In Response to the House

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Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 217-213 in favor of H.R. 1628, otherwise known as the American Health Care Act. Here’s a bullet list of what NPR is reporting will be changing from current coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

  • The tax penalty for not being insured is being done away with. This will be a benefit to some people; however, since our income was deemed too low to assess the penalty, we will see no change in this from the ACA.
  • The bill encourages people to maintain their coverage by prohibiting insurance companies to charge premiums for pre-existing conditions if they stay insured. A lapse of more than 63 days, however, would allow the new insurance company to charge a 30% penalty over their premium over the first year of the policy. This means that if either of us has a lapse in insurance for a little over two months, due to a period of unemployment, perhaps, insurance will be significantly higher once reacquired, perhaps prohibitively so in our case.
  • “Both (the) Kaiser (Family Foundation) and the Congressional Budget Office found that, on average, older people with lower incomes would be worse off under the Republican plan than under the Affordable Care Act.” I’ll be 48 later this month. Kaiser’s interactive map shows that my premiums would increase by a little less than $1,000. That’s money that we can’t spare in our budget. In practice, I believe that the premium would increase more than that, since the map would only allow for 27-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 60-year-olds, and I went with the lower 40-year-old threshold since it was closer to my actual age.
  • The AHCA maintains protections for people with pre-existing conditions, with some important exceptions, the most notable of these being the state waiver. The AHCA allows for a full repeal of the ACA on a state-by-state basis, meaning that “States could apply for waivers that would allow insurance companies in their states to do three things: 1. Charge older people more than five times what they charge young people for the same policy; 2. Eliminate required coverage, called essential health benefits, including maternity care, mental health and prescription drugs, that were required under the Affordable Care Act; and 3. Charge more for or deny coverage to people who have pre-existing health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or arthritis.” I live in Texas. I am almost certain that Texas will be one of the very first states to apply for this waiver should this bill become law. I am older and would be gouged for that. My necessary mental health and prescription drugs coverage would be eliminated. And my (at least) ten pre-existing conditions (according to one of the multitude of lists being passed around social media) would likely cause me to be denied for coverage outright.

Now to the part of this that I wrote on Facebook earlier today, the part that really matters, in my eyes. If you’ve already read that post, you can stop here, but I really hope you’ll continue reading in order to see my words in the context of what is happening.

“I am on disability and Medicare. My disability states that a condition of me remaining on disability is that I maintain a working relationship with healthcare providers for my particular disability. If the AHCA passes, with all its pre-existing conditions, my Medicare premium will price itself out of the realm of me being able to afford it, which means that I’ll eventually disqualify myself for disability before I’m ready to return to the workforce, which means that the very little bit that I bring in financially will go away, which means that we won’t be able to make rent, which means we will eventually become homeless.

“All because it’s important for the insurance companies to make better profits.

“The people that voted for this legislation don’t care about stories like mine. But I’m not alone. There are thousands and thousands of people just like me, with the same concerns about keeping a roof over their head, because of the AHCA.

“And what if I do return to the workforce before I lose my eligibility? I’m working hard towards that goal, but it’ll be a year or more before I’m trained. What happens if the AHCA passes and I’m looking for work? One of the things that I’ll need to look at in a job is whether they offer healthcare coverage, because I’m on medications that if I don’t take them, I can very easily end up in the hospital, and medication isn’t affordable even now without insurance.

“Except I have no less than ten pre-existing conditions that I could find on what I’m sure is not a comprehensive list of all pre-existing conditions the AHCA includes. That means that my insurance would be far too costly for me to afford – which puts me right back into the situation of not taking the medications I need to keep me out of the hospital.

“Any way I look at this, if the AHCA passes intact, I’m not entirely certain I’ll live much longer.

“This is literally a life-and-death issue for me and so many others. And I’m angry that this is the situation that our elected officials have chosen for us to be in.

“I have the words to describe what this means to me, but I cannot adequately put into words just how I feel about this bill. Or how scared I am for the future because of it.”

The Senate says they’re going to introduce their own version of this bill. I can only hope that the Senate has more compassion than the House of Representatives’ version. The House’s version of this bill expects people to die earlier in order to reduce expenses for the insurance companies. That shows an exceptionally callous, uncaring attitude towards their constituents – one Congressman from Virginia went so far as to say that the people that he saw protesting this bill probably didn’t vote for him, and he saw nothing wrong with discounting what they had to say.

A friend of mine said it best. When did we start becoming voters and stop being constituents?

Then again, we are in an election cycle. Trump has already kicked off his re-election campaign, within days of being inaugurated. That makes us voters again, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to feel that the party in power doesn’t have my best interest in mind. But with the passing of the House bill, I feel like they’d prefer I just died and decreased the surplus population.

 

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Defying Societal Norms

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They say there are three things that you shouldn’t talk about in “mixed” or “polite” company – sex, politics, and religion. So today I’m going to pitch all that out the window and discuss my religious beliefs with you, partially because I’m completely bereft of ideas for what to write about and partially because I wonder if there are others out there that have my particular brand of religion/spirituality.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I have walked a very long road to get to this point in my life. I’ve walked the path of a lot of faiths and denominations before arriving at the decisions that I have regarding religion. That speaks to my core belief that there’s something out there bigger than us – it’s just been a lifelong journey to recognize what that is.

When I was born, I was baptized at a Disciples of Christ church, though I never attended. My family wasn’t very religious, and so the only exposure to religion that I received was during the Sundays that I accompanied my grandmother to her Southern Baptist church. My family also wanted me to make my own decisions about religion when I was ready, and so I’d kind of wing it, sometimes doing Bible readings for the family at Christmas.

When I was 13 I had a paper route, and one of my subscribers was the rectory of the local Catholic Church. They had just build a stunning new chapel, and I was curious about it, so I told the priest that I was interested in learning more about Catholicism. He recommended that I join the order of the catechumens. Thanks to my lack of follow through at that point in my life, I never attended, but remained curious for some time about the ritualized services of the Catholics.

About the time I was 18 or so I had swung far and wide away from my Christian roots and was interested in becoming pagan. Again, a lack of organized classes deterred me from pursuing this any further than considerable curiosity.

By the time I was 20, about to turn 21, in fact, I was very empty and was searching for anything that would have me, and that’s when two Mormon missionaries came knocking on my door. I was curious, I was older, and so I did follow through to become baptized a second time into the Mormon church. A week later I was ordained into their lay ministry. My time with the Mormons came to a sudden and abrupt halt when I went to essentially confess to my bishop a struggle I was having and was told that part of my penance would be to forbid me from taking communion for six months. I thought it rather odd that at a time when I was reaching out to God for help with a struggle I was being prevented from communion, so I slipped away from the church not long after that meeting.

It wasn’t long afterward that I joined a multi-level marketing business which took over my entire life for several months. I changed my political beliefs to be more in line with what I was being taught, I changed the way I cut my hair, and of course I joined the church that everyone else had joined – a Pentecostal church that I never really understood, but went along with anyway, to the point of being baptized a third time. I was speaking in tongues, I was part of the musical worship team, I was going along with the crowd, until the crowd decided they didn’t want me to be part of their team anymore, and so in very short order my church, my second job, my circle of friends, and everything else that I’d taken up with in order to feel wanted disappeared, and I was starting over from square one.

From that point forward I was very cautious of any sort of religion, since I’d felt so burned and so gullible from the whole experience, so I went solo for a while and kind of ignored that urge that I felt deep inside, since it had gotten me hurt multiple times before.

It was during this time that I solidified my political and societal opinions, never again to waver from them, so any attempt to join a church would have to be a welcoming experience for anyone to match my liberal viewpoints. I found that several years later in a Presbyterian church. A friend of mine was the minister there, and I started attending just to have something to do, promising myself that I would take it VERY slowly and learn before jumping in with both feet. I don’t remember much of my experiences there, but they were good and I enjoyed the people that I was meeting with every Sunday. I also don’t remember why I stopped going, but I did, I don’t think for any real reason other than I just stopped.

My next foray into organized religion was in Illinois, when I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church there. This was by far my happiest experience in a church and I made plenty of friends and got very involved with the congregation. I was even working part-time in the church office. I dabbled with Buddhist meditation, I dabbled once more with paganism, and I generally loved the freedom that the church allowed its members to practice in their own personal experiences. We stopped attending church shortly before moving from the area – attending services would have meant an hour-plus one-way trip, and we just couldn’t justify the expense or the time commitment. And that was the last time that I associated with any one religion.

It was my experience with the UU church that finally solidified my religious beliefs. I came to recognize that I believe that no one religion was the true one; rather, that all religions spoke a part of the truth, and that the higher power that was at the head of one was actually at the head of all the others as well. Some religions recognize only one god, some worship thousands, but all of them are just manifestations of the same higher power in a manner that each civilization could understand and embrace. The basic tenet of almost every religion on the planet is very simple – treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated. And that’s a tenet that I can get behind.

I no longer believe that attending worship services is a necessary part of my religious beliefs, but I do believe in respecting the religious beliefs of others as being key to a good relationship with the divine. It’s part of that treating others the way you wish to be treated. I don’t get into arguments about which religion is right, because all of them are right in their own way.

Do I pray? In my own way. I ask that people who are suffering find solace and peace, I ask that those who are sick be healed. I believe in miracles because my very existence is a miracle, and so is everyone else’s existence. We are surrounded by miracles and they’re so commonplace that we don’t recognize a miracle unless it’s something truly magnificent, without explanation or basis in known fact. I believe that science and religion are intertwined, and that our understanding of the world and the universe helps us to understand the divine. Do I believe in life after death? I honestly don’t have an opinion, mostly because that’s not anything that we’re meant to know in these meatbags that we walk around in. I think that if there is something after death, living a good life here on Earth will reflect in what happens to you after you die. But I’m not going to fret over my eternal soul. I believe that I’m doing what’s right for me.

Are these beliefs right for you? Maybe – maybe not. The important thing is that they’re right for me, and that I’m happy and content with my beliefs. Are they subject to change? Certainly, as I learn more about religions the world over I gain knowledge about my own beliefs. Will I ever participate in organized religion again? I might perhaps rejoin a UU church at some point if I find myself in need of fellowship, but for now that’s not an urge that I experience.

So there’s my personal take on spirituality. If it fits with any known religion I haven’t found it, and I’m not really looking to see if it does. In this aspect of my life, at least, I’m happy being me just as I am.

The Peaceful Scene

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(For those curious, I’m up early because of my back, and thought I’d be productive with my time, so I’ve jumped ahead in my checklist to my reading for the day. This blog post is in large part an exercise from that reading.)

In The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD, I’m on chapter four, called Relaxation. It covers in detail several relaxation techniques. Today’s reading describes The Peaceful Scene. In it, the workbook suggests that you create a scene that you can return to in your mind, a scene that’s designed to help you relax and release any unwanted anxiety. There are two versions of the scene that I’ve used in my head for years, one imagined, and one real. Here’s the story.

In the imagined scene, I am sitting alone in a grassy clearing just in front of a stand of pine trees. It is a beautiful brisk morning, the kind of day that you can feel the temperature difference between sun and shadow. The sun is out and there are a small number of fluffy white cumulus clouds in the bright blue sky, none near the sun. In front of me there’s a small stream that features a series of gentle waterfalls as the stream moves downhill across a series of rocky outcroppings. Across the stream from me, to the left, is another stand of green pine trees, and the scent of the pines is strong on the gentle breeze that’s blowing. In front of me, to the right of the stand of trees, is a meadow, with yellow and blue wildflowers in bloom. The sounds of birds in the trees compete with the rushing waters of the stream for my attention. Off in the distance, beyond the meadow, there is a mountain range, its grey rocky peaks standing above the tree line and topped with snow. I can run my fingers through the grass that I’m sitting in and gain a sense of peace and tranquility in the beautiful scene laid before me.

That was my go-to peaceful scene, and I was sure that it only existed in my mind until I was hospitalized in 2007. I was in for chest pains that turned out to be nothing more than anxiety, strangely enough. While I was in the hospital, I found a station on the television that would broadcast environmental sounds with images of nature. While watching this station, this one image came onto the screen and my breath was caught as I beheld a photograph of my peaceful scene! I was so stunned that I forgot to take note of where it said the photograph was taken. But it wasn’t long before the image reappeared and I was ready with pen and paper to jot down the spot, promising to look it up when I got home.

The place is called Schwabacher’s Landing, and that’s a picture of it above. Schwabacher’s Landing is a boat landing on the Snake River about 16 miles north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the Grand Tetons rising in the distance. The meadow is missing, but the trees are there, between the river and the mountains. The view is almost due west across the river to the mountains, and it is a popular place between spring and fall. (The dirt access road is impassable in the winter.) As you can see, it is a breathtakingly beautiful spot, and it is on my bucket list to travel there and see it for myself someday.

I don’t utilize the peaceful scene – either of them – as often as I should, given my anxiety, but I should really change that. Looking at this majestic view I can almost picture myself there, experiencing all the sights and sounds and smells that the location can offer. Travel guide say there’s coyote, antelope, and deer often spotted in the trees, and otters can sometimes be found in the water, with eagles occasionally soaring overhead, and spotting one or more of these animals in their habitat would only heighten the sense of peace that I would experience being there. I really look forward to that day.

Thoughts from a Worried Mind

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As promised yesterday, I’m going to be a little more political, because I feel strongly about a lot of issues that are relevant to today’s world.

Now, keep in mind that because of my mental illnesses and my low threshold for stress these days, I’m not as up on the issues as I should be. I know they exist, and I know my position on them. I can’t engage in meaningful debate about the nuances of the different sides, I can only tell you in plain English why I believe what I believe.

Right now I have two main concerns. The first is healthcare. I’m currently on Medicare because of my disability, which means that if anything happens to Medicare I’m SOL. If pre-existing conditions become a disqualifying state, I’m SOL, my wife is SOL, and a LOT of my friends are SOL as well. I can’t tell you how important it is that healthcare remain affordable and accessible to me, without a lapse in coverage. (I’m on six blood pressure medications. If I’m out of even one of them my blood pressure becomes worryingly elevated. Being unable to afford my medications would be an immediately life-threatening situation for me, thanks to my high blood pressure and diabetes, not to mention the effect that it would have on me being mentally ill and unmedicated.)

The second concern is Social Security. As I mentioned before, I’m currently on disability because of my PTSD and bipolar disorder. We are completely dependent on my Social Security payment, and because I’ve been out of work for nearly five years, if that payment goes away, getting quickly hired on anywhere doing anything would be a significant challenge. We’d last perhaps four to six weeks before both of us were homeless.

These are the pressing concerns that I have for myself, but I have a lot of other concerns too. I worry about people being treated unequally because of their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, race, religion, nationality, income level, education, age, or any other category that can be used for discrimination, and I have little tolerance for those who feel that any of these reasons are acceptable to discriminate against anyone. I think that critical thinking is a vital quality to have and I don’t understand people that deny scientific evidence or other known factual information. I also don’t believe that critical thinking is something that should be limited to those with higher education; I have a GED and I thrive on learning, especially if what I knew before was incorrect.

And lastly, I think that we are in very deep trouble given our current political climate. I think that policies are going to be enacted that will literally cost people their lives. Our government should be protecting us, not trying to kill us off. For the first time in my life, I can genuinely say that I don’t trust the government. I’ve been able to say that I don’t trust things the government has been telling me before, but this is the first time that I can say I don’t trust the government, full stop. I don’t like that feeling. It’s alien and uncomfortable and chilling, and I see things happening every day in our government right now that I seriously question. I’m not convinced I’m going to survive this administration, and that’s a devastating thought to have.

So there’s part details, part nutshell what I believe. I want to be more active in resisting the changes in our government, but I’m unsure where to start. I want to be the change that I want to see in the world, and I’m finally to the point that I feel like it’s imperative that I act on that rather than just dwelling on the idea of it.

Climbing the Mountain

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I know that I reiterated that I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions last time I wrote. But I do have a goal.

As many of you know, I’m currently on disability for several concurrent mental illnesses. Today, just remembering to brush my teeth can be a struggle on a bad day. I have a long way to go. The end goal is to get me back out into the workforce full-time and off disability. With a physical injury, that can be an easily workable goal. It’s not so easy for those with mental illnesses to bounce back. What we have doesn’t go away, and it never truly goes into what most might call remission – we just are better aware of the coping mechanisms that we have at our disposal most days, and rough days are more manageable and easier to get through.

Social Security allows for certain situations where a recipient of benefits can work on a limited basis in order to test their readiness to return to the workforce full-time. I can earn up to a certain amount every month for up to nine months in order to gauge my preparation to go back to work. My goal is to be actively looking for a place to test the waters by the end of the year.

That’s a tall order, but I have a long time to work on it. If I make it, that’s great, but if I don’t, I’m not going to be kicking myself that I didn’t meet a deadline. This isn’t a hard and fast thing for me, I just would like to be at that point in my recovery to be considering a partial return to the workforce.

We’ll see what happens as the months progress. As for today, however, my anxiety is a little higher than usual, and so I’m going to work on getting that under control.

NaBloPoMo Day 20: Fear of the Future

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A few years ago, I was absolutely terrified of growing older, because I didn’t know how in the world I would make it past a certain age. The thoughts passed as I started concentrating on more pressing matters, and I haven’t really thought about what the future holds until recently.

But now the fears are worse than ever.

I’m 46 years old. Partially because of my intolerance of a high-pressure, competitive work environment and partially because of my complete lack of a background that I can actually do (I have two vocational certificates, both of which are for a line of work that requires standing for hours at a time, something my back will not tolerate anymore) and partially because of my own lack of motivation to make my career my legacy, if I returned to the workforce, I would be doing so at essentially an entry level position, no matter what field I managed to find work in, and would likely not move past that tier of responsibility for some time. (This is all taking into account my own mental health as it stands today. This might improve over time but that remains to be seen.) I can’t afford to go back to school to improve my chances of finding a career, as the student loans would likely not be paid off in my lifetime and I don’t want my daughter to be left paying them off on top of her own substantial education debt, plus by the time I could graduate and find work, I’d likely have 15 years in the workforce before I was forced to retire. Right now, because I’m on disability, our budget is so tight that in the coming weeks there will be less than a dollar of wiggle room in order to be able to pay our bills one pay cycle.

Now tack on the extra expenses of seeing the doctor more often, seeing more doctors, and paying for more procedures and prescriptions, and the future looks very, very bleak indeed.

What little bit we had managed to save for retirement was eaten up in 2012 when we both lost our jobs within three months of one another and couldn’t find work for several months afterwards. (I have yet to return to work, in fact.)

I try not to dwell on thoughts like this. But any time I think of the future I don’t really see a place for me in it. I see myself homeless and alone and not lasting long on the streets.

This is not where I wanted to end up at the end of my life. I wanted there to be enough saved to be able to make ends meet when I retired. Now there’s no chance I’ll ever be able to retire. Either I’ll remain on disability for the rest of my life, or I’ll have to somehow work until I die.

I don’t like talking about money, and I don’t like talking about my fears, because they both depress me greatly. But lately that’s always in the back of my mind.

I don’t know what the future holds. But right now, with things going the way they are, I don’t see a way out of the hole that I’ve spent my life digging for myself.

Do I plan on giving up? No, not yet. There’s still a chance that something could happen that would help turn this around, and I’m hopeful that it will happen.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Looking to the Future to Find the Past

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Regular readers of this blog know that I participate in the SCA, a historical re-enactment society that focuses primarily on pre-17th century European culture. I’m also a pretty big fan of science fiction, and one of my favorite dystopian stories is a graphic novel called Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. Set in a distant future America, the story’s protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, is a chain-smoking (it’s okay, though, he has the anti-cancer trait and it won’t hurt his health), booze-swilling, drug-using journalist whose political writing has made him a celebrity, something he desperately doesn’t want. After a five-year sabbatical, his book contracts pull him back into the City, a sprawling megatropolis located somewhere in the United States (the story never says where in the country this place is located or what its inspiration is supposed to be). While there, he gets a job writing a weekly column for the Word, one of the major transmetropolitan newspapers, and quickly regains his celebrity status. Eventually the storyline delves into the corruption of the political machine of the day, and pits Spider against the President in a thrilling search for the Truth. Put Hunter S. Thompson in the city from Blade Runner and give him the plot to All the President’s Men, and you’ve got an idea. The story is alternately dramatic, darkly hilarious, bizarre, poignant, and thought provoking, and always profanity laced. This is not a child’s comic book. This is one for the adults.

Now, the reason that I prefaced that paragraph with my historical interest is because one of the side stories in this work, originally published as a 66-issue comic book series, deals with the various Reservations that exist within the City. In these Reservations, various cultures are preserved completely intact. Those wishing to dedicate their lives to living in a Reservation are given suppressants that permanently dial their immune system back to what was biologically appropriate for the culture, given a language pack that automatically makes them fluent in the culture’s language, and their memories of ever living in the City are blocked for the rest of their lives. When they enter the Reservation, there is no turning back; they will live the rest of their considerably shortened lives (humans in the City very commonly live to be well over 100 years old) in their chosen culture and die there, oftentimes horribly from diseases that are appropriate to the culture or the violence that the culture supports. They literally give their lives to keep history alive.

Which is very true, because the Reservations are all open for visitors, who have to be given similar immunosuppressants and immunizations and language packs, as well as a way to communicate with the Reservation’s coordinators that you’re ready to leave. The residents’ memories of you being there will be suppressed; once you leave, they will have no recollection of you ever being there. The subplot here is that history is being preserved by a select community of individuals within the City, and no one is taking advantage of the educational opportunity this presents. Spider gets a 24 hour pass to visit as many Reservations as he can to cover the story.

I was watching The Last Samurai last night with my wife and afterward reviewed the bonus features on the Blu-ray. A couple of them noted how the crew behind the scenes took special care to keep the details of the movie historically accurate. I noted the irony of this in a story that essentially glamorizes the life of the Samurai, who historically were as honor-bound as the price that could afford their services. We both noted how peaceful it would be to live in a self-sufficient village off the grid, and she mentioned that it would have to have wi-fi, and I responded with something along the lines of “well, then it wouldn’t be off the grid, would it?” That got me thinking about the Reservations from Transmetropolitan and how effectively off the grid they are.

Then I realized that my historical re-enactment group is the beginning of what may one day become something akin to the Reservations. Where we dabble in the combat and dress and vocational skills of the time periods and civilizations we cover, the future re-enactors may one day literally live their entire life as an Elizabethan haberdasher, or a Norse Viking, or a Burgundian warrior.

My ten year old self has gone from playing an ASCII game on my therapist’s TRS-80 into a future that he could only dream of. Hoverboards are a reality. (Thanks for the head’s up on that, Marty McFly.) Virtual reality goggles and environments are available, if not yet common, and physical locations are being built to provide a three dimensional interactive experience that multiple applications can utilize and customize for their own purposes within the goggles. More common are artificial joints and lab-grown organs and prosthetics custom designed and created from a printer. Billions of computers are connected in a vast, incalculable network of information and distraction.

Who knows what our future selves are still in store for? Who can accurately imagine our distant future anymore? And who’s to say that the technology won’t one day be there to allow people to live their entire lives in the past of their own making?

Only time will tell.

I have no wish to become immortal. I never have. I want to live a good, long, fruitful life and die peacefully in my sleep of old age and not some debilitating disease. But there is a part of me that would really like to see just how incredible our future will be, and whether we’re going to remember our past within it.