The Articles of Mental Warfare

“Dude, what’s with all the articles lately?” some of you may be saying. “Are you writing for a mental health blog or something?”

Well, not exactly.

I’ve been handling the social media postings for a friend who is a mental health therapist. Recently I took on same role for another friend who is also a therapist. I guess they both figured, “Well, you’ve been in therapy long enough, you should know a few things by now.”

Part of the gig is finding articles related to certain subjects or specialties the therapists want to highlight. Most of the time I can find what I’m looking for. But there are times when even my Google-Fu, which I have honed so carefully over the last twenty years, fails me; I can’t find articles on particular subjects, or the articles I find are poorly written, or have extremely religious overtones.

What’s a writer to do?

Oh. Yeah.

I’m considering starting a fresh new WordPress blog for hosting articles I write on mental and emotional health [which are read over and given the green light by my professional clients.] But, then again…how often have I written here lately? Y’know, about the webcomic? the books?

Don’t get me wrong, the books and the webcomic are both around. I just haven’t given them much attention lately. Between moving twice in two months, starting a new job, starting another new job where I get paid to nerd, dealing with a couple of nasty head colds, and trying to have a social life…

Yes, you read that right; I’ve been trying to get out of the house more and…shit what was it my therapist called it? [reads note on palm] “Actually…talk to…pey-oh-plee?” What’s a pey- OH. People! Humans. Meatbags. Right. That’s it.

So, yep, looks like this blog will probably be hosting a lot of my ‘ghostwritten’ articles. Follow along if you want to, or don’t. Just don’t be surprised if you see more mental health stuff here or in your inbox. You never know, you might learn something really cool about brains and shit.

Posted in Mental Things | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Families, 1 Kid: How to Handle Holidays When Your Parents are Divorced

My parents divorced when I was eleven years old. For the next few years I was shuffled between parents for visitation. The holidays were worse, as my parents butted heads over who had me on what day and what time. Sadly, this continued into my adulthood. My mother used her powers of passive-aggression to make me feel guilty and ashamed any time I arranged to spend time with my father. Dad got upset a few times when I caved in to Mom’s demands and spent a holiday with her instead.

Is it any wonder that I’ve spent the last four holiday seasons with my family of choice?

This Christmas, I’ll be pet-sitting for my old housemates while they’re in Florida. I’ll probably cook myself some pasta salad and flop on the sofa for a M*A*S*H mini-marathon. It might sound very lonely and sad, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. There’s no traveling, no traffic, no insane shopping and packing and wrapping, no arguments with relatives over politics (not that they’d listen to my “liberal snowflake” views, anyway), and no comments from my cousins about why I’m still single at thirty-seven.

For anyone who’s stuck and are being pulled by both your parents, I fully sympathize. That said, let’s talk about your options.

Yes. You have options. It may not feel like it, but you do.

When You’re a Kid and Have a Two-Family Holiday…

If you’re under eighteen and live at home, your options are limited. But you have them. Let’s start with your options…

Speak up about what YOU want to do. Yes, your parents get the ultimate say in where you go and when, but it’s important that you speak up about what you want to do. Even if they shrug you off, you’ve taken a big step in becoming more aware of your wants and needs, and vocalizing them. This will be important later in your adult years.

Talk to your parents how the current arrangements are affecting you. Sure, splitting Christmas Day into two and shuffling you between them may sound great for your parents, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it, speak up! They may not realize how stressed you are. That said, also tell them what’s working well for you and express your appreciation. It will mean a lot to them.

Ask your favorite relative if you can spend the holiday with them. Everyone has a favorite aunt, uncle, cousin, or grandparent. If they’re hosting a holiday event and you feel more comfortable with them, ask if you can be a part of it.

Ask a friend if you can join their family instead. This works especially well if your parents are not religious, or if you’re in a situation where you really need some time away from them (i.e., your family is abusive or neglectful.)

Getting Through the Holiday Itself

You’ve got your holiday plans mapped out. You’ll be at X house at Y time, and Z will pick you up. Great! Are you still feeling anxious? That’s understandable. Remember, it’s only for a few hours, or a few days at the most. Try to make the most of the time by doing things you enjoy, and hanging out with that one cool cousin who has a Nintendo in their bedroom.

While you’re there, here are some things to remember:

You can find a quiet place for yourself during stressful events. As a kid (and now) I used to get overwhelmed by the noise of the television, chatter, and clanking cookware at my grandparents’ house every holiday. It was easier for me to go outside and walk around. When things are hectic, you might find solace outside as well, or in a quiet bedroom somewhere in the house.

You have bodily autonomy. You don’t have to hug or kiss any relatives just because they ask for it. Furthermore, no one has the right to touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, regardless of your age.

You don’t have to listen to your parents trash-talk each other. My mother used to get really angry and say the most horrible things to me about my father. This was unacceptable, childish behavior for a forty-something year-old woman. Your parents are adults and well-aware of what they’re saying and doing. If you feel like you can’t tell them “Please don’t talk about Mom/Dad like that, I don’t need to hear that about someone I love very much” without suffering some form of punishment (e.g., being yelled at, struck, having privileges taken away), try your best to tune it out.

If anyone in your family is causing you harm, speak up! By harm, I mean they are…

…hitting you
…withholding food, water, or medicine from you
…taking away your clothing, blankets, or bedding
…willingly preventing you from using the bathroom
…locking you in your bedroom
…locking you out of your home
…keeping you out of school
…neglecting you when you’re sick
…touching you in sexual ways (i.e., touching your genitals without permission, forcing you to touch theirs)
…forcing you to attend spiritual/religious groups that do these things to you behind closed doors

If neither of your parents do anything about it, talk to an adult at school. Teachers, principals, and counselors are mandated reporters. This means if you tell them about anything like this, they are required by law to ring the police or Child Protective Services. Do it first thing in the morning, even if you have to write it down and slip it to them in a note. This way they have the entire day to get in touch with the right authorities, begin an investigation, and get you the help you need.

When You’re an Adult and Have a Two-Family Holiday…

Once you’re over eighteen and living on your own, you have all the choices. Yes, there are consequences for your choices, but you’re old enough to weigh them and decide what you’re willing to live with.

Schedule time with both parents for each holiday. This will get old fast, believe me, especially if your parents live in different cities. Even if you try to coordinate things just right you will still run into traffic, inclement weather, car troubles, and that’s not even mentioning the guilt trip one of your parents will try to take you on. If you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or any other holiday that takes place over several days, this can be a lot tougher. Of course, you can always…

Assign a holiday to a parent. This is a must if your parents live more than an hour away from each other and you want to spend time with them. Work out a holiday schedule so that you spend, say, Thanksgiving with Dad and Solstice with Mom.

Go to your spouse/partner’s family event instead. This can be a lot of fun, and you can learn a lot about your loved one’s family and their traditions. Hey, you’re gonna have to meet them one day, anyway, right?

Spend the holidays with your family of choice. If your parents and/or siblings are being unreasonable, or you just don’t feel like being caught up in family drama, do something with your friends instead. At least then you can talk about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll without worrying you’ll make your Aunt Matilda faint.

Spend the holidays by yourself. Forget the parents, siblings, spouses, partners, boy/girlfriends, everybody. Stay in. Binge the latest season of Grace & Frankie. Eat an entire pizza. Play Legend of Zelda. Knit a sweater for your cat. Have fun!

Whatever you do this holiday season, do it because it makes YOU happy.

Posted in Mental Things | Tagged , , ,

Getting Through the Holidays as the Adult Child of Divorced Parents

My parents divorced when I was eleven years old. The holidays were never the same after that. As if the psychological scarring of a broken home wasn’t enough, I was shuffled between bickering parents for every holiday until I was a teenager. Then Adulthood came and I found myself forced to coordinate holiday plans with each parent.

Then, out of nowhere, at the tender age of thirty-two, my friend Sandy told me, “You know, you don’t have to spend Christmas with either of your parents.”

Cue the record scratch. “Wait, what?”

“Who says you have to spend the holidays with any of your family of origin?” she explained. “You’re an adult now. You have a choice.”

I had to sit down. She was right. I’m an adult now. I have a choice. Why didn’t anyone tell me this? It certainly wasn’t in the Adulting Handbook. Or, you know, if adulting came with a handbook. I mean, it should. And that should be in there.

That said, I began thinking about what my choices are. I present them to you now, so you can ponder them as you make your own holiday plans.

  1. Arrange your schedule so you can visit both your parents. You might coordinate so that you see Mom on Thanksgiving Wednesday and Dad on Thursday, or vice versa. Maybe you’ll have Christmas lunch with Dad and his new family, then dinner with Mom and her sister.
    Mind you, there are two problems with this arrangement. Firstly, you may not be able to coordinate fully with your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Secondly, if your parents are manipulative or abusive, they may try to make you feel guilty or ashamed of not spending the entire holiday with them, and them alone. Also, if your parents live very far from each other it can be next to impossible to make this work. You may have to move on to Option 2…
  2. Choose which holidays you spend with either parent. For a while I’d do Thanksgiving with my mother and Christmas with my father.
    Again, this may not work for your parents, or you may have a manipulative or abusive parent who uses their powers of Passive-Aggression to make you feel like a terrible child for making such a choice.
  3. Spend the holiday with your partner or spouse’s family. Hey, your mother’s been egging you on to get married and give her grandchildren, right? Well, then, you’ve got to meet your future in-laws and see how their family dynamics work. You might be in for a nice surprise.
  4. Spend the holidays with your family of choice. For some people, their friends are their family. The old saying “blood is thicker than water” is actually shortened from “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It means that the bonds of friendship are often stronger than family, who often stick together because they feel obligated by relation. Friends, however, know they have no obligation to each other; they will stick by you because their affection for you is genuine.
  5. Make your own traditions. Yes, that’s right. Come up with your own holiday celebrations. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Go to Waffle House and leave a generous tip for the staff. Or forget the holidays altogether and stay home. Cook a frozen pizza. Play old-school Super Mario Bros. Binge Frasier on Netflix until you’re sick of David Hyde-Pierce.
  6. Go full secular and carry on like it’s a regular day at the office. If you want to go in to work and can, do it. If you want to take the day off and catch up on laundry, don’t forget to check the lint trap. If you want watch Grace & Frankie and eat a bucket of Haribo Gummi Bears…just make sure they’re not the sugar-free bears or things could be…well, disastrous.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s what makes YOU happy and fulfills YOU.

So, what did I do last year? I stayed home and cooked westernized Chinese food for me and my half-Jewish housemate: crab Rangoon, egg rolls, lo mein, fried rice, sesame chicken, and egg drop soup. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy, talked, laughed, and bonded. It was one of the best Christmases I’d ever had.

This year I’m watching Rae’s pets again. I may cook, I may not. I may go hang out with some friends, or I might stay in and have a mini-M*A*S*H marathon while I shovel pasta salad in my mouth. Whatever I do is my choice, and my right as an adult.

Shit, I might just start writing that Adulting Handbook. God knows we all need one.

Posted in Mental Things | Tagged , , , ,

8 Tips for Handling the Holidays while Grieving

The holidays are stressful enough. It’s worse if you have lost someone this year and are facing your first holiday season without them.

During this time it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself and do what you need to in order to process your emotions in a healthful manner. What follows are eight tips for how to care for yourself while you are grieving. None of this is medical advice, and if you are having a physical or emotional crisis, please call the numbers listed at the end of this article.

That said, let’s jump in and talk about how you can handle the holiday season while you’re grieving for the loss of a loved one.

  1. Don’t put a lot of expectations on yourself.
    Don’t expect the holidays to be the same. They’re not. You must give yourself time to adjust to your new life. Rest when you need to and take care of yourself. Go easy on the decorating, baking, parties, anything that demands your energy. You are under no obligation to haul down the tree and decorations from the attic, or to bake a hundred cookies for the neighborhood cookie swap party. Do what you need do to care for your entire well-being: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual.
  2. Rearrange furniture, photos, and memorabilia.
    It can be painful, but sometimes it’s best rearrange or even remove things that remind you of the person you lost. This will help you adjust to your new life.
  3. Alternatively, create a memorial to them.
    Some people find that dedicating a small altar to their deceased loved ones brings comfort and a sense of connection. It can be as simple as a photo and a candle set on the mantle, or an entire table full of framed photos, candles, small trinkets, even offerings of food or drink. Just make sure to keep it out of the reach of children and pets, and don’t leave lit candles unattended.
  4. Keep an eye on your diet and physical activity.
    Food may be the last thing on your mind, and when you do feel like eating it’ll be very difficult not to reach for the Christmas cookies while you numb yourself with television or the Internet. Sugary or processed foods can make you feel even worse and inhibit your emotional healing. Enlist friends and family if you need help maintaining a healthful diet, and to get out of the house for fresh air and exercise.
  5. Admit and process your grief.
    The only way forward is to allow yourself to grieve, to process what you are feeling. Sob your eyes out. Hibernate in your bedroom for the weekend. Eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and watch Steel Magnolias. Hit the gym and pummel a punching bag until you’re exhausted. Everyone processes grief differently. As long as you cause no harm to yourself or others, you are allowed to grieve in whatever way helps you to accept what has happened, and to move forward in your life.
  6. Reach out to help others this Christmas, especially those who are less fortunate, or who are overwhelmed.
    Volunteer at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, or just offer to watch your friend’s kids while they have a night out. Stepping outside of ourselves and our grief to help others can sometimes help us feel better.
  7. Take your meds, and prioritize your health.
    Chronic health conditions can feel much worse right now when you’re trying to adjust to life without your loved one. Keep your meds refilled and take them as directed. Set alarms for yourself if you need to.
  8. Try not to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances.
    Alcohol is a depressant; it can’t take away the pain you’re feeling. If anything, it may exacerbate it. Cannabis will definitely help you relax and may give you temporary relief, but the pain will still be there after the THC has worn off. Under no circumstances should you take psychoactive medications that are not prescribed to you. These include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines. Not only is this a felony, it could be detrimental to your health. If you feel like you may need some pharmaceutical assistance while you are grieving, speak with your doctor.

Above all, remember that you’re not alone. Seek therapy if you find yourself struggling to move on, or if the holidays are causing you extreme duress. Should you reach a point where you are contemplating self-harm, please reach out to one of the numbers below:

1-800-715-4225 Georgia Crisis Hotline
1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-877-565-8860 Trans Lifeline
1-866-488-7386 Trevor Project [for LGBT youth]

Posted in Mental Things | Tagged , , , , , ,

Self-Care: A Guide for Beginners

The human body is often compared to a car. While it is important to give any vehicle the right fuel, it’s also imperative to maintain it properly. This means changing the oil, tires, spark plugs, wires, filters, and sometimes replacing parts that have worn out. Sometimes there are parts that were either poorly designed or weren’t supposed to be there at all are removed or replaced. We remove them, replace them, and in doing so we extend the life of the vehicle.

If we can do these things for our cars, why can’t we do them for ourselves? More importantly, if we can applaud our friends and family for maintaining a 1967 Dodge Charger, why can’t we encourage them to also look after themselves?

The term “self-care” is becoming more common among people who have come to understand that, as adults, we are responsible for our own care and wellness. Unfortunately, for any number of reasons, some of us never learned how to properly look after ourselves, or we were taught that self-care is selfish, that we should always put the needs of others first. The results of this can show up in a variety of ways: minor body aches, bad breath, anxiety, hypertension, and sometimes major illness.

In order to maintain our physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health, we must learn how to take care of ourselves. This education normally starts in our toddler years with simple things such as brushing our teeth and hair, taking naps, and eating right. When our parents fail to teach us these things, it’s up to us to take the initiative to learn all of these things, whether it’s from another person or from our therapists.

We must also learn how to unlearn negative stigmas taught to us by our parents, friends, and other family, and be prepared to handle negative criticism from them when the subject comes up in conversation. Just because our parents were able to live with the most basic self-care routines doesn’t mean we can’t adopt newer or better ones. And what may work for your Aunt Matilda or your high school bestie Chris may not work for you. You, and only you, get to decide what you need to care for your overall health and well-being. The only time you should ever question it is if you are faced with a legitimate concern that your techniques are causing harm to others [e.g., self-medicating with alcohol to the point of excess inebriation, engaging in reckless sexual behaviors].

Here’s a list of common self-care methods that you may already be using, and a few others that you may want to add to your routine:

  • Basic hygiene: This includes bathing or showering, brushing your teeth, flossing, brushing or combing your hair, shaving facial or body hair as desired, trimming your nails, and using deodorants and antiperspirants as needed. This not only helps you smell good and look nice, but also prevents infections and diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that we encounter in our everyday lives.
  • Eating: When your budget allows it, try to feed yourself real food. Even if you just grab a pre-made salad from the local supermarket deli, you’re still making a more healthful, not to mention more nutritious choice. If you’re on a tight budget or don’t have a lot of time to cook, even swapping out a bag of frozen vegetables for a can of spaghetti rings can make a big difference.
  • Sleep: When we rest we’re not just recharging our batteries. During sleep our brains and bodies do a lot of maintenance that can’t be done when we’re awake. Getting adequate sleep also helps us retain more information when we’re studying or learning something new. So, if your body is demanding you take a nap in the middle of the day, listen to it, and stretch out on the sofa or in your favorite armchair.
  • See your doctor regularly: This is especially important for those of us who have medical conditions that need to be monitored.
  • See your therapist regularly: If you need to see a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, and have the means to do so, do it. If you’re unable to pay for a therapist, check with your county’s mental health facility or look into local charity organizations that offer free or reduced-fee therapy. It may take a while to get an appointment, but it is worth the wait.
  • Take your medicines: Your brain is an organ, just like your liver, kidneys, heart, and stomach. Sometimes it sustains injuries, or it came with a glitch that keeps it from working properly. The medications prescribed to you are meant to help you while you recover, or to help you function when your brain doesn’t have the right wiring or chemicals.
  • Meditate: Many researchers have found that taking a few minutes to simply focus on our breath and quiet the mind can be very beneficial to our mental health. If you’re new to meditation, you may find it difficult to keep your brain quiet for more than a few seconds. With some practice you can learn how to be still and in the moment for longer and longer. Many people report feeling much calmer after meditation, and they are able to think with better clarity.
  • Play: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the saying goes. Recreational activities are a way for us to relax and unwind after a stressful day or week. This might be video, board, or card games with friends, or alone. You might enjoy playing sports or going for a long run. Speaking of which…
  • Exercise: Physical activity relieves stress, increases dopamine, helps maintain your weight, and keeps your muscles and bones in good working order. Choose an activity you enjoy, such as basketball, running or jogging, bicycling, weightlifting, anything that gets you moving.
  • Hobbies: Indulging in a hobby can help take your mind off the worries of the world. Dust off your old guitar. Pick up that woodcarving set you’ve had since high school. Find some sketchbooks and draw your cat. Even if you’re not good at your hobby, it can still be fun and relaxing, and that’s the goal.
  • Sex: Obviously this tip is for only for adults who are of the legal age and ability to give consent, and who actually want to engage in sexual activity. In short, do what makes you happy without infringing on the rights of others.
    That said, sex isn’t just fun; it’s physical activity that gets your heart rate up. It also relieves stress and releases chemicals that help you relax. You don’t even need a partner; masturbation can be just as fun and interesting.
  • Little rewards: Remember getting a gold star when you did well in class? Give yourself the adult version of a gold star whenever you push through and do something you didn’t want to or feel like doing. Got through a tough week at work? Binge Stranger Things for a few hours this weekend. Pushed through your anxiety to talk to someone? Give yourself a tasty treat, like a chocolate bar or milkshake. Made yourself work out even though you were tired and cranky? Sit in a hot bath with some Epsom salt and listen to David Ferguson’s latest album. Yes, you’re just doing the regular, mundane ‘adulting’ things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be kind to yourself and reward good behaviors.
  • Set boundaries for yourself: If you find yourself saying “yes” to everything being asked of you, you will get burned out quickly. Stretching yourself too thin is not an act of selflessness; if anything, it’s a great way to exhaust yourself and cause a nervous breakdown. Learn your limits and respect them.
    That said, you must also set boundaries for your rewards. Playing Super Mario for an hour or so after work is fine, but spending all your free time with it can be troublesome. Again, know your limits and be firm with yourself when it comes to how much recreation and how many rewards you give yourself.
  • Set boundaries for others: Learn to say “no” to anything you can’t or don’t want to do. If anyone tries to make you feel guilty or ashamed, tell them firmly, “I’m sorry, but the answer is still ‘No’. If you can’t accept that, then we need to end this conversation.” You can then disengage and move on. If you’re not used to saying “no” to people, you may feel some anxiety. Don’t worry. With practice and effort you will reduce that anxiety.
    Also, if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, or is giving you grief for your self-care, or is angry at you for not acquiescing to something that makes you feel bad or unsafe, it’s okay to stand up to them, or to walk away from them. It’s also acceptable to report them if they are causing you immense distress over a prolonged period of time.
  • Listen to your heart, and your body: If you’re in pain, it’s okay to take some aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve it. If you’re exhausted, it’s okay to rest. If you’re mentally wiped out, it’s okay to disengage and retreat to a quiet room for a while.

The end goal of self-care is to do what you need to in order to maintain your overall well-being, so you can keep doing what you do best. More than that, it will help you in your path to becoming the best version of yourself possible.

Posted in Mental Things, Serious Shit | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Six Ways to Get Through the Holidays When You’re Gay [or Queer, Trans, Non-binary, etc.]

I’m writing this as someone who hasn’t been to a Family of Origin holiday meal in five years. My dad’s family is incredibly supportive, loving, and lots of fun. My mother’s… not so much. I used to let guilt and shame drive me to attend family functions with her. Then I grew up, got a great therapist, made some amazing, supportive friends, and learned that “Hey, I’m an adult now! I get to decide where I go and when. If someone tries to use guilt to manipulate me into doing something that makes me uncomfortable, that’s Not Okay. Yep. Gonna stick with Dad, Ma, and the Step-Sibs of Joy.”

If you haven’t achieved that level of Adulting Nirvana yet, that’s okay. But I also hope you remember to take care of yourself during the holidays. That said, I’m writing these tips that have helped me in the past. I hope they help you to.

Without further ado, here are the Madman’s Six Ways to Get Through the Holigays. Er, Holidays.

  1. Make plans on YOUR terms. If you’re living at home you may not have this luxury. But if you live on your own you can definitely tell your mother “Yeah, we’ll be there, but we can only stay a couple hours.” And you don’t owe her an explanation. If she demands one, remind her you’re an adult and she has no right to speak to you that way. She’ll either respect that or she’ll get upset and try to passive-aggressively shame you into succumbing to her wishes. She may even start last out at you. If the two latter options happen, hang up and make plans with your buddy Eric instead. [You’ve been meaning to hang out with him, anyway, and he makes the best pecan pie!]

    Also, if any family member tries to tell you to “dress like a man, fer once” or “don’t wear a tie, gawd damn it” or tries to gender-police your clothing in any other way… ignore them. You rock that frock, Jeannine; you are an autumn and don’t you forget it! But for fuck’s sake, Andrew, at least invest in a pair of trousers that match your ensemble. Get your most fabulous friend to help you out if you must. At least then you have an excuse to pop some tags at Lost N Found

  2. If you’re travelling and have to stay overnight somewhere, and can afford it, book a hotel or AirBnB lodging. If you have friends or supportive family that live nearby, see if they’ll set up the guest room or sofa for you. This way you can escape early if you need to. Plus, just knowing you have a safe place to be later can help you relax when Uncle Jerry starts barking about how all the liberals are out to destroy Christmas with their red cups and ‘holiday trees’.
  3. Set boundaries and stick to them. Give yourself a time limit on how long you’ll stay at maximum or minimum. Say, 30 minutes if everyone’s being a jackass, or 2 hours if they’re all being civil. If someone brings up a subject you don’t wish to discuss, simply say so. “Yeah, I’d rather not discuss Kavanaugh’s hearing, Gary. That’s making me really uncomfortable.” If he insists, you have every right to walk away. End of. Full stop. Would your mother put up with such rude behaviour from you? No! So don’t let Cousin Gary get away with it.
  4. Just because they’re family, it doesn’t mean they’re allowed to be rude. If Uncle Jerry insists on deadnaming you repeatedly, you have every right to correct him – and loud enough so that even Great Aunt Sophia can hear you. If Cousin Cindy badgers you about “Why haven’t you had kids yet?” you can tell her “Because that’s my choice and I’d appreciate it if you’d respect that.” If the rudeness persists, make your exit with calm, mature composure. You can unleash a wave of obscenities in the car on your way home. Remember, if your mother wouldn’t put up with that behaviour, neither should you!
  5. Take a close friend with you. Choose someone you love and trust, who will validate your concerns and any abuse you may encounter. If things turn really sour they can feign illness and you can whisk them away to peace and solitude.

    Alternatively, ask a close friend to be your ’emergency assistance’. Text them with a safe word or phrase, such as “I forgot to bring the salad dressing!” They’ll know to call you and pretend there’s a terrible emergency, one you simply must attend to straight away. Bonus points if they start crying and screaming loud enough for Aunt Matilda to hear and start spooning her banana pudding in a plastic bin for you to take home. [Make sure to share some with said friend later.]

    If you’re the emergency assistance, come up with a great scenario that isn’t necessarily life-threatening but definitely warrants your friend’s immediate departure. Also, make sure you get some of their Aunt Gertrude’s green bean casserole for your hard work and 1337 acting skills.

  6. If all else fails, ditch the family of origin and go to a friend’s house instead. Or make up your own celebration. All traditions start somewhere, right? Make up your own and come up with fun new ways to show gratitude for friends and loved ones.

Remember, your mental and emotional health are YOUR responsibility. You can’t force your family or anyone else to change their ways. Therefore, you must decide if it’s worth travelling thirty miles to deal with your Uncle Jerry’s political tirades just so you can sneak away with a pint of Aunt Matilda’s banana pudding.

Besides, you know she just buys it in bulk from Kroger. Her ‘secret’ is she sprinkles nutmeg on top. We’re on to you, Matilda. We’re on to you.

Posted in LGBT, Life Hacks, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I made the mistake of watching The Stanford Prison Experiment on Netflix the other night.

This is not a bad film. It’s fairly well portrayed. The set design, the clothing, the music, everything was well done. It’s the subject matter that fucked me up. See, I knew what the Stanford Prison Experiment was. My mistake was not reading more about it or looking at photos taken of the ‘inmates’. I just queued that shit up like it was Stranger Things.

[Oh, but you can bet your ass I’m still pissed off about Bob.]

If you want to see a perfect example of sociopathic tendencies, narcissism, and what happens when authority goes unchecked, The Stanford Prison Experiment will show you. And it will fuck you up.

It starts off with a bunch of young male college students being interviewed to be part of Dr Phillip Zimbardo’s experiment. All of them are doing it for the same reason: they need the money [$15 USD a day, which is about $98 in 2018 money]. You only see one ‘perpetrator’ being arrested by city police. He’s blindfolded on the spot and taken to the fake prison, which was created in the basement of Jordan Hall, Stanford’s psychology building. There he was stripped, searched, and given what looked like a jute ‘dress’ to wear. It had one chest pocket with a number sewn on. He and the other prisoners were also given sock caps that reminded me of women’s knee-high nylon stockings.

Nine prisoners shared three cells, each furnished only with camp beds. The ‘yard’ was the hallway. Across the room was a supply closet labelled ‘The Hole’.

Nine guards were issued khaki uniforms and mirrored aviator sunglasses. Each carried a baton. Three guards were assigned to each eight hour shift, were given a ‘break area’ away from the prison cells, could smoke, and were allowed to go wherever they liked after their ‘shift’ was over.

Immediately the guards began to abuse their power. They woke the prisoners up in the middle of the night for head counts. They made them recite their numbers repeatedly. If they weren’t pleased with the results they made the prisoners do calisthenics, at best. At worst they were thrown in the hole or subjected to dehumanising and demeaning remarks or orders. One prisoner asked for his eyeglasses and was denied. Another prisoner asked for his medicine and was also denied.

One prisoner asked for a cigarette, as it was in their contract that they could have cigarettes at certain times. A guard initially gave him one and helped him light it, only for one particular guard, nicknamed ‘John Wayne’, to take it from him immediately and smoke it himself.

The ‘John Wayne’ guard is the one that made my fists clench the hardest. He fucking lived for making the prisoners’ lives a living hell. He pushed them to their breaking point every chance he got. And he made sure to tell the guards on other shifts “We can do whatever we want and they won’t stop us.” And this actually excited them.

In time the prisoners in one cell barricaded their door. This led the guards to confiscate the mattresses from the other two cells, forcing the inmates to sleep on the floor. Soon they were denied access to proper toilets and forced to evacuate into steel buckets provided for them. Some of the guards agreed to come in on their off-time to help ‘restore order’ and ended up using a fire extinguisher on the barricaded prisoners. They whaled on the inmates with their batons and stripped them down. Two inmates left the experiment early when they exhibited signs of extreme duress.

When each inmate was brought before a ‘parole committee’ on the fifth day he had internalised his role as a prisoner so strongly that he truly believed he was a worthless human being. One of the interviewers, Christina Maslach [a psychology graduate student and Zimbardo’s girlfriend], raised concern over the conditions of the prisoners. She was immediately shut down by Zimbardo in an extremely patronising way. Maslach stormed off and I nearly screamed “LEAVE HIS ASS, GIRL! YOU DESERVE BETTER!”

Okay, yes, I yelled it very softly since my housemates were asleep.

Zimbardo went back to the observation room, where he and a handful of other men had been watching the experiment unfold through audio and video equipment. He watched ‘John Wayne’ force the prisoners to dry-hump each other, then bang on the door of the hold where #416 had been held all day for not eating his breakfast. Finally Zimbardo got up and went to tell the men “The experiment is over.”

‘John Wayne’ looked at him and said, “Does this mean we don’t get paid for the entire two weeks?”

In post-experiment interviews, the ‘prisoners’ explained how they felt during their six days of confinement. In the last scene we see #8612 talking to ‘John Wayne’, who showed no remorse for his actions. The other guards were shocked at what they had become when they let power go to their heads. ‘John Wayne’ [David Eshelman was his real name], said he was conducting his own experiment.

What came over me was not an accident. It was planned. I set out with a definite plan in mind, to try to force the action, force something to happen, so that the researchers would have something to work with. After all, what could they possibly learn from guys sitting around like it was a country club? So I consciously created this persona. I was in all kinds of drama productions in high school and college. It was something I was very familiar with: to take on another personality before you step out on the stage. I was kind of running my own experiment in there, by saying, “How far can I push these things and how much abuse will these people take before they say, ‘knock it off?'” But the other guards didn’t stop me. They seemed to join in. They were taking my lead. Not a single guard said, “I don’t think we should do this.”

The whole film made me flash back to my four days in a psych ward, which I’ll document in another post once I’ve calmed down a little. It also reminded me of the Mother Jones reporter who spent four months as a prison guard in Louisiana, as well as Nellie Bly’s investigation into Blackwell’s Island.

The actor portraying Eshelman/’John Wayne’ made my blood freeze. His complete lack of empathy was typical sociopathic behaviour. When he apologised it was with no empathy. He didn’t care if he had hurt someone else. All he cared about was that he no longer got to be an abusive prick without any consequence.

I had to turn on Gabriel Iglesias after watching that shit. God damn, I love Fluffy. He cleansed my mind of that shit. Bless you, Fluffy. Bless you.

Posted in Serious Shit | Tagged , , , , ,

Preview of the Final Book

A preview of the last volume of the Brood Chronicles series…

The Isle of Squawk

The winter sun filtered through the bare trees. Fresh snow lay on the ground. Already it was disturbed by the footprints of a young woman and dragon.

Connor and Jerry walked side by side to the gate. This was it. It was time to face Lancaster and his army. Her job was to dismantle the border, opening Manchester up to whomever wanted to start a rumble. However, it was necessary if over five thousand wood folk were to teleport at the same time to the Isle of Squawk.

At the border she saw two of the Amazonian Ninja still standing guard. They both nodded to her, then they disappeared into the forest. Connor stepped forward, her hands held out so she could feel the invisible wall.

“It’s here,” Jerry said.

Connor looked up. His right hand was pressed flat against nothing. He reached for her wrist and guided her to the wall. She felt the cold, smooth surface. It was vibrating.

“All right,” she said, and reached back. She plunged her fist into the border with the full intent of smashing it in one blow. Her knuckles connected and bounced off. Pain radiated through her hand, down her wrist, and throughout her forearm. Her eyes clenched shut and she swore.

“You weren’t focusing hard enough, were you?” Jerry said, in his usual doleful voice.

Connor released another string of vulgarities. She shook off the pain and tried to focus again. She rammed her fist into the wall and it bounced off again. It never even cracked. A scream of anger erupted from her.

“When you’re done,” Jerry said, “you wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

“Is it not obvious?” she snapped. “There’s every chance Lancaster set up some sort of spying spell, or just a spy, to keep an eye on this area. Soon as I break that wall, they’re gonna alert Lancaster and he’s gonna send a bunch of people in here to try to sabotage us.”

“How do you know that?” Jerry said.

“Because it’s what I’d do,” Connor said.

Jerry sat back on his haunches and thought for a minute. “You have a point. But can I add this?”

“Add what?”

He stroked his beard. “Lancaster probably thinks the same as you. But he looks at you as an inferior, so if he thinks you would do A, he’ll want to do anything but A, because it’s something he attributes to you.”

Connor considered his point. “That makes sense,” she said. “But what if he decides to be petty, anyway?”

Jerry gave her a reproachful look. “There’s no one out there, Connor. And if someone did suddenly show up, I can eat them. And if I don’t eat them, Brenda’s kids will. Or they’ll barbecue them, anyway.”

Connor could easily picture Jerry’s sister’s hatchlings breathing fire on the possible invading hordes. She felt a little better about breaking the wall. She focused her will and started to reach back.

“Do you have to break it with so much force?” Jerry asked her.

She looked up at him. “Yes?”

Jerry shook his head. “You don’t always have to throw all of yourself into something. Save some energy for the real battles. You know, like the one we’re about to face.”

Connor looked back at her left hand, still pressed flat against the wall. She put her right hand up as well and gave a hard push, willing the wall to break. She felt it bend a little before there was a great shattering sound. She closed her eyes and braced herself for shards of something to fall on them. Nothing happened. She opened her eyes and saw the hibernating forest. There was no evidence that a wall of any sort had ever existed.

“Well done,” Jerry said. He turned to face west and pressed himself to the ground. “Let’s go.”

Connor pulled on her flight goggles and climbed into the seat of Jerry’s harness. He rose up and stretched his wings. He gave another deafening roar as his wings began to beat the air around them. Leaves and twigs and a very frightened squirrel were disturbed by the great wind Jerry’s wings created. Soon he and Connor were rising above the ground and he began flying westward.

Connor trusted Jerry’s navigation instincts, so very little was said between them. Several other dragons were flying in the same direction. Connor never expected flight traffic from dragons. Most were flying solo. The few who bore riders nodded to her as they passed each other. At one point she could have sworn she saw a dragon carrying both a terrified-looking wizard and a rather excited man in a flowered shirt. The man grinned and waved gleefully while the wizard yelled at him to keep his hands on the dragon. Connor waved back. Jerry and the dragon exchanged a few words in their draconian tongue and the other dragon headed northwest.

About an hour into their flight Jerry began lowering altitude to avoid the clouds that blanketed the sky. Connor heard thunder and started to panic until she remembered the charms Kenton had added to her armour. Soon Jerry was dropping altitude again. Below them she saw the tiny island they were headed for.

“Next stop, Isle of Squawk,” Jerry called to her over the wind. “Hold on!”

It was the smoothest landing he had performed yet. Connor barely felt the bump when his feet touched the ground.

“We’re in the very middle of the island,” he told her. “Looks about the same as the last time I was here.”

Connor looked around. The island was mostly grassy plains. To the north she saw a long hill that stretched across perhaps the entire island. It sloped down to the field where she and Jerry were, and all the way to smaller hills some distance away. The salty ocean breeze blew through her hair. She shivered a little.

“We have no cover,” Jerry said. “The only trees are near the beach.”

“Kinda reminds me of Simethicone Valley,” Connor said. “Only I can hear seabirds and waves crashing.”

Jerry nodded. “Kinda peaceful, isn’t it?”

“And we’re about to fuck all that up with a war,” she added softly.

Jerry sighed and turned to the north. Connor instinctively pressed herself to his back as he took off again. He took them over the hill and down to a small copse. There he landed and lowered himself so she could dismount.

“I guess this is it,” she said, and she touched one of the trees. “I want to apologise for what’s about to happen,” she told it. “I wish it didn’t have to happen.”

What? Eh? Who are you? What’s going on?” the tree responded.

Connor tried to quickly explain who she was and that a rather nasty battle was about to happen. The tree kept interrupting her. Annoyed, she moved away and asked Jerry to give it a go.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said, and closed her eyes. She searched the cosmos for Kenton’s energy and found it immediately. She locked on to it and willed herself to his side.

The wind stopped and she felt Jeremy’s hand touch her shoulder. “Are you ready?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Never,” she replied, shrugging off her jacket. “But I can take you there.”

The remaining members of the English Legione each put a hand on Connor’s hands or arms. Lucas had to reach over Kenton to put his hand on her head. She closed her eyes, found Jerry’s energy, and willed them all to his side.

The wind was back. The others released her and she opened her eyes. Jerry was still trying to talk to the trees about what was happening. She heard him pause and groan.

“Okay, you know what? Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Go back to sleep. You probably won’t even see the battle.”

“You tried to warn the trees?” Layton said.

Connor shrugged. “Figured they might want to know why people were out here screaming.”

There were murmurs of agreement, then they all teleported away. A moment later they were back with a handful of warriors each. They looked around for a second, then they too teleported back. The process repeated until all five thousand warriors had been brought to the island.

“Form up!” Jeremy barked, and every single person fell into their battalion formation. Meanwhile, Jerry was at the top of the hill signaling to Brenda. Connor joined him and looked to the south. She felt Kenton come to stand by her side.

“Can you see them?” he asked.

“No,” she said, squinting. “It’s nearly one now.”

“It’s one on the dot,” Jeremy said as he too came to stand with them.

Brenda landed and gave Jerry a sisterly nuzzle. Jeremy produced a pair of binoculars so he could scan the horizon. For a minute or so he said nothing and Connor tried to calm her pounding heart.

Maybe they’ll back out at the last second, she hoped.

“Ah, there they are,” Jeremy said softly. “They used a portal. Have a look.”

Connor accepted the proffered binoculars. When she looked through them she was confused at first. It looked as if part of the forest surrounding Rickmansworth had been teleported to the island.

“They opened a portal?” Kenton snorted. “They must be desperate for proper sorcerers.”

“I know, right?” Jeremy chuckled. “That’s a great way to open your base up to invading forces. That’s what I’d do, anyway: try to invade while they’ve got a doorway open, especially one that big. So of course Lancaster won’t try it.”

Connor lowered the binoculars and shook her head. “I am so not cut out for leadership,” she said.

“Well, you’ll learn,” Jeremy assured her.

She shook her head and glanced through the binoculars again. She searched for Lancaster and was shocked to find him riding astride a bastigre. The rumours were true, then; some of them had been persuaded to join him. She lowered the binoculars and sighed.

“I guess it’s now or never,” she said, handing them back to Jeremy. “Let’s do this.”

Jeremy put away the binoculars and swiveled around to shout, “Company, MARCH!”

Behind them Connor heard the sound of five thousand warriors stomping up the hill. She drew her sword and advanced as well, with Kenton and Jerry on either side. They stopped at the bottom and Jeremy ordered the troops to halt as well.

“Should I even try to talk him out of this?” Connor muttered to no one in particular.

“He won’t listen,” Kenton said. “And to be honest, I want vengeance for my siblings.”

“As you wish,” Connor said, and glanced to Jeremy. Father and child exchanged a knowing look, and he cried out to the troops.

“Company, CHARGE!”

And Connor raised her weapon to follow her father’s order.

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How to Anger an Irishman

Before I begin my tale…yes, I am Irish. My dad’s family hails from Ireland, and so does part of my mother’s family. We are also English, French, Dutch, Welsh… Just lob about a dozen darts at a map of Europe and they’ll land on most of my heritage.

Since I rarely drink I shan’t be celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day like most Americans do: by getting shit-faced on green beer, eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing green, and singing Irish drinking songs. [Although I am fond of this tune by the Corrigan Brothers…] Instead I’ll probably watch Father Ted and maybe try a recipe for colcannon. It looks like a rather good Irish potato recipe.

Speaking of potatoes…lemme tell you a story…

The first place I moved to in East Point was with my friend The Baker. She likes to bake, obviously, and to travel, and has made friends all over the world. One of them was an English chap named Greg.

Greg came over to visit about a month after I moved in. The Baker told Greg that I love British foods and Greg very kindly brought over some really nice crisps and sweets. He also said he’d make bangers and mash. I was chuffed! I mean, it’s just sausages and mashed potatoes but to actually have them prepared by a real Briton…this made me excited! I looked forward to it with utmost anticipation.

Finally the day came: Greg cooked up some sausages and made a big pot of mashed potatoes for us. There was gravy, so much gravy. I sat down at the table while he bounced around the kitchen doing god knows what. I tried the sausage: not bad. Then I shoved a forkful of mash into my mouth…

…and tasted vanilla.

Now, back then my palate wasn’t very refined. I couldn’t detect flavours as easily as I can today. But I could definitely taste something very odd in those potatoes. It tasted like vanilla. And it created this cognitive dissonance between my tongue and my brain.

Tongue: I taste vanilla.
Brain: Illogical. Vanilla doesn’t go in potatoes.
Tongue: No. Listen to me. This is…it’s vanilla. I know it is.
Brain: Don’t fuck with me, Tongue. Why would anyone put vanilla in mashed potatoes?
Tongue: I…I don’t know. But I know I taste it.
Brain: You’re tasting things that aren’t there, Tongue. Try again.
Tongue: Okay. [another forkful] No. Dude. Trust me on this.

I calmly asked Greg, “Did you do something to these potatoes? Did you add something weird to them?”

And Greg admitted, “Yeah, I added vanilla. They’re vanilla potatoes.”
Record scratch
“You what?”
He laughed. “Come on, Dale! Like you’ve never experimented in the kitchen before!”
“Oh yes, I have. But even I know you don’t put fucking vanilla in your mashed potatoes!
He laughed again. “Go on, try it! You might like it.”

So I tried to eat these potatoes. I couldn’t. They were absolutely naff. With every bite I could feel the souls of my Irish ancestors gnashing their teeth with rage. My departed southern grandmothers whispered to me to throttle him for wasting good potatoes and gravy. I wanted Samwise Gamgee to burst through the door and smite Greg with a cast iron skillet while screaming “PO-TAY-TOES!”

Eventually I got up and threw out the potatoes. Everyone else at the table had tried in vain to eat them as well. Greg was too busy doing something else to notice we had barely touched them. Later, either The Baker or her cousin told me that Greg had accidentally dumped a bunch of The Baker’s vanilla extract into the potatoes, and that he tried to pass it off as something posh. I don’t remember any further details. I just know I stuck to making my own British foods from then on, and got recipes from my other English friends.

Mind you, Editor’s recipe for Scotch eggs is sort of impossible given my current geographical location. [“Go to Morrison’s, buy a package of pre-made Scotch eggs…”]

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At the end of 2017, I took a long look at myself. As usual, I wasn’t happy with what I saw.

I am a fat boy. I know I am. I always have been. I’ve never been one to exercise. I’ve never been motivated to do it, and depression usually killed off what little motivation I had. Didn’t help that my childhood was spent in the company of abusive fuckwads who ripped on me any time I made any effort. So, combine that with undiagnosed depression and food addiction, and you get a fat kid with self-esteem issues.

Many years later I’m thirty-six and still overweight. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, mostly because I don’t give a shit about what others think. However, I know being overweight screws with my joints and keeps me from enjoying a lot of things in life. I also know if the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow I’d be fucked trying to run from the shambling corpses.

My lipid panel also looked a bit dodgy back in December, and my doctor wanted to talk to me about it. I knew what he was going to say: statin drugs. NOPE.

So around 30 December 2017, I pulled out my weight bench, plates, barbell, dumbbells, ab wheel, and dusted off my Nintendo Wii. The idea was this: every day I would spend at least thirty minutes on physical activity of some sort. If it wasn’t strength training it would be Wii Fit. There was no goal in mind other than increasing my strength and improving my cardiac health.

To be honest, I’ve always liked the idea of weightlifting and running. For years I’ve had visions of being strong enough to do bodyweight feats with my lean, dense muscles. I could see myself running ten, twenty miles at a time, especially after reading Matthew Inman’s comic strips about running. [I can seriously relate, Bruh.]

But when I’d actually try to do it I’d get discouraged, because I was so out of shape. It’s hard work, exercise. So I’d lose motivation and go back to watching Frasier and eating nachos.

Since 30 December I’ve worked out every day. If I haven’t done strength training I’ve used Wii Fit, particularly the running ‘game’ since my agoraphobia’s been really bad. And at first it was horrible and painful and I was left a sweaty, gasping mess. And I felt like giving up a few times when my depression really fucked with my head. But I stuck to it and have only missed maybe three days since I began.

I even found something to make it more fun: music. Years ago I used to go for long walks with my music cranked up. I could sort of zone out and enjoy myself. But I never pushed myself. I didn’t have any reason for it. Strangely enough, about a month into my new workout regime I found some motivation, and it helped me push through when things got really tough.

Six weeks later I noticed several things. One, I can lift more weight. Second, my cardio health has improved dramatically. Third, Wii Fit ‘running’ is very different from real running, so lately I’ve been doing short jogs up and down the block to get my body accustomed to it.

What I didn’t expect: I’ve become addicted to running. I crave it. Every day at the same time I start getting edgy. I pull on my running clothes, stuff my earbuds in, crank up Disturbed, and turn on Wii Fit. I’ve gone from 60% burn rate to a record 288%. I’ve cut my ‘Island Lap’ time down from twelve minutes to ten. When I’m finished I’m sweaty but I’m breathing normally. I recover quickly and end up clicking ‘Retry’ until I’ve put in anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes. Yes. An hour or two per day.

What I also didn’t expect: my food addiction has nearly disappeared. I still enjoy cooking but now I eat maybe a third of what I used to. If I’m careful and make better choices I can easily get by on less than 1300 calories a day. Meanwhile, if Fat Secret is right, my calorie deficit is an average 1500 a day.

My trousers were starting to feel snug around Christmas. Now at seven weeks I can wear a smaller size. I noticed a couple days ago that my shirts felt weird. I wear extra-large, so I dug out a large and tried it on. It felt the way my XL shirts used to feel.

This is fucking with my head. I’m not used to this. But I guess if I can get used to running every day, maybe I can get used to wearing smaller trousers, my shirts fitting properly, my feet hurting, and not gasping for air even after two hours of cardio.

I guess I’m not just running for my physical health. I’m also running for my mental health. I’m running to give myself a bit of quiet time. And maybe I’m also running from my past, from a childhood and early adulthood spent believing I deserved all the horrible things people said and did to me, that I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough…that I wasn’t enough.

Fuck that noise. I’m going for a run. Anyone wanna join me?

Posted in Running, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments