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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Decades are Beautiful

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You Haven’t. – Thomas Edison

Ten years ago, we thought my mom had exhausted all possibilities in her fight against Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia (CLL).  For nearly ten years prior to that, she had gone through various rounds of treatments to rid herself of an incurable type of cancer, which usually doesn’t affect people until their in their 80s (and living another 5-10 years is a perfectly acceptable timespan). At the time of diagnosis, she was in her 40s.  I blame the fact that we lived near the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons production facility, but that’s a conversation that I will save for another day and another rant.

There came a point during the course of my mother’s treatment when her medical team determined they had expended all options to mitigate the disease and the only option was a stem-cell transplant (what you would probably know better as a bone-marrow transplant).  Next steps were to find a matching donor – someone with the same DNA markers of her immune system which needed to align with my mom’s.  Likely candidates include siblings, but hers’ did not.  Enter Miracle #1, a donor with 10-out-of-10 matching markers – someone young and eager to be of service.

Her transplant date was set for December 2006.  Knowing the severe and life-threatening complications she faced, we gathered as a family on Thanksgiving to wrap her in love and send her off to MD Anderson with as many prayers as we could say in those few short weeks.  But, the transplant was delayed, not once but twice, because she was retaining fluid and her heart began to fail.  No-one was able to determine why she took a turn for the worse, the medical team was at a loss, and after the 2nd delay, her transplant physician said that they had done all they could, but she was not healthy enough to survive a transplant.  It was time to go home, they told us.

Enter Miracle #2, my mother’s uncompromising and warrior-like spirit.  If anyone wonders where my stubborn streak comes from, and you think it couldn’t possibly be from my sweet, compassionate mother, let me assure you – you are dead wrong.  Tell my mom she can’t do something, I double-dog-dare you.  She was not done, she was not going home, something in her rose up, in defiance of fate, and vowed she would be there to see her children grow up, to become a grandmother, to see the world, and to live.  We both made a vow that her defiance would not be in vain.  As her advocate, I ripped the medical team a new a$$hole to find out why my mom had suddenly accumulated 60-lbs of water weight and why she suddenly had developed congestive heart failure when her heart had been healthy her whole life.

Turns out, she was having an undocumented type of allergic reaction to sulfa, and she showed dramatic improvement within 48-hours of switching her medications.  We then worked for the next 3-months to help her build back the strength she had lost, so that when we walked back into the transplant physician’s office in late March 2007, he said she was ready.  You would have thought we won the lottery, and in a way, I think we did.  Odds were stacked against her in every way, but on April 4, 2007, she received a new lease on life.  The road to recovery was not easy, mind you.  Post transplant recovery was full of frightening twists and turns, but the warrior put her chin down and dug her heals in.  Every day, we meditated on the healing power within her, on the strength she had to endure, and on the ability to absorb the love that surrounded her on this journey.

Enter Miracle #3, a decade has gone by and today we celebrate what transplant patients often refer to as her re-birthday.  It is hard to describe the profound ways in which this process has affected me, or the gratitude that I hold for the selfless act of her donor (whom we have had the amazing opportunity to meet and get to know), but seeing those you love go through something, rather than around it, evolves your view of the world.  Every time I have an ache, or a pain, or want to complain, I remember, my mom turns 10 today.

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Photo Credit, (c) Laura Riggs

Quote of the Day: Frank Sinatra

“If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbors.”

Wonder when Chump will learn this….