A Moment with a Little Girl

I was at the Hematologist’s office the other day getting my weekly iron infusion (yeah, have not written about that yet, sorry) and afterward, I ended up waiting 2 hours for the medical transport to come pick me up.

Taking Notice

Sitting across from me were 2 kids, a boy about 10 with an iPad and earbuds in, sitting away from, who I found out later, was his grandmother. Next to grandma was a girl who told me she was 6. She looked bored to tears.

After a few minutes, I invited her over to watch videos with me on my phone. Sheepishly, she crossed the space between us, sitting in the chair next to me. I asked her what we should watch. She shrugged. I suggested baby goat videos; they are always great for a laugh.

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We spent the next 20 minutes laughing at the baby goat antics, my asking her questions every once in awhile.

“How old are you?”

“6.”

“When is your birthday?”

It had just passed, so I asked her if she received any gifts and she excitedly told me…

… something I asked her to repeat several times. Confused, I pleadingly looked at Grandma for help.

Shopkins

Shopkins,” she said.

I was still clueless, so told the little girl I had to Google it to see what that was. She looked at me, incredulous I could possibly have gone one day without this knowledge.

They are teeny-tiny toys… that revolve around… grocery shopping? Marketing groceries to a 6-year old? Good lord.

Oh, and there’s a whole Shopkins series of cartoons, too. My new friend wanted to watch one. I vetoed that.

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Muddy Fairy

My head was swimming after the Shopkins talk, so I decided to show her pictures of my grandkids. She liked that, pointing out various things.

I got to my grandson at a fairy birthday party, wearing wings and a crown. I told her who it was and she said, “But, he’s a BOY! Boys can’t be fairies!” I said there he is, so clearly he could be a fairy. She didn’t believe me.

I scrolled further and found the one with my grandson covered in mud and said, “See? He can be a fairy and covered in mud. Everyone gets to do that if they want to.”

(That turned out to be the kernel I’d hoped I could impart on her young mind.)

Soon after, grandma was called back and the little girl had to go with her (my ride should have been there at any moment anyway) and she ran to go through the door.

But not before she turned around and waved one last time.

It was a good day.

Nuts & Bolts of Calling a Doctor’s Office

This subject seems to come up a lot, so I thought I would do a Tutorial on how to get in touch with a person and not a machine when you’re calling a doctor’s office.

My first and probably most important piece of information is:

CALL EARLY IN THE MORNING!

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I cannot stress this enough. Even if you have to wait on hold for awhile. I tend to call about 9:45am. By then the logjam has passed and the way is pretty clear.

Calling in the morning gives the doctor the entire day to get your chart, prescribe meds or answer your questions. Lunch time is the usual time they read your message, so if you call in the afternoon, unless you are in the ER, you will be waiting until the next day for an answer.

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If you are really in a crisis (psych, serious fever or infection), I would call back right after lunch. Be your nicest self! NO yelling about “Why hasn’t she called me back yet?!?” crap. Just kindly say, “I need help. I am so ill. Can I come in tomorrow morning? Or might I talk to the nurse or doctor this afternoon?”

“I need help” is a wonderful way of garnering sympathy for your situation.

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A Practice with a Receptionist

If your doctor is in a practice with a receptionist, it’s easier to get a hold of the doc you’re needing because someone should always be available during the 9-5 workday.

You often will be triaged by a nurse before getting a message to the doctor. Still, the earlier you call, the earlier your voice will be heard.

Most offices close for lunch… either between 12pm and 1pm or between 1pm and 2pm. Calling then, you will get a machine. Leaving a message on a machine is like talking into an abyss. Call back when lunch is over.

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Calling Mental Health Professionals

Therapists especially are meticulous with the timing of their appointments. They are 50 minutes long, beginning at the top of the hour, ending at 50 minutes after. I have great luck calling in that 10 minute window between clients. Some will listen to messages and call back during that time, but many pick up the phone, too.

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Know what you are going to say. They have moments to figure out what you need before the next appointment starts. Write it down if you need to before you call. Be ready!

Psychiatrists’ schedules are a bit more wonky, so leaving a message might be necessary. Just as if you were talking to a person, have what you want to say ready. The more info you can leave in the shortest amount of time… being concise… helps everyone get their needs met.

Playing Dumb

When I really need to get through to someone (and you pick your battles here), I feign accidentally hitting the button that says “If you are a care provider and need to speak to someone now, press 1.” Use that sparingly, especially in the same practice. Really, judicious use, please.

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Bypassing Automated  Menus

If you’ve read this far, I get to teach you a trick I learned from another operator. Not specifically for doctor’s offices, but really helpful for banks, phone companies, cable companies, DMVs… any of the bazillion places that have phone trees you seem to be forever lost in.

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Press 0 (zero) fast, over and over and over again. PressPressPressPressPress a dozen or more times. 8 out of 10 times, this gets me to a person.

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Patient Portals

If you doctors’ office has a Patient Portal, sign up for it asap!

In the portal, you can email your provider, ask for refills, make appointments without calling and see your chart and most lab results.

Patient Portals are the best.

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If I didn’t answer something, ask me about it!

Southern Food Memories

I’m having a flood of food memories and thought I should write them down for my kidlets and others who remember these crazy things.

Red Velvet Cake

I remember the first piece of Red Velvet Cake I ever had. First grade. The perfect square of deep red with white frosting. When I picked up a piece with my metal fork and slid it into my mouth, I’m sure I made a childish moan of delight.

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I never saw Red Velvet Cake outside of the south until about 30 years ago. Reading, it seems that the movie Steel Magnolias (a movie I have memorized) brought the dessert out of the southern states about 1989 when the Groom’s Cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was blood red from the cake inside.

Jell-O Cake

I haven’t seen the Jell-O cake in decades, but remember how to make it as if it was yesterday.

• Make a yellow cake in a 9×13 pan
• Let it cool
• Use the back end of a wooden spoon to make a few holes around the cake
• Make 2-3 different kinds (and colors!) of Jell-O
• While the Jell-O is still liquid, randomly pour it into the holes

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• Put the now kinda colored cake in the refrigerator for a few hours
• Once the cake is cold, frost it with Cool Whip. (It has to be Cool Whip! Not real whipped cream, but Cool Whip.

simple jello poke cake

I prefer the multi-colored cakes, but I see online it is common to make this for red, white & blue holidays.

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Besides how to make this cake, I can taste it as if it was sitting in front of me.

Mmmmm

Bacon Fat

I used to go to Tifton, Georgia with a childhood friend, visiting her grandmother. Tifton is still really small, but back in 1974 or so, it was tiny.

Grandma lived on a farm… cows, chickens, horses, pigs, corn fields… the whole farm thing. Visiting grandma in Tifton remains the only time I’ve ever been to, visited or stayed on a farm.

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A pretty good picture of what the farmhouse looked like.

It was hot as Hades at that house. Not even fans, much less air conditioning. The windows were always open, cicadas and neighing from the horses the only sounds during the windless nights.

Sitting in the kitchen was big fun. Grandma cooked everything from scratch (as most everyone did back then), 3 meals a day, 365 days a year.

Huge, amazing breakfasts of fresh bacon, eggs from the chickens and lots of thickly buttered white bread toast.

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When the bacon was done, grandma poured the hot grease on top of the older grease sitting in a Ball Jar next to the stove. Grease upon grease upon grease, sitting for goodness knows how long.

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If something was going to stick to the cast iron pan, a heaping spoonful of grease was added to the pan.

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Because eggs were a sticky sort of food, bacon grease was the base as they were cooked… bits of bacon fat throughout.

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How this bacon fat generation didn’t all die off from heart disease is beyond me.

Certainly all the hard work helped.

Creamed Corn

Still on the farm with my friend and her grandparents, we girls were sent out to the corn field to pick corn off the stalks. A novice, I had to be shown what was a good piece of corn to pick off, having chosen semi-rotten corn at first.

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Once I figured it out, we went about our business and filled the giant basket we were given.

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When our baskets were full, we carried them right into grandma’s kitchen where she almost immediately set to work. We were in charge of getting the “angel hair” (silk) and then passed the clean corn to grandma so she could get the kernels off the cob.

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Getting the kernels off the cob.

This part was the most time-consuming part. It would take hours of manual muscle to scrape, scrape, scrape the cob in order to get what she needed to make the creamed corn.

But, when all the corn was off the cob, the deliciousness really started.

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Creamed Corn

 “Bolt” Peanuts

Boiled Peanuts are a part of the Deep South. You are nearly required to say the words with a Southern accent: “Bolt Peanuts.”

Roadside stands are everywhere.

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For those who’ve never had the opportunity to taste boiled peanuts, you can also get them in the store… canned!

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Here’s what they look like when being made at one of the outdoor locations.

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People eat them in different ways. Some will remove the peanut out of the shell with their fingers, others take the peanut out once it is in their mouth… but many, many eat them without removing the squishy shell.

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My thoughts on boiled peanuts: THEY ARE REVOLTING. Slimy shells are incredibly gross. Foodie, beware.

Pickled Pigs Feet

Yet another Southern delicacy is Pickled Pigs Feet. Not kidding.

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Now, while I’ve never put these in my mouth, they are incredibly popular in all stores, large and small.

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Anecdote: My niece was about 3-years old and there was a lower bin filled with pigs’ feet. She asked what they were and mom told her, “Pig’s feet!” My niece looked at the bin, back to mom, then back to the bin and asked, “Then how do the piggies walk?” Smart child.

Grits

My childhood friend Angel taught me how to eat grits.

Grits are made from corn (no clue how) and used to have to be cooked, but now come in the instant variety. To me, there’s no difference in the taste, so bring on the instant grits!

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Angel first made me grits with sugar in them. Blech.

Then she introduced me to grits with butter. So much butter, the bowl was floating and a bright yellow color.

Heaven!!!

Restaurants in the south often make grits with cheese. Meh. Bring on the butter.

Swimming in butter is how I eat them to this day.

Sandwiches

Simple sandwiches are usually made because by noon it is bloody hot outside. In the olden days, we had no air conditioner. On my friend’s grandparent’s farm, there was never any air conditioner.’

It was not uncommon to eat this simple sandwich: Tomato & Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.

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Tomato & Mayo on White Bread

Note the old plate the sandwich is on in the above picture… gilt around the edge. No one does that anymore because it would spark a fire in the microwave.

And then, the bane of my southern party existence: Pimento Cheese on Wonder Bread.

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Pimento Cheese on White Bread (gag)

Pimentos. DisGUSTing. And then some sort of cheese (not real… can’t be real) all mashed together with mayonnaise. Blech!

Catfish

When I was pre-teen, we’d cram luggage, then ourselves, into the Chevy station wagon (seat belts? HA!) and trek to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend part of the summer with the Cuban side of the family: grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins.

During one particular visit, the 2 oldest cousins dragged 8-year old me into their clubhouse, wall-papered with Playboy pictures (the first I’d ever seen) and took it upon themselves to tell me how babies were made.

I was so confused.

And once I really learned, I saw they got several facts incorrect. I hope they’ve figured that all out by now.

My parents and aunt and uncle went fishing a couple of times during the summer. I salivated just seeing the fishing poles being put into the cars.

They always came home with gobs of fresh catfish & perch. Still today, catfish is pretty much the only fish I enjoy (memories are strong motivators!).

I remember the scaling of the perch as a messy, gross activity that I stayed far away from lest I be covered in the silvery scales. Whomever was scaling at the moment, when they were tired, were hosed off in the yard to get those tiny flecks of fish-covering off their face and arms, then someone took up the spoon and continued the tedious work.

ScaleFish

Happily, catfish have no scales.

Finally, the enormous Bar-B-Que was fired up and I hung around it, feeling the intense heat, watching the cooking catfish, just stopping myself from begging for the first fish off the grill.

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Being first in line, I often received those burning hot slabs of flesh.

With bones.

I learned how to eat fish around the bones fast, not remembering ever eating a hard fish bone. (The soft ones are often just swallowed.)

Besides the BBQ, the catfish was often fried. Which I loved even more. You can never go wrong with breading and being fried in a cast iron pan.

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I can taste it even now.

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The always-offered hush puppies were also made. I gobbled those suckers up, too. Dipped in ketchup.

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A wonderful book I came across many years ago was White Trash Cooking. Between the covers, recipes and photos brought back visceral memories, making me close my eyes for a moment, and feeling/smelling/tasting exactly what I saw in a mere picture.

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What a fun revisit to my food memories. Thanks for coming along!

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My Disgraceful History: KKK

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Racism, Hate, Hate Groups, Black History all discussed.

The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.

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Hero, Heather Heyer

My Sordid Family Legacy

These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.

My great-grandfather, Eddie Johnston, came from Sweden when he was young. His family (whose name was Johnson) had been bigoted before they even got to Ellis Island. When my great-great grandfather was asked his name, he added a T to his last name… because far too many blacks in America had the last name Johnson.

Memories of Racism

  • I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
  • In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
  • A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
  • My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
  • When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
  • You know the child’s game of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, yes?

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When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.

  • Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”

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heavy sigh

Add the KKK to My History

I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well.  I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.

How I Was Raised

My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.

For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.

It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.

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Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.

After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.

In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.

Confronting My Own Racism

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It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.

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I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.

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I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.

“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”

Amendment: Out loud.

After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?

The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.

(This is much harder to write than I expected.)

I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.

Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.

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My Apology

I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.

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Some Things I’ve Learned

“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”

James Baldwin, Ken Burns‘ America: Statue of Liberty

Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.

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It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.

“What’s different, he said, is that the world now has a history of what Nazism is and what it led to, which it didn’t have 75 years ago.

“We don’t have the ability to pretend like it’s not happening,”

Listening Hard

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Life Lesson: Circling the Beauty

Boudoir Beauty

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A friend of mine had boudoir pictures done. She’d had a difficult few years, including a double mastectomy because of breast cancer. It took every ounce of (emotional) strength to agree to the photo shoot, wanting it as a surprise to her several-decade-long partner. When the proofs came, she was shyly pleased at how she looked. Most were fairly modest, but others did show her precious scars that saved her life.

Timidly, she showed her husband.

His response was: Nice lighting.

Broken-hearted and filled with unnecessary shame, she came into our secret group and shared a couple of the more modest photos asking if they were that bad that he didn’t even comment on what she looked like.

My friend’s pictures are stunning. When I opened the first one, I had shivers from the beauty of seeing this woman, literally, laying bare the fears she’s harbored for so, so long. (As many of us in this society do.) Of course we all held her close and loved on her, and told her what a doofus he was for not “seeing” her, but all of our approval was a drop compared to what she’d needed from him.

I’ve thought of this for several days now, asking the couple of guys in my life why a husband would do that? Why he couldn’t even muster a “You’re beautiful,” even if was fake. My male friends said about the same thing: Men suck.

Ye Olde Body Image

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We women struggle with our body images, many of us since childhood.

I remember when I first began having sex, I never wanted to get on top because my breasts drooped off my chest, not remaining in pretty round orbs like the girls in Playboy. Then after having one giant baby after another, I didn’t want to get on top because my entire mid-section sagged down with gravity. Suddenly, my breasts were the least of the flopping about.

Just sitting here writing this, I remember the shame acutely. I have tears dripping from the corner of my eyes because I find myself so repulsively ugly. I feign not being embarrassed at all these doctor appointments, but the reality is I cringe every time someone needs to touch my body.

Sexy Shame

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When I go to Sex Parties, there is no shame from anyone. Bodies are bodies are bodies. Most of us there are old enough to know life before Internet porn, so, I believe, have a more realistic view of growing-older bodies and sex. Besides under the covers, the only place I am free to be naked is with my kinky and swinging friends. (Even still, I am always nervous about taking my clothes off at the beginning of the evening. NO ONE EVEN CARES! Yet, I still do.)

Our Bodies Turning On Us

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Fat, folds, scars, sags, creases, hair where we don’t want it, no hair where we do want it, adult acne (what the fuck are we doing still getting acne in our 60’s?!), leaking when we sneeze, farting at inopportune times… belching, using your inhaler before having sex, having not one, but two pillboxes to fill every week… having to eat by the clock so your blood glucose doesn’t go too high, or goddess forbid, too low! (One of the not-so-funny funny things is you have to shoot insulin into a roll of fat. Every. Single. Time I have to give myself a shot, I roll my eyes at the luck of so many gooshie sites to choose from.)

And let’s not even begin in the genital area.

“Rejuvenation”

People with means might be thinking, “Not me!” and so many begin having plastic/reconstructive surgeries as early as 16. That girls under 20 are asking for labiaplasty because they think their vulvas are ugly makes my heart hurt. Can an entire generation of women feel even more body shame than I have about mine? It seems so.

It’s sad to me that so many girls and women… and men! think our bodies should be porn-perfect or fantasy-ready.

I have no easy answers.

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Bipolar Diary: Incremental Shift

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Loving Nudge

After my Bipolar Diary: Depression Deepens post, I had several people tell me to call my psychiatrist immediately. I thought I could white knuckle it for another week, but others saw what I couldn’t. I trust those closest to me and picked up the phone, getting pushed into a non-existent spot in his schedule the next day. Wednesday, August 2, 2017.

Office Visit

The crying had been keeping me from functioning and did not abate while in his office.

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I told him about the suicidal ideation increasing… then added the obligatory, “But I have no plans to hurt myself, am not stockpiling meds and promise to call 911 if I do find myself getting too close.” He replied, “I understand how frightening they (the thoughts) can be, even when you aren’t consciously creating them.” I breathed a sigh of relief that he seemed to understand.

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artist: Soren Dreier

I’ve had at least 8 different psychiatrists in 30 years and this one is one of the top 2. He listens to me, takes my preferences seriously like refusing the Risperdal increase and is infinitely patient with my continued distress.

I really am so blessed to have such a kind (and gifted) doctor. I know that is rare and how privileged I am to be able to receive quality medical and psychiatric care.

I OWE MY AWESOME CARE TO THE ACA/OBAMACARE INSURANCE I HAVE.

I would not be alive without it.

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Medication Change… Again

I continued crying while he pondered, looking at his computer, typing some, then thinking again.

He found a medication I had not tried before… Latuda… which I’ve since read is used specifically for bipolar depression. Yes, yes… it does come with a laundry list of side effects, but I’m ignoring them, listening to my body instead.

I know it takes at least 2 weeks (in my body) to 6 weeks to feel the full effect of psych meds, but when I got home from the appointment, I took my first pill. Then the next morning, I took the second. (It is taken once a day.)

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Whether placebo or really working that fast, I did not cry until late evening the next day. I didn’t cry the next night, either. And the ideation has slowed, the thoughts feeling more “transparent,” fewer hard imaginings. The images had been like mosquito bites, begging to be scratched. (Not sure I explained that clearly… I’m having a terrible time writing this, pardon spelling and grammar errors, please.)

August 6, 2017

I’m feeling better still. The doc told me that if I was feeling too sedated, to drop the Risperdal, which I did on day 3 after starting the Latuda. I’ve been on Risperdal since 1995, so it is a major thought process to not take it before bed. I do feel less sedated (I described it like someone spiked my drink), but there’s a lot more room for not dropping into a slumber at any given moment.

Let me get this out so those who are following along know how I am doing. Thanks for you care and attention, my dear friends. Thank you for your love.

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artist: Zenos Frudakis