We’re Nearly There: The Importance of Community

My grandfather died when I was 16 years old. I have no real memory of him – no endearing stories of “the time when Grandpa and I…” I’ve heard I once sat next to him on a piano bench, and that he was very sweet to me, his only grandchild at the time, while I listened to him play. I imagine toddler me probably helped with my chubby toddler fingers plunking away at the keys beside him while we shared our musical moment, creating a piece no one had heard before, nor will ever hear again. A perfect grandfather/granddaughter sonata as only a grandfather and grandchild can create.

By all accounts, my grandfather was quite an accomplished musician who played upwards of 17 instruments. I’ve only been able to play 5 proficiently. I still hope to add a couple more. While your bucket list may have “Tuscany,” mine has “cello.”

When he died, we weren’t informed. No one knew he had a family. There wasn’t an emergency contact the care facility had on file. In fact, we actually didn’t learn he’d passed until almost ten years after the event when my Mom started tracking him down.

My grandfather was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave in Henderson, Texas, where there is no headstone marking the site – only a number. His name was James, but maybe he went by Jim or Jimmy to his friends and family. I’ll never know because I only met him once.

My grandfather didn’t do anything to our family to deserve this end other than suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. The reason I didn’t know him is that he spent the majority of his adult life in an institution. We didn’t visit. When I asked about him, asked what he was like, my Mom would say she didn’t want to talk about him. When I asked about his family, these great aunts and uncles I’d never met, his siblings, I was told they really didn’t want to have anything to do with him or us because of his mental illness. This seemed odd and a bit hurtful. We hadn’t done anything wrong that I was aware of other than be descended from their brother. How could someone judge me (or them) based on my grandfather’s illness? They didn’t know me. They had never spoken to me. Maybe they weren’t aware of the fact that my family tree isn’t a stick, and I actually have a lot of DNA from fairly diverse pools – not just his or his family’s. His descendants aren’t actual clones. I’m not his clone. Hey, the science of the time just wasn’t there. But apparently because he suffered from a mental illness, I’m not worthy of knowing. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty delightful. I’m also exceptionally modest.

I’m aware of only one photo of him. I found it while on one of my extra-nosey Nancy Drew adventures looking for clues within my Grandmother’s framed photos. I would pop open the backs and look for hidden photos. And that’s how I found him – this young and serious face peeking back at me. A lost memory freed. I took the photo to my grandmother and tween-girl me demanded, “Who is he?” I expected to hear a story about an old friend. Maybe a cousin, or perhaps a boyfriend from college? “That’s your Grandfather.” I was stunned. I just stared at his photo – this stranger who is part of my story whom I don’t know anything about. My only real and tangible memory of him was discovering this one image. It’s now in my frame, displayed on my shelf – no longer hidden.

My Mom learned from his caseworker at the institution that my grandfather was well thought of – that he was a kind and gentle man, and that they had been saddened by his loss.

Over the years, I asked about his mother, my great-grandmother, and learned she’d also died in an institution. I always believed, and likely made-up, that she was institutionalized in North Carolina – that the family had left her behind when they moved to Texas. When I started digging for details, I discovered that not only was she a native Texan, but she was institutionalized in Austin – in a set of buildings that I had worked in. She died at 48 – in those same buildings – buildings whose halls I’ve walked through – buildings where I sat at a desk on a campus where she’d likely looked out upon from a window or even strolled through, as I have.

I taken aback, because I had no idea. We didn’t talk about her. Her illness was a mark on our family, like my grandfather’s.

I pulled up her father’s death certificate. He also died in an institution. The cause of death was from “exhaustion” after having a manic episode. It was near the three-year anniversary of the death of his daughter, my grandmother’s sister, whose death certificate indicates she had head trauma and then died… in an institution. I wanted to throw up. I had gone down this genealogical path in hopes of learning I was descended from Niall Nóigiallach or, you know, Sacagawea. I’m not picky. However, that’s not what I found. I found sadness, loneliness and abandonment in this branch.

I never knew these stories, their stories, because the stigma surrounding all of them, all of their struggles, was so awful that no one dared to openly talk about them. What would the neighbors think? What would the people at church think? What would our friends think? I have always believed my ancestors’ illnesses were a poor reflection on us – that their being ill said something terrible about me – that we would be judged by their suffering. In fact, I know that by sharing this information today, in our “enlightened” society, that some people will take what little they know about me, about things I’ve done (or will do), and they’ll now frame those actions in this particular context. “Oh, mental illness. Well, it runs deep in that family.” I even know that some people will take what they think they know about Jay and try to work my family’s personal history, something that had nothing to do with him or what happened to him, and they will try to weave it into his narrative.

Mental illness is isolating.

Most of us understand the importance of community. Just look at the word – “common” and “unity.” We thrive thanks to our community. It can give us a sense of belonging, of purpose, of identity. It bonds us together, it protects us and it provides us with support through our happiest and hardest times. Sure, there are also downsides. I’m certain the Hatfields felt a sense of community with Hatfields, and McCoys felt a sense of community with McCoys, and while the younger generations at times sought a new community, the elders weren’t having it. There’s us, and then there’s them. Go to any major sporting event, and you’ll find people, strangers, bonded together as they cheer on their team. Put those sides together at the end of the game, and riots can erupt. However, let one tragedy befall America, and we’ll cast aside political differences to come together, because we’re America. That’s also community. Incidentally, I will punch you out if you say something about Texas and you’re not from here.

There’s a reason being banished or exiled from a community is such a major punishment: the person becomes vulnerable – physically and mentally. They lose their support, they lose protection, and they lose their sense of identity/belonging – things almost all of us need to survive. At the extreme, it’s why prolonged periods of solitary confinement is so taxing on a person’s mental and emotional state. We are meant to be with a group.

We need each other to survive – to thrive.

Many times those suffering from a mental illness will not seek help – in large part, because of the stigma involved. They have a very real and valid fear that if others found out, they would be excluded from the group. Or they’d be treated to a series of denials in the form of, “You just need to buck up! Smile more! You’re not ‘really’ ill, you’re just not trying hard enough to be happy – to be well – to be sane.” So, people end up suffering and not seeking the critical medical care they need, which can lead to a series of cascading events as they attempt to address their issues on their own.

If I broke my arm, and I walked around with it hanging awkwardly at my side, wincing and grimacing with each jarring move I made, not only would family and friends try to intervene, strangers would likely stop me and say, “Honey, you need help – let me call someone.” No one would even think to suggest that if I just tried harder to have a straighter arm, it would all work out.

That’s another way we’re ignoring issues around mental illness, by telling people who suffer they’re not real.

Ignoring mental illness isn’t working.

Stigmatizing people for suffering, and stigmatizing their families, isn’t working. This failure in our society has resulted in 129 people dying each day by suicide in the US alone, and the numbers are increasing. 1 in 5 adults (20%) in America experience a mental illness. Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, three-quarters by the age of 24. We are failing them.

Since my last post about this issue on September 22nd, approximately 2,838 Americans have died. People who were alive as I wrote my words who are no longer here today. It hasn’t even been a month. Of that total, approximately 440 of those have been our veterans. The men and women who have fought for our freedom – who sacrificed their personal freedom, their families, and their bodies to allow us to enjoy the lives we have today.

Approximately 2,322 Americans who are alive today will be gone by October 31st. That’s too many.

Right now those 2,322 people are struggling. Right now you can make a difference by reaching out to them, while they’re still here – before their pain exceeds their ability to cope – before they’re a statistic, before their family is writing a blog asking for your help.

You can make a difference.

My team is now $230 away from reaching our team goal of $5,000 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I’m now $400 from my personal goal. I am so grateful and in awe of the support we’ve received. I didn’t tell the team, but I honestly didn’t believe we’d make it this far. A huge thanks to everyone whose been able to make a donation.

We got this far, because as a community we have banded together to say:

  • Mental Health issues are important,
  • Finding ways to curb the ever increasing number of suicides through research is important,
  • Advocacy is important,
  • Helping survivors is important, and
  • Jay is important

People have occasionally come to me for advice on how to handle complex grief. I’m truly not an expert. I still grieve. I’m still deeply wounded. But I draw strength from my community – from my family, from my friends – they refuse to let me fall.

It will take a community coming together for one last push to reach our goal. It will take a community coming together to reduce the suicide rate in the US 20% by 2025.

If you’re able, please consider making a small donation to my team: The Jay Walkers for the Out of the Darkness Walk in Austin, which will be held on November 2nd. The money goes directly to AFSP.

We’re so close and we really need your help.

My grandfather lies in a pauper’s grave, because of the misfortune of suffering from a mental illness. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter concertos went unrealized, unheard, un-laughed about. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter moments of pouring over sheets of music, digging through scores, and having someone see music the way I see music were missed. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter hugs never happened. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter political debates weren’t enthusiastically debated.

A lifetime of being seen by his family, surrounded by their love was denied this man.

The only thing my grandfather did wrong was have a chemical imbalance in his brain. For that he was punished. For that he was exiled. For that he lies in an unmarked grave.

I walk to raise awareness about mental health issues. I walk to raise awareness about suicide. I walk because they can’t.

I need your help.

They need your help.

As always, if you see someone in crisis, assume you’re the only person who is reaching out and do so. Have a Real Conversation.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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

A Huge Favor

Well guys, we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I feel comfortable asking you for a huge favor. I know, I know, you think we aren’t quite there yet in our relationship. You feel that this is a bit soon. I mean we barely know each other, and here I am springing this on you. You haven’t had a chance to brush your hair, tuck in your shirt, or freshen up. Your parents haven’t had a chance to meet me, yet! Trust me, it will be ok. You’ll be fine! We’ll be fine together and your parents will come around and support you.

A Little Background

September 8th – 14th marks National Suicide Prevention Week, and as I mentioned previously, I’m devoting September’s posts to support that cause, and to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who were recently named as one of the 50 Impactful Charities Serving Humanity, the Environment and Animals in Variety.

On Tuesday, September 10th the Central Texas Chapter of the AFSP are partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream. These businesses will be hosting an Out of the Darkness Party Time Event. Basically, they’ve agreed to give part of their proceeds from that day to AFSP. In order for AFSP to receive that donation, they need 50 people to go to one of those businesses and let them know they’re there to support AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Super easy!

Note: This only applies to the stores located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.

The Ask

This is extremely important to me, and I’m calling in that favor. I need you to not only go, but I also need you to help my team. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Walk, Run, Scooter, Bus, Uber, or Drive to the Amy’s Ice Cream or Phil’s Ice House located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd.
  • Place your order and say, “Hi! I’m here in support of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk.” You can even add, “and I’d like fries with that.”
  • Take a selfie of you at Amy’s or Phil’s
  • Share your selfie on Social Media (FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
  • Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
  • Tag Phil’s or Amy’s
  • Tag The “Jay” Walkers

The team who has the most tagged selfies has a shot at having the money credited to their team’s fundraising effort.

That’s it! Super easy, right?

Now if you’d like to do a bit more and join my team to walk with us on Nov. 2nd, you can do so here. We’d love to have you! We’ll also be having a team meeting there that night at 6:30 pm where one of our team members, who recently went through AFSP’s training, will give a presentation on how “Talk Saves Lives”.

I’m serious when I ask (beg): Please do this one thing for me; it’s really important, and it’s a great cause. Help us prevent suicides. Help us remove the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. You can make a difference by doing something as small as eating a burger with friends, and maybe just maybe you’ll save a spouse, returning home from a trip, from living through the abject horror of discovering their partner has lost their battle with depression.

Now mark your calendar, head over there on Sept. 10th, grab a burger, some ice cream (eat it quickly; it’s super hot outside), join my team, and make a difference.

Thank you!

I Love Tacos

We’re two days away from National Suicide Prevention Month – a month where I stress the importance of both suicide awareness and prevention, and then hopefully convince you to support my team. However, it’s still August, and that means you get a Beth story instead. Not that the other posts won’t include a healthy dose of Beth-ness, but this one is more like a typical post – one featuring a story about me tripping along through life – you know, like I do.

I’d been wanting to volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for awhile. I know, I know, I said this post wasn’t about that, and it’s not – just roll with it a bit. Then an opportunity finally presented itself that matched up with my schedule: Pride Austin! Fantastic, support my friends, support a great cause, and I’d get to go to a festival. All wins! Of course, I signed up. My good friend Anna hopped on board as well as her son, Adam, and we had the makings of a plan – of a fun weekend adventure. Off we went!

We arrived in the heat of the day, and when I say “heat of the day,” it’s not a polite way of saying, “Golly, it sure is hot.” I mean it was, “Let’s buy a case of water each, haul it around in a wagon that will get lighter and lighter by the minute, and still hope we don’t die of heatstroke” hot. The kind of hot where you look at syrupy drinks or snow cones and your stomach and brain chime in with a huge, “Nope!” because all of that just sounds gross. It was so hot, I heard more than one person start a sentence with, “It’s hotter than the devil’s…” (The noun and the description of the aforementioned noun changed depending on the person. Some easily fell into the “Eww, that was really specific and colorful” category, but all descriptions let you know that any Satanic body part was still not as hot as an August day in Texas.) My favorite nephew, aka friend’s son, aka Adam, immediately headed for the fan vendor where he purchased this gigantic “Clack” fan – both a brand name and a descriptor. Personally, I don’t recall ever wanting a fan from a festival as a souvenir; however, at that moment, I wanted it more than anything (other than maybe more water). Forget those sad little pieces of flimsy cardboard stapled to a stick, this thing was amazing and produced focused gale-force winds. Also, it happened to be quite stylish. The boy has taste. He became quite the accomplished aunt-fanner that day.

We had some time before our volunteer assignment, so we walked around, checked out the booths, picked up all sorts of free items – stickers, buttons, bracelets, temporary tattoos. We even scored t-shirts, towels, and sunglasses. It was fantastic! There were a ton of things to look at and buy, and that’s when I found a place selling t-shirts.

I can’t tell you much about the actual shop, I can only tell you that they had a shirt on display declaring its appreciation for tacos with a big, “I LOVE TACOS!” on the front. This made complete sense because tacos, as we all can agree, are pretty great. Who doesn’t love tacos? As a Texan, my love for them is right behind my love for my state, Molly Ivins, a field of bluebonnets, armadillos, and Shiner Bock. Ok, I’m not really a beer person, but if I’m ordering beer, I order Shiner Bock and then feel Texas proud. Corona? Oh, please. Don’t insult me with your near-Coors.

I think I may have pointed at the shirt, and whether I pointed or not, I do know I said quite loudly, “I LOVE TACOS!!” Again, because of all of those reasons (Tacos, Texas, Armadillos, etc. – keep up!).

A look of maybe what could be described as “confused alarm” went across both Anna and Adam’s faces, while I carried on about the shirt and my commitment to my adoration of tacos. Finally, one of them, then both of them tried to shut down my jubilant loud celebration of tacos and my desire to own the shirt, which really fueled the “I want to scream it from the roofs” fire. Adam implored, “Aunt Beth, stop saying that!” I feel he also may have implied I might be having a heat stroke, but nonetheless my response was a firm “No!” I mean, Tacos! LOVE ‘EM!!! I won’t be shamed for my Tex-Mex food love!!

I moved off the taco topic as we moved further away from the object of my culinary desire. I’m easily distracted.

After we finished volunteering, which went really well despite the heat, and we left behind our puddles of sweat, we went to find dinner. Nothing quite “beats the heat” like AC, fluids, and ice cream. Then we decided to do some shopping. Needless to say, in one of the stores was another shirt professing taco adoration. This one had pictures of tacos – corn shells filled with meats, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. I exposed it on the rack by shoving the less worthy shirts around, and made it so the logo and wording could be clearly seen, then I turned to Anna and Adam. The need to declare my taco love was rekindled. And here’s how that conversation played out. It’s not an actual transcript, because my memory isn’t that great, but it captures the spirit. It’s how I “felt” it went, so yeah… take it with a huge grain of salt, too.

Me: Look! Another shirt! I love tacos!

Anna/Adam: (synchronized exhausted sighs)

Me: You won’t repress my love now. (I’m sure I didn’t say “repressed,” but in my stories, I’m quite clever and well-spoken. In reality, I kind of just grunt and gesture emphatically to convey what I want/need.)

Anna/Adam: (more synchronized exhausted sighing combined with maybe a hint of an eye roll)

Anna: What do you think tacos are?

Me: (duh look on my face) Crunchy-shelled OR soft-tortilla goodness stuffed with lettuce, cheese, and some kind of meat.

Anna: That’s not what they mean. Where were you today?

Me: Pride.

Anna: (just waiting – giving me the look of “Go on Beth’s brain, please catch up.”)

LONG PAUSE

Me: OHHH!!! OH NO!!!! No! I don’t like tacos. I mean, tacos are fine, but umm… 

Anna then burst out laughing as she watched all of that play out across my face.

It reminded me of the time I had to explain a “beavers” reference to my aunt after visiting a Bucc-ee’s while thinking, “Your mother would not be very happy with the words coming out of your face right now.” Only I was my aunt in this scenario.

So, let me say that I do still love tacos; however, the idea of buying the shirt is now off the table. Let me also be very specific and state the kind of tacos I happen to love are the kind listed on menus in local Tex-Mex restaurants. You’re free to love tacos any way you choose, and I’ll support your taco affection. Just make sure the enjoyment of all tacos is consensual.

Anyway, now that I’ll be the butt of many jokes to come, I will say that I’m looking forward to cooler weather and Oktoberfest. I hear several events will host Sausage Fests in celebration! Probst! Cheers to Fall!

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.

The Great Cookie Massacre of 2019

The “cookies” in all of their “glory.” (PS David, I’ve moved from parentheses and semi-colons. Air quotes shall be my new “thing”!

A good friend, whom I think of as family, and I’m convinced thinks of me as the burden one endures after being overly kind to strangers (or possibly karmic punishment for something done in a past life – something he wish he could remember and desperately hoped was funny if he was forced to be saddled with me for life), suggested I actually post a photo of The Great Cookie Massacre of 2019. (FYI – you can tell I’m not ranting, because I’m writing more like Dickens approaching the first sentence/paragraph to A Tale of Two Cities. Do I get paid per word? (Maybe if my editor loves you, he’ll be able to do something with that sentence. No promises though. He’s only paid in praise and glad tidings. Are “glad tidings” a thing?))

Anyway, I believe I promised in the last post that were I to post about the cookies, then certain words/phrases would be used. I like to keep my promises so here we go! I aim to make Dickens proud, and you know, empty my tidings account for David. (Sorry David, my five readers are making me. you understand, right? It’s for them. Also hey, apparently parentheses are making another comeback. It’s like Shark Week, but y’know – Parentheses Era. That’s certainly a thing, right?)

If Dickens Lost His Senses and Ability to Write Properly-ish

The above photo, along with another photo, showing most of those cookies clumped up in the bottom of the oven, appeared on my FB page – posted there to get a laugh from my friends and give them the opportunity to tease me, because I truly live in an on-going I Love Lucy episode, and because I have a self-deprecating sense of humor (why keep the laughs at my life pratfalls all to myself) AND (this is super hard to write this way) despite having worked in a cookie store where I was quite the talented cookie baker (give me a hockey puck – not kidding – plastic gloves and cooled dough, then turn me lose whereby (sure) I’ll will produce little doughy circles of joy); however, I’d never used parchment paper to bake cookies until that day, AND on that fateful day when I decided to experiment for no particularly good reason other than my friend Eric suggested it while talking about baking bacon; he had no idea I’d decide to go the cookie route with it, I successfully pulled out one tray from the oven, then, with my confidence bolstered, I grabbed the next one – whoops – the parchment paper sledded off the tray along with the cookies as they all screamed “WHEE!” then plummeted into the bottom of my stove; I was aghast, then I cursed the cruelty of the universe for ruining perfectly great and undeserving peanut-butter chocolate-chip cookies (THE BEST COOKIES IN THE WORLD, as you know – also, did you know Blue Bell now offers up a peanut-butter cookie dough flavor – thank you, Julie for sharing that small delicious miracle – I haven’t had it yet, but how could it not be a miracle?)

Whew! We all survived my sentence. I’m fairly certain Dickens just eye-rolled from his grave or perhaps he scoffed. He probably did both. I deserve that, I suppose. (David, I’m speaking to you again – I forbid you to make that better. It’s beneath your talents! Let it stand in its awful glory. Also, I’ll try to be better about the parentheses thing. It’s hard to quit after you do your first set. The struggle is real.)

Anyway, there you all go! Proof that poor, innocent cookies were murdered in my oven. If we could all observe a minute of silence. Thank you! Also, thank you Jers for the suggestion. Love you! Mean it!

A Particular Set of Skills

WARNING: Strong language that is likely unsuitable for people with access to language skills may appear in the following post.

I have a particular set of skills, not the kind that would help me find any missing relative or deal with their would-be abductors in an action movie, but they do count as skills or maybe more precisely “skills” in air quotes. They’re not the kind that my parents are particularly proud I possess, but on occasion, they have made my friends laugh. (And the “skills” I’m referring to are not abusing semicolons and parentheses, though my editor David might argue that I’m quite skilled in those areas as well.)

I can rant.

I can rant in a way that will make a room go silent. I can rant in a way that will make you spray water onto your screen. Your reaction depends on the topic at hand and my mood or my objective. I’m that person people have said, “I bet it’s cute when you get mad,” and immediately the “oh shit” or “eject” cartoon bubble appears over their head when they’ve accidentally discovered how woefully mistaken they were.

This ability doesn’t make me particularly different or special. It’s just that in my basket of ways/tools I can pull from to express myself, I happen to be better at that style. My precision with the English language becomes sharper. My sentences become simpler. I’m like an angry Hemingway. Again, it’s not so much a thing to brag about. It just is what it is. Thus, I have a blog. It’s here to help me work on communicating my thoughts better. That’s a lot of blahblahblah to start a story, but you needed some background.

Tuesday was the anniversary of Jay’s death. It was also two days after a cookie misadventure, which nearly left me without a thing to bring to a gathering of friends. On that day I went to see one of the few people I can be around on that day: my trainer. I have a lot of great friends, but my trainer is one of the few who can successfully navigate through all of the mess that is me some days. On Tuesday, I walked in pretty wound up and then launched into a story about some cookies. As I’m working my way into the second or maybe third sentence she says, “I’m going to stop you for a second. You’ve now said “fuck” five times. Normally you say “fuck” zero of the times. I just wanted to make you aware that I’m counting. Continue.” Oops. I completed the story without another incident. At least I don’t recall one. Although, as mad as I was I probably had “fuck” amnesia and said it ten more times to emphasize all of my crazy buttons had been pushed. Yay amnesia that lets me believe I stopped at five! Ultimately, through the use of that expletive, I successfully (and emphatically) communicated that I was completely amped up about the thing I was amped up about. All before 6 AM. Go me!

On Thursday new thoughts on “the Great Cookie Massacre of 2019,” which is really how it should be referred to from this moment forward, were shared.

Now I realize you’re probably thinking, “this is a lot vague talk about some sort of cookie thing, and I’m not entirely sure where we’re going here. This seems like a “near” rant, but not quite an “actual” rant. I thought I read this far for a rant. Where is the payoff? Didn’t you say you were good at it? I’m not feeling the “good” here. I knew I should have picked up the New York Times instead. This is bogus!” Well, first off: when did you become such a rant critic? And your sticking around is really on you, but also you’re not wrong. I’m fence-sitting because I’m torn. You see, I promised my Dad today that I wouldn’t go on an epic cookie rant on my blog. However, a good friend thought it might be a fine idea and encouraged it. I’m sure he could picture himself tucked in, reading it and chortling. (People really don’t chortle enough these days.) Then there was another person who, without context for the story, felt I had the potential to turn it into something funny, which I’m also failing to do.

So, what I’ve successfully delivered here is an unfunny brag about ranting where I didn’t rant. It’s a post where I threw in several expletives, and you learned nothing about a supposed cookie massacre. However, had I chosen to crush my father’s soul and gone through with the rant, you likely would have heard things like: “self-deprecating,” “I Love Lucy,” “parchment paper,” and a declaration that “peanut-butter chocolate-chip cookies are the best!!!” (Because they are.) There likely would have been a story about how I used to work at a cookie store in a mall, and there might have been a brag that I can out-cookie most people. Although, in true rant style it probably would have digressed into a vague threat to the universe regarding dough storage, and someone would have restarted the “f-bomb” counter.

June’s Wrap

Looking back at June in terms of the whole “trying new things” objective, I see a real mixed bag from new restaurants to new people to new experiences, (which incidentally did not include Edinburgh, Scotland; Wellington, New Zealand; Chicago, IL; or even Franklin, TX (YOU CAN PET A BABY OTTER THERE!!!!! It squeaks and nibbles fingers (aka “has a taste for human flesh! But that’s ok, because OMG BABY OTTER) I’ve seen the video!)). So the new things in June remained fairly local.

I’m going to detail them while also recognizing that reading them might come off like reading someone’s favorite grocery list. “And on Tuesday, I bought organic fruits, then I went down the aisles in a completely different order. I saved produce until the end!! I KNOW!!!! Really stretching my wings!” In other words: bear with, you little trooper. (Oh, and huge thanks if you’re going to daringly press forward and continue to read more of this. If you don’t, no worries. Your only take away should be: Beth did some more stuff.)

Axes, Polvos & 2:30 AM

I threw axes! Only this time it was on a shorter course, which really had no noticeable effect on my “skill” level; it’s still terrible. However, the video taken of me throwing said axe happened to show one of the maybe three times I stuck the axe into the back wall. Who cares that it’s nowhere near the bullseye or even the painted-on target, I stuck it IN A WALL! AND… it happened to be the wall I was aiming at (GO ME!!). I am a mighty axe thrower not to be reckoned with. (Or maybe avoid reckoning with me if I happen to be wielding an axe; there’s a 1 in maybe 50… 100… 135 chance that I might hit you. I’m like “stormtrooper with an axe” bad. Hrmm… maybe stormtroopers should have really given axes a shot? Imagine how that would have changed the movies.) Anyway… that’s the best way to describe the odds that the blade-y bit might actually take purchase; I could definitely hit you with any other part of the axe, though. Err… that sounds menacing. I don’t actually want to throw axes at people or particularly you. You don’t deserve it. You’ve lived a reasonably good life. Plus, you’re still reading this, and that would be plain bad manners to throw anything at you.

I tried a new beer, a blonde ale whose name I forget, which wasn’t particularly hoppy. (Hoppy is a bad thing for a beer to be if I’m sipping it.) I then went to Polvos Mexican Restaurant, which was fantastic, and I had a coconut margarita, which is maybe my new favorite type. Move over pineapple! I’d link the restaurant’s page here, but it’s really upsetting my antivirus software. Sooo maybe go for the food and stay off their website?

I also got home around 2 AM, which for a person who wakes up at 4 was crazy late for me, but the evening, for the conversation alone, was worth it. The axe throwing, the beer, the margarita, and the food just added to the delightful flavor of the evening. I want more evenings just like that.

Reunions and DNA

A cousin of ours always knew in her heart that her father wasn’t likely her actual birth father. So, a couple of years ago her daughter decided to have her mother’s DNA tested with the hopes of discovering a family they never knew. After over 70 years of wondering, the DNA results confirmed her suspicions. That’s when the family learned my father was her closest relative on her father’s side (predicted to be her 2nd cousin). Fast forward a bit to June 2019 when the two of them finally met; it was absolutely fantastic. I had previously met her son and daughter, but for this occasion, my Dad came into town and we met her son’s wife, their children, and his wonderful mom who had come to Texas from Chicago. They spent a day on the road just to meet us, and everyone was all smiles and laughs; it was truly a great day. Plus, I got a little bonus time with Dad. Don’t tell him, but I kind of adore him.

We have narrowed down the family line we share but still haven’t figured out who her dad is among the likely suspects. If any of you know Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and he owes you a favor, could you call that in on our behalf? Thank you in advance!

Y’know, people have asked why take a DNA test? It doesn’t change who you are. I understand where you’re coming from; however, my response is, “No, while it doesn’t change who I am, it does help give me insight into my family’s journey. It hints and teases at the paths they chose that ultimately led to me, and it has given me the opportunity to meet people I would have never known – people I’m glad to call family. From Bluesy to Carol to Rashann, Chianna, Francine and the rest of their amazing family, you’ve made my world bigger and better.

Swimming

I’m still doing it. My regular instructor returned, and she’s not as eager to bounce me up to the next level as the substitute teacher from a few weeks ago, which is a good thing. I still need to improve my pitiful stamina, but I continue to get better. Yesterday, we worked on treading – 30 seconds on, and 30 seconds off. She helped another student who is a bit uncomfortable in deeper water, then looked over and asked where I was, and if I was coming up on my 30-second break. I said, “I’m on four minutes.” I continued for an additional minute and decided to take a break, but I’m pretty certain I could have gone three more minutes without much struggle, which would get me to eight minutes. My goal is 15. Fifteen gets me into the actual row class.

For the record, my swim instructor leaves in July as she prepares for her first year of college. She’s adorable! I kind of love her, and love/appreciate her patience working with the elderly.

The Work Article

An article appeared in our office newsletter about “wellness,” which featured me and covered my intimate affair with the gym focusing on my various hardships (losing Jay, blowing out my ACL), and my love for my trainer. The article was sent out to thousands of employees, and the day it was officially published I received tons of emails cheering me on (one from a woman who is a rower at the club I want to take classes through; I may love her best), and some saying I inspired them. It was pretty fantastic. One question that stood out made me pause a bit: “How much can you lift?” All I could think to respond with was, “Which way? With what?” before I finally decided she either wanted to know about deadlifts or maybe how much I could throw over my head? or press? I gave her all the answers. I’m sure when I finished she thought, “Thank you, spectrum Beth; that was a lot of unnecessary information.” “You’re welcome, lady! Next, let me tell you about the weight I use for my tri-cep extensions. It’s equally unimpressive, but I think you’re going to dig it just the same. Why are you running away??? Come back!!!”

Let me just throw out here: I’m not a power lifter. World’s Strongest anything is not going to knock on my door EVER. I am also not in danger (or luck?) of having any protein powder company hunt me down. Damn. Throw a girl a bone here, people!

A Certification

In February I took a week-long class to prepare for a certification in my field. I then proceeded to spend the next few months piddling around instead of actually studying thanks to not really having a handle on how to approach the material. In my defense, there was (is) a lot to learn – a lot I didn’t have familiarity with. And let’s face it, one of my colleagues, in an attempt to be helpful, made me freak right on out. His mid-hallways pop quizzes were supposed to spur me on, “What the port for DHCP?” Dude, I don’t know. 23? 443? GO AWAY! “Have you read the book I recommended, yet?” You see, he had previously failed the test, but eventually passed it on his second attempt. At the time he decided to “encourage” me, he was our interim director – someone who is an expert in the subject at hand and a leader in the field. Actually, people failing seemed to be a theme. When I took the class, several of the people, who again had been in this field for years, admitted to having failed the test on their first attempt. *dramatic gulp* Clearly failure was kind of expected, and who was I to think I wasn’t on that same path? Plus, a failing grade on this test amounted to getting less than 83% of the questions correct. I’d have to basically make an 83.33 or higher to pass.

Also, something I perceived a hurdle was the fact that the minimum requirements to take the class are two years in this field. Well, I’m not “in” the field, I’m “near” the field. My only related experience was in networking and desktop support, which I hadn’t done in about 18 years ago – so, pretty recently? 😦

I didn’t meet the credentials to even sit in the classroom.

Thankfully, I knew I had until the end of August to take the exam, and as those weeks ticked away, the helpful colleague would appear with advice on how to approach it. The biggest piece was, “You need 45 days to thoroughly prepare.” So, imagine my surprise when the company who offered the class said, “End of August??? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Foolish girl. No, you’ll have it done by the end of June or we’ll potentially charge your company extra.” That gave me basically three weeks. Three weeks to read a book, three weeks to take practice quizzes, three weeks to do the labs, and three weeks to study volumes of material I didn’t know.

I made a plan: 1) Spend x number of hours after work and each weekend to study (that quickly blew apart as I’m a notoriously distracted monkey), and 2) prepare your supervisor for the failure. For the last part, I explained that I hadn’t put in the time, then I tried to put a positive spin on it by saying the test results would allow me to get a baseline of where I am and where I would need to focus for the next test. I tried to point out all the people who had failed that were in the field – people who had again been over our department. My supervisor, who is exceptionally understanding, responded with, “What you’re telling me is that my faith in you is misplaced?” Umm yes? no? maybe?

Let me speed up this story here so we can get to the end a little more quickly. You deserve that since you’ve stuck around this long. The test was Thursday, and I hadn’t put in the time. I hadn’t read the study guide. I hadn’t taken any of the labs, and I definitely hadn’t taken any of the practice tests. No, what I had done was make a 50-page study guide that I really dove into over only a few days. Then I walked into the testing center on Thursday armed with a couple of testing tips:

  • Save all scenario questions until the end, and
  • Only spend 25 seconds on any one question; people run out of time on this test

I had heavy-sighed at my boss the night before when he wished me luck, and I told myself it was ok to fail – professionals in the field had failed, and I had not put in the time. I promised myself ice cream for enduring the day. I promised to do better next time. I played “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons before exiting the car after “Party in the USA,” of course – HB, I had to!

The test started and, in an hour and a half, it was over. I watched the last seconds tick away. The results weren’t immediate; I had to enter demographic information: “I’m a lazy, not educated as much as I’d like, old, white gal.” They promised the results once I hit the “Submit” button on the demographics page. I sighed, reminded myself it was over, that it really hadn’t been as bad, but more than 83% was asking a lot – though again, the questions really weren’t the horror show I expected.

I hit “Submit”.

“You have passed.”

I stared at the screen, and tried to figure out if I had lost my ability to understand words. I read, then re-read, and re-read the words again. I was in complete shock. And that’s when a tear spilled down my cheek followed by some tear friends. I gathered my things and headed out of the room where the receptionist lifted a head and said, “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“You take your time. You see, I just passed the test, and I didn’t think I would, so I’m going to cry at your desk. I hope that’s ok.” She glanced up again, “congratulations,” then went back to what she was doing. And I cried quietly. Once I had my purse returned and the printout declaring that I’d passed, which I re-read multiple times just in case, I walked to the car and ugly cried – big, heaving sobs. I then texted the world starting with my boss who was in a meeting.

John’s Response

About an hour later, my boss got out of his meeting and called me.

John: Congratulations.
Me: Thank you.
John: Now apologize.
Me: … I’m ummm sorry?
John: Apologize for suggesting I had misplaced my faith in you.

Thank you, not just to John, but to the rest of you for continuing to believe in me when I don’t always believe in myself. I’m also thankful that my brain works the way it does (thanks DNA, thanks upbringing), and that I could approach this test the way I did and still pass. (Incidentally, I had 87% of the questions right. It’s not stellar, but it counts. A pass is a pass.) I’m now officially certified in my field, which helps open a few more doors.

Oh, and I did go and get ice cream. A promise is a promise.

That was my June. How was yours?

Words Matter

My husband Jay died by suicide. It was not romantic or noble or beautiful or any other positive feeling you might have seen portrayed in a movie. Mozart’s emotionally stirring Requiem didn’t play softly in the background, nor did a dove take flight in slow motion during the event that changed our lives. No, what happened was an absolute horror show wrapped in “Crime Scene” ribbon starring all of his immediate family and friends.

When you look at the statistics around suicide, it’s estimated that a single suicide affects up to 115 people thanks to a ripple effect. So, not only was I deeply affected, but so were his family, my family, my extended family, my friends, my co-workers, the last person who spoke to Jay when he was in crisis, the police officers involved, the victim’s services staff, and so on. You get the idea.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know all of this, and you know that Jay suffered from depression combined with extreme fatigue as a result of untreated sleep apnea. These are all things you know.

Some things you might not know: I now suffer from anxiety and panic attacks that become more pronounced this time of year as we get closer to the anniversary of Jay’s death. (Each year they get better. Yay.) There are moments that my body suddenly starts telling me I’m in danger, and I need to flee. It’s not exactly what you want to be feeling when you’re in the middle of a meeting in a confined space away from the door and there are 45 minutes left on the clock. We’re just getting started folks. Settle in for this fun brain chemistry run amok rodeo!

So, you may be asking yourself, “Beth, why are we here again? We’ve read this one.”

Well, it’s because I have a request to ask of you – not just for me, but for the other 114 people who were touched by Jay’s suicide. If you figure that nearly 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide each year, and each death affects 115 people, then ultimately my request is for the 92 million people who are affected annually. There is an average of 129 suicides in the US per day, which means that the 92 million grows by 14,835 people in the US each day.

The Request

My request is fairly simple: I need us, as a society, to work on changing some exceptionally bad habits we’ve fallen into. The kind many of us, including me, have innocently engaged in over the years. Here’s what I’m talking about – I’ll explain by way of offering up a scenario: You’ve had a rough day – the kind where everything has really spun a tad out of control, and you’re kind of frustrated/grumpy/what-have-you. You’re standing around the water cooler chatting up your friends, your family, or whomever you like to chat with, and you want to drive home the point of how exceptionally challenging your day was. Now here’s where you may find yourself at a bit of a descriptional crossroads (or multi-directional highway). How do you drive home the point that you’re kind of irritated with how this particular unfair life event unfolded? You’re a good person, clearly deserving of better! I’m going to offer up a pro tip here: Whatever you choose to say, avoid describing whatever happened as being so bad you really want to end it all. Not only should you not say it, you should also avoid a pantomime of meeting that end. The reason? Of the people gathered around listening to the description of your perfectly awful day, you likely have little or no clue as to whether one of them is among the NINETY-TWO MILLION in this year alone who have been affected by suicide. In this case, it’s better to simply say, “I had a bad day.” We can all relate.

If you are in crisis, please seek help immediately and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Another scenario: Let’s say you did something daffy. (I’m sure people do “daffy” things still, don’t they?) You’re a bit embarrassed. You can’t believe how dopey it was – how preventable if you’d only been on your game. Your friends are laughing with you (some possibly at you – friends can be jerks). Just leave it there. You don’t need to put a finger to your head and pretend to blow out your brains; it’s not necessary. Your temporary embarrassment isn’t worth suggesting you should die over it. We get it. It was goofy. Atypical for good ol’ you.

Where This All Came From

Today I sat next to someone who shared a personal story – a tragedy, and I acknowledged how difficult and stressful that time of their life must have been. Then they proceeded to tell me how they “nearly” ended their lives in a particularly graphic way – hand gestures, the whole bit, to really drive the point home that their life had been tough. I just stared. What they described so casually, so nonchalantly was exactly how Jay died so hopelessly, so tragically. I became agitated, which started triggering an anxiety attack. I counted things, I breathed, and then I counted more things because my supervisor frowns on me saying the words that immediately pop into my head in those situations. (He hasn’t explicitly told me “no” though, but I think he relies on my better judgment to help me navigate through those rougher waters.)

From there I decided to write this appeal to everyone and ask that we just stop for my sake, and for the sake of everyone else – for the 92 million affected people. Suicide is not a joke. It’s not a punch-line for your bad day or for things spinning momentarily out of control. It’s serious, it’s tragic, it affects far too many and we shouldn’t make light of it. We shouldn’t wish it on ourselves when we’ve had a bad day, had to spend time with the in-laws, seen a bad performance, or whatever your trigger is that makes you feel like you need to punctuate your displeasure by suggesting you wanted to die. How awful.

Me? I want to survive that bad moment, that bad day, that bad year, that bad performance and look back and say, “Damn, I’m a badass! I made it through again!” Because there is very little in this world that I think would be made better by me not being a part of it.