A Few Words on Reactions to Celebrity Deaths…

[Originally posted on Feb 12, 2012. This was a somewhat viral post at the time, thanks to it being cross-posted on Jezebel. Re-reading it, I’m saddened thinking about what has since happened to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and I’m sad that nothing in internet posting has changed in four years. If anything, it’s gotten worse…]

When a celebrity dies, social media blows up and follows an amazingly consistent pattern.  Keep in mind, I have done some of these myself. I think most of us have at some point or another:

Round One of Posting: “What? [Insert name here] died!”

Round Two: “RIP [Insert name here]”

Round Three: Posts links to something the deceased did that the posters thought was amazing

Round Four: Other parties decide to chime in: “[Insert name here] was a [drug addict/creepy alleged pedo/tyranical CEO of a company that makes an Operating System people are brainwashed to like and I was brainwashed to hate].” I’m presuming they then find the highest mountain with wi-fi access to climb atop to then proclaim, “I’m going to save my grief for someone who deserves it!”

Round Five: “100,000 people die each year from [starvation/earthquakes/war/listening to Michael Bolton while driving on a windy cliff]. Why don’t you care about them?”

Round Six: “Check out this great video of a cat yawning!”

Here’s the deal, people: there is nothing wrong with being sad someone died, and thankfully we, being the advanced species we are, have the capacity to have sympathy for more than one person at a time.  In fact, we can have sympathy for an unlimited number of people and things.  Wow – Amazing, right?  All this time, conventional wisdom told us we had to hide away our spare grief in cigar boxes, old shoes and mattresses because we thought it might run out at a really inconvenient time.  After all, how much would it suck if the family dog or other loved one died, or we watched Titanic for the 50th time, and we had no more grief to give? “Well, shit, Jennifer; this would normally be the time I’d hug you and tell you I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m all out of grief and sympathy.  I really shouldn’t have burned the last of it on Whitney Houston.”

“I told you not to waste it; she was a crack addict, you know.”

Why are people sad when a famous imperfect person dies?  You can ask the people who are posting the RIPs, and they each may have their own unique response as to why they are sad; perhaps they have a great memory associated with one of the creations of that imperfect person.  Maybe they really are that person’s Number One Fan.  Or maybe, they’re like me.  Every time I’ve felt sadness over a famous imperfect person’s passing, it’s because I feel they’ve been robbed of the life arc I wish everyone could have but few are lucky enough to receive.  On the final curve of this life arc, we overcome our demons, find peace and joy, create more beautiful things with our inner strength and wisdom guiding us, and we die peacefully in our sleep when we are old and grey.

I think of how talented and lovely Whitney Houston was in the “How Will I Know” video.  When I watched that video today, I thought about how the young, vibrant person in that video had no idea what was coming in her life – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have predicted her future would bring years of substance abuse and a publicly tumultuous marriage.  I’m sure she didn’t predict her final moments would involve drowning in a hotel bathtub, leaving behind a slew of rumors about her addiction and a beautiful young daughter who she didn’t say goodbye to.  I’ll admit, while I have always felt her vocals were about as close to perfection as you can see in pop music, I was never really a fan of her music.  Yet, I’m sad for her, and I am sad that yet another person didn’t have a beautiful and graceful final curve to their life arc.  I’m sad that the world still looks at addiction and other mental illnesses as stigmas.  I’m sad every time I read or hear someone state “fuck them” when they see a person falling hard.  I then get angry, because everyone who says “fuck them” is creating a barrier between those in need of help and the resources they desperately need.  “Fuck them” prevents people from admitting they can’t fix their life on their own.  “Fuck them” is what causes governments to cut funding to mental health facilities and programs.  “Fuck them” is what causes families to be afraid to seek help in the community, or to give up after the first few backs have been turned.

The person who passes may “just” be an imperfect celebrity, but to me? Their passing reminds me of all of our failures and all of the beautiful things that could have been created by those who left us far too young.

Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

Angels Landing

Image courtesy of Chris Giard

One of my favorite things about hiking is it provides me with endless metaphors for life. The most common one I think of is when you’re hiking a mountain, and you feel like you’re in the final turn, but it turns out there are several more switchbacks to traverse. It’s that feeling that you’re never really done and you never really “get it” – you’re constantly learning and climbing, for better or for worse. Or when you find yourself looking at the trail in front of you and forget to look at the view around you. Or when you’ve overcommitted to a trail, and you realize the only way to get to the end is to just put one foot in front of the other over and over again.

For no less than a year, I’ve been struggling with depression. It crept up on me, and I believed that it was mostly situational. I did a major move and dealt with job layoffs which are two huge stressors to experience on their own, never mind together. I often think of mood as having a baseline with peaks and dips. When I was in college, my baseline was the lowest it’s ever been – it was a struggle to get up most mornings. A few years ago, my baseline was the highest it’s ever been – I was truly happy and felt mostly complete. Since that height, my baseline has dipped lower and lower. A few events happened that helped it sink – I had a little bit of a health scare, my dad died, my best friend became very ill, a close friendship ended, and then of course, the ordeal with the layoff.  Great things happened in that timeframe as well, but these events made me think my sad mood was just situational and if I could only get through them I’d be fine again.

Things are situationally really good right now. I finally put some of my music out there, I have a phenomenal work-from-home gig, I have the flexibility in my schedule to make time to enjoy life. Yet… I feel sad and incredibly isolated. Not in the work-from-home isolated way, but in the “something is wrong with me, I can’t talk to anyone about it and why can’t I just feel and act like a normal person?!?” way. I have good days, and I have down days. My down days aren’t like they were in college, thankfully – I get very sad and feel a mixture of hopelessness and worthlessness, but I can still get out of bed. I also am mostly able to recognize when this sadness is trying to seduce me, and I make a point to go outside and look at the water or explore the city. Distractions and changes of scenery are exceptionally helpful. But that sadness and isolation still lingers on some level.

I was recently thinking about my “Reach Out” post and how many wonderful people I have in my life. I thought, “hmm, maybe I can reach out to my friends about this.” I walked it through my mind, because of course I could do this. There are a ton of loving people around me, and I know I have their support. As I walked through the scenario in my mind, I realized that it is a pointless endeavor. What happens after you tell people you are struggling with depression? What fairy dust can they possibly throw on you to make it go away? A memory of one of my hiking experiences popped into my mind as I thought it through:

Several years ago, Chris and I were hiking on the Angels Landing Trail at Zion National Park. It is not a trail for the faint of heart or the out-of-shape. Most of the 2.4 mile trek is at a 30% incline, and towards the end of the hike, you deal with narrow walkways with steep drop offs. I’m not too bad with heights, but I have my limits. There was this one stretch where they bolted a metal chain into rock, and you had to hold onto it while you stepped up and down onto rocks and outcroppings. Beyond those rocks was a steep slope and then a 3,000 foot drop off. I initially crossed it and felt exceptionally uneasy. I told Chris I couldn’t complete the hike, as I knew the final leg contained a very narrow walkway with a sheer drop on either side. I knew I’d be too shaky to do it. We decided to turn around. Chris went first and I started to follow him. Going back was even harder – there were parts where I had to lower my foot behind me to find a rock to rest on. At one point, I couldn’t feel where the rock was, and I began to panic. I started to hyperventilate and my limbs felt like jello. My hands shook, I started to cry. There was nothing Chris could do other than watch me and try to calm me down.

There was a moment as that all was happening where the thought entered my mind – I have to do this on my own. No one can help me – I have to calm down and get across. I knew only I could get myself out of this situation. I took a few deep breaths. Okay…okay…okay…I can do this. I can do this. I lowered my foot and trusted Chris when he said the rock was right there. I did it again and again until I made it to the clearing on the other side. Of course, when I got there, I cried and hugged Chris to release all of that anxiety, but the important part is, I got myself through it.

This memory popped into my head, because it is very much like being depressed and getting through depression. You can have support around you and waiting for you on the other side, but in the end, you’re the only one who can take each blind step forward. You’re the only one who can calm yourself down or get yourself out of bed in the morning, putting one foot in front of the other. You’re the only one who can communicate to a therapist, and you’re the only one who can allow yourself to get better. It’s not a single choice – it’s a series of choices. It’s that constant pushing to get better when that warm, heavy blanket of depression is weighing you down and tempting you. It’s resisting the temptation often no matter how tired you are or how much bullshit is thrown at you, because eventually it’s going to get a little better, in time potentially a lot better. I don’t want to cling to the side of a rock, isolated and sobbing. I need to move my feet.

To my friends – if I seem a little distant or sad or off, I’m still on the side of that cliff, but I have to believe I’ll get past it. I know you’re there waiting for me at the clearing, and I’m going to get to you. The first blind step behind me is just centimeters from my toes…

Mental Health Parity: This is a Really, Really Good Thing

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a new regulation going into effect on the national level that is going to help millions upon millions of Americans: insurance companies will be required to treat mental health and substance abuse the same as general physical ailments.

This is huge. And it makes me want to tell you a story, because this is something I have personal experience in:

My first job out of college was working for a California company that provided mental health case management and claims administration as a carveout to local HMO providers for professional services. Mental health is a very nuanced field in healthcare, and at the time, most HMOs would contract with a company that specialized in that area to handle their members’ needs. The HMOs would pay either as a fee-for-service (which is to say, the carveout would receive a certain amount of money per procedure), or, they would pay a monthly capitation rate (which is a lump sum estimated on the number of lives covered). To make money on a fee-for-service, the carveout simply had to pay the provider of the service less than what they received from the HMO. To make money on capitation, the carveout had to make sure that payments to providers each month were less than what they received from the HMO each month. Of course, the providers had to be contracted with the carveout, so those rates were previously negotiated.  This is a fairly predictable thing, as the carveouts typically only handled professional fees (doctor’s/therapist’s visits), which means they were shielded from those huge-dollar, unpredictable hospital bills.

With all of the problems I saw in the company I worked for, I can honestly say that despite the obvious temptation to shortchange care for a larger profit margin, I never saw them do this. They’d cut corners in every way imaginable, but in the end if someone needed care, they got care. That said, I saw a system that was designed to fail: the Pre-Parity California System.

At that time, all mental health was considered a “specialist” benefit. You know how on the back of your insurance card, you have a lower copay for general office visits and OB/GYN visits, but a higher copay for specialists? Mental health providers fell under that specialist category. If you had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or any other mental illness, you had to pay that higher copay whenever you saw your mental health providers. In these more serious instances, that meant you had to pay a copay once a month for your 15-minute medication management session with a psychiatrist, and you had to pay a copay no less than once a week for your 45 minute counseling session with your therapist. With things like severe depression or anxiety, it’s not unheard of to have a therapy session two or three times a week. Keep in mind, if you were on an HMO like our patients were, your doc had to obtain an authorization to see you, and “renew” that authorization every 6 visits (which is why so many providers hate HMOs; on the other side, it does provide a check that can ensure a provider isn’t fraudulently billing or just dicking around in their sessions).

The worst example of this process I’ve seen came from an insurance I’m going to call Acme Health. This is a huge national provider that had and has a presence in California. Their specialist visit copay in 1999 was…get ready for this…$50/visit. Fifty damn dollars. Now here’s the kicker – due to our agreement with the HMO group connected to Acme Health, we were contractually obligated to take that full copay amount from the member. Why is that worth mentioning? Because our medication management reimbursed at $45. So because the patient was using their insurance, they actually paid more out-of-pocket than what we charged for the session. Once a month, for a session that lasted up to 15 minutes, no more. If you did medication management, you almost always had to supplement it with counseling, so add $50 per week to a counseling session with a masters-level therapist, who was reimbursed at $65 per session. So in one month, you, a person who is schizophrenic or severely depressed or what have you, just spent $250 on your mental health on top of what you pay monthly for your premium. Your insurance paid $60. Do you see where this comes across as somewhat immoral and outrageous?

I was working for the company when California passed their own Parity Act. The act stated that any treatment for specific diagnoses (all severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or severe depression) had to be handled the way a general office visit would, meaning members only had to pay their office visit copay and not their specialist copay. Those people who were paying $50 a visit, now only had to pay $10 a visit. Rather than spending $250 a month on their care, they were now only spending $50 a month (plus that premium, of course). Think about that when you hear Big Insurance panic – and they will. They were making a fortune off of the mentally ill in California, and then they were cut off.

The Parity Act killed businesses like the one I worked for – why pay someone to manage something that you are now managing like a regular office visit? We folded in under a year due to the passage of that act. I had no problem with that. When you hear Big Insurance say they can’t stay in business because of this government interference? Just look at Acme Health – they are still in business today, and are one of the largest and most profitable insurance providers not only in California, but in the nation.

2013 Bucket List: Get the Funk Out

Naturally, my bucket list is held in an ice bucket.

At the beginning of 2012, I decided to create a bucket list of things to accomplish for the year. Looking at the original blog post, I actually didn’t do so bad:

Start an international cooking club
Did I do it? YES! It was a hit, and I had a blast experimenting with different dishes – Kalua pork, ribollita, pots de creme, chicken molé … unfortunately, since we are in the process of moving, I had to discontinue my participation. My husband is currently recruiting Bay Area people to take part once I move up there, so hopefully we can start it up again.
What did I learn?
1. It’s okay to screw something up.  I totally messed up my garlic aioli. It was inedible. Surprisingly, I was okay with this; I had a back-up plan (gruyere sauce), and failing is a necessary part of experimentation.
2. A good party, even a food-oriented party, is about the people. Pretty design and delicious food is great, but the most important thing to do is to make sure everyone is relaxed and having a good time.  We had a ton of laughs with our friends over good food and wine.

Do a DIY/Repurposing project
Did I do it? Yeah, no. Bless all of you who have the patience and ability to do this sort of thing. I pretty much lost interest in this task within a month or two.

Make 100 hats for the homeless
Did I do it? Not really. I’ve made about 30 or so. It’s not bad, but it’s not 100.
What did I learn? Doing something – anything is valuable. And hands get all crampy when you’re knitting or crocheting constantly.

Do one thing I’ve been afraid or resistant to do
Did I do it? Yes! After a few chicken moments, I stepped out of my comfort zone a few times. I got braces – something I’ve always needed, but was hesitant to do. I’m an adult – it felt weird doing it at my age.  The cost is also astronomical, as most plans don’t cover adult orthodontia. I’m super self-conscious about them, but hopefully it will pay off when I’m done with them next February. I also submitted a few articles to various places – something I was afraid to do for a while.
What did I learn? I am an overthinker. Sometimes, overthinkers need to just cannonball into the damn pool rather than stand at the edge for 20 minutes.

Learn all three movements to “Moonlight Sonata”
Did I do it? I got the first one down…
What did I learn?
1. Don’t commit to all three movements until you have looked at the sheet music. Because the third movement? Holy shit.
2. After years away from the piano, I discovered that I still have that tendency to meander away from practicing to create my own music.
3. I’m okay with that.

Run a race and hike a mountain
HHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHahahaha….
Heh.
*sobs*
*Eats a piece of leftover port wine cheeseball*
nnooommmmm

Get my blog to average 100 visitors a day for a week
Did I do it? YES! Thanks to Jezebel and my beloved OK Go.
What did I learn? Quick story time: Just before OK Go retweeted and Facebooked my creativity post, I was dealt a pretty crushing blow at work. I expressed interest in an internal job I would have been FREAKING AWESOME in, and they gave me the “we’re looking for someone with more experience” line. Without even bothering to look at my resume. This was pretty crushing because my instincts (correctly) told me this position would have been my only real chance to have a long term role in the company. See, I’m in middle management and my company was absorbed by a larger company the year prior. What does that mean? Ginormous target on my back. Despite my ninja-style ass-kicking abilities on a number of projects, ultimately I was nothing more than a name to be crossed off.
I was pretty crestfallen and cried in a bathroom stall for several minutes. I returned to my desk, unsure of how I could get through the day without letting on how upset I was. No one wants to cry at work. There, I discovered the retweet and Facebook post. No, it didn’t change my life, but it got me through the day with a smile on my face. I knew it wouldn’t mean fame or riches or anything ridiculous like that, but seeing the warm responses from all involved reminded me that there’s a lot more to me than being a manager or a data analyst.  I deserve better than bullshit (so do you).  I need to keep reminding myself of that, even now.

What’s Next?
You will notice the title for this is “Get the Funk Out.” You will also notice that my posting schedule is all over the place.  I’ve got a lot going on in my life and in my brain. Rather than being Supergirl and doing it all whilst rocking that sex-ay red and blue unitard, Asshole Brain decided to be depressed, non-productive and unable to string a bunch of sentences together. Seriously, I feel like I’m getting dumber by the day. Damn you, Asshole Brain. So for 2013? I’m keeping it simple:

1. Get out of this funk. Especially by the end of March when my job is done. It’s a blessing I’m going to have the ability to take a little time off and I don’t want to waste it sleeping until 11am and watching The Doctors and shit. I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I have to. If I want to have success outside of the 9 to 5, office drone BS, I absolutely have to get out of this and make the most of my time off.

2. Start posting my music online. I have a goal of doing the RPM Challenge next month. If I can’t make that happen, I still need to post something. I’m writing a decent amount of music right now and there is one song in particular I am really proud of. I don’t expect anything to come of it, I just feel like I need to put it out there and hope people who would like this sort of music can find me and enjoy my stuff.

3. And um, I guess I need to figure out what the hell happened to my Amazon Affiliates link? When did that happen?

So, that’s my 2013. Easy, right?

Help Me Understand

It’s easy to sit here and type out my opinions. It’s easy to let the rage and frustration I feel take over and shut myself off from the world until the latest tragedy becomes old news and we’re back to talking about Anne Hathaway’s crotch shot at a premiere or Lindsay Lohan’s legal troubles. I debated what I was going to write today. I’ve struggled with writing as of late, because I am not in a place to write funny and happy things. I’ve felt exhausted talking about issues, because there are too many people who don’t want to have a conversation.  They want to scream and plug their ears until they have their way. It’s just too much some times.

Suddenly, here we are. As I read my Twitter and Facebook feeds responding to a national tragedy, I realize that there is a way of thinking in this country I simply cannot comprehend. I need to understand this:

Help me understand why you think the real solution to preventing a tragedy is to arm kindergarten and first grade teachers.

I keep seeing this over and over. See, in my mind, I separate the right to bear arms from a mandate to bear arms. When I imagine a world where a kindergarten teacher feels they must carry a gun on them while they standing in front of a class of 5 and 6 year-olds in a suburban, sleepy Connecticut elementary school – and in this case, it would need to be a gun that could defend against a person in a bulletproof vest armed with a semi-automatic weapon – I don’t see a world of Freedom or Apple Pie or a God Blessed America with a Right to Bear Arms and a cherry on top; I see a world that is in a lawless, militant state; a state where no place is safe and every house has a panic room with steel walls that are a foot thick.

Why do I see this?

Because any world where a kindergarten teacher feels that they must arm themselves in order to go to work is a world where gun ownership is not a right, but a mandate. It is a world where a sweet 27 year-old with a winning smile and a gentle soul has to strap on a Glock in case a day of fingerpainting is disrupted by the possibility of engaging a madman in a gunfight. Wow. We really want to go there?

Since we’re all a fan of slippery slopes, answer me this question: say we allow teachers to bring guns to school. Say some of those teachers and administrators don’t believe in owning guns and choose to not carry. Say a gunman still enters the school and guns down people.  If the “fault” of the latest massacre is not allowing a person to bear arms in a school, who is at fault when an individual chooses not to carry? Before you bring up the argument of “well, derp, nice try, but someone would carry and they would Wyatt Earp that crazy mother fucker and shoot him down before anything happens,” let me remind you of something:

Several people had the right to carry a gun at the event where Jared Loughner shot and killed a number of people in Tucson. At that event, people either made the choice not to carry, or in the chaos, people forgot they were carrying or felt it would be ineffective. Keeping this in mind, can we agree that MOAR GUNZ isn’t really a solution?

While on this subject, I need your help understanding one other thing: Why is it when any challenge is brought up in regards to waiting periods, limits on arming those who are severely mentally ill, or simply disagreeing with a MOAR GUNZ philosophy, it is automatically assumed that people want to repeal the 2nd amendment?

Newsflash: Most people in this country don’t want to repeal the 2nd amendment. Check out the polls. It’s not going to happen. The problem is, we can’t even start the conversation about what we can do in a civil manner without the NRA cock-blocking the discussion with hyperbole, rhetoric and fear-mongering.  Can’t we have a civil conversation about this? Can’t we discuss why pro-gun advocates hate having a small waiting period before purchasing their guns, and why someone like me sees waiting periods as completely benign? Can’t we sit down together and attempt to come up with a solution that does not infringe upon the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of those who intend to use these guns to take away the rights of others?

Unfortunately, we all know the answers to these questions. For those who are responsible gun owners who do not want their rights infringed upon, I will tell you this: if you can come up with solutions that do not involve mandating gun ownership – be it developing a health care system that better supports the mentally ill, whatever – now is the time to share your ideas and be vocal on those solutions. Both sides want these tragedies to stop – if you can find a solution that doesn’t require me to carry a gun, I will stand by you and support your ideas and your rights.

Taking Inventory of Beliefs

The events over the past week have left me largely speechless.  Like many of you, senseless tragedies like the shooting in Aurora remind me of how little I understand in this world.   As someone who is agnostic and will remain agnostic until the day I die, the beliefs I hold and do not hold are sacred to me.  This weekend, I’ve found myself taking inventory in these beliefs:

First off, I believe there is nothing wrong in believing in God or an afterlife.  If you can believe, I may even be a little envious of you.  The fact of the matter is, I simply cannot believe in those things.  My brain is no longer wired that way.  And I believe there is nothing wrong with that, either.

I believe tragedy provides us with an opportunity to be better people.  I don’t believe in fate or predestination, but I believe in us.  I believe that we are wired to survive.  We are wired to do better and be better, and there is something in us that keeps us pushing and persevering no matter the odds.

I believe we only live once.  We only experience this world once – and whatever becomes of us after death, be it afterlife or nothing, we never experience what this world has to offer ever again.  We can only feel the warmth of a kiss, see the setting sun turn the sky into a masterpiece of oranges and reds, or listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos a limited number of times.  The idea that an individual can rob another of those experiences is beyond tragic and sickening. There are no words to describe it.

I believe it’s times like this where we have to reach down and cling to our sense of humanity rather than our sense of vengeance.  I absolutely believe in the importance of justice, but with all the sensationalism and politicizing, we’re losing sight of the future.   At what point are we going to take mental illness seriously and connect those in need to the help they so desperately need before something horrible happens?  When are we going to remove the stigma and the red tape that keeps friends and family from finding help for their loved ones?

Right now, I don’t have the answers for the things I don’t understand.  I usually try to find answers and possibilities and present them to you on this blog, but I simply have nothing today.  All I can offer is a few links to help you if you or someone you know is in need of help.  Maybe at some point in the future I can do more. For now? This is all I’ve got:

Suicide Hotlines by State (http://suicidehotlines.com/)
60 Tips for Living with Schizophrenia (http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/60tip.html)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org/) [This is a very good general resource on coping, support and recovery]

Grief Recovery Support Groups (http://www.griefshare.org/)

The Depression-Anxiety Club

Welcome to the Depression-Anxiety Club.  Here we celebrate the cycle of self-defeating behavior exhibited by all of our members.  I know Depression-Anxiety sounds like an oxymoron, but these two problems actually go hand-in-hand.  It’s kind of like Professor Xavier and Magneto are having a chess match in your head, except it’s far less awesome.  Here is how Depression-Anxiety works:

Step One:  Be too depressed to get out of bed.

Step Two:  Realize that during extended bed time, you didn’t do That Thing You Were Supposed To Do.

Step Three:  Experience extreme stress and shame.

Step Four: Pathetically try to fulfill said duty in a belated, half-assed manner.

Step Five: Feel like an asshole.

Step Six: Go to bed.

Step Seven: Repeat steps one through seven, ad nauseum.

While I am in a much better place in life now, back in the day I was the Grand Poobah of the Depression-Anxiety Club.  If we were more productive members of society, we would have designed special fezzes and a secret handshake, but instead, we all stayed in bed and wept.  It’s kind of a crappy club in that respect, but at least we kick the freemasons’ asses in membership.  Plus? We are open to all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, and political leanings.  The more I talk to people, the more I realize how many members have joined the club at one point or another.

How do we even get to that point? That is way too long for the short attention span of a blog posting.  Often, you don’t even really know you’re heading down that road.  Life starts to feel a little less enjoyable each day.  A couple of bad things might happen – you might go through an ugly break up, you might have a health scare, and you might experience difficulty in an area you are used to breezing through.  You might find that you’re disrespecting yourself because the few anchors you counted on are floating away when you need them the most.  Sometimes, it’s a chemical imbalance that decides to sprout at the most inopportune of times.

Sometimes, the depression kind of “works” for you.  As someone who is an emotionally-driven songwriter, there is this creative “sweet spot” where I’m slightly depressed but not completely depressed.  I have extreme difficulty writing music when I’m happy.  When I’m in this “sweet spot,” I write decent music and hands-down my best lyrics.  I feel like I can make the world rhyme and tell you amazing stories in perfect meter.  If I fall too far into the depression, I lose it all, and the keyboard looks like a stranger to me.  That caused a 6 years-long writer’s block towards the end of school, and pretty much destroyed me on a music level.  So in short, if I tell you, “hey guys, I just wrote a song! :D”  It is perfectly acceptable if you respond with, “yay…I guess? : /”

Depression is a very seductive beast – when it starts to tug you down, it feels easier to succumb to it than to fight it.  Once you give in, it is difficult to dig your way out.  Then the anxiety starts.  In a strange way, the anxiety almost saves you – between the constant pushing and pulling between these two forces, you get to a point where you can’t stand yourself.  I know what you are wondering – how exactly is that a good thing?  For me, the depression was a cozy little do-nothing blanket that made me dead to the world.  By itself, it made me slip further and further away from caring about anything.  Anxiety made me hate that feeling.  Each time I dove into the Depression-Anxiety Club, it was the anxiety that drove me to seek help.  I could deal with my heart flat-lining; I couldn’t deal with it racing – how screwed up is that?

I am in a better place now because the anxiety drove me to seek help.  I spent years in therapy, although I refused to go on medication because I incorrectly felt like that was a cop out.  Don’t make my mistake – if your therapist feels it would help you, consider giving it a shot.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on pills all your life – in fact, many people are only on them for a short period of time until the worst of the illness has passed.  The other piece of the puzzle is you.  No one can pull you out of this except for you – you need to make a commitment to yourself and force yourself through it, no matter how hard it may seem.  This means you need to recognize the seduction of depression and fight it with everything you have.  How do you fight it?  When you hear that little voice that says, “I don’t want to hang out with my friends tonight” – call a friend and go out.  Yeah, you’ll feel like you’re going through the motions, but it beats isolating yourself, trust me.  And you know what? There are people who love you.  They really, really love you, and they would be honored if you picked up the phone and confided in them.

And don’t forget, you’ve got the Club.  No matter where we are in life, this is a lifetime membership, and no matter who you are or where you are, we are all right here with you.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Ghost in the Corporate Machine

I stared at the tiny little pill of salvation in my hand.  My 70-hour-a-week job had me exceptionally stressed out to the point where it kept me up at night.  I needed something other than a stiff drink to help me get some sleep so I could at least get 6 hours of sleep in a night.  Six hours.  That’s all I wanted.  I wanted to remember what that felt like.

Prior to holding that Miracle Pill, the commercials on television taunted me.  The pretty Lunesta butterfly would float in and save people from insomnia.  I’d get jealous and resentful of snoring people on NyQuil commercials.  Everyone looked so rested and peaceful, and here I was, mentally going over checklists and tasks to delegate for hours on end.  I’d lie there thinking of not only plan Bs, but I had to come up with plan Cs and Ds.   I had to account for the frequent database timeouts and crashes we’d experience or the paperwork that didn’t get to us in time.  My team was pushed to the limit – they averaged around 60 hours a week for over a year, and there was no sign of letting up despite a handful of pipe dream promises.  I was in my first management role, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.  I wanted to show the higher-ups how committed I was to making the company successful.  I wanted my team to like me and want to work for me.  I believed that a true leader had to work harder than anyone working under them.  Getting people to put in the kind of overtime required for an extended period of time is a tall order, and I felt like I had to pull out all the stops to keep the gears in this impossible machine moving.

The commercials for prescription sleeping aids were designed for people like me, and the side effects didn’t sound so bad: habit-forming, don’t drive a vehicle within eight hours of taking it, blah blah blah – that’s standard with any drug, right?  I knew from other people that one of the sleeping aids caused them to sleep eat – in their sleep, they’d walk to their kitchen and eat an entire jar of Fluff.  I knew Chris wouldn’t let me do that, so I felt pretty good.   Plus, Chris took Ambien for a couple of nights following his eye surgery and he slept like a rock.  I hoped to achieve similar results, and requested Ambien from my doctor.

My doctor sighed at my request.  I think he heard similar requests all too often from his patients.  “I’ll give you about a week’s worth; this is not something you want to take long-term.  If you continue to have sleep problems, we’ll need to find another way to address them – lifestyle changes.  These pills don’t cure insomnia; they can provide a temporary relief at best and can mask the deeper issues keeping you up at night.”  He explained his concerns about the dangers of the new crop of sleeping pills as he filled out the prescription.  On one hand, I’ve always appreciated that my doctor wasn’t a pill-pusher; on the other hand, my grumpy, sleep-deprived mind just heard, “yadda yadda yadda here’s your prescription.”  I didn’t want to hear that being a workaholic was going to kill me, and no commercial butterfly was going to carry me away from that shit.

I read the instructions that came with the prescription and took it right before I went to bed.  I lay in bed, waiting for Ambien to take me into dreamland.  It took longer than I expected or hoped, and I still found myself clock-watching.  Right before I nodded off, I looked at the clock and the 7 puckered.  Huh.

The next evening, I didn’t want to wait as long for the Ambien to take effect, so I decided to take it a little earlier, I’d clean up around the house and go to bed when I started to feel tired.  So, after cleaning for fifteen to twenty minutes, I realized I didn’t feel sleepy at all.  I decided the best thing to do would be to just lie in bed, turn out the lights, and again wait for the Ambien to take over.

Chris and I lay in bed, and I stared intently at the ugly floral-patterned curtains in our bedroom.  Woah.  Finally, I spoke to Chris.  “You know, there’s one thing I’ll say about this Ambien; it really messes with your mind.”

Chris turned slightly to me.  “How so?”

“Well? Right now? Our curtains are a forest.”

“What??”

Our hideous, 80s-era curtains that came with the house morphed into a beautiful, mossy green forest.  So pristine and ethereal!  Pretty forest, you’re teasing me with your beauty, but I know if I go for a stroll, I’ll only wind up with glass shards in my arms. Yes, I knew I was hallucinating, but for the virgin to life who never took a hallucinogen before, this was kind of awesome.  This was a journey, and who better to share this experience with than Chris?  It was of extreme importance I tell him every last detail.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

After telling him all about the curtain forest, I paused for a few minutes.  I stared at our ceiling fan.  It resembled… a seal?  A sealHello, Mr. Seal!  I smiled at it.  I had a new friend!  And I knew his story.  Oh, he didn’t speak or anything, but I had a soul connection with the fan.  I just knew.  I had to share his supreme wisdom and kindness with Chris.  “The ceiling fan thinks it’s protecting us from the forest; it doesn’t know that the forest is good.”

“Go to sleep.”

“I like the ceiling fan.”

“Shut up.”

Pause.  I turned to my side and stared at the digital clock.  “Hee-hee…”

“Grrr….”

Pause.  “Hee-heeee!”

What are you doing?”

He turned over to see me patting the alarm clock and poking my fingers at the display.  He just didn’t get it, man.  I giggled.  “The numbers are dancing! They’re moving around.  It’s so cool!”  Every time I poked the 9, it scrunched up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. “Hee-hee!”  Poke.  “Hee-hee!”

“Close your eyes and you won’t see anything anymore.”

“But I want to see it.”

“Go to bed.”

My entire bedroom was a Wonderland.  Forget the curtain, the clock and the fan, I just knew that there were all sorts of exciting things waiting for me in every corner of the room.  I pounced on top of Chris.  “WHATS ON UR SIDE OF THE BED?”

“Gahhh, Go to sleep! Shut up!!”

He was such a killjoy.  This was an experience of a lifetime, and I had only taken up an hour or so of his time.  Forget him; I had my new friend the ceiling fan to keep me company; I didn’t need him! And I just know that if the ceiling fan got to know the forest, he would like it, and we could all be friendz.  And we’d all watch the dancing numberzandlaughandhahaPillsburyDoughboySaladUnicorns!

ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

I opened my eyes and looked around the room.

The ceiling fan was a ceiling fan.

The ugly curtains were just ugly curtains.

The clock read 3:14 a.m.  Three hours passed.  The numbers weren’t dancing.

3:14 a.m.

I’m wide awake.

I’m wide awake, and I have to be up in two hours.

Fuck.

I gave myself another hour, and decided to continue with my daily tradition of logging into VPN to get work done prior to going into the office.  When I got into work at my normal time and while our computers gave us our morning ODBC Timeout Greeting, I shared my Ambien story with a couple of them.  “Wow,” one girl laughed.  “People pay a lot of money to get drugs that do that…” We chuckled, but I felt off.  Simple decisions suddenly seemed complicated, like a tangle of knots where you can’t find the first to undo.  My clarity was needed to go to plan Bs and Cs as databases timed out, angry clients called in, paperwork was MIA, and gossip was its usual disruptive self.  Answers usually came to me, yet this time I couldn’t untangle the knots to get to them.  It may have been the Ambien, it may have been the lack of sleep – whatever it was, my day became far more complicated than usual.

In all the tangles, I could hear my doctor’s sage words weaving through.  “Lifestyle changes…the deeper issues keeping you up at night…” I looked around at my team. I spent many 12-hour days with them.  How many waking hours did I see my husband?  Could I even say “hours,” let alone “hour?”  I looked at my computer with it’s stupid hourglass floating in the middle of the screen waiting to reach its inevitable conclusion of “ODBC Timeout Error.” God forbid I selected the wrong thing to filter.  I saw my boss, who a few months prior, threatened to cut off my VPN access if I didn’t take a weekend off.  Bless her heart for that.  It occurred to me that my pristine forest – my hallucination – was the only serene thing I experienced in months.

I looked beyond our area to the window offices and realized something I never really thought about before – no one gave a shit, and no one would ever give a shit.  We were the machine that worked – we weren’t people.  I was part of it – I became nothing more than a gear that turned and turned with its teeth slowly being stripped of definition and function with each revolution.  In that tangled moment, it occurred to me I was a lousy supervisor.  I wasn’t leading – I was operating a perpetual motion machine. I wanted to be everything to everyone, yet I was a nobody helping no one.  In a moment where my little answers were tangled, the largest one finally revealed itself to me.

I went home that night – late, as usual.  I put the Ambien away in the medicine cabinet.  Even though I enjoyed good times with the forest and the ceiling fan, I knew my doctor was right – this was no solution.  I needed a clear mind to untangle the knots.  I needed to find the most responsible way to exit the machine and become human again.

Admitting failure is one of the toughest things we must undergo in life, even when protected by the calming fog of a legalized hallucinogen.  I’d lie if I said I didn’t continue trying to please everyone at that job – I did it every single day until my exit strategy was complete.  I wanted to fix my failure yet I didn’t have the perspective needed to get it right.  With perspective, I learned a huge lesson from that job:  I had to set boundaries for myself.  The stress I felt was the stress I put on myself.  The boundaries I set as a result are the boundaries I have to this day, and I’m happier for it.  I’m a better manager because of it.  I have clarity, and I actually come up with solutions – real solutions, not Band-Aids and Silly Putty.  If something doesn’t get done despite our best efforts, I’m not putting in a bunch of 60-hour workweeks to make it happen.  Sometimes you need to let things fail to expose the weakness of the structure they are built on.  It’s better to show a few fissures early on, than to try and hide them until the entire foundation collapses in on itself.

I learned success isn’t found in our paycheck amounts or promotions received.  Success is found in honoring those boundaries we set for ourselves – when we are true to our morals and ethics, honor our happiness, and put the needs of ourselves and those we love first, we are successful.  At the end of the day, when we have nothing more than a pay stub and a business card to define who we are, we really are nothing more than a gear in a machine.  The sleeping pills we take, the bottles of wine we drink only allow us a moment to forget how much more we can be.

Maybe that’s what my doctor was trying to tell me when he handed me that week-long prescription.

Fashion Intervention Team!

Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.

Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety.  Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss.  I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression.  My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.

At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka.  They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely.  Shemeka spoke first.  “We need to talk to you about something.”

Uh-Oh.  Was it my messiness?  Was it my pathetic issues with my ex?  Emily rested her hands on her lap.  “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”

I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt.  “Huh?”

“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”

I looked at them, perplexed.  “I don’t?”

Shemeka shook her head.  “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short?  You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”

“What??  It does?”  I intuitively grabbed my rear end.

Emily continued.  “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”

Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her.  “…they don’t match with anything you own.”

I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment.  I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say.  My friends were blowing my mind.  “But…I shop at the mall…”  You can never go wrong with the mall, right?  I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal.  Wet Seal!  I put my hands on my shorts.  “I got these at Wet Seal…”

Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head.  “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them.  They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive.  You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”

My eyes widened.  “The Gap?  They are so expensive!”

Emily stood up, exasperated.  She pointed to her shirt.  “Ten dollars!  I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”

I looked at her in amazement.  Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items?  I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place!  I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass!  I thought about the bad turn my life was taking.  Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction.  I looked at them like a lost kitten.  “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”

Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee.  “Yes!”  I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that.  My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?

“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”

All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency.  I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.

The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps!  So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall.  From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe.  FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.”  We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front.  They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.

Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping:   “Never pay full price for anything.  Never!  It will all go on sale eventually.  Oh and by sale?  We don’t mean 10% off.”  We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping:  “Always start at the back of the store.  That’s where the clearance items are.”  I looked at the items skeptically.  “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”

FIT shook their head.  “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.”   They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags.  “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style.  Try this on!”  I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it.  I squinted to read the writing on the shirt.  “I can’t read what it says…”

FIT sighed.  “It doesn’t matter!  You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants.  Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…

I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap.  I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval.  They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping:  “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union).  Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs!  Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms.  The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”

We purchased the shirt and the leggings.  True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years.  I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.

Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1:  Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar.  I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.

We continued on.  I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.

“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”

“Sigh.”

FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it.  I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.

FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores.  We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards.  To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out.  Dillards was THE store for Emily.  Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness.  I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett.  She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.

At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I reading it correctly?  I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30.  “So…I can get this for… under $15?”

FIT nodded.  We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass.  A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5!  I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.

We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags.  Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased.  He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.

Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life.  I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.”  I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst.  For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.

Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance.    Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!”  I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet.  I looked good.  Well, 90s-era good.  I earned my FIT diploma that day.

Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang