Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: depression

Dementia, dysfunction, and depression

Dementia is brutal. I knew this, of course, but I didn’t know this until my father got it. I wrote yesterday about not knowing when it was dementia and when it was dysfunction, and let me throw depression into the mix. Depression for my father because of course the dementia is making him depressed. I’m saying that sincerely, by the way. I’m not being snarky, though it’s hard to know the difference with me sometimes. Ofcourse it would be depressing not to know who you were or what was happening or who was around you on a regular basis. It has to feel so unstable when things are constantly shifting as to what you think you know.

So, yaeh. Of course my father is depressed! And my mother isn’t helping when she tries to insist on reality. I know it has to hurt her that my father doesn’t recognize her (or thinks she’s Ecco, his wife, but not Grace, my mother. Both are her names, by the way. The former is what he calls her in Taiwanese while the latter is her American name), but her trying to correct him over and over again is just making things worse.

This is something that frustrates the hell out of me. She is a psychologist. This is Dementia 101. Don’t argue with someone with dementia. It’s not being kind–in fact, it’s actively cruel. I couldn’t believe I had to tell her this. THat is something even people without psych degrees should know. But, no. She said she could not lie to him, and I got so impatient telling her it wasn’t lying. He wasn’t going to remember it in five seconds, anyway.

When I talk to him, I agree with whatever he says. Even if I don’t like it. This is where it gets tricky for me. He has been nasty all my life about women in general and me in particular. He’s said things like ‘the common housewife can’t figure out CostCo’ and boy did I have several things to say to this. This was the last time he was here. He was not in dementia when he said it so I felt no restraint in arguing with him. I still shouldn’t have because it was pointless, but I couldn’t help it. He’s so good at pushing my buttons, mainly because he (along with my mother) installed them.

Another thing he said that was more pointed at me demonstrated the layers and levels to his manipulation. At the dinner table, he started talking about how he was not a doctor while having that look on his face. It’s hard to describe, but I know he’s going to say something spectacularly out there when he has it on his face. Something that is going to annoy/irritate/anger me because of how baseless/uninformed/mean-spirited it is. This time, it was him rambling about how germs worked. In his opinion, the pores on your skin opens up more when it’s cold.

That in itself is factually untrue. This is not something you need to be a doctor to understand. Steam opens up the pores. Steam is hot. Therefore, the converse is true as well. Cold makes your pores smaller. I said this to my father, and he just sat there with a blank look on his face. I knew the folly of what I was doing, and yet, I could not stop. This was one of my big flaws–I got sucked into arguing with my parents when I knew it didn’t make a whiff of difference. In this case, I didn’t know why he was bringing it up, anyway. The pores being bigger or smaller when you’re cold/hot, I mean. It had nothing to do with what we were talking about, and he had brought it up apropos of nothing.

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High risk; higher reward

I want to write a self-help book because I have found one easy trick to curing depression, anxiety, and body dysphoria. It’s called dying, and I cannot recommend it enough. Twice is even better, to thoroughly cement the teaching. I jest, but not really.

Ever since dying twice, I’ve mulled over how to talk about this. I know it sounds like a humblebrag to say that I suffered walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and an ischemic stroke within twenty minutes without a scratch, but it’s basically true.

There is no way for people to relate to what I went through. I know that. It’s why I rarely mention it. In addition, I know how it sounds when someone peddles something that isn’t relevant. I know how impatient I used to get when people said to look at the bright side of life or that life was precious or that we only had one life to live. I hated that bullshit because it sounded so sanctimonious. “You don’t know me or my life. Don’t tell me to be grateful!” That was me whenever I heard anything of that ilk.

But. Here’s the thing.

They weren’t wrong.

Here me out. The one thing that I’ve learned from my medical crisis–well, the biggest thing. I’ve learned plenty–is that life is really fucking short. I can’t say we only have one life to live because I’m on my third, but in terms of relative time, 50 years is a blink of an eye.

Before I had my medical crisis, I suffered from depression, anxiety, and body dysphoria. I had an almost-crippling depression that made it dififcult to get out of bed in the morning. I had anxiety that made me almost paralyzed with indecision. And, I hated my body with an intensity of a thousand suns. It started with my mother putting me on a diet when I was seven and nagging me all my life for being a fat cow.

Taiji helped with all three of these to a certain extent. Before I started it, I could not be in a crowd of people for many reasons. Too many emotions pouring into me; too much physical contact; too much noise. My depression told me that everyone hated me, and my anxiety told me that no matter how I talked to people, I would get it wrong.

As for the body hatred–I refused to look in a mirror. Even when I was doing my grooming, I would studiously ignore it. I hated my face and my body, and I refused to let people take pictures. My mom used to complain about that, too. That I would not let her take pictures. Well, geez, Mom. Youv’e told me in not so many words that I am hideous and grotesque because I’m fat. You’ve done this my entire life. I can’t imagine why you would be shocked and surprised that I don’t (didn’t) want my picutre taken.

I detested my body and face. I thought I was just too disgusting to live. Fifteen years of studying Taiji (at the time of my medical emergency) got me to studiously neutral. Meaning, I would say I was neutral about my body and face, but I didn’t really mean it.

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How my anxiety manifests

I’ve had depression, anxiety, and body issues for most of my life. I realized I was going to die when I was seven, and that did weird things to my brain. I wav both fascinated by it and repulsed by it–which probably isn’t that weird, come to think about it. When I got my MA in writing, we had to write roughly a hundred pages of fiction around a theme. Mine was death. I was emo goth, which is who I am at heart.

I wrote roughly 150 pages of death-related stories, and the one I remember the most was about a Taiwanese American female serial killer. I remember it because it was basically a revenge fantasy in which I went to very dark places. My advisor said I should make her white because people would get fixated on her race–in a negative way. They would think it was representnative of all Asian women. He was Mexican American, and I understood his thought process.

I rejected it, though. I hated the whole model minority bullshit (especially because it was used for Asian people as a way to poke at black people) because it still didn’t acknowledge the humanity of the person. Real people are flawed and complex–neither wholly bad or wholly good (for the most part).

It’s a weird kind of pressure. Asian kids in college kill themselves at an alarming rate because of it. They get it from their homes (East Asian cultures are very big on education) and from American culture (which promotes the idea that Asian people are preternaturally smart. There was one time when I was in my twenties and doing one-person performances. An Asian group did a book of themed essays every year and one year, it was focused on sexuality. Then, we had a reading, and it was really fascinating. At the end of the reading, a white dude walked on stage and proceeded to trash us all. He started by saying he had an ex-girlfriend who was Korean (not Korean-American), and any time a white dude starts like that, it’s not going to be pretty.

Yes, because he had once fucked a Korean woman, he was an expert of all things Asian. He pompously said that he wanted to talk about Eastern spirituality, which was very common for white dudes, too. They always want to talk about how mystical ‘The Orient’ is. Which, I mean….there are a lot of venal assholes in Asia. I’ve been there. But that’s another kind of racism–thinking all people of any one race or even worse, a continent, were all the same.

Who the hell was this asshole to dictate what we were allowed to talk about? He took what had been a lovely evening and shit all over it. Several people went up after him to rebut him, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth.

Back to the story I had written. It was about a Taiwanese American woman who was disatistfied with her life. She was watching the news when there was a report of a sexual predator (white dude) who had had sex with a woman and then killed her. Then did it again and again. The protagonist became obsessed with this guy and other serial killers who disposed of their victims in particularly gruesome ways. For one reason or another, each of them eluded justice, so she deicded to get all of them back with the same method they had used to kill the women they killed.

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Survivor’s guilt

When I was in the hospital, I had a chat with the chaplain. I was not asked if I wanted to have this chat beforehand, but I did not mind. At that point with all the drugs pumping through my veins, I would have talked with anyone.

He told me that I may feel survivor’s guilt at some point, which I didn’t while I was in the hospital. Wait. That’s not exactly true. One day, while I was lying in bed as I was for much of my first few days awake, I overheard my care team talking about another patient. She was a young woman in her twenties and had just died from COVID. I felt survivor’s guilt then because she was so young and had died. More info came out such as she had not been vaxxed, nor had her entire family. And it turned out her mother died as well.

Later, I realized that the whole thing probably did not happen. I hallucinated a lot while I was in the hospital, and this was probably one of the delusions. It just did not make sense that they would all be talking about this patient and that they all knew her outside of the hospital, even though the family were ranchers with a website. Yes, this was what my brain was telling me was the truth. I don’t think any of it happened, but it did make me feel guilty that I had survived while this mythical twenty-two year old had died.

When I went home, I was mostly profoundly grateful to be alive. I was amazed at how brilliant everything was. Well, not everything as I had to deal with the family dysfunction, but apart from that, everything was awesome.

I didn’t think about much of anything, to be honest, for the first month. I was just resting up and regaining my strength. I started slowly with my Taiji, only doing stretching the first few weeks. I did try the sword on day three, just three movements. That was way too much, but it also showed me that I would get it back again eventually.

That was the important part. I needed to know that I would still be able to do my weapons. I didn’t care about anything else, really, in the first few weeks. I could not see properly, so I could not do much online for the first week. My brother made the font larger so I could read websites, but that was for very brief amounts of time.

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Funhouse mirror of flaws

I’ve written about how my self-esteem has skyrocketed since my medical crisis. In general, I am happier with myself. My depression has disappeared almost completely and my anxiety is reduced by roughly 60%. Considering that I first wanted to die when I was seven, this is a massive improvement for me.

In addition, all my body issues disappeared. I can’t overemphasize what a big deal that is. My mother put on my first diet when I was seven. She made frequent comments about how fat I was and what a shame it was. But, because she was an Asian mother, she also insisted on feeding me too much food and making me finish the food on my plate. The conflicting messages did not help at all.

I dealt with two bouts of anorexia with a side helping of bulimia the first time. I’m not the usual person when it comes to eating disorders because…I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But when I decided to give it up, I  swung in the opposite direction and started overeating. It really is a matter of willpower for me and not the disordered thinking that other people get.

I’m not explaining this well. I had the disordered thinking as well, but it was more a byproduct of my willpower and not the central thing. I have read about anorexia and how difficult it is to treat. That it’s distorts a person’s thinking in a way that grooves new brain patterns.

I definitely had disordered thinking while I was dealing with anorexia (thinking I was a fat cow, even when my thighs didn’t touch), but once I stopped being anorectic, well, I stopped the thinking as well. Or rather, I swung in the opposite direction. Which is how I work in general. I swing to the extremes.

After I returned home from the hospital, my opinion of my body changed 100%. I went from being studiedly neutral about it (through many years of Taiji and I wasn’t really neutral) to being positively in love with my body. It might be the drugs talking. In fact, it probably is the reason that I felt kindly towards my body in the first place.

In those halcyonic days (daze?), I could not get enough of my body. It saw me through death–twice–without a scratch. Well, not quite, but close to it. I will sing it from the rooftop all day song. Walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke don’t mean shit to me! I can still walk, run, do Taiji, and drive. Presumably (and I’d like to find out soon), sex would be fine as well. I can sing and dance, and I sleep better than I ever have. Seven-and-a-half hours to eight hours a night, which is unheard of for me.

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The lessons I’ve learned

It’s been almost eight months since that night. It’s something t hat is always in the back of my mind, if not the front. I don’t talk about it much, but it’s there. I was reading Ask A Manager (one of my stories) and there was a question about what to answer when someone asked why they were still wearing a mask. Ask A Manager’s response was to educate people because there’s still a goddamn pandemic going on. My immediate snap response in my head was, “I died twice last year–I would prefer not to due it a third time.” I have always had a morbid sense of humor; it’s only gotten more so since the medical trauma.

I am pleased that many of my lifelong issues have disappeared since then. First of all, how freaked out I was by the pandemic. Granted, this was before there was a vax and reasonable. I did not want to get COVID because I have a weak immune system with the tendency towards bronchial issues. I got bronchitis quite often and every winter, I had some kind of cough for several months. I was terrified of getting COVID and rarely went out because of that fear. I went to get my meds once a month and that was it. I had my Taiji classes online three times a week and had my groceries delivered to me.

When I woke up in the hospital, I did not have to wear a mask, obviously. Except when I was being transferred from room to room, which wasn’t that often. Everyone around me had a mask on, but I did not. I was tested for COVID when I was first admitted and did not have it. I DID have walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, which started the whole mess. This may sound weird, but having something that terrible and traumatic happen to me freed me from my pandemic-related anxiety. I hasten to say that I was vaxxed by that time (twice) so that did help in my assessment of my situation. But, my point is that I realized there was more to life (and death) than the pandemic.

Would I have wanted to go through what I did? Meaning walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke? Hell, no. It’s why I have some difficulty talking about it with people who struggle with, say, body image issues. I had those all my life. I hated my body for many reasons and spent most of my life studiously ignoring that I had a body. I hated it and would prefer to think that it didn’t exist. Taiji helped me become neutral about it, but that was the best I could do. And it was a conscious choice to deliberately work on not hating it. However, I still didn’t look in the mirror and I still didn’t like my body. I put up with it, like a long-term partner whom you did not love any longer, but were mostly comfortable with.

Then, the medical trauma happened as I mentioned above. A week of unconsciousness, followed by a week in the hospital while I was awake. One minute I wasn’t, and then the next minute, I was. I was scared, upset, and mad as hell when I woke up. I was angry and ready to fight. I didn’t know who needed fighting; I was just sure that someone did. I had a conversation with Ian the second day I was awake in which I rambled about being like the Dark Souls III ’80s video (staying true to my fandom even when I was drugged to the gills). “When you pick a fight with the devil, you better be stronger than hell.” I told him that I did it–twice–and I won twice!

I apologized to him later once I had myself under control for rambling on and on like that for hours. He laughed and said it was only two minutes and that he would have listened to me talk about anything because he was so grateful I was alive. Which, you know, I was, too. Profoundly so. I was grateful for the ice water in the hospital–repeatedly. Every day, I was thankful for the best goddamn ice water I’ve ever had.

My hospital stay was also when I completely got over my body issues. I had a team of 2-4 people watching me 24/7. No, they weren’t there every minute, but they could be there in five seconds with one press of a button. They took my vitals every four hours or so, which was the opposite of fun. But, understandable. I was hooked up to several monitors at all times. I had a shit tube literally hooked up to my ass. When I could totter off to the bathroom, I had aides literally wiping the shit from my ass.

I cannot tell you what a vulnerable position this is to be in. Being weak on my legs, shaking, as I walked to the bathroom. Having to press a button to have someone come in to wipe me. It could have been deeply humiliating, but it wasn’t. There was one guy who treated it like one of his chores that he wasn’t particularly fond of, but he was still fast and efficient about it. He wasn’t rude or disrespectful–just completely divorced from the process. He didn’t make me feel like a non-human, though, which is all I cared about. And I appreciated that he was really good at it.

All the rest of my aides were fantastic at taking care of me and making me feel like a human being. They were respectful and cheerful, warm and efficient. They kept my humanity in the forefront of their duties, which was much appreciated. I had no control over anything for the week I was in the hospital awake (and the week before, but I was unconscious then and didn’t care). They could have been nasty about it or even just disinterested, but no. They were engaged and respectful, warm and caring. Did they care about me, the person? Probably not. Did they care about me as their patient? Yes, they did.

Imagine waking up from a void, being scared and angry, not knowing where you are. Also, being drugged to the gills. Surrounded by a bunch of people you don’t know. That was my reality and having a bunch of professional, warm people doing a top-notch job of taking care of me ameliorated much of my discomfort.

Side Note: One of my favorite stories from that time is still talking to my heart doc three months after I was out of the hospital (for the second time). He mentioned for the second time that I had been funny when we met in the hospital (which I didn’t remember). I finally asked what I said that was so funny. He said that he had introduced himself and went through what happened to me as he always does because his patients don’t always remember. I interrupted him to ask if that meant I had died. He said, yes, and I said, “That’s so fucking cool!” which sounds exactly like me. He said it was hilarious, which relieved me because I’d rather be funny than offensive. But I can see how that might not be a reaction he was expecting.

That’s me, though. Morbid sense of humor that has only gotten more so since that incident. I died twice and came back twice. That’s bound to change my view on many things. I’m thrilled that I no longer have body issues. In fact, I have nothing but love for my body because of what it saw me through. My body took all that shit and acted like it was nothing. I now have nothing but mad respect for my body.

Damn. I was going to talk about family dysfunction, but I didn’t make it there. Oh well. Next post!


Oh the lessons I’ve learned

It’s been seven months since my medical trauma, and it’s been heavy on my mind in the last  week. Probably because of my birthday because I should not be here. I made it to the second half of my first century, which is incredible. It’s not something that I can really quantify, though, or offer to other people who are going through something.

Before my medical trauma, I hated it when people tried to chirp positive tropes at me. “Life is what you make of it!” “Live and learn!” “Mind over matter!” and the such. It still sounds trite to my ears, but I can at least understand the sentiment behind it now.

The problem is that it’s not actionable. I mean, I can tell people that they should just live their life, but that doesn’t really help. I will say that Taiji helped before I had my medical trauma. I was in a minor car crash in July of 2016. That was roughly nine or ten years into my study of Taiji, and when I saw the car hurtling at me, I thought, “I’m going to get hit” and immediately relaxed. My car was totaled, but I only sustained a large bruise on my stomach–probably from my seat belt. My body was fine other than that, despite the dire warnings that I would inevitably get whiplash. Which I did not, thank you very much.

That’s when I first realized that my body was pretty damn cool. It’s sturdy and strong, and it’s seen me through some shit. Taiji also helped me with crippling back pain and other assorted physical problems. But, again, it’s not immediate. With my back pain, it took a few months before it started easing up after my teacher showed me one specific stretch that she said I should do every day (three times to each side). After a year of doing this stretch, the back pain was completely gone.

Taiji has also helped me with navigating relationships and the emotional minefields thereof. I almost said mindfields, which, while wrong, is also apt. I’ve gotten better with being in crowds even though I still don’t like it, and I am not as hypervigilant as I used to be.

Mental health-wise, my depression and anxiety eased up little by little as I studied Taiji. Then the pandemic hit. And, honestly, for me personally, it actually lifted my depression and anxiety. Why? Because it made the outer world match my inner world. I was in mental crisis all the time, so it was weirdly comforting. And it didn’t change my day-to-day that much except Zoom Taiji classes and online grocery shopping.

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The solution that I can never suggest

TW: Mention of suicide.

In reading my stories, I came across a letter to Ask A Manager about mentioning depression at work. It generated a lot of responses, varying in terms of what the OP (Original Poster) should do, but most of the answers were in agreement that their mention of suicide was beyond the pale. Even though they said that they weren’t actively suicidal, the mere mention of suicide was going to make most people panic.

And I get it. Suicide is serious stuff. It’s not something to take lightly. But, for those of us who have struggled with not wanting to be alive, there are levels to it.  There is actively suicidal–people who want to die and are working on it. There is passively suicidal–which is wanting to die, but not doing anything about it. Maybe not necessarily avoiding death, but not seeking it, either. Then there is what I was for a long time–not wanting to be alive, but not doing anything about it.

Antidepression meds helped–until they didn’t. Therapy helped–until it didn’t. Taiji helped, but it was very much help in small steps rather than a big boost. My depression (and anxiety, but more the former than the latter) steadily lifted, and I’m one of few people who did not go into a deep funk during the early days of the pandemic. Probably because my brain catastrophized everything on the regular, anyway, so why not throw a pandemic into the mix?

I want to stress that I don’t think the coworker did anything wrong in the AAM letter. It’s rough to have someone dump that on you, especially if you don’t have a close relationship. And when you’re chronically depressed, it’s easy to underestimate the effect it has on other people. It’s just something you live with, so it’s really not that big a deal to you. Hm. I’m not saying it right. It’s still a big deal, but it’s normal to you because you’re living it.

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Wasting your life on regrets

I come from a long line of worriers. Or rather, one great big worrier–my mother. She is a champion worrier who can turn anything into a chance to fret. It doesn’t matter how big or small a problem is–she can inflate it into a catastrophe. For example. She and my father were at Fresh and Natural, a nearby co-op that has mostly local/organic food. They also have a variety of gluten-free/dairy-free food, which is good for me. Anyway, she called me to ask if there was anything I wanted. I said if she could find some gf/hf backed goods in the same place she got salmon and chicken, I’d be happy. Cupcakes and/or brownies. She called back saying she couldn’t find them and she sounded stress. I said it was no big deal and not to worry about it. But, of course, she had to continue to worry about it. More to the point, she had to voice her worry to me. Now I w as stressed over something that previously had no meaning to me. I told her to forget about it, but she kept ruminating over it.

The incident in and of itself is no big deal. The problem comes because she does this with every decision, big or small. K once marveled as she was taking me to the airport that I had packed for every occasion. I apparently had a roll of quarters and an umbrella and a bunch of other things I probably wouldn’t need for a short trip. I said it was the legacy of my mother. We compared our mothers’ attitudes towards life. Her mother believes that whatever you chose to do, you would be fine. My mother believes that whatever you chose to do, you’ll be fucked. There are pros and cons to both viewpoints, obviously, but growing up with a mother like mine means I’m constantly second-guessing myself. Especially around her.

She can’t just relax and take things as they come. I know it’s in part because of my father. He’s very judgmental and rigid in his view of how things should be. If you don’t follow his unspoken expectations, well , there will be hell to pay. Most of the time. Once in a while, he’ll not care, but that’s very rare. An example. One time, he was mad at my mother and wouldn’t tell her why. I think that’s bullshit in general, but especially when the reason can be as capricious as you didn’t say hi in the right tone of voice. Or more to the point, he didn’t hear you say hi because he refuses to wear his expensive hearing aids. In case he loses one. But, they run out if you don’t use them (just the same as you do) and it’s a waste, anyway. He can’t  see that.

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I am just done

One way I can tell when I’m nearly done with something is that everything gets on my last nerve. Normally, I’m good at deflecting and keeping my shit to myself. But if I’m not allowed or able to replenish my reservoir, that ability erodes until at some point it completely disappears.  for example. Talking to my parents on the phone. Normally, I just ‘uh huh’ and ‘really?’ until the phone call ends and then shake off the slight depression before going about my business. By the way. My brother and I recently compared our conversations with our parents, and they’re exactly the same except I get more bitching from my mother. Way more bitching. Most of the time, my mentality is, “Just listen to them blather, nod in agreement, and get off the phone as quickly as you can.” With an added, “Tell them you’re fine, everything is fine, yes, Covid-19 sucks, yes, this current president sucks, have a good life, goodbye.”

It doesn’t help that my parents are deeply entwined in a codependent relationship that I’m afraid will leave my mother worse for the wear. I mean, hell, it already has as most of her life revolves around my father and catering to his needs. My mother was on a kick for fifteen years to get me pregnant and then switched to getting me married after that. She would say who would take care of me when I’m old and sick if I weren’t married? It took every ounce of will I had not to snap out that her being married hadn’t helped her. Indeed, recently, she fell and hit her head, and as she felt the blood (which was pink), my father insisted it wasn’t blood. He kept asking her if she had dyed her hair recently which, first of all, she hadn’t dyed her hair in a decade or so. Second, she’s never dyed her hair pink. She said this proved she couldn’t count on him and then did a little laugh. I hate that laugh, by the way. It’s a fairly new addition and she only does it when she knows that she’s saying something unreasonable. Like having to put up with your husband being worse than useless in an emergency situation.

By the way, my mother shared that my father’s latest dementia tests show that he hasn’t deteriorated in the year. She was relieved while I was baffled. If it’s not medical, then why is he getting worse and worse with his memory, his self-absorption, and everything else? This is an age-old question with him, though. Is it medical or just his innate narcissism? I try not to get sucked into the speculation, but it’s hard not to get drawn into it because my mother is incessant about talking about my father.

Anyway. When my mom calls, it goes like this. She asks the perfunctory ‘how are you?’ question then use it to springboard into whatever she wants to talk about. Usually her many physical problems, things my father has done to irritate her but she can’t admit it, Covid-19, the election, work issues, and then insist that I talk to my father. He’ll ask about Covid-19 and express amazement that it’s not going down. A bit about this president and the totally unfounded belief that Americans are logical and rational people and how could this happen? He says in complete seriousness that America is the best country in the world! Mind, he hasn’t actually lived here in nearly 30 years, but facts don’t matter. Then he pontificates how each individual person doesn’t matter (when it comes to the coronavirus) and we can’t do anything so we should just ignore it and move on.

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