I’m suddenly wondering if “ghetto” is not ok to say anymore. Huge apologies if I just blew it.)

In looking back, I’ve always been fairly successful (humble brag) with students, and I credit my soft skills – my lightheartedness, my approachability (John, what are some other adjectives to describe my awesome? Humbleness? Humility?). I can project a certain warmth, and truly I get this from my mom’s family and from my Dad – each one of us has this to some degree, and in truth, I’m not the best of the family, but I hang in there.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an intern assigned to me at work – a young frat guy, former HS president, former all-state goalie named Elijah. A wonderful young man with a big heart, a big smile, and this wonderful staccato laugh – and very much a 20-year-old “dude.” My job, as outlined, was to get him used to working in an office environment. On day one, I explained my role, and every week thereafter we got together to talk about his projects, his challenges, and go over the best parts of his week.

Fast forward to last week, which was an awful week – just terrible in so many ways, and I received a message from John (the Tank Commander – former boss – you’ve heard about him once or twice – see two paragraphs above – oh trust me, he likes being called out – gets all giddy and tingly – yes, in that way) letting me know that Elijah was about to give his final presentation to our CIO and the entire department. I hop on the call and within minutes he’s up – grinning from ear to ear while wearing a suit (awesome – he got props for that from the CIO, too – he looked sharp – and he made his bed, too 🙂 ). I watched with my own matching goofy grin as he talked about his experience over the Summer, and then he flipped to a slide devoted just to me. Elijah smiled his big smile (he’s a charming guy) and basically gushed about how I was the most amazing person at the agency – that I was the person he could count on – that he felt comfortable coming to me for anything whether it was about work or personal issues, and that the highlight of his week was our meetings. I was so proud of our collaboration. You know that moment where you punch yourself in the shoulder and count it as a win. My team lead teased me relentlessly through our IM chats. I think it was jealousy.

The week prior I had told Elijah that I was so lucky to have had him as my intern – my mentee and that I wasn’t sure I would have paired as well with anyone else. Elijah thought about that a second and said, “No, you would have – you make people feel comfortable good – you would have done that for anyone – I’m just lucky to have had you.” Awww.

And my true humble brag, though not quite so humble, is that I am actually good at mentoring. My approach, which is fairly light-hearted, works well and I’m really proud – I’m proud of me, I’m proud of Elijah, and of all the people I’ve worked with over the years. (And thankful for my own mentors, who probably helped in there somewhere, but this isn’t about them, John. Stop trying to get praise. FYI, Elijah also did gush about John, too. John and I air high-fived in chat and then bragged about it later – in case anyone had failed to hear the praise. John is very smart, by the way – Elijah said so, AND Elijah mentioned John’s colorful analogies. Knowing John got a little concerned that Elijah would share, made that moment priceless.)

I’m going to change subjects real quick, but I’ll tie it all back in.

This is a bit of a random thought, but I put it in the title and we all know that backspace doesn’t work in titles.

I work in a field with a lot of ex-military folks, and a thing I’ve had drilled in my head is that my failure is their failure. By that I mean, if someone came to our unit and said, “Beth dropped the ball.” My team lead would get in front of me and say, “This is on me, not her” and then his boss would get in front of him and say, “This is on me, not him or her.” Then they will take all those lumps while you watch because they have failed you as a leader.

There’s absolutely nothing more horrific than seeing someone take a flogging over something you did. If you’re a normal human being, and you’ve seen that happen, and it was preventable, it will make you feel sick knowing they are standing there, barely flinching with each hit, and you caused that. Also, knowing someone will take that beating engenders loyalty. I know with absolute certainty that they will go to the mats for me, and they know I will go to the mats for them (though they would never let me). And the truth is that right now, in my current job, I don’t have a management structure, I have a command structure, and I love my leaders. It’s why I followed them to a new agency.

I also happen to know my team well enough that when they suddenly begin to embody their former ranks – transitioning from boss to “CPT” or “SFC,” I sit very quietly and attentively.

I’ve known this awhile and hadn’t realized I embraced it until this week with Elijah. I had received some feedback from some other employees that we needed to discuss and after considering his response, I found myself saying, “No, this isn’t your fault – this is our fault for not training you – it’s our job, and we let you down,” and in return Elijah said those magic words, “Beth, thank you for always having my back.”

In the broadest strokes, it’s what a mentor does. We teach, we lead by example, and we always have your back; it’s our job.

Random Thoughts in July

One of the essential ingredients when writing posts based solely on personal anecdotes is that you really must have personal anecdotes in order to write. That’s not me – not now. It turns out that spending 1/3 of your year inside your home with very limited human contact means you just aren’t out generating the anecdotal content. Who knew? As I contemplate this post, I flip through my mental Rolodex of story topics, and all I find are: “Shows I’ve Marathoned” “Top Ten Naps”and “Things that Were Assembled/Destroyed” (which is arguably the best of the options, but still not that great). There’s a slightly more fun group of stories that fall under “Things I Can’t Share.” (Who knew that would ever be a thing?) Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, it turns out I can’t share those.

I genuinely feel guilty. While I don’t write a ton, I still feel I’m letting some people down. Ok, maybe it’s just that one guy, but hey, he’s important! Don’t knock “one guy” or his questionable taste! To each his own. Worry about yourself!

I withdrew from Facebook for a couple of months; it was amazing – possibly the best gift I could give myself in this particular moment in history. I could throw a lot of words at you as to “why,” but it really came down to “I needed a break.” I needed a break from my daily “liking, loving, caring, OMG-ing, sad face” chores, which were both mind-numbing and exhausting. I needed a break from everyone being so angry – a break from sitting in my entitled little echo-chamber where none of us are even pretending to entertain anyone else’s points of view. We’re just mad.

I needed a break from feeling that real change isn’t brought about by posting and re-posting and re-posting other people’s words or through catchy memes or viral videos. Real change doesn’t come from framing my profile picture with a “popular in the moment” slogan. That’s “easy.” That’s the path of least resistance. Right now “easy” isn’t enough. We need to do. But it’s really hard to “do” when “doing” puts our lives at risk. It puts our elderly, and medically fragile family member’s lives at risk, and that frustrates me beyond measure – and I just couldn’t walk that path in that echo chamber with my friends and family, beating my head against the same invisible walls over and over again while feeling helpless and a bit inept.

I needed a break from feeling like I was in some “woke-off” with my peers.

So, I quit, and then I wrote a letter to a former president imploring him for guidance, like you do when you’re feeling low, and I’m sure it’s sitting at the bottom of a mountain of other messages, but a girl can dream.

I cried, but the act of writing him was cathartic.

When I came back to Facebook several cheered. I’m liked for my “likes” – not because I was a sorely missed or even needed voice, and that’s ok. My posts offer no wisdom. They’re quite vapid and inane, and that’s ok, too; it’s all I can give to that space.

So, in a nut-shell that’s where I’m at. I’m in the same place I was a month ago, and the month before that, and the month before that.

I miss my friends. I miss my family, but maybe not enough to add another Zoom or WebEx call to my day. I’m so sorry, guys! I yearn for the day I can do something with you, not try to walk you through how to look at the camera. My eyes are up here, people!!! Plus, to be honest those calls really drive home how apart we are, and for now there’s not a lot that can be done.

As for future posts…

I missed an opportunity to post during Mental Health Awareness Month. If there’s ever been a time that people needed to be reminded about available resources, it’s now. With the anniversary of Jay’s death occurring next week, I’ll try to get one up. I’m trying to weave together a few personal observances in relation to that, but so far I haven’t quite worked out what I want to say. Actually, that’s what this post started out as, but after a ton of virtual white out and eraser streaks you got some vague, “I guess Beth doesn’t really care for Facebook” post. Sorry about that. I mean, yes I don’t care for Facebook, but that wasn’t the post I started to write. It’s the post that emerged from my writing cocoon. I was really hoping for a butterfly.

In lieu of a butterfly, I’ll end with a small taste of “Things That Were Assembled/Destroyed.” Huge thanks to these guys for helping me say goodbye to my dilapidated murder shed. Jim’s victory pose at the end is worth the 10 seconds of viewing.

The Hippo Menace and Other Thoughts

I think all of us have that friend/family member who, in a social gathering (you remember those, right? The idea hearkens back to an innocent time where people would leave their homes and come together in groups greater than six – a time when we naively referred to our friends as “friends” instead of “vectors,” anyway…) Let me start again. …the friend/family member who, in a social gathering, would suddenly launch into the most random/odd/crazy rant you’d ever heard. The kind of rant you’d laugh about in the beginning thinking this is surely a joke – they’re riffing – and then you realized, “oh dear God, they’re actually serious,” and the laugh would slowly become more nervous. You were then left with a choice – try to gently cajole them out of the crazy (good luck you naive fool!), or smile politely and claim you needed a refill… from another room… possibly outdoors… at a neighbors.

Among my friends and their acquaintances, we’ve got the guy who will get in your face over Brian Henson voicing Kermit the Frog, because it’s just wrong – they should have retired the character (or something like that). He’ll angrily get up in your face about it. Forget we’re all well past the age where we’re watching Sesame Street lately, and the last Muppet movie we saw was likely “The Muppet Movie.” Oh, Kermy. This guy takes the voice acting very seriously, and he’s pretty angry.

(For the record it turns out, after a quick Google search, that Jim Henson’s replacement for that voice was actually Steve Whitmire, who voices Kermit for 27 years after Henson and was fired by Disney around 2017. I just read too much about the incident that lead up to his dismissal. These are things I wish I didn’t know today; I actually don’t have a frog in this pond battle.)

Another friend-of-a-friend has strong feelings about Jupiter’s size. Why? Why does it have to be that big? (Again, they’re very serious.) I’ve heard that when it starts, it can be incredibly funny, but I’ve also been strongly discouraged from pursuing the conversation on my own. I get the impression the Jupiter conversation can take a dark turn. (Aside, I’d still like to hear it.)

I was thinking about this, and thinking, “wow, Beth, you really lack passion.” I mean sure, I’m passionate about our political situation. I can sound quite passionate if people are driving in a “non-Beth-approved” way and therefore causing me undue stress as I move from point A to point B (like interrupting my commanding car performance of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free”. Don’t make me stop singing to scream at you. I will!) And as I was sitting on my high-horse feeling quite above it all in the crazy, it hit me – my things. (Epiphanies tend to fly right at you when you’ve had little real human contact for two months.) So, here we go –

Hippos.

In a questionable top five list I found while Googling “things that agree with my world view” I discovered that hippos are one of the Top 5 killers of humans. (Full disclosure: the list probably excluded things like: disease, other people etc., etc. but that’s not what’s important.) What’s important is that hippos are a murderous menace! And if you eliminate many things, they’re among the top five animal murderers (behind mosquitoes, tsetse flies, snakes and crocodiles (we’re ignoring the part that included dogs)).

I blame Disney and the Animaniacs for my overreaction.

My entire life I’ve viewed hippos as these adorably chubby Kilroys who had thoughtful hippo conversations, yearned to don a tutu, and paddled around rivers to help get 3,000+ lbs of weight off of those poor knees.

Imagine my horror when I discovered they were multi-ton jerks with murderous intentions? But we don’t get weekly news updates on Hippo homicides. Let one shark nibble on one surfer, and suddenly everyone’s afraid to go into the water. The next thing you know, Roy Scheider is out on a boat hunting them down over four increasingly ridiculous movies.

You know Flavio and Marita had a secret basement where they kept their humans – trying to create perfect human suits. Where are you keeping the bodies, Flavio and Marita?!?! WHERE?!?!

Hippos kill upwards of 500 people per year. Where’s my hippo week?!?!

And really, that’s what it boils down to – I want Hippo Week on Discovery. Is that too much to ask? Hippos are way better at murder than sharks! AND they sing and dance. Fact.

Now to my second crazy rant (it’s a two-fer) we’re going to have to take a hard left since it doesn’t involve the Martha Graham’s of the African river systems.

No, this is about soap, particularly dish soap, and my lack of access to it.

Let’s start with a fact: For the last 30+ years I’ve been washing dishes by hand; I don’t use a dishwasher. I just don’t. I like to mindlessly stand in front of a sink, thinking about things, and washing my dishes. It’s calming. It’s my thing.

Enter Covid-19 and suddenly everyone has discovered dish soap to the extent that I can’t get mine, and I have a strong preference. Any old soap won’t do. I like Dawn. Any Dawn, but mostly the green Dawn. Maybe it’s the smell, who knows. It’s Dawn. It’s green. It’s good. I don’t like Joy. I don’t like Palmolive. I don’t like the off-brand at the grocery store, or Meyer’s. I like Dawn. If I can’t have the green stuff, the blue still is perfectly fine. You see, Dawn does EXACTLY what I want it to do, the way I want it to do it. It cleans dishes, and it gets grease out of the way, just like the commercials tell me it does. But apparently everyone is suddenly interested in washing dishes now??!?! Really???

No. I suspect it has to do with people having limited access to hand soap, so they’re buying dish soap in order to clean their hands. And I applaud you guys for suddenly showing an interest in hygiene, but my question is – why weren’t you doing that before? Seriously. Why?

When we were being sent home to shelter-in-place, and I went to the grocery store, I didn’t buy soap, because I had soap. The shelves were stripped clean of soap, but I didn’t mind. I had extra soap for when I ran out. In fact, I haven’t had to buy new hand soap, yet. I’ve just worked my way through my soap reserves. And I get that some of you didn’t have soap, people run out, it’s a thing, but the fact that there’s still a soap shortage is crazy to me. Again, thank you for discovering how filthy hands can be, but dang… I now kind of see you guys as contributing to the problem to begin with. Why weren’t you washing your hands before? You’re gross.

Look, I don’t care if you have to buy some lye and coconut oil, please let me have my Dawn – a product I use for actual dishes – not something I use because I recently discovered clean hands were in. Thank you social media influencers for finally doing something I wouldn’t categorize as vapid noise, and also, GRR! I want my Dawn!

(Health warning: Please do not actually buy lye unless you know how to handle it properly. It’s a very strong alkali and therefore caustic. Also, I feel I should add: Also, please do not inject or ingest bleach. Bleach is typically made with chlorine, which is also an alkali and generally doesn’t go well with one’s digestive system in that you could die. That’s all the near-science lessons I have in me today.)

So there they are – the two things I’m excitable about these days. The perils of hippo interactions and my lack of Dawn in my house, by non-dishwashers who won’t kindly just use lye (again, please don’t do that).

What ridiculous things get you excited?

Welcome to Holland

Since early January I’ve been meaning to write a post about personal journeys and my own personal journey as I face all of the anniversaries related to Jay and our life together. For me, Spring kicks off a lengthy emotional roller coaster ride that pulls off some upside down loops as it careens through Summer, and then finally ends with one final, breath-taking plunge in the Fall. Early this year I stumbled across a “poem” (only in quotes, because it just doesn’t feel a poem – even e.e. cummings would agree, I’m certain) that I felt would express my feeling quite well – a way to show, through analogy, where I am on my journey. Then Covid-19 swept across the US, and we find ourselves struggling as a nation – physically, emotionally, financially – enduring unforeseen hardships while receiving daily emails from businesses who are just letting us know “they’re there for us” “#InThisTogether,” oh and, “please buy our things because look at how sincere our mass email was.” Meanwhile, people are losing jobs, wondering how to feed themselves and their families, wondering how they’ll afford rent, afford their insurance. Maybe that email hinted at temporary rent/loan forgiveness? Maybe it had information on where to get a meal? A job lead? Many folks are in the middle of their own mental health crisis with no way to get to, much less afford, a counselor. Many are stuck in a home with their abusive relative and no friends, family or teachers to see the signs or raise the flags to intervene. And all of this is occurring while we debate whether we’re ok with saying good-bye to the most vulnerable in our population – our elderly, our neighbors/co-workers/family members with compromised immune systems, healthy people who have overactive immune systems, people with diabetes, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Is it me, or did we lose sight of the fact that we were flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming health care facilities? If we say goodbye to Mee-maw, because dang she’s old, and Cousin Ben, who is on the Humera to help with that pesky arthritis (Lord only knows they weren’t contributing anything worthwhile to this world that will be missed – always thought of them as societal burdens), are we just hoping they’ll kindly toddle their way over to a mass grave to avoid the hospitals? Will that stimulate the economy? I suppose funeral homes will see an uptick.

So you see, writing that post the way I originally planned seemed rather self-centered – it just didn’t sit well; it felt gross. And the truth is, I don’t feel sad – at least not in that way.

So, let’s start with that “poem”

Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease.

It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
© 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

We were all in the middle of our own journeys – some of us were headed to Italy – excited to live our lives, travel around, take photos, and enjoy our adventures. Others were headed to Holland, throwing out our Italian guide books, trying to accept (cope) with the fact that we’d never have those staged photos of us hamming it up, pretending to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. We were the ones hoping we’d figure out how to make the very best of a maybe not so terrible situation. Well, we travelers to Italy and Holland just had a layover. We’re stuck in some overly-congested airport that we don’t want to be in, but ultimately we’ll re-board our planes soon enough, despite all of the inconveniences. But before we re-board, please remember there are a huge number of travelers whose luggage was lost and find themselves dumped in any number of third-world countries – strangers in a strange land – forget fun travel guides, forget selfies of toes on beaches – that’s not even a consideration. These travelers don’t know how they’re going to eat, how they’re going to find shelter, or find work, and many are in immediate danger. This trip isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s a waking nightmare – a nightmare $1200 and unemployment isn’t going to fix (though, it’s not nothin’).

So with that said, please consider supporting your local organizations that have a mission to help the most vulnerable and help our front-line workers. Also, consider shopping at local shops/restaurants, many of whom are doing their best to keep their doors open and may offer curbside/delivery options.

If you’re in Central Texas, please consider volunteering (if able) or making a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank. Right now, the food insecurity rate in Travis County is 17.1% (the US average is 15.4%) according to data from the Feeding America Map. This will grow as unemployment increases.

From the CDC’s site on how to manage stress and anxiety during this crisis:

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others

As always, check in on your family, friends, and loved ones, and remember to be kind. People are working hard and are overwhelmed. If you’re out in the wild, and you’re frustrated, take a breath and remember a lot of people are putting their lives in danger so you can have access to food and other critical services. These are the people who are keeping our infrastructure running, so be a little more patient.

A Letter

For those of you who’ve followed the Big Blue Mess since the beginning (you loyal two), you know/understand/recognize that my posts are merely letters. This is how I write. This is how I speak. And you’ve been around long enough that you are very familiar with this particular origin story – the tale of blame and of how two readers blossomed to 10 over a couple of decades. I’m truly an internet sensation! A voice for the ages! (And I promise you now that when we reach a dozen readers, we’ll do something big!!) Anyway, back to this letter before I completely surrender to this dozen reader pipe dream of mine.

I’m writing today, not because I have a story, but because I don’t. I don’t have some whimsical anecdote to share. I don’t have an interesting perspective or insight on the things happening around us. I just feel like checking-in. I feel like getting back to this blog’s roots – sending you a letter.

Anyway… let’s do this thing.

Hey, <this is the part where you picture your name right here – I’m talking to you>!

How are you?

You’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot going on (unless you live under a rock with a decent WiFi connection). We’re now more aware of how connected we all are – on a global scale, and it’s scary. I personally had only heard of Wuhan in recent years. Before then, it was never on my geographic radar, and now, now I can bring up “Wuhan” and have a roomful of people nod solemnly. Just an aside, I always thought it was further north than it is, but maps… am I right? I also thought it was smaller. My reasoning was: I’ve never heard of it, it’s not Singapore or Hong Kong; therefore, it must be small. My philosophy professor and math teachers would be so proud at how I apply logic. Anyway, never heard of it? It must be small. Eleven million people – I mean, does that even rate as even a town? Perhaps, it’s more a hamlet? Do we have “hamlets” anymore? We really need to bring back the hamlet!! Who’s with me? Grab the pitchfork, Bertha, we’re going to march on the square!

We’re now connected in ways that cause fist fights over toilet paper in grocery stores (did you see that video of the women fighting in Australia?? Also, a note to the friend of mine who just bought 100 rolls for two people and claimed it was a normal amount. Less fiber. Maybe a lot more cheese? I don’t mean to judge, but I don’t mind). And we’re also connected in ways where doctors and nurses around the globe are working tirelessly, sometimes in very stressful conditions with limited resources to get us back on track.

I’m reminded of a movie that came out in the early 90’s – an arguably great movie that didn’t get a ton of attention called The Power of One. (At least my memory tells me it was great. Of course, my memory once falsely told me Ladyhawke was fantastic – oh memory, you treacherous beast, how you sucker-punched me on that one.) Anyway, the story was empowering and its message was simple – all it takes is one person to make a profound difference. And right now, we’re reminded of that constantly – how one person, thousands of miles away, can make choices that impact thousands upon thousands of lives. How a doctor’s warnings can not only be dismissed, but that he could be ordered to stop and look where we are. I can spin this out as proof that one person, making one decision can quickly branch into a thousand poor decisions, and then I can reel that all back in and say, “and this is how one person choosing to stay inside has the power to influence the course of things in a positive way. I could end the thought by reemphasizing “the power of one” and throw up the graphic on a flattened curve. I don’t think you need me to do that. It’s preachy and a bit gross, and I’m not in a particularly preachy and gross mood at the moment.

Anyway, back to you. How are you? How are you fairing in this big, scary, uncertain world?

How am I? I’m fine. Nothing to really report. I wish Jay were here. He’d actually love that we were compelled to stay in, and we’d doubtlessly be mid some TV marathon where I’d end up crying uncle and saying, “ok, I can’t watch any more TV,” which would earn me a confused look. However, Jay’s not here, but hey, I have a cat. That’s cool. Cats are very loving.

I’m actually going to rant a bit. It’s my letter. It’s my one-sided conversation, so here we go. Let me preface by saying, I’ve spent too much time on social media, and it’s taking a toll. Anyway, here’s the rant: I’m tired of every time a person complains or expresses frustration over what is happening to them personally on social media, another person feels compelled to jump in and remind them that someone has it worse than they do. They clearly need perspective!! It’s true – it’s life – someone always has it worse – much, much worse, and someone always has it better – much, much better, but it does not negate the way a person feels. If a person feels trapped or isolated in their own home or community, it’s a real feeling. They likely know that they’re lucky to have a home to feel trapped in, or that they don’t have to worry about their financial situation. Posting it in bold fonts against colorful backgrounds makes me feel that the poster needs praise for being super socially aware. I mean, do whatever makes you feel awesome – you do you – just be aware there are no actual awards for “The Most Socially Aware.” There’s no such thing as a “Most Pandemically Woke” badge in adult scouts. Unless there is, and then my bad. I had no idea. Let me know what you need to complete your badge; I’m there for you. Also, how do I join adult scouts? Is there camping and margaritas in adult scouts? Also, on this random train that is careening to the “who knows where” next stop – you can get “to go” margaritas from Taco Cabana. Who knew?? It’s a Pandemic Miracle! Sorry, back to your regularly scheduled letter.

The thing is that it’s really ok for people to yearn to be at a concert, or at a movie, or walking to get tea with co-workers in the morning. It’s ok that they miss the human connection. By the same token, it’s ok that you need public praise for being the outspoken gatekeeper over people’s reactions to long-term confinement. You go, you Sentinel of Self-Righteousness. (I’m also aware of this small hypocrisy. Eh, it’s my letter. You write your own letter.) Them having the desire to be with other people doesn’t mean that they don’t get that people have lost jobs, that the economy is extremely strained, that some businesses may not reopen, that thousands are jobless. It doesn’t mean they’re unaware that there are people who do not have access to shelter, to food, to clean water, to a safe environment/haven. It doesn’t mean that they’re unaware that people are making tremendous sacrifices every single day, nor are they unaware that people are dying by the hundreds and thousands. That’s not what they’re saying. To be blunt and a bit crass: Them having a purely self-focused moment and expressing a desire of, “I want to go to the gym” is ok and doesn’t need you to hop in to remind them essentially, “stop your whining, people are dying.” Because people die EVERY SINGLE DAY in horrible, deplorable, and arguably unnecessary/preventable ways, and the only reason you’re excited about it in this instance, you largely disconnected, self-righteous asshat, is because you’ve been told to sit in your house for a few weeks and it’s directly impacting you. Don’t try to take the moral high ground when someone says, “I miss hanging out with my friends.” They can miss them. It’s ok. When this is all over, please feel free to take that same passion and volunteer or support organizations that help the most vulnerable, the most medically fragile – take a look at what is going on globally, and use your energy to make a difference – to fight intolerance, injustice, and make the world a better place. The power of one. Start a movement. Go crazy. Ease up on people saying they miss things or they feel stir-crazy.

I’m tired of infographics that prove the point that I need to be inside. When that graphic starts trending down, I’ll be delighted to look at them again. But after weeks of this – as we’ve moved from denial, to anger, to acceptance – combined with strongly worded messages of “see, stay inside” it genuinely makes me want to fire back with a, “YOU stay inside,” which is ridiculous and childish, but I’ve been locked up for a couple of weeks with very little human interaction, sooo…. Also, social media sites are largely echo chambers – people who think in similar ways to you – so yeah, they’ve seen/shared those graphs, they know to stay inside. Seeing multiple posts each day demanding that everyone “stay inside, people have it worse, look at this graphic showing people are dying and it’s quickly spreading to a community near you” doesn’t help. I get it. They get it. Turns out we have a basic education and access to news outlets.

All of that to say. I desperately need to disconnect from social media since it’s spinning me up like this. Although, it does still surprise and delight me, too. From people singing from their windows in Italy, to impromptu concerts from a balcony in Barcelona, and finally to a father and daughter team lip-syncing and dancing. Plus, you guys, there’s this amazing epic battle unfolding on my neighborhood’s Facebook group; it been pretty great for a while. How can I miss out on moments like those?

I recently saw a post where there was a challenge to do something creative. A brilliant idea! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get traction on my ideas, so well… I can blog? This made me wish there was someone in the house to do things with or not do things with – that there were choices. However, this does not make me wish for a phone call. I’m telling you, telemarketing really made me despise being on the phone for any reason, which is amazing, since in my day (high school), I was known for talking on the phone for eight hours straight. My Dad would bring me lunch and set it down on the floor next to me while I chattered away. Although, phone hate aside. I did have a great 2-3 hour conversation with a friend the other day which really cheered me up because it was such a normal conversation.

Y’know, this may be a terrible time to have a blog that solely relies on anecdotes. Story-wise, right now, I’m limited to:

  • Evil neighbor had on a face mask while watering the yard. Covid-19 is in the yard!! Ok, she may also have allergies, but in 13 years I’ve never seen her in a face mask in the yard, and allergens in our area have not seen a dramatic increase in the last month.
  • The other day, my cat softly pressed his forehead against mine after I ended a two-hour, unproductive help desk call and had typed “I have a gigantic headache” into the office IM. It was very sweet to have a floofy kitty head pressed against a less floofy human head.
  • A friend loaned me their rowing machine and asked if I knew how to use it, then insisted I demonstrate. I admit I was gobsmacked? bemused? I really thought I’d gone for a long stretch where I said,”rowing is my thing” every other sentence. Typical conversations: “Hey Beth, how was your weekend?” “I LIKE ROWING!!!!” “ohhh kayyyy… did you see any movies? Meet up with any friends?” “I LIKE ROWING A LOT!!!” “…” Apparently me responding to their request with, “I actually use this model at the gym. I have rowed a half marathon; it took nearly two hours. I can row for two hours” was not sufficiently convincing that I actually knew how to row. Thankfully, when compelled to demonstrate, I got my time down to 1:57/500m in three strokes. Thankfully part two, I got to stop there; I would have cratered quickly from there had they insisted on more proof. Although, I do have faith that my ego would have pushed me harder than usual.

I guess to wrap it all up, if there is a way to wrap it all up. Right now, I want to read, write, watch a good movie, paint, put together a puzzle, plan a party (June 6th, y’all). I want to go to the grocery store and shop full shelves at 6:30 am with the 10 other shoppers like we do on a weekend. I want to think of people as “people” and not “vectors.” I want a hug – a good hug. And I also want to disconnect from the news, turn off all the lights, sit in the darkness, play music and pull a blanket over my head. Although right now, at this very moment, I would kill to swim. And much less social media, as it’s currently, clearly irking me.

Also, I know this was a bit of a ranty post – blame the isolation, but I do want to take a moment and thank all of the essential workers, the men and women who are out there every single day putting themselves at risk to ensure people get the care they need (mentally and physically), who ensure we have access to our critical infrastructure needs. Thank you to our food workers, our delivery people, the grocery store staff, the gas station attendants, our truck drivers who deliver goods across the nation, to the city workers who make sure we have lights, water, gas, and electricity. You make a difference every single day – you are the unsung heroes who make it so that sometimes all we have to worry about is whether we have enough toilet paper.

Hope you’re doing well. Stay safe. Be kind.

Dating in Your 50’s

I’ve been at a complete loss when it comes to ideas for posts recently, and I finally reached out to a good friend. “What should I write about?” She immediately came back with, “dating in your 50’s.” While I have a ton to say on the matter in personal emails or over a margarita, I’ve been mulling over how to throw my ideas out for general consumption and make them somewhat amusing (or at the very least amuse myself and her, which is really the goal at this point). I’m still drawing a huge blank, so I’m just going to hop in.

Dating Sucks When You’re 50

Ok, that’s a gross generalization; however, now you’re 50, you’re back on the market and well, dating can actually suck. And it makes you yearn for a more innocent time – when things were simpler or seemingly rosier. A time when you were a little girl filled with so much hope about your future. You had innocent dreams of what life would be as a grown-up. It was a world where she had a perfect family, perfect kids, perfect pets who never shed and self-walked. She had a fabulous job. She traveled the world. She lived in a Victorian mansion, a brownstone or a super sleek downtown loft. (Mine had a two to three story library with a rolling ladder and also a domed solarium.) She knew without any doubt that you would have it together – you would light the world on fire. She never imagined the grey hair (ON YOUR CHIN), boobs having succumbed to gravity, flappy mee-maw arms and those unforgiving wide hips. She couldn’t picture a world where she’d find herself casually scrolling through a dating app (ok, mostly because the internet wasn’t really a thing and had anyone mentioned “Arpanet,” she’d feel confident they were referring to a firm hold hairspray) trying to find a special someone like you pick out groceries and that her criteria (aka new low bar) would ever be “doesn’t make her throw-up in her mouth.” (Easier said than done.)

Now if you actually were the rare soul who did imagine this bleaker future you, you were a very strange and sad kid. I’m just going to call it right now. I’m full-on judging you. Oh, but props for imagining the internet. I hope you used your vision to your advantage.

You realize past you would go slack-jawed if she were brought forward to meet present you.

To make matters worse, the prospect of dating in your 50’s heralds the return of every insecurity you thought you’d outgrown before life took a gigantic dump on your lawn. You’re supposed to be settled by now. WTF? You begin doubting your appeal. Am I likable? funny? intelligent? interesting? appealing? Did I dress ok? Do I have to dress differently? Should I avoid certain topics? What if I say something ridiculous? Dribble? It crosses your mind that you’re too old to be revisiting this craziness. But that insidious self-doubt monster, who appeared mid-puberty, gently taps you on the shoulder and with a smirk says, “Hey girl! Just letting you know I’m still here keeping your ego in check. Oh yeah, in case I forget to remind you daily, you’re still an idiot. Now go on, talk to that nice man. You got this! In that outfit, how could you not succeed? <snort>”

To compound the issue and remind you how NOT in your 20’s you are: in your 50’s, everyone you know is married and all of their friends are married, so the likelihood that they’ll actually introduce you to someone suitable for dating is slim at best. Every group you join? It’s filled with married people leading married lives. Every event you attend, it’s filled with more couples. Every man that you find appealing is also married. Of course, you then reach a point where you see everyone being married as a good thing, because you understand that man is actually someone else’s problem. For example, let’s talk about my ongoing crush on the office drunk. He’s pretty as heck, love his voice, and as I mentioned, he’s also an alcoholic (not in a funny way). This is ok, because like I said, this is not a Beth problem – it’s a “his family” problem and I can admire from afar without feeling the need to rescue this person.

That brings me to the reality of actually dating someone.

Jay and I were together for about 17 years. During that time, we learned how to live together. We learned how to cohabitate peacefully. The mere idea of having someone in my house makes me twitch. I came to this realization after Jay passed away and a friend suggested I rent out one of my bedrooms. My response was, “can I put a clause in the contract that states the tenant must stay in their room whenever I’m in the house? That they can’t be in the living room? Can’t use my refrigerator? Can’t make noise?” I wasn’t kidding. As I’ve gotten older, and further away from my college and post-college years where I had many roommates, I recognize I’m kind of set in my ways. I’m persnickety.

That hints at something very important – that by 50 we have a steamer trunk filled with personal baggage. We’re no longer that carefree 20-something whose baggage looks like an adorable overnight bag filled with cuteness and maybe a smidge of some high school drama. No, by 50 you actually need a bellhop with a luggage cart because if you’re single in your 50’s there’s a story, and there’s baggage. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but life has likely had its way with you.

Then why date?

For me, I hold onto hope, because there’s so much that I miss by not being in a relationship. I miss hearing someone say I look beautiful – whether I’m going out or tying my hair up in a loose ponytail. I miss having a person who stays with me until I fall asleep, which Jay did for 17 years. I miss having someone who genuinely cares where I am each day. I miss being around someone who genuinely likes me and thinks I’m funny and interesting – a person whom I think is funny and interesting right back. I miss hugs – real hugs – the kind that draw you in close and fully envelop you. I miss shared experiences – being there for our best and worst days and pushing each other to be our best. I miss being loved.

And if I’m completely honest, I also fear dying alone – tucked away in a nursing home that wreaks of urine where no one really knows or cares that I’m there – that I exist.

So, off I go to those dating apps where I swipe left more often than not. In truth, one site tells me “you have 9 unread messages, and if you give us money again, we’ll let you read them.” I think about this – about paying – about reading these messages and believing it holds a message from “the one,” and then I find something else to do. Maybe one day I’ll go look at them. One day I’ll decide that dating isn’t a dumpster fire.

And I suppose that little girl, well she’s still there dancing, singing, spinning, and impossibly hopeful.

Mosaic

This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.

In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.

Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)

Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:

Custom Crossed Paths Initials Bracelet

When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.

I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!

Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )

Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.

With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m not the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.

Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.

And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.

And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.

Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.

After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.

I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.

I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):

It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.

This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers

I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.