Save The Date

Statistically, Minnesota is one of the worst or the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to wait times for disability processing. I didn’t know this when I relocated from Arizona to Minnesota to try to figure out what was going on with my body. This article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune states the average wait time is around 570 days from filing to have a judicial review. I just got confirmation that my hearing is set for March 28th, which will put me at about 770 days of filing the appeal (and almost 3 years to the day of filing the initial claim of disability). The back log just keeps getting worse.

I’m not sure I would have done this any other way. As horrible as it has been with trying to get doctors to take care of me in Minnesota, I did finally get three diagnoses that I have been missing for years in addition to what I already knew. I forget what my count was when I entered the state, but I’ve seen 64 doctors since July of 2010. This has not been an easy process. There is no clear path.

Thankfully my allergist has already agreed to fill out paperwork for my hearing, and my counselor has as well. I will be meeting with my primary care doctor and pain doctor next month to ask the same from them. I’ve been rejected by every neurologist and neurosurgeon in the area as well as banned in writing by the Mayo, and I can’t go out of state because I’m on Medicaid so it’s not allowed, so I’m not quite sure how that is going to be looked upon by the judge. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.

One incredible resource I wish I had stumbled upon before I started this process but am eternally grateful for is the blog How To Get On. There are sooooooooo many links/ideas/resources/testimonials that it sometimes boggles my mind, and I really can’t imagine how many man hours it took her to put it together. It’s unfortunate that the author sometimes gets reported and blocked by Facebook for either posting “too much” (seriously??) or for questionable posts (again – say what??), so we have to keep it circulating so as many people as possible benefit from its content.

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Ladies First

I grew up in Minnesota, and I currently live in Minnesota, though there was a big break of 20 years where I lived and voted in other states. Still, one of the bright and shining lights in being in this horrible position of having to burn through all of my personal savings and deplete my entire 401k plan just to live until I find out my fate in a much-delayed disability hearing is that from my mayoral candidate to my state representative to my House and Senate candidates, everyone is a Democrat.

And the two Senators from Minnesota are very popular; Amy Klobuchar is a champion for women and often works across the aisle to find common ground so that bills don’t stall completely. The most recent bill (embarrassingly) is the one outlining what needs to be done in the case of sexual harassment – because nothing has been in place or updated for more than 50 years. Amy Klobuchar’s office is “following” my disability case, though for the time being, there is not much they can do to speed the process to the hearing because I’m technically not completely down to zero dollars (though I’m close) and I’m not close to death at the moment. Things have changed quite a bit since that concept of approaching your senators and representatives for help was introduced.

The other, Al Franken, often makes the news because of his relentless and sarcastic grilling during committee hearings. As recently as Wednesday night, after another video was posted on Twitter and Facebook, people were calling for him to run for president in 2020 because of his no-nonsense approach and seeming transparency in all areas professional and personal has made him the darling of many who tire of the current shitgibbon in office who picks fights with other world leaders via Twitter.

Of course, everything flipped on Thursday morning when it was revealed that Al forcefully kissed a woman after she refused him, then pretended to grope her while she was sleeping.

Al is actually a friend of friends, so I’m going to start there. I’m going to imagine knowing him for a few decades as someone who went to his house, or he came to mine, watched his kids grow up and he watched mine get bigger, and maybe we talked about how I finally got diagnosed with this really sucky disease that has no cure and not a great prognosis – because that is what happened to my friends. And it seems like he genuinely cares and wants everyone to have a better life.

My friends were hurt and disappointed. It’s difficult to wrap your head around having something like this hit the news and it touches every corner of your life. How do you explain it to children, who also see it on the news and hear adults talk about it? How do you bear the burden of close people being really disappointed, not to mention millions of strangers? How do you feel safe around someone who says that they respect boundaries and is a champion for women but then demonstrates the opposite?

Al even co-sponsored a sexual assault bill; it addresses how first responders are trained in handling rape victims and how to interview them. Abby Honold had to fight her rapist for two years in court in order to get a six-year sentence for her attacker. As soon as the story broke regarding Al’s behavior, Abby contacted his staff and requested that he immediately remove himself from the bill, and he agreed.

I tried to talk about this situation with a man who I generally see as supportive to women. When the report came out and was immediately confirmed and an apology was issued, I was extremely disappointed too. I admit I don’t personally know Al, but fuck, I’m a woman. I’m a woman who has worked with men. I’m a woman who has been out in public. I’m a woman who has been groped without permission. I’m a woman who has been kissed without permission. I’m a woman who has faked pleasure and orgasms in order to get away from someone as quickly as possible because I have recognized danger. The man that I tried to talk to about this knows this, because we have talked about it over and over.

But this time, he told me to shut up. He told me that the woman who reported it accepted Al’s apology, and that’s all that is needed, and my opinion doesn’t matter. Then he said he was sorry he got into the subject with me. Then he said he had bigger things to worry about. Then he went into these big, long speeches about how what Al did wasn’t as bad as what Roy Moore did, and it was before he was a senator, so he should just be left alone. This entire time he was spouting off, I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything I could have said that he would have been receptive to. He was in Lecturing Middle-Aged Privileged White Male mode. 

Why do I take it so personally? Just last week I had been talking about adding Al in on my disability case in trying to get it pushed through faster because my funds are running so low, but my instincts kept holding me back. I don’t know why. Now I’m afraid to ask my elected official to help me just because I have boobs and he might want to feel me up in return for helping me. Why does everything have to have a fucking cost? Why do I have to whore myself out? I truly don’t think that men understand just how much of a betrayal this is, when we confirm that yet another person has abused their power.

A man saw fit to tell me that my opinion didn’t matter, then he went on to tell me all about his – about men forcing themselves on women, and his conclusion was that it wasn’t that bad and it could have been worse. Another man posted his own conclusions, saying that as long as love and dating have been around, “unwanted feelings” have been a part of the whole thing, and we should just deal with it like adults. Here’s the thing, though: Al and his accuser never dated. Ever. And for part of it, she was asleep. I realize that every man has a “wake me up with a blowjob” fantasy, but when a woman is in full fatigue gear and wearing a flak jacket and helmet and is in a deep sleep sitting up on a plane surrounded by men, exhausted, she’s probably not fantasizing about how she can fulfill their high school porn dreams. The same can be said about my asshole ex-boyfriends who didn’t believe me when I would get pissed about them feeling me up in the grocery store when I was trying to take care of a long list and they were contributing absolutely nothing of value, including money and effort.

I really, truly wish that men would put their dicks down and listen.

Oh Ye Of Little Patience

Well-meaning people direct me to online support groups all of the time. Why don’t they work for me? Because I’m a snob.

A couple of days ago, I was summoned across the street to my sister’s place of business, because one of her co-workers knew an artist’s husband very recently had had brain surgery, and thought it might be beneficial for us to visit. As luck would have it, I had just finished showering and slapping on some makeup, so it wasn’t a big deal to finish getting my clothes and wig on to hobble across the street. When I walked in the door, I immediately recognized the woman. We had briefly visited during a previous show at the gallery. She and her husband were very pleased with the surgeon and her husband’s recovery, so I got the name of that doctor and another from her.

However, she looked over the top of her glasses at me and started with, Have you gone to a chiropractor? Yes, I explained, many times, and they did absolutely nothing for me. She wanted to know if I had gone to an herbalist. Yes, again, I sighed wearily, I had, and I’m taking supplements out the wazoo, because I need to, because my diet is very restricted. But they don’t make me better. My issue is mechanical and I need surgery. Then she wanted to know if I had tried the Chinese herbalists next door. I held up my hand and said that I’m very good at researching and am 1 to 7 years ahead of everyone else’s suggestions, so there’s no need to make suggestions. Then she moved to food. Was I juicingI really needed to juice everything! I said no. She started listing everything I should be eating, so I started cutting her off, telling her that each item caused a release of histamines, so it was actually dangerous for me. (Plus, with the few things I can still eat, why would I juice??? I get so little fiber now, and juicing removes most of the fiber.) Did I try an accupuncturistAgain, yes, and they did nothing for me. I know, I know, hard to believe.

God, I hate getting advice, especially when I don’t say, “Give me advice, I have no idea what to do or where to look.” She did write down the name of her otolaryngologist surgeon, whose specialty is cancer tumors of the head and neck. I’m still going to contact him. My tumor is not cancerous and he may not want to deal with it because it will probably grow back, but it’s worth asking him. However, I may be blacklisted because of my negative encounters with three other doctors within the same university system who said my problems were psychosomatic.

So, back to support groups: I hate them. I also can’t keep my mouth shut. One week, someone posted something about how she wished our rare disease doctor would team up with another doctor who researches the same disease. Unfortunately, the other doctor doesn’t have a license, so he can’t see other patients. I pointed this out. She said fine, then everyone needs to take care of themselves and stop smoking so they’re not on oxygen. That really pissed me off because the majority of us in the group can barely eat any foods safely because we’re always dealing with hives, have a really hard time finding medicines that don’t cause hives/asthma/anaphylaxis, and don’t smoke. I’m fucking allergic to smoke. I told her she was lecturing the wrong group. Other people got pissed off too. But then another person singled me out and told me to tone it down, and then it just went downhill from there. I was told that I should have just kept scrolling if I didn’t like what I saw. Then the original poster said she didn’t know that doctors needed licenses and not everyone knows that. I got so angry that I said that the leading doctor in this field most likely already considered the option of teaming up with other leaders, but they were in situations he was trying to get away from, so it was a moot point, and we should use common sense.

I admit it, I’m a snob. (For some reason, the woman who was trolling me told me that I was going off on a tangent because of that last remark. I told her that there was nothing that I was saying that was off topic, and I was responding to everything she and the OP were saying. I don’t think she understood what “tangent” meant.)

I’ve talked about this with my counselor. She agrees with me that a group setting isn’t what suits me best. I tend to steamroll people. Just today, someone in a group asked, “How many of you have NOT had _______?” and a bunch of people said “I didn’t,” but then a bunch of other people said, “Oh, I did, and it was like this and this and that.” So I wrote a message saying, “So, I thought this was about people who didn’t?” I got a reply that basically said that people wanted to share no matter what the question was.

Why don’t those fuckers write their own blogs if they’ve got so much to share?

Have a G’Day Every Day with Oska Pulse

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

First, let’s talk about pain. I’m an expert on it. I’ve been an old lady since about the age of 23, when I got my first diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

It hasn’t stopped there. Now that I’ve had 10 brain surgeries and have been bedridden for 7.5 years, I have some very specific challenges. Staying in bed triggers the fibromyalgia. But I have to lay flat because when I’m upright, fluid pools in my brain and presses on my midbrain and spinal cord and causes all kinds of balance, vision, and pressure issues, and puts me at risk for seizures and strokes.

For three years I had surgeries on the right side of my body and could only lay on my left side. That put tremendous strain on my left shoulder. Twice before I had to go through physical therapy to treat an impinged (“pinched”) nerve in the shoulder. For this last year, however, the pain was much, much worse – so bad, in fact, that I broke six teeth because I was clenching my jaw in pain. My doctors finally figured out that I had torn tendons and the actual capsule that houses the shoulder bones from all of the time I spent on that side of my body.

We tried everything: ice, heat, anti-inflammatory meds, low-grade opioids, muscle relaxants, meditation, stretching, a brace during waking hours, a brace during sleeping hours, multiple injections, light weights, joint manipulations…everything except sacrificing a chicken. For an entire year, I was in incredible pain. I couldn’t even close a cupboard door.

The surgical site side was changed to my left, so I started having to sleep only on my right. That gave my left shoulder a break, but then I started having problems in my right hip. I have to use a cane for walking because of my terrible vertigo and I walk with the cane in my right hand because I’m right-dominant, and I knew I was really going to be in trouble if both sides of my body were going to be rendered useless by pain.

Then I was contacted by Oska Wellness, Inc. to try the Oska Pulse.

Where do I begin? First, it actually physically looks too good to be true. That was my first, honest thought. How could something so small and seemingly simple do what nothing else that doctors were trying to achieve for an entire year, throwing everything they had at me? I mean, come on – a little space ship? And we all know about those devices from those ads on TV that never amount to anything but you can get them for 3 easy payments of $29.99, and they sit in the back of your closet until you move or you divorce…

But the Oska Pulse isn’t that.
2016-11-21-13-16-08“Oska” – Australian for Oscar, the name of koala who was helped by this device after he was badly burned by a fire!

The Oska Pulse is a battery-operated, rechargeable device that gives off a pulsed, electromagnetic field to treat pain and edema. That’s the very simple explanation.

So the Oska Pulse turned into my chicken sacrifice, if you will. The note card that came with it suggested that for chronic pain, I should wear it 4-6 times at the site of pain for the first week. I immediately pushed the little round button that you see at the bottom of that picture above and placed it on my shoulder.

Now, the Oska Pulse comes with a stretchy sleeve with Velcro closure if you want to strap it on and have it stay in place. I tried that, but since I don’t get up and move around much, I quickly determined that I didn’t need to do that. You can see by the fuzz on the device that there is some grippy rubberized material on the Oska Pulse that is good for keeping it in place. All I had to do is prop the Oska Pulse on my shoulder, press the button, and let it do its thing for a half hour until it beeped at me three times to indicate it was done.

After the fourth day, I started to notice a difference in my shoulder. I could pick up items heavier than a magazine or an empty toilet paper roll. People, this is huge: I already automatically lost the use of one hand because it was always occupied by the cane I had to use to assist me with walking. I can’t stress how bad this was, especially since only yesterday I got the last of my teeth replaced from all of those that I had broken in pain. I started being able to reach all the way over my head, and I was able to increase both my repetitions and the weights of my physical therapy exercises.

So after I saw success in my shoulder, I started moving the Oska Pulse around my body. This little guy was getting a workout! But that’s okay! The Oska Pulse stays charged for about 15 sessions lasting 30 minutes, and then it needs another charge. The charger can be hooked up to a laptop or it can be plugged into the wall socket, as it has both capabilities. 2016-11-21-13-17-132016-11-30-17-18-36Here is the Oska Pulse in action, in the elasticized sleeve with the blue pulsing light on. You won’t feel a thing, truly. There is no buzzing, so the blue light will be the only way you know that it’s on. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be! This is a device where taking away your pain will be completely painless. That is the best part about the Oska Pulse.

I didn’t tell my physical therapist about the Oska Pulse when I went in for a visit after not seeing him for a month. He was expecting to see as much improvement as he had seen the previous months, which was zero. Instead, he was stunned to see me lifting my hands over my head, bearing weight, and best of all, wearing an underwire bra that clasped in the back (previously the girls had been relegated to a sports bra that I could twist into with one hand that left them sadly sagging and flopping like I’m undeniably 43, which I am, and does nothing for me being able to attract potential suitors, even under false pretenses). My physical therapist was ready to doubt me or tell me to back down, stop being so enthusiastic, to slow my roll; but he nearly fell over with how well I was doing. He was stuttering.

This is a long post, but hang with me a little longer. I gave up my Oska Pulse, and potential pain relief for a time, because I wanted to know if it was just me. Was I just thrilled to get this product and was I blinded by the blue light?

I had given the team at Oska Wellness a heads-up that I might be doing this, but I gave the Oska Pulse to my sister for a test drive. I didn’t tell her much – only that she needed to charge it if it didn’t stay on for at least 30 minutes when she turned it on, and that she should wear it on spots that she was having pain. I gave her the instructions, the charger, the unit, and the stretchy band with the sleeve, and set her free. I did tell her that it worked for the COO’s dog when the dog was in pain because I knew that would tug on my sister’s heart strings – her dogs come with her to work every day, and we are all suckers for their love. If the Oska Pulse objectively worked for the dog, why couldn’t it work for us?

She made an effort to religiously wear it for two weeks, during which time we didn’t discuss the Oska Pulse at all. She didn’t tell me where she was placing it or how often she was using it. At the end of the two weeks I asked for it back and checked in with her. She had decided that she needed help with her neck. The easiest way for her to wear the Oska Pulse was to slip it into the flipped down hood of her hoodie – she didn’t even have to strap on the elastic band, and no one had to know she had the Oska Pulse going. She opted not to try to sleep with the device going and just deal with it during waking hours.

Her conclusion: She has greater range of motion in her neck and less pain. She used it only on her neck and no other areas of her body. I’m not going to reveal her health conditions, but they are just as serious and chronic as any of my fellow chronic illness bloggers. I honestly don’t know if she’s going to be missing it in a few days, but I can tell you that I missed the Oska Pulse terribly while she had it, because pain started to creep back in. Now that it’s back with me, I pretty much have it duct taped to me – I’m not going to give it up again. I have it working on my right hip and the bursitis that has developed there.

Feel free to find out more info on their main website at Oska Wellness or on Facebook at Oska Wellness (Facebook).

Just released on June 13, 2017: A third-party, independent study showing that Oska Pulse can significantly reduce pain and improve mobility.

Benefits of ordering a Oska Pulse device:
$55 off with discount code sickdating by visiting Oska Wellness
– Drug free
– No known adverse side effects (but please keep away from medical devices affected by magnets including pacemakers and adjustable shunts)
– Financing is available through PayPal!
– Internal battery lasts up to 4 years
– 30-day money back guarantee!

My Adolescent Heart Is Cured

Right at the cusp of my childhood and the beginning of the time when I became self-conscious and awkward, we moved from a large metropolitan area with a population of 1.5 million people to a town of 300. My bus ride to school was long and filled with strange faces; it took an hour to get to a town of 700, where people rarely moved to or away from and were all largely related. In fact, I had a couple of classmates who were the offspring of first cousins, sentenced to lifelong special ed classes thanks to genes that were far too similar to have been considered safe to pair up.

I was bullied terribly my first year at the farm town school. It really wasn’t until the next year, 6th grade for me, that I started making friends. I also became a little more comfortable expressing myself – including being vocal about crushes on boys. One boy in particular held my attention for ten whole years. I’ll nickname him C. C. Deville, because he played guitar and wanted to be a rock star just like the guys in Poison and Motley Crue.

I made Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in my class. However, for C. C.’s card, I did exactly what I read about in a book, which was write a little poem without signing it:
“You can’t be my Valentine, you look too much like Frankenstein!”
He was intrigued! It worked, just like in the book! Except when he thought another girl wrote it for him, and he started making eyes at her. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Two years later a friend from Minneapolis stayed with me for a couple of days and came with me to school. C. C. Deville was doing everything he could to charm her, and she flirted right back, even though she knew I liked him. She liked him too and thought he was very cute. Later that year he got suspended for smoking pot under the bleachers in the gym, so obviously he was a little bit of a bad boy. No wonder all of the ladies were flocking to him like bees to honey.

When I was in 9th grade, I tried out for and made the cheerleading squad for boys’ JV basketball…which meant that I would be cheering for HIM. Oh, sure, there were a few other boys who were cute too. But there was one time on an away game that I was floating on cloud nine because we had to drive two hours through a snow storm on the bus and I was sitting in front of him, and he let me borrow his leather jacket to sleep on it. I could smell his cologne. I thought maybe he might eventually warm up to me since he lent me this article of clothing. Instead, he started talking to one of the other girls on my squad and eventually started dating her. I had confessed to her that I had had a long-term crush on him and I’m pretty sure she spilled the beans to him if he hadn’t already figured out that I had been throwing myself at him for years at that point.

(2 years break to attend arts high school.)
(2 years pass while I move back and forth between Michigan and Minnesota.)

When I was 20, I discovered that a former classmate was living in my apartment complex. She said, “Oh, did you know that C. C. Deville also lives here?” I just about shit my pants. It turned out that he lived above me. Shortly after that I ran into him, said hi, exchanged pleasantries, talked him into putting my new license plate on my car for me. (“Oh, C. C., you’re so manly, thank you!” Okay, no, I didn’t say that, not really.) Sadly, I didn’t see him after his dad and my aunt died and I left on my big trip around the U.S. to find a new place to live.

Facebook has directed us back into each others’ lives many years later. However, he posts maybe 6 times a year, and my average is maybe 6 times a day – mostly goofy stuff, sometimes political stuff, and occasionally medical updates. As far as I can tell he hasn’t moved much, he doesn’t have children, may or may not play in a cover band, may or may not have a girlfriend, and may or may not work in a bank. In other words, we are really only peripheral observers. All that we have in common is that we have been in the same place at the same time in the distant past.

Today, for instance, he posted something on Facebook that really weirded me out – mainly because it didn’t seem like he wrote it (though he was taking credit for it, but its rhythm and spelling and punctuation didn’t match the rest of his writing in other posts), and because it’s some sort of rambling message about “God.”

It starts out nice enough: “Most of the time, our biggest obstacle is us. Maybe we’ve stopped dreaming.” True enough. Then: “Or, maybe we’re refusing to share our dreams out loud because we fear that God’s reputation might be at stake. God’s reputation is fine. It’s our reputation as leaders that we fear taking a hit. The dreams in our hearts were planted by God who loves us!”

“God’s reputation”? That, my friends, is anthropomorphism – assigning human qualities to non-human entities.

He goes on: “The day we stop following the dreams God has put in us is the day we allow ourselves to go into cruise control. When our biggest desire starts to shift from seeing God do great things to making everyone as comfortable as possible, we know we’re losing sight of how big God is.

“Fight the urge to maintain the status quo. Instead, do everything possible to advance the cause God placed in your heart. Stay focused on what could be rather than what has been.”

This is what has cured my heart once and for all: I feel like C. C. Deville deliberately lived a small life, looking for hero worship in a small town, and is now turning to “God” to try to make his life feel expansive and limitless. A classmate said that she was surprised at his preacher-like post (hell, I was too), but he replied that he wasn’t trying to be a preacher, he was just coming to his senses. I think it’s more like he realized that he’s middle aged and he hasn’t done anything he said he said he was going to do when he first reached adulthood.

For the longest time I felt inadequate and undesirable while he chose girls around me. Now I feel as if I have run circles around him with my life experiences and we would have nothing to talk about.

 

Digging for Gold

This morning, when I retrieved my mail while I was waiting for my sister and her husband to arrive, I received a notice from the Social Security Administration regarding my disability appeal. They said:

*You have the ability to stand and walk without assistance. (That’s a blatant lie – I use my cane for everything.)
*You have the ability to use your hands and arms to perform tasks. (Apparently it’s not a requirement for me to see what I’m doing.)
*You are able to get along with other people for short periods of time. (It’s called Minnesota Nice, bitches.)

“We do not have sufficient vocational information to determine whether you can perform any of your past relevant work. However, based on the evidence in the file, we have determined that you can adjust to other work.”

What would be really helpful is if they included a list of employers who had job offers for me and would not require me to be upright at any time. I can’t see well enough to travel to a location outside of my home, and most employers at least want an interview. So their insistence that I work “somewhere” is pretty weak, considering they don’t have an prospects lined up for me. (I don’t want to hear, “That’s how they do it.” I know they’re assholes.)

The next step is for my attorney to file a request for a hearing, which I understand takes 12-15 months to occur. In the meantime I’ll continue to go to doctor visits and try to find someone who can put a name on this disease and tell me what to expect.

This morning I went to the surgeon’s office at the U of MN to have my wound checked. When he put a fair amount of pressure on it, I started yelping, which led him to believe that there is still some pockets of pus hanging out back there.

Rather than going through the process of shooting me up with Lidocaine and slicing down deeper and purging out more junk, the surgeon took the stick end of a swab and used that to dig around in my wound – think of it as a meat tenderizer, he just kinda made hamburger out of my flesh – without any topical numbing whatsoever. I broke out in a sweat and I had tears rolling down my face. I knew I had to lay still but I was also fighting to get away from him and just make the PAIN STOP.

He said he was stepping out for a few minutes to allow the bleeding to die down; about 10 minutes and a good, sobbing cry later, his nurse came in to re-dress the wound. I’m glad I had that time to myself.

 

 

That Girl Is Poison

Recognize this phrase? I have a station set up on my Pandora titled “New Edition,” and since some of the members of the singing group New Edition split off and formed Bel Biv Devoe, the song “Poison” comes up on my play list. Bel Biv Devoe sang about the dangers of getting tangled up with a woman who was bad news; however, it’s not just romantic relationships that suffer when someone is nasty or devious – friends can be poisonous too.

I am eternally grateful to the friends I have made over the years who tolerate my weirdness and bluntness. Without a doubt, I am humbled by the friends who have mopped and sanitized my house when I have returned from the hospital. I am indebted to the people who have shuttled me around to doctor appointments and grocery store runs, and who have replenished my stock of food and supplies. I have tried to be a good friend in return when I have been able to, which admittedly has been very infrequent for the past 5.5 years because I can’t seem to stay well enough to be out of bed for any length of time.

Unfortunately, because I have the reputation of being a good listener and the voice of reason, my bedridden status has trapped me into being something of a therapist for some. One friend helped me get to a doctor’s appointment about five years ago. This woman and I had become friends back in 2006 when I was working a couple of jobs to pay for my second trip to Europe. That one ride of eight miles nearly cost me my sanity.

Because she found out that I was stuck in bed when I called her to help me get to the appointment, I believe she saw it as an opportunity to unload all that was bothering her – after all, I didn’t have anything better to do, right? This friend was going through a nasty divorce. She would call me at all hours nearly every day, crying and asking me what she should do in certain situations. She would never actually take my advice.

Our interactions became more strained. I finally resorted to telling her, “I don’t know what you should do” every time she called with a new crisis. She switched to texting me instead of calling me. I’m not sure if she thought my answer would somehow be different. Just for the record, it wasn’t.

This woman had a good heart, and I did get a ride from her when I needed it most. I just did not think that I was forever obligated to take on the stress of her failing marriage. For that reason, I cut her off completely. Subtlety wasn’t working, and telling her I was exhausted and stressed from fighting to be heard in doctor visits had absolutely no effect. I feel a twinge of sadness when her birthday shows up on my calendar, but I know that if I pick up the phone and wish her a happy birthday, the cycle starts again.

Another woman I became friends with was introduced by a mutual friend. We became acquainted after we spent a holiday together; I brought a movie that she had watched many times in her native country as a young girl, and she translated the film for us as it did not have any subtitles. I’m going to christen her Ms. Lederhosen.

I met Ms. Lederhosen as she was going through a nasty divorce with her second husband. I had suggested we get together for movies or nights out because it seemed like she needed to do things that would distract her from all of the emotionally draining stuff she was going through. Unfortunately, it was all she would talk about. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. I could say something like, “This tomato soup is good.” Ms. Lederhosen would reply by saying, “Oh, R. (her ex) likes soup too. You know, when we were married, he used to make me take care of his daughters, but they were lazy and did not like me. I would tell them to do something and they would go to their dad and he would tell them they didn’t need to do it.” It’s how every conversation would go. Everything tied back to her ex, no matter what I said, no matter what I tried to talk about.

I remember one time we made plans to see a movie. When we picked our seats out and got settled with our beverages and snacks, she started talking about the ex. The lights dimmed and the movie started; Ms. Lederhosen was not letting that stop her. Other patrons in the theater started saying “Shhhh!” loudly, turning towards us. She wouldn’t shut her trap. I told her that we should wait to chat until the movie was done. She kept talking in a loud voice because she had to finish that story. Well, she finally did…and then throughout the movie, she ran a commentary on what was happening on the screen. At that point I made a mental note to never see another movie in the theater with Ms. Lederhosen.

The ex was dragging out the divorce, filing extensions and demanding spousal support. Ms. Lederhosen was constantly calling and texting to rehash what he had done. At one point she asked me to proofread letters and documents for her because they were going to be used in her case. I would always set aside what I was working on and comb through her submissions because I knew how picky judges could be.

Ms. Lederhosen finally decided to pursue her U.S. citizenship. She didn’t have many friends, so she asked me to prepare a letter of good character for her attorney. Again, I set everything aside and whipped together a professional piece to convince the Court that she was a productive member of society.

She didn’t care for her job or boss, so Ms. Lederhosen sent me her resume so I could send it out to my contacts and enter it in my employer’s database. She wanted to respond directly to her ex’s demands through family court but didn’t want to pay her attorney to do it, so I arranged for a friend who was a paralegal in family law to assist her.

Ms. Lederhosen met a man through a woman who facilitated a social group for foreign-language speakers. I had hoped that meeting someone new would calm her down regarding the ex and encourage her to discuss other items of interest, but no. She even told me that her new man was complaining that she was too focused on the ex.

I was able to meet the new boyfriend when Ms. Lederhosen brought him and her little sister over to my house to visit; it was her sister’s first time in the U.S., so I made an effort to speak slowly – her English was good, but there is always a huge adjustment period when anyone is suddenly immersed in a country where the language is not their native tongue. Often Ms. Lederhosen would interrupt to talk about her ex. At one point, her current boyfriend grabbed her face, squeezed her cheeks and said “Stop talking.” She didn’t, of course. Her sister got completely put off and eventually just fell asleep on my couch while the boor hijacked the conversation.

A few months later, I had reached the point of blinding pain with my shunt – I had developed an uncontrollable leak. Ms. Lederhosen had indicated that she was at her boyfriend’s house but that if I needed a ride to the ER, she was more than willing. I took her up on the offer. They didn’t end up keeping me to bring me into surgery as I had hoped, because at that point they wanted to figure out which parts of the shunt I was allergic to, which would take months. They sent me home with big bad painkillers instead.

Facebook can make or break friendships, and in our case, it broke ours. Actually, for me it was the last straw. I had posted a story about a product that was being given to girls in sub-Saharan Africa to allow them to continue safely attending school during the bleeding days of their menstrual cycles. This charity was distributing silicone cups that could be used to collect the fluid for up to 12 hours and then be emptied and washed in private. Well, Ms. Lederhosen did not like that at all.

She hijacked the post by first saying that she would never want to use a product like that and that she was perfectly happy with her birth control pills. I explained that birth control pills were not an option in this region, and that it was a much safer alternative for the girls instead of their normal methods, which included stuffing their bodies with dirty rags, newspapers or mud. Ms. Lederhosen said she asked her boyfriend’s mom, and she agreed that she wouldn’t use a product like that either, and they were stupid for not using birth control pills. I explained that in this region, pills were not readily available or transported easily, and not everyone could or should be on hormones, and that the girls just really wanted to attend school and the cups were a viable option. Then Ms. Lederhosen posted a huge paragraph about how American women are stupid, fat and lazy, and she was able to lose weight by eating organic foods and exercising (which had nothing to do with what was being discussed).

I blocked her on Facebook. It’s no wonder she has few friends! Unfortunately, my phone at the time was not able to block calls or texts, so for two days she sent me all kinds of nasty messages about how she was prettier, smarter, more successful and thinner than me. Ms. Lederhosen told me how I was jealous of her relationship with her boyfriend, and how my college degree was the equivalent of elementary school in her home country. I sent back one message saying I was not interested in competing with her, and her messages just got nastier. She told me how she was a much better friend than me because she drove me to the ER that one time; of course, she conveniently forgot about all of the ways that I tried to help her when she needed it. Finally she stopped and went radio silent.

Two months later I got a card without a return address. I opened it to discover it was a note from Ms. Lederhosen, telling me she missed me as a friend and that we should be friends again. I didn’t have a return address for her and so couldn’t send anything back, and her info had been deleted from my phone long before that. A week later I got a text message from her saying that she didn’t hate me anymore and that we should be friends. I again told her that I did not want to compete with her, and that she said horrible things that made it difficult for me to want to be friends with her. Well, that just set her off again – 16 messages of vile, nasty words.

Around Thanksgiving of 2015, I received another text from her. Ms. Lederhosen said that she missed me and that I probably still had some bad feelings, but she was there for me if I needed her. The response that I didn’t send but really wanted to? No fucking way.

Initiation to Rare Disease – Not My Own

Back in 2005, I worked in the tech department of a very large mortgage company whose CEO was the tannest, slimiest, shiftiest man I’ve ever seen. The tech department was overrun with men, so naturally, the few of us women tried to bond as best we could. One such woman, whom I will call Blondie, was a trip. She was born and raised in an Eastern bloc country and knew how to speak her native tongue and Russian first, so English was a third language.

In meetings, of course, we were outnumbered greatly by the guys. I remember our group being called in to discuss something. Blondie said, “Well, let me stick my chest out and say this.” Of course, she meant that tricky little saying, “Let me get this off my chest.” There were a few snickers around the room, so I leaned over to her and said, “Blondie, you mean, ‘Let me get this off my chest.” She nodded and practiced saying it a few times. When she spoke up again, she said, “Let me just take off my shirt and say this.” There was no hope of recovering after that one, the whole room lost it.

Blondie was a great person to socialize with. She was unafraid to talk to anyone, whereas despite my theater training, sometimes I hang back (but I think it’s mostly my desire not to be seen as a bore or a weirdo). It was because of her that I went to a swing dancing event and met a woman who introduced me to her good friend whom I dated for four months.

It was a big event with a 20-piece orchestra and every seat in the ballroom was filled. We were seated at a large round table with about twelve other guests, and it wasn’t long before we were all spinning around the dance floor. Blondie started talking to K. first when we were resting between songs, but then K. and I started talking. I revealed I was single and having a hard time with dating because I had to wear wigs to “pass” in public. K. excitedly told me that she had the perfect guy for me, someone who had been her good friend since childhood.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, I told her I was game. She warned me that her friend had a pronounced limp because he had a rare disease – neurofibromatosis, or NF – and he had many surgeries and successfully beat cancer. I didn’t mind at all. I was more worried about finding someone who was compatible emotionally than whether he could chase me across a field.

The Gambler and I started trading emails, and then chatted on the phone. He decided he didn’t want to waste any time meeting me, so he talked me into bringing my friends who were visiting from England up to the interactive zoo in the extreme northwest of Phoenix. This was also in July in the dead heat of summer. So picture this: my cold-weather friends are tagging along with me in 115 degree (F) heat to maybe pet a giraffe and meet this stranger.

The Gambler was very friendly and used to talking to people he didn’t know well. As it turns out, he was the NFF (Neurofibromatosis Foundation) ambassador for the region, and had traveled a few times over to Europe as well. So my friends thought he was friendly and seemed a decent sort.

The Gambler and I had our first relationship test very early, at about the two-week mark. Neurofibromatosis causes tumors to grow on the ends of nerves, so he had had many, many surgeries at that point to cut the tumors off of the nerves. The tumors can be benign or cancerous. This round of surgery, however, resulted in about 15 benign tumors being removed in both forearms.

I was in the waiting room during the surgery. I helped him get dressed and also with wrapping up his surgical sites so he could bathe. I scrubbed his back. We hadn’t even been intimate at that point, but as a nurse, you are not supposed to be checking out someone’s junk, so I did my best to avert my eyes.

Because I immediately started spending a lot of time with him, there were things I learned that may have not come up for a few months in a relationship that progresses a lot slower. The first is that he was hooked on gambling. This was back in the day when you could play online poker and bet real money. It was how he brought in extra income to supplement his disability pay. The second is that he was a sports whore. He actually rigged 4 TVs and 2 computers so he could simultaneously watch multiple games – basketball was his favorite. The third is that The Gambler’s family was very, very dysfunctional. His father was this giant of a man who drank all day and all night and beat his mother. They lived in a subdivision for retirees and owned a golf cart, and his dad would get fall-down drunk, take the family dog and go for a ride. He had already killed two family dogs on separate occasions from turning the cart over. His mother always tried to not make her husband mad. They kept getting more dogs.

Obviously this family dynamic greatly flavored how The Gambler interacted with me. He would fight to the death to get his way, whether it was where to eat or how to spend our free time. He would bully me first, then he would bargain. The Gambler would tell me that I had to do what he wanted to do because he had NF; if that didn’t work, he would tell me he would make it up to me later. All of our timelines revolved around sports schedules and online poker tournaments.

I learned a lot about the NFF and about rare disease in general. Networking with other people, grant writing and summer camps were all foreign concepts to me, but after driving him to a few locations, I started connecting with the value. The Gambler’s cause became my cause, at least in becoming more aware of the disease and the many manifestations. I know of two celebrities who (probably) have it and that’s the first thing that pops into mind when I see them – then I spend most of a movie looking for the signs, now that I know how to spot them.

The Gambler begged me to go shopping with him for clothes in anticipation for his next European trip for the NFF. He had been wearing size XXL, but really, his body was more like M. I talked him into a compromise so that his pants and jumpers weren’t dragging on the ground.

When he returned he told me that all of his friends made fun of him because his clothes fit, so what I made him buy was embarrassing and he was never going to take my advice again.

I didn’t feel like I was in a loving relationship at all. I called The Gambler to end it, and of course he tried to bully me into staying with him, then tried bargaining. He told me we could break up but that we should still go on our Las Vegas trip that we had planned. I kept telling him that I wasn’t interested in acting like a couple if we were no longer together. Finally I set a date and time for us to meet so I could get my belongings back (I had lent him an air mattress for a guest, plus various other items like sheets and towels). The Gambler rescheduled the meetup at the last minute a total of four times. Each time I had driven in rush hour traffic an hour each way. The fifth time he didn’t call and didn’t show, so I sent him an email saying he could keep everything because it wasn’t worth me chasing all over the city. Oh, but he tried to get me to come back to him, calling me constantly.

I kept the emails. I keep everything! This was our exchange:

ME: You and I are no longer dating.  This means that we won’t be going to Vegas together.  My decision to not be in a relationship with you is NOT your queue to follow in your parents’ footsteps and alternately bargain with and bully me into changing my mind.  The fact that you are not accepting of my reasons and choose to completely ignore them prompts me to follow my instincts and say that we should NOT meet up.

HIM:  you are sooooooooooooooo wrong about everything

what do my parents have to do with this anyway. you should not even mention them

bullying you into being with me  oh come on. you just missed out on the greatest guy in the world. you will regret this. i already regret opening up to you and sharing things about myself that only very few have ever known and will know for that matter. as from a famous movie wasting hugs and kisses on you too, when in the end it ment nothing to you. you have only just begun to see an ounce of me. as for your safety lol come on there is not a mean bone in my body. you hurt yourself more by not being with me. i am not like your other boy friends and i am a lot smarter and mean when it would come down to things like that. but truth of the matter is by doing something to you or your prized stuff would just bring me down to your level, and that surely is a place i don’t want to be. i rather have cancer again rather than be down there!
when i get home we should have dinner and at least be friends. we have tickets to use anyhow. i thought you should know to i have already taken 5 lessons in dancing to surprise you (even before marcos) k. just slipped up the surprise, and i like it so i am sure we are going to running into each other anyway at whatever dance events that i might like to go to.

i am not going to hurt you or your stuff. again like i said it would just bring me down to your level and that’s a place i don’t want to be because from all this and looking back on it i can tell already that’s a place i don’t want to be. but when we were together i would have gone there for you in heart beat. i am sure the person your with now would appreciate being told now if you are going to hurt them in the end. i also can assure they wont be half of what i am.

i hope in the future when,who,what (ever) you decide to be with, you don’t hurt them as much as me because it will come back to you i will assure  you. if i do see you with some one i will pray that you don’t hurt them. then again maybe it will be your turn whether or not they want to be with you.

hope ur new job is going well and hope all is well for you
hope your health is fine too

best wishes and will talk to you soon

ME: Read your words.  Maybe it will take a few years for what I am trying to explain to you to sink in, but I’m going to try one more time.

I mention your parents because your dad drinks, beats your mom, begs her to come back and says he will quit drinking/beating her, etc., and she takes him back.

If you go back and read your words to me, you tell me that you hope that I get hurt, that I’m the lowest of the low and you would rather have cancer again than to be on the same level as me.  THAT’S THE BULLYING PART.   Then immediately after that you say let’s be friends, and no one is going to treat me as well as you do, and you would have done anything for me.  THAT’S THE BARGAINING PART.  You’ve watched this cycle with your parents happen over and over and somehow you have come to the conclusion that this is acceptable behavior. I, on the other hand, do not allow my friends to say horrible things to me and then try to win me back.

And what have I done to be the scum of the earth? I’ve acknowledged that I honestly couldn’t live with our differences and decided to end the relationship. I didn’t stay to hope that things would change.  I didn’t stay to make your life and mine miserable by fighting with you or resenting you for things that I ultimately couldn’t tolerate.  Instead of sitting back and saying “I don’t understand, but I respect your feelings”, you have discounted everything I’ve tried to say and have said some very nasty things besides.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard, which I’ve had to do throughout our time together.  I still believe you have a bright future and I wish you a happy life, but I will not be a part of it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Three years later, he sent me a friend request on Facebook (I declined).

I snooped around and discovered that he was engaged to a psychology student. I figured either she wanted a project or she was fucked up herself.

In 2012, The Gambler succumbed to cancer. I have no idea if he married that young woman.

The moral of the story? We are, after all, humans first, and NOT just our diseases. I don’t have to stay with someone who doesn’t treat me well, and neither do you. And just because a person has a disease does not mean that he or she cannot do the work to learn to be a better person and break some bad familial cycles.

 

 

 

The Dog Days of Dating

I’ve got two accounts going, one on OKCupid and one on Match. After making one acquaintance and laughing about my crazy exchanges, it really drove home the fact that I am likely expecting too much from one and too little from the other (Match is supposedly where the more serious people go to look for love). So I changed the first line of my OKCupid profile to say, “I’m not looking for a hookup.” I also removed some items and added some more to dumb it down. For instance, my introductory paragraph has bullet points and includes, “I’m a feminist. This includes the concept that no means no” and “I don’t believe in organized religion.” Further down for the section that starts with, “I spend a lot of time thinking about” I finished it with “equality, healthcare, social justice, cats and dogs and why I can’t have them, and how much I want pizza.” Lastly, in the section that begins with, “You should message me if” I entered “- You are a non-smoker (of all things); – You really are single, not looking for a third in your threesome or looking for someone “discreet” so you can cheat on your wife. C’mon, it’s NOT complicated – you just wanna catch you some strange, let’s call it what it is; – We live in the same country. Please, no penis pictures. Seriously.”

So the first message I get after my revisions is from a guy with one photo where he looks like a total mouth breather, 34:
Him: How are you doing today? I would love to talk with you more. You are very beautiful by the way 🙂
Me: Hi, thanks. What would you like to chat about? What style of literature do you normally read?
Him: I read all sorts of books. What are you doing today?
Me: Today is laundry. If you are going to say “Let’s do something,” I have to warn you – I can only be upright for about 30 minutes, tops. We could probably do a high five on the sidewalk. 🙂
Him: Why only upright for 30 min?
Me: Super rare brain disease.
Him: Well we could have fun lying down? Lol
Me: Nope, not looking for a hookup. That was just a line about wanting to chat, huh?
Him: Why no sex
Me: Am I just here on this earth to fulfill every man’s fantasy and whim? No. You want to stick your dick in me without treating me like a fellow human being with value. I’m not interested. After that he blocked me. I am just going to assume it’s because he’s trying to stop himself from making the same stupid mistake again because he won’t remember soliciting me for exactly the same thing I specifically said I didn’t want.

Man, 50, lives 80 miles away:
Him: you want to take me out to lunch your treat
Me: Aerosmith, “Dream On.” It’s my song gift to you.
I blocked him. I didn’t have the energy to educate him on how to score.

Man, 39, local:
Him: Wow…..you are absolutely gorgeouz!! I wish I was your type.
Me: Thanks. So why aren’t you my type? Would you be mean to me, or try to send me inappropriate pictures? Or rub your cats in my face and send me into anaphylactic shock? (He has a couple.)
Him: None of the above…I’d actually treat u like a queen….but I’m sure my cats would cause an issue……hence..not ur type??
Me: Yeah – I looooove cats (and dogs), but have to take four meds and only hang out for two hours, tops. Maybe in my next life I can have pets. 😦 So best wishes to you in your search!
Him: Well….I could always,come over…undress and.hang out. No cat then. 🙂
Me: Would it surprise you to know that’s not the first time I’ve heard that offer?
Him: No….but I’m sure I’m not gonna be the first you say yes to though…
Me: Well, that got weird.
Him: Lol….how so?
Me: It’s never fun to be on the receiving end of implied sluttery.
Him: Oh…no…I was implying the opposite my dear. That you have yet to accept an offer…
Although I’d dig being the first….
After 8 hours:
Guess not
I didn’t bother responding. How would you respond if he acted the exact same way he claimed he wasn’t acting? It boggles the mind.

Kid, 26, 80 miles away:
Him: Hi you’re sexy
(I’m marginally impressed that he knows the proper usage of “you’re” but not enough to reply)

Man, 48, local:
Him (obvious copy and paste without reading anything about me): I am a single father, a bit shy at first. New to the dating scene. I actually look forward to just meeting and getting to know someone, I want that someone to enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs. I do not like to play games, I like honest and sincere people Have a blessed Day…
Me: Hi, honesty and sincerity are great. Is your work winding down for the winter, or do you stay busy with projects?
Him: am off work for Now … How Are you doing ? would you like to txt me .. i don’t get don’t the site that much ….. what’s your name Beautiful
Me (cringing at being called “Beautiful” – not at all sincere – and the “blessed day” already rubbed me wrong): I’ve had a few stalkers, not comfortable with immediately giving out my cell.
Him: I understand How you feel … i can see you real an honest and open minded woman … and that what i want in my woman … what do you like doing sweet woman
With only 45% of our answers being marginally close and 70% flat-out enemies, I am going to let him pass me by.

Then I got a message from a man, 30, and in the U.K., and I immediately went on high alert:
Him: hello how are you today?
Me: I’m okay, how are you?
Him: im doing well thank you
just back home from work
i ve had a long day
Me: Ah, you’re working late!
Him: a little bit but have u seen that im living in england and im just having a trip soon to MN and lookining for friends and maybe more….
Me (really, really frustrated at this point): Ah. I’m not open to a hookup or a long distance romance. I’ve got a lot going on with my health right now.
Him: what are u looking for in here ?
Me: I’m looking for a long term relationship. What about you?
Him: im same really just its not easy o meet the right one
After this, I decided to put away my baseball bat before I smashed my computer to bits and give him a chance. We actually had decent conversation and it seems like he is sincere, but obviously I don’t know him at all, so I’m still on guard.

Man, 38, Philadelphia:
Him: hi how r u
Me: I’m fine.
Him: Don’t let the distance fool u I get to fly for free
Me: So, whose photo are you using for this site?
Crickets. I did a reverse Google image search and found that he had downloaded some photos from a bodybuilder’s site who was in the UK competing at the same time we were chatting.

Lastly, I got a message from someone that I knew 24 years ago. My gut reaction was to say “CRAP!!!!” because I’ve never lived in a city long enough to have my past come back to me like that. Now that I’m back in my old stomping grounds, I have to reconcile concepts like my family being fully aware of my dating life, and for previously-known people to find me again. I asked this guy about what his experience has been on OKCupid, and he said he’s had bad luck. I commiserated with him and told him that a lot of guys were just approaching me for sex, and he said he was getting the same thing from the ladies. (Really???? Man, I have a hard time believing that. I mean there’s always going to be the ones who have been married for 20 years and want some action, but I don’t think that’s all of us. Maybe I’m naiive.) He told me that not all men were just looking for sex. I then reminded him that he messaged me out of the blue about 2 years ago on Facebook to tell me that he was horny after we hadn’t talked for 20 years. His reaction was, “Oh, sorry about that – I must have been a little drunk.”

The quest continues!

 

 

Why I Don’t Pray

On Twitter, amid the hundreds and hundreds of posts flying around on my feed last night, one stuck in my mind, and it still galls me. It said something to the effect of, “Even if you aren’t religious, you can still offer prayers in support of Paris.”

I didn’t want to get in a war of words (or 140 characters or less) with a stranger, especially when there are bigger, badder things to be worried about. However, it’s enough of an issue with me that I would like to point some things out.

First of all, prayer is an integral part of religion. Any religion. If I’m not religious, that means that I don’t believe in religion, and therefore I don’t believe in prayer.

Second, religion is based on arrogance. Let me qualify that statement by explaining that every person thinks the religion they follow is the “right” religion, and believes that every other religion is the “wrong” religion. The monotheistic religions we hear about the most – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – are only a portion of what peoples’ belief systems are based upon. There are something in the neighborhood of 4,200 religions being practiced today. Which one is right?

Third, religions are created by humans. I’m sure you’ve heard of people saying they are going to “create their own religion” or “start their own church.” This is how all belief systems are born. Each faction comes up with its own rules and rituals. Think about Scientology: It was created by a former Navy guy who wrote science fiction. I mean, c’mon – what the hell is a “space opera” anyway??

Fourth, religions rely on mystery and lack of education. Leaders are always touted as knowing more than the rest of the followers. They are always revered for being more “blessed” than everyone else too. This is how religions continue to thrive. Think about the infamous Warren Jeffs and his “flock” – they all believe that he is some sort of prophet, and they hang on his every word. None of the kids growing up in the group know how to read or write properly and have memorized church elders as their only education. Obviously this is a famous group often singled out for its cult-ish behaviors. Pull back a little and look at all of the religions with the same eyes, and realize that leaders and organizers rely on the followers not questioning anything, or if they do, always circling back to the idea that the leaders know best. With all of the scientific discoveries we have made in the past century, how can anyone still believe in a virgin birth?

Fifth, believers tend to assign human characteristics to the objects they worship. For example, all of us have heard, “God will be angry” or “God will be sad” if we do certain things. Says who? We do. That’s right, humans.

Sixth, non-believers are not amoral. I don’t steal, I don’t cheat, I don’t kill other people or intentionally harm other creatures. I live a pretty upstanding life, and that is without following one or two particular religions and relying on them to be my conscience. Here’s something interesting: In some areas of South America, before Christianity was introduced, there was less crime because everyone lived under the same code and worked together to make a harmonious community. It was truly shameful to steal or kill. After Christianity, crime became more prevalent – because they started believing that “God would forgive them.”

Seventh and last, what has prayer done for me? People offer to pray for me all of the time, and I thank them because it makes them feel better. I’ve been signed up for continuous prayer circles, many times, with or without my knowledge or consent. But this is what it boils down to: If I get better, then it was “God’s will.” If I don’t get better, I either didn’t believe hard enough, didn’t pray enough, or it was “God’s will.” With either outcome I have no hand in whether I get better or not. Honestly, I think that the idea of praying has allowed people to become lazy. They can post on Facebook or Twitter that they’re praying for the people in France, or for praying for starving children in third world countries, or for gun violence to end, but then they don’t actually do anything. They think it’s enough to say that they’re praying and it magically elevates them to being better people.

Do I believe in God? That topic is best saved for another time.