A throughly restless spring break

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One day, hopefully soon, I will write an update and it will be lovely.

I’ll talk about my new teaching job and how I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll go on about how well my arthritic knees are responding to aquatic therapy.

I might have even lost a few pounds.

Surely my mental health will have improved.

One day.

I hope.

This isn’t that day.

I hoped spring break, which ends Monday, would be a time for rejuvination.

I picked up a chest cold at school the last week before break. My doctor diagnosed it as an inflammation of my asthma. She prescribed a steroid inhaler.

The inhaler works great except for one side effect: It plays hell on my anxiety.

Such a side effect normally tortures me enough in more steady times.

These aren’t steady times.

I’m trying to finish graduate school, earn my teaching license, and survive on the thinnest of financial margins.

I made it through midterm. I received my report. I talked it over with my mentor teacher and my supervising teacher. It seemed a fair assessment. 

I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but my mentor teacher and the Drake professor overseeing student teaching assured me that my development was on par with where they expect novice teachers to be at this point in student teaching.

Alas, a brain affected by acute anxiety rejects positive information. I’ve written before that most problems occur in the space between emotional reaction and intellectual understanding. Feelings overrun facts and thoughts run haywire.

I took the midterm and my wild thoughts decided I had already failed as a teacher and that I was going to die broke and alone and my nest dispatch would be from temporary housing at a YMCA.

I didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just a bad thinking pattern developed as a survival method to deal with childhood trauma. It’s the same bad thinking that leads me to overeat to morbid obesity.

So when the steroids hit the bloodstream with already jangled nerves, that was cherry bomb in the toilet. Everybody I’m in close contact with knew I was depressed and tried to assure me I was going to be OK. My teachers tried. Parents 2.0 tried. Friends tried.

The trouble is they used intellectual reasoning and the chemical malfunction I was dealing with mucks up emotional reactions.

The combination of physical illness and mental health struggles put me to sleep for the first four days of spring break.

My therapist finally helped me reason out the situation and come down from the rush of negative emotions.

Then I got my vaccine booster shot. That made me sick with fever and chills for about three days. I suppose a few miserable days are a good trade for avoiding the full force of a potentially lethal virus infection, particularly with my comorbidities, but it’s still no fun.

So spring break week has come and gone and all the books I was going to read for fun and all the schoolwork I was going to accomplish remain in the same state they were before break began.

There’s a possibility that would have happened even if I had been healthy, but I want to believe my better intentions would have prevailed if I wasn’t fighting a double- or sometimes triple-whammy of health problems.

There is a bit of good news. A friend of mine, a fellow former paragraph stacker, left the trade to become a lawyer. He reviewed the administrative law judge’s rejection of my appeal for a special benefits program that would extend my unemployment.

He and his boss offered some suggestions for an appeal, but my friend told me the appeals judges almost always side with the administrative law judges.

But an appeal costs me nothing but time. I appealed. The state is moving in its usually speedy way. The form says it could take up to 75 days. I would guess that figure will be doubled and add five more days for that.

I did my taxes. That was a brutal bummer. I’m due a refund from the feds that will be completely wiped out by my tax bill in Iowa. So the hope that a tax refund would keep me in rent, groceries, and gas for a month or so dwindles.

Some hope rests in some federal government deciding what income might be declared tax exempt because of the pandemic disaster. My tax software company says the feds haven’t decided this yet. No rush. Taxes are due in less than a month. 

Why would we expect the federal government to serve the people in any speedier fashion than any other government?

Ah, but why bother with politics at a time like this.

As my friend Todd often reminds me, the only way through troubles is straight through them.

I hate to trouble all of you again with my tales of woe. I hope you know how much each of you has helped me. These contributions have kept afloat during one of the most challenging times in my life. 

I’m learning to be a teacher while I’m also learning to live with the disability from my arthritic knees and facing financial struggle. It’s a lot of stuff to worry about all at once and, frankly, sometimes it gets to me.

But you people, you floor me. I don’t know many of you personally. I dare say I don’t know most of you personally. Yet you give and give. You send positive messages.

I hear the negative ones, both in my own thoughts and from others. 

I want you to know how much your letters have touched me, how much your faith in me becoming a good teacher keeps me going when the doubts mount.

And, yes, money is important. I wish I never had to talk about money, but we live in the real world. The electric bill is due every month, just like the rent, insurance, and other bills.

I’m hanging in there. I live frugally. I clip coupons now. OK, an app does it for me, but I never did before. 

So, this is a day I wish never comes, a day in which again I ask for your help. I need your support. Don’t overextend yourself for me; your first duty is always to yourself. 

For those who do help, I will remind you of the promise I’ve made many times before: I will become a teacher and eventually a very good one. I will pass on all that I have learned about writing and creativity and passion for a craft. I will be honest, tender my truths with kindness, and be the person you believe me to be.

And one day, soon, I hope, this will be a different kind of message.

Blessings to you all.

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Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The fear 4 hours before doctor appointment

My appointment with the specialist doctor is at 9 a.m.

It’s currently 4 a.m.

I’m scared.

I know that to get better, I need to see this doctor.

But I’m afraid.

I’ve never had surgery before. I don’t even know if I need surgery. But I’m scared of it.

I think about all the Drake women’s basketball players I wrote about who had knee injuries or other issues who had surgery.

To me, their condition was news — facts people should know about their favorite team.

I didn’t think about the pain.

I didn’t consider they might be afraid.

Maybe they weren’t.

Those Drake women’s basketball players I covered back in the mid- to late-1990s were tougher than I’ll ever be.

I remember one player, she got cut. She declined a pain killer because that meant shouldn’t go back into the game.

Me? I would have asked for maximum pain relief, my blankie, and my stuffed Pink Panther.

Someone I love was trying to help me yesterday.

This is her way. She takes charge. She leads.

She started to list all the changes I needed to make to get better.

Lose weight.

Listen to my doctors.

Exercise more.

She hit an especially tender spot. She asked if I thought I could walk to my classes at Drake even without my present knee problems.

Her question was legitimate. All my grad school work so far has been online because of the pandemic.

This fall, we’re back to buildings and classrooms.

Can I walk a few blocks to my classes even without a knee injury?

The answer is no.

But.

But I would have found a way. I would have paid for a parking sticker for the lots closest to the building I took my classes in.

If I couldn’t make it, I would use an assistive device — a crutch, a walker, whatever.

I was going to make it.

But her question comes with an unintentional punch.

It reminds me how much I hate myself — my physical body, how repulsed I am by the sight of me.

I know I am disgustingly fat by both medical and aesthetic standards. I know every extra pound shortens my lifespan.

I worry about it all the time.

The latest knee injury terrifies me on a scale I struggle to describe.

I worry that it can’t be fixed or will be easily reinjured. Thus, getting to class will become impossible and I won’t finish graduate school, won’t become a teacher and end up with a pile of student loans and no job to pay them with. I’ll be living down at the YMCA housing or in a hospice.

How’s that for maudlin thinking?

This is what goes on in a brain stricken with depression and anxiety.

That’s why I abruptly ended the call with my loved one.

I was rude.

But I had therapy soon. And I was hurting, both physically and emotionally.

I didn’t want to fight.

I just wanted someone to tell me everything was going to be OK.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Tennis, media embarrass themselves with ignorant responses to Osaka mental health issues

Confession: Before Naomi Osaka announced she wasn’t going to participate in post-match news conferences at the French Open, I didn’t know who she was.

I know. That makes me a terrible human being. I don’t follow tennis.

Osaka is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, and she was the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2020.

So, yeah, I suppose I should have known who she was.

Anyway, before the French Open she said she wasn’t doing post-match news conferences. It kicked up her anxiety and she felt like reporters aren’t respectful of mental health. She was prepared to pay a fine.

The media and tennis worlds collectively shit themselves.

Reporters, not all, but way too many, scoffed at the notion that news conferences are harsh, cruel and dehumanizing.

They acted as if reporters are tame as fainting goats barely braying during these gentle occasions.

And tennis?

Well, the French Open fined Osaka $15,000. And all the Grand Slam goons came out and said they would do the same if she pulled such a stunt at their event.

Tennis is their sport and they’ll be goddamned if some star tells them who will sit for a daily roasting that’s created for no other reason than to give more exposure to the sport and make a handful of really rich guys who profit off the backs of people like Osaka slightly richer.

Day 2: Osaka took her racket and went home.

She was kind enough about it in her public statement, but I hope she gave the middle finger to France as her plane took off.

Her statement went deeper into the mental health issues.

Tennis and the media immediately changed their tune. The once-scoffing media hoped she got the help she needed. Tennis made apologetic burping noises.

But, hey, let’s be clear here: Fuck both the media and tennis.

The news media have no credibility in the common person’s house. The news is just weak sapling hanging off the edge of the entertainment industry trying to gain eyeballs through trickery and pandering.

They pump so much anxiety into the air, they ought to be considered a threat to the environment.

I have no sympathy for that devil anymore.

If nothing else, can we at least admit there’s not a goddamn thing worth a damn that comes out of post-game news conferences?

Reporter: What were you thinking when you double-faulted and lost the match?

Athlete: I thought, “Shit, one of you assholes is going to bring this up later and ask me some dumb fucking question like that.”

My late friend Joe Pollack was a celebrated media figure in St. Louis for decades. He told wonderful stories from his time as the public relations man for the St. Louis Cardinals football team.

“Sports writing,” he used to say, “was ruined the day they started interviewing athletes.”

As for tennis, I hope the greedy hustlers in charge learned something about who really has the power in that relationship: Osaka.

She’s the one people are paying and tuning in to see.

Be mindful of that when you think you can put the smack down on her like she works for you. She doesn’t. You work for her.

As for Osaka, like I said, I didn’t know anything about her.

Now, I’m a huge fan.

We’re fellow travelers on the mental health journey. I don’t pretend to know her exact struggles but note this: She’s one of the best in the world at a pro sport, but she’s living with a health condition.

Nobody can tape it up or apply ice to it, but it can be treated. How she treats it is none of my business. It’s no one’s business.

But if you ever wonder why people talk about stigma and mental health, it’s this kind of bullshit. She asked for one accommodation, and there was an avalanche of jerks rushing to keyboards and mics to out-asshole one another to tell her to get in line and quit whining.

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for a long time. I am a good writer. I was once a good journalist. I’m studying to be a teacher.

Sometimes, I will look and seem fine to even my closest friends, but inside my guts are churning broken glass and nails.

But here’s the thing I keep telling everybody: Mental health is just health.

Think about it this way: If Osaka had high blood pressure or a blood sugar problem, people would understand that. They might even think it was brave of her to play with those potentially life-threating ailments.

Mental health is also potentially life threatening but can be treated. People who live with those ailments can do anything they want with their lives. Osaka proves that.

So, media people, shut the fuck up. Nobody wants to hear from you about anything.

Tennis bosses? Get it together and treat your players like humans, not characters in a video game.

And Osaka? You do you. When you get back to the courts, you’ll have one more fan.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.