I Hate VD

No, not that VD… though I don’t like that one either. I just survived Christmas, and I’ve had to put up with hearts and cupids for the past month.

Why do I hate Valentine’s Day so much? Because I’ve never had a nice, normal relationship with a guy… and mostly due to me, and my years of anxiety and depression. Me thinking that the guys I dated could do better than me, don’t really want to be seen with me, etc., etc., etc. And in one case, I was used by the guy as a “joke” girlfriend. It’s one of the BIG issues I’ve been working on in therapy for years… and probably will be for the next 20 years. By then, I’ll be the old lady at the end of the street who won’t return Frisbees tossed on her porch and is constantly yelling, “get out of my yard” at the kids… and I won’t care that I don’t have a man in my life. (At least, that’s why I keep telling my therapist, and myself.)

This Sunday, I’m going to try not do social media. Partially to avoid reading about other people’s wonderful love lives, but mostly to focus on me. I don’t love myself but, after 12 years of therapy, I have come around to liking myself (well, most of me). I’m going to do things that I want to do, not trying to please someone else… even simple things like watching my favorite movie or reading my favorite book. And remember that VD is just a day; it doesn’t symbolize my failure at relationships.

BTW… is it just a coincidence that Valentine’s Day and venereal disease have the same initials?

‘Tis the Season

I’m an atheist. No, I don’t believe the reason Xmas is celebrated. Yes, I enjoy Xmas specials and movies (the Grinch is one of my idols). Yes, I like Xmas music (well, the standards, not the “pop” songs). I love “A Christmas Carol,” despite of my deep hatred for Charles Dickens. If someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I don’t start a long speech about my lack of belief. I simply say, “Merry Christmas.”

I’m an atheist, but I’m not an uncaring person. I help those who are in need: donate a coat to the New York Cares Coat Drive, donate food to the Food Bank for Westchester, toss coins into the Salvation Army kettles, bring food to the local animal shelter.

I’m not Irish but I enjoy the New York St. Patrick’s day parade. I’m not a sci-fan fan but I am a HUGE Star Wars fanatic. I am German but I detest sauerkraut (*blech*).

It is possible to enjoy something without subscribing to the meaning behind it. It is possible to respect other people’s beliefs… or the fact that they don’t have beliefs.  So I wish you all a Happy Holiday, and to all, a good night.

How the Grandfather Stole Christmas

Today is November 28, and we’re in the swing of the holiday season, though most stores – and radio stations – started the holidays November 1, right after Halloween. It is also the start of another season of anxieties, depression, and bad memories for me.

The only family I have here in the US are my parents. Both come from Germany, so my entire family lives overseas. There was an older couple who lived next door to us in Da Bronx; they became my “adopted” grandparents. They had issues with their own children and grandchildren, and were delighted to play grandparents to a child who truly appreciated what they did. My adopted grandfather – Popeye – got me on Romper Room for one season, so I am a kind-of-celebrity-if-you’re-really-straining-to-look-for-celebrities. He also arranged for me to meet Bozo the Clown, who is about two inches tall on TV, but about 10 feet tall in person; hence my fear of clowns. But I digress…

In an attempt to make sure I got to know my family in Germany, my parents and I made many trips when I was a kid. I didn’t know my grandfather on my mother’s side, and my grandmother from that side was often ill, so our visits with her were short. On my father’s side, though, I spent a lot of time with Oma and Opa, both in Germany and when they came to visit us in the US. Lots of “bonding” and that sort of stuff. Everything appeared to be perfectly normal. But when I was 16, I was going to learn a harsh life lesson.

One year, Opa decided to visit us by himself. Oma had just been placed in a home — she was diagnosed with dementia – and he felt this may be his last trip to the US. Popeye was living in Sarasota, and my parents decided it would be an interesting for me to experience both of my grandfathers together, so they sent Opa and I to Florida. And, as one would expect, my father wanted me to spend some time with solely his father, my blood-related grandfather, so I could learn about life in Germany, about our family, etc., so the two of us went to that most magical place on Earth, DisneyWorld (written with a heavy dose of sarcasm). Well, the magic of Mickey, Donald, and all those other creatures did not help with the evil that was about to happen in a hotel room.

Opa was already acting somewhat odd at dinner, treating it like we were on a date, rather than grandfather/granddaughter. I assumed that since this was the first time EVER that we were alone, he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, so I didn’t think much of it. However, that night, in the hotel room, he got into bed with me and started to molest me. It didn’t last long – maybe three minutes – but three minutes can feel like an eternity under such circumstances. I kept talking to him, telling him this wasn’t right, but there would be no verbal response; it was almost like he was in a daze. Finally, I managed to push him off. He walked calmly back to his bed and went to sleep. Needless to say, I did not sleep, and actually sat in a chair for the rest of the night. The next day, he acted like nothing had happened, but my trip to mental catastrophe had begun.

When we got back to Sarasota, I gave Popeye the longest hug I think I’ve ever given anyone, and I made sure the three of us were always together. I did not tell him what happened, nor did I tell my parents when we got back to New York. I did not think they would believe me; after all, this man was a pillar of the community, beloved by the citizens of the village where he lived. For me, my battle with depression began, and I continued to keep my mouth shut for next 21 years.

After years of avoiding depression screenings, I finally took one and it saved my life (I was planning on a second suicide attempt the night before my 40th birthday). In my second session with the therapist – the SECOND hour I knew this total stranger – I told him what happened in Florida. He comforted me, told me it was not my fault and that I had nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about… and he said my parents would believe me.

Ironically, my grandfather was on death’s doorway at that time, and my father was in Germany to prepare for the funeral. I was at my parent’s house doing the laundry, and I suddenly blurted out to my mother the story of DisneyWorld. Her first response, as I expected, was, “Why didn’t you ever tell us?” My response was, “Because I didn’t think you’d believe me.” She then began telling me stories about my father’s family that were not pleasant. My grandmother suffered from depression and she drank. My grandfather did not physically abuse her, but he essentially ignored her, preferring the adoration of the townspeople. My grandmother’s brother hanged himself (to this day, I have not told my parents about my numerous suicidal thoughts and attempts… there are some things I just don’t need to share). My father and his brother basically had to fend for themselves. So the whole situation was more like a fairy tale from the Grimm Brothers than one from Disney.

My mother told my father over the phone. My father told his brother, who promptly broke the dinner table when he smashed his fists down on it. They both had a talk with their father, even though he really wasn’t conscious, but that’s what I wanted… for them to know while the old man was still alive.

When my father came home, he, too, asked why I never told them and I gave him the same response. Then he did something he never, ever did in his life… he apologized. He said he had no clue that something like this would happen and would not have sent us to Florida if he did… and I believe him. I still do. He told me all kinds of tales about what went on in their house… again, no physical abuse, just ignorance of the people who needed the head of the household the most.

Now, you’re asking yourself, “OK, Kipper, that’s a horrible story, but what does it have to do with Christmas?” My grandfather’s birthday was December 24. Christmas Eve. That evening holds a lot of traditions among Germans, and it is also when we open our gifts by the light of the lit Christmas tree. I always looked forward to it, and always enjoyed it. Until I was 16. From that point on, I had to send not only a holiday card but a birthday card to the man who molested me in a hotel in Orlando. When I moved out on my own, I also felt compelled to decorate, even though I didn’t want to… “tradition,” you know? It wasn’t until I started therapy 14 years ago, that I realized I didn’t have to decorate. I didn’t need to have constant reminders of the holidays around my apartment 24/7 for four weeks. And that’s when things changed. I suddenly didn’t mind listening to Christmas music (though NOT at the beginning of November) as long as it’s under my control. And I own every TV holiday special and enjoy watching them, again, as long as it’s under my control.

As the stores start marketing holiday stuff earlier and earlier, I feel anxiety and depression come on earlier and earlier, too. And, naturally, when the words “Christmas Eve” get uttered, the memory flies through my head for about five seconds, same as if someone utters “DisneyWorld” or “grandfather.” But by taking control of how I handle the holiday, the anxiety and depression are not nearly as bad as it was for those 22 years. Plus, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas always puts me in a good mood (the ORIGINAL animated classic, not the horrendous movie version).

Why did I spend time writing all of this? This is the first time I’ve ever put into written words what happened in that hotel room. And just like talking about it got a lot of the pain out of my system, I wanted to put it on digital paper to say, “Yeah, I was down, but not out. And here’s my story.”

The Wolf

I met with my boss last week. I was anxious, but I had rehearsed what to say and felt prepared. Then, the morning of the meeting, she sent me an email… a very stern email in which she reiterated that my flex-schedule was being terminated. She wrote, “I approve the three you requested, but those are the last ones you may take. You are welcome to reapply in the future; I will consider it at that time.” I know she did that to dash any intentions I had to talk about compromise. And I was about to meet the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I went ahead with the meeting anyway. I expressed my major concern regarding my weekly appointment. There was no response from her. I suggested that I come in later one day a week, and make up the time the others days (except Fridays… I’m not driving the hour home on a parkway even later on Friday evenings). She immediately asked the days and hours I intended to make up the time. I truly felt like a little kid being scolded by her mother.

Near the end, I asked if she would please be patient for a couple of weeks as I got used to this major change. I wasn’t looking for any compassion, but I had hoped for a little understanding. Her response? “What for?” I reiterated that this is a major life change. That’s where the conversation ended… well, after she told me I – and the rest of the group – had to smile more. Seriously. We have to smile more. So it’s time to dig out my patented “f**k you” smile. I’ll be using it a lot from now on.

She had been such a pleasure to work with the past few months… the kind sheep. And now the clothes are gone and the big, bad wolf is here. I feel very angry but I can also feel my depression gearing up. Just as things were getting better after the second half of last year, now they are looking to take a dive again. And then spending five days a week in the office, close to the woman who made such an enormous unpleasant change in my life. I know I have to stay strong; I don’t want her actions and words to cause me pain.

A Meeting that Actually Has a Purpose

I spoke with my therapist on Friday about the schedule change my boss announced on Thursday. Actually, I spoke after crying for 15 minutes. After calming down, I told him all of my issues with this change, the primary one not being able to see him anymore. We went through different things I could do to work through this. He knows I’m terrified of speaking to authority about something I need/want, but said that would be most effective. As always, he’s right. The talk may not go as I’d hoped, but at least I’d put my issues on the table so she would understand the impact as much as I understand what she is trying to accomplish.

I set up a meeting with my boss for tomorrow. I then spent the entire weekend having anxiety attacks over what to say and how to say it. (Well part of the weekend I spent with my parents, hearing what I should do with my life.) I managed to develop a good script, and have practiced it a few times… or possibly 100 times. Being a life-long pessimist, I doubt it will sway her, but at least it will put MY issues in HER head in the way she’s always putting HER issues in everyone else’s head.

This Wasn’t on My Schedule

My commute to the office is two hours so, two days a week (Mondays and Fridays), I am able to work at home to avoid the long drive. I’ve been doing it for eight years, never an issue. However, yesterday, my boss told me I can no longer do it. She said it was because of “collaboration” on a big project, that the team should be able to work together, but everyone knows it’s because she loves control. The team works fine in the current situation, using things like computers, IM, Skype and phones to stay in touch. There is no reason to have us physically together, not even for meetings (though I have always been very accommodating if I did need to be at a meeting in person).

This change will have a huge impact on my life, and not just losing the WFH benefit. I use WFH to schedule health-related appointments, regular doctor visits, plus my neurologist who monitor my epilepsy and, most important, my therapy. Without my therapy I would completely fall apart, go back to the darkness I was in 13 years ago. My very first thought after she said “no more WFH,” was “I won’t see my therapist anymore. I will be totally lost.”

I cried in the ladies room for about ½ hour. Everyone that I told in the office was in total shock… and all agreed that it had nothing to do “collaboration.” I cried on my hour-long drive home. I was a little better when I got home, took a shower and got into my PJs. But then being upset was joined by being angry. How can she just throw this at me (it starts in two weeks), not giving me four days at first then working up to five as I try to rearrange my schedule? I was already not too happy with her for withholding information about this project… no one on the team knows anything about it. And now I suddenly have to come in five days a week to collaborate on something we don’t know about.

I knew I was going to see my therapist today, but I continued to be upset/angry last night, pacing around my apartment. I wanted to talk to someone, but not someone I knew. I wanted to vent for 10 minutes to someone who would just listen. And then I called. I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I wasn’t suicidal, but I knew they would listen. They were a huge help last year when I was trying to cope with the death of Robin Williams.

I spoke with a nice soft-spoken man, who listen to me rant and cry. I knew he wasn’t going to solve the situation, but it felt good that he was being compassionate. I was only on the phone with him for 15 minutes and I felt better after I hung up. Yes, I was still upset. Yes, I was still angry. But knowing I was seeing my therapist today made that a little better.

I hope to come up with some solution that will satisfy my boss. And I hope she doesn’t expect me to be all happy and full of sunshine every day… especially on Fridays.

An Atheist’s Spiritual Side

Today is my birthday; I am 51. Considering I had planned on not living to 40, this is quite an accomplishment. But I had a long talk with my therapist this morning about everything I can’t seem to accomplish. I always take one step forward, then two – sometimes 10 – steps back. We’ve talked about these issues hundreds of times, and he knows I try… and he also knows how frustrated I get with myself when I can’t achieve my goals. And when my depression came back the second half of last year, it just made everything worse.

He knows I am an atheist, but often speaks of spirituality, not in terms of religion but more in terms of thinking beyond what we see every day. He decided to look up my Kabbalah text (I apologize if I did not use the term properly). After I chose a card, he began reading; he did alert me that there would be references to Biblical stories in the text and I was welcome to roll my eyes if I chose to. As he read, it became eerie how much is sounded like my life; you won’t achieve all of our goals in one shot, and you may feel you’ve failed. But you haven’t failed, you have learned, and you will continue. By the time he finished reading, I was crying… not out of sadness, but out of relief, a relief to knowing that I had a lifelong of obstacles I had to overcome and it cannot be done instantly.

I’ve been in therapy for 13 years and I’ve been able to change a lot about my life, things that are common and mundane to others, but things that were monumental for me. And I always worked under the theory that everything would be fixed and I can then go on with life. Now I understand that these changes are more like an ebb and flow; some will come with ease, others will require more effort. And not all will be wrapped up with a bow in the end, but I will be able to say I experienced life… and survived.

My Best Friend

I’d like to introduce you to my best friend for 16 years, Shortstop (named after NY Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent). He was a miniature long-haired dachshund. I’m an only child and, I’m not kidding, he was my best friend. He never hurt me. He was always there for me. He was fun to play with. Why, we both were stricken with epilepsy… THAT’S how close we were. He’s been gone for 20 years, but I think about him every day… and I like to show others what a good friend I had.

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Happy Birthday, Shortie.

(OK, tears, you can start flowing now. Why the f**k do I do this to myself???)

Stigma killed Robin Williams not suicide

takingthemaskoff

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“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” -Albert Einstein

Robin Williams didn’t kill himself, stigma killed him. It kills many people like him everyday. Here is how:

STIGMA, that is the reason people do not ask for help. STIGMA is the reason people do not go to the doctor and say I’m depressed, or I’m an addict, or I do not feel things like anyone else. Who wants to say that I feel all these intense emotions? When you know what the result is going to be. What we will do is we will give you medication. We will tell you to change, to just feel…

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Reflections

It’s January 3, the day we procrastinators take a look back at the previous year. To the outside world, it looked like my year went well: I was doing well at work, I started looking for a new place to live, I socialized a bit more. But to me, 2014 was not good; lots of anxiety, depression, and worry. I’ve viewed my world in only one way my entire life, and it was never in a good way. My therapist encourages me to look at things from a different viewpoint, to look at the positive side of almost anything that happens in my life. So I gave it a try… tried to look at the plus side of some of my angst… and it actually worked. I actually saw positive aspects to almost everything. Wow. It hasn’t made me Ms. Sunshine, but it gave me something to consider doing when I’m feeling down. Here are just a few things that worked in 2014:

  • It was my 50th birthday. I hadn’t even planned on living to 40, let alone 50. And I hadn’t thought about suicide since I turned 40… until early in 2014, when I realized I was going to be 50. The “I haven’t accomplished anything in my life” thoughts started creeping into my mind again. But, with help from my therapist, I did make a list of things I had accomplished… things that probably aren’t big deals to most people, but to me, well, daunting tasks. Simple things like stopping at a rest area that I’d never been at before because I absolutely needed coffee! So I made it to 50.
  • At my job, I had a great boss and worked with (mostly) a good group of people. But I was in the Marketing group. I don’t do marketing; I manage web content. I felt like an outsider, never much to contribute at meetings, never asked for my thoughts on this or that. So I felt isolated. And then, one day, I went to talk to my boss about the situation. Seriously. I did it. I wanted to know how he envisioned my role in the group. We had a good talk and I felt better. I still didn’t feel like I was truly part of the group, but I stopped feeling like the relative no one in the family talks about. And at the very end of last year, I was transferred to a newly-created group. Again with a boss I really like and, this time, I truly am part of the group.
  • After some new issues with my parents in June, my depression came back and came back strong. It had been a long time since I stayed under the covers for an entire weekend, but my bed and I became close friends again. It became difficult to get up in the morning, difficult to get dressed for work, even difficult just to go to the supermarket. And then it became worse when the holidays started. The thoughts of escaping this depression started popping into my head; the second time in 2014 I thought about killing myself. But I was finally able to focus on other things, simple things, things like cleaning out my closets and donating a ton of clothes I haven’t worn in 10 years. And helping out at a local homeless shelter. And actually going to the company holiday party. My depression still lingers, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was six months ago.
  • When I heard about the death of Robin Williams. I, like most of the world, was absolutely stunned… and, I know this is going to sound strange, but I couldn’t get over it. It’s almost as if he were my best friend and I am still grieving. I’ve downloaded dozens of clips of him on talk shows, him doing stand-up, etc., and I own a bunch of his movies, and cried every time I watched them. It certainly made the above-mentioned depression even worse. Then I started reading more about his battle with depression… a battle just like mine. And, as I also mentioned above, I had many thoughts of suicide, attempted it twice. I began to understand his pain. I began to understand his actions. And I began to embrace the brilliance that he brought to the world, and took joy in watching him wear a dress, singing as a genie, teaching a class, helping the homeless, entertaining the troops and on and on and on. I’m still deeply saddened by his passing, but I now remember everything he brought to the world.

There is more, but those are the highlights. I’m not the type of person who looks ahead and says, “Hey, 2015 is going to be a fantastic year!” But I will continue to take a close look at each struggle… and will hopefully see a little spark of happiness.

I cannot leave 2014 behind without thinking about the one thing that did make me happy (well, OK, other than making it through the year). Something truly important. Something truly life-affirming. Yes, I am referring to Germany winning the World Cup. All was right with the world when Mario Goetze scored that goal!