Leave of Absence

My accounts have all been a little unusually quiet for the last few weeks, and though I touched on this in my last vlog, I wanted share in more detail about why. The TL;DR version is that I am completely and utterly exhausted.

At the beginning of last September, I accepted an aide position at a different facility than where I had been working for most of 2019. I took about a week and a half of “time-off” between leaving one job, and starting training for the second. This was time I used to physically recuperate, do some graphics and website projects for the comic convention, and finish correcting and filing my accounting and taxes. This break to catch my breath helped me immensely.

I left the previous facility because although I disclosed my scheduling needs, and they agreed to them when I was hired, once I had put in requests for my 2019 shows they continually denied my (and almost everyone else’s) time-off requests. I was also commuting about 40 minutes to work each way, wasting almost two hours of my time each work day plus fuel. For about three months I was in contact with HR trying to locate me a full-time position transfer closer to where I live, but they claimed to not have a single suitable opening, even though every such facility I have seen is constantly hiring. I finally gave up.

My current facility went from submission of my resumé to literally hiring me on the spot within the course of about three days. Now there are things I prefer about my current facility; the nurses are more supportive of aides and willing to share their knowledge. The facility is cleaner and more modern. The food is better! What I do not like is that since mid-September I have been assisting exclusively in memory care. My previous facility rotated aides throughout the building and groups in assisted living and memory care to help avoid burnout. I was offered the opportunity to assist outside the memory care unit, to have a break, when I was “ready,” then brushed off when I brought it up later.

The memory care unit I work in is nearly a nursing home in all but name.

I am essentially responsible for the “Activities of Daily Living” and medication administration for seven to eight adults per night, with second-person assist for a few more beyond that. Almost all of which have little to no control over their bowels, resulting in frequent messes, regardless of how often they are toileted. For those who are still ambulatory, if not caught quickly enough, this usually ends in the resident, their clothing, hands, body, bathroom, carpets, and/or bedding covered in bowel movement. If you are lucky, it has not yet dried onto the surfaces. Almost all memory care residents require extensive hands-on assistance with their ADLs. For example, they might be unable to distinguish a toothbrush from a comb. They will stare at a plate of food until you prompt them to eat, and they may have to be reminded multiple times throughout the meal. They may have to be hand-fed. They frequently refuse meals and must be coaxed or cajoled to eat. Many can barely use language, or have lost the capacity to use and understand spoken language entirely. Many cannot follow a basic instruction such as “sit” or “stand up,” doing the opposite, or something else entirely random and unpredictable. No one can be restrained, obviously, and most of those that still walk are also “high fall risks” that must be watched with vigilance, unless you want be the aide on duty when they break something and make that last trip to the hospital they never return from. Most require assistance sitting and standing, repeated so often that even the best attempts to mitigate my back pain and strain fail. A change of clothes or shower often results in crying and begging on their end; spine-destroying contortions on mine. Some are emotionally disturbed. Some have severe anxiety, and regularly become aggressive, verbally, or physically abusive of staff — screaming insults, hitting, punching, scratching, biting. The period after dinner is often a race to get sundowning residents safely in bed. In their more lucid moments, many often beg to leave the facility or die.

This is on top of the more well-known symptoms of more moderate dementia, such as asking the same questions ad infinitum, or needing reassurance to the point of exhaustion of their name, location, safety, etc. My memory care unit is currently BAD. Few regular staff will pick up shifts, which means I often work with agency employees — resulting in even more work for me, when I already cannot physically complete the tasks I am given in the time allocated. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak — for the last several weeks, I have needed at least ten hours of sleep a night to feel truly rested. To accomplish all the things I am trying to do in a day, I would have to sleep only about six hours. I am in good shape, but still, I turn 40 years-old in about a month. My body has reached the limits of how hard I can physically push myself.

I love being an aide. I especially enjoy caring for those with dementia. There are fantastically rewarding moments of joy and warmth to be found, like little gems, in this misery. I have been complimented and praised by both families and staff for my approach and patience. But my body cannot do it full-time.

Many have said to me, “Don’t kill yourself for someone already dying.”

And I ruminate on deeper meanings of that, in quiet times.

I think many people, myself included until I began this work, are intellectually aware of the concept of dementia, but it is one of those things that you never fully understand or appreciate until you are faced with it intimately. It is one thing to understand that memory and sense of self disintegrates — it is quite another to watch a woman whose language is nonsense, and sense of self-awareness has significantly diminished, have unintelligible conversations with her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Questions about who and what we are, our identity, the idea of eternal life — if you believe in it — are brought to the forefront. Extremely advanced dementia renders the individual into a sort of shadow-person; no one is home, yet they live. I witness this psychological and existential horror on a daily basis — not with terror, but with fascination. Then again, I have spent a lot of time gazing into the abyss myself.

The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. Don’t kill yourself.

For all of this, I am paid less than I made as a retail department manager — a job with better medical benefits, which did not leave me with a sore back and joints daily, and which left me with enough energy to make progress on my personal projects at the end of the night. I left that job at the close of 2018 because of a group of slapnuts harassing and attempting to intimidate me. I was legitimately afraid for my personal safety for about a month. Since they knew where I worked, out of an abundance of caution for myself and for my coworkers, I made a quick career change. I had locks replaced, and I started carrying an emergency whistle and pepper spray. Eventually, I managed to gather evidence confirming some identities, filed informational police reports, distributed all of my documentation to select trusted individuals in the event that I am assaulted at a convention or worse, and went about business.

I will not allow myself to be manipulated by fear or threats ever again.

My big “life lesson” from the year of 2019 was crystallizing and strengthening my sense of self-worth, and learning to assert and stand up for myself.

I also learned how to understand when someone is literally or figuratively full of… bowel movement. And I am fucking pro-tier at dealing with shit now.

December was a rough month — I got pummelled with the standard seasonal blues as the days grew darker, the Sisyphean nature of my job, and I ran out of my ADHD medication due to pharmacy and insurance shenanigans. Which had awful side-effects, in addition to making everyday tasks more difficult. All sorted now, thankfully. About half-way through December, while off my meds, I came upon one of those watershed moments I occasionally have — where I make a big decision relatively quickly. My body desperately needs respite and I am ready to go all-in and get some new books under my belt. So it was that I created a Facebook fundraiser, and raised a little over $5000 in about two weeks. The fundraiser is open until January 31st, and any extra funds raised will help me extend the time that I am able to focus on my art and comics.

During my “leave of absence” I will also be obtaining my CNA license — which will increase my average hourly wage, and create more opportunities for me. Most immediately, I need a CNA to work for staffing agencies, temps, or float pools, where I will be able to choose which weekends I work to accomodate my show schedule. It will also allow me to work in facilities beyond assisted living and memory care, such as care centers, hospitals, and hospice. Hospice care is my end goal, at least part-time, eventually. I am very comfortable with death and feel a strong calling to care for the dying. I had the opportunity to care for my first actively-dying resident earlier this past fall, and it felt a great honour to attend to the body, sing hymns, and help ease their transition.

But for now, my friends, it is time to shine my “asshole” crown.

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On Fear, Vol 2

“The cynics may be the loudest voices – but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.” – Barack Obama

This was originally written in my reflective early-morning hours as a Facebook post, but I wanted to preserve it here as an addendum to my previous post about fear. One of the fears I have struggled most with is feeling silenced — by intimidation and fear of criticism. This is not limited strictly to politics, but to negative experiences and traumas I have had as well. The inability to discuss many things I have been going through has been psychologically devastating for me, as a person whose main avenue of expression and understanding my world is through my artwork and comics. Victim-blaming is still pervasive even among “enlightened” and “woke” people. In several cases my traumas, and efforts to mentally reconcile doing “the right thing” while understanding what happened to me, have not only been minimized and invalidated, but actually turned into a running joke and/or used an as excuse to abuse me further.

Until recently, I have been flailing around in this no-man’s-land of denial, self-blame, being told how I feel and how I remember things is not correct, being told who I am, being told what is wrong with me — you get the idea.

I have also surpressed a lot of anger out of a desire to be “nice” and “good” and “liked” when I had real, legitimate reasons to be upset. Unfortunately for those who have attempted to gaslight me (and for me gaslighting myself), in the process of learning healthy conflict and building a loving relationship with Steve, I now have a much better-calibrated gauge for recognizing abuse.

I don’t like thinking of myself as a victim. This has been a process.

The irony is realizing the things you thought you wanted, were never worth it in the first place, and only looked appealing through the warped perspectives of the past. Authenticity sets you free. Onward and upward…

“There are a lot of politics in the Lunch Break archive.

It was something I used to be very passionate about. I grew up in a right-wing household. I listened to Rush Limbaugh until the early 2000s. It wasn’t until I left Texas, and started spending time in Canada and with people from other countries, that I started to question the things I had always believed.

I got a lot of angry and hateful feedback for my criticisms of the Bush administration and evangelical Christianity. But most of the things I was ‘over-reacting’ about back then have become noticeably, undeniably worse and/or more extreme. I do feel a little bit, just a little bit, vindicated here.

I don’t hate religion. I’m an atheist that somewhat regularly goes to Catholic Mass. I try to live by certain values I admire — love your neighbour, turning the other cheek, helping those less fortunate. Things Christians give a lot of really vocal lip service to — but precious few actually walk the walk.

I was a delegate for President Obama’s campaign in the 2008 primary fight against Hillary Clinton. I don’t really have strong feelings about Hillary, but I am not much a fan of political dynasties, either. That was a bitter fight.

Obama turned out to be not much better than Bush, if at least better-spoken and more Presidential. I suppose I am a disillusioned Millennial.

I’ve stayed away from politics for a long time — mainly because I was going through too much of my own shit, and just too tired to argue anymore.

Sometimes it is so tempting to give in to nihilism and hedonism.

But the ‘right’ path is rarely the ‘easy path.’ And the ‘status quo’ is also rarely the right path, being easy — it’s much easier, and less scary, to fight change rather than embrace it. It is much easier to lie to ourselves about the dangers of greenhouse gases and environmental pollution, than to endure the inconvenience and disruption of systemic change.

It much easier to lie to ourselves that the poor and downtrodden did something to deserve their bad fortune, even though the whole game is rigged to funnel ever-more wealth to the top. You literally cannot win.

Decades of trickle-down economics; the gas-lighting of the working class.

Centuries of racism, sexism, xenophobia, social wedge issues, and union-busting to keep the working class busy fighting each other.

But the ability to be apathetic towards politics is, itself, a privilege.

So this teenager, this young woman, Greta, comes — and she speaks before the world with a great deal of passion about something she believes in. She wants all of the things that I have been told, since childhood, are unquestioningly good — a clean, healthy planet for future generations. Unpolluted water to drink. Clear air to breathe. Sustainability.

And I would be lying if, when I watched her speak, I didn’t see some of myself — a young, idealistic person full of life, before the darkness and depression dragged me under. She has not yet cracked. She is stronger than I was. She has endured far more nastiness than I ever have.

And I also see something I have long been unwilling to acknowledge — the depths to which people will go to preserve their comfortable lies and inertia. The ugliness. The level of hatred, of venom, of dismissiveness, of mockery — for someone who, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with her or not — is trying to make a positive difference in the world.

And then I saw all of the adults who told me to sit down, shut up, stay in my place — a little differently. I saw all of the people who have tried to silence me through the same methods used on her — a little differently.

I saw through the loathing. I saw the fear.

When you realize the people you were afraid of — were actually afraid of you all along — of change, of something inside you, of something they avoid in themselves, of something you represent. I think that’s when you really discover your internal seat of power. The enemy is always fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of exposure. Fear of the other. Fear of judgement. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of pain. Fear of loss. Fear of change.

I don’t have a good answer, beyond encouraging everyone to leave their comfort zone, and do the inner work to sit with and confront their fears.

It has taken me almost forty years to finally stand up for myself.

It has taken me almost forty years to stand up to fear.

2008-02-19 Barack Obama

2008-03-03 Barack Obama

On Fear

“Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” – Dorothy Thompson

Since returning from San Diego Comic-Con, I have been deeply into one of my more inward-looking phases. I am working on a much longer written piece, to accompany an illustraton I have been slowly inking. I also have been focused on cleaning up the minor accumulation of “mess” in my office since earlier this year, and picked up where I left off last fall correcting my book-keeping.

My book-keeping is/was the last major obstacle standing in my way — while I am not really afraid of it, it had snowballed into quite an intimidating problem. The difference after being on ADHD medication for half of a year is incredible. This overwhelming task that has been dogging me for years, which I had put off time and time again due to honestly being unable to handle it — Sunday, I said, “It’s time!” sat down, and bulldozed most of it within a few hours.

I really do not think it is possible to adequately explain to someone, who has not experienced it — how life-changing it is to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. To not be slave to your own thoughts and distractions like a puppet on a string, or constantly at battle with your own impulses.

In the spring of 2018, on one of my regular trips to the Goodwill, I found this jacket printed with butterflies. “This is important,” I thought, like the mashed-potato-guy in Close Encounters. I have had a mild phobia of butterflies since I was a child, which is obviously ridiculous — what better reason then, to place myself into an uncomfortable predicament for your amusement? So, my friend Jon Heller and I set out to the Minnesota State Fair butterfly house, where I spent about half an hour among mostly Blue morpho butterflies.

I was chuffed at the number of compliments about my video-editing.

I love to sing. I have always loved to sing. When I was in grade school, I was considered “gifted” — breezed through classes, could draw, studied multiple musical instruments. When you say someone has a “thing” — so-and-so likes basketball, so-and-so loves to ride horses, so-and-so excels at math — I had a lot of “things.” My younger siblings had many fewer “things” than I did, one of them being singing. This entitled my family to belittle my efforts at singing, openly and frequently enough, that eventually I developed a paralyzing fear of doing it at all. Singing became relegated to the safety of my vehicle, and a few suspect audio recordings on cassettes or shared from behind a computer screen. Thus it was something of a Big Deal when I managed to first record a video of myself singing in 2016. It would take two more years, in late 2018, before I became daring enough to belt it out. And it would take another year after that, and one aborted attempt, before I participated in karaoke.

And it took me more than an hour before I finally stepped up.

I share this not because I believe it is good, but because it does not have to be. This is not about the simple act of singing, but about having the courage to follow your heart’s joy and be true to yourself, even in the face of fear and potential judgement. I believe that embracing one’s faults and imperfections is essential to the growth process. It is a core component of happiness, and of human wholeness. If you are “never wrong,” you will never be right.

Some people make fun of me for my videos, but that is okay.

“I am one of the only people I know,” I told my therapist, “who regularly puts themselves into situations where I know I will have to confront my fears and weaknesses.” “I think there is an admirable quality to that,” she replied.

There are, of course, people I have feared at times in my life, beginning with my parents. I think, on reflection, that an unconscious desire to confront and resolve those fears was part of what drove me to revisit the relationships of my past starting in 2014. I needed answers from the people who have hurt me. I needed to understand why. But once you have stepped through this Matrix and can see the fear and insecurity at the root of hurtful behaviours, it becomes almost impossible to not have compassion, even when compassion is probably undeserved. Perhaps especially when it is undeserved.

The world is changing and we need now, more than ever, to become greater than fear; to rise above fear, and make a conscious effort to understand each other. If we cannot work together, then there is no hope for the future.

I encourage you to step a little outside your comfort zone today.

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