My Upside Down Life – Not Even Kidding

My Upside Down Life – Not Even Kidding

This is going to be a short post. I’m working on my third book right now, and wanted to post this so people know I’m still alive, but y’all are getting the bare-bones facts for now.

In a very bizarre coincidence (that I don’t buy at all), it looks like I may have the same auto-immune disease my ex has. It’s not supposed to be contagious, yet I’m not the first woman to start showing symptoms about ten years later. It’s called ankylosing spondylitis. Maybe I don’t even have it, but my blood test shows I have some form of inflammatory arthritis, and it’s not rheumatoid arthritis because my rheumatoid factor is normal. Every symptom I have is pointing toward it being a type of psoriatic arthritis. I’ve had very mild psoriasis in the past, so I didn’t even go to a doctor for it. Just scratched at it for a while until it went away, the few times it bothered me. I certainly wouldn’t have expected to be one of the few people who develop inflammatory arthritis from it. Ankylosing spondylitis is very rare. And it’s even more rare in women, so I’m still holding onto the hope that I have something else. Something that isn’t going to cost $72,000 a year to treat (yes, really). For now I’m on a lot of pain medications, in addition to high doses of cannabis.

We ended up buying a dual-monitor arm system, with a laptop tray so that I can work in bed.  It’s taking me forever to figure out how to configure it, and everything has to be tightened into place. The end result, however, is me working on my back in bed. Nice life if you can get it, right? Well, I have somehow managed to snag my dream job. I can’t really complain. The pain comes with it, mind you, but I’m making it work somehow.

Dual-arm monitor supports for desk mounting

I have to say, I’ll be eternally grateful for the love and support I get at home. Both my daughter and my fiancé are amazing people who make sure I’m fed and watered on a regular basis. They do stuff for me voluntarily, and always ask if I need anything. I feel like the luckiest woman alive despite everything going wrong with my body. It’s a topsy-turvy world out there, though, so the best thing we can do for ourselves is decide we really like being upside down.

An Even Bigger Change of Life – Time to Confess

I’ve been plotting and scheming lately, and it’s time to fess up to what I’m doing. Partly because I’m bursting to talk about it, but also because I think it might be helpful to someone if I document this journey I’ve decided to undertake. I should really say that it’s a journey we’ve decided to undertake, because it involves my boyfriend, too.

The plotting and scheming I refer to has nothing to do with writing, though I still do that of course. After all, I have a trilogy to finish. This is far more personal, however, and I’m sure many will judge me for my decision. Yet, everyone close to me has been cheering us on.

My boyfriend and I have decided to attempt to have a child – well, at least one, possibly two, depending on how things work out. Having a child at our ages (I’m 45 and he’s 51) becomes complicated just by itself. On my end there’s an additional hiccup. I’ve had my tubes tied since my early twenties. That combined with the age of my eggs makes things difficult, to say the least. There’s little point in getting my tubes untied and trying to conceive by the usual means. We certainly have no problem practicing the maneuvers, but the odds of conception are practically nil. It would be a waste of time and money, most likely, and surgery is always a risk.

This leaves us with IVF, or in vitro fertilization. My eggs will need to be harvested, fertilized, and then implanted at the appropriate moment. From my understanding, this will cost us quite a few thousands of dollars. Are we still going to go through with it? Hell, yeah! For that matter, we’re already spending a fair chunk of change just getting ready for it, and we haven’t even had our first fertility appointment yet.

Let me explain.

The older eggs get, the less healthy they are. However, until recently doctors believed that we were stuck with the eggs we were born with, and there was nothing we could do to improve on them. Or, if we allowed our egg health to decline there wasn’t anything we could do to get it back. Now it’s looking like there’s a lot we can do to make things better, which includes certain vitamins and nutrients, as well as switching to a fully organic diet. Our food bill skyrocketed this month, and it’s probably going to cost me a couple hundred dollars a month for vitamins and such, in addition to buying a water cooler so I can drink spring water rather than tap water with all that chlorine and fluoride in it. I’ve cut out caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, too. Plus I’m getting out and walking a fair bit.

You’re probably wondering if all these changes are making me crazy, and they’re really not. I guess it’s true what they say. If you want something badly enough, you’ll do what you have to do to get it. I used to think of myself as a person who couldn’t achieve my goals, and most of that had to do with my writing (and the fact that I’d never published a book). Now I realize I’m perfectly capable of attaining my dreams, seeing as I’ve got two books published and I know there are more on the way.

How does my boyfriend feel about all of this? Actually, he’s even looking forward to potentially crazy mood swings when I have to start injecting myself all the damn time. I was warning him about what I’d heard of the process, and he said he couldn’t wait. I thought he was being sarcastic, but apparently he was serious and couldn’t wait for the whole thing to happen. Huh. Well, colour me surprised. Honestly I’ve never known a man who was so into the idea of having kids – with me at any rate.

So far we’ve gone to my family doctor, and she’s referred us to her favourite fertility clinic. They called a few days ago and booked us in for the end of August. It’s good timing, seeing as I only started trying to improve my egg health around the end of June, and apparently your egg cycle needs at least 90 days of healthy living, though the full egg-production cycle is 150 days, I believe. By the time we’ve both been tested for our potential fertility, and they can get me started on the constant injections, it should be a good 90 days of proper nutrition and supplementation.

I haven’t yet started the prenatal vitamins, which they recommend as part of the preconception process now, but I’ll start that later this week. I just want to keep my folic acid down a bit. They’ve been doing studies that indicate too much folic acid may be part of what causes autism (through Johns-Hopkins, so I trust the source, though it’s not yet peer-reviewed). I’m going to take only half the prenatal vitamins they recommend, and also choose the lowest level of folic acid I can find. I’ll still be supplementing with it, in order to prevent spina bifida and other issues, but I don’t want to overdo it.

One issue I currently have is the pain medication I’m on for my hips. I’ve cut back, partly because I had a shot of something called Visco put directly into my left hip joint. I still have to have the other hip done, but my pain has been lowered enough that I can cut back on Gabapentin and Tylenol 3s. The opiates are the worst thing, because they can kill your ovulation, so I’m down to 1.5 to 2 pills a day of those. Gabapentin is mostly an issue once you’re pregnant, to the best of my knowledge, though I’m going to do more research on that. I was taking 4 Tylenol 3s a day, so I’ve cut it to just under a half (on average).

I’ve lost weight since my boyfriend and I got together, which helps with my hip pain, of course, and allows me to be even more active. Eating nothing but healthy food is helping me lose additional weight. Being overweight affects ovulation as well, and since the plan is for hyper-ovulation so they can extract a bunch of eggs at once, I really need to make sure I’m ovulating.

I’m also avoiding things called xenoestrogens. They’re in damn near everything, including hand lotion, nail polish, shampoo, body wash, lipstick, etc. And the kicker is that you absorb 100% of what goes on your skin, as opposed to only about 10% of any xenoestrogens you might ingest by mouth. Your organs actually filter out 80% to 90% of what you might get orally, but they can’t do anything to filter out what your skin absorbs.

What do they do that’s so bad? Well, they act like estrogen, and too much estrogen makes you infertile. It can cause things like micropenis in boys – I’m assuming it’s when women are exposed to it during pregnancy, since the penis is already formed when the baby comes out, but it could also impact the eggs in a way that causes it. I’m not certain of my facts there, but I’d just as soon avoid having to deal with that issue with my potential son. Then you get things like breast growth in men (who use products that have xenoestrogens in them), and lowered testosterone.

In order for women to be fertile, and for proper implantation to occur as well, it’s progesterone that they need. Too much estrogen is pretty bad. I’m actually taking hormone supplements to regulate estrogen levels, and that’s correcting any issues I’ve had with my periods, too. I never really noticed it because my periods were never that bad, but I have less cramping and other symptoms usually synonymous with PMS. Thankfully I’ve never been particularly moody with PMS either, though I certainly get plenty moody when some guy asks me if I’m PMS-ing just because he’s done something to piss me off.

Speaking of periods, though, I’ve switched to organic cotton tampons, seeing as the other ones are made with cotton that’s been sprayed with oodles of pesticides. It never even occurred to me before that it would be an issue, but apparently cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and it’s not a good idea to have that stuff anywhere near your nethers. Those tissues are highly absorbent, and pesticides can also act as xenoestrogens. Yippee.

One thing I haven’t done is switch my wardrobe to safe fabrics. I figure any cotton stuff I buy to wear will, or has been, washed umpteen zillion times. Nylons and polyesters aren’t good in general, though, so I think I’ll work on at least using natural fabrics where anything bad can be washed out. I tried hunting down the organic cotton underwear, but there was a sizing chart issue and so I had no idea what size to order. Plus my weight loss has changed my underwear size.

Thankfully I didn’t have a lot of bad habits that needed to be broken. I don’t smoke and I don’t take illicit drugs – not even pot for pain simply because it doesn’t work for me, and it apparently has an effect on fertility, particularly in women. I drank a bit of alcohol once every couple of years until pretty recently. When my boyfriend and I got together we would have a beer or two when we went out, which was pretty frequent at first, but I started to go back to my old habit of not drinking even before I started on this fertility kick.

My diet was the worst thing. Too much sugar and too many preservatives. Granted, I wasn’t going for fast food at all. The worst I had there was Subway. Now everything has changed. I drink black, decaf, organic coffee. I drink lots more water, and I also drink herbal tea sweetened with organic honey (or whatever the pure, unpasteurized stuff is called). I’m rather shocked at how well I’m doing. I’m taking Maca Root capsules, which are supposed to be amazing for fertility, but I still have to add a few other supplements, like CoQ10, the aforementioned prenatal vitamins, and Royal Jelly.

I probably sound like a nut with all this, but I’m looking at very bleak odds here. I have to produce not only a high number of eggs, but ones that are as healthy as possible. I also have to make sure my uterus is healthy. Good times. Luckily I’m not the type that gets stressed out easily, because that can be a huge factor in fertility issues. My boyfriend and I have both procreated before, so if we’re infertile it’ll be a recent development rather than a lifelong issue, so making healthy choices could make all the difference.

My boyfriend is also pretty familiar with this whole thing, seeing as he was a sperm donor before his son was born. He was extremely fertile in that respect, so I’ve got very high hopes that this will work out. So long as there is a batch of healthy eggs (or embryos) to be used, a woman can carry a successful pregnancy well after menopause. According to my doctor at my last physical, I’m nowhere near menopause. I guess the average age in Canada is around 51 or 52, and I’ve shown no signs of perimenopause. Everything is as regular as can be.

You might wonder, if I wanted more children, why I had my tubes tied – and especially at such a young age (I had just turned 22). Well, there are a few reasons. First, my doctor at the time recommended it. I couldn’t take the pill, and an IUD made me bleed for two and a half months. The only other options for birth control back then were extremely inconvenient for anyone in a monogamous relationship. I’d had a total of three miscarriages by then (one before my daughter was born and two after), and I didn’t want to keep going through that. It turned out to have something to do with the boyfriend I had at the time, rather than my own physiology, so I wasn’t happy that I’d ‘sterilized’ myself for no good reason. In retrospect I think the doctor was tired of seeing the plethora of young women getting knocked up so they could go on welfare or ‘trap’ some young man into taking care of them. I could be wrong, but it’s the impression I have.

Strangely, the people I thought who would be so against us doing this, have been very supportive and encouraging. We’ve been told that we’re exactly the kind of people who should be having children, so I feel pretty good about that. Even my adult daughter seems pretty happy and excited about it. We were out shopping one day, and she suggested we go look at baby stuff. Apparently any children my boyfriend and I have now will be spoiled rotten, because my daughter was looking at all these outfits and saying she was going to buy this, that, or the other thing for ‘the kid.’

I’m no better in my level of excitement or prematurity. I’ve already looked at cribs and stuff. We’ve discussed names we like, and pretty much all the decisions parents have to make when a baby is born, like breast feeding, circumcision, religion, vaccinations, you name it. We got all the deal-breakers out of the way (or non-starters as my boyfriend calls them), seeing as there wasn’t much point spending thousands of dollars to do this if we couldn’t agree on some of the more important issues. We’ve also discussed what to do if there are congenital issues. In one way it’s lucky we’re going through IVF, because they can actually check if an embryo is healthy before implantation. That doesn’t rule out all issues, of course, so we may be faced with tough choices later, but the fact is he’s already told me he would never interfere in my right to choose. Of course, I can’t imagine being with a man who would.

I did tell him any kids we have would have his last name. I have no interest in carrying on my own last name, with the exception of continuing to use it myself because it’s who I am now (and my name has been changed far too many times – something I wrote about in a previous post). He thinks kids should have their father’s last name, but not for the reasons you would think. He believes it engenders a deeper sense of responsibility in the father, if his children carry his last name – and some men need that reminder. He doesn’t. I already know what kind of father he is, even under less than ideal circumstances, so I have no fears there. If I did I wouldn’t have even considered this.

How much is this going to cost? No idea at this point. In the US an egg harvesting cycle would cost about $10,000, and I’m okay with that. Canada’s a bit different, however. At least some portions of it will be covered by our healthcare, such as our initial appointment. In fact, Ontario Healthcare actually covers fertility treatments now, but there’s a 3-year waiting list and we can’t afford to wait that long at our age, so we’ll be paying for anything that isn’t generally covered by our regular insurance. As we go through all this I’ll keep track of it and talk about it more when I know what’s covered and what’s not.

What will we do if my eggs (or his sperm) don’t work out? Well, nothing. Call me selfish or picky, but the whole point to this is for us to have our own child – together. There are donor eggs and donor sperm out there, but neither of us is interested in that at this point, and I doubt we will be. There’s always the possibility of adoption if this doesn’t work out, but we haven’t discussed that yet. I don’t even know if they allow people our age to adopt.

Yes, we know how old we’ll be when our child(ren) reaches adulthood. And, yes, we’re both looking after our health to make sure we’re alive as our kids grow. The fact is, no one knows whether or not they’re going to survive to see their children grow, and we’ll both be well under the average ages when men and women in Canada die. We’re not dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction, or other risky behaviours that will shorten our lifespans.

The fact is, I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet the man I wanted to have more children with. The one where I could imagine him being a full partner and truly sharing the whole experience, as well as the responsibilities. Now I have, and I’m not letting even a small chance of experiencing that slip from my grasp.

It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

My Latest Snuggle Buddy

My Latest Snuggle Buddy

I’m madly in love, I tell you. After months of aridity – more months than I care to count – I’m finally getting it again. Coffee that is. I finally got a new coffee maker, and the coffee to go in it, and I’m thrilled to death to be able to report that I had my first cup today. Wow, yum. That’s all I can say. It’s the perfect little doodad for me, too. Just look at the picture and you’ll see what I mean. It does a cup at a time, which is all I can drink usually anyway. It came with a mug, scoop, and permanent filter. It’s absolutely sublime. I’m sure the infatuation will fade eventually, but for now I will revel in newfound love.

My New Snuggle Buddy

Additionally I’ve had some other wonderful things happen lately, and maybe a not-so-wonderful wake-up call, or two. For starters, I’m working on this great project. It’s a video about rape prevention, protection and recovery. As usual I’m working with my friend and business partner, +Steve Kovacs, who is really pushing this project. It says wonderful things about him that he feels this is so important. It’s a multi-prong approach to dealing with rape. Not just for women, either. It’s for parents who want to teach their boys not to rape, and their girls not to engage in victim-blaming. It’s for anyone who wants to physically prevent being raped using techniques from a real expert (that would be Steve, since he’s a 9th Dan Black Belt in Minna Jiu-Jitsu, and the soke of that style), and it’s for anyone who wants to recover from rape.

So, in the spirit of having to be on film for certain segments of this project, I knuckled under and decided it was time to do the wild and crazy things I’ve been putting off. Such as dyeing my hair a crazy colour, growing my nails, wearing make-up, etc. I actually had to go out and buy make-up, because mine is long past any expiration date. The one thing I should have bought, and didn’t, was mascara. That’s the one you have to watch for when it comes to bacteria getting into your eyes. I think I’ve got a fairly recent one, however, so I’ll take a chance. After all, the colour I get never really changes.

I wanted to get a haircut, too, but chose a six-pack of beer after a hard day’s shopping, rather than walk several blocks to the hair place. I was already worn out, and hey, The Beer Store was right there (yes, it’s actually called The Beer Store here in Ontario, Canada). I hadn’t had beer in so long. Sadly, six beers were only enough to get me mildly tipsy, despite the fact that I rarely drink. I have a very high tolerance for alcohol for some reason. Probably the Irish and Scottish in me.

I chose Manic Panic’s Hot Hot Pink for my new crazy colour. I’m not stripping it first, so it will come out sort of a raspberry colour I think, which really isn’t extreme, but I’ll get there eventually. I’m personally angling for bright purple, blue or green at some point, but I’ll surf through all the colours at some point.

I was a little confounded and depressed by the whole make-up thing. I mean, even the regular, drug-store type stuff like Revlon is getting expensive. $17 for an ounce of a substance that’s actually supposed to look invisible – also known as foundation. $70 later, and sans mascara or blush, we left the cosmetics department. Ugh. Still, it’ll be fun to play dress-up.

I’ve finally managed to set up my shot appointment again, too, for those ultrasound-guided injections into my hips. Took weeks of calling, but I finally got bumped way ahead on the list. I already had an appointment for July 3rd, but they cancelled, so by rights they had to put me in ahead of the pack. Yesterday I saw my doctor for a physical for the first time in about 4 or 5 years, and went through the whole deal. I also got my tetanus shot, and all the bloodwork, plus a liver function test and a check on my B12 levels. I’ll probably have to go back in once more to get my vial of B12, along with some needles, but if I have to go in there for the shots I’ll never stay with them consistently. Other than that, assuming my results are relatively normal from the tests, I won’t have to go back to my family doctor for years again, and I’m fully up-to-date on everything. Yeah, baby!

I’ve been put on Tylenol 3s, since I was taking far too many Tylenol 1s. This will save my liver a lot of aggravation, and hopefully I’ll notice fewer issues with my blood sugar. She’s also sending me for an x-ray and ultrasound on that knee I hurt in March. This was the first time a doctor has looked at it. I know, I’m terrible, but not being able to get down the stairs at the old place meant not getting to the ER when it would have made a difference. And then I procrastinated even though I knew something was still wrong with it.

There were two things from Friday and yesterday that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with, but I maintain my positive attitude anyway. The first is that it looks like our 15-year-old cat has cancer, but she’s still healthy and probably has a lot of life left. She goes back in a couple of weeks for a check-up and possible testing. I don’t think surgery will be viable, since they would have to remove her mammary area pretty much completely, along with spaying her to get rid of the hormones. The vet said the tumours tend to come back pretty aggressively if they miss anything, though, and it’s very hard to get it all. Plus she’s not exactly a kitten anymore, so I’m not sure if we’ll put her through surgery. We’ll decide when the time comes. As I said, she’s still acting completely normal, and the vet said she seems healthy and active, so we’re not borrowing trouble.

The other item that wasn’t great was my weight. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life, and I can’t fool myself into thinking it’s muscle these days, so I need to get a lot more serious about that exercise plan I mentioned in my last post. If I average out what I’ve done since my birthday, I’d say I’ve been getting some pretty loose exercise a couple of times a week. It’s not enough. I can still do sit-ups, touch my toes, and boogie to the music – I just don’t look as good doing it. So, it’s time to do more than a little yoga and a few sit-ups. I have to build up some muscle to start burning up my stored energy (also known as fat).

Still, things feel really good for me today. Knowing most of my issues are being taken care of, and that I’ve gone ahead with the plans I made for my life this year, makes me feel positive about pretty much everything. And now to celebrate, I think I’m going to snuggle up with that adorable little coffee maker again, and possibly wheedle another cup for myself. The first one went down just a little too smoothly.

Giving Myself a New Gift (or Three) Every Year

Change and movement are a part of life. Every year around my birthday I start to look at how things are at that moment, what I managed to accomplish in the last year, and what I’d like to accomplish by my next birthday. There’s been a lot of changes this last year, moving being one of the best ones. We’re in a place we really like now, and that makes a huge difference in how much I want people in my personal space. I’m no longer ashamed of where I live. I’m thrilled to be able to make plans about what furniture and other decor to buy, and where to put everything. I have an interest in having nice things again, where before I just looked around and shrugged, saying, “What the hell difference would it make? It’ll still look like a $#!thole.”

It was a psychological ‘giving up’ caused by depressing surroundings, and it really is amazing how much better I feel as a human being these days. I realize I haven’t been writing, but I don’t have a comfortable writing space set up with a chair and desk. At the moment I’m sitting on the edge of a mattress that’s sitting on the floor. My laptop is propped up with a large stack of reference books. I’m hunched over in an amazingly uncomfortable position just so I can bang out a few words to my regular readers. Well, that and I’m sort of organizing my thoughts for the year to come.

That being said, I need to get back on topic. Last year I became even more politically involved, particularly in my own country. I actually became an official member of a political party. I donated $25 I think, and I have a 3-year membership with the Green Party. I could have gone with the NDP, actually, but there are things that are annoying me about them. Still, either party is better than the Progressive Conservatives (or PC party) or the Liberal party. Both of those are in the pockets of big oil and all that jazz, and they both voted for Keystone XL. The only ones to vote against it were NDP and an Independent. I’m really hoping we can get rid of Harper in the next federal election, because he’s destroyed a lot of Canada – physically destroyed it, I mean.

The third gift I gave myself last year, though it wasn’t really under my control so much, was finally getting in to see the right orthopedic surgeon. Nothing has been done as yet, except to book me for a group of doctors that will be giving me a whole bunch of ultrasound-guided injections of long-acting local anesthesia. That won’t happen until after my birthday, so I can’t count pain relief for last year, but I can count the progress toward healing.

This coming year I’m looking at my last year before I hit 45. That’s kind of a milestone birthday, I think. So this next year I’m going to give myself some really important gifts for that birthday. The first is related to the last one I mentioned for last year. I’m going ahead with the treatment that will discover the extent of my injuries, and exactly where the worst of the pain is coming from. I want to be able to jump out of bed in the morning, rather than rolling cautiously, straightening each part of my body slowly so that I can finally stand up. The first couple of steps I take are pretty painful. I want that way of life gone this year. Maybe the doctors won’t be able to schedule my repairs fast enough for my next birthday, because it sounds like there’s a lot to be done. However, there’s something else I can do to help that along.

This leads me to my next gift to myself, and that simply physical fitness. Knowing that the vast majority of my pain will be treated, despite it being only a mask of the real problems, I’m confident I can start to move around a lot more. I’ll have to start out cautiously, because I’ve basically been in a chair or a bed for the last few years. It’s hard to exercise when it’s excruciating, but even more so when you’re told you’re not supposed to because it will cause more damage. In fact, I’ve been told a lot of crap from doctors that never told me there were ways around my various issues. I have a problem with my knees that could have been fixed with simple exercises, and I only found that out a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that my disc problems in my back can be healed, but I was told by another orthopedic surgeon that my back was permanently screwed.

In other words, I’m taking what the doctors tell me with a grain of salt, I’m doing my own research, and I’m going to start moving my body more and more throughout the year. Yoga, resistance/weight-training, and aerobic activity. I’m going to start recording my results, and maybe I’ll share them here, too. It depends on how I feel about it once I get going. I’m not sharing half-naked before & after pictures, don’t worry. I’ll spare everyone that much. I might do some fully-dressed, though. We’ll see. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be in a lot better shape by my next birthday, and I’m doing it the right way – as a lifestyle change, not a binge program. The last thing I need is more injuries, or to stop doing it because it’s just too drastic. I need to have fun with it. Thankfully I like the activities I’ve chosen, and they’re well-rounded with regard to a fitness program. Flexibility, strength and endurance, which are all things we need to live a full life.

I’m also setting up my home so that I have a nice working and living environment, so I can get back to serious and consistent writing again, in addition to my other work. I want to be able to put in the time on everything and feel productive again. In my head I’m almost always working, because I do love the things I do. However, translating that to actually getting the work done is a different story. Not being in so much pain will help a great deal there, too. Not only because pain is distracting and exhausting and makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, but because I take so many pills to counteract the pain that my brain just can’t stick with things long enough to accomplish anything. You wouldn’t believe how many blog posts and articles I’ve started and stalled out on halfway through. Once I stop working on a piece it ends up being deleted. I never go back to finish it off. I either rewrite the whole thing or just dump it entirely.

Cautiously I say, too, that this year I want to finish and publish at least one book. Even if it’s an anthology I edit where I’ve only written one or two short stories, and there are stories from other writers in it. It’s past time for me to get my fiction work out there. I’m also considering writing a small book on rape recovery. Never mind the fact that I’ve got the makings of more than one series of books. There’s my demon series and the serial killer one. I’ve got lots of notes, and the basic outlines for story arcs throughout, so I think they’ll be great if I ever have a comfortable place to sit and get some real writing done. I know…excuses, excuses…

I look forward to every single year of my life. I don’t celebrate birthdays with any brouhaha, because it’s just not the way I roll. I’d rather sit at home doing exactly the same things I’d be doing on any other day. The exception is that we usually have a special meal, with cake or pie after, and then my daughter and I watch a bunch of movies. That won’t be possible this year. My daughter is working 12-hours shifts on weird rotations, so she has to sleep the entire time she’s home. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t getting any shifts at all for a while there. We barely have the rent money now, so we won’t be buying steaks & cakes. That’s okay, too. I don’t mind being broke so long as we have the essentials and we’re not short on the rent. We won’t starve and the landlord is getting paid.

Maybe I’ll watch some movies on my own, but more likely I’ll play games on my computer or work toward this year’s goals.I still have to finish my starting routine for working out, and determine my level of progression, but I have fun planning that kind of thing. I can get bogged down in the details and find myself distracted, but as long as I cover the first few weeks I can always plan the next steps when I get to them.

Of course, I also continued my education last year, and that’s ongoing. I went through the MIT course on programming with Python, and I’m enrolled in Linux and calculus courses at the moment. I think there’s a chemistry course in there somewhere, too, but it hasn’t started yet. I plan to delve into CSS and Java, among other things. For me, I think the best part of living life is learning whatever I can latch my brain onto. We become so much more by educating ourselves, opening our horizons. Every course I take brings in new perspectives on life, no matter what the topic. I see just a slightly different slant, and that’s such a huge benefit – not only to me, but to my readers as well. I can offer so much more to everyone around me if I keep becoming more than what I am now.

I remember many years ago reading in a book about a married couple whose philosophy was that we are not human beings, but rather we’re human becomings, and for me that was a crystallizing moment. I understood right then that that was the person I need to be (or become, if you will). So, every year I get just a little bit closer to the person I’m supposed to grow into. Maybe I’ll make it there, and maybe I won’t, but it would be a real shame if I didn’t even try. Alas, no matter how many years are between this one and the one on my birth certificate, I don’t think I’ll ever really grow up, which makes me smile just thinking about it.

Powerful While Powerless, and a Refreshing Start

Let me get right down to the nitty-gritty. We finally got ourselves moved out of our old apartment. We also had some interesting times without electricity for the last 10 days we were there. It’s not the first time I’ve done without power, and I’m stubborn when it comes to paying a bill where I think I’m getting ripped off. Living in an apartment it’s very easy for people to patch into other people’s power lines. All you need is a little detector for electrical lines and a drill. For some reason, despite the fact that we weren’t using space heaters for those months, our usage was twice as high as it had been the previous year when we were using space heaters. I told the woman at the utility company this, and she simply didn’t care. Told us we had to pay well over $300 if we wanted to retain our service for the last ten days we’d be there. I told them to stuff it. Stealing utilities of any kind in this country is actually a very big offense, so you would think they’d be a little more interested, but they weren’t. Too much bother for them when they could simply demand their money from us.

We actually had the money to pay the bill. That wasn’t the point. The point was that someone was stealing from us and I wasn’t going to pay for it. Instead we bought some batteries for our LED lantern, and got a couple more LED lights. It being close to summer, we had a fair bit of daylight anyway, and at night we played board games or UNO. We had a lot of fun, and bought a bunch of ravioli to eat cold. We could have had other stuff, but we happen to like cold ravioli.

Right before our power was shut off our microwave blew, so this weekend we’re getting a new one. My daughter was cleaning it and may have sprayed the vinegar-water through the vent holes. Normally we put a cup of vinegar-water in it and turn it on to clean it, and it works miracles, but this time it started smoking and sparking and I told her to stick it in the pile going into the garbage.

We got rid of a lot of our stuff. There were various pests in that building and we had no interest in bringing any of them with us. Besides, my dresser and bed were already destroyed by water damage when the roof of the building leaked. Mildew had destroyed half my clothes in my closet, too. And this is the landlord that had the nerve to try to get $2,600 from us for damage to the floor. That didn’t work out so well for them. Thankfully they were nice enough to allow us to stay on a couple extra months when I injured my knee so badly I couldn’t get down the stairs.

As luck would have it, though, that delay from my injury was a blessing. Not that I enjoyed the pain or anything, but the delay is how we ended up finding a really great apartment. We went to look at two that day, and we figured from the address that the first one would be a dump and the second would be decent enough. It turned out that the first one was amazing. We were really surprised by it. We still went to see the other place, but I called the guy from the first place right after our second viewing and told him we wanted the place. The rent was higher, but all utilities are included and we also have central air. We no longer have to throw in a window unit. Yippee. In fact, we gave that window unit away by sticking a sign on it and putting it in the hallway of the old building. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

We’re still really thrilled with the new place. Every floor is tile. My bedroom has a ten-foot ceiling, which echoes like mad right now, but once I get a painting or two on the wall, and buy the area rug I want, it should be awesome. I’m going back to having a queen-size bed again in a couple of weeks. The room is huge, in addition to the high ceiling, so I now need furniture to fill it up. Thankfully the landlords left a wardrobe, a couple of bookshelves, a nice table and chairs, curtains on all the windows except one, and a couple of area rugs. The urgent stuff is no longer an issue.

We haven’t unpacked fully, yet, but we’ve unpacked more here than we did at the old place in nearly 3 years. Hopefully we’ll get everything done this weekend, as we’ll have been here two weeks by Sunday. We’re actually going to hire a friend of my daughter to come in and clean at least once a month. My daughter’s back at work with hours that are a crazy mix of continental days and nights, so she needs her time off to adjust between shifts, and I’m just not capable of cleaning a whole house anymore. We’ve been keeping up with the animals rather religiously, however. The ferrets are doing well with their puppy pads, and the cat was never a problem with her litter box. Apparently the people who lived here before wouldn’t change their cat’s litter, and so the landlord warned us ahead of time that we needed to keep everything really clean, especially since they’d never seen a ferret before. They haven’t had any complaints thus far, so hopefully we’re doing okay with that.

For the first time in about four years, we have a decent place to live. Actually, it’s closer to seven years. The place was clean when we moved in. It smells and feels clean, and it’s done up pretty nicely. I’ll be pleased to have people come over and visit, instead of being ashamed of it. It’s a huge change in mindset for me, and a great step toward regaining happiness in my life.

Another positive is that I finally got in to the orthopedic surgeon. He’s sending me to a group of doctors that will administer long-acting anesthetic injections, guided by ultrasound. I’ve got about four different problems with my hip joints, apparently, and so they want to deal with the pain first. Once the pain is eased, I can fix one of the problems myself – lack of exercise. It won’t matter anymore that I may be causing further damage by walking around, because it won’t hurt and they’re going to fix it at some point. My muscles have been atrophying for some time now, including the stabilizer muscles, so I’m looking forward to being able to exercise again. I miss it.

I still won’t be able to do my belly dancing until they fix the issue with my joints locking up, because my legs simply won’t do what the need to do right now, but maybe I can do a limited amount. Dancing is something I miss more than anything. I’ve been dancing in one form or another since I was a small child, and to have that taken from me is painful. I can wiggle my hips on the dance floor at a club or something, but I can’t do anything that requires real skill.

I go for the shots on July 3rd, so we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime I’m catching up on my reading and getting comfortable in our new home. We have office space now, which is awesome. I just can’t really use it yet. I need a proper desk and office chair. I bought an office chair from Staples a while back, but it doesn’t tilt back far enough so it’s uncomfortable for me. I do have a table I can use, but no chairs that will really work with it. Then I have to set up something for sound-proofing, or at least noise-reduction. I’m doing the intros for all the shows now, and I do other voiceover stuff, so I want to be able to record quality audio. I’ve done the last two in my bedroom, and the echo was pretty bad. I can get rid of some of it, but it’s better to not have it in the first place.

So I finally have peace in my life again. The stress of hearing people yelling in the hallway, swearing, coming in drunk in the middle of the night and carrying on loud conversations with other neighbours, people smoking in the hall so it surges into our apartment, and who-has-the-loudest-stereo competitions late at night – those are all things I do not need in my life. I despised living there, and the tension built up so much that I’m still letting go of it now. Situational depression, even when the situation is gone, doesn’t just magically disappear. Your behaviour becomes habitual in response, so those habits have to be broken. I cringe when I hear noises, still. Our only neighbours in the building are our landlords, and they live upstairs so we hear their dog barking and their voices when they talk loudly, so it trips the switch a little, but once I realized that was their natural speech pattern I was fine with it. I just hate people fighting. Drama is not something I seek out in life.

Now that a large number of problems have either been solved, or are about to be, I’m looking forward to seeing what I can make of my life once again. Giddyup!

Lying on My Back Isn’t as Fun as it Should Be, but I Still Feel Great!

Apparently I need to learn how to walk again. It’s become my arch-nemesis. I used to be an athlete, and I never injured myself as badly as I have just walking. A few weeks ago I slipped and did a number on my knee, but it’s not the first time I’ve caused major damage when I should be safe from myself.

This, of course, is the reason I haven’t been around lately. I’ve barely been on Facebook, and that only because I finally bought a new smartphone. I hate typing on the damn thing, because a touchscreen keyboard really sucks. I prefer actual keys so I know what I’m pressing. Still, it’s a temporary phone until I can afford the BlackBerry I really want. I had to cave and get a cheap Sony phone to tide me over, but at least my daughter will like it for the PlayStation aspect when I turn it over to her.

I’m finally back in a chair, instead of lying on my back for all the wrong reasons. I had to have my knee propped up, and was on crutches until a little over a week ago. Even now I’m really careful about what I do with that leg. Twisting it, or letting it go into the locked position, is something I avoid at all costs. Life doesn’t stop because you’ve got a funky pin, however, so I’ve got no choice to get moving on things.

Speaking of moving, the landlord was sympathetic enough to let us stay another month because there was no way I could move like that. Now we’re struggling to find an apartment, but a lot of that has to do with me hating that kind of thing. I have to force myself to spend just one day making all the calls I need to make. I’ve got a great list of places to call, at least. Technology is awesome. You don’t even have to go anywhere to see what a place looks like. You can weed out the ones that are completely unsuitable. Some sites have walk-through videos which are even better than pictures.

So, hopefully in less than two weeks we can get our butts into a better apartment. I don’t even want to talk about why this apartment is so terrible. It’s embarrassing. Let’s just say we’ve made friends with the mice, but there are other friendships we’re not willing to consider.

The great thing is, I’ve suddenly started feeling really good again. I had to rebook a specialist appointment because I couldn’t get down the stairs of my building, but on May 14th I finally see one of the best surgeons in Canada. I have hope in sight. My life is just over the horizon. I’ve tried to live as much as I can in my current situation, and keep my spirits up, but it’s not easy when you feel like everything wonderful has been taken from you. Now I feel like everything wonderful will be mine again, and the appreciation and anticipation are enough to get me off my butt to move my life forward again.

I haven’t been myself for a very long time. Now I’m gulping down the air and my mind is bursting with everything I’m going to do. There are things I’ve been doing already. I didn’t just lie down and die or anything. I mean, I was writing, I’ve been producing The Kovacs Perspective for more than two years now and taking it in a new direction with my partner, and I’ve been planning my future and looking forward to a time when I would be pain- and drug-free. When I say drugs, I’m talking about prescription and over-the-counter, not illicit. Not that I’m pure there, but it’s been many years since I delved into that goodie bag. A lot of people smoke pot to help with pain, but it has never helped my pain and I hated the way I felt on it so I don’t bother with it.

It’s kind of like the air is fresh, even when it’s not. I’m gulping down a mouthful of freedom I guess. I’ve been feeling trapped in my life, even knowing it was temporary. Knowing the cage door is about to open is a heady experience.

Whatever you do in life, appreciate every advantage you might have. If you can walk, be thankful for where your legs can take you. If you can hear, be thankful for the music that can fill up your life and the voices of loved ones. If you can see, relish the beauty of the world, whether it’s by reading an amazing book or watching a sunset over the water. No matter what has happened to you, what you may have lost, remember the things you still have. That’s the only thing that’s kept me going the last few years, having to wait to regain the full use of my body and mental faculties (which have been dimmed by the medication needed to handle the pain). Well, my ferrets have been a huge help, too, so I can’t forget them. They make me laugh when nothing else is funny.

One of the hardest things to deal with when encumbered by something that restricts your life, and especially something that causes chronic pain, is the emotional toll it takes. Most people suffer situational depression, and I’m no exception there. The problem is, if you tell your healthcare provider what you’re feeling the first thing they want to do is stick you on anti-depressants. I’d like to know how the hell they think that’s going to help. I mean, situational depression is not a chemical imbalance, so treating it with chemicals will do what, exactly? It’s just going to screw with your own brain chemistry and add a chemical imbalance you didn’t have before.

That was a lesson I learned when my ex started going through all that with his physical condition. It was severe, painful, caused irreversible damage to his body, and he was understandably miserable. Suddenly the doctor assumed he was going to attempt suicide, and then they took away the pain meds he needs so badly, which of course only made him more miserable. I mean, really! Talk about a stupid way to handle it. Getting rid of the pain is the only solution that works, not allowing a patient to suffer unnecessary pain.

So I never mentioned the frustration, despair, etc. I’ve got a lot of emotion locked up inside me now, waiting to be let out. I intend to use it to propel me forward. Back into the life that was delayed for so long. I’ve still got a bit of waiting to do, but I’m already cutting back on the pain killers. I can stand pain for a while, just not long-term when it starts driving me crazy, and as soon as my injuries are repaired I want to be able to get back to my life. I don’t want to have to wean myself off the drugs then, because that would only delay me further. The drugs I take affect my ability to think clearly, and to me that’s almost as intolerable as the pain. I have an affection for my strange little brain, so I’d like to get back in touch with it as soon as possible. My concentration has been shot, and there have been some projects I’ve put on the back burner because I just can’t deal with the steep learning curve right now. I’ve got new software to learn, and courses to take.

Still, I can only be grateful and appreciative that there’s an end to the misery in sight for me. There are too many people out there who know they’re stuck in their situations for the rest of their lives. They’re forced to make the best of it and fight off the inevitable depression. I think I could cope with almost anything except permanent pain, though I’ve dealt with pain most of my life so maybe I could cope with that, too. I just don’t want to have to, and it looks like I’m going to be one of the lucky ones. Plenty of reason to smile and feel good about the future opening up before me.

Stopping the Insidious Craving for Obsessive Love, Stalking and Domestic Violence

The massive popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is more than a little bit alarming. I have nothing against a little role playing, or even BDSM if that’s what you’re into in the bedroom. Two consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want. The problem I have is when it gets romanticized as a way of life. When a man tells a woman, “I will find you,” that’s the sign of someone who is seriously mentally disturbed. It’s not sexy – it’s very, very scary.

I come from a place of personal experience here. I’ve been raped, I’ve been stalked, and I’ve been held against my will. It was far from being a turn-on, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s called self-preservation and survival. When you’re in a seriously dangerous situation with someone who is unstable, it’s pretty damn stupid to want to jump their bones.

So why do people get off on this kind of thing? Because it’s a fantasy. Fantasy is fine, and frankly it’s a whole lot of fun. Fantasy with another person can be even more fun and sexy. What it requires, however, is a very deep level of trust. So many people are paying to read 50 Shades, and then they’re traipsing off to the theatre to see it. Far too many people are thinking it’s just opening up people’s minds to BDSM. It’s not. BDSM needs to remain in the bedroom. When one person in a relationship is being subjugated constantly and it becomes a way of life, eventually that person is going to want to do something their ‘master’ doesn’t want them to do. When that happens the reaction can be terrifying.

What we need to figure out is why this is still such a prevalent fantasy for women. If you’re one of those women, it’s extremely important. In fact, it can be life-and-death important. There are women in domestic violence situations who cannot break away because they’ve been conditioned to believe a man should have control over them. They believe that physical strength in men is to be desired, rather than mental strength. When it comes time to press charges they don’t want to, no matter how badly they may have been hurt. Men are constantly forgiven for abuses against the person they’re supposed to love and cherish above all others, society passing it off as a private issue.

I’m not one of those people, and I’ve personally boycotted any celebrities I’m aware of that have engaged in that sort of behaviour (once it’s been proven, of course). I’ll never pay for a Mel Gibson movie again in my life, or a Mötley Crüe CD or song as long as Tommy Lee is involved with the project. I don’t care if they’ve gone to jail and ‘paid’ for their crimes. I don’t think the criminal justice system takes it seriously enough, and that’s especially true of celebrities with lots of money to spend on high-priced lawyers. Real men do not lay hands on women in anger. They have no need to ‘prove’ their control over another person. Any man who does this is inherently weak, and is looking for ways to compensate.

This is what needs to be stressed to both women and men in order to avoid tragedies in the future, such as domestic violence and murder. The perception that a man is strong because he is physically capable of pushing someone around, and that it makes him sexy when he shows how ‘manly’ he is, is a very big part of the problem. Truly strong people have no need to do this. If more women understood this, they would be much less impressed by physically violent men. Controlling a woman doesn’t make a man strong – having no need to control anyone is the true indicator of strength. That’s called self-esteem. It’s only the men who feel insecure that attempt to control others, in part because they have no control over themselves or their own lives. The more insecure a person is, the more of a control-freak they usually are.

When you really stop and think about that – I mean sit down and actually concentrate on it – it’s not hard to start feeling contempt toward people who behave that way, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or woman exhibiting the behaviour. When you truly realize that only someone who feels weak will pick on others and bully them, we start to lose respect for them. We can see that they must have serious problems of their own that are triggering the behaviour, and it’s less and less likely that we will allow them that control over us. It doesn’t apply only to domestic violence, either.

When it comes to role-playing, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with it. As long as there’s a clear delineation between reality and fantasy. Some people enjoy subjugation, but when you take a mental trip and imagine your entire life spent in bending to the will of another, how many people truly want that as a part of their lives? What happens when you come home from a job you love, and your partner tells you that you have to quit so you can serve them? What happens when you’re not allowed to see friends and family members that you love? What happens when you start having to explain the bruises to other people? Are you going to start lying and covering up? If your response to a query is simply a smirk and a fond memory of the night before, that’s fine. If your response is along the lines of fearing what will happen if others find out, maybe you need to do some serious thinking about where you want your relationship to go, or if you want it going anywhere.

The Appendix, and Other Organs You Thought Were Useless

A few years ago I got a bee in my bonnet about vestigial organs – organs that a species has no use for, and that have often shrunk or disappeared as the species evolved. It all started with a movie, as my weird ‘thinks’ often do. I was watching something called Lake Placid, which is actually a really funny movie. Betty White and Oliver Platt just killed it for me. “If I had a dick, this is where I would tell you to suck it!” Pretty much the ultimate Betty White line. Ever. Sorry for going off on a tangent, but it’s what I do best, and quite frankly that’s probably my all-time favourite movie. A lot of people didn’t see it, because most figured it was a horror movie with a crocodile, which is a pretty lame concept. The people who marketed the movie that way should have been shot, or fired, whichever is easiest, because it was a comedy from start to finish.

In the movie Oliver Platt’s character, Hector Cyr, talks about crocodiles having nictitating lenses. Having had pet cats for many years, I already knew what they were, but for anyone who doesn’t have cats or hasn’t made the connection (or maybe their cats don’t fall asleep upside down like some of mine have), they’re a second set of eyelids. You’ll see them in cats when their outer lids fall open while they’re sleeping, and the inner ones remain closed. Sounds like something from the first Men in Black movie, I know, but there are a lot of creatures on this earth that have them. Birds, crocodiles, etc. In birds they’re meant to be closed while they’re in flight, because it keeps the dust and debris from getting into their eyeballs. The lids are very thin so they can see shadows and such, but they can’t see with any detail when they’re closed.

So what’s the connection with the appendix you ask? Well, the first connection is that humans actually have vestigial nictitating lenses. If you look at the inner corner of your eye you’ll see a tiny lump of tissue. It used to be a second eyelid, or was intended to be at any rate, but we didn’t need them. I don’t know if it’s because we don’t spend a lot of time in the water, or that we don’t move fast enough on our own to get that kind of debris in our eyes, but whatever the reason we’ve evolved to where we don’t have them.

Now the second part of the connection has to do with the common misconception that the appendix is a vestigial organ, and to be fair even the doctors and scientists believed this to be true until recently. They didn’t believe we needed it, or that it was used for anything, but it turned out that we actually do. The purpose of the appendix is somewhat gross to explain, but then a lot of fascinating topics are more than a little bit disgusting. The appendix stores and protects beneficial bacteria for those uncomfortable times when we experience severe diarrhea. Our intestines need that bacteria, particularly when recovering from bad bacteria that made us sick, so the appendix keeps some tucked away until the episode has passed – no pun intended – and then reintroduces it into the intestines that so rudely shoved out the bacteria in the first place. Once reintroduced it doesn’t take long for it to multiply back to its former levels.

Sure, we can do without the appendix, but like any other organ in the body, we’re better off having it in place usually. The spleen, gallbladder and tonsils, along with a single kidney, can be removed as well, but we’re still better off with all our parts in order. After all, the kidney is such a vital organ that we require two of them to operate at peak efficiency when it comes to voiding the toxins and useless liquid wastes in our body. If our spleen gets damaged, however, it can be necessary to remove it to prevent a patient from bleeding to death really fast. Unless these necessary organs get damaged or severely infected, removal is just stupid.

Now there’s no particular reason I decided to ramble about this tonight. It all popped into my head without so much as a by-your-leave, so I just went with it. If the topic were a little more important and interesting, one might actually call it inspiration. Instead this is more likely to be termed cerebral flatulence. There are days when I write about things that are important in life, but then there are days like this where I just feel like sharing knowledge about things no one really wanted to know. I actually had a friend once who told me I should write a book about thing nobody ever wanted to know. The idea stuck with me, despite the fact that it would obviously be a wasted effort if people really didn’t want to know any of those things. Why the hell would they buy the book then? Still, the suggestion has lasted in my brain for the last 25 years or so, so maybe I’ll write it just for the hell of it.

Stalkers and Obsessions in Romance and Young Adult Fiction

Recently I succumbed to the urge to read a certain popular series. Pretty much everyone on the planet will know exactly what I’m talking about when I mention the Twilight ‘saga’ from Stephanie Meyer. Not only were the four main novels in the series wildly popular, but they’ve all been made into movies as well. I also read two books complementary to the four main ones, and I have to say they really scare me.

No, I don’t mean scared in the sense of lying awake at night, afraid a vampire was going to come out of my closet. What scared me was the fact that these novels didn’t seem to get a lot of flak from parents. Sure, the storyline itself is entertaining. The problem is the fact that the two main characters have serious mental health issues.

The four main books are written in the first person, which I always find annoying anyway. I prefer third person omniscient, myself, but that’s purely an aesthetic and personal viewpoint. The perspective is that of a teenage girl who becomes completely obsessed with what looks like a teenage boy, but is in fact a man who’s closer to a hundred years old. If we saw a 100-year-old man walking down the street with a 17-year-old on his arm, in most responsible people that would bring on a large measure of disgust for the dirty old man and his perverted proclivities.

In addition to that, the male love interest leaves her because he thinks it will be safer for her not to be exposed to him and his vampire ‘family’ any longer. When this happens she basically loses her mind. She becomes nearly catatonic in her grief, and when she comes out of that she’s still living life in such a robotic fashion that she’s startled to realize she’s more like a zombie than a human being. Now that’s what we call an obsession.

Even after she realizes what she’s doing, and starts to live her life again, she starts taking risks with her life because she starts hearing his voice in her head whenever she does anything that might kill her. At first I thought maybe there was a psychic thing going on in the stories, but it turns out she was really hearing voices – well, one voice anyway – and the voice wasn’t actually there. So, now she’s obsessed and schizophrenic. She’s having auditory hallucinations brought on by adrenaline spikes.

Eventually her obsession comes back to her, and suddenly she’s alive again. However, she can’t stand to spend even an hour or two away from him without feeling like there’s a big hole in her chest where her heart used to be.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that he spends a fair bit of time stalking her before they’re even together. He went through her house, he was in her room while she was sleeping and watched her pretty much every night. He looked through her things, including her books and music. When they do finally become an official couple, he sneaks into her room to stay with her every single night. At least by then she knows about it and is actually asking him to stay with her. In fact, she’s not actually asking. It’s more like pleading.

I was teenager once myself, and I remember the volatility that comes along with that. I think we’re all a little unbalanced when it comes to first loves. I had a couple of them. My relationships when I was a teenager were monogamous ones that lasted at least a year each. The entire year I was fourteen I was with one guy and he actually asked me to marry him – he was nineteen, so looking back that seems a little off-kilter to me. I had my first major obsession when I was fifteen and sixteen. It was a tumultuous relationship with a Roman Catholic whose mother didn’t approve. I did my share of stupid things, but the heartbreak was over a couple of weeks after he dumped me. I’m not one to hang on. It probably has something to do with having a healthy (or sinful) measure of pride. There was no way I was going to prostrate myself before someone who didn’t want me.

I was also a parent to a teenager. My daughter had her own mild obsession, and eventually her feelings were no longer ‘unrequited,’ but they grew apart and it was over. Basically she had a lot of interest in what he was doing, and in his life in general, but stalking is not something that was ever in her character – even less so than it was in mine. In fact, when I was a teenager I longed desperately to fall in love, get married, and make lots of babies with a man who adored me. My daughter has little interest in that, though she does want a kid one day. She’s not a lesbian, so it isn’t about her orientation. She just doesn’t like the idea of spending that much time with another person, which the exception of her own child. Thankfully she hasn’t made me a grandmother yet, because I’m just not ready for that. I’m still vaguely within the age of being able to have kids myself, so it just seems too weird to me.

Now my daughter is almost halfway through her twenties, and completely skipped out on any mental health problems associated with teenage crushes. I’m in my early forties. The funny thing is, I personally feel the danger of books like the Twilight series. Romance novels are often the same, too. There’s still an envy there for me. At my age the statistics aren’t good when it comes to me finding anyone I can give my whole heart to. I’ve had moments where I thought I’d be able to, but the feelings weren’t reciprocated so I shut my own feelings down right away. It’s not that I don’t have them; I just don’t let my brain run off with my heart.

Still, there’s a sadness and envy invoked by obsessive love stories, even for me. I think we’re all somewhat conditioned to think of that as the only real love there is. Even when we know better logically, a part of us still wants that unquestioning devotion and adoration. Beneath the tough exterior beats the heart of a marshmallow, I guess. I know better than to ever put myself in that position with anyone, because I’ve seen where those situations usually lead. Besides, I’m not really that mentally unhealthy anyway, that I absolutely can’t live without someone. The proof is in the pudding in my case, seeing as I’ve been separated for a long time. There was an interruption of less than four months, where I was seeing someone, but it never got to the ‘I love you’ stage.

After I was done reading the Twilight books I felt sad. I didn’t want the stories to end, because a very dangerous and insidious part of myself wanted to live vicariously through an obsessive love story. As an adult woman with a better understanding of mental health, however, I can deal with those feeling in a positive manner. Teenagers, on the other hand, do not have the life experience to see the books for what they really are. They’re unrealistic, and they’re very dangerous. Showing teenagers a happy ending within such an unhealthy context can breed an unhealthy real-life situation. Even with a parent telling them that the relationship in the series is not a good one, and explaining why, no teenager is going to believe it unless they’ve already been given a very good background in what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Considering the statistics on divorce and domestic violence, however, those teachings are very limited.

Speaking from a bizarre personal perspective, I was lucky in one way. I had a terrible childhood, being raised by terrible grandparents, yet it was my physically abusive grandmother who gave me my foothold on reality and feminism. She wore the pants in that house, and she’s the one who told me (the first time she saw me reading a romance), that reality was not anything like its portrayal in romance novels. For many years, historical romances were my very favourite books. Eventually, after years of personal experience that was contrary to the happy endings I was reading about, I realized she was right about that one thing. It was also because of her that I never felt I was anything less worthy than any man, because I was raised in a home where a woman was deferred to in all things.

Teenagers, especially those who come from broken homes, are looking desperately for role models for every aspect of their lives. If their parents don’t have a successful relationship, they look for people who do – even if they happen to be fictional, dangerous, and unrealistic. With few real human relationships to look up to, they look to movies, books, music, and any other form of entertainment. The Twilight series gives them characters with a happy ending, but if either of those people were living in the real world (vampire lore aside), the ending would probably be very different. Obsession is not love. Obsession often becomes possession. Even within the books, right from the beginning they claim ownership of one another, and grant ownership to each other.

The very real need some people have to ‘belong’ to someone else stems from emptiness within. There is a hole inside them, desperately wanting to be filled – just like the movie Jerry Maguire, with the whole, “You complete me,” thing. Nobody completes anyone else. We’re all individual human beings. My former mother-in-law used to tell me that if I’d wanted to accomplish my own things in life, I probably shouldn’t have gotten married. Um, what? I wasn’t allowed aspirations and goals because I was married??? Her son was allowed those dreams, though. Right. That makes total sense. Never mind the fact that I was the breadwinner in the family at the time, and he was disabled. Reaching for goals was my way of looking to be a better provider, but that wasn’t allowed because I was supposed to be nothing but a wife. Of course, this advice was coming from a divorced woman who had been nothing but a wife to her husband, yet he left her anyway. I always felt like saying, “So how did that work out for you?”

My view on the subject, and something that came up during a discussing about one of the guests we had on the show recently, is that people shouldn’t even get into a relationship until the hole inside them is filled and they’re a whole person. Until then you don’t know who you are or what will be best for you. You’re still striving and your core personality is still forming. The guest on the show was saying all women want men to take charge, which is completely overstating what women want. I’m certainly not one of those women who want a man taking charge. If there’s a decisions to be made that will affect me, then I want to be a part of making the decision. I don’t want anyone arbitrarily making choices for me.

Thankfully that notion brings to heel any thought of having a man swoop in and rescue me from my own life, which is what a lot of romance novels are about. The man comes along and everything that was wrong in a woman’s life is miraculously fixed by him. It doesn’t work that way, especially if you’re a woman who’s the least bit independent. Men seem to feel as if they have to fix everything, even when a woman has a problem and she wants to vent about it. Men will try to tell her how to fix it, rather than just listening and letting her vent.

Often the ‘fixing’ comes in the form of advice, but sometimes it involves actually doing what the woman should be capable of doing herself. Some women do like that, but there’s a trade-off that I would personally never be willing to make. When you allow someone to ‘fix’ your life, you’re also allowing them to take over decision-making, which renders a woman useless and redundant to her own life. Suddenly the man is taking charge of her, rather than simply her problems – and mostly because there’s now the unspoken agreement between them that she can’t handle the herculean chore of running her own life without his help.

Not being able to run your own life, and having someone do it for you, puts you in the category of being a child. It’s not just women who are placed there, but on average it’s almost always the female in a relationship. There are women to this day who work, but allow their husbands to interfere with problems they face in the workplace. Husbands who feel their wives aren’t treated well, or properly (as in sexual harassment cases), will come charging in to confront the supposedly guilty party. Now consider how this woman will be treated in the workplace from now on. Sure, maybe the original problem never rears its head again, but then she’ll never be respected again either. She will be known as someone who can’t handle real responsibility. If she wasn’t in a position of authority, she will never be promoted to one. If she was already in a position of authority, her authority will not be respected and she will not gain additional authority.

This is also the danger in reporting sexual harassment if it’s done in a place that doesn’t really respect legislation. Suddenly she’s a woman who ‘can’t handle a joke’ or simply can’t enforce her own authority. Speaking personally on that, I’ve always just given as good as I’ve gotten when the harassment was directed toward me. No man ever dared to step over the line with me either, but then I have the sort of personality that makes it very clear I would never tolerate it. People just know that I have indelible lines that can’t be crossed. On the other hand, when I saw other women being harassed I did report it, in writing, so that there was no way the company could get away with not doing something about it. Reporting someone else being harassed doesn’t have the same connotation of being a whiner who can’t handle things. I was also in a position of authority within the company, and it was my duty to do something about it.

The tiny part of me that would want a man to swoop in and be my dream-come-true/knight-in-shining-armour, is the part of me that’s tired, I think. I’ve spent my life fighting to keep my head above water, against some rather interesting odds. I’ve had many challenges, and I think it might be nice to one day not have to be the one who does all the struggling, so therein lies the answer to my wishful thinking. The few times I think like that, I remind myself of the price to be paid for wallowing in that fantasy. I’ve made the mistake of going there on occasion in my romantic history, and after a few decades of being slapped for it I’m now fully conscious of that price. I always have much less of a fight to keep my head above water when I count only on myself to keep me afloat.

What I really need, if I ever have another serious relationship, is someone who is capable of running their own life, and someone who has my back that I can fully trust to be there for me emotionally, but not someone who tries to take over the running of my life. Decisions can be made mutually, compromises are perfectly fine, and acceptance of who I really am is mandatory. That last thing is so vital, though, and very few people are actually capable of acceptance when it comes to their life partner. Especially when their life partner has some unusual quirks.

Speaking from personal experience, there are very few people in the world who accept the fact that I sleep during the day, and that has always been my natural pattern. Never mind the fact that I crack every joint in my body, and swear like the proverbial sailor. I can be harsh, too. I’m not unforgiving, but there are people I’ve removed from my life because I also don’t forget. My mother and step-father are good examples. I may have forgiven the fact that my mother left me when I was four years old, and knowingly left me in the care of monsters – her parents. I could never forget it, though. I could never forget the fact that she suspected my grandfather of molesting me, and still left me there. Two deep betrayals that made it impossible for me to ever trust her, or allow myself to love her. The childish yearnings for motherly love disappeared within me forever. I do not want any kind of mother in my life. My step-father turned out to be a faithless jerk who fooled around on my mother, and that shows me a character flaw so important to me that I could never trust him either.

So, I can forgive, but when a person shows their colours you can’t simply forget about them. You have to factor those flaws into the big picture. In some cases a person’s flaws make them more human and lovable. There’s a quote from the movie Hellboy that says, “You like someone for their qualities, but you love them for their flaws,” and I think that’s very true. Perfect people aren’t even very likeable, never mind lovable. There is too much envy involved when another person is ‘perfect,’ along with self-consciousness because we know we aren’t perfect. Of course, no one is actually perfect, but sometimes a person views another unrealistically as being being perfect.

Maybe my imperfections will be lovable to someone some day. I hope so. For the most part I’m content with my life, and I could probably be content to be alone for the remainder of it. It’s not really what I want if I’m being honest with myself. If I wanted to be alone, I wouldn’t feel sad after reading books like Twilight. I wouldn’t have registered with an online dating site a year ago – a profile that I deleted when I started dating someone exclusively. I haven’t done a new profile yet because I’m just not ready to start up with a stranger again, and it takes a long time to really get to know someone enough to love them – either on the basis of friendship, or on romantic love. Attraction comes instantly, as does infatuation, but the kind of love where you would notice someone was missing from your life if they weren’t there…that takes time. Starting a brand new relationship with a stranger is not something I’ve got the time or energy for right now.

I was talking to a friend about how holding hands with someone can feel weird, and he said that if I was madly in love with them then I would probably want to. He’s right. I would. I would feel the need for physical closeness. I’m actually very affectionate that way when I love someone, or even when I’m in a romantic relationship where I really like them. It’s the only kind of relationship where I can be really touchy-feely. I can hug my daughter, but neither of us likes hugging very much so it only happens on occasions like birthdays, or when there’s a death of one of our pets. When I lost Stimpy (my first ferret), I think my daughter was afraid to hug me, because I was already falling to pieces. Getting comfort when you’re like that can sometimes be just enough to break you. The stiff upper lip starts to quiver, and then you’re a blubbering mess.

Back to the topic at hand, however. Obsessive love and stalking are so prevalent in all forms of media that it has become absorbed almost to our cores. I think almost everyone I know has that little piece inside them that wishes they could have that. I’m sure I’m not alone there, or how would the writers of romantic fiction ever make any money? Rom-coms wouldn’t make a penny at the box office, either. Men are told to be persistent, despite the fact that it’s actually harassment to keep going after a woman who says no. It’s part of the rape culture. Men are rewarded for persistence by eventually getting their rocks off, even if it’s not consensual – often because the woman gets tired of being harassed and gives in to what she starts thinking is inevitable.

Romance novels used to be called ‘bodice rippers’ for a good reason. Almost every book involved rape in some form or another – usually a man was ‘pushed beyond reason’ into ‘giving her what she really wants.’ Apparently forcing a woman into sex solved all relationship problems – yes, that was sarcasm. This was only twenty years ago, and despite the fact that publishers are telling would-be authors that they don’t want that kind of book, they’re still publishing books about very unhealthy relationships. I actually wrote a historical romance many years ago. It sits (completed) in a box somewhere. It will never be published under my own name, because I will never allow myself to be pigeon-holed as a romance writer. Once that happens you’re rarely seen as any other kind of writer.

A good example is Nora Roberts. Under her own name she writes romances. Under the pseudonym of J. D. Robb she writes what’s called the ‘in death’ series. All but one title uses the words ‘in death,’ such as, “Naked in Death” and “Glory in Death.” The books’ main character is a female kick-ass cop in the future. For a long time, because it was known to be a pseudonym of Nora Roberts, those books were always put in the romance section of every book store I went into. There are romantic relationships within the series, but the books are mainly about the main character being a homicide cop. They’re murder-mysteries, and yet they were labeled as romance. Now when I go in the book store, though, they’re finally filed under the main fiction section. I haven’t seen them in the romance section for quite a while, but it still took a long time for the series to be recognized for what it really was.

Another reason I don’t think I’ll submit my romance novel for publication is that I’m rather ashamed of it. I’m just as guilty of writing anti-feminist crap as any other romance writer. I would have to cut and slash the novel to ribbons in order to fix the problem. I don’t want to be another Stephanie Meyer, creating mentally ill characters for people (particularly teenagers) to emulate. I would prefer to be responsible with my writing and portray women as something other than helpless victims to their own ineptitude. So, despite my (not-so-secret-now) wishing that I might have that sort of unhealthy connection with a man, I know better than to fall for it. I can only hope that most teenagers will outgrow their interest in the series.

Maybe there’s an antidote. Maybe one day I’ll write about the kind of relationship that’s real and healthy. Two people dedicated and devoted to one another, without having to give up who they are. People who don’t orient themselves to their partners to the exclusion of all else in their lives. Now that would be a relationship worth emulating. They say, “Write what you know,” though, and I have no personal experience from which to draw.