Sugar and Spice and…NO.

Today was dedicated to running around and getting prescriptions and a flu shot. Nothing special about today except the weather was grey and rainy, which is not at all normal for Arizona.

And oh god, a message that started with, “I’m sending you this message because…”

I didn’t read it while I was out in public. It was from someone I used to be close to, who dropped off the face of the earth for the thousandth time. She sent it through Facebook messenger, so I’m not sure if she previously deleted my email addresses.

The gist of her message was, “I don’t expect a reply. I cut off contact with you because 20 years ago you didn’t bring me food when I was sick and you went to Las Vegas with your boyfriend instead and you didn’t call me. And one time when you were visiting you didn’t call me, I had to call you, and you said you were getting really busy, and I could drive up to St. Cloud to meet up with you or go out to eat with you and your sister and brother-in-law and it offended me.”

So let me explain a few things. When we lived in New Mexico at the same time 20 years ago, she had a pager she would never respond to. That was how I was allowed to contact her. Also when we lived in New Mexico, she was a heavy pot smoker, and whenever she smokes weed, she starts fights. All of her other acquaintances would ask me what was wrong, and I told them to keep her away from the weed if they didn’t want to fight. They finally made the connection. And for the last few months that I was there, I couldn’t get ahold of her at all even after driving to her last known location because she cut off all communication. This is a repeating pattern.

Whatever visit she’s referring to where she had to reach out to me, again, I have never been allowed to call her. She doesn’t believe in talking on the phone. Keep in mind that texting has not been a thing for the entire last 27 years that she and I have known each other. She didn’t like to talk on the phone because it made her nervous; the reasons why changed over the years. Email was not always practical because, again, it was not always portable. So there were times our relationship was limited to mailing letters back and forth. When I used to travel, sometimes I would only be back for 3 or 4 days, and I would have to see multiple households because my parents were divorced and remarried, plus my siblings were grown and married. I was fucking trying to make everyone happy. Plus, hey – I was flying into their state. The last time I flew into the area (not as a resident), I DID see her, stayed at her place and saw her boyfriend perform with his band.

I’m not going to keep score on who didn’t fly out to see me. She had her own shit to deal with. But to be told I’m not worthy of friendship because of these things makes it pretty easy for me to close this chapter.

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Let’s Play Family Feud

This week has been really tough.

First, I had to run to the pharmacy to get some meds. I belong to a reduced rate program for disabled people and it’s contracted with a cab company; I just have to let them know I’m in the program when I call. I did that. The phone rep didn’t want to take down my address or the address where I was going. I found out when I got in the cab that the rep also didn’t specify that I was on the program, because the cabbie was expecting cash. He was pissed. He called into the home office and kicked me out of the cab, telling me to call for a different one. I had already waited 45 minutes for him (but I didn’t tell him that). My anxiety went through the roof. 

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But then he called me back and said the home office fixed it, and he would take me – but he wasn’t happy. I ended up giving him some extra cash on top of my fare, which he appreciated, but I had to fight back tears when all of this went down. I did everything right, yet I was punished for the fuck up. 

Two days ago, I had to go to an appointment because of my tunneling infection disease. If any of you have hidradenitis suppurativa, or you feel brave and have a strong stomach and you want to see videos, have at it. There is a guy here in Phoenix who has posted some pretty gnarly videos of his hiney. Mine DOES NOT look like that (yet), but I do have lots of scar tissue and tunneling. The crazy thing about this disease is that if you drain or squeeze any infection out, it actually forces the tunnels back further, like what a gopher does if you try to chop into its tunnels. The infections are incredibly painful because of the acidity of the bacteria. It’s also not the oil glands that clog up, but the sweat glands. My active areas happen to be the places where I sit. Most women have trouble under their arms. Bless you, ladies, for having it anywhere. It’s three times more common in women than it is in men.

Anyway, I had to get one spot tended to (I have over 50 active spots right now) because it was getting so painful that I couldn’t sleep. The doctor was trying to inject me with steroids and Lidocaine, not realizing that Lidocaine doesn’t work on me. So…I don’t get numb. Not one little bit. Before anyone came in to work on me, I had another panic attack and more than a few tears, feeling overwhelmed by everything happening at once.

At some point when I was sleeping last week, I hyper-extended my left knee outwards. When I got out of bed, I could barely put weight on it, and I noticed bruising around the knee cap. My quadriceps above the knee cap also swelled up. At first I put on a couple of knee braces, but then my left hip started hurting from the misalignment as well, so I gave up and went to my pain doctor. The doc and his nurse practitioner were reading up on my conditions and asked me to do the laying down/sitting up trick to move around my CSF. I got a referral for physical therapy for someone who specifically knows how to treat patients with hypermobility, but I had to put it on hold, because my short bus transportation has been a problem. 

In August, I received a notice from the company running the accessible transportation in the Phoenix area that I would only be eligible if the temperature was 90 degrees or greater. I sent in a 3-page letter and some highlighted medical records. I was scheduled for a hearing to try to overturn that decision on Tuesday. I received a call today from an extremely cheerful woman (think Sesame Street) who told me that they decided to approve me unconditionally, no hearing needed. I thanked her and told her that it had caused me a lot of stress. I wanted to swear at her but didn’t want my privileges revoked.

So now, tonight. There was a meme going around of Trump and Kanye making out, because let’s face it, that’s what they do. A cousin who is all the way up Trump’s ass decided to comment on my sister’s post and say that he was disappointed in her post, that he loved our dad who passed away young, that I (Chelsea) had unfriended him (the cousin) for his viewpoints and that he still loved us. Well, I’ve got some screen shots – not all – so you can read them. But the conversation that led to me unfriending him in the first place was him telling me that he was tired of paying for me. Basically, he believes I should die rather than get healthcare. This is someone who has been to rehab and probably needs to go again. But he’s telling me to get off my lazy ass; I must be lazy because I’ve had 10 failed brain surgeries.

Andrew1
Andrew2
There was a little more that I typed before I blocked him, but I ended it with this:

Because he really should eat a bag of dicks. He wasn’t around for any of my surgeries, or for the 7 years it took me to figure out what I had with very little help with any of the 60 doctors I saw up to that point. I guess he even threatened me for crossing him, but I jumped off that conversation before seeing it, but other people did. What a great guy, huh?

Secrets and Lies

Every Sunday at 12:00 am EST, a group of postcards are published on Postsecret.com. This was something that was started a long time ago by a man named Frank who originally set up an answering machine that people could call into and leave their anonymous secrets. It graduated to an anonymous postcard opportunity that people could send in to his address, and he would publish a handful every week.

Then he started making collections of books. Devotees would make their own postcards and instead of mailing them in, they would go to bookstores and slip them inside books waiting on shelves with their rightful owners. Or the postcards would make their way inside library books, not necessarily by the last person to check them out, so one could never assume there was a clear path of those secrets.

Frank started doing live shows where people could submit their secrets to be read aloud. Now there’s a theater performance where the postcards are being acted out like little short plays. For a while, a Post Secret display was up at the Smithsonian, and a display of selected submitted postcards was set up in San Diego to visitors to admire.

I’ve been a faithful reader of Post Secret for years now. I also have a few books. But I rarely send in postcards, and I have never left cards in library books or items being sold in a book store. The past few months have been really tumultuous and I really felt the need to spill my guts – because some things were getting lost in the shuffle of current events.

My heart skipped a beat because recently, as I was scrolling down the published postcards, there was one of mine. I actually mailed off three cards at the same time. This one made the cut. My handwriting, my cut-out pictures, my outrage and fear and exhaustion. I kept looking at it. I wondered if anyone I knew was looking at it and recognized my handwriting. I also wondered if it even mattered, because I’m always outspoken, and after a while, people just tend to tune me out anyway.

But then it happened again: another one of my secrets was published. However, it’s not my type, it’s not my picture, and it’s not the entire message. Frank only used the first line and went and found a stock photo and pasted some text onto it. I was edited. 

This is what it’s like to be a woman, every single day. I honestly didn’t know that he was editing others’ post cards that were being sent in before posting them. I have no idea how often he does it. But I can tell you there is nothing I said that was illegal or immoral. He has published secrets that talk about suicide, murder, abuse, theft, and just about anything else under the sun. I can assure you that mine included none of those. Yet, he decided that I needed to be censored. 

This entire past week as we have sat through Kavanaugh and Ford being questioned, those of us women and men who acknowledge the trauma have endured either long term or short term understand this concept of being censored, and of having our experiences being minimized. When we do reveal our secrets, whether it’s in front of the entire world or it’s with something as small as a postcard, we are automatically accused of lying. In the meantime, our testimonies are changed and twisted to something unrecognizable. 

The biggest lie is that “two families are being torn apart” by these proceedings. Focusing only on Kavanaugh and Ford for a moment, Kavanaugh is only going to be disappointed if he doesn’t make it on the Supreme Court. He has had a lot of insulation from the Republican party telling him he’s a good guy, no matter what he has done and what he does now. Ms. Ford, on the other hand, has had death threats. She’s been called a liar when she can’t remember the finest of details, even though she remembers far more than Kavanaugh. In order to stay alive she’s had to go into hiding. Kavanaugh hasn’t. That isn’t equal treatment by far.

What hurts me the most is hearing from other women that Ms. Ford (and the other women) must be lying because this is the first time they are hearing about this. I know for a fact one of my family members was abused and we never talked about it, even to this day. I have had friends and co-workers tell me about their abuse from their family members. I have had friends either try or succeed in raping other friends. I have had my own experiences with sexual violence, as have countless women I am close to. During a recent discussion with another woman, we acknowledged that the official statistic is supposed to be one in six women experience sexual violence, but we don’t actually know someone who hasn’t had something happen – whether they want to admit it or not.

But we don’t sit around and talk about it. We certainly don’t call 911 the minute our sick uncles pull their dicks from our 4-year-old mouths, or when we’re struggling to figure out if we gave a friend mixed signals and if the cop is going to believe us if we call it in, even when we’re in full panic attack and the shaking never stops. (I’m saying “our” and “we” because these experiences belong to all of us.) Sometimes I don’t hear other women’s experiences until decades have passed. I can’t talk or write about all of mine.

What can we do now?
– Believe victims
– Stop shaming victims
– Stop treating men who manipulate and violate others sexually and violently as if they are the victims – they are not
– Vote for public officials who support women’s rights and human rights in November, not a patriarchy.

It’s a small list, but it will make all the difference.

Innovation and “The Bleeding Edge”

There’s a documentary that’s been added to the Netflix library that I think everyone should watch called “The Bleeding Edge.” Overall, the topic is supposed to be about medical devices. But talk about intersectionality! Unfortunately, I think that women are going to be drawn to this movie more than men – because we are experimented on and dismissed much more than men and the movie makes it much more evident.

Every once in a while, we get to see a little snippet of a CEO standing on a stage proclaiming the audience of marketers and/or health care professionals “innovators” or “disruptors.” I really struggle with these labels. I see them thrown around often. What do they mean, exactly?

Nothing has really changed drastically here in the U.S. with the delivery of healthcare. We are still beholden to insurance in the traditional sense, and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and medical device companies drive pricing, which is all over the place; nothing is uniform. Right now, only those with expendable income can stray from the model. Delving a little deeper, not every state is set up for people who are at or slightly above poverty; instead, the state laws are designed to punish them for lack of income and lack of healthcare, while simultaneously penalizing them for not taking better care of their health.

“The Bleeding Edge” covers such medical implants as hip replacement systems and the Essure coils, which are discussed in detail. I can relate to this topic on a few levels. First, all ten of the shunts that I had implanted between July 2011 and May 2015 failed. I went to a hydrocephalus conference in 2016 and was able to attend a panel with all of the major device manufacturers, and got the mic for a question. I detailed issues with scar tissue growing into the programmable part of the shunt which made the dial get stuck wide open, causing excruciating pain (and if any of you reading this have had a leak, imagine the symptoms for a year where you feel like you are being beaten by a tire iron every time you raise your head). The manufacturers insisted this was “impossible.” I told them they couldn’t say that to my face, because I was living proof, and one of their reps was in the exam room with me to witness it.

Any time, and I mean any time a device company says something isn’t possible right out of the gate, you know something is up. As outlined in “The Bleeding Edge,” women who had Essure implanted were only reported on for the first 12 months – and even for those women, their answers were altered so the outcomes were positive. As far as my shunts go, I didn’t know before my first surgery that all shunts have a 40% failure rate within the first year. I still haven’t seen that published anywhere. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t attended the bi-yearly hydrocephalus conference in 2016 and heard it from one researcher (and only one researcher).

My second connection is that I actually seriously considered the Essure implant. A friend had them implanted in her Fallopian tubes and seemed to suffer few side effects. I wanted to stop taking birth control pills but didn’t want other hormones, and thought maybe the coils would be a viable permanent solution. I actually developed tumors in my uterus and had to have a hysterectomy, otherwise I may have completed that process. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I didn’t after seeing this film. I didn’t realize the scope and breadth of complications – but more importantly, now that I know I overproduce scar tissue internally because of MCAS, I could have been in terrible trouble (besides what is happening now). I don’t know what I would do if I had to deal with that in addition to the scar tissue I already have growing around my intestines.

Another alarming process pointed out in the film is that devices are grandfathered in simply because they are similar to other devices that have been created. It doesn’t matter if the previous devices were defective. It only matters that the devices existed.

There are many moments in the film that made my blood pressure go up immediately. For instance, some fat ass doctor watching protesters who received the Essure implants say that they made up their complications. He is misogyny personified. And when a rep whose identity is disguised tells a story about a doctor who admits that the rep’s product is superior but he doesn’t get enough financial incentives so he’s going to promote a competitor’s product, I’m tempted to throat punch someone. Or how about when the filmmakers point out the different companies the former heads of FDA went to work for after they were done in the public sector so they could help get the products passed through the FDA for bigger profits with no thought to safety or effectiveness?

What would true innovation or disruption be? Let’s disrupt misogyny. Let’s disrupt hiring from the public sector into the private sector and vice versa so we can eliminate cronyism and sole emphasis on huge profit margins and replace those with successful medical devices and prescriptions. Let’s build a truthful healthcare system and test products before they are put into our bodies. (Don’t say it can’t be done. Other countries already do it.) Let’s build a healthcare system that is not based on employment or lack of employment. Let’s call it something other than “innovation” and “disruption.”

We’re Not Friends

I’m here in Arizona now. This is the most disjointed move I’ve ever done. The movers came to pick up all of my boxes (and very small amount of furniture – two little filing cabinets, two compact bedside tables and my super ugly but very functional hospital bed) on June 27th. I flew out to Phoenix from St. Paul on June 29th on the hottest and most humid day in Minnesota – 100 degrees. I was giving away some drawer units to my parents for their newly-constructed garage, and we had to tear them down completely to fit them in their trunk as well as my suitcases, my parents, my nephews and I for our detour to drop me at the airport. It feels like ages ago.

Thank goodness my old landlord left the little air conditioning unit that I had previously installed that a prior tenant had left behind, or we would have been in big trouble, because that apartment didn’t come with air conditioning. I had a POTS episode from being outside in the heat and humidity and trying to help Dad with loading the car. When I came back in for the final run, I was shaking badly and was nauseated, and couldn’t really answer my mom when she asked if I was okay. I had to get going though because Dad was still waiting outside for us, so I took a few seconds to change shirts and wipe the sweat off of my head and wig and reassemble myself, and away we went.

They dropped me at the curb to check in and get my wheelchair, and my nephews, aged 12 and 9, hugged me twice and cried. Well, we all cried. Then it was time to fight my way through Friday afternoon security. They didn’t give me the option to go through in the wheelchair so I had to walk and get a full pat down because the security scanner doesn’t like spandex. I finally got settled back in my wheelchair and since I was at my gate pretty early, I decided to read through my insurance documents.

Imagine my surprise when a few hours later, I glanced up and recognized the profile of a person who approached the podium to ask if she was at the correct gate. The exchange went something like this:
Her: “Excuse me, am I at the right gate? The flight time says 6:25, but this display says 6:45, so I don’t think I’m at the right gate.”
Employee: “Yes, you’re at the right gate. It’s still the same flight number and city. We’re just delayed by 20 minutes.”
Her: “Oh, okay. I just wasn’t sure because it totally wasn’t the right time.”
Employee: “It’s still the correct flight. You’ll make up some of the delay in the air going to Phoenix.”
Her: “Okay, I just wanted to be sure.”

I recognized her profile before her voice, but those questions were definitely typical. I have wondered over the decade that we have known each other how she has managed to safely leave her house sometimes. What made me instantly freeze and try to hide my half-paralyzed face with my hair was the fact that I had told her to go fuck herself just a few months earlier. Of all of the days I could have traveled and of all of the days she could have traveled, and of all of the cities she could have flown into and out of, and out of all of the airlines to choose from, this was the day and location she picked. Jesus fucking Christ.

When I visited Phoenix last October, I had made plans months in advance to stay with her a few days (because she is one of only a few friends who doesn’t have animals). However, a month before I visited, she became sick and told me not to call or text her. So I made plans NOT to stay with her. While I was there, I offered to visit for a few hours and wear a vogmask so I didn’t catch what she had – which by the way was a very nasty pneumonia that she didn’t immediately kick – and she turned me down. Then she sent me text messages telling me that I was a horrible friend for not staying with her, and “next time” she was going to just keep her personal business to herself. (Usually she saves that last bit for when someone gossips about her. I wasn’t gossiping. I just can’t stay with her because I was born with a compromised immune system, and now I’m on weekly injections that reduce it even further. Something like that could and would kill me.)

In May, she sent me messages saying that she knew I was moving down, and she wanted to know where and when. I hadn’t told her anything. She doesn’t know any of my other friends, save one whom she hasn’t talked to in years. I don’t know where the info came from, but at this point, I don’t care. It’s manipulative and it’s something that she does to feel superior. When I told her that I didn’t want to continue staying in touch because she was so shitty to me, she claimed she didn’t remember saying anything to me. Of course, I have it all in writing, so it’s not my imagination.

That mutual friend asked if I missed being friends with her. My answer? Only when I forget how bat shit crazy she is. I don’t like being manipulated. I told her to fix herself, and I stand by that. (Not that I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I also don’t claim to have never told someone not to call or text me, and then told them they are a horrible friend for not calling or texting me.)

Now that I’m in Phoenix, I’m a little nervous about being disabled and not being able to get away quickly if I do encounter someone I would rather avoid. That one is a good example. Another one is the former friend who tried to force himself on a mutual friend, and told me that I was crying about my sister and my friend dying 10 days apart just for sympathy. And oh, the ex-boyfriends. One in particular is Drummer #2, who was also controlling, manipulative and violent. I’m almost certain he still lives 2 miles down the road from where I am temporarily staying.

I think this is a good year for purging and starting new. I got rid of a lot of old furniture. I’m going to sever relationships that are unhealthy as well, as sad as that is, especially with friends who have been attached for so long.

Now if I could just solve the mystery of when the stuff I am keeping is actually going to arrive on the moving truck…

Are You Being Served?

in·ter·sec·tion·al·i·ty
ˌin(t)ərsekSHəˈnalədē/
noun
  1. the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
    “through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us”

    The state of Arizona doesn’t believe that I exist. I’m a woman with a bachelor’s degree, but I also have some rare diseases that have disabled me to the point that I am unable to work. I really had worked my ass off until I had my last shunt failure and surgery, when my neurosurgeon threw in the towel and gave up on me. The judge that I sat in front of for six minutes in March of this year noted in my paperwork that I had an exceptional work history. So my monthly pay is above the poverty level, because it’s based on the amount of take-home pay for the past 10-15 years (at the judge’s and state’s discrimination and calculation).

    Let me back up a little. I got my official judgement saying I’m disabled. Yay. Then my attorney told me that I might have to wait a number of months to see any money. But on May 24th, I got a call from the federal office saying that my money would be released on May 27th. I asked how it would be paid. They said it would be sent how I asked it to be sent. I asked how that was possible, since I hadn’t specified. They said, oh, it looks like we have info from Arizona. (Instant panic, since I haven’t lived there for 3 years.) I said no, absolutely not, I have all of my info updated for Minnesota, there’s no reason for it to be sent to Arizona. They said too bad, if you want it sent to Minnesota, you have to go to your local Minnesota office.

    So I did, on the morning of Friday, May 25th. I was a little worried because it was right before the holiday weekend. Luckily it wasn’t a long wait. But I found out that the money was already sent to Arizona – they didn’t wait until May 27th. It was sent on May 22nd. My former bank in Arizona reopened my account, accepted this rather large amount of money, and just sat on it. They didn’t tell me, and didn’t send the money back. For days. I was able to work it out so they could send the money to my current bank so it wasn’t lost. Anyway…

    So, while at the Social Security office making sure they didn’t send anything else to Arizona, I mentioned Medicare. The man helping me said, oh, didn’t you know, you’ve had it since January of this year? Another panic. I knew just from reading some info and talking to others that meant that I had a deadline coming up in just a few days. I had to sign up for a supplemental insurance policy and medication policy or I could lose out on tens of thousands of dollars. And Monday was a holiday. That meant that I had Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to make phone calls and sign up.

    This is no small task. I take 19 prescription medications, one of which is a weekly injection. The doctor that prescribes that had actually been working on getting an exception because my condition has been worsening. I reached out to the Minnesota SHIP office to talk about supplemental plans and medication plans. We found a supplemental plan that costs hundreds a month but could possibly transfer if I moved out of state. For the meds, I plugged in all of the names and we found out the injectable is not covered. It costs $37,000. Welcome to the world of rare diseases! So I had to call the manufacturer and talk to them about a patient assistance program, which might also allow me to get on a higher dose.

    So now back to Arizona. When I talked to their local office that helps seniors find supplemental plans for Medicare, they couldn’t believe that a disabled person under 65 had a disability check that was above poverty level. It isn’t a huge amount, mind you, but it doesn’t meet the standards for poverty. So I can’t qualify for medical assistance as my supplement, which is their only option in Arizona. I also can’t qualify for utilities assistance, transportation assistance or food assistance. The woman on the phone had very little experience but offered to find out more info and call me back. When she did, she told me to buy the policy in Minnesota and take it with me, as there was no hope for me in Arizona. 

    So Wednesday afternoon, I purchased the supplemental plan for Medicare and verified it could come with me (in writing) if I moved out of state. It’s possible it’s going to become much more expensive, but not nearly as expensive as having nothing.

    Thursday I finished sifting through all of the medication plans and tried to pick the best one. It was the least restrictive with the medications that I currently take (most of them wanted to restrict my Singulair, for some reason, of which I need double the normal dose). So I managed to get everything signed up before my June 1st deadline.

    However, while all of this is going on, there’s something else that’s been cooking in the month of May.

    Actually, this started in March. I had a crown fall off. A bunch of decay was discovered – first on that tooth with the crown, then the tooth next to it, then two teeth above it, then a bunch of cavities all over my mouth and it’s painful to eat or drink. I actually had to file a complaint against my dentist that I was seeing for about 2.5 years because he was physically abusive. When he was examining or treating me, he would pull my mouth roughly – so much so that the last time he left bloody fingerprints all over my exam napkin, and I had a swollen face for five days after. It was only after my massage therapist asked me who had been abusive with me that I filed the complaint.

    The complaint was supposed to have been anonymous, according to my insurance. However, they revealed all of my info, and the dentist counter-complained (like I was the asshole, because I was the one sitting in the chair with my mouth open). Then my insurance told me to go to two other dentists, which I did, and then they told me to go to my original dentist, and he refused (DUH), all to get this decay and a root canal taken care of. The two new dentists told me that they wanted me to go fully under and to be in an oral surgeon’s office or hospital because of my anaphylaxis history as well as my inability to numb with Novocaine. They referred me either to the U of MN or to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

    I called the U of MN for five days straight, and got different answers each day. They would say they didn’t do sedation, or didn’t take care of complicated patients like me, or were too booked. In the end, I got nowhere. So I turned my attention to HCMC, which happens to be a trauma 1 hospital. They told me they weren’t taking new patients (a huge lie). Then they told me to get a note from my doctor specifying which medications I’m taking – but that was only after they refused to answer my messages for 3 weeks. They wanted to see if my medical assistance would run out before they had to do anything.

    Well, ta da! First day of no medical assistance, June 1st! That means I get absolutely no dental coverage. So even though they have been aware of this issue for a few months and I’ve done everything they told me to do, I got zero help. By the way, it’s likely I’m having the trouble with the decay in my mouth because the abusive dentist put metal back in my mouth even though I told him in writing and verbally many times I’m allergic. I found out after the two other dentists examined me that he put metal-based crowns in my mouth after I paid thousands to remove all the metal in my mouth because of my allergies.

    I’ve already talked to my dental office that I used to go to in Chandler, Arizona for 11 years, and they have an in-house plan. For $100 a year I can have my cleanings, checkups and x-rays, and then 20% off of fillings and other stuff. So that’s the route I’m going to have to take. Plus I like them and I know they’re not going to rip me up and make me bleed on purpose.

    If there was ever a time that I have felt the impact of being poor and being female and being ignored completely, this is certainly one of those times. I’m sure I’ll have many more opportunities.

It’s Gonna Be So Great

I’ve got all of $26.01 in my bank account right now. That’s all that’s left from the past three years, including selling my house and car and wiping out all of my savings to survive while going through the process of filing for disability and getting denied multiple times and finally getting approved.

Right now, in my tiny apartment, I’m going through all of my records and shredding duplicates and old unneeded receipts so I don’t haul anything unnecessary across state lines. It’s a daunting task. My belongings are half packed and I’ve only stopped because I’ve run out of room – I still need to be able to walk through my space. But as I’m going through everything, page by page, I’ve come across all of my applications for assistance and housing.

Two years ago I started applying to different locations around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Some were through specific cities; some were through counties. All of my applications were for subsidized housing, meaning I was not applying for free housing at any point, I still expected to pay a portion, so the wait should have been considerably less. When I applied through the City of St. Paul, I was told “three to six months, tops.” That was 14 months ago.

Sometimes I fantasized about what it would be like to be able to have more than $100 for groceries in a month, if I could just get in one of those apartments. I have a small credit card that has gotten a workout.

I contacted local legislators to see if they could lend a hand with housing. After all, I’m disabled, and burning through all of my resources, and not able to live with anyone because of my severe allergies (because everyone has pets). The response I got from my representatives was “Too bad.” I’m small potatoes.

But here’s the deal: About 19 percent of the American population is disabled, with about half of that amount severely disabled (I’m in that half). That really isn’t small potatoes. That statistic doesn’t say that disabled means old, or with cancer, or any other stereotype. So what happens if you ignore 1/5 of the population? And why aren’t we demanding more of our lawmakers when it comes to making and enforcing laws? We can do things like make sure that a certain percentage of new or reclaimed housing is made available to lower income and/or disabled citizens rather than just allowing the most expensive developments to go up. There doesn’t have to be a huge housing bubble; it’s all an illusion, just like the diamond market.

As part of my move to Arizona, where I have a rent-capped apartment waiting for me, I have to write letters to all of these housing authorities to tell them to remove me from their waiting lists. I’m also going to tell one of them not to lie about the wait time, because it certainly doesn’t help with having to plan finances. But I’m also going to write to the Minnesota legislators, including a few who are running for offices different from what they hold now and remind them not to ignore the disabled or the housing crisis. 

Please enjoy this song, “Wedding Day,” from Rosie Thomas. You will be startled by her speaking voice and then startled again by her singing voice – two very different sounds!

Dear Joe

The hot headline today from the Democrat side is that Joe Biden is considering running for president in 2020. Like a good, genial grandfather he says there’s lots of good folks out there, but with a wink and a smile full of those big, white choppers, you know he’s itching to beat everyone out and sit at the helm.

Dear Joe: Please don’t.

There are a lot of good potential candidates out there. I’m not going to name them. They need to step forward themselves and allow their backgrounds and experience to be vetted properly – and not by watching reruns of reality shows. Let’s just talk about you.

1. You are wholly inappropriate. You may be everyone’s friend, but you lead with your hands and your crotch, especially if women are anywhere in the vicinity. It makes me really uncomfortable to watch, and as much as the women you encounter want to keep their jobs, they are wondering how far they have to bend to get away from your shoulder massages and ear whispers while still maintaining their employment.

2. We are ready for a non-white, non-cis-hetero-male president. I’m tired of hearing about how much men “love” me while taking away everything valuable about humanity and everyone around me suffers. In addition, you may surround yourself with the best advisers, but you will constantly be apologizing because you will be playing catch-up because of something you have said to or about a group of citizens. (As a side note, if I could nominate Leslie Jones on principal alone, I would. And she would ride in to work every day on a unicorn.)

3. We are ready for younger generations to step up and problem solve. I appreciate your enthusiasm and vigor, but it’s time to unite the country with someone who bridges the gap between young and old.

Joe, you don’t have to be president. Your life does not lack meaning or purpose just because you didn’t reach that final chair. But don’t put yourself in the position for ridicule or derision, as I truly think that is what would happen. At some point someone is going to catch a woman doing a karate chop to your fingers for trying one too many times to massage her shoulders. Then what the fuck are you going to do?

Signed,
A Tree-Hugging Liberal

Co-Dependency: I’ll Scratch Your Back If You’ll Scratch Mine

Co-dependent: I’m quick to use the term. It’s not so easy to define, though. I’ve been trying for better than a decade to find just the right words. It seems most psychology publications are in the same boat as me.

PsychCentral defines it as “a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.” So really, they provided two definitions, not just one.

GoodTherapy.org breaks it down with a good ol’ list (because we love bullets) and explains that the “old” way of thinking was that everyone’s feelings were centered on one person’s addictive behaviors. Now co-dependence is recognized in much broader terms to include the role of caregiving, denial of personal problems, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt when offered help or attention from others, sensitivity to criticism, perfectionism and fear of failure, a projection of competence and a need to control others.

But the definition from GoodTherapy.org doesn’t make clear that there has to be at least two people in the relationship to make it co-dependent. At least one of the parties has to have low self-esteem and be sensitive to criticism and project a false sense of competence, and have support and attention from another party to continue carrying on with those behaviors. And let’s be clear, here: both or all parties can be co-dependent upon each other. Mothers and daughters, friends, teachers and students, lovers. Of course, some relationships are much more intimate and lasting than others.

Here is a comprehensive list from CoDA.org (Co-Dependents Anonymous.org):

Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence; Co-dependents often:
• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
• label others with their negative traits.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
• do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low self-esteem patterns; Co-dependents often:
• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• accept sexual attention when they want love.
• make decisions without regard to the consequences.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control patterns; Co-dependents often:
• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
• lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
• use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
• demand that their needs be met by others.
• use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
• use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
• refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
• adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
• use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
• pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance patterns; Co-dependents often:
• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
• judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
• avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
• allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
• use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
• diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
• suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
• pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
• refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
• believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
• withhold expressions of appreciation.

As I revisit the definitions, I evaluate first my own behavior, but also a few specific relationships near me (that I have to be careful not to become too invested in, though I tend to become protective and outraged when I spot misbehavior). I think that the actual name “co-dependency” will be adjusted within the next 5-10 years, though what it will morph into will be a great mystery.

Exhaling

April 10, 2015, was the last day I commuted home from a paying job. It was the last day I was on a dreaded conference call with a bunch of frustrated staff members. It was a Friday, and only three weeks into a contracting job after being laid off from a place where I had worked for over twelve years. I was already nervous about surviving because work had been interrupted by so many shunt surgeries prior to that time, but April 10th was the final straw.

I remember driving home during rush hour and having the familiar “lights out” sensation cloud my vision. I was only working about 8 miles from home, but since it was rush hour, it would take at least 45 minutes, and the darkness squeezed in almost right after I got behind the wheel. It took all my energy to focus on my lane and not crash into anyone else. I don’t even remember how I made it to the hospital after that, which was another 7 miles in the opposite direction. But I remember having to call my boss the next day to tell him that I would never be coming back in; they wouldn’t hold a short contract position indefinitely.

I wasn’t even sure my neurosurgeon would do surgery #10 in less than 4 years at that point. He had already said after #9 back in November that if I failed again, he was not willing to operate. But he did – sort of. He only did half of the surgery. And of course it failed. And then he sent me away, telling me I had to figure out what was the source of the problem, because he wasn’t going to continue doing something that was going to keep failing. It was all being put on me.

I did figure it out. It took me from 2010 to 2017 and 65 doctors to put all of the pieces together, not to mention the fact that I am one person, not even an entire lab or radiology department. I got zero support from the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network. The Minnesota Board of Health decided not to discipline 3 doctors (among many) who falsified information to get out of treating me. The Mayo Clinic banned me so I wouldn’t hurt their success statistics and change their #1 in the nation status in 21+ areas.

I lost everything: my car, my house, my ability to earn a livable wage, my confidence, my sense of security and self-worth, friendships, independence, and every last penny of my financial reserves. Thank goodness I already lost my hair over 15 years ago because if I had to go through that right now I’d absolutely lose my shit.

After filing three years ago, I finally had my disability hearing on Wednesday the 28th of March. I didn’t know what to expect. My attorney pulled me into a small conference room prior to the hearing and prepped me, telling me that if the judge asked me questions, to not take longer than 15-20 seconds to answer, and to speak up because he was older and may be hard of hearing. I was also told it may go as long as an hour.

But five minutes, and we were done. Long enough to read my name, and say that it was obvious I was disabled and not making anything up. The letters I asked Dr. Afrin and my current immunologist write for me were key for my case and noted in the judgment. The judge also specifically said that the way I was treated by the majority of the 65 doctors was appalling.

What’s next? I have to wait for Social Security to process the judge’s ruling, and then enter my info for payment, and like the Kool-Aid man, all you’ll see is my silhouette – I’m busting outta here. I gave Minnesota a fair shake for three years, but the fact that so many doctors lied in my medical records and refused to treat me has made my decision an easy one. I’ve decided to head back to Arizona where I will pick up again with 8 of the doctors I previously had; only a few will be switched out, including getting in with a neurologist who specializes in MCAS and Ehlers-Danlos. (Minnesota is a great place to be employed as a nurse, because they are paid relatively well, but it’s a horrible place to be a patient, and I’m far from being the only person who feels this way.)

I want to be clear about what this disability status means for me: 1) It doesn’t change any day-to-day abilities that I have. I still have to lay down and rest for the majority of my day, about 20 hours every day. 2) The actual status of disability is not permanent; I’ll be reviewed and my medical records will be combed through every few years by Social Security to make sure my health and abilities haven’t changed. 3) I still have to take the short bus everywhere, especially now since I’ll be making “too much” to get medical assistance (which is more than $0.00). 4) I still can’t get a motorized scooter – do you really want a half-blind person driving one of those??

My prediction is that this is all going to go down by the end of May, but I’m at the mercy of Social Security.