Friendship Lost

©2011 Laura Riggs, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA

“If you’re fighting with someone you really love, find your way back to them because life is short, even on its longest days” – Oprah

I recently discovered a dear friend of mine, someone I have known for nearly 30 years, blocked me on Facebook. This was a person I grew up with, spent many formidable years with, and considered her more like a sister than a friend.  She was my maid of honor, knew all of my best and worst secrets and I in turn knew hers. We talked to one another nearly every day, I was there when her daughter was born, and she was there during my darkest hours.  Although it’s been nearly a decade ago, I am eternally grateful that she and my mother were there to save my life.

In recent years, however, our relationship strained under the pressure of opposing political views. We’d had some bumps in the road before, as many long-standing relationships often do – we’d grow tired and weary of the other person’s bullshit – but we’d quickly find our way back to one another. While some friendships can weather the storm, and ours had been through a few, most have never encountered a Category 8 shit-storm like the one our world is currently in the midst of today. Suddenly, without a word, she wiped what was left of our memories of one another off the map.

It occurred to me while I was cooking dinner a nights ago, that maybe she felt as though she didn’t have a voice, that I hadn’t given her space to express her thoughts/beliefs. About a year ago, her mother had posted some vile comment on one of my posts, in which I was mocking the absurdity of journalists reporting on the “scandalous” fashion choice Obama made when he conducted a press briefing in a tan suit. I told her in so many words how wholly unnecessary it was to make nasty comments on my page when she could just unfollow me and move about her day instead (she chose to unfriend me). I do have a way of aggressively getting my point across, and none of us have time/space for biased, fear-based, reactionary bullshit (or name calling, which is what her mother had resorted to).

While I know that my friend and I did not vote for the same team in 2016, and it’s likely we never voted for the same team throughout our friendship, I naively thought that our political beliefs would not be the demise of our accord. Yet, the current administration is responsible for creating irreconcilable differences between family members, friends, loved ones, partners, races, religions, businesses, and countries. So, why would I believe our friendship be any different? Nor should it come as a surprise that the more vocal I have become about the indignities that minority populations have endured, the farther she retreated from me.

Although white, her family has no doubt experienced their own challenges as farmers/ranchers in the Midwest. They struggle to make ends meet every day, and are one health care crisis away from complete financial obliteration. They’ve suffered through addictions, suicides, cancers, and gross mistrust of the government and Californians. They haven’t received a bailout, so ‘why should anyone else’? Yet, they help their neighbors, love their kids, and try to do right by their spouses. Like many others in their situation, they STILL continue to vote against their own economic interests: every. single. time.

For the most part, I have accepted her decision to walk away.  She tends to avoid conflict, while I often walk into the burning building.  Grief comes in waves, though, and this morning I woke up angry….angry that she didn’t give our friendship more credit, angry that she stole my heart, angry that I didn’t do more to stay in contact.  She needed space, she had said she was working through her own stuff, but maybe I gave her too much, and it was too easy to let go?  Or maybe it was just time for the era to come to an end?

The anger doesn’t last, as sadness returns, along with bouts of utter disappointment.  Although I know that I could text her, or call, to let her know that the door remains open, should she ever want to talk things through, I am not sure I’m ready to hear what she has to say.  I’m not ready to listen to all of the bigotry or bias, yet I’m afraid the longer she stays in Kansas, the farther down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories her family will take her.  I hope that she will find her way back one day, I hope that she will let reason back into her life, and I hope that she will raise her daughter to love all people, not just the ones that think/look like she does.

Grief, in this moment, shifts to acceptance of her decision, as the tides of change drift back to the larger task at hand….the shit-storm.  We are in an epic struggle to save humanity from ourselves, and my energy must be rededicated to fighting the fires that her so-called leader continues to set…white America gave a toddler a box of matches and some gasoline to occupy his time because we were too busy posting selfies, flaunting wealth we stole from Black Americans and Indigenous People.

I want the US to share that wealth equally, and I know it’s part of the reason she buried the axe in the middle of this friendship, but in the longest of days I truly believe it can only be altruism that not only saves this country.  Is it naive of me to hope that one day she will see it is that very altruism that has/will continue to save her family’s farm, and not the silver they’re buried beneath it?  If we are to ever find our way back, may we all leave the door open in the hopes that one day our friends will return to us from the brink of indoctrination into authoritarianism.  For if they do, their psyches will be wounded and scarred, and it will take all of our love to heal them.

A love letter…in the time of quarantine

Demonstrators kneel in a moment of silence outside the Long Beach Police Department on Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Long Beach during a protest over the death of George Floyd. Protests were held in U.S. cities over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“It’s in the great tradition of the best of Black people, of people who have been hated chronically systemically for 400 years but have taught the world so much about love and how to love. “Dr. Cornel West, Interview with Anderson Cooper; CNN June 10, 2020

This past month has been a time of great reckoning for our country, for the white community, and for those of us who believe in the ideals of democracy, justice and equal treatment under the law.  We enter the month of July, four months into a pandemic, and a time of great upheaval in America.  I have tried to think of what to say, or how to address the pain inflicted upon Black and Brown communities, over and over again…and I can’t come up with anything meaningful.  I blame some of that on brain decay, due to the extraordinary levels of cortisol pumping through my body ever since the pandemic began.  In all honesty though, there is nothing more to say…the time for apologies has past, nor can the brutality be excused any longer.  If we are to truly make amends, to begin to heal wounds or alleviate trauma, we must move to meaningful action.

The upside of being quarantined?  The pent up anger over a wholly inadequate government response has coalesced with the righteous anger towards systemic racism and police brutality.   News of innocent souls lost may have likely never made the news in the first place, have now flooded our social media feeds.  If we hadn’t remained vigilant and voyeuristic, all while longing for the days when we were free to move about as we pleased, unrestricted, untethered, unmasked, white America may have missed the news of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Robert Fuller, Riah Milton, and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells.  The outrage over Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many others, fizzled quickly as people quickly moved on to the next distraction in their lives, and in their work.  Now, with more than 40 million people out of work and the jobless rate hovering near to Depression Era levels, people have nothing to “escape” to/from.  We have been afforded the rare opportunity to cease all distractions, and truly bear witness to the suffering that our Black and Brown communities have long endured.  Rather than misdirecting our grief over what semblance of normal we once had pre-pandemic, we have protested, and continually flooded elected officials with demands for investigations and rightful arrests…demands for justice.

You are seeing more involvement, more outrage, from the white community for the first time since I can remember, maybe for the first time since the 1960s.  This pent up anger from being on lockdown, co-mingled with the rage over repeated police brutality is shaking this nation to its core.  For many in the white community, they are  just “seeing” this truth that the Black Community has been living since being stolen from their homes 400+ years ago.  People on the left side of the political spectrum are angry that the government hasn’t done enough to intervene on behalf of those who did not benefit equally from what we believed to be the democratic process.  People on the “right” side of the political spectrum are angry that the government is overly involved in the equality fight, because of “states’ rights” and all.  As I always say, follow the money…

The more that people awaken to the suffering of the oppressed, the more they will begin to see it is the love of money which flows from the center of the US’ social construct.  The American Revolutionary War was fought over excessive taxation, and without proper representation in the King’ court, we wanted freedom from Britain’s exploitative colonial rule, and Parliament’s greed.  The Civil War was also fought on the premise that the economy would be destroyed if enslaved Black people were freed.  At the time, the southern states were raking in millions of dollars on the backs of free labor, while the northern states benefited from the tariffs collected on those millions.  Economists have calculated that the cost of the Civil War, estimated at over $10 billion in 1860 dollars, would have been more than enough to buy the freedom of every slave, purchase them land, and even pay reparations. Yet, the south did not accept the deal Lincoln offered, in order to avoid the war…why?  Greed.  And Greed is the worst of all the sins…we have since the continual exploitation of labor throughout history, in the name of economic prosperity.  Yet, the prosperity only benefited the slave owners….the wealthy few…never the enslaved.

That is not economic prosperity.  When all individuals, as well as the country, have and maintain their own wealth, along with a good quality of life, that is economic prosperity.  We have allowed racism to handcuff this nation’s ability to grow the GDP in a meaningful and sustainable way, because we have cut off nearly 40% of our population from building intergenerational wealth.  Income inequality is at an all time high, with the wage gap between whites and blacks even more expansive.  Lack of universal healthcare and access to quality education has decreased our competitiveness in the global marketplace.  Further gaps in community policing, legal representation, social representation, voting rights, business owner rights, travel, health care…rights in nearly every corner of life equates to trillions of dollars in lost economic prosperity.  Job opportunities lost as the corporate welfare system continue to relocate factories to countries that allow them the opportunity to exploit workers abroad.  The rich, white community, who have exerted dominance over marginalized communities for hundreds of years, is solely responsible for creating this void.

How do we ever begin to apologize for 400+ years of the oppression, and often sadistic treatment of the Black and Brown communities, when this treatment continues into present day?  How do we move forward in a way to create meaningful changes that will end the systemic injustices, which have occurred since the 1600s?  There just don’t seem to be an adequate amount of words to begin to describe the feelings of remorse and sadness that I (and many others in the white community) feel as we reflect both upon our history, and current day disparities between class and race.  This does not mean that apologies are not owed, nor that reparations shouldn’t be paid.  Rather, we cannot let this “white guilt” prevent us from taking necessary action to begin to right the wrongs that have been done.

The path towards change is slow, grind up a steep hill, but I believe Lady Liberty has finally grown tired of the bullshit and this nation must, once and for all, atone for its sins.  There is a bright light is shining into back alleys of implicit bias, but if we don’t move quickly the sun will set, and this time we have been given for reflection and soul-searching will pass.  The pandemic will end, and what lessons will we have learned?  Dr. West was right…we must learn what our Black brothers and sisters are here to teach us.  Not only learn about their struggles, we must learn how to move forward from a place of love.  In a time of atonement, we must make amends for the hatred, the vitriol, the anger that was never ours to hold onto anyway.  The hatred for “other” belongs to the billionaire class, it belongs to our ancestors, and it can no longer be our burden to carry.  It is their way of sowing the seeds of fear between us, to keep their wealth, and maintain the status quo.

For generations, we have allowed greed to have its way with our social hierarchy, as we put money ahead of love, valued capitalism over humanity, and protected commercial elites by use of force to make the rich richer.  All while we watch the poor die in the streets with knees on their necks, whispering “I can’t breathe”.  Yet, Brother West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Diane Nash, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, James Bevel, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Whitney Young, and so many more, did not seek vengeance.  They sought righteousness.  “Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races…It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other” (2Pac).  We are a critical juncture in our nation’s history, but if we don’t remain vigilant, if we move too quickly to the next distraction….what will come of this movement?  The love we feel for our fellow humans must not die in vain.  Seeking a skillful path carved from a place of love seemed like the only logical way forward to defeat the hate enshrined by greed.  You want to pay reparations?  Start with relieving the enormous cost of health care, and then close the income/wealth gap.  If we get rid of the Corporate Welfare system, we can afford to do both at the same time.

Quote of the Day: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou — ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’

I watched the Netflix documentary recently, featuring stories from Michelle Obama’s tour to promote her book Becoming.  Both times I’ve read the book, I cried.  Of course, I cried watching the documentary, as well.  I believe her intention for writing the book was meant to be inspirational…to motivate people (especially young people) to be the owners and writers of their stories…that we should each captain our own ship when navigating life’s journey…and that we should help others when their voyages have gone awry, or whose ships may be taking on water, and sinking.  So why cry when reading a book, or watching a documentary, that features so much good?

Over and over both the book and in the documentary, Mrs. Obama emphasizes to young people to stop thinking of themselves as statistics, they are not invisible.  We don’t build friendships over our statistics, we build them through recounting our past, sharing knowledge, finding commonalities, uttering anecdotes, sharing laugher, and confessing our pain.  Communities are formed in a similar way.  In truth, Becoming makes me nostalgic for a time when I believed America was on its way to becoming better.  The turmoil of the 9/11 attacks, then entering into a war none of us wanted/believed in, and the start of the recession, had brought the spirt of the country to a low point.  Bush’s 2nd term was ending, and we were all eager for the country to find its way back to the light.  Even through the ugliness of the 2008 election, I distinctly remember how Obama continued to inspire the kind of hope that we needed, that made us proud to say we were Americans again.

His presidency sent a clear message to (what I like to call) the good ol’ boy regime, that the tides were finally turning.  During the film, Michelle made mention of what a proud moment it was for the black community, but with that comes the immense pressure of being the “first black anything”.  Admittedly, I have no idea what this must feel like, but I do appreciate the weight these words carry.  While the black community felt pride in this historical moment, I know so many of us in the white community were equally overjoyed. America’s past is stained with racism and oppression.  While oppression happens all across the world, which seems to be a uniquely human affliction, it isn’t something that many of us want to talk about.  It’s certainly not something that evokes a sense of patriotic nobility, but it is something we should acknowledge and make reparations for, if we ever hope to become a more equitable nation.

Throughout his campaign and years in the White House, this aspiration for true equality – regardless of the color of their race, creed, or color – seemed to finally be burgeoning forward, after years of laying groundwork by all of those who have fought for freedom.  Yet, this legacy of racism runs deep like the roots of a Banyan tree, with “white privilege” deeply engrained into our society, beginning with the constitution, on down to segregated schools and neighborhoods, to most notably the criminal ‘justice’ system, and we have learned those roots are hard to cut out. Immediately after Obama took office, the pervasive ugliness of this unworthy endowment, reared its nasty head on TV, in newspapers, and every day communities, exposing our collective naivety of hope, dashing the idea that real change had finally arrived.   Many in the white community were just waking up to suffering experienced by our black and brown brothers and sisters over centuries, signaling it was time we dig deeper into the past, to learn what we are rarely taught in school.

Although many of us in white society are not racist, there is no doubt we have wholly benefited from the systemic biases built into our culture.  Just because slavery was abolished, does not mean that we haven’t allowed the architecture of slavery to create the framework of current day society.  Maybe “white guilt” has accelerated this denial, or political partisanship prevented us from seeing those who have been left behind, relegated to statistics.  Speaking for myself, I can’t remember a time growing up when I ever felt fully aware of how I benefited from systemic racism.  It wasn’t until I was old enough to vote, that I began to see the disparity.  For many of us, I think it took Obama’s presidency to pull the veil from our eyes to truly see even the simplest of inequities.  Why else would we allow a white man to a tan suit in the White House, and think nothing of it, but contrive a false scandal when a black does the same?

If you didn’t see this brazen hypocrisy before/during his presidency, you most certainly have to acknowledge it exists now.  Physics states that when the pendulum swings hard in one direction, it comes back in the opposite way with equal force, but eventually the amplitude of their swing declines until it eventually rests somewhere in the middle.  The current administration represents that recoil effect of having our first black president,  and he will by no means be the last. Whether the white people in “power” want to believe it not, evolution does happen, and throughout history we have seen the narrative change. This is the common theme amongst the fall of the British Empire, the Ottomans, the Han Dynasty, or the Roman Empire: oppressing people leads to depressed economies, imbalances in trade, the overthrow of governments, and greater turmoil.  Economies work well when you have a healthy, educated labor force, people are extended their freedoms, and there are high levels of research and development.

That is not the state of our country today.  Pandemic aside, income inequality comes at a high price, not just for the poor, but the wealthy alike….just ask the people who lived through the Great Depression.  Yet, nearly 100 years later, we have forgotten those lessons as well…too much infighting has severely weakened us as a nation.  We are now incapable of learning from one another, in order to strengthen our economy, and fortify our nation against all enemies (foreign and domestic)…there are rats living in the White House, my friends.   The separatists of the south wanted to keep people enslaved, long after it was proven to put them at a disadvantage for long-term economic prosperity.  They lost the Civil War because of their inability to modernize, to allow people to walk free.  More than 150 years later, our system is still reinventing “new” ways to keep people marginalized, but history rings true time and time again…oppression shreds an empire.

When a black woman dies by the hands of the police, for nothing more than pretextual traffic stop, while a white woman can freely run stop lights and only get a minor scolding, that is oppression.  When a black man is strangled by the authorities for selling cigarettes on a street corner, while a white man is calmly arrested after murdering 9 black parishioners in cold blood, that is oppression.  When a white person can leave their home to go for a run, or sit in a park, or have a BBQ without fear of having the police called because you were “laughing too loudly”, or having your body chained and drug behind a pick up truck, or hunted down and shot dead, that is oppression.  While these stories are not the ones we want to tell, they are the ones that must be told, until the narrative changes.

If we do not learn from our past, if we do not get to know the “other”, we allow the empires to keep us fearful, relegating us to nothing  more than a statistic…history will repeat itself and we will fail.  We see it happening already from the dysfunctional response to the pandemic, to the dismantling of an organized government, our economy has experienced a greater negative impact than those societies with highly functioning governments.  Those who believe in investing in education and science, in investing in their people, and development, have not experienced as traumatic economic fallout as Americans. Education has been called the great equalizer, so if we are to change the narrative, we must not be afraid to share our stories.  We must not be afraid to listen to the stories of people who may not look like us, or think like us, or pray like us.  For if we put those fears aside, we will learn that we all have more in common than what we were raised to think, or the current administration would have us believe.

Michelle ends her documentary by reminding us of this…no matter what Tangerine Toddler (my description, not hers) says, no matter what some in the “news” media reports about, there are a lot of good people out there.  She has met them along the way – from her time campaigning for her husband, to the her time in the East Wing, and all along her recent book tour, there are so many people who want to do right by one another.  It is time that for our stories to be heard.



The Next Decade

© 2016 Astoria, OR by Laura Riggs

“One of the hardest things in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn.” —Oprah Winfrey or David Russell (take your pick)

Along with many others, at the start of the new year, I have spent some time taking stock of my life over this past decade.  Thinking both of the moments that changed the course of my life, as well as those that passed by virtually unnoticed.  The past decade was chock-full of change and set-backs.  Looking back, losing Jack near the end of 2009 seems to have been foreshadowing of the challenges the next decade would have in store.  There were certainly some really bright and beautiful experiences that materialized throughout, but currently in the midst of a stressful point in my life, with my depression swirling, I tend to lean into the darkness and forget all of those bright occasions.  

Nonetheless, when one is reassessing their life path, I find one of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland of help, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  Another way of looking at it: if you are to decide where you are going, you must first clearly understand where you are.  After Jack passed away, I began the last decade enduring being laid off from my “dream” job, ending one of the worst relationships I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of, regrettably selling my adorable little condo in Denver, and moving to Florida to live with my mother (I love my mom deeply, so that part definitely did not suck!).  The following year I traveled, intending to not only heal from the previous year’s trauma, but various childhood traumas as well.  

Nearly ten years after the fact, the tell-all book is still in the works, but life keeps getting in the way of me finishing the damn thing.  While the previous statement makes it sound like I resent the book, I really don’t.  On the rare days I can carve out time to work on it, I am immensely grateful for the good fortune to dig through artifacts, delve into my journals, and reminisce on taking the journey of a lifetime.  Not only did my quest lead me to some amazing places in the world, but it afforded me safe passage to process my suffering and grief.  I’d be remise if I didn’t point out that it is in those moments I’m able to remind myself how proud I am that I was able to claw my way from the depths of depression, which means I can do it again.  

After that year of traveling, I planned to return to Denver and reconnect with life, but the universe presented me with a conundrum.  Christmas of 2011, I attended an “orphan” Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, where I met a wonderful man.  We had an immediate connection, but if I were to investigate further, this meant staying in Florida longer than intended, nor was I apt to trust my choices in men. My track record had proven to be terrible thus far, so I was a little skeptical that this relationship could turn out any better than previous encounters.  Call it “wisdom”, “fate”, or the prodding of my mother, I opted to stay in Florida, and S and I just celebrated 8 years of partnership.

About six months after we began dating, I finally found meaningful employment, when my mom and I were in a serious car accident.  We were rear-ended by a UPS semi tractor-trailer.  It was S’ birthday, so we had gone to the grocery store to pick up some items in preparation.  Driving home, the car ahead of us began driving erratically while trying to merge onto a major bridge.  Thankfully, the UPS driver saw this and began to slow his vehicle down just as the driver in front of us suddenly slammed on their brakes, so my mom did the same.  We didn’t hit the car in front of us, but the semi rear-ended my mother’s vehicle and the car in front of us sped off.  My mom was virtually unharmed, but the truck was now in the back seat and I ended up with severe whiplash and a concussion.  Luckily, the UPS driver wasn’t going full speed, or we’d both be dead.  My job was understanding to my rehabilitation process, but I had to withdraw from the college classes I was attending in order to take time to heal.

For two years, things were a bit of a jumbled mess.  My brain was foggy, I couldn’t practice yoga, nor was I able to go running.  Most of my physical activity was limited to strength building exercise with no impact.  Without cardio to “burn out” an overactive mind, I dropped into another state of depression (although far less intense than previous).  Somehow, I found enough drive to fight for the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in our city, extending equal protections to the LGBTQ community for housing and employment.  At the same time, the national debate was raging over Prop 8 out of California, so a small group of us capitalized on the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of people at the local level.  Side note: before I moved to the South, I had heard/used all of the stereotypes about the South, but I guess I was hopeful that (like most stereotypes) they were wrong.  Not so.

The truth is that much of time has seemingly stood still in the South – racism, misogyny and homophobia run rampant.  The stain of slavery and the legacy of reconstruction and the Jim Crow era plagues public policy, while continuing to contaminate the DNA of everyone whose families have lived in this country pre- and post- Civil War.  Each city council meeting that allowed for open comments from the community, weighing in on whether expanded protections were needed, required counseling.  No matter how mentally prepared you are, or how strong your boundaries may be, listening to hate-filled rants from other human beings, centering solely on the fact that someone else was born/lives differently from themselves, will dishearten the most resilient of souls.  When the HRO expansion finally did pass three years later, I decided I was not cut out for advocacy work on a long-term basis.  Now, I just donate to causes that do the pain-staking work to further our country forward.

In the meantime, S and I moved to Portland, OR, after I was recruited for an incredible job opportunity.  Most of my career, I had worked at small to mid-sized ad agencies, so when I got the offer to work at an in-house agency for a large company, I eagerly accepted.  It was a chance to enhance my experience, in a place that when we visited the year before, so we decided why not? (plus, it was a break to get the f**k out of the South), The job was demanding, the cost of living is high, it rains 8-9 months out of the year, and S couldn’t find meaningful employment, that’s why not.  The food, wine and public transit were exceptional, and I learned so much more than I would have staying at small-sized firms, but we struggled financially for two years and our relationship strained as a result.

After my mom and stepdad were transferred back to Florida, we also floated the idea of returning, but neither of us was overly delighted about the possibility of living in the South again.  “It’s easy there, though”, S said, “you will get to see your Mom more often, and they have a perfectly good airport.”  And so, we put our stuff into a moving truck and drove the 3,500+ miles back to the opposite corner of the country where he would then be laid off twice in one year, and I was hired at one of the most toxic agencies I have ever worked for…I’d go so far as to say it was worse than my experience at Core Power Yoga (at least with CPY, I had the chance to meet all of my fabulous students), but then I found a job at a different agency in town which is now exponentially worse (I’ll get to that one in a minute).

In the three years I worked for Toxic Agency, I was back and forth to Atlanta more times than is necessary in an era of Viber, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Slack, and the list goes on, to not only keep their largest client, but help win the business when said client decided to consolidate the work from 14 agencies to a few. And how did said agency show their appreciation for helping to save everyone’s jobs?  Nothing, of course. There was no bonus,  no raise, no promotion, no hiring additional staff to aide in said work, just an insincere thank you note from  a CEO who could barely muster the courage to speak to me approximately 10 times over three years.

It seems as though I’ve gone from picking bad boyfriends, to picking bad employers, but I am not sure I can shoulder all of the blame.  This country’s business sector functions on the Peter-principle.  Those of us with an extreme amount of competence, who should be leading, are often the ones overlooked because the incompetent yet overtly narcissistic ones are threatened by our brilliance.  While it this isn’t true of all of the companies, it’s damn well true at most.  And us competent ones are real fucking tired of shouldering the one-percent’s ineptness, but I’m not going to get into politics today.

Instead of the acknowledgement that was earned, my company promoted people with zero ability or skill to culminate a strategic thought in their brain, people who would rather gossip about their teammates all day, because they were the CEO’s “favorite” after all, whereas I [annoyingly] wanted to ask clients questions to help us better understand their business which would aide in formulating said strategy to achieve their goals (oh, the shock and horror!).  Furthermore, I speak and understand “digital” better than any of those on their leadership team, so I was considered an “enemy of the state”, a threat to the status quo.

If this comes across as feeling overly entitled, let’s just leave it at this: my first day on the job culminated in me finding quite a stash of pornographic photos that my predecessor had buried in a client folder on the computer they gave me.  When I reported it to aforesaid CEO, his response was “Oh, well that’s why I didn’t have his emails forwarded to you.”  That speaks volumes towards the amount of Peter they have applied to the principle vision for their agency – it also explains why they needed so much assistance with rebuilding trust with both their clients, and the market in general, when I accepted their job offer.

The only positive was that I had the flexibility to fly back to home to visit my new, most adorable niece from time-to-time, and to care for my Dad when he had back surgery, while working remotely.  On my most recent visit home, I was grateful for the chance to have a completely honest, vulnerable conversation with him.  He shared the hurt and trauma he still carries forward from childhood, and I encouraged him that it might be time to unpack all that baggage for his own peace of mind (my family likes to talk loudly, so his wife thought we were fighting and left to hide at the neighbors, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to his suffering/drama, and was just able to stay present for him to process… I was real proud of myself for that.)

After three years of exceptional work, when I finally got a raise, it was more than insulting.  While I may not often know my worth when it comes to personal relationships, or believing I deserve small indulgences; I damn well know my worth when it comes to business.  So when a new opportunity to move from media to marketing came up a few months ago, I gladly accepted.  And here I was again day one, entering into yet another bait-and-switch scenario.  Immediately following my orientation, I learned the new company was switching my supervisor, changing the client/product I would be working with/on, and moving the office from a beautiful shared campus (think mini-Google) to now house their staff out of a former State Farm call center with office furniture from the 80s (and yes, everything is fucking mauve). Yes…it was official….I just went from one burning house to another.

Not only is this “agency” unclear in the vision for the company, the client is just downright nasty.  This marketing firm is led by people who have not one day’s worth of marketing experience.  The ONLY bright light is that many of people I work are lovely, more than capable individuals.  They get beat down every day by lack of clarity, process, goals, or transparency from their leadership, but they still try to do right by their clients.  None of us has a clear job description, and the agency re-orgs annually, but we support one another as best we can — those of us who haven’t bailed ship yet, that is.  It’s an unnecessary battle to fight every day, and every day I come home depleted, lacking any energy for self-care, joy or creativity.  (Even for those with a strong constitution and solid boundaries, it’s difficult to stay afloat when you’re battling lying, narcissistic bitch-ass clients, who keep trying to poke holes in the hull, all day…seriously, y’all.)

In the absence of balance, I’ve been trying to resist the desire to meet up with my old friends- regret, sadness, anger, loathing…the very notion of entering into a conversation with any one of them seems illicit.  Still, they continue to call in hopes that I’ll invite them to dinner.   And then tonight, while standing in the shower, I realized again (because it usually takes us/me more than once to really learn a lesson) that avoiding the inevitable rarely moves us forward in life.  I’ve been avoiding the fact that I really don’t like my chosen career any longer, and I owe it to myself to get the fuck over this fear of failure, or fear of lack, or whatever fear it is, and just start over.

Nearly ten years ago, I went back to school with the intention of getting a degree in Psychology.  While it was necessary to pause my education, there was no reason to walk away from it altogether (other than the fact that most college educations are a waste of time and money – they are overpriced and do not teach a damn thing about the real world, or real business, but that’s a conversation for another time, as well).  It’s time to give my brain something else to think about, other than the constant reactionary state that media/advertising requires these days.  I need to let go of the idea that I need to fix the shit that is broken – especially when it is shit that I don’t own, nor did I break.  I need to return to the idea that maybe this new career path won’t work out, I’ve failed before, I will fail again, and I have risen from the ashes to rebuild a good life for myself (and for S, too).

It’s high time that I burn one bridge to the ground, in the hopes that I can build a better one that leads me back towards my sweetness of mind…one that brings me home.

Mental Health Month

“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.” –Wayne Dyer

May is Mental Health Month and even though this year marks the 70th anniversary, it seems as though only recently that I’ve seen/heard more people talking about mental health than in years past.  I think people are finally starting to understand that people don’t choose to be depressed, or anxious, or sad.  It just….happens.  For so many different reasons, people are stricken with a mental health disorder, and it seems as though society is slowly catching on that we need to treat disorders with less stigma and more empathy.  The problem is that we are never taught how to care for ourselves, or recover from, depression once it’s hit us.  Only recently, have I heard more people discuss treating mental health illnesses like we would a body illness – proper medicine, rest, therapy, etc.

The cynic in me thinks that mental health disorders are getting more play in the news because there has been such a dramatic spike in suicides amongst older, white men. But, whatever it takes for the winds of change to sail in, I’m good with that because, over the past 15 years, the US is now one of the few countries experiencing an increased rate of suicide not found in other developed nations, and a majority of these can be attributed to firearms.  It’s no coincidence that you’ll also notice a disturbing increase in mass shootings during the same time frame.

In more than half of all cases, the perpetrators had prior history of mental health issues, and in about quarter of the cases, it’s somewhat unclear.  When you compare the data prior to 2004, against the data after 2004, the percentage of shootings committed by someone with prior history of mental health issues actually decreased from 61% to 48%.  To me, that negates the ongoing argument from the NRA that mental health is the problem and not the increased amount of weapons available, nor the impact of the expired assault weapons ban.  They are likely factoring in those where it’s unclear if they had a prior history of mental health issues, to keep the percentages fairly flat.

Regardless, we need to commit more resources to help people cope with dis-ease.  Without the ability to see a way out of the “rabbit hole”, as I have often referred to my own bouts of depression, people turn to a variety of methods to “self-medicate”.  Here again, we see sharp increases in drug related deaths, with the US having the highest mortality rate from drug overdoses globally.  

Yet, we continue to chip away at funding for mental health services.  In the 1970s, 11.1% of federal funding was allocated towards mental health services, down to 6% in 2011, and the number has decreased ever since.  Other developed countries spend less on mental health services, yet don’t seem to be in the same crisis as the US.  I agree with the theory that closing mental health institutions had a negative impact on treating people’s illnesses, because instead of getting the help they needed, people ended up in jail, homeless or dead.

    • 50-80 percent of the youth entering the juvenile justice system have a mental disorder;[5]
    • Untreated and mistreated mental illness cost American business, government and taxpayers an estimated $113 billion annually in 1997, more than $200 billion in 2016.[6]

Dis-ease touches every facet of our daily lives, and if we don’t provide a clear way out of the rabbit hole, people will turn to any and every option to end their suffering – sometimes only hurting themselves, but most often by hurting/killing those around them. For years, I didn’t realize that I was masking my own pain with distractions like work, yoga, sex, and bad relationships.  Depression expresses itself in sometimes nefarious ways, so to those around me I seemed “fine” on the surface.  Hell, I thought I was doing “fine”, but then I lost my job and house of cards plummeted.

I am grateful to have had a support system there to catch me, who were also willing to see the state of suffering I was in.  Although this was a collective of two people, they were enough to save my life.  It took me a year of dedicated work to recover – a year of meds, weekly meetings with a counselor, a committed meditation practice, and A LOT of self-reflection.  In order to alleviate my anxiety, I worked to reframe my thinking and change seemingly instinctual reactions to keep negative thought patterns from causing me so much harm.  That meant I had to be willing to look deep into my past, and see that I had been carrying this hurt for so long, it had become a part of me.  Letting go of the anger was going to set me free, but, in ways, it felt like I lost a limb initially.

It took me a long time to get there, and a lot of work, but I finally realized that not only was I fighting against forgive, I was fighting the idea that I could be “happy”.  I didn’t grow up with an understanding of what that really meant, so I had to rely on other people and resources to teach me.  I had to learn to let go of fighting with myself, to be kinder with myself, to accept that our perceived “flaws” are sometimes our greatest strengths.  Children need to be taught coping mechanisms, especially the ones who aren’t provided a lot of opportunities in their every day lives – or the ones whose parents aren’t present in their lives – or the ones who are bullied, so that they can accept themselves despite what the internal, or external, critic may say.

The best place to teach children is in school, to have time set aside each day for meditation and focused relaxation.  While schools are strapped for all kinds of resources, there is talk about giving teachers guns as the solution to our current crisis.  It’s a short-sighted treatment, symptomatic of a much more long-term epidemic and we seem to have this bad habit in America of weaponizing our approach to even the smallest of everyday problems.  You can’t go to “battle” with depression, any more than you can “fight” a cold.  Arming teachers doesn’t alleviate the cause, and may in fact only end up causing more harm than good.  It’s also counterproductive to think that we can just keep burning the candle at both ends…the candle only melts away more quickly, and we are left collectively with fewer productive members of society.

We really need to rededicate funding and resources to help people recover from dis-ease and addiction.  Schools need funding for mental health professionals, and children need to learn how to cope with so many thoughts, emotions, and problems that arise in their daily lives.  Companies should allow employees more time away from work, to recharge their batteries, so that they aren’t so sleep deprived and burnout.  And we need to be a little more compassionate towards ourselves and others.

Changing policy takes time, the movement of change is slow and often cumbersome, but we can all take charge of our own mental wellness, in the meantime.  And we can help our friends and colleagues who may be struggling to do the same – we just have to be willing to “see” one another as “flawed” beings, and accept that this often just our natural state. Allow some time to unplug from the news, from your devices, and the freedom to explore, read and play.  Meditation allowed me to see the path out of the rabbit hole, and gave me a safe space to cope with all of these feelings, so that when I was strong enough, I kissed my anger kindly and set it free.  I hope for you, the same.