family, hope, Inspiration, mental health, Uncategorized

Quarantine Lessons From A-Z in 500 Words or Less: Letter B

The Working Title Is…B is for Brian

Note:  I share this with my brother’s input and full approval.

Ever since we can remember, our parents celebrated the gift of adoption that led my brother and me into their loving arms.

Along the way, my mom shared what little detail she had about our births.  They played in my head like an ABC Afterschool Special – especially Brian’s, as his birth mother had (cue hushed voice) “some issues” that made her unable to care for him.  This was never a shock to me since Brian also had “some issues” for as long as I could remember.

As I consider lessons learned—and yet to be learned—from quarantine, Brian may be a shining example of one of the most important.

It’s imperative that “some issues” shake the whisper and come quickly into full voice.  Mental health must be discussed as openly and honestly as physical health. That is not an indictment of my parents, simply indicative of the times in which they lived.  And the times, well, they better be a-changin’.

Sandro Galea, MD, from Boston University School of Public Health, recently wrote[1] “We must recognize the pandemic that will quickly follow — of mental and behavioral illness.”  Adding, “In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety, depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence.”

My parents were incredibly attentive to my brother’s needs and sought care at every turn, especially after a diagnosis of schizophrenia and manic depression in 1980. However, Brian was a victim of time and circumstance enduring many hospitalizations until almost four decades later when a physician looked at the entirety of his condition and determined Brian had been misdiagnosed his entire life.  Three years ago, another physician armed with patience and pharmacology skills, helped Brian take his first steps into life with Aspberger’s and anxiety.  In doing so, he changed Brian’s life.  And mine.

We must heed Dr. Galea’s warning and practice self-care and advocate for the mental health of those we love and those on the margins of society.  It’s time to shake the whispered tones.  No one questions why a diabetic pancreas needs insulin. Why should treating the mind be any different?

Brian is now thriving in a job he loves.  He is filled with pride over working on the frontlines with a premier grocery store and co-workers who look out for one another.

Conversely, I have been quarantine-binge watching Peaky Blinders, so when I saw Brian at work sweeping up all the gloves customers have so cavalierly tossed all over the parking lot, my blood boiled. Lost in reverie, I reached for the imaginary razor blades hidden in my hat and looked to start pouring gasoline all over the offenders’ cars.

“What are we going to do about this?”  I squealed.  Brian, looked quizzically at me and calmly replied, “Well, I’m going to do my job and pick them up.”

Yes, yes, indeed.  A much better solution.

It’s time to take the blinders off and take care of one another.  Now, more than ever.




family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…. So This Is How It Ends

I walked in slowly, taking in my surroundings and checked in with the receptionist. My heart was racing and the fear on my face undeniable. The sweet woman behind the desk raised her eyebrows and attempted a reassuring half-smile; prompting me to faintly whisper, “I’m so scared.” “Don’t be. We’re going to help you,” she whispered back.

I took a seat in the waiting room. I avoided direct eye contact but looked at each of the other women waiting with me. My gosh, they were all so thin. No one spoke. One woman muffled a weak cough as she pulled her hair back into a thin ponytail.

When the door finally opened, I was invited into a much larger room. I turned and faced a mirror. My anxious reflection was blocked by something yellow…what could that be? It was vaguely reminiscent of an instrument of torture. Or maybe something written about in Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Welcome to the 8:30am Cycle TRX Class,” the chipper, chiseled chick in charge said to this fear-filled, fifty-year-old as I flopped my fat-ass on to the frame of a bike and stared at the Aureolin apparatus unquestionably aimed to inflict agony.

(Spoiler alert: The alliteration is a result of the fact that every muscle in my body is still quaking with tremors, including the creative cortex of my brain.)

“We’ll start on the bike for 20 minutes, and then we head to the floor for 25 minutes of suspension training where you will use your body weight to work multiple muscle groups and then we’ll head back to the bike.”

Excuse me? What was that? Did you just say, “Use MY body weight?” Why mine? What do you think I am, some sort of Olympian with superhuman strength? Do I look bionic? No. Is my name Jamie Sommers? Again, no.

I tried to mental telepathy my concern to the instructor. I used every brainwave to convey that I would be much more comfortable using the body weight of the waif seated next to me dressed head-to-toe in Lululemon than be forced to support my own squishy BMI swathed in a chic design from Champion for Target’s 2015 spring collection.

As she was already offering motivational instruction about resistance and pace of pedaling, I knew my mental telepathy was not working. I survived the bike and then took to the floor intent on not dying or making a fool of myself.

That goal was short-lived.

I followed instructions perfectly and took the straps in my hands and started to lean back. This was the first time I thought, “So this is how it ends.” Much like the feeling when I get on a ride at a fair (versus a full-fledged amusement park) I thought to myself, “Has anyone checked this for safety?” I leaned back holding the straps and my mind’s eye could envision my girth ripping the toggle out of the wall resulting in high-velocity metal shrapnel piercing my heart. Nope, that’s not right. Upon further review of the angle, it would head straight toward my eye. I prepared for impact.

After surviving that first set of exercises, I moved on to the second which involved standing on one leg while grasping a small rubber ball in the space behind your knee of the raised leg all while still leaning on those scary handles.

Funny thing is, the handles ceased being so scary when instead of picturing impalement, I was transported back to grade school when I first learned I lacked both balance and athletic prowess. I spent the next few minutes either swaying back and forth on one leg saying “Whooooaaaaa” or chasing my little rubber ball around the studio and apologizing as it smashed into other people. This is how it ends. Death by embarrassment.

As I wiped sweat from my brow, my thoughts went back to grade school basketball. I realize now my love of that sport stems from countless hours spent warming the bench…a uniformed spectator praying someone would foul out. Once, during practice in fifth grade, my coach called me out by name. I couldn’t believe he noticed me out of this talented group of girls on the floor. “Katie,” he said, “You jumped so high going for that last rebound that I could almost slide a piece of paper under your feet.” It wasn’t until years later that the high of him noticing me wore off, and I realized it was really a rip.

The last set of exercises involved putting your ankles into the straps and getting into plank position on the floor. I’m sure all the people I bashed into with my ball moments earlier were shocked to hear the instructor compliment my perfect plank form. They don’t need to know that I have a titanium rod fused to the bottom third of my spine which makes “flat back” pretty much the only option until my arm muscles begin to burn and shake, which occurs about seven seconds in and I start to see spots.

I don’t remember returning to the bike. Or driving home. It’s now six hours later, and I’m lying on my couch. I struggle to lift a glass of water to my lips and am seriously considering leaning over and lapping it up like a dog.

From my perch on the couch, some sadistic side of me is realizing how much I secretly enjoyed the challenge my morning presented, and I might actually try it again.

As I contemplate attempting to stand sometime today, my memory returns to many years ago when I worked for Hospice of Michigan. At one of our black tie events, I walked up to my husband holding court with a beloved local news broadcaster who was talking about how his travel plans always center around one of his or his wife’s hobbies like air shows or golf.   My husband said, “I’m lucky my wife’s hobby can be accomplished pretty much anywhere.” “Oh, and what’s that?” Mort Crim asked in his legendary timbre. Pat put his arm around me and said, “She likes to sit on the couch and eat chips.”

The man spoke the truth. I wish he were here to laugh with me at today’s adventure, but even more so because my arms ache so badly, I will never get this damn bag of chips open.