Rerouting Bad Habits

One would think that during Mental Health Awareness month, I would be inundating subscribers with thoughts, advice, and tidbits from my own journey. Perhaps if I were a medical professional looking at it from the outside of the experience, I’d have done that. As someone dealing with these issues though, I decided to take this month to actually focus on my own mental health and well-being and it has been eye opening to say the least.

Many days this month I’ve functioned quite capably and I’m putting that in the first position, because it deserves to be acknowledged and (dare I say) praised. I’m the type of person who tends to focus on my flaws first and am always awaiting with bated breath the moments where I can beat myself up for not attaining some ever-changing goal that I’ve either set for myself or that I feel that society at large expects us to attain. I’m slowly learning that this habit creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that keeps me from my true goal of being well and content. So, kudos, self for being better more days than not. Here’s your gold star.

I’ve only had one spiraling event so far. Actually “event” isn’t the right word, because there was nothing tangible going on in my life to tie it to. It was more like a weighted cloud was resting just above me, neither touching me nor completely impeding my movement, but making everything more difficult. Kind of like trying to run on a humid day. You can do it, but breathing is more labored and every motion feels like it’s traveling through some thickened soup.

In the past on days like that, I would always keep it moving, and for some people that might be the best course of action. This process is different for everyone, and there’s no “one size fits all” to be found. In my case, however, pushing through generally resulted in me tapping myself to depletion and being useless for even more days than I would have had I just rested the first day I was struggling. Again, this is all trial and error. I’m trying to view it as a living experiment and taking mental notes on positive and negative results has helped me to learn more with each attempt about what works and what doesn’t.

Training myself out of bad habits that no longer work for me has likely been the most difficult part of this process. I’m a big fan of habits and rituals. There’s a comfort in reflexively knowing what the next step is without having to constantly run scenarios through my brain of potential outcomes. A lifetime of overthinking is how I got here after all, so any peace I can find in not thinking is welcome. Unfortunately, my brain didn’t come wired with an automatic rerouting kit when a road is closed or under construction.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when everyone didn’t have a portable GPS system in their smart phones. And while youngsters may readily imagine stumbling across a diplodocus or a brachiosaur along that pre-digital era path; in truth, it wasn’t that long ago.

Those years, which I promise were well after the Mesozoic period, were in a short lived time known as the Brick Phone era. Phones back then only made :gasp: PHONE CALLS. To successfully complete a journey from one destination to another required either previous knowledge of the route or some printed form of a map like a road atlas. In those days I happened to be working in a travel agency at AAA.

Aside from their unofficial role as the patron saints of roadside breakdowns, AAA was also known for their TripTiks. It was a narrow binder of route maps plotting your course from your home to your driving destination of choice. Even though it wasn’t my job, I often helped out my friends in that department when a holiday travel rush was upon us.

Members got them for free and likely had no idea how tedious a process it was just to map out their trip. There were pages and pages of routes that covered the entire country and you had to hand-pick the ones that applied to them while constantly cross-referencing faxed updates of construction and detours that their route contained. Hearing the squeal of the fax machine as you glanced at the stack of completed spiral bound pages filled you with the dread of having to tear them apart and insert the changes.

Before you think my cheese has slipped off my cracker completely, I’m sharing that as a way to explain what rewriting my own bad habits has been like. I have a course plotted that’s worked for years and then my depression or anxiety squeals to let me know I have to re-route. Just the alarm fills me with dread, but I either have to do the work to plot a new course, or I risk getting stranded along the way, not knowing where to go. And as anyone who has experienced anxiety knows, that’s the last place you want to be.

The detours and roadblocks on depression’s journey don’t always come before you’re underway though. There’s often an internal battle in my own head over who takes priority…depression or anxiety. For me, it’s whichever one is squealing the loudest in a given moment. I’ve been surprised to learn that helping one often calms down the other. Maybe it’s because they are often tied together, like a pair of fraternal twins. Or possibly it’s just bleeding steam off the pressure cooker that silences the high pitched whistle. Either way, the outcome is calmer and quieter.

As I wrap up this month and this entry, my main focus is to continue my efforts to reroute habits that have become unhealthy. Whether it’s evaluating relationships that do more harm than good, giving up crutches that keep me from moving under my own power, or changing the way I think about myself; they are impediments to my goals. Those pages need to be taken out and replaced with a smoother path. At least until my brain gets more advanced and does the re-routing for me.

I hope your month had more good days than bad and that you plug along toward whatever gives you the most contentment. Wishing blessings upon you until next time.




Not all monsters look scary, all grotesque and hairy

Or they couldn’t do monstrous things.

Some look rather average, not remotely that savage

And some come like angels with wings.

They’ll promise you pleasure or untold of treasure

You’d never believed you’d behold

Others fulfill your dreams, with delight you will scream

Until their true nature unfolds.

Then the mask starts to slip, once you’re tight in their grip

And the realization sets in

You fell for the trapping, in shiny gift wrapping

That the monster had hidden within

The end of the story doesn’t have to be gory

Because of the power of choice

Start first by not believing their attempts at deceiving

And then regain your own voice.

Then slowly but surely what once seemed so burly

Begins to shrink in its power

To brainwash your mind and make you seem blind

To the fact that you are a flower.

Be sure when you’re leaving not to spend much time grieving

O’er the lies you bought that they sell

For it’s certain in fact, that they’ve worked on this act

So even the smartest folks fell for their spell.

Self Interest Is Not Selfish

One of the biggest hurdles I have had to overcome in my struggle with anxiety and depression is choosing to focus on self-care. While growing up, I was taught in Sunday School that the key to joy was to prioritize J-esus, O-thers then Y-ou. (Being raised in a Christian household, I can only speak from my own experience. I’m sure there are parallels in others faiths or lessons learned in school you can reflect upon.) Admittedly it was a catchy way to implant a seed to avoid raising a generation of little narcissists, and instead have young hearts focusing on doing the right thing and being charitable. I’ve learned, however, as an adult that it can be taken too far. I continued to operate under this method some forty years after learning it, only to come to the realization that there are far more “others” out there and only one me. I continually gave well past when my cup was empty and wondered why the joy, if I experienced it at all, was fleeting.

I don’t have statistics and data to back this next part up, but from my conversations with friends across the globe on social media, many of my fellow sufferers are also “giver” types. Always willing to lend an ear, offer encouragement, or help others in some way. But we all share one negative in common. We lack prioritizing self-care. Whether it’s because it seems selfish to us, we lack the time, or have no knowledge of what it even means may vary, but the results are still the same. When you are constantly giving without refilling your own cup, emptiness is the result.

My personal struggle was that I was being selfish. If a friend or loved one had taken the time to include me in some event or activity, saying “no” was outwardly displaying that I didn’t care about their needs or desires. So invariably I would say “yes” even if my mind and body were virtually begging me for rest and/or solitude. And the spiral downward would predictably continue. Another by-product that came along with it was resentment. Can they not see the toll it’s taking? Do they not realize the state I’m in as a result? More often than not, the answer to that was a resounding “NO,” because I never took the time to tell them. Our friends and family aren’t psychics. They aren’t inside our heads knowing and feeling our struggles. How could they possibly know if we aren’t giving a voice to our issues?

In my own small real-life circle, I’m well known for my bluntness. As I’ve aged I’ve learned to take an emery board to the rougher edges in attempt to make my thoughts more palatable and less painful, but it was and is still an expectation that I would speak my mind. I did so in every arena except for with my depression and anxiety. The reasons varied, be they not wanting pity, a lack of desire to try to put into words thoughts and emotions I barely understood myself, or the fear of appearing selfish. But it was that lack of communication that continued the cycle of depleting myself to a point of barely being able to function in real life.

Self-care is different things to different people. There’s no “one size fits all” scenario that rejuvenates every sufferer. For some (including myself) it’s solitude. For others it’s self-pampering activities like spa days or weekend trips. For many it’s time with a trusted friend or therapist to talk through the issues you’re going through. Whatever your outlet is, employ it. And if you don’t yet know what works for you, try a variety of things until you find your perfect fit.

Also be sure to clue your close friends and family in on what you are going through. You’ve chosen this circle for a reason and more often than not you’ll not only be met with understanding, but also support and encouragement. That can be invaluable in helping you continue your pursuit of wellness. If the occasion arises where you’re met with resistance and a lack of understanding, you may need to re-evaluate where that person or persons ranks on your own priority list. Not everyone who hasn’t experienced depression and anxiety will necessarily fully get it, but if there is zero support, or worse yet…negativity in response to your needs, you might have outgrown that relationship.

I’m finding in these early stages that building relationships and a community with other sufferers has been a blessing in my own journey. Many have been on this path much longer than I have and provide me with lessons and tools to cope. They are also a safe place to fall because they can speak from experience and often have had almost the exact same thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. So, please, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and know that you aren’t alone. As the stigma lifts you’ll be able to find more and more people to add to your circle of support. And always consider me to one among the many. Journeying together eases our individual burdens.

Lastly, remember that self-interest and self-care aren’t selfish. They actually contribute to bringing us back to our most full and capable selves. Replenishment is necessary in order to be able to keep giving and helping. There is no shame in it. It’s key to survival.

Much love to all of you. Keep fighting and caring for yourselves.



Depression Is A Mood Disorder Not A Mood

For those of you unfamiliar with me or my journey, let me state up front that I am not a doctor. The truth of the matter is, I’m relatively new to the community of depression and anxiety sufferers. This blog is an outlet for me to process the emotions and thoughts I experience as I walk down this relatively foreign path. I’m open to continuing dialogue if you care to comment, but I will not address things outside the realm of my current knowledge base, nor will I engage with hate or negativity. Apologies in advance if that seems harsh, but I’m quickly learning that boundaries are a key factor in my own growth and healing.

Depression and anxiety are difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced them. I had my own false notions about them before the conditions landed firmly in my lap. The uninitiated often see it as merely being down or in a bad mood. While it is a mood disorder, it is far from being a mood. A mood can often easily be changed by a moment of joy or doing something you love. Outwardly, I am a very positive person who is quick to laugh or make a joke. I’ll offer a kind smile to a stranger and I often wonder if the first thought that comes to mind is, “There goes a happy person.” They wouldn’t be wrong on most days. I’m always looking for the good, be it in people, or life in general. My husband often jokes that I’m a the-glass-is-never-empty type person because I still hold onto the hope that with air inside the right conditions can turn the air into water and refill it.

Depression doesn’t care if you’re a happy person though, because it doesn’t work the way a mood does. The best way I’ve been able to describe it to those who haven’t experienced it is that it’s like a heavy veil of gray weighing down what you would like to feel or do. Some days I have the strength to haul the burden of the weight and put on a false front and continue about my day. Other days, the weight is more than I can lift. One shouldn’t confuse that with weakness though. You wouldn’t expect someone to be able to lift a tree on their own, and sometimes your brain has you convinced the veil is as heavy as a redwood. Your brain also knows how to protect you and let you know when you need to rest and rebuild your strength.

I’m going to discuss a hard truth right now, and my intent is not to hurt or offend, but to enlighten. You may have said what I’m about to share in a well-meaning way to a friend and knowing your heart, they let it slide without rebuttal. I’ve actually done the same in my own life, but now it’s time to be frank. One of the worst things you can say to someone in the midst of depression is “Go out and do something fun.” I probably can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard or read this while in the fetal position in my bed with salty tears staining my face. What a wonderful and easy illness this would be to conquer if it were that simple. Again, we know you love us and you’re trying to help, so don’t take this as condemnation or a sign that you shouldn’t reach out to your friends. Support is everything during our lows, but again…it’s not a mood. It’s not shed by a fun activity. On the contrary it’s often amplified by the fact that something that normally gives you so much joy now feels flat and empty.

Instead, might I suggest, that you tell them you love them and remind them that the lows are temporary and that you will be with them if they want as they ride it out. Don’t be offended though if they choose to ride it out alone. We often don’t want to burden our loved ones who we know have their own life stresses to deal with. And still others of us need the solitude in order to refuel and recuperate. Having open-hearted and honest discussions with your friends about what they need is another great way to navigate through their difficult times.

I’m also learning as I go along that not everyone is willing or able to share that they even have these conditions. Part of that stems from the stigma attached to mental health issues. I can’t control the chemicals my brain produces any more than a diabetic can control how much insulin his or her pancreas secretes. Nutrition, exercise, and medication all help keep the balance, but they don’t stop incidents from occurring. It’s not a choice to have depression, as some of the uneducated would have you believe. A day in the body of a sufferer would teach them that, but Freaky Friday moments don’t happen in real life.

Because of the stigma, many will suffer silently for fear their employers or even future employers will find out and pass over their résumé in favor of someone who doesn’t come with the so-called “baggage” of mental health issues. Some won’t even reach out to doctors for fear a record being kept or having to face a potentially lifelong relationship with prescriptions. Their silence is completely understandable if you take a look at how people who are open with their issues are treated in real life and on social media.

For those of you who are forced into silence, I hope my voice helps rather than hinders. And for those of you who are blessed to be able to use your voices, I hope you will do so. I will join you in that chorus until we are understood and accepted as is. In the meantime, be good to yourself. Give yourself the same grace that you so readily bestow on others and keep fighting the good fight.

Much love to you all,


If you need to find resources for help there are several on the NIMH website or you can talk to your primary care physician.

A Fond Farewell

A little over a year ago, I delved into a whole new world of blogging and then podcasting for Kiki and Kibbitz. Brianna and Jordan had already started the venture and they were kind enough to not only let me join in, but also have a voice in avenues we might want to explore, as well as topics. It was so far out of my comfort zone that I was sure I’d crash and burn and be an anchor, rather than an asset. They encouraged me through my fears and I learned those fears could be conquered through their support and the support of the friends I made on social media.

The real life introvert morphed into a social-media extrovert with opinions on everything under the sun (probably more than I should’ve shared!) Then, when the pandemic hit, our original goals became more keenly focused on connecting our individual hamster habitats with tunnels of laughter to break the sense of isolation we were all feeling during lockdown. I cannot express in words how much having this outlet carried me through the craziness that was 2020. Being able to break down and discuss the shows that were keeping us entertained added a whole new dimension to my world. Any time I felt lonely, I knew it was only a matter of time before laughter was right around the corner and I could be silly and feel connected again.

What I hadn’t openly shared is that I made a foolish error early on in the pandemic. Those of you who have followed this blog are aware that in 2019 I was diagnosed with depression brought on by caretaker fatigue. Now that John’s surgeries were in the rearview and he was back to work, I assumed I’d be fine. The meds I had been given were giving me massive headaches, so I (in my infinite stupidity) figured that it was my brain telling me I didn’t need them anymore. I did consult my doctor, because while sometimes stupid, I know better than to completely self diagnose, and they recommend I start taking half doses. Then the height of chaos hit and in-person visits became impossible and my doctor’s small office didn’t offer tele-visits. So, I weaned myself off completely and spent March through October completely unmedicated.

Suffice it to say, that was a bad move on my part. By October I was spiraling and made an emergency appointment with my doctor. Through tests and questionnaires, it was determined that I still suffered from mild depression and moderate anxiety had been added to the mix. Considering the state of the world, that’s not all that surprising, but it still made me feel weak. I had to abandon one of the two podcasts I was doing to lighten my load and allow me to focus on getting better. A new med regimen helped make that possible, but also added its own set of difficulties.

We had just had a very successful season with Below Deck Med and I wanted to keep the momentum going with my favorite show, which is Below Deck. Brianna and I both enjoy it so much and our Tuesday night podcasting sessions were an escape into laughter with a little rum thrown in. We’d gone from two gals chatting it up to getting guests and doing interviews and it seemed like a dream. Getting to hang with Adrienne, Courtney, and Jess and hearing behind-the-scenes scoop was a realm I never thought I’d enter from my little country life in Ohio. It was an absolutely blast.

Unfortunately, having fun doesn’t stop your brain chemistry from doing what it chooses to do. My sleep patterns were way off and insomnia is not a friend to depression. Even with great and exciting things happening, I was taxing my body and my mind beyond its limits. I was raised to keep my commitments and not leave people in a lurch, so I plugged on, attempting to keep everything going as not to let anyone down.

I’m not the best at saying no or at failing. I jokingly blame it on my Aries sun sign, but in truth…it’s a choice, not a force of nature that can’t be overcome. Several weeks ago, I hit a wall where I neither had the energy nor the mental capacity to do a weekly blog and even though everyone was so supportive and understanding, it wrecked me to not fulfill that commitment. I was determined to podcast that night to make up for it, but when I got off of Zoom I broke down in tears. I was doing what many people do and trying to give from an empty cup.

It was then that I made the decision to focus on getting healthy and being self-interested. I had always confused that term with selfishness in the past, but I’m learning there are distinct differences. Much in the same way that when flying the attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others, I needed to be whole and healthy and put my needs before those of others before I crashed and burned completely.

Once I had that epiphany, I was faced with the difficult task of disappointing people who had supported me over the last year. At the top of the list were my podcast partners. I let them know that once the Below Deck cycle ended, I was going to be leaving. Rather than risk have moments where I couldn’t fulfill commitments and leave them hanging, it was better that I exit. It struck them out of the blue, and I sincerely apologize for that. It’s hard to let people down, and even harder when you’re already feeling low.

Fortunately, once the shock had passed, they were very supportive of me and wanted nothing but my happiness and health and for that I am very grateful. I’m also thankful for all of you who supported me in this journey. I will still continue to blog here on my personal page as inspiration strikes and my mind allows me to organize muddled thoughts into coherent writing. In the meantime, I will still be my opinionated self on Twitter, so it’s not like I’m falling off the planet. It will just be a more informal and possibly more sporadic version than the weekly podcasts and blogs have been.

It’s my sincere wish that you continue to support K & K and the fun and light it brings. Thank you once again for all that you are and have done, and I’m sure we’ll be chatting again soon. XOXO -Jen

Two Pair of Normal Investigators (Plus One)

It will take us a while to go through our recordings to see if we have anything noteworthy that could perhaps convince a skeptic to be open to the possibility of a realm beyond. In the meantime, I am jotting down some of our experiences on the ride home and the following day while they are still fresh.

For those of you just stumbling across this missive with no background or context, I’ll bring you up to speed with a little history of how our family ever wound up thinking this would be one of our favorite ways to spend quality time together. When shows like Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters, and Ghost Adventures came on the scene, I became, let’s say…more than a little obsessed. From the comfort of my couch it seemed fun and exciting. My husband assured me I was one of the suckers P.T. Barnum had spoken about. His engineer’s mind couldn’t fathom any of this being more than produced entertainment, and he conjured all manners of string and pulley contraptions that could pull off the scares the girls and I got each week.

Feeling the gauntlet had been thrown down, my eldest booked us on a tour with a paranormal group of what was then Windsor Elementary School in Cincinnati. They provided us with various gadgets akin to what we’d seen on TV. Boxes with lights that would measure electromagnetic frequencies which they assured us was our sign that a ghost was present….or an electrical outlet, or a working refrigerator, or a lot of things. I became disheartened, while John became increasingly chuffed with himself for being right all along.

That was until we used a device called a spirit box in the school’s gymnasium. Basically it’s a radio that rapidly scans through stations creating “white noise” that the spirits can use to speak through. This is where my smile started to grow because Rube Goldberg Jr. couldn’t come up with a way that the voice we were getting over multiple channels was answering direct questions we asked. Mr. Skeptic, while still yet to have had his “Road to Damascus” moment, was opening his mind to the possibilities of things beyond this plane of existence.

And so began our love affair with ghost hunting. With our youngest away at college, it was most often John, me, our eldest daughter and her then fiance, now husband. We stuck with group tours until we had a large enough knowledge base to go out on our own. Christmas and birthday gifts began to consist of detection devices, recording equipment, and a spirit box. We began renting out purportedly haunted places and using those as our mini vacations.

With the arrival of our youngest grandson, and John’s multiple spinal surgeries, our hobby got back-burnered and we loaned out our equipment far more than we used it. That is until this past weekend. The girls had gone together and rented the Bellaire house for us for a night as a Christmas gift. Having seen it featured on Most Haunted and Paranormal Lockdown, it’s an understatement to say we were psyched. Being located on a ley line, near an old Native American burial ground and right off the bank of the Ohio made it seem like it was a recipe for all of the activity we could handle, and maybe more.

The Bellaire House

Even though his skepticism has waned by virtue of his personal experiences, John has always been correct in his assessment that real life ghost investigations are nothing like what you see on TV. For one, they are edited for time, so you never see the long lulls where no activity occurs. If they have an investigation that’s a total dud, it likely will never even air. Another huge difference is that there is no production budget and no show runners to help out when things go wrong.

Take this weekend for instance. John and I were awake into the wee hours the night before charging devices and putting fresh batteries in the ones that aren’t rechargeable. We also brought along back up batteries and charging cords, since we’ve repeatedly experienced our batteries being drained during an investigation. (In the paranormal community this phenomenon is attributed to the spirits drawing on that energy to communicate.) Only one of our devices uses a 9 volt battery, so we brought 4 replacements just in case. Within the first two hours all four as well as the fifth one we put in the night previous had been drained rendering our SB-11 spirit box useless. With no interns to make a battery run, we we forced to stop and make the run ourselves.

The other challenge we faced was equipment malfunctions. Our infrared camera repeatedly shut down inexplicably and refused to record any potential activity being captured. Without a van full of gadgets and gizmos, we were left to wonder whether it was a glitch in our device or spirits playing tricks. (For the record, when we got home, the camera worked perfectly, so take that however you’d like.) We were lucky that our audio devices seem to have worked properly, but again with no staff to help us go through it all, it will take hours. If we get anything exciting, I’ll be sure to share.

One thing we’ve learned through our years of investigating is that while electronic gadgets are fun and make for good television, they are not the only forms of communicating. While we were investigating with a group at Ohio State Reformatory one of our guides introduced us to the use of dowsing rods and pendulums. These simple apparatuses allow for communication via Yes/No questions and have saved us more than once from having a hunt that’s a total bust. It’s not an experience you can carry home and share with your friends, but trust me, while it’s happening in the moment it is cool as heck.

The first room we entered. If spooky was the intended vibe, the succeeded.

We had great luck communicating with a child known to occupy one of the bedrooms on the second floor. We sang children’s songs and recited nursery rhymes. As we did the rods would sway back and forth to the rhythm, or as it was during a rousing rendition of Ring Around the Rosie…spin wildly in full circles in our hands. The joy in the room was palpable as we got to experience the connection and the entity had a chance to play.

Not all experiences are pleasant though, and amateur investigators should know the risks. In the owner’s former bedroom both of my daughters and I experienced splitting headaches and that pit-in-your-stomach feeling upon entering. We tried to push through the discomfort several times, but found it difficult to stay in there longer than a few minutes.

After hours of investigating late into the night, we decided we should all get some rest in the few rooms that felt were the least threatening. What resulted was a scant three hours of sleep and several personal experiences. Our youngest had vivid dreams the details of which I’ll leave to her to share if she ever feels comfortable doing so. I had something playing with my hair, but that’s happened to me several times in the past, so it didn’t disturb me too much. My eldest daughter, however, had the most frightening experience of being held down by an unknown force. By her account she was unable to move until she called out my name and I shot upright in bed without even knowing what woke me. It was only at that point that she was able to sit up in the bed.

She was overheated and sweating,while John and I were convulsing in chills even though we were only feet apart from each other in the same room. What made that all the stranger to us is that she’s always cold and bundling up in blankets, while I’m always too warm, partially due to what I call self-insulation or extra padding. We decided to try and sleep downstairs instead, but the activity was so adrenaline-inducing, that only John managed to muster a little more sleep.

Our safe haven after the bedroom we were in gave us more restlessness than we bargained for.

My eldest daughter and I chose to stave off our fears with the treasure trove of donuts she’d brought and got back to seeking more evidence while we waited for everyone else to wake up. Through the dowsing rods and the K2 meter we “yes and no’d” our way through confirmation of our experiences not being figments of our imaginations. Someone or something was taking credit and seemed pretty proud of their accomplishments.

Once everyone was awake we realized that the whole night had drained all of us physically. With a three-plus hour drive home still ahead of us, we wrapped. We collected our gear (some of which had been mysteriously moved into drawers or under furniture and wiped down all of the surfaces we had touched because in the non-sprit realm, Covid is a real life foe to battle.

All-in-all it was another fun and exciting adventure to add to our many others. For those interested in a place to investigate, we’d all highly recommend The Bellaire House. It didn’t disappoint. I would add that it’s probably not the best place to go for a first time investigation. It seemed less willing to interact with the more skeptical members of our small group of five. It was the first ghost hunt for our youngest daughter’s beau and he left with the fewest personal experiences. Whether it was his lack of familiarity with the process or the possibility that he’s saner than the rest if us is a decision for you to make.  However, if you go in with an open mind…the possibilities are endless to experience all that the house holds.

An Apolitical Look at November

I’ll be perfectly frank and say that quarantine has sucked the inspiration to muse and opine right out of me. Part of my malaise is due to the fact that the extra free time once spent going to the movies, or the museum has now become occupied with a seemingly never ending supply of documentaries, true crime stories, and crap TV in general. I’ve also been spending much more time on social media than I ever have previously and I’m not sure it’s for the better.

I was late to the Twitter game and only joined in a year and a half ago, the same goes for Instagram, where I’m to this day still learning the ropes. Living in relative isolation in a small Midwest town, I was seeking a community with whom I could discuss ideas and topics that entertained me. I’ve had similar bastions throughout my life in the form of message boards, AOL chat rooms, and my small Facebook family. Twitter, however, was a whole new ball of wax, and occasionally I found myself burned as if it had just dripped from beneath the flame.

In years past, I had not only dabbled in the discussion of politics, but also at times had an obsessive need to know everything about it. I gleaned what I could from multiple sources and dove head first into topics without thinking to check the depth of the discussion waters. I thought that the facts and figures I had so painstakingly accrued would prove useful in aiding others and also myself in the navigation of the murky waters. In the early days of it I had fun. It boosted my self esteem to be listened to and boosted my knowledge as I listened. When discussing objective ideas the waters remained calm and we all bathed comfortably in the warm waters of enlightenment.

However as the moon changed position the tides turned as they’re wont to do. Subjective matters flooded in and I was left on an island alone. My swimming companions were all splashing and dunking each other based on the misconception that opinions were facts and there was a right and a wrong to them. On my own deserted island I felt no need to argue over opinions. As the saying goes, there are many roads to Rome, so what did it matter if the someone wanted to take the road that led through the mountains while another preferred the landscape of a bucolic countryside?

This wasn’t the first time I had found myself stranded on a political island. In truth it has been my whole existence since I was old enough to register to vote. Having been born from the union of a Republican and a Democrat, I always had the ability to see both sides. I could see when they were objectively correct and also when they were objectively wrong. When it came to matters of subjectivity my parents either remained silent on the topic or discussed it briefly and then agreed to disagree. An amazingly civil arrangement in light of today’s factions. One that kept them together in wedded bliss for 57 years until my Republican father left this mortal coil.

He was an amazing man. Hard working, deeply rooted in his Christian faith, charitable, and kind. He was never wealthy in financial terms, but held treasured ideas and principles that I cherish to this day. When I hear a Democrat’s ideas of what type of person a Republican is, it couldn’t be further from the image of my father.

Along the same lines, when a Republican offers up a characterization of a Democrat, my mother’s face never springs to mind either. Her visage isn’t remotely what they describe and nor are her beliefs. I am regularly baffled by how narrow a view people have of people who don’t hold the exact same thoughts as them.

And then there’s me. Having come from a two-sided world, I chose to make it three dimensional. When I turned eighteen I registered as a small “i” independent, and haven’t changed my affiliation since. A piece of that decision came because I didn’t fit under all of the major banners beneath either flag. I’m anti-death penalty, but pro-2nd amendment. I don’t think what anyone does in the privacy of their own home or bedroom is any of my business as long as they aren’t infringing on another’s rights in the process. I believe that the best defense is a strong offense as far as military matters go, but I’ll always favor diplomacy over war where innocent lives are concerned. When it comes to social programs I’m all about helping those who can’t help themselves, but unless prohibited by a severe mental or physical impairment I believe that from 18-70 you have to figure out how to care for yourself.

All of those seemingly juxtaposing ideas left me with no party to cling to, and I don’t consider that a bad thing. I’m not in the middle because I don’t want to make a decision, I’m in the middle because my decisions are firm and they don’t fit the false dichotomy of a two party system.

From my island’s vantage point I’ve seen a great shift in the political seas. The spectrum used to be occupied from one side all the way to the other, with different people and their ideas hovering back and forth closer to the center. In the past decade or two, however, the center has been demonized as wishy-washy or ineffective or even worse…too stupid to choose a side. It was at that moment that I chose to remove myself from political discussions and just be a quiet observer. Silence is a wonderful thing that allows people the freedom to say what they truly feel because you aren’t actively contradicting them or their ideas.

In my muteness I’ve discovered something that I think you may find helpful when November rolls around. I am no soothsayer nor time traveler here to forecast a winner. I have no knowledge of how these elections will go. But from my silent perch I can predict this. Regardless of who wins, a good third of you are going to be gobsmacked. You are going to get an ice cold bucket of water to your faces and after the shock and awe passes you are going to be enraged.

How can I possibly know this without knowing who will win, you ask? Because two thirds of you are living in echo chambers that are so tightly sealed that you can’t fathom an outcome other that what your own voice hollers out into the void. You’ve completely lost the ability to hear anything but validation for your own beliefs and ideas and you’ve even gone so far as to demonize anyone who doesn’t hold the same ones. You’ve cast off your family members, potential loves, and childhood friends for the sake of feeling right. It would be heart-breaking if it weren’t so karmic.

Your hatred of your fellow man who thinks differently than you has carried you to the precipice of the closest thing to civil war that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Allowing yourselves to be caught up in the extremist narratives put forth by the media mouthpieces of both sides has polarized you to a point where I’m regularly seeing death wished upon your opponents. Think about that for a second. As you scream your modern day Bud Light mantras of Black Lives Matters and All Lives Matters back and forth at each other, you’re actually at the same time saying Life Doesn’t Matter when you wish your political enemy harm or death.

The only light I can see that might prevent this from happening, is the light I see in each individual I speak to. The light emitted from the soul of a fellow human being who listens to you and you listen to in return, connects with you, laughs with you, and hopes with you. If we can get back to being brothers and sisters again who see that light in each other, we stand a chance.

What I misunderstood about the word Privilege

When the use of the word “privilege” came into common use in reference to being white, I’ll admit that my initial reaction was to rebuff it. I thought it was a broad brushing term that didn’t apply to me, as I was neither affluent, nor had I been afforded any opportunity for success that anyone else didn’t receive as a result of hard work.

I never had a chance to get a private education, or even a college degree despite my scholastic efforts and high grades. I had no trust fund to rely upon, no rich relatives with connections to bail me out of any trouble I got myself into. If I screwed up, I paid the price that anyone else in my position would have. Or so I thought.

I had even experienced an encounter where I was followed around a high end store as if they were expecting me to stuff some item of clothing under my shirt or in my bag. Every step I took a worker shadowed me. Upon entering the changing room, she took the garments I was going to try on to personally count them. Then she gave me the tag with that number and counted them again when I was finished. The whole experience was so humiliating to me that I left, refusing to buy anything from the establishment again, nor even to step foot in one. I could empathize with their plight, right? Wrong.

What I didn’t understand or take into account was the fact that I only had one anecdote to offer. One humiliating experience in my lifetime, in only one store. I had no idea what it felt like to have that occur daily, in every store I entered. I had been judged only on the clothes I was wearing that didn’t adhere to the attire of their typical clientele. I could change my outfit and have an entirely different experience in the same store with the same worker if I wanted to. The people who experienced it daily didn’t have the luxury of being able to change their skin color.

That one small epiphany allowed me to open my mind to something that my defensiveness had refused to allow me to see. I also opened my ears and began listening to the pain behind the stories that my friends of all hues were sharing. I never had the experience of someone crossing the street to avoid me just because of how I looked. I never had someone lock their car door as I walked by to get to my own. I don’t live in a city, so cab rides aren’t part of my life, but if one passed me by I know my first thought would be that their shift was over or they had been called to another address, and not that they were afraid to ride with me.

I cannot possibly know what that constant pre-judgment would feel like. What it would do to my psyche and self worth to feel the weight of that pain. I can’t fathom the fear induced by being pulled over in a strange town for speeding. I, like I assume anyone who looks like me does, would expect merely to hand over my license and registration, wait for the officer to write the citation, and leave and pay it later. No thought of being asked if I have drugs or weapons. No assumption, in fact, that I had them in the first place.

When I stepped back to look at just these few scenarios, the word that kept resonating was the one that had previously caused me to recoil…privilege. The definition of which is a right or liberty granted to some and not others. I had the liberty of walking down the street without askance looks. I had the immunity of assumption of nefarious motives. I had the confidence that were I ever arrested, I wouldn’t feel the pressure of an officer’s foot on my neck. If after reading this you don’t see that as a privilege, then maybe you can learn as I did to listen to our brothers’ and sisters’ stories. Maybe one of them can change your heart like they changed mine.

As always, wishing you health, safety, and justice for all.

When Unity Unties

21 years ago a little movie called The Matrix came on scene. From my experience, people either love it or hate it, with very few on the spectrum in between. As a dyed-in-the-wool nerd, there’s some bylaw somewhere stating I have to love it, so thank goodness I did. While the premise is fiction, the commentary on humanity at times is keen and astute.

One of the most thought provoking bits for me came from Agent Smith when he was describing how the matrix works and said this to Neo:

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.’

Pretty bleak view of us as a species, but how far off the mark is it really? Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the idea is at least as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Paradise doesn’t seem to be enough for people. They want to battle, conquer, see more, do more. A never-ending quest for that which is just out of our grasps, but that which we believe is ultimately attainable. Often times though it seems that it’s the very ideal we’ve left in our wakes that we’re reaching toward.

I’ve had the fortune of being on the planet for almost half of a century now. In that time there have come some glorious peaks, but also some soul-darkening valleys. In the darkest of times, there sprouts a sense of unity in humanity to go against whatever adversary is plaguing us or preying upon us. In the US post 9/11 you saw a resurgence of the “United We Stand” motto. It lasted shorter than most honeymoons, however, when it came time to move forward into action. Factions quickly broke off and the mindset quickly shifted to a more “anyone who isn’t with us is against us” feeling.

We’re experiencing it again in the era of COVID. “We’re all in this together” could be heard (and can still) through every radio and television across the world. Everyone joining together to battle the microscopic virus. Front-line heath care workers literally saving lives, sometimes even sacrificing their own in the process. Essential workers stepping up to make sure our day-to-day needs are met, while the rest of us do our part by staying at home and flattening the curve. But once again, the unity untied. Personal interest outweighed public interest and political interest did what it always does…divides us.

Have you ever been on a walk with a friend or a loved one and noticed something off in the distance? You try repeatedly to point it out, even stretching your arm in the general direction, but they still can’t see it? You try other means of communicating where and what it is and they look at you baffled with no signs of recognition? Then out of frustration…you just give up and say “Nevermind.” That’s where I am right now at this very moment.

I have repeatedly tried to throw up sign posts and navigational markers for my friends, and even for total strangers. I’ve tried to get people to see the perspectives of others and that it isn’t as cut and dry as “us” and “them.” It’s all for naught though. People are going to see the world in the way that makes them comfortable. For whatever reason, unity isn’t special enough for some. They want someone to rail against, someone to blame, someone to put beneath their feet to somehow elevate themselves. It’s an ongoing cycle that I, for one, am bone-weary of witnessing.

I’m not giving up on surviving this, or giving up doing my part to make sure it doesn’t devastate my family either physically, emotionally, or financially. I’m just ending my quest for people to see what it is I’m pointing to. My arm is tired. My brain has run out of adjectives. I will continue to write and share my own experiences, but leave out the parts where I attempt to compel. I, like many, need peace. That’s what I’m striving for. And in truth, I’m tired of leaving it to convince others how great it is, only to be fought tooth and nail.

So, as always, I wish you health, happiness, and a hope for a unity in the future that’s tied so tightly that it can’t untie so easily.

Pretty Little Lies

Bill the bard once penned, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Along those lines I proffer that a lie by any other name is just as fact-less. While I’ve had occasion to know a few pathological people who like to lie, I’ve yet to meet someone who enjoys being lied to. If you pay close attention to most any form of media in the era of Covid, you can witness lies on a daily basis. I’m not alone in seeing them, nor am I the first to speak of it, which makes it all the more puzzling when I see how many people are still ingesting them like mother’s milk.

One of the most prevalent seems to be the false dichotomy. I recently witnessed one governor equate re-opening to death. When called out on the comparison he quickly shifted and guaranteed that while it may not mean your own death, it would certainly mean the death of someone else. While that is a distinct possibility for some who may cohabitate with members of the high risk groups, it’s not the inevitable outcome for the majority or even for the minority. In the most recent research I’ve studied, the mortality rate for those under age sixty-five is around 1.4 percent. The Washington Post published an article on April 28th by Joel Achenbach stating, “..when all the serological data is compiled and analyzed, the fatality rate among people who have been infected could be less than 1 percent.” One tiny kernel of truth slipped in the mix of bloated statistics stoking the flames of panic.

When more than two choices exist, an offer of only two is a fancy way of lying

Another false dichotomy running rampant is the propensity for people to use death tolls from wars to show how much worse this illness is. This one on its face alone causes my blood to boil. First off, as a member of family who currently has a brave soldier deployed overseas in a war zone…stop acting like life here is more dangerous than what he faces on a daily basis. Less than half a percent of the US are currently enlisted in the military. If you want an accurate comparison, try taking the number who died in war time and dividing it by the number of people who were serving. For example, 16,000,000 soldiers served in WWII. 1, 076, 245 died. That’s a mortality rate of almost 7 percent. Compare that with 61,504 deaths in the US from the novel virus out of a population of 328,000,000. That’s .018%. Which would you rather face?

Since we’ve delved into the realm of numbers, another pretty little way of lying is by rigging statistics. One favorite quote of mine has been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. In years since some believe this to be an erroneous attribution, but regardless of who said it the sentiment resonates. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics are actually very useful tools when wielded by honest hands. They condense large helpings of data into palatable morsels for the masses to consume. In essence, a straightforward statistical analysis allows any layman to understand a complex concept. The problem lies when experts find ways to skew those statistics in order to support the narrative they want you to believe. Much like the false dichotomy above about wartime casualties, many times an errant comparison is used to accomplish this task.

Early on in the coronavirus crisis this type of lie was aided by using global death rates to exacerbate fears. Hopes in this case were pinned on the fact that no one recognized that not every country has access to first world medical facilities. By adding in the number of deaths in developing countries and third world countries without access to cutting edge medical treatment, fear could be heightened. As the number of deaths have increased, that’s no longer necessary, so they’ve now chosen to merely withhold comparisons altogether. No one is pointing out, as I did above, the total number of deaths juxtaposed with the total population. Nor are they declaring what should be obvious but apparently is not, that population density is a key component. They’re focusing on the worst case scenario in the dense jungle of New York City rather than giving mean rates from across the entire country. If you live in New York City, it’s of course valid for you, but the majority of the US does not reside there or even in a similarly dense locale.

I was shocked earlier today by another manipulation that I came across when looking to the CDC for data surrounding the mortality rate of COVID in the US. The data currently being given is based on ILI or influenza-like illness. Those numbers include pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19 rates. Despite trying to lump in more diseases to skew the statistics, percentages of cases are still decreasing and below baseline and mortality rates are decreasing as well. In correlation, recovery rates are increasing as more is discovered about treatment.

The last lie I want to discuss is the one with the least chance of exposure, or being admitted to: the lies people are telling themselves. In particular the ones people with good intentions are proliferating. Most of us want to be seen as compassionate people, some even want to put the welfare of others at the forefront of their day to day lives. However, if you are sitting from a position of financial comfort, whether it’s because you’ve been deemed essential, work remotely, or are wealthy, you cannot empathize with someone who is not in your position. You can attempt to sympathize, but without the bills piling up in front of you, the growl in your stomach caused by hunger, or the potential loss of the home you’ve established.. you cannot perceive the fear. Your world is largely unaltered, so preaching “musts” to those who aren’t as blessed needs to cease lest you become the new “one-percenters” in the era of COVID.

That’s not a condemnation without judgment against myself. I only recently became aware of my own culpability when a family member who had been essential was furloughed. Thankfully they have enough stashed away that they can ride it out for another few months, but my thoughts went immediately to those who didn’t have that luxury. Condemning someone for wanting to not have their family out on the streets when the worst of this passes is not something any of us should be participating in. As the saying goes, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

The truth of our situation is enough to come to terms with. We don’t need lies, exaggerations, and well-intended scolding to muddy up the waters and impair our perception. If you want people to stop being mistrustful, start by being honest with them.

As always, wishing you health, happiness, and the ability to spot a lie even if it’s wrapped up in a pretty little bow.