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

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.

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!


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