The Summer of My Discontent

 

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So I know we’re barely halfway through August, but I’m calling it – 2017 HAS SUCKED! Since being diagnosed with lupus back in 2012, most would say I’ve gotten off lucky, a minor “flare” here and there but nothing significant. My luck finally ran out late last year when random and recurring infections became more commonplace and virulent. 2017 has been pretty much a nonstop wave of persistent pain, puking, and panic…and there’s still 4.5 months left to go!

To be fair, I have been lucky because, while it’s done nothing to minimize the effects of the illness, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people in my life. Specifically, the ones who pay lip service to “always being there” for you versus the ones who really are. Sometimes this knowledge comes with sadness and disappointment; sometimes with unexpected surprise and relief; sometimes with no surprise at all, just a wonderful affirmation. 2017 is the year I truly came to understand the saying that, as we get older, our circle grows smaller…and that’s okay!

I understand I shouldn’t “judge” or take it personally, people often say things with well-meaning intention that they ultimately can’t meet, I realize that, I do. But a lot of people are actually just saying what they think you want to hear because they rely on your help and hospitality frequently. Others love to love you when you’re on top of your game, but the minute you’re no longer the life of the party…or capable of making it to the party…or capable of even getting out of bed for that matter, their lives become too busy, too hectic, too dramatic to fit you in. But I don’t want this post to be about people who have disappointed me. I want to, as I now feel like I’ve really turned a corner in this latest health battle (FINGERS CROSSED, KNOCK WOOD), use it as an opportunity to thank those who have done things, big and small, over the last few months to support and sustain me.

I’ve got networks of friends all over the world, but none stronger than here in Canada where members of my “Flip Flop Family” — Shane Nagel, Ed Velasquez, Jessica Nagel- Furtado, Alastair Lillico and Jade Saab — have been there with me every step of the way. From grocery shopping to pet sitting to sending a grown man into the feminine hygiene section of the pharmacy and more, I couldn’t possibly make it through any of this without all of you.

To friends and clients — dozens, hundreds, thousands of miles away — who take the time to regularly check in, send me jokes, and healing vibes – Vandal Rose, Michael Greer, Suzanne Collier, Carolyn Wendy Cusner, Lou Diamond, Susan Skrypka-Bassett, Maria Do Ceu Pereira, Marie Piccone – you keep me smiling, laughing and focused when I need it most.

I firmly believe the family you claim is often better than the family you came with – Stuart McAllister, Marilyn McAllister-Munn, Marg Macmillan – you are my constant rocks and I love you all.

Sometimes though, even with the strongest network of support, bad things still happen. For me, that’s meant finding that taking one step forward in recovery, can often result in then taking two steps back. It’s been scary and depressing, and it reached another crescendo this past Wednesday, leaving me no recourse but to call in “the Big Guns”. As the saying goes, “A friend will help you move, a Best Friend will help you move a body!” When I finally caved into weakness and fear over my latest setback, I called my best friend, Jillian Stelling. Jillian is a self-employed bookkeeper with a busy schedule, family commitments of her own; oh, and she lives over 200 miles away from me. When I texted her in excruciating pain that afternoon, she didn’t blink or hesitate. She just texted back that she’d be on her way within the hour, and then she drove like a bat out of hell to get here.

But the very best part of this story, the part that those of you with your own best friends will understand immediately, is that best friends rarely ask, “how can I help?” Instead, they step back, assess the situation like an army field general, and then they take control. Within the first few hours of her arrival, Jill decided that my pain management regimen needed to change and all new products appeared; she also decided that the cat’s eating habits needed to change in order for Isabella to help me take care of her more easily. The next day she started on my eating habits. I estimate that throughout this summer there have been at least 25 to 30 days where I’ve not been able to eat any solid food (most recently the 5 days before she arrived) and could barely hold down liquids. She didn’t ask me to eat, she simply started bringing in foods she knows I like and handed them to me: sushi (yes, sushi!), croissants, even real bacon…mmm. She poo-pooed the doctor’s instructions to drink Gatorade and had me increase my intake of water and orange juice instead. She taught me a recipe for a super quick and simple chicken soup that sits simmering on the stove all day until the aroma would tempt a fasting monk, and under her watchful eye I reintroduced caffeine to my body…I had no idea how much I missed Starbucks!

And for the last four days she’s ridden the roller coaster with me, physically and emotionally; running endless errands, enduring my crappy tv watching habits (including EastEnders and a Say Yes to the Dress marathon), dealing with the constant turning on, then off, than back on of the air conditioning, silently cleaning away ugly body fluids, barely getting any sleep because of my ‘cough from hell’, and having to haul my mortified, wet, naked ass from the shower and put me back to bed to prevent me from crumbling to the ground. We’ve also talked openly about subjects that often make even the staunchest supporter uncomfortable: financial planning, power of attorney, living wills…funeral arrangements. Confronting best and worst case scenarios with your best friend isn’t unnerving or depressing; it’s actually immensely soothing and uplifting. Knowing that, in the event that you can’t speak for yourself, there is someone who knows exactly what you need and want, and who will make damn sure it happens.

That may seem a bit of a morbid note to end on, but I don’t think so. 7.5 months into 2017…and despite how much it’s sucked…I’ve learned a lot about myself and others (both good & bad). I’ve learned I’m stronger and have more of a will to survive than I sometimes give myself credit for; I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay; I know more about the PR business every year than the one before (if you’re not always learning, then you’re falling out of touch); people are not always who they appear to be, so don’t over or under estimate anyone. And these two, most important, last things. Choose your best friend carefully, and always nurture that relationship. You want someone who shares your sensitivity and intuition, but you also want someone who shares some of your darker traits. In my case, the ability to be ruthless, and the ability to make certain decisions with detached, unemotional practicality, when necessary. And finally, don’t worry about how big or small your circle of friends is; popularity is a contest, and a very poor metric to measure personal success by. It’s quality that counts.

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Celebrity Apprentice – Who’s Really Boss?

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So four weeks in I finally caught up with season 15 of Celebrity Apprentice; having heard about the Twitterverse squabbles between its new host and that other guy. I should preface by saying that overall I’m not a huge fan of Celebrity Apprentice. I much prefer the original UK version of the programme, BBC Apprentice, hosted by Lord Alan Sugar, an indisputably successful businessman and member of the House of Lords. BBC Apprentice remains truer to the original format of the show, real people looking to be mentored by one of the world’s most respected entrepreneurs. Learning from a master so to speak. In the US, The Apprentice morphed into Celebrity Apprentice in its seventh season, and since then we’ve watched what’s usually the car-crash interactions of egotistical B/C/D list celebrities, aging athletes and random models and television presenters.

At first I could’t quite put my finger on what felt different, but something certainly did. Then I realized what it was, the host wasn’t sucking all the oxygen out of the room with his own ego. He actually listens when others speak, he has an easy, genuine charm, he’s not socially stunted. Arnold Schwarzenegger has nothing to prove because he’s a legitimate self-made success who has never declared bankruptcy. He’s not walking around with a raging narcissistic complex and massive chip on his shoulder. But to be fair, he’s not suffering from obvious self-esteem issues caused from dealing daily with the fact that he’ll never be as respected or well-liked as either his dead father or his White House predecessor. And speaking of facts, despite ‘alternative ones’ to the contrary, Celebrity Apprentice ratings under Schwarzenegger are growing after a slow start, whereas they declined season upon season previously. Something that NBC executives have been candid about. If NBC and Mark Burnett really want to boost viewership they should release the outtakes from Trump’s previous seasons. The ones former show producer, Bill Pruitt has said are far worse than the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.

This “new & improved” version of the show is not without its faults. Schwarzenegger insists on being addressed as Governor, despite having left office six years ago. This season’s celebrities are a particularly motley crew (making Vince Neil’s participation almost ironic). There are several reality show housewives, numerous retired athletes, a physician turned comedian, and a YouTuber (Carrie Keagan) who was the first to be “terminated”. Perhaps she would have lasted longer if she hadn’t greeted Arnold’s waxing sentimentally about his 19-year old self with the comment, “I wish I had been alive then.” The only one approaching star status is Boy George…and I think Laila Ali has had a respectable level of personal and public success too. But yeah, they’re reaching. This Monday’s episode included a moment of drama when Schwarzenegger terminated unpopular and pugnacious mixed martial arts artist, Chael Sonnen after discovering he deliberately sabotaged equipment in order to give his team an unfair advantage and then defended his action as a great “tactic”. Imagine that, a loud-mouth bully cheating and then patting himself on the back for it. Hmm…

Who knows how long before Schwarzenegger says “hasta la vista, baby.” Maybe one day when Trump’s time on Pennsylvania Avenue is over — he’ll be back! Of course, given that he’s already alienated virtually every celebrity on the planet, he’ll have to get creative. Maybe a season of Apprentice full of women Trump has married, committed adultery with, insulted or (allegedly) sexually assaulted. Bet that would be a ratings….grabber.

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

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I pretty much abandoned this blog two years ago, call it word fatigue (I spend my day talking and writing for others) or laziness or whatever you like. The bottom line is, I’m a bad blogger. When I feel compelled to “sound off” on something, I usually take to my Facebook wall or confine myself to the blessedly brief 140-character domain of Twitter. Lately I’ve even started letting the picture do the talking (they are, after all, supposedly each worth a 1000 words) on Instagram. I’m certainly rarely at a loss for words, and I’m definitely not shy about expressing an opinion, but lately world events – political world events – have left me too numb, and more than a little depressed if I’m honest, to express myself.

Someone pointed out to me today that there are just 50 days left to 2016. I for one can’t wait for this year to be over. What was that term Her Majesty used back in 1992…annus horribilis? Yes, that about sums up a year which has seen me on the losing voter side of the EU referendum and the US Presidential election. The result is that I currently feel a little bit like a woman without a country; a refugee in Canada maintaining a ‘business visitor’ status.

The results of Tuesday night’s election, as with those of the June 23rd ref, have left me shaken, bewildered and infuriated. And like everybody else, I’m looking to blame someone.

In the UK, do I blame corrupt campaigners and a manipulative mainstream media more interested in hyperbolic headlines than real journalism? Or do I blame the very fact that a nonbinding, glorified ‘opinion poll’ was ever left in the hands of voters, half of whom didn’t really understand what it was they were voting for, and the other half – Remainers and Leavers alike – who voted based primarily on what was in their own self-interest (myself included), not the country’s, in the first place?

In the US, do I blame the 53% of white women who basically subjugated their reproductive rights (the suffragettes must be spinning in their graves) to men? Or the minority and blue collar voters who believe that a man who has taken little interest in their lives in all his 70 years on this earth is suddenly going to make fighting for them a priority in the next four? And why in heaven’s name is an arcane electoral body conceived in 1787 still determining the Presidency 229 years later?

I do absolutely blame those who threw away the right to have their voices heard. In the UK, 12,947,554 who registered for the referendum failed to cast a vote, despite being offered several easy voting options. In the US, the figures are even worse. Estimates show that only 200 million of the roughly 231 million eligible voters actually registered, and then 46.9% of them failed to vote! What a sad commentary it is that we live in a society where more people will vote for finalists in dancing and singing competitions than will vote for their countries’ leaders and key issues. To quote Hillary Clinton, it’s deplorable.

But my fury and indignation at that pales in comparison to my shock, sadness and cold sweat fear at the level of bigotry, sexism and overt racism dressed as ‘traditional values’ and ‘patriotic pride’ that this referendum and Presidential election have unearthed. The group claiming to advocate for human rights and religious freedoms of people, but only if those people have a pigment of skin, cultural background, sexual orientation or religious affiliation they deem “acceptable” i.e. they’re own. And the group who claim to have been somehow disadvantaged or marginalized by immigration because blaming their lack of success and general dissatisfaction in life on foreigners is easier than examining their own lack of education, drive and initiative. The decisions made yesterday and in June have given enormous life-destroying power to these groups. The UK and US have made themselves laughing stocks on the global stage. They have wounded themselves socially and economically, and like sharks smelling blood in the water, other countries will look to see how that self-inflicted weakness can be exploited.

Which is why, and it pains me to say this truly, we have got to get over and get on with it. While I totally sympathize with the need to rail against the idiocy of Brexit and President-elect Trump, we have got to rally and make the best of this situation. Because, we can pout and protest, but come January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be moving into the White House. And barring a successful snap election coup, Theresa May is going to invoke Article 50 in March.

The fact is, we cannot merely sit back and wait for the doomsayer predictions to come true just so we can smugly say, “I told you so!” Our socioeconomic survival, and that of our family and friends, and that of millions of people we’ve never met depends on making the best of a bad situation. And if we become blinded by rage or paralyzed by despair we will be playing right into the hands of those who seek to silence and control us. What can you do?

Engage with your MP, MEP, Senator or Congressman/woman – it’s amazing how many people don’t even know their representatives names.

Continue to push for social and voting reform.

Donate your time and/or money to charities and non-profits that aid and advocate for the human rights of people in the US, UK and worldwide. Jezebel and  Best Companies have some good lists.

Step away from the keyboard. Don’t be baited into useless social media arguments. Remember what Winston Churchill said, “Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.”

Don’t lose hope, don’t give in to hate, never stop talking and KEEP VOTING!