Yes, #MeToo

In light of #MeToo, I thought I’d speak out more specifically as one of my friends has. Not too many people know this story because I have always worked hard to repress it.

I’ll start off with the easier stuff to work up to it. Like most woman, I have been subjected to misogyny flung at me from a passing car, a guy being way too close to me for comfort, sexuality used a a method of humiliation. More specifically, I have had a company manager ask me what color my underwear was and my direct supervisor ask me to have sex with him (even knowing I was married.) Strangely (or not) when I left the workforce some 18 years ago, whatever harassment I experienced diminished. Or perhaps my perception of its danger reduced because I was no longer dependent on the people in power for my job. But the actual assault happened in high school.

I was one of the “smart kids” and never felt like I could attract the interest of a boy. When a boy two years older than I asked me to dance at a local dance, I was over the moon. I started dating him. Looking back, I am fairly certain he started manipulating me right at the start. My parents hated him. They were right. He somehow put a proprietary stamp on me and certainly after that no boy would even look my way. I’ve actually spoken to at least two men who say they were interested in me back then, but didn’t move on it. I told them I wish they had, they could have saved me.

We dated about a year and a half, and I freely admit that we did what was then called “heavy petting”. He worked his hardest to convince me to “go all the way” and one time I let him try. It was a disaster for me and I made him stop. The next time we went out, I was not so lucky. He was not interested in my protestations. We were in an isolated area and I remember trying to work out how far I’d have to run before getting to a house where someone would be. When he was done, he took me home. Without saying what happened, I told my parents I never wanted to see him again. I am pretty sure I was enlisting their help to protect me because I knew things were going to get worse. They did.

He tried to call, he got hung up on. He came to the restaurant where I worked, no one would seat him in my section. He glowered at me from the counter with a cup of coffee, colleagues made sure I didn’t have to go to the front area. He volunteered at my high school in the theatre (he had already graduated and the theatre was my only “extracurricular”.) He defaced property at my house and I was TERRIFIED he was going to burn down my house – copying a popular movie at the time. He also tried to kidnap me. I was driving to school early (for a National Merit Scholarship meeting!) and I saw his car in the lot across the street from my house. I tried to leave the back way, but he saw and started following me at a terrible pace. Being just 17, my only thought was “if I can get to school fast enough, I’ll be alright.” I did not, however, remember that I was going to school early and that there was going to be no one in the parking lot. I made it to school, jumped out of my car, and started to run. As you might imagine, I was not fast enough. He grabbed me, dragged me to his car, and started to shove me in. What I saw next has stayed vivid since that day. My father’s car came flying over an embankment and stopped feet from the front of his car. He leapt out, grabbed the guy by the shoulders, and threw him off me. My dad was about half a foot shorter than this guy, but he had fatherly rage on his side. This, by the way, is the reason I always believed I could “save” one of my kids if I needed to. My dad escorted me into the school office and frankly I have no idea what happened next. Were the police called? I don’t know. Did my dad confront him? I don’t know. Was the school told to bar entrance to this guy? I don’t know. I do know that the cop in my very small town  DID find him and inform him that he was no longer welcome and he better not show up there again. I never saw him again. Sadly, that did not mean the end of it though. Even though I went off to college the next year, he continued to harass my family. But that’s another story.

For years these events haunted me. When I started each new college year, I mapped out in my head two different ways to escape my dorm room and most academic buildings if I learned he was coming to find me. I decided what guys I could trust to be bigger or stronger than him so I could go to them if I needed it. I fantasized about shooting him (there were no guns in my household, so it was only a fantasy.) Eventually, it all faded. And yet, when I joined Facebook, the first thing I did was block him. When Google+ came into existence, I was signed up automatically because I had a Youtube account, but I never used it. In 2012 HE ASK TO ADD ME and I was momentarily thrown back into panic. I ignored it for months then blocked him. I didn’t want him to see he was being blocked in response to the request. And now, because of the bizarre climate we are living in, I am dredging it up once again.

Back then, “date rape” and “stalking” weren’t a thing yet. I wish they didn’t have to be a thing now, but they are. So……..

#MeToo.

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I Tried So Hard and Got So Far

I was supposed to see Linkin Park play in less than two weeks. They are my guilty pleasure band (I know music lovers should proudly like anything they want, but I have some good reasons why I consider them a “guilty pleasure”.) I never managed to get tickets to a show, and finally rectified that this summer. Until yesterday. Chester Bennington hanged himself and took away a father, a musician, a human being who was clearly in a lot of pain. I read that he had experienced childhood sexual abuse, turned to hardcore drug use, and had to get clean more than once. He was also open about the fact that he dealt with daily, crippling depression.

I don’t claim to have an insight on depression. I have “been depressed” when I’ve had bad times, but that is COMPLETELY different from the insidious disease that is clinical depression. When I worked in Human Resources, I recall working with an employee who had that diagnosis and required an unbelievably large amount of time off from work. As a young person who had yet to experience much in the way of sadness or distress, let alone an actual illness, I had a hard time understanding how or why it could be so bad. I was then blessed with a child who’s special needs were apparent within the first few months of his life, although it was impossible to tell at the time how they would manifest. Fortunately, the depression he dealt with early on in life did not rise to the level of suicide (although the school counseled him for suicidal ideation at 7 YEARS OLD without my knowledge – is it any wonder I homeschooled?? p.s. his actual therapist disagreed with the school.) So while I don’t “know” what it’s like, I have had a taste of helping someone I love who simply cannot bring themselves out of difficult thoughts. Without my son, I might still be like the clueless youngster I was when I was in HR so long ago.

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I also have the challenge that the person I was going to take to see Linkin Park play deals with mental health issues themselves. I reached out as soon as I learned of the singer’s death to offer support in case they were feeling fragile. The brief exchange we had was a tad worrisome because it expressed concern over their ability to “have hope”, I want them to know I am here for them any time. I have been asked to assist them with getting some more activities that prevent isolation, so I am glad to have opened up the conversation with them. It’s horrible to know that people I love can be so crippled by this disease and I hope I am able to help anyone who needs connection. I will try my best to listen and help; I want others in my life know that I am a sympathetic ear and possibly even a pragmatic helper.

 

Because in the end, it DOES really matter.

Rolling in the Deep

It’s a beautiful sunny day and it looks like spring has finally sprung, but I may be stuck back in the fall. I had an event back in October that brought on a severe and lengthy episode of anxiety and anguish and its affects are still lingering. It’s very hard to use self talk to pull yourself back when your brain knows perfectly well that “last time” your anxiety was not only 100% right and everything was true but that it was actually worse than you imagined.

These days, three or four mornings a week, within moments of waking up, a wave rolls over me that starts at my head and continues over my body down just past my hips. Wave is really the best word to describe it because it feels undulating, but not in a pleasant way. It’s hot, heavy, makes my heart race, and causes everything to tighten. Usually there is a perfunctory “reason” for the panic – have I awoken in time to get to that place, do I have enough time in the day to get X done, did I forget that really important thing I was supposed to do? Most of the time nothing is valid enough to cause anxiety and I usually can’t even remember what the trigger was by lunch.  But at the moment I wake, my body can do nothing other than tell me that something critical is in jeopardy. I start the “everything is alright” speech in my head to see if I can get it to calm down and as I fully wake up I can usually get a hold of it. Fortunately, I am not burdened by anxiety to an extent that I cannot eventually right myself. Even still, I am sitting here half an hour after getting up with my chest still tight, wondering what I can do to get this cycle to stop for good. The “bad thing” from autumn has passed. There are lingering issues sure, but the reason for actual dread has subsided. I am now just dealing with the legacy of having been affected so acutely by it.

Exercise, getting proper sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself are all good practices for managing mental health, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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I think I do a reasonable job at those things. There are others on that list that I could add like meditation, volunteering, or journalling but those things do not appeal to me in the least and I think part of their success is in the wanting to do it. I’m not sure I would reap the benefits of those tactics if I were only going through the motions. I have already talked about how volunteering does not make me a calmer, better person.  Meditation and journalling strike me as similarly futile pursuits to me. What I wonder is how one controls something that occurs (or at least starts to occur) before one is really even thinking about anything coherently. I feel like this is my subconscious’s last grab at me before the day starts. I’d really like it to stop because depending on how successful I am in my “everything is alright” mantra, waking like this can cast a pall over my day, or at least a portion of it depending on what is happening.

Part of the reason that happens is because I have a hard time letting go. I talked before about how I often just wait things out.  It does mean I can spend a lot of time suffering, but it’s not always all bad. Having a hard time letting go means I don’t give up easily either. On people or things. It also means things like I am not an early adopter of technology (I got my first smartphone only six months ago;) I still have 75% of the furniture I started out with in this house twenty four years ago; and recycle/reuse (or simply don’t replace until it is non-functional!) were practices for me before they were chic. It means I will be there for friends who need me or organizations that rely on me. It’s only through painstaking review do I ever decide to shed a relationship or responsibility.

Brain Loss

But, the flip side is that when misfortune swirls through my life’s path, that too sticks with me for longer than it should. I’ve always told people that I am not interested in horror movies/TV shows/books, or ones that are “disturbing” because pictures get stuck in my head and I just don’t need that. I know this happens and I do my best to avoid it. I saw a movie with a prison rape scene nearly 30 years ago that will still unsettle me occasionally. I am THE BEST at covering my eyes just at the right moment to avoid seeing something gruesome or distressing. You know when the Nazi’s face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Never seen it.

Spring leads to warmer, brighter days. There is some hope that this change in season will also lighten my load and my mornings will calm down. Until then, I have to trust that “everything is alright” and keep up with strategies that are known to help.

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.

I’ll Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

I have a hard time asking for help. I am very good at accepting help, specific help, but I won’t ask for it. Simple example: It costs $120 in gas and tolls to get to my sister’s house and for a family gathering my dad handed me some money “for gas”. I happily took it even though I would never in a million years have let anyone know how badly that expense decimated my monthly gas budget. Another friend, knowing I was having a hard time, called me to get together to make sure I was doing OK. I gratefully accepted the “tea and sympathy.” And someone has graciously assisted me with the tangled mess that is my yard, it’s hard work that I don’t especially like and it overwhelms me. But again, these were all things offered to me, I didn’t go to anyone to request it.

About a decade ago, my closest friend at the time was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. I stepped up as the primary coordinator of all her “friend care” – you know the person who organizes and directs all the people who say “what can I do to help?” I had a website that listed all the things she needed help with, who was available to do it, when people were assigned to do what, etc. It worked well and I was astonished by how many friends she had who were available to help, it was over one hundred! Actually, I was a little shaken because I was pretty sure I didn’t have that many people around to pick up the slack for me should I fall hard. As I watched so many people pull together to provide the enormous amount of care that is needed when you have young children and two kinds of cancer, I became so scared that I would never be able to garner such support, I started to volunteer. I picked two different areas of my kids’ lives to volunteer my time so there would be more people who knew me that might be willing to help if I got sick. But I hated it. Think what you will of me, but I hated volunteering. It may have been that it wasn’t a good match for me, and it may have been because deep down I was doing it because I was pre-“asking for help” and that made me uncomfortable. I lasted two years and I am in contact with just one person from that time, but only loosely. And the cancer survivor friend I worked so hard for? She developed deep relationships with other cancer survivors and drifted away. I don’t blame her at all. Our lives went in completely different directions and I am happy knowing that I was there for her when she needed me. I ended up doing all that volunteer work and did not get out of it what I thought I would. I am sure there was something I got that was intangible, but what I really feel like I got was the understanding that I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. I figure maybe my contribution to society is that I raised the children of a completely service oriented man (my ex-husband – former volunteer firefighter, Marine, and federal law enforcement officer.) Yup, that was my duty.

I still wonder why it is I have such a hard time asking for help. When I was growing up, I could not even ask a salesperson in a store for help. In situations like that, I think it is because I don’t want to ask someone something that I think they’ll think I should already know. Even when it’s their job to tell me. Messed up right? Asking for more personal help? That hints at not wanting to impose, or bother someone, even if not only would I offer the same to them, they might have even suggested they were available to help. And of course the big one – why would anyone want to help me? I guess that goes back to “anxiety”.

In the decade since my friend got sick, I have had a cancer scare. It involved surgery that was thankfully minor and I did not require much help. Neither did I ask for it though. In general my health is actually better than it was back then, so maybe I will escape major health crises. I just hope that if I’m wrong about that, someone will be there if I need it. Without me having to ask.

Music Makes My Life Go Round

Overwrought teenagers often emotionally claim “music saved their lives!” But if I could have you take a deep breath and try to believe me, I can tell you that music did, in fact, change my life in dramatic ways, not once but twice.

I gave up a lot when my first child was born. He was a “hard baby.” I never knew how hard until my second child was born and there was a DRAMATIC difference. “Oh my god” was all I could think, is this what it was supposed to be like?  After nearly ten years of utter (although admittedly voluntary) subjugation to the special needs of my son, things changed. I read a novel that somehow allowed music back into my life. My sisters were involved in this too. We would pick songs that would go with different parts of the storyline and I became a complete teenager in this pursuit. BUT, it pulled me out of a self-imposed hole I was sunk in and returned “self” to me. I eventually joined an online forum for a band and made many, many friends from around the word. The name I used as an online persona persists today – 10YearsGone – in my Twitter, Instagram, and one Gmail account. This return of self had a deep and lasting impact on my life. I actually know the day it started and it’s noted on my calendar as my “re-birthday”. It’s coming up next month and it’ll be eight years. I know it sounds simple, but only someone who has lost themselves and then found their way back truly understands how profound this is. It’s possible that I never would have found my way back, sometimes that happens to people. I know it was those early days of picking out music from bands I had never heard of before that sparked the soul in me to fight its way back.

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Is there any other place to be other than the front row?

The second time music changed my life it was more a function of the community that developed around me. I spent a lot of time going to live music. I even started writing reviews for a music blog. I was well entrenched in the music scene and I was thriving. My personal life, however, was in the crapper. I had a couple of very poignant interactions from my music sphere that finally made me understand that I was better than what I was getting at home. I could finally see that I needed to make a change and I disentangled myself from a marriage that was not working for me. It was revelatory to know I could move on and be a happier person in all aspects of my life.

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This community is so tight-knit that the “tour flag” gets itself from venue to venue handed off to a new carrier each time with no involvement from the band.

Since then I have gotten some of my tattoos to commemorate the music of the bands that have inspired me – Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and Biffy Clyro. These two bands have fan groups that make up a significant portion of my music friends. I saw Frank Turner play just the other night and Biffy are playing in April right before my birthday. Both these bands definitely deserve a post of their own. Another band, Snow Patrol, while they did not inspire me to ink myself, provided me with the lion’s share of my international/online friends. Sadly, Snow Patrol hasn’t toured in a dog’s age so it’s been a long while since I’ve see many of these people, but they are still very important to me.

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Snow Patrol at Letterman. The sisters and I are on the right (I’m in *yellow*!)

These three bands and the people who follow them have influenced me in profound ways that I could never have projected back when I was mired deep in the difficulties of early motherhood. Music and my involvement in it changed my life infinitely for the better. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.