YA Book Review: “Without Tess” by Marcella Pixley

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“Without Tess”, written by Marcella Pixley, is one of the best YA novels I have read in a while. I rarely give books five stars when rating them, but this one I did. The story revolves around the main character (Lizzie), and her dead sister (Tess). Lizzie is the younger sister by a couple years and was only 10 when her older sister tragically passed away.

The real star of the novel is Tess. As you read through the book and relive vibrant memories Lizzie shared with Tess, you come to both love and sometimes dislike Tess. Tess was a true believer in magic. She was creative and passionate. She was both loving and loyal, but at times cruel and violent. She was mentally ill, and at times downright psychotic. This novel is a lifelike retelling of what it is like to grow up with an extremely mentally ill sibling. It addresses the love, the hate, the sadness, the pain, the rage, the guilt, and all the other emotions that come along with such a disturbing family dynamic.

I had a deeply personal connection with this book, both as someone who grew up with a mentally ill sibling, and someone who eventually lost that sibling, mostly due to that mental illness. At one point the book even made me tear up, which is extremely rare for any book to do. Definitely recommended!

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Does Any of It Matter?

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Do you ever wonder if it all matters? I sure do. I try to be positive most of the time when I think about the things I do and whether they make a difference, but when I get depressed, the voices of doubt tend to get louder. They say some pretty mean things:

Are you just wasting your time writing and making art? Who really cares?

Why would anyone care what you have to say? Who do you think you are?

You try to support others, but do they even notice? Does it even help them?

You only focus so much on art and writing because you can’t keep a REAL job. 

Your own family never cared that much about you, why would anyone else?

If you died today, barely anyone would notice or care. Your funeral would be empty. 

You are selfish and everyone sees through you. 

You are a drain on your husband and society in general. 

I know these are very negative (some would even say abusive) thoughts, but when I am feeling low, they play in my head like a stuck record. By writing them out, I am hoping they will finally shut the hell up. Do any of these thoughts (or similar ones) ever haunt you?

 

Dream Analysis: Fear of Death

 

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My Spyder

Last night I had an interesting dream. In the dream, there was a big snake loose in our house and I was trying to stay as far away from it as I could because I feared getting bit. Every time I would see it somewhere, I would run to another room. Then, the dream took an unexpected turn when the snake attacked my cat, Spyder. Spyder has been my baby since the day he came home to us and has been with us almost 12 years.

When I realized the snake was attacking Spyder in the dream, I was suddenly like “HELL NO!!!” and I ran into the room with a small sword (that suddenly appeared out of nowhere) and I cut that snake’s head clean off! I was suddenly as brave as an Amazon warrior, or like a mother bear defending her cubs.

When I woke up today, I was trying to decode this dream a bit, and I think what I was actually dreaming about was the fear of death. Just last night I was talking to someone about the short spans our pets live and about how my last two cats died around the same age Spyder is now. I think the snake symbolized death coming to take a loved one from me, and while I clearly have a self-preservation instinct and a healthy fear of my own death, that fear pales in comparison to the terror I feel at losing a loved one.

Poetry: Sleeping Poetic Genius

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Sleeping Poetic Genius
By: Maranda Russell

I wrote a poem
in my sleep last night.
The words, colors, and images
now blur in my mind.
I try to pin them down,
only to have them
wiggle away
like a puppy
desperate to escape
a confining embrace.

The poem was grand,
of this I am sure.
A masterpiece of language,
now shriveled and dried up
like an unlucky worm
laying dead
after a rainstorm.

Gratitude and Positivity Only!

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Aren’t these “namaste/praying” skeleton and black cat figurines I found at Michael’s cute? They had an entire line of both skeletons and black cats doing various yoga poses and I had to pick up a couple of them. I picked these two because I love how this pose represents gratitude and a peaceful heart. Some people might think the skeleton one is kind of creepy (which makes sense considering these were part of a Halloween display), but I think there is something beautiful about the simplicity of a human skeleton doing yoga.

I used these figures on my altar the other night while I was doing a gratitude ritual. I decided to do an impromptu meditation/prayer session, focusing ONLY on feeling and expressing gratitude and thankfulness for anything I could think of which makes my life (or the world in general) better. I specifically chose to NOT ask for anything, request divine help, or focus on any problems or pains I am currently wrestling with. ONLY GRATITUDE. ONLY POSITIVITY.

So, how did it go? Well, it definitely improved my frame of mind and sense of well-being that night. No, it didn’t cure the deep depression I have been fighting with, and it didn’t open the floodgates to riches or worldly success (at least not yet!), but it did make me feel good at the time, and it is something I would recommend to anyone (including myself) who tends to become weighed down with negativity and pessimism.

When Non-Profits Only Care About the Money

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On Facebook I shared a post about some tax changes that are being made to churches and non-profit institutions. The debate that started, made me think about my own experience working for a non-profit organization and I wanted to share a little bit of that here. For around 6 months or so, I worked for a non-profit religious hospital system. My job was to be one of the people in the emergency department who collected patient information (especially insurance information) and processed payments.

From the beginning, it was drilled into us that it was about the money. We were hounded to make sure we collected certain percentages of money from patients while they were still there in the building, whether they could afford it or not. We were encouraged to apply pressure to them to pay at least a percentage that day, regardless of their personal circumstances. Although patients could legally ask to be billed later, we were told to NEVER tell them that, and only offer that option if they brought it up first.

We were told bluntly that the hospital had to make sure to look like they were doing enough “public outreach” to keep their non-profit tax status, so when they did run public assistance programs we were told to advertise them when talking to patients. It became clear that they didn’t necessarily do programs for the poor because they CARED about them, it was so they could continue to get the tax breaks and other non-profit advantages. I heard so much negative talk there about Medicaid patients and the poor. I was also told flat out that the company was purposefully looking into opening more locations in areas where the people were more likely to pay, and closing locations where the populations were poorer.

One huge issue I had was that even when someone was brought to the ER and died, we were pressured to try to get money from their grieving relatives. More than once, those in charge actually chose not to tell family members that their loved one had passed away until AFTER we collected insurance information and copays/deductible payments. They would send us in, and we would know the family’s loved one was gone, but we were told to lie and pretend we knew nothing. This killed me to have to do. One time a lady begged me for information on her husband who was dead, and I couldn’t tell her anything. I also struggled to go up to a mother whose child has just tried to commit suicide and ask her for money. I felt like scum.

In the end, I couldn’t keep this job due to my own health issues, but I couldn’t have kept doing it with a clear conscience either.

Unpopular Opinion: Assisted Suicide Should Be Allowed for Any Competent Adult

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This post may contain the most unpopular opinion I will likely ever share on my blog. Let me say first off, as a survivor of my sister’s suicide, I know exactly how much it hurts to lose someone close that way and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, maybe it is just the libertarian streak in me, but I do think euthanasia should be legal for adults.

When people normally talk about euthanasia, it is regarding those with terminal illnesses. I definitely support the right to peacefully end your life in your own time with those cases. But I also support the right of any fully grown, mature human being to make the decision to not exist anymore if that is what they truly want. There are places in the world that allow euthanasia for severe mental illness, but I would take it even further than that. I don’t think anyone has the right to force another sentient human being to remain alive if they honestly, genuinely don’t want to be here.

Even with my sister, I would not force her to come back to life if I could. She was absolutely miserable. She was in constant mental, physical, and emotional pain. Her life was a wreck due to the aftereffects of severe abuse and treatment resistant mental illness. She tried multiple times to kill herself, and had she survived the last attempt, I have no doubt she would have kept trying, even though I tried my best to encourage her to find reasons to live.

I don’t think that human beings should have to resort to dangerous, violent and potentially severely disabling attempts to end their lives when there are simple, effective ways to end their suffering permanently if they wish to do so. I have been a witness to seeing two of my cats put down peacefully. I can only hope I die so easily and painlessly.

I also don’t think that assisted suicide would be abused as much as people think it would be. When you realize it is the absolute end, with no chance of survival, many balk if they really do not wish to die. Even in documentaries I have watched about euthanasia for mental illness, many people end up backing out during the waiting process because they obviously are not actually ready to die.  I do think there should be some limits set in place, such as age limits, lengthy screening processes (this is certainly something that shouldn’t be rushed into), and mental competency tests to make sure the person is completely aware of the permanent consequences of what they are asking for. It also shouldn’t be something people can decide for other people. You shouldn’t have the right to euthanize your granny or anyone else against their will.

I share this today because it is my personal belief, not because I am suicidal. I actually am not. I have never attempted suicide and do not believe I would do so unless circumstances became such that living was unbearable. It is not something I would take lightly and if I ever did commit suicide, I would likely plan it out precisely and would take into account any suffering it would cause others and would try to minimize that as much as possible. I certainly hope my life never comes to that point, but if it did, I feel like only I have the right to decide if I want to continue to exist or not.

Wishing for a Family

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I’ve been severely depressed the past couple days. Two nights in a row I’ve been teary and weepy and feeling very much alone. Late last night I lay curled up on the bathroom floor crying, a position I often find myself in when depression gets severe.

I do have the support of a wonderful husband and he spent probably a good hour yesterday listening to me cry and talk about how I’m feeling. Sadly, he struggles with much of the same issues I do, so I always feel bad unloading on him because it brings out the same feelings in him that I’m suffering with.

I think what is getting to me the most is just the desire for a loving, supportive family, which I simply don’t have. Most of my immediate family is dead, only one member is still living and they seem to not be talking to me right now for some unknown reason. In some ways it might be best if we don’t talk since the constant ups and downs of the relationship really affect my moods, but it is still not easy to know that your only living close relative doesn’t seem to want anything to do with you or seem to care about you.

I wish I could replace those family relationships I have lost, but where do you find family if you don’t have one? You can’t exactly go shopping for one or even expect friends to step into those positions (if I even had friends). Sure, I could make friends if I tried harder maybe, but it still wouldn’t be FAMILY. It wouldn’t fill the huge hole in my heart left by those who have left me.

Literally Drowning My Sorrows…

Well, today has been a really shitty day 😦 I only got about 2-3 hours of sleep last night, even with my Seroquel. Something happened last night that really upset me and made me just want to run away. Unfortunately, I have nowhere to run to.

Today I decided to go to a local park with a dam. I knew it would be crazy there with all the recent rain and snow, and felt that maybe seeing the turbulence roaring inside me portrayed in front of me might make me feel somehow better:

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Even way above the dam, and behind a fence, the water was so violent that I got splashed pretty good. You can’t see it in the photo below, but my pants were much wetter than my jacket. Even my hair got a little bit soaked by the spray:

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I was crying a good bit of the time I was there, just from all the stuff going on inside me, and I think one poor guy thought I was going to jump in. He came over and started telling me horror stories about people who had jumped in and died. One was truly sad about a family dog that fell in, so the mom jumped in to save it, and the dad jumped in to save her, so the two kids watching behind the fence watched all three of them drown. Such a horrible story. It made me forget my own pain for a little bit and feel empathy for those poor kids.