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. 

Last Breath

“How do you honor Jay?” I stared back at the counselor as I mentally rolled through all the things I felt I should say – trite words and ideas designed to fill in a perceived silence. “You don’t have to answer now, just think about it.”

I did.

Then I reached out to an artist named Cameron who brought to life an idea I had floating around in my head.

This is how I honor Jay. This is how I honor us.

Thank you, Cameron. I appreciate your infinite patience, kindness, and understanding as we worked through this process together.

(Interested in contacting him or commissioning a piece of your own? You can find his Etsy shop here.)

A Brag & A Story

A couple of disclaimers before I start: First, I’m writing this about an hour past my bedtime. So, if you think my typing/editing is bad on a good day, I anticipate the pain level to be turned up 10 notches before I finally hit “Publish”. Please say a tiny prayer now that my editor David has seen this before you had to endure reading it. Second, I’m about to brag. In the past you’ve seen the “strong language ahead” warnings, but today, today is a brag warning since I recognize that listening to people brag (or reading their posts) may cause involuntary eye rolling. I get it. Feel free to call it good at this point and return to your regularly scheduled email/social media browsing. I’m sure, without much browsing effort, that you can enjoy fun astronomy tidbits like how the moon is actually part of Mars. Fingers-crossed they reinstate Pluto as a planet soon. C’mon little guy, I’m pulling for you! Anyway…

Beth and Bragging

Let me start with some backstory: it’s a rare day that I brag. Sure, I do it on occasion, but most days I don’t feel I’m doing something so amazing that it warrants a herald shouting it from the rooftops. I just kind of do my thing – nothing really special about that. I’m ordinary – a bit dry-witted, and exceptionally sarcastic (my parents are so proud). If you were actually to pin me down and say, “Beth, name two things you feel you do well,” I’d tell you, “I’ve got great penmanship,” and, “I’ve got a great smile.” That’s really it. I can smile and sign things like a champ, and smiling is really not a thing I do; it’s genetics. My parents get more credit there. If you asked for a third thing, I’d struggle and then would probably offer up uncomfortably, “I’m the current holder of most f-bombs dropped on a Monday.” (Again, my parents are super proud.) In all fairness though, being asked repeatedly for sage advice about an upcoming potluck pushed all of my crazy buttons (there are multiple buttons varying in severity, but asking about the potluck was like you’d smashed all of those buttons at the same time). I started wanting to say, “I don’t have a dog in that fight, Carol – my ‘give a fox’ are super low,” but found that was taking much too long, especially when I could more easily give someone a wild-eyed look and carpet bomb them with colorful expletives. Hey, it’s seriously more effective at conveying the message of: “I’ve lost my mind. Now, lay down your offering right now, don’t lose eye contact, back away very slowly, and RUN!”

I’m also not particularly big on praise. Sure, I love it. Who doesn’t enjoy being told they’re good? valued? or what have you? That’s great. Thanks! But whatever I’m being praised for, I typically don’t feel – not deep down. I remember being at a friend’s grandfather’s in high school. She was introducing me and heaped on the praise. I demurred; it felt so keenly uncomfortable – like bragging, but bragging that was out of my control. And I didn’t want to say, “Why yes, I actually am as brilliant as she suggested. In fact, I feel she held back and didn’t quite capture the radiant and spectacular being that I am. Now get your genuflection on, briefly bask in my glory, and toddle on, please. Good day. I said, good day, sir!”

Yeah, that’s just not me. I keenly remember his cool response as he considered me with a frown and said, “False modesty is a sin.” I just blinked as if I’d been slapped. Needless to say, I’ve flipped him off multiple times in my mind for decades now. It’s to the point that if I were given the opportunity to go back in time, I’d revisit that moment (once I’d finished having dinner with Jay and my Mom, of course). I’d pop into teenage me, and treat him like it was a bad Monday and he’d just asked whether people enjoyed pizza from a donut shop at a potluck. In other words, I would have sworn a lot at an old man. (FYI, donut shops shouldn’t serve pizza. I’m just saying. That’s not a thing.)

Hrmmm… I probably should have thrown in a language warning, too. Oh well.

Another Small Story

There’s another piece of my story you need to understand before I get to the brag. My Mom was an athlete. She played tennis, badminton, basketball, and speedball. Mom bowled and swam and occasionally played volleyball. She could ice skate, as well. When she was a girl, her idol was Babe Didrikson, and she’d work on her forehand/backhand against the garage door. Growing up, I was taught to idolize Billy Jean King. The game against Bobby Riggs was a huge deal at our house. I was taught to worship Little Mo, too. On Saturdays, Mom would go off and play tennis with her girlfriends, or she’d drag me to a pool where she’d swim a mile or two while I splashed around.

Being an athlete was part of her identity, and then she had me. I was never headed down that road. I was clumsy, slow, and bad at almost every sport she dropped me into. I spent one summer, where I was forced into little league, sitting on the bench in the dugout for almost every game, because I’d do insane things like swing at balls rolling on the ground or I’d daydream while hanging out in the outfield. At nine years old, no one can really hit that far – at least in our league – so I didn’t feel a need to engage with what was happening on the field. In tennis, I was decent at serving aces, but terrible at returning balls over the net. Gymnastics was a complete disaster, and we don’t need to talk about volleyball ever. I was also the only kid in our pre-K group who couldn’t pass the swim test. Now some of that can be attributed to having no interest in the sport at hand, but the other part of that was my depth perception was/is poor. Eh, but mostly it was that I had no interest; I wasn’t Mom. Sports weren’t my thing. I enjoyed reading books, listening to music, and staring at the stars.

Now there are a lot of great things about my Mom, but when it came to sports Mom didn’t hold back. She would let me know how disappointed she was in my lack of athletic ability. She once told me she wanted an athlete, and I felt guilty that she got a book nerd instead. Eventually, how I viewed my physical abilities bubbled-up during one of the initial assessments with my trainer. I had a lot to offer about what I wasn’t… what I couldn’t…

At some point Jenn and I had a frank talk, and I’m going to misquote a bit, but know this is what my takeaway was, “Beth, I’ve worked with you and seen how you perform. You are not uncoordinated; you have athletic ability. I just think you were never directed to the right sport, and didn’t have someone really working with you.” (Jenn used some of those words, if not all of them. Ok, she may have only said, “the,” but hey I got some of the quote right? Maybe? Look, I’m not a professional journalist!)

The Actual Brag: What You Came Here For

Whew! You’re caught up! Hi, Buddy!

Now that we’ve knocked out all of that background fluff, I can move on to the brag. Here we go! Today I went to my lessons – week four of my Advanced Beginning Class, and eight weeks into swimming. My swim coach pulled me aside, away from the rest of the group, and said my freestyle was looking good, especially my side breaths. She was also very happy with my backstroke. Apparently, all I need to do in order to advance to the next level is learn the breast stroke and work on increasing my stamina (I still get winded, which drives me crazy – I mean, I can actually row for nearly two hours, yet swimming 25 meters, much less 50, which probably takes a few minutes tops, is incredibly challenging.) All that said though, I’m pretty excited about arriving at another new level. And to think I got here without sitting in my chair and holding my breath. GO ME!

And what it tells me is that there’s a lot I can do – things I never thought I could, yet here I am. I’m swimming. I’m rowing. I’m deadlifting. I’m throwing weight bars over my head, I’m squatting, and I do it six days out of the week. So, maybe if I could go back in time, in addition to Monday-screaming at my friend’s grandfather (who’d want to pass on that opportunity), I’d also stop by to visit me and say, “hey, you’re not your Mom. Those sports aren’t your thing, but take a look at these other things. You’re going to rock those. “

Anyway, it’s a small brag, but this non-athlete was pretty pleased with herself today.

All the May New Things, Or How I Did Nothing

I said, “I’m going to try something new each month in 2019! Yessirree! It’s going to be so great! Maybe I’ll discover something about myself! Reinvent myself (in a good way, of course – no meth addictions or running that bar I’ve always dreamed of)” Yep, that’s what I said. You read it.

Now when I repeat all of that in my head, I do so in my “near-Beth” voice – that one that has heavy mocking overtones and undertones (really, it’s got all the tone – it’s rather tone-rich – tone-full?), and of course it’s accompanied by an overly dramatic eye roll. Oh yeah, new thing in May… mm hmmm… the year isn’t even half over, you had 30 days, and nothing? Really? Solid work there, Maynard!

Truthfully, I had an idea, and then my idea blew up spectacularly. In fact, I’m still smarting from this idea, and it makes me contort my face into a perfectly grumbly stink-face just thinking about it. I’d shake my first at it, but my idea is completely impervious to my attempts at intimidation. Rude!

So, here’s the May update on the nothing new I did.

  • I moved to the big kid’s class in swimming – a side story to that – I told a group of people that I was taking the adult swimming class, because I didn’t know how to swim, and they decided I meant, “I have a fear of water.” Nothing beats trying to explain to another adult that, “no, I don’t think that sitting in my chair and holding my breath for long periods of time will actually help my swimming. I don’t have a water fear.” “But what if you practiced holding your breath?” “Yeah. Still no. Won’t make me better at a front crawl, but you’re adorable! Go on! Hold my breath you say?”
  • My gym idol came up, said he wanted to take a photo of me to encourage one of his friends, and told me I was doing great – that I was really inspiring. (I’m pretty sure he actually meant to say, “I actually want the photo to put in my locket,” and he confused his words. I mean, I am kind of a hot, sweaty, old lady gym-babe. Who wouldn’t? I’m practically a hot, sweaty, old lady gym pin-up girl! (Hrmmm… or maybe just a hot sweaty old lady at the gym. One of those.)
  • I hit a new rowing pace low of 2:26/500m for a 9000m row. I maintained that pace for my 10,000m row yesterday. That .9 rounds down! Hey, it may not be the best, but considering I started at a 3:15/500m pace when I first started, and I couldn’t row 1000m without wanting to wheeze and die, I feel pretty good about that pace.
  • I was interviewed for my company’s newsletter – had a lovely conversation with the in-house journalist (he formerly worked for the San Angelo Standard-Times where he reported on the whole Warren Jeffs’ FLDS stand-off – fascinating guy (the journalist, not Warren Jeffs)). We have about 35,000 employees, so that felt kind of good. I look forward to seeing the article. Who knows, I may reprint it here depending on how it reads. Hey, I’m not above bragging! I’m not proud.
  • I said goodbye to my 10 year old mentee. We celebrated with pizza, fake fingernails (not on the pizza), and spicy hot Funyuns (BLECH!! But she loved them.) I reminded her of how amazing I think she is, and let her know that I believe she will do incredible things in this world. She’s so kind, sweet, curious, and plain fun to be around. I’ll miss making slime. (I can now make about four different kinds. Who knew there were so many??) Also, I’m kind of a whiz with baking soda experiments.
  • I had an anxiety attack (’tis the season), melted down, called a counseling referral service, had another one on that call (Happy Anniversary – this is how I celebrate that annual event these days), and met a lovely counselor. We’re now talking about how to manage those moving forward. I don’t judge how you celebrated Mental Health Awareness Month, but I feel I personally did my part.
  • … and while this is getting into June things, I want to add: The counselor asked me how I honored Jay, and told me to think on it. So, while I’ve been thinking on it, I found an artist, and I’ve commissioned an original piece – something that represents the two of us. I’m not sure how it will look or if it will match my particular vision, but I rather like that I’ve inspired art – even if it’s only in a small way. And I love that something wholly new will be brought to life – something that in its own small way will honor Jay.

Heads-up: I’ve also got no idea what I’ll do in June either. Go new things in 2019!

Who Am I? (The Time Beth Went to Friend Jail)

I’m going to tell a story based on what I believe or feel to be true, but isn’t necessarily true. So, let’s go ahead and file this part of the post under “disclaimers,” and we’ll put the post under, “feelings.” In other words, please feel free to take the rest of what I’m going to say with a huge grain of salt (or whichever condiment you prefer to flavor potential exaggerations. Mmmm cardamom).

Recently, I had lunch with an old friend – someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and it was absolutely fantastic. I may have hurt myself from smiling. We spent the entire time talking; so many words stumbled out, old stories, tales of new lives, and I swear I squeaked half the time. I didn’t want to walk away. I wanted to keep talking until I’d exhausted all the topics under the sky or sun or moon or whichever celestial body was in view – wishing for a few more minutes, a few more after that, and greedily even more still until the conversation spiraled on into an infinite and intricate tapestry of lives lived fully. Unfortunately, a lunch hour is truly only a single hour (or an hour plus if I push it). I imagined the look on my boss’s face, a person who is normally quite understanding and tolerant, if I tried to explain that by “lunch hour” I actually meant “lunch afternoon.” Had I not mentioned that before? And really, funny thing, it was just a slip of the tongue when I said “lunch hour” as I was heading to my car. I’m bad with words. Hey, but four hours off is ok, right? Meetings shmeetings. Work can wait while I socialize, can’t it?

Imaginary boss, much like my actual boss, wasn’t having any of it. Poo.

One of the topics discussed was personality tests – Myers-Briggs, Enneagrams, etc., and he joked, “before we can continue with this friendship, you’ll have to take a personality test.” I’ve taken several – Myers-Briggs (where I’m currently an INFJ – I used to be an INTJ, and at some point I remember taking it and there had been an “X” which indicated I was truly in the middle on one of those – like F vs. S maybe? Its been awhile. But hey, today it indicates I’m a “Protector.”) I’ve taken the Insights Discovery profile through work, which says I’m a “Coordinating Supporter,” and the Gallup StrenghthsFinder 2.0 that lists my top two strengths as “Empathy” and “Input” (where you gather information before acting). Basically, all of the tests seem to indicate, “I have a personality.” Go me!

A few weeks pass and he sends a simplified Enneagram test. Hrmm, two questions that apparently show I’m “caring, generous, but also possessive.” As for the “possessive” descriptor, I can only defend myself with this: I’m an only child, and as such I understand one thing – anything I see is mine. As for the things I can’t see, well they may also be mine; however, they’re not at the forefront of my mind to claim since they’re out of view. Obviously, your possessions are yours – your house, your car, your family, your pets – I’ll give you those. Mostly, because your taste is really off and I don’t need them, but also I suppose because they’re actually yours. (You did read the part that the new test indicates I am “generous,” right? Here is the written proof. Boy, those tests nail my personality.)

Well, I was told a further test must be given to test out some theory he had, and another test showed up in my mailbox. I took that one, sent it back, and later had a phone discussion where I learned that the results were confusing in some way – that he had to read further on it; only one other friend of his and I had scored so strangely. I quipped about handing out exams when you can’t read the results, and by “quipped” I mean I said something in a sarcastic/smart-assy kind of way, but with a jovial/light-hearted tone, I’m sure!

Then I may have had to back-out on a last minute invite, and somewhere between that and the mysterious final results of these personality tests I landed in friend jail. And my friend jail, I’m pretty certain I’m dead to this person, or I guess the routers between our Gmail accounts could have encountered a temporal anomaly, and he’ll either get the latest email I sent in 50 years, or it was sent when we were in high school, when there were no routers. However, Occam’s razor is really pointing towards “friend jail.” And to all of that I say, “well poop” because we really had a great conversation. Or maybe it was just me who had the great conversation. Hrmm… normally I’m pretty good at reading people. Although, now that I think about it, I suspected the friend jail was coming when I was explaining that I couldn’t make it to the last minute event invite.

This is kind of a bummer since my current friends really could have stood having a break from “the Beth show” that a new friend being in the mix would have offered. You see, my friends prefer I spread the wealth of me. I suspect they play rock-paper-scissors to determine whose turn it might be next.

Anyway, now I’m a little curious as to what the test indicated, and also a tiny bit offended that someone might have used personality test results xeroxed from a book as the only factor in determining if I’m an acceptable person to be around. (Please refer to the disclaimer at the top of this post, since you were warned this is about feelings and may not be the truth.) Dude, you’re not a psychologist or psychiatrist trained in reading the results, and basically this test was two questions? Really? You might as well have given me the latest Buzzfeed: Which Game of Thrones Character Are You? FYI, it said Joffrey. I’m not too keen on that either. I was hoping for Ghost or, you know, Arya.

Which Leads Me to My Thoughts on Personality Tests

I think personality tests are interesting. I think they can identify certain tendencies or qualities, but I don’t think they’re entirely accurate for a simple reason: You’re being asked to do a self-assessment of who you think you are. You’re being asked to take an inventory of your own personality, and the simple truth is we all have have blind-spots and biases when it comes to who we actually are. I know I do. I don’t know that any of us are so self-aware that it would be possible to get a 100% accurate picture of who we are. Sure, you can get a very good idea of who I think I am.

That said, I do think they can be used as a decent tool, depending on the test. I also think they can be a good starting point to lead into an actual interaction with the person, and that from there you can gain a more complete picture of the person. You simply can’t expect to know a person based on the results of a test. My guess is that if you threw me into a room with other INFJ’s or Coordinating Supporters, that while we would have some things in common, we wouldn’t be the same. Individually, we are so nuanced that a mere 16 personality types will never be enough to encompass everyone. If I walk into a room with 100 people, it’s unlikely there will be six people exactly like me.

So, who am I? I’m a unique combination of my genetics, my upbringing, and my environment. I’m my hobbies, my interests, my State (as a Texan, this is a real thing guys), and my politics. I’m a walking amalgamation of a thousand traits and habits that I’ve picked up through the years from my friends and family. Who I am cannot be, and should not be, summed up in the results of a personality test. You might as well have asked me for my zodiac sign. (FYI – Saturn was in retrograde when I was born.)

If you want to know me, then talk to me, but I can tell you I’m more than the answers to two questions.

Mental Health Awareness Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Mental Health Statistics Include:

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

Suicide Statistics:

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

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

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

In An Emergency

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

In A Crisis

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

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

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

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Thing I Did in April

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

Swimming: The New Thing I Did in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Swimming

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

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

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

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

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

April – Began Beginning Adult swim lessons

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

A Book

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

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

As I Was Saying

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

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

The Hubris

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

The Caveats

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

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

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

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

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

Did I Say Rowing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, a Blog… and Other Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Me: I write.

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

Me: I have a blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really should take up drinking one day.

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

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

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

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

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