crosseyed and painless

Facts just twist the truth around, Facts are living turned inside out

This one starts with a story. In June of 2018 I was nearing the end of my time at the small tech company at which I was employed. I took a chance a year earlier and joined a startup as their sales director in the Southeast and it just didn’t work out. I had never been fired before but I knew it was coming and was as prepared as I could be. Interviews were already happening elsewhere and I was pretty sure the timeline would work out with minimal gap in employment.

On July 31 I got the call from my boss in New York. “Thanks for all of your hard work, it’s not personal, I will be happy to be a reference for you elsewhere, etc…” Aside from the hit my ego took as a previously successful salesman, it was a pretty mild situation and they did their best to treat me with respect and dignity and I carry no hard feelings for it. The problem with their timing though was that my 4 year old son was having surgery the next morning, and the termination of my employment on that date was designed to also terminate the high cost that the company carried for our health insurance on that date as well without carrying it over into the next calendar month. I mentioned this to my boss on the call and he said he would do what he could to carry over my insurance for the next month. I believe he was genuine when he said this, but his well-intentions did not translate, and I ended up on the hook for a tonsillectomy at the full out of pocket price of about $5,200. Imagine being a newly unemployed dad of three young kids who was suddenly on the hook for a surprise $5k+ without any idea of when he would have income again. I ended up having only about a 6 week gap in employment during which I drove for a rideshare company and attempted to collect about $275 a week from the state of Tennessee in unemployment benefits to feed my family of 5. That $275 was actually cut into by literally any income I made elsewhere, so if I reported any money made from driving my car around from 7pm to 2am every night, it lowered my weekly unemployment checks to exactly $0 which I only found out after doing the weekly submission of at least three jobs that I applied for and everything else the state requires.

This is an aside but be kind to your rideshare drivers. It is a tough and lonely job, and it costs you nothing to be polite or make small talk.

As you might imagine, this was a stressful time. So stressful in fact that I collapsed one day in my bathroom and found myself in the emergency room…. still without insurance. Stress breeds stress and it took almost a full year of employment to dig out from the expenses incurred during the 6 weeks where I was unemployed and uninsured. Pretty neat!

Medical bills account for 66.5% of all bankruptcies in the United States. Sixty-six and a half percent! An estimated 530k families turn to bankruptcy each year due to medical bills. This is a problem that doesn’t exist in other developed nations, and quite frankly is one that shouldn’t exist here either. Eliminating this burden for human beings who have the misfortune of simply getting sick at the wrong time should be the number one priority of anyone who claims to care at all about other people.

My therapist had me do an exercise recently where I sat in a different chair in her office and described myself from the perspective of someone that I think knows me well. “What else do you want me to know about Ryan?” That type of thing. It was weird and uncomfortable and apparently my body language said as much. At the end of the exercise she says I stood up into some kind of power stance before returning to my seat to resume the session as myself. I explained that my body likely took that stance more out of respect for the person that I was emulating than for any discomfort that I experienced through the exercise. It was further confirmation of an observation on her part that I absorb the feelings and emotions of others in a way that enables me to be a decent listener but an absolute fucking nightmare of stress and anxiety if I’m not able to control it. My general position in life has almost always been to overlook my own needs for the needs of others and I don’t have much to show for it aside from occasional crippling anxiety and very tense shoulders.

The primary difference that I have noticed between the two political parties that run our country and the people that align with them is the ability and willingness to feel empathy for others. I used to think that everyone had the same opportunities in this country and that everyone had a pair of bootstraps on which to pull themselves up, but the more I read and understand this world the more I believe the opposite.

I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck yesterday that said Trump 2020- Make Liberals Cry Again and it was a pretty perfect summary of the whole thing. Empathy is for the weak, fuck you!

A narrative that continues to be built upon by conservatives in this country is that liberals want to ruin America and everything that it stands for. Intentional interchangeable misuse of the term socialism with communism as an attempt to instill fear and misinformation rises to the top of every republican talking point, because communism is an easily identified enemy of America, and the more easily identifiable the enemy the easier it is to stigmatize and ultimately defeat. The ironic thing about this narrative is that I grew up in an America that bragged about being a city on a hill, a hope to those in need or those fleeing persecution. The America that I watched my family defend in uniform is one that allegedly looked evil in the face and stuck a literal flag in the ground to tell the rest of the wold that their fuckery would no longer be tolerated. The Americans are here to tell you to cut the shit Adolf/Joseph/Saddam/etc… Let freedom ring, baby!

But now I am an adult with some life experience and a soft spot for the defenseless and hurting and I can’t help but realize that the bullshit posturing of America as a great defender of justice is a cancerous head atop a body of willing and fragile men and women who give their lives mentally and emotionally to various battlefields that may potentially have minimal impact on the world as we know it. To die in Afghanistan or Iraq or Africa for the promise of free college when you return or an escape from your small midwestern town is conflated to be a great honor when the reality is that it’s a roll of the dice for those who aren’t fortunate enough to pick from a handful of liberal arts colleges with their parents who are willing and able to encourage them to pursue dreams of a life that does not include potentially ending up in a wooden box with a flag atop it. There are of course exceptions to this as many men and women choose military careers for different reasons.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the uniformed members of our military, and that is exactly why I am against sending them to die on foreign soil. I am extremely grateful for the sacrifice made by everyone who volunteers to put on a uniform to serve a purpose bigger than themselves, and that is exactly why we as a nation need to ensure that the purpose matches the sacrifices being made.

Many of the men and women who proudly tout their conservative leanings simply don’t care about the welfare of others, and I would argue that trying to convince those folks that they are wrong for this view is a lost cause. The focus should instead be on building a world and nation where endless war and working class poverty isn’t the norm. A nation where veteran and homeless aren’t terms that are easily interchangeable, where hard-working families aren’t losing their homes and life savings over one diagnosis or the loss of employment. These are not outrageous ideas, there are democratic nations with strong social programs that don’t exist with the singular goal of eliminating the weakest among us to make the privileged look strong. I believe that the United States of America could be one of them. For the sake of the people that live here, it has to be.