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The internet is abuzz with the tragic news of Robin Williams’ death. We struggle to understand how someone with so much talent and apparent good fortune could take his life. Depression knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Everyone is equally vulnerable. But those who share his struggle DO understand.
Depression and mental illness in general, is finally coming out of the closet. Those in it’s grip live with unimaginable demons. They are forced to hide them to be socially acceptable, so often struggle alone.
Being famous or heavily relied upon only make the isolation worse. It is difficult, though he did share his struggle, to disappoint the fans. The world’s response to Mr. Williams’ death confirms this. We are mourning the loss of a future without the enormous contributions he would have made – the potential enjoyment of his considerable talent. People say, “What a waste,” or “I can’t understand how he could throw everything away.”
As someone who has struggled with depression, I understand how driven to despair one can be at times. It has been debilitating, a cause of shame, something to hide, something to get through or get over. And it was totally out of my control as were the events that often preceded those times.
But I have never reached the depth of despair Mr. Williams must have felt, that would cause me to take my life.
Let us be grateful to him for the hours of happiness he gave us, in spite of the tremendous toll it took on him. Let us thank his family for sacrificing him for our pleasure. Let us hope he has found peace after all his suffering. And may he somehow know that his life meant so much to so many of us.

RIP

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I suppose you will be remembered in history books if you founded a country, but what about the founders of smaller things? Perhaps significant on a local level, or important to a cause. When that cause gets a life of its own, the founder is often dismissed as far as having any role in its being.
To be fair, some entities pay some sort of homage to the founder(s) in their history, but most do not.
This line of thought was precipitated by a wonderful conversation with one of my patients. At age 83, he has a sharp mind. We connected on some geographic and ethnic commonalities. The conversation led to Israel and he told me a story about his relative named Ra’Anan (not sure of the spelling), who had gone from NYC with a band of others early in the 20th century, to a town now known as Ra’Anana. He had become their Mayor, hence the name of the city honoring him.
I was fascinated by this as I know two families who live there. So, back at home, I tried to research the history of this town, to no avail. There was some reference to a group from NYC going there, but no one by a name similar to the town’s name appeared in any of the articles. I believed this man’s story. Thus, the founder had been forgotten.
I experienced a similar situation. When I lost a job I hated anyway, I turned to my passion – art – and decided to make a go of it. Practicing the craft was only a part of my goal. I wanted to create a community of artists of all kinds; visual and performing, to feed each other’s creativity, and bring us a sense of belonging. I rallied some people I thought would be interested in helping me. I requested the library’s community room, placed a tiny article in the paper. And they came! The need was evident!
From this group, a board was formed and we set out to deliver a community of artists in my own town. Life was good. When we were offered a chance to hire, at a very heavily subsidized rate, a consultant to help us set a course, make a plan and work out some kinks, the group began to splinter. Just a tiny bit at first, but then a huge, gaping hole opened up. Suddenly, my allies were my foes. They didn’t share my vision, which until then was working. When I started to enlarge the dream, the rebels came out.
Now power was being usurped and when I called them on it, they denied it. To shorten a long, painful story, I left the group behind. My only pleasure is that the organization continues. Sadly for me, the work I wanted so much to do is now happening – but I am not part of the community I brought to fruition.
So, that brings me back to the forgotten founder. I have moved on and do my “art thing” with other, more welcoming people. Some of the original cast of characters and I remain friends. The splintered faction is still splintered. I’m OK with it all. Except for one thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be acknowledged as the person who brought together this community of artists? Yes, it would be.

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We’ve all had them. The sales pitch, political recording, or the request to take a short survey. They usually come as you are rushing to get dinner on the table or just about to put the fork in your mouth, right? Lately, it seems to me, I am getting so many more calls than before, in spite of being on the “no call,” “no email,” “no text,” “no fax” and “no bother me” lists. To add insult to injury, many are now done by robots. They don’t even have the decency to have a live person call to bother me!  I have obeyed their instructions to press number three to request removal from future calls, to no avail. So, I have had to take matters into my own hands. Here are some surefire tactics to stop the calls:

Caller: Hello, is the decision-maker home?

Me: Yes, this is she and she says she is not interested in anything you are selling unless it’s sex with a hot, young stud.

Caller: Click (and they probably took my phone number off the list)

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Caller (recording): You have been selected to receive a special interest rate on your mortgage. Press 1 to hear more about it.

Me: I press 1 until a person comes on the line, then say: Can you give me a special rate to repay my mortgage? My house burned down 4 months ago.

Caller: Click

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Caller: We would like to service your septic tank. What would be a good time to come by and inspect it?

Me: Do you do outhouses? Our septic system failed and we couldn’t afford to install a new one, so we are using an outhouse in the yard.

Caller: Click

See how easy it is? All you have to do is act crazy and they will take you off their list. It really works. Seriously.

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As a native New Yorker, my soul was torn apart on September 11th, 2001. As a human being, I am unable to fathom the depth of the pain of those intimately affected: those who lost family members and friends, those who responded and were and continue to be affected emotionally and/or physically. For marriages broken, children raised without their parents, parents who lost children.

Today is September 15th. Four days after the TV, newspapers and computer feeds were held hostage to horrific images, memorials, interviews, videos and the gut-wrenching stories of people and families still suffering 10 years later, I am finally able to comment. Even with stories of hope and healing, my overwhelming feeling is pain and grief. I couldn‘t write about it for these past few days – until I had a little distance. I managed to avoid media coverage most of the day – deliberately. I knew I would have to face it and decided to choose my time, late in the day, to pay my respects to those who directly and indirectly were affected by the events of the day.

On September 11th, my husband was home recovering from minor surgery. I went out to do errands, and as always had my car radio on in the background as I went from place to place. Between stops, I heard the news of the first strike. I called home to tell my husband to turn on the TV and tell me what was happening. Panic gripped the city and not much was known. During the next move in the car, I heard about the next strike. Now I was beginning to panic too and went home. By then, the picture was coming together – terrorism. Previously unknown in this magnitude on US soil. The day was a blur of anxiety, grief, horror, panic. Should I get the kids at school? No, they said it is safer to leave them there. Panicked parents took their kids home. I left mine as instructed, then learned they were among the minority of kids left behind. Were they traumatized? Who could make a rational decision that day? How did first responders – especially those in command – know what to do in an unprecedented time? How did those who survived, spend the next 10 years doubting themselves and suffering from survivor guilt, even though there was nothing more they could do than they did, except sacrifice their lives (in their minds – not what anyone expected was best)? I worry that it has been harder on them than if they had died.

So at 7 PM, I turned on the computer and looked at several memorial performances. Then I climbed into bed and put the TV on. I chose to watch the show with the video made by the young French Naudet brothers on the day of the attack. It was intended to follow the journey of a probationary firefighter and ended up being the most intimate look at what the events looked like from the inside – and more miraculously, a story of a miracle for Station 1, Engine 7 in NYC. Their firehouse lost none of their personnel, despite their heavy involvement in the efforts of that day. It was raw, real, inspiring, sad. I cried through most of it, feeling as closely as one could, to what it might have been like as events unfolded that day. I also said another goodbye to Alan Feinberg, a Lafayette High School classmate, who grew up to be a NYC firefighter and lost his life that day.

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For those of us with a touch of ADD and a low tolerance for boredom, juggling 10 projects at once is the rule. Few get finished, but the process is so much fun. Occasionally, it becomes overwhelming and I have to remind myself to scale back. When a project is completed however, it feels really good; especially when you love the result.

This week, we are at the very tail end of what seemed like a never-ending update to the kitchen. I naively thought an update was so much less of an interruption and less costly than a renovation, but now I think not. For one thing, we managed the process ourselves. Warning: don’t do this if you can’t tolerate endless frustration, zillions of phone calls to follow up and unanticipated things that will go wrong and cost more.

We did most of our purchases through Home Depot. Different salespeople for different pieces of the job, separate subcontractors and in some cases, subcontractors of the subcontractors. Lesson learned: if you have a problem, don’t deal with these subcontractors. Call Home Depot (or whoever you  made your checks out to) and let THEM deal with the people they hired!

So, the project started out in March, and got delayed because we found asbestos in the bottom two out of four layers of flooring. Another lesson learned: when one part of the project stalls, not only does it delay the project by the amount of time it takes to remedy that problem, there is a cascade of rescheduling delays. This is after all, the busy season for home-related work. Getting everyone lined up in the right order is a challenge.

The floor was in and beautiful, so we were able to proceed with the countertop. It is very nice except that it was supposed to arrive with a sealer that lasts 15 years with no maintenance. Considering that water absorbed immediately, I doubted this was right. When trying to get it resolved, I got the most inane explanations about why this was happening. If there is anything I hate more than cleaning a toilet, it is being spoken to like I’m an idiot or lied to. That’s a surefire way to lose my business. We are sill working on correcting the problem, but I’m on it like a bloodhound on the scent of a killer.

Our tile installer was so good, we asked him to come back and install our backsplash. Done and beautiful, No sweat with this part of the project, except we had to wait. Well worth it for the quality of the installation.

The painting of the kitchen cabinets started out on a bad note, with some more ridiculous explanations about why things were not going the way they should. Three different workers in three days, no communication among them and each had his own methodology. Didn’t look good, nor professional. The last person was clearly skilled and easy to work with, and all ended well – but not before having a little heart to heart with the project manager to straighten him out.

Except for little touches: trim, grout, sealing and adjustments, the kitchen looks done and is back in service. Well, except for cleaning out the insides of the cabinets and laying new liner – another project for me.

I don’t want to imply that the experience was all bad. I learned a lot and picked up some very good tradespeople. Let me know if you need a tile man, roofer, painter, carpenter and/or expert wood and antique restorer. We also got the name of a new plumber, as ours is sadly retiring, but since we haven’t used him yet, I can’t vouch for him yet.

All I have left (after cabinet cleaning) is a call to my retirement financial manager to ask if my investments include stock in Home Depot.

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It’s been awhile since having a “normal” routine, dictated by an employer. How is it I can be so busy and not be working 45 hours a week too? Have you ever heard the expression, “Ask a busy person and it will get it done.”?  It must be true and I am one of those people.

Now my days are spent going to school, studying and working on one volunteer community project, and soon to start another. School takes up 2 full days per week, and homework another 2 to 2 ½ days. I guess that doesn’t leave a lot to time to lounge around.  I am cooking healthier food, which takes more time to plan and prepare. I am coordinating a community project involving 6 leaders and what will be 15 youth. And I am planning to conduct a community workshop at our senior center starting in late April. So, my days are full, and fruitful. I sleep well knowing I am doing good, and keeping my brain active.
I am happier and more content. Does it mean I have given up income for health? I suppose so, but I feel richer indeed. Priorities change, life throws curveballs, yet we endure. We grow, we evolve into better people, if only we pay attention to what is sent our way.
Take today’s lemon and make lemonade. If you are thrown a tomato, you can make sauce or a bloody Mary, but the choice is yours.  What will you do with today’s proverbial lemon?

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What are you grateful for?

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we are thankful for. We often dwell on what we don’t have. It’s easy to do when the media surrounds us with what we should have; must have. If we don’t have these things, we feel inadequate. What do we really need?

When my children were young, they would be inundated with commercials for the toys they had to have. Now that they are young men, they are bombarded with the same – grown up electronic toys; also must- haves.

When he was young, I told my son, “no, he could not have that toy.” He replied by saying, “I’m tired of being poor.” The blood nearly burst out of the veins in my head! I wanted to put him in the car and drive him to places where people really were poor, to give him some healthy perspective. Instead, I got a grip on my emotions and told him that in fact, he was so privileged. He had a nice home to live in, his own room, a computer, TV, pets, good food to eat, instruments to play, etc., etc. In addition, he had two responsible, working parents, who could provide more than he “needed,” and much of what he wanted. How dare he be so selfish?

I told him maybe we should have an experiment. I would provide just what he needed and I felt was my moral obligation to provide him. That would include a bed in a heated home, meals and clothing. Everything else was not necessity, rather, they were gifts of abundance. He went to his room to consider it and came out with a straighter perspective. He didn’t want to give up all the “extras.” He understood that not everyone has all that he has.

Of course, kids forget and will at times feel entitled. I always need to remind them that they are privileged and that in fact, they should be giving back to those less fortunate. So far, I am pleased with the results. They still want their toys, but now they earn the money to buy them. They hold charity concerts, run a non profit, give blood. It’s a start. . . . .

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