My Gamble

I read The Headmaster’s Wager as a member of the From Left to Write book club.  I was given a free copy of this book.  This post is inspired by the book.  

Welcome to all of my fellow book club members or anyone coming here for the first time!  I am a chronically ill mom married to a chronically ill man and we are raising our six-year-old son, who also has some special needs.  My blog focuses on the challenges parents with chronic illness face, but also speaks about being a mom and a woman in general. 

In The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, Headmaster Percivial Chen is a proud Chinese born man who runs an English language school during the cusp of the Vietnam War.  In his refusal to accept his adopted country’s turbulent times, his gamble becomes a life changer.

Right now, due to our chronic illnesses and my three year fight for Social Security Disability, my family is bankrupt and technically homeless.  It WILL get better, because I have been approved for disability.  The problem we are having is WHEN?  Social Security operates at a snail’s pace as it is and my lawyer also tells me that because they owe me going back to September of 2008, the initial payout is very high and three people will need to sign off on it. The way it stands right now is my local office told me that if I have not heard back from them in 30-45 days, to call them.  What this means to me is that they will do nothing on my case until I call them at the 30 day mark, and then have 15 more days to still do nothing with my case.  It is ironic that in a few months we will have a large lump sum payment (which only amounts to about a year’s salary for me) and my disability income.  I think we will be able to live on our combined disability incomes but it will always be a struggle.  It will at least allow us to be able to afford our own apartment after being homeless since March.  But for now, making my husband’s monthly disability income last is a race against time.

The following is an example of a typical month for us, it was from October to November.  My husband just got paid today.

Grant got paid on October 15th.  Immediately we must pay the car insurance bill, over $350.00, a huge dent.  We realize that this is going to be another tough month.  We pay our cell phone bills, our only phones, and Grant must pay one of his doctors who has agreed that he will accept $50 from him whenever he can spare it.  

We want to take Tyler to a Halloween party in our Cleveland suburb.  It’s is $15  for the three of us, should we do it?  We decide we will.  

Having arrived in Ohio at the end of September, two weeks later I get a traffic ticket.  I realize the driving laws are vastly different from New Jersey and now I am looking at a $155.00 speeding ticket plus court costs.  I go to court in front of a judge and tell her that paying her city $245.00 right now would be an extreme hardship to my family.  It takes me more than a week to finally work out a payment plan that my family can possibly pay, although even this will still be difficult.

We start putting only $10 of gas into the car at a time.  But I must drive in to Cleveland three times a week for my doctors’ appointments and we have to fill up every few days.

Grant decides to cancel his doctor’s appointment, believing that currently I am the sicker of the two of us.

I pray that it doesn’t snow until after November 14th as coming from New Jersey we are not at all ready for the harsh Cleveland winter.  Tyler needs boots, snowpants, pants other than jeans, and hoodies.  I do not own boots and need more sweaters.  I take back the sweaters that I had bought earlier in the month that are too big for me and instead of exchanging them I return them for the money.  

I make the decision not to pick up a prescription, thinking that I can go a little longer without it.

I begin going to the grocery store every two days, picking up the absolute essentials and replacing anything only when it has completely run out.  Tyler eats eight to nine times a day and the pediatrician says he must.

The first week in November, I text a dear friend whom I have met through this blog and ask if she can lend me $50.00.  Tyler is off two days next week and will not be getting the free lunch that he gets in school.  He will have a three day weekend.  We want to take him somewhere during the three days and we wrack our brains trying to find something that is free other than parks and playgrounds, which he frequents.  The Cleveland Museum of Art  is free but it costs six dollars to park plus the gas and we decide against it. We take Tyler to the North Chagrin Reservation where he can learn about nature and see animals for free.

Our ten year anniversary on November 9th comes and goes, with no cards, gifts, dinner out, etc.  We tell each other we will have our ten year anniversary when I get my disability.

I look at my Sponsored Tweets account and see that it has $21.96.  Do I cash it out with a withdrawal penalty, in the end meaning I will have less money?  I decide to wait until we are absolutely desperate. 

This weekend I uploaded six pictures to Walgreen’s for a project Tyler needs for school. They will cost a dollar and change.  I realize that it is too risky to pick them up.

We finish the pay period with six dollars.  Not just in our wallets, but to our names.  We started anew today.  But Christmas is nearly upon us and we have to get gifts for Tyler.  We desperately need winter clothes, because the odds are we will have a tremendous snowfall soon.  Another tough month is ahead for us.

And so I am left to gamble again.

 


 

Review and Contest For “Lost Edens”

(I read Lost Edens as a member of the From Left to Write book club.  I was given a free copy of this book.  The opinions, however, are my own.  If you would like to read the post that I was inspired to write after reading this book, you can go here.)

Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson is the true story of a woman in her mid-20s who decides to take her husband back after he admits to having an affair.  She does this without the support of any of her family or friends, there is not one person behind her, but Jamie is determined to make it work.

To tell you that the marriage does not work out is not spoiling it for you as it says right on the back cover, “(Jamie) lives in Minneapolis with her dog, Huey.”  But it is the middle of the book, the journey that Jamie takes from deciding to take her husband back to running like Hell that is the real story.

Lost Edens reads like a novel except for the very sad and terrifying fact that this book is not “based on a true story” but that it is a true story.  To watch Jamie go from determined young wife to how she leaves her husband is a study of a woman growing up and a study of a woman having to admit that she MUST leave.

For those who may be sensitive, there is abuse and mental illness in this book, and for those not recovered from their own personal experiences, this may not be the right book for you.

At 210 pages Lost Edens is the perfect memoir of a woman facing betrayal, innocence and finally, self-awareness.  It is the perfect book for curling up on a cold day and reading it in one sitting from cover to cover.

Would you like to win a gently used copy of Lost Edens?  

 Entering is easy and you have three chances to win:

1. Leave a comment below.

2. Tweet out the contest.

3. Post this contest on your Facebook wall.  

If you tweet and Facebook the contest, please let me know by leaving two more entries.  In other words, if you have commented, Tweeted and Facebooked, you will have THREE separate entries.  

The contest will end on Monday, November 14th at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

Congratulations to Deana, winner of Lost Edens.  Deana’s entry, #3 was chosen by random.org.  Thank you to all who entered and keep checking in because I hope to have some holiday contests coming up soon!   

Why I Stay

(I read Lost Edens as a member of the From Left to Write book club.  I was given a free copy of this book.  This post is inspired by the book.

Welcome to all of my fellow book club members or anyone coming here for the first time!  I am a chronically ill mom married to a chronically ill man and we are raising our five-year-old son, who also has some special needs. My blog focuses on the challenges parents with chronic illness face, but also speaks about being a mom and a woman in general. )

Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson is the true story of a woman who decides to take her husband back after he admits to having an affair.  She does this without the support of any of her family or friends, there is not one person behind her, but Jamie is determined to make it work.  Throughout the book there is evidence of her husband having some serious mental illnesses.  And that’s all I am going to say because I don’t want to ruin how this amazing book turns out.

I am married to someone with severe mental illness, so severe that he receives disability as he is no longer able to work.  If you don’t know much about the Social Security Disability process, you pretty much need to be near death or severely mentally ill to be able to get disability on a first time application.  My husband was a “yes”, on his first try.

Grant has had mental illness since he was a teenager.  He spent his teenage years (in the mid ’80s) suffering until he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  In college he drank and abused prescription drugs and marijuana in an effort to self-medicate.  He got the most help when the ground-breaking drug Prozac and others that would follow became available to the mentally ill population.

When we met he was pretty well balanced, mental health wise.  The drugs were working for him.  Ours was a long distance relationship for a year when we decided that he would move to New Jersey from Ohio and move in with me.  I was 31 and I knew this was something special.  Grant was loving, generous, sensitive.  I had never met another man like him and I felt truly loved and respected.

We married in 2002.  Grant had a good job working for an insurance company that was free or at low cost for poor families. Unfortunately he happened to have the boss from Hell, and it wasn’t just him who thought so.  Part of what I loved about him was his sensitivity but it did not serve him well when it came to this woman.  Eventually, despite asking for an accommodation, they were not able to work things out and it was a mutual decision that Grant leave his job.

In his next job he worked as a Consumer Advocate, helping parents of disabled children get the services they deserved in the public school system.  Grant has never had a job that did not benefit mankind, something I really admired and envied, as while I liked my job, I often felt unfulfilled.  What was I doing to benefit humanity?

Unfortunately, after a couple of years, Grant began having difficulty there too.  He had trouble getting out of bed to face the day.  He had trouble getting through the day, and due to his OCD he was unable to keep up with the huge amounts of paperwork that the job required.  He had never asked for an accommodation and was fired in May of 2007.  He has not worked since.

When our son was born in 2006…I don’t want to blame him because Grant and I don’t regret having Tyler for one second.  Having a child, being a first time parent is hard for anyone, but for Grant it was like difficult times ten and throughout Tyler’s life I have been watching Grant sink deeper and deeper into his illnesses.

Grant is now to the point where he spends a good deal of the day just sleeping, having to medicate himself (under doctors’ watchful eyes) because life is sometimes too painful. The stress of me being chronically ill and collecting diagnoses along with our son having Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, Anxiety and probably more doesn’t help.  Again, any husband or father would struggle having a sick wife and a child with emotional problems but for Grant it is times ten.

It’s no surprise that Grant’s mental illness has put a strain on our marriage.  Sometimes his mental illnesses make him say things that he doesn’t mean.  He will come up to me and say, “I want a divorce” or “I can’t do this any more, I need to leave, I need to go away”, only within the hour to come back to me and say he didn’t mean it and he loves me and is sorry.

It has been hard on me but I have learned to harden my heart and, as difficult as it sounds, take these kinds of things he says with a grain of salt.  Of course these conversations are not without damage to me, I would have to be soulless to say they aren’t.

I once called his therapist, crying because I couldn’t take it any more, I just couldn’t keep going on this roller coaster!  His therapist told me, “Emily, Grant adores you!  He loves you and does not want to leave you and Tyler. It is just his mental illness talking, he does not mean it!”

But as I said, these conversations do do damage to my heart and soul.

So, why do I stay? 

Because Grant is doing the very best he can.  He takes his meds, he sees his psychiatrist, he sees his therapist. He doesn’t stop trying every day.

I stay because of the love and support he has given me.  Me, with my over a dozen diagnoses and counting.  I cannot tell you how many men leave their wives when they become chronically ill, how many men cheat on their sick wives.  Grant is my biggest cheerleader.  He is my best friend.

I stay because, although he is not a perfect one, he IS a good father and tries every day to keep being a better one.  He cares almost too much about Tyler and agonizes over trying to do right by his son.  Meanwhile, Tyler thinks that Grant is the best daddy, the funniest daddy in the whole world.  Tyler doesn’t care that Grant is mentally ill, he still thinks his daddy hung the moon.

I stay because I took marriage vows.  For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

And the number one reason why I stay?

Because no matter how the mental illnesses are destroying him, Grant is still the most loving, generous and sensitive person I have ever met.  

That person I fell in love with is STILL there.

 

Review and Contest for Cleopatra, A Life

I read Cleopatra A Life as a member of the From Left to Write book club. I was given a free copy as a member of this book club, however, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

When I signed up to read Cleopatra A Life by Stacy Schiff, I have to admit I had some doubts that I would be able to get through the book.  Biographies are not one of my favorite genres, and a historical biography?  I had never even read one before.

It was a little difficult at first getting into the tone of a historical biography but after a few chapters, you could say I had “gotten it”!  Stacey Schiff makes it easy as she writes more for the common person than the historian.  I was quite impressed with Ms. Schiff herself as she has written biographies on Benjamin Franklin and has even won a Pulitzer Prize for her biography Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov).  When I think of an historical biographer author I am more apt to think of an aging college professor.  Ms. Schiff looks more like a model.  She definitely breaks that stereotype wide open!

Cleopatra is one of those iconic figures in history where everyone thinks they know about her, but what everyone thinks they know has been gleaned from William Shakespeare or Elizabeth Taylor, and not actually historical fact.  The author even admits that indeed, there is not a lot of facts on Cleopatra and someone who takes on the Egyptian Queen has to sort through even the history written while she lived, trying to recognize fact from fiction.  It seems even back in 29 BC Egypt and Rome had their own versions of Perez Hilton and Rush Limbaugh.  Ms. Schiff does an admirable job of filling in the blanks and is honest that there is some speculation on her part.

As I got into the book I found myself reading it as if it were a novel that you can’t wait to find out how it ends.  I knew Cleopatra died, of course, but did not know the real particulars of it. Do not let the “biography” classification of this book stop you from reading it.  Romance, sex, deceit, betrayal…this book has it all, although if you are looking for Danielle Steele, this isn’t your type of book.

Would you like to win a gently used copy of Cleopatra A Life?  Entering is easy and you have three chances to win:

1. Leave a comment below.

2. Tweet out the contest.

3. Post this contest on your Facebook wall.  

If you tweet and Facebook the contest, please let me know by leaving two more entries.  In other words, if you have commented, Tweeted and Facebooked, you will have THREE separate entries.  

The contest will end on Tuesday, October 18th at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen at random.  Good luck!

 

Congratulations to Joy, winner of Cleopatra A Life.  Her number, #2, was chosen by the very random asking my husband to pick a number: 1, 2, or 3!  This is a great book that whether or not you buy or borrow, will not disappoint you!

On Being Remembered

(I read Cleopatra A Life as a member of the From Left to Write book club.  I was given a free copy of this book.  This post is inspired by the book.

Welcome to all of my fellow book club members or anyone coming here for the first time!  I am a chronically ill mom married to a chronically ill man and we are raising our five-year-old son, who also has some special needs.  My blog focuses on the challenges parents with chronic illness face, but also speaks about being a mom and a woman in general. )

One does not have to read Stacy Shiff’s book Cleopatra A Life to believe that one knows all they need to know about the Egyptian queen.  Many of us have read about her through Shakespeare, or confuse her image with Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal in the 1963 movie, Cleopatra.  Even if one has never read about her through plays or watched the classic film, Cleopatra is as notorious or famous now as is our modern day Lady GaGa.

And yet, without reading this book or a book that writes about Cleopatra’s actual history, you would have many misconceptions.  She was not a great beauty “a la” Liz Taylor.  A temptress maybe, but she did not have much time to do this tempting as she was dead by age 39.  There is only evidence that she actually had sex with only two men in her life, but they do happen to be pretty important ones, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, sound familiar? She was married twice, each time to a brother.

Most will not read this book or any other that is historical, and so the misconceptions about the Queen will live on.  But above all, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator, who in her short life, reshaped the ancient world.

As I read this book, I thought about how I would want to be remembered.  Poor Cleo must be “rolling over in her tomb” if she is able to.

What do people think of me right now?  If you are a faithful reader to this blog, I would say you know me pretty well, better than a lot of my friends and family.  If you are not a regular reader of this blog, a first-timer, you may wonder how anyone could be so sick, or think they are so sick that they could give up a successful career as a headhunter, a good salary, and raise her child in poverty.  How could anyone do that?  Isn’t their something this woman could do to support her family, instead of living off of our government for food stamps, and seeking disability, when she is only 41 years old? Maybe it makes you mad when you think that somehow she is taking your tax dollars to live off of. That if you were sick, nothing would stop you, that you have a family to support and whatever came your way, even if it was cancer, you would still get up every day and go to work, that you would have to, that you MUST!

Perhaps you wonder how anyone could have 15 diagnoses and live?  Is this woman telling the truth?  Is she one of those bloggers who makes up a life in order to get successful through advertising?  When will she die?  Surely, no one could claim to be that sick and be able to throw her child a birthday party or celebrate Christmases or take her son to karate classes.  Something just does not add up here.

If you see me in real life, with bandages on my wrists and elbows, you may wonder what in God’s name is wrong with me?  What the Hell happened to her?  If you know me well and know that I am on an immunosuppressant drug and that I catch colds and weird infections frequently, you may be scared to be around me.  When exactly the opposite is true, it is you who are a danger to me.

What do I want to be remembered for when I die?  It is something I do think about frequently as if you do the math, it does not appear that I will live to a ripe old age, that at 41, my life is more than half way over.

Maybe Cleopatra didn’t think much about what her legacy would be, but I have had plenty of time to, as I am not busy ruling over a country and am more likely to be found in bed in my pajamas.

When I die, I know a world will not mourn my death, or be thinking about me over two thousand years later, but I know those who are my readers, close friends and family will.  I would hope that with this blog and the way that I live my life and through my conversations, that I have brought comfort to a few thousand or so people who are sick and raising children, just like me.  That I have educated healthy people on what being chronically ill is like and that NOT just the uneducated, those mothers who are not sure who their “babys’ daddies” are, or illegal aliens need food stamps; that there are disabled people who need them too.  That those who use scooters or wheelchairs are not just old, quadraplegic or have a terminal illness.

I would like to be remembered as someone who used her 15 illnesses to make a difference in this world.  Maybe not to millions but to those few whose lives I have touched.  I would like to be mourned not as a sick person who died slowly, but as someone who lived every minute of her life to the fullest.  As the best mother she knew how to be, the best wife, relative and friend that she was able to be.

And now let’s talk of my death no more.  I have a life to lead now.  I have to get ready to start my day which includes getting an ultrasound done on my thyroid, picking up a big bottle for a 24 hour urine test, making a shopping list and buying a few things at the grocery store, and planning tonight’s dinner.  I am thinking about what my son and I will do when he comes home from school. I am looking forward to the new episodes tonight of “Gumball”, “Adventure Time” and “The Regular Show” on the Cartoon Network, which my whole family loves.

Maybe you are going to do some of those things too.