Mass Killing

Mass killing; I watched the News with horror about yet another rampage from a severely mentally ill young man. A father of one of the victims gave an emotionally charged interview and said, “When will this stop? When will we say enough is enough?” My answer to him was, “Probably never.” Welcome to the 21st Century, where mass killing has become almost commonplace; where we barely blink an eye when we hear; where once the dead are mourned, it becomes business as usual. It seems that every other week there is another mass killing. Then the News agencies have a field day, trying to come up with a motive, and rehashing it over and over. Yet, nothing changes, regarding gun laws or the available treatment for the mentally ill. I don’t know what the answer is because unless you can keep someone in a hospital for a period of time, against their will, they will not get the help they need. In this case, this 22 year old was a child of privilege, who had been receiving mental health care since age 8. But I know that unless someone is actually self-aware and admits that they are mentally ill (which most people will not) and is compliant, they will not take their meds, or even seek treatment, which is key. When someone is an adult, they are not obliged to continue their treatment and so often refuse and go off their meds. In all the recent cases of mass shootings, the news media always plays Monday morning quarterback, analyzing over and over how all the “warning signs” were missed. Then they all discuss how the mental health care system is broken, and needs to be fixed by identifying when someone is in trouble and potentially violent. But, since mental health care is a low priority in our society, violent people often fall through the cracks. The problem with the mental health care system is such that when a severely disturbed person is sent to the ER and “evaluated” by an overworked psychiatrist, the “red flags” are often missed because they are often very adept at “acting” their way out of staying. They know all the right words to say in order to appear “normal”, and voila, they are magically sent back out in the world. I know that if they don’t appear out of it, or disoriented, they will be released within an hour. It is a shame when a disturbed individual is a danger to themselves, but even worse when they are potentially violent. I know that deputies interviewed this young man and without real proper training or checking his house, deemed him not to be a threat. Yet, the fact that his parents were so alarmed to even call the police should have been reason enough to take him in. But, true to form, he put on the “act” and seemed contrite, polite, and even shy. It is a shame that family members’ hands are tied because of the HIPPA laws. Once your child is an adult, you may know for sure that he is in trouble, or even headed for a violent outburst, but you cannot do anything about it other than send the cops out, who are not trained in that capacity. I do know for sure that there is so much prejudice and misinformation out there, and maybe education is the answer. People equate violence with mental illness, when the fact remains that most mentally ill people are NOT violent and more often than not, they are the victims. The tragic fact remains that this young man, who had a powder keg working, fell through the cracks and 26 innocent lives were snuffed from this earth. However, I feel such sympathy for this young man’s parents who I know are totally devastated and probably did everything possible to help him. But, the problem is that you can only do so much for an adult child and anyone with a mentally ill loved one can relate to the anguish of his parents.

Opportunity

Opportunity; You never know when it will come into your life. When I decided to officially “retire” at a pretty early age, I had ideas of projects I would finally be able to pursue. I also thought I would arise each morning with a sense of freedom, looking forward to the day ahead. But, although I am “busy” with my Blog or photos, or whatever else, I still feel like a worthless slug sometimes. Today was one of those “fat, ugly, old, and worthless” days that I have been having lately. As I’ve said, it doesn’t really take much for my day to turn around; sometimes just some hope that I will become a useful member of society again. I am a creature of habit and also structure, so now that my days are no longer structured, I am lost sometimes. Last week, a nice young woman from Staples came out to set up my printer and Wi Fi network at home. All kinds of complications ensued with my alarm system to my router, which could not be avoided. So, luckily (although I didn’t think it lucky at the time) she had to come out to install a router again. After she did this successfully, we started talking and I found out that she has a restaurant, and adopted children in Nairobi, Kenya. Both her and her significant other frequently fly out to help out and need help in other areas such as writing, editing books, and other things related to their work. She explained that next year or before, they want to get about 50 people to go out there (probably expenses paid) and help the poor. I was intrigued and asked if I could contribute, and she said yes. She needs “mature” people (mature does not necessarily mean OLD, in this case). So, she gave me her email and I sent her some information about myself. She will send me some information about her mission too. Maybe there is some use for this “old” but young at heart woman. Again, I can’t help but think that this is a God thing, and not a coincidence. But, at least I have a sense of hope again, something lacking in my life lately.

Disabled

Being disabled; that is something that most of us who are lucky enough (and it is luck) to be able-bodied, don’t even consider. I was one of those smug, athletic people who, although having compassion, had absolutely no comprehension of the trials and indignities of the disabled. My symptoms actually came on very gradually, losing balance, dropped foot (although I didn’t recognize it), and constant pain in my entire body. When I look back at this I failed to put these symptoms together and just treated each one as it came. It started out with my knee surgery, which I never seemed to recover from, and it progressed to numbness of my toes, and bad lumbar pain. I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, had surgery which I expected to solve the pain problem, but as time went on, my life became a nightmare when I actually became worse and only 2 weeks after the surgery, had to use a cane. The worst part was that I began to realize that I had extreme limitations not in just walking, but just in everyday life; things I always took for granted. Driving (if that’s what you’d call it) became a challenge because my right leg was so weak (partial paralysis) that it was an effort to move my foot from the gas to the brake pedal. So then I would compensate and press on the gas pedal extra hard, which would actually deactivate the brake, causing the car to lurch forward and then I’d have to slam on the brake. I had so many close calls–and can only thank God that I didn’t slam into people or cars, killing someone or myself. I would have severe anxiety, even saying a prayer in the car, each time I had to drive. I’d start stopping the car way early so I didn’t run into the car in front of me. I’d drive over to Walmart and when my parking space was too far, I would ask myself, “Do you really need that cheese?” and I would just drive away. When I did go into the store, I’d walk around with a shopping cart (even when I had only one item) because it provided some stability like a walker–which is really what I needed but my pride would not let me use it. In Starbucks, I would just abandon the idea of getting to a specific seat if it meant maneuvering past people. When standing talking to people, I would notice they would have their arms out, always ready to catch me, because my balance was so bad. But the main thing I noticed about being disabled was the shame, humiliation, anger and helplessness I felt in public. I was angry because my body would not do what I wanted it to. Once when my nerve pain was through the roof, I went to the Y, only to discover that the Adapted Aquatics (disabled) pool was closed. I then decided to try using the hot tub, but once I managed to get in, I literally could not lift myself out. The entire time I was in the tub, I wondered how I would achieve that feat, so I could not even enjoy it. I finally managed to grab onto the railing and crawl out, all the while feeling totally embarrassed. When I tried to use the regular pool, I could not climb in and out of the small steps; very humiliating. It is so hard when your body just does not do what your brain says. These were constant indignities that the average person does not experience. But, one thing I noticed was the feeling of being invisible–people don’t want to look at you when you are disabled. Even the doctors abandoned me because I had symptoms that they couldn’t pinpoint. You get looked upon as if your brain is disabled, not just your body. I was lucky enough to finally escape that nightmare and will be forever grateful. But what about people who have a chronic, progressive disease such as MS, where there is no cure, only management. My friend suffers from MS and she has to rely on others to do basic things for her, such as laundry, shopping, driving to doctor’s appointments, etc. She cannot go anywhere unless it is prearranged and often times her “ride” does not show up or is late, necessitating her to postpone or cancel her appointment. She must rely totally on others and her autonomy is non-existent. It is a constant battle with the medical profession, grocery stores, caregivers, family members, and she does not have control of basic everyday things that most of us take for granted. Even her immediate family has abandoned her because in their eyes, she takes too much pain medication, although they have no idea that pain is one of the side-effects of MS. When you are disabled, life is different and one cannot understand it unless you’ve have had a glimpse into that world. I cannot say that I was lucky to have had the experience I did, but it showed me how the world views the disabled. It is amazing how many people don’t understand what it is like as a disabled person, and think that it couldn’t possibly happen to them. But I am here to say that it CAN and it DOES happen, when your life is going well, and you think that you are golden, and nothing can touch you. But just like anything, you cannot truly put yourself into another’s place without experiencing their pain. What it comes down to is that anybody who is “different” becomes invisible, be it not being able to walk, having a deformity, or being a little person. It is human nature to first want to stare, then look away (and pretend that they can’t see it) at the same time; just like a fatal car accident on the expressway, where you just cannot stop staring because you keep thinking, “Thank God that is not me.” But it can be!

Workshops

I used to be a Workshop/seminar junkie. It started with The Forum (an offshoot to EST, for those of you who remember this), a woman’s 2 day seminar (very similar to The Forum), and multiple follow-up Workshops for the Forum, Real Estate workshops/seminars, all designed to better myself, or teach me how to make oodles of money. EST was very popular in the 80s, where you spent two emotion packed days locked in a large hotel conference room, from early morning to the evening, not even getting to use the bathroom unless maybe on a break, to the point where all your defenses were broken down. The idea was that you would finally shed your protective armor and be open to making a drastic change in your life. It was so extreme that they modified it and The Forum was born. They broke this out into 4 days and you could use the restroom and leave at night, but it was still intense. The follow up seminars were held in Manhattan and each time you finished one, they started pressuring you to sign up for the next one, and on and on, with no end in sight. I attended a few afterwards (which were pricey) but I finally broke out and “escaped” because this was pure brainwashing. I did learn many invaluable things from these seminars but I can see where it became a sort of addiction. The one thing that all these seminars have in common is that they play on a person’s wish for happiness and success (whatever that is). Each time I finished a real estate seminar (that would last 3 days or more) I would come home pumped up, ready to take the world by storm. But after a while, the euphoria would wear off and the reality that only a few people actually are able to achieve the success that was advertised. Ok, regarding the real estate, I did make some money at times, but the aggregation was not worth it. My latest thing is photography, writing and travel. I signed up to receive information about how to become a successful travel writer, blogger, photographer, etc. So now I receive constant emails inviting me to go to exotic places (with stars in my eyes) where it is as easy as pie to get magazines to accept your travel articles and photos. It’s also super easy to become a successful travel blogger, or so they say. Never mind that you are just one among many out there vying for an audience and the likelihood of you standing out from the crowd is not too great. The other thing is that to start out as a travel writer or blogger you have to have the funds to travel, which I do not. So the people who get to attend these seminars are already privileged and even if they never become a success, they can keep attending seminars, pretending that they have what it takes. I know that if I scraped up enough money (4 k on one of them) I’d be gung-ho for a while until I realized things are really misrepresented in every seminar, for things are not as easy as they depict. Yet, I am still enticed when I see an email about a fantastic 3 day seminar, and I start to dream, even though I know it is mostly a wisp of smoke, an apparition–but I still want to try anyway.

Addiction

Help, I am suffering from a hopeless addiction. It is not cocaine, or crack, or marijuana, or booze–no it is Starbucks. It is not even the coffee, per se, because I could easily make lattes at home but it is the atmosphere. Each store has a different feel to it, and unfortunately I know them all. The one near I-20 is large and roomy, but there are not that many areas to connect to the internet and sometimes the Wi Fi is down. The one near Evans is often too crowded to even find a seat. There are numerous stores in other stores (crappy atmosphere), etc. But I have found a real “home” at the Starbucks on Wrightsboro Road, 5 minutes from my house, where I can almost always find a place to hook up my laptop and either write or work on my photos. When I was working full time, my Starbucks visits were limited to a couple of times a week, but now that I am officially “retired” I find myself there every day. My creativity is boosted because there are no distractions, the music is great, the baristas know my drink and I feel like I am in a Cheers episode where everybody (actually only one barista does) knows my name. I guess I can substitute “knows my name” to “knows my drink.” Just like an addiction, I feel strange (like something is missing) when I don’t drop in for at least a little while. The biggest problem is that I am spending too much money–even though I have switched from lattes to iced Americanos, it still adds up. And, just like an addiction, I get a sense of “ease and comfort” when I walk in. I want to tell people to send me Starbucks gift cards rather than flowers or gifts on my birthday or Mother’s Day. What is the answer and should I try to break this addiction? Should I go to “Starbucks Rehab” and attend meetings, with total abstinence? Or should I just practice acceptance and just give in to an entity beyond my control.

Happiness

Happiness, what is it and how do I achieve it? Years ago, when I was at our neighbor’s house in NJ, we were all together and our friend Debby said, “Can I ask you a question” about something (can’t remember what). As a joke I said that her question was, “What’s the meaning of life?.”I expected her to just dismiss this silly comment and continue asking me whatever it was, but she actually stopped, and after careful consideration, she answered me with, “Having fun.” Wow, what an answer. It was such a simple answer to a very profound (although it was not meant that way) question. I have often thought of that answer; having fun is the meaning of life. But, at the same time I have to wonder if I ever have FUN. Early on in my first marriage, my husband commented that I didn’t know how to have fun and he was right, I didn’t. When I was a child, my idea of fun was competing in the playground in races, or tether ball, or swimming, or skateboarding, or bike riding, etc. That is a child’s idea of fun, but as an adult I lost that innocence, and I lost the art of simple pleasures. I don’t know how that happened. One of my main problems is that I often live in the future, thinking of what’s up next and consequently don’t feel that happiness in the moment. I know that I am still in competition with everyone, in my mind, of course. This causes me great unhappiness because I am always comparing my life with everyone else’s, my level of “happiness” with others. What makes me “happy” is always something external–I receive praise from somebody, I find out people are actually reading my blog, I get a picture accepted on a Stock site, or whatever it may be. It is almost never “just because” and I envy people who have that ability or art (and it is an art to me) to just feel good for no reason at all. When I was drinking and drugging, I achieved that Nirvana at times, but that was artificial, and when I was sober again, the good “high” was gone with the wind. That’s why I loved to get high, because I was “happy” for a few hours at least. Since I no longer do that, I have to rely on reality, not a chemically induced state of mind. So, I search and search for that elusive state of mind, and once every so often I do feel “happy” for no particular reason. But it is so rare, and I don’t know how to get it back. That is one of the greatest gifts and I wish I could just bottle it or find the right configuration so I could achieve it again. I guess that is why I drank, because at that moment of my first drink, I felt that “ease and comfort” of happiness, like nothing could touch me, like everything in life was good, and everything bad would be OK. I was suddenly transported to a fantasy world where my dreams would come true and I was proud of myself for all my achievements. But, I think without that fantasy world, I am lost, and was even as a child at home (unless I was outside playing), and I just don’t think I ever really learned how to be happy or if I will ever find it.

Myself

Myself, that’s who I am–I have to remember that. If anybody ever asks me, “Who are you?” (sort of like the Who song, if you’re old enough to remember that) that’s what I would say. Last night I went to a meeting of a photography group I belong to and saw a presentation by a member of how he creates fantasy posters using Photoshop. In addition placed around the room were amazing wedding photos turned into posters that he had taken. He went into some detail about how he captured the wedding pictures, how he also does videography, how he edits and sets up these events with the proper lighting, how he presents the finished products to the bride and groom, the classes he has taken, etc. I (and everyone else I think) was extremely impressed, although he was not a braggart by any means. He is actually quite self-effacing (which is just being nice, I think) which he should not be at all. His knowledge level is exponentially higher than mine and I felt a little overwhelmed and inferior at the end of the meeting. I know that was not his intention because he is really very nice, but I started doing what I usually do–and that is “looking over the fence at other people’s yards”–that is to say, comparing myself to everyone else and coming up short. I started thinking that my pictures really suck, and what’s the point in even bothering if this is who I have to compete with. In addition, just to complete my mood, one of the members advertised a “paying” photo job for a family reunion this Saturday. She said she might need two people, so if anyone was interested to give her our numbers, which I did at the end of the meeting. But, then I found out that this man had given his number, so I just said to her that there was no point in bothering. The end result is that of course he will be the photographer and if I want, I will go just to learn. I thought about this last night and today and decided that I cannot be a chameleon; just because he is great at what he does should not invalidate me. I started saying to myself, “Why would they even choose me–I am nothing–while he is someone.” It’s so sad that I do this to myself because I must remember that I am me–myself–and nobody else, and I have qualities I’m sure he does not have. That old song by Sly and the Family Stone, “Everybody is a Star”, is so true. We are all ourselves with our own wonders and just because we don’t make a living at it or receive accolades does not discount it. Now if I can just get myself to believe this when I get attacked by the “I’m worthless” monster that so often is lurking just out of site, ready to attack at the sign of weakness.

Someday

Someday; how often have we vowed that “someday” you would (fill in the blanks) only to have “someday” never come. It is a convenient way to put off a change you want but are too fearful or lazy to embark on. It allows you to delude yourself that you actually have a tangible goal that you are working toward to achieve so you can feel good about yourself. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal has a specific timeframe attached to it, where a dream is a far-fetched, pie in the sky, idea that will never become reality because that word “someday” is often attached. I spent so many years telling myself that someday I would get back to my creative roots, but life kept getting in the way. I finally extracted myself with great difficulty, overcoming FEAR, to finally pursue my “somedays” so that they will become realities.

Legacy

Leaving some sort of legacy when we die; I think most of us want this. Back in the early 70’s (or even as far back as ’69), I started writing journals. These were a way to express my inner thoughts and fears and provided me with a creative and emotional outlet. Years ago I abandoned my written journals in favor of writing on the computer, documenting my journey through life, both good and bad. My journal entries about my dysfunctional affair (which started out in a notebook) subsequently became the basis for my book, Crazy in Lust. In 2003 I created my famous “layoff log” to cope with the devastating effects of the 9/11 tragedy and my subsequent layoff from my job after 23 years of employment. But I think there is more to my journaling than providing an emotional outlet for me because I think I am basically looking for validation and some sort of immortality. I somehow want to be remembered by my heirs. I don’t want to just die and be forgotten, which happens most of the time. I want people to know that I was a real, live person with creativity, and passion. My paintings are at least something tangible, but I have been wondering what will happen to my journal. So, I installed an external hard drive to make sure that it is saved. Now that I have a Blog, I started wondering what will happen to all these writings and photos when I pass on. The thing is, I cannot know when my time on planet Earth will be up, nor can I rely on my relatives or friends to keep paying for the Blog hosting forever. Upon inquiry, I found out that my Blog dies with me, which is very upsetting. The beautiful thing about being a famous author, or actor is that your work endures, even after you are gone. But if you’re a regular person what do you do? I am embarking on a way to preserve this Blog so that my great, great, grandchildren will know me, if they so chose. When I look back on my parents’ lives or my grandparents’ lives, I realize I know almost nothing about them personally. We are all forgotten to some extent when we go to the hereafter, but I just want to be remembered a little. I want to leave a legacy, even if only one person cares to find out about me. I can live with dying, but dying and not leaving something of my personality and my life is unbearable and terribly frightening.