Columnist with A View Featured Column


Am I Normal Concept

I was lucky enough to be asked to write a column for the up-and-coming website “Columnist with a View.” My piece is “Writing to Survive.” My column is a very personal piece about how I got started as a writer.

Be sure to check it out along with all the other wonderful columns by awesome writers. I highly recommend it to all!

Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness


Dear Friends,

I will be joining with thousands of people nationwide this fall to walk in AFSP’s Chicagoland Out of the Darkness Walk Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I would appreciate any support that you give me for this worthwhile cause.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 39,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.

I hope you will consider supporting my participation in this event. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP, and all donations are 100% tax deductible.

Donating online is safe and easy! To make an online donation please click the “Donate Now” button on this page.

Thank you for visiting my fundraising page!

Agent of the State


online text acronyms icon

The media has saturated our lives with stories of a government official not issuing marriage licenses because of opposition to same sex relationships.

Now, normally I wouldn’t speak publicly about something which I find so malicious, ignorant, and unethical. As I’ve said on my Facebook page, I do not entertain a troll’s existence. I try to apply the same attitude to these types of situations – I do not want to contribute to providing a virulent person a broader public stage to espouse her/his vitriol. However, this lack of attention doesn’t mean that I’m not aware, that I’m not observing (and reading) all sides of an issue (yes, including even the most hateful of support).

I wanted to post on my blog because George Takei’s most recent op-ed on this issue impacted me on a quite unexpected level.  Surprisingly, I was reminded of my horrible boss at Amazon. As a former HR professional, I know that when a manager speaks in the performance of her/his job, what s/he says represents the company. If a manager says it, it’s as if the company is speaking. When my boss responded to my identifying myself as someone with a disability with “the business comes first,” she was walking a fine legal line. In the eyes of the law, because she was speaking in the performance of her job, she was speaking on behalf of Amazon. I say this was a fine legal line because she just made the statement – if she would have done something in support of this statement (behavior), she would have been breaking the law in the form of disability discrimination. I know all of this clearly because I sought counsel from a disability lawyer when these issues were happening. He interpreted the federal and state laws to me in great detail on this issue.

Now, how does this remind me of the marriage license situation? Agency. When my boss was speaking, she was speaking as an agent of the company. When this clerk speaks, within the role of her job, she is an agent of the government. In that capacity, what she says is what the government says. Privately, she can hold any belief she wants. Regardless, in the performance of her job she is representing the State. While “on duty” in the act of her government role, she not only expressed an opinion opposing the State’s stance (SCOTUS has already interpreted the marriage issue in relation to the Constitution), she also acted on those beliefs by not issuing marriage licenses (behavior = discrimination). THIS is how her actions were a breach of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Through her speech and actions in the performance of her government job, she (the State) was pronouncing a particular brand of Christianity as not only preferred, but State sanctioned (official approval of a religion).

For my degree, my minor studies were in Political Science. In discussing Constitutional Law, one statement has always stuck with me – “one person’s rights END where another person’s rights begin.” You’re Constitutional rights are not infinite; they do NOT extend to other people. You can believe whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that you can act to impose those beliefs on others because THAT would be a violation of others’ rights.

It’s a balance – the trade off for enjoying freedom is respecting the same right in all, even when those whose beliefs are polar opposites. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means…to all of us.

Blood and Family


misty+mountains

Family means a lot to me.

When my grandfather was alive, my extended family on the Adkins side would often gather at my grandparents’ home. We had a saying, “If you ain’t blood, you ain’t sh*t.” This statement bonded us together by celebrating our relationships, but also was a battlecry to anyone who wasn’t blood kin – a playful jab to those who had married into the family.

That bond quickly disintegrated when my grandfather died. I was five years old. Huge fights erupted between siblings over money and whatever estate my Papa had left behind. I don’t know all the specifics of it. I just remember hiding in the hallway of our house as my mom and dad fought with my uncle. Unfortunately when the dust settled, we were no longer allowed to have contact with my uncle, which also meant cutting ties with his kids, two of my cousins.

My family didn’t learn from past mistakes. A similar pattern arose when my grandmother began losing her battle against alzheimer’s. You see, we’re Appalachian people. Culturally, Appalachians have a deep history of “taking care of our own.” When it comes to family, this dedication is even stronger. My mom cared for my grandmother herself, even bringing Mammy home to live with us for a while. I even helped by dressing Mammy on occasion. A memory burned into my pre-teen mind is of struggling to get her to raise her arms so I could apply deodorant. Regardless of the struggle, pawning her off for someone else, a stranger, to do these things was not a consideration.

For whatever reason, one of my aunts was not happy with the way we were providing for Mammy. She insisted that she could take better care and even accused my mom of stealing money. My mom could no longer take the stress and relented, allowing my aunt to take over caring for Mammy. My aunt didn’t do this for long before placing Mammy in a nursing home without telling the rest of the family. In those days and particularly to an Appalachian family, this was quite a scandal. As one might expect, these actions created another rift in the family, and we were no longer allowed to talk to that particular aunt, my uncle, or their kids – four more cousins lost.

Since I didn’t know anyone on my dad’s side of the family, my extended relations then consisted of one maternal aunt, my uncle, and their three sons. We clung to each other and became much closer, spending every Christmas holiday together, similarly to how the WHOLE family did when both my grandparents were alive. Into early adulthood, when thinking of extended family, I only had one aunt, one uncle, and three cousins, plus a gnawing sense of loss because I knew I had more, but somehow events changed our family motto to mean that even if you’re blood, we will still disown you. This was a huge leap from the days of “if you ain’t blood, you ain’t sh*t.”

Fast forward to 2005. I was working for Amazon in India, and one week before I was supposed to leave, my mom called me with the news that my dad had died of a massive heart attack. At that time Amazon did right by me and spent whatever money was needed to get me back to the U.S. as soon as possible. When I finally landed back in West Virginia, it was a deeply sad time, but I was consoled in the fact that my dad and I had reconciled before he passed. I had finally gotten to the point in my healing that I no longer found it useful to hold onto anger over many of the hurtful things he had done under the influence of alcohol. I even remember placing my hand on his coffin and saying, “I forgive you.”

My dad didn’t have much of a will. The document had been written more than a decade before and had no mention of what he wanted done with his remains. Dad had stated on several occasions that he didn’t want people to make a big deal out of the funeral, preferring that it be informal, and he wanted to be cremated. So, this is what we did. During visitation, my dad was dressed in a button down shirt, jeans, and sneakers. After, he was cremated, and my mom received the ashes.

Life became more confusing at this point. We remembered back to one rather amusing family conversation. My dad had said he wanted his ashes sprinkled in the Ohio River. My mom asked how we were suppose to accomplish this to which he replied, “Wait until it’s dark, drive over the 17th street bridge, and throw me out the window.” We all laughed. This was the only time my dad mentioned such things. My mom thought he had been joking, particularly since we had all laughed about it at the time, so she made no plans to do anything with his ashes except keep them in her living room under a statue of Buddha.

One of my three cousins, the middle child, took issue with this. My mom had passively told the story of the funny discussion regarding the Ohio River. My cousin acted as if he was horribly offended that we were not respecting my dad’s last wishes. Truth was, we weren’t sure what those wishes really were outside of not making a big deal of his funeral and cremating his body. Still, my cousin became angry that we didn’t spread his ashes. I guess he learned well from the lessons taught previously by our estranged uncle and aunt because he stopped talking to my mom, me, and my sisters. He even has all of us blocked on Facebook, as if we don’t exist anymore.

“If you ain’t blood, you ain’t sh*t.” I guess he now considers us sh*t, and I’m down to two cousins. I’m seriously confused by all of this because I had no idea that he thought so highly of my dad. At the same time, I bitterly think, “If he only knew what my dad had been capable of, maybe he wouldn’t be guarding his memory so strongly.”

I’m sad by all of this. The right lessons are not learned, and my family on the Adkins side continues to shrink. I know that this is a huge reason as to why I place such importance on my husband’s family and maintaining all of those relationships. I’m treated differently by them – not in an “if you ain’t blood” way – but since I married into the family, a great deal of importance is placed on me. I chose the family, I don’t love them because of blood. After the wedding, my father-in-law said to me, “Now, you’re not my daughter-in-law, you’re my daughter,” and that’s exactly how I’m treated, with that same level of regard…although I ain’t blood.

Losing My Choice


bloody background with a knife

I hadn’t planned to have surgery when we moved to the Chicago area. Unfortunately, my body decided NOW was the time to resolve an issue that I didn’t even know that I had.

A couple of weeks after arriving at my sister-in-law’s, I began having unbearable pain on the left side of my abdomen. At first the pain was just annoying, so I didn’t think much of it. Slowly it became bad enough that I spent most of my time on the couch with a heating pad wrapped around my belly. I began feeling like so much pressure was building up that my body would explode like a macabre pressure cooker. I finally gave in and told my husband that I needed to go to the emergency room (I grew up “learning” that you only seek medical attention if it’s absolutely necessary because healthcare is expensive, yo!).

After almost four hours of blood tests and a CT scan, I returned home with the cryptic knowledge that I had a mass around my left ovary that was three inches in diameter – according to the doctor, “about the size of a clementine orange.” Part of the mass was cystic, with which is unfortunately something I am familiar. The other part of the mass was solid – no telling exactly what it was with only a CT scan. Cue panic. My family has a long history of female cancers, so not knowing what was growing inside of me caused me a great deal of mental discomfort. However, I kept reminding myself of something important – the women in my family are unbelievably strong and always beat cancer. I took a great deal of comfort in thinking of my 11-year-old niece Megan who has beat AML leukemia twice. Yes, we come from strong stuff – if it’s cancer, I’ll beat it!

I had many follow-up appointments, two ultrasounds, and an appointment with an OB-GYN surgeon. All during this time, the pain was so intense that I stayed medicated on pain pills most of the time. Even when I was “numb,” I would lie in bed, roll over onto my left side and feel a hard ball pressing against my insides. To add to this discomfort, the ultrasounds showed that the mass was pushing against my uterus in such a way that my uterus was in an “S” shape, to which I spastically thought, “Hey, maybe I’m turning into Super Girl.” Yeah, not so much.

Thankfully my blood tests showed no markers for cancer which was a shining beacon of relief in my fog of pain and hydrocodone. Still the surgeon laid it out straight – the mass was solid, meaning my body wouldn’t absorb it. I needed to have it surgically removed. Originally my surgery was scheduled three weeks out, but after hearing my pleas about the pain – and having to have an increase in pain medicine – my surgeon arranged his schedule so I could have the surgery as soon as possible.

I was eerily calm about the surgery, much more so than my husband. I’ve had abdominal surgery before, and aside from general anesthesia nauseating me, I had no fears about the procedure itself. As life would have it, what we learned after the surgery was the scary part.

In my surgeon’s words, internally the surgery was “very traumatic.” Before the surgery all we knew was that I had a mass. We didn’t really know what the mass was until he got in there poking around in my guts. Internally very traumatic meant that the surgeon had a lot of work to do. The mass was endometrial tissue  that had been growing outside of my uterus, along with scar tissue that my body had developed in an attempt to protect the surrounding organs. The tissue had amassed so much that it fused with my colon. With the intent of removing all of the bad tissue and preserving my colon, my left ovary and fallopian tube were destroyed. I was interestingly okay with this. In my head I was thinking, “I still have my right ovary and uterus, so all is well.” Maybe not so much.

A week after the surgery I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon to discuss in depth what it all means. The good news, no cancer. The bad news, I have Stage IV endometriosis. Given that my husband and I had been talking about the possibility of having another child, the prognosis is horrible. The surgeon gave me options, none of which are ideal. For temporary relief I can either get pregnant or begin medication that will throw me into menopause. The pregnancy part is risky because given the extent of the endometriosis, I need to get pregnant within six months, and I have only a 10% chance of doing so without medical assistance (such as IVF). The medication that would put me into menopause comes with all of the delightful side effects that “the change” has to offer – hot flashes, mood swings, depression (hello! I’m already mentally ill, don’t need more, m’kay?). These options are considered temporary treatments because after the theoretical baby is born or if I would stop the medication, the endometrial tissue would start growing again every month when Aunt Flo visits.

The last option is permanent and irreversible in that I would no longer suffer from endometriosis pain again, but I would also never have kids – a full hysterectomy. When he told me this, I cried uncontrollably. So many different thoughts crashed through me, all revolving around one main theme – if I have a hysterectomy, I no longer have a choice about getting pregnant. Something about not having a choice in the matter made me feel like I was being psychologically and physically violated by my own body. Unlike other instances, I can’t get away from my abuser because my abuser is ME…well, at least a part of me.

The surgeon wrapped things up by telling me that if I did nothing and just managed the pain, I would likely require surgery again within five years. Not exactly something to look forward to for the future.

Dealing with this has been beyond challenging. I went to the ER on July 21 and had my surgery on August 31 – over a month in pain before I got some relief. I’m still recovering, but the post-op discomfort is a randy party compared to the pre-op anguish. I’m still processing all of it. I foresee more blog posts focused on issues such as this that affect women, and how we deal with them socially and psychologically (because hey, that’s how I psychologically deal with it…I write about it).

For readers of my work, I have been slowing working on projects during all of this, but obviously not as much. I’m also editing and proofreading novels for Booktrope Publishing – an exciting addition to my artistic inclinations. I will post more about those as novels get published. Until then, check out Booktrope’s website for more info on lots of great books.

Blessings and healing to all.