“America is another name for opportunity” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Me and my sonshine…the Statue of Liberty is in the background!

So, I’m going to preface this post with a HUGE disclaimer: I LOVE THE USA! I grew up in a time when patriotism was important and everyone recited the pledge of allegiance and sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” daily. I believe we have amazing people…a beautiful country with everything from mountains to oceans to deserts…and opportunities/freedoms that simply don’t exist in scores of other nations in the world. Grampa served 3 years in the Navy during WWII and my Great Uncle was one of the men who stormed the beach at Normandy and lived. Needless to say, my family takes a lot of pride in this. 🙂

I also used to believe that criticizing any aspect of this country is wrong…we need to just believe we are the greatest country on earth, bar none. In fact, criticism of any aspects is still seen as unpatriotic by many even today…as if seeing the problems/issues we face cuts down the country as a whole. That if we just close our eyes and repeat the mantra of ‘we are the best and that’s all there is to it’ takes away from the greatness we do have in so many ways.

However, I watched a video on YouTube by David Cross where he addresses social issues that plague us and then did my own research to make sure. Honestly, the first time this video popped up in my feed which is entitled “Why America Sucks at Everything” I was quite taken aback and thought “Here’s another jerk that is un-American”. Actually, my language was a bit more colorful to say the least and the title still riles me…we don’t ‘suck’ at everything…not at all! But, I watched it over breakfast and began objectively paying attention to these issues, looked into them myself, and realized that seeing these problems is not wrong at all…it’s right!

Why is it people are so hesitant to do this in other capacities as well? “Hey hon, what you did was hurtful and I need you to understand that.” Answer: “Fuck off.” Or, “Hey, I’m so sorry I don’t feel the way you do about whatever…” Answer: “Fuck off.” Or, “Hey, I think we need to talk about what happened and clear things up.” Answer: “Fuck off.” Charming…and so so useful as well. 🙄

So, let’s take a look at some of these problems that plague the US and what really opened my eyes.

YES! We are the richest country in the world…and ever in the history of the world. We have 18 million millionaires (no, I’m not one on my community college salary but I’m hoping for a raise 🙄) and $100 trillion dollars in wealth. But, according to statista, we have the 3rd highest childhood poverty rate among developed nations, just under Israel and Chile with only a 1% separating us from the top. Hmmmm…the most money in the world and 21.2% of kids living in poverty. How can that be? We are also 3rd in poverty and .1% lower than the 2nd ranked country of Hungary. Costa Rica is the highest OECD country in poverty and only 2.1% higher. I’m sorry, but this just isn’t right to me.

A lot of it has to do with medical costs: According to David, the US has the highest medical costs, the lowest effectiveness and the lowest efficiency of any other developed country and 66% of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical costs. Because of our exorbitant medical costs, people often put off care until forced to get it, often through an urgent care or ER which are very expensive. If you take a look-see at money ‘out’ in terms of taxes and health premiums, this is interesting: Canadian workers pay 11% of their incomes to taxes, the UK spends 26% and Americans spend 43% of our income to taxes and health premiums, yet these other 2 countries have paid healthcare. It’s crazy to think we spend almost half our paychecks to taxes and healthcare, yet even working people can’t afford the services. Prices are so overinflated, especially by pharmaceutical companies: insulin in Canada = $20. In the US: $300. Wow. And, 33% of GoFundMe asks are for medical bills. That’s so sad to me.

And it’s not that Americans are lazy…not at all! We have the longest work hours but less job support, worse unemployment benefits, the fewest of family benefits, and the highest rate of underpaid workers. We also have less unionization which could be a correlating factor. In other words, we work the hardest but give the most to the government. Blech.

As you know by now, education is a hot button issue with me and the metrics for this aren’t great either. According to oecd.org:

  • The US ranks 14th in the world in terms of higher ed: 42% of 25-34 year olds have achieved this.
  • The odds that a young person in the U.S. will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have an upper secondary education is 29% which is one of the lowest levels among OECD countries.
  • The U.S ranks 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, with a 69% enrolment rate.
  • Teachers in the U.S. spend between 1 050 and 1 100 hours a year teaching – much more than in almost every country (even though Americans often think teachers have so much free time).

However, our testing score in reading and math are pretty much in line with other countries and are above OECD averages in reading and science! That’s music to this teacher’s ears. 😃

In terms of Americans health, the stats are pretty grim. According to commonwealthfund.org:

  • The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 richest nations in the world.
  • The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden and an obesity rate – 2x higher than the OECD average.
  • Compared to peer nations, the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.
  • BUT, we also have the best preventative measures (breast cancer screenings, etc.) than any of the 11 countries.

The CDC states the obesity rate in the US is 42.4% (adults) and 19.3% among kids. Causes: poor nutrition (hello fast food 🤢, oversized portions, lack of access to stores with fresh veggies/fruit, and advertising), lack of physical activity because of unsafe neighborhoods, etc. (and another reason to turn off those blasted screens), genetics, health conditions and meds (did you know many antidepressants and other psychotropic meds cause weight gain and people often choose not to take them because of this?), and stress/emotional factors/poor sleep.

Finally, mhanational.org says this about mental health in America (pre-pandemic 2019):

  • 19.86% of adults experience a mental illness which equals nearly 50 million Americans.  
  • 15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode and 10.6% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression.
  • Over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated. 
  •  7.74% of U.S. adults and 4.08% of youth had a substance use disorder 

Also, the NIMH found this regarding suicide (2019):

  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States – over 47,500 people a year.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people between 10 – 34 years old, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 – 44.
  • There were nearly two and a half times as many suicides (47,511) in the United States as there were homicides (19,141).

So the point of this? As I was grading the finals from my Social Problems class (where we talk about issues such as racism, sexism, poverty, health, education, crime, drugs, etc.), here’s what one student had to say: “Social problems range from something so small to something that can affect a nation. How do you end the vicious cycle of the problems? I believe they will never be able to get to the root. However, believing that because most of the problems only matter to a few people.” Another student added this: “I’ve spent the semester taking in new knowledge and integrating it into my understanding of Sociology and the world. I think I’ve gained even more compassion for my fellow humans, and I understand their struggles a little bit better. I’ve learned some different ways to help, to get involved. Our country, and all countries, have social issues, and it’s up to us to start solving them.”

It made me realize that many people don’t know the struggles Americans face or the issues that affect each of us so much. Looking at these issues of health, money, education, etc. aren’t dissing America…it’s looking at what needs to be fixed…helped…worked on. NO country is perfect and yes, I truly believe America is the greatest nation on earth; of course I do because we have so much going for us all including opportunities, personal freedoms, being a world leader in tech and scientific advances, having proud citizens who love this country, using a business model other countries try to emulate, being a leader in popular culture, and the list goes on! Plus, very important to me: I do have freedom to talk about these things without fear of reprisal from the government.

When people criticize America my dander goes up and I become extremely defensive. But it’s like a family or any relationship: if you don’t address the ‘bad’ that’s inherent in all of them since we are imperfect human beings, nothing will change. Nothing will be resolved. Nothing will move forward. And it takes all of the people in the relationship/family to make this happen. Isn’t that true with these issues as well? Our country has some problems that we need to admit, address, and work together to resolve. Will this ever fully happen? No. Of course not. But, can we all try to make things a bit better? Yep…I think so.

Kristi xoxo

Lord, I love Lady Gaga…my biggest celeb crush!

“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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