#COVID-19 · homophobia · Mental Health Stigma Suicide · Nursing

Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Mental Health Provider During COVID-19

  1. People can only handle stress for just so long. When I explain chronic anxiety and depression to patients I often use the analogy of a teapot. When you are walking around filled up with stress/anxiety/trauma/depression for years eventually you do not have room for normal every day stressors. This leads to epic breakdowns over seemingly innocuous things. Did you ever cry when you couldn’t open a jar of sauce? Or start screaming when you can’t find your keys? We all have a boiling over point. February 2021, about eleven months in, seemed to be most peoples boiling point. In the Northeast we had a lot of snowstorms which I think compounded things for many of us. My practice received upwards of ten-fifteen calls a day just from new referrals, not counting our five hundred plus current patients who also all started to melt. These calls were desperate. Crying into voicemails. There were suicides in our communities. There were drug overdoses and relapses. February 2021 honestly was one of my hardest months as a mental health provider.
  2. Women bear the brunt of childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. This is a gross generalization. Please note I know that there are many wonderful Fathers and husbands who have supported their families during the pandemic in every way imaginable. But in my own practice I have seen my female clients taking responsibility for the organizing of homeschooling. They have described screaming matches with their partners about who has to sacrifice work time. I’ve had women clients leave their full time jobs, drop to part-time, and/or change positions in order to accommodate their children suddenly being home full or part time. I have seen women making sacrifices and publicly smiling but privately falling apart with grief, anger, and sadness.
  3. Minorities are under more minority stress. From the LGBTQ community to POC to children to the elderly. All vulnerable populations have been made more vulnerable. The death rates of COVID-19 are disproportionately higher in the African American communities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/racial-ethnic-disparities/disparities-deaths.html Does a nice job of objectively presenting this evidence. The LGBTQ individuals who have lost jobs and been forced to move back in with homophobic and transphobic families are real. LGBTQ children, teenagers, and college aged individuals who have to live with homophobic and transphobic families is real. Suicide risk is high in this population already. The social isolation and inability to be “out” due to COVID-19 has added to these already significant issues for minorities. I literally have had telehealth sessions with a client crouched in a dark closet (and the irony of them being in a closet is not lost on us) in order to obtain privacy in order to cry in despair at not being able to be “out” and to have to experience homophobia and/or transphobia in every day life with their family. These sessions are gut-wrenching.
  4. Postpartum Moms and Dads have stress you can’t understand. I’ve often said the most unsolicited advice I ever received was during my pregnancy and in the first year of my twin boy’s lives. People who have been parents or not have opinions and stories and think everyone should hear them. Being postpartum regularly is hard. Being post partum during a pandemic when so little is known about the impact on newborn health is terrifying. Newborns can’t wear masks. Babies in daycares crawl and touch each other’s boogers. Parents have delayed putting their children in daycare because there is no true protection against exposure for infants. They are told that they are right, wrong, stupid, smart, and everything in between by people around them. I have never treated as many postpartum women as I have in the last year. SO much of it is providing reassurance that they are doing everything right. That there is no one right decision. That they know their baby and their lives best and they have to make the best decision for themselves. I offer validation and objectivity and I have seen them cry when I’ve told them they are doing everything right. Because no one has validated them since they gave birth. Unless you sit with people who have newborns day in and day out and see the agonizing choices they have to make; you don’t understand. And you shouldn’t be offering anything except validation and support.
  5. People NEED people. I’ve also said before I’m not a hugger. But the first time my friend and I hung out after we were both vaccinated and she asked if she could give me a hug and I enthusiastically consented. We weren’t big huggers before COVID-19 but after a year of isolation we unashamedly and laughingly embraced. One of the most poignant sessions in the last year, that has consistently stuck with me, was a young adult who lived alone and who did a Zoom with her family for Thanksgiving. Through tears she said, “I had to do a Zoom with my family. I just. want. to. hug. them.” Her breath hitched with each word and the tears turned to sobs and we sat for several minutes with her sobbing and me watching; neither of us speaking. I held back tears of my own as I wanted to reach through the screen and pat her shoulder and tell her it would all be okay. I heard so many of these stories but her vulnerable and raw pain in that moment touched my core. I had clients tell me their parents cried during their Zoom Christmas’ and they couldn’t stand to see their Mom cry. I sat with them through that pain. I offered nothing but space and understanding to feel pain. I have never known with such certainty after the holiday season of 2020 that we need physical touch to survive. We need our families. We need connection. Of all the long term sequelae that COVID caused, the isolation and desolation of being alone is by far the worst.
  6. Never underestimate the power of pets. I don’t have to explain much about this. If you have animals then you know what I am referencing. The isolation of this past year has made people get new pets and appreciate the ones they have. Pets are some of my clients purpose in getting out of bed every morning. They have truly saved lives this past year just by existing and offering unconditional love. To all our four legged friends, you have my true admiration and thanks.
  7. People who treated their mental illness before COVID faired better. One of my clients who was extremely ill a few years ago, but has since stabilized, greeted me smiling at our six month check in. She was doing great, and felt validated in her own experience of mental illness. “People know now how it feels to live with anxiety. I can now explain to people mental illness and they get it. Because their anxieties about COVID are exactly how I felt about everything all the time.” She wasn’t my only client who had severe mental illness in the past and stabilized with medication and therapy who have done excellent during the pandemic. They had coping skills, we knew what medications work for them, and they were connected to providers. My takeaway from them is to deal with your mental illness before you boil over.
  8. After people boil over Desperation sets in. I think it’s hard for some one to truly understand desperation until they have experienced it. Desperation is finding cuts on your childs arms or legs and bringing them to a hospital and being told they are not sick enough to be admitted and to connect to outpatient care, then calling forty providers and being told no one is accepting patients. Desperation is watching your loved one suffer and struggle and slip away and not be able to find them help. The mental health system’s flaws are fully exposed now. There are not enough providers. The providers that are in practice are un-paneling from insurance because insurers have made the last year so much worse than it needed to be for small practice owners. I have been screamed at on the phone more times than ever in my career when I call to tell people I am full or not accepting their insurance or not taking pediatric referrals. I have been threatened. I have been told through tears that they are desperate. I have been begged and pleaded with. I have been offered twice my normal rate just to fit some one in. I had to not return every phone call because I became fearful of what would be said to me when I told them I was not accepting patients. I had to hold my own boundaries and not take new patients in reaction to other people’s desperation. Because I was becoming burned out. I grew as a clinician and a business owner in the last year in more ways than I ever imagined. I also heard and saw desperation in ways I never imagined I would.
  9. I will always accept Medicaid. So many of my clients have been on and off Medicaid and commercial plans this year. Medicaid’s rates of reimbursement in my state are disgustingly low. But I will always have it as a plan I accept because my patients who lost commercial plans this year with job loss needed to have continuity with their mental health provider. I do not want my practice to be fully medicaid as that’s not sustainable revenue wise for a small practice. However, it will always make up a stream of our revenue because it has to be an option when clients lose jobs.
  10. Everyone has it bad. In the past year I’ve heard why the people in their 50’s and 60’s have it the worst. I have also heard why kids in high school, college, in their twenties, single people, married people, parents and non-parents all have it the worst. Every one thinks their lot is the worst. Young people are missing out on proms, college admission is being delayed in some cases, parents are overly burdened with childcare duties, single people are the most isolated, etc. I’m just throwing this out here; it’s been a shit year for everyone. There have been highs and lows for all ages all social statuses and in every way imaginable everyone has undergone stress, loss, and an understanding that things will never be like before. There is a before and there is a now and there will be an after but life will never be the same.

Through this past year of COVID-19 I have lived history. I am a front lines provider during a global pandemic. I have been through more personally and professionally than I could have imagined. My biggest and best takeaway from this past year though is to be grateful. I am grateful for my children. I am grateful for our health. I am grateful that I have been able to see my mom and sister, sister-in-law and niece, throughout the last year. I have known loss. I have grieved. I have cried. I have hoped.

About a month ago, I went to the office. I saw a long term therapy client for the first time in person for several months. He sat down, and I sat down. We both removed our masks. And we smiled. We were both vaccinated. The window was open. We sat eight feet apart. And then we had a therapy session in person without masks. It was possibly the most beautiful moment of the last twelve months.

#COVID-19 · mom of boys

Single Mom-ing it…COVID style

I’ve been slowly moving into single mom life as a business owner and mental health nurse practitioner. I gotta be honest it’s a bit of a roller coaster. I treat single mom’s. I am friends with single mom’s. I thought I had some understanding of life as a single mom. I sorta did. But there’s nothing that can prepare you for the utter exhaustion. The compromise of never having laundry folded unless my mom comes and folds it because I would never have any time snuggling the boys on the couch if I did all the things that needed to be done every day all the time. (And my mom can fold laundry way better than I can. It’s not one of my strengths.)

Single mom life is depending on grocery delivery services and being brought to tears when they don’t have something I ordered that I need for a recipe knowing there will be no time or space for me to hit a grocery store between now and said event requiring the baked item. There’s no running out to the store at 8 PM after bed time. Missing one item from a grocery order seems so stupid. I should get over it. But it’s always the little things that push me right over the edge I feel teetering on some days.

Single mom-ing it is making medical appointments and oil change appointments for myself. Then rescheduling them three times because daycare closed, one of them is sick, etc. I forgot a work conference recently. It was a day the daycare was closed. It was a rather horrendous day with them. I was never this person who reschedules appointments three times, misses a work call, and doesn’t have all the ingredients I need which leads me to buying a baked good item instead of making it.

I recognize how silly those things sound. What I haven’t mentioned yet are the nights of bad dreams, the nights of asking why their parents are separated, and the 24-48 hours a week without them when they are with my ex. It’s like a roller coaster of emotion every week. I love them. I don’t want to be angry or irritable because I’m overwhelmed. I get so tired if they have bad dreams or bad nights and crawl into my bed and then stick both their feet in my back. Then add on COVID and the random daycare closures, COVID tests, and general isolation etc. Super fun.

One of my good friends has also been through a divorce and single parenting adventure within the last year or two and it is validating when I text a minimal sentence about life sucking and she responds yup. Because I know she gets it. Because I know she knows that I know life doesn’t suck. It’s just hard. And it’s hard to act strong all the time. Because I can’t not be strong for my kids, and my employees, and my clients. I have a wall of strength up 100% of the time including at 2 AM wake-ups and it’s freaking exhausting.

I think the most frustrating part is that society puts these expectations on single mom’s to be Superwoman. It’s the expectation and if you don’t live up to it then you are lazy, dumb, sad, etc. If I don’t show up with a smile saying everything’s fine then people wouldn’t know what to do or say and they’d be uncomfortable. Because we as a society are uncomfortable with other people’s pain.

We have isolated ourselves to the point where we lack community unless we forge it ourselves.

I am grateful for my own community of friends I have forged over the years. I feel lonely, but I know I can pick up the phone and call any one of my friends or family and I could have somewhere to go, some one to talk to, and if I wanted it, some one to grab a drink with. I have friends I share my location with if I meet some one from the horrible land of online dating. That’s a whole other blog post. Or several. I think so far though the best line at a first meet was, “We should be in a motel room fucking right now.” Because honestly. What woman doesn’t want to hear that on a first date? From some one with more degrees than I have. Awesome. I told him he was on the wrong app; He should have used Tindr or paid for a hooker. (There was not a second date and no I did not join him in a motel room and this is not a judgement against people who go to a motel room on the first date. You do you boo).

But I digress. My point to that was I have friends I trust and who are totally there for me. I know there are so many single parents who don’t have that. Who are completely isolated. I feel for them. Hard. My sister-in-law said today she never understood the intensity and importance of parents around nap time until she became a parent. Same for single parenting. I never understood the nuances and the highs and the lows and the dichotomy of feeling like you never get alone-time while feeling incredibly lonely at times.

Don’t go around pitying every single parent you know now. Just connect with them. Be a person to them. Because that’s the one thing I’ve learned. I need people. Friends. Family. Even horrible first dates. Connection is mandatory to survive this life of feeling alone.

Those 24-48 hours a week without my kids are painful. My friend with split custody told me to distract myself. It will still hurt. But it will help. She wasn’t wrong. Distraction is key. Invites to stuff with kids even when I don’t have my kids also help. I still see my sister/sister-in-law/niece on days I don’t have the boys. Don’t stop inviting single parents when they don’t have their kids. On the flip side keep inviting them to couples stuff. I don’t mind being a single person at a couples get together. It would bother me more to be left out by my good friends.

And finally my last word of advice is to be a person they can not be smiling and strong in front of. Not that I feel the need to cry or scream or break down on the daily…because I don’t. But being able to be real and say yeah sometimes I’m not okay has been crucial to my own mental health. I am so incredibly fortunate to have friends who are okay with me not being okay. I know not every one has that. I have never realized the utter gut wrenching importance of having those people until this past year. Be that person for some one else. We need you.

#COVID-19 · Mental Health Stigma Suicide · Nursing

When I’m Called Out by Clients for Swearing, Caring, and Everything Else…With Love. A Day in The Life of a Mental Health Nurse.

An unexpected perk to having a therapist on staff full time with us is hearing from her what my patients think of me. I have referred more than a few of my clients to her though some of them I’ve seen for over three years for medication management and for one reason or another they needed a therapist at this time. Apparently the impressions are hilarious.

Occasionally my clients will directly throw my words back at me. Recently a young adult attending college in state needed to see me urgently. After we processed the current crisis and made decisions about medication I smiled and said, “Isn’t this great that your in state and we can do telehealth?” The client laughed and said, “Well I recall you saying if I went to school in Iowa, one of my top choices, that I’d be in ‘East bum fuck middle of fucking nowhere and there’s no way in hell I’m managing your meds out there'” I have a chagrinned smirk including blushing cheeks that emerge when properly embarrassed and I replied, “Yes well, that does sound like something I’d say…” We were both able to laugh. Now I know that client didn’t go to school in Iowa for a few reasons, including COVID, not just because I wouldn’t manage their meds in east bum fuck nowhere. But it is a humbling reminder to know that I do play into people’s major life decisions.

One of my clients did an imitation of me to the therapist at my practice…who texted me while laughing to tears because it was incredibly accurate and I am funny without meaning to be which usually makes it funnier. The impression was from our intake. Our intake was over three years ago. I was very direct. I warn people I’m direct. I don’t think any one really believes me until they experience it. And again, I was humbled. Because these moments in time are so important to clients. They stick in their brains these intermittent appointments with me. Words are so powerful. Body language. Facial expressions. This client nailed it all.

What I learn over and over is that my clients are paying attention. That I have an hour intake and thirty minute follow-ups maybe once every three or six months if they are stable and those minutes are precious. I try and respect them. I swear a lot. That’s not going to change. But apparently between the swears, the sarcasm, the checking in, I impart an energy and words that stick with people. It’s a privilege to be that person. We in mental health should never take it for granted.

I have a client I have been seeing for a few years, and the parents brought up at our last appointment, “Hey do you remember when you made us leave the room because you had to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment with them?” The Dad was cracking up. He said, “We didn’t know if we would see our kid again! But we knew then we were in the right place.” I did that embarrassed smirk as I thought back a couple years, and in fact I did remember telling the parents to leave. I didn’t raise my voice. I got down at the kid’s level though and told them to take their ear buds out when I ask them to take them out. To respect my fucking time because I’ve shown them nothing but respect even when they are acting like a little entitled punk. I may also have told them to undo their wedgie and let’s start again.

Sometimes I remember those moments and do a facepalm. I obviously do not speak to all people this way. It’s my job to read people. I’m good at it. I know who it’s going to be effective for and who it won’t be. And that kid never wore the ear buds again, and honestly has been very respectful to this day in our appointments.

Recently a parent asked me if I thought their educational plan for their child was “crazy”. I didn’t hesitate when I responded nodding, “Yes. I do.” I remember the parent looked at me and laughed a little and said, “Well you’re the first one who’s at least been honest with me.”

Honesty can be a bitter pill for people to swallow. It’s definitely not for everyone. Again, I give myself a disclaimer up front to any prospective clients. “I’m direct. I will call you out. I encourage you to call me out too if there’s anything that needs to be addressed.” But it can open doors to take your head out of the sand. My honest response to that parent opened up an entire conversation about their own self doubts and their strengths and weaknesses as a parent. It allowed a space for them to be vulnerable that wouldn’t have been there if I had just smiled and said “No of course not,”.

I’ve also learned that as long as I’m honest without being judgmental…which is a hard skill to master…it goes over a lot smoother. My clients that I take time to build rapport with and I really get to know and who get to know me, they know when I give them direct feedback it’s not from a place of judgement. It’s from a place of genuine curiosity and caring. I want to know if I’m on target with my assessment. I want to know if they know I’m on target or not. I want them to think and feel things that they haven’t let themselves think and feel. I want them ultimately to get better.

I was asked recently by someone how I felt about “…profiting off the pain and sorrow of others. I mean people have to be suffering in order for you to get work right?!” This was not a friend. And was said with some malice toward mental health professionals. I responded that I think about that a lot. And that should there come a day when my services are no longer needed I will feel such immense joy that it actually brings tears to my eyes to think of that day existing.

I remember resisting the impulse to defend all that I do; all that I give to my work. It doesn’t feel like a profit when a client is hospitalized for suicidal ideation. It doesn’t feel like profit when I end a day sitting on my floor wiping away tears because of all the emotional trauma I’ve held space for in the last eight hours…trying to pull myself together in the five minutes I have before my sons bounce through the door. It doesn’t feel like a success to educate my client about their diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder- how it’s lifelong and they will have more episodes of psychosis and we need to plan for when not if.

Those are all the moments that stick with me. So it’s nice to hear from clients who remember other moments. Who remember me swearing with love. Who remember the limits I set with fond affection and admiration. Some of my clients have done impressions in front of me and they are pretty good. I should be a meme.

Clients send me videos of their engagements. Wedding pictures. Newborn baby pics. Those hilarious therapist memes. Some one sent me a Christmas card thanking me for all my help and crediting me with helping them be healthy enough to become a Mom. I cried hardcore when I opened that one. I am allowed into these intimate moments in people’s lives because I know more than anyone the emotional labor they have put in to get to these crucial turning points in life.

The positive feedback is few and far between for healthcare providers, especially mental healthcare providers, but it’s there. Even the impressions. They crack me up. This year more than any I needed the positive feedback. I am beyond grateful for it.

To consumers of the mental health system- I thank you. For trusting me with your mental health. For seeing me for who I am even in moments of tough love. To families of consumers- I thank you. You have trusted me with your most precious cargo. I don’t accept that responsibility lightly. To the therapists who have to endure impressions of me- Enjoy. I’m pretty freaking funny especially when I’m not trying to be and yes. I swear that much.

#COVID-19 · Mental Health Stigma Suicide · Nursing

You Don’t Know Me At All. Me: to every hospital I’ve worked for.

I recently received a heavy metal coin in the mail from the hospital I work at per diem. It was accompanied by a trifold letter thanking me for my hard work during the pandemic and ended with a “we are all in this together” statement. It explained the coin too. Likening it to soldiers being honored with metal coins for acts of bravery.

I didn’t work much at the hospital this past year. I had enough to keep me busy with my practice. I also felt that the hospital left a lot to be desired in terms of infection control measures in the psychiatric hospital. I felt safer working remotely at my practice.

But there were many essential frontline workers working day and night caring for COVID patients. Caring for NICU patients during a pandemic. Caring for maternity patients who had to give birth alone wearing a mask after their partners tested positive.

I opened and read the generic letter, held the coin, and though of the scene in the Office when the CEO of the company, Robert California, looks at the regional manager Andy and says, “Sometimes I think you don’t know me at all,”

If you’ve seen The Office you know it’s satirical. It’s a commentary on how every one lower on the totem pole from management feels that management doesn’t actually know them at all.

I felt this viscerally holding that coin. I felt affirmed with every atom of my being with my decision to leave hospital and agency work full time and venture into the risky world of self employment via private practice. The few times I’ve worked at the hospital I thought I would have lost it if I was working there full time this past year. And the nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists working there full time for the past year deserve more than a worthless coin and generic thank-you letter.

I’m going to give the example of how I treat my employees. Because I’m a big bad boss now. My employees received everything necessary to do telehealth at home. Headphones. Lifted desks. Second monitors. Printers. Scanners. Anything they needed I got them. I screen all their calls and messages and deal with whatever I can on my own without bothering them. If they ask me to intervene and discharge some one I do it. No questions asked. Because I trust their judgement. For Christmas I gave my part time employee a bonus. I gave my full time employee the option of a cash bonus or tax exempt options like insurance premium, HSA contribution, student loan payment, etc.

I ask for their input on what charity to give to locally whenever I make a donation through the business.

I give them positive feedback whenever I get it from clinicians and patients. I pay them an extra hour a week if I know it was heavy on administrative time outside of client time. I say thank-you whenever I ask them to do something and they do it. I have never bought them pizza. I have bought them sushi and nice chocolate and wine and beer. I’ve given gift cards to restaurants and Amazon for nurses week.

One of my friends who is an APRN asked how much money I make from my employees. I told her I don’t make much because I didn’t take on employees to profit from them. I took them on because I wanted other prescribers to practice with me. And when I decided to take on employees I made a conscious decision to never treat them the way I had been treated by my employers and managers in hospital systems and private practice. I want my time that I spend doing their billing and scheduling and call backs to be covered. But aside from that I’d rather invest leftover money back into my business and subsequently back into my employees. Because I know what it feels like to work myself to the bone. Giving literal blood, sweat, and tears to a system that rewards you with pizza and a coin.

My fourth full time employee came on recently and took time to decide to increase to full time. The reason she gave for doing so was because she knew that the first two employees both started at less hours and both have continuously increased their hours in the past three years, one to full time and one to part time. She said that spoke to the business in terms of retention and in terms of them continuing to give more to the business. That moment felt good.

I despise how hospital systems cry poor. All the time. I didn’t get consistent raises my first eight years as a nurse. I felt powerless to fight for them. The systems were designed for us to fail to get increases. These are billion dollar organizations. Not million. Billion. Tell me they can’t give their employees something bigger. Why not cancel all current medical bills being held by their employees? Why not cover their health insurance premiums fully for at least a month? Why not provide free or discounted care for their employees? Why not pay 1000.00 toward every one’s student loans? Why not skip their CEO’s bonuses and give it back to their staff? Why not invest in their front lines essential heroic workers?

Freaking coin.

On the other end are burned out healthcare workers who think they don’t or can’t have better or more.

You can. You just have to work for it and you have to be willing to take risks.

Before the coin. Back before the pandemic back in 2017 when I opened my own practice. I put a 2$ fake paper bill from my hospital system on my wall. It’s still there. Taped over my desk. I treat employees of the system who recognize it and always ask why I have one of them taped on the wall. I encourage them to read the message on it. They lean in and then understanding dawns and they inhale sharply. Then they turn to me in disbelief. I nod. “Thanks for saving the life of a patient.” They always say it out loud. Like they are reading it wrong.

I nod again. “But I mean like you actually saved some one or it was just a close call?” they stammer trying to disbelieve it still.

“The patient was blue. I cleared her airway. I was told by multiple people there that day and after the patient would have died if I was not there.” Then they always nod their head and shrug their shoulders in resignation, “I believe it. 2 bucks. And a fake 2 bucks. That’s all we are worth around there.”

The two fake bucks that can only be used at the cafeteria of that particular system was not the first nor the last time I was let down by an employer in healthcare. But it was the first time I remember feeling resolute in my decision to get the hell out of there. I knew I needed to be somewhere that valued a patient life and my ability to save it. The coin six years later affirmed that decision.

To all my healthcare provider friends reading this. I see you. I know what you give every day. I know what it takes away from you. I’m sorry you are not valued more. But know that you are valued by me. I see you. You are not alone. You deserve more. If you are reading this and you have any say or control over how employees healthcare systems are treated: do better.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts please call:

1-800-273-8255

#COVID-19

Masked Hot Yoga: 2021

You ever do hot yoga in a mask? I have. I have to be a honest it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong it was horrible. But on the inside I was still doing a happy dance that I could be doing hot yoga again. I finally was warm. 101 degrees warm with 58% humidity.

I also got into this pose recently that I have never been able to do. It’s called Bird of Paradise. You have to start either in Lizard or Warrior II and then you take a bind with one arm looping under the bent leg and one arm going behind your back. You hold your hands now looped under a bent leg. Take a big step forward with your straight back leg. Then keeping the bind you stand up and raise the leg that was bent and still bound.

Bird of Paradise

The thing about yoga is that no one knew the first time I did it in a class. Because I’m often in class with different people. This year I’ve been in Zoom class in my living room and I can barely see any one else in their little rectangle on my iPad.

So as I first bound my hands together I was surprised I could actually bind them because I never could before. Then when I clumsily stepped forward and attempted to stand I was so excited that I could do it I almost fell over and then I did sort of fall over but I had this stupid grin on my face because fuck yeah. Year three of yoga and I finally nailed Bird of Paradise.

I think there were a lot of contributions to this success. One- my perseverance. Every time we would go into extended side angle I attempted the bind. For three years. I could feel my hands getting closer and closer and then touching my fingertips was a small victory. Two- I lost fifty pounds in the last two and a half years. I don’t know how having a small stomach helped me bind my arms behind my back but I know it did. Three- Fuck COVID.

I wasn’t going to let the pandemic stop my yoga practice. It was the one thing I have engaged in during my thirty’s that I loved. I felt so connected to hot yoga. I felt empowered. I felt warm; literally. I felt challenged physically and mentally and finally an hour of intense physical work out that also let me zone out of all my stress. I don’t have my phone during yoga. I am completely disconnected.

In March 2020 when my studios closed I moped and pouted and found the Zoom classes. I kept practicing. With my cats. With my sons. Through a separation. Through possibly the most stressful year of my life. I kept practicing. While other people were expanding their waistlines (I say that with love because no shame in an expanding waist line I’m just not a stress eater. I’m a stress non-eater) I was reducing mine.

Then my studios were open. Then I was vaccinated. I attended cold yoga first with my sister-in-law. That was actually where I first got into Bird of Paradise. With multiple layers, feeling chilly, I smiled as I took the bind and had to stop myself laughing from joy as I stood and attempted to extend my leg.

Then I stepped back into a hot studio. There’s not really a way I can describe it other than a sort of coming home. The first class kicked my ass. So did the fourth one. I’ve clumsily still been getting into Bird of Paradise trying not to grin like an idiot as I’m doing it.

I’m proud that 2020 was not lost. I’m so relieved that I can see the actual growth in my practice over the last year.

I videotaped myself getting into it. I asked my son to hold my phone to “videotape” me and he asked me what a videotape is. I didn’t really know what to say. I said just hold the phone and record me. He did. I felt old. But I also felt cool. Because I got into a pose that I wasn’t sure I would ever grow and fold and bind into.

Post-COVID life will never be the same. People have died. People were born. People divorced. Married. Loved. Hated. And for me, I’ve been through a lot. My therapist validates that it’s been a little extra. But through it I’m grateful for my constant practice of yoga. The poses don’t change but every time I get into one or out of one I change. Yoga has helped me understand that change will happen. That sometimes it’s scary but ultimately through change we grow.

#COVID-19

The Reason I Stopped Treating Teenage Mental Health. (It’s not because of the teens)

It’s good to know your strengths and weaknesses. I am brutally honest with myself so I am generally aware of my own. Strength- baking. Weakness- brownies. I can never get them right. I’ve tried. So I don’t try anymore. Ask my sons. They didn’t even know what a brownie was recently when my Mom brought them some. Banana bread, yeast breads, cakes, frostings, ganache, chocolate chip muffins, etc. I can nail anything else. Not brownies.

Strength- Fighting and working hard for underserved communities. Weakness- general annoyance sometimes developing into anger toward entitled non-underserved individuals.

My friends and many of the therapists I work and collaborate with know this about me. The white cis-het male APRN who works for me knows this about me. Because as I’m passing him all the cis-white-het males who call for intakes I am…maybe complaining about them. I do apologize for dissing “him” in a general vague sort of way. He laughs it off and keeps working for me. I dunno; I give good bonuses.

The last year has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses (great chasms) of our healthcare system. Strength- Our healthcare workers. We rock. Weakness- Our infrastructure, our costs, insurers, and the lack of support financially, emotionally, and every way you can possibly imagine for our healthcare workers, and the complete inadequacy of our mental health services and systems.

I receive upward of five calls a day for adolescent referrals. I’m closed to adolescent referrals.

Strength- Love the teens and they usually love me or hate me initially then grow to respect/fear/love me. Weakness- Fucking parents. I generally rub them the wrong way eventually. For my trans teens I tell their parents to stop being transphobic. God forbid. For my teens depressed because their parents scream at each other daily- I tell their parents to stop screaming at each other daily and to maybe recognize the impact they are having on their teen’s mental health. Strength- Honesty. Weakness- Honesty.

I had a parent tell me that if they started using their child’s preferred pronoun and gender “they win”. I’ve had parents tell me, “I know you think it’s all because of the stupid sexual abuse. You think I haven’t heard that! I’m not getting a divorce. They are going to have to learn to live together.” If you are thinking the worst case scenario you are correct. That is not the first nor the last parent treated who has forced their child to continue to endure close contact with a known perpetrator (yes investigations were done etc. etc. this was always reported to the appropriate authorities).

I recognized in 2020 that the parents were burning me out. Not the teens.

I saw too many teenagers over my career destroyed by their parents physically, emotionally, and in so many other ways. After I became a parent I became more horrified than I used to be at parental behavior.

I’m no angel as a parent. I yell sometimes. I talk loudly and firmly when we are in public if they are misbehaving. I have no shame in reprimanding them in front of other people because if they can act the fool publicly they can be corrected publicly. I also have spent more time with my kids in the last twelve months then I imagined I ever would. I have to be honest though I never got too sick of them. We keep busy and those little buggers know how to get to my heart with their hugs and snuggles and dimples. I unashamedly mushy gushy love my kids.

I would never knowingly harm my child though physically or emotionally or otherwise. I also would not invalidate them by not respecting their preferred gender/pronoun/name and I hope I would never invalidate them by not believing them or ignoring them if they disclose something to me. And if I knew some one was harming my child; well I would go for the throat.

Strength- Fierce love and loyalty for my family and few close friends Weakness- I would totally land in jail if some one messes with some one I love.

I found in 2020 so many things about myself. Strength I didn’t know I had. Weakness and empathy I didn’t know I could still access. I also recognized that treating teenagers, and in turn their parents, as a parent, was burning me out. Because I could not ever imagine treating my children the way I have seen so many children treated. Literally right in front of me. There are no filters in the psych world.

When people ask why there is such a shortage of pediatric providers it’s not because there is a dearth of actual providers who can treat children. There is a shortage of providers who have the stomach and heart to stick with it for years, through their own parenting journeys, because the transference and counter-transference is real and it’s not helpful or healthy.

One of my greatest strengths has always been recognizing my limitations. This was a hard one because I so enjoy working with teenagers. But I needed to distance myself from parents. Because they were breaking my faith in humanity.

Hearing accounts of sexual abuse and physical abuse from children and teens is heart wrenching. Hearing that they have told their parent and their parent confirms this, and that their parent doesn’t believe them makes me ill. I’ve had to tell grown adults that children generally don’t make up sexual assault and rape stories. The number of kids who have not been believed by their parents is staggering.

I’ve tried to figure it out. I’ve wondered if it’s generational. Most parents of teens are now born between the 70’s-80’s. I try and figure out what the hell happened to those people. Then I wonder if it’s a white suburbia thing. Most parents center themselves and is that a symptom of white entitlement? But I treat minorities also and this issue is not confined to white families. By September of last year I stopped trying to figure out why and stopped taking teenagers. The why doesn’t matter. The result of me being burned out mattered.

My days are less interesting with fewer teenagers in my schedule because they are fun. I can’t be as sarcastic with any other age range than the teens. I also love that little smirk they try and hide when they hear me call their parent out on bad behavior. It’s like they finally are being seen and heard and justice has come. It’s tough work getting to that moment with the parent and the kid. They both have to be comfortable enough with me that they won’t get mad when I call them out. They have to be open enough to change to really hear me. It’s a labor of love because the reimbursement will just never cover the emotional energy that goes into treating teens and their families.

But I’ve selectively only taken adult LGBTQ clients for intakes which makes me happy. Some day I’ll circle back to the teens but for now I need a break. I need to stop trying to figure out a generation of parents and focus on my own kids. Who I love. Who will never know how good they have it thank God. Because I would never want them to have it so bad.

If you are reading this as a parent I hope you do not identify with any invalidating behaviors I’ve mentioned. If you do I’d encourage you to explore that part of you. Is it shame that is coming up? Fear? Avoidance? Don’t turn away from that dark part of yourself. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your teen.

If you are reading this as a teenager or former teenager and you identify with this; I’m deep from my gut sorry. But I promise you that your life can go on even with an experience of emotionally abusive or unavailable parents. Watch “Hanging Up” with Meg Ryan. It’s from the 90’s; obviously so out of date. But there’s this scene where she’s talking about her messed up alcoholic father and she says, “This! This is what I’ve got as my Father! This is it! This mess!” It’s a beautifully done scene and movie about acceptance of our parents faults and about not letting our parents faults define us or break us.

I feel like I’ve spent the better part of seven years helping teenagers see that they may have a mess as parents but they are still valuable and worthy and deserving of love. It is hard to let that go but I know it will only be for a while. In the mean time. Parents let’s get our shit together. Our kids deserve the best parents we can be. Play to your strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses. And be nice to their therapists otherwise there won’t be any of us left.

#COVID-19 · Mental Health Stigma Suicide

Call Your People

I did a data collection at the hospital I used to work at when I was still there. I examined the medical records from nineteen suicides that occurred over the course of three years. They were all completed within three months of discharge from an inpatient unit. This was perhaps six years ago. So no pandemic. No cheeto as President yet. Life was supposedly good.

I found some patterns. 18 out of 19 completed suicides were white people. I remember asking a Black nurse manager if she was surprised by that. She laughed and said “Oh no, we take care of each other. We know the meaning and value of community. White people are more isolated. Make no mistake we have mental illness in the Black community and so much stigma. But we take care of each other.”

The rates of completed suicide from 2009-2018 nationally were double for white people than Black people- the following link shows a nice graph. https://sprc.org/scope/racial-ethnic-disparities

It is no surprise then that in the midst of a pandemic when white people, who suck at community on a good day, are killing themselves more frequently. And I’m sure we will see an increase in suicides in the Black community also during this time because there is less “together” and more isolation.

When I think about the last year I think immediately of the isolation. I am grateful to have my kids. But I know so many who don’t have kids or who can’t see their kids because of exposure risks both ways. I know people who received chemotherapy during COVID and couldn’t see any one. I know people who have given birth and they couldn’t see any one when they were pregnant, and couldn’t see any one after they gave birth.

My own life personally and professionally has been touched far too intimately with suicide in my extended family, among former co-workers, and in my work in mental health.

I don’t go into my therapist groups online anymore because at least weekly there is a post about a client who committed suicide. There used to be posts like that maybe twice a year.

The news and politicians keep talking about the economy- which sucks yes. People are jobless. Homeless. Without medical insurance. But the most pressing, distressing, and completely devastating issue that we are not talking about enough is the ever present unrelenting alone-ness. I have felt it too in shades. Sundays are my dreaded days without my kids because they are now with my ex.

Some Sunday’s I’m okay. But then it snowed. The snow is still here. Feet of it. I can’t go hiking anymore. I can’t go to a bar for a drink with a friend. Because we can’t just go to bars anymore. I can’t go to hot yoga. Because my one studio is closed and my other studio doesn’t make people wear masks.

There have been hours spent binging Hulu. There have been hours spent catching up on my accounting and billing for work. There have been minutes of true despair that come from a deep loneliness that can be intolerable.

Divorce on a good day sucks. Divorce and splitting custody mid-pandemic, mid-snowy Winter just blows.

I yelled at my therapist one day. He told me that it would be good for me to have time alone to do self care. I said through angry tears, “I’ve done that. I’ve been alone. I was twenty-one in a city after a break up getting through nursing school seven hours from my family and friends. I’ve been alone. It sucked. I know how to live alone and be by myself. I don’t want to do it again. I want my kids. I want to be able to see my friends without masks. I want to hug my friends. I have two friends over sixty I haven’t seen in a year! I want to see them! I want to tell every one who tells me it will be good for me to be alone to go fuck themselves.”

After I cried a bit he said, “I think you just told me to go fuck myself.”

I laughed and agreed. I said, “Well this is what you get when you agree to treat a nurse;)”

I have coping skills. I have a therapist. I have family I can see (many who I cannot). I have a couple friends I can see (many who I cannot). I am now fully vaccinated. I know rationally I am blessed. But I can see how any one with fragile mental health, with no treatment, no friends, or no family can dive down the rabbit hole of isolation and see no light through the darkness.

We never thought this would go on for a year. Life after will never be the same as life before. That is fully sinking in for those of us who have known births, deaths, divorces, marriages, loss, and life. Because even though it seems stagnant life has gone on through this year of stagnation.

I grieve all those we have lost to COVID-19. The ones with the virus. And the ones with the terrible diseases of Depression. Bipolar Disorder. PTSD. Grief. I grieve the lives lost due to the devastating isolation this illness created.

I hope the one thing on the other side of this that changes is our community; or lack thereof. I hope we never take for granted that we can have each other for support and love. If only the people dying by their own hand could feel connected to some one, anyone, it might save them.

To put it in perspective I know of four suicides completed in the last week. Four. Two were teenagers. In a week. I personally and professionally pre-Covid would hear of four maybe within eighteen months to two years. Four suicides in a week. This cannot continue. So many more lives will be lost.

If you haven’t talked to a friend in a while who you know is single or doesn’t have family or doesn’t have kids or is fresh post divorce or who you know just may not have any connections outside of you…please give them a call.

My cousin called me on Valentines Day. It meant the world to me. I think most people don’t know what to say to some one freshly separated on a holiday about love. Valentine’s Day was never a thing with my ex. It was more a thing with my Dad. He would always get me a card and a gift. Usually chocolates that I despised, which is hard to do, because I generally love chocolate. But it was the thought that counts.

No horrible heart shaped chocolate this year. No card that looked like it had been beaten up and thrown around his truck. I can’t think of a day recently where I’ve missed him so much.

Laughing and talking with my cousin on my ear buds while I braved the mall was just what I needed. She coached me through Sephora and we laughed through the Disney store.

Any connection is so needed right now. People are dying. People are depressed. People miss people. You are people. You have these people in your lives. Call them.

Some of my clients are stable in terms of medication. But they beg me to be seen sooner when I try and push them out three months. They are often the single people with few friends and few family and no one they can see in person. I’ve been seeing patients monthly and doing nothing with their medications. It feels better to them I think to know they have a commitment in a month. Some one cares to see them in a month. I have a number of these clients. I have some who insist on being seen every two or three weeks right now.

I never fight them on it. Because I see them. I feel it too sometimes; the loneliness. If they feel better knowing they have to see me in two weeks. Fine with me.

Every one who works in mental health is seeing this. This desperation to be seen. We are trying to meet the need but we need help. We need you. People. Call your people. Make a community again. Connect in this age of isolation. Please. Save. A. Life.

#COVID-19 · Nursing

Hope in 2021 & Yoga

I recall saying that 2021 could be worse. Several times. When I said that I have to be honest I was not picturing an insurrection against the capitol caused by #45. But I knew it could be worse.

I don’t have a lot of coherent thoughts about that week because when I think about it I feel this gut wrenching burning anger and fear and a lot of other feelings too. Probably shame too that this was my country. I think about my Dad, turning over in his grave; he would have been the first to volunteer for the National Guard to go protect the Capitol. He would have been furious. I can almost hear him ranting.

It’s hard to put into words what it was like watching the footage of that. So I won’t. Because nothing I say can do it justice.

Sunday my sons were with their other Mom and my sister-in-law was teaching a yoga class. Live. In person. I agreed to go and it wasn’t until I felt my eyes welling up in Lizard pose that I realized why. I hadn’t done a live class since March 2020. So much has changed. So many lives lost. So much upheavel and isolation.

I never appreciated yoga classes until I didn’t have them. I do them on Zoom but it’s different. Dissonance.

I practiced next to my sister. I didn’t know any one else there. It was a huge cold industrial building converted into a gym space. Big enough that we were more than ten feet from any one else. We all kept our masks on the whole time and the ceilings were ridiculously high. It felt as safe as it was going to be in these times.

I had the benefit of being a week out from my second COVID vaccine. So I was less worried than I would have been otherwise.

I was there in lizard pose, with my left foot up next to my left arm. My arms on the floor. Head bowed. I could hear people as we moved through poses. I didn’t have my kids climbing on me or my cats scratching at my mat.

The most visceral aspect that 2020 lacked is connection. We lost our connections with other people. With our humanity. It felt reparative; that moment in Lizard. I was cold. The floor was cold. It was twenty degrees outside. I’m used to hot yoga. This was the opposite.

I had on three layers at one point and my socks.

The acoustics were bad and I could barely hear my sister-in-law as she called the poses.

But that five second moment in Lizard I thought that this was one of the most blissful moments I’d had since March 2020. It was a moment of connection in a time of isolation. It was a moment of light in such dark times. And it gave me hope that we would survive this and things like yoga classes will happen again.

This week I registered with the hospital I work at per diem to administer COVID vaccines as part of their mass vaccination movement that starts this week. Not only do I get to stick people with needles, which after almost a year of telehealth, brings tears of happiness to my eyes, but I get to see other people. Talk to other people. I get to nurse people. In person.

Yes I’ll be masked, face shielded, and jabbing people with a vaccine that has more controversy than any vaccine I’ve encountered in my life. But as a nurse I can’t decline being part of this movement. That line from Hamilton rings, “History has it’s eyes on you,” and I feel super corny saying it but it feels like I’m part of history. Some day when I’m super old and a general annoyance to my children and grandchildren I’ll tell them about COVID and life during a pandemic and how I vaccinated people against it.

I’m sure they will be bored to tears and likely try and escape my presence as soon as possible…and maybe I’ll pretend I can’t hear or like every other old person I’ll pretend I don’t notice the social cues that they are bored and plod on in a boring account of administering injections.

It’s a weird time. A new administration. Fox News doesn’t talk about Trump much these days, or the Capitol insurrection. So that’s cool:/ Yes I check Fox News. I like to know what my fellow Americans are being told so I can counter it. I used to think life would go back to normal after COVID. Now I know there is no normal. There is a before, a now, and a then. The before is gone. The now is here and then is coming. None of it the same as before.

Even my beloved yoga has changed. I can get further into half split then ever before. I can do a one legged stand almost perfectly. I’ve spent the last year continuing to deepen my practice. So when I hit the mat in an actual in person live class it wasn’t the same me as before COVID. But it still felt damn good.

#COVID-19

What I Learned in 2020. Yes There are Lessons.

I have so many thoughts about 2020. Recently some one said to me that 2021 can’t possibly be worse. I responded that is what I thought about 2020 as we left 2019. So I do not think 2021 can’t possibly be worse. In fact I think it can be worse. I hope it won’t be. But I am taking it day by day at this point.

I read an op-ed recently entitled “There are no lessons to learn from 2020”. It was essentially a diatribe about how there is nothing to learn, no overarching theme, and no benefit to society from this year.

I strongly and vehemently disagree.

Personally in my own little bubble I have learned about business, divorce, loneliness, the power of friendship, and how I was actually prepared to live through a pandemic. I mean nothing could have actually prepared me. But I am not a hugger so I don’t miss that. I generally wore masks every flu season anyway. I refused to see clients who were coughing and I always maintained at least six feet distance with the window open behind me if anyone even sniffled.

I also had a stockpile of purell and toilet paper because I buy those items in bulk at baseline.

Seriously. I was made for this. I learned how to make the best and safest mask for myself and my two now five year old sons. Their teacher tested positive and was in the classroom with them symptomatic and they didn’t get COVID. Neither did we. I have full faith in my masks.

Professionally my practice flourished and though the work has been harder this year than ever before I think we rose to the task. We have provided mental health services for over five hundred patients this year. It’s a good feeling knowing I can help people. I learned why I take Medicaid. I knew why before but this year provided me more insight. So many people lost their commercial plans. My own clients and clients of other practices who don’t take Medicaid. It was humbling for me to have people be so thankful that we take state insurance. I would never want my established clients to have to try and find a new provider in the midst of a pandemic because I don’t take Medicaid. It always felt like the right thing to do but this year brought it into sharp perspective for me.

Nationally I saw a horrid administration crash and burn and while I am devastated that we continue to lose thousands of lives a day because of their inept handling of an international pandemic…I also find myself saying internally ‘told ya so.’ Back when he was elected I said to only my wife at the time, that at some point in some way the nation and the world would see the true lunacy we elected. I remember saying all we need to do is sit back and wait for some national disaster or something. I could not have predicted a pandemic unrivaled since 1918. But when it started here in March I remember thinking. Well here it is. His test that he will fail dismally.

I was not wrong. Sadly. Back in 2016 I knew there would be tests that he would fail. I did not think so many lives would be lost because of his failure.

I did not think so many Americans lack a basic science education. Germs can be transmitted in the air. Masks block germs from going in and out. Seems like a simple concept to me. Two sentences. Masks could have saved lives if they were normalized. Instead they were vilified and here we are.

2020 should teach us that some people are not meant to lead. That a celebrity with histories of debt and sexual assaults is not meant to lead our country. 2020 should teach us that science is real whether you believe in it or not- germs spread and basic use of masks and social distancing help stop the spread of germs.

2020 should teach us what I’ve been preaching since 2007 when I got my first paycheck as a nurse. Stop paying pro football players millions and invest that money into educating, building up, and rewarding our healthcare workers and teachers. Instead of investing billions into “defense” (because guns/tanks/submarines were super helpful against COVID) maybe invest in educating, building up, and rewarding our healthcare workers and teachers.

2020 should teach us that we need to make education attainable and affordable in order to have an educated society of people who will nurse us, doctor us, make vaccines, and understand basic scientific concepts so wearing a mask isn’t seen as an infringement on civil liberties but as a life saving preventative measure that could have saved thousands of lives already.

2020 should teach us that racism is alive and well in our country. That POC have reason to fear our police forces. That white people center themselves in discussions of racism and we need to stop doing that. 2020 should teach us that being “colorblind” is not the solution.

2020 should teach us that our young people are amazing.

There are so many lessons from 2020 these are just a few. That an op-ed was published in a reputable newspaper stating anything else is appalling to me.

These lessons are not silver linings. They are not the rainbow through the clouds. These are hard lessons that have been learned at the expense of human lives. 2020 was not kind to me. But I will take the lessons I have learned with me and I will not forget them. I will learn from them. I will learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I only can hope that we all will learn from 2020.

My intention for 2021 is to meet it as I have 2020 and 2019. I could not have imagined what 2020 had in store for me back in 2019. Just as I could not have possibly imagined what 2019 held for me in 2018. So I will meet 2021 as I have the last two trying years. I meet 2021 carrying with me some grief, some hope, the lessons I have learned & a bottle of Purell. Literally.

**** To all the health care providers reading this. I am so honored to be among your ranks. Whether you are front lines or working remotely we are all carrying the burdens of 2020 so close to our hearts. I have never regretted becoming a nurse. There have been hard days for us all and harder ones ahead. Please reach out for help. We all need support right now. Please call for help when you need it. Please go into 2021 knowing that there will be a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Your bravery and tenacity and commitment to providing quality care are beautiful and heart wrenching. You are the true heroes in this country yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We will never be paid enough. We will never be appreciated enough and for that I am sorry. We deserve better. Know that I see you. I am you and I feel the burdens of 2020 with you. Fist pump from six feet away and a toast to 2021. To you and to the lives we save and those we can’t.******

“What’s coming will come. And we’ll meet it when it does.” Rubeus Hagrid.

#COVID-19 · politics

White Privilege Explained. Again.

There are still people I talk to who do not understand white privilege. So I’ll keep writing blog posts trying to define it for y’all. I also will comment on “skinny” privilege. Because as a person who has been fat and skinny I can attest: that’s a thing.

In a previous blog post I wrote about my COVID vaccine. What I didn’t mention is what I was thinking as the security guard blabbered politely and practically tripped over himself to escort me to the correct building. I was thinking, ‘would he be doing this if I were a Black woman?’ ‘Would he be doing this if I were 50 lbs heavier like I was two years ago?’

I didn’t have men tripping over themselves to escort me places when I was two months post partum with twins. Since I lost weight (and this has happened in my 20’s when I lost a significant amount of weight also) men are more apt to hold doors for me. They are more likely to ask if I need help in a store. They are more apt to smile and say hi to me when I’m hiking.

Today I went grocery shopping. I parked far away because I don’t have depth perception, and I have a big car so I usually park far away to avoid hitting a car or guardrail. My eye doctor tells me I am eligible for a handicap sticker but for real. I can just park far away and walk. Anyway, I am loading my groceries in my car and I hear some one say, “Ma’am may I take your cart for you? I just wanted to check.” A young man from the grocery store who was out collecting carts walked, pretty far out of his way, to collect my cart.

Again I wondered if he would have done this for a Black woman.

My guess would be no. Because I am white and thinner than I was two years ago and people open doors (literally not figuratively), follow me to get my cart, ask if I need help, and NEVER suspect I am going to commit a crime. EVER.

I literally have been pulled over for speeding, using my cell, speeding again, and again…and not gotten a ticket. Because even when I am actually breaking the law they see my whiteness. My apologetic smile. My thinness. My profession. And they let me go.

This is all white privilege.

My favorite is “But I never owned slaves.” I didn’t either. But I can clearly see how I benefitted from a system based on ideals that whiteness is superior. I was raised in a white town with some of the top public schools in the state which allowed me entrance into some of the top colleges in the country. I was instantly approved for loans when I needed them to pay for school. I was instantly approved for car loans, mortgages, etc.

I was hired into two of the top hospital systems in the country. Because I had a stellar white education. Because I worked hard, but I had the advantage of generations of white people before me who also worked hard and were never enslaved. Wealth was not passed down to me in money, but it was passed in my intelligence, my skin color, and my geographical location. My ancestors moved out of the Bronx to New Haven then out of New Haven to the suburbs.

To be descended from generations of slaves leaves a scar emotionally, financially; and in so many ways that white people can only begin to comprehend. While our ancestors moved here for religious freedoms the ancestors of Black people were enslaved here and stripped of their culture, religion, and freedom.

I think of slavery like I think of suicide. It leaves a scar so pervasive and painful that unless you have experienced it you cannot begin to imagine it.

White people- we have not experienced it. We cannot begin to imagine it. THAT is a privilege.

I’ve had men tell me I should smile more, talk less, be less direct, be more polite, be less assertive…I’ve had men call me fat and I’ve had men call me skinny/sexy/beautiful/gorgeous and I’ve had my ass slapped by two men I did not even know. One of them was subsequently kicked out of the bar. The other was not. There are pro’s and con’s to being thin. Pro- my blood pressure rocks. Con- Men think they can tell me how to look/feel/act. Men & women have felt entitled to touch me without my consent.

Overall I have absolutely benefitted from white supremacy in my thirty-five years. So has every other white person who exists. Hopefully no white person in America today has owned slaves. That doesn’t mean you haven’t benefitted from a country built on the backs of slaves. You don’t have to own the history of our nation but you have to at least acknowledge that it exists and that it shapes our society today. It allows the murderers of George Floyd & Breonna Taylor to walk free. It allows the murders of people that were video taped to not only walk free but be defended and protected by the system that defines our country.

If a police officer walked into my house and shot me then my face with my blue eyes, white skin, pretty smile, and two adorable kids would be plastered on news channels. My family members would be shown crying in all their whiteness. The police officer would be charged. I have no doubt. But I also have no doubt that no police officer is going to walk into my home and shoot me by mistake. That’s white privilege. If you’ve never been scared of the police you have privilege. Accept it. Own it. Do something about it.