I Guess I’m Going to Hell

23/05/2015

I recently posted on my Facebook wall, support for LGBT rights during the struggle against Indiana’s controversial “Religious Freedom” legislation. In the context of that discussion, a close relative of mine, who is an Evangelical Christian, posted about homosexuality being a sin, etc., etc. His argument was that it was logical to allow Christians to discriminate against Gays because their “activities” offend them. I followed up with my own supporting argument to the contrary: according to Christianity, we are all sinners; no one sin carries any particular “weight” in the eyes of God, so why pick on Gays? Should Christians be allowed to deny service to adulterers? thieves? liers? The simple truth is that every customer that walks through your door is “guilty” of something; after all, we ALL are!  So, wouldn’t that be hypocritical? Then, it got ugly…

The discussion evolved (degraded?) into a discussion on Christianity itself, its many denominations and contradictory doctrines; who was he to judge a gay man, or any other sinner? Who was I to judge his interpretation of the Bible? He launched into a long winded defense of his own doctrine, a scathing rebuke of other “Christian” religions (his quotes), and why all of them (except his) were damned and going to Hell!

All I asked of him – and all I can ask of anyone – is that while he may disagree with my choice of church or various tenets of its doctrine, he has no right or authority to pass judgement against me or my church, and would he please respect our differences and give me the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately in his eyes, there is no doubt.

This is the inherent danger of ALL religions! I personally accept that I may not know everything, although I have spent a large part of my life researching not only various denominations of Christianity, but Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucius, Shinto, etc. It is my personal belief that ALL religions are deserving of respect. Individual practitioners, on the other hand, are another matter. The same “all or nothing” belief system that fills my friend with bigotry, fills radicals the world over with hatred and the justification to kill in the name of God. Please: pray to the God of your choice – or none at all – but have the decency to allow other human beings to walk their own journey. Someday, maybe they too will come around to your way of thinking – or not. However, it is my personal belief that anyone who searches for the truth will find it, even though their truth might not be the same as my truth. That is the nature of truth: reality is perception, and we all see the world differently. The important thing is to acknowledge those differences, respect those differences, even revel in those differences, because if we were truly all the same, the world would be a very dull place.


A Friend of my Friend is my Enemy?

16/03/2015

I have recently been confronted by what seems to be an obvious truth: Not all of my friends are of equal importance to me. Also, within those levels of importance, some of my “ratings” may be more rational than others. Like everyone else, I’ve met my friends under a variety of circumstances, and over a long span of time. I’ve learned that, with certain friends, the emotions connected with the circumstance of our meeting is often more important – or at least, more emotionally charged – than the circumstance of our current interactions.

Why has this become an issue? In one word: Facebook

Once upon a time, our “friends” were automatically sorted into groups, based on current location, time of day,  or (for old friends) stage of life. The people I went to high school with never interacted with my co-workers, my extended family, or the guys in my Air Force squadron. Friends were automatically categorized by the circumstances under which we met, and the locations where we currently get together. Then came Facebook; now, unless I go through extraordinary lengths to do so, it is impossible to keep my high school sweetheart away from my wife – or even my first wife (yes, I “keep in touch” with a lot of people others might be inclined to discard.)

Also, topics of conversation usually off limits with certain groups (like politics and co-workers, or religion and anyone except my spouse), are now co-mingling in unintended ways, with unintended circumstances. The other day, I was forced into the realization that many people I have held dear to my heart and/or deeply respected over the years are racists. They are especially critical of Muslims. I am not unsympathetic to the anxieties some people carry after the attacks from Al-Qaeda upon our cities and our military, but Al-Qaeda is no more representative of Muslims than the KKK was representative of Christians, and that is what some people just don’t seem to understand.

I remind some of these friends about “our” (American) treatment of citizens of Japanese descent during WWII; for some reason, the comparison doesn’t ring true to them. Yet, they proudly proclaim that they don’t trust Muslims, are “Islamophobes”, etc. Perhaps it is because I had the pleasure of traveling throughout the world back when I was young and employable, and experienced so many different cultures up close and personally, that I am more welcoming and less fearful of people that are different from me.

Perhaps it is someone more deeply rooted than that. When I was in grade school, as a blonde white kid of European descent, I was always attracted to girls with dark hair and skin. My first crush was an Armenian girl. My tastes in women never changed, and my sons seem to have inherited that attraction to “exotic” girls. I guess some people are naturally curious about “different” people, while others are naturally afraid.

Regardless, it is up to each of us as individuals to rise up against our primal fears and instincts, and let our complex human brains do some real thinking before passing judgement. Perhaps that is the real difference between these “friends”: they aren’t racist, they’re just lazy.


When is Enough, Enough?

06/03/2015

I’ve had the honor, privilege, and burden of caring for my wife over her 14+ year fight with Scleroderma. What started out as flu-like symptoms, and me taking over the household chores, rapidly progressed to her being completely bedridden, with only the slightest use of her left arm. Along the way, I have fought against my own infirmities, as a younger life filled with motorcycles, horses, drugs, and alcohol took its toll on my much older and wiser body. I can still care for my wife, but I require a power lift to get her on/off the commode and the bedside. Degenerated discs and vertebrae in my neck have caused intense burning pain in my hands and fingers (typing this is brutal, but I refuse to surrender my household privacy to “Dragon”), and a herniated L5 disc causes recurring, intense pain in my lower back.

Mentally, I think I’m in the game more than some people may think, or others might expect. However, lately I find myself doing the absolute bare minimum to get through each day, and more of my time is spent prone or supine on the bed. Not a great way to live, but after losing her job to illness, my job to disability, our house to mounting debts, being forced to sell so much of our possessions to downsize, and splitting up our family so our kids could graduate at their “home” high schools, I feel like we’re going to make it through. I have no idea what the other side of this battle has in store for us, but I’m much more optimistic (or pragmatic) about it than I have been in years past, thanks to hours of one-on-one therapy and group support.

Then, two weeks ago, my mother-in-law, owner and cohabitant of the house we live in, had a slip & fall accident at the local drug store. Some moron spilled skin lotion on the tile floor, picked up the bottle, but left the lotion all over. You can guess the rest. We are all fortunate that she didn’t break any bones, but she is very bruised up, is unable to drive, bend over, do laundry, clean, water the potted plants, or any of the countless other chores and activities that gave her live meaning, and did so very much to help my wife and I survive. Since then, my son and I have done our best to pick up the slack, but he is a full-time college student with a heavy load, so that leaves me with the bulk of the duties.

At first, just like caring for my wife, it was an honor to finally have the opportunity to give something back to the wonderful lady that has been helping the rest of us for so-o-o-o-o long. Then, my body started to fall behind the demands that my brain placed upon it. I am at my wits end. Exhausted doesn’t begin to describe my state of being right now. Proof-reading this is impossible! I just can’t focus well enough, and I’ll be damned if I’ll be doing any prettifying this prose before hitting publish.

To add just a little salt to the wound, this past Monday, a Photography teacher from my Alma Mater high school committed suicide on campus. Her students and another teacher found her hanging in the classroom. From all accounts, this was a well-liked, seemingly “happy” person before this incident. But, as someone who has attempted suicide in the past, I can attest that one’s “happiest” days are often those immediately preceding the attempt, as the person has made peace with their decision, and their destiny is now clearer than ever before.

I can’t take any more; Not one more fucking thing! I’m doing the best I can, but everybody has their limit, and I exceeded mine a long time ago. I’ve been surviving on coffee and fentanyl for far too long. Thanks for listening; maybe another day isn’t too much to ask…


Suicide is my destiny

06/02/2015

Ever since I was in early grade school, I’ve known that, someday, I would take my own life. I was berated by my father and my peers, spanked severely on a regular basis, teased for my “Frankenstein” crew-cut (NOT  cool in the ’60s), sexually abused by a next-door neighbor, frequently in trouble at school. In short: life’s pluses rarely outweighed its minuses in my mind.

As I grew older, the highs and lows changed, but my conclusion remained the same. I did attempt suicide several times between ages 18-22, was hospitalized for one of them on a psychiatric hold, but I knew what to say to be released. I had a high IQ, but not the maturity or focus to take advantage of it. Drugs and alcohol became a source of relief – the alcohol being furnished by my abuser as part of the grooming process – so I was drinking a pint of whiskey and a six-pack of beer every day by my freshman year of high school.

My respite came at the age of 22, oddly enough, from the other next-door neighbor; he placed me in a company apartment for the summer, gave me six weeks of free room/board to start self-studying computers. This was 1981, before the IBM PC was introduced, so college computer science still revolved around “main frame” computers with punch cards for programming. There was also a series of dumb terminals for creating short BASIC and Pascal programs. I took one semester of classes at the community college: BASIC, Pascal, Cobol, Fortran, Accounting. At the end of the semester, he arranged an interview at the startup company he was hired to write a business plan for. I got the job (supposedly without any outside influence), but for nearly minimum wage. I worked my ass off and rapidly advanced. Employees and customers loved me. I was happy for the first time in my life.

Years went by; I met my wife through work, we raised a daughter and two sons. We had a nice, four-bedroom home in Southern Orange County, CA. Open thoughts of suicide were rare, but they never left my subconscious; I “knew” the good times wouldn’t last. I was right.

At the beginning of the year 2000, our net worth, including stock options, was approximately two million dollars. We gave money to charities and needy individuals – a lot of money. It was the right thing to do. Then the market crashed. Due to the “magic” of stock options, we lost over 1 million dollars in less than 24 hours. But we had our home and our health, so we were okay. Our lifestyle changed; our charitable giving dropped substantially. In 2002, my wife was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was ultimately fatal: Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis (Scleroderma). Within 6 months she was unable to work; within 3 years, she was unable to walk. She cheated death on several occasions – hypertensive crises, the #1 cause of sudden death from Scleroderma – and the disease hardened the joints of her extremities, making it nearly impossible to move her arms or legs. She was able to use a spoon in her left hand, but that was it. I had to carry her to the toilet, cut up her food, etc. I also inherited the household chores. For various reasons, we didn’t want to burden the kids with extra duties as a result of her disease. It’s debateable whether or not that was the right decision.

Along the way, I was fighting infirmities of my own. My hands were becoming increasingly painful from using the keyboard. I was tested for carpal tunnel syndrome, but nothing was found. The pain progressed ’til I began to lose movement in the ring finger of my left hand, and the pain was moving up my arms almost to my elbows. My back, frequently a source of acute flare ups, was becoming a chronic source of pain. I was forced to sell my motorcycle, because I couldn’t use the handlebar controls. I sold my part-time photography business, because I couldn’t hold a professional DSLR for any length of time. Eventually, a chiropractor x-rayed my neck, and discovered I had Degenerative Disc Disease and Degenerative Arthritis in C5,C6,C7 discs and vertebrae.

Then, in 2009, I lost my job. My boss said I was “no longer capable of performing my duties.” He was right. Between my medical bills and my wife’s, we quickly eat through our savings, followed by the 401-k. We sold our house in a “distress” sale, for many thousands less than it was worth, during the greatest recession of my lifetime. The timing of our difficulties couldn’t have been worse. We moved into an apartment in a neighboring town. My youngest son, a junior in high school, changed school systems for the first time in his life. He was brave and upbeat at first, but the newness wore off. We were fighting to get Social Security Disability benefits for me, and we were still fighting when we were forced out of our apartment. We had to move in with her mother Los Angeles County, roughly 60 miles from our original home. We left our son behind with friends, so he could finish high school back with his original classmates. We missed him a lot, and he grew up a lot. Since then, he has left us to pursue a Computer Science degree at Sonoma State University, incurring a great deal of student debt in the process. I never thought that I would not be able to pay for my childrens’ college educations, but such is life. My daughter has since married (a story all its own), and my elder son is living with us and “Nana”, attending the local junior college, and trying to figure out what to do with himself.

My wife is still alive, but it’s hard work keeping her that way. She makes frequent trips to the hospital, either for blood transfusions or secondary infections of one type or another. My pain continues to worsen, because of natural degeneration as well as the stress of frequently lifting and turning my wife. I have greatly reduced my pain medication, eliminated all psychiatric meds, but I participate in group therapy for pain management, meditate several times a day, and use a TENS device regularly to help reduce my pain. Several people along the way have expressed surprise that I have stayed with my wife over the past 12+ years of her illness. She has been bedridden for a majority of that time; we haven’t had “relations” since 2001. Other people, including most therapists I’ve seen, have suggested that it is “acceptable” and “understandable” if I were to decide to pursue a sexual relationship outside our marriage. These people remind that my wife “isn’t capable of performing her ‘wifely duties’, and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed” if I decide to look elsewhere for “relief”, “comfort”, “companionship”, etc. Apparently, marriage vows are only “guidelines” if you want to maintain your mental health. Perhaps there is some truth to this, but I’m sticking with my vows, at least for now. Truth be told, I’m no hero – I have no idea how I’d react if a “desirable” woman were to throw herself at my feet. Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet, so I can continue to hold the moral high ground,  but you’ll never catch me judging someone else in my position for making a different decision. Life is hard; I can’t fault someone else for wanting to pursue any opportunity for joy, especially when their current situation makes joy a rare visitor to an otherwise pain filled life.

Conclusion: If I didn’t still have a living wife, I would already be dead. My children are grown, and they worry about us more than they should. I would love to see their life milestones, but the mileage in between just isn’t worth it. I know someday soon, the benefit/burden ratio will tip  in favor of “checking out”, and I’m okay with that.


Why Measles?

06/02/2015

While spending virtually every waking hour of the day and night caring for a loved one, with a disease for which there is no prevention and no cure, I cannot help but be astounded by the number of parents consciously choosing to not vaccinate their children. Some parents think the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine causes Autism and other Autistic-Spectrum diseases. This theory, proposed YEARS ago by a British scientist, supposedly with a study to back it up, which completely debunked, ridiculed by his peers, and otherwise ostracized by the scientific community for publishing a fraudulent study.

However, the original study and comments by the author’s supporters persist on the Internet. Anybody with an ounce of curiosity can find volumes of data refuting that study, either directly or indirectly, but the idea persists. Whether the topic is medical, political, religious or any other potentially controversial subject, rumors and innuendo seem hold sway over certain people, while the truth flies over their head like a drone over the White House lawn. Why? It’s one thing to delude yourself in order to support whatever political view possesses you; it’s another thing entirely to hold the safety of your own children, and that of innocent infants too young to be vaccinated, hostage by information that is simply and clearly wrong.  Infants will die from this epidemic; when they do, I hope the parents find the courage to file a class action lawsuit against parents who refuse to vaccinate for trivial reasons.

Nobody wants their child, or anyone else’s child, to develop Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or any other Autistic Spectrum Disorder. But grasping at straws and risking the lives of others is not the answer. Educate yourself! Yes, there are other issues at play with this outbreak as well; it appears that some versions of the vaccine are not as potent as others, and some people may have lost their immunity or never got it in the first place. Still, let’s all err on the side of caution – you can always get a booster shot if your vaccination’s potency is in question. Many Baby Boomers should consider a booster, as their generation’s MMR may lose potency over time.

Sometimes people die, including children and infants, and there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it. This is not one of those cases. These illnesses and deaths are preventable. Don’t live in fear; educate yourself, protect yourself, protect your family, protect the innocent infants too young to be immunized.


Where’s My “Undercover Boss”?

27/01/2015

I realize I can’t work, but I desperately need an “undercover” boss, a sugar daddy; why do only pretty girls and people picked by show producers get a seat on the gravy train? I PROMISE I’ll use the money for “good” – like feeding my family and paying our medical bills – and plan for whatever future lays ahead of us. I’ll be responsible. If I get enough to lift myself out of this cesspool, I’ll distribute the rest to other needy families. Children get adopted, athletes get sponsors, pretty girls get “sugar daddies”; what’s out there for the rest of us. I do not want a government handout. However, it would be nice if an organization focused on healing whole families devastated by disabilities and lifelong and/or terminal illness. I would love to finish my degree pursuit, but caring for my wife is job #1 right now. Should I have to wait for her to die before I get some help? Am I destined to continue my downward spiral, becoming a burden on my kids, who haven’t graduated from college yet?

Life is inherently unfair. Humanity, at its best, seeks to soften the blows for those of us hit especially hard by repeated draws of the “short straw.” We can’t all be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, nor should we necessarily deserve to be, but I’d be happy with being one of her adopted children. Depression and despair have become too much of a dominating force in my life these days. Something has to change, and SOON!

#LiftUsUp


Deja Vu All Over Again…

19/01/2015

That’s right, my wife’s Clostridium difficile is back. After a few days of respite, and a couple of decent meals, the diarrhea returned with a vengeance; nausea as well. So, she’s back on Vancomycin, currently the best and possibly only potential cure for this nasty intestinal bug. It is possible that she will have to remain on this medication for the rest of her life, as well as a liquid-only diet (Ensure Plus.) Every six hours, around the clock. Ensure + probiotics + vitamins + iron, and she is still severely anemic and dehydrated. Another transfusion is likely around the corner, and our damned local hospital refuses to perform them on an outpatient basis, meaning that Medicare requires a $1200 deductible per visit(!). We were already broke, now were “broker” I guess. All I want is a glimmer of hope; a clear path to the endgame; some fuel for the optimism bucket. I don’t think we’ll be getting any of the above anytime soon.