Sunday, September 29, 2019

Deep Work

I’ve had a string of several good months – a record, frankly, since first encountering PTSD over a decade ago. And those good months have carried me through a lot of stressful transitions including buying a house (yikes!), moving into said house, selling my travel trailer, and taking a new job.

I knew that my good months would hit a snag at some point or another. After all, those of us who struggle with mental illness cannot reasonably expect to be on our A game all the time – even after much healing has occurred.

For that matter, who can?

So this weekend was the first in a long time that I sequestered myself away from – well, anything outside the walls of my home. Everything else was simply Too Much.

Chores and errands didn’t happen of course. Laundry wasn’t done. Last week’s dishes are still dirty in the sink. I skipped a couple showers. I haven’t bothered to throw my trash into the – trash.

And along with that, the guilt and shame and feelings of failure.

What could possibly have derailed me so surely?

And then I try to push aside the judgment and assess. The honeymoon period for my new job is over. Those job honeymoons just don’t seem to last like they used to. I chalk it up to experience and perception. It takes far less evidence for me to size up my coworkers and bosses, and I spend far less time feeling like everything is my fault. So – far less time excusing everything they do, far less time taking responsibility for their shortcomings.

In other words, far less time in the honeymoon period.

I really would have preferred not spending my weekend stewing about work and recent interactions with the boss, not getting worked up over and over, not feeling compelled to write out narratives, thorough documentation, then analysis of what happened and why it wasn’t ok.

And by sitting on my ass stewing and documenting, rather than bettering myself, that opened me up to more self-criticism and disgust. What a waste of my weekend and my life.

But here’s the thing. For the first time maybe ever, I see a way through. Unless I’m fired (and you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re beyond the threat of being fired – we are all expendable), I think I can work around this boss’ shortcomings.

Because you see, I really, truly get him. I understand that he’s quite comfortable jumping to conclusions without hearing all sides. I get it that he doesn’t actually listen to what I’m saying, because he’s already made up his mind. I see the many ways he’s telling me that not only does he not have an open door policy, he blames me for taking up his time with “this.”

(As far as I can tell, “this” refers to me reasonably wanting things in my job that he isn’t interested in giving me – such as clear roles and responsibilities, things like that – and my resulting frustration.)

So yes, the honey moon period has ended with every job. And as with every job, there has come that first difficult conversation with my boss where I tell them (tentatively? apologetically? angrily?) that my expectations aren’t being met. And in that first difficult conversation I find out whether my boss is someone I can truly work through challenges with, or not. Do they seek out and value my perspective? Do they want to at least try to give me what I need to succeed? Are they interested in perspectives besides their own? Can they be humble? Can they have their minds changed?

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years, and a lot of bosses. I’ve had some truly exceptional bosses. And I’ve had some bosses who really tried hard, even if they didn’t always succeed. But more often than not, I’ve had bosses who were inept, and worse, were uninterested in learning to become better bosses.

And I’ve had bosses who were malicious and abusive, who seemed to get off on jerking around their employees. Actually, I’ve had more than my fair share of those.

But in this case, I think I merely have a boss who lacks experience. Whose perspective, whose privilege, has not compelled him to consider that he can only grow by learning from others.

And I think, just possibly, I can work with this.

If successful, it will mark an enormous turning point in my life.

Capitalism is not something I can opt out of. Patriarchy, as well, not a choice. What I can control is limited. But I think just possibly, with this boss, and with all my experience, there could be a way forward.

A way to get what I need – an income and a semblance of job security (to the extent that anyone has job security), without being constantly embattled, belittled, or abused.

I see a way forward.

I do not know if I will succeed.

But I am hopeful.

And if a weekend was forfeit (or a week or a month, for that matter) in mapping out this way forward, this life changing way forward, then it was well worth it.

This was, after all, not an unproductive weekend where I fell apart. Rather, it was a weekend where I withdrew from all distractions, took stock, and mapped a way forward.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Do You Miss Me Yet?

Listen, I am not a GW Bush apologist. I do not, and never will, miss him. Still, I wonder if it would have tempered my opinion of him if I knew then what I know now, if I knew just how bad a president could be.

A moment in his presidency has always stood out for me. It was footage of him in the early hours at Ground Zero. It was written all over his face that he knew he was in way over his head, that he had no business pretending to be president, and that he wished he were anywhere but there, doing anything but presidenting.

Of course at the time I despised him for it. What reckless arrogance and entitlement to take on a job you have no business doing, risking others’ lives for the sake of your ego.

And that is pretty despicable.


At least the man had the sense of self, an awareness of his limitations, an awareness of the enormity and the gravity of that moment, to realize his inadequacy.

The most startling difference to me between GW and 45 is that 45 has no self awareness. He has no humility. He comprehends nothing of enormity nor gravity. He comprehends nothing of the world beyond his own machinery that endlessly grinds out blame of others and self-aggrandizement for his hungry, hungry ego.

So no, I do not miss GW “yet.” But I do miss an unqualified president’s ability to understand, if only momentarily, his own weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Doing Something

Increasingly, I ask myself why I’m not marching on DC. Why I’m not calling my representatives and heck everyone’s representatives every day, urging them to come to their senses.

I ask myself why I’m not doing something. Why I’m not doing more.

What I do will never be enough. The current of hatred and willful ignorance is strong, and even if I dedicated every waking (and sleeping) hour for the rest of my life, I will not turn the tide.

And also, I know that my PTSD is a huge barrier. I don’t like big groups. I become overstimulated and overwhelmed easily. I am fearful of many everyday things, and often just getting up and feeding myself is the best I can do.

I do believe that we all have a role to play. And that there are different ways we can do something.

My son and daughter-in-law were visiting recently, and we talked about this. How does someone who struggles with physical or mental illness, who is busy holding down multiple jobs and raising children (to be clear that isn’t my situation), who has social anxiety or even agoraphobia, help?

My son pointed out that if all I can do is provide food to people who are in need, that may free up some of their time or energy to in turn make improvements in their lives. If I feed the activists (as Alice Waters did, knowing that while marching wasn’t her thing, she could provide a gathering place and good food), that will be one last thing they have to worry about, freeing them up to do their activism. If all I can do is stuff envelopes for twenty minutes twice a month, that still means that more people will get the mailers calling them to action, and could reach that one person who just needed one more reminder.

I’ve been mulling over these thoughts and conversations. So far only mulling them over. I am busy, after all. And the world does exhaust me, after all. (That’s sarcasm – because all of us can become immobilized with the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t.)

Tonight my neighbor saw me giving nutrients to my very sad tomato plants, and came over. He is from Mexico. When his young adult son came from Mexico to stay with him for a few months, one of the first tings he told me was the story of how his son was a U.S. citizen because he’d been born here, even though he had spent most of his childhood in Mexico.

It saddened me to wonder how many times people had been nosy or downright mean, for him to learn to lead with that.

Why should I care whether or not his son is a U.S. citizen? Why is that even my business? But no doubt Pedro (not his real name) is far too familiar with people making it their business to be in his business.

He told me that he’s been trying to sell his manufactured home here at the trailer park. (Brief lesson: RVs or trailers are made to be mobile, while manufactured homes, even though they initially came in on trailers, are meant to stay put.) He has sent half a dozen prospective buyers to the park manager, to apply to stay at the park.

(If you haven’t yet, please watch John Oliver’s episode on mobile home parks: They are odd places where yes you do own your home, but the park gets to decide who can live there, like with an apartment.)

All prospective owners were turned away. When Pedro asked the park manager, he was told that they failed their credit checks. But he would not provide any documentation to that affect. And then told Pedro to stop sending these people to him because he was busy. He felt increasingly frustrated because he communicating clearly in English is a struggle for him. I said something wishy-washy about these being tough times, and he responded clearly saying he thinks the manager doesn’t like Mexicans. At this point I was inclined to agree. And heck, everyone who doesn’t loudly advocate for diversity is suspect these days.

Just to put it in perspective, on top of how increasingly dangerous it is to be black or brown in this country, he is unable to sell his home because of this discrimination.

He came over to share his story, and to ask if I knew how to contact the owner of the trailer park. I was pretty sure I had that information, so I told him I would come over when I found it.

A quick search at home and I had the information he’d asked for.

I thought of him going to the owner, angry and in a financial predicament, struggling to express himself. But whether expressed directly or not, there would be the implication of racism impacting the manager’s behavior. How would the owner react? Chances seem good that he would react with defensiveness and verbal aggression. At the least, there is a chance this is how it will go.

I felt a flutter of anxiety. I didn’t want to do what I knew I must do, and I ran through the excuses in my head.

I walked over to Pedro’s home a few steps from my own, and handed him the paper with the phone number and address. I pointed to where I’d written my own phone number and told him I could go with him. I said more firmly, “I’ll go with you.”

He said he really wanted to go with someone who could speak both languages, and mentioned that he could bring his nephew. I agreed. And then I said, “bring your nephew. And if you also want someone else, if you want a white woman there, I’ll come too.”

I don’t know if he’ll ask me. But I hope in a very small way my offer made him feel a little less vulnerable to the machinations of a white-centric population. And if I do go, while I will be terrified to do so, I also know that in the moment I will rise to whatever challenges it brings. And then most likely will come home and cry. Or crawl into bed for a week. And that’s if things go well!

I want to be really, really clear that am neither asking for, nor want, recognition or praise. If I think I deserve cookies, I can bake them for myself.

Think about it. We live in a society that was designed by and for white people that has always, always vilified and kept down people of color. It is the very least I can do to be his advocate in a system not of his making, in a system designed by my people to keep his people at a disadvantage. It is the bare minimum.

The reason I’m sharing this is for another reason. For all of us who want to do something, who feel increasingly distressed that we aren’t doing something, and who have a long (or short but significant) list of challenges to being more active, please try to think creatively.

There are ways all of us can help. All of us. (And let’s be real, I guess what I mean by all of us is all of us white people. Black people and brown people are not the ones responsible for white supremacy, so they shouldn’t be responsible for fixing it.)

Ruminate on the countless ways that something you could do could help shift the dynamic even just a little bit. Let this dilemma, the dilemma of being one mere person in the midst of this terrifying time in our history, stay in your thoughts. This way you will be more likely to see a place where you are the right person in the right moment to do something.

I know it may sound silly to some, but tonight was a big deal for me. I put my monumental distress into one tiny action. I pushed on my fear to make one small gesture. It was a big deal for me. And now I know that I can do it again. And again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Eternal Now

I started a rigorous fitness regimen six weeks ago. At least five days a week, between 15 and 30 minutes, my workout leaves me struggling for enough air while sweat pours off me like rain.

In just over a week, I have two events where I will be more visible than usual: I’ll meet most of my work colleagues for the first time (I work from home), and I’ll attend the wedding of my nephew.

While I wish I didn’t feel this way, I’d really hoped that my size would have decreased visibly by then. And I’m realizing that isn’t going to be the case. In fact I don’t look different at all; clothes don’t fit me differently. My stomach still protrudes like it’s housing a well-cushioned nine month old fetus, straining against my fat clothes.

As I realized that I would have to attend both of these events just as fat as I was before starting to workout, I felt discouraged and angry.

And as happens sometimes, I heard a message from a very unlikely source that turned out to be just what I needed to hear.

I always try to have some tv shows available that are both drama-free and mood enhancing. One such show is “Big Dreams, Small Spaces.” It’s a British show about regular folks planning and then creating the garden of their dreams – in, as it turns out, small yards.

During one episode, a would-be gardener explained his desire to create a Japanese-inspired garden, and that he struggles to reconcile what the garden will look like when they have created it (young), with the image etched in his mind (fully mature and filled out).

Monty Don, the host and apparently a celebrity in the U.K., gave him this advice:

“You’ve got to know right on the surface that this is going to take years. What you do this year is the beginning. The psychology you need is that you’re not looking at the end product. You’re just looking at today.”

It was rather a poetic thing to say, given the Zen nature of a Japanese garden, and the Zen concept of the Eternal Now: all we have is this moment, right now. And we will alleviate suffering by living our lives, as much as possible, in the here and now; in the Eternal Now.

The message resonated on a deep level. And while I might have dreams and goals, I do myself no favors by keeping my focus on the future. All I have is right now. And in this case, rather than focusing on the shape of my body, I can focus on the fitness.

Today I worked out. I’m proud of myself for that. I like how some of the exercises are feeling easier, how I’m able to push myself harder. I like the feeling of challenging my muscles. I like that exercise is a good way to get out of my head, and to expel some of the anxieties and frustrations that I live with every day. I like that this is making me healthier and more resilient. Today.

Whatever happens to my girth down the road, whether I drop unwanted pounds or even eventually become lean and mean, that is the future and therefore unknowable.

Right now I’m doing something I feel good about. Right now I am making healthy choices. Today.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Body Image

I sometimes contemplate the trifecta that reorganized my life: PTSD, perimenopause, and middle age. There are still times that it’s hard to tell which of the three are responsible for a particular challenge.

In any case, add to the trifecta my move from a rural area to a city a few years ago, which cut off my primary fitness source: long walks and hikes in nature. Walking through neighborhoods is a poor substitute, providing neither the restorative qualities of nature, nor the incentives to keep walking in order to prolong the former.

I’m embarrassed even to put the number in writing: sixty pounds. A few years, and sixty pounds heavier.

Throughout my life I’ve been skinny, due mostly to a genetically fast metabolism. I recall only two times previously when I became heavier than I liked. In both cases I kind of stopped eating. I don’t mean I went on a diet, nor do I mean I stopped eating altogether. But essentially I starved myself until I regained a size that I was satisfied with.

I’ve always struggled with being Present in my body, and I mean that in every sense. I did not feel the connection between my Self, and my Body. I now believe that the two are inextricably intertwined, and you cannot love yourself without loving your body, cannot be Present without feeling your Self throughout your Body. But that wasn’t the case for a very long time. And as such, I was not keenly aware of feelings of hunger, nor was I motivated by maintaining good health. The goal was to keep myself small, and I did whatever was necessary to accomplish that.

Gaining weight has forced me to accept my own fatphobia, even though I have always believed that people naturally come in different shapes and sizes, and have consistently spoken out against fatphobia and body shaming. But now that my Self resides in a large Body, it is no longer theoretical; it is personal.

I hate the way I look. I feel so disgusting and so ashamed, I frequently have to resist a very strong urge to apologize to strangers for being fat. Walking in my neighborhood chatting with a neighbor for the first time, I want to explain that I wasn’t always this fat. Meeting a new friend, I want to clarify that this is only a transitory condition for me; that being slim is my default. I want people to know that I was skinny before, and I hope to be skinny again.

It isn’t that I feel judged or judge myself for “letting myself go,” for being lazy, for not doing the hard work of resisting urges and keeping up a fitness regimen. It isn’t about the why or how. It’s about one thing only: I am fat, and that is shameful. I am fat, and I look disgusting. Just as I am disgusted, others will naturally be disgusted to have to look at me.

It is intense and disconcerting, those times we realize we don’t hold the values we thought we did. Although – I guess I always knew that my general body acceptance was never meant for me, just for others. But the strength of my feelings of self-disgust, that has surprised me.

For now, all I can do is recognize how I feel, and have a little compassion for myself. Altering those internalized feelings, that feels completely out of reach.

Six weeks ago, I made a decision. I’m not entirely sure where it came from, but it was something like this: I spend too much time watching tv, and while I’d like to work on my social life, that still feels a bit too scary for me. So what can I do to replace some of that tv watching with something that is good for me, and that will improve my life overall? (Part of the thinking here is that when I improve any part of my life, I will be more capable of improving other parts of my life – like, eventually, meeting new people.)

I’d already added some yoga and stretches to my daily regimen simply because spending all day on the computer was causing me a lot of discomfort.

So I decided to start doing some fitness. And because it’s too late after work, meaning once I clock out there is approximately 0% chance that I will do something physical or productive, I decided to take 10 minutes for fitness during my lunchbreaks. (I am grateful to have a job that allows me this flexibility.)

Pretty quickly I found a Youtube channel that fit the bill. They call themselves HASFit (Heart And Soul); it’s a couple, and in each video one of them demonstrates modifications for those who aren’t as strong or flexible. Their enthusiastic phrases (“you’re lapping everyone who’s sitting on the couch,” and, “every winner was once a beginner”) are endearing.

I started with their videos geared towards seniors, which did not hurt my pride as much as I thought it would. About a week ago, I “graduated” from their seniors videos to their beginners videos. Every weekday I do between 15 and 30 minutes. I don’t know how much is due to perimenopause and how much is due to being so out of shape, but I sweat buckets! And the soreness I experience every day is not that good soreness from tired muscles, but rather is a bone deep aching in my stiff joints. Surely, at some point, that will change.

One of many reasons I chose them is because their routines always incorporate core (or stabilizer) muscles, and the variety of movements from one video to the next ensures that I’m not fixating on some muscles over others.

My purpose in starting a fitness regime was strictly health-related. And I’m delighted that I’ve been diligent for six weeks now. Post-trauma, sticking with anything is incredibly hard. I can’t take for granted that my willpower will carry me through; it hasn’t consistently done so for many years.

So I am pleased and proud of myself, and it is gratifying to feel the routines start to get easier.

Not so pleasing is that despite deliberately pursuing this for increased health, I am fixated on my weight. Or rather, body shape and size (I don’t own a scale, so my measurement is based on how clothing fits). And six weeks in, I feel no difference there.

Most likely if I keep this up, my body size will decrease, and my shape will become more pleasing to me. And I will allow myself to feel accomplished for that.

But I can’t help noticing that in all this, my internalized fatphobia hasn’t budged one bit. The solution to, “I hate my fat body,” cannot always be, “stop being fat.” I get that. Or rather, my brain gets that. My Self, on the other hand, is apparently just as fatphobic as always.

#FatPhobia #BodyImage #BodyShaming #BodyPositivity

Sunday, June 23, 2019


I remember a time many years ago when my life became smaller and smaller. Debilitating headaches, a relationship that I’d lost myself in, a meaningless job. Trips to the grocery store exhausted me. I dreaded Mondays. I turned to tv to try and unwind, escape momentarily from the encroaching dissatisfaction and stagnation of my life. My life was getting away from me somehow, and I didn’t know how to turn it around.

I gave up more and more pieces of myself until something deep inside me awakened with a roar and a physical, compelling need to change – everything.

In less than a year I had left my significant other, my job, my home, my entire life. I wandered for a bit, ultimately relocated, and completely changed careers – starting at the bottom. I started a rigorous fitness regime, for months pushing through the migraines that upper body work triggered, knowing there was no way to get to the other side without going through the pain.

By smashing my old life to bits and running full speed towards something new, I was able to sustain the momentum I needed to make sure the stagnation was left far behind.

This was not the first time in my life that I’d completely turned everything upside down in order to get out of the rut or bad situation I’d found myself in. There is something inside me that succumbs to others’ desires for and expectations of me, and nothing inside that is able to withstand those pressures. The slow erosion of my own will happens incrementally, often unconsciously, until it is too late and once again my life is not my own.

There are times now when I feel the weight once again of stagnation. The trailer park I live in seems to close in around me. I feel trapped inside this tin can, not strong enough to keep pushing against the forces outside.

I’m too tired for upheaval, to turn my life upside down yet again in order to jump start whatever it is that has given way to inertia.

What if it’s possible to make small, incremental changes? What if, when I feel anxious or sad, or unable to withstand the world outside, I am able to funnel that into something substantive? Something that is truly me? To redirect it to better myself?

When the neighbors sound too close, on all sides; when I smell the stench of their weed killers and strong cleaners; when I can’t go into my yard without being aware I live in a fishbowl – instead of withdrawing inward, I could let the anger and frustration out through my writing.

When I believe that wine, or cake, or ice cream, or beer are the things I am hungry for – what if instead I punch and kick and sweat along with a youtube video.

The passivity that has always lurked around corners and come knocking during times without drama needs a response that is active. One that channels those self-destructive thoughts and feelings – using keystrokes to bring up and out those deep feelings of dissatisfaction and anger; using exercise to expel the rot of old wounds that fester when I’m sedentary.

Incremental. In this moment I will not give in to my fears and doubts, but will ferret them out and face them head on, in fact I will expose them to the whole world. For ten minutes I will resist the urge to sit down, turn on the tv, and give up the rest of my day – for ten minutes I will engage my body and kick out, push out, sweat out, the voices that tell me I am small and don’t deserve to take up space.

I don’t know what makes a life meaningful and worth living. I only know that I’m too tired to shake everything up like a snow globe in order to get what is stagnant to start moving again. And I will not be content with a version of myself that is small and quiet, living a life that is small and contained, in an attempt to avoid pain. Because small and quiet and contained is pain. It is the worst pain; the pain of letting this opportunity to experience life and humanity and great effort and great success and great failure pass us by.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Coming Out

Sophomore year of high school. In a dream, I had romantic feelings for another girl. We kissed. When I woke up I was deeply troubled by what this might mean, and aggressively pushed my memories of it to the back of the closet.

A few weeks after that dream, I spent the night at a friend’s. Her mother, whom I’d only just met, was a bit drunk. She also believed she had The Sight, and first scrutinized my palm, and then my face.

“There’s a question,” she said. The dream came rushing to the surface as I struggled to keep my face neutral. I shook my head, “no.” I was terrified that she could actually read my thoughts. Finally, thankfully, she let go of my hand and left the room.

Summer before senior year of high school. I was going to be entering an all girl’s school in Belgium for my senior year. Two of my friends, boys, teased me about “what happens in all girls schools,” and that I would be turned lesbian. I was worried about this.

Senior year. As an American, I had some unearned cache. But somehow the girl I developed a crush on was the one girl who was not interested in The American.

I would daydream about kissing her. At school I would stare at her too long, and she in turn did her best to keep her distance from me. I felt dirty, harboring those thoughts, and wished I didn’t have them. I pushed them to the back of my closet.

Several years later I became involved with a New Age group. We would engage in interactions attempting to break down our walls and open up to our deepest secrets.

At this one event, I saw a young woman who immediately caught my eye. I was flushed with hormones. As I sat knee to knee with an older woman, I shared quietly and tentatively that possibly I was attracted to women. She responded loudly and delightedly: “YOU LIKE WOMEN? THAT’S WONDERFUL!” I was terrified that the woman who had prompted this sharing would overhear. My closet door slammed shut for several more years.

Years later, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I determined that I would not become involved with another man until I’d had a chance to date women.

Instead, I had a brief fling with a beautiful, effeminate man with flowing red hair. Soon after, I got back together with my boyfriend, became engaged, and got married.

In my late 20’s, in college (I started college late), I will never forget the first day of class of a new semester. Sitting at my desk looking down, I heard her before I saw her. The mere timbre of her voice reached way back into my closet. When I looked up and saw her, the contents of my closet got caught up in a whirlwind.

My response to her was physical, compelling, and absolute. Within the span of only a few weeks, I came bursting out of the closet at full speed. Unfortunately, my new marriage did not stand a chance.

In some ways, things are easier now. People are more accepting. Then again, many churches still condemn homosexuality and frankly condemn homosexuals. People are fired from their jobs for being queer. They are denied the possibility of adopting children. They are sought out and beaten. They take their own lives because they believe they are abhorrent.

Are things better, worse, or the same? I don’t know. I only know that if a kid is questioning their sexual orientation, having romantic dreams about the same sex, being teased by friends, I fervently hope that a message of acceptance reaches them.

My journey has made me the person I am. Still, I would save others from the years of inner turmoil, not trusting oneself, and making bad decisions. And in the process, I would spare those who would fall in love them the heartbreak of being left because they were not the right sex.

This June, Pride is celebrated around the world. We celebrate because we had to struggle to get to where we are, to stand in our own truths, and to love those we love. We celebrate because we want those kids who have unsettling thoughts, feelings, and dreams, to know that they’re ok. They can feel pride in who they are. They are not alone. And they are most certainly not abhorrent.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Am I Gullible, or Am I Trusting?

Today I was the victim of a scam, to the tune of $400.

There’s so much emotion and judgment around this. Yes, of course a part of me feels stupid and gullible. Isn’t it odd that in our society, we have such disparaging labels for those who are taken advantage of, when in fact those who prey on the gullible (or honest? trusting?) are the ones who deserve our collective disgust.

In fact we shame people for being taken advantage of. We should question that.

I’ve been running over not just the circumstances that led to a $400 charge on my credit card, but more to the thoughts and feelings that led up to it.

It started with an email that appeared to be from my boss to my work email address. Because of how my viewing panes are set, the actual email address was partially hidden and failed to catch my eye.

“She” said she needed me to do something for her right away, could I give her my cell phone number so she could text me.

My thought was, she doesn’t want this on the company email. I certainly didn’t think illegal, but I did think she was about to ask me to do a personal favor for her. I felt irritated, and the adrenaline kicked in. It’s a new job. My boss can be demanding. And I don’t feel on solid ground with her. Ever.

I emailed my cell number, and soon after got a text message. We started communicating. I managed to create logical context to fill in the gaps. She was in a meeting. She wasn’t able to get away, or get on the phone. She needed me to do this thing for her, which I guessed was a late birthday gift or some such.

Because she can be intense and demanding, I found this simultaneously outrageous and believable.

A few back and forths. Can’t this be done online? Couldn’t *I* do it online? I drove to the store, as instructed. This is when I was told to purchase $1,000 worth of gift cards.

I put my foot down. I can’t put that kind of money on my personal credit card. Did she have no clue how most of us live hand to mouth? Bad enough to have me buy something for the office on my own credit card, worse that it seemed to be something personal, and WOW that it was so expensive. I was seething.

She said $500, then. Surely my card would allow that. Angry all over again. It wasn’t about how much credit I had, it was how inappropriate and presumptuous this was for her to ask.

I said I couldn’t do it.

She said to buy as much as I could, then. Missing my point again.
Sitting in the car, deliberating. Drafting a text to my friends asking if they would do this for a new boss, but interrupted by more urgent texts: “are you there still?” “How long is this going to take?” Text left partially composed, unsent.

In order for this to work, I had to believe it was possible for my boss to be like this. I was liking her less every moment. But I didn’t doubt it was her. After all, it originated from her work email.

It was coming in the midst of weeks of stress – about my job, my desire to buy a home, anxiety about buying a home locking me into a job, having reached an age where ageism can make finding a new job difficult.

It was decision time. Tell her flat out, No, or do it. Do it but let her know as soon as she could talk that I would not do this again – that next time, I needed to have a corporate card, or she’d need to ask someone else.

Don’t do it, and risk – what? Those of us raised to be good girls struggle with this. Risk my job? Maybe, although if fired for this I’d certainly be eligible for unemployment. Risk disapproval? ABSOLUTELY. This is huge for me. Risk further straining an already stressful relationship? ABSOLUTELY. I still haven’t figured out how to separate interpersonal struggles from the actual mechanics of doing a job. I’ll let you know if I ever do.

Capitalism. The power imbalance that always exists between employer and employee. Even in the best companies, with the best working relationships, that power imbalance exists. And ultimately, we employees’ ability to shelter and feed ourselves and our families lie in the hands of our bosses. In most states, they could fire us without notice, for any reason or no reason at all. In all states, discrimination and harassment are not illegal unless they are against a protected class, and motivated because of that protected class: I’m a lesbian. If I’m harassed or fired I would have to be able to prove that it was motivated BECAUSE I’m a lesbian. Trust me, I’ve been down this road. Boss abuse is for the most part legal.

So even though I was having thoughts about being fired, whether I’d be eligible for unemployment, etc., all of those thoughts came as fragments within wave after wave of EMOTION. All my personal history, and that of people I love, around the threat of losing a job, losing our means to support ourselves; the struggle around making ends meet, trying to get ahead; the worries about becoming older and having next to nothing to prepare for the years after I leave the workforce. Emotions around being pressured. Emotions around bosses whom I don’t click with, around whom I always feel like I’m uncertain and guessing.

EMOTIONS around compromising my ethics and personal integrity.

Very early in my work life, I worked at a small woman-owned company that considered rules as things to bend or ignore. I was instructed to learn one of my boss’ signature so that I could pretend SHE was signing letters intended to be personal. I was instructed to make phone calls pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I hated it, but I don’t recall if I ever protested. When I left that job, I vowed never again. That if I was asked to compromise my values, or myself, I would draw a line very clearly.

But drawing a clear line. That is really hard for those of us raised to not make waves and to placate and appease.

Ultimately, that final motivation that pushed me over the line, was believing that my boss was in a bind. There she was, she’d screwed up and forgotten someone’s birthday (remember, this was the story I’d created to explain what I was being asked to do), she was in a meeting with a client and just needed someone to take care of this for her.

Ultimately, I did it because I could relate to that feeling of being in a bind, of being stuck.

I deliberated about how much to spend (remember, we hadn’t landed on an agreeable amount). I’m glad it was $400 and not $1,000. I’ll be even gladder if my credit card company returns those funds to me.

I groused to the cashier about this inappropriate thing my boss was asking of me. I was so angry as I was doing it (then revealing, photographing, and sending the codes to access the gift cards), I determined to start looking for another job immediately. I was so pissed off, I sat in my car afterward and felt self-righteous about sitting there longer than necessary, and not hurrying back to work.

I realized I’d been scammed almost immediately. I got to my computer. My boss called me. I’m not sure how I sounded, but she actually asked me what was wrong. THAT pissed me off. So who knows what tone I used next, when I told her how uncomfortable it had made me that she’d asked me to make those purchases for her.

A long call to the credit card company. A talk with the police who, while sympathetic (and actually empathetic, having experienced exactly this with their teenage son), said there was zero possibility of tracking this person down given a bogus phone number (my word) and bogus email address.

For a while I continued texting this person. I described how my trailer doesn’t quite get warm enough from my space heaters, since my furnace recently broke and it’s too expensive to get it fixed. I described how, even though I live in a trailer and I’m desperately trying to buy a home, when friends tell me they’re struggling I send them a little bit of money to make sure they can eat.

I asked them how they felt about stealing money from people who were just like them, and how couldn’t afford it.

The exchange lasted longer than I expected, although from their end they continued to play act.

I canceled my credit card. I changed my phone number (which I figure was out there as belonging to someone who is gullible).

That word, gullible. Many in the general population will feel instant disdain. I suspect partly because of the underlying fear of it happening to them, gratitude this time it didn’t.

But we know what makes someone gullible. It is a trusting heart. A generous heart. It is trying to do the right thing. Trying to be a good person. Having compassion. Doing something extraordinarily outrageous for a boss you don’t like, because you can appreciate how it feels to be in a bind. Being honest. Believing others are honest.

My combination of life experiences has made me wary of things that feel off. It isn’t often as an adult that I am tricked. Part of that is because of a lesson I learned as a teenager that left a lasting impression.

I worked at the concessions counter at a movie theater during high school. It was a busy place, and customers were often horrible. One of my coworkers was tricked out of $40. She was someone who was extremely good with math, and more life-savvy than myself, so I knew this must have been quite the trick.

The fellow asked her for change, you know, like 4 $5s for a $20 or something. But then he changed his mind. And again. And again. And all of it happening fast, with some urgency. As it was, as the man walked away she said that she’d given him $20 too much. He returned it and left with $40 he’d tricked her out of.

The lesson, one I’ve relied on throughout my life, is to slow down when someone is pressuring me, insisting on urgency. The faster they go, the more pressure they exert, the slower I get. It has worked very well over the years, although I suspect that most of the time it wasn’t a scam I avoided, it was not allowing some asshole to wanted to rattle me just because he was an asshole.

I don’t know where that lesson was in my mind today, as the fraud texted, “are you there still?” “How long is this going to take?” It’s a good lesson. Guess it’s just time to slow down even more.

So sure. I feel like a gullible idiot. But those aren’t the thoughts and feelings that are most consuming. The difficulties that capitalism puts us in, how it often offers only bad choices, how it often compels us to compromise ourselves. The stresses that come with a strained relationship with the boss. With finding the right job. With job insecurity. The worries about what will happen when my age makes me no longer employable.

For sure, this person preyed on me, and took advantage. No doubt they have done this before, and will do it again. That’s disgusting. It’s appalling.

But at the end of the day I am left pondering my OWN circumstances, the stresses and pressures that made me vulnerable. It is so hard finding our way in this world. I am frightened about my future. Heck, I’m frightened about now. That’s what will keep me up at night. Not that I was tricked. But that the world can be so very hard to navigate, and it’s been a long time since I (naively) had confidence that everything would work out tremendously.

I’m not going to end this on a hopeful, upbeat note. And I strongly urge you to not comment with something hopeful and upbeat. The world is hard. And today, the storm of fears and doubts that have been occupying my subconscious and semi-conscious surfaced with thunderclaps and pelting rain. Sometimes we need to face our fears head-on. They won’t go away by being ignored. And we can’t try to improve our condition without listening to them, understanding them. So for now, I will listen.