Story Time: Music as Medicine

This is a longer post, but I invite you to please read on to learn more about how music and writing helped me cope with everything from childhood illness, to facial paralysis, brain surgery, joint replacements, broken dreams, grief, and more! At the end, you can also learn about my birthday fundraiser for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which benefits sick and disabled musicians. Enjoy!


I basically came out of the womb being obsessed with music, fashion, pop culture, and movies. (Also? Karaoke. My toxic trait is doing karaoke almost any time there’s an opportunity despite not being any good, whatsoever.)

In the early ’90s, I was enamored by Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul. My first concert was Paula, my first cassette single that I ever bought was her song, Rush Rush, and I used to dress up and perform like Michael Jackson for my family. But, despite playing saxophone and growing up in a household that listened to a lot of country and pop, I was really into alternative rock, hard rock, and grunge music. One of the first albums I ever got (on CD) was Sixteen Stone by the band, Bush. I remember excitedly taking it to my cousin Jacquie’s house on Christmas Day where we holed up in her room and listened to it on repeat. She later reminded me that I would record videos from MTV and pause them so I could kiss Gavin Rossdale through the TV screen. (Embarrassing, but … yeah, that tracks.)

“My toxic trait is doing karaoke almost any time there’s an opportunity.”

Bush was my favorite band and still is. In fact, despite me just having seen them here in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago, my husband bought me a ticket to go visit that same cousin Jacquie in North Carolina for my birthday next month … to see Bush together in person for their Raleigh show! Talk about full circle!

At any rate, I’ve been to over 100 concerts, and it never gets old. Ever! I know that for some, that may seem strange, obsessive, childish, or like a waste of money. But I want to offer some insight as to why it’s so meaningful to me.


When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal autoimmune condition called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (that later turned into adult rheumatoid arthritis.) I was forced to eventually give up sports. That was tough, because I played softball, and I LOVED it. Ate, slept, breathed softball. It’s bittersweet for me to say that was pretty damn good, too. I also played basketball and was a cheerleader, and was always outside doing something active, but, because of my condition, I was advised to give up sports and to take it easy. So, take it easy, I did.

When that happened, I started to cope with the feelings that came along with a chronic and painful illness by turning to writing and music. Those two things (and fashion!) kind of helped me to discover who I was — especially who I was outside of this medical condition. I became very focused on creative outlets: music, designing clothes, entering screenwriting contests, drama club, theatre arts, and more. I devoured MTV’s TRL every day, and even applied to be an MTV VJ! (*And did embarrassing things like enter Britney Spears lookalike contests. As a side note, I actually did place second!)


Anyway, I really, at that point, thought that my career path was going to be some kind of writing-related endeavor, perhaps something of that nature in the entertainment industry. I was specifically interested in music — definitely not as a performer myself, but behind the scenes. Maybe managing a band or doing concert reviews, writing for Rolling Stone, working for MTV, being an artist’s publicist, or even being a lyricist myself. Something. Anything!

I wanted music or showbiz to be a part of my every day on a professional level, and not just as a fan. So, I started off in college in marketing, then switched over to become an English major with a Music Business minor, and my favorite class was the History of Rock N’ Roll. In my free time, I wrote song lyrics, wrote for the entertainment section of the college newspaper, wrote poetry for a literary journal, was on the CampusFest concert committee, was on the Entertainment committee for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, wrote a Sex & the City style op-ed column, and took random road trips with my friends, like going to NYC to hang outside the MTV studios, or jaunting off to Cleveland for the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.

However, as my luck would have it, before I could finish college (which I did eventually do, and then some!) I was unfortunately stricken by another medical condition. I woke up one day with the left side of my face paralyzed, lopsided, unmoving. Yeah — paralyzed! So, I had to take a temporary medical withdrawal from school.

It was scary, to say the least, and also did a number on my self-esteem. Plus, I was very tired, had to get all these medical tests done, and was truly sick for months, plus the medical leave — it sucked. The condition, called, Bell’s Palsy, did eventually improve, thank goodness, and my face went back to being fairly symmetrical. But by the time I was able to go back to college, guess what?!? The university had done away with the music business program. Womp, womp. Cue the sad trombone.

“Womp, womp. Cue the sad trombone.”

That minor was essentially why I even attended that school in the first place, and I was very upset. Between that and my illness, I felt like a was losing a piece of my identity. So I transferred closer to home, and focused on English Writing & Literature, Communications, and Psychology, in addition to working part-time, and doing spokesmodel and promo work. I also got an awesome internship at a radio station, which was so very much up my alley — and an opportunity for which I’ll forever be grateful. I worked on-air as an intern with DJ Bonics, (who is now Wiz Khalifa’s DJ,) at 96.1 kiss fm, which at the time was a ClearChannel station, and now is iHeartRadio. It’s Top 40, mostly pop. It was a lot of fun, but very challenging, because medically speaking, I still wasn’t exactly… great.

I sometimes had to miss shifts at the radio station, which no one ever understood because I “looked” fine, and sometimes was able to go out to dance clubs and frat parties, and behave like your average college student. But, I was finding it increasingly hard to be out so often, at nightclubs after the on-air shift, doing promotional duties, hosting, or recording commercials. Yet it was super-cool because I got to learn about the industry, go to concerts, interview celebrities and musicians, go on their tour buses, etc. Plus, I LOVED being on the radio! Sadly, though, I was realizing that, due to my medical issues, maybe the constant late nights and fast-paced lifestyle of the music industry wasn’t for me, at least not during that season of my life.


While I was navigating this uncertain and transitional time, I really dove into my fiction writing and blogging… and met my husband! Thank goodness that I did, because he’s been one of the biggest blessings to me. He’s my best friend, we are perfect for one another, and he’s so encouraging and supportive. I love him dearly and I couldn’t be more grateful to have found him. So, I remind myself that maybe had I pursued my entertainment industry career dreams, I would not have ended up with him! I do take solace in that: that things worked out just how they were meant to. But, it is still kind of sad sometimes that those aspirations had to take a backseat because of my health, and things didn’t really get much better in that area.

I was freelance writing and working full-time as a school secretary while figuring out what my next steps would be professionally. During that time, I began to get chronic migraines and was diagnosed with another autoimmune condition called celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that can become quite serious. It’s more than just being gluten-free; the inability to absorb gluten proteins can actually cause literal malnutrition, among other complications.


By that time, I’d all but abandoned my dreams of working in the industry. But, I decided to reignite my passions at least somewhat and started a blog called Glitzburgh, which focused on music, celebrities, fashion, and the local movie industry, which is surprisingly thriving here in Pittsburgh. I also wrote for a fashion and pop culture magazine called Maniac. Through my work with Maniac Magazine and Glitzburgh, I got to fulfill that desire and fill that cup of attending concerts, interviewing artists, visiting movie sets, going to fashion shows, doing photo shoots, and more. I was really into all of it, but then 2011 rolled around, and guess what — I found out that I needed freaking brain surgery! I kid you not. Brain surgery.

I had a congenital condition called Chiari malformation, and needed what was essentially a combined brain and neck surgery, (a resection, duraplasty, and laminectomy) about 4.5 months before my wedding. It was pretty wild trying to recover from that, and have my hair grow back, and all that kind of stuff before getting married on the beach just months later.

So, the piece here that’s related to this musical thread throughout my life is that I had tickets to see Lady Gaga around the time of this new diagnosis, and I was so excited. But, naturally, because it was a brain surgery and all, I ended up not being able to go to the concert. However… that April, I got a call that I was invited to be in the audience for one of Oprah Winfrey’s last-ever shows! I had watched Oprah since I was in high school, so I was flabbergasted that I was able to go to Harpo Studios in Chicago with my mom that April. When we got there, there were all kinds of cool guests and fun segments. I mean, we even went to the movies with actor Johnny Depp! (But that’s another story for another day.)

One of the cooler things (to me, at least,) was this: we were about third row in Oprah’s studio audience, when they rolled out this ornate stiletto-shaped piano. Yes – a big high-heel piano! Once I saw that, I just knew in my gut that I was going to see Lady Gaga for the first time live, after all!

She came out and did a couple of songs, one of which was Born This Way. Given my medical conditions, that song had become somewhat of an anthem for me. She says the line in that songs about “whether life’s disabilities leave you outcast, bullied, or teased,” and yeah, I did face some isolation, loneliness, bullying, trolling, all of that because of my medical conditions, which are hard for people to believe or understand, especially because they are unpredictable and largely invisible.

Getting to see Lady Gaga perform Born This Way live, with my mom, just three rows away, only a couple months after recovering from brain surgery, in the Oprah audience, for one of Oprah’s last shows ever, was just an experience I’ll never forget. So, despite my illnesses, I do still have cool moments like that and others throughout my life, nonetheless.


And also, despite many accolades and what others may see as some cool accomplishments, there have been so many times that either my pain, or joint issues, or immune system problems would kind of ruin or change things for me. Some of those things have been more serious. For example, it’s all impacted my career path, family planning choices, etc. But, some of the things illness has screwed up has been more shallow or frivolous, like having to miss the Rolling Stones and Harry Styles concerts and Rocky Horror Picture Show last year because of surgery side effects after a thumb joint replacement and tonsillectomy. (Yup — thumb joint replacements are a thing!)

So, yeah, missing concerts isn’t major, but all of those little disappointments due tend to add up.

The reason I say all of that, is this: I know my excessive level of interest in all of this is not what some would consider to be “normal,” but I nonetheless will continue to try to go to as many concerts as I can.

I try to enjoy as many experiences in life as I can, because I know there will be times that I won’t be able to do the things I want to do and the things I love to do. I know there will be limitations and disappointments. And I know that as I get older, it might be even harder to do and enjoy those things fully or in the same way, especially given the fact that I still have the migraines, the celiac, and the RA that has wreaked havoc on all of my joints, and, so far, does not have a cure.

Music has been the through-line in and soundtrack to my life.”

And so, music has been the through-line in and soundtrack to my life. For me, it’s also just about clinging to what speaks to your soul despite any hardships you’re facing. When you’re constantly sidelined, or having to pivot, or having to take or create a detour for yourself because of your own body behaving in a way that is outside of your control, you look for what you can control. You find moments of joy and happiness where you can. For me, that’s nature, animals, fashion, travel, kayaking, birdwatching, writing, movies, music, and, yes, … going to shows and concerts.

Any little thing that I can find or do that allows me to enjoy life more fully or more joyfully, I’m ready to grasp onto it! It’s not me being obsessive or spoiled or a groupie, or whatever; it’s because I have such a profound love and respect for music, for art, for the craft and the industry, and more so because literally there is no other place or time that I feel more like myself than at a live concert.

When I am taking in live music … in that environment … those special moments counting down waiting for the artist or the band to take the stage … that electric feeling … or the feeling when there’s a slower song and thousands of people are singing together united as one … those moments in life are what I chase. That’s one of the things that bring me joy. It’s what gives me that spark of inspiration. Those moments are literally when I feel most like myself. That feeling. It fills my cup. I want to keep chasing it!

I don’t think I need to defend that, because that is what music and art is for. It’s for people to enjoy; it’s for people to find inspiration; it’s for people to come together. I think that’s the purpose, right? Yet, my birthday is next month, and I’m at this age where it’s almost seen as age-inappropriate or frowned upon to constantly go out to concerts and stuff. It seems frivolous; it seems silly or weird to people.

But, honestly – says who?


Who gets to say what’s weird or what other people should spend their own time and money on? My husband and I don’t have kids. We have three dogs; we have a parrot; we have a little betta fish. But we don’t have human children, so, we spend money on traveling; he spends money on races and competitions; I spend money on going to concerts.

And I kind of need all of that “silly” stuff. The concerts, the magazines, the podcasts, the videos from shows, the tunes blaring from my Alexa, the piano in my living room, the Queen songs on repeat. I need it, because it fills me up for the days where I’m not doing so hot. I need it for the days where maybe my mental health isn’t great, or my physical health is suffering, or I’m laying on my couch crying in extreme pain, or I have a migraine so bad that I can barely see and I’m nauseous.

Or for the days where I’m mourning my dreams.

Those are the grief-filled days that I scroll through and look at past concert pictures, or watch videos I took at a show, where I’ll just listen to my favorite artists, or watch a music documentary. On those days, all of it feels rather necessary. Music is more than a boost of serotonin or dopamine. It’s more than a hobby or an interest. It’s more than background noise. Music is survival.

“Music is survival.”

Concerts, fashion, music, art … these are things that some of us cling to when we’re having a rough go of it. It can be really disheartening to be sick or in pain, and scary to think about the future and know that some of your medical problems could likely get worse. It’s a very discouraging notion, so, having things to look forward to can feel very important. Those things don’t even have to cost money or be anything big. Just SOMETHING. Anything.

And – you only live once, so go to the concert if you can, even if you have to go alone. I recognize that while a lot of these cool opportunities came to me because I worked and hustled to make it happen, there’s also a definite level of privilege here. I do know that. I am deeply, endlessly thankful, grateful, and blessed, and feel lucky that so far I’ve been able to take in these wonderful experiences, because I would honestly feel pretty lost and broken without it.

I mean, even when I don’t feel well or have those lost and broken moments occurring in real time, going to a concert is still worth it to me, as crazy as that sounds. I mean, I’m the person with poor judgment who went to a Beyonce concert with a migraine, but that’s also another story for another day. I do tend to push myself and occasionally pay for it later. Sometimes, I think: I can be hurting and feeling like crap at home on my couch, or, I can be hurting and feeling like crap taking in a once-in-a-lifetime show. If I’m at all able — and sometimes I’m not — I’m gonna push myself do the latter by taking in the show. I’m not always able to do that, and I know not everyone has that choice, but if I do have that option, I’m usually taking it.

“Go to the concert if you can, even if you have to go alone.”

I once saw Ed Sheeran with my bestie Kristen, a day or two after one of my grandmothers, Eileen, died, which was also a day or two before my knee replacement surgery. And that concert with my friend, despite my bereavement and my worry, lifted me; it was a moment of respite from a very sad and stressful time. Looking around the sold-out arena during one of Ed’s ever-emotional songs, seeing all of the phones lighting up the space like stars in a night sky, everyone singing in harmony, was utterly beautiful and I felt like my Nana, Eileen, was with me. I debated even going to that concert in the first place, but it ended up being somewhat healing, at least for that moment in time. That was with my one grandma’s passing. My other Grandma, Joanie, lived in Vegas. In 2020, I was able to say goodbye to her before she passed away, in a sense because of music, since the reason I traveled to Vegas that time was to see a Bush concert at the House of Blues, Mandalay Bay. Given the start of the covid-19 pandemic and all that was going on in the world, had I not had that concert ticket already purchased, I may not have taken that trip, and might have missed my chance to say goodbye to my grandma. I treasure being able to do so!

So, music matters; it can bring you to where you’re meant to be or can bring you through difficult situations.



It can bring joy. And, really, who are we to judge anyone’s joy?

Especially if, for some, that joy is occasionally hard to come by. I, for one, just want to soak it up! Not just while I’m still physically able to, but also — who knows when the last time is you’ll get to see any given artist or band perform live, for whatever reason!

Being at a concert can really inspire and uplift on a creative or artistic level, too. Just going to several live shows recently left me so creatively ignited. Despite having 3 books published already and two more, maybe three, in the works, I hadn’t been writing or creating for awhile. I was kind of stuck and stagnant, because, while I love it, my full-time day job is in people management for a health tech company and my part-time job is for a medical app. Both fantastic, both wonderful, both important work in the health tech space, and I do enjoy these jobs — but they are just not regularly engaging the part of my brain that seeks out music, imagination, creativity and beauty. And, yeah, I have those two fiction books in progress, but until recently, I was just stalled.

Yet, during these last couple weeks, the inspiration and creativity was refreshed and reignited for me, simply by seeing some great movies and being at some live shows, including a stand-up comedy show and a few concerts. There’s something to be said for the contagious energy and inspiration that comes from and goes on at a concert, or from meeting with or being surrounded by other like-minded creative folks who are as passionate as you.

Music does heal, and it does bring people together. It’s attached to some of my very best memories, and helped me get through difficult times, too.

So, ya know, maybe I wasn’t able to go on the professional career path that I wanted to in the industry, but me taking in live shows, buying albums, writing my own song lyrics, collecting music merch or memorabilia, hosting my entertainment and music podcasts, posting about my favs on social media, blasting Aerosmith and Bush, Britney and Lizzo, Gaga and Garbage, Metallica and Kings of Leon while I do my chores — that’s me staying connected to the industry and to music, in my own little way.

It’s me focusing on what I can do, instead of dwelling on what I cannot. It’s turning those proverbial lemons into lemonade, and, in some ways, living vicariously through others.

Illness can take things from you, for sure … but you don’t have to let it destroy you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of shifting perspective, and of finding new ways to adapt and adjust, and navigating how to best incorporate things into your life that make you happy. So that’s what I have been trying to do, and that’s what music has meant to me.


Listen to Badly Branded and/or Deconstructing Bush on Spotify, Anchor, Apple, Google, Stitcher, or Audacy! There’s even a spoken version of this blog posted on 8/22/22.

Read my poems on Instagram at @abshuck_writes or view my main IG at @ash_ambshuck. Follow me on Facebook, here, or connect with me on LinkedIn, here. And – please, check out my Linktree and/or my main site at abshuck.com.


** For my birthday this year, instead of doing my usual fundraiser for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, I am hosting a fundraiser and gifting my own donation to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund which helps career musicians who are experiencing illness, disability or age-related problems.  Their mission is “healing musicians in need.” I chose this charity because it meres two of my great passions, health and music. You can donate here, or through my Facebook, Linktree, or Instagram. And any eventual proceeds from my Deconstructing Bush podcast specifically will also go to Sweet Relief!


Photos from ~2000 through 2022

#Fast50 : Fun Facts!

May be an image of 2 people, outdoors and text
#abshuck

The challenge: share 9-12 stock pictures that represent you. Then share a #Fast50 fun facts or beliefs you personally hold true.

fast 50:

1. when in doubt, over-dress; and use the nice plates. Don’t save ‘em for a special occasion. 👗

2. time spent on, in, or near water is never wasted 🌊

3. making memories and capturing moments is better than ‘stuff’ or ‘things’ 📸

4. pugs are their own thing, their own creature, unlike any other dogs 🐾

5. music can literally be healing – if not physically, then at least mentally-emotionally-spiritually 🎶

6. birds are so much cooler & more beautiful & interesting than people give them credit for 🐦

7. health is the greatest blessing/privilege 🤒

8. if you ever want to buy me something, you can’t go wrong with something rose gold or PINK (although, my entire house is basically shades of blue, grey, and teal!) 💖

9. crocs are hella comfy 🐊👟

10. michael jackson was innocent 🕺🏽

11. #freebritney is a major human rights issue 💯

12. aliens/UFOs likely exist 🛸👽

13. heaven is another dimension in the multiverse 😇

14. gavin rossdale is one of the most-underrated frontmen, ever. and bush = one of the most under-appreciated rock bands 🎸🎤

15. some of the best smells are: gardenia, lilac, jasmine, honeysuckle, saltwater, ocean air, puppy breath, cookies baking. 🌸🍪

16. my parrotlet asking me for, and subsequently thanking me for, a kiss, will never get old. 🦜 17. jesus was a man but god has no gender and furthermore can be found in nature and all around us. ✝️

18. ghosts? angels? real. and i do believe some people have a connection to the other side. 👻👼🏼🔮

19. if an actual cure for cancer can be found, a cure for autoimmune disease will soon follow and vice versa. PS: science matters; get the dang covid vaccine. 🧬🧪💊💉👩🏼‍⚕️👨🏽‍⚕️

20. donald trump is a garbage human and will go down as a stain on our nation’s history … but he is a symptom of a much bigger, darker, sadder, scarier, maddening, upsetting, very real problem. 🇺🇸

21. Black Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. And Black Trans Lives Matter. PS feminism is inclusive. 🤛🏾

22. Ableism runs rampant in our culture and is wildly under-acknowledged and under-addressed. ♿️

23. Our foster care / child protective system is broken. 💔

24. women/womyn will change the world 👸🏼

25. dogs/animals are one of the biggest blessings, ever. 🐶

26. sunshine is medicine; travel is, too. ☀️✈️ (But I’ll also take some healing crystals and pharmaceutical drugs!)

27. empathy is the basis for all understanding. and kindness is never out of style, out of place, or our of touch. 💕

28. authenticity is better than fitting in. 🦄

29. afternoon tea in london; a safari in africa; birding in costa rica; sunbathing in bora bora; snorkeling in australia or the galapagos; wandering in new zealand…. SIGN ME UP! But so far my top 3 fav trips: Maui, Italy, Block Island. 🌎

30. fully being — and knowing — oneself is something many people never fully master. also collectively, we need more self-awareness and less ignorance ✌🏼🧘🏼‍♀️

31. the US education system is white-washed and ethnocentric. Oh, and white privilege exists, whether you understand or accept it or not 🏫

32. not everyone’s 24 hours are equal ⏰

33. toxic positivity is harmful 🙃

34. I basically love all animals. Some favs include: dogs – cats – birds – elephants – goats – sea turtles – horses – otters – axolotls – ducks – dolphins – butterflies 🦋🐐🐴🐢🦆🐘

35. all bodies & all people are worthy and beautiful in their own way 👩🏼‍🎤

36. gratitude is everything

37. it’s okay to cry. And – emotional intelligence can’t be taught but must be learned 😢💜

38. we all have gifts and struggles 💪🏼

39. babies laughing is *the cutest* and most joyful, sweet sound in the world 👶🏼

40. some of my other favorite sounds are: ocean waves, thunderstorms, water flowing/trickling, birdsong, fire crackling, dogs snoring, cats purring, justin timberlake’s singing voice, gravel crunching under your shoes as you walk. 🔥⛈🌅

41. horseback riding, kayaking, boating, snorkeling, and jetskiing are things I wish I could do more of 🛶🛥

42. the opening of a big concert … those moments counting down… when the artist or band first hits the stage … one of THE ABSOLUTE DEFINITIVE BEST moments in life!!!!!! 👏🏼

43. Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana? Murdered. 👀 ALSO: true crime & conspiracy podcasts and documentaries are so interesting and, oddly, an escape. 🔪👮🏼‍♀️🔍

44. if I won big on the lottery, after paying off debts and helping out family, and donating to charities, I’d hire an on-demand massage therapist, and a daily cleaning service, and get a boat, kayaks, jet ski, hot tub jacuzzi, pool, sauna, & beach house! And maybe do stem cell therapy for my joints. 💰 On-call deep tissue massages & acupuncture would be EVERYTHINGGGG.

45. freddie mercury was a genius. 🎤

46. pain is exhausting – and pain is also not a competition. 😔

47. morally-ethically i want to be vegan and i have tried, but my body prefers when I am an omnivore 🌱

48. being flexible and adapting to adversity and or/change and progress, is one of the biggest parts of resilience and grit, and likely a big part of happiness and contentment 🌈

49. the idea of “acting one’s age” when it comes to personal style, interests, hobbies, taste, etc. is often just an arbitrary social construct. With most things — you never have to conform! 👵🏼👯‍♀️

50. LOVE is everything. ♥️ Coffee helps too. ☕️

#abshuck#arthritisashley#glitzburgh#welcometowellness2021#ultimateyouwellness#abshuckbirdlady#abshuckconcerts#shuckzoo#abshuckcrystals#shuckstravels#fastfacts#FunFactFriday#funfacts#allaboutyou#allaboutme#gettoknowme#mytruth#myvalues#mybeliefs#thankfulgratefulblessed#socialmediachallenge

My friend, Gavin Rossdale

A hug from Gavin Rossdale in 2019 (Pittsburgh)

Okay, so, to be clear, he’s not *really* my friend, but, we live in a ‘clickbait’ society, do we not?

This blog post is an open letter about a man who 1.) helped me get through both middle school and grief and the pandemic year and 2.) is one of THE MOST underrated frontmen of one of THE MOST awesome yet under-appreciated rock bands, like … ever.

Let me set the stage:

It’s 1995 or 1996; I’m probably wearing Umbro soccer shorts or JNCO Jeans, and an oversize Nike tee with some Airwalks. Maybe I have a butterfly clip in my hair and a daisy choker on my neck. I might be writing in bubble letters, playing with some ‘devil sticks,’ or trying my hand (foot?) at hackey-sack. I haven’t yet discovered highlights, straight teeth, or a hair straightener, but I rock my Laura Ashley glasses, awkward bangs, and lust after chain wallets, lava lamps, and bellybutton piercings as I hitch a ride on the ‘pegs’ of someone’s BMX bike. I’m a true nerd and very awkward, but I desperately want to fit in. Luckily, I can “pass” as a cool kid and that helps me, a lot.

But internally, I battle with major self-esteem and confidence issues. I’m a ‘gifted’ student who looks like a popular girl but isn’t really sure where I belong. I’m battling an illness no one really knows about; I live in pain every day.

I discover MTV and those mail-order music clubs: BMG, Columbia House, and so on.

I had always turned to books for comfort (Babysitter’s Club, Goosebumps, Fear Street, Sweet Valley High, the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew,) but this? CDs? MUSIC? It was like a light came on and lit up a dark world, especially because previously I’d only really listened to my Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson cassettes. (Which, no regrets. Still adore both of them!)

No Doubt – Nirvana – Smashing Pumpkins – the Spice Girls – Marilyn Manson – Garbage – Prodigy – Weezer – Alanis Morrissette – Cake – Nine Inch Nails – Oasis – Hole – Toad the Wet Sprocket – the Verve – Everclear – and then …

Gavin Rossdale.

He wasn’t my first celebrity crush (Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement; Jason Priestly from Beverly Hills 90210; Devon Sawa and Leonardo DiCaprio; and Justin Timberlake from the Mickey Mouse Club preceded him,) but he was the first celebrity crush I had that felt like was about more than appearance.

I didn’t know it as a junior high kid, but … I liked his soul.

As early as, I don’t know – age 7 or 8, maybe? – I was writing stories, songs, poems, lyrics. I sketched fashion designs and wrote in my diary and devoured the written word. So, finding a rock star who was, in my teenybopper opinion, ALSO a true “poet” and wordsmith was more swoon-worthy than the boys I was hanging up posters of, from the pages of Teen Beat magazine.

I felt like Gavin Rossdale and others of that era gave me permission to lean into my truest self even when I, at times, tried to hide it to “fit in.”

And boy, do I regret trying to fit in! I had graduated from my plastic Flutophone recorder to a real, live saxophone and was pretty good at it. My music teacher and band instructor encouraged me to stick with music, but I quit because some boys made fun of me and I was too insecure to be seen as a band nerd.

It’s literally one of the biggest regrets of my life.

As an adult at age 37, I now wish I could revisit playing the saxophone. I wish I could play my acoustic guitar and my ukulele and my piano more, but, I’m facing hand surgery that could render that impossible.

It sucks. But, I digress. Back to Gavin.

For a time, I had my people: I rollerbladed; I blasted rock music; I wore the baggy jeans and the raver shirts and tried to skateboard and ski. I went through a rebellious phase, a goth phase, a ska phase, and music was my salvation. Bush’s Sixteen Stone and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill were the soundtrack to my life (along with the actual soundtrack from Bazz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juilet.)

Middle school & high school me .. from ‘skater’ to ‘pop girl’

I pretended I was cooler than I was.

But as happens in high school, friend groups changed, priorities changed. Boys (and grown men – yuck) began to notice and pay attention to me – sometimes too much attention, I can say in hindsight. I was still insecure but I thought I was hot stuff. People began telling me I looked like Britney Spears; I let myself believe it. After all, who in 1999 wouldn’t have wanted to be her?

Sixteen Stone remained (and still remains) one of my favorite albums and a Gavin Rossdale poster remained above my bed, but in true late-90s and early-aughts fashion (or, lack thereof, judging by some of my clothing choices,) I leaned into pop, hip-hop, bare-midriffs, short skirts, and skintight low-rise jeans. The Airwalks and Converse were replaced by Steve Madden platforms and chunky jelly wedges. No more black hair; I was Sun-In, bleached n’ bottled blonde. My life was consumed by NSync, Britney Spears, Nelly, Juvenile, DMX, Destiny’s Child, and Eminem … parties and football games and trips to the mall. Boys. Boys. And more Boys!

By that point, Gavin Rossdale was a man and a bit off my radar. I still stanned Sixteen Stone. But, the rocker-skater-tomboy Ashley? She had vanished, or, at least been dulled by the bubblegum social norms of her formative years.

Quitting sports didn’t help – my musculoskeletal autoimmune disease put an end to softball (which was my world), basketball, and eventually cheerleading. No more skateboarding; efforts to snow ski and water ski and snowboard had passed and were, because of my ailments, not even a realistic possibility even as a teenager.

So the saxophone-playing Ashley of the alternative-grunge era faded into the bright lights of clubbing, rap music, and parties.

There were some people at school who saw me for who I still was at heart: the girl with the Bush CDs and the Gavin poster above my bed.

Once, my good friends BJ and Jessie got to go to a Bush concert – I believe at Pittsburgh’s Metropol or Rosebud in the Strip District? – which I was invited to go to, but wasn’t allowed to attend. It was one of my first true tastes of real disappointment! But my friend BJ brought me back a signed white t-shirt allegedly from Gavin Rossdale himself.

Now I say allegedly because we were in middle school, after all – so who knows if it was really signed or worn by Gavin? (Not that I doubt you, BJ, but … we were kids, so I’d forgive ya if it wasn’t actually Gavin’s! Haha.)

At any rate, it was an amazingly appreciated gesture, that made me feel so very special … and that shirt hung on my wall for many years until I went to college! Another kid, whose real name I won’t use but we’ll call him Jonathan, knew the real me so much that he put me on a ‘hit list’ and wrote nasty blog posts about me and said he wanted to kill me all because I was “a sheep trying to fit in with the pigs.” Which … trauma aside … was a fair observation. (And yes, I do mean trauma: that whole experience is where my anxiety began. Having to go to court as a 10th grader will do that to ya!)

>>>> Fast-forward

… through switching majors (marketing, music business, english) and colleges (Robert Morris, Clarion, PITT) a couple of times … through an internship at a radio station … through a partial completion of grad school … through a couple of medical withdrawals … through a few knee surgeries and a brain surgery and several jobs at tech companies and nonprofits and even a Catholic school… I would find Mr. Rossdale – and myself – again.


So, as my luck would have it, I missed Gavin in Pittsburgh again when he came for a solo tour on the Gateway Clipper. (Which, HELLO – boats and Gavin Rossdale? Damn it if that isn’t wholly and fully my jam!!!!)

Mike & me front row at the Bush/Chevelle Show in Pittsburgh, 2016.

When I saw that Bush was coming to Stage AE in Pittsburgh along with Chevelle in July of 2016, I knew I had to go.

At that point I’d been a fan for, what, like…20 years? … and had been to probably 100 concerts, but, had still never seen Bush live and in person. I dragged my husband Mike, and we stood front row for what up until that point was one of the best concert experiences I’d had (along with seeing Britney Spears twice from front row and Justin Timberlake from 3rd row then and first row a few times after. The poppy side of me never fully disappeared, after all.)

But I’d been so used to pop, top 40, and hip-hop shows – the big spectacles, the productions, the dancing, the dramatics, and lip-syncing – that I didn’t even realize what I’d been missing out on: rock shows were life.

And Gavin? He’s what a frontman should be.

He oozed sex appeal and raw talent. He was full of charisma and stage presence. You could tell that he FELT the music, that he SAW the audience. I even felt like he saw ME! … Yes, every artist is a performer and usually going off a memorized script or routine. I get that. But Bush? Gavin? They felt AUTHENTIC. Real. Not manufactured. Not phony.

I loved it.

The concert high lasted weeks, which I’ve learned happens with any good show. I would watch the videos on my phone over and over again and couldn’t wait to hopefully see them live again sometime.

It’s now 2019 and Bush is coming back to Stage AE, along with Live, another band who I liked back in the day. This time, I had no one to go with, so I sold my second ticket and went alone. Now, keep in mind, I’m not someone who, at that point, did NOT do a lot of things alone. I’d gone to see a movie by myself once, and traveled solo for a few work trips… but a concert? At night? By myself? This was big stuff.

The insecurities crept back: would people think I was a loser or take pity on me for being at a show by myself?

I realized I did not care, and this was the start of me doing what I wanted to do…. even if I had to go it alone.

I’d gotten VIP tickets for this 2019 show and had mega heart palpitations at the prospect of meeting Gavin Rossdale. Now, I’d met plenty of other celebrities before so I knew that it was likely that he’d barely say hello or acknowledge my existence. And because I have met kind of a lot of famous or semi-famous people, I also don’t get super starstruck and I know how to play it cool. USUALLY. Not so much with my favorite band, though! I felt like such a nerd and am more than sure that they all felt my awkwardness radiating off my body in nervous giddy waves.

“I’ve been your fan since middle school,” I shyly told Gavin, probably turning blotchy beet red, as I often do.

He smiled, and gave me a hug. Inwardly, I melted; outwardly, I made some more quick small talk and told him and Chris that I hope they liked Pittsburgh. It was lovely. I got a signed poster and some other merch. I don’t care much about the free swag but I do have the autograph hanging in my home office and I will treasure the photos forever.

I had front row at this show too and I swore that Gavin made eye contact with me. In my little fantasy-world he was singing to me. In reality I know it’s an act. But I’m okay with being in fantasy-land for a few hours.

Life is hard enough. It’s okay to escape now and then.


The story isn’t over. I enjoyed myself so much at that show and had begun to grow more confident in doing things alone: hiking, birdwatching, dining, etc. Mind you, I am very happily married! But, my husband and I support one another in our individual endeavors and we both value solo time and pursuing our unique interests and passions which rarely align with one another. (Me: music, concerts, nature, animals, fashion, books, pop culture, astronomy, travel … him: fitness fitness fitness fitness fitness fitness travel fitness.) So, no red flags here — in fact, I am grateful that Mike has helped to empower me to feel confident doing things on my own. And that he doesn’t get jealous or insecure about my little celebrity crushes!

Thus, when I saw that Bush was doing a show in Las Vegas for the 25th Anniversary of Sixteen Stone, I HAD TO GO. There was no discussion; no debate. I have two jobs and freelance; I’ve worked since I was 15; I don’t have kids; I budget for concerts and travel because those things are a priority to me.

I miss my grandparents…

And – my Grandma (Joan) who lived in Las Vegas? She was unfortunately dying.

I knew this concert – this trip to Vegas – would very likely be the last time I could ever see her. Little did I know that, because of a impending pandemic, it would ALSO be my last concert for … well … who knows how long.

So I booked the trip and began counting the days.


Thank goodness I did.

That night – February 28, 2020 – was not just one of THE BEST concerts of my life but also one of THE BEST nights of my life. It was an emotional day – I’d gotten to spend a lot of quality time with my Grandma, and saying goodbye that morning knowing it would likely be our last hug, was incredibly challenging and emotional. But having the concert to look forward to that night (and some quality alone time in the hot tub at the Paris with a delicious Bloody Mary,) helped put a salve on my hurting heart.

I got dolled up, blasted Bush in my hotel room, and took an Uber to the House of Blues. I’d gotten VIP again; we all were crammed in line, no one knowing that we were likely all being exposed to covid-19 for every second of it.

Hugging Gavin, Feb, 2020 Las Vegas

Finally – it was time for the meet-and-greet! Now, I’m sure that most bands hate doing meet-and-greets, and I get it. But, Bush does an awesome job of at least pretending they enjoy it!

I made my way up to the line. Chris complimented me on my leather jacket. He said he smelled popcorn. I said I promised it wasn’t me. He laughed. Gavin laughed. I told Gavin I’d seen them in Pittsburgh. He said he likes Pittsburgh. We hugged. We smiled. We took a photo. I floated away on a cloud of happiness (and I don’t wanna come back down from this cloud …)

Meeting Bush in 2020

Front row, again. I impatiently sat through 3 opening acts and then … those opening notes: Machinehead.

I rocked out for the entire time. Devil horns in the air. Jumping up and down. Screaming, singing, taking photos and videos on my phone. I lived for the sense of togetherness that we were experiencing that night (and at any concert, really. Its one of my favorite feelings ever in life! Everyone singing along…it’s bliss…)


I flew back home to Pennsylvania the next day, emotionally exhausted from the fun and excitement of the show, and from the goodbyes with my grandma. And then, within a couple of weeks, life was on lockdown.

The pandemic had fully arrived and life, as we knew it, was about to change. It was hard. Everyone was isolated. Everyone was afraid. I was especially afraid given my immune system issues. But…

Gavin Rossdale and Bush guitarist Chris Traynor unbeknownst to them, brought me immense happiness via interactions on Instagram and Twitter. Chris regularly liked my photos from the show. Gavin put a picture I took from the concert on his Instagram page and gave me photo credit. (He shared that same photo again recently, in fact!) Gavin also began to do live chats on his Instagram Live. Once, he gave me a shout-out when I submitted a question, “hey! I know you!” and another time, he played a song I kept requesting, “All Night Doctors,” one of my fav yet most-underrated Bush songs (which also seemed fitting for the pandemic and some personal things I was going through!) In the summer, Gavin and Chris both also shared a video of my resuce pug Olive doing some head-tilts to their hit song, “Flowers on a Grave,” (which I actually go to hear live in Vegas before it was even released!)

These little interactions, seemingly stupid or silly, actually meant a lot to me.

From March 2020

My grandma passed away shortly after that show … one of my dogs passed away shortly after that .. not to mention, well.. covid. So, any and every bit of happiness I could take was welcomed. And I got that happiness through these little likes, follows, mentions, and shares: not because I need validation or followers on social media, but, because I need human connection.

And to feel “seen” by someone who inspired you to write song lyrics and poetry; someone you’ve admired for the last 20 or 25 years? Well … that’s a blessing and a gift.


I’m not a Groupie. (Well – I don’t think I am lol!)

But I’m a die-hard Bush fan. I respect Gavin and the band so much. Why they don’t get more credit and recognition is beyond me. Truly, Bush has some masterpieces. The albums Sixteen Stone and The Kingdom are flawless. But the entire discography is great. And the staying power? Come on! Not to mention, their music is timeless, ageless. Sixteen Stone sounds as good now as it did when I was listening to it on my Discman on the school bus. Some of the songs hit differently the older I get, but … dang it if Rossdale isn’t a phenomenal lyricist. (Yes, I love his vocals and guitar skills too but I’m a storytellers, so the words matter, too. Big time.)

In another life, had I not quit band, had I stuck with music, if I didn’t have medical issues, maybe I’d be a songwriter too.

But for now, I live vicariously through Gavin and others like him who can bring joy to others through words and music, who can be a soothing balm during any adversity, and who can make their mark on a world that isn’t always kind or easy.


THANK YOU, Gavin & Bush, for helping me through my tween years, loss, and a global pandemic. Thank you for not abandoning me when I detoured to the world of pop. Thank you for helping me find my way back home to my rocker soul.

Joint Decisions and the Analysis Paralysis of My Summer

I’ve had health problems for almost my entire life. I’ve even written two books and an award-winning blog about all of it! But, they never really “got to me” until recently.

The past year or so have been tough, to say the least. But — if I’m being honest, it’s the last decade, really. Sure, I dealt with RA & JIA, OA, Celiac, Bell’s Palsy, Dysplasias, Headaches, and Anxiety prior to 2011. But, the hits just kept coming after that year.

A brain surgery for Chiari. Hospitalizations for POTS. A bone marrow biopsy. PTSD. A lipoma excision surgery. Dystonia. Tendinitis. Reactions to medications. Ambulance rides. A total knee replacement. Worsening chronic migraines. A long-term relationship with steroid joint injections in my hands and feet; and Botox injections for migraines in my scalp. Possible covid and a chronic asthmatic cough. And, in the past year, a dog bite, my first broken bone, and several falls and sprains.

I have had more than one orthopedic surgeon at more than one practice say the following to me:

  • your foot is ‘too far gone’
  • your joints are the worst I’ve seen for someone your age
  • your wrist looks like an 80-year-old’s
  • usually we don’t do a thumb joint replacement on someone so young
  • you’re the second youngest patient I’ve done a total knee on
  • you will need a triple fusion (arthrodesis) of your foot; it may or may not work
  • we could amputate it
  • you need a reconstruction or replacement of both your CMC (thumb) joints
  • you will definitely need a wrist replacement or fusion at some point
  • your joints are too bad for stem cell
  • ‘end-stage’ osteoarthriits and joint degeneration
  • your left knee and right knee look like two different patients, one in their 30s, one in their 70s
  • it’s too bad you weren’t able to get on biologics sooner to save your joints

… and so on.

And a lot of that may not mean a whole lot to many of you, unless you’ve experienced RA and/or the excruciating pain of a joint replacement. But the TLDR is that it isn’t a pleasant prospect.

Unfortunately, sometimes surgeries are literally the only treatment option and only way to improve quality of life.

I had my first knee surgery around age 13 or so. I had my second when I was about 26 or 27. I then had it totally replaced when I was a day shy of turning 33.

Currently, I manage my thumbs, wrist, and foot with steroid injections every 90 days.

It’s very painful. It sucks.

I know the new surgeries that I face in my hands and foot are going to need to happen soon now, however, because, after like 6 years of getting them done, the injections are starting to lose efficacy. My joints are feeling worse.

It’s at times quite disabling.

Typing is hard — so is texting. Opening a can or a jar? Forget it. Driving? Eh sometimes pretty uncomfortable. Sleep? Some days it’s a lost cause. Doing my hair? I rarely can. Cleaning, chores? Difficult.

And it impacts my hobbies and interests, too. My entire summer and perhaps the rest of the calendar year (not to mention travels, work, etc.) are going to be impacted by the seemingly-impossible decisions I face about my joints and potential operations to fix them. Heck – my entire life could be impacted!

Pain and immobility is a b@#$%! And while there are worst things than living with an illness or disability, and I am so blessed in other ways, it is a challenge more often and in more ways than most people could know.

This video is lengthy — an hour long. But — it’s the same as listening to a podcast! Here, I talk about some of the decisions I face and share a little more about my sometimes-difficult journey. I’d love if you could watch, but I understand if you cannot.

In the meantime, I urge you to check out the new PsA Healthline App from Healthline. I’ve partnered with them to help share and promote this wonderful patient community of like-minded individuals and Psoriatic Arthritis patients and caregivers. It’s free to download, so, you should take a peek and see for yourself why I’m so excited to be an Ambassador! After all, when you deal with health nonsense, it’s nice to know you’re not alone!!

PsA Healthline - Apps on Google Play
Download the PsA Healthline and RA Healthline apps today!


🎥 Long video. But if you have an hour to listen to a podcast or binge-watch a show, or play a game on your phone, then you have an hour to listen, watch, and hear my #truth​! 😉 If you or someone you love live with RA, OA, chronic illness or disability, you may even relate. (And if any birdwatchers or musicians want to listen, or you’re just a friend or family member who wants a life update or to show support … here you go! You’re welcome! 😉)

🐞 ⚖️ ☯️ Life presents hard choices at times. Unique circumstances can make these decisions even harder. Whether it’s traveling… Whether to join a gym… Whether to have children… What type of career path to take or what kind of work to do… Whether or not to have a surgery, or take up a new hobby, or try a new med or a new style … Sometimes even basic choices can seem impossible and some decisions, very difficult.

🌟 While this vlog starts out on the more lighthearted side, it gets deep, personal, raw & real.

I do promise that it has a point. ♥️

You may even learn something! 🤗

And I truly THANK you all for your love and support, always.

Be kind and have a great day! ☀️ You never know what struggles someone battles – big or small – behind closed doors! 💖


#arthritisashley
#abshuck#welcometowellness2021#shuckstravels#abshuckmusicattempts#glitzburgh#ultimateyouwellness#author#writer#abshuckbirdlady#rheum#RA#OA#JIA#arthritis#chronicillness#chronicpain#disability#autoimmune#jointpain#guitar#travel#surgery#jointreplacement#injury#sprainedeverything#shopaholic#shucksonthemove#decisions#thankfulgratefulblessed

💪🏼 🙏🏼

Some thoughts on race, culture, mental illness, and ignorance. Yeah – this should go well.

Okay, this post might be controversial to some, but if you’re already feeling uncomfortable, I urge you to read the whole thing. Basically, I’m sharing a few Facebook posts I made recently because — well, because it’s my blog and I wanna.

Haha.

In all honesty – it’s because I do have a modest platform and readership. Thus, I feel I called and compelled to use that platform to share my thoughts about things that I deem important or interesting, (whether that is Britney Spears and makeup, or cancel culture and racial bias.)

Before I proceed, I also wish to add that none of these posts are/were calling out any one individual. (And, listen, if I cut ties with every friend or family member who held differing beliefs from my own, well, I might be a very lonely person.)

If you feel bad or take it personally, that is honestly on you and I say that from a loving place. I urge you (in the friendliest and least judgmental of ways,) to sit with that discomfort and soul-search as to why you feel called out. Oftentimes we (myself included) take things personally or feel defensive because a mirror has been held up to an ugly or inconvenient truth we don’t want to recognize about ourselves.

But my goal(s) are to educate, to vent, to spread awareness, to journal my thoughts, etc. and not to offend! So, pretty please do not come at me with any bitterness, trolling, avoidance, or aggression!

So, anyway…some soapboxy, stream-of-consciousness thoughts for ya:

 

On White Privilege + “Colorblind” Racism

white privilege

I just saw white privilege explained in such a simple but effective way: white privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been a struggle; it means that struggle WASN’T BECAUSE OF THE COLOR OF YOUR SKIN. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that, but this is a basic explanation that hopefully people can begin to grasp.

Furthermore, the onus is on us to educate ourselves and be allies. It isn’t up to people of color do that for us.

Thinking white privilege doesn’t exist is … an example of white privilege.

Being “color blind” erases real issues — and differences — relating to race.

Different isn’t bad. Acknowledging race isn’t bad.

Even if you aren’t “racist,” you likely possess unconscious racial bias.

Just because you don’t see, feel, or acknowledge racism, or bias, or privilege, doesn’t invalidate people’s feelings about those things, and doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

You think our culture and education system aren’t whitewashed? When’s the last time your kids or you learned about history or culture that *wasn’t* American or European? If they did learn about it, how much time was devoted to that versus “white history?”

You can’t erase or ignore the experiences or the pain of others because of your own guilt, pride, or ignorance.

And here’s the thing, fellow white folks: no reasonable person is shaming or blaming or guilting your for being white. But imagine if we were; imagine how awful it would feel to be judged solely based on the color of your skin. Imagine how awful it would feel to be judged based on the actions and beliefs of every other person of your entire race, or simply based on (outdated, unproven) stereotypes. Then think about the potential of maybe feeling that every day for your entire life.

What toll would it take on you, on your children, or anyone else who is your same color, in part or in whole?

It’s not easy to change our ways of thinking and pointing out race and racism can feel uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t — it should not be uncomfortable. The fact that it is just shows we have a long way to go!

Also…I am not speaking for any BIPOC, just my own opinions and experiences. I am intelligent and self-aware enough to admit I don’t know everything and that stories about racism are not mine to tell. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong or speaking out of turn! I welcome knowledge and want to learn & do better 🖤

PS: A *wonderful* resource that we’ve used at work before is Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test to see how much implicit/unconscious (i.e. unintentional or inadvertent) racial bias you have.

 

On Willful Ignorance + Not Taking Accountability

long rant

Something (among many things) that really annoys me about our culture nowadays is that everybody thinks things they don’t like or don’t understand are “fake” or a “scam.” Just because you don’t quite “get” something, or it isn’t your cup of tea, or you felt duped because you didn’t do any research going into it, does not mean it is fake or a scam. 🤷🏼‍♀️

– a multi-level marketing company isn’t inherently a “scam” because of the sales or payment structure. Additionally, just because some thing requires AutoShip or a membership does not innately mean it’s a “pyramid scheme.” Furthermore, not all direct sales companies are typical “MLMs,” and not all MLMs are bad. Yes they can be annoying but that’s not the same as a “scam.”

a timeshare or vacation club isn’t a “scam” just because you (gasp!) have to sit there through a presentation to get your free trip or iPad or gift card or whatever. *Of course* they’re going to try to sell you a membership. That’s their job! –

you forgetting to cancel your free trial and being charged does not mean the app or company is scamming you.

– science isn’t fake because you don’t understand it.

– not everything is a conspiracy.

– you *giving permission* (intentionally or not) for websites and apps to “track” you or have access to private information and data is not their fault.

– medicine isn’t inherently bad because it’s not natural. In fact, nothing is inherently bad solely because it’s not natural. I cannot stress this enough.

– people deserve to be paid for their time. Someone charging you their worth to do something for you or provide a service to you is not a ripoff because you don’t want to pay. Furthermore, depending on the industry and your contract, sometimes you’re paying for someone’s time and not necessarily a guaranteed result or outcome. (I see this a lot doing work in public relations and weight loss.)

– did I mention that science isn’t fake or harmful just because you don’t understand it? I feel like I need to say that one again.

– also, just because someone is trying to sell you something does not mean it is a scam or a ripoff. 🤷🏼‍♀️

– just because something hasn’t happened to you personally or you don’t see it in your everyday life does not mean it isn’t a problem that greatly affects other people on a regular basis. You not seeing or believing something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

– you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own fact. 👏🏼 Facts are facts are facts.

– unless it is satire or a conspiracy-based or opinion-based site, *actual news* isn’t “fake” just because you don’t agree with it or it doesn’t align with your views. Of course news can be biased, but that doesn’t mean fake.

– some folks don’t seem to understand what cancel culture is. Things changing with the times in the sake of equality, progress, evolution, modernity, or even just plain market research does not equal “cancel culture.” some of it is ridiculous, I agree. (For example – Pepe LePew. Stupid, in my opinion.) Some of it, though, is more than warranted. (Those certain Seuss works being pulled, for example.) And some, it’s like…who cares? (Who gives a flying you-know-what if the brand is now Potato Head? It’s a plastic potato.) I’m seeing the phrase cancel culture be way overused by people who never once said it a year or two ago, and don’t even seem to fully grasp *what it truly is and is not.*

The entitlement, whining, finger-pointing, blame-shifting, shaming, and intolerance are rampant online these days. I feel that our society has been oddly infantilized to the point that it’s nearly crippling for some (no accountability or personal responsibility, zero intellectual curiosity,) addicted to rage, always feeling attacked, take everything personally even when it isn’t, and looking for ways to vent — but it’s sometimes misdirected, towards the wrong causes or the wrong people. (*And trust me — I do understand that this post is kinda complaining, sort of shaming, possibly snobby, and semi-ragey as well … but at least I have the self-awareness to admit that, which is something that many people lack. There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable and admitting where your flaws or blind spots are. [one of my biggest flaws is being judgmental about willful ignorance.]

And, I do think that, despite my opinions on all of the above, we can and should each use our own social media pages and profiles however we see fit. Now, granted, I don’t believe that gives folks a license to go troll or slander others, or go on a rant on *someone else’s* page or post.)

*the TLDR? -> Stop yelling at people because YOU didn’t read the fine print* 🥸😉

On Mental Health

The stigma against taking care of mental health is ridiculous. Mental illness is illness; your brain and your mind are a part of your body and a part of what makes you, you. Oftentimes, people avoid addressing their mental-emotional wellbeing because, for some toxic reason or other, American society has positioned it as a weakness to admit to having any kind of mental health issue. Or, even worse, there are some people who blame or ‘demonize’ folks with mental illness.

Mental illness is not a joke and it isn’t weak to address and take care of mental health. My personal belief is that everyone should have a therapist, just like everyone should have a primary care doctor. Even if it is just for talk therapy and there is nothing you need to fix, taking a heart-centered behavioral health approach to managing mental-emotional wellness is only going to benefit you and those around you.

Not everyone needs medicated or “committed”– I think sometimes that’s the fear.

There are talk therapists; psychiatrists who prescribe medications, and some who take a holistic approach; there are counselors (some of whom are Christian counselors, or specialize in kids or family counseling, LGBTQIA or disability specialties, etc,); and even health coaches who can help you whether you are just wanting to vent and unload, or, if it’s something that requires medication or treatment.

One of the biggest things I see every day in my line of work is unaddressed depression and/or anxiety, which leads to a whole other array of problems ranging from weight problems, job loss, financial illiteracy, and even, at times, misdirected anger, or, even more worrisome, violence or suicidal ideation.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also address the elephant in the room which is toxic masculinity. There is another largely-American ideal of “manliness” and somehow that (archaic, misogynistic) notion is closely associated with power, violence, and “toughness” — toughness meaning that “boys don’t cry,” and that the emotional health of men and boys goes unaddressed.

That saddens me.

Mental health is a social justice issue. 

Mental health affects not just you but also your family, friends, and loved ones. If you aren’t doing it for yourself, do it for them. Whether it’s simply just coping with stress, or working on anger issues, or, it’s a diagnosis like PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or, even addiction, help is available for those who want or need it — and it’s often affordable or, in some cases, free. There are lots of nonprofit organizations that can direct people to low-cost or free services. And there’s zero shame in taking advantage of that!

In my personal opinion, (as someone who works in behavioral health but isn’t a medical professional,) a lot of hatred and division, even broken relationships, stem from not only ignorance but also from, sometimes, unaddressed mental health issues, big or small.

To be clear, however, mental illness should also not be a scapegoat for violence, racism, or just being a crappy human being. Being mental ill or dealing with any kind of mental health concern does not mean you’re a bad person — nor does it give you an ‘excuse’ to be.

One of the strongest, bravest, and most compassionate and loving things you can do for or toward yourself is to TAKE CARE OF YOU: mind, body, spirit, and soul — regardless of what others might think about it.

(And for what it’s worth; I’m here to listen if anyone needs me to, as well!)

Neuroplasticity + Liberal vs. Conservative Brains

Recently I’ve come across some scientific articles in my Mensa group about how the brains of liberals and conservatives LITERALLY differ on a measurable, structural, physiological, and sometimes chemical level. Now, that doesn’t mean that people can’t change, or evolve, or have a malleable approach to things — growth mindset vs. fixed mindset, nature vs. nurture, etc. (i.e. some of our views, values, and preferences are environmental or based on personality or unique personal experiences, sometimes we can change if we want to and work at it,) but it is interesting to see that we are *truly* wired differently. It also goes to show that you can’t always change people— sometimes, it just comes down to biology and how we were each created. 💜

After posting the above status on Facebook, it led to more conversation, so I’ll share those threads here, edited for clarity or cohesion, as well as the source material:

The TLDR is primarily variations in the amygdala and how we perceive threats & process fear. Conservative brains have larger amygdalas and are more likely to act out of fear or in response to perceived threats, and are also more likely to view new things as threats. Liberal brains have smaller amygdalas but larger emotion processing and empathy. They are more likely to be accepting of change and other people outside of their immediate circle. 

Both brains show capacity for large levels of compassion, but, to whom that compassion extends will differ: those with conservative brains will have compassion towards themselves and their kids and maybe immediate family — the less ‘close’ a person is, the less compassion they will receive. A person with a liberal brain of course has self-compassion and large levels of compassion for their loved ones, but, they are more likely to also have compassion on a more general and global scale, for example, compassion for a stranger or a group of people even if they do not belong to that group. A person with a conservative brain is more likely to view strangers or acquaintances as “others” and a person with a liberal brain is more likely to view acquaintances or strangers as “us.” (A Biblical-and-biological anatomy would be that the conservative brain sees themself and their family as a finger but the liberal brain thinks about the whole hand, not just the fingers.) 

A good way to think of it is this: essentially, conservative brains are more wired for survival, stability, compassion for family and self, and avoiding threats; liberal brains are more wired for change, universal compassion beyond family and self, and processing nuance. A “liberal brain” is more likely to be attached to someone more open with feelings or affection, whereas a “conservative brain” is more likely to be attached to someone a little more guarded or closed-off. It also found liberals tend to appreciate art, beauty, and diversity of thought and circumstance more than conservatives, but that conservative brains value honor, religion, and tradition more than liberal counterparts.

Again, the conservative brain has a bigger amygdala (“The amygdala is commonly thought to form the core of a neural system for processing fearful and threatening stimuli, including detection of threat and activation of appropriate fear-related behaviors in response to threatening or dangerous stimuli,” whereas the liberal brain has more processing of emotional intelligence and empathy. So none of it is really about intelligence per se, just which group values what & which group is better at what! While international scientific studies and self-reporting indicate that those with a higher IQ tended to hold more liberal political views, being a conservative by no means indicates that someone is stupid. Less tolerant, maybe – but, again, that could come down to biology. (One study showed that liberals were more tolerant and kind towards conservative counterparts, than vice versa. BUT – and here’s something interesting — people with higher intelligence or higher levels of political savvy and sophistication are more likely to be ideologically intolerant towards less intelligent, less politically-sophisticated people than vice versa. Eek!) That all being said, I personally don’t think intelligence or education is the question so much as empathy and tolerance, to be honest. I know very smart and loving people from “both sides of the aisle,” and successful people from all walks of life, too.

Now, the question remains if these differences in the brain are what causes someone’s sociopolitical views and values, or are a result of those views and values. (Nature vs nurture.)

I use the phrases “conservative brain” and “liberal brain” or “person with a ____ brain,” because — and here’s another interesting part — depending on personality, education, and how they were raised, etc., a person with a brain that presents as conservative can identify politically as a liberal and vice versa (which, to me, indicates, we can overcome our ‘wiring’ for this type of thing if we so choose.)

Where I think this comes in handy is thinking about racism and racial bias: a conservative brain may possess more racist thoughts and ideations because they perceive others and ‘differences’ as a threat. A person (democrat or republican!) who has a more ‘conservative brain’ can  work to overcome and change this, to move past those tendencies towards fear-based racism or what some refer to as “othering.” So, as with mental illness, differences in brain structure are not an ‘excuse’ to be racist, or, to otherwise just be a selfish jerk. Haha.

Brain structure might not change too much BUT — the mind is a malleable thing!

If any of you are familiar with neuroplasticity, this is all really interesting to think of in terms of that & also fixed mindset vs. growth mindset — oftentimes people are “wired” for one or the other so I would be curious to see how that correlates to all these findings.
 
The one article says conservatives report being happier or more satisfied in life but only if life is the same as it always was, meaning not a lot of changes, new things, progress, or surprises (i.e. happier with the “status quo” and the “way things have always been done.”) They desire comfort, security, familiarity, tradition. Whereas liberals report less satisfaction possibly because they are more likely to have worries and concern about the world or our society as a whole/outside their household. But, they are often able to overcome that because as a whole (and this is just based on studies) they are also more likely to easily adapt to and accept progress and change.
 
It is fascinating! As with most thing,s a combo or a happy medium is probably the best. Too bad we generally have no say in how our brains operate lol.
I think it’s cool how brain scans can show what regions of the brain are most active and how different shapes or sizing of different parts of the brain can play a role in personality, emotion, and even how we view the world, for better or for worse. (Of course there’s a lot of other factors at play though than just physiology of the brain.)

It’s so difficult when things that people say, do, or post make us uncomfortable or hurt us, but it *is* helpful to remember that that may not be their intention, that we literally perceive life and the world in a different way, and we’re all just wired differently! But it is very empowering to know that we can work to overcome our wiring and break those cycles if we so wish!  

 

If you need a break from these heavy topics, take a peek at my recent beauty & wellness product guide, videos of my bird talking and playing basketball, some #FreeBritney drama (heavy in its own way), and/or stay tuned for my next blog post about MUSIC!!!!!!

Some Sources I Referenced

(Y’all Know I Love to Fact-Check!! w00t!)

Political Orientations Correlated with Brain Structure 

Liberals Tend to be More Empathetic than Conservatives Says New Scientific Research

Key Psychological Differences Can Determine if You’re a Liberal or Conservative 

Conservative and Liberal Brains Might Have Some Key Differences 

Psychological Differences and the Political Atlas of the World 

Ideological and Intellectual Intolerance: Study

White parents teach their kids to be colorblind; here’s why that’s bad for everyone.

Psychology Today: Colorblind Ideology and Racism

Understanding White Privilege Through Everyday Examples 

What Is White Privilege?

White Privilege Memes & Graphics 

Mental Health Stigma 

Toxic Masculinity and Men’s Mental Health

Harvard Implicit Bias Test

 


(*Did you know? You’re reading my personal blog. To view the home page of my main website, navigate from the menu above or click here.)

Spring 2021 Beauty +Wellness Product Guide

Personalized hair products from Prose.

So, I’m definitely not a beauty blogger or aficionado; you won’t see me doing makeup tutorials on YouTube or cultivating a curated, polished Instagram. However, I’m what you might call a “product junkie” when it comes to health, beauty, and wellness products! (Pet products, to!)

Whether it’s skincare, haircare, makeup, or supplements, I’m one of those people who will try just about anything for wellness and beauty. (Especially if it’s natural, non-invasive, and vegan — although I don’t limit myself to only those types of products.)

Some of you have asked me about different products I use — after all, I did used to run a fashion blog; I am a health coach and patient advocate; I enjoy beauty, hair, and makeup though I’m not good at it; and I love love love to share wellness products for the home and body.

Below I will share my favorite things, and if I happen to have a promo code or referral link for you, I’ll share that, too! I personally use or have used ALL of these. While I do have some affiliate links that I may get a teeny tiny commission on, these are all literally products in my home that I myself can vouch for and use regularly. (MANY are cruelty-free, paraben-free, etc. and all are gluten-free if possible.)



HAIR

Hair: Contempo Artistries;
Jacket: Wren + Glory

My hair is naturally on the wavy/curly side, and due to medications and brain surgery and autoimmune stuff, is rather thin, sparse, and brittle, if I’m being honest. Dry and damaged with an oily scalp … yay for me. That said, I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with our hair, and there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” beauty standard for anything — and that includes hair. I have at many points in time since 2011 dabbled in wearing hair extensions & wigs. I’ve done I-tip extensions, tape-in extensions, ‘halo’ extensions, clip-in extensions, and even hand-sewn/hand-tied extensions, which some people refer to as a weave. Almost all of the extensions I’ve worn are real human hair; the clip-in ones were synthetic which was, shall we say … regrettable.

Last winter and spring, I played around with wigs before deciding to dye my hair pink. My favorite was a lavender-pink lace-front with real human hair. I kind of wish it was my own hair (long and pink – YAS!) but, I digress. Currently, I’m rocking my own hair, sans extensions. I’ve been wearing my natural waves more frequently than not lately. I’d wanted a loose modern perm, but thanks to the right products, I found I didn’t need one – I had it in me (on me?) all along! Below are some hair products and brands that I LOVE! (Even though I’m typically wearing my hair up in a messy high pony or topknot!)


SKIN

My skin type is sensitive and combination, leaning towards the dry side. I have been lucky to not deal much with acne, except for micro-blackheads on the ol’ honker, and occasional (painful) blind pimples on my chin. I didn’t much worry about fine lines or loose skin until the past year or two, when suddenly I went from looking young for my age, to looking pretty close to it. (However, the employees that I manage swear they thought I was in my 20s, so maybe Zoom is more forgiving than I’d thought.) Currently, my biggest complaints are dry skin and those fine lines. I am not opposed to fillers, Botox, or cosmetic treatments, but, I don’t get them personally (yet.)

I do get Botox … but not in my face: I get it for chronic migraines which involves 32ish injections on my scalp, neck, temples, forehead, etc. and is not pleasant. At any rate, one of my regrets in life was not taking better care of my skin from a young age. I didn’t really have a skincare regimen or routine until last year, other than slapping on some sunblock or tinted moisturizer with a built-in SPF in the summer, washing with Noxema or Neutrogena, and occasionally using Clinique products. Now, I am trying to do better! Some of my favorites are below.

  • Kylie Skin by Kylie Jenner – I am OBSESSED with their walnut face scrub, the toner milk, the rose bath salts, and the daily moisturizer. It’s also all paraben-free, gluten-free, and vegan. Judge all you want – Kylie’s skincare and makeup is fantastic and the gardenia candle by Kylie Skin is one of my favorite scents ever and should win every candle award if those are a thing. I’m enamored with all of it. ($16 and up)
My first foray into Kylie Skin.

MAKEUP + PERFUME

Honestly, I’m not great at doing makeup, and I typically don’t wear any on a daily basis. However, I LOVE makeup, despite not wearing it a lot and not exactly being what you’d call a pro with application. I do know that if I wear certain shades of pink, red, or purple lipstick or

Glamnetic magnetic lashes

gloss that it makes my teeth look less white. I also know that too much black eyeliner ages me. I’m a fan of a strong brow and a not-too-pale lip. I love a good smoky eye but most often I’m makeup-free or doing a ‘natural’ makeup look. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it other than the fact that makeup is SO fun to play around with! Here are some of my favs.


SUPPLEMENTS + WELLNESS

LOVE these great products!

In terms of health and wellness, I will try just about anything. Nothing is too strange or “woo-woo” for me! From healing crystals to earthworm protein to cryotherapy and sensory deprivation, I have tried a lot for my physical and mental-emotional wellbeing. I must disclaim that I am NOT a doctor and you should ALWAYS consult your own doctor, medical professional, or healthcare provider before trying ANY new supplement, vitamin, treatment plan, or therapy, EVEN IF it is natural. Basically, don’t sue me, ‘cuz I’m just going by what I personally like and use! I am sharing my own product preferences and maybe even endorsing them, but, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just a writer, a patient, and a behavioral health coach manager, okay? 🙂

I’ll also note that none of my product recommendations in this blog post are recommendations coming from any of my clients or employers. It’s all just coming from my little brain.

Now… let’s dive in.


CLEAN HOME

Plants also help to keep your home’s air clean and healthy!

I hate cleaning but I do like my products to be SAFE, nontoxic, and healthy, natural if possible, ‘green’ and environmentally friendly, smell good, and work well! Here are some of my preferred household products:



PETS

Okay … last category … pet products! You know I love my #shuckzoo furbabies (and feather baby!) so I want to keep them healthy and safe. They are like my kids! Oftentimes, I get the dogs things from Chewy or Amazon, and most of Pancake’s bird toys come from Etsy! Olive is big into toys (this and these are her ABSOLUTE favorites.) Pip never has been, even before he became Eye-Free Pippy; he’s always been more into being outdoors or snuggling. Brutus is a simple man: he wants standard yellow tennis balls in the backyard, and cheap Aldi or Purina dry dog food. (He also has a penchant for one toy: Maggie’s old “Chewnel” purse toy lol.) Pancake, my bird, LOVES toys — and since parrotlets are VERY smart and get bored easily, I have to switch his toys out often. He also eats ‘salad’ (a chop mix of fruit, veggies, etc.) each day along with some seed, pellets, and bird treats.

At any rate – here are some of their/our favorites!

Olive Magnolia, my black rescue pug. Brutus, my black and rust Doberman Pinscher. Pip, my blind, tiny, orange miniature-pinscher/pomeranian mix, also a rescue. And, Pancake, my blue pied Pacific Parrotlet.

Well, hopefully some of these recommendations have been useful to you! You can see which products I get discounts or commission from here. (And with the rest, I receive no payment or perks!)

If you try any of these products and want to share, please tag me @ambshuck on Instagram or use hashtag #glitzburgh to show me!

Just me, Feb. 2021.


(*Did you know? You’re reading my personal blog. To view the home page of my main website, navigate from the menu above or click here.)

2020 Jenga & The Piece That Almost Toppled Me

2020 featured a lot of pink hair, so far 2021 is ash blonde.

I know, I know – it’s March 2021, and we all need to just get over it and stop dumping on 2020 … or do we? About a year ago this week is when life went from “normal” to “our new normal.” If you lived through 2020, you know what I mean: there’s no sugarcoating the hellscape that was the past year.

All of us who reside on Planet Earth were impacted in one way or another by the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic: jobs lost, income diminished, social lives put on hold, masks hiding our smiles, fear seeping into our subconscious, and in some cases, losing our own health, our collective sense of safety and security, or, sadly, even the lives of acquaintances and loved ones. Hugs, travel, concerts, outings with friends, gatherings with family – some of my favorite things: poof, gone.

Just like that.

I don’t have to summarize it; we all know how bad it was. We’re over 500,000 dead in this country and we still have folks arguing over masks, or saying it’s only the flu. (Side note: it simply isn’t. I could write 20 posts debating covid-deniers and anti-maskers, but, there’s no point.)

But I digress. (My Mensa group recently discussed how the brains of liberals vs. conservatives are literally wired differently, so, even trying to argue points or change minds is sometimes moot.)

What I do want to talk about, however, isn’t REALLY any of that: it’s is the impossible mental-emotional toll that last year – and, who knows, maybe this year too – has taken on us as a society. How can a barrage of one event after another deplete us mentally? How does it impact our bandwidth, our capacity for empathy, our ability to cope, or capacity for self-comfort?

People can deny any semblance of collective trauma but it’s there, insidious, lingering in our unconscious mind. I know I’ve felt it. There’s just no way that the collective “we” makes it through all of this totally emotionally unscathed. I mean … some folks might: people who lack empathy, people who live in their own little bubble of privilege, people who just don’t get it. Maybe people who live in isolation on a deserted island. But, for most of us, there is simply no way that the year 2020 didn’t leave a mark. It had to. Whether you acknowledge any inkling of trauma or anxiety, it did. Even if you didn’t notice it.

It’s weird how taboo and stigmatized mental health is. A colleague recently described therapy as a “feelings doctor,” and I liked that: there’s no reason why anyone SHOULDN’T see a feelings doctor (after all, mental health is still a part of your health, and your mind is still a part of your body.)

Our society here in the United States is quite stunted in terms of social-emotional intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and empathy (not to mention rife with outdated, toxic, and archaic notions about feelings and gender roles, etc.) so it doesn’t surprise me that most people are closed off about or afraid to discuss their feelings or their mental-emotional health, but I’m not.

Most of you know by now that I’m an open book; I’m authentic; and I am not governed by fear of what others think.

So: I’m going to tell you about what I’m now thinking of as my Jenga year.

Jenga – you all know the game, right? Simply put, you stack blocks until, finally, the last one makes it all fall down. If you’re like me, the whole game is anxiety-inducing, but, that isn’t the point.

The point is that sometimes life is like a game of Jenga. So often, we stack things, compartmentalizing, denying, holding our breath with each new turn, hoping it won’t all fall down, until one day, it does. We collapse on into ourselves. And yeah, within that heaping pile lay some “first-world problems” mixed in with the real stuff, but, it all equates to something tough — something that we have to be tougher than in order to overcome.

For me, the last year was the Jenga game and something REALLY SILLY and comparatively minor was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The icing on the cake. The final Jenga piece that made it all crumble so that I had to rebuild. The breaking point, the “it’s-too-much,” the thing that made me the grumpiest of all grumps.

I’ll get there.

2020 began with my first Jenga block, me having what I believe, in hindsight, was covid. ER trips, sleepless nights, unable to breathe. Fast-forward to the end of February. Things were looking up! I went on a work trip to Washington DC. I visited family in Vegas and go to go to a Bush concert and hang out with the band. (And – the lead singer Gavin Rossdale and I established a friendly connection on Instagram.) I spotted a rare-for-this-area painted bunting. I began work on another fiction novel.

And then: the second Jenga piece: a deadly global pandemic. The novel coronavirus, aka COVID-19, strikes. The world shuts down. Anxiety. Fear. Depression. But I am fine. We do okay. We take daily walks, I take up several instruments (piano, ukulele, guitar!) and begin writing poetry. Hiking and birdwatching become solace. No more Jenga blocks for awhile other than the whole everything-is-closed-and-masks-suck-and-people-are-ignorant stuff that we ALL dealt with.

Other not-super-wonderful things happened; but nothing warranting a new Jenga block: Brutus had an emergency vet visit, I got passed over for a promotion, my fiction writing stalled out. Whatevs. Life went on. I dyed my hair pink, and it was for fun, not because of a mental breakdown, so that was a plus.

Eventually, the Jenga blocks began to stack up more rapidly. Too rapidly, with no time to process or decompress.

Rest in Peace, Granny.
1939-2020.

My beautiful grandmother Joan died. We couldn’t hold a viewing and her funeral was socially-distant. I’m grateful I got to see her in February, but it was obviously still difficult.

My beloved pug Maggie died. I cannot even talk about it because it still hurts.

I had to rehome my cats, Jack-Jack and Theo. One of the hardest decisions of my life & another thing that is tough to talk about.

Then I was going to adopt a brindle runt pug with special needs (I was going to name her Olive, Penny, or Birdie) – she died before she was old enough for me to take her.

My best friend Kristen moved out of state.

Another friend’s significant other began trolling me — and he admitted it was on purpose. So did others (family, etc.) … all due to politics.

Sigh. It hurts; I pretend that it doesn’t.

I got several flat tires and drove my sweet little Kia Soul through wet paint.

I broke a bone in my hand. I unknowingly walked around with it broken for weeks.

The civil, political, socioeconomic unrest, racial problems, and violence escalated in this country. As an HSP and empath, it all stressed and upset me beyond belief. And there are sadly many folks out there who would have no problem mocking or belittling me for that, which is a part of the problem!

A grown man harassed me — I’ll go so far as to use the word “accosted” — at a coffee shop, to the point I literally had to call the police! He got in my high-risk face without a mask on, was vaguely threatening, yelled at me, swore at me, and called me stupid and fat: “you need to lose weight!” (Like, okay, dude, I know, but we’re in a freaking pandemic and I’m focused on my Jenga game not falling apart.)

Work got busier than ever, which is a GOOD problem to have; but not at all easy during an intense & problematic game of Jenga, even if I love my job and am grateful to have been able to work through all of this chaos.

I began to lose my voice and develop vocal cord problems. We’ll circle back to this one.

I got bit by a random dog — I don’t necessarily want to use the word attacked because it wasn’t, like gory or anything — but, yes, I got bitten (in the butt!) by a stranger’s off-leash dog in the woods and required several rabies shots. (Eek.)

My sweet Pip lost his eyes. It may sound silly to some, but it was honestly one of the most traumatic things to happen to me, like ever. This happened around Halloween 2020. My heart, my teeny tiny rescue dog, Pip, went blind very suddenly and out of nowhere …. and had to have both of his eyeballs removed. Yes, he is not only blind, he’s also eyeless.

It happened so quickly, and so unexpectedly. He was only 5.5 years old and went from lively and active and athletic to sad and depressed and without vision or eyes. It was so sad, (but I’m grateful he’s still here with us and adjusting well.)

Pip: No eyes, full heart, can’t lose.
#99ProblemsButNoEyesAintOne.

Still, the Jenga blocks kept piling. I’m probably forgetting some ‘bad’ blocks.

There were good things, though, too. Not every Jenga block was bad; some were just monumental in a good way. In fact, there were SO MANY good things: the birth of my perfect and so-very-loved nephew Ryder, the birth of my adorable long-distance goddaughter Gianna, the adoption of my black rescue pug, Olive Mangolia, the adoption of my blue Pacific Parrolet, Pancake, a wonderful and memorable trip to Block Island (one of my favorite trips ever alongside Italy and Hawaii), kayaking with Pip, lots of “lifers” (that’s a birdwatching term,) a new guitar that I’m obsessed with (a Fender Alkaline Trio Malibu Acoustic,) boating with my family, got involved with Diversity Equity & Inclusion projects at work, began Music Industry classes via NYU, got a new Peloton bike, a ‘side hustle’ with Healthline, some beautiful new 14K gold and diamond daith and helix piercings, expanded my healing crystal and Rae Dunn collections, discovered the Crime Junkie podcast, got more involved with the #FreeBritney movement, enjoyed lots of great quality time with my husband Mike, and so on. I’m sure I’m forgetting some ‘good’ blocks, just as I may have “blocked” out some bad.

So, yeah … the good things … they were the FOUNDATION allowing me to stay steady even when you might expect me to sway. (Yes, I’m still trying with the Jenga metaphor — I know it isn’t perfect.)

The holidays were great and I welcomed a new year without hesitation. Pancake is learning lots of words and tricks; I got the COVID vaccine; I started diamond painting; I began writing again; Mike is training for an Ironman; I got a lot of new houseplants; I added some new decor in my home office; work rocks; Trump lost; and save for the occasional migraine, or RA flare, or troll starting drama online, all is well.

Love, love, love.
#AuntLife

But then. The Jenga block that knocked it all down, the Jenga block that almost broke me, the Jenga block that toppled my wellbeing and nearly sent me into an emotional spiral:

a toothache.

Oh – but hear me out.

First, it’s way, way, worse than that, and I’m still dealing with it … and … well, I’ll get there.

But, here’s the thing: even if it WASN’T way worse than a toothache, you never know what is going to be the Jenga piece that sends someone’s carefully-structured, carefully-cultivated blocks careening over the edge of the table, and it isn’t your place to judge. It could be an unexpected bill. It could be someone forgetting your birthday. It could be at snotty or passive-aggressive text. It could be someone picking a fight when you are already having “a day.” It could be the store being out of the one thing you went for, or someone cutting you off in traffic, or your favorite jeans not fitting.

The more things pile up, the harder it is to cope. Even for those of us with a growth mindset, there’s only so much a person can handle. We all have a finite bandwidth of how much we can tolerate. I made it through a lot of pandemic-related fear and uncertainty because I live with chronic illness; uncertainty is my status quo.

I’m strong, resilient, adaptable – I have to be. So, that wasn’t nearly the ordeal that I thought it would be going into it (we didn’t hoard toilet paper but we did have a giant ‘covid box’ that was something out of a doomsday-prepper reality show including emergency goods and freeze-dried food. Ya know, just in case.)

Sure, I had periods of sadness, as I’m sure most people did … sadness about trips being canceled (Sedona! Florida! Hilton Head! etc.) … concerts being canceled or postponed (Harry Styles! The Rolling Stones! Rage Against the Machine! Janet Jackson!) … Christmas and Thanksgiving being different … missing my friends, and so on. I had periods of anxiety about loved ones getting sick, about the fact I was ‘high-risk,’ etc.

But no, that wasn’t the final straw, the last piece that broke me.

My own mouth was my undoing. (which, is actually kind of fitting lol.)

Longest-story-ever but: remember last year when I said I was pretty sure I had covid? No one knew what the heck was wrong with me, because it was before it was commonplace or being tested for here in the States. I was prescribed a steroid inhaler that is typically used for COPD or Emphysema, but I was told sometimes it is used for asthma. Okay, whatever. I would have tried anything at that point.

Fast-forward to the fall, when I begin having chronic hoarseness, vocal fry, vocal cord irritation, and general sore throats. I get an esophageal CT, a thyroid ultrasound, lots of allergy tests, and a few trips to the ENT. Yes, I have thyroid nodules but those aren’t the cause: no one knows what’s wrong with me. They throw me on some antibiotics and told me to go to vocal therapy.

I’m used to being a medical anomaly; I’ve written two books about it and that just is how my life goes.

So when my mouth began being crazy dry, like, intolerably dry, I chalked it up to autoimmune stuff, or a random “me” thing. I nagged my husband about our humidifier for days, I solicited advice on Facebook (which…ew. Facebook is where good moods go to die.) I thought, okay, this stinks, but I’ll figure it out. I bought every lozenge and mouthwash and whatever to try to help. And I figured, it is what it is: just a new thing to deal with.

But my teeth … at least, I could always count on my teeth being healthy. A good report from the dentist has always been the norm for me. And, okay, not going to lie. My teeth are the primary thing — maybe the only thing — I’m vain about. My hair is usually messy, unwashed, and in a topknot. I wear makeup, like, twice a month. I like how it looks; I don’t like how it feels. I haven’t had my nails or toenails done since before the pandemic. I’m lazy about eyebrow waxing. I like nice clothes and handbags; normally I wear sweats or workout clothes. I’m not into fancy jewelry.

But. My. Teeth.

A few days before my teeth
and mouth became a source of unending, “Jenga-pieces-crashing-down” misery.

Here’s a confession: my teeth are my crown jewels. I didn’t love them when I was teased in elementary school and called “Ashley Beaver Bucktooth Boynes,” but I love them now. We all have things we like and hate about ourselves, our appearances, our bodies. (If you love everything about yourself, congrats; I wish I had your confidence.) My list of dislikes is, unfortunately, rather long. (Especially since I live with chronic illnesses.) But, I like my boobs. I like my eyes (most of the time), and I like my smile.

So, when my last dental appointment ended with him saying I needed prescription toothpaste to help with some softening enamel, I was a bit taken aback.

My ego, in denial. My pride, wounded. My enamel…soft?

… Huh?

I couldn’t figure out why this would be; I have a decent diet and great oral hygiene. What the heck?!?

I started thinking about it … my vocal cord issues … dry mouth … issues with back teeth. Could it all be related?

Alas, I didn’t have much time to think about it because a few days later, I was at urgent care, in tears, ready to go to the emergency room. My mouth and tongue were beet red. Fire engine red. It hurt to talk, to smile, to eat, to drink.

I was (and still am) miserable.

I was immediately diagnosed with an infection caused by … my asthma inhaler. And then another one on top of that. And an inflammatory autoimmune reaction on top of THAT.

The wheels began to turn. I began to Google.

Lo and behold … aside from the painful infection (that led to other problems,) … vocal cord issues … dry mouth … softening of tooth enamel … can also be caused by said asthma inhaler. An inhaler, mind you, that isn’t even typically given for run-of-the-mill asthma (which, by the way, I don’t even have. I do not have exercise-induced asthma or ‘asthma attacks.’ I have seasonal asthma from sinus issues, allergies, etc. and later was told by my pulmonologist, after all of this, that I could just get by with albuterol or ventolin rescue inhaler. This info would have helped about 12 months ago.)

Here’s what stinks: this was 2 weeks ago, and I have been put on 4 prescriptions. It has morphed from one issue into another, involving several urgent care visits, IV fluids, two virtual doctors appointments, multiple emails with multiple specialists, a PCP appointment, bloodwork, and another dental appointment.

UGH. BLAH. ICK. YUCK.

And it’s still not better. I consider going to the hospital about every other day.

Every morning, I wake up, thinking it improved, but as the day goes on it worsens. By nighttime, I have turned from Glinda to Elphaba. (If you get the reference, you get it; if not, I’m too tired to explain.)

I’ve been existing on ice cream, tea, greek yogurt, water, aloe juice, and pudding, with soup and pasta thrown in for good measure. And a ton of supplements, juices, smoothies, chai. Maybe a baked potato here and there. I guess I could try rice. Last night I attempted taco salad, which WAS NOT wise for someone who, as mentioned above, is in Mensa.

Some nights, it’s so bad I can’t sleep. I’ve canceled plans with family, missed 2.5 days of work, and been overall feeling pretty yucky.

No, it’s definitely not the worst thing I’ve gone through in my life, physical or otherwise. However — it is ONE OF the most painful and miserable things I’ve EVER dealt with, and that’s saying a lot. (I mean, I’ve had brain surgery, a total knee replacement, a bone marrow biopsy, 8 tattoos, Bell’s Palsy, etc. Yet, this is certainly up there!)

I have definitely had periods of feeling down and depressed through all of this. The doctors say it could be another week before it totally heals… but I’m not yet seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. They keep telling me to be patient. A “patient-patient.”


I’m not.

That’s been the hard part…being patient, having faith, keeping hope, knowing it will subside. I felt like the weird game of Jenga was almost over, that my invisible opponent, whoever it was, was calling it quits. Forfeiting, perhaps. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel with all the covid stuff; I thought things were turning a corner.

Then, this.

So, no. It isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with; yes, I’m well aware that it could be worse.

I KNOW how ridiculous, trivial, and minuscule it sounds, especially considering that covid is still killing people every day and people of color are still consistently being targeted in the streets: “a dental infection? Your mouth hurts? Your teeth hurt? Your lips are dry? Your tongue is bothering you? But you have medical coverage and dental insurance and a roof over your head and a job that affords you paid time off? LOL! Wah! Cry me a river! People are dying! Kids are starving! Cancer’s a thing!”

I get it.

But gosh darn it…when I say it’s painful and miserable, well… I mean it.

And I can’t help it that this specific thing was the Jenga piece that almost toppled me. It could have been anything; when the tower gets too high it’s bound to fall. Just like when your cup gets too full it’s bound to overflow.

Sometimes, things will just simply test us.

There were a few days recently where I just left the pieces scattered about; rebuilding felt like too much effort. But, I realized the other day that, okay, the pieces fell, and maybe I fell too, but I will get back up. This is a chance for a fresh start, a new game. It’s a bit late, seeing as it’s March, but I’ll say the cliche ‘new year’ mantra, nonetheless: out with the old, in with the new.

My 2020 game of Jenga bled into 2021 but I think it just wanted a couple more rounds before calling it quits. And yes, I do understand that there’s a lot of metaphor-mixing going on and the Jenga thing doesn’t work perfectly.

The POINT is that life is always going to be a series of ups and downs. You have to take the bad with the good. But, with that in mind, you never know what someone is going through privately, or what they are feeling behind their smiles or their Zoom headshot.

Just be a nice human.

Be kind, don’t judge … one relatively-innocuous occurrence or minor inconvenience could be that last Jenga piece that sends their world — or their sense of wellbeing and psychological safety — toppling.

The thing that causes the pieces to fall might be profound; or it might be simple. We never know what feels manageable or not to other people, and when. We can all handle different things at different times. We all go through seasons. You don’t get to police how others feel or respond to any internal or external triggers. No one gets to tell another person how to feel or how to deal with trauma, whether you perceive it to be big or small, legit or unwarranted.

Extend kindness whenever possible, because while I’m personally always able to eventually pick up the pieces and rebuild, or start the game anew, not everyone is in the same situation. People have different circumstances, different levels of mental fortitude, differing levels of privilege, different resources, different ways of processing trauma, stress, or difficulty, different types of grit, different personalities, preferences, and priorities, different ways to cope, and different ends of their rope. We all have different tolerances for pain: physical and emotional, at different times.

We’re all unique and constantly evolving.

Someone might be one Jenga block away from toppling; or they may be in a space where they are still processing, looking at the pieces scattered around them and planning their next move. So, just be a nice human for crying out loud!

2020 sucked.

My mouth hurts. Bad.

Jenga is, honestly, a stressful game to play. And not THE easiest analogy to work with. (Hey, I tried. Wooden blocks aren’t very forgiving.)

But life is good. Always.

And while every day may not be good, there’s something good in every day. That’s cheesy, but I do believe it.

You know, there’s a saying: “it’s just a bad day, not a bad life.”

I reflect upon the past year — the pandemic began not much more than a year ago, after all — and I think to myself, “it was just a bad year; it’s not a bad life.”

Dog bites, broken bones, evil inhalers, and all.

Maggie May (left, fawn pug.) Crossed the Rainbow Bridge in June 2020.
Olive Magnolia, (right, black pug.) Rescued in July 2020.
My hero. We help each other through the tough days!


(*Did you know? You’re reading my personal blog. To view the home page of my main website, navigate from the menu above or click here.)

It’s Okay to Change

A growth mindset is a beautiful thing. While I think ‘cancel culture’ sometimes gets to be ridiculous or a little too “quick to cancel,” sometimes, it is necessary to be able to reflect back on past work, ideas, and eras, and reckon with what we did, said, thought, or felt, that may have been inappropriate, offensive, or misguided. Even if we did not feel it was offensive or wrong at that moment, it is alright to have a different lens viewing it with the context of today, and with the gifts of hindsight and, hopefully, growth, maturity, progress, and evolution.

In fact, if we aren’t evolving, progressing, and bettering ourselves, our ideas, and our ways of thinking, then what are we doing? What is the point and purpose of clinging to things of the past that no longer represent us or who we want to be? Why fight for something that is hurting others or that we are being outright told is wrong? It’s okay to admit that mistakes were made, that you were wrong about something, or that you are trying to do better. And it’s important to remember that your experience and perspective are not a shared truth for all.

Just because you haven’t experienced or been upset by something doesn’t make it any less real. Problems still exist even if they don’t impact you.

I pulled my two health memoirs from Amazon because although I didn’t feel anything was problematic, I realized that I didn’t acknowledge my own privilege in certain scenarios. And I also didn’t consider how some of my other stories may have been triggering to others. That’s not being “too politically correct,” it’s called being a decent person and owning up, taking accountability. Another recent example is Justin Timberlake. People say his apology was “too little, too late,” and to an extent, it definitely was — but it also was something. Acknowledging something and taking ownership is the first step.

I’ve been reflecting on the Dr. Seuss mess. So many people are outraged over Dr. Seuss being “canceled” without even knowing why some of his work is troublesome, without ever having seen any the offensive images in question, or without understanding the historical context of some of his culturally-insensitive, anti-Black, and otherwise racist words and drawings. Personally, I think many of his books are wonderful for children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge the more problematic ones that are offensive to many others including Asian, Black, and Native Americans. It’s okay to pull them and it’s also okay to still love his other work, separating the art from the artist and knowing that he was a product of his time, just like many other writers. That doesn’t excuse it by any stretch, but it’s important to note.

As a writer, I’m so not for censorship in general, but some things border on hate speech/imagery, and are unnecessary and inflammatory. Usage and context is important when certain words are used. And as far as imagery goes, some of it is never okay, and that includes some of the outright racist imagery seen in a handful of Seuss’s books. As adults it is up to us to re-examine the materials we present to our kids. Also worth noting when it comes to Seuss is that, outside of his kids’ books, he has a handful of very explicitly racist and offensive ads and cartoons that are simply not okay. Even if you personally are unsure about the books that were unpublished, if you do some research on those, I’d have to assume you’d be hard-pressed to argue that these ads and cartoons were anything but blatantly, shockingly racist. (He also performed a minstrel show in full blackface as a teen, so … yeah.) Seuss even acknowledged these things himself, and tried to do better; it’s likely that he would agree with his publisher’s decision today. (Yes, this was a decision made by his publishing house, not due to the urging of any politician or Twitter mob, by the way. This is also not something new – discussions around his racist past have been in the zeitgeist for many years.)

This idea of regrettable ways of thinking is something I pondered a lot, too, watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary, when a lawmaker said they wanted to shoot her for being a bad influence on her kids. No one seemed to think this was an issue; nor was it seen as a problem when Matt Lauer (later accused of sexual harassment) and Diane Sawyer treated her horribly, asking her personal questions, intentionally making her cry. No one seemed to think it was a problem when at 16, 17, and 18 years old she is asked about her sex life and her breasts, whether she was a virgin, if she had a bikini wax, etc. The media was intrusive, invasive, sexist, aggressive, gross, and our ultra-misogynistic society allowed for it. We ALL took part in it; sexism was a part of our culture and oftentimes it is an unconscious, subconscious bias that we still live with today. Even in healthcare and medicine, gender bias and racial bias exists – it can be inadvertent and unintentional, too. Women can discriminate against or look down upon other women; Black doctors can discriminate or look down up on Black patients. (I wrote a Healthline news article about this that was actually tweeted out by the UN – yes, that United Nations!)

The point is that ALL of us can stand to re-examine our thinking about certain things, people, ideas, norms, and ways of being. It’s okay to change your mind: about politics. About gay marriage. About vaccines. About gun control. About birth control. About athletes or celebrities or fashion styles, or religion, or eating meat, whether you approve of plastic surgery, or whether you prefer cats to dogs, or whether or not you would ever watch reality TV. It’s okay to go from thinking the Kardashian family is trash, only to find out you admire their business savvy and closeknit bonds. It’s alright to look back on the tabloid era of the early 2000s, and cringe at how we let the media treat young women. It’s okay to feel conflicted about Michael Jackson, and have to reckon with that.

It’s more than alright to think back to something you did or said when you were younger that maybe wasn’t in the best taste, or perhaps failed to acknowledge your privilege, or maybe even displayed some casual racism, tokenism, cultural appropriation, or unconscious bias. It’s okay to feel weird about it and not sure what to do when you are confronted with these things. Many people’s natural reaction when they are told or shown that they are ‘wrong’ about something is to feel cornered: reactionary, defensive. But maybe just owning it and considering it, making a concentrated effort to change moving forward is the best idea? After all, we can’t change the past or erase history. We can cancel people and stop the publication of books, but we can’t erase history or undo what’s been done. Forward change begins with each of us stepping up and being OPEN to it and OKAY with admitting that maybe we don’t know everything, that maybe the way we’ve always done something isn’t the right way; that maybe the way we’ve always thought isn’t the only way; that maybe we didn’t know that person we thought we know. And that’s alright. That’s the human experience.

The important part is acknowledgement and accountability. Accepting that minds can change, that we can change, that sometimes there IS a clear right and wrong, and that it’s alright to evolve, it’s alright to fix things, it’s alright to grow. Admit when you’re wrong. Progress is important. It’s worth being mindful of the fact that, sometimes one small change can help to make a group of people feel more welcome, safe, included, validated, seen, heard, and respected. Why is that a bad thing? Why do people get so outraged about it? Does it really impact your life in any way if Hasbro makes a marketing decision about their logo? Or are you just holding onto nostalgia because progress intimidates you? (Side note: I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks, but potatoes, especially plastic ones, have always been gender-neutral and, the last I checked, unable to enter into marriage either way.)

Sometimes cancel culture is admittedly absolutley absurd and ridiculous. For sure. I get that. But sometimes, cancel culture is absolutely necessary. There are some people and things who totally deserve to be canceled. And what annoys me more than cancel culture is people who are outraged by it without understanding the reasoning behind it, labeling things ‘cancel culture’ that aren’t, or not bothering to read the statements by the actual people or companies themselves. These major brands do a ton of market research that goes into these decisions. While many times they’re trying to do the right thing, doing the right thing oftentimes also comes with bettering an ROI and the bottom line. My point here is that, you can politicize it or make fun of it all you want, but it’s not always all about feelings or offending people when it comes down to it. Sometimes, it’s just good business, and who can argue that?

With the likes of, say, Dr. Seuss, or Bill Cosby, for example, we have to accept that sometimes beloved figures can turn out to be racist or any other kinds of monster. It doesn’t erase their art or your childhood memories of them. Two things can exist at once, but both halves of a whole aren’t always equally as pretty. You don’t have to excuse the awful because you once loved the good.

Once you know better, do better. Or at least, try to. It’s just that simple.

(*Did you know? You’re reading my personal blog. To view the home page of my main website, navigate from the menu above or click here.)

The TRUTH about the COVID-19 Vaccine!

So, my girl Dolly Parton and I finally have something in common! Yes, I got the Fauci Ouchie, better known as the COVID-19 vaccine — and you’d better believe that everyone and their literal mother is asking me questions about it. So I decided to just write a blog post about my personal experience! (And, yes, I purposefully chose a scary click-baity headline to rope you in and entice you, because I am not above doing that.)


First, I’d like to point out that I’m not a doctor, and while I do work in the “health space” I am not technically a medical professional per se, or a licensed healthcare provider. You should always consult your own medical doctor, pharmacist, or other trusted practitioner for medical advice and to determine if the vaccine (or any treatment or medication) is right for you personally! Also, my views in my blog and on social media do not necessarily reflect that of my clients or employers and are my own opinions, experiences, and insights. Secondly, I am so not here to get into a vaccine/anti-vaxxer debate. I’m just not. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’ll give my personal opinion, since this is MY blog, after all, but you can save yourself some time and devote it to something useful, because I am absolutely not going to argue in the comments and especially won’t respond to trolls. (Trolls are the bane of my existence and are not welcome here. Like, ever.) Lastly, I’d like to highlight the fact that this is my personal experience, not a universal truth. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to how people will react to any medication or vaccine … or even any food, cosmetic product, etc. Heck, people even react to flowers and trees and dogs and cats in different ways! 


That said – I will use my platform to highly encourage and strongly suggest that unless you have medical reasons preventing you from doing so, that you get the COVID-19 vaccine if and when you are eligible. Sure, if you don’t understand the science behind it, it seems scary. It seemed a little scary to me and I do have a relatively good-ish handle on how it works. (Spoiler alert: it does not “alter your DNA” as some online conspiracy theorists and email forwards would have you believe.) And, yes, I get that it seems rushed to the general public and agree this all happened fast (but what people have to realize is that MOST of the process and methodology has been in place for literally decades; they simply had to tweak a few factors. Oh, and another clarification: people say “it’s not FDA-approved. Big sigh. That’s very much a technicality for a litany of reasons. The FDA is the one who issued the emergency use order. These companies are not just developing and handing out these drugs ‘willy-nilly.’ And EUAs are not doled out lightly, either, just as an FYI.)


Perhaps I’m at an advantage because of the disadvantages I’ve faced healthwise in my life: I’ve been forced to learn about and understand medications, immune-altering drugs and treatments, medical jargon, and the immune system in general. My health issues are also why science doesn’t really scare me. While I am FOR SURE a little “woo-woo” (I like healing crystals, after all!) and absolutely prefer to do things naturally and without drugs if that’s an option, I am also grateful for science and for pharmaceutical medications and innovations that can help me live a normal quality of life as I navigate debilitating lifelong illnesses. It’s a privilege that we have access to so many amazing treatments, vaccines, medical advancements, and health technologies! If you don’t have to worry about those kinds of things, and don’t need any medications or vaccines to keep you healthy, functioning, and safe, then, consider yourself lucky! I will say nothing else about the idea of being anti-science or refusing to get the vaccine out of fear, ignorance, or stubbornness. (Not getting it for a legit medical reason is a whole other story and is, of course, totally valid.) 

For those of you who want to know what it was like for me: 

I was in Phase 1A here in Pennsylvania because of pre-existing chronic medical conditions that qualified me, most specifically because of a decades-plus long history of immune-suppressing drugs due to RA. So, as soon as I was able to get an appointment (which took about 15-20 emails and 3 or 4 waiting lists,) I took advantage of it. I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous, just like many of you, which is understandable. I went for my first shot at the end of January and my arm was a little sore the next day; that’s all. I was maybe mildly tired the next day, but nothing to write home about. I felt pretty normal. Then came the waiting period until dose 2.

Ah – the ominous dose two. Some people have no side effects at all, some feel sick for a few days … but if you got the first dose, you absolutley need the second, or the first won’t work properly, and is essentially rendered pointless. (And, you just totally wasted a dose for someone who likely truly wanted and needed it!) I followed tips that people gave me: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Take the next day off of work in advance. Get the shot in the dominant arm, keep the muscle relaxed during the injection, and keep the arm moving after. Rest. And so on. 

I got my second vaccination around 2pm on Thursday – I literally didn’t even feel the needle go in or need a Band-Aid  – and was fine Thursday night. The only hiccup was that I forgot my vaccination card so had to get the shot, drive home to get the card, and drive back to the health facility again to have it filled out. I woke up around 5:30 or 6am on Friday and was still fine. In fact, other than a mildly sore arm, I was wondering if I should have even called off work at all. Around 9:30am, I got my answer. Yes; yes I should have called off work. I was glad I did! Full body aches, chills, extreme fatigue, nausea. No fever for me, but the widespread pain and discomfort was unpleasant; the worst part was not being able to function and being so very tired … but simply not able to sleep. At all. 


I dreaded the rest of the day because I was told these side effects could last 12 … 18… 24+ hours! But, alas — three hours, max. Maybe less. I’d say that, for me, the worst of it was closer to the hour-and-a-half range with some intermittent ickiness here and there. 
Now, I will say I did feel extremely tired and lethargic the whole entire weekend – and, I still did as of yesterday which was Tuesday. But — not so tired I couldn’t function. And, it could have been from other medication I began last week, or the changes in weather; it’s also better than catching coronavirus, ending up on a ventilator in ICU, and dying alone, ya know? Just my personal opinion lol.

It was miserable, but I’ve been through worse, as many of us have. Again, if you haven’t, and feeling icky for a few hours or even a day is the worst of your problems, then I say consider yourself lucky. It wasn’t the end of the world. I believe that it’s worth it. (I also believe that people have different tolerances to pain and sickness. I have a very high tolerance for all of that. And, while I do know some folks genuinely got really sick from it and I empathize with them fully, that some people also like to complain, dramatize, and exaggerate more than others, but, that’s neither here nor there…)

Now, I do recognize that, as with any medication or vaccination that some people may have really suffered after their shots, and if you do happen to be one of those people, I sincerely apologize if I come off as crass or insensitive – it’s not my intention and you’re truly not the types of people I am referring to, to be frank about it.

I genuinely hope you are feeling better now, and that the vaccine works for all of us. (If not, at least we can say we tried and did everything in our power to keep ourselves healthy, to help slow the spread, and to help minimize the effects of this terrible virus. That is something to feel good about! Give yourselves some grace — we all need it right about now.)


My thoughts are just that, barring any serious adverse or allergic reactions, for most people, the side effects simply aren’t worth not getting it; a couple hours or even a couple days of moderate flu-like symptoms and arm pain doesn’t justify skipping out on it for me, especially if you have the privilege — yes, privilege! — of having it offered to you. Living in a society where a vaccine to help prevent a potentially-deadly virus is being given out to you FOR FREE is not a punishment, you guys.

I know there are people who are exceptions and who have good reason for opting out. I know some of these people personally, and I understand why they are not getting vaccinated. But, there are many, many folks who don’t have any good reason at all for not getting it. In fact, recent polling shows that 1/3 of American adults – mostly white Republicans – are hesitant to get the vaccine. And many of these people do not have a medical or even religious reason not to.

For me personally, if being vaccinated even remotely helps my chances of possibly going to a concert again someday, or traveling internationally again, or socializing maskless with family and friends, or snuggling my baby nephew sooner rather than later then I would get it done all over again in a heartbeat, and that’s the truth. If there is a chance it can reduce the overall spread of this thing, then, by all means, I’m here for it.


I have a mild headache this morning. Is it from the vaccine? I highly doubt it. I’m a walking headache. But even if it is, who cares? Life is about sacrifices. And sometimes we do what we gotta do for the greater good, because, ya know … we’re adult human beings who look out for not just ourselves but also each other. The more people who get vaccinated, the better. That’s how pandemics operate.


And hey – if Bill Gates microchipped me, great, he can have fun watching me go to Starbucks and yell at my dogs every day, because that’s about all he’s getting. Maybe he can add some money to my Starbucks app while he’s at it. We all know he’s got the funds.


The fact, if anyone cares about facts anymore, is that with any drug or vaccine there’s a potential risk and there’s a potential reward. (Even Tylenol! And, yes, even supplements! In recent weeks, I’ve had more of a reaction from my asthma inhaler than from the COVID vaccine, and that’s a fact. That’s a whole other crazy, annoying, miserable story for another time — and something that I am still rather unpleasantly dealing with at the moment. Ugh.)

And, listen … let’s be real … I just know some of you have done way worse to your bodies than get a vaccine. Don’t kid yourselves 😉


Stay safe, healthy, and well, everyone, regardless of what personal choice you make about the vaccine! And it IS a personal choice, for sure. I respect that. Everyone should have autonomy over their body, especially when it comes to medical decisions. But – this is a matter of public health and public safety, which, at least in my mind, changes the conversation at least a little bit, for what it’s worth. So, like, to each their own, but also, this is bigger than any one of us as individuals.

At this point, COVID-19 coronavirus won’t be completely eradicated, of course (barring a great miracle from beyond,) but, any baby steps towards normalcy are a win for me — and I wish you all nothing but happiness and health! And if you are someone who has gotten the vaccine, continued to wear your mask, wash your hands, and socially-distance, I thank you on behalf of myself and others who live with chronic illness and immune or autoimmune disease for being respectful of our health, our safety, our lives, and our existence. You are appreciated!

(*Did you know? You’re reading my personal blog. To view the home page of my main website, navigate from the menu above or click here.)

#FreeBritney 101: The Conservatorship, The Court Cases, The Conspiracy and the Con.

Britney Spears Says "No Makeup Is the Way to Go" | Allure
#FreeBritney

What do I do in the time I have before I start my work days, or, on a typical weekend morning? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Typically, I have 1-2 cups of vanilla coconut or cinnamon coffee in my sunroom with my 3 dogs: a doberman, Brutus … a tiny little blind & eyeless “min pin pom” a.k.a. “pinscheranian,” Pip … and a black rescue pug, Olive, surrounded by my houseplants. Sometimes, my hubby Mike is with me; sometimes, he’s already at work (or working out.) Occasionally, I’ll work on a diamond embroidery painting or listen to a true crime podcast. Often, I’ll birdwatch out my window and/or text my brother or my friends.

But without fail, I scroll Twitter, Instagram, and Twitter for news on the #FreeBritney movement. And yeah, I’m gonna do the hipster thing and mention that I did this before it was mainstream.

Britney Spears GIF - Britney Spears BritneySpears - Discover & Share GIFs

You see, #FreeBritney checks many a box for me:

  • I’ve been a fan of Britney Spears since her Mickey Mouse Club days. Big fan. Huge.
  • I’m all about disability rights and women’s rights.
  • I get really into court cases and true crime kinds of things. I like to solve mysteries.
  • I love a good celebrity conspiracy theory or Hollywood scandal.
  • Celebrity and true crime documentaries and podcasts –give me all of it.
  • A cause to rally behind. I LIVE FOR IT.

And so on. The deeper you dig into #FreeBritney, the more it feels like one of Bill Hader’s “Stefon” sketches from SNL. (This place has EVERYTHING: Gay Demons. Restraining Orders. Yellow Shirts. Head-shaving. Misogyny. Ableism. Christianity. 911 Eyelashes. Secret Voicemails. Cheese Grits.)

Sadly, it’s not an SNL skit. What is going on with my girl Britney is, unfortunately, stranger than fiction. For realz. And here’s the thing, folks: it’s important. You absolutely should care, whether or not you’re a fan of her. Whether or not you think she’s “crazy” or “weird” or “needs help.” (In fact – if you’re a decent human being, then you should especially care if you think she needs help. Just sayin’. )

Here, I’ll break down #FreeBritney as basically and simply as I possibly can, which won’t be easy or brief, because it isn’t basic or simple or easy at all. There is SO much ground to cover with all of this. It’s nearly impossible to explain. But I’m going to try!

I will try my best to stick to facts but of course some of this is purely my opinion. However, here comes the mandatory disclaimer: content here on my blog (and on any of my social media) relating to Britney Jean Spears the person & the brand, her conservatorship, the #FreeBritney movement, and any of the parties, entities, and events involved, is all alleged and for entertainment purposes only; I don’t know Britney Jean Spears or her family or colleagues personally, this is all being reported or re-stated to the best of my knowledge and sourcing, and some of this is speculation. (*Although, it’s also worth nothing that most of it is documented in court records, legal documents, recording contracts, custody agreements, depositions, interviews, and other sourced media i.e. fair use and public record, but, I digress.) Opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of my employers or clients.

Before I dive in, I’d like to first and foremost say that I am 100% in the corner of Britney Spears. Whatever she wants and whatever she feels is best for her is what I want for her. I do not desire to know her medical history or diagnoses; I do want her to have some autonomy and freedom in her life because all people deserve that even if they (may or may not) live with a mental illness or other physical or mental-emotional medical condition or disability, and whether or not they choose to disclose it. I do want her to be healthy and safe, first and foremost, whatever that takes.

I also want to acknowledge the privilege that Britney Spears has as a famous, rich, white, young, straight, cis American woman. While her situation is awful and dire, there are many others in similar scenarios who are way worse off due to a variety of other factors and circumstances. That said, this should not be okay for anyone to go through, regardless of fame, wealth, gender, color, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability or disability, age, etc. Sadly, it could literally happen to anyone!

Please keep in mind that for Spears and others, this issue is serious — so serious, in fact, that the ACLU and human trafficking organizations have voiced their concern about Britney, alongside many reporters, podcasters, lawyers, legal experts, and celebrities.

Now — let’s get to it. (And yes, each section header is, of course, a Britney song title, haha.)


I’M SO CURIOUS!

This is a quick n’ easy section is for those of you who legit want the bare bones and nothing more. You can read this section and stop, and have the most basic of basic info without any details. Or, you can check this very clean, very straightforward timeline from the Free Britney Army.

Britney Spears takes a jab at herself in Instagram photo taken from bed |  Daily Mail Online
  • Due to unfair but legal practices, Britney Spears lost her rights, autonomy, and liberties in 2008 and has had court-appointed guardians since then (primarily her father,) who manage her personal life, estate, and affairs. This is called a conservatorship, or a guardianship. She cannot make decisions for herself under the law. She cannot sign contracts, marry, drive her car, secure legal representation, etc.
  • It was claimed she has dementia, but she was still able to – perhaps made to – work, earning millions of dollars for her conservators that she herself cannot freely spend. Mysteriously, her net worth has gone down, when it seems it should have gone up. Currently, she is refusing to work until her father is off the conservatorship.
  • A former lawyer associated with the situation resigned, stating that if it continued as it has been going, “substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate,” (the conservatee being Britney.)
  • In sum, she is either too unwell to care for herself, and cannot function independently as an adult in society, and therefore truly needs the guardianship, or, she is able to keep working and earning millions of dollars. But, if she is able and well, then she likely does not need a conservator. She cannot just keep being under someone else’s control, under the guise of dementia, and earning them money without having autonomy over her own life. That is not what a conservatorship or guardianship is, or should be. And, as of now, hers is permanent: for life. This has been going on since she was 26-27 years old; the legality of it has been questioned, as it doesn’t seem she was given the proper advance notice required by law.
  • She cannot get out of this legally-binding arrangement easily. It was designed to be permanent. Since the conservatorship represents and essentially acts on behalf of her, and she is not technically recognized as a “person” under the law, it is complicated to say the least. She is kind of fighting herself in court…and paying lawyers on both sides. And keep in mind, this is not just about her career or estate; it affects her entire life, personal and professional. Her father’s lawyer says she can petition the court to terminate the conservatorship but she also because of the conservatorship she cannot hire her own attorney to do so. So how is that supposed to work, exactly? Just some food for though.

Okay – you can stop reading now if you feel like your interest has been satiated! But, if you want to learn more, including some pretty wild conspiracy type stuff, then read on!


CHAOTIC!

I want to get the conspiracy theory type click-baity stuff out of the way before we get to the actually-important, more-likely-to-be-real or actuallyproven-to-be-real ish. Here are the Cliff’s Notes of the most ‘out-there’ fan theories and conspiracies surrounding #FreeBritney — ya know, the stuff that is fun, but KINDA TAKES AWAY FROM THE CREDIBILITY OF THE MOVEMENT.

Britney Spears Is 'Living In A Prison' & 'Needs Our Help' -- Stars Align  For #FREEBRITNEY
  • 911 in her eyelashes
  • Wearing yellow as a call for help
  • Britney is a clone
  • Hat says help in IG video
  • Force her to sing in baby voice / ruined her real voice
  • Britney posting other hidden SOS messages in her Instagram
  • That Britney is being sex-trafficked
  • Her 48-year-old doctor mysteriously dies right before a conservatorship hearing about her treatment
  • That she’s physically being held captive against her will (i.e. locked up with wrist restraints, etc.)

Click the hyperlinks in the bullet points above if you want to know more about any of these interesting but far-fetched theories. You can decide for yourself if any of them hold any weight. (*BTW – most of my sources in this lengthy deep-dive of a post will be sourced or credited via embedded hyperlink if you want more info.)

One thing that I find to be compelling that treads the fine line of “conspiracy theory-ism,” is actually the way Britney’s Instagram is used and who is behind it. I struggle with this because it’s long been debated how much control she actually has over posting, so it doesn’t track that she is using it to ‘send coded messages.’ The fan base cannot simultaneously believe that she is sending messages through her IG, but then also state that her team is using her Instagram to “make her look crazy” (to keep her under the conservatorship) as some claim. Does she use it? Does she not? My personal belief is … maybe a little of both?

I think that most of the posts, she creates and sends to a social media manager to put up for her, but that she doesn’t have access on her own to just scroll/peruse comments/read DMs and such at her leisure, and therefore, that, on occasion, Team Britney Spears the Brand i.e. The Conservatorship, (ugh) does sometimes post for or “as” her. Whether or not they do that just to keep her having a presence or do it with some kind of malicious intent or ulterior motives to make her look a certain kind of way or cover their own tracks about more nefarious activities, I cannot speculate, and whether or not they have her permission to post for or as her would also just be conjecture. (But the point, and the problem, is that they don’t NEED her permission to do, say, or sign ANYTHING on her behalf or using her identity or likeness! The woman does not even own or have control over her own NAME or identity.)

Something else vaguely in the realm of zany that I find super intriguing, too, is her posting of Hans Zatzka’s artwork. Zatzka used a TON of pseudonyms, the purpose of which was to avoid penalties of breaking contracts. Quite interesting for an artist under a conservatorship who cannot legally sign contracts herself…hmm. She’ll also post quotes and books with interesting symbolism or foundations; I believe she’s smarter than people think. (If it’s ever actually her posting, that is.)


OVERPROTECTED!


Britney Fan 🌹 on Twitter: "Then, mysteriously in 2019, the original Make  Me... video leaks online. The video includes imagery of Britney in a cage  and bull-dozing a house. #FreeBritney https://t.co/r1q1b3ZC2W"

Here’s a very high-level version of what’s been going on. I will try to summarize as best I can for those who don’t know the jist of all that’s been happening.

Here, I will summarize what a conservatorship is, and why hers is problematic. Then, we’ll talk about the key players. After that, I’ll discuss the mental health aspect, her career, misogyny and the media, and her image.

(*Note: I am not a lawyer, so my explanations may not be perfect! I encourage following Lawyers for Britney, Surprise Witness, Meaner Three, Britneysgram, Eat Pray Britney, and the Free Britney Army for more great information and perhaps-better explanations.)

  • For the past almost 13 years or so, Britney Spears has been under a (technically probably legal, but sketch, borderline-abusive, morally-and-ethically-questionable) conservatorship, also known as a guardianship. This is a comprehensive timeline of all that’s been going on, made by Leanne Simmons, and is one of the best deep-dives to date. Bookmark it along with the Free Britney Army site! This Google Drive also contains court documents related to her case.
  • Britney Spears has essentially has been stripped of all rights and personhood under the law, and has lost the ability and control to make her own decisions relating to her finances, health, business, and other personal affairs. The American Bar Association once stated of conservatorships, “with the stroke of a judge’s pen, rights are lost.” They also claim that, “guardianship is one of society’s most drastic interventions in which fundamental rights are transferred to a surrogate, leaving an individual without choice and self-determination,” and that the average person in a guardianship or conservatorship has less rights than a felon. They are also usually not ever under the age of 65 years old.
  • Guardianships are typically reserved for people who are gravely disabled, or extremely medically or mentally incapacitated (example: vegetative state, Alzheimer’s or dementia, terminal end-of-life care, severe intellectual or developmental disability.) Normally people in a conservatorship are very sick, elderly, or disabled, unable to work or be productive, unable to care for themselves or make decisions.
  • Many probate, family law, and conservatorship lawyers and psychiatrists do not feel that Britney needs to be under a conservatorship, at least judging by outside appearances alone. The Twitter and Instagram accounts Surprise Witness and Lawyers for Britney are great examples of lawyers who give fair opinions on her case, based on court documents and rulings.
  • Under the conservatorship, Britney’s net worth has dwindled. She has had to pay lawyers on both sides to fight the case, and has to pay her father and others to manage her conservatorship against her will. (Conflict of interest says what?) Supposedly, she gets an allowance and allegedly has to document/have permission for every expenditure — even a trip to Target or a latte from Starbucks, let alone a vacation. From what I understand, she is not allowed to marry again, enter into contracts, drive her car, have more children, choose her medical treatments, buy a home, even make everyday purchases without consent. In theory, her father could enter into binding contracts on her behalf, choose what drugs she takes or whether she goes through with a pregnancy, if she can get married or register to vote, and so on. Under the law, she is not an adult person, after all — she is essentially a ward of the state, and her father is her guardian. (So, in essence she is really like an actual child. Or prisoner.)
  • Not only is she paying lawyers on both sides, she has not been able to choose or hire her own lawyer! It’s like she’s been paying to battle herself in court all these years, and not able to choose her own representation. (A recent petition for her right to hire her own lawyer has garnered over 250,000 signatures.)
  • The conservatorship was initially meant to be temporary, and when she allegedly agreed to it, she was under stress in the hospital, not given the proper advance notice and 5-day window required by law, and was initially under the impression it was only temporary.
  • The conservatorship documents stated she had dementia at 26 years old as stated in court documents. Within a year (and in some cases within months,) she was back to work doing guest spots on multiple TV sitcoms, recording multiple albums and collaborations, doing concerts, being a judge on X-Factor, eventually going on over a decade-plus period to do multiple world tours, a record-breaking Vegas residency, and continuing to build on her billion-dollar perfume empire. Her shows include complicated choreography and dangerous stunts. One might wonder how she was able to do all of that with dementia? If she is well enough to work and produce and perform (and EARN) at that level … does she need the conservatorship? If she is so incapacitated, unwell, and disabled that she actually needs the conservatorship, then should she be working? Can it be both? I feel like the answer would be no. At least not permanently. But guess what? It was made permanent way back in 2008, for barely any reason at all that I can discern from the outside and without knowing the whole situation. Ten years later, in 2018, a comment by one of the conservators, Andrew Wallet, raise eyebrows when he called it a successful “hybrid business model.” It should not be a business model at all. It is meant to protect someone who is basically an invalid. Is this women an invalid? If she needs the conservatorship, then I understand. She may very well be gravely disabled. But – if that’s the case, who is forcing her to work so hard for so many years? And did she want to be?
  • A voicemail was leaked to the podcast Britneysgram alleging that Britney was supposedly forced into a mental facility against her will and forced to take drugs against her will. It reignited the #FreeBritney movement and slowly brought some more mainstream attention to her case. How credible the voicemail was and whether she was in the facility voluntarily or not is up for debate. Personally, I don’t know or purport to know, but, I want her to be safe, happy, healthy, and have some autonomy and freedom. I want what is best for her, and what is legally and morally sound. At any rate, think whatever you want about it, but the voicemail was the catalyst for a lot of action to follow.
  • What do advocates of #FreeBritney want? Different advocates and fans want different things. But, according to the official Free Britney Army website, “The #FreeBritney movement advocates Britney Spears’s freedom from the 13 years long conservatorship over both her person and financial estate. When a conservatorship is established over an individual, they are denied their most basic civil rights.
  • Denied due process
  • Deprived of property
  • Deprived of liberty
  • Denied right to confront accusers
  • Denied right to trial
  • Denied right to counsel
  • Unlawfully confined and isolated
  • Unlawfully chemically restrained

Under the conservatorship, Britney Spears has been denied the freedom to make phone calls, operate a motor vehicle, send and receive mail, and access her finances. A conservatorship is intended to protect the incapacitated individuals. Since the beginning of the conservatorship, Britney Spears has recorded 4 albums and performed in 4 world tours in addition to a 4-year Las Vegas residency.”

Twitter user ‘That Surprise Witness’ is a lawyer who put it perfectly: “Whether Britney ‘wants’ to be in a conservatorship is immaterial. The question MUST be: does she legally qualify for one? The answer from the evidence I have seen so far is absolutley not.”


TOXIC!

The people in Britney’s life are part of the issue here. It’s primarily the men — and long has been — but, there are some women involved, too, who make my and the rest of the Britney Army’s skin crawl.

Britney Spears' Father May Be Removed As Conservator In Wake of Child Abuse  Allegations
  • Jamie Spears – There’s so much to unpack here. I don’t even know what all to say. James ‘Jamie’ Spears is Britney’s father. He’s kind of creepy and is also the true definition of a country bumpkin. I am not sure how bright he is, but I feel like if anyone is subject to undue influence and manipulation, it’s likely to be him more so than Britney. Additionally, he’s allegedly an alcoholic who cheated on her mother and was not a great husband, father, or businessman. That’s all fine, but he is wildly unqualified to manage a fortune of Britney’s magnitude or a celebrity of Britney’s status and fame. Nor does he have any business making a grown woman’s medical decisions. Not to mention — (and this is on public record, so, not hearsay or tabloid gossip) he physically abused Britney’s pre-teen son last year. This resulted in a restraining order being taken out against him. Now, because Jamie basically controls Britney’s life (and Britney is not an adult human under the law who can have custody of her own kids and she inexplicably needs her own guardian in order to see her own children or do just about anything else,) this situation very likely resulted in Britney seeing her kids less although they allege it has not affected the arrangement. At any rate, Jamie was, supposedly, partially instrumental in putting Britney under the conservatorship in the first place, for a long time was conservator of both her person and the business side, now is a co-conservator of the personal side alongside Bessemer Trust on the business side (*from my understanding — it’s all very very confusing – like where do Jodi Montgomery and Andrew Wallet come in? Someone help me! You guys can comment if you have figured it out), which is at least a step in the right direction. Britney has voiced that she is no longer on good terms with her father or really even speaking to him, and, through her lawyer has told courts she is afraid of him and will not perform or work until he’s off the conservatorship. Her son and her boyfriend have both publicly called him a d*ck. Think about this, too: she’s 39 years old and allegedly according to Page Six, he grounded her a few months ago for going for a socially-distant walk on the beach with a friend without his permission. Tell me again how this is good for her mental health? Anyway, her dad sucks. Allegedly. At least he apparently makes good cheese grits; that’s about the only positive I can discern from years of seeing an array of archival Spears family footage.
  • Larry Rudolph – Her manager. She’s worked with him off and on (mostly on) for pretty much her entire career. He’s creepy but mostly harmless, I think. Larry did not have a direct hand in the conservatorship itself, but has never really spoken about it. Now, he has seemed to have a hand in working her to the bone for decades, except for this one time when he made this weird comment that felt out of left field. I feel like, to the Larrys of the world, Britney Spears is just Britney, Inc.
Britney spears justin timberlake
  • Justin Timberlake – Most of you know, I love me some JT. Most of you don’t know, I only love me some JT when he’s NOT in the context of Britney Spears. In fact, I find JT to be problematic in many ways. As with Michael Jackson, I’m able to separate the art from the artist. It’s a cognitive dissonance thing. Yes, I love Justin’s music, love watching him perform, love his voice, have fun at his concerts, find him to be mega-talented all around, and have had a celebrity-crush on him for decades. But, do I think he can be a little cringey, douchey, and a little culture-appropriating and a lot misogynistic? Sure. And do I hate what he did to Janet Jackson and think it’s totally unfair how the media treated her? Of course. And do I think part of Britney’s troubles in life started with him? (Well, her lovely father, and then him. Allegedly.) Why, yes. Yes, I do. So, when it comes to a Britney vs. JT smackdown, it may surprise some of you to know that despite my years of swooning, I’m always going to be Team Britney here. So let’s start with him as a ‘toxic’ player in the life story of Britney because although he was not a part of her conservatorship he was a part of people starting to think and talk about her differently, starting to villainize her, etc. And, as we’ll see, that kind o framing by the public and the media? It matters. The court of public opinion has influence, especially in Hollywood. Episodes 13 and 71 of EatPrayBritney do a good job explaining Justin’s role in all of this and why many Britney fans aren’t exactly “N Sync” with JT. In short: he threw her under the bus, made her look bad, capitalized on it for his own gain, and let the public destroy her. And it took nearly 20 years for him to apologize.
  • Kevin Federline – K.Fed – Britney’s ex-husband, failed rapper and the father of her two children. I have no opinion on him either way, really. I think she genuinely loved him; I think he was a jerk to her. I don’t think he has malicious intent now. I don’t know that he’s actively trying to get her out of the conservatorship situation, but I also don’t think he’s actively trying to keep her in it. Nor does he really have much say, if any. I do think he just wants what’s best for their kids. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he just is what he is. Another man feeding off of her! But, he seems like he tries to be a good father.
  • Sam Lutfi – I will never for the life of me remember if this man’s last name is Lutfi or Lufti without Googling, so I present to you both spellings since I say and spell it differently each time. Apologies; I don’t care enough to learn. The thing about this guy is … obviously he’s a shady character. This much goes without saying. How shady, though, is beyond me. Do you remember him? He and a paparazzo named Adnan Ghalib along with Britney’s cousin Ali Sims (and Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan,) were staples during the immediate pre-conservatorship era of upskirt shots, pink wigs, British accents, convenience store runs, and umbrella attacks. We won’t discuss the salon incident too much here because it’s just done to death. Anyway. Like – what were his intentions? Was he trying to control Britney or keep her away from those that were controlling her? Was he actually drugging her? Was he framed? Did he set her up? Who is he, really? How much of a hand did he have in her so-called ‘meltdown?’ He was obviously a clinger-on and a bad influence. Right? But was he evil, nefarious, part of a much bigger con? I just don’t know what to make of this guy. What was his end-game? He is still out there claiming he wants to Free Britney, but wasn’t he kind of part of why she ended up in that situation in the first place? Would the events leading up to the ‘meltdown’ have happened without Sam Lutfi?
  • L*u Tayl*r – This lovely Christian woman likes to block and sue and troll everyone, but, allegedly, Britney wrote a concerned email in like 2007 about a “crazy stalker lady” and mocked her to a tabloid outlet back in the day, too. Fast-forward and somehow this person has a hand in her conservatorship, her finances, and all kinds of stuff. Do yourselves a favor and Google how someone involved in the business side of the conservatorship may have used money from Britney’s charity to fund conversion therapy. Allegedly. (Supposedly, $50,000 of money from Britney’s charity was given to Mercy Ministries. As an LGBTQIA icon and supporter, this would not have been Britney’s doing herself, nor would she been able or allowed to do herself under the conservatorship.) And take a look how L0u viciously sued and shut down a fan website calling her a gay demon exorcist, allegedly. And how when the microscope got to close and the heat got too hot on the conservatorship, she stepped down as Britney’s business manager. Allegedly. And for entertainment purposes only. (The podcast EatPrayBritney does a great job explain the ins and outs of this fine specimen.)

There are obviously dozens more people involved, good and bad, who I could talk about … Andrew Wallet, Jodi Montgomery, Judge Penny, Vivian Thoreen, Felicia Culotta, Jamie Lynn Spears, Lynne Spears, Bryan Spears, Sam Ingham, Sam Asghari, Jason Alexander, Jason Trawick, Ali Sims, Timothy Benson, the list goes on and on. But, this is already longer than I wanted it to be, and I still have more to cover!

I do also want to mention this quote by Rick Black from the Center for Estate Administration Reform: “This is organized crime. And it’s organized by members of the bar who know that, within the dysfunction of these courts, they can make lots and lots of money.” There is a lot I’m not mentioning here about where Britney’s money may be going and again, I strongly encourage you to follow @MeanerThree and @SurpriseWitnes on Twitter for great threads on this topic. It’s infuriating.


CRAZY?

Pin on Britney Spears Queen of Pop

Here’s a thing. Maybe we don’t speculate on people’s mental health in general, and maybe we stop calling women crazy just because they don’t fit into a neat little box for you? Maybe we quit calling women hysterical and do away with the whole madwoman in the attic trope?Maybe we stop pushing women and girls to their breaking points, and then mocking them when they get there? Maybe we stop sexualizing young women, and then shaming them for it? Maybe we begin to realize that “stars,” performers, artists, celebrities…they’re people too. They are human. They have feelings. Maybe we stop stigmatizing feelings & mental health altogether? Can we just stop?

In the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo, isn’t enough, enough? Haven’t we learned that so much of what was once deemed okay in our culture … from toxic masculinity, to ignoring white privilege, to casual racism and tokenism, to mocking mental health, to bullying … is just NOT okay, and really never was?

As showcased in the stellar New York Times and Hulu/FX Documentary, Framing Britney Spears, none of what Britney dealt with is alright. Or normal! It’s been discussed in many podcasts and on many online videos but Britney Jean Spears was treated horribly and unfairly by the media, the tabloids/paparazzi, the general public, her contemporaries and peers, her own family, even her fans and her significant others in some cases. I dare say that from where I’m sitting today, it looks like she was also treated horribly and unfairly by the court system of California, too.

I have to wonder, if she were a man, if she would have dealt with this level of scrutiny, mockery, and hate. She IS “stronger than yesterday,” but she shouldn’t have to have gone through it. Lots of male celebrities go off the proverbial rails and don’t have their fortunes and their basic human rights taken away from them. They aren’t degraded and left without their personhood, without their civil liberties, without their kids. I’m not saying if I feel that ANY of these men at any point have ever needed or deserved a conservatorship or not but what about Charlie Sheen? Kanye West? Michael Jackson? Robert Downey Jr.? Tiger Woods? Justin Bieber? Ryan Lochte? Johnny Depp? R Kelly? Tom Green? Mel Gibson? Any array of rock stars with any array of problems relating to addiction and spending and mental health and whatever else?

Because, let’s be honest about what we do know about Britney Spears: we don’t know her diagnosis and we aren’t asking to. So let’s just go on what we know, ignoring the whole ‘dementia’ allegation, because, that still feels like a reach.

  • She spit on a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella and spit on it (after paprazzi were harassing her about a custody battle.)
  • She shaved her head and got a tattoo. (I have 8 tattoos, for what it’s worth. And lots of women shave their heads. Tiffany Haddish, for example, looks fantastic!)
  • She often wore wigs in public. (So do Kylie Jenner. Kim Kardashian. Miley Cyrus. Katy Perry. Lady Gaga…I mean, I have, too!)
  • She sometimes spoke with a British accent (So has Madonna. And what is Dorit Kemsley’s accent?)
  • Paparazzi creepily snuck photos up her skirt as she exited vehicles. (This was her fault, how? Why?)
  • She locked herself in a bathroom crying with her son after a custody dispute, and a person who barely knew her, called the police based on protocol. What should have been a private family matter escalated into orchestrated frenzy and chaos.
  • She tripped and almost dropped her baby (while about a dozen paparazzi swarmed her. Of course they got their photo.)
  • She quickly put her child on her lap and drove away (to escape the paparazzi who were swarming her. Of course they got their photo.)
  • She gave what people deemed a subpar performance at the VMAs (if that’s a causative factor there are several other artists I’d like to submit for conservatorships.)
  • She … went out to clubs with girlfriends in her 20s on occasion..? I mean..??
Britney Spears

Of course, this is all we know. There could be more than meets the eye and likely is. There have been rumors of drug use (although most around her deny this,) and speculation that she could possibly have bipolar disorder and may have been suffering from postpartum depression, especially since she had her two babies so very close together. Then going through a very stressful divorces in the public eye, and her beloved aunt dying around the same time, could not have been easy. Without being a medical professional or having all the facts, it wouldn’t be fair for me to diagnose her. But, I also don’t think it would be a stretch to say that no one would be surprised if there was some anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD, especially given all of that, and the spotlight that has been on her since she was about 10 years old. The industry can eat people alive. I deal with those things without being a global legend.

Does any of this render her unable to feed, bathe, clothe, and provide shelter for herself, however? Unable to make decisions for the rest of her life? To understand and comprehend things? Does an umbrella attack, a head-shaving, or a custody incident warrant needing a lifelong guardian? She is an avid reader. She is perhaps awkward and eccentric, and not always the most eloquent or articulate, but it’s endearing and charming. Britney is down-to-earth, but she is not an unintelligent person. While some would deem her weird, she is also not incapacitated from what most can see. Maybe her “real life” is very different – we could never know. But — dementia? “Crazy?” I’m not so sure. Is she any more “crazy” or troubled than the male celebrities I mentioned?

And if she does, say, have bipolar disorder as some allege — what does that mean? So what? Plenty of people keep working and living their lives every day with various types of biploar disorder, including some fellow female singers like Demi Lovato, Mariah Carey, Bebe Rexha, and Selena Gomez, among others. (None of whom need legal guardians; none of whom are wards of the state; all of whom can presumably sign documents and choose their own medical treatments.) Lady Gaga has been very open about a psychotic break that once landed her in the emergency room and has admitted to being on an anti-pscyhotic medication that is normally used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Lady Gaga (who I adore, BTW), was not “canceled,” for it, however.

Demi Lovato: Britney Spears Has Influenced Any Young Female In The Pop  Industry – BreatheHeavy.com

Britney was. And then some.

Allegedly.

Is it just the era as to why some are extended more empathy and compassion now for their mental health battles — a different time? — or, is Britney just held to a different standard for some other reason? It’s something for the courts, the media, and those of us that consume it, to think about. To paraphrase one of her many hit songs, “you say she’s crazy? I got your crazy!”


WORK BITCH!

Britney should have a current estimated net worth of anywhere from $250-$400 million. According to court documents from 2020, it’s at

Britney Spears gets permanent restraining order against former manager

about $60 million. Doesn’t sound like a very “successful hybrid business model” to me, but when you are paying both sides of a legal battle that has lasted 13ish years, what does anyone expect? Not to mention, she has to pay Daddy Cheese Grit’s salary, and others’ salaries and fees.

Britney Spears has long earned the right to make, earn, and spend her money if, when, and how she chooses — even if that would happen to mean she ends up being “bad with money.” To my knowledge, she has a trust for her kids already set up, because she is a great mom. Beyond that, if she wants to buy a pony and her own ice cream truck and 10 Hermes Birkin bags, (or just go buck wild at Target because that’s more on-brand for her than Birkin, which I love about her,) then she should absolutley be allowed to. The job of a conservatorship isn’t to police how she spends her money. She can get a business manager, accountant, or financial adviser for that! The court does not need to be involved. Her father, and these folks who LITERALLY make a career out of the guardianship “industry” do not need to have their hands in her bag. (Check out the documentary The Guardians, the Dirty Money episode on conservatorships, and the new fiction movie I Care a Lot, all on Netflix. It’s scary. This is not an issue exclusive to Britney Spears. Once again, the Britneysgram and Eat Pray Britney girls, plus others, have a lot more info on this stuff!)

Happy Music Video GIF by Britney Spears - Find & Share on GIPHY

Some things to consider:

  • Britney’s life in the public eye and the world of professional singing and performing began when she was 10 years old on Star Search, around the same time as she and Natalie Portman were in the off-Broadway musical, Ruthless. By the age of 12 she was on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club. At age 15, she signed her first record deal, and her first album came out when she was just 17. This context is important; it shows that she has helped to provide for, if not exclusively provided for, her family, or at least certain members of her family, since she was a kid. She is now 39 and is still doing so — but not by her own freedom of choice.
  • Britney Spears has sold over 100 million records worldwide, over 70 million in the United States. It is very important to note that most of these were before the golden era of streaming. She has had 13 #1 hits, 9 studio albums 8 compilation albums, 9 box sets, 3 EPs, and 47 singles. She is one of only a few artists to have more than one diamond-certified album. In short she is often not taken very seriously, but, she is one if the best selling and most influential and iconic music artists of all-time. Fact.
  • Since Britney became too ill, too unwell, too sick, too demented, too incapacitated, too disabled, too whatever to look after herself, or, you know, have personal freedoms or rights, she has released 4 full-length studio albums, released a compilation album and a standalone single, did TV guest spots on Will & Grace, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, and Jane the Virgin, was a judge on X -Factor, went on 4 world tours, had one of the most successful Las Vegas residencies of all time, multiple live TV performances, and being involved in her billion-dollar perfume empire. Again, I ask: does this sound like someone who needs to ask permission to marry her boyfriend or to buy a new car? And, legally-speaking, could she even marry, given that she can’t really enter into a contract as of now?

OUTRAGEOUS!

Former paparazzo spills the beans on secretive trade

The paparazzi and the tabloid culture are almost exclusively to blame for what people call Britney’s downfall. One only has to watch the documentary Framing Britney Spears and the 5-Part YouTube Series Deep Dive Britney Spears to see what I mean. She was hounded. She was stalked. She was hunted. She was prey. She was celebrated, held up, torn down. (I read the book Trainwreck by Sady Doyle two or three years ago and highly recommend it if you want to see how our society does this to young women ALLLLL the time. I usually sell or donate books once I’ve read them but I’ve hung on to that one, and was surprised to hear it mentioned on the Crime Junkie podcast this week! They actually did a special Fan Club episode about the Framing Britney Spears documentary, even though it is not their usual type of discussion.)

  • There was the time they chased her into a cafe with her baby where she cried and they took photos through the windows instead of helping her.
  • There was the time they photographed her crying on her front stoop with her dog instead of leaving her alone, or helping her.
  • There were all the times they nearly caused harm and injury to her and/or her young songs with their shameless need to get a pic.
  • There were the upskirt shots I mentioned above.
  • There was the provocation, baiting her until she got mad, or sad, or did something outrageous.
  • There was the time she was taken away by ambulance and they photographed her on the gurney.

They claim they were just doing their job. They claim she liked it. Maybe she did at first. Maybe she liked the attention a little bit. But no one wants to be destroyed. It was Princess Diana level madness. Britney was honestly lucky that it wasn’t worse.

Yet, she was the one punished for it. They get to keep working, get to keep having freedom to make their own choices, marry who they love, travel where they want, and she has to pay for their sins. Because “she” is “crazy.” Or so we are to believe.

Not everything is about sexism or gender, of course, and, yeah, the Biebs and MJ got it pretty bad… but, I will say once again that few male celebrities have to deal with quite the level of harassment and scrutiny from the paparazzi and the press. And if they had buckled under any pressures of fame, they would not be stripped of their rights and personhood in most cases. (Casey Kasem was one famous male whose family was embroiled in a conservatorship battle, but his case was different than Britney’s and for different reasons.)


FREAKSHOW?


Listen, I would be lying if I didn’t sometimes think to myself that Britney would save herself from a lot trolls (and potentially expose herself to less “she’s crazy! THIS is why she needs to be in the conservatorship!” fodder) if she would just, I don’t know … hire a stylist, a glam squad, brush her hair, remove her eye makeup, wear different clothes, … but then … I think …

Britney Spears Models Her Favorite Bikinis in Instagram Video
  • She has every right to do what she wants to do and wear what she wants to wear … isn’t that that we are fighting for? Let her wear black patent leather high heels with a string bikini and a shell necklace and black smudged eyeliner with bedhead. Let her wear polka dot booty shorts and a lace bra and running shoes. Let her post a sweaty selfie after a swim or a tanning session while she chews gum and ponders her horoscope. I certainly am not judging because, I mean … have you seen my Instagram? It’s certainly not all chic and curated and polished and cool. I, for one, do not care if Britney Jean has her nails done or not, or if she posts a selfie in the same shirt more than once. Why do you?
  • Girlfriend has always, ALWAYS been as down-to-earth and humble as can be. She is not going to be like a Kardashian or a Jenner who spends hours primping and pampering and preening just to get the perfect photo. She’s just not. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind, this is a woman who shaved her head in part because she was “sick of people touching her.” I GET IT! She’d rather be reading, sunbathing, or hiking. And if she is filming herself dancing or working out, and in that video, her hair is messy or she has mismatched clothes on or her makeup is smudged, WHO CARES?!? Why does that make her crazy or some kind of freak? Just because so many people can’t post a picture without a filter, perfect styling, and airbrushing, but she will, does not mean she has gone off the deep end or is crying out for help. It means she doesn’t care what you think. (My only issue with it is – what do those involved in the court system think? Do they look at it and see what some of these trolls and haters see? Unkempt? A wreck? Or do they, like me, just see a sweaty everywoman dancing around having fun and not giving a hoot what she looks like?)
  • Britney has never, ever been “high fashion.” Period.
  • She is on an allowance, literally. Many of us think if we had her money we’d do this or that…but, maybe she has a limited budget an a “glam squad” or new clothes just aren’t happening right now, even if she did happen to want it. It probably isn’t up to her. Sad but true.
  • Britney Spears has been told how to look, act, pose, and be, for basically her entire life. Her mannerisms and the ways she acts on social media may not seem natural or what you call “normal.” This is not a result of being unwell. This is a result of being a child star who turned into one of the most famous people in the world. Not knowing how to act “cool” and savvy on social media doesn’t mean you can’t care for yourself or make decisions about your life.
  • Let’s talk about her dancing. If you put her on a stage, in full costume, hair and makeup done, maybe with some backup dancers, none of you would think it’s cuckoo or weird. Yeah, maybe her outfit choices on IG are a little odd when she’s shimmying, I’ll give you that. Freestyle interpretive dance is going to look weird when someone is in boxer shorts and a sports bra in their living room just messing around. If someone at a dance recital was doing the same exact thing that wasn’t Britney Spears, though, you wouldn’t think twice about it, and you wouldn’t take away that person’s access to their bank accounts and driver’s license and passport and kids. You wouldn’t go to court over it.
Britney Spears shows off back tattoo as she dances in sports bra and short  shorts to 'inspired' Otis Redding song
  • She does not owe it to you to be whatever image of her you have in your mind. And you don’t have to like her or her music; you don’t have to think she’s a good mom; you don’t have to think she’s pretty or talented; you can even think that she “has issues.” But, do you honestly think she needs to be legally and fiscally controlled for the rest of her natural life for shaving her head and making a few first-time parenting mistakes? And if you do, do you think her father is the right person to be doing it?
  • She’s just having fun. So shut up.

Believe it or not, there’s a ton more but I will stop boring you. There’s a whole other can of worms to be opened, having to do with Britney’s sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, and Schmou Schmaylor, among other things. There’s other wild and out-there conspiracy theory stuff, like MK Ultra Mind Control. There’s a lot more about the idea of her being a victim of human trafficking. There’s a lot of debate about whether her boyfriend can be trusted (I say yes. I am actually Team Samney!)

The truth is, none of it is really any of our business. I know that. We are not entitled to any Piece of Me Her. Nor are we really all that deserving of her at this point. (Were we ever? She is a national treasure and a literal angel who by all accounts is one of the kindest, sweetest, most polite celebrities out there.) But the idea of this happening to anyone, famous or not, is sickening to me. There are elderly people, people of color, trans people, disabled folks, oppressed communities all over, getting taken advantage of by this unfair but totally legal guardianship system.

It’s really scary.

So, as the Legendary Miss Britney Spears would say, “why don’t ya do somethin’?”

Donate:

Take Action:

  • Write letters, attend virtual rallies, etc. – learn more.
  • Learn about other cases here and here.
Britney Spears on Twitter: "I've always loved the UK and this night just  made me love it even more 🌈🌈🌈 #BrightonPride… "
“Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.”

On behalf of, like, everyone … we love you Britney & we are sorry.

PS:

Let me say this: there’s a WHOLE LOT of drama in the Britney Army fan base about whether to ban or not to ban, boycott or not boycott, what merch is okay to buy or not, can we stream music or not, and so on. I have mixed feelings but I’d say err on the side of not purchasing things that will essentially make more money for the conservatorship at this time. That said, I am not here to tell anyone how to best support Britney and I am not here to be judge and jury on that one. I’ll let someone else be the fun police, and am not going to throw shade or argue or tell anyone how to spend their money … but do just consider buying fan-made or secondhand merch when possible, or listening to music that you already own for now … until Britney is in charge of her own money! If not, no worries – I’m not here to judge you, honestly. I’m certainly not perfect in this area, but now that I know better, I try to do better.

Pin on Britney Spears: Oops... I Did It Again Era

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