Crossroads

It’s been far too long since I have sat down to compose a post.  I last posted about anger, emotions, and dealing with life. That was about 2 weeks before Christmas and New Year’s 2016.  I wish I could say I was less angry.  I am not.  My anger is however, less intense. Two major events have changed my intensity.  First, Agnes, my mother-in-law passed away. And second, I really screamed and yelled at my wife. 

Agnes passing was both long in coming and expected.  She had been declining for some time enduring minor strokes and heart failure.  About 2 years ago my wife made the incredibly difficult decision to place her in long-term care.  Prior to this Agnes lived with us. After a series of falls and memory lapses it became too dangerous to leave her alone. We tried in-home care, but the 10 thousand dollar a month price tag quickly made that untenable. After some trial and error we had the great good fortune to find a wonderful, caring nursing center.

Pro-tip for folks seeking elder care:  Medicare and medicaid pay the same for a snake pit as they do a palace.  Choose the palace and work with the medical staff office to keep your elder in the best possible home. Care centers differ widely in the number of staff, food, windows, and ability to provide quality of life and care.  Do your homework. Again, start talking with staff immediately about a permenant placement.  I realize this is a digression.  This information needs to be out in the world as often as possible. 

As I said, Agnes’s death was expected.  The surprise came in the timing. My wife had alway hoped that Agnes would have a heart attack and pass quietly in her sleep. Instead she had a large stroke on the day before New Year’s Eve. Prior to this she had stopped eating and swallowing. Already on pallative care, the family decided to withhold food and water and involve hospice.  

One more digression. Hospice is AMAZING.  Kind, patient, supportive and dedicated to minimizing suffering and pain. Tech’s, nursing aides and administrative staff in nursing homes make a herculean effort to care for our sick and eldery.  They should be blessed, thanked and rewarded for their labor. 

Having watched my father die of esophageal cancer 10 years prior I knew that this process was going to suck. What I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to watch my wife go through it. To watch my love manage her pain and loss was difficult.  It almost broke me several times. Spouses should provide this level of support. This is what we are supposed to do and I would do it again. After almost a week of slow death, Agnes died.  My wife entered a different phase of the grieving process.  She did this with her own dignity and balance.  She is the most honorable person I know and that character kept her going through her pain.  All I could do was offer comfort, love, a ear, and my heart.  This is the opposite of anger.  I couldn’t maintain my intensity for anger.  The necessity of empathy was simply more important to get through this crisis. 

Fast foward to 5 weeks weeks later. My wife and I had an argument. Not an important argument or even a deep one.  I really screamed – not so much to her – but at her.  I had so much pent up rage and it felt good to let it out.  I didn’t realize until much later – that what I really needed to do – was tell someone they were wrong.  To be able to say with complete and total honesty NO THIS SUCKS and your ideas the way you express them are completey inconsistent and incorrect with actually being a kind and decent human being.  This is harsh cruel language. I am not sorry I said it outloud and I meant it.   I am sorry my wife is who I ultimately unloaded on. It wasn’t fair  My honorable wife let me scream and yell.  She knew, somehow, that I needed to do this.  

Almost immediately, after I apologized for yelling, I felt significantly better.  I admist that I still felt guilty fort yelling – and I probably always will. Yet, still my heart and soul felt lighter.

Since the election I had been listening to other side, being polite, letting friends and others post lies and ridiculousness on my Facebook page in the name of neutrality and openess. I was offering the wrong people my energy and my empathy and it was draining me. My wife needed and deserved my support and openness and time but I was squandering this resource on others.   

Finally, my soul said ENOUGH.  I needed to verbalize.   I needed to say without equivocation that people who supported Mr. Trump, for any reason, were wrong. I do not deny their right to vote for their candidate.  I do not deny their humanity. I can acknowledge this and still know they are wrong.  Mr.Trump voters, including family members and friends, voted for a racist, sexist, xenaphobic,  and an unqualified bigot. None of his behaviors and ideas, clearly expressed by Mr. Trump’s words and deeds, were  enough to reject his candidacy. It should have been.  It needed to be.  I had faith that more people would stand against his platform. I was wrong.  As a result I will shout, write, and publish my dissent. I will say this is wrong.  I grieve for my country. This are some of the ways I am dealing with my grief and concern.  

Agnes’s death and my wife’s grief reminded me that I need to maintain and support what is important in my life.  I need to apply the care and empathy I feel for others more consistently and with my depth to my wife and my family.  They need it.  I need it.  It is part of my self care.  The second and equally significant part of my self care is both acknowleding and expressing my truth.  Lead with empathy AND always express my truth.   

Don’t Drive Angry

I love Bill Murray movies. If I can get a Bill Murray movie reference into my writing I will.

Lately I have been incredibly angry.  The kind of anger that has me literally screaming with rage as I drive in my car.  Cars are a safe space for me (see first blog). I find myself alternately screaming or crying as I drive to work, the grocery store, or to run errands with my Mom.  I don’t like being angry or feeling out-of-control.   This is, in part, because these are emotions I am not used to feeling.

About 10 weeks ago I started on a new medication, a mood stabilizer. About 2 weeks after that I stopped taking my old med, an anti-depressant. For me, the two medications did not work well together.  Too many bothersome side effects that hid the effectiveness of the mood stabilizer.  After talking with my doctor and therapist (both angels of mental health!) I stopped taking the anti-depressant.  Soon after I started getting mad.  Really, truly, ragingly angry. Uh oh. This was new and seriously different for me.

I started taking anti-depressants in the fall of 2002 because I was emotionally and physically exhausted and desperately needed help.  The laundry list of serious problems I was attempting to manage include full-time graduate school, a part-time graduate assistant-ship,  a critically ill Mother and, an additional full-time job. The latter was necessary to help my parents keep their business alive while my Mom recovered. I managed, but truly at the expense of my health and well-being.

That was my situation and it was very sink or swim. Honestly, helping my parents out and ensuring that my Mom had a safe place to live didn’t feel like a choice.  I needed and wanted to do all of this. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.  Anti-depressants let me deal with the anxiety and sadness of my situation. They worked really well and got me through one of the most difficult times of my life.  Of course, there were still consequences in the form of side-effects. Side effects suck.  They are the most common reason that people decide to stop taking their medication. 

A common side-effect of anti-depressants is a tamping down or flattening of emotion.  That is in part how these drugs work.  They change  brain chemistry just enough to improve my mood and function.  For me everyhing suddenly became less intense. Suddenly, I could function.  Being less sad was, and is, a good thing. Side effects not so much.  For me the side effects didn’t come immediately but over time.  It happened slowly so I didn’t realize how dramatic my change in personality had become. 

Fast forward to 2015.  I have been taking anti-depressants for about 15 years. Not always the same drug or the same dose but always some type of anti-depressant. At some point they stopped working for my depression yet kept tamping down my emotions.  I was both sad and completely lacking in emotion.  This really sucked.  I was emotionally dead and non-responsive to my needs, my wife’s, and the needs of my family.  It didn’t take long for this to start causing serious problems. At my wife’s urging,  I went back to my doctor and we decided on a new course of treatment. 

I am now taking a mood stabilizer and things are different. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I am experiencing really intense emotions for the first time in years.  It’s weird.  It’s discomforting. At times its downright unpleasant.  While I like not being flat or overly sad, anger confuses me.  I become uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel like I am taking up too much space.  I get that I have legitimate reasons to be angry.  I recognize that anger is part of the spectrum of emotions.  I just don’t know how to deal with it. 

My wife, my friends and family have told me they like me better angry. As a group they have a preference for loud and shouty me.  I am told my anger is more genuine, despite its intensity, than my previous state of nothingness.  This perplexes me quite a bit.  At one level its reassuring because these feeling aren’t going away any time soon.  At a second level it makes me wonder just how annoying and fucked up I had become prior to the med switch. At yet another level it doesn’t matter.  This is where I am at now. I must adapt. 

For now, I will continue to drive angry.  I will carry the furry little gopher of my emotions around with me (hat tip again to Harold Ramis and Bill Murray) as I learn to tame them. 


 

 

 

Parking Spaces

Since the election I have found it difficult to write. I am too damn mad or sad to coherently wrestle my ideas and thoughts into a frame.  Writing usually brings me a sense of calm. It is transformative for me.  Except lately.  When it’s not.  

Anxiety, fear, and a sense of loss are constantly warring with my creativity and idealism for space in my head.   As a result, my  brain is too full to write.  I try but mostly its gibberish. The words just don’t work.  Its frustrating and deeply annoying.

Long ago a wise and wonderful therapist taught me that if you are unable to do something – start by doing anything.   I scoffed and told her it was bumper sticker therapy.  In response she  handed me paper and pen. “Start by making lists,” she said. “It will help.”

Of course, she was correct.  Creating lists did help calm my mind and develop ideas. Fortunately, lists are also a concept I can easily work into a blog. Lists are low(er) pressure and creating them helps ease my guilt and frustration. They help me think.  

Today’s blog is a list. These are five perfect moments from the last two weeks.  Five moments that just felt ideal and right.  Five times I was able to get out of my head and be mindful.  Five times that are worth writing about. 

1. Listening to Spotify at work and my favorite Thomas Dolby song plays over the radio. This song, I love you, goodbye, is one of the best love songs EVER. Slightly weird, slightly techno and Cajun AT THE SAME TIME.  Perfect.  Despite being at work, I sat back, and just listened.  

2. My dear wife, Blu, made homemade caramels. She wrapped them in wax paper and left them on the counter like tiny love notes.  I came home from work tired and cranky. Picking up a caramel, unwrapping it, and then savoring the sweet saltiness was sublime.  A perfect moment. 

3. The Mayor’s Christmas Parade in Hampden.  Despite feeling icky I decided to go.  Standing on the street corner watching floats and Santa was fun and I liked being around friends.  The perfect moment came from a large step band dancing joyously down road.  Drums, pom-poms, sparkle, glitter and tassels all moving together in time. I jumped up and down and danced as they marched past. Girls, women, men, boys, drummers, majorettes, baton and flag twirlers putting everything into the parade and the moment.  This was simply perfect. 

4. Driving to work is always a sketchy experience.  Traffic, noise, sink holes and construction all form a melange of annoyance.  Driving up Monument Street, almost to my office,  I was delayed by a giant truck backing into a driveway.  Irked, I looked out the window and saw the most beautiful, perfect winter red rose-bush.  The sun lit up the blooms creating intense red flowers.  A great  moment before work. 

5. Watching Stranger Things (on Netflix).  I am going to cheat a bit – because this was WAY more than one moment. Such an excellent show. Watching it felt like moment that I simply could not get enough of. 

Traveling to a Friend’s Blog

The following is a guest post I wrote for my dear friend, Jules Jung’s blog, Dear Mr. Trump.  

Dear Mr. Trump,

Hello, my name is Pam McCann and I am today’s guest letter writer. Today’s topic, policies that harm the LGBT community in general and, LGBT youth specifically.  Hat tip to Dr. Julianna Jung for giving me the valuable space to share my concerns. Dr. Jung and I have been close friends for over 30 years. She is a colleague and strong supporter of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).

So, let’s start…shall we?  Mr. Trump I want you to know that I am a lesbian.  I am also a white, married, fifty-years old, and hold a master’s degree. I am a twin, an advocate, a volunteer, administrator, and writer.  These all intertwine and intersect and shape who I am each and every day.  But for today, for this letter, I am writing to you as a lesbian.  To be completely honest with Mr.  Trump, I am really worried.  Your advisors, strategists, cabinet members, and even your Vice President-elect really don’t like the LGBT community.  I am speaking of Governor Pence, Ken Blackwell, Stephen Bannon, and Tony Perkins.  Frankly, Mr. Trump these men scare me.  Here is one important reason why:

Several these men and Vice-President elect Pence have come out (pun intended) in favor of so-called reparative therapy or conversion therapy. If you aren’t familiar with this practice I am not surprised. Conversion therapy has been discredited by nearly every professional medical and educational association in the United States. I am talking all the big ones Mr. Trump, the very important ones. No less than the American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have each condemned the practice because it is based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

Just what is this practice condemned by so many esteemed health organizations? I am truly glad you asked.  Vulnerable gay, lesbian and transgender youth are placed into therapies that actively work to drive out homosexual feelings or gender non-confirming thoughts.  Actually Mr. Trump, I am putting that too nicely and I know you appreciate directness. Vulnerable youth are sent to these therapies by their families and subjected to psychological, emotional, and in many cases physical torture to convert their (normal) homosexual feeling, thoughts, and identities into acceptable heterosexual ones.  Reparative therapy uses shame, guilt, fear and intimidation to “cure” lesbian, gay and transgender youth.  To shock them emotionally out of their feelings, desires and thoughts because they are homosexual.  As you might imagine this is not a benign practice and a totally unnecessary one.

Outside of the United States the World Health Organization has also condemned the practice. It’s so harmful and damaging that several Republican Governors have banned its practice as unsafe.  The best example is none other than Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey. Under his leadership reparative therapy was banned in August of 2013.  Illinois, Oregon, California, Vermont, DC, and New York have each outlawed reparative therapy.  You might be thinking this form of therapy sounds like medical quackery.  Maybe you are thinking who would somebody want to emotionally, psychologically or physically torture a child?

You need to know that others in your inner circle support this cruel practice.  These men are very close to you and will attempt to influence policy in a way that upholds this practice as appropriate.  First, Vice-President Elect Mike Pence who is not a supporter of LGBT civil rights.  He has made that very clear with his decisions as Governor of Iowa.  While he has come out against using shock therapy as a tool of reparative therapy, he still supports attempts to convert children with reparative therapy.  I think we can both agree that not using shock therapy on a child is a very low bar.

Second, we have Ken Blackwell, a politician from Ohio and member of the Family Research Council (FRC). Mr. Blackwell is a member of your Domestic Transition team.   I need to mention that the Family Research Council is so rabidly homophobic that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated them a hate group.  Importantly, this designation was not for their religious beliefs but for their demonization of homosexuality and using junk science and discredited research as support for this thesis. Mr. Blackwell is famous for the oft quoted statement, “gays can be reformed, just like arsonists.”  Mr. Blackwell, like Vice President-elect Pence, believes that the LGBT community needs to be cured or reformed.   I can see you shaking your head Mr. Trump.  I understand. It’s hard to believe that otherwise intelligent people still believe that the gay community is comprised of predatory criminals and the mentally ill.  Mr. Trump, I know you are a fair-minded man. I know that you don’t believe that gays are arsonists, terrorists or any other criminal group.  That’s just silly!  Gay men, lesbian women and transgender individuals are just like everyone else.

So, is this really a problem?  Can this so-called reparative therapy be something you, as President, will have to weigh in on?  Absolutely Mr. Trump! Your friend, colleague and former RNC Chair Reince Preibus has stated that conversion therapy is not part of the Republican Platform.  Yet, there is a plank, a very troubling plank, a huge plank, that states: “we support the rights of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor child.”  This may seem reasonable enough until you carefully look at both the author of the plank and the wording.  Chair of the FRC, Mr. Tony Perkins managed to get this plank inserted into the Republican Party Platform.  Remember the the last paragraph where I mentioned the FRC as a hate group because of their stance on gay folks?  Mr. Perkins wanted, and got, the word, “therapy” added. There has been much debate between Democrats and Republican over this plank.  Does it apply to conversion therapy or not?  As the President-elect of the United States, and standard bearer of the Republican party you very well may be called on to decide just what this plank means.

Mr. Trump, I appeal to you if that time comes and this decision needs to be made, please seek the counsel of practicing medical doctors, licensed therapists, counselors and psychologists.  Find experts in LGBT youth to share their professional opinions. I can suggest experts at the National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute. Please consider the minds and souls of the young people at stake.  As a nation we cannot afford to trust debunked pseudo-science and fear mongering when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  We cannot punish children for their normal thoughts and feelings. LGBT kids aren’t sick or criminals. They are trying to find their way into the world and need support and guidance.  Just like the rest of us.

Thanks for the time and space.  I would be happy to talk to you about this in person if have an opening in your calendar or the time.
Sincerely,
Pam

PS  Suicide rate among LGBT teens is nearly twice that of their heterosexual counterparts.  It is the negative attitudes, violence and harassment faced by LGBT teens that drives this problem.  It’s not the kids that are sick, it’s the society they live in.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/08/19/chris-christie-gay-conversion-therapy-new-jersey/2671197/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/11/19/gays-can-be-reformed-just-like-arsonists-trumps-new-domestic-policy-adviser-has-said/

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/family-research-council

https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform/

http://www.advocate.com/politics/2016/7/17/reince-priebus-gop-platform-doesnt-support-ex-gay-therapy

http://www.washingtonblade.com/2016/11/10/anti-lgbt-trump-transition-team/

http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving….

Road Trip

My blog is entitled Road Trip. I sifted through and rejected a myriad of other titles before arriving at this one. For example, the mono title; WORD. The too long title; The Musings of a Left-Handed Twin Tarot Card Reader.  That last one came in close for the most silly. The most pretentious title; Chronically Underemployed yet only Slightly Desperate.  And more recently: WTF?  Honestly, it almost took as long to name this blog as it took to make my decision to write one.  Titles, or naming, are important.  Naming something (anything) is akin to a christening.  No ones wants to be stuck with a poor choice (see above potential titles).

After obviously overthinking and obsessing I chose Road Trip. Road Trip is also the title of my first serious piece of writing. The first Road Trip was written 20 years ago with my close friend Molly. We were taking a Women’s Studies class at The University of New Mexico and decided to write Road Trip: a Radio Play as our final assignment.

We wrote this medium because it was unusual. Writing together meant we could share the work burden. Most of our classmates decided on traditional research projects or physical art. A radio play seemed exiting and different.  Road Trip became our title because of our shared belief that the only truly safe space for discussion without interruption or distraction is a car. Just two people, driving towards a destination with lots of time. Cars create a cone-of-silence type intimacy that fosters risk taking, honesty, and quite often intense silliness.  Of course, our project was WAY more work than we anticipated. Writing often is.

Molly and I spent weeks on Road Trip. We talked, we revised and we developed our ideas and thoughts about the world. Mostly, though we wrote. Writing is serious yet impractical magic. The process helped me transform my thoughts and ideas onto paper.  My ideas in written form, not just a jumble of noise in my head, was a huge revelation for me. I had journeled before and kept a diary but these mediums did not have the same personal impact.  Knowing others, including my professors, would read our work forced me to up my game. I wrote with the goal of coherence, readability, and impact while I wrote for myself. With this project I began to believe in my ability to craft language, create images, and develop arguments.  With Road Trip, I began really writing.

Twenty years later Road Trip, the Radio Play, remains a well planned and thought out conversation transposed into writing. The time it took, the energy it created and released are among my most important memories.  Road Trip, the blog, is my way older, more experienced attempt at to refocus my energy and attention on writing and thinking.

My plan is to post at least twice a week.  I am planning on fiction, essay, rants, letters and possibly academic style writing. I write in a lot of different formats because I think in a lot of different formats.  If I am going to put my words out into the ether that is cyberspace there is no point in confining myself to one style. I have no idea of anyone will ever read Road Trip although I would be delighted if someone does.  My soul, and frankly my ego, are at peace with the possibility of zero readership.  There are two people I would like to read my posts; my beloved twin Jenny and my beloved friend Molly.  I dedicate my first post to their creativity and support.