Adventure

255

255. That’s the number of mass shootings we have seen in America this year as of six days ago. Some organizations define a mass shooting as a shooting event where four or more people are killed. According to Gun Violence Archives, there have been 9,049 gun deaths this year alone. I know that it feels hopeless because I have felt hopeless about this issue. My hope is that generations to come will be surprised and appalled by these numbers because by then, hopefully, our government will have stepped in to do something.

I went to Washington, D.C. in May to lobby with Amnesty International for Lobby Day and one of the issues we lobbied on was universal background checks (H.R. 8- The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019). The legislative coordinators for my representatives (all Republican) were, unsurprisingly, not supportive. One of them mistakenly believed that this bill would somehow take away guns he already had. That’s not what this bill would do. Federal law already requires licensed dealers to conduct background checks. H.R. 8 would require unlicensed gun sellers to utilize this same system by requiring them to sell or transfer firearms only through licensed dealers.

Depending on how the question was asked in different polls, between 84-94% of registered voters support universal background checks for firearm purchases, so why hasn’t this been implemented yet? The short answer is the NRA. My two senators, specifically (Burr and Tillis), have received more money from the NRA than almost any others, with the NRA spending almost $7 million on Burr and $4.5 million on Tillis. The House passed H.R. 8 about five months ago, but Mitch McConnell, who has received $1.26 million from the NRA, has elected not to bring H.R. 8 up for a vote in the Senate.

I know this post will not be popular with some people, but the reality is that gun violence has reached epidemic proportions in the USA and we have to do something about it. Just this week, Amnesty International issued a travel advisory for the USA because of how pervasive gun violence is here. Some people argue that requiring background checks won’t prevent all gun violence- and they aren’t wrong- but shouldn’t we at least try to reduce gun violence in any way we can? Isn’t any reduction in gun violence an improvement?

The other piece that I wanted to address is the frankly astonishing number of people blaming mass shootings on mental health. This week, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York advocated making a database of people with mental health problems. There are SO MANY problems with that, starting with the fact that it would have virtually no effect on gun violence. Between 95-97% of violent crimes are carried out by people who do NOT have serious mental illnesses. Only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. People with mental illnesses are TEN (10!) times more likely to be VICTIMS of violent crime than our neurotypical friends and family members do. These shooters have many things in common- their belief in White Supremacy, their hatred of women, their fear of people who are different from them, a history of violence (particularly against women) but MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS.

You may be thinking, “ok, that all makes sense, but realistically, what can I do?” Here are some actionable items:

Call Mitch McConnell and urge him to hold a vote on H.R.8- (202) 224-2541
You can say “Hi, my name is ______________ and I want to tell Senator McConnell that he needs to hold a vote on AND support H.R. 8.”
Call your representatives and let them know you support H.R. 8- If you are in North Carolina, they are Tom Tillis ((919) 856-4630) and Richard Burr ((828) 350-2437). You can say, “Hello, my name is __________ and I am a constituent from __________, North Carolina. I’m urging the senator to support H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” If you have personal experience with gun violence, tell them about it. Personal stories make things more real to legislators.

Support Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan group working to end gun violence. According to their website, “Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. We also work in our own communities and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership. We know that gun violence is preventable, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep families safe.” Visit this link to find a chapter near you. I know the Asheville branch meets on the first Monday of each month at The Block Off Biltmore at 6pm.

If you’re exhausted after reading this and after watching the news this week, I feel you. I’m also exhausted and disheartened and occasionally feel hopeless. In the words of Glennon Doyle, “we can do hard things.” We can’t only contact our representatives following horrifying mass shootings. We have to tell them year round that we want an end to gun violence.

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Adventure

The Career of a Lifetime

If all jobs paid the same, what would you choose to do?

-The Hemingway Deck by Best Self Co.

Throughout my life, I have wanted to be many things: a bumblebee so I could sting my big brother, a veterinarian, a ranch owner, a criminal profiler, and a school counselor to name some of the bigger ones.  What I think I have always really wanted to be, though, is a writer.  I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember and I have always loved reading books, even long before I could read them myself.  It simply never occurred to me when I was younger that I could be a writer as a career.

If all jobs paid the same, I would write on this blog about my experiences with life and with mental illness and I would write books.  Possibly a memoir to start as I’ve already done a lot of the research for that, but my real passion has always been YA literature.  It’s my favorite to read and would, I think, be my favorite to write.  I used to think I had to be manic to be creative enough to write a novel, but I know now that with the right medications, I can be both stable and creative.

Sometimes ideas for novels come to me in my dreams and I take notes on as much as I can remember as soon as I wake up.  Sometimes they come to me randomly during the day or as I’m trying to fall asleep.  I haven’t started writing any of them because I haven’t had the confidence necessary to do so.  I have trouble believing that I could write anything fictional that is creative enough and engaging enough for other people to actually want to pay money to read it.  I struggle with the idea that I could actually create worthwhile content that people enjoy.

It occurs to me that I’m sharing my biggest wish and deepest hope with all of you right now and that it may never come to fruition.  That idea is embarassing and makes me feel ashamed.  What if I’ve put this out into the universe and am never able to write or publish a book?  What if people who read my blog start asking me about what else I’m writing?  I think it requires a little bit of courage to say to the world “this is what I really want.”

The past five years have been incredibly rough for me.  You would think that while I haven’t been working would have been the perfect time to work on a book, but the truth is that my brain has been really unkind to me and I’ve spent the majority of the last several years depressed, with a few manic episodes thrown in for spice.

The reality is that I will soon have to get a full-time job.  I don’t know if my re-evaluation is in March or May, but whenever it happens, as long as nothing substantial has changed with my life or my mood, I should be cleared to go back to work.  FINALLY.  The idea of going back to work used to terrify me, partially because I knew I wasn’t ready for that big of a change.  Now, I feel hopeful.  I probably won’t be able to find a job writing, but I can find a job that pays well that I don’t hate and continue to write in my free time.  Maybe I could take a grant writing course at AB-TECH and apply for grant writing jobs.

This is me, putting something scary that I really really want out into the universe.  Thank you for caring enough to read this and I hope I don’t disappoint with whatever else I end up writing.

Adventure

5 Songs That Move Me Right Now

This doesn’t come from the Hemingway Deck, but music is and always has been a huge part of my life. If I’m in the car, I’m listening to music. If I’m in the shower, I’m listening to music. If I’m in my room writing, I’m listening to music. Here are some of the songs that have really affected me lately.

You Say by Lauren Daigle

I realize this song was probably written about a romantic partner, but honestly it just reminds me of my Mom and the way she is always supporting me and telling me how loved and special I am. It says, in part:

“You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me.”

Strip by Little Mix ft. Sharaya J

This song is the reason I haven’t stepped on a scale outside of a doctor’s office or worn makeup in months. While there are likely people who think that’s a bad thing, I don’t think it’s negative to finally FINALLY start to be able to love myself as I am instead of as I wish I was. The lyrics say:

“Take off all my make-up ’cause I love what’s under it
Rub off all your words, don’t give a uh, I’m over it.
Strip!
Jiggle all this weight, yeah, you know I love all of this.
Finally love me naked, sexiest when I’m confident.”
and
“I’m a woman, don’t test me.
Baby, I’m growing, my stretch-marks are sexy.
I don’t owe you nothin’.
Nah, I don’t give a uh, no, not anymore.”



More Than Words by Little Mix ft. Kamille

This is another one that was probably written about a romantic partner, but it makes me think about my best friend, Tiffany, because the lyrics say:

“I need you more than words can say. Oh you’ve shaped me in ways that I can’t explain. Always been there for me, now I’ll do the same. Oh I need you more than words can say.”

Perfect to Me by Anne-Marie

This song started out as “Perfect” by Anne-Marie on her debut album Speak Your Mind (Original audio can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vzLH36L68A) It’s another one that has really helped me with body image and loving myself. The chorus goes:

“Don’t feel like putting makeup on my cheeks
Do what I wanna
Love every single part of my body
Top to the bottom
I’m not a supermodel from a magazine, mmm-mmm
I’m okay with not being perfect
‘Cause that’s perfect to me
‘Cause that’s perfect to me
‘Cause that’s perfect to me”

Mean by Taylor Swift

There are a few specific people that this brings to mind that I won’t name for obvious reasons, but the realization that someone who is mean to you is doing it because of them and not because of you is a huge and important one. It’s a lesson that it took me decades to learn, but the truth is that people who have been hurting you for a long time are unlikely to change, so it’s best if you can change your perspective about them.

“Some day, I’ll be living in a big old city and all you’re ever gonna’ be is mean. Some day, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me and all you’re ever gonna’ be is mean. Why you gotta’ be so mean?”
“All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life, and mean.”

Adventure, Random Life Things

2019

As I wrote about in my post about writing, I got myself The Hemingway Deck by Best Self Co. as a tool against writer’s block. This year, I will attempt to make my way through at least part of the deck on my blog.

What do you need to do by the end of the year to make this year meaningful?

-Hemingway Deck By Best Self Co.

By the end of 2019, I would like to have a stable full-time job with benefits (specifically health care). I will travel to Scotland, spend time with the people I care about, and love on my dog. A job won’t directly make this year meaningful, but getting a job means that I am and can expect to continue to be mentally stable, and that would be very meaningful indeed. By the end of the year, I hope I have not been hospitalized for my mental health (or for any other reason)! I hope I have made new friends and nurtured old friendships. I hope I have volunteered my time to causes I am passionate about.

In trying to figure out what would make 2019 meaningful, I find myself reflecting on 2018 and all of the amazing moments I have had with the people I care about. From lobbying for Amnesty International with River in Washington, D.C. to screaming at the top of my lungs at the Taylor Swift concert with Monica to thinking, for a few minutes (and until I saw his teeth in the photo I had taken), that we had just met Ed Sheeran with Tiffany, 2018 has had some really amazing moments. I got to spend a week with my family at the beach, got to spend a weekend at the beautiful Lake Fontana with my parents and brother, saw SO MANY concerts, went to NYC with my best friend, had Breakfast at Tiffany’s, had tea at The Plaza, was there for a live recording of The Daily Show on election night and saw Michelle and Barack Obama speak in Washington, DC. I got to spend time with my cousins, parents, brother, best friend, and friends. I started babysitting for three children who I enjoy spending time with. The year may have started a little rough, but by May, things started looking up, at least for my mental health and my social calendar.

To be fair, 2018 certainly had it’s challenges as well. Politically, it’s been a rough year. It’s been a tough year to be a woman. It’s been a rough year to be a survivor of sexual assault. I’ve had to avoid the news as much as possible while still remaining as informed as I can with print media. I struggled with depression and anxiety and gained back almost all of the weight I had lost from 2017-2018. I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep and found myself not wanting to leave the comfort of my bed. I let things get so bad in my room that it looks like a bomb went off in here. I spent more money I didn’t really have to spend on things I didn’t really need to own that I’ll just end up getting rid of in 2019 when I hopefully get my act together and declutter my room.

I hope to travel to new places and smile more and dislike myself less. I hope to fear less, love more, and stop being so afraid of life that I miss how magnificent it can be. I hope to stop judging myself about every single tiny thing I think I do wrong and start having faith in myself that I can succeed and do hard things. I hope to grow in my friendships and my relationships with my family members. I hope to be more patient and to stop absorbing every mean thing people say to or about me. I hope to remember, all the time, that there are many people who love me and want to see me succeed. I hope to maintain the fragile mental stability I have seen since starting to see a new psychiatric nurse practitioner in May. I hope to grow by leaps and bounds in therapy and learn more about myself and the person I’d like to become. I hope to talk to myself the way I talk to people I love and treat myself like I’d treat a friend.

I think that for 2019 to be meaningful, I need to pay attention to the small moments. I need to learn to love and appreciate myself as I am instead of as I wish I was. I need to revel in the laughter of my friends, the smiles of my parents, the barks of my dog, and the look on my brother’s face when he steps into Scotland for the first time. I want to read more poetry, read more novels, write more blog posts and articles, spend time playing board games and going to movies and smiling with friends, take River on walks, bake new things, and practice gratitude for the many overwhelmingly wonderful moments in my life.

Adventure

The Importance of Writing

Last night on Twitter, I lamented the fact that if my resolution for 2019 had been to write every day, I would have already failed. Thankfully, I’m not big into resolutions, but I would like to be more active on my blog this year. I got a set of writing prompt cards called The Hemingway Deck that I think will help with that.

I also tweeted out asking for writing prompts for me to use today. I got two suggestions and loved the idea of writing about why writing is important to me. The other suggestion was something I didn’t quite understand anyway.

Writing is important to me because it is the most effective way for me to communicate. When speaking, I often stumble over my words or say the wrong thing or put my foot in my mouth somehow. With writing, I can take the time to carefully go back through and read what I’m trying to say to see if it makes sense and truly communicates what I am trying to say.

Writing is also important to me because it’s a way to share my story and what I have been through with others, hopefully helping people in some small way. I feel that being open and honest about my Bipolar Disorder is the best thing I can do to help reduce stigma and raise awareness because it helps people understand that Bipolar Disorder is something I have, not something I am. It also shows people I know that someone they know and care about experiences the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and isn’t the stereotype the media would have you believe about people with mental illness.

To me, writing is an outlet. It’s a way to express myself and my feelings in a safe way. It’s easy for me to put things out here on my blog because I know that people are only reading it if they want to- no one is forcing them. Sometimes when I talk about my mental health with people in person, I feel like they wish they could get out of the conversation or that I would talk about something else.

If I could get paid to write, I would do little else. I started working on a memoir a few years ago (and by started working on I mean I started gathering blog posts and journal entries to include), but that sort of fizzled out when I wasn’t doing well because I wasn’t writing many blog posts and stopped keeping a journal. I would like to be better about writing more often and journaling so that I have records to reflect on since my memory is so terrible.

So in 2019, hopefully you will be hearing from me more frequently, even if the posts are shorter than they have been in the past.

Adventure

On Motherhood and Disability

On World Mental Health Day 2017, I wrote a blog post sharing that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to have biological children because of my genetic clotting disorder (Factor V Leiden) and my ongoing mental health struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and specifically with Bipolar Disorder.  Not only was I frightened about passing these disorders with a genetic component on to an unsuspecting child, but I was worried about my ability to parent a child or children with these disabilities when I spend so much time in my life simply trying to take care of myself and my own disabilities.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide.”  According to StopTheClot.org, blood clots kill an estimated 274 people each day.

Many people with disabilities are wonderful parents to both healthy and disabled children, but I simply didn’t feel that I was up to the task of risking my life and a baby’s life for a very dangerous pregnancy, only to not know if I would be physically and mentally able to care for my child or children.  I also have a hard enough time taking care of myself that I don’t feel like it would be a good idea to be completely responsible for a tiny human.  I enjoy sleeping through the night, going to concerts, going out with friends, and international travel.  I like being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it.  I appreciate that the only person I am responsible for is myself and that River is the only one who depends on me.  In short, on top of not thinking children are a good idea for me, I simply don’t want them.  If I change my mind about that particular aspect later in life, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States on any given day who each deserve loving family homes.

I began speaking to my OBGYN about permanent birth control options many months ago and she was incredibly supportive, particularly in light of the fact that having Factor V Leiden and a history of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs) means that it would be incredibly unlikely for me to have a safe and healthy pregnancy at any point in my life.  I slowly began sharing with friends, my mother, my father, and my brother that I do not want biological children and was planning on a surgical intervention.  While I expected to get push back and arguments, the responses of the people I chose to share with were overwhelmingly supportive.  A few people questioned if this is what I really want, but left it alone after I explained that it is.  The majority of people cheered me on for making a “responsible” and “selfless” decision.  The decision to pursue permanent birth control was not an easy one, but it was the right one for me.  My OBGYN and I discussed my different options, which were basically either a tubal ligation or a salpingectomy, and together we decided on a salpingectomy (permanent removal of both fallopian tubes).

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, my OBGYN, who I trust and adore, performed a bilateral salpingectomy.  I thought that I would feel sad afterwards because of the significant loss of not becoming a biological mother, but all I feel is relief: relief that I know I will never have an unplanned pregnancy, relief that I’ll never be put into a position where I have to decide if abortion would be the right choice for me, relief that I’ll never have to experience the heartbreak of multiple miscarriages that so many women with Factor V Leiden face, and relief that I will never have a pregnancy that could kill me and leave my child and/or future partner alone.

I sincerely appreciate all of the love and support I have received from people so far.  You all mean more to me than you know.  Whether or not you decide to have children, please know that I support your autonomy and support your right to make that choice for yourself and please know that I am a safe person for you to talk to about it.

 

 

 

Adventure

#FreeTheChildren

UPDATE: Last week, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that supposedly ends his own administration’s policy of separating children from their families at the border.  The Executive Order includes no plan about how to reunite the children who have already been separated from their families.  Without walking back his zero-tolerance policy, the Executive Order is largely unhelpful as it will result in children being detained in detention centers with their parents.  The Flores Settlement Agreement makes it illegal to hold children for longer than 20 days, so while the children may not be separated from their families immediately upon entry into the United States, they will still ultimately be separated as many families apply for asylum, which can take months or years.  The current administration is trying to get the Flores Settlement Agreement decision changed by the courts so that children can be detained for longer amounts of time because without a change to the settlement agreement, Trump’s Executive Order is mostly unenforceable.

 

 

Words are powerful. As Voltaire and Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  That’s why we need to have a little chat, family, friends, and strangers.

As you may or may not be aware, the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families when they cross the border, even if those families are seeking asylum from violence and devastating poverty in their home countries. Make no mistake about it that the administration is attempting to deter people from entering this country from our southern border.  It isn’t working.  May saw the highest number of family units apprehended at the border since 2014, when violence in Central America led to a surge in border crossings.

This should be a nonpartisan no brainer.  Children don’t belong in tent cities or former Walmart stores or detention centers or institutions.  Children belong in families.

Separating children from their families is, by the UN definition, torture.   Not only is it torture by definition, but it has similar effects on children.  According to an article in the Washington Post, “The science leads to the conclusion that the deprivation of caregiving produces a form of extreme suffering in children. Separating migrant children from parents, then, increases the likelihood that their experience in immigration detention will cause lasting mental and possibly physical health problems.”  Scientific studies have shown again and again and again that separating children from their caregivers has detrimental effects.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration policy and asylum seekers, surely your heart goes out to these children.  This is not the way to deter immigration.  It’s cruel and it isn’t working.

You may be thinking to yourself now, “Ok Catherine, that’s fine, but what can I do about it?”  Here are three simple things you can do:

I’ll even help you write the letter to your representatives:

For Your Congressman or Congresswoman:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is _________________________ and I am a constituent from zip code _______________.  It has recently come to my attention that the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families at the border.  I’m urging Congressman / Congresswoman _______________ to denounce this family separation policy and use all of Congress’ authority to stop it.  I am incredibly troubled by the forced separation policy for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that it is torture by definition.  The separation of children from their families has been scientifically proven to have adverse effects on mental health.  Please use all of your power to stop this policy.

Sincerely,

___________________

For Your Senators:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is _________________________ and I am a constituent from zip code _______________.  It has recently come to my attention that the current administration has made it policy to separate children from their families at the border.  I’m urging Senator _______________ to denounce this family separation policy and use all of your authority to stop it.  I am incredibly troubled by the forced separation policy for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that it is torture by definition.  The separation of children from their families has been scientifically proven to have adverse effects on mental health.  Please use all of your power to stop this policy.

Sincerely,

___________________

If you’d rather call your representatives, the ACLU has created a script.  It says:

Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator / Congressman/ Congresswoman to denounce the current administration’s family separation policy and use all of her/his authority to stop it.