In Search of Big Girl Panties

I have very little tolerance for martyrdom. It’s the helplessness and the “feel sorry for me” mindset. I am the first one to say, “Put on your big-girl panties and deal with it, woman!” If I see someone continuously curled up in a ball, my initial instinct is to kick him or her down a staircase. Not my most empathetic attribute.

A little over five years ago, my husband, Matt, died.

There. I said the “D” word. I’m a regular user of all the euphemisms — “passed away,” “the day we lost him,” “left.” There is nothing wrong with any of them and most likely I will continue to use them. It’s just that I have specifically avoided the word DIED. It seems so irrevocable — so harsh —

so … dead.

Maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to write this. Why it has taken over half a decade to begin the process of putting on my personal panties and dealing. I always had something else more important, someone else who needed my attention. In retrospect, there is no doubt I erected those “somethings” and “someones” as barricades to protect (obstruct?) my own recovery. These barricades even had their own set of panties: the mother, high-waisted and lacking all femininity; the candy striper, supportive and sticky sweet; and the trooper, camouflaged to disguise any hint of vulnerability. I need to get a new pair. My own fresh and unique undies.

Now — for the first time in my life — I am living alone. An empty-nester. A widow. Single. Honestly, I dislike all labels. I would rather be known by my personality and accomplishments than my “situation.” The situation is whispered about at parties or school functions. Occasionally, I’ll catch an attempt at the discreet finger point. No one introduces me as the Widow Gastaldo, but the title is there. It’s my aura.

Then there are the times that I want to scream it from the rooftops. I want to stand on a stage yelling into a microphone,

“Do you know who I am?!

Do you know what I have gone through?!

SYMPATHIZE WITH MY SITUATION!!!!”

I then consume an entire cherry pie, sit down to watch an episode of Parenthood and sob.

I guess it’s time to dissect and digest these classifications. Empty-nester. When my husband died (there, I said it again) our boys were thirteen and fifteen, in eighth and ninth grade. Resolute to make up for what they had lost, I threw myself into volunteering for their football team, their track team, whatever. If they were on the field, I was on the field. Matt had coached every sport they were in from the age of four and I was determined to continue that legacy. This was the era of the mother and the candy striper. Then the boys went off to college and suddenly high-waisted and sweet didn’t fit quite right. Don’t mistake me; I have never been one to pine for days gone by with my boys. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each stage of their life as it occurred. Ecstatic for what they have accomplished and what their future brings, #proudmama is my most frequent hashtag. But the nest is unoccupied now. It is too silent. I can go an entire day without uttering a single word. I need a new focus.

Widow. Wearer of the trooper. Most days I don’t feel old enough to have the title. Yes, I am aware of how cliché that sounds, but it is authentic. In my mind, I am that 16-year-old naïve teenager that my husband fell in love with. (High-school sweethearts, another cliché.) I still have years left to achieve and witness much. Other times, I feel extraordinarily ancient. A lifetime lived-and-done-with, begun-and-completed-earlier than most. Then there’s the look the word generates. I hate the look!!! It passes across their face when your situation is explained and people contemplate you like a caged dog in a shelter that needs rescue.

I swear I can hear Sarah McLachlan singing.

Now the worst of all — Single. Ownership of that designation is still difficult, maybe because I did not chose to be single. It was thrust upon me like a lance that I could not avert. Single sounds whole and complete. But I don’t feel whole. I feel hacked, a fraction of what I once was. For better or worse, clichés and all, Matt was my better-half and I was his. We shaped each other into adulthood. He was my seatmate in life’s roller coaster and now I’m the single rider — the extra. Sometimes, I wish people could see the giant scab that runs the length of me and has yet to completely scar and heal. They unknowingly pick at it and would be mortified to find out they do. Yet each time a husband lightly strokes his wife’s back during casual conversation or a wife gives her husband a look that can mean anything, but only he understands, the scab bleeds just a bit. I quickly wipe it away so no one will notice, but the sting lingers. It is the actual physical sensation that NO ONE warns you about and thus you are unprepared. Unprepared for the craving of non-sexual intimacy and chemistry you used to know. A forced detox if you will, constantly longing for the fix of a hug or caress or casual conversation. There are no undergarments for this, only bandages.

So that’s it. That’s the situation. I know I won’t be able to shed these classifications easily or entirely, but a girl has to start. It’s time to remove the roadblocks, resist the urge to roll up like a pill bug and shop for my new big-girl panties. Perhaps I will head to Victoria’s Secret and settle on an eye-of-the-tiger-wonder-woman hipster. Or (gasp!) a thong. If you see me veering towards the clearance rack located in the Aisle of Martyrdom, please take me to the top of the nearest staircase and kick.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

I Let Depression Tarnish the Last Months I Had With My Husband

Confessions of a guilty widow

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

If I confess my deepest darkest regret, will you think less of me? Will the colorful image you had of my character fade to gray?

I guess I really can’t be concerned with such matters. The need to be authentic compels me to admit:

During the last months of my husband’s life, I was a wretched wife.

When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, a halo is promptly bestowed upon your head. People behold the aura of an angel, a selfless guardian.

The moment your beloved dies, you are bequeathed sainthood. No canonization investigation required — you’re decreed a living martyr.

I wasn’t worthy of either title.

For years, I was able to pull it off

From that fateful day in 2001 when his leukemia was detected and throughout the stem cell transplant in 2003, I was my husband’s fierce warrior — his faithful companion.

I eagerly attended every doctor’s appointment. During the transplant, I sat by his hospital bed with my notebook of lab results, daily stats, and Q&As for the attendings. I kept track of how many ounces he drank — and expelled. I’d help him shower if he had the energy to take one and especially when he didn’t.

For eight weeks, I monitored and worried. His steadfast sentry, nothing was going to be missed on my watch.

The 45-minute drive home each night was my time to cry — that is, if I could allow myself the release. Gasping sobs would have to wait. One can only shed so many tears when navigating a freeway.

Our two young sons, ages eight and ten, would greet me at the door, anxious for news about when their Daddy — their hero — might come home. I never had the heart to tell them the odds were he wouldn’t.

Once he was released from the hospital, the location had changed, but the vigil continued. He was in lockdown for 100 days while his immunities were rebuilding. Every morsel of food and drink was strictly controlled to prevent contamination. I flushed his Hickman twice daily so we wouldn’t need to hire a nurse.

My husband’s only excursions were visits to the doctor, where I diligently came prepared with my ever-expanding notebook. I reported on his progress and tattled on him when he “misbehaved.”

Part scolding, part admiration, the three of us would laugh and cry, smile and cringe about the pace of his recovery.

Throughout it all, he would hold my hand and thank me. Silently sing my praises with a sly smile. I would soak it all in — letting his pride in me briefly douse the dread simmering in my soul.

I was a triumphant wife.

Reality settles in

We soon learned the harsh reality of “surviving” a stem cell transplant. Remission does not equal well. It only means cancer-free.

When they bring you to the precipice of death, there are going to be consequences.

My husband was in a ceaseless war. His immune system had been overthrown by the transplant and it wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Every skirmish left a little more devastation in its wake. His body was the battered battleground.

As he bravely soldiered on, I slowly withdrew. I continued the day-to-day activities of being a wife and mother, but I retreated from us — from him.

I was a fraudulent wife.

I was repulsed not by him, but by the disease slowly taking him away from me.

Every ailment withered his physique, but strengthened his resolve. The more he suffered without complaint, the more I wanted to scream about the injustice of his illness. I seethed with selfish anger and writhed in empathetic pain.

The two of us continued on in a stoic hush, not wanting the world — or each other — to realize just how fragile we were.

Not comprehending that isolating our feelings would soon isolate us from each other.

I could handle much of it: the perpetual sores on his feet that he spent 30 minutes each morning dressing, the near loss of his vision requiring contacts only available across the country, and the limp that took stole his weekly game of basketball.

It was the rest that made me go AWOL

First, it was his drastic drop in weight. I used to joke I didn’t marry a man who was thinner than me, playing on his ego to try and get him to eat. But that was only the truth floating on the surface. From the center of my being, I ached for his strong, muscular arms that would make me feel safe and protected.

Each pound he lost tolled how precarious our life had become. He finally stopped telling me his weight. I would never ask again.

Doubly desolating was the siege of his mouth. Dry and full of sores, he couldn’t muster enough saliva to eat normal food nor tolerate any sort of spice. Nearly every meal I could make caused him pain. When he stopped joining us for dinner, I gave up on cooking.

No amount of breath mints could disguise the scent and flavor of sickness inhabiting his mouth. The mouth that gave me my first kiss. The one I used to spend hours savoring was now sour — a distasteful reminder of a life being vanquished. Our affection became relegated to pecks on the cheek.

He developed a form of scleroderma. The condition marched across his skin, laying the foundations for its eventual sarcophagus. Disfiguring and immobilizing everywhere it advanced, we knew it was only a matter of time before it hit below the belt.

I was a neglectful wife

Each night, my husband would retreat to our bedroom soon after dinner. A full day’s work for him was exhausting. After the kids were put to bed, he’d ask me to join him. Sometimes for intimacy, mostly for simple companionship.

To my profound regret, more and more often, I’d come up with a reason to decline his request.

From “I’ve got a headache,” to “There are bills to pay,” to “My favorite TV show is on,” I guiltily spouted them all. Dejected, he eventually stopped asking.

My love for him never wavered, but truth be told, I was resentful, morose, and a sad excuse for a wife. I fumed that every waking moment was dictated by his disease. Embittered that our children didn’t remember life with him well.

I was despondent over being robbed of our happily ever after, even as I was robbing him of the closeness he needed — and deserved.

I was in mourning before he was dead.

It never occurred to me I was suffering from depression.

The other shoe drops

For seven years, the WHEN? shadowed us during the day and loomed in our dreams at night. We tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but it haunted us all the same.

His death brought forth a cavalcade of emotions: Shock, sorrow, and deep-seated anguish that left me hollow. It also brought relief. Relief that he wouldn’t have to endure another minute of suffering. Relief that cancer no longer ruled our lives.

Relief that I didn’t have to take care of him anymore.

Then the guilt would wash over me like Bactine. I would sting mightily with shame and then go numb.

I was a grieving widow.

Clarity comes in the aftermath

It’s been 12 years since he’s been gone. A dozen years living with this secret disgrace.

I’ve chastised myself a thousand times for falling short. Remorse still prowls my cheerful memories, waiting to pounce and condemn.

Only recently have I acknowledged I was depressed. The years of “being strong” had left me weak. There were only so many hours in the day I could keep a smile on my face. I was also suffering from an autoimmune disorder that sucked dry any reserves I may have had.

Desperately working with my meager coping skills and failing miserably, I simply thought this was par for the course when confronted with cancer. Too dumbfounded to recognize that I needed — we both needed — help.

I was doing my best, but I know it must have hurt him deeply. If I could change one thing, I would have swallowed my pride and reached out to someone.

Maybe then, I could have settled into his embrace each and every night of those last months. Let him kiss me like he did our first time under the mistletoe.

Remind him — remind me — that our love could soothe all wounds.


Cancer caregivers experience depression at more than double the rate of patients

The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that up to 59% of cancer patient caregivers experience some sort of depression, compared to up to 25% for patients. Continual, untreated caregiver burden can negatively impact the health of the caregiver as well as the patient.

If you are a cancer patient caregiver and feeling overwhelmed, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Most cancer centers will have an oncology social worker on staff that can direct you to nearby resources. Seek out support groups where you can express your anxiety in a safe space. Check out the National Cancer Institute’s Caring for the Caregiver.

Getting assistance will only help you — and your loved one.


This piece was originally published as an P.S. I Love You Editor’s pick on Medium.com

First Light

At long last, dawn

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay *

Endless Winter

Fear seeps trepidation creeps
Through my bones
Chilled from within
Cold-blooded — numb
Internally, eternally(?) frozen

The calendar marks the seasons
But the climate remains the same
A year of upheaval, uproar
Uncertainty, insecurity
Pandemonium
Distrust, mistrust of each other
Of ourselves

Clamor, Anarchy
Outbreak, Outcry for
Restraint, Relief
Rescue

Rising Spring

At long last
Faith warms dawn transforms
A hibernating heart
Awakened — free
Inwardly, outwardly joyful

Liberated from its stalemate
The break of day kindles spirits
Fair weathers’ watch resets, renews
Expectations, anticipation
Tranquility
Potential, promise for us
For humanity

Comradery, Community
Release, Revelry for
Healing, Harmony
Hope

*Poet’s Note: One of the first blooms of Spring, the crocus is often viewed as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and hope.

This poem was originally published on Medium.com.

Sheriffs Swarmed My Street the Day Before My Husband’s Funeral

Image by Maximilian Weber from Pixabay

How I found laughter and love in my darkest of days

My friend was running a bit late, and my mother was agitated. “Where is Katie* (named changed to protect the terrified) with that cold cut platter?”

It was the day before my husband’s funeral. We were expecting another influx of people stopping by to pay their respects and were running low on food. Katie had graciously offered to bring up the traditional wake tray of deli meats and cheese.

She was always on time, so I realized it could only be one thing. “Knowing Katie,” I said, “she is taking the time to make it look perfect.”

An interior decorator by trade and fabulous cook, everything Katie created was impressive. She could make even the most mundane chips and dip look Insta-worthy — even before Instagram existed. “It’s all about the presentation,” she explained.

Suddenly Katie and another friend, Christine, frantically burst through the front door. “There are three sheriff cars and five officers with their guns drawn right in front of your house!” they breathlessly exclaimed.

Christine and I bolted upstairs to my son’s room to get a good view of the action, figuring we could duck behind the bed if bullets started flying. (Our lame safety plan made perfect sense at the time.) Too freaked out to join us, my mother and Katie huddled in the kitchen.

We peeked through the blinds like seasoned nosy neighbors. Sure enough, the three cars were stopped in front of the house directly across the street. The sheriffs were slowing converging on a pickup parked in the driveway, firearms at the ready.

Our hearts beating faster than any gunfire that might have erupted, we were captivated by this C.S.I. moment playing out on my suburban cul de sac.

The officers steadily approached the vehicle in question, but found no one inside. After a thorough check of the perimeter (yes, I watch a lot of crime dramas), they determined that there was no immediate threat. The squad soon dispersed, deflating our adrenaline rush as they drove away.

Turns out the house was in foreclosure. The neighbors, incensed at being evicted, had trashed the interior before they left. The word was out to call the sheriffs should one of them return. Apparently, I didn’t get the notification. Neither did my next-door neighbor’s gardener, who had innocently parked in the perpetrator’s driveway.

Condolences and Casseroles

The gardener had been forced to use said driveway because there was no space available on the street. Every inch of curb was occupied by someone visiting my house — the home of a grieving family.

Since my husband’s sudden death a little over a week before, it had been a steady procession of people stopping by to offer condolences, deliver food or flowers, or both. Casseroles and coffee cakes overran my kitchen. Bouquets of flowers took up every square inch of table space.

I walked around in a frenzied fog trying in vain to comprehend my current circumstances.

One insightful friend brought over copious amounts of paper goods, plastic utensils, and toilet paper. When you have a constant flood of guests, they are the things you need most, but the last things you think about. It’s now my go-to offering when I visit a family in mourning.

It Takes a Village, a Family, and a Community

My husband and are were raised in large and social families. Both of us — especially my husband — were active in our community. He died while he was coaching my younger son’s youth football game, calling plays as he went down. It had made the local paper. To say his funeral was going to be well-attended was an understatement.

It was like planning a wedding for 1,000 guests with only a week’s notice.

My sons — ages 13 and 15 — and I were dumbfounded by grief. We could barely get ourselves dressed, let alone plan such an event.

Fortunately, it was this extended family and community that picked up the slack and then some. Some kindnesses were elaborate, and others were simple, but all made a difference.

No gift of compassion is ever too small for a family that is grieving.

My parents’ main mission was to tend to my boys and me, as we were rolling on empty. One person created the funeral program, another had it printed. Matt’s closest coworker took charge of the video presentation and gave a soul-stirring eulogy. I can’t remember who oversaw the floral arrangements, but the altar was in glorious bloom.

The church bereavement committee handled the after-service reception. While I hazily muddled through the greetings and thank yous, they made sure every guest had enough appetizers to ward off grumbling stomachs.

A pair of Matt’s friends transformed our backyard into a splendid venue complete with lights in the trees for the at-home gathering. Still another generous couple picked up the tab for dinner and bartended the evening. When the sunset and the lights began to twinkle, it was truly heavenly.

My husband had always envisioned hosting just such a magical party. I only hope he was able to see his dream come true.

Absurdity at the Mortuary

A few days before the funeral, Katie had accompanied me to the mortuary to finalize the details of my husband’s cremation. She was a bit squeamish with the situation but determined I not do this alone.

Uneasiness radiated off of Katie as I filled out the forms. She was trying valiantly to hide it, which only made me appreciate her presence even more. Soon, the mortician came in to finalize the details:

Would you like an urn? No, we will be scattering his ashes.

Ok, that will be $50 dollars for the cardboard box. I could hear my cost-conscious husband bellowing from his yet-to-be-determined grave.

Would you like him sifted or unsifted? Wait? What?! We aren’t baking a cake with him! Katie turned ashen.

The mortician explained that if the deceased had false teeth or any pins and rods from surgeries, they wouldn’t turn to ash in the cremation process. Lumpy gobs of metal would be left in the cinders. Matt was a very good — but accident-prone — athlete. His body was practically cyborg.

I didn’t need any Cracker Jack surprises tumbling out when we spread his remains. I paid extra for the sifting.

Finding Laughter and Love Amidst Chaos

In the eight days between my husband’s death and his funeral, I was bewildered and broken. My entire world had been shattered and I had yet to learn how to pick up the pieces.

Without the benevolent support of family and friends, my sons and I wouldn’t have survived those first days and beyond. We were in a grief-laden stupor and many details remain hazy, but our hearts will always remember the outpouring of love we received.

As it is with everything, there were periods of laughter and even joy woven into the hours of sorrow. My spirit was delighted to see far-away loved ones who arrived to console us. Katie and I giggled over the “sifting inquiry” for days and years after.

Even the alarm of a police raid provided a much-needed diversion. In your darkest of days, life will provide moments of relief if you’re willing to recognize them.

Back at the Scene of the Crime

After the commotion from the impending shoot-out had died down, I was finally able to view Katie’s platter. It was a magnificent display. The cold cuts and cheeses were impeccably spiraled around what I knew to be one of her favorite dishes. She spent time considering the color palette when she transitioned from one deli item to another.

My dear friend needed perfection for an imperfect occasion. I knew each item was carefully placed with heartbreak as she worked to ease my burden. It was her sympathy card to me.

“So, this is why you were late,” I said to Katie as I admired the tray. She smiled through her tears and nodded.

“It’s all about the presentation,” we chimed together.


This piece was originally published on Medium.com

Dead Butt Syndrome, Hair Loss, and Funky B.O.

Image by max leroy from Pixabay

Just a few of the odd pandemic ailments causing our coronasomnia

I’ve dealt with perils of maskne, been troubled about the effects of skin hunger, and fretted over the infamous “quarantine fifteen.”

(OK — Who am I kidding? It’s more like 20 or 25. My muffin top is now a seven-layer cake.)

But nothing could prepare me for the headline accosting me during my early morning social media scroll:

Dead Butt Syndrome emerges during pandemic

Holy Heinies Batman!

My cheeks clenched in alarm, I had to investigate this menacing malady.

Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS), technically known as Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy (GMT), a.k.a. Dormant Buttocks Syndrome, a.k.a. Gluteal Amnesia is a real affliction and it’s spreading across America.

Our hours of prolonged sitting have caused our posterior muscles to weaken, misfire, or simply forget how to work, causing tingling, numbness, and/or pain. Left untreated, it can lead to hip, lower back, and leg pain.

Our dearly departed derrieres are sleeping off the pandemic like Rip Van Winkle.

Greatly unnerved, I decided to research what other odd conditions we could expect to encounter as a result of over a year in isolation.

Tearing our hair out

We’ve all laughed at the quarantine haircuts gone wrong memes. Chuckled at the home dye jobs that looked like they were done by Jackson Pollock instead of Vidal Sassoon. (My son cajoled me into cutting his hair. He wanted a tight fade. He got a cockeyed zigzag.)

But did you know pandemic stress is freaking our follicles out?

Our hair cycle has three phases: growth, transitional, and resting. When we experience a shock to our system — be it physical, emotional, or both, our bodies react by keeping more and more hairs in the resting phase. Stunted, they eventually throw in the towel and fall out.

Physicians across the country are seeing a huge increase in patients reporting excessive hair loss. Our lives have been uprooted and our manes are following suit.

It’s no wonder our couches are looking like Chia Pets.

Ew! What’s that smell?!

Chances are — it’s you.

Have you noticed a peculiar funk following you around lately? Do you keep cleaning out your pantry searching for that forgotten potato you’re sure has begun to rot? Blame it on pandemic body odor.

There are two main culprits contributing to our musty auras; the first being the quarantine Big Stinky Cheese: Yep, stress.

Humans produce two types of sweat: Normal, everyday sweat to regulate temperature and stress sweat — a thick, viscous secretion that foul-smelling bacteria love to feast upon.

This brings me to the second culprit: Our microbiomes — the mix of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on our skin — are transforming. Each of us carries a unique microbe “cocktail” that’s affected by every living thing we come into contact with — including pets.

In our pre-pandemic life, we interacted with dozens of people on a weekly basis. Now the social life of our epidermis squatters has been greatly diminished. We may be missing our daily organism exchange with the person who added just the right amount of zing to our zest.

When we’re hunkered down with a select few, their concentrated condiments can make our microbial parties a little too pungent for our delicate senses.

If we used to waft a slight scent of G&T with extra lime (yes, it’s my go-to beverage, in case anyone is interested), we may now reek like a garlic and brussel sprout smoothie.

Tossing and Turning

A recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that Google searches for insomnia rose 58% percent during the first five months of 2020.

Lisa Medalie, PsyD, CBSM, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist, has dubbed the phenomenon coronasomnia. She cites our favorite party crasher — stress — as a primary cause of our restless nights:

“People seem stuck with their minds racing about finances, homeschooling, work challenges, health fears, uncertainty, and struggling to transition into and back to sleep,” she explained to Healthline.

Now we’ve added sluggish tushies, shedding tresses, and malodorous biomes to the worry tilt-a-whirl hindering our slumber.

Trouble Shooting

Experts assure us we can reanimate our defunct fannies, our molting is only temporary, and there are ways to alter our body odor to a fragrance that won’t make our eyes water.

Many advise employing new coping strategies to mitigate stress and improve our sleep.

Call me jaded, but I am exasperated with the ceaseless self-help articles and news segments that only serve to point out how topsy-turvy our lives have become. It’s been nearly 9000 hours of persistent tension. My battery is drained. My circuits are fried.

But then again — maybe it’s time to get my rear in gear: Don a cute hat and lather on some deodorant.

Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Sleeping Beauty and find a vaccinated Prince Charming to kiss my ass and wake that puppy up.

Maybe then I can catch some z’s.


Originally published on Medium.com

Are We in For Another Roaring 20s? Or Will We Be Too Afraid?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Is society prepared for the psychological aftermath of a global crisis?

The experts may dispute when it will happen, but there is a light at the end of our pandemic tunnel.

It could be the end of Summer, Thanksgiving, or even 2022. One thing history teaches us — we will see the other side of the crisis.

The question remains, however, how will we handle it? Will we experience post-traumatic euphoria or PTSD? Will we explode like confetti canons into socializing or double-down on our agoraphobia?

Our post-tunnel vision is yet to be seen, but there are some clues.

Rip-Roaring and Raring to Go

Considering the constant barrage of doom and gloom over the past year, it is only natural for us to cling to the hope of reliving the fabled Roaring 20s. Bursting from the constraints of the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the 1920s is often held as the icon for post adversity exuberance.

Even prohibition couldn’t dampen the spirit of the generation. The “danger” only made it more exciting. Quite simply, they were happy and having fun.

Or were they?

It was a decade of prosperity and dissipation, and of jazz bands, bootleggers, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, bootleggers, and marathon dancers. It was, in the popular view, the Roaring 20s, when the younger generation rebelled against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of speculation. But the 1920s was also a decade of bitter cultural conflicts, pitting religious liberals against fundamentalists, nativists against immigrants, and rural provincials against urban cosmopolitans.*

Then again, maybe we aren’t so far off.

Give me shelter

When reporting the results of its 2020 survey, The American Psychological Association (APA) declared: “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”

The BBC recently reported on who is most likely to experience lasting mental health problems in a post-pandemic world. Like with the virus, itself, those who have preexisting conditions are the most vulnerable.

These include:

  • OCD — Particularly those with contamination or cleaning compulsions.
  • General anxiety disorders — Threats (such as those of variant strains, etc.) whether real or imagined can heighten the condition.
  • Chronic loneliness — Those who deliberately detached from the outside world to feel a sense of safety may find it difficult to reenter it.
  • Past trauma — The stress of living in a COVID-19 environment — even after things are opened up — can retrigger PTSD-type worries.
  • Fear of the unknown — This is especially challenging for those who face an ongoing drop in income or unemployment in industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as travel and entertainment.

Noting the numbers rising of those experiencing mental health difficulties as a direct result of the pandemic, researchers on now focusing on how existing disorders may exasperate the situation and how long the effects will last.

Joshua C Morganstein, MD, from Centre for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Maryland, explains that understanding the risks is essential to provide interventions and prepare for future public health emergencies:

Stress is like a toxin, such as lead or radon. In order to understand it and how it is affecting a society, we need to know who is exposed, when, how much and what effects were caused by the exposure.

How do we go about decontaminating an entire population?

Roaring back

With an infection rate already passing 113 million worldwide, one has to wonder if life can ever get back to normal. Why would anyone take a chance of contracting a disease or even death just to hit a happy hour or go dancing?

Yascha Mounk of the Atlantic compares our current (or soon to be current) attitudes to those of the 1920s:

…the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic was quickly followed by a manic flight into sociability. The Roaring Twenties saw a flowering of parties and concerts. The 1918 virus killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced, but it did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize.

This eagerness to get out and congregate has already been made evident. Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, held a water-park music festival last August. No social distancing or masks were required of the thousands of attendees. New Zealand began hosting sold-out concerts in October and the three-day Electric Daisy Carnival scheduled for May 2021 in Las Vegas sold out in a single day.

People are fed up with being pent up. They are tired of being alone.

Hope springs eternal

Despite the negative impacts of the pandemic, the aforementioned report by the APA states that 71% of those surveyed feel hopeful about their future.

Since the Roaring 20s, the U.S. has had numerous cataclysmic events: The Great Depression, WWII, and 9/11, to name just a few. Not to mention the plethora of natural disasters including the Dust Bowl, the Northridge Earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina. Boom to bust, war to peace, destruction to rebirth and back again: it’s the natural ebb and flow of history.

If these events have taught us anything, it’s that the human race is highly resilient.

Researchers are taking note of this rebound phenomenon in their investigations. In Sweden, the Centre for Psychiatric Research in Stockholm is studying the impact of the pandemic on individuals with already diagnosed mental health conditions. The hows and whys the majority of people are able to overcome their anxieties is a big part of the project.

Nitya Jayaram-Lindström, operations manager for the Stockholm project, explains:

We also want to understand factors that contribute to resilience, which is as important to understand as the risk factors.

Gaining insight into how a population is able to bounce back after a catastrophe is essential to create interventions for those who don’t.

Return to the land of the living

From Wall Street to Madison Avenue to academia, the nuevo Roaring 20s is the hot topic.

Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics group, predicts the following:

People will be happy to go out again, to socialise (sic). This will be like the Roaring 20s, there will be a fiesta in makeup and in fragrances. Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life.

Social epidemiologist, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, takes it a step further in his book: Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of the Coronavirus on the Way We Live. Once we are relatively back to normal, he expects to see mass rejoicing and a carpe diem spirit:

What typically happens is people get less religious. They will relentlessly seek out social interactions in nightclubs and restaurants and sporting events and political rallies. There’ll be some sexual licentiousness. People will start spending their money after having saved it. They’ll be joie de vivre and a kind of risk-taking, a kind of efflorescence of the arts, I think.

It seems no matter what the risk, the basic human need to whoop it up (and make a little whoopie) is irrepressible.

Here’s to staying positive and testing negative

This tongue-in-cheek toast traditionally has referred to STDs. However, it takes on a whole new meaning in a modern post-pandemic world.

The custom of toasting to one’s health dates back to prehistory. Nearly every common language has a traditional word or phrase uttered when clinking glasses with family and friends. The majority of these translate to wishes for good health or a happy life.

From the Czech Na zdraví! (To health!) to the Portuguese Viva! (Life!), all are social talismans reminding us to eat drink and be merry while we still have the ability to do so.

I’m ready to raise my glass. Are you?

L’Chaim!


*Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2018). Overview of the 1920s. Digital History. Retrieved 2/28/2021 from https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraid=13&smtid=1


This post originally appeared in Change Becomes You – A Publication of The Good Men Project @Medium.com

My Heart Beats Eternal

The life of a mother’s love

Picture created on Canva with Image by griffert from Pixabay

Breath of my bosom
Life in my blood
Cradled by my womb
Until you appear

My heart blooms

Delicate seedling
Newborn tendrils
Swaddle my devotion
Never to unleash

My heart flourishes

Young sapling blossoms
Flowers fiercely unfurl
Branches scouting boundaries
Defining an identity

My heart encourages

Robust roots anchor
Brawny boughs broaden
Noble and vivacious
A purpose proclaimed

My heart rejoices

Lightening gales assail
Resilience assessed
Wounded not wrecked
Storm weathered strong

My heart wails

Towering gnarled timber
Verdant crowned canopy
Picturesque maturity
Ancestral wisdom cherished

My heart rests
within yours


Dedicated to my mother, who has always cradled my heart.


Originally posted in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

An Open Love Letter to Trader Joe’s

With a nod to E.B.B.*

Mike Mozart — Flickr

My Dearest Trader Joe’s,

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
I love thee, to the depth and breadth and height
My arms can reach, when Joe-Joe’s are in sight
To the ends of earth, I’ll sing your praise

From organic ground beef to mayonnaise
Carnivore to vegan, you’re a delight
The most super of markets, you’ll incite
chaos when out of two-buck chardonnays

Syrah-Soaked Tuscan, Chianti Salami
Marcona Almonds, Raisin Rosemary Crisps
Fig Butter, Blue Cheese Olives, and Truffle Dip
You’re my go-to monger for charcuterie

Plump grapes, dried apricots, Triple Cream Brie
Greater provisions than a cargo ship
With some epicurean showmanship
My hors d’oeuvres boards become Insta-worthy

Your zesty spices are pantry staples
E’eryday Season, 21 Salute
Umami Blend trends, but there’s no dispute
The rule of Everything but the Bagel

When prepping to set the holiday table
Pumpkin to peppermint, nary time to loot
Cranberry tartes, Turkey & Stuffing en croute
Advent Calendars and butter with maple

But the main object of this shopper’s affection
Is the grand assortment of Trader confections:

Madeleines, French Macarons​
Snickerdoodles, Blueberry Scones
​​Speculoos, Jingle Jangle
​​Stroopwafel, Pecan Kringle

Cheesecake, Carrot Cake, cakes with molten lava
Mochi, Hold the Cone, and ice cream laced with java
Triple Ginger Snaps, Dunkers — Chocolate Chip
​​Sea Salt Caramels, Mallows drenched in mint​ ​​​ ​ ​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​

One last confession: Your congenial crew —
The courteous team of laid-back extroverts
Decked out in broad smiles and bright Hawaiian shirts —
Is my sultry culinary rendezvous

And so,
Joseph, my merchant beau, should the grocer gods choose
I shall love thee until my credit you refuse


Your devoted patron,
Lisa


*P.S. My sincerest gratitude (and apologies) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her poetic inspiration


Originally published on @Medium.com

When it Comes to Women in Their 50s, Google is Shamefully Wrong

Apparently, we are dowdy, decrepit, and hard up.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

I’m not sure what possessed me — boredom, gluttony for punishment, or morbid curiosity — but I googled Women in their 50s. According to their almighty algorithms, our sense of style is up there with the People of Walmart, our bones are as brittle as October maple leaves, and we’re toting vaginas that are enticing as Death Valley.

Good God! Call Kevorkian already!

I had half expected to see the famous pair of Jennifers @50, JLo and Aniston, topping (taunting) my search and spouting how great life as a quinquagenarian can be. (Say that one 50 times fast.) Instead, the article atop the page was WebMd’s Your Body in Your 50s.

This charming slideshow describes the delightful deterioration of your health when you reach half a century. Some of these include:

  • Diminishing Brain Health: No need to dwell on your cognitive decline — you couldn’t concentrate on it long enough anyway. Just eat more fish swimming in olive oil and you’ll forget all about it.
  • Failing Mentality: Warnings of depression brought on by menopause and alcohol. Their solution, “sit less and move more.” I’ll get off the couch eventually, but I need to gulp down my wine first.
  • Immune System Malfunctions: Not only does your immunity weaken, but it slows to sloth-like momentum and can even “attack itself by accident.” So, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers was just an allegory for a mid-life health crisis?
  • Hearing Loss: Excuse me, did you say something? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of zombie T-cells gradually devouring my organs.
  • Vision Loss: Did you know you can no longer shift your focus easily is because your eyes “get stiffer with age?” “Hey! Eyes up here mister! Oh, you’re 50+? I’ll give you a minute.”
  • Menopause: Their solution for hot flashes, mood swings, and painful sex? Antidepressants, sleep, and lots o’ lube. Pharmaceuticals and Slip N Slide sheets — mandated midlife mood enhancers.
  • Bone Disintegration: In your 50s, your broken-down bone cells outnumber the stronger ones. You’re just one trip and fall away from being left out on the curb. Best have a P.I. attorney on speed dial.

The odds of finding useful information are 50–50

I love going down a research rabbit hole, so I’m always game for the other topics the learned browser might suggest. In their “People also search for” box, they list Goals for a 50-year-old woman, Things to do when you turn 50 years old, and Finding purpose in life after 50. Looks like Google supposes that without their guidance, we are all wandering around apathetic, lethargic, and aimlessly waiting for the inevitable dementia diagnosis.

The People also ask section also lists these popular queries:

  • What should a woman in her 50s wear? According to AARP — Dark denim, more dark denim, and cardigans. So, Mr. Rogers on a casual Friday, got it.
  • What should you not wear in your 50s? Old fashioned skirts, fleece, and loud makeup. No Caroline Ingalls/Nike/Tammy Faye Bakker ensembles — understood.
  • At what age does a man stop getting hard? Yeah, I know, but it appears it’s something us horny 50s-year-olds with dehydrated vajayjays are very curious about. (If I’m understanding the math correctly — about half the men in their 50s suffer from ED.) The stiffer the eyeballs, the softer the johnson?
  • How do you sexually arouse a woman in menopause? Again, it looks like we are clueless (and obsessed) in this department, too. Their suggestions: Lubrication (Tip to 30-year-old self: Buy stock in Astroglide. It will come in handy. Yes, all the puns intended.), bolstering yourself with pillows (more cushion for the pushin’ against that delicate skeleton), and “going solo.” If we were experts at the last one, would we even need to ask this question?
  • What foods should you avoid after 50? Cut down on sugar, salts, carbs, and alcohol. Doesn’t the internet realize that a steady diet of banana bread, French fries, and cabernet is keeping me sane as I approach the last best years of my life?
  • What is the average weight for a 50-year-old woman? I won’t dignify that body-shaming search with the answer, but suffice it to say, I’m four pounds over. I’m tall, so it evens out. But, then again, I live in Los Angeles. I’m considered a behemoth.

The cyber search for meaning continues

Interspersed with the tales of health horrors and aging beautifully tips are the articles on reinventing, rediscovering, and reclaiming your identity. Finding the “courage and the freedom” to be your “true self.” It’s as if the first five decades of our lives didn’t amount to anything.

Did we spend all that time in hiding, waiting for the world to acknowledge our greatness? Were our personas that precarious?

I don’t know about you, but I think have done a lot in the first half of my life: I married my great love, raised two boys into adulthood, survived widowhood and breast cancer, traveled abroad, and reinvented my career more than once.

My list is not complete, and I plan on accomplishing much more. I have no doubt your lists are just as impressive.

Originally, I was going to say, “even more impressive.” I grew up believing it wasn’t ladylike for a girl to toot her own horn. That is the one thing I have realized in my 50s — I haven’t found my voice, I’m finally comfortable with using my voice. If that makes others uneasy, so be it.

Mid-21st-Century Modern

There still is a long way to go equal pay/opportunity department, but we are a lucky generation. Our current role models for those in our fifties include the aforementioned Jennifers, Padma Lakshmi, and Sheryl Sandburg to name just a few. There are hundreds of vibrant, intelligent women breaking through boundaries and straddling all industries for us to chose from.

When we were young women, the 50-something role models presented to us were The Golden Girls and Queen Elizabeth — aging females with one foot presumed to be in the graveyard.

It looks like Betty White and Her Majesty had other plans.

Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it. — May Sarton


This post originally appeared in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Hope’s Revival

Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

Sadness slithers within your psyche
hissing gossip of false consolations
With cynical sympathy, he whispers persuasions
promising solace in isolation

Lulled by the illusion of tranquility
It’s easy to trust the ease of his eulogy
nestle into his assurance of serenity
and acquiesce to dismay

But, there is no peace in his offering
He leads astray — betrays
those who fall prey to his treachery



A rose-blushed horizon beckons
ushering relief for the weary
Foreshadowing beatitudes’ bliss
the ombre oasis glistens

No leisurely endeavor
the decision — the revision— to hope
To travail, prevail over adversity
Unveil your grace and regale in its glory

Be wary, he will try to tarry your journey
Dispel your desire, repel your joy
Cloak your comfort in delusions
Badgering valor with scheming daggers



Ye of wee faith
Will you at last awake from your hibernation
Listen to the inspiration presiding
already residing in your soul


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Tribulation

A poet’s plight

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. — Robert Frost

Tormented by prose,
there is no repose until composed
Stowaway brainchildren shoplifting daydreams
pilfering notions and whims
Tinkering with mental trinkets to keep themselves amused

Fractured figments infiltrate slumber
Tirelessly inscribing, reciting
depriving sleep
Nocturnal visions usurped by urgent soliloquies

Desperation demands, commands
purging the pangs fermenting my soul
Bloodthirsty, I breach, leach
the clamors tearing my heart asunder

Revelations outcry, testify so that I
may be shanghaied from my purgatory

Visceral scripts cast off clouds of gloom
until there is no longer any room for agony or anger
Allowing me to breathe, bathe
under sun-soaked lapis skies
where tears have ceased to linger

And sometimes — in due time
I bide my time
while inspirations ignite and speculations spark
lighting fire to introspection

Librettos written
Choral hymns sung
Declaring sacred secrets
and contemptuous contemplations

Harmonious musings
Discordant discourse
Communally coexist
Live together
Lie together
Symbiotic scribbles
Sprawled, scrawled
Laid down on the page
Relinquished to the reader
for final judgment


Originally published on iPoetry @Medium.com