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

 


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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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