Month: March 2017

And Then the Sun Shines

There is something extra beautiful about a sunny day after an extended period of gray and rain. We had sunny today. It was still chilly and windy, but the sun was shining. I have flowers blooming in my front beds. They’ve poked up in spite of the fact that no one has cleared away the dead plant detritus from last fall. My 16yo went roller skating for the first time in months and felt happy instead of depressed. The 14yo exercised without me requiring it of him first. College girl called yesterday with only happy things to say. She’s figured out how to finish college in one more semester instead of two. 19yo has consented to attend a job fair tomorrow so that he can begin picturing the kinds of jobs he could be applying for. The taxes are done and we’re getting a return this year.

On the business front: I printed out pages from the Planet Mercenary book in color. It always feels more real, and much closer to done when I can turn the pages with my fingers. I’ve also printed out some posters that I hope to put in the store soon. And I finally cleared the dumb hurdle which was preventing me from making Schlock book PDFs.

The day hasn’t been completely joyful. I’m all too aware of the news and the fact that I’m not doing enough to participate in ongoing public conversations and legislation. There are upcoming expenses related to book printing and shipping that have me stressed. And of course there is the ongoing weight of Planet Mercenary tasks. I can’t slack off because deadlines are close.

Yet, despite all of that, the sun shone. The day was pleasant. And I think it is very important to spend a few moments sitting in the sun at the end of a long cold time.

Considering Failures

And a week has gone by. It was a week full of things, mostly good, nothing truly awful or unmanageable. Except there is that part of my brain that howls at me from the darkness saying that I have failed at everything.
I have lists of the things I could have done better. I don’t want to have these lists, but they show up in my head unbidden. I argue with them, but this does not dispel them. So I wield a pen, which is mightier than a sword, and write the list down.
Things I Could Have Done Better.
Those words are writ large across the top, with capital letters for all the words as is proper for a title. I write each thing, pinning it to the page in dark letters against white. It is permanent there. Others could walk by and read it. That feels far more vulnerable than keeping the failures tucked out of sight in my mind.
when I pin a failure to the page, it stops nibbling at me. They all do. It had gotten to the point where I felt crowded out of my own brain. Thought clutter.
The list is long. As I keep writing, my eyes wander back upward to the things already written.
I really couldn’t help that one. It seems silly to blame myself for it. And this one, yeah it would have been better if I’d done it, but the reason I didn’t was because I was managing a much more important task instead. I only have so many hours each day. There are more tasks than hours. If today I succeed at work tasks, I fail at eating healthy. Something has to give.
The ones that grieve most fall under the column Parenting Failures.
Then I cast my mind backward, and I am glad for the small scale of these failures. In the grand scheme “I forgot to make the kid do her dishes” is a failure with minimal consequences.
There are things on the list that matter. Failures I must attempt to remedy.
For now, with the failures trapped on a page, I can move onward with more space to think.

Being Seen

Today at church I had a friend come to me to discuss our mutual assignment. She basically took it out of my hands and said “Let me do it this time. I know how busy you are. Is there any way I can help you?” I didn’t have an answer other than “thank you” because all the answers to “how can I help?” require complex thought and untangling one task from another.

Later in church another friend came to me. She teaches my 16yo at church and had noticed that 16 had been absent more often than she’d attended lately. It is what happens when the mental health meds aren’t working as they need to, so you decide to switch. But then there is this dip in the middle where the old meds are fading from the system and the new meds haven’t yet begun to work. So we talked about how my friend could help my daughter.

After that, a third friend came up to give me a hug and say “are you okay? I know you have a lot going on.”

At which point I begin to wonder “wait, how do they all know?” I scan my memory for what I’ve written on my blog, on Facebook, on twitter. For a moment I worried that I’d been dumping too much stress and emotion online. Yes some of the things are there. Different things in different places, but even if someone were diligent about stitching those pieces together there are many things that never go online at all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that news travels in old fashioned ways, person to person. My church is structured to facilitate quiet, back-channel communication. Sometimes that can feel gossipy or cliquish, but done right it is a great help to those who need it. Though it is strange to have multiple people offering to help and to realize that there was almost certainly a conversation concerned about me and mine. It is both heart warming and uncomfortable to be seen as needing extra attention.

I still don’t have answers for these friends, some of whom I’ve only known for a few months and others that I’ve known for years. There are so many things that I can’t easily hand off. The things that I can, have pretty much already been dumped or hired out. What I probably need most is someone who will listen for hours and help me untangle all the thoughts in my head. Only then will I be able to identify pieces that other people could do. This is why I’ve scheduled therapy. It’ll begin next week.

I don’t want to be spending that money right now ($90 per session because my deductible is so high it is unlikely to kick in at all this year.) But I’ve been putting it off for four years. (Since February of 2013 when all four kids melted down almost simultaneously.)

This afternoon Kiki needed my help unpacking. She’s home for a week of spring break. Kiki didn’t need me to actually touch anything. All she needed was for me to sit in the room with her while she put things away. Somehow having a witness in the room let her sort a mess into a tidy space. I suspect this is what the therapist’s job will be with me. They will sit while I pull out old boxes of emotion and open them up to see what is inside.

I can say that being seen is far better than not being seen. I’ve had that experience at church too. There were middle parts of those four years where I tried to reach out and ask for help, but either I wasn’t specific enough about what I needed or someone else did not follow through. It is often hard to be specific when seeking help.

That is a thing I need to remember in years to come, when I know that someone is in a stressed place and I want to be helpful, it almost certainly starts with listening. Ask for details about the things in their life, and somewhere in what they say will be a piece I can take out of their hands and do for them. The burden of finding what to do needs to fall on the helper because humans under stress are not good at identifying what they need. Also there are huge social stigmas around asking for help.

For now it is just good to have friends who see me and all my things. Not being alone with the things is a huge help all by itself. And now I can add three people to the list of those I can call if I manage to identify a specific thing that I need help doing.

Ala Carte Health Care

Prior to Obamacare we had health insurance with a deductible of $10,000 per person per year. The only thing it provided to us was a vague reassurance that if something catastrophic happened, we would have help for all the expenses between $10,000 and 2 million dollars. Mental health was not covered. Maternity was not covered. Birth control was not covered. Dental and vision, not covered. Also my premiums went up every year like clockwork.

We made the switch to Obamacare the second year it was offered. I watched that first year to see if it actually worked for people I knew, and it did. On Obamacare my premiums were about the same as they had been on my old plan, but my deductible per person came down to $3000, and there was a $7000 cap per family. Suddenly a catastrophe which affected my entire family would put me out $7000 instead of $60,000. And there was no upper limit on how much the insurance would spend. Mental health, maternity, birth control, annual check ups, and vision check ups for my kids were all covered. True I still had to pay out of pocket for these things, but all those payments counted toward a my deductible rather than being unrelated to it.

I would have loved to have all those things covered in my earlier plan, but adding things like Maternity care were called riders. They cost more money. Not only that, but you couldn’t add a maternity rider to your plan if you were already pregnant. You had to add it several months before you got pregnant in order for the insurance company to agree to pay for anything. Mental health care wasn’t offered at all, not even as an expensive rider. I suppose that there were people whose coverage was provided by their employers who had coverage for mental health stuff, but I didn’t know any.

That is what the newly-proposed ala carte model for health care means. It means that those who have health needs, like maternity care, will have to pay more than those who don’t have needs. Guess which person will have less ability to work to cover the cost of their health care? Ala carte means that some things won’t be covered at all, or will only be covered at rates which are so high no one who has the issue can afford to purchase coverage for it. I suspect I’d be back to out of pocket for my family’s mental health care.

It is true that year after year I saw increases in my premiums for Obamacare. This past year my monthly premium went up by $600, an increase of almost 60%. That was alarming and has put a serious strain on my budget. I had to drop down to a plan with a $7000 deductible per person and a $13,000 deductible for my entire family. Yet those deductibles are still lower than the ones I had before Obamacare. And visits to mental health professionals count toward those deductibles. Also, I believe that my premiums would have skyrocketed anyway. There are other things driving the increase in medical costs than just giving coverage to more people.

There were definitely things to fix, but prioritizing the profits of insurance companies is not how to help people. Ala carte may help a few healthy people lower their premiums, but it will cost everyone else more.

Building Friendships in our Communities

Today at church I spoke with a neighbor who was born in Guatemala. She’s been in my neighborhood for the entire eighteen years that I have been here. I’ve not known her for that long, because somehow communities of Spanish speakers and English speakers can live intermixed with each other without actually mixing very much. I asked her what our congregation and neighborhood can do to reach out to our neighbors who weren’t born in the US and who might be feeling scared because of the current political climate.

Her answer was very simple: Just be friends.

Be the neighbor who introduces themselves and says “glad you’re in our neighborhood.” Take time to reach out and smile even if you don’t share a common language. Find out your neighbor’s names. Invite them to local events. Ask after their children. We’re all far more similar than we are different, no matter where we were born.

These are not things that come naturally to me. I tend to hide in my house not talking to people unless I have to. But I’m going to try to be better.

I’ve also assigned myself to do something my neighbor didn’t suggest. I’m going to try to be more aware when I’m out in the world. I want to be more ready to step in and help. I want to be mentally prepared to intercede if I see someone being treated poorly.

The national news is filled with events that are distressing to me. I see so much division and anger. I see appalling and crazy behavior at the highest levels of public attention. The solution to all of this is not a top down solution. Replacing people at the top wouldn’t solve all the emotion, it would just make a different subset of people scared. The real healing will have to come from the bottom up. It will come from people literally loving their neighbors and reaching out to help them. It will come from people being good and kind to those who think and believe differently. It starts with each of us being willing to extend ourselves to serve others a little bit more.

Today at church I learned from one of my neighbors. I also learned about a community service website that seeks to be a sort of Craigslist for people seeking volunteers and people who want to be volunteers. It is . It looks like it may be a good tool for people who want to reach out a bit more, help a bit more, love others a bit more. People connecting with each other in our own communities is how we heal our country.

Cecil the Snake

This is Cecil.

He is little and cute, which is not an adjective one usually thinks to use when describing a snake, but it applies here. I’d always put reptile pets into the same mental category as fish: interesting, but mostly decorative. In the week that we’ve had Cecil, he’s been far more fun than I’d have thought. For one thing, he’s so tiny. As I watch him move, part of my brain keeps wondering how something so small can be alive.

Here is a size reference. My daughter’s hands are on the small end of adult sized.

She loves her snake. He spends a fair amount of time outside of his tank either being held or curled up in her shirt pocket. He likes pockets. They feel safe, dark, and warm. Of course after a while he gets too warm and then he wants to go on adventures. We’re looking forward to watching him grow from his current 15 inches to full adult size which can be up to five feet long. It’ll take a few years, but we don’t mind.

And since I know there are people for whom snakes are inherently creepy, here is a picture of a sleeping cat who is of the opinion that my purse is not going anywhere for a while.