Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fantasy? Frustration? Or Possibility?

It happens more and more often at the oddest times. I can be sorting laundry or running to the supermarket or getting up in the middle of the night to pee and it hits me. I'm not living my life.

This is not me.

Sometimes I will look in the mirror and wonder whose face that is -- it can't be me. Inside I'm still 18, but that certainly is NOT the face of a teenager.

I'm not sure I will ever grow up; I'll just grow old. But while I'm on this journey I can't stop asking myself "why aren't I going anywhere?"

Evidently I'm not alone in my frustration and confusion (no I'm not diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease). Yet. It seems that more and more women who accepted roles based upon our culture's expectations, are rethinking their lives. Taking a closer look at their lives and trying to figure out what life they really should be living.

Some days it is all too hard. Too difficult to bust through the roadblocks. Education -- all of the forms and hoops and financing required just to take some classes and learn something. Or going to events -- traffic and parking and navigating and experiencing 'first time' jitters and concerns. Trying to find someone else who shares your same interests so that everything isn't faced alone. Reading the directions for a new project or trying to wrap your brain around a new concept. It is all just too hard, but I don't know why. When did my world shrink to such a little sliver of land?

Well all of those things hit Rita Golden Gelman, but she didn't let any of them stop her. She was a woman past fifty before she became a nomad. Her marriage of 30 years or thereabouts was falling apart, her kids were grown, and she looked around her house and realized that she'd never made it her own. She was living with the previous owners' furniture -- not at all her preferences, but for almost a decade she hadn't made an effort to redecorate. She thought maybe she would take classes, get her master's degree in anthropology. So she did. Then her husband wanted a time out and she headed for Mexico and that was her epiphany.

Eventually she wrote of her travels in her book "Tales of a Female Nomad" published in 2001. It wasn't until this weekend that I read her book. I highly recommend it. Her style is easy, no frills, some humor, and not too full of herself.

I had to wonder what kind of person could go to a foreign country where she barely spoke the language and move in with strangers, living off of their generosity for weeks and months and in one situation for years at a time. She continually mentioned her anthropological interests of 'not judging' and 'not interfering.' Yet she saw children suffering from malnutrition; listened to a wife beaten by her husband and she did nothing. In fact, she wrote that it was the wife's destiny there was nothing she could do to change that. I thought perhaps she missed some excellent opportunities to make a difference, but too often she seemed like Blanche Dubois depending on the kindness of strangers.

Yet for an older woman to head into situations blindly trusting that all would be well seemed risky, but also it sounded like she was at least making a choice, not just letting life pass her by. She left a dying marriage and started to live. Interestingly she chose to go to Central American countries and third world countries where she could live comfortably on little income -- she lived better than she could have for that amount of money in the U.S.

I'm glad I read the book for several reasons. My excuses about being out of shape, overweight, unhealthy could have applied to Gelman, but she went ahead anyway. Her book shakes me out of my listless apathy and makes me want to take action whether it be travel or taking a class or doing civic or charity work. And it has gotten me writing again. I've dusted off a couple of children's books and they don't look half bad. Rita Golden Gelman has written several children's books before she penned "Tales of a Female Nomad." It is something I think I could do. And thanks to her memoir -- I'm doing it.

That's getting a lot of results just from reading one rather slender memoir. Definitely worth the investment.

I keep thinking how one takes that first step of self actualization or fulfillment or simply finding oneself true bliss. The first step comes easier at least when you think positively and stop beating yourself up. So, I'm thinking positive. And hoping I'll find the next step before its too late.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Care or Health Fear?

Have you been listening to the healthcare reform debate? Mostly it just confuses me. On many levels.

I suppose the biggest point of confusion for me is this movement to stifle debate and turn it into the lowest form of discourse -- name calling, shouting, not allowing conversation, misdirection, not listening.

When did the freedom of speech become freedom to end discussion?

I also don't understand this need to make people afraid of healthcare when associated with government. Medicare and medicaid has certainly saved alot of lives. Is it a perfect system? No. But then again privately owned insurance companies are designed to best benefit only a few -- the owners/shareholders. I suppose if I had invested heavily in insurance companies or held a big block of stock in them, I might be against a program that will cause the company to provide better service at perhaps an impact on profits. Yet, I have this altruistic part of me who thinks that everyone is entitled to good health and pursuit of their life goals.

This conversation about government telling us what we can and can't do as far as health treatments sounds familiar. Oh, that's right. My INSURANCE PROVIDER already does that! HMO -- it tells me who I can seek treatment from AND then tells me what treatments I can and cannot get. My son's health is impacted by a lifelong weight problem. He wants to do something about it and gastric bypass surgery was recommended by his physician. But, his insurance won't cover that 'cosmetic' surgery.

I know, I know, fat people are simply undisciplined and lazy and all of those other negative stereotypical attitudes. This is no more true than saying that people with chronic depression should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, suck it up and stop indulging in a pity party. Or a woman with breast cancer should just get them cut off and stop trying to save all parts of her body. Or someone with diabetes ate too many sweets. Or people with heart disease brought it on themselves....

I will readily admit that I do not understand what is being proposed by President Obama. I thought in all innocence that he was offering an opportunity to publicly debate the pros and cons and come up with a better health care plan that all can live with. But obviously free and open and rational and intelligent discourse frightens a very vocal faction of the country. So they replace communication and facts with fear.

Killing Grandma? We don't need a government to mandate that. We already have doctors and insurance providers who determine that people with white hair deserve less heroic measures to prolong their lives. The American Medical Association has noticed that its members don't know how to talk to older folk, so they have special training in geriatrics. Yet for the longest time when I accompanied Mom to see doctors, or have tests, or discuss options, the health care providers turned to me and ignored Mom completely. There are good reasons to color your hair and try to look younger. White hair and wrinkles are a form of invisibility accompanied by decreased value.

But what about our status quo coverage? I can only speak from my own experience. If and when my husband is unemployed, we cannot afford insurance. Right now we devote 10 percent of our income to pay insurance premiums and that is with his employer offering a company discount and picking up part of the cost as one of his benefits. In addition to that 10 percent; we spend at least another 10 to 15 percent on out of pocket health care expenses. So with one of the better health care situations we are still paying 25 percent of our "GROSS" income on health care. And that is with one of us generating virtually no health care costs.

Did you know that a power wheelchair costs the same as a KIA -- maybe more. A lift and a van to convey this power wheelchair so that my husband can still work -- another $65,000. And before you shake your head and say, "Well, if he had only been more proactive, had practiced preventative medicine" let me tell you that he INHERITED this disease. But all people who are diagnosed with ALS have done NOTHING to cause the disease. At least doctors have never found a reason for this spontaneous generation other than a few rare cases such as Derrol who inherit a mutant gene -- something research discovered only recently.

Our situation is dire.

My husband's disease is incurable. He will continue to degenerate and be unable to work in a not too distant future. At that time he will lose his income AND his healthcare AND he'll die within an abbreviated time due to lack of care. He pays about $400 a month for one pill that treats the illness. We can barely afford that right now. If he is forced to get new insurance -- he will not be covered for the very thing that is taking his life.

The sad part is that companies treat people as raw materials or expenses and pursue profit rather than making a quality product. Because of this dehumanization, we have been forced to follow his job from state to state as companies downsize or buy each other out and relocate or lay off employees. These decisions have very little to do with product.

Yet, while some people have put down roots, invested in a property 30 years ago at a much smaller cost, we have relocated during the highest housing costs in history. And we are not alone. The highest number ever of employees are relocating due to downsizing, buy outs, take overs and consolidations.
We were forced to invest in something that has now lost a great deal of its value, just so my husband could continue to work. Companies did not focus on product. They focused on profit. They didn't have concern for employees, but used them to build profits. The personal cost of these relocations have been tremendous. Our family is separated. Our investments are almost worthless and we're facing a future without health care coverage. The very company who pays my husband's wages have also put us in a precarious position far from our roots and family. But hey, 'everybody' does it.

Many companies don't provide health care because they hire only part-time employees and do not offer benefits to them. And with unemployment numbers at this level, even more people face each day praying that no catastrophic illness or accident will send them into bankruptcy or make them face death rather than life because they can't afford the treatment. Many small businesses -- such as the one-man business who tiled our floors so my husband could use his wheelchair in the house or the man who painted our house -- have no benefits.

Recently I wrote about fabric artist Anna Millea who couldn't get insurance coverage because of a pre-existing illness. The same will happen to my husband if he is forced to find coverage elsewhere. Our sons already are under covered or seeking government assistance to provide for medical needs. Our oldest son has had diabetes since he was five years old (No he didn't indulge in sweets!) and whatever insurance he gets will probably NOT pay his most needed health care.

We must have a better plan so that the United States does not turn further toward a have and have-not divided country.
You can push people only so far until they fight back. Right now if we look around we'll see alot of angry people who have been raising the crime rate because they can not have a reasonable life within the legal limits. The rise of gangs instead of the sanctity of family -- do you really think that is a choice anyone truly wants to make. But we all need a support system. Someone who will protect and care for us or at least stand beside us to support us while we pursue or life goals. No man is an island. We all need to hang together or we fall apart.

We need reasonable and rational discussions. We need a better health care plan. And we need to lower the cost of health care. The country already pays trillions on health care. Why not find a way to make those dollars more effective?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Neighborhood Celebrates Night Out

We had not heard of it before, but the concept sounded great: National Night Out.

Basically a block party. We could walk to a nearby house, meet the police chief, see the motorcycle and K-9 patrols and check out the fire truck. Oh, and free food.

We circled the date on the calendar and planned to attend. Our enthusiasm, free food aside, stemmed from a chance to actually meet more of the people who lived in our little neighborhood. Not being gregarious people who walk up to someone's door uninvited, we knew only the people who lived adjacent to our property. All lovely, generous, interesting people. Yet many more houses remained a mystery to us. Who lived in them, where did they work, did they adhere to similar goals and morals as we did, would they like to be our friends?
Our next door neighbor told us about the sense of community they all discovered following the year that four hurricanes hit the area. They brought out foods, defrosting because of lack of electricity, and had a big cook out, sharing food and drink and whatever they could. They helped each other clean up their yards and make repairs and when they returned to their homes, they all had bridged the initial get-acquainted hurdles that stood between them in the past.

So we watched the clock and followed the signs to the designated party central, hoping that something similar could happen for us. We weren't disappointed.
We met so many lovely people. We talked nonstop and people gathered around my husband in his wheelchair without hesitation. They didn't pester him with questions about 'what's wrong with you' but rather 'which house do you live in?' or "Where do you work?" or "Do you want more to eat?"

We asked similar questions, learned names and quickly forgot too many of them. Our brains couldn't handle the overload of friendly faces. We'd live in a neighborhood for so long where we encountered only a few people, that we were in a bit of shock.

One woman and I exchanged names and phone numbers -- wrote them down so that we could get together, maybe walk together around the neighborhood. She took me in her house to find paper and pen and I looked around her familiar kitchen -- all of the houses in the development are similar. But hers was so tidy. So clean. So well decorated. And the furniture was stunning. I couldn't wait to get home and start cleaning and throwing things away and putting my own house in order.

Since that night we feel ourselves becoming part of the community. If we forgot names, we remember faces. We'll wave and smile and know these are good people who live here the next time we see them. We'll wave and smile at Rose as she takes her walk cloaked in her ankle length overcoat and wide brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses. We'll know she has sun allergies, is allergic to bee sting and lives alone -- a widow.

My husband and I grew up in small farming communities where everyone knew everyone else and had been neighbors and friends for generations. We 'belonged' and had never really thought that our lives would be otherwise. Then we began moving with his job and suddenly we were 'outsiders' and isolated and not equipped to find our way inside. Until this party.

The object was to acquaint us with service providers in the community, help our neighborhood become more aware of the people living around us. But for us, it planted a sense of community that we hadn't felt for far too long. Mom always says 'bloom where you're planted.'

We both began to 'take root' as we stood surrounded by friendly faces and neighbors who truly welcomed us to the community.

And we thoroughly enjoyed the grilled hot dogs and chips.