Mental Health Awareness Month

Last Thursday I was sitting in an elementary school cafeteria waiting on the little girl I mentor. I was armed with pizza, spicy Funyuns (both by special request since it was our last day together), and a folder containing a collage of the various projects we worked on over the year, a photo magnet of her with the Googly Eyes eyeglasses propped back on her head, and a note reminding her that she is an amazingly smart, talented, and funny person who is unforgettable (one of her worries). My heart rate was spiking, there was a pressure in my chest, and I recognized that I was having a small anxiety attack. I closed my eyes and took deep focused breaths. “You’re ok, just breathe. Focus on your breath.” My heart rate didn’t come down.

When I got back to work, I still felt the pressure pushing down on my chest. All of the small things were suddenly too much. My colleague with asperger’s dropping by to over-explain something, which normally doesn’t bother me, made me want to pace back and forth. Then everything came to a head when another colleague, whom I adore, requested help with something quite simple. I’m not sure what played across my face in that moment, but they stopped speaking, stared at me a moment, and said, “you know what? I’ve got this.” Which was a good thing, because where I normally feel like a super hero who can do darn near anything, I suddenly just couldn’t. Their request was overwhelming and impossible. In fact, their request was freaking me out. I started sobbing at my desk trying to logically work through what was happening. I repeated, “you’re ok, you’re ok, you’re ok” – the mantra I’ve used since Jay’s death to help me re-focus, and then I quietly whimpered out loud, “I’m not ok.”

For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t cry easily. I get mad easily at perceived injustices (don’t take on one of my people; I’m always on their side). I fume easily. Heck, if you need someone to rant along with you, I’m your girl. I also have a long fuse. Hrmm… I guess I did just say I got mad easily. Well, life is full of contradictions and so is this paragraph. Your main take away from this is that I’ve never been much of a “cry-er.” At least that was true until Jay died, and my anxiety attacks began.

Once I calmed down, I dug around my brain looking for the root cause, then I realized that in addition to it being the last day I would ever spend with the girl I mentor, and she had quietly announced over pizza that her 29 year-old aunt had passed away over the weekend; she didn’t understand why (the news took me completely aback). I had her talk about how she felt and then had her tell me stories about her aunt. I also realized it was exactly two months until the 3rd anniversary of Jay’s death. The brain is such an amazing and complex thing, working ever so tirelessly behind the scenes (thanks, brain – you’re a champ). And still, even with a basic understanding of the psychology and physiology behind my anxiety attack, I felt like I was being weak. I felt pitiful and pathetic. I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough to keep it together. “Oh no! It’s two months until an anniversary. Oh dear! You’re not going to see your mentee anymore. First world problems, Beth. Boo hoo. No one has ever experienced that before. No one has ever lost a spouse before. It’s not like you saw it. Stop being a baby over nothing and get it together. What is wrong with you?”

I told one person about my attack, because I didn’t want to burden anyone else over a trivial meltdown, and even then, I assumed the person I told thought I was being overly dramatic – that clearly I was sharing the news because I needed attention. It’s highly unlikely that that’s what they thought, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was using them to personify how I felt about myself.

Well, today I decided to share that small story about my anxiety attack for a few reasons:

  • There is a stigma associated with mental health issues, and I am part of the problem. Where I can talk to you logically about depression, bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia on the one hand, and how the person is not at fault for suffering – how they are at the mercy of the chemicals in their brains, I absolutely will not forgive myself for crying at my desk – for not powering through – for embarrassing myself by not being stronger. It’s just an anxiety attack, get it together. In fact, typing it now doesn’t change how I feel about myself, and that’s a problem. Every time I tell someone about Jay and I cry, I also get on myself. You see, I’m also part of the problem. If you think the way I do, you’re part of the problem, too.
  • May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and we all need to be aware.

Below are some statistics from the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), and from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) that are important for you to know:

Key Mental Health Statistics Include:

  • 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition.
  • 1 in 25 (11.2 million) adults in the U.S. lives with a serious mental illness.
  • 46.6 million adults in the U.S. face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness.
  • Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24, but early intervention programs can help.

Suicide Statistics:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide.
  • In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts.
  • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 14.0 per 100,000 individuals.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular.
  • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2017.
  • In 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.

Mental health is such an important issue, and affects so many that you owe it to yourself, your friends, and loved ones who may be struggling to educate yourself and gain a better understanding of mental health issues. You owe it to yourself, your friends, and loved ones to help remove the stigma that often prevents people from seeking the help they need. Understand that mental health is not a weakness, nor is asking for help when someone is suffering. Once we as a society embrace that idea, then we can begin to work towards making real changes – changes that get people the critical help they need – help that is affordable, and available to all.

Below are resources from the NAMI website for you to use if you find yourself in an emergency or crisis situation:

In An Emergency

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger calling 911 and talking with police may be necessary. It is important to notify the operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for an officer trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

In A Crisis

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects you with a crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. Your call will be answered by a trained crisis worker who will listen empathetically and without judgment. The crisis worker will work to ensure that you feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)

Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.

National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)

Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

Please consider making a donation to one of those organizations – to help fund research, and help promote education for mental health issues.

In November, I will be participating again in the Out of Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. If you’d like to support AFSP and their mission during Mental Health Awareness Month, please consider making a small donation of $10 to our team the “Jay” Walkers. You can do that by clicking HERE. Be sure to visit the AFSP site to gain a better understanding of how your donation will be applied. As always, thank you.

That Thing I Did in April

With April having just wrapped up, I feel I need to provide some sort of report on the “new” thing I did last month. The inspiration for this particular update has nothing to do with 1) not having any other topics/ideas in mind, nor 2) that any topics I might have had in mind actually sounding a bit preachy/screechy and would really have only applied to about three people. Nosirreee. (Blargh, ok fine, here we go. Nut-shelling it so I can finally get it out of my system: LEARN TO READ, three people, LEARN TO READ. Is it so hard? I wasn’t talking to you before, but you got my attention so I am now. GRR! Whew! That was cathartic! Good thing I wasn’t talking about anything. Moving along.)

Swimming: The New Thing I Did in April

I absolutely love it. I’m not really sure what to add here except for possibly a “really” or a “very.” So, I really very love it! Which isn’t to say I’m good at it; I’m not, but I’m learning and my teacher is infinitely patient and cheerful (what I like in a instructor). My big takeaways:

  • Fins are fun and make you feel speedy!
  • Some people may not be the absolute best at sticking to a straight line (not your point A to point B types). They cover the whole pool as if they’re conducting a detailed grid search as they make their way toward the other end; however, all is forgiven because they’re super sweet and you should do your part by just hugging/scraping the sidewall to clear their path. (Hey, it’s really either make way or get hit, and we all know there’s nothing that Mercurochrome or a splint cobbled together from pool noodles can’t fix.  Wait, Mercurochrome isn’t an option anymore? Ok, just hop out of the pool until they’re through. They have to take a break sometime, right?)
  • Tankinis will roll up to your armpits, especially when everyone is underwater and staring right at you. Hi! This is my belly, y’all!
  • Goggles – all these years I denied myself. Why? Chlorine eye burn, I don’t miss you.
  • I’m stronger than I thought, stronger than I look, and more athletic than I appear.
  • Swim dreams – I have them, and they’re the best!
  • Swim days – I count down the days until it’s Saturday again because I get to swim more. In fact, I’d really like a few more hours in the day just to have the time to work on swimming. (FYI, I genuinely get that excited about row days, too. I love you, rowing! I haven’t abandoned you. I’m just cheating on you a bit.)

Truthfully, I really only want to row, swim, and do strength training. Oh, and write ridiculous blog entries, of course – that’s SOOOO my number one, and THEN like all the other stuff is number two or maybe four or five on the list. I’m here for you!

Y’know, I’m not sure when I became “that” person – the person who feels happier/more themselves exercising.  Ok, I’m lying, it was totally August 18, 2015. I’m not even kidding. Well, at least that’s when the whole thing started. Although, I can say with some certainty that, at the end of that day, I wanted to curl up in a tight little ball and die. Then the next day happened, the 19th, quickly followed by several days after that, where I could barely stand without wanting to cry; all of my muscles hurt so badly. I even remember declaring to Jay (or to anyone who could hear my pitiful voice) from the bathroom. “I can’t stand up. I think I’m going to just flip onto the ground and lay here for a few days. Don’t worry about me. Bring food and stuff.” Jay laughed, but I was actually serious about this floor-living plan. It seemed like the best option.

Anyway, it probably wasn’t that first week or even the weeks that immediately followed where I began to truly enjoy the gym, but sometime between then and now it did happen: I like moving. There are days I’ll tell myself I’m not feeling “it” and actually have a solid plan to skip the gym, then the next morning I find myself in my gym clothes, grabbing my bag and heading towards the door.

Now, if I could apply that same will power to eating, and stop treating my body like a garbage can, that would be great. I’m not there yet, though. Hey, we’re all works in progress, right?

Back to Swimming

Last Saturday my teacher pulled me aside to tell me that she planned to move me up to the Advanced Beginners class in the next couple of weeks. Ok, I recognize this sounds a bit like an oxymoron, “advanced beginner,”  but you know what else it sounds like? Progress! And progress allows me to move from the kiddie pool to the big kid pool with the other adults (and really anyone over the age of like eight, who also actually know how to swim). There may even be dips into the deeper water. (Right now the pool I’m in is only 3 ½ feet deep, which is fine by me since it allows me to take my very important panting and wheezing breaks wherever I choose. Three strokes, turn head, take a breath, take additional strokes, drop feet, stand up, wheeze/pant, push off, two strokes, and touch the wall. Great job! You go, girl! Make note of where cheerful pool grid gal is, mentally plot her trajectory, and begin again! You got this! I’m pretty sure this is what Olympic swimmers do, too. I’m such a pro!)

That’s my swim update. Now I need to decide what new/interesting thing I’ll try in May.  

Recap: (Mostly, because I personally keep forgetting. Sure, there are only three things I have to remember, but hey, do I judge you? Ok fine, bad question. Can we just move to the part where you bless my little addled heart?)

February – Painting with a Twist – painted the Eiffel Tower, and discovered I am quite gifted. Unfortunately, my gifts do not include painting.

March – Live-streamed my Beginning Yoga attempt with my good friend Anna, went to Ao5 Gallery with my favorite people where we got to see the Dr. Seuss exhibit (you really should check out his art beyond his children’s books)

April – Began Beginning Adult swim lessons

I’ll be sure to report back next month with what I got into in May. I will also try not to rant again (no guarantees) – not even at those three people who really really deserve it.

A Book

There are days when I wake up and think, “My, it’s been a while since I’ve horrified my editor.” Why I choose to begin those thoughts with “my” escapes me, but doesn’t it sound more genteel? Like a way of whimsically inviting agreement? And I think we can all agree that I need to step-it-up a bit. Well, I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it since not all of you are 100% up on my hobbies, of which horrifying David is actually one.

Typically, I prefer to do this with my words; however, in my defense, I’m merely allowing him to show off his editorial prowess. I create the words in my particular voice, I throw them out to the world, in some curiously random order, adding and omitting while simultaneously thumbing my nose at any sort of adherence to grammatical convention. and I do it all without giving him the courtesy of letting him know in advance what I’m about to do. I mean honestly, where would the fun be? To think he might be quietly enjoying his Sunday, thinking about how to approach his lessons at the start of the new week, sipping coffee, maybe taking a moment to pause and smile as a pleasant memory of his granddaughter dances through his head. Pish posh. I can’t have that now, not when I can mangle English! In my defense, I’m American. We’re notorious for our language skills. (And well, a ton of other things. Did this conversation just become super awkward?) Feel free to elevate the man to sainthood for 1) putting up with this nonsense for free, and 2) for not erasing all of my words and replacing them with a “This Space for Rent” notification. Although David, if you entertained such an idea, I would expect you to at least still leave up the nomination for “sainthood” comment.

As I Was Saying

On a normal day, when I’ve decided to write a normal (for me) post. I recognize I set-off a little international fire drill. I write words. I edit, edit some more, hit the “Publish” button, the post appears in your emails, and then I edit about five more times, catching about 75% of the more grievous errors. Most of you who are fairly familiar with my writing, and my abuse of English, were probably unaware until now that I even make an attempt to edit at all. Just know that I’m reproaching you for those terribly mean thoughts and that every post is actually much worse than what you actually read.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Japan, an English professor wakes up (let’s call him David because well… his name is David), slaps his forehead, and goes about addressing the remaining errors. On one or maybe two occasions he’s reported back that I actually posted something that didn’t need a cleanup. On those days (ok fine, on “that” day), I pump a mighty fist into the air and declare, “nailed it!” to no one in particular. (Ahh… that was truly a great day. Though Quincy thought the outburst was rather unnecessary, then quickly relaxed into a nap knowing it was a one-off.)

The Hubris

Well, David, (and the rest of you who go by other names – Although have you thought about switching to “David”? That would really make things much simpler for me. Think about it, will you?) I’ve decided to write a book. I KNOW! The sheer hubris of it all. Who am I to begin to think I could do such a thing? Well, before you chuff and eye-roll your bemused self into a complete state of utter contempt, I do have some genuine caveats. Hear me out.

The Caveats

Well, you know if it’s me and one of my endeavors there’s always a huge caveat or a bunch of tiny caveats that if you stack them all up make kind of a caveat mountain with a little self-sustaining caveat village, and they go a little like this… When I say “a book” I’m not quite deluded enough to think it’s going to be offered up at your local Barnes & Noble, that there will be a reading and a book signing. Don’t expect to wander off to Audible, search my name, and spend a credit to enjoy me chirping away in your ear on your way to work. Although, if you’re into Texas drawls, I’m sure that would be delightful. Hey, I promise that should I ever narrate an audiobook, I will instruct “all y’all” on important things like how to correctly pronounce all words that contain the word “oil” (which incidentally is a monosyllabic word). Unfortunately, this book won’t offer up anything important like that.

The “book” (truly an air-quote affair), will be self-published, and will simply be something to amuse myself as part of the “trying new things in 2019” adventure that I’m on. My expectations in regard to this are really for myself only. I expect to write it or to make a solid attempt. I do not expect you to read it even if you find it as your only Christmas present this year. If I do that to you, I do expect you to “say” you’ve read it, and offer up something like, “The part where, you know, you said the thing? FUNNY stuff!” (See, I’ve written your review. Please refer back to this post should you receive my “book” as a gift. You’re welcome.) I do not expect David to edit it. (WHEW! Dodged a bullet there!) I really do enough to that poor man as it is. I also don’t expect it to be long, because honestly how much do I have to say authoritatively on any subject? (FYI, that’s a rhetorical question. I don’t need feedback in the comments below on that one.)

Without diving into a lot of detail, because right now it’s merely a four-page outline, I can tell you what to expect from it. You can expect it to be written in this tone – self-deprecating humor, a ton of parenthetical asides, and my usual sass. You can expect a bit of an autobiography featuring key figures in my life from my grandparents, whom you’ve barely met in my stories, to Jay. What that should tell you then is that you can expect stories of joy, love, and profound sadness along with a solid smattering of, “What the…?” It will be about my truths; however, always keep in mind the allegory of Plato’s cave when it comes to anything I write (I’ll let you discover that if you’re unfamiliar). The truth is how I see it.

David, I hope I haven’t horrified you (or the rest of you) with my plan. Especially since you’re off the editing hook! (My, have I mentioned my thoughtfulness, nay generosity, of late?)

Oh, and I’ll still be taking those swimming lessons.

Did I Say Rowing?

I was ready to row. I had set my April goal – sign up for classes, get on Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake? the Colorado river? that watery spot south of the Capitol?), and row my little heart out. I had looked at the class times – twice a week, two hours each class, and for three weeks. In my mind, I had already joined my new crew where we bonded over our individual learning hurdles, and then in that last hour we finally got “it,” and really came together as a team. We would probably meet-up afterwards to celebrate – likely somewhere mid-town, where we’d a little too loud over a breakfast taco or two. Beer might be involved. We’d exchange numbers. Then we’d plan to meet-up the following week. We’d joke about competitions – old ladies like us, and then Amanda (my imaginary mascot of our gang) would start to make us actually believe we could. We’d find each other on Facebook, and start sharing our lives.

I love this imaginary gang of people – so supportive. Amanda is really the best.

On the rowing website it said, “watch the safety video before signing-up,” and like any good lazy soul, I immediately saw the 45 minute run time and scoffed. I mean 45 minutes of safety? Couldn’t they just nutshell that into: “Don’t hit each other with oars,” “Watch where you step,” “Try not to drown”?? I’ve blown that video off for weeks, but the day I was about to sign up, I finally forced myself to comply.

Ten minutes in, and something became clear, I was a hazard to my future crew besties, and myself because I can’t swim.

Let me clarify that a bit. I can air-quote “swim.” I can get from point A to point B if we’re talking the standard width of a kiddie pool. I can swim underwater, dog paddle, and even float on my back a bit for short distances. What I cannot do is be dropped into the middle of the ocean, or let’s say a lake (be it Town, Lady Bird or otherwise), and expect to survive more than seven minutes. Add to that the stress surrounding how I’d likely end up in said water: the boat tipped, me upside down, my feet locked in place, have to release my feet, get out from under the boat, tread, right the craft, then hopefully pull myself into it while remaining relatively calm. In other words, I can’t swim.

The video promised a swim test, and that I would likely need to tread water for about 15 minutes. Treading water is something I’ve never mastered. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the only kid at my elementary school who never passed the Red Cross Level 1 class. I’ve also nearly drowned three times. When I say that, I mean it literally. I had to be fished out of the water once by an adult who happened to see me go under, a friend grabbed me as I was being swept away by a current, and well, there was the other time where I’d slipped out of a float, couldn’t get my face above the water to get air, did a 3-2-1 countdown (universal sign of drowning, or so I thought) as I’d seen on Bugs Bunny, thankfully found the pool ladder, and then sat on the edge of the pool coughing water out of my lungs. Granted all of this happened before I even turned 10, and truthfully most it happened before I had turned 6, but where some would see this as a rallying cry of, “I need to learn to swim!” I saw it more as a, “I should always avoid deep water! Maybe I’m a hot-tub girl!”

Anyway, those two thoughts were clearly at odds. I want to row! I can’t swim. Something had to give.

So, today I went to my first beginning adult swim class. It was FANTASTIC! (And a bit exhausting – and Jenn, I janked my shoulder a bit, but I’m watching foam-rolling videos right now, so go me?? It’s like actual rolling, but with my eyes. Like you’re probably doing now.)

The teacher was absolutely wonderful and exceptionally patient. Mid-class she stopped another coach and introduced us, “Beth, this is Sam. At some point, I’ll be sending you with her to work on what to do if you ever find yourself in the middle of a lake. You’ll learn to tread as well as other survival techniques.” I’d clearly made my “I’ll die in open water” and “I’m currently a danger to myself and others” points quite well. Go me!

So, my new thing in April? Swimming, and I’m pretty excited about it. Good thing since it’s probably my May, June, July, and every month thereafter thing. BUT, glass half-full, the weather might be cool again by the time I actually get to start rowing, and maybe my future crew will have some fun stories from their summer to share. I just hope they don’t mind me holding the team back like this. Save a taco and a story for me, ladies. I’m doing my part to keep us safe.

Oh, a Blog… and Other Stories

Another online date out of the way, and more time spent with people who haven’t seen me in awhile brings me to my least favorite line of questions: “So, Beth… tell me about yourself. What do you do?” If there is one question that is like hitting the clear button on my brain, that’s it. You ask it, and not only have I forgotten what I recently had for lunch, I’m not entirely certain where I actually live. It’s a house, I think? Likely in Texas? We’re in Texas, right? (Hrmm… seems I didn’t travel far or, y’know, Texas far.) I have a cat! (Wait, I do have a cat, right? Maybe a dog? Maybe not… Tricksy questions.) Err… how about you? (Whew. Solid ground again. They probably didn’t notice the floundering.)

I’m about 97% certain I bored the recent date so much with my lack of ability to point to anything I did that he basically faked a reason to escape. (This worked out quite well, because I “really” had to go to powder my nose, and he’d told the staff it was ok to go ahead and lock up. We’d be good sitting on the patio drinking tea with no access to facilities. Also, what kind of mad coffee house closes at 5pm???? That’s not a thing!)

Ok, the fact that I may have been bent on boring him on purpose
after he popped his index finger into his nose for the THIRD time is not important to the story. I just wanted to share that bit, because OMG a grown man, a pastor, put his finger in his nose multiple times. Just kept it there, too. Like you do when you’re meeting someone for the first time.

Anyway… I digress from the point, which is discussing the question I hate. “What do you do?” Here’s how that conversation typically goes, with very little variation:

Person: What do you do for fun? (Keep up, I can’t believe I had to type that again.)

Me: I write.

Person (eyes light up as their thought bubble excitedly explodes with, “Ooo! A novelist! Definitely a novelist – probably in a writing group… literary… smart… look at the glasses, the brown hair, she sits tall… all signs of great intelligence): What do you write?

Me: I have a blog.

Person (barely contained disappointment – not a real writer) …what kind of blog?

Me: Mostly anecdotes about my life. (Seeing the disappointment, I offer…) It’s sometimes funny???

Person: Well… isn’t that something. Oh hey, I think I just saw Alice and Mario walk in. Let me just go say hi. (They flee never to be heard from again.)

Honestly, I would get a much better reaction if I said matter-of-factly, “I lick paint,’ or if I started to peel and eat crayons in front of the person.

Y’know, it reminds me of a schoolmate’s husband. “What does Tim do?” “Oh, he’s a magician… at a strip club.” I mean, who doesn’t go to those places just for the magic show and the cheap steak?

As I type these words, I realize that analogy is spot on – to call what I do “writing” is a bit like saying I’m a magician at a strip club. Or I guess it’s more truly akin to claiming I paint, and producing a Paint by Numbers kit. “It’s Christina’s World! They give you like three different kinds of beige. Isn’t it awesome? I plan on framing it when I’m finished.”

Or, you know, like going to a “Painting with a Twist” class and showing off my lopsided Eiffel Tower, and calling it art.

I really should take up drinking one day.

Anyway… all of that to say I’ve been asked about my hobbies a lot lately (the online date guy, Dad’s birthday), and each time, I drew a gigantic blank, no memory of anything I did in the past or do currently, then blurted out, “I write a blog!!” with a goofy smile because I’d remembered something. It was like I’d just announced, “I LIKE PONIES!!!” (In all fairness, who doesn’t like ponies?? I mean in theory, actual ponies are kind of assholes.)

Dad’s friends exchanged sad looks as they realized that the poor man only has the one child. “Bless her little heart. She tries. At least she’s able to feed herself on her own. Or… maybe not. I can’t even look right now.”

This reminds me that I’m still trying new things this year (that I’ll forget to mention when asked what I do).

This is the “and other stories” promised in the title. As you know, I tried painting (February). In March, Anna and I live-streamed our attempt at yoga, and I discovered a new gallery Ao5 (Art on 5th) c/o my nephew, which was fantastic. In April my plan is to sign-up for beginning rowing. And as always, I’ll write about it, or write about it (in italics, since this isn’t real writing from what I gather based on everyone’s reaction).

Oh, and by the way, this is about the same reaction I receive when I announce I “go to the gym,” but that’s another post for another day.

P.S. Ryan

P.S.

Ryan,

I feel like I tricked you into following my blog by stating I was occasionally funny. I swear, I try not to do the above (or I guess it’s technically below on your screen) on a regular basis; however, your uncle and I were talking about communication etiquette yesterday (blame him), and we felt I had to go there. Don’t give up on me yet. I swear, one day, I’ll post something that might get a smile out of you. Also, it was great meeting you; you are just as cool as your uncle has bragged. I’m so glad to finally see you in person after hearing so much good about you over the years.

P.S.S.

To the rest of you,

The same message to you guys as well, and also – you should really meet Ern’s nephew Ryan; he’s really awesome. (Would you tell him I’m sometimes funny?)

Pick Up the Phone

Thursday night a good friend of mine experienced what I imagine is one of the most profoundly painful and tragic moments in her life. Her 30-year-old son murdered her husband at their home. Their tragedy played across the local news with photos of police officers entering the lobby of their condo, their son pinned to the floor, hands behind his back, an officer’s knee holding him in place, and finally his mug shot. One article tried to paint this in Middle Eastern tones: “the family of Middle-Eastern male descent.” (Last I checked, Algeria was in Africa, but hey we’re ‘Merica, we don’t do geography; we do sensationalism, and we do it well. I mean, let’s just ignore the bit that his mother is American; it’s not as interesting that way.) The truth of the story is it’s not about nationality; it’s a tragic story about mental illness.

For reference: This is the friend with whom I recently spent the evening painting a tilted Eiffel Tower while sipping wine a couple of weeks ago; she’s the reason you all got a blog entry and a photo of a terrible painting. She’s the person I’ve floated in a lake with laughing, stayed up with until all hours of the night watching movies, enjoyed countless meals and countless glasses of wine. (There was the time I got completely tipsy with her sister, giggling madly in her kitchen.) We’ve shared a million stories, a few hardships, and we’ve laughed. (I mention this again, because it’s such a key component of who she is as a person.) Her laugh is the kind that lights up a room. Everything about her is open, welcoming, kind, and thoughtful. She’s exactly the person I would like to be when I grow up, and it’s why she has been my mentor for years.

She’s also the person who came over after Jay passed away to take care of our beagle, Sam, which allowed me to celebrate Jay’s mom’s 80th birthday. Jay, who was rarely one to say he enjoyed someone, really liked both her and her husband.

When I heard the news I was standing in our crowded cafeteria. My face crumpled, and I ended up in a ball in our lobby. I knew her husband; he was a beautiful person, the kind that exuded warmth, kindness, and genuine calm. He was brilliant, but quiet and self-assured. They had been together since college, had traveled the world together, and had been true partners who’d built an incredible life for themselves and their family.

That’s a small glimpse into my beautiful friend.

I hurt for her. Her life fractured into a million pieces Thursday night. I worry about who will be left behind as some lightness left my friend.

People say this a lot, and it always rings hollow, but realize I am sincere when I say: I wish I could take some of her burden. Because of Jay, I know what I can handle, and I can take on more and continue to move forward. I wish she could hand some of her pain over to me; I can shoulder it.

I’m going to switch gears here to talk about communication etiquette, because it has weighed on my mind the last couple of days, and I’m doubtlessly going to get a bit preachy. (Aside to my editor, David: David, you have my permission to slash/burn/fix/re-state what is about to come out, because I feel a wall of ranty little words are on their way, and they all want to explode out of my face and from my fingers simultaneously. My fear is they won’t make sense. So, would you kindly help me make sense?)

There have been some great/significant improvements in communication since the day Alexander Graham Bell first spoke the words, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” We’ve gone from a reliance on messengers, to telegraph lines, to the point where now I have an English professor in Japan who, after waking up in several hours, will declare, “Oh crap, why doesn’t she warn me before she’s about to post?” And all of it is arguably great, especially since it’s a rare day that I want to have a full-blown conversation on the phone. The way I work, like many of you, is I have a thought bubble, I send it out, and in minutes I may or may not have a lunch date tomorrow. That’s what instant communication does well – the short, unimportant, day-to-day stuff. It tells my boss I’m going to be late, my friends I’m sitting in the back booth of a restaurant, links to an article I might find interesting, shares a playlist, or shows a photo of some place I wish I were standing and enjoying with you.

What it doesn’t do well? Important things like communicating a great tragedy has occurred that may deeply affect the recipient.

When I learned of the recent tragedy that befell my friend and her family, I sent out three text messages that basically read: “I need to talk to you, please let me know when you have some availability. I am ok.” (Long ago, a friend of mine and I agreed that any bad news should involve a statement of how you are so no one is unduly alarmed. Fun fact: If I don’t include the words, “I am ok,” then please feel free to worry.)

I needed to talk to these folks in person, because I was not about to do a disservice to the severity of this event by glibbly linking an article with a few words of, “Oh hey, FYI just letting you know my friend’s life fell apart.” <insert sad face emoji so you know I’m sad>

Pick up the phone. If you can type a text that is that important, you can pick up a phone. If you can’t, if you don’t want to deal with the reaction, it’s ok – call someone who can. You know your friends, you know their strengths, so find that person who is better at delivering news than you.

Where I Make This a Bit About Me

Most of you know how Jay died – maybe not the details, but you can probably imagine it was bad. (It was in fact bad.) You can imagine, or you have seen, the abject pain it inflicted and still inflicts. With that in mind, when you hear that someone I care deeply about suffered a traumatic/violent loss, take a few beats to think about what you’re going to say to me and how you’re going to deliver that news. Really think about whether sending a mugshot and a short text is the best way you can think to let me know. Think about your motive. Why is it important that you tell me, and that you tell me in this way? Are you truly affected or are you swept up in the excitement of the story where a person’s life not only fell apart, but it fell apart in such a big way that all of our big city news outlets are reporting on it? Are you telling me because you’re worried about me and how I’m handing it, or are you trying to suck a little more marrow from my own personal tragedy? Also, be thankful that beating up messengers has gone out of fashion (though probably not in Florida).

I received approximately five text messages that day, along the lines of “Hey, did you see what happened to Rita? It’s in the news. <story link><tear face>” And I received exactly one call outside of the three people I asked to speak with that day.

If you have bad news to deliver, pick up the phone. Don’t send me a text. If you must text, then please purchase two tickets – one for me, and one for you – to Florida. Let’s talk about it there. Once we’re done, you can Snap Chat, Tweet, FB, Instagram it all… if you’re able.