Thursday, December 31, 2015

So... its a bad news good news kind of thing...

God I had hoped I'd never have to write something like this...

The bad news, is that I definitely have either a recurrence, or additional metastasis, of cancer... Either way, this still counts as stage 4, as it has spread to multiple systems.

The cancer appears to be in at least one of my parathyroids, and at least 8 of the lymph nodes, around my thyroid bed (left and right sides, and bottom at least... and its likely to have spread to most or all of the anterior cervical and superclavicular nodes). Most of the enlarged nodes are under 1.5cm, but at least one of them is grossly enlarged to over 2.5cm, and at least one parathyroid is grossly enlarged as well.

So yeah... technically, I have stage 4 metastatic lymphocytic cancer...

That's pretty bad.

The GOOD news is that it doesn't seem to have had any distant or systemic lymphocytic metastasis, or metastasis outside the typical local spread common to these kinds of cancers.

The BEST news... It doesn't seem to be either of the two REALLY bad varieties of cancer that it could have been (there are strongly negative indicators saying it isnt).

If it was one of those, it would be effectively untreatable, and I'd have a few months left to live on the outside.

It's HIGHLY unlikely to be either of those, based on existing blood test results, and general evaluation of the current diagnostic data. This will be confirmed with pathology on the tumors, and further blood tests.

So, yesterday afternoon, I had FIVE FNA biopsies (somewhat uncomfortable having needles stuck into your neck over and over again... and it stays uncomfortable for a coupel days), and more blood tests; to narrow down what the cancer subtype and pathology are exactly.

Once we have that nailed down, I"ll get more imaging to ensure it hasnt spread further (there's a moderate probability it may have spread to some of the nodes in my chest as and a small chance it could be in my liver or in other areas).

It could still be one of several moderately bad types of cancer, or a greater than anticipated metastasis; with as little as a 40% positive short term and 25% positive long term prognosis... but that seems unlikely at this point.

Most likely, I have something like a 75% to 92% positive short term (1 to 5 year) prognosis, and a 40% to 80% positive long term (5 to 10 year) prognosis.

So that's good.

I'll write more later...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ten Years Gone

Honestly... I don't even know how it's possible this day has come... I should have been dead before I ever met her... 100 times over...

I've had almost everyone I've ever been with tell me that I was incredibly easy to fall in love with, and incredibly hard to stay with... to keep up with, to put up with... I've always been "too much" for everyone.

But here we are... 10 years later... Through hell and back, and through it again... and on our way back out again...

10 years...

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful wife, Melody Byrne.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You just... you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all...

Well... This is one of those things that would be funny... and is just... absurd...

Mel was transferring the rest of our stuff from a friends house to our storage unit, and had put a bunch of that stuff up on the front lawn, waiting to load it into the truck.

Then she and our friend went into the garage to get that stuff ready to load in the truck.

While they were in the garage, someone came by the front yard, and took most of what was out there.

It ended up being a couple thousand dollars worth of clothing, shoes, electronics, and furniture that they took... Including a lot of Mels clothes, a lot of the boys clothes, and most of what was left of my business wardrobe (I'm now apparently down to 3 pairs of pants, three collared shirts, and two button downs... That's not good).

It was also several hundred pounds worth of not obviously saleable things (all but the furniture was packed in bins ready to load up).

...And this is in Milton, a town with effectively zero crime, on a quiet side street in a nice neighborhood etc... etc...

Honestly... It may have been an overzealous charitable donation van, or someone assuming we were putting out trash, because I can't imagine someone just pulling up a van to grab all that. It just wouldn't look like it was worth much, and it would have been a fair bit of effort to move it.

And... I just have to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all... Just... Wow.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Taxation CAN be ethical and legitimate... I just wish it actually were...



Hmmm... would it surprise you to learn that neither of those things are true... but that both are based on valid, and nonconflicting, principles?

... Yes, valid and non conflicting. Yes, even for libertarians and other individualists, not just statist and collectivists...

Being a libertarian... or even broader, being one who recognizes and accepts the notion of fundamental and inherent individual rights, regardless of ones political philosophy surrounding them... means that you must recognize that all people have equal rights, AND equal responsibilities.

It means you must recognize that the exercise of rights (even the right to attempt to continue living) has consequences, which we must own in the entire, as we own ourselves in the entire.

This includes recognizing and understanding that our actions, including those that are within and pursuant to our rights, DO impact others, including in ways which MAY create obligation.

Social debt is a real, valid, and legitimate concept; even... in fact a system of individual rights. To claim otherwise is to twist the notion of individual rights, and self ownership, to exclude certain cases of responsibilities and consequences... and to ignore basic economics for that matter.

Social debt is incurred by all who gain direct benefit or substantive indirect benefit, from a social good, or from the use of property held in common, even without their explicit consent; unless that social good is forced on them, both against their will, and without direct necessity.

For example, babies can't consent to incurring debt for police, courts, and national defense, however they both gain benefit from these social goods, and such costs are necessary to the functioning of society as it exists today (and it can be argued, some "things" which serve these unctions will always be necessary, as anarchy among a large population, always and inevitably results in the tyranny of the strong over the weak).

A man who is left unconscious, in the cold or heat, without food, water, and shelter, will die. If he is then given food, shelter, water, and medical care, necessary to sustain his life, he incurs debt for these goods, even though he did not consent to it. If he does not wish to accept such debt, then he must ensure that should he become unable to consent or refuse, that he be allowed to die rather than incurring such debt.

Of course... If "society", or the state, do not allow him to make this decision, to die rather than incur such debt... if we force him to accept such treatment against his will... then no debt is incurred. Otherwise, any debt whatsoever could be justified, by claiming it was necessary. This would abrogate the ownership of oneself, and arrogate such ownership to the state, or to "society" (of course, many people already believe that we are owned by "society", so this concept is not a problem for them).

Thus, yes, simply being born into, and living in, a nation or a "society", incurs obligation, even without your explicit consent. If you do not wish to incur such obligation, then do not live in that country or society. If you are unable to leave because of your circumstances, unless you are being explicitly forced to remain against your will, and not as a consequence of your own actions and choices (no matter how poor or limited your options), this does not free you of your obligations.

There must be some system for satisfying such obligations. Taxation, as a broad concept, is one such system (or set of systems, as there are many different types and means of taxation) for doing so, though there are others.

THIS, is how involuntary taxation CAN BE ethical, and legitimate, in a system of individual rights.

HOWEVER... in order to be ethical and legitimate, such obligations must be strictly limited.

Taxation is only ethical, and legitimate, if such burdens are: minimized, provide direct or substantive indirect benefit, and are either necessary, or voluntary. And no, majority decision is not "voluntary" automatically, unless one has consented to be governed by such decisions.

We implicitly consent to some degree of governance by accepting or maintaining citizenship, or residency, in this country... However, we also do so under the conditions of the constitution, AND those of our preexisting fundamental and inherent rights, which the constitution recognizes and protect.

Actions of the government can only be legitimate.... and can only legitimately create obligation... if they align with such principles; among which are that any impingement on one's rights (including property rights, which includes your wealth, cash, assets etc...) even as allowed by the constitution, must still be minimal, must effectively serve a compelling interest, and must be applied equally under the law.

Now... I don't know about anyone else... But I don't feel that our current regime of taxation... and much of what those taxes are used for... are aligned with either the constitution, or our individual rights, nor do they impose the minimum necessary burden, nor do they effectively serve a compelling interest, and they are most certainly not applied equally under the law.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Individual rights, collective anathema

What makes America different from all nations which preceeded it (and I believe, all other nations still), is that we are a nation fundamentally and entirely based, on the recognition and protection of fundamental, inherent, preexisting, individual rights.

Not royal right, not divine right, not collective rights... none of these things exist, they are artificial and false concepts used to subjugate individuals... but individual rights.

Though our constitution calls itself the highest law of the land, it is not... It explicitly recognizes that the highest law, is that set of fundemental, inherent, and pre-existing individual rights, from which its authority, legitimacy, and powers, are entirely derived.

Our constitution and all our laws derive their entire legitimacy and authority from the rights of the individual; it's powers derived from and with the consent of, the governed.

We are a nation with a government of strictly limited and enumerated powers, and a people of unenumerated and nearly unlimited individual rights and powers; wherein the people, and their individual rights and powers, are always superior to the government

Our constitution, and our nation, have no existence whatsoever, outside of or without, fundamental and inherent individual rights.

This concept is absolutely critical to liberty, and to the function of our nation, and our government.

... Which is why so many have spent so long, and worked so hard, trying to eliminate the very notion that inherent individual rights exist.

Their worldview cannot be validated, their desires and plans cannot be fulfilled, so long as individual rights exist.

... Which is why so many people are now falsely taught that the very concept does not exist, or that it is wrong. That there are no rights at all, or that rights are granted or determined by government or society.

These people believe that there are no fundamental and inherent rights... Only those privileges which "society"... or the "right people" in society... collectively decide are appropriate or beneficial, and which they falsely chose to call "rights".

They believe that "society" or government can grant such "rights", define them, limit or expand them, and take them away; as it wills.

Many believe that is how things are now, how they should and must be, and do not even understand how any other way could possibly exist, or function, or be true.

They are of course entirely wrong... and dangerously so.

This false "collective rights" concept is anathema to the American ideal, to our constitution, and to human liberty.

Rights, are those things inherent to individuals, which cannot be infringed, abrogated, or violated, without force, fraud, or willing consent.

Rights cannot be granted or taken away, they can only be recognized, respected, and protected; or violated, infringed, or abrogated.

Rights are not subject to or contingent upon the will of others, nor the vote of the majority, nor any law or government.

Rights are always and only a property of individuals, inherent to them, and inalienable.

Collectives, and entities other than individuals cannot have rights, they may only exercise the rights and powers that individuals within those entities have delegated to them. As such, they may not exercise any right or power which is not posessed by the individuals within them, nor can these rights and powers be in any way be superior to those of any individual.

... Which is why so many deny that such rights exist.

Without fundamental, inherent, and preexisting individual rights, we have nothing but the consent and approval of others, to protect us from being subject to the will of others.

... Which is what so many people would prefer.

With such rights, there are many things which cannot be denied or stripped away from you, simply by the will of others.

... Which is why so many disparage such rights.

With such rights, there are many things which cannot be forced on you, simply by the will of others.

... Which is why those who believe in the false notion of "collective rights" have worked so long and so hard to, and are still attempting to; deny and destroy the very concept of individual rights.

Because so long as we have individual rights, individuals can legitimately disagree with, and prevent, the will of the majority from being enforced on the minority, if doing so would violate those rights...

... No matter how many people want it...

... No matter how "important" it is...

... No matter how bad the problem they want to "fix" is...

... No matter how "good" or "beneficial" the idea or plan is...

Those who believe in "collective rights", simply cannot tolerate this.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Problem is People

The problem with violence is people... always, and nothing but.

No substance, no object, no tool, no law, no government, no society, no state... just people, always and nothing but.

People are violent, and they cannot be controlled by the laws against violence we already have, nor by any new laws, nor by the state and it's agents, nor by other people directly.

The only control any person has, is over their own choices and actions. If people chose to act in ways that harm others, then there is very little anyone else can do, except to attempt to use force against those people, in order to stop them.

Laws do not keep one safe, nor do they control the actions of others. They simply codify the rules by which force may be used to attempt to prevent their violation, the means and manner of force which may be used to attempt to prevent such violations, and the means and manner of force which may be used to punish such violations when they occur.

LAW IS FORCE. If any control is exerted by this, it is through nothing but fear of said force, by those who would otherwise violate the law.

As should obvious to all... though many attempt to ignore and deny it... fear of this force, has but little restraining influence on those who would do violence against others.

Control over anything but ones own choices, is an illusion. Safety is an illusion. Both illusions are incredibly dangerous. There is no such thing as control, or safety... Only probabilities and degrees of risk, and mitigation of that risk. Acting as if it were otherwise guarantees only that the risks are greater, and the damage greater when that risk becomes reality.

This set of objective factors and principles, presents a truly, incredibly, difficult; intellectual, emotional, and moral understanding. It violates all of our closely held precepts of what society should be, how people should behave... simply the way things SHOULD be... and accepting it can be nearly impossible.

Some accept this, and decide that they have a moral responsibility to take what actions they can when confronted with it. Thus they prepare to use force personally and directly against others if necessary, and bear the consequences if they do so.

Some accept this, but also believe, or decide, that they cannot personally and directly use force against others, or have the means to do so, even in defense of themselves or others. They must then accept that when confronted by such violent acts, that either someone else must intervene, or violence will be done to them or others.

Some accept this, but believe morally or ideologically, that whether they would be capable of doing so or not; using force directly and personally against others, or having the means to do so, even in defense of themselves or others; presents an unacceptable risk or threat to themselves, to others, or to society as a whole. Thus they delegate such use of force to society as a whole, or to the state, and must accept that if the state fails to prevent it, violence may be done to them or others.

Many people simply cannot accept these things at all... or at best, only parts of them, or in limited ways. This creates extremely strong cognitive, emotional, and moral dissonance in them. Things simply SHOULD NOT BE this way. They CAN NOT BE this way. They feel out of control, unsafe, and threatened.

Many people cannot bear... or believe they cannot, or cannot even consider... the responsibility and moral weight, of personally using force directly against another, even in defense of themselves or others. Nor can they bear the understanding, that this moral weight falls not just equally upon them, but in fact greater upon them, when others do so on their behalf; whether as individuals, or as agents of the state.

In defense of their own sense of self, they create a false moral separation, and false sense of control and superiority, in order to partially resolve the emotional and moral dissonance of this state. They then partially resolve the cognitive dissonance, by rationalizing the false notion that they are too moral, too compassionate, too civilized... and therefore they are morally uncompromised, and superior... for being unable to, or refusing to, use force personally and directly against others.

Perhaps worse, they may also (or instead) rationalize the false notion that individuals (sometimes all individuals, sometimes all others but not themselves, sometimes just a subset of others they disfavor, sometimes all others except agents of the state) are morally and actually incapable of preventing, attempting to prevent, or having the means to prevent; such acts of violence against themselves or others (either entirely, or without engendering unacceptable risk or actual harm, to others, or to society). They falsely believe this then absolves them of the moral weight of the use of force against others, and the violence which might otherwise have been prevented.

Yet, they also cannot accept this utter lack of control over the actions of others. This presents an existential threat to their person and their psyche, which they cannot resolve within their intellectual, emotional, and moral framework. They feel out of control, unsafe, and threatened, with no means of resolving these problems.

Thus, in a state of profound cognitive, emotional, and moral dissonance, they will attempt ANYTHING they can justify in the slightest, no matter how poor the justification, no matter how little evidence or reason, to reassure themselves. They will seize on any rationalization, any symbol or totem or fetishes that they can cling to. Any way, in which they can at least partially resolve this dissonance, in order to regain and maintain the illusions of control and moral superiority.

In so doing, they have no problem with compelling others to use force on their behalf, and to enforce the symbols which maintain that illusion of control, on all people; falsely believing that such action absolves them of both the moral responsibility for the use of force against others, and the violence done to others that might otherwise have been prevented.

It doesnt matter if what they are doing is useless, or even harmful. Even that which harms others, and violates the rights of others, is inconsequential to them, so long as they can restore and maintain their illusion of control, to resolve their cognitive, emotional, and moral dissonance, and to dismiss the existential threat.

They will justify and rationalize it in any and every possible way. Compassion, justice, morality, safety, "civilization"... but in reality, it is simply their desire to restore their comfortable illusion of control and safety, without having to take moral responsibility for the use of force against others.

Any person, principle, argument, or fact, that threatens this set of illusions and rationalizations... or breaks it...  must be destroyed or dismissed. or the painful dissonance and existential threat will return. They will feel out of control, and unsafe, and this cannot be tolerated.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Murphy needs to stop already

So between the fact that I ended up needing to bring the boy back with me (instead of leaving him up north while we moved) and therefore needing hotels for the trip back up, Chris ' s business wardrobe needing completely replaced (what we left in storage in NH ended up destroyed), and the fact that not near enough moving prep was done while I was in Boston, our cash supply is pretty much non-existent.

I'm really, really tired of Murphy at this point.

I just want to get moved, get it done safely, and get through this time in our lives.


Monday, August 31, 2015

An Appeal: Help Us Get Our Family Back Together

This month has been one of the worst months of my life.

So as has been mentioned, Chris landed a new job in the Boston area, looking to be closer to his farher, who recently had a massive heart attack. We wanted the boy to know his family, and to have time with his grandfather.

He received his job offer in the first week of July, replied very quickly, finished the required paperwork, the whole deal. The contract was signed, July 11th, the paperwork finished by the 18th in theory. The contracting agency gave him a start date of August 3rd, so he turned down the other two job offers he had pending, and flew up to Boston on August 1st raring to start his new job.

... Except the end client wasn't ready for him. In fact, they hadn't even started the paperwork to get him a start date, and THEIR contract and purchase order had only been signed on the third. The subcontracting company had lied about the start date in order to keep Chris from taking another job. Then the start date was August 10th, then August 17th, then last week it came down that MAYBE in 6 weeks he could start...

The contracting agency was supposed to make partial payment to him for the delay, but that's still "in process" more than a week after saying they would do it, and at best wouldn't be "through the process" until the next pay period on the 15th... frankly, we don't believe it's going to happen, they just keep trying to delay so Chris won't take another job. 

Meanwhile, we have burned through everything we've got, he's not getting paid, and we have to move out of our house in a few weeks.

At this point we're completely separated as a family, because it took all we had to get him to Boston in the first place... So our son and I were left behind in Florida, helpless and 1400 miles apart.

After the contract startup delay extended more than a week, Chris started actively pursuing other opportunities. In addition to waiting out the contract delay, he's currently actively working 7 different job opportunities that might actually end in an offer. He has had several interviews already, withe more this week.  Two of the recruiters are confident he will have an offer, possibly next week.

In the meantime, I've been in Florida, with a toddler, having continuous and severe panic attacks and recurrent PTSD episodes, from past abandonment and emotional abuse. Not a good thing, and something I'm now somewhat heavily medicated for, just to function. So in other words having the family split apart by circumstances and lying contracting agencies, is literally making me insane.

It's the 31st and he still hasn't started the new gig. The contracting company straight up lied to him and left him holding the bag. It's also the day we expected to receive his first paycheck. He did everything right, had the paperwork returned within 12 hours, managed to get to Boston for his start date and... got completely screwed over.

Early in the month I used donated airline miles to book tickets for the child and me to visit him in Boston, expecting that he'd be paid by now and... he's not. He also lost his place to stay in all of this. I've been dealing with constant panic attacks and PTSD episodes. We can't afford to keep the house in Florida, particularly with no housemate to split the rent with anymore. We're beyond broke.

Our original plan was for him to find us a rental as soon as he had income and move the family up then. I can't wait that long. This has become a crisis for me. Any of you who saw me disappear from Facebook for weeks... this is why. I have been in continuous panic freakouts all day long, almost every day, for weeks. I NEED to be with my husband NOW. As long as I'm with him, I can control the panic attacks... without him, I need to be medicated or they get out of control.

Fortunately Chris has found a friend who will let us live with them until we can get another place. Which is good because it will cost less to move than to pay full rent (we split it with the housemate until recently when the housemate moved out) and electricity and cable and everything else that goes with staying in the house. However I need to actually manage to fly up there to meet the possible housemate, make sure everyone gets along, etc etc. This is especially important because I'm literally going insane from the lack of my husband. Fortunately I already have plane tickets for Christopher and me.

Our current plan (if everything goes perfectly) is that I go through with the intended flights, make preparations on that end, then come back and load what we're keeping into the rental truck, get the car onto a trailer to be towed behind the rental truck, load up the dogs, and head north.

We already gave notice to vacate on the house (because we can't pay for the rent anyway, and we'd already paid last month's rent upon moving in) and they have nee tenants altrady lined up... and now we have to get out by the end of the month. I've been packing and cleaning like crazy while handling the toddler and dogs by myself, while having major anxiety over the whole thing.

So Chris is focusing on getting new work, and trying to find temporary employment. I am focusing on getting the house ready and moved, and getting it paid for while he does. The only problem? We literally don't have the cash to accomplish this. I don't have the cash for the bills, the necessary medications, the gas to get to the airport, the rental truck, the trailer, the cleaning supplies necessary or even that small thing called FOOD. This should have been fixed by now. And if Chris hadn't been completely screwed over it wouldn't be a problem at all.

We did the right thing... we did everything right, and we SHOULD have been paid by now... and be well sorted in a few weeks. Instead were being punished again, for I don't know what. We just can't seem to catch a single break.

So at this point, we need the $3,500 to fund the move, the final bills, pay for the medications that keep us alive, and food and other essentials; until the entire family is moved to Boston and back together and Chris begins work. So... as much as I never wanted to do anything like this again... I need to ask for help. Because we need the family back together, both to keep our costs down, and so Chris and I don't go insane over months of separation.

Honestly, I can't take any more time apart... this is absolutely killing me, and I can't take anymore. We NEED to be back with my husband right now... 

So please, please help us. I know some of you ask for a PayPal link whenever we do this, so here it is:

Otherwise please email me at melody DOT byrne AT gmail DOT com and we can arrange something. Thank you so much. I can't even tell you how much any help at all means.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

A hard road out...

With two very notable exceptions, the 2010s have been a pretty horrible decade for us so far...

Those notable exceptions, would be me not dying in 2012, and the boy being born in 2013.

The rest though? It sounds melodramatic to say I know what hell is like... but there are days it feels like it.

September 2010 is when everything really started going completely to hell... the girls being taken, and my health getting so bad I was on sudden death watch for six weeks at the end of the year.

Then my brother dying and finding out it was cancer in early 2011. Leaving Wells Fargo late that year and starting contracting again as the cancer worsened. Commuting from Idaho to SFO every week while I got sicker and sicker.

Trying to go to GBR in Reno that year, and I managed two whole dinners, and a couple hours at the range one morning... and the rest of the time I was stuck in my hotel room, in pain.... not even able to sit up in a chair to be with some of my best friends...

Honestly, that was in September... and I don't even remember the rest of the year after that... My sleep apnea from the tumor was so bad that even with the cpap and the meds it was depriving my brain of oxygen. My thyroid and adrenals had pretty much stopped functioning by then, but we couldn't supplement because it might have made the cancer worse... and the tests said I wasnt actually critically hypothyroid but they were wrong, because of the weirdness of the cancer... and I was just getting sicker and sicker, and stupider and stupider.

Then early 2012 my mom dies, and the IRS decides to screw us over, and seizes our accounts while we're visiting Boston for her damn memorial... The memorial that never happened because... things were screwed up with that side of my family... Then I get a great new gig, that turns to hell, as my cancer decides to go stage 4 and almost kill me.

Then it's good news, as we find out Mel is pregnant with the boy... and bad news as we find out how bad the malignancy was, and the metastasis, and how much radiation I would need... and the radiation... I spent three months completely in bed... the cancer and the radiation were so bad I'm still not recovered fully from it.

And 2013 rolls around...

December 1995 to December 1996 used to be my worst year ever... It started with a motorcycle accident, losing my fiancee, losing my home, and losing my job, all on the same day, ended with the man I loved most in the world dying, and in between, my house burning down, and several friends dying ..

Now... my worst year is April 2013 to April 2014... not even a question.

In 2013, we finally run out of resources... and we lost the atv, and the boat, and the car, and most of the guns, and almost anything of value we had...

But we get a bright spot in March because the boy is born... and we live for him for the next few months, until we finally lost the house at the end of August...

Meanwhile, Mel has SEVERE pre and post partum issues, and our community of friends is torn apart by... nasty things from nasty people... and people we love are badly hurt, and friendships are lost and... things just go from bad to worse.

This is the point where stuff could have started turning around... but instead it turns out we made the wrong decision, and everything just kept getting worse... Because instead of going to my family in Boston, when they were asking us to, and could help us... We made the incredibly stupid decision to go back to Arizona.

... in the middle of nowhere, with limited phone and Internet, 80 miles from any employment or friends, and Mel's autistic hyperreligious father...

And we just got stuck in a hole for a few months...

But I was stupid enough to think I was recovered enough to work again... and so, with the help of vast quantities of pharmaceuticals, come November, I start a new job that requires rapid relocation entirely across the country to New Hampshire... while I'm trying to work 60 to 80 hours a week... and traveling back and forth from Arizona to Vegas, then to New Hampshire, then Chicago, Arizona, New Hampshire, Connecticut, back to New Hampshire, back to Arizona, to Seattle, and then what was supposed to be a final trip back from AZ to NH... all in a matter of a few weeks.

Only the company (who went half bust and were acquired soon after by the way) decided to screw me over relocation expenses, because the CFO and I didnt get along and never wanted to pay relo anyway... and they left us stranded in the middle of a transcontinental relocation... no home to go to, unpaid and unreimbursed, out of pocket to the tune of almost $20,000...

And my health, which had not been good to begin with... after months and months of travel and overwork, and stress... just collapsed. I got pneumonia in late January while I was still travelling, and I kept working through it because we needed to survive...  and it didn't clear up until early March... by which time we ended up stuck back in one little room in Arizona.

... and for its second.. or third maybe... encore, my destroyed endocrine system and the abuse I'd been heaping on my body for so long, finally caught up... and I spent 10 or so days going into and out of a myxedemic coma.

.... at the same time, Mels relationship with her father rapidly deteriorates, to the point where they are never going to speak again... and there I am... can't work, can't take care of my family... helpless, and homeless.

Thank God friends were able to help us out... and after a few days with good friends in phoenix.., Once again, rather than go to my family in Boston, we make the wrong decision... and go to Florida. No offense to the great friends who helped save our lives... we are grateful in ways we can't even express... but it was the wrong decision.

The last 15 months... they were better than the previous three and a half years absolutely, but they were the wrong move. After the first few months, things stopped getting better and just sort of oscillated around a low baseline.

Getting off the medication that was killing me, and onto the right one helped, but not enough... and Mels mindset and health deteroriated, and after some improvement mine plateaued way below where it needed to be... My inflammation was out of control, and the pain was... I just kept getting sick over and over... and in between I worked until I dropped... and I dropped and stayed down for weeks, then I'd work for a bit again, and then I'd drop again...

Then finally I made enough of a recovery, that I could commit to a full time job... and I did... in fact I overcommitted. 80 plus hours weeks for months, for low pay... because I believed in what we were doing, where we were going... and I get bronchitis, and work through it for three weeks, and kill myself crawling around a warehouse in 105 degree heat and humidity with it... I work for 70 hours straight through one time... but the CEO decides he wants to go in a different direction, and he can't afford me...

...and my dad has a heart attack... the day before my birthday no less... and I don't find out until the day of... from facebook no less, because apparently, everyone in my family had my old phone number from two years before... and it's a 98% blockage, and he actually died on the way to the ER and... it was really bad.

..And that has to be one of those not so gentle hints you get every once in a while that you're doing the wrong thing.

We lost the Idaho house the end of August 2013... and have gone through hell since...  We should have come back to Boston two years ago.

If we had gone back to Boston after the boy was born, as we should have... April 2013 to 2014 never would have happened. I wouldn't have ended up in a coma... Instead of struggling with intermittent contracts and friends and family helping and generally being a damn burden on everyone... I'd have been working in a good high paying job, that didn't require 4 hour round trip commutes, or airline commutes, or 80% travel... and we would have had my family around to help and support us.

Instead we spent a year in a holding pattern, while Mels own issues get worse and worse, and we get more and more isolated, and...

And then my dad has a heart attack... and it's pretty damn clear we have to go to Boston, to be around him, and my family, and to make sure my son knows his grandfather and...

So I look for jobs up here, I go through interviews, I get some great opportunities, I spend most of June and early July hustling a new gig... I even get a choice of potential offers... And one of them looks like a really great gig, and it's only a few minutes from my dad, and they want me to start right away, and GREAT... I take the offer, I sign the contract, I let the other employers know I'm unavailable, and I start getting ready to come up here.

That was July 11th...  I was supposed to start on the 3rd, and I've now been up here 19 days and I'm still waiting to start, and even then after that I won't be paid for four weeks...

...meanwhile I haven't been paid since May...

...and I'm getting jerked around because "the process" is so badly broken, that I may not start until some time next month, and then not be paid until a month after that...

So, as soon as I found out that I was misled about the start date, I started looking for other  jobs, and in fact I've had several phone interviews already. Im on second interview phase on four different... really good... jobs in the next few days.

... but even if I get a new job next week (unlikely), or the week after (possibly); the start date won't be until mid September, or even first of October... and then I won't be paid for 15 to 30 days after that.

And my wife is stuck back in Florida with the toddler, and it's coming up on the end of the month, and her state of mind is NOT good, and getting worse every day I'm not home...

... and when I get here, I find out my dad is FAR worse than I knew about... my grandmother dying last year after three years of taking care of her through the decline, and then the heart attack... his PTSD has got so bad...

And now... this delay, and my money situation, and Mel's stress and bad reaction, and my dad's issues, and... and as pathetic a tale of woe as this is, I've left out most of it... and just every damn thing.

Apparently my family have had enough... because... well there's no more help there... that was made clear to me today... yesterday.. whatever... and things are starting to get nasty, and I have no right to ask anything of them anyways... and apparently, none of any of this has actually happened, and I'm just... yeah... it got nasty.

...and we've already lost almost everything, several times over...

... And I keep trying to do the right thing, or anything I can... and I keep getting hit in the damn face... Sometimes it's my health, sometimes it's my own fault from my own bad decisions,  sometimes it somebody else, sometimes it's just the way things go...

And I'm writing this... half of me doesn't want to post it, because it's too damn much of a tale of woe... and the other half has to write this down, because it's just too damn much and I've got to get it out,

We have got great friends who are doing what they can to help us, and people who love us... and God knows I appreciate that... and they've been with us through this whole process, even back to the custody battle for the girls...

...But I haven't breathed a single breath that wasn't under imminent threat of our life being ruined, or even dying, since... I don't even know... what year did the custody case go federal? 2007? 2008? I haven't been healthy since even before that, and I have only been healthy enough to actually work for... less than a year now really... I have been in a non stop life and death struggle since September 2010, and every time it gets any better, I keep getting knocked back down.

My personal favors, my relationships, my resources, my reputation, my honor, my pride, and now both Mels family and mine... they're... just gone...

I keep seeing the light at the end of the tunnel... and I keep getting hit by the train that's behind it...

... and I am badly, badly burned out, and exhausted, and I just need to rest, and I can't... I haven't been able to rest since 2010... or before...

Now, it's mid... I guess late now... 2015... August 20th 2015... in two weeks it'll be five years since the girls were taken...

I no longer have a "worst year"...

I now have a "worst five years"... September 2010 through August 2015...

Maybe September 2015 will be better... I really hope so...

Critical Process Capture

I'm going to illustrate for you how process capture, and broken processes, have real world consequences, for the success of your organization, as well as for the people in it.

At the very end of April, my father had a serious heart attack. In the wake of that, my wife and I decided to move back to the Boston area, to be closer to him.

I start looking for jobs up here, I go through interviews, I get some great opportunities, I spend most of June and early July hustling a new gig... I even get a choice of potential offers...

One of them looks like a really great gig, and it's only a few minutes from my dad, and they want me to start right away, and GREAT... I take the offer, I sign the contract, I let the other employers know I'm unavailable, and I start getting ready to come up here.

That was July 11th... 

Now, it's mid... I guess late... August... August 20th to be exact. Six weeks after I signed the contract... and now tied for the longest time I've gone between signed contract, and start date.

When I was recruited, this was a critically urgent... in fact months overdue... requirement. And they had a very quick process for interviewing and hiring me... It was two weeks from first phone call, to signed contract, with a projected start date another two weeks out... "Maybe three at the most".

At this point, "the process" got started... and the failure started along with it.

A two week out start date, became the first week of August... Then, after my tickets have been booked for two weeks, and I'm a day from travelling, I get a phone call... It's not gonna be the 3rd, it'll be a meeting on the 5th to get my badges and paperwork done, and then I'll start either the 6th or the 10th.

Ok, that's annoying, but I can deal with it... a few days of hanging out with my family, seeing my friends... It's a big pain losing a week of billing, but we'll live.

Then I go to the meeting on the 5th expecting to be ready to go... get my badge, fill in my final paperwork... This is what my recruiter and contract manager said the meeting was supposed to be about...

Except "the process" had other plans.

I talk to the hiring manager in the meeting that Wednesday,  and I find out that due to "delays in the approvals process", even though I had signed the contract on July 11th, the actual PO for the first phase of the engagement, had only been signed that Monday... and, because it is a completely serialized process, with no parallel work streams allowed, the SOW hadn't even been signed or approved yet.

At that point, they hadn't even started the paperwork to get me cleared to start, never mind a start date, a workspace, a PC, ID'S etc... and in fact, because of "the process", they weren't even allowed to START the sub process for doing do.

But "they're working on it"... "it should be the next week, assuming all goes well, or at worst, the 17th", because "someone will be working "the process" the whole time".

Only the week of the 10th the hiring manager goes on vacation... and I find out that nothing even got started the week before, except my background check...

... Which I told them at the first meeting would pop an issue if they did a credit check, because of the medical issues and losing the house etc... and which they said wouldn't be a problem, there was an exception process and they'd get started right away...

Remember, I signed the contract July 11th, and was told by the contracting agency, that the background check had cleared, THREE WEEKS BEFORE, or I never would have got on a plane in the first place...

And, of course, there's an issue with my background check, because they are one of the few companies that still does a credit check for pre-employment screening ...even though I'm just a subcontractor... and they have arbitrary rules about what's "clearable",  so there's a problem...

...but there's an "exception process", and I need to wait for the paperwork from the background check company in order to do my part of the process... Which by the way they send to Florida instead of here, and which doesn't get to Florida, until this past SATURDAY, more than a week after the background check was initiated.

...Meanwhile my hiring manager needs to start the exception process... which can take 10 to 15 business days... which he was supposed to do after the meeting on THE FIFTH...

... Only he's on vacation, and he didnt start the "exception process" because they can't start the exception until the background check starts being processed and comes up with a problem... and that didnt actually happen until he was already on vacation... and the person who is supposed to be "working the process" isn't "working the process", because only the hiring manager is allowed to start the "except process"...

...but the manager "knows about it, and will start on it as soon as he gets back".

... yeah...

The hiring manager finally got back from vacation on Tuesday, and apparently NOBODY understands the damn process, because four different people in four different groups have a different idea of what needs to be done by who...

...and there can't be any separate work streams, it's all serial...

...and unless they can "expedite the exception process", it may be ANOTHER 10 TO 15 BUSINESS DAYS before the EXCEPTION can be processed... and that has to be completed before the REST of the on boarding process can even START...

... which may take 10 to 15 days beyond that...

... Unless they can "expedite the on boarding process"...

That's been my last few days... and in fact, my last few weeks.

Yesterday, I got a call from the contact administrator, the hiring manager says it's absolutely critical to get me on boarded as soon as possible, and he's working the exception process but needs me to go back to the group that told me that I need to have the hiring manager work the "exception process".

They're now six months overdue on the requirements I'm supposed to be filling, and every day I'm not working they fall further and further behind...

... but "the process" must be obeyed, and there is no way around it except "the exception process", which is really just another part of "the process".

Later today, I talk to that group again... I tried working with them again yesterday, but the guy who was supposed to be working with me, was out the last few days, and their backfill person had no clue what to do... except to "start the process over again" from scratch, which would take... you guessed it... another 10 to 15 business days.

This friends, is process capture... I'm almost tempted to say at its worst... but unfortunately, I've seen worse...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Proof and Motivation

Almost everyone I love or care about, suffers from depression, anxiety, addiction or substance abuse, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or some combination thereof.

So, whether I would otherwise or not... I do too... It's different for me of course, but I do too.

And if you are in the same boat, so do you.

And if you are a primary sufferer, remember... those who love you are suffering through it too.

You may not see it, they may be hiding it from you, they may show it in different ways... and they most likely will not tell you, because they know you will just use it as ammunition against yourself.

And when you feel like you're alone, and nobody loves you... the fact that they are their suffering with you, is the most tangible proof you will ever have that you are loved and you aren't alone.

Tattoo it on your forehead if you have to, so every time you look in the mirror you'll be reminded.

Don't use it as an excuse to feed your depression and anxiety and pain even more... Don't use it as an excuse to justify the evil thought "they would be better off without me". Use it as proof that you're loved, and not alone, and motivation to drive on and live your life as best you can.

When you love someone... their pain, is your pain... And their "not wanting to hurt you" or minimizing or "leaving for your benefit" or anything else... I doesn't stop the pain, it makes it worse.

Use it as proof, and motivation.... it's the best that you can do.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A valuable lesson in how not to govern a state

So... if you weren't paying attention... and most haven't been and have little reason to... the state of Connecticut is in serious trouble. They're effectively not just bankrupt, they're in the hole so deep they can't even see the top.

20 years ago, they were in great shape, and looking to get better...

So, what the hell happened?

Basically, Connecticut has been a textbook case for "how to kill your economy with government".

...This is gonna be a long one, because I'm not kidding, it really is a by the numbers lesson of exactly what not to do...

CT is in trouble explicitly because of its government.

This is one that even the liberals can't deny... and if you've read much from regional media, even they are generally placing the blame, at least close to where it belongs.

This all started about 20 years ago...

After some rough years in the 70s and 80s while their legacy manufacturing and fishing industires dramadically contracted, and 10 years where their core insurance and financial aervices industries had plateaued; Connecticut went through a huge economic boom in  the mid 90s (as with most of the country, but as a percentage more than anywhere other than MA, CA and TX)

This was primarily due to massive expansion in the financial services sector; as well as the overall technology boom and .com bubble, and smaller booms... or at least swells... in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, certain elements of the communications, defense, aviation, aerospace, and light manufacturing sectors; and a HUGE boom in the high end commercial real estate and development sectors; all of which CT has traditionally been strong in.

In response to this, the state and local governments very rapidly spent...not just their increased revenue... but decades woth of future revenue as well.

They made revenue and growth assumptions, based on continued growth at that explosive boom rate; creating legislation and programs that depended it... and worse, taking on HUGE amounts of debt, with the assumption that it would be easily paid back with future revenue growth.

At the same time, they made regulations that made it much more difficult and expensive to do business in the state... Because, after all, business was booming, and they could afford it, right?

Well, actually, no.

The state and local governments had increased the burdens of doing business so much, that they made it  nearly impossible for those businesses not in a boom.

They made it particularly difficult for small and medium businesses not primarily driven by discretionary consumer spending; which form the long term economic base of a healthy local and regional economy (about 30% of all private sector employment in this country is from businesses of this type).

Local property taxes and assessments shot up precipitously. Insurance rates skyrocketed. Business to business overheads went up without increased productivity. Legal ahllnd compliance costs went way up. Various individual and business taxes and fees on both the local and state level went up far faster than inflation, or income and revenue growth.

Commercial property costs and new commedical property development went way up in "desireable" areas (even though there wasn't a big increase in demand in most areas). Worse, even though occupancy rates remained stagnant or even crashed, costs still increased significantly in most "less desireable" areas as well.

Similarly,  housing costs and new development shot up in "desireable" areas, even though there wasnt very much overall population growth (CT lost population over the decade), and costs in "less desireable" areas still rose even though occupancy rates fell.

A lot of small businesses, struggling business, and less established businesses just failed. Their costs just became too high for marginal operations to remain viable. At the same time, a number of large legacy business that had been barely viable, became non-viable and finally folded (or in a lot of cases were acquired for short money, then operations were relocated to lower cost markets, contributing both to unemployment and population los).

It became difficult even for established and successful businesses outside of the boom to grow, and very difficult for new businesses outside the boom to get established. The barriers to entry and costs to grow, we're just too high.

In fact,  as early as 1998, it had been noted that in some areas, costs were too high, even in comparison to neighboring or nearby Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey (with few attractions and advantages to offset those burdens).

The government forgot something critical... They forgot that things change, and people and businesses change and move, in response to changing conditions and incentives.

They forgot basic economics.

Businesses need incentives to stay, that are greater than their incentives to leave. They need incentives to start or grow in one place, that are greater than the incentives in another place. Otherwise they're going to go elsewhere. Simple as that.

When your state is more expensive and difficult to do business in than New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California (every state other than Hawaii in fact)... You're doing something very very wrong.

So, businesses started leaving... or were started elsewhere... or expanded in other states.

The big employers and established big revenue companies were able to leverage their size, power, and government relationships, to get some relief from certain burdens (particularly in the defense, financial, and pharmaceutical industries)... and in general were better able to absorb them... So, for as long as the booms lasted, they were happy to keep doing business. But they weren't actually making sustainable long term business growth and investment in Connecticut.

This of course made the government keep thinking that everything was good, and they kept running up their tab, and tightening the screws on businesses and citizens.

...and then the boom slowed

New and small business development essentially halted. Larger established businesses did not bring more business into Connecticut or grow their operations in the state, and started contracting and relocating operations elsewhere. Businesses outside the state chose not to bring new operations there...

...Unless of course they could wangle a legislative favor and get some incentives and relief...

Which of course the government were all too happy to continue doing... After all, it gave them more power, and more money, and more secure political positions.

And from the government's point of view, all was still rosy...

But those companies still made preparations to move their operations out of state the second anything changed... and they expanded operations anywhere other than CT.

... and then the boom ended.

It actually ended right around October of 2000 or so... though most didnt notice it until mid to late 2001, when both companies and governments, came to the inescapable conclusion that actual realized revenues as of the end of q1 and q2 (as opposed to booked revenues, which may be commonly booked from 30 to 180 days before they begin to be realized... or longer... or in many cases never) were down well below their estimates for 2000, and were tracking lower for the rest of 2001 and into 2002.

... and then September 11th happened...

At the same time, the fed cut interest rates to effectively nothing (anything lower than inflation is actually effectively lower than nothing... which they've mostly been at since then by the way, minus a couple years at "slightly more than nothing" from the end of 2004 to the beginning of 2008. It's been at an actual 0% since 2008), and the property boom that had started in 1996-7 with the .com bubbles halo "wealth effect", suddenly kicked into ludicrous speed.

Between 9/11 and the property bubble... somehow people didn't notice that we were actually in a recession in every sector not dependent on the "wealth effect" or debt driven consumer spending.

After the .com bust and 9/11, most American and international big businesses (outside of certain elements of the financial, mineral extraction, energy, transportation, housing, consumer goods, luxury goods and retail sectors, all of which were riding the bubble), changed their operational patterns dramatically to cut costs and reduce risk (as had happened in the early 70s and mid to late 80s in response to major changes in the marketplace). 

At the same time, small business growth slowed dramatically across much of the country, in response to shifting geographic patterns of development, increased risks, and higher costs of doing business. Small businesses that were not driven by the "wealth effect", were largely stagnant. The startup market collapsed, and outside of a few momentarily hot sectors and minibubbles, became nearly dormant in comparison to what it had been between 1989 and 2000.

Venture capital went into a strange mode where capital pools were building, and risk aversion and command and control mindset dominated... But at the same time, in an effort to drive market beating returns, crazy amounts of money would be pumped into anything analysts thought would be a market maker or primary sector driver, without regard for underlying value... Chasing issues up high and fast, and then dumping them hard once profit taking hit (essentially a legal form of pump and dump).

Everyone's risk tolerance went WAY down, except for those in active bubbles.

Most big businesses started aggressively reducing their exposures to risk, and slashing their legacy and high cost operations, especially in high cost markets like the northeast. High cost low margin operations and businesses were divested or shut down. Big companies got bigger, seeking to leverage scale and reduce risk by acquiring viable but marginal operstions, and small but growing operstions. New development was directed to lower cost, lower risk markets like Texas, Florida, south Dakota, and to a lesser extent Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Meanwhile,  collectively, Americans were going insane, and running up a massive property and debt bubble,  peaking at the end of 2006 and just kinda floating there til 2009, before popping completely, in the banking bust.

... And during this time, the CT government spent even MORE and took on even more debt, and turned the screws even tighter on businesses and citizens...

...all in expectation that the "prosperity" of the property and consumer spending bubble would result in significantly increased revenues.

It didn't.

In fact, the insurance and other financial services industries that had long been the core of Connecticuts revenue base were damn near destroyed between 2005 and 2009.

Discretionary consumer spending driven businesses had massively over expanded in the bubble, and suddenly began to contract, or fail, wholesale.

Most of the legacy heavy industry of Connecticut manufacturing cities was killed off in the previous 20 years, except those dependent on government contracts.

The fishing business had long been non-viable because of poor catch rates, high costs, and crippling regulation.

And of course, the property development business completely collapsed.

Between 1997-9 or so and 2009, most viable medium and large businesses (outside of a boom industry) that could leave... did.

Well... unless they got a special incentive from the government to stay (Pfizer... you wouldn't even believe....)

Basically, the entire states primary industries and major private sector employers; failed, contracted dramatically, fled the state, or got special considerations which made them revenue neutral (or even net negative due to state spending or subsidy comittments).

Between this and the collapse of consumer spending, small business failures and contraction, high unemployment, and all of the other ripple effects; Connecticuts economy has contracted by between 11% and 15% overall from its peak in 2006-2008 (depending on how you calculate it and  whose numbers you believe).

That's the worst in the country by a large margin by the way.

The picture is much worse when you look exclusively at the private sector economy, which has contracted over 20% (it may be more than 25% or even more depending on whose estimates you believe)

Excluding those companies in the financial sector and other large businesses whose revenues are primarily realized out of state, and those with negotiated tax breaks... Who knows...

The states taxable revenue base has certainly fallen dramatically, by any measure.

... but the government kept spending as if the state were growing, while massively increasing state debt year over year. In fact, state employment and state expenditures INCREASED EVERY YEAR since 2006.

After 2009, any sane government would have slashed the burden and expense of doing business in their state in order to promote growth and attract new business. That's exactly what most of the states I noted above did (all but Virginia, which made it harder, but boomed on increased government spending).

After 2009, any sane government would have looked at their situation and said "hey, those big expensive projects and new spending that we'd planned on? Yeah, we have to put that on hold".

Again, that's what most states did, outside of the "stimulus money".

Not Connecticut.

From 2008-2010, Connecticut lost 120,000 jobs... about 8% of total jobs in the state. During those same two years, government sector employment (outside of indian gaming industry employment, which is counted as government employment) ACTUALLY INCREASED BY 9%

In the face of total collapses in private sector employment and revenues, and an already overwhelming debt burden, Connecticut actually INCREASED spending, and acquired MORE debt... Counting on state and federal government spending to "stimulate the economy" and Kickstart growth.

It didnt.

Then... and this is my favorite bit....

....when some folks both at the city and state levels, finally woke up and tried to restore some rationality and sanity to the situation... cut spending, layoff non essential staff, cancel new programs, reduce scheduled spending increases, put pending projects on hold etc...


That's not a joke... look it up... and it's not just once either... the absurdity of it would be hilarious, if it weren't tragic.

Now they have the worst debt to revenue ratio in the country... and it's not getting better anytime soon.

Regardless of what Connecticuts government officially says (they concluded they had 0.6% net economic growth in 2014), they are facing what everyone honestly examining the situation knows to be net annual outflow of private sector jobs, income, economic output, and population; with resulting decreasing revenue, and increasing debt load. They're in a coffin corner.

In the next two years, large job losses at GE, Pfizer, General Dynamics, and Sikorsky, are going to stagger the states economy even further

... and rather than stop the bleeding and make it attractive to stay in or come to CT, they have doubled down and continued making it worse.

Rather than cut their regulatory and tax burden, making an overall lower cost to do business for ALL businesses, they are desperately trying to o woo specific large employers to come to the state, with tax and regulatory breaks.

The employers weren't biting, because CT did that before and then screwed those companies 4 to 12 years later.... And besides, there's really no advantage to doing so.

Even if they offer a company 100% corporate income tax free operations, and free land to build their facilities (I did mentione Pfizer earlier didnt I?); CT can't give employers the advantages they get in Texas or Florida:

A government they know actually is pro business, and a generally low cost of doing business; lower total tax burden, lower regulatory burden, lower property costs, lower development cost, lower insurance and benefit costs, lower legal costs and risks; and most significantly, a much easier time (and therefore much lower cost) attracting and retaining quality staff at substantially lower cost per employee (because in addition to lower overheadsm these states have a much lower cost of living, much better weather, and much less constrained lifestyles, providing a considerably higher effective standard of living for a given salary).

Of course,  Connecticuts government somehow never got the lesson, that if you took the same breaks from the ridiculous tax and regulatory burden you were going to give to a company promising to bring 5000 jobs into the state.... and you gave them  to EVERY company in the state already... you wouldn't have to beg big companies to come in, and then have to pander to fhem for decades... Small and medium businesses would flourish again, while costs to everyone for everything in the state would go down, and the economy would not just recover, but soar.

... because they just don't think that way...

It's not command and control, it's not collective, it's not a single big thing they can take credit for, it's not one guy they can cut a deal with, or one guy they can control...

... it doesn't fit the narrative...

But... It actually works...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I am annoyingly expensive to keep alive...

Earlier, my wife posted on Facebook about our monthly prescription drug costs... It got me thinking about our total medical expenditures, and what it takes to keep me alive and functional over and above the "normal" persons needs.

I came to the conclusion that I am rather expensive to keep alive...

At this point I take 7 different daily or weekly prescription medications.

I normally take 15 prescription pills total per day, plus one injection per week (which is way down from the 23 pills a day I was taking at one point).

As of right now, we pay about $350 a month for just my scrips (down from about $600 18 months ago), out of pocket, using several different pharmacies and several different prescription discount plans (it would be three times that price if we didn't).

I think the retail on them combined, used to be around $1500 for generic, but over the past two years, it's gone down to about $900-$1000... Which is still ridiculous. Thankfully, the discount plans really help a LOT.

Name brand, DISCOUNT (never mind retail) cost on my scrips would be several thousand dollars; as name brand retail on just one of those scrips is something like $900, and a couple of the others are $300 to $700.

Oh and that doesn't include the Provigil (modafinil generic), which I have been prescribed, but don't take, because it's INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE. It used to be $750 with the discount, and it's still $400 with the discount ($1018 retail) for a 30 day supply. And of course, that's generic... name brand is $1350 AFTER DISCOUNT!

Even when we had insurance, Provigil is only covered for narcolepsy and other sudden sleep disorders, not for what I need to take it for (sudden overwhelming fatigue and loss of mental acuity and alertness, with occasional daytime somnolence; due to endocrine dysfunction); so at best, I can get it at the discounted price.

Since I can't afford the medication that actually works.. pretty much I just gut it out. When I have the sudden fatigue etc... I take another adderall and another cytomel, and try to do things that don't require much brain function... or nothing if I can, or if I'm at home try to lay down or nap... until my endocrine system and other meds catch up and my brain works again (it can last for anywhere from 20 minutes, to 2 hours).

And of course, that's just the daily and weekly prescriptions; not the periodic or as needed scrips, or the other OTC meds and supplements that I REQUIRE... Require as in NOT OPTIONAL... necessary for life.

It doesn't include the incidental OTC medications that I need (if I were a low deductible insurance patient I'd get scrips for them, but as a cash patient OTC is cheaper). Mostly prilosec, nasocort, and zyrtec. Those run something like $100 a month for both Mel and I together, so $50 a month for me alone.

It doesn't include the appx. $200 a month in OTC vitamin and mineral supplements I have to take because my body doesn't absorb, retain, or use the amounts I get in my diet properly (megadoses of calcium, potassium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, vitamins A, b1, b2, b5, b6, b12, C, D, and E; and creatine).

Again, these are NOT optional, or I become severely vitamin and mineral deficient, and the medications that keep me alive don't work.

It doesn't include the as needed scrips for allergy and sinus medications (about $50 a month when I need them, several times a year).

Finally, it doesn't include the medicated shampoo, steroid foam, medicated oil/cream, and periodic antifungals and antibiotics; that I need to suppress or relieve certain unpleasant side effects of the cancer and endocrine issues*** (see below). Those run about $300 for a 3 month supply, so $100-ish a month... but I can live without them for a few months at a time.

Basically... I am extremely expensive to keep alive, to the tune of about $650 a month extra just to survive, another $150 on top of that to not be miserable... and $400 on top of that to be awake, alert, and functional full time.

...$1200... a month...

As I always say folks... Cancer sucks, I strongly recommend not getting it. 

*** Because I am immuno-suppressed, have endocrine dysfunction, and because my body doesn't absorb or use vitamins and minerals properly; there are a number of other unpleasant but not life threatening... mostly cosmetic and minor irritation... medical issues I have to deal with.

I suffer from moderate to severe hyperkeratosis and seborrheic dermatitis, and mild angiokeratoma and angioectasia; on my scalp, sometimes my face, and in some other "senstive skin" areas.

At times, as a complication of these, I also develop folliculitis, sebaceous cysts,and cellulitis in those areas.

It's unpleasant, but usually I can deal with it without medication, unless the infections get severe. It does mean I have to shave my head frequently, and severely scrub my scalp, among other things. Also, I've added some more gnarly scarring to the collection that had already graced my skull. 

Acronyms, and Zebras, and Quarter Billions

Hah.. remember how I've mentioned that my cancer was not only incredibly rare in and of itself, but that I had an incredibly rare form of it (which is one reason why it took years to get a diagnosis)?

Well, today I was looking up some of the long term side effects of the cancer in question, and I actually found a paper about the specific incredibly rare presentation that I had... Which was really cool, because it even has an acronym.

In particular, I had atypical Multi-Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN... tentatively classified as an atypical MEN2 presentation), presenting with primary thyroid carcenoma, and non-metastatic undifferentiated micro-lesions (meaning they were only a few cells each, and couldn't be biopsied or typed accurately) of the pituitary, adrenals, and other endocrine tissue.

These microlesions, and possibly the specific type of primary cancer, also caused associated paraneoplastic syndrome, Basically, they makes your endocrine system go out of control, and make your body act like it has other diseases that it doesn't have.

Most prominent in my case, I developed many of the gross symptoms of Cushings disease; so much so that they attempted to treat me for Cushings at one point. However, the treatment actually made me worse, and the next series of tests showed that I absolutely did NOT have Cushings (but at that point, they still had no idea what I actually had. It was another 2 years before they found the cancer).

Notably, while I had microlesions of the parathyroid (along with all my other endocrine tissues), and reduced parathyroid function (I still do in fact, but I have enough that I can metabolize enough calcium as long as I drink a lot of milk or orange juice, or have a few calcium tablets a day) I had no significant parathyroid masses, and no pheocrtomocytoma (I had microlesions, but not large tumors).

These are atypical for MEN2... and for MEN in general. In addition to the currently formally classified MEN1, and MEN2a, MEN2b, and MEN2-FMTC (which is still controversial and not universally accepted),  they are considering making classifications for MEN3 and MEN4 variants which include such presentations.

MEN2 is in itself incredibly rare... Something like 1 in 500,000 people have the genetic anomalies for it, and most with the anomalies don't ever present with the symptoms necessary for diagnoses. Most doctors... even most oncologists and endocrinologists, will never see a case of MEN2 in their practice. Then further, MEN2-FMTC may be as few as 1 in 20 million.

...But that wasn't the new info.. I already knew about MEN2 from way back. The FMTC part IS new, because that has only provisionally come into use in the last few years, and as it happens I had what appears to be a further sub-variant of FMTC, based on the type of primary thyroid tumor I had.

Because what made my presentation atypical (and difficult to classify properly) and even more rare, was the type of primary thyroid cancer I had developed.

The most common types of thyroid cancer are papillary (about 70-75%), and follicular (about 20-25%), with all other types representing less than 5% combined. Of those, medullary is the most common (about 3%), with anaplastic cancers conventionally considered the rarest (less than 1%).

There are a few more rare presentations however, particularly "mixed" or "complex" presentations, where two or more different types of cancerous cells (mixed), or two or more different types of anomalous cancer cell structures or structural abnormalities (complex) occur, within the same tumor. When these happen together, it's a "Mixed complex" presentation.

My tumor exhibited complex mixed papillary, follicular, and parafollicular (medullary) structure, poorly differentiated, with grossly enlarged and malformed nuclei.

As it turns out, it's possibly the rarest form of thyroid cancer... So rare that they are not sure if it should have its own classification, or not... But they made an acronym for it anyway: MMFC (Mixed Medullary and Follicular structure with C-cell presentation... Which may also include papillary and non-epithelial structures as well. These are WEIRD tumors).

How rare is it? As of 2000, only 40 cases of my primary type of tumor had been confirmed and documented world wide... and of those, only 2 were in males, both of whom had MEN2 (as did about 1/3 of the women).

40... total... ever.... (or at least since 1908 when the first was recorded)

According to the best estimates I can find, approximately 10 billion people have lived on earth between 1900 and today. 40 in 10 billion (well... 41 including me, but we'll round off)...

That's 1 in 250,000,000

 Basically, 1 case in America alive today... me... and another 25 or 30 all around the whole world.

...Though to be fair, it's likely there were more, they just weren't documented; either because they died quickly and their COD was just listed as "natural causes" or "thyroid cancer"; or because the disease was treated before it progressed to the point where MMFC could be diagnosed.

...Or they just didn't notice that it was MMFC, because the presentation is so rare, that histologists and pathologists don't look for it, and assume it's a bad test when they see it (it can look like a bad sample, or one that's been contaminated with cleaning solution or something similar).

My first biopsy in fact, while it showed this unusual presentation, was also annotated by the lab as "inconsistent and unreliable", and they considered it "inconclusive". The pathology wasn't confirmed until the post-excision analysis.

Of all the documented cases, those that progressed far enough, ALL had the same tumor progression. They began as relatively slow growing mild malignancies through stage II. Then after reaching between 10 and 15cm, they exhibited rapid anaplastic transformation, reaching stage IV in a matter of weeks or months. At that point they became extremely aggressive and invasive undifferentiated anaplastic malignancies, with lymphovascular infiltration, and invasion of nearby tissues.

... Which is exactly what mine did.

My cancer had aggressive vascular infiltration by the time they excised the primary mass (the doc said it had built its own blood supply with a couple large blood vessels, and dozens of small malformed blood vessels in and out of the capsule) but thankfully hadn't gone aggressively lymphocytic, because the tumor had remained encapsulated. There were a few small clusters of small speckles of cancerous tissue throughout my body, and LOTS of tiny speckles all over (I lit up like a Christmas tree on the body scan), but there were no large distant masses, or large or dense clusters of cancerous tissue.

When they did my post surgery followup, and got the pathology report, they told me that it was the strangest (with the mixed complex structure) and most aggressive anaplastic thyroid cancer they had seen. They said if I hadn't caught it right then, I would have died in as little as a few weeks to at most 3-6 months, depending on how long it took for the capsule to burst, and for the cancer to completely metastasize through the lymphatic system.

That was when they decided I had to have the most aggressive radiotherapy option... which I'm still suffering side effects from almost 3 years later. Because with that type of cancer, you either nuke it hard, or it kills you more than 90% of the time.

Anaplastic thyroid cancers are generally considered effectively untreatable once they invade other tissue, or if they exhibit lymphocytic metastases.

They have a very very poor survival rate... 4-7% survive five years after SUCCESSFUL treatment, because the cancer aggressively returns, even with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy...

....Unless the tumors are encapsulated...

Thank God mine stayed encapsulated.

By God I am so lucky, and so blessed, to be alive...

... But anyway...

I now have the right acronym for my MEN subtype:


Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Chris has been offered, and accepted, a job in Quincy, MA that is totally within his wheelhouse and actually pays enough. His stated start date is August 3rd.

Problem is, we're in Lakeland, FL. And we don't have enough cash to get him there and ride out the month until he gets paid on August 30th.

That's a problem. We need to pay a very pressing bill, get him to MA, make sure everyone has meds refilled, and make sure we have food and transportation for him in MA, and food and gas money for the toddler and me in FL (we'll be moving once we have a place in MA, and our rent in FL is already paid).

It's a lot smaller gap than it was, but it's still a gap.

So if anyone can help us in any way at all, anything would help.

Last time I went without telling everyone I ended up raked across the coals, so this time I'm just going to come out and say it: we're very very close, and just need to make it just a bit longer, and any help would be greatly appreciated.

If you're uncomfortable with using PayPal (and I know a lot of you are) you can also drop me a line at Melody DOT Byrne AT gmail DOT com


Update: Got the plane ticket, but things like food, ground transport in MA, gas money and travel incidentals are not as of yet.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Moving Towards Post Scarcity

If you want a world where no-one is poor, or hungry, or suffers... It's impossible.

However, a world where poverty and hunger are rare is entirely possible. In fact, we could do it right now, today.

... Though not through the means that most of those who loudly claim it as their goal, would think... or approve of.

The way to get there is by moving towards a post scarcity economy. Not to redistribute material wealth, but to make everyone so materially wealthy, that there would be no point.

And that IS possible.

We already live in a world where we can produce enough food, cheaply enough, for no-one to ever be hungry again.

... but most of it is wasted (seriously, most... between 60% and 80% of all food grown in advanced economies is wasted), because of government corruption, stupidity, or outright tyranny (most famines are not the result of nature, but of government).

That wasted food isn't given away for free, because high energy costs make transportation too expensive, and because government makes laws and regulations against doing so,mor that make doing so too risky and expensive.

What about other goods?

The three biggest components of the cost of most material goods, are labor, energy, and legal and regulatory costs (including taxes).

Material costs for most goods are a small fraction in comparison, rarely exceeding 20% of the total cost of an item, and often comprising less than 5%.

...And even then, much of the costs of the raw materials are themselves, labor, energy, and legal and regulatory costs (including taxes).

It's not greedy evil profit that makes and keeps things expensive... It's the cost of energy, the cost of labor, and the costs imposed by government and the legal system.

Right now, today, we could dramatically reduce the wasteful overheads imposed by government and the legal system, without hurting safety a single bit.

We could dramatically reduce taxes, and regulations, keeping only those that demonstrably improve safety to a reasonable degree for the costs they impose.

We could make industries far more competitive, by reducing barriers to entry created by governments.

We could dramatically increase employment at the same time, and wages, as businesses competed for workers, who had more money to pay those businesses.

We know all of these things work, because they always have, and always do. When we get out of the way.

But the single biggest thing we could do, to dramatically increase the material wealth of the world, and to dramatically improve the human condition...

Cheap energy.

If we could deliver energy so cheap that we didn't have to bother metering it, then we could achieve a near post scarcity economy, almost immediately.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we can achieve matter synthesis for many substances relatively easily.

With enough energy, cheap enough, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, silicon, and many other currently expensive materials, become dirt cheap.

With enough energy, cheap enough, plastics and anything derived from petrochemicals or other hyrdocarbons, become so cheap as to be effectively zero cost.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we have effectively unlimited clean fresh water, and can easily clean the air.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we can synthesize whatever fuels we want... Or mostly not bother, because the only thing we'd need chemical fuels for anymore was highly efficient long distance bulk cargo transportation, and air travel.

If you're really worried about carbon output from the human race... How about eliminating more than 80% of it, permanently?

With enough energy, cheap enough, we don't have to worry about efficiency of transport and storage technologies... though we will still develop them so that we can replace chemical fuels in air travel and bulk cargo transport, and to improve range and grid independence.

With enough energy, cheap enough, the cost of manufactured goods falls anywhere from 20% to more than 80%... and employment booms, and economies boom, and everyone gets much wealthier... rich and poor alike.

With enough energy, cheap enough, about 90% of the world's troublespots, stop being troublespots, and most of them we wouldn't have to care about.

If you want to "end war" it's impossible, but if you want to make it much rarer, smaller scale, and less destructive... cheap energy is the best way to do that.

Guess what?

We could do most of this, in less than 20 years, simply by deploying a widely distributed localized grid, of thorium reactors (technically, encapsulated pebble bed, low temperature and pressure gas coolant, thorium reactors... and/or natural convection, low pressure thorium salt reactors).

They have functionally negligible waste, their fuel cost per gigawatt is negligible, and they are many times safer than current coal and natural gas power. They are incredibly cheap to build and operate, they can't be weaponized, they can't have a meltdown or other destructive catastrophic failure... if you don't believe me, don't believe the propaganda, go an do the research yourself.

If we decided to get out of the way and get behind this entirely, we would have power at a cost of pennies per megawatt hour... a tiny fraction of a percent of the cost today (in the U.S. average is something like $0.13 kwh right now with taxes and fees adding about 20% on top of that. Some states run several times that, and much of Europe several times that again).

This isn't some pie in the sky dream, it doesn't require 50 years of engineering work or basic science. There are no breakthroughs required... Unlike EVERY OTHER FORM OF POWER that could possibly be an alternative to today's power infrastructure. Solar, wind, geothermal, none of them could ever be more than a fraction of our needs at ridiculously high cost. Fusion requires both basic science breakthroughs and much more engineering work to be viable (if it ever is). It's all decades away at best, if ever.

We could do this today.

Not 50 years from now... TODAY.

The 20 years isn't for more development, it's just how long it would take to complete the world wide economic transition to a cheap energy economy and infrastructure.

So, if what you really want, is to make a world where no-one goes hungry, and no-one is homeless... Then work for cheap and safe energy, and a huge reduction in government induced overhead. And it will happen.

Otherwise, what you really want, is a world where everyone is poorer, but where "evil profit" is eliminated, and "the rich" are punished, and everyone is economically "equal"; where the "right people are in charge", and will arrange the world the way you think is right, and punish the people you think are wrong.

Because that's all you're ever going to get, with more expensive energy, higher taxes, more government, and more redistribution.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sometimes we forget people want to help

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

So it doesn't surprise anyone when my uberpost goes live tonight and so I don't get a million messages asking me why we didn't mention anything: 
We, as a household, are in temporary dire straits. The short length of the last job allowed us to catch up on bills somewhat, but not get us ahead. 
So we're almost out of food and almost out of meds and need to figure out how to pay the phone bill in the next 5 days so Chris has a way to contact possible employers. 
The way things are looking right now the situation should be resolved in about a month (very likely there will be one or more job offers this week) but in the meantime between the car being undriveable and the lack of cash and food, we're kinda screwed. It's not a situation in which we can tighten our belts on either food or medication, or we risk Chris's health backsliding. 
So, yeah... 

A reader commented:

So, put up a Pay Pal link on one or both of your blog pages, note that here along with the reason(s) and make it as easy as you reasonably can for others to contribute to your continuing "adventures". Not to be crude or dismissive of either of your feelings, but it's disturbing and kinda annoying to read about the travails of people whose personal story you have read about and followed for literally years (and in my own case, actually experienced the briefest moment as a bit player in) and not have any practical mechanism to help keep the story in production (as it were). I strongly doubt I am alone in feeling this way. 

We weren't thinking those terms. Honestly, we've gotten so tired of being bad news all of the time and weren't looking for help. We were so VERY close to being out of the woods and, hopefully, in another month the past couple of years of struggle will be rapidly fading behind us. We'd forgotten that maybe people *want* to help. So as requested, here is the easy button.

If you'd like to do something more snail-mail in nature, please drop me a line at melody.byrne AT gmail DOT com. Thanks everybody for still being out there.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Anxiety, Failed Methods, Helpful Methods, and ACT

(this is cross-posted from Renaissance Wife)

Hello there random reader-person,

My name is Melody, though everyone calls me Mel. I'm a wife, a stay-at-home mom (what a misleading term), and a professional assistant. I'm a writer, a geek, a baker, and a lover of pretty shoes and designer lingerie.

I'm also anxious as all hell, practically all the time. And I'm going to do something that pegs my anxiety to an incredible degree, all the way to the red zone.

I'm going to write about anxiety.

My experience with anxiety

I'm not a doctor. I don't have initials behind my name.

... but if you're anything like me, you're sick of dealing with doctors, and counselors, and psychologists and psychiatrists anyway.

What I am is a long-time sufferer of anxiety who spent much of her life undiagnosed and misunderstood. I've tried many methods, watched many methods fail, spent thousands of dollars on therapy, spent hundreds on self-help books, and finally figured out some stuff that actually worked.

The technical list of psychiatric ailments I've been diagnosed with (in order of diagnosis and age):

Depression (15)
Bi-polar Disorder (17)
PMDD (psychiatric symptoms are part of the disorder) (26)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (26)
Social Anxiety Disorder (26)
Panic Disorder (26)
ADHD (30)

Only one of those diagnoses is inaccurate (Bi-polar Disorder). The rest were incomplete without the full list.

I've seen a lot of psychiatrists and counselors and taken a lot of different combinations of medications.

As for when the anxiety started, it took my now-husband watching me go into a panic attack before anyone figured out that's what my "tantrums" were. Watching my then 3-year-old daughter suffer through a panic attack, my mother remarked "oh, we just thought those were tantrums".

In other words anxiety and panic attacks became my companions at a very early age and, evidently, have a genetic component.

Why am I laying this out on the table like this?

I dealt with enough psychiatrists and counselors and well-meaning people who just DID. NOT. UNDERSTAND. Frankly, if you've never experienced a panic attack then you don't know how it feels, how out of control you feel, how ashamed you feel, how crazy you feel.

That leads to getting several "helpful" suggestions that are anything but.

So when I say I've found some methods just don't work, and some methods actually do, I've personally tested everything listed. When I say I've managed to significantly reduce the suffering that comes with my anxiety and the impact anxiety has on my life, that also means something.

Well maybe your anxiety is mild, and that's why it's so manageable...

My life went from being a "normal" amount of anxiety-inducing events to a raging flood of doom in September 2010, when my ex-husband tricked a judge into letting him take my daughters out of the country.

In January 2011 my husband's brother died suddenly. In February 2011, while we were at the memorial service, the IRS started auditing my husband due to lost records and seized all of the funds in our bank account. Also in February 2011 we found the cancer that caused my husband's health issues. In May 2011 we found out my husband's job of 6 years would be disappearing due to workforce reduction. In October 2011 the job officially ended. Contract work would be sporadic after that, and still is. February 2012 my husband's mother died AND the IRS seized our bank accounts, again. In August 2012 my husband went in for cancer surgery 2 days after we found out I was pregnant. We found out a few weeks later that he'd been close to dying. September 2012 saw radiation treatment and the repossession of one of our vehicles. Between September 2012 and February 2014 my husband's health fluctuated so badly that he came close to dying multiple times. In March 2013 our son was born. In August 2013 we were so financially strapped we had to leave a place we loved and move in with my father. In November 2013 we moved across the country for a job that ended up lasting only a few months. In January 2014 we ended up back at my father's while my husband struggled with health issues that almost killed him. In May 2014 we moved across the country again to live with a friend.

It is now June 2015. Work has still been sporadic. We've lost another vehicle. My husband's health is finally somewhat under control. I'm handling a hyperactive hyperintelligent 2-year-old on a daily basis. We're broke, we're almost out of food, income is another month away, our car is currently undriveable, and yet THIS IS THE BEST WE'VE BEEN DOING IN YEARS.

I know about anxiety and stress y'all. The very fact that I'm not hiding in bed 24/7 is an indication of how far I've come in managing my anxiety.

10 years ago this level of stress and anxiety would have had me popping Xanax like mad in order to not be a completely non-functional shaking mass of human hiding from the world.

I know of what I speak.

Methods I've tried and discontinued for various reasons

Life coaches
Talk therapy
"Parenting myself"
Several antidepressants
"Working through it"
... all forms of navel-gazing

Seriously, if it involves "tell me about your mother" I've done it. Identify the causes. Figure out the past. Find out why I am the way I am. Try to fix my brain. Try to undo the damage. Blame other people. Blame myself.

None of it worked, and I was on a timeline.

What actually started working

My mother's anxiety kept me socially isolated and therefore badly socialized.

I wanted better for my kids.

So despite the fact that social interaction caused me varying levels of anxiety ranging between "get me the hell out of here" and "full-blown panic attack" I did what I needed to give my kids the socialization they needed.

I interacted with the other mothers at school on a daily basis. I talked to the teachers. I volunteered at the school. I took the kids to after school activities, playdates, and birthday parties.

I started to notice something.

Every time got a little bit easier. Not no anxiety, just less anxiety. Like a person with a phobia going through aversion therapy, my anxiety became more and more manageable.

Not gone, just manageable. Like my threshold increased.

The panic attacks started to diminish in number and intensity, but still plagued me.

Aversion therapy was not enough

Aversion therapy didn't get me all the way there. We moved during this time, and leaving behind old patterns and habits helped. Continuing the aversion therapy through social interaction helped, as long as I kept pushing my limits. Knowing my limits and not pushing too far past them helped. Self-care and proper nutrition and rest helped. Self compassion helped as well.

The anxiety still plagued me. I still wanted to be rid of the anxiety and panic attacks forever. I wanted to be "normal", to not be "sick", to be "healthy".

So while I reduced my anxiety, life circumstances never let up and I was always one more major problem away from rolling panic attacks. I'd made tremendous progress but life seemed intent on throwing even more anxiety and panic inducing circumstances my way.

While my ability to deal with the anxiety increased, the physical symptoms of the anxiety also increased and made me utterly miserable.

Sometimes you just need to ask the right person

In this case the right person ended up being a friend who is a doctor who told me to look into an alternate therapy concept called ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

ACT ended up being extremely helpful, and while I still end up in occasional panic attacks (low food supplies mixed with lack of cash mixed with changing life circumstances outside of my control is my panic-causing kryptonite) the panic attacks have gone from controlling me to being annoying. If one more major life stress is resolved I expect the panic attacks to leave me be until something else potentially life-ending occurs.

But isn't the goal to get rid of the panic attacks and anxiety?

That's an awesome, noble goal. I've spent years of my life chasing that particular goal.

I've got next to nothing to show for it, other than an empty bank account and a huge stack of self-help books that didn't help at all.

Learning to live with the anxiety and manage how it affects my life, well, that's actually improving my life.

That's the goal of ACT: learning to live, function, and pursue your goals despite the anxiety

Remember when you thought figuring out why you were the way you were would suddenly resolve the issue and make you a healthy person without insane levels of anxiety?

How well did that work?

It doesn't. That kind of navel-gazing makes the assumption that your anxiety somehow responds to logic and conscious attempts to change.

That's a faulty assumption.

Don't get me wrong. Understanding the "why" is useful, in that it helps you practice the self-compassion you'll need to manage your anxiety. It's just not the end.

The fundamental assumption of ACT: your brain is a dirty, dirty liar that isn't interested in your happiness, only in avoiding pain

This makes sense. Happiness isn't a survival strategy, Avoiding pain is an awesome survival strategy, if your life isn't complex.

Panic attacks are often associated with the "fight or flight" instinct and tend to happen in situations in which you don't pick either option. Your brain has associated the anxiety-causing situation with pain or fear and therefore tries to get you to get the hell away because it might kill you.

Useful reaction, if the situation is coming across a mama bear in the wild. Detrimental reaction if it's your first day at a new job and your brain is balking at the concept of the unknown. "What are you doing?!?!?!?!?!" your brain screams "we've never been there before and there might be a predator hiding in there!"

Congratulations! Your insanely low anxiety threshold would have made you more likely to survive and have children who survived... when we were still in caves.

Our brains haven't exactly caught up to our new world order.

Even better, our brains can "learn" to identify more situations as dangerous because they cause us emotional pain. Ever been heckled on stage? Stage fright for you from now on. Been bullied? Let's avoid other people, because they cause us pain. Cheated on? Have a freak out every time your new man is out of sight, courtesy of your brain learning that situation causes pain.

There's nothing conscious about this. Your brain would just rather avoid the pain. It's not smart enough to reason through the fact that no risks means no change, and no possible increase in happiness.

In order to convince you that you're better off avoiding those situations, your brain plays a dirty trick on you: it lets you think it's right and that your emotions are right and based on reality. In other words it lies to you and lets you think that your thoughts and emotions are truthful and real.

Thoughts and emotions do not necessarily reflect reality

How much conscious control do you have over your thoughts and emotions?

Try not to think of the pink elephant.

That's how much control you have over your thoughts, next to none.

Ever watch a movie and burst into tears?

That's how much control you have over your emotions, so little that someone who doesn't even know you can manipulate your emotions.

ACT is about recognizing that your thoughts and emotions aren't you and don't necessarily reflect reality.

This is a radical departure from therapies that you may have tried before because...

ACT isn't an attempt to "fix" your brain, it's an attempt to learn to live with your brain

What happens if you accept that your thoughts and emotions aren't necessarily real or truthful and your brain manufactures anxiety based on unconscious assumptions that you don't control?

You stop trying to control it. You accept the way your brain works. You accept that the thoughts and emotions exist but don't necessarily mean anything.

That's the A in ACT. Acceptance. Your brain, your thoughts, your emotions are not "you" and not fully under your control.

Try not to think of the pink elephant. Try to keep the image out of your mind.

Now think of the pink elephant and let your attention go somewhere else.

What took less energy and ended the thoughts fastest? Struggling with them and trying to control them, or noticing and letting them go?

Emotions are much the same. Ever try *not* to be angry at someone? How well did that work? What about just admitting you're angry, accepting it, and moving on to something else?

How much did your anxiety level just drop?

One of the theories behind ACT is that the act of trying to control the anxiety, the thoughts, and the emotions is actually more painful and damaging than just letting the anxiety, thoughts, and emotions happen.

You notice the anxiety, you notice the symptoms, you notice the thoughts, you notice the emotions, you accept that they exist, you let them go (there's several techniques for this that can be found in any book outlining ACT), and you go act in accordance with your values and goals without regard to the anxiety.

ACT isn't about how you think or feel, it's about what you do

What would you do if you didn't have anxiety? Finally finish that book? Get a degree? Ask that person out on a date?

ACT is about learning to do what you want and need to do despite the anxiety, thoughts, or emotions that plague you.

That's what the C stands for: commitment. Commitment to your values and goals.

Is a clean house important to you? Do you go into a panic attack any time you start to clean because of past trauma (I do)?

The goal of ACT is learning to clean the house despite the panic it will induce. Or talking to a stranger, Or being on the stage.

The goal is to act in accordance with your values and goals. The side effect is a reduction in anxiety,

Think about it. Doing things despite your anxiety is just another form of aversion therapy. Every time you do what causes you anxiety and you don't suffer harm, you brain (as stupid as it is) believes in the supposed danger of the situation a little bit less.

Do it enough, and the brain barely puts up a protest anymore.

Keep avoiding it however, and the brain continues to think the situation is horribly dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. The more you think about it, the more anxiety you feel, the more your brain interprets the anxiety as pain and danger, the more powerful the anxiety becomes.

Learn how to push forward despite the anxiety, and the anxiety starts dropping.

Counterintuitive, huh?

ACT is about learning methods for letting go of the thoughts and emotions so you can do what you want to do. There's mindfulness techniques, relaxation techniques, techniques for resolving panic attacks, the whole deal. More techniques than I can list here.

Eventually you get practiced enough that you don't need the crutch in the form of the techniques. You just accept what's going through your head and go on your merry way doing whatever it is you need or want to do.

So why did I spend so much time going over ACT?

Frankly, it's a new way of thinking about therapy, and... well...

Okay fine, Psychologists seem to only speak two languages: jargon, and "woo".

I understand jargon to a certain extent. I hate hate hate "woo".

Jargon makes them sound smart and gives specific words for specific purposes. Woo sells self-help books.

I should know. I have an entire stack of them.

For example:

Developed within a coherent theoretical and philosophical framework, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.
I can't tell if that's a mission statement or a description of a new religion, or both.

I love the book I picked up on the subject, The Happiness Trap, but it even has a sprinkling of the woo, enough that sometimes it sounds like the psychological equivalent of healing crystals.

It's not, it's actually very useful, the techniques outlined are very useful, the ways of looking at things are very useful.

If you're expecting anyone writing a self-help book based on clinical therapy techniques to somehow translate into layman properly, you're expecting too much.

That's why I was asked to write something up from the patient's perspective, and why I encourage you to look into ACT and aversion therapy as techniques for dealing with anxiety. They actually do work, and while my anxiety is not gone with a combination of the techniques I'm improving my life despite the panic.

Rather than wait to be perfectly healthy, I'm doing what I need and want to do the way I am, at this moment.

I'd rather be happier now than keep trying for a perfect that will never happen.