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.

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.

New Things: The Final Edition

I have another post in mind, but I find I’m a bit stuck as I churn over the “hows” of what I want to post. I’ve poked it, prodded it, written it a dozen different ways in my head, and now I’m going to let it marinate a bit then maybe have another go at it before year’s end (gads, that’s only three days away). In order to get out a post in December, my only real story option is to catch you up on the new things I’ve done in November and December. Of course, because I’ve settled down and started typing, all of them have fled my head – at least the November version. You’ll just have to trust that I did in fact do new things in November, and I’m certain I enjoyed them.

Moving On

Let’s start with a big one: I got a new job that will start in January. I’m excited and anxious all at once. I could tell you all about the why’s and how’s, but well that would be breaking a promise I made to myself about writing about work on this blog. Those kind of stories can be a bit career-limiting. Plus, my former supervisor, and soon-to-be co-worker (who incidentally reads this blog and whom I can sass in a mere 9 days with, “You’re not the boss of me!!!”) doesn’t need his ego stroked more than usual. The fact we’re both leaving is its own statement, so I’ll leave that there.

I quit my swim class; I’ve never done that before! I mean, that probably doesn’t count as a new thing if we’re going to make new things only about happy/positive things. Ultimately, I wrestled with it, and decided my frustration over not progressing athletically was a decent reason. No one’s fault. Well, mine and my stupid brain and body for not cooperating in a manner and at a pace I’d prefer.

Quitting was quickly followed by: I advanced to the intro to lap class, and then announced that I was rejoining swimming. As you can see, I’ve lead quite the mercurial swim life. I’m currently learning how to do the butterfly stroke. Of course, that reminds me of a Trevor Noah bit making fun of swimming and the various strokes, which leads me to…

I saw Trevor Noah live, which I saw in November. (HAH! I knew I could remember at least one thing I’d done.) It was an absolutely fantastic show where he did a hilarious bit about swimming. Have I mentioned that? If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading his book, Born a Crime. I’m typically a fiction-only reader (and yeah, I get it – go ahead and get your “His book is fiction” cracks out of your system – go on), but this was fantastic. He talks about his family and growing-up in South Africa during Apartheid where he was quite literally born a crime. If you can, listen to it as an audio book where he narrates his own story. Also, as a favor to me, read a real review; mine isn’t doing the book any justice and you’re probably not as tempted to pick it up as you should be. I personally recommend the review from the NY Times. I think it might be good based on the preview I could see on Google. However, I couldn’t actually confirm it. Apparently, one of us (me) has read their three free NY Times online articles and now they want money. 😦 I will not surrender to you, NYT! Also, I’m kind of cheap!

I had brunch with my first boyfriend. It was a wonderful visit. He’s funny, smart, clever, and has been involved in some really incredible things (testifying before Congress among them) – gone on many a grand adventure/jaunt/wander – and to put it simply, he’s continued to be a neat person. I like to think of him as a true survivor of dramatic, demanding teen-girl me, which is truly medal-worthy. Sorry David, no medals have been minted yet, but I give a great “atta-boy” for surviving. ATTA BOY!

I went to the opening of a campaign office. In this case, I was there for Elizabeth Warren’s office opening here in town. A good friend of mine is a huge Warren supporter so I went as moral support (lots of supporting happening that day) and also, I suppose I went for the opportunity to punch him every time he pointed out that we were standing in Beto’s former offices.

I spent Christmas alone. This one probably isn’t making you think, “Yay!” Basically, I turned off my phone and avoided FB most of the day. You see, it’s also my birthday, and it was a choice I got to make as an adult. As we always say at work (former work): It is what it is. (I suppose other people say it, too but I’m giving my office all the credit since I heard it there first, and often – usually daily. Hrmm… a defeatest phrase the whole team took up at work, possibly another clue?) I’m pretty sure there was one wellness check in the form of my trainer who came by with her daughter that evening. I love her! Before day’s end, I brought everything back up online and returned greetings so my Mother would stop frowning down over my poor manners.

Seriously though, I sometimes don’t feel like being “Edie,” and that’s kind of who I feel I am right now. (Inside family thing. Just nod your head in understanding.) After having a brief chat with my suicide loss survivors gang (a group for those who have lost spouses/partners to suicide), we agreed that next year I should plan to take a trip away from here. I think I’m going to do that.

The day after Christmas, a friend scooped me up and we just finished spending the past few days around Aransas Bay as part of my 2019 Beth-venture. It was absolutely beautiful!

In sum, I’ve spent the year trying a lot of new things – some big, some small – things I wasn’t always sure I’d enjoy. I swam, I spent time in the mountains, I fed more stingrays, I met new/incredible people (the kind you’re immediately drawn to, because you recognize they’re your tribe). I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve written a bit.

I look forward to 2020 and all of its adventures – its ups and downs – all the new things – all the times I get to be with you, laugh with you, cry with you, and be alive with you. I love you!

I leave you with this morning’s sunrise from my balcony where a dolphin was playing down below. May you all wake up to the simple wonder of gorgeous sunrises and playful dolphins.

Rockport, TX

September’s New Things

This month I’ve written a lot about Suicide Prevention and our team’s goal to raise $5,000 to help the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far. Because of your generosity, we’re now $1200 away from reaching our goal. We still have a ways to go, but I know we can do it!

But enough about that for now. You’ve earned a small reprieve, and by “small” I mean “a couple of days.” You didn’t think it was permanent, did you? Oh honey, did I mention that we still have $1200 to go? Anyway…

This month I had three adventures/three new things I’ve done and wanted to share.

Like all good adventures, my first adventure involved a hooky day. You know, the kind of hooky day where you give your boss a full week’s notice explaining that you’d really like to have a day off if the schedule permits. Then you beg for their approval. Let’s face it, you’ve reached a point in your life where you’re just too lazy to call-in and put the energy into pretending you’re suffering. The thought of trying to conjure up a scratchy throat as you hold the phone away from your mouth, and letting your head dangle off the side of the bed to achieve that nicely stressed sound to your vocal chords is really too much, Plus, you’d have to spin the ailment wheel and choose something you think sounds somewhat reasonable and that you could reasonably recover from within 24 hours – food poisoning? allergies? cold? flu? migraine? vision problem?

All of that is especially challenging for me, because as it turns out, I’m a terrible liar. If I try to lie, it just becomes super awkward for everyone involved. No, it’s just easier for everyone if I flat out ask for what I want. Plus, no one (aka me) wants to navigate your (my) co-worker’s concerned, “hey, how are you feeling?” questions the next day anyway. When I chipperly respond, “I’m fine! Turns out tequila and tacos was the cure I needed!” it always abruptly stops the polite inquiries. Of course, that’s mostly because the idea of me sitting around drinking tequila is ludicrous. I knew I should have said “Dr. Pepper.” See, proof I can’t lie.

The first adventure involved my friend April and me heading off to Longhorn Cavern in Burnet, Texas. As the crow flies (or I-45 if you take the toll), it’s about an hour from my house.

The day started with my prediction that we were probably going to find a new place to have lunch, gab a bit, and then I’d meander back to my house for my 2pm hooky nap. It seemed like a pleasant enough day. So, with that in mind I got up late, headed to the gym, and mid-pushing something around or hefting it up I received a text from April alerting me that she was heading over so we could choose what to do. I thought “ooh! carpooling to lunch it is!”

We began plotting as soon as April arrived. Of course, I lamented not having my act together and us missing the opportunity to tour of the Governor’s Mansion. (Apparently, they need a week to perform a background check before you can go, and I’d only given them four business days. Harumph.) Hey, it was a thing in Austin I’ve never done. Don’t judge! Then we worked through a “things that needed patting” wish list. The list went from baby otters (who are probably toddlers now) at Franklin’s Drive Thru Safari to patting the elephants at the Houston zoo. For the record, I still want to pat elephants. I’m not kidding. If anyone of you has time and a free Friday, can we please please please please please go? I mean that would be ok and all. NO! Forget that. I’m not playing coy, it’s ELEPHANTS!!!! I desperately want to pat one!!! My birthday is in less than three months. I’m just saying. No, I’m actually begging, no I’m pleading. What will work on you? ELEPHANTS!

But, as you know keen reader, we ended up at Longhorn Cavern, which is clearly the natural progression from Governor’s Mansion > Safari > Toddler Otters > OMG ELEPHANTS!!! > Cave. You see it, right? Of course you do!

The cave was cleared out by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s, and is surrounded by several legends – some credible, some not so much. For example, at one time they believed it was used as a Speak Easy during Prohibition and that it was a possible hideout for the Sam Bass gang. Unfortunately, the park rangers and local historians have backed off of both of those stories. Our tour guide stated there was no evidence to support either claim. Personally, I can conceive of some scenarios where both are plausible. What if everyone did an amazing job of keeping the Speak Easy hush-hush? Sure, now people can’t keep a secret, but back then secrets stayed with folks until they went to the grave. I feel there’s a 2-3% chance (or maybe .02-.03% – one of those) that happened. People swore never to discuss the speak easy, so I feel my explanation is totally feasible. As for Sam Bass’ gang, well, those outlaws could have been exceptionally tidy. Outlaws had outlaw mamas, too! In fact, Sam Bass’ gang were probably the first to say “take only pictures, leave only footprints” as each man spat in their palm and shook each other’s hands. As we all know, an outlaw’s oath is an outlaw’s bond. And of course, it only follows that they didn’t take those photos, because it would have been a colossal pain, and no one would have been allowed to smile for minutes on end. I ask you, how does one not grin from ear-to-ear when you’ve robbed the Union Pacific and made off with all that gold. It would have been too much to ask! (I don’t know why I didn’t go into archaeology or anthropology. Those fields clearly lack a brilliant mind like mine. Think of the contributions they missed.)

The other legends are true. The cave was used by the Comanches, munitions were stored there during the Civil War, and at one time there was actually a grand staircase, dance hall, and a stage for live performances.

The hour and a half tour was fantastic thanks to a great guide. Unfortunately, we got a strong “NO!” when it came to patting the guy hanging out below. There were also firm “no’s” when it came to patting anything else. So, I went from the possibility of patting otter tweens (they’re aging rapidly – even as I type) to OMG ELEPHANTS!!!! to “keep your hands at your side and stay where I can see you.” Hmph. Still, this guy was pretty darned cute.

Hey, little guy!

On a serious note, touching formations in caverns may cause irreparable damage, and in most states (like Texas) there are laws protecting them. Keep your hands to yourself. It’s the kind of rule that will save you from all kinds of trouble in life.

There was Pie

Afterwards, we headed to the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls. A place known for their meringue pies. These are beautiful looking pies where the meringue is at least 5″ high at their peak, and have that kind of oven kissed brown you always hope for, and you ultimately end up trying to convince your guests that scorched meringue is exactly the way your Gran always made it, and by golly you’re not straying from that path out of respect for her. God rest Gran’s meringue scorchin’ soul.

Dale a tu cuerpo alegría Meringue!
(Image from the Blue Bonnet Cafe’s website.)

It was in that cafe that I had an epiphany that I’ll share. It turns out that I like the idea of 5″+ of meringue, but not the reality of it. It’s a TON of meringue, and very little pie. I’m a more pie fan. Again, it was well made and gorgeous to look at AND also about 4″ too much of meringue for my taste. Still, a lovely restaurant and I’m glad to say I tried the pie.

The Final Adventure

Finally, I attended a Gidget Party celebrating vintage Tiki culture!! I’m calling this my Social Coup of 2019 (coups deserve to stand out in bold type, so there you go). It was the kind of coup that involved incredible, fun, new friends, new experiences, AND bonus – I got to wear Gidget pigtails along with my favorite tacky hot pink Hawaiian shirt! There was amazing food! (Figs in a blanket!! Follow-up epiphany: It turns out I love figs in a blanket!) There were amazing drinks. Plus, fantastic hosts! Everything a party could hope for and super fun. It was truly a honor to be invited. I left with a huge goofy smile on my face.

Oh Yeah

I nearly forgot that I also went to a Cheese 101 class last week through Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. There I learned a bit about cheese, and was introduced to some new favorites: Gisele, Chevre, and Dry Jack. SOOOO GOOD!

All-in-all it was another month filled with new experiences and new people. A month I greatly enjoyed.

How was your September?

Epilogue: An October Plan

First, can I have an epilogue for a blog post? That seems ridiculous, so I’m all in! Anyway, I have a few ideas for how to spend October, but what I really hope to say by the middle of it is this: OH MY GOODNESS!!! We successfully raised $5,000 for AFSP in memory of Jay. (And that’s how your reprieve came to an abrupt end. You’re welcome!)

I Won’t Be Silent

I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?

I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully, unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.

Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial. They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation. They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me hurt more.

Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad day, and there were plenty of bad days.

I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died, because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me out.

What happened to me was not atypical.

There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes us uncomfortable.

Well, if suicide makes you uncomfortable, it should.  Here’s why – it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s steadily increasing each year. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. That same year, in the US, there were over 1.4 million attempts. There are approximately 129 suicides per day, 22 of those are veterans. Globally, over 800,000 die by suicide annually.

We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.

People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer, we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes of getting them relief.

What we wouldn’t do:

We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were making a choice to be ill.

And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them because we understand cancer.  There is no shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.

Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect, he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy” felt like.

We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental health. We must make mental health a priority.

When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend, also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.

That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.

Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you realize how much you talk about Jay.”

I will never stop.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.

I believe in their mission.

That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.

I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.

Please help by making a donation today.

We’d also be honored to have you walk with us! Just click the link! OR consider re-posting this blog post, and tell people your story.

But no matter what you decide to do, I ask one huge favor:

Never stop talking about mental health issues. Reach out to anyone you think may be struggling (assume you’re the only person who is reaching out).

Huge thanks to those who have already signed up to walk with me, and to those who have made a donation; it means a lot, it makes a huge difference, and I appreciate each of you!

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255

July & August

I’m pretty sure no one but me is really invested in my attempt to try “new things each month,” but I feel obligated to report just the same. Prepare to be wowed, or maybe the descriptive word that means the exact opposite of “wowed.” Prepare to be… ehh… you do you. You may not need much preparation.

July involved me trying new foods at new restaurants. At least that’s what it became once I realized I was a good deal into the month, and had no other “new” plans, so new foods it was!

I tried a paella. I had no idea what that was, but saw it on the menu. I immediately recognized it as a word I knew meant “food” and it was a word I could pronounce correctly, and so I declared, “this is what I want!” It was a mix of things I’d never had before combined with things I had, and it was delightful. Also, I feel once shrimp reach a certain size, they get a little creepy looking.

About a week later, I had a chalupa for the first time. Yes, I know – a native Texan more than half a century old, and I hadn’t had one before. Weird. Well, not really. In my defense, there are tacos in this world. These perfectly shaped shells that contain all the taco goodness. Chalupas indiscreetly display all their food bits on the outside and you’re expected to be somewhat civilized while attempting to eat the thing. Too much pressure! With tacos there’s less worry involved. Sure, some of the delicious bits will still spill out, but it will be an appropriate and manageable amount – not a dramatic lettuce landslide desperately trying to escape your face. There’s really just no way to be graceful while eating a chalupa – best just to unceremoniously up-end the thing, declare the dish a salad, and the crunchy shell a “chip garnish.” Still, it was also delicious, and again made me thankful for tacos.

That was kind of it for July.

In August I went out of town to Colorado, and stayed in the mountains. The elevation was approximately 8500 feet where we stayed, and the weather was perfect. For the record, 8500 feet is really no joke when you’re trying to do things like “moving” combined with “breathing.” Leaving a gorgeous place where the mornings were in the upper 40’s was challenging, especially when faced with mornings in the upper 70’s. I now desperately yearn for Fall.

Overall, it’s not a trip I feel entirely comfortable discussing in an open forum. The trip was both beautiful and sad – filled with moments of great laughter and sudden, heart-wrenching tears. My last night I stood looking up at the star-filled sky and silently screamed.

There are things in this world I hope you never have to endure – things I hope I never have to endure, and there are places where you begin to heal. Where raw beauty and nature allow a momentary and much-needed respite.

A huge thanks to our hosts who gave us such an amazing gift by letting us stay at their Air B&B. I wish I could live in that town nestled in a valley in the Rockies. Of course, I’m told it can get really cold in the winters and that there’s this stuff called snow. That might do in this Texas gal.

Garden of the Gods – Pike’s Peak (One of the Fourteeners) in the Background

A tiny pox on OnStar for deciding the best route from Amarillo, TX to Austin, TX was through Oklahoma City. However, I suppose I can now say I’ve successfully driven a land yacht in the form of a Chevy Tahoe through Ft. Worth during rush hour – an experience of which my Google Maps would have deprived me. I’m eyeballing you, OnStar. But hey, I guess that’s also a new thing I got to do.

A heads-up as we head into September

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and we’ll be two months away from our Out of Darkness Walk. Expect a few posts talking about the great work the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does and ways you can help support this cause. One of those ways involves you grabbing a burger and some ice cream. Who doesn’t enjoy supporting a worthy cause with ice cream?

Balanced Rock – Garden of the Gods

Ok, off I go to tilt at windmills and fight with a stranger over jazz – like one does on a Sunday evening.