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40 is the old age of youth, and 50 is the youth of old age.   ~ Unknown

I’ve always said that raising Jonah through all the violent aggressions broke Andy and me; it was impossible to come out the other end of it whole.  This autumn and winter marks 9 years since the worst of it, when first Andy, then I, went to Four Winds Mental Health Hospital.  Nearly a decade later I stared down the barrel of 50, feeling like I was breaking all over again.

There’s something definitively downhill about 50.  More than likely, I have felt as good as I’m going to feel and I’ve looked as good as I’m going to look.  The days and seasons come at me quickly, cycling faster with each passing year.  They leave me tired, despondent, and coping with fun new things like joint pain and hearing loss (I was a child of the 70s and 80s, and we liked our music LOUD).

But none of that is what broke me again.  Not really.  No single event or circumstance brought on the breakdown.  The truth is always more complicated.  And sometimes the thing that finally breaks you is the one you don’t want to admit…something you suspect wouldn’t have broken a stronger person.

Jonah is a source of joy, as if by magic.   It’s been a full year since he hit anyone.  There have been days of agitation and distress, but no aggression.  None.  The teacher in his new “high school” class sent me this beautiful picture of him just yesterday, loving on his caramel apple and beaming.

Every Friday there is good news from his teacher – these go backward in time…

This week Jonah was his happy, fun, lovable self. Today we made caramel apples and Jonah loved it.  I have this great picture of him. This week we did coin counting, handwriting, pumpkin decoration for a contest, recipe, grocery shopping, and made Halloween slime. 

Jonah was terrific this week. We read an interactive book today called An Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything and Jonah loved it. He was doing all the moves along with the book – I wish I got it on video. This week we did handwriting, recipe, learned about how to conduct a experiments, and read aloud with reading comprehension.

Jonah had another terrific week. This week there was a lot going on for Jonah, including appointments and changes in the schedule. Jonah took them extremely well.  He was a real trooper. This week in class we learned about fire safety, Halloween, did addition and counting, handwriting, and grocery shopping with recipe. 

Jonah had a tremendous week overall.  He was very attentive during the activities and lessons throughout the week, which I love to see. He has also been accepting many of the changes that are happening in the classroom. Words can’t describe how proud I am of him. He also has been listening to new songs at the end of the day like Maroon 5 memories and maps.  This week in school we learned about Halloween safety, handwriting, counting and addition, spiders and insects, and made guacamole for recipe.

And so you see our boy is bright and happy, learning things and having fun.  It’s all either of us ever really wanted.

But this summer I felt depression like a heavy stone I carried every day.  I hadn’t used social media in a few years, but remembered how fun the hashtag games were.  So I logged back into Twitter and stumbled across a group of people, led by a multi-millionaire, all working together to donate to Go Fund Me campaigns.  All trying to spread kindness.  I told the leader of the group I had been feeling suicidal before I found them – that they had done nothing less than restore my faith in humanity.  He even tweeted about it, though he didn’t identify me.  Many, many people came forward to support me on that thread, though no one knew who I was.  Concerned strangers tweeted their concern, love, and kind thoughts.  What an amazing feeling to be a part of this online family!

Every day, more and more people pleaded for help out of desperate situations.  I’m not wealthy, but I have enough – and some of these people clearly didn’t.  I gave what I could. Everyone seemed to want to help; soon we called ourselves a team.  It was fun and exciting for me to participate.  My heart was full of shared selflessness and genuine compassion.

I started to feel a little better.  Finally, I’d found a place were everyone pitched in to help others, no matter what anyone’s politics, religion, or any other label.  The team filled my days with purpose and a way to move forward, bolstered by a new support system of strangers from all over.

Then the group leader started giving away money randomly to everyone who re-tweeted his messages.  I noticed I rarely saw the winners commenting.  Wouldn’t they publicly (and loudly) thank him and the team?   And when the rare person did say that they won, it always seemed they were someone in dire need.  These “random giveaways” started to feel carefully chosen.  While searching his name one day, I noticed a post criticizing him.  I commented that I had been wondering myself if his “random” giveaways were really random.

When I logged on to twitter the next day, I was blocked from the leader’s page.  At first I was confused.  I contacted some other “team members” to ask what was going on.  One told me to be patient, that he was busy with other requests.  No, I responded.  I wasn’t there to ask.  I’d never asked for anything.

My protests fell on deaf ears.  In fact, most people didn’t answer me at all.  One told me I sure didn’t “win any points” with my comment asking him if contests were random.   I remember angrily responding that I wasn’t there to win points but to be philanthropic.  I was completely humiliated.   Being blocked felt like a massive betrayal, especially since all I had done was give to his campaigns.  The team that had been holding me afloat was suddenly gone.   I felt stupid and useless. I began to drown again.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed by how profoundly I felt the indifference and how distraught I became at the abandonment.  One day we’re all in the twitter feed professing our love for humanity and each other.  The next day, no one will talk to me and in fact I’m banned from participating in the collective philanthropic efforts and “random” giveaways.  All these people who cared so much when they first heard someone was suicidal…where were they now?

I found some small consolation in learning I wasn’t the only one.  A growing number of others are wondering what the hell is happening.  Many are telling their stories.  As it turns out, this rich guy seems to have a narcissistic personality, cult-leader mentality, and master plan for moneymaking which involves ingratiating behavior designed to gain followers and funnel people through a specific payment service.  And that’s really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The part that really bothers me is all the team members struggling, hoping against hope he will help, worried they’ve been forgotten or that nobody cares.  Many actually deify him, say they would die for him – and now even contribute to an ambiguous legal defense fund, ostensibly against those who seek to “destroy” him.  Some of his followers have vowed to protect him against we “haters” who even, according to a recent post, are trying to attack Christmas itself.

He’s also using several simple, effective psychological techniques to weed out those who question anything.  This is going to sound very familiar to anyone involved in the team.

From online Psychology Degree info: 

Cults are attractive because they promote an illusion of comfort.

Those with low self-esteem are more likely to be persuaded by a cult environment.  New recruits are “love bombed.”

Cults maintain their power by promoting an “us vs. them” mentality.

Cult members often have no idea they’re in a cult.

I could go on and on with this.  There are other issues.  For example, anyone he blocks is ineligible to enter his giveaways (we don’t even see them happening) – and that’s illegal.  I filed a report with my state attorney general about this.  

Please make no mistake – I’m not out for revenge.  Other than psychologically, I wasn’t really hurt.  I don’t need money and can practice philanthropy on my own.  I am telling this story in the hopes that others will read it and come to understand what’s really happening.   There are charity review sites like Charity Navigator with details about vetted and registered 501c3 charities, where your donations are far better spent. 

If you’re on the team and seeking help, understand your chances of getting the help you need are very slim.  I invite you to DM me, or contact me here, and I will do the best I can to research genuine resources to help you. Whether you are trying to help or are looking for assistance, I  recommend Modest Needs, a 4-star registered non-profit where requests for emergency financial help are carefully vetted and then crowdfunded.  

Whatever the reason for his blocking me, some broken thing inside me broke more that day because of it.  My 50th birthday came and went with little fanfare.  I felt just as hopeless as before, only now I also felt deserted.

More sadness.  More disappointment,  More feeling worthless and self-pitying.  I was crying uncontrollably at random times during the day – crying at my desk at work and in my car while driving.  Crying myself to sleep – or, more accurately, laying awake crying at night.  I know this is pathetic.  And I hate that I know how pathetic it is.

I had a yearly physical on September 5th.  When I arrived, I couldn’t even make it through the check-in process without breaking down in tears.  In the exam room I sobbed to the doc and explained how awful I was feeling and why.  Gently, he suggested I go back to the hospital.  A revulsion of feeling washed over me, though I didn’t recognize it as relief until much later.  It’s as if I had been searching for permission to go back to the hospital, and he gave me that permission.  So I spent from September 5-13 in Four Winds Hospital.  Again.  And, just like the first time, it was the best thing I could have done.

People think of the mental hospital as somewhere you end up – a collection container for the insane.  While it is true that the stigma of mental health treatment is less awful than it was 9 years ago, the idea that hospitalization equals the bottom of the barrel is still alive and well.  There’s also still a stigma.  If you go to the loony bin, you must be crazy.  Crazy Amy.

Truth be told, just about everyone I know could use a week at Four Winds.  When you arrive you turn your phone in, bond with others there who are also suffering, and get therapy both one on one and in groups.  You just work on you.  That’s it.  It’s not easy, and God knows I could have better spent the $750 co-pay and precious days I had to take off from work, but I came out the other side with a better sense of how to move forward and a better understanding of myself.  I learned things like assertiveness skills, how to deal with intrusive thoughts, and how to recognize the tools co-dependent people use to control you:  Guilt. Anger. Gaslighting.  I emerged better equipped to live in this crazy-ass world that gets crazier by the day.

Good thing, too, for life was about to throw another couple curve balls.  But this post is already long, and I’m tired of bitching.  I’ll tell the tale later.  Mostly everything is better, I am feeling stronger, and my mind and heart are healthier.

I have more to be grateful for than upset about.  And being 50 isn’t so bad.  I feel younger looking than people who are 50 used to look, and I’m still healthy enough.  No more migraines, no aggressions from Boo, nobody trying to guide my giving.  Sometimes the lack of something is as valuable as the presence of something else.

We wish and hope and pray for this or that, but rarely do we glimpse the good in what isn’t happening.

Now I see it.  I see it all the time.

The comeback is always stronger than the setback.

“We circle chairs until the music stops
Until it ends you got to open up your heart…
Everybody’s got it hard
We’re built and then fall apart;
We’re all terrified.”  ~ Guster 

 

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