Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Wear A Damn Mask

I’m putting this out there because it needs to be said. I can see that as a chronically ill person and someone who is #HighRiskCovid19, as the world opens up, mine will be getting smaller. I’m seeing pictures of people on Facebook unmasked in bars and crowds. I guess even going to some peoples’ houses will be off limits because of the number of places they’ve been and the number of people they’ve been around, unmasked.

Just remember, this isn’t about you. I wear a mask for myself, but I also wear it because I would never want to be that person that is unknowingly sick and gets someone else sick. I care enough about other people to wear a damn mask. I read something that said if you are refusing to wear a mask and you think Black Lives Matter, think again, since COVID is hitting Black communities worse than many other groups. So if you really think Black Lives Matter, show it by wearing a mask.

I know that America is built on the ideal of individualism. And clearly, this ideal may lead to the downfall of America. Rather than think of wearing a mask as a threat to your own freedom, why don’t you think of it as a sign of solidarity and respect to wear a mask? I’m not telling anyone how to live their life, but I’m telling you how I’m going to be living mine. Because rather than go to the bar or eat in a restaurant, all I want to do is see my family and close friends. My sister is moving to another state and I’ve barely gotten to spend any time with her in the last three months due to COVID and that absolutely sucks. I think you’ll survive some missed nights out at the bar. I’ll never get back missed time with the people I love, and given what happened to my dad, I know how precious time is.

So for now, I guess my trips to the grocery store every other week will continue to be my main mode of excitement for the foreseeable future. And if I get invited somewhere, it’s likely my declinations will become more frequent. With chronic illness, it’s always a possibility that I’ll have to decline invitations and cancel plans at the last minute, but as much of a pain as that was, it was on my terms. It’s because I didn’t feel well or was in too much pain to partake in an activity. Now, I will be doing this for reasons external to me. I will being doing it because a friendly invitation will be sidetracked by concerns over where you’ve been or who you’ve been in contact with because you’ve established a pattern of behavior that proves who and what you care about, and it’s clearly not me or anyone else.

I’ve seen a lot on social media of people with Cystic Fibrosis posting pictures wearing masks and a pulse ox, and showing that their oxygen levels are fine, so yours should be too. I’ve also seen the fake card that was created by people trying to exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by claiming they have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. If that’s true, don’t wear a mask, but if you’re making stuff up, wear a mask. It’s that simple.

Wearing a mask could mean the difference between quarantine ending and life slowly returning to whatever the post-COVID “new normal” will be. Not wearing a mask could mean continued, unfettered spread, another round or multiple rounds of full lock down, and more deaths. 

If you’re not wearing a mask simply because you don’t feel like it, or you think rules don’t matter for you, or you feel that wearing a mask is an affront to your freedom of expression, remember this moment. Remember when you were called on to do something for someone else and instead you put your own needs above everyone else’s. Remember when you decided that a night at the bar was more important than the lives of anyone you may come into contact with. Remember that thinking you don’t have to wear a mask because I will is inherently ableist. And remember that not wearing a mask flies in the face of Black Lives Matter.  

In a nod to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, maybe you couldn’t “Fix The Damn Roads,” but maybe everyone can learn to “Wear A Damn Mask.”

(And I know someone will say that I was unmasked in the picture I posted on Facebook with my husband wearing our Jews For Black Lives shirts. True. But I was outside and the only other person there, who took the picture, was my brother-in-law. We took our masks off, more than six feet away from him, he took the picture, and we put our masks back on.)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Review: “The Things We Don’t Say: An Anthology of Chronic Illness Truths”*

I love reading, but reading is one of the things that has taken a hit during the quarantine. My attention span has suffered. “The Things We Don’t Say: An Anthology of Chronic Illness Truths” by Julie Morgenlender came at the perfect time. It even comes with a disclaimer that you don’t have to read it all at once. I’ll have you know, I didn’t read it all at once, but I got about 100 pages in before I took a break.

The stories contained within the book’s pages are just as heartbreaking as they are all too familiar. They speak to the losses that we all have endured when having to change our lives because of chronic illness. They speak to the relationships that survive the confines of chronic illness and the ones that do not. They speak of the guilt we feel for the things we can do and the things we cannot.

I think the book also brings to light the disproportionate impact that chronic illness has on women. Maybe men are afraid that sharing their chronic illness experience will make them not seem as manly. So the few male stories in this book make it unique and provide a perspective that isn’t always included in the chronic illness narrative.

Just like Marcia Allar’s “Life Savers,” the stories in this book come in different colors and flavors. They are not one size fits all. Some are more narrative while others are more “how to”.  

This book takes me back to an experience I had early on in my chronic illness journey. I had just finished my first year of graduate school, and was in the hospital getting steroid infusions. I had never been in that environment before. The girl in the chair next to me was being treated for cancer. I was trying to get the nurses attention, and I asked the girl if we were allowed to listen to IPods. She looked at me and said, “You can do whatever you need to, to get through it.” At that moment, I felt like diagnosis didn’t necessarily matter in terms of community. In that moment, our diagnoses didn’t matter, what mattered was our shared experiences as chronically ill people. And this book left me feeling the same way. I may not have fibromyalgia or ehler’s danlos or a host of other conditions that the authors in this book write about, but regardless of diagnosis, the lived experiences are much the same.

I related to Katherine Ernst’s experience of a doctor questioning another doctor’s diagnosis and asking why she hadn’t fought the other doctor, even when the new doctor is asking her to trust them.

And as Sónia Lopes writes, “But no one told me that the social aspect of living with a chronic debilitating disease like this would be the hardest for me to manage.”

I’m struck by how, 12 years into my illness journey, so little has changed. Young women are going years with serious symptoms, battling to find doctors that will take them seriously. Throughout, I found myself shaking my head, both in agreement and dismay.

I want to thank Julie Morgenlender and the other authors who contributed to this book for sharing their stories. 

Now more than ever, we need books like this. We need our voices to be heard and our stories to be told. And we also need to amplify the voices of those who aren’t given the opportunity to speak.

If you want more information on the book visit Chronic Illness Truths.

To purchase print or digital copy of the book, it is available on Amazon.


Morgenlender, Julie. (2020). The Things We Don't Say: An Anthology of Chronic Illness Truths. Three Barrel Bluff.

* I received a free digital copy of this book from the author. However, the review presented here is solely based on my personal opinion of the book.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

There Are Many Ways To Protest

Over the last few weeks, as someone who is #HighRiskCovid19, I have struggled with whether or not to attend a protest. I fully support Black Lives Matter and I truly believe that there are significant changes that need to happen in our society. I also know that my struggle of whether or not to attend a protest is part of my privilege.

Clearly, I haven’t been the only one struggling with this:

Therefore, I think it’s important to talk about other ways that we can “show up” without having to be present in person at a protest. One way that I’m doing that is to expose racism when and where I see it.

A friend shared a post about vile, racist tweets that had been connected to the Chief of Police of Shelby Township. I won’t post those here because they are highly offensive, but if you Google any of this, you will be able to find them. When I looked at the picture of who the tweets were being attributed to, before I even saw the name, my heart sank. I know him. I’ve dealt with him. And I am, unfortunately, not surprised.

How do I know Robert Shelide? I won’t rehash what happened to my dad. You can search my blog as I have frequently written about it. However, I had horrible interactions with this man, who was the Deputy Chief of the Southfield Police when my dad was missing and ultimately, was found dead.

I sent the following letter to every member of the Shelby Township board, and a variety of local and state officials and members of the media:

To Whom It May Concern:

In the flood of 2014, my dad went missing. My mom attempted to report him missing and no police departments would take a report. At the time, my parents lived in Southfield, but my dad worked in Shelby/Clinton Township. The Southfield Police Department was particularly cruel and insensitive, especially my interaction several months later with, at the time, Deputy Chief Robert Shelide.

My grievances with the Southfield Police Department have been aired, but by the time that we had an opportunity to sit down with the Chief of Police, Mr. Shelide was no longer employed with the Southfield Police Department, so they refused to address anything related to him.

I had written a letter to the Southfield Police Department outlining what had occurred with my dad and where I felt they had failed in serving and protecting. I received a phone call from Mr. Shelide. Amongst other things, he told me that the steps I was requesting wouldn’t have been taken “for a family member of the mayor.” He also told me that my dad could have been “at McDonald’s or in a hotel” and “that he didn’t warrant departmental resources.” As you can imagine, this was shocking and devastating to me. My dad, in fact, was not at “McDonald’s” or “in a hotel.” He was found dead in his car the day after he went missing, not by the police, but by a person that lived on the block where my dad's car was parked.

Totally unrelated to my experiences, it has come to my attention via several social media posts shared by friends that have identified abhorrent posts that Mr. Shelide, who I have never followed on social media, has posted. These posts invoke violence against people of color. At best, they are unequivocally racist in nature. At worst, they are criminal and should not be acceptable coming from any human being, let alone a law enforcement officer.

I randomly came across the social media posts, and felt a sense of dread. Not only do I know who this person is, I have experienced his lack of empathy and compassion firsthand. I have wanted to write this letter for years, to make sure your community was aware of the kind of person that your city had as its police chief. But I resisted the urge. But what the last few days have taught me is that I have to use my privilege for good. And my concern, more than for my dead father, is that if your Chief of Police could speak to a grieving daughter that way, what else is he capable of? And how many police departments in this state will pass him around, hoping that he will magically change? If change is going to come, it has to start with the people that have power. And you do. So the question is, how will you use your power?

It is my sincere hope that by taking a long, hard look at who leads the Shelby Township police, you will take a look at yourselves. Would you be okay if the next George Floyd occurred in your city? Forget about Neal Rott, of blessed memory. Think of all those who don’t have the privilege I have to even be able to write this letter.

Black lives have always mattered, but apparently they matter more to some than to others, and others should not include law enforcement officers.


While just hours after the story broke, he was put on “indefinite paid leave” and issued an empty, thoughtless apology, it truly appears that the media is trying to squash this story. It also appears that the board, afraid of a lawsuit, is going to take their time in doing what needs to be done.

We cannot let that happen.

It’s simple. If the sentiments expressed by the Chief of Police truly due not represent the views of Shelby Township, then they need to do what needs to be done. Forget contracts and legal requirements. He has to go. He needs to be fired. And he needs to be barred from working in law enforcement ever again.

Not one person on the board or member of the police department has publicly spoken out against this man. The “he does not represent our views” trope is callous in the face of refusing to prove that by standing up and saying that his views are disgusting and should not be tolerated. How can this man keep people safe when he publicly vows to do the opposite?  

Here is a link to an online petition that is asking for this man to be fired from his job as the Chief of Police of Shelby Township:

I am *not* the author of the petition, but if you feel strongly about the changes that are needed, it starts with this. It starts with exposing racism and forcing people who glorify those feelings out.

Silence is complicity. I believe that white people no longer have the right to remain silent. When we encounter racism, we have to expose it and defend against it. You may not feel comfortable writing a letter to the degree and tone of mine. You can send form letters and emails and sign petitions. And you can do research. You can look into how much money your city spends on the police versus how much they spend on other things, like health. And you can let your local and state officials know that we need to prioritize health, schools, and other social services. For example, in 2017, Detroit spent $310,200,000 on the police, 30% of the general fund budget, and $28,900,000 on health, 1.6% of the general fund budget (This report outlines police spending in other cities, as well: Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety and Security in Our Communities).

It’s not hard to see how we got to where we are, with a pandemic raging that is disproportionately effecting black communities. We can’t talk about the police without talking about health, and we can’t talk about any of this without addressing the structural inequalities and systemic racism that exists in our country.

I certainly have more to do, but I hope that by exposing racism and speaking out against it, I am taking the first step to becoming anti-racist.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Being Chronically Ill In The Age of COVID-19

I happened upon the May 23, 2020 issue of the New York Post and was greeted with “One Man’s Plea” regarding re-opening New York City, the crux of which was, “The elderly and infirm can continue to be isolated,” but the quarantine must end for everyone else.  

This trope makes me so angry.

Why is this narrative okay? Why is this thought process okay? Because we’re useless? Because our lives don’t matter? What I’ve learned from this pandemic is that a lot of people lack a sense of social responsibility. It should not be every person for themself. Like refusing to wear a mask because it may make you physically uncomfortable temporarily. But it may also save other peoples’ lives if you are asymptomatic but have COVID-19. Everyone’s actions in regard to this virus have consequences on other people. It’s not just you endangering your own life.

While I have been very much in support of the Governor of Michigan throughout the pandemic, I am somewhat dismayed at the lack of effort that has been put forth regarding at-risk populations.

Did you know that in the Governor’s plan for re-opening Michigan it is strongly suggested that at-risk people shelter-in-place through Stage 5? Stage 6 is post-pandemic. As in, there is a vaccine. Best case scenario, that’s six months away, but more than likely that’s 18 to 24 months away. And that’s really only if it’s not a live vaccine because that will mean that many at-risk individuals, including myself, won’t be able to get it. And that would mean that everyone who isn’t at risk that is already calling the vaccine “the government’s excuse to microchip us” would have to put their theories aside and get vaccinated for the sake of others, because many of us who would get it won’t be able to.

I’m sick of the crying and bellyaching about how people are minimally inconvenienced by wearing a mask. I’m angry that a lot of people are willing to throw away the lives of others. The “why should I give up my freedom for your life” is more “why should I give up my life for your freedom.” But really, it’s a false dichotomy. Such questions and decisions diminish us all. It is inherently ableist to think that the “elderly” and “infirm” can be thrown away.

We’re being forced, not into institutions, but into our own homes, where it is presumed we will stay and be quiet until the appointed time it is designated safe – if that ever happens – for us to re-enter the world. But we all have lives that exist outside of the four walls of our homes. And those lives are vibrant, valid, and as important as any one else’s.

So while I’m happy that everyone else’s life is opening up, restaurants and bars are re-opening, I’m sorry to say that I won’t be going. Because the reality is, the only one who is going to keep me safe is myself. And for now, that means staying at home.


As of this writing, the guidelines have changed. But at-risk individuals should still practice social distancing and wearing masks, while apparently no one else has to. Staying home is safer. Now we have a target, not on our backs but on our faces. This everyone-else-can-go-about-their-business is bullshit. And it’s tacky. The state basically re-published the guidelines and plastered on it “Reopening programs and services for older adults age 60+ and vulnerable individuals with underlying health conditions.” This isn’t progress, this is politics.

And we weren’t asked. As far as I can tell, no patients or doctors were consulted in this decision-making. And we deserve a place at the table. No evidence has been provided. And maybe there isn’t any, but if there isn’t, that should be disclosed. “We have no evidence to support our poor decision-making. Consult your health professionals for guidance.” Whatever. That’s better than what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is nothing. If, after careful thought, consideration, and planning, it is still deemed that the most realistic option is to shelter-in-place as much as possible, I will take it. But I cannot and will not accept no effort or thought being put into this decision.  

The reality is, this pandemic has brought into full relief the injustices that have always existed in this country, where minorities of any kind are at higher risk for worse outcomes of everything, including COVID-19. And as the last several weeks have shown time and again, at risk of death from many things other than deadly diseases, simply because of their minority status. 

So if this feels like a kiss off, it probably is. As I railed against this to a friend who is not chronically ill, she said that the state should have just put a post-it note on the document that said “be careful, good luck…” It’s basically akin to “stay safe out there.”

This is a failure of epic proportions. It’s not just a healthcare system that was unprepared, it’s a government that has been teetering on the brink for longer than we’d like to admit. It’s that America has never had a good safety net in place for the most vulnerable among us. And to think that altruistic people will remain so when they are out of work and struggling themselves is completely unrealistic and puts the blame everywhere other than where the blame should be.

So before newspapers like the New York Post give front-page status to a whiny baby, maybe they can make room for the people that need their voices to be heard. Maybe someone, for one minute, can try to understand that while I am lucky to have a home that is livable and clean, has functioning utilities, and is safe, being at home indefinitely may not be the best option, physically or emotionally, for me or any other high-risk person.

Ultimately, it’s about what we are willing to accept, as individuals and as a nation. Mitch Albom wrote more eloquently than I ever could about “acceptable losses” and how much we are willing to lose for the freedom to leave the house and move through society unfettered while the pandemic rages on, whether we want to admit it does or not (https://www.freep.com/story/sports/columnists/mitch-albom/2020/05/27/mitch-albom-coronavirus-100-000-covid-19-memorial-day/5251822002/).

Truly, I have very little desire to be anywhere but home right now. It’s not that I don’t yearn to get back to my life as it was before March 13, 2020. I do. But right now, everyone is a threat, those wearing masks less so than those who aren’t. I will live in a bubble that I didn’t consent to.

My chronic illnesses have morphed into something that I clearly haven’t accepted because in 12 years, with the exception of once, I’ve never had to accept this kind of personal protection. I never signed up for being chronically ill meaning that I’d be afraid to leave the house and I’d be afraid of every single person that I came in contact with. I never considered that what could be floating around in the outside world could be worse than what was going on inside my body. And I never expected that when everyone had to be weary of that threat that the resounding response would be “Not me. It’s not my responsibility.”

Because we know that “The elderly and infirm can continue to be isolated” isn’t just the plea of one man, but the plea of many.