“I got a real good feeling somethin’ bad gonna happen” ~  Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert

So for once, I’m actually having trouble formulating sentences because of all the info I’ve been sorting through for this post. Let’s see if I can unravel this tangled ball of yarn (I crochet…I had to use this analogy… 🙄).

Anyhoot, being back on campus this past semester reiterated to me how smartphone use and social media are in the forefront of most (or at least a LOT) teen’s lives. I’m pretty adamant about putting phones away while I’m lecturing…it may sound ‘old school’ but I think it’s rude. As I tell my sweetie students, I won’t be on my phone when you’re talking to me. However, my nagging doesn’t work and if I excused every student from class for using their phone that day, I wouldn’t have many left to lecture too. It makes me sad to think these bright young people can’t not look at their phone for 50 minutes.

I also got upset when I walked into class everyday and found 95% (yes, I kept track) of my students on their phones instead of interacting with one another. When I started teaching in the late 90’s before smartphones and social media, my classes would be buzzing when I walked in. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to shut them up! How I wish for those days again when students talked, connected, discussed and made friends…’real’ friends and not just a face on a screen. Even when I see my students in the ‘pit’ (a place where students gather on campus…you have to somewhat cool to get in it 😎 ), they are interacting WHILE using their phones as well. I see a lot of screen sharing “You have go to see this!” so even the face to face interaction centers around social media.

In December of 2020, I wrote a post saying how I was going to quit social media and honestly, I felt almost brave taking this step since I’d be giving up something I centered much of my life around. But the funny thing is that I don’t miss it at all. Nada.

When Mark Zuckerberg created ‘The Facebook’ in 2004 (originally called this before it morphed into just Facebook), it’s intention was to connect students across the campus of Harvard. It was for students in one location that would help those of similar ideas/interests find one another. That’s all. But as we know, it grew at a phenomenal rate and there are now 2 billion users worldwide. Although FB wasn’t the first social media platform (remember MySpace?), it began the trend of countless other SM sites to where 73.7% of all internet use is for social media. Wow.

So, we know the breadth of the use of SM but why is it coming under constant scrutiny and why do I worry about it so much in my student’s lives? Here we go (but first a disclaimer – SM can be a GREAT tool for connection too…we can’t forget the positives!):

A study done at Harvard found this:

“When an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing the individual to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.”

How Social Media Affects the Brain

Other recent studies found this:

“Social media facilitates an environment in which people are comparing their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self. Excessive social media use can not only cause unhappiness and a general dissatisfaction with life in users but also increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as social anxiety disorder.”

And the last nugget from the Harvard study (FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out):

“FOMO can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to compulsive checking of social media platforms to ensure that an individual isn’t missing out on anything, which can cause problems in the workplace and in the classroom. A study conducted by Harvard University found that social media has a significantly detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of chronic users and their lives, negatively impacting their real-life relationships and academic achievement.”

Now, are these findings ‘valid’? According to numerous other studies that have found the same info, the answer would be yes. In fact, The National Institute of Health (NIH) has officially linked teen depression to social media use: ‘These young adults who are affected with social media-linked depression often describe feelings of anxiety, envy, narcissism, poor body image, loneliness and decreased social skills. And, these effects are cross-cultural and not linked to socio-economic status.’ Remember, the brain still develops through the mid twenties so the effects of these issues can be more impactful with teens and can influence their actual brain development (and since they spend so much time on SM, this can influence these effects as well).

Think about this: the rewiring of the brain…the chance of increase of anxiety and depression…a skewed perception of yourself…more life dissatisfaction…increase in the chance of social anxiety disorder…and possible impact on face to face relationships and academic achievement. Why in the world would we ask for this by using SM? Is it addiction? Actually, yes; we get ‘addicted’ to that rush of dopamine and keep seeking it out. Addictionaly, SM platforms are GREAT at their algorithms which help them to feed you what you want so you’ll be hooked even more. Charming.

Does these consequences happen to everyone? Of course not! Does the likelihood of these things increase with the amount of social media use? Yes. And, research shows that teens are on social media between 5-7 hours a day! More than any other activity besides sleeping. And in terms of adults? The average time spent on SM is 2 hours and 3 minutes. Compare it to this: The Office for National Statistics found that the average couple spends only 2.5 hours a day together with 1/3 of time spent watching TV, 30 minutes eating, and 24 minutes doing housework. This literally leaves 3 minutes that couples spend conversing…not just saying things like “is the laundry done?” a day. Wow.

So, both teens and adults are making social media a priority…if not the main priority…of their time. Is it any wonder then that we see this:

In her book iGen, Jean Twenge found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s. Plus, this increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults.” And The American Psychological Association said: “Frequency of social media and smartphone use tended to be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” Yes, this is an association/correlation which isn’t necessarily tied to cause; but suicide rates have increased 60% for those 10-24 since 2007. Hmmmmm.

Look, I know this is a LLLLOOOONNNNGGGG post, but as someone who is concerned with mental health and mental illness, all of this scares the fuck (sorry, ma 😳) out of me. Truly. What if I told you that I have a ‘product’ that can increase mental health issues, impact your life negatively, and take time away from your family? Would you buy it? Would you force others too? My sonshine is always telling me to get back on Facebook or join another platform to keep up with things 🤔. I tell him that I keep up with things by calling people. Actually talking to them. Having them over. Finally, most importantly, would you let your kids buy this product?

But that’s what’s happening. Yes, people can say: “It doesn’t impact me…I’m fine!” but is this objective? From my experience I can see a decrease in my anxiety since quitting social media…I don’t see conflict over politics or faces/lives that I’ll never live up too…I don’t compare myself to people as much as I used too…I’m not involved in the ‘high school’ antics among my own peers…and I don’t need the external validation of a thumbs up like I very much once did. I’d post something and then look constantly to see how many likes I had and the more that came, the better I felt. In fact, quitting SM for over a year now has sort of reprogrammed my brain to where it was before. It took a while to get past that need for validation and to get over the idea that I need to let everyone know exactly what I’m doing. And to be honest, I love it.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. Take a look see at this to get ideas on how to use social media in a healthy way by Sannyu McDonald Harris: be intentional in the use and not on auto-pilot (this was my biggest downfall!), focus on real life relationships, limit your time on SM, only follow pages and people who bring you joy (not bring you down!), avoid using SM before bedtime (because of the blue light impacting sleep), use mindfulness and live in the moment, and take a break. 😃

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” ~ Sylvia Plath

So, my sweetie students and I were discussing Fritz Perls today (father of Gestalt Therapy 😳) and it reminded me so much of what else I’ve been studying: mindfulness. The whole idea behind Gestalt (‘configuration’) psychology is to be more aware of yourself, to stay present, and to process things in the here and now. Further, it’s also based on the idea that our overall perception depends on the interaction between many factors, including our past experiences, current environment, thoughts, feelings, and needs. Whew. Nice lecture, huh?

Anyhoot, as we were talking about our perceptions of ourselves and how much it affects the ‘whole’ of our being, one of my students who knows me well said this to me: “Professor K, you are always so dismissive of yourself. You always put yourself down and act like less than who you really are.” Wow. This really hit me because I know what I think about myself on the inside, but had no idea that it was seeping into the outside as well. However, as I’ve been contemplating it (in the new meditation area I made in my house…complete with chakra stones and all!😲 ), I started to understand where this has come from and why it’s such a big part of the ‘whole’ that I am.

I’m talking about rejection. None of us likes rejection…right? However, some of us handle it better than others. My sissy is wonderful…truly! She is never scared to speak her mind is one of the most authentic people I know in my life. If someone doesn’t like her, she says: “Fuck them! What the hell does that mean in my life?” I love that and wish I was that strong! Instead I say: “Why the hell don’t you like me and how can I act so you will?”

You know, I’ve talked a lot on this blawg about wearing masks and taking off the mask that covered up my bipolar was so hard. Having to confront the part of me that has a mental illness was terrifying…both in terms of myself but also in terms of how others would see me. But that’s my big ‘mask’ accomplishment…that bipolar one. But what about the others?

As we all know, I’ve experienced rejection in my life, like so many of you have as well. Do I take it harder because my emotional make-up is screwed up by my bipolar brain? Am I just more sensitive? Hmmmmm.

I think this rejection started in grade school when both T and I were bullied…we both had buck teeth and mousy hair and didn’t have the coolest clothes. And this continued through high school with me. I had 2 bullies that were particularly brutal and as many secrets as I’ve shared with ma, sissy, partners, and friends, I’ve never ever told anyone what one of the bullies would call me. It still hurts that much after 35 (cough cough) years. 😔

Then we have my relationships. O’s dad was terrific and I thought our marriage was a good one and would last forever. After we divorced, I was convinced we would co-parent O and be friendly and cordial…hells bells, we’d known each other since the 3rd grade and that’s a lot of history. This didn’t happen though. In his family, after you get divorced, you get cut out of pics and the ex-spouse simply pretends like you never existed. Charming. 🙄

So, when we see each other at graduations, weddings, etc. he nods at me. Yes, I said NOD. I gave birth to his only child (who by the way is amazing beyond anything) and we were married for 13 years. And he nods at me. Hmmmm. That may be his families mode of operandi, but it sucks balls because it feels like such a rejection. Not even a ‘hello’? Jeez.

Fast forward to Hubby 3. I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately and I’ve always said how we were still besties and talked just about everyday. But I did something last week I didn’t think I’d ever do: I told him ‘goodbye’ and that I couldn’t be his friend anymore. He’s with another woman…the one who was in his life while we were still together. He says he loves me…wishes he’d never divorced me…that I made him happier than anyone…but he’s with her. Period. He made his choice and can’t have it both ways. The straw that broke my proverbial camel’s back was this: a couple of weeks ago, the ‘club’ went down to Daytona for a bike thing and he took her with them. They had a vacation while down there and he got in the ocean for the first time in his life…something I had always wanted to do with him. Throughout all of our marriage, I’d ask to go on these trips with him and he’d say no every time. But then he took her. And that opened my eyes to the fact he’s hanging on to something that’s no longer there and I don’t deserve, nor need to listen to the ‘fun’ he has with his (I want to put another word in here but I’m going to be nice 😐) girlfriend when he never did the same with me. I realized, like a curtain opening, that he doesn’t love me…he just wants me in the wings and I’m not going to do that anymore.

Then J came into my life and started cheating on me months into the relationship and continued throughout the entire 3 years we were together. If that’s not a rejection, I don’t know what is. Basically it said: “You aren’t enough for me. I don’t love you enough to be faithful. I love this woman more.” Yikes. How can you feel good about yourself in terms of how men see you when this is thrown at you again and again? Then when we ‘broke up’, he never spoke to me again…and still never has. Yes, I loved him for 3 years through some pretty bad crap not many women would have, adored and parented the heck out of his precious kids, and helped him go from a jobless vet living in his grandma’s basement to someone with his own home, money, etc. He always used to say I ‘saved him’ but he treated me like shit and then walked away without another word. Rejection to the max.

Finally, my last relationship. Yep…I thought this was it. We had so many great times and I traveled all the time to see him in another state and then had him live with me while he found a house here. He has a self-proclaimed ‘anger issue’ and when he lashed out at me a couple of times, I let it go. I wanted to make it work! Then we got Covid and Dottie died and I had 3 surgeries and he was moving and my mania was out of control due to meds and the list goes on. So, we get into an argument where he said some pretty nasty things…and I said something back that I know hurt him. He walked out and I’ve literally never seen him or talked to him again…even though he lives 1 door down from me! He completely ghosted me after knowing each other 35 years. Once again, rejection.

By Bianca Xunise – there’s an entire comic about this on The Lily. It’s GREAT!

Being dismissed like this by these men has created a ‘habit’ of demeaning my own self…even though I really do love who I am. It’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve been made to feel I’m expendable. Extraneous. So…bored with me? Have sex with other women. Tired of being with me? Move in with the (cough cough) woman (🤢) you were seeing before you walked out the door. Angry at me for losing my temper? Ghost me and never acknowledge I even existed in the first place.

Am I that easily forgotten? That easy to get over? That easy to pretend like ‘we’ never happened?

See, I don’t do that. It’s beyond me how B and I could have gone through the birth and raising of our son and spent 13 years of our lives together every day…often working side by side…and then nothing. I don’t understand how you can say you’re in love with someone while making plans to hook up with another woman at the same time. I don’t get how you say you are committed to a relationship, say some pretty terrible things, but when something is said back, it’s over. By the way, I’ve e-mailed this guy 2 times…I’m obviously blocked so I used another address. It was actually an apology about my role in the argument and I’ve never heard a thing back. It hurts but as T says, ‘fuck him!’ She’s the best!

I don’t know why I still find the need to do this, but I depend on others for much of my validation. See, I feel really good about me in terms of me. But in terms of men and relationships, I’m starting to think I’m one of these women who will be used and thrown away. It makes me wonder if any of these men ‘really’ loved me. Their words said they did…but their actions? Nope.

So back to my student: I need to quit being so dismissive of myself. Quit thinking I am ‘rubble’ that can be tossed away. That I’m not worth working for…trying for…apologizing too…or even talking too. Is it a game guys play? Hmmm. I don’t think so. I know my son doesn’t do this…I know my dad didn’t do this with ma…I know sissy’s hubby is there through good and bad. So is it me? How can I not think that? But even more frustrating, why am I convinced it’s all about ‘me’ and my short-comings? Why can’t I see outside of myself at their short-comings too?

I always call ma on my way home from school and we were talking about this. She said: “Kristi, this is their lack. Not yours. You wouldn’t do this to someone…but they would. That shows you who they are.”

And she’s right. I’ve had a couple of relationships that I ended and we’re friends. I would never ghost somebody. Ignore them. Act like they never existed. It’s cruel and simply not in me to do.

Here’s what I told ma today as we were finishing up our daily cluck fest: “You know, I don’t think I want someone else in my life. It’s too hard knowing that what they say and what they might do may not match up. It’s just too damn hard to take that risk again.” And I meant it. But that’s sad to me. To think that these men just didn’t take away themselves but took something inside of me too. The openness to believe in people and the ability to trust them when they say forever. They’ve taken away my ability to look at myself and not be so judgemental…so brutal about ‘what could I have done different?’…so willing to think it’s all me. Thanks, guys. 🙄

You know, it makes me sad to think I might be alone for the rest of my life…but you know what? It makes me even more sad to know how people can deceive you and lie to you and hurt you…and they don’t really care.

Kristi xoxo

“Just another manic Monday…” ~ The Bangles

So, I called in sick on Friday which is something I rarely do. In fact, I have 2,176 sick hours accumulated over the course of my tenure which will add a year to my retirement when I decide to take it…I’m still so young now (cough cough). Anyhoot, my symptoms were: fatigue, lower back pain, arm pain, chest pain, shoulder pain, hand pain, leg pain, foot pain, and knee pain. Other than that, I felt great. 🙄 And, since I have so much insight into the workings of the human body and read WebMD on a regular basis, I have figured out the culprit to all of this: a patio.

For the last couple of years, my backyard was ‘meh’ and after getting Mally, it worsened this summer. There was a BIG dirt & weed (not the good kind 😐) patch and although I tried seeding it and covering it and watering it and putting barriers up around it, Ed and Mal continued their quest to make my backyard look like crap in that particular area. I called a couple of landscapers about laying a patio in the spot and the best quote I got was $2000. Wwwwaaayyy too much for me to justify…so…I decided to do it myself. Let’s take a look-see:

Digging this area out wasn’t bad at first…in fact the first shovel full was quite delightful as I reveled in creating this myself. By the 5th shovel full, I wanted to move to a condo that offers complete yard maintenance. But, with Edward, Mally, and Chloe (my baby grand-chihuahua) cheering me on, I got it done and after her inspection, Mally told me it was fine.

Now the fun part was going to start: picking my pavers at Lowe’s but before I could do that, I had to move the dirt pile I had stupidly piled up on the little concrete pad right behind me. I was so intent on digging, that I just tossed the scoops of dirt willy-nilly and was now trapped. So…I grabbed the God forsaken shovel again and moved all of the dirt to my driveway. In front of the garage and too close to the backyard fence gate. Then, I hosed off the area by where I was working and created a crap ton of mud…in front of my garage and the fence gate. The result? A 6×6 area of mud that I had to shimmy through the gate and climb over in order to get into said garage all while wearing clothes caked in dirt, water, mud, and I think some poopies I missed while cleaning up the yard before digging. Charmed, I’m sure.

Finally, I was off to Lowe’s without changing. What the hell…I just plopped a beach towel on my Jeep seat and took off with the assumption no potential mates would see me. 🙄

Did you know that when you study psychology and sociology in college, you don’t pay too much attention to math? Did you know it’s very difficult to turn 16″ paver sizes to feet in terms of figuring number and did you know it doesn’t take 100 of the fuckers to cover a 10×10 area? Well…I didn’t. And, when the old man was waiting with his forklift to get me a pallet and I was on my calculator punching in random numbers because I had no clue what I was doing, I said: “Bet you wouldn’t believe I’ve been teaching all my life…” He said: “Nope. I wouldn’t have.” Thanks, gramps. 🙄

So…since my Jeep could only hold so many pavers, I took 16 with me, along with sheets of paver bases which I also had to figure size of. To make a long story short(er), I ended up going back to Lowe’s 4 times. To get more pavers. To get 1 more paver. To return the many paver bases I had bought too many of. And, to get moolah back on the 64 extra pavers I had paid for and didn’t need. As a result, I know every person in the Garden Center by name now…everyone in the Garden Center thinks I’m an idiot…and they are all praying I never start another project again.

I got the area paved and it’s not perfectly level. No matter how much I tried, some of the pavers just wouldn’t get even! Once my back gets better, I’m going to dig out 3 and if I get those OK, it will look great! All in all, I lifted 1,750 pounds of pavers, pea gravel, and bricks along with the hundred shovel fulls of dirt.

Plus, I did a few more things in the backyard:

The bricks I took out are now bordering these grasses…I’m going to fill in with pea gravel later!

Now, along with this rigamarole, I also painted shutters, my awning, and trim on my house along with cleaning up the gutters. My sweet neighbor watched so he could YouTube it if I fell off the roof. I didn’t, but it was close.

Now, I did all of this in a period of just 4 days. That’s a manic episode for you, peeps, and I’m in a doozie of one because of all my med changes. You know, mania is a tough thing to handle. On one hand, getting all of this done by myself makes me really proud…unlevel pavers and all. I love knowing I accomplished fixing things up myself and have learned a lot! But, the motor inside of you during a manic phase never shuts off…and you can’t make it. I knew I was exhausted on day 3 but couldn’t stop myself from continuing until I about dropped. This weekend, I’ve been be TRYING to lay around and rest and I’m doing my best. Ma’s first tendency is to say: “Kristi, you need to slow down and not worry about getting things done so much!” and I know this is what I would probably say to someone too. But, that’s akin to telling a depressed person to “Just cheer up” or a person with anxiety to “Just calm down.” Neither works for those either. Mania is just as much out of my control as when I’m depressed. I’ve been on my mood stabilizer for a week now and up my dose tomorrow. It’s going to take a couple more weeks to kick in and until then, I just need to deal with this the best I can. I’m trying to channel it in ways that are productive, but it is what it is (my least favorite saying of all time.).

Anyhoot, thanks for looking at my yard work and understanding how much it means to me to have done it myself. Y’all are wonderful…truly! 😍

Kristi xoxo

“He opened the lid and shook his fist…” ~ Monster Mash

A drawing I did of my brain this week.

So, I got my daily newsletter in my inbox today from bphope which is an excellent website all about bipolar with features and stories, treatment news, relationship advice, etc. and every so often, there will be articles about the myths which abound with this mental illness. There always seems to be new ones and I’m sure I could add a lot to what’s already out there. But I’m having a somewhat down day today and realized that myths aren’t what I am most focused on in with this disorder right now…it’s fears.

“You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This gem was first said by President Roosevelt in 1933 (after being swiped from Thoreau 😳 ) and I don’t want to be disrespectful but this is a crock of crap 💩 . Now, I understand what he was saying: you don’t want fear to paralyze you to where you can’t keep advancing but instead move backwards, and in the context of the Great Depression, this is probably sound advice. But, it also puts an onus of responsibility on people to never think they have a right to buckle…to stress…to become overwhelmed which to me are very human reactions to fearful situations that need to be expressed and validated.

Look, if a tiger was charging at me full-speed with fangs gleaming and roars emanating, I would NOT advance. I would NOT be able to retreat. I WOULD, however, most likely stand in that spot, paralyzed, with pee running down my safari shorts. Right? 😳 (Note to self: order some cute safari shorts…)

Those of us who have bipolar…or any mental illness…experience a lot of fears and if we can’t admit to them…talk about them…be validated for them…we feel yet another piece of additional guilt added on to an already huge list of things we have to feel bad about.

One of my biggest fears is that I’ll never find anyone in my life (outside of my wonderfully supportive family who truly does understand this 🥰) who will be able to fully understand that having bipolar is not a character flaw, a weakness, a manipulative ploy to control them. Bipolar is a biologically based illness…period. Various medical tests including MRI’s and CT’s show dramatic differences between healthy brains and bipolar brains and being a neurological illness, it literally changes how the brain operates.

Now, do we understand exactly WHY this happens? Nope. Does that mean it doesn’t happen? Nope. There are lots of times this happens with ‘accepted’ disorders/illnesses/diseases: Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Bell’s Palsy, and Parkinson’s to name just a few. There’s no question that these are biological in nature…I don’t think anyone would dare say that those with Alzheimer’s are just being dramatic and if they would just try, their memory and associated physical conditions would miraculously return to normal. It gets old to be blamed for a condition you have…and it’s gets old for having to apologize for it over and over again.

Silhouetted profile with pills forming a brain’s outline

On the same note, having to rely on meds to control this illness is scary too, although I realize that all meds can be scary. Look at what we’re seeing in terms of conditions that have altered their chemistry as a result of the over-use of antibiotics. According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million of these antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. yearly and no fewer than 35,000 people die because of this.

Psychotropic meds are scary simply for the fact they are operating on your actual brain functioning…your center so to speak. You know, in a way it’s like being an alcoholic: you need the ‘chemical’ to balance yourself. Take a look-see at this from Alcohol Rehab Guide:

“When someone abruptly quits drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer inhibited by alcohol and the brain scrambles to adjust to the new chemical imbalance – causing the debilitating side effects of withdrawal which are separate from the “feel good” effects of alcohol consumption.”

It’s the same with my meds in that they affect my neurotransmitters and chemical balances; however, I NEED the meds to do this or my bipolar would be completely out of control. It’s not an addiction…but a need. And of course there are withdrawal effects when the med is stopped. According to Healthgrades: “Some drugs (and combinations of drugs) are linked to higher risks of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, thyroid disorders, kidney problems, and other chronic illnesses, all of which can shorten lifespan when left untreated.”

Courtesy of imgflip.com

If this isn’t bad enough, there’s also the fear that our meds will lose their ability to be effective and will need to be changed (like mine are right now). So, you’re faced with often terrible withdrawal effects as your brain re-adjusts without the med and then have to begin something new…hoping it will work.

In fact, Healthgrades also states: “Studies show that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to die early than people without the condition, by anywhere from 10 to 25 years.” I’m 54 (blech 🙄) years old. I want to live as long as I can to see my future grandbabies (cough cough, son…), to be productive in my life, to fulfill dreams I have…and the list goes on.

Another fear? Research at The National Center for Biotechnology Information has shown a significant increase in dementia in older people who have bipolar. Well hells bells…that’s great to know. 🙄 Not only is my life-span shortened but I may not realize what’s happening in it the last few years anyway. Charmed.

So, there are things to fear but fear itself and when you have a mental illness, there can be a lot of fears. Having these doesn’t mean I don’t move forward but it does mean that I carry the burden of these everyday. We all do. And we all need to be ensured by others that we are loved…special…smart…funny… in spite of what’s on our shoulders. Or what’s in our heads.

Kristi xoxo

“How he longs to be Beneath his dreaming tree…” ~ Dave Matthews

So, I love to re-read favorite books and I just finished one that’s 3rd on my list of all time favorites: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. For some reason, I highlighted the crap out of it this time and it really made me think of some things in my own life.

Anyhoot, the story is about a girl named Francie who grows up very poor in Brooklyn but has aspirations of education and being on stage. There are a lot of roadblocks in this pursuit but she perseveres. While she’s growing up, we’re treated to her thoughts which are so often profound and to be honest with you, humbling as well. Let’s take a look-see:

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

Isn’t that an absolutely wonderful view? I don’t know about you, but I sometimes think we frantically busy ourselves in ‘pursuing’ this thing called happiness because we believe it will miraculously make things perfect when it’s finally achieved. The problem though, is that we don’t recognize the actual happiness we take for granted in our everyday life. Maybe like Francie says, it’s not necessarily a state, but moments that simply swirl around us. It’s like the dust mites in the air (at least my air…2 shedding dogs and an aversion to dusting 🙄); unless you’re looking through a window, you’ll miss that they’re even there. I was thinking about this last night while I laid in bed. I was looking around at my cozy room and how I’ve been looking out the same window while falling asleep for 15 years now. It’s so comforting to me and just laying in bed and taking it in makes me content…settled…secure…and yes, happy.

I was also looking at the pictures on my dresser mirror of all the people who love me. Oliver, ma, pop, step-ma, Terri and her hubby, my nieces and nephews, and my pets. How lucky I am to have these people in my life, yet I often take them for granted! Going out to breakfast with pop and step-ma…shopping with ma…going down a water slide with my sissy while my niece and nephew laugh…those are moments of happiness to be treasured. You know, it’s easy to forget how many people are searching for someone to give them unconditional acceptance and love…to experience the feeling of having a place in the hearts of others.

Then I think about my students. Just today, I laughed with my classes and felt such a sense of being where I belong…smack dab in the front of my classroom. Doing what I love. Doing what I believe I was born for. Doing what makes me realize so many times of happiness with so many amazing people.

Here’s another quote I love:

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

You know, sometimes I think I just sail through my days and not truly recognize the actual living I do minute by minute. It’s like 1 day bleeds into another and weeks go by without really being able to say what they were all about.

Finally ready to start painting!

A couple of days ago, I was pulling out ceiling tiles in my basement…the last big project to complete my house renovation. It was a fucking (sorry, ma 😬 but you were there and saw it for yourself) nightmare and I was beside myself. It’s a drop ceiling and the tiles were 20+ years old and getting stained and crumbly, etc. So, I started ‘removing’ (tearing out is a better word since there was only 1″ clearance between the tile frame and the rafters 😡…a big fucking thank you to whoever put them up in the first place) the 2’x4′ tiles and they were breaking apart and falling on me and were heavy and dirty and dusty and smelly and I was covered in sweat and grime and filth. Charmed, I’m sure. My basement looked like it had been hit with a white, powdery sand-storm and I was bawling. I knew I was way over my head when I started it, but it was just too devastating to admit I was failing at the last task I had for my house after having accomplished so much.

Bill came over near the tail-end when my emotions were at their peak, and I bawled and snapped at him, and he left. For good. I don’t blame him. My bipolar can amplify my emotions 100 fold and it was bad. I’m just so glad ma came over and comforted me and helped as I got it all cleaned up. I don’t know what I’d do without her and I have forbidden her to ever die. Period. (By the way…I’m going to paint the ceiling rafters for an industrial type vibe…very cool and, as God is my witness, NO ceiling tiles ever ever again!).

What I hope my ceiling looks like when it’s done. 🙄

But here’s the thing…even with something like this, at least I’m living. Feeling. Breathing. Accomplishing. Trying. Working. I’m living a moment that I need to appreciate. You know, I think we all try way too hard to sail through the bad, and only really allow ourselves to live the good. But, according to Francie, we need to live it all. I learned a lot about myself that night. I learned my limitations. My tenaciousness. My staunch refusal to ask for help when I need it the most (and the foolishness of that). I learned that a ceiling is only a fucking ceiling…and believe me, mine ain’t no Sistine Chapel. Hard lessons? Yep…you betcha. But living those moments created lessons I’ll learn from and grow from and hopefully be better for in the long run. And that, my sweet peeps, is enough.

I love how Francie explains this concept of living even more…

“Sometimes I think it’s better to suffer bitter unhappiness and to fight and to scream out, and even to suffer that terrible pain, than to just be… safe. At least she knows she’s living.”

Wow. Just wow. You know, there have been thousands of time I’ve cursed this fucking bipolar. Not just for what it does to me, but how it affects others as well. Still, it’s ‘only’ what I have…not the whole of who I am, and I tend to forget that. Others suffer with so much worse and having that mini-bawling breakdown cleansed me and let me get emotions out I had tucked away for a while. And I’ve felt better ever since.

Do I want a life that’s more relaxed? More casual? More laid back? More easier (I don’t think this is grammatically correct…but you get my point 🙄) than life is with bipolar? Of course I do…duh. But, on the other hand, not really. Yes, I feel too much. I emote too much. I react too much. But I’m alive…living my life the way it’s been made.

And finally,

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong.”

Having bipolar is a struggle…an every hour, everyday, every week, every month, every year struggle (like all mental illnesses are 😥) and I’ll be damned that I’m going to sugar-coat it and say it’s not. It’s a terrible mental illness that I didn’t ask for…want…deserve. But it’s made me strong in so many ways. It’s made me help others. Made me more compassionate. Made me able to laugh loud and cry hard. It’s made me…me. Me who is struggling to grow. Struggling to learn. Struggling to always try. Struggling…I guess…to live.

Kristi xoxo

“You’re not actually going IN to an asteroid field?” ~ Princess Leia

So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I’ve really missed it! But, I had a pretty tough spring and not having a self-imposed obligation to blog has taken some of the stress off even though I still wanted to be with my peeps. 😍

Let’s just go through 2021 together and take a look-see at my life.

January: Another semester of teaching during the pandemic and not being able to see my students in-person. Continuing the mask-wearing and fear of COVIDing and store closings and restaurant closings and the list goes on. Y’all know what I mean…you were in it too.

February: Tested positive for the Vid (apparently, that’s the ‘cool’ way to say it…and Lord knows how ‘cool’ I am 🙄) and was sick for about 2 weeks. I was lucky enough not to have the cough and breathing issues but was treated to feeling like the day after having the flu where walking to the bathroom seems to be a humungous chore. Then, my little Dottie had to be put down and I still cry over her every single day. There is such a hole in my heart and just writing these words brings tears to my eyes.

March: Went in for a simple D & C to take care of some fibroids but found out they were too advanced so a full hysterectomy was scheduled for April (during which time I am still teaching 8 classes online).

A Foley is a catheter!

April: Felt like crap on April 8th and got to where I was doubled over and feeling like I was going to pee myself every 10 seconds. Went to the ER and found out I needed emergency kidney stone surgery (the only upside to this was that the doc was hot. The only downside was that he was looking at my kidneys 😳). Recuperated for a couple of days and then went ahead with a full hysterectomy on the 11th. So…5 total hours of surgery in 3 days. I got to wear a lovely catheter bag and feel a tube up my twat while watching reddish pee continuously drip. Charmed, I’m sure. Then, 2 days later, the preforementioned bag clogged (only I can clog a freaking bag 😐 ) and my sissy had to rush me to my doc 30 miles away. She was a STAR and if it would have taken her 2 minutes more, my bladder would have burst and I would have died (no…I’m not being dramatic…the doc said this afterwards and it scared the shit out of me!) A huge plus for sissy is she got to see every. single. thing. that’s covered by my underwear. She starts therapy soon. Plus, I didn’t miss a day of teaching.

Mally and Edward!

May: Healing. Healing. Healing. AND, big news: I adopted a 3-4 year old Corgi dog named Mally (for the low low price of $2000)! She was a breeder at a puppy mill who had to be spayed after a C-Section, and since she was no longer ‘of use’ to the owner, she was put up for adoption. I was told she had been socialized, was well trained, had all of her vaccinations, blah blah blah. Well…come to find out, that was all a lie. Instead, she was treated like a thing, lived in a barn all of her life, had never been around people except for when she was having yet another litter of pups, needed vaccinations out the wahoo, and had absolutely no clue what toys, treats, and love were.

It’s been hard with Mally and I almost gave up. But I’ve started working with a couple of dog behaviorists and they are helping me so much. It’s like Mally has Reactive Attachment Disorder…as if she had spent her entire childhood, adolescence, and 20’s in a closet. So when we got her home, she cowered and submissive pottied, refused a collar or leash, and spent every minute when she was inside crouching between the 1 foot space between my bed and wall. However, she now walks on a leash, cuddles me on the couch, and is showing interest in toys/treats while responding to some simple commands and the consistent schedule she’s on. I love her and want so much to give her a good life! Plus, Edward is smitten! They chew and clean each other’s ears (🤢) and play and play and play! Since Mally was really only around other dogs, she is much more comfy with Edward than people…so he’s been a great thing for her! She has a LONG way to go, but I think she’ll continue to improve and I hope she’s happy with me. Since she’s a girl, she probably is. (As we know, men usually aren’t 🙄).

June: Spent the majority of time working with Mally, teaching summer scrool, and getting classes ready for the fall of which I have 3 on-campus! YEA! BUT, there’s more…

Bill moved to his house down the street and it’s adorbs. But we’re trying to figure out our relationship right now. The honeymoon type ‘glow’ has worn off and we’re seeing the ‘raw’ Bill and Kristi. I’m gonna be honest with you, there’s been some arguments and difficulties. Right now, we’re focusing on being friends while trying to figure out our true feelings and if we want to pursue working on a romantic relationship. We’re taking it one day at a time.

You know, we went from talking online, to living together while he looked for a house, to moving him down the street. We’ve never had a ‘normal’ type of courtship (like ma and pa Ingalls did…that word just seems so ‘old’ to me). Look, I want to date! Be wined and dined! Be treated like a little Princess! (Yes, you may roll your eyes at that last one…🙄). However, it’s hard for him to do this because in my cargo shorts, black t-shirts and grass stained sneakers, I look absolutely nothing like a princess. I look more like a princesses’ gardener. [SIDE NOTE: Kate and Wills, if you ever need another gardener, give me a shout. I think I would be able to work you in.] 😳

Couldn’t resist this!

Because I had been alone for a while and have always worked hard in my life, I think it’s difficult for Bill to imagine me wanting to be treated like a queen. (I graduated from princess to queen in 2 sentences…good work, heh?? 👸). Yes, I can mow and paint and wire things and build things but still want to be spoiled at times. And yes, I can make this difficult for a man when I do everything myself because I feel guilty asking for help. It’s kinda…or actually is…a no-win at times.

[By the way: I have worked so so so hard in my basement this summer! I’ve built countertops and created an indoor plant center/nursery and am now painting and pulling up carpet in my basement to create a cool rec room! I’ll post pics soon!]

Finally, I’m not doing well mentally. I’m usually manic in the summer and yes, I am this summer as well. When you paint for 12 hours straight and then mow and then run, I’d say mania has set in. But, I’m also depressed (refer to my spring stuff and the fact I have fucking bipolar…sorry, ma 😐). It’s a horrible feeling. In bipolar speak, this is called a mixed episode and I’ve never had one as severe as this one. In fact, I’m calling the doc today to get in for a med check and a possible new med that is showing a lot of promise among bipolar patients.

I’m also feeling really anxious (very common with bipolar anyway…just greatly exacerbated right now). For me, the full pandemic is still going on. Most people have gotten back to work and a routine and being around people again and having a reason to get up and out. Not me. For us profs, we are still working from home. The only time I go out is to go to Wal-Mart (for the love of all that is holy, when you go to Wal-Mart and are wearing a t-shirt for a dress, please wear underwear…) ma’s or sissy’s. And for an extravert, this is nothing. I need school so badly…to be around my students! On the other hand, I’m nervous too. After the debacle with a student threatening me a couple of years ago (and being blamed for it), I am still not treated well among a lot of my colleagues.

And for the icing on the cake, I’m working on 2 info repositories, one for staff and one for students, of mental health/illness resources and info for my college (per IL law). So…I’m the one posting the info to make sure the mentally ill and those suffering mental health issues/crisis are understood and helped…all while being ostracized for having bipolar. Hmmmm.

SO…it’s been a trying spring and summer and I’ve been close to a breakdown a couple of times. That scares the bejesus out of me. Look, I don’t have time for a breakdown. I am never not working (teaching or getting classes ready to teach…I have 9 in the fall) and can’t not be on my game. I can’t put my ma through another breakdown. I don’t know if I could get through another one myself. I’m working so fucking hard to keep it together and ma and sis have helped tremendously. I owe them both a lot.

Anyhoot, it’s really nice to be blogging again (and I know this cheerful post had to have been the highlight of your day) and just writing this was therapeutic.

Thanks for always being there for me peeps…y’all are so special to me. Truly. 😍

Kristi xoxo

“Only the Strong Survive” ~ Jerry Butler

Dear Simone,

So, ever since I learned to do a cartwheel in the 3rd grade I’ve always loved gymnastics. And although I felt I was destined for greatness after that accomplishment, it turned out to be the only half-way coordinated thing I was able to do after years of trying others, so I decided to let my other talents shine. I’m 54 and still deciding on what those are. 🙄

Anyhoo, I suffer from bipolar as well as an eating disorder, and wanted to tell you this: the decisions you made regarding not competing in the finals of some of the events everyone expected you to win golds in was an extremely brave thing to do. I can’t imagine how difficult this decision was to make…working your entire life for this opportunity and then having to pull out shows me what a horrible state you were in. Then to top it off, you were treated to cruel posts, tweets, editorials, etc. about how you just weren’t being a professional.

Well, I have a couple words to say to those people and I hope you won’t get offended, but fuck them. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and wax eloquently about how you had an obligation to perform no matter what…hmmmm…I’d like to meet these people since apparently, they’re perfect. 🙄

Look, I know you have had a tough time in your life. Between shuffling through various foster care homes before being adopted by your grandpa, being bullied in high school because you were muscular, and having a brother who went through a trial for a shooting that he was acquitted for had to have taken such a toll. But…there’s more, isn’t there?

In 2013, you were treated by a sports psychologist because of how you felt after not performing as well as you wanted too at the U.S. Classic. Already you were under pressure to be the very best at the age of 16. For piss sakes, at 16 I was trying to drive a freaking stick shift and learning to flip burgers at Hardee’s…and I thought that was overwhelming.

You’ve also talked about being diagnosed with ADHD which is a term people throw around way too much. “Hey…this kid can’t sit still…he must be ADHD.” Nnnnnoooooo. He’s a kid. Actually, ADHD is a true mental health disorder that is a lot more than being a bit hyper, and it can make life extremely difficult to navigate. Hell, if it was just not sitting still, every 1st grader in the country would have this diagnosis (and come to think of it, that’s almost the case). And as an adult? ADHD causes anxiety, emotional issues, hyper-focus, restlessness as well as many others.

Then, so sadly, you were one of the victims of Larry Nasser (former US Gymnastics doctor), the son-of-a-bitch who sexually molested more than a hundred of his patients. You stated this caused you to have suicidal thoughts and as someone who was sexually abused by a doctor as well, I can relate to this. I was the same way. And I also know that the abuse never leaves you. Instead, it lives inside you as a memory that will always have some effect on your life, relationships, etc. It doesn’t have to define you…but it does become a part of you.

Finally, if all this wasn’t enough…you were forced to train an extra year after being ready for the Olympics prior to the pandemic hitting. This understandably caused you to go into a depression and even question if you wanted to continue in your gymnastic path…the path where you were to be the GOAT! Talk about pressure!

Soooooo gee…how dare you break down and step away from competing (except for the balance beam and you should be so proud of that bronze medal 🤩) after all of this.

Honey, I don’t know why the fuck (sorry again) people would have shown concern and sympathy for you had you broken your leg…but if your mind has a breakdown, you’re vilified for it. You would think that in 2021 there would be more understanding of mental health. But, as someone who deals with mental illness everyday and teaches psychology, I can tell you there’s not. The stigma is strong and for people who have no experience with it, saying things like ‘suck it up’ or ‘you have to go on’ is easy. Rrrriiiiigggghhhhtttt. So…let’s wait until they suffer a heart attack and then say: “C’mon buddy, suck it up!” Think that would fly? Think that would be the compassionate thing to do? Of course not and right now, there might be somebody saying what a bad analogy this is. After all, heart attacks can kill. But as you and I both know, so can mental health issues and illness. So really, it’s a perfect analogy.

I think you making the decision to not compete was a strong, brave thing to do, and the one that probably saved you from injury or even worse. I’ve had a breakdown. And I know just breathing. Just getting through the day. Just talking to others can be insurmountable at times. Having to perform in front of the world who expects you to be perfect? Impossible. You did the only thing you could.

In one of your interviews, you said you realized you were more than just a gymnast…and you’re right. You are an intelligent, beautiful, kind, funny young woman who has a talent you have used to motivate and awe so many people in this world. Yet, you also have the position and celebrity of your voice being heard. So I ask you to please do this: continue to take care of yourself and tell the haters to piss off; then, continue to talk about mental health and mental illness. Help us to break the stigma that’s been in place for…well…forever. I have a really strong feeling that you’ll touch just as many lives using your voice as you do your gymnastic talents.

Blessings to you, champ…

Professor K 🥰

P.S. If you want me to teach you my cartwheel, just holler.

“But you are not alone…I am here with you…” ~ Michael Jackson

So, the beginning of this post is going to show you my ‘Professor K’ side and I hope you’ll bear with me…and maybe learn a new bit of info to boot. In the United States we have awareness months and here is a SHORT list of issues that I feel are particularly important…let’s take a look-see:

  • January:
  • February:
    • American Heart Month – leading cause of death in the U.S. and a person dies of this every 36 seconds.
    • March:
      • Colon Cancer – it’s estimated that around 150,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year and is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
    • April:
      • Autism – 1:54 kids diagnosed each year with boys representing the majority of cases.
      • Child Abuse Prevention – there are 3.6 million referrals to agencies every year which represent 6.6 million kids. Between 4-7 kids die each day due to abuse/neglect.
      • Sexual Assault – 1:6 women and 1:33 men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
    • May:
      • ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s Disease) – 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. 80% die within 2-5 years of their diagnosis.
      • Brain Tumor – 24,530 new cases are diagnosed each year.
      • Mental Heath Awareness – 1:5 adults (with 45% seeking treatment) have a mental illness and 1:20 have a serious mental illness (schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar) with 65.5% getting treatment. 16.5% of youth have a mental illness with 50% receiving help. And, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-34: 46% have a diagnosed mental health condition and 90% have symptoms of one.
    • June:
      • Alzheimer’s – 1:3 seniors die of this each year and 6 million are living with it currently.
    • September:
      • Childhood Cancer – 16,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and it’s the #1 cause of death by disease in children.
    • October:
      • Breast Cancer – 13% of women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over their lifetime as are 2620 men (who are most likely to die from the disease).
      • Domestic Violence – 1:4 women and 1:9 men experience SEVERE physical violence which figures to 20 victims per minute.
      • Bullying – 20% of student are bullied at school and 31% of people have experienced it as an adult. Bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide ideation/completion.
    • November:
      • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – 16 million adults and 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Whew. Now remember, this isn’t all of the awareness months we have…just a sampling of the major physical and mental diseases that are experienced by so many people.

What’s my point? Well…this: around 9% of people have had COVID with 1:6 experiencing severe symptoms; approximately 2% will die from the infection and as of today, there have been 561,052 deaths in the U.S. Yes, COVID is serious and we need to tackle it. (By the way…did you know that during the same time period, 24,000 – 62,000 Americans died from the flu and pneumonia and is the 9th leading cause of deaths yearly? I didn’t. 😳) But, 48,500 people (kids – elderly) die of suicide each year and we take 1 month to highlight it. There’s no vaccine…no daily advice…and very few PSA’s, etc.

Sssssooooo…why do we only take a month to tackle the huge issues we have consistently in the U.S.? One month to focus on mental health when 20% of us have a mental health issue or illness? And, thanks to COVID, this number is increasing. The loneliness and depression people have felt during the pandemic…the stress and anxiety of losing jobs…it’s worsening and I think this trend will continue.

Let me tell you what it’s like to have a severe mental illness, which for me is bipolar: it’s hell. Truly…it’s that simple of a description. Hell. Every single day I’m on this earth I struggle with what’s happening in my mind. I can’t remember ever not having this…it’s been with me for the vast majority of my life. Like I’ve shared before, it was evident something was wrong with me as early as 3rd grade and by the time I was 13, my grandma talked to my mom about her worries regarding my mental health. I attempted suicide in high school and was either so depressed I could barely slog through my days, or I was so manic I could hardly sit still in class and did some really stupid things after school that I’m not real proud of. It was hard for others to handle this, so I really had only 1 close friend, but she was amazing; I know it was sometimes hard on her to be there for me like she was (thank you, M…I love you🥰) .

My brain has a little demon bastard in it. This guy (I picture him as a guy…go figure 🙄) dictates when I’m up and when I’m down. When I can function around other people and when I can’t. When I can go out without either crying or having anxiety or when I have to stay home and try to deal with the panic/mania my brain is producing. It tells me to spend $1000’s of dollars at a time and when I get depressed, it shames me for that money spent so I eat noodles and salad every night to save a few bucks (and remember, my anorexia feeds off of these small menus). It dictates how much love I can give at any one time or compels me to push people away. In other words, this mother fucker (sorry, ma…but you feel the same way about him 😐) has control over me.

Think about that. Control. Other words for control are: Power. Command. Dominance. Pretty strong stuff. ‘Kristi’ is rarely in control…and even when I think I am, it’s only because this guy has loosened his hold for a while and is allowing me that privilege. Look, try to understand it this way: when ma had breast cancer (over 20 years ago and has been fine every since 🙏), she had good days and shitty days. But regardless of how she felt on any given day, she always had the cancer. It was there with her for a year.

In the same way, no matter how those of us with mental illnesses feel…we still have the mental illness. This is why you simply can’t tell someone suffering from depression to ‘cheer up!’ Or someone suffering from anxiety to ‘calm down!’ Or someone suffering from a personality disorder to ‘get right!’. It’s akin to telling someone suffering from ALS to just ‘get up and walk’. See my point?

To be honest, I never knew the strength of my demon-guy until I had a mental breakdown 3 years ago and I realized that he is one strong son-of-a- bitch. He took me from being a fairly confident, secure woman to someone who was absolutely nothing. Everything that had been good in my mind was tossed away and only a shell remained. He filled this shell with suicidal ideation until I attempted again. He told me to cut myself all over my body…and I did. He poured words into my head like ‘worthless’, ‘ugly’, ‘you deserve to die’, and I believed them. In other words? He tried to kill me, and he almost succeeded.

Long after COVID is under control with yearly vaccinations, etc. we will still have people suffering from everything I talked about above. There’s no vaccine for cancer…for sexual assault…for human trafficking…for domestic violence…for child abuse. None. And there never will be.

That’s why it’s so important that we don’t have special ‘months’ where these issues are highlighted; instead, they need to be talked about all year around and publicized continuously. If we can all come together as a society and fight COVID…why can’t we do that with mental illness? Come together and learn how to recognize it in ourselves and others…how to seek treatment…how to help a friend or family member…how to direct people to the resources they need…how to listen…how to help…just how to talk about it.

Yes, I know suicide and mental illness and domestic violence and rape and child abuse and all of these other things are ‘icky’ to talk about. Just like the ASPCA commercials that show abused and dying pets. It kills me to see those and I used to look away. I don’t anymore. I watch them when they come on. Why? Because animals are being abused and killed daily and the only way to stop these commercials is to stop this treatment. I donate to local pet shelters…I rescue dogs…I always tell new puppy owners to spay or neuter their pets…I try my best to do what I can.

From Beacon Health Options

We can’t turn away and say: “I don’t want to see a PSA commercial about suicide while I’m trying to watch Wheel of Fortune.” You know what I don’t want? Someone committing suicide while I’m watching Wheel of Fortune. Why can’t we have these months where we strongly highlight various illnesses/diseases, but still talk about them and learn about them always? Domestic violence awareness shouldn’t end on October 31st. Sexual assault awareness should continue past April. And mental health awareness shouldn’t only be in May. We can’t let these arbitrary ‘months’ and the media dictate what we pay attention too. People are dying every single day due to mental illness. We need more than a month.

The ‘theme’ of this month highlighting mental health is “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” But you know what? When those of us who suffer from mental illness only hear and feel this support for 31 days out of the year, it pretty much feels like we are.

Kristi xoxo

Will the real me please stand up?

So it’s been a while, peeps and I’ve missed y’all! It’s been a crummy couple of weeks…not only did my Little Dot pass and I miss her every hour of every day, but I also found out I need a full hysterectomy and will be having the surgery on May 17th. The timing is blech. You see, I LOVE my break between spring and summer classes…and now I’ll be spending it on the couch with Bill and Ma taking care of me. Hmmmmm…them waiting on me hand and foot…getting me whatever I’m peckish for…doing all the housework. Actually, this may not be so bad after all! I’m just glad I’m finally going to feel better after feeling lousy since September. Whew! 😳

Anyhoot, my Intro to Sociology class had a discussion last week about statuses and roles: we occupy various statuses and play roles tailored for them. As Erving Goffman said, we’re on a stage when we’re with others and ‘dramaturgy’ is the word he used.

People don’t like this idea. “I don’t ACT…I’m always me!” BUT…then you ask them: “So, who are you?” And usually the answer comes in a ‘what’ form: I’m a professor. I’m a mama. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. You get the point. But that’s not really YOU…that’s just your statuses. Right? And yes, I play roles with my statuses; believe you me, I would never talk to ma the way I talk to my sissy. She’s probably plop over from horror. 🤨

So, let me ask you again: “Who are YOU?”

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot after grading the discussion and most of my students kept answering in terms of what they do. However, when I asked if we can ever REALLY (I’m into capital letters today…notice? 🙄) know our ‘true’ selves, most everyone said yes. Hmmm. That’s sort of a dichotomy though, isn’t it?

For me, I believe that we never get to know the ‘true’ soul inside of us and here’s why: from the second we are born, we are given statuses such as boy, girl, daughter, son, sister, brother, grandbaby, etc. Immediately we are a ‘what’ and we have absolutely no conscious awareness of a ‘who’ inside of us. We don’t know anything about anything at this point in our development! Now, when we do start being cognizant of ourselves, we’ve been so completely socialized into the above that these statuses have become a part of us. “I am a sister and daughter and friend and grand-daughter, etc.” THAT’s who I am.

Remember John Locke? He was the philosopher who used the term ‘tabula rasa’ for the first time in the 17th century (he and ma were great friends in high school…I think they still keep in touch 😐) and this basically means that we are born without any mental content at all. We are a blank slate or, as Locke put it, “white paper, void of all characters”. We are empty vessels needing experience and perception to start building up our awareness of the world…and of ourselves. Now, we have our own ways of interpreting these experiences and perceptions…that makes us unique individuals…but it’s a process. A learning curve.

I think about how many ‘people’ I’ve been. Not just in terms of statuses, but in terms of periods in my life where I’ve felt changes within me that have become a part of me. My parents divorce was probably the first time I could understand that life would never be the same from what I had known for 12 years and it made me look at the world a bit differently. A bit more guarded. A bit more understanding that things don’t necessarily last forever.

When I was bullied in high school, I learned that people can hurt you for no other reason than wanting too. That being good to others doesn’t mean they will be good to you.

I learned as a new mama to look at the world through someone else’s eyes while at the same time seeing dangers every where I went. “What could hurt my boy?” “Is this person safe for him to be with?” “Should I let him ride his bike alone to the park?” It’s like I became more open and more closed at the same time.

All of my relationships have shaped me in various ways…some good and some bad. I’ve certainly learned that I have a huge capacity for love…that I have a need for security…that I like being a part of a couple. But, I’ve also learned that people will lie to you…cheat on you…promise to keep a secret and then tell it anyway just to hurt you…leave you…use you…abuse you…etc.

Has this all shaped the ‘me’ inside? You betcha. I’m not the same today as I was 3 years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago (that’s going back far enough…don’t want to give my age away 🙄).

Now, with this pandemic having been around for a year now, I’ve basically been at home by myself for a great majority of the time. My students and colleagues, who are my main source of social activity, are suddenly gone and I spend my time working on a screen and then around the house. Days will go by where the only person I talk to is Bill or ma. I thought this forced alone time would finally let me find the real me that’s supposedly deep inside. But it hasn’t. It has shown me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of, etc. but it’s not letting a ‘me’ come out.

And here’s what I’m thinking: that maybe my ‘me’ is already here. A conglomeration of all my experiences and perceptions and knowledge and trials since the beginning of my time. Maybe Kristi IS a professor and mama and daughter, etc. Maybe the me inside is the me I’ve created throughout the years. So…maybe the question we should ask ourselves isn’t ‘WHO are you?’ but ‘HOW are you?’ Hmmmmm…

Kristi xoxo

“I gave you a vegetable last week…how dare you get sick.” ~ Anonymous

So, the following conversation happened a couple of days ago between me and ma…word for word (note: J, D, and T are mom’s ‘lady friends’):

Ma: “Kristi, I broke my ankle while you were driving home from Indiana.”

Me (in a screechier voice than normal): “What??? You BROKE your ankle??? Do you need me to take you to the ER???”

Ma: “No…I’ve already been and have a boot on…no worries.”

Me: “Tell me EXACTLY what happened.”

Ma: “I was walking down the stairs and missed the last one, fell, and hear a POPPING noise. So, I waited an hour then walked down to J’s house to see what she and D thought. Then, I walked home, got on my make-up, and drove to the ER. That’s about it.”

Me: “Ok…I need to get this straight in my mind before I have you committed. You hear a popping sound and see your ankle swell in front of your eyes so you walk down the block to J’s to see what she and another 80 year old woman think you should do since they were both teachers and apparently also have their MD’s. After they tell you ‘it’s bad’, you totter home, put on your make-up which takes you a half hour, and then you drive yourself to the ER.”

Ma: “That’s about it.”

Me: “I hate to ask this, but what did you do then?”

Ma: “Well…I had plans to eat with T and help her cut out a quilt so I just drove there and spent the afternoon.”

Me: “Oh! That makes total sense, ma.”

For fuck sakes…my mother is a mule. A stubborn mule. But you know, I really can’t think of a time when she was sick or hurt that she didn’t take care of herself or play it down. Even when she was battling breast cancer, she did all of the cooking for her and her bastard of an ex and cleaned up the house. And before you ask, YES! I was MORE than willing to do these things for her…begged to do these things for her…and went over there daily to do these things for her. And YES! EVERY time I got there, the house was already clean and she had supper all lined up for the evening. I’d say: “Ma! What the hell? Let me help you!” And she said: “I’m fine. I’m not an invalid.” (I’m just as stubborn…I don’t like help either 😐).

I come from a family where illness definitely isn’t coddled. “Toughen up! Walk it off!” It’s like a sign of status to see who can be the ‘sickest’ and still be the most productive. My pop is the same way so sis and I grew up thinking that being sick didn’t mean you stopped working so she and I do the same. I remember when O was 5 and had pneumonia (it took me 4 tries to spell that right 🙄) and we went back to the docs for another chest x-ray to see if he was getting better. When I was there, I was hacking around but told the doc it was just a cold. He listened to my lungs and ordered an x-ray for me too and come to find out, I also had pneumonia in both lungs. And, I was still teaching my classes and taking care of the house.

I’m not saying this is wrong…I think being strong is a great attribute to have and not ‘wallowing’ in your illness is probably a lot more healthy than doing so. I’m proud of my ma and pop, and the fact they are still working and being productive in their mid 70’s shows that working and staying active is the best way to go. I also a believer in having a positive attitude and know that at least for me, the more positive I am when sick, the less ‘sick’ I feel. (I used to love saying this to O when he was a little guy: “If you break your leg, don’t come running to me!” It always made him laugh!”)

So, I’ve been having problems since mid-September with peeing blood with pain every time I wee (I know, I know 🤢), being tired all the time, getting nauseous every time I eat, pain in my sides and back, etc. I’ve been on 3 different rounds of anti-biotics for 6 weeks total and had an ultrasound that shows 2 small kidney stones (I’m going to make a necklace out of them after they pass just to gross out ma). My doc sent me to a specialist yesterday and he was adorable. Anyhoot, we were yacking while he was examining and he said: “Kidney stones aren’t doing this. We need to figure this out.” So, he ordered me to get 3 CT scans this week as well as him doing a cystoscopy on Thursday. I asked him: “What are you looking for?” And he said: “It’s a good chance, with your symptoms, that it’s bladder cancer. I also want to rule out a tumor on your kidneys.” So I said: “What if it’s not one of those?” He said: “I’m not sure…we’ll just keep at it until we know.”

I’ve written before about ma telling me when she found a lump in her boob and I’ll never forget the feeling of being punched in my gut. I also remember when my son was being tested for leukemia and prayed so hard God got tired of hearing from me. The feeling of hearing ‘cancer’ and ‘son’ in the same sentence does something to you that’s truly indescribable.

So yesterday, when the doc said this, I started to get that punched in the gut feeling again. Not because of ‘me’, but because of how it would affect O, ma and Bill. O was with me at the appointment and he said: “Ma…don’t worry. You’re going to be fine.” Ma said: “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.” Bill said: “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.” But guess what? I’m worried.

And as Bill and I were chatting last night and I expressed this to him, I said: “Why it is wrong to be scared? Worried? Aren’t those valid feelings right now?” And he thought about it and said they were. But, he also said that until I knew something for sure, I should still be positive which I also am: if it’s cancer, we’ll fight it.

Sometimes I think the word ‘cancer’ is stigmatized like the words ‘mental illness’. Both are things people don’t want to really talk about or necessarily be around. In terms of being bipolar, I knew there was something very wrong with me when I was a teen (zits, braces and all 🙄), but as I got older I kept thinking: “Bipolar only affects around 1-2% of the population…I can’t have that!” Well, why not? By the same token, 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the U.S….why shouldn’t I be one of them? Why do we always think that these things ‘happen to other people’ and not ourselves? Why do we shy away from even contemplating it? Why do we feel guilty if we’re scared?

All of us are ‘someone else’ to ‘everyone else.’ Right? And by denying or ignoring or insisting that it can’t be cancer…or mental illness…or that someone is suicidal, etc. prohibits us from helping them or giving them the support they need. Why do we put our energy into pretending that something ‘can’t be true’?

I hope hope hope (and pray pray pray) that I don’t have bladder cancer. I hope hope hope (and pray pray pray) it’s something that can be cured/taken care of with a magic pill. But, I’m also being realistic and I’m scared. If I do have it, of course I’ll be tough! Of course I’ll be strong! Of course I’ll get through it like millions of other people do every year! Once something is ‘named’ it can be fought and I think it’s the not knowing that’s making me worry. After I finally got diagnosed with bipolar and started getting the help I needed, my life improved so much. Hiding it…denying it…just made me still stay ‘sick’. I’m not expecting to have cancer…but I’m not ruling it out either since doc is leaning that way. I’m not going to pretend I’m immune to cancer and become complacent about my health. Sometimes, ignorance is not bliss, but knowledge is always power.

Thanks for listening, my sweet peeps. ❤❤❤

Kristi xoxo

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