Tag Archive | Friends

Are you a racist, how do you know?

Black Swan

I first published this article on August 7 2014.   I am publishing it again because I want to invite comments, especially from people of color.  Comments about your perspective on my story, any thoughts it may bring to mind, any advice on how I can use this experience to be a better person.  It is a personal goal of mine to renounce my white privilege.    And I have a question.   To set up the question, let me share this:  When I was working, I had a co-worker who became a very good friend.  She is a woman of color.   We often ate lunch together.  We prayed together.  We visited each other’s church.   The day came when we had a couple of new co-workers, both people of color.  A man in my department, and a  woman who was a temp in another department.   On another day, I asked my friend if she wanted to go out with me for lunch.  She said she was going with the man and the temp.  I asked if they minded if I joined them.   They moved off and talked about it, and then told me they didn’t mind if I joined them.   The entire time we were at the restaurant, there was a feeling of tension.  None of us were  being ourselves.  Even my friend seemed to put distance between the two of us.  I tried to make conversation but it just stayed trivial.  I felt out of place, and that they didn’t really want me there.  I felt that they felt they could not be  themselves around me.   So here is my question, what could I have done differently to put us all at ease with one another?   Please think about this question as you read the rest of this article, and then leave a comment or 2 or 3.  I really appreciate and value the feedback!

I was born in the South in 1959.  I am a white middle-aged female, and grew up in a middle class family.   For most of my childhood all my friends were white.  My grandma and my aunt used the “N” word regularly.  I was taught, however, not to use that word.

Even though my surroundings consisted of mostly white people, I was taught that all people were equal in the eyes of God.  That whatever color someone’s skin was, they were still a child of God.  I accepted this, I believed it.

In grade school, my favorite books to read were biographies of famous African-American people.  Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr.  and many others.   I felt a movement in my heart for their cause.  I realized it was OUR cause.   I felt shame that my country had ever used people as slaves.  Even though that supposedly wasn’t happening anymore, I could not get over the fact that it HAD happened.  I couldn’t get over the fact that it took a war to end it, and even then the discrimination did not end.   Really, it still hasn’t.  We all know this.

As I entered my teen years we were living in California.  I was exposed to some people of color.  Most were in my church, and I loved them.  They loved me.  We were family because we belonged to the same church and believed the same things.   Later we moved to Oregon, and once again everyone at church was white.   The only African-Americans I came into contact with were at my high school,  there was some gang activity going on from all sides and I just tried to avoid it.  It wasn’t their color I told myself,  it was the violence and the way they treated me as a young woman.

Once I became an adult and entered the work force, I had the opportunity to work with many different people.   I loved getting to know them, especially if they had grown up in another country.  I wanted to know all about their cultures.   I welcomed the friendships.   I took steps to help them move up into better positions wherever I was working if that was what they wanted.

Now, before you start to think that I am patting myself on the back, let me borrow a phrase from the late Paul Harvey, and “tell you the rest of the story”.

In 1981 I moved back to Texas.  In 1989 I took a position at a family owned company in a town that had a very mixed population.  At this company on the day I started, there was only ONE African-American employee.   She was the clerk in the department I was assigned to.    Most of the factory workers were Hispanic, and there were a few women among them.

Sandra and I became good friends, we helped each other out at work and we lunched together often.  I got to know about her kids, she was raising three boys on her own.  She got to know about my child, I was raising one boy on my own.    We talked about all sorts of things.   We celebrated our birthdays together because the dates were within a few days of each other and because we were friends.   I met her mother, I met her best friend, I met her boys, her first grandchild.  I went to two funerals with her.  She met my parents, my son.  She came to my church when I was ordained.

All this time, I thought I was a good liberal open-minded non-judgmental Christian and Citizen.

One day, I went to a new salon for a haircut and style.  This white woman who styled my hair made a complete mess of it.  I tried for a few days to handle it but I became so frustrated and pretty angry.  I have always been particular about how my hair looked.    I was so angry I jumped in the car and started driving around looking for another salon where I might get someone to “fix” the mess on my head.  It was late on a Saturday afternoon and a lot of the places I drove by were closed.   But there was one place that I found open.   It was called “It’s Your Hair”.   Sounded pretty good to me.

I parked and walked over to the doors.  When I stepped in, all I saw in there were black faces!   I realized I has just walked into a salon that catered to African-American clients.   I just stood there, I didn’t know what to do.  I was afraid that if I just turned around and left, they would think I was a racist white woman.  ME?  Racist?   That wasn’t how I was raised or how I knew myself!  Why was I feeling this way?  Really??

All these thoughts flew through my mind in a matter of seconds.  They were all staring at me, not saying anything either.  I really did feel out of place.  Then one woman stepped up and asked if she could help me.  I snapped out of my stupor and instantly decided that the thing to do was to give it a shot.

I asked her if there was someone there who could “fix this mess on my head”.   She gave me a big sweet smile and said of course they could do that for me.  She led me over to a chair where a young man stood waiting and she turned me over to him.   We talked politely while he worked on me and I was surprised that he did a very good job.  Not that I didn’t think he was qualified, I realized.  But I was surprised that I had wondered if a black person would be trained on how to style “white” hair!  OMG!   Maybe I am a racist I thought!

I maintained my composure, until I got my debit card out.  Then the woman told me they accepted cash only.   I wondered if she said that because I was white.  And for that I felt ashamed.  Of course it wasn’t that, any business owner can decide how they want to be paid.

I explained that I would have to go across the street to the ATM and bring back the cash.  I promised profusely that I would be right back.  She just smiled at me again and said ok.

Ten minutes later I was back with the cash and a good tip.  The woman thanked me and said that the others didn’t think I was coming back.  My My,  maybe I wasn’t the only one with hidden feelings of racism!?

I didn’t have to think about this again until 9-11.   By then I had made some Persian friends.   The first thing I did was call them and make sure they were ok. Not that they were in New York or any of the other places that were hit,  I was concerned that they might be suffering due to their ethnicity.

But that day back when I needed my hair restyled, I learned something.  You can say you are not a racist, you can make friends with all kinds of people, you can go out of your way to help a person no matter what color they are or what religion they practice.   But you don’t really really know what you are until you are put to the test, face to face with making a choice between your own comfort and the dignity of someone else.

Someone said, ( I don’t remember who, but if you  know please tell me) “An unexamined belief is not worth believing, and an unexamined life is not worth living”.

Let us all take a good look at ourselves on the inside where no one else can see.  Let us all ask the hard questions we would rather not ask of ourselves.

Better yet,  go out and put yourself in a difficult situation and see how you react.   You will learn something, I promise.

 

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One Woman Still Under Construction

pink flower

Today my son is thirty-five.  I remember explicitly the day he was born.  I was nineteen years old, in a small town on the coast of Oregon away from all my family except my husband.  I was excited the day had finally come, but I was scared to death.   Someone told me that the memory of the pain of childbirth would be forgotten.  That was a lie.  I remember it completely!

He was born face up, and could not be turned, so in order to make room for his face to come through the birth canal the doctor cut me several times.  I ended up with two hundred and sixty stitches!  I remember someone asking me if I wanted the mirror placed so that I could watch the birth, but I said no.  I was in so much pain that I just wanted it over with, I had no interest in seeing what was happening to my body.

For those few hours this was the worst thing I thought I had ever been through and I did not believe I could do it.  Several times I begged the doctor to just take the baby out or push it back in because I wasn’t going to do this anymore.  I’ll bet all birthing mothers say that!

Finally, the only way I could push sufficiently was to practically sit up.  My husband held me up as far as he could and I used my entire being, everything that was in me, to push that child into the world.  At last!  It was done and my son was here, all in one piece and beautiful.  He was truly beautiful, with long lashes any girl would envy, a double crown in his hair.

I was starving,  I was so hungry and finally someone brought me a sandwich.  I took about 3 bites and fell asleep.  I didn’t see my son again for nearly twelve hours.  My breasts ached, I could see the nurses wheeling other babies down the hall to their mothers to be fed, and I cried and cried until finally they brought him to me.  I was the last one.  He had been sleeping and they didn’t want to wake him up.  I didn’t care!  After all that work I did, I wanted my baby and I wanted him right now!

After feeding him at my breast, I laid him down on the bed and took off all the clothes and just looked at him. Each tiny finger and toe, his little ears.  His sweet pink lips.  I had been afraid to have a boy, I thought I would surely be better off with a girl.  Since I had been a girl I would know what to do with one.   As I sat there gazing at this little miracle, I was flooded with gratitude that I had a boy, I knew that I would know exactly what to do for him, how to care for him and how to raise him.  I would know what kind of clothes to pick out and what kind of activities he would be interested in.  I just….knew.

We ended up staying in the hospital for four days.  He had jaundice, I had an infection in my stitches.  I was able to spend a lot of time with him and I insisted that they not use the ultra-violet lights on him.  I had read that those lights might be a cause of hyper-activity.  So they brought him to me and I kept him near the window and the natural light to help his blood to change as it must in newborns.

I remember there was one nurse, I don’t know her name anymore but she had and effect on me.  She was mean and rude.  She would come in and mash down on my uterus very very hard.  She said she was “kneading” it to help the swelling go down.  She said it was standard practice but I didn’t care, it hurt!  It hurt so bad that when she didn’t stop when I told her to, I punched her in the face!  I think that was the first time in my life that I actually took up for myself with someone outside of my family.  I never saw that nurse again.

I thought giving birth was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, but it wasn’t.

When I was eighteen I had a radical surgery on my left knee, and it left me unable to move my leg at all.  All the doctors and nurses believed that I would eventually be able to lift my leg off the bed, and they said I could not go home until I could do it.  But I couldn’t.  I tried and tried but that leg would not move.  I gave up and started to become depressed.  I begged the doctor to just put a brace on my leg and let me go home.

A young nurse took pity on me and came to me with an idea.  It would be our secret.  She would place her hand under my calf and lift my leg for me, and all I had to do was try to hold it there on my own.  I found that I could do that!  At first just for a few seconds.  But she came in several times a day for two days and each time I could hold my leg up longer.  Finally she just touched me and I lifted my leg about 3 inches on my own!  We both were very excited!  The doctor came in the next morning, ( I had practiced all night) and I proudly showed him my accomplishment.  He was very pleased and said I could go home now, that physical therapy would help me do the rest and soon I would be back to running.  ( I never did get back to my jogging routine).

This in fact was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, to make that sleeping muscle awake and perform without knowing how.

Giving birth to my son, I knew that sooner or later he would arrive and it would be over.  Learning to use my leg was an unknown to me, and I think it was fear that made it so hard.

I grew up believing I would be married and a mother.  That was all I wanted, and I was so happy to be married and have this little baby.  However, when he was about two and a half, his father left us.  I was working, but all of a sudden I wasn’t making enough money.

I was plunged into the world of single parenthood.  I was completely unprepared.  My family helped with some things.  I was able to cut some expenses by doing laundry at my parent’s house, and for several months my mom watched my son while I worked.  Later, when his dad moved away, they would take my son every other weekend to give me a break.  I will always be grateful for the things my parents did for us.

It was a very hard adjustment.  Getting up earlier, no time for breakfast.  Get myself and my son clean and dressed, pack his bag and off to the sitter or daycare.  Work hard all day. I was in retail so I was on my feet all day long.  After work, pick up my son, get home and prepare us a meal that was healthy. Read to him, play with him.  Bath him, get him settled into bed.  Then a little TV for me, and soon I was asleep.  My days off were filled with errands and laundry and cleaning.  There was no one to share these daily chores with me.

In the beginning I had a sort of breakdown, became depressed but I didn’t know it.  I just felt like I was on autopilot.  I took good care of my son, but for a couple of weeks I didn’t bathe myself, I hardly ate.  When I tried to eat I would just throw it all up.   I was working in a men’s shoe store, with men.  No one said anything to me, but one day I noticed a couple of them looking at me in a funny way.  That was when I realized that I could not remember my last shower or the last time I kept any food down.  When I got home that night I took a long hot shower and fell into bed.

I woke in the middle of the night with a fever, fell back to sleep and dreamed.  I dreamed I was in a cave, in sackcloth with my hair all tangled around me , barefoot and all alone.  I woke up in the morning shaking with fever, when I tried to get out of bed I fell to the floor.  I crawled to the phone and called my mom to come and get my son.

I think she took me to the doctor as well.  I know my fever was high and there was mention of  a seizure.  I was supposed to go to a specialist at some point and be tested for seizures, but I never did.  Once I recovered, I was too busy.

Welcome to the shock of having your life plan ripped out from under you.  Welcome to the world of single parenthood.  Welcome to creating a new me.

I did heal from this, and became pretty good at the parenting thing.  There were some ups and downs, arguments with the ex over money and time spent with his son, illnesses. But there were bright times as well, and I  hold those memories close.

My son also had to adjust, I have a picture of him taken at the day care center about the time his dad left us.  He looks depressed in that picture, a sad little boy who didn’t understand what was going on in his life. By the age of nine he wasn’t doing too well without his father.  I will let him tell that story when he is ready, it is enough for me to say that he had to create a new self as well.  We had excellent help from the medical profession for him to be able to do this at such a young age.

When I was twenty-nine, again I fell into a deep depression, for no reason that I could see.  I was prescribed Prozac, it was the newest hottest drug on the market.  It did help some what, but it gave me insomnia and to help with that I was prescribed Ativan.   At the urging of a dear friend, I entered therapy.

Shortly after that, I was diagnosed as bi-polar.   The medication was changed, and I was told some awful things about my future.  I was told it was a progressive condition, that I would get worse over time.  I was told I should not work, that I should not raise my son.  I was told to let someone else raise him.

Well, I just could not accept that at all.  I believed that as long as I was in therapy perhaps I would make it.  I was too terrified of becoming homeless to quit working.  My son was the one bright spot in my day.  I couldn’t lose that.  He had already lost his father, I couldn’t put him through losing me too.

So I stayed in therapy, I took my meds  and kept going to work.  Never once did I miss a day of work due to this issue.  Some days were bad, and I would come home and throw a pot pie in the oven for supper and lay down on the couch.   I would play board games with my son, or watch him play Nintendo.   I felt like no one understood me.    I know my family tried to, but there was a lot going on there with my brother.

My closest friend was busy with new babies.  There was one friend, Steve, who did understand the depression phase, and he would come over and just sit on my couch and let me lay my head in his lap and sleep.  No words.  Just his presence.  I will always be grateful for this.

During the up times, I shopped. I mismanaged my money and my mom had to bail me out several times.  I couldn’t control it.  I thought I was doing ok.  I was paying my bills and I thought that using the credit cards was ok as long as I made the payments.  But there were more and more credit cards, then I was given an American Express card.  Well that was a different ball game.  It had to paid in full, and this is when I started asking mom for money.  In the end, I had to file bankruptcy and start over.  I really did learn to manage money then, all cash. All the time.

This is how it went for about 5 years.  Work, therapy, child rearing.  Battling the schools to pay attention to my son’s learning disability.  Managing my money, trying to date.

Being afraid.

I was afraid all the time.  I felt like there was this huge sign flashing on  my  head that said “MENTALLY ILL” in big neon letters and everyone could see it.  I believed that everyone could tell just by looking at me.

I began to withdraw.  I stopped going to church, stopped going out with friends.  Accepted that this was my life.  I was working hard at the therapy, but I still had these fears to deal with.

Then one day, I decided that enough was enough.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I was standing in my cube at work and I raised my fist toward heaven and silently screamed at God:  “You could heal this! Why don’t you! Why are you making me go through this! I don’t want it anymore and you have to do something about it!”

Almost immediately a voice, like a thought, came to me, silently.  A scripture came to my mind and it was ” As a man thinketh, so he is”.  Then that voice that was like a thought said to me, “Susan, if you want to be well, then ACT well”.     Very simple advice, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before.

I made some decisions that day. On my own, with no advice from anyone else.  I kept it secret, just for me.  Secret, so that if I failed, no one would know.  No one would say I told you so.   If I succeeded,  it would be mine alone.

I stopped taking the medicine.  I didn’t even tell my therapist but i did keep going to my appointments.

I worked hard at becoming what I considered normal.  I resisted my impulses and gave thought to my actions.   If someone asked me to do something and I would have said no, I would pause and think and then say yes.  When I realized I was acting out of a habit, I forced myself to do the opposite.   At first this required concentration.  After some time, it became easier and one day I was just being myself.  A new self.  I felt whole.

After about two years, I was in a therapy session and the doctor put down his pen and looked at me with this questioning look on his face.  He asked me, “Susan, what have you done?!”  I asked him what he meant.  He said he had watched me very closely for several months, and that he believed I was no longer bi-polar.  I asked him if he was sure of that.  He was, he said.  He was certain of it, but he wanted to know what I had done to bring this about because he was also sure it had nothing to do with him.  I just smiled for a while.  Then I told him what I had done with myself.

I already knew I was no longer sick, but having him affirm it, and to say out loud “you are not bi-polar” was the validation that I needed.

A new birth, once again a new me.   Was this harder than giving birth to my son, or making my leg work again?  I don’t know.  I know it was hard, but there isn’t really anything to compare it to.

Years later I learned how I was able to cure myself of the bipolar disorder.  It has to do with the neuro-pathways in your brain.  When you have a thought, it creates a pathway, and the more you think that thought, the stronger the pathway becomes.  If you stop thinking that thought and replace it with a new thought, a new pathway developes and the old pathway withers away from disuse.  But I didn’t know this, I only knew that it was up to me to make a change.

When my son was nineteen, he moved out on his own.  It was his time to make a life for himself.  It was hit and miss for awhile, but eventually he got the hang of things and got his feet on the ground.  He has a good head on his shoulders.    For me, it was empty nest time.   What was I supposed to do with myself if I wasn’t spending my time looking after my son?  I worried when he didn’t call me.  I worried when he did call me because it usually meant something was going wrong.  I talked to him and said that i needed him to call me just to say Hi, every couple of days or so.  I told him I didn’t know what to do with myself, and you know what he said?  He told me to go ahead and just live my life!  Now, that was a novel idea!

Now, I am about to be fifty-five.  I am a proud grandmother.  It is my hope that I will be able to help my grand-daughter prepare for a life that can bring anything at any moment.

Throughout the whole ordeal of being bi-polar and getting over it, I maintained my job at the same company.  I worked there for twenty-two years.   That job became a career for me, and it was a blessing as well.  I was safe there, I did my job well and I had someone there who understood what I was dealing with and protected me.

Eventually, as it always goes, the company was bought out by a larger corporation.  For seven years we all struggled with the change from being a family business to a corporate atmosphere.  One day the parent company merged our company with another and that became the beginning of the end.  All that went on during this time is another story.  I don’t know if I will write about that.  It still hurts too much.

After working there for twenty-two years, in spite of all of my accomplishments, I lost my job.  I was fifty-one years old.  That same year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative spine disease of the lumbar.

I tried to find work, and I ended up taking a temporary assignment but due to my increasing fatigue and pain, I missed too many days and the contract was ended.

When that happened,  I started to slip into that old depression again.  I had enough severance pay saved to sustain me for a couple of years, so I just stayed in.  I gave up.  I filed for SSDI.

I stopped leaving my house except to see the doctor or run down to the 7-11.   I paid friends to clean my house and do my laundry, take out the trash and pick up my medications.  I did not leave the house if I could help it.  I paid a neighbor to take care of my yard.

My best friend would come over now and then to spend the night, giving me company and making me laugh a little.  We watched TV together.  We would splurge on fast food and cookies and ice cream.  We shared all these treats with my dog, Holly.   Holly started to get very very excited when she saw my friend drive into the driveway!

I had a another friend, Dawn, who was a licensed psychotherapist.  She lived in Missouri, and I was living in Texas.   Never the less, once a week we did therapy by phone.  She could do long distance Reiki and other types of energy healing as well as talking.  We did visualizations, reframing, past life regression.  We were trying to find the root cause of this repeated depression that haunted me.

We were never able to get there though.  Dawn passed away from multiple myeloma just a few months after she became a grandmother.  I was happy that she lived long enough to meet her grand-daughter.  I miss her very much.

By now I was taking a lot of medications.  Pain meds, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety, blood-pressure, beta-blockers, pharmaceutical vitamin D, anti-inflammatories.   Nothing was really helping, and none of it was treating the fibromyalgia.

I was very much in a dark night of the soul.

I began to take more and more of the pain killers and muscle relaxers.  All I ate were cookies and chips and ice cream.  Sometimes candy.   I just wanted to sleep.  Just to sleep, that was all.

I was unable to sleep in my bed, I would wake up with bad dreams. So I slept in my recliner and this didn’t help my back.   I wasn’t sleeping well, and I guess that is why I kept taking more medication, because all I really wanted was to sleep.

Eventually, my funds got very low.  I realized I would not be able to pay the rent soon, or the bills.  After much discussion, my dad said I could stay with them until my disability was approved.  By now I had been denied twice and had hired a lawyer.  I was too sick to pack up my house.  My friends did what they could. Most of it was done by my sister, God bless her.

I loved that little house.  It was built the same year I was born.   It had a large back yard and Holly loved to roam the perimeter and roll in the grass.  She liked to lay in the sun.  My landlords were wonderful people.  The neighborhood was quite and peaceful.  There were red birds, cardinals, robins and doves.  The same squirrels took up residence in my trees and threw acorns and pecans at me.  I had great neighbors.  I didn’t want to leave.  There just wasn’t any choice.

I guess I brought about a tenth of my things to my parents house.  The rest is in storage.  I miss my books, my TV, but my parents have gone out of their way to make me comfortable.  Holly went out to the country to stay with my friend whom she loves so much, there is ample room for her to roam.  She is being well cared for and loved.  I am at peace with that.

Shortly after I moved in, my medical insurance ended.  I applied for medical assistance through the county hospital. It took a few months but I was finally accepted and managed to get an appointment with a GP a couple of weeks later.

It was wake up time!   This doctor was shocked at how much medication I  was on and that I was not in a coma!  Those are her actual words!  She switched the muscle relaxers, switched the anxiety medication, started me on a medication for the fibromyalgia, lowered the dose of my painkillers,  and upped the dose of my antidepressant.  I didn’t like these changes, however I had no choice but to go along.  I saw her once again, and then she was rotated and I was assigned a permanent doctor.

He raised the dose on the anti-depressant again, and upped the dose for my diabetes medicine and talked to me about my weight.  This was the first time ever that a doctor actually talked to me about my weight!    He referred me to the orthopedist for my back, and to the psychiatric department for the depression and anxiety.

It has taken some time but I am making headway.   The back pain isn’t any better even after a long series of injections, so I am supposed to have a more intensive procedure soon.   I am at the maximum dose for the pain killers, as well as the anti-depressant.  I am walking with the assistance of a cane.

The good news is this: I am awake again.  I am still waiting on my appeal for coverage with SSDI, but I am able to think about my future now.

I am about to be fifty-five years old.  I am wondering, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?  I know I can’t go back to work full-time or even part-time really.  My back and my fibromyalgia won’t allow that.

I love being a grandmother, and I put my heart and soul into it.

But I feel something else growing inside me. I feel a need to be creative again.  I want to write.  I have no education in writing.   I did some procedural writing when I was working.   I wrote poems as a teenager. (what teenage girl hasn’t written a love poem or two?)  I kept a journal while I was in therapy.  I have written sermons, and even delivered them at church in front of real people!

I want to write.  Here I am, starting from scratch again.   I decided to begin with a blog.  Now I am writing articles for Blogmutt and LinkedIn.   It’s nothing very grand, but I am doing what I want, I am writing.

Recreating myself, a new identity.

Once again, giving birth.

 

Friends

I want to write an article about friendship.  I have my own experiences but I am interested in the experiences of others. 

Did you make friends at work and keep them after you left that job?

Do you still have contact with friends you made in school? How often?

Have you had an experience of being down and out and finding out who your real friends are?

Have found long lost friends on Facebook or other social media?

What do you look for in making new friends?

Please let me have your input, it will help me build a great article!