Much of This is Spot On… but… Advice From the Other Side

Friends of the depressed and mentally ill, take heed. I saw this article from the NY Times posted on Twitter and it’s so very spot on, and trust me, I know.  I turned to a whole cadre of supposed friends when things turned dark.  Friends who claimed to be there no matter what, demand your attention for their drama, but who turned and ran, taunting me with “you’re crazy” when I needed them most.  Then there was another cadre of friends who listened, offered advice, still listened when I insisted they were sick of my crap, and moved heaven and earth to find me when I attempted suicide.  There is a right and wrong way to deal with a loved one in mental pain.

The number one thing that people who have not walked a mile in my shoes need to realize is that those who attempt suicide, whether they succeed or not, don’t do it from selfishness.  They don’t do it to get back at you.  They do it because they are in so much pain and they just know they are such a burden to those who love them that suicide is the only reasonable action.  Our diseased brains tell us that and that belief is so strong that we can’t see any other way.


So read on and I’ll share more below.  Oh, and the items that are bolded are not original from the article.  I bolded them to highlight the points being made.

Reports of Kate Spade’s suicide and struggle with depression have transformed her from symbol of polished prep to a blunt reminder that suffering affects all types.

Her death has inspired hundreds to tweet some version of the same message: Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

But deep in the comment threads, some also debated a more uncomfortable question: What do you do when a friend is depressed for such a long time that you’ve started to feel that that nothing you can do will make a difference, and your empathy reserves are tapped out? There are no easy answers. But here are some tips from experts:

Don’t underestimate the power of showing up.

You may not feel that your presence is wanted. But just being by the side of someone who is depressed, and reminding her that she is special to you, is important to ensuring that she does not feel alone, said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

If she acknowledges she’s depressed, that’s a good sign, said Dr. Rosenthal. He recalled the story of a patient who stopped feeling suicidal after telling people he was close to how he was feeling.

“When you shine the light on the shame, it gets better,” Dr. Rosenthal said.

Don’t try to cheer him up or offer advice.

Your brother has an enviable job and two lovely children. He’s still ridiculously handsome even though he hasn’t gone to the gym for six months. It’s tempting to want to remind him of all these good things.

Not only is that unlikely to boost his mood, it could backfire by reinforcing his sense that you just don’t get it, said Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and the author of “It’s O.K. That You’re Not O.K.”

Your job as a support person is not to cheer people up. It’s to acknowledge that it sucks right now, and their pain exists,” she said.

Instead of upbeat rebuttals about why it’s not so bad, she recommended trying something like, “It sounds like life is really overwhelming for you right now.”

If you want to say something positive, focus on highlighting what he means to you, Dr. Rosenthal advised. And though offering suggestions for how to improve his life will be tempting, simply listening is better.

It’s O.K. to ask if she is having suicidal thoughts

Lots of people struggle with depression without ever considering suicide. But depression is often a factor.

Although you may worry that asking, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” will insult someone you’re trying to help — or worse, encourage her to go in that direction — experts say the opposite is true.

“It’s important to know you can’t trigger suicidal thinking just by asking about it,” said Allen Doederlein, the executive vice president of external affairs at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

If the answer is yes, it’s crucial that you calmly ask when and how; it’s much easier to help prevent a friend from hurting herself if you know the specifics.

Take any mention of death seriously.

Even when a person with depression casually mentions death or suicide, it’s important to ask follow-up questions. If the answers don’t leave you feeling confident that a depressed person is safe, experts advised involving a professional as soon as possible. If this person is seeing a psychiatrist or therapist, get him or her on the phone.

If that’s not an option, have the person you’re worried about call a suicide prevention line, such as a 1-800-273-TALK, or take her to the hospital emergency room; say aloud that this is what one does when a loved one’s life is in danger.

In some cases, calling 911 may be the best option. If you do, ask for a crisis intervention team, Mr. Doederlein urged.

But remember that interactions with law enforcement can vary wildly, depending on race and socio-economic background. In cases where you’re concerned that calling police could put a person in danger, try to come up with an alternate plan in advance.
Make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible

You alone cannot fix this problem, no matter how patient and loving you are. A severely depressed friend needs professional assistance from a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or another medical professional.

Yeah, you know. You’ve told your boyfriend this, but it’s been months — or maybe even years — and he still has not set anything up.

“You can’t control someone else’s recovery,” said Kimberly Williams, president and chief executive of the Mental Health Association of New York City. But you can try to make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible.

That might mean sitting next to your friend as he calls to make the appointment, finding counseling that he can afford, or even going with him that first time, if you’re comfortable with it.

What if you’re not sure whether you should start with a therapist or a psychiatrist, or whether you’ve found the perfect person? Ask around for recommendations, and know that one practitioner may ultimately lead to another.

But don’t overthink it. The key initially is just getting a professional involved so you are not the only person managing this situation. (That said, if that first appointment seems really unhelpful, trust your instincts and find someone else.)

Take care of yourself and set boundaries.

When the thoughtful and kind people we’ve loved for years are depressed, they may also become uncharacteristically mean and self-centered. It’s exhausting, painful and hard to know how to respond when they pick fights or send nasty texts.

“You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to,” Ms. Devine said.

Still, just because someone is depressed is not a reason to let their abusive behavior slide. Set clear boundaries with straightforward language such as, “It sounds like you’re in a lot of pain right now. But you can’t call me names.”

Similarly you may find that your friend’s demands on your time are starting to sabotage other relationships or your job. You’re not going to be able to help if you’re not in a good place yourself.

It’s O.K. not to be available 24-7, but try to be explicit about when you can and cannot help. One way to do this, Ms. Devine advised, is to say: “I know you’ve been really struggling a lot, and I really want to be here for you. There are times that I physically can’t do that.”

Then come up with a contingency plan and kindly push her to stick with it. Coming up with a consistent schedule for when you’ll see each other every week can be helpful to you both.
Remember, people do recover from depression.

It can be hard when you’re in the middle of the storm with a depressed friend to remember that there was a time before, and hopefully an after, this miserable state. But it’s essential to remind yourself — and the person you’re trying to help — that people do emerge from depression. Because they do.

I have seen it. Every single one of the experts quoted here has seen it, too. But it will take patience and time.

I know that I was utterly exhausting to my friends and family.  Those who turned away only reinforced my feelings that no one cared.  I knew what I had, what my blessings were.  I also knew that I was a huge burden to them and they would be much better off without me, and that I didn’t deserve them.  Telling a depressed person to “just think happy thoughts” or “just snap out of it” is as ridiculous as telling a person with cancer to think happy thoughts to fight their cancer, or telling a person with heart disease to just snap out of it and they’ll be well.  Telling a person with anxiety “oh come on, how bad could it be” or “what’s the worst that could happen?” is also ridiculous.  That person, the anxious one, has already thought about the worst that could happen and then gone beyond that.  Don’t do it.  It makes you look tone deaf and uncaring.

Piling on the “Oh my God, how selfish can she be to commit suicide” crowd only makes people with depression clam up and put on that smiley face.  It isn’t selfishness.  It’s selflessness.  I know my thoughts were to fix every wrong I perceived I did to those I loved by taking their biggest problem out of the equation – me.  I knew beyond a doubt that they would be happier and less stressed with out my existence.

Three years later I’m in a much different state of mind.  I suffer from depression and I have for a very long time.  It will never go away.  I can’t think good thoughts and make everything happy again.  My brain, an organ in my body, is sick.  I treat it with medications and therapy.  It’s no different than any other sick person…


Those of faith, please don’t shame the mentally ill person by telling them more prayer will help, that if their faith was stronger they wouldn’t be depressed or that it’s just nihilistic nonsense.  I can’t speak for all, but I have a strong faith.  I spent days, months, years begging God to help me.   Your judgment of their faith is NOT helpful.

One last note:

Perpetuating the myth that the mentally ill are, as a group, a danger to other people and should be feared still happens.  No, a depressed person isn’t a danger to others, but they are to themselves.  An anxious person isn’t a danger to anyone.  Bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. are the same.

The people who we call “crazy” and “mentally ill” that are an obvious danger to others, the sociopath, the psychopath, aren’t mentally ill.  They suffer from personality disorders, and my therapist said there is a difference (she has a bit more education that I do on the subject, so I’ll take her at her word!).  They, unfortunately, drag the rest of us into their lump and all those who are mentally ill are shunned, feared and mistreated.

So please, let’s not just sweep this subject back under the rug until another celebrity ends their own life.  I guaranty you that you know someone struggling with mental illness.  Be there for them.  Help them get help.

download (1)

Because they aren’t “fine”…yet.


Before It’s Too Late…5 Years Later

I originally posted this on the political site I used to write for, and the link to it popped up on my Facebook feed.  As various articles I have written there show up, I re-read them.  Sometimes just for fun, but this particular one was very special.  Now that it’s been 5 years, I thought the feelings of loss and nostalgia would have dimmed.  I was wrong.

So here it is…

Mondays are usually not my best day, first day of the work week and all, but this past Monday was particularly upsetting.  I logged into my Facebook account on my lunch hour and had a message from an old friend from my high school days.  It was a group message and it was about a teacher that we all shared.  He is being transitioned into hospice care for very end stage cancer.  The news shook me up and as the day progressed I realize that it shook me up more than I initially grasped.  As important has he was in my life at the time, I hadn’t seen him in 28 years, although of late he had been on my mind quite a bit. 

 I stood on the parking lot on a cold, crisp October evening.  Around me I can hear the sounds of scales, woodwinds, brass, the tapping of drum sticks on drum heads, the slap of hands spinning and catching rifles and the snap of silk as flags spun and were tossed in the breeze.  In my mind I could see an imposing figure, dark hair and mustache, wearing a blue and white Westminster High band jacket, seemingly impervious to the cold that made the students shiver, fingers cold in their fingerless gloves.  When I open my eyes I’m back to my 45 year old self, listening to bands warm up as my daughter’s marching band prepared to compete, but just for a moment I’m 15, 16 or 17 again and about to step on the competitive field.  For a moment I again know the hours and hours of practice were worth it.  For a moment I’m being challenged, “feet…” “TOGETHER” “shoulders…”  “BACK”  “chin…”  “UP”  “eyes…”  “WITH PRIDE!”  “Eyes…”  “WITH PRIDE!!”  “EYES…”  “WITH PRIDE!!!”   

 Now they well up with sadness. 

 Mr. Paxton

James Paxton was my music teacher and band director in high school.  I wasn’t a jock or a cheerleader, I was a band geek.  I wore the badge with a fierce pride.  Marching band was not only my identity in school, it was what kept me from fading so far into the background that I disappeared without notice…and Mr. Paxton was the reason why.   

 I was born in Maryland, but because of my father’s career, we moved a lot.  I started instrumental music in a different state and at the end of 6th grade, we finally moved home to Maryland.  I found that I was a year behind kids my age in musical training, and it made it a bit difficult to catch up.  I was again the new kid, and as usual lacking in some way.  For this and many other reasons I don’t have the space or inclination to share, I never felt that I measured up, or that I should speak up.  The less I was noticed, the better I found it was for me.  But music was, and still is, one of my passions, so I couldn’t quit. 

 Every teen wants to feel they belong, or they are important and I was no different.  But belonging always eluded me.  Feeling adequate, that I measured up or even the concept that I had talent was as foreign to me as speaking another language.  Mr. Paxton changed that for me.  If only for an hour or two a day I felt I just might have talent.  Standing with the band, in practice or competition, I finally felt I belonged.  I’m not sure if he had any idea, but while he had the highest expectations for each of us, his expectations weren’t above our ability, and he was never negatively critical.  He knew how to encourage, how to channel our ability and excitement into the music and onto the field of competition. 


I have so many good memories.  The thrill of winning a competition, the silliness and endlessness of weekends spent band bus trekking to a football game and one or more competitions.  The trip to Virginia Beach my junior year.  Winning Chapter Championships as a senior.  I tried out to be drum major my junior year.  It was totally out of character for me and I surprised almost everyone.  When Mr. Paxton told me I wasn’t chosen, he made sure to explain that it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, it was because he needed my leadership and talents elsewhere.  My senior year I received a letter from Towson State University that I had been selected to participate in their All Senior Honor Band.  I was shocked.  I was an average musician, how could I even be worthy of that honor?  Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Paxton recommended me because knew I was good enough, and that being exposed to all of the talented musicians that participated could only make me better.  I took that to the seat auditions and EARNED 4th chair (out of 10-12 flutes). When I told him he laughed.  He expected no less from me. It was a watershed moment for me.  I WAS good enough, I DID belong.   

 I’m not sure if I will get the chance to see him again in this world, and while I know this has nothing to do with politics or conservatism, I think we all need a reminder to stop and appreciate those who had a positive impact on us.  Thank them before it is too late.  Mr. Paxton, thank you for…everything. 


I did go to see him before he passed.  He was comfortable but not conscious (anyone who has has a loved one in hospice knows what I mean).  His wife  assured me that he remembered me, that he remembered his students, even ones before me.  After he passed an evening of remembrance and music was held.  It was for all his students, whether from WHS or from Dulaney High School, and there was an alumni band.  I played.  I laughed at the stories.  I cried.  In fact, it was started off with alumni percussion members marching in to HIS cadence… it brought us to our feet and reduced us to tears.  The call to attention with the WHS “SNAP” and Eyes… we hollered it out as if we were kids again, sobbing aside.  I’m glad I saw him.  I’m glad I participated.  I’m grateful for his faith in me, and will always treasure it.

Independence Day For Whom?


I started this on Independence Day because I, as an American, question how the hell we’ve gotten to a place as a country where we not only do not support our military, but demonize those who have suffered from their service. Sure, we show our appreciation for the service men and women who show an outwardly visible injury, the lost leg or arm, but what about those who suffer in silence? Those who have kept their scars on the inside? Those we call “crazy” or “nuts” and relegate them to the fringes of society. Now, I’ve come back to edit this to include the others who work to keep us safe, our law enforcement officers.

Too often it is too easy to label people and ignore their plight. Those struggling with mental illness, whether it is depression, anxiety, PTSD or others, are the easiest to label and forget. They are crazy, nuts, unstable. If they dare do something like stand up for themselves, the labeling is used to dismiss them and their cause or shut them down and keep them silent. Don’t believe me? Just look at the example that I wrote about regarding Jack Cunningham. A man stands up to a powerful attorney for his misconduct in office. The lawyer and his supporters, including those in government and the Courts, call him crazy to make him go away. They used his military service and resulting PTSD against him to penalize him and excuse their misconduct. Only because Jack refuses to back down is his issue being brought to light. You can read more and show your support here.

Now we see an even more evil way that labeling is being used to excuse blatant racism and hatred. The Black Lives Matter Movement was started after a few high profile issues of police misconduct were nationally overblown. Truths were overlooked or intentionally hidden and the movement incited people to hate, violence and in many cases, murder of law enforcement officers. Dallas is just the culmination of the hateful, racist rhetoric that has been spewed from them and those who support them, including high profile celebrities. But who gets blamed? The police. White people. Those who say that ALL LIVES no matter their color, creed, career or mental status, born or unborn. We are the ones “spewing hate.”

It’s been said that one day calling evil good and good evil will mean the end of our civilization. People, we are already here. People speak the truth about issues like abortion, homosexuality, racism and double standards and faith and are called evil, racist, homophobic. Labels to shut them down. Society calling something evil good doesn’t make it so. Excusing the utter and purposeful actions of a presidential candidate that were a complete violation of Federal Law a “extreme carelessness” when the ordinary citizen would be rotting in jail doesn’t make it true. Calling a man who wants to have his day in court crazy because he suffers from PTSD doesn’t make it so either.

Keeping people in silence by shaming them into acceptance of evil is wrong. Using labels to scare them into refusing to stand up for right is evil. Demonizing those who have sacrificed their time and in many cases their sanity to protect YOUR freedoms is blatantly wrong. Firing upon those who go out every day to protect us from those who would do us harm then blaming them (the victims of actual blatant racism) and excusing incitement to violence and murder as “justified” by the actions of a few bad cops is beyond evil.

It sickens me that our nation and it’s leaders join in with this blaming and incitement. It sickens me that the very people in our nation, our veterans, don’t get the help and support that they so very much deserve and have EARNED. It sickens me that too many people allow themselves to be shut down because their illness, depression, anxiety, PTSD, is used against them. It sickens me that our society can’t be compassionate enough to realize that mental illness is just that, an illness. The brain is sick and it isn’t something that is chosen or that can be overcome by just “thinking happy” or being more positive. Would you tell a cancer victim to just “think happy” to battle their illness? So why is it acceptable to tell a vet suffering from PTSD or a middle class mom suffering from depression to just “get happy”?

People, it’s time to step up and speak truth. It’s time we stop backing down to hate and tell those who incite it, NO MATTER THEIR COLOR, that their hatred and incitement to violence is UNACCEPTABLE. If we don’t, we are lost.

The Silence is Deafening…

My last post shared a letter written to my legislators regarding the discriminatory practices of disability insurers, AFLAC in particular, against the mentally ill. I’m here to report that the silence has been deafening. Unsurprisingly so.

The Tuesday after I mailed it, Monday having been President’s Day, I received a call from the assistant for Justin Ready, my State Senator. I was surprised to get the phone call, but was gratified to hear that she was going to put the package in front of Justin by the end of the week. I’m guessing she did, since I have no reason to doubt her. Nothing since.

I received two emails from the assistant to Sue Krebs, my state Delegate. One or both of them have seemingly misunderstood my request, thinking I was asking for the legislators to get involved in making AFLAC pay up. I wasn’t and emailed back as much. Two emails later and one missed call (no voicemail), not sure where things stand, other than her initial “there is nothing more that can be done to further assist you on this issue.” Oh, but there is.

As for the rest, *chirp chirp… chirp chirp* Crickets.

I know it’s an election year, you’d have to be a hermit in a cave not to, and I realize that many of those to whom I wrote are running for their current or another seat. Bully for them. The state and country still have to be run, so how’s about doing your jobs and looking at my correspondence and RESPOND???

It is too important to too many Americans to ignore this problem. It, and I, won’t go away. My German/Scottish hard head will see to that!

It’s Time to Take a Stand

It went out in the mail today. The letter I wrote, all 9 pages of it. I sent it to the Maryland delegation to Congress: Senators Mikulski and Cardin; Representatives Harris, Sarbanes, Ruppersberger, Edwards, Hoyer, Delaney, Cummings and Van Hollen; Maryland’s Governor and Lt. Governor; the Governor’s Chief Legislative Officer (Joe Getty); and the Maryland General Assembly leadership: Miller, Pugh, Gladden, Raskin, Jennings, Hershey, Ready, Busch, Kaiser, Talmadge, Kipke and Szeliga; and my local Delegates: Krebs, Rose and Shoemaker. 28 in all. I sent it. It had to be said and it must be changed. Here is what I sent them. Post this everywhere.  Make it go viral.  Too many suffer in silence and can’t speak for themselves.  Let’s get it out to ALL Senators, Representatives and State level leadership.  IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND!!

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am writing to bring a situation to your attention that needs to be legislatively rectified. I believe that after you understand the realities of the circumstances it will be clear to you then why legislative action MUST be taken. A large segment of the population of the United States and State of Maryland are suffering discrimination and it MUST stop.

For context, let me provide you with some information about myself. I am and have been a Maryland resident most of my life. I was born here and was raised mostly in Carroll County. I have been married for 23 years and I have raised my two children, ages 21 and 17 in Carroll County. I am employed full time as a Paralegal for the legal department of a franchise company and have been employed there for over 9 years. I’ve worked as a paralegal in various settings for more than 20 years. I have an Associate’s Degree from Villa Julie College in Paralegal Studies (1991, magna cum laude) and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from Stevenson University in Paralegal Studies (2010, summa cum laude, inducted into Lambda Epsilon Chi and Alpha Chi honor societies).

My situation specifically deals with Aflac Incorporated (“AFLAC”), but I am advised that all disability insurers have similar, if not identical, policy exclusions regarding coverage for the mentally ill.

An outline of the steps I have taken are enumerated below. I have enclosed my initial letter to AFLAC, together with supporting documentation, my complaint to the Maryland Insurance Administration, together with supporting documentation, along with their response and supporting documentation (Note, the supporting documentation isn’t attached, but may be posted at a later date).

In May of 2014 I purchased three policies from AFLAC through my employer. The policies were effective June 1, 2014:

  1. Short Term Disability policy number (redacted). This policy was paid from after tax income, and deducted from my paycheck.
  2. Specified Event policy number (redacted). This policy is paid from pre-tax income and deducted from my paycheck.
  3. Accident policy number (redacted). This policy is paid from pre-tax income and deducted from my paycheck.

When the opportunity to purchase policies through AFLAC was presented to my company, the agent never mentioned any specific exclusions to coverage. To be fair, no one asked about exclusions either, but who would in a group setting given the shame surrounding mental illness? Television advertising for AFLAC policies also do not mention any specific, across the board, exclusions to their policies. I have, since this situation came to a head, frozen my TV screen when small print comes up in their advertising and there is no specific mention of policy exclusions.

My premiums were paid each month, timely and in full. There were no claims against any of the policies during the entire policy period.

On May 18, 2015 I was hospitalized for 9 days (through May 26, 2015) and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, severe and recurring. After I was discharged I called AFLAC to seek assistance with a claim against the short term disability policy and the specified event policy. After providing the customer service representative with the reason for my hospitalization, I was advised that AFLAC didn’t provide any coverages for mental illness. It was, she explained, an exclusion that applied to every policy they write. Since I was unable to file a claim, I ended the conversation.

After a month in an intensive outpatient program (“IOP”), I was discharged On June 27, 2015 from hospital care and entered private, weekly therapy. Costs for my hospitalization, despite having health insurance, are running in the tens of thousands of dollars. I have been in private therapy and will be for the foreseeable future. At present I am attempting to juggle paying the hospital in patient stay, emergency room doctor, IOP program, psychiatry and prescription bills, along with my outpatient therapy expenses. Having had coverage for the hospitalization and IOP program under the Specified Event policy and time missed from my employment under the Short Term Disability policy would have been a huge help.

On or about July 8, 2015 I wrote to AFLAC’s Chairman and CEO, Daniel P. Amos, and President, Paul S. Amos, II. A copy of said letter is enclosed as Exhibit 1. In it I laid out the above facts, and my assertions that denial of coverage to the mentally ill is per se discrimination.

On or about July 21, 2015, I received correspondence from the Felicia Sweat in the AFLAC Claims Department, dated July 17, 2015. A copy is enclosed as Exhibit 2. Her letter states that they were investigating my “claim” and would get back to me. Keep in mind I never filed a claim. I was complaining about their discriminatory practices. After my first phone call to AFLAC, I have never expected any recovery under my policies.

On or about July 31, 2015, I received a second piece of correspondence from Ms. Sweat dated July 27, 2015. A copy of this correspondence is enclosed as Exhibit 3. In it, she explained in detail the exclusion to all of their policies. Though she just said it was excluded from my three, I knew from my telephone conversation on May 27th that they exclude mental health coverage from every policy they write. She also offered, “as an exception” to allow me to cancel my short term policy, retroactive to June 1, 2014, and refund my premiums paid from June 1, 2014 to the present. While I appreciate the gesture, it didn’t address the “meat” of my complaint – discriminatory practices. To date, neither Daniel Amos nor Paul Amos has responded directly to my questions or allegations.

On August 13, 2015 at 11:44 am I faxed a letter cancelling the short term policy. A copy of the letter and fax completion report are enclosed as Exhibit 4. On September 15, 2015 I received a check from AFLAC for my cancellation of the short term disability policy (also enclosed as part of Exhibit 4).

On September 16, 2015 I sent a letter of complaint to the Maryland Insurance Administration (“MIA”) regarding the discriminatory practices of AFLAC. I requested that they look into the practices and make any necessary changes to the rules to close this loophole. A copy of the complaint letter is enclosed as Exhibit 5.

The MIA responded to my September 16, 2015 letter on November 5, 2015. A copy of their response is enclosed as Exhibit 6. In their response, they advised that they cannot require AFLAC to cover mental illness under their policies due to Maryland law allowing the loopholes. Specifically, they advised: “We reviewed Maryland insurance laws. Maryland implemented a state law that mirrors the federal law that requires parity for mental health…This law applies to individual and group health benefit plans… the company (AFLAC) has confirmed that it does not sell health benefit plans, as defined in the above laws. This means the policies do not have to comply with the state mental health parity law.” They then suggested that I discuss it with my legislators.

Part of Exhibit 6 is the response to my MIA complaint from AFLAC. They allege that “Maryland Insurance Code section 15·802 (e)(1)(ii)…requires benefits for the actual treatment of the illness. It does not state that a supplemental insurance carrier must provide benefits for loss of income, which is the purpose of short·term disability coverage.” and that “a ‘health benefit plan’ is defined under Maryland Insurance Code section 15·1401 0)(2), and…does not include: (i) one or more, or any combination of the following: 1. coverage only for accident or disability income insurance”. I would argue that the Specified Event Policy, which provides specific monetary amounts for different types of illnesses or injuries, is not an “accident or disability insurance” but instead an insurance policy for the illness or injury, not for loss of income. In any case, the exclusion from any policy, disability or otherwise is per se discrimination.

As I said, I have never, beyond my initial phone call, made any demands for coverage because I acknowledge there is an exclusion on each policy. The whole point to that letter, the complaint to the MIA, and this one, is that the exclusion itself, and the laws permitting it, are discriminatory.

Not covering mental illness on any policy they write should be illegal, whether under the American’s with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or existing parity laws. As I outlined on pages 2 and 3 of my July 8, 2015 letter, the ADA includes “mental impairment” under its definitions of a disability. I further quoted verbatim sections of the ADA (the full text of which can be accessed here) as it pertained to discrimination against the mentally ill. If the ADA specifically excludes disability coverage, something I couldn’t find when reading the entire Act, it should be amended to change that. Logically it doesn’t because it specifically includes mental illness as a defined disability.

In fact, the ADA includes the very same mental health diagnoses that the July 27th AFLAC letter specifically excluded: “Mental or emotional disorders, including but not limited to the following: bipolar affective disorder (manic-depressive syndrome), delusional (paranoid) disorders, psychotic disorders, somatoform disorders (psychosomatic illness), eating disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, stress, or post-partum depression.”

Almost all companies, employers, housing authorities and so forth are prohibited under the ADA from discriminating against the mentally ill. Parity laws on a federal and state level also prohibit health insurers from providing disparate coverage, from capping, minimizing and/or refusing to cover mental health treatment. Parity laws legally recognizing mental health conditions and substance abuse as equal to physical illnesses. About half of all Americans who are covered by health insurance are enrolled in large self-insured health insurance plans that are subject to federal parity. Federal parity replaces state law only in cases where the state law provides for less parity than federal law, but if a state law is stronger, it applies in place of the federal law. (More info. can be found here.) 

I realize that AFLAC is not a health insurance company. It’s a disability insurance company. However, I see no logical reason why their policies, which provide coverage when your health is in question, should be held to a different standard.

My question, and one you should be asking yourself, is why do disability insurance providers exclude mental health coverage and why are they allowed to violate the ADA definitions and federal and/or state parity laws and discriminate against the mentally ill? The answer, of course to the first part is that it is fiscally advantageous to refuse to cover it. The answer to the second part is that legislators like yourselves have either not addressed the issue or have been influenced by those same disability insurers to allow them to discriminate. Neither are a valid excuse to do so.

As I stated in my first paragraph, this allowable discrimination affects millions of Americans. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (“NAMI”) provided the following statistics:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., that’s 43.8 million, or 18.5%, experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S., 10 million, or 4.2%, experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18, 21.4%, experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.
  • 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S., 16 million, had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%, 10.2 million adults, had a co-occurring mental illness. It makes sense as they were most likely self-medicating.
  • An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
  • Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
  • Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.
  • Just over half (50.6%) of children aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.
  • African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.
  • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays, sometimes decades, between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help. This is exactly my situation. I most likely had onset of depression at or around the age of twelve. I didn’t seek regular treatment until recently.
  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14¬–21 and older who are served by special education drop out, which is the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

One of the effects of this discrimination is the feeling of shame, embarrassment and stigma. The stigma only grows, and gains acceptance in society, when companies like AFLAC are allowed to continue to offer disparate coverage. It can only be banished when they are held to the same standards as every other part of society and not allowed to discriminate.

Mental illness is a disease of the brain. It’s absolutely no different than a patient suffering from heart disease, cancer, or some other form of physical illness. The medical field has proven over and over again that these disorders aren’t something that a patient “asks for” or can control onset, any more than they could cancer or heart disease. In fact, cancer and heart disease are more preventable than mental illness. Mental illness isn’t chosen or self-inflicted. They would cover a broken bone caused by falling from a skateboard, or skiing, both activities that involve physical risk and are undertaken voluntarily. They regularly cover heart attacks, strokes and cancer, some of which could be avoided by different lifestyle choices, such as healthier diet and more exercise. No one purposefully “asks for” mental illness. Society recognizes that it’s wrong to stigmatize other illnesses, yet it is perfectly acceptable to stigmatize mental illness.

Treating those with mental illness as people to be feared, pitied, or as those who should be legally humiliated because of their illness is wrong. The recent discussions about the Second Amendment and mental illness speak volumes about the attitude of the general public regarding those who suffer from it. All that stigma makes seeking treatment taboo. Withholding coverage makes it financially difficult or impossible for the patient. It’s been allowed to go on for much longer than it should, despite legal efforts to the contrary.

Speaking from my own experience, the embarrassment of being hospitalized, the shame at not being able to “control” my illness, “listen to reason” and just “get happy” or “snap out of it”, the worry that people will think less of me… kept me from seeking treatment for decades. I am an educated, intelligent woman with health insurance. Yet I am struggling with depression, overwhelming medical costs and the societal stigma that won’t go away. Mental illness shows no discrimination – it cares not that one is educated, insured, old, young, poor, homeless or military. That AFLAC and other similar insurers are allowed to perpetuate stigma by refusing to provide coverage for mental illness as the physical disability it is shameful. It should not be allowed to stand.

I am requesting that you, elected legislators, review Maryland State law, federal parity laws and the ADA and put in place new laws or amend existing laws to prohibit disability insurers from discriminating against the mentally ill. Not all of you represent me specifically, though some do, but I can guarantee that you do represent tens of thousands of voters who struggle as I do. You each owe them, and me, your consideration.

I am available to answer any questions or offer any further information. Thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to hearing from each of you regarding the steps you will take to rectify this situation.

If you agree with me, send this to everyone you know, including your lawmakers.  Today is the day we ALL take a stand.

Why Can’t We Just All Get Along?

Another old blog post edited and reposted here for your enjoyment!


I ran across an article about the Shroud of Turin. Apparently, a new study in Italy suggests that the Shroud may in fact not be a medieval fake as the last study suggested. It doesn’t mean it is, in fact, the burial cloth of Christ. It also doesn’t mean that it isn’t the burial cloth of Christ. The study just says that it is from the first century, fitting the Scriptural timeline. Science can’t prove that fact one way or another, which is where faith comes in. The article was well written and balanced, and the scientists who did the research also made it a point to say it comes down to faith.

What bothered me the most was the comments at the end of the article. Why is it that some of those who don’t believe have to be so hateful to those who do? As one poster put it, what does it hurt anyone that someone believes? Why the name calling and derision?

Those in disbelief really make me wonder about their disbelief. I mean by definition you can’t hate something you don’t believe. To hate it you have to believe it exists.

I understand that there are religious people of all faiths that are pushy as hell with their specific belief system. There are also those who profess not to believe and are equally as pushy with their disbelief. I wish those who were would stop and think about what they are doing. Speaking as a Christian, as is the only viewpoint I can speak from, when other “Christians” speak and act in a way that is counterproductive: hatefully (as in Westboro Baptist Church); pushy or exclusive (only we are going to Heaven); it not only puts others off, but it makes us all look bad. Who doesn’t hear “Muslim” and think even for a second “terrorist”? Unfair characterization? Possibly and that’s exactly my point.

I have friends of different faiths: Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Agnostic and Atheist. Some have proven to me that we can “coexist” without pushing our respective belief systems on each other. Some have proved they can’t, and have been told to disappear from my life. As for me, I could push my non-Christian friends about their beliefs, pepper them with the Biblical verses to back me up and all it would do is send them running in the other direction. First, those who don’t believe don’t put stock in my Scripture so what’s the use in using it as proof? To them it’s just fiction. To others is just obnoxious. It certainly isn’t how I would want someone to treat me. I try, as best I can, to be a good example of what Christ says we should be: loving, helpful, tolerant (per Merriam-Webster: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own)… and when I say tolerant I don’t mean to say that I am happily accepting of their differing beliefs, just that I allow it. Christ commands that of each of us. He never turned anyone away and reached out to everyone – sinner, self-righteous, non-Jewish and sick.

And it’s not the non-believers that are always the obnoxious ones. I was reading someting about Christopher Hitchins, and some of the most hateful rhetoric was spewed there by professed Christians. “He’s buring in Hell” was the most heard/read, usually spoken with such glee it made my stomach turn. Really? How do you know that? Yes, Hitchins was an atheist, but how do you know what happened to him at the moment of his death? How do any of us know?

I believe that God loves all His children, no matter their sex, race, belief system (or lack of one), age, or sexual orientation. God is a parent, and as such He would do everything to help the children (all humans) He loves, so why wouldn’t He give us a choice at the moment we die to believe and be with Him? We can still make the choice, but faced with Him – the ultimate proof – who would say no?

I also believe that the more we learn about other faiths, the more we learn about ourselves. The more we know, the less we fear and the easier it is to get along with everyone. So people, please, be educated before you open your mouths!

No matter your beliefs, remember that what others believe really doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you. But showing a nasty streak to those who believe differently makes you look small and petty. So stop it.

I passed, Could You?


My US Government and History teachers would be proud. I just took a sample US citizenship test and scored a 100/100 (despite the fact that the answer to the question about the responsibility of the US Supreme Court is wrong – the correct answer is to interpret laws as they pertain to Constitutional issues. They weren’t specific enough in my opinion, but whatever!) Anyway, it got me thinking. We require people who want to live in our country legally to take this test and according to Newsweek, only 62% of naturally born Americans passed a random sample of 10 of those questions! In fact only 6% of Americans know that there are 27 Amendments to the Constitution!! Makes me want to ask my daughter, who will be graduating from high school the end of next year some of those questions and see what she’s actually learned!! (for the record, I did and she passed too!)

For a more difficult go at it, try this test. I scored 100% on that one too!

How sad is it that we require those who were not born or educated here to test to become a citizen, when our own citizens are woefully ignorant of the answers to those same questions. 62% is a failing grade if that’s what you got on a test in school… sounds like our educational system is failing miserably in educating our children about what they need to know (or what we require others to know) to be citizens. This is basic stuff, people! The questions about about our form of government, how it’s structured, who is governing us and what they are responsible for. Given the trouble we are having these days, how scary is it that most people don’t know that by changing laws passed by Congress and signed by him or previous presidents via executive orders DID mean that the President overstepped his authority? Other questions deal with our history. Who did we fight for our independence? Who were key figures in our history (that made those self same checks and balances to keep us all safe?) Questions about the Civil War, WWI and WWII… if we don’t know our own history, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again – how can we learn from them if we don’t even know what they are?

I suggest that each and every one of us should take this test and see how we stack up… and if you fail, go hit the history books. IT MATTERS! Without a working knowledge of our history, we could, and will, lose our freedoms and nation. ( and see how you do on it. Comment back and let me know how you do! Then go read up on what you missed. Knowledge is power… and the people of our country need to remember that WE hold that power… if we’re smart enough to do it!

Originally posted on my old blog, edited and reposted here!

Friendship, the Good, the Bad and the Really Ugly


I’ve been around for… let’s just say longer than people think when they look at me. I’ve made my share of friends, some good, others gigantic mistakes. I guess by this point in my life I can say I can speak about friendship. Overall, my experience with friendship has been rocky at best.  I have a few really good friends, people I know will be there for me no matter what. What I’m about to describe in no way describes any of them (and the half dozen or so know who they are), but I could name three times as many who have failed to live up to the others. I seem to have a knack for letting people into my life whose sole purpose is to use, abuse and discard my friendship and loyalty.

Making friends has never been easy for me. As much as most people who know me think I’m friendly or easy to talk to, I’m actually more introverted and prefer to have a few close friends over a huge social circle. Having had to move and change schools often throughout my childhood was painful and difficult for me. I’d make friends, then have to leave. New places only made me a target for mean kids. I was taller than most, didn’t talk about the same things and, not to toot my own horn, was smarter than most. I’m guessing that’s why I would “glom on” as my daughter would say, to anyone who would show an interest in me. That was the problem. I’d just be so happy to have a “friend” and would put up with all kinds of hurtful and abusive behavior. The problem is I still do it…I guess I just never learn.

Here is a description of a friendship that I had to end in the last few years that was probably the worst of the bunch. I’ve changed the name of the guilty, not to protect her, but to forestall any future issues with her once she gets wind of this post. Some people will know who I’m talking about, and probably got to hear her bad mouth the hell out of me after it hit the fan. Well, I never did, so here’s my side.


Kasey and I met online. People do these days. We met through a message board for Tears For Fears/Curt Smith fans.  Yep, I admit it. I’m a 80’s band fan. Most of the discussions on the board, and between Kasey, myself and others were about the band and the music, but some were about politics and everyone was in “yes” mode, meaning they agreed wholeheartedly with whatever Curt, an avowed liberal, said. At that time, however, I kept out of political discussions and my kept my conservatism to myself. After all, I didn’t want Curt to dislike me because I didn’t think as he did, especially after I got to meet him the first time in 2004.  I don’t know if Kasey knew how I leaned politically.  She was one of the “yes” crowd.

At Curt’s encouragement, I became the conservative voice on the board.  I was attacked vociferously.  Curt defended me, much to my delight.  Kasey did too, although she really did no other discussing, other than to continue to be a “yes” person to Curt.  In most other discussions she would make sure to tell everyone how she knew Curt in the early 90’s NY City days after he left Tears For Fears, how she hung out with him at shows and organized fan get-togethers and meet and greets with Curt… all… the… time.

Despite that, she and I started becoming friends off the board.  We emailed a lot. And ended up talking for hours a day on Yahoo messenger.  We talked about everything – friends, family, spouses, kids.  There wasn’t a subject that was off limits.  I was thrilled to finally have someone who understood: my fan geekiness with TFF, my childhood hurts, all kinds of thing.  Taking and sharing was equal… up to this point. I was just thrilled to have someone who didn’t make fun of me for the things that were important to me!

In 2005 I was in the midst of a Pampered Chef business and Kasey asked me about doing what I did. So I signed her up. She was having money problems so I fronted her the money to pay for the kit. The problem? She got her kit and never scheduled a single show, becoming what we called a “kitnapper.”  That meant that I never got credit for signing her to my team, which hurt me financially. She did pay be back for the money for the kit.  I let it slide.

When her husband was diagnosed with cancer the two way support stopped.  Understandably so.  It was terrifying for her, I get that.  I helped her in so many ways during that year.  I got her in touch with a friend of my husband’s who had been through the same type of cancer.  I listened to her for hours and hours talk about her fears, their fights, how it was hurting their marriage, how they were getting into a financial bind because of his missed time at work.  I sent her money, money that I didn’t really have to give, for Christmas presents for their kids (her and his).  I rejoiced with her when the cancer was beaten, shared her fears before each doctor’s appointment, at each twinge or ache.  Being supportive in a time of need is what a best friend does.  I held up my end of the bargain. Didn’t give it a second thought.


In 2008 We spent time together at a tears For Fears concert in Las Vegas.  She and I were trying to work together on a meet and greet for a group of fans we knew.  Again and again she told everyone about how she was a master at setting these up because of her early days in NYC.  The day of the concert the Tour Manager got in touch with me about where to get necessary passes and what to do.  She tried, and failed miserably, to act as if it didn’t bother her that it was me that was getting the information and not her.  At that point I really didn’t notice. I was just excited it was going to happen.  We both got to sit through the sound check.  After the concert we followed what we thought were the instructions about where to go, but finally figured out they were wrong.  I got a text saying where it was and that if we didn’t get there quickly the band would leave. I reacted and I took off running to the correct place. I didn’t think “oh, let me wait for Kasey so we can get there together.”  I thought “I crap, I need to get there asap or none of us get to see them!”

I was also very ill on this trip. I was diagnosed with chronic lyme disease which was bad enough, and shingles in my left arm, which was screamingly painful, just after I got home from Vegas. The trip was too important to not go, so I managed. I got no sympathy.

After we got back to our respective homes, she emailed me and accused me of trying to leave her out and of being disrespectful because I ran off without her. Yes, really. But as I always do, I capitulated, took all the blame and we went on as if nothing happened.  She got what she wanted: me put back in my place.

I kept doing other things for her.  She was always complaining about how they never had any money, for whatever reasons.  Even though I too never have enough money, I was always doing things like sending her the free extras I got when buying my makeup, I sent flowers to her husband when he was ill.  I sent cards for anniversaries and birthdays.  For my birthday we flew her up to visit.  We even planned a surprise for her birthday by “crashing” a reunion between her and the friend I sent her way (cancer supporter). It’s what friends do, right? Yet I kept failing to see it was always me doing the giving.

More cracks surfaced. I should have recognized them, but I didn’t. I was in a bad car accident.  It caused all kinds of problems, especially financial ones.  I called her in a panic and in tears after some particularly bad news.  She listened for a few minutes, told me I just needed to calm down and hung up.  Subsequent emails didn’t support and instead voiced exasperation and impatience.  I still took it.

In November of 2008 my father died.  I held it together as best I could.  I didn’t expect that she would come up for his funeral (although it would have been nice).  I did expect that she would at least send a card or flowers.  She didn’t.


I went back to college to get an additional degree and my time was taken up with it.  I still made time daily to talk with her.  She was a great cheerleader for my achievements.  She was a good friend when things were positive and fun.  But only then. But the positive times were few and far between, and becoming fewer.

In August of 2010 I got the opportunity to sing with the opening act at a TFF concert in Baltimore.  Kasey couldn’t take time to be there.  Granted, she lived a plane ride away, but she knew I’d put her up at my house. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, a dream come true, and my best friend didn’t even make an attempt to be there… again.

Kasey was always working on business ventures.  I was a vocal supporter online, with friends and family, for all of them, including her online magazine… at first. As 2009 closed and 2010 opened, Kasey started her online magazine and a recipe book project.  Remember what I was doing when we met? Basically cooking for a career? Yeah, she never once asked for my input.

As she was getting the magazine off the ground she was overtly friendly with many other people, and I understood why.  She was marketing herself to others.  Her magazine was about “diva” things, fashion, the whole “how to be a great girlfriend” thing, the whole faux sophisticate thing.  She would ask others for article contributions.  She knew that I wrote, but never asked me for any contributions.  I finally offered a fluff piece.  I had just redone the extra bedroom in our home for my daughter to be her dance/art room, and wrote about it.  I sent it to her and she thought it was “great” but needed some “tweaking.”  I’m an accomplished person, a published writer, so I write well.  When she finally published “my” article it was unrecognizable.  I compared it to my original and out of about 400 words, she changed 395 of them.  It was no longer mine.  I told her to take my name off of it – the grammar and spelling were horrible and it wasn’t anything close my style of writing.  She was shocked.  I was just disgusted.

More and more she pulled away from me.  First it was a few days between contact, then a week, then more.  When I protested, and I did, she said she was just too busy with her magazine and work.


After another serious crisis in 2010, my world crashed around me.  I finally was diagnosed with depression.  It was so bad I was suicidal.  When I turned to my supposed best friend, I got initial sympathy, but generally was told to “just be happy” or “suck it up” or “just get past it” or some other platitude. Then just silence.  Far from listening and being a supportive best friend, I heard nothing.

In February of 2012 I was published in an actual book. Entitled “Sandy Hook Massacre: When Seconds Count, The Police Are Minutes Away” it included three of my Second Amendment articles from the website where I have a weekly column.  My cheerleader had officially left the building.

Later that year my depression seriously bottomed out.  When I really got to the bottom and called her out because I NEEDED SOMEONE TO BE THERE FOR ME, she told me that I was being “drama queen” and that she had real life problems.  Her life was always more important than mine, and now it was quite evident.

One of her parting shots at me was that I said “hateful things” that “hurt her friends.”  She was talking about me expressing opinions that differed from hers.  So her lip service to respecting other opinions was just that, lip service.  Of course it really didn’t matter that she hurt me beyond what I could take.  I gave and gave and she took and took.  My needs were “drama” while hers were always life and death.  When I reached out in real pain, she couldn’t be bothered. When I called her out on it I was “crazy.”  I was crazy… crazy for not seeing it sooner.


Kasey was just one example of plenty more who did similar things. A high school friend who constantly was my friend, then not, and on and off, until she threw me over for others on a band trip. I finally got smart and stopped going back for more abuse after that. Other so called friends who only came around when they needed something, but disappeared when I was in need. That happens all the time. I have the worst ability to discern who really is a friend and who isn’t.  All of them, like Kasey, were given the gift of my loyalty, love and friendship.  They stomped on it like it was trash.

That group at the beginning of all of this? Well, they are my saviors. I would have literally lost my mind without them. Thanks guys!


As for Kasey and the rest (and there are many more)… you guys suck!

Rome SHOULD be Burning

On New Years Day, CBS Sports Commentator, Jim Rome, was commentating a football game and tweeted this:


Really?!?!? After being slammed in Twitter for his ill-advised tweet, he deleted the original one (oh, the but the internet is forever thanks to some of those “dorks” I’m sure) and offered the following “apology”:


Yes, Mr. Rome, that certainly was your intent. You see, it’s always been ok to bully band kids. You see, we are the “weird” ones, with no athletic ability, so being the butt of jokes and bullying is standard practice for us “dorks.” Except we do have incredible abilities, athletic and otherwise.

I can speak for two of the last three decades. I was a band kid, a woodwind player, in the 1980’s. I was proud to be one, despite the bullying. I spent the end of my summer vacation, every summer, sweating on a high school parking lot, marching sets over and over and over again, practicing hours before and after school during the season, learning the following “dorky” skill sets:

1. Music memorization. We were not allowed to march with our music after the first 2 days of band camp. It isn’t just a few notes, but full pieces of music. And it’s not just remember the notes, but the fingerings on the instrument, embouchure (mouth positioning to make the sounds from an instrument) and notations from the music about how loud or soft to play. That takes brain power.

2. Playing music, in tune, while moving, in all kinds of weather. It’s more difficult than you think. Actually, staying in tune while sitting still in a climate controlled room is difficult enough. Add movement and it’s quite a feat. Movement changes breathing, posture and heart rate. Now add in either stifling heat, freezing cold, rain or snow and it is a concerted effort to keep that instrument in tune. Our season starts in that August heat and continues into mid-November cold. Heat makes notes go flat, cold, sharp. We had to know how to keep instruments warm and how to adjust our playing to keep in tune.

3. Marching. It’s also not as easy as it looks. Let’s examine that, shall we? It’s not just walking forward. It’s walking forward, backwards, sideways in time to the music being played and all in step. Try and get a few kids in step, it’s not easy. My band had more than 100 kids in it. Some playing instruments, brass, woodwinds and percussion, some spinning various pieces of equipment. All in step, in tune and spinning in concert.

4. Spinning that equipment. I didn’t understand when I was in band how difficult that actually was. Today it’s even more difficult. Our band front, called a color guard today, had separate groups: Silks (long poled flags), swing flags (two short, small flags), rifles and majorettes. They stuck with their equipment. Each type of equipment has its own skill set in how to spin, toss and catch it all at the same time as every other member. Today the color guard switches up equipment. That means “guardies” as they like to be called have multiple skill sets.

5. Teamwork. No one thinks of marching band as a team sport, but it is. Even more than any other team sport. If one person is missing or out of step/tune, it affects every other member of the band. If a second or third stringer is missing from the sports teams the rest of the team can still play just as well and win. One missing band kid can throw off an entire line and affect the score the entire band gets. There are no “stars,” everyone is equally important.

6. Lines. We were expected to keep lines straight, while playing music and remembering where we were supposed to be moving towards. We used the same hash marks, lines and field markings as the football players. We had to learn, and memorize, how many steps, what direction, and how quickly we needed to get from one marking to another, all while keeping lines straight or arcs arched. It takes good peripheral vision, timing and thought processes. All while working on remembering notes, embouchure and breathing to keep music in tune. Continuously for a 7-10 minute show.

7. Lastly, throw in the stress of competition. The stress of judges standing on the field, sometimes in your way, knowing you can’t move out of their way or you’ll be penalized. Judges in the stands listening for musical mistakes, watching for spinning and marching mistakes. The thrill of standing waiting for scores and placement, at attention, not able to jump up and down for joy at winning or cry or rage in defeat. After watching the spiking arrogance of football players after every good play there is no way they could stand at attention and keep that pride, joy, happiness, sorrow, anger or whatever other emotion happens inside. No way they could stand at attention and show respect to every other “dork” that crossed that field that night. No trash talk allowed. We represent our school and program, so our behavior on and off the field is scrutinized.

All this so that the football players can diss us, throw footballs at us as we finish up our halftime show at football games and together with the cheerleaders and other kids, bully us at school.

I remember my senior year that my band was undefeated. No one could beat us. Our football team, on the other hand, couldn’t win to save their lives. I had to go to the principal and BEG him to give the band some props in morning announcements, or on the board outside the school. It never happened. The athletes and cheerleaders (with the very few exceptions of 3 or 4 of our band front girls who also cheered) constantly made fun of us, on and off the field. Being called a “band geek” or “dork” were the nice terms. Their favorite name to hurl at us was “band fag.” After a few seasons, I wore the name as a badge of honor. Those jerks had no idea of what it took to be in band, no idea how much pride our achievements gave us.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s I was out of the band world. My college didn’t have a band and then I was getting married and starting a family. However, one of the former staff members from my daughter’s school band was. He was a student and later an instructor for the same school program and has this to say in a facebook post about the Rome kerfuffle (the comments in parentheses are mine):

“The thing that cracks me up is how out of touch he really is. In the 15 years I was a part of the activity, the climate has changed an awful lot. No area more than the support of arts have and the support received from the school and their peers at large.

There was a huge stigma about doing marching band when I was in school. By the time I was in my 3rd year of teaching, there was a large shift. Sure, the band will always be a safe haven for those students who were a little off center… The social castoffs if you will. However, the biggest difference was the recognition they began receiving for their efforts and achievements. By the time I left (school name removed), the program had 10 state championships in 12 years… It took all the schools athletic programs (football, baseball, lacrosse, track, softball, tennis, basketball…) during the same duration to achieve 15. We were able to do it with no feeder programs, club teams, or even prior musical experience. Literally, every year we teach someone a new instrument and how to coordinate their body, control their core muscles, and stabilize their breathing and heart rate. All this so they can be a part of a larger whole. And their absence, however brief, is always noticed.

My point is, each student sharpens skills that will help them forward in life. Each club or team teaches you focus and determination, but no other activity teaches you attention to detail and the ability to work as a team like marching band. Especially small bands like (school name removed). Comments like Jim Rome’s are to be expected. As his comment kind of suggested, he was expecting people in band to have a reaction. It’s the same bullying effect he got off on in high school. How quickly people forget though, the bands are usually much larger than the football team. Their community is much larger. The hours the students spend honing their “dorky” craft are often closely matched by the hours spent by parent chaperones, educators, designers, and pit-pops (parents who help move equipment on and off the field). And because this is an activity of inclusion, this is a community that is ever growing. Most people that have done band can find someone else who has done band and share at least one similar story. One night of freezing on a parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

He picked on the wrong dorks.”

Today, I am the parent of another band kid. My daughter, Meghan, is not only a musician, but is also in the color guard. As far as marching band goes, she spins 6 foot flags, wooden rifles and sabres while dancing and moving across the field of competition. Her first year I watched her be switched at the last minute from color guard, where she was comfortable and trained, to “pit” or the percussion and musicians at the front of the field who don’t move. She, a self-taught piano player, was moved to keyboard, and at the very last minute before the season started, had another instrument she had never played, vibraphone (a huge xylophone for all you non-dorks), thrown into her repertoire with 4 days to learn 4 pieces of music. She handled it like a pro. She also plays oboe in symphonic band. This year during warm ups prior to a competition, in freezing cold rain, she was hit in the face with her rifle when she couldn’t catch it properly with freezing cold, wet hands. The rifle ripped up her mouth and forced a tooth through her bottom lip. She performed in competition an hour later. How many pro football players continue bloodied and bruised to finish a game instead of being carried off the field or bowing out? Other kids in her band marched after battling cancer or other illnesses or injuries for a season. I’ll take those brave, strong, smart “dorks” over famed athletes any day and twice on Sunday.

My son, Eric, ran track. He too spent hours of practice honing his skills: running, breathing, jumping. Track, however, is really not a team sport. It’s a sport that gives points to the team for the achievements of the “stars” those who place in the top 3 or 4 places of their event. Other teams, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, also rely on the achievements of the “stars” and if those who aren’t stars are missing it still doesn’t affect the whole team. Not to discount their achievements, because those kids work hard too. But they don’t get bullied for being “dorks.”

Band kids work harder, get less recognition and bullied for their trouble.

I also volunteered and worked as staff for the non-profit that runs the circuit my daughter’s band competes in. I see hundreds, probably thousands, of kids a season working and competing just as hard. This year alone I saw a band with two blind kids. Marching. Their director said that this year they marched with a guide behind them to help them find their way across the field, but next year they will march unaided. It is, after all, just a lot of muscle memory once memorized. Blind kids don’t play football.

And those “dorks”? Well, as a whole, band kids are smarter, achieve more academically and go further in life. If you look at your average band kid, there are more kids taking honors and AP classes than athletes. Studies have shown this hands down that kids who play instruments have better reading and language skills, do better at math and science, have higher intelligence and benefit with better memory, social skills, confidence and other ways.

But music programs in our schools are the first to be cut. Parents foot the bills for instruments that costs thousands of dollars. We pay fees much higher than sports parents so our children can participate. My son cost me $200 a year for his track participation. My daughter costs me $700 (for marching band and indoor color guard). How many kids are kept out of participation in an activity that so obviously benefits them in multiples ways because parents can’t afford it? From the 1980’s when I was in band until today budgets were slashed to the point where parents have to pay. My mother didn’t. We had some fundraising, but there were no fees to be in band. Now we fundraise constantly AND pay fees. All because music in schools is so much less important than athletics.

These same intelligent, great kids go onto college in droves. They succeed without the need for tutors and the “wink and nod” pass them on that college athletes get, and go on to be highly successful people. I look at the parents of our band kids, especially the ones who were band kids too (yes, it tends to run in families!) and see engineers, lawyers, paralegals, doctors, physical therapists, nurses, biomedical researchers… Yet it’s still acceptable to call these smart, well adjusted, hardworking confident kids names and “pooh pooh” their accomplishments.

Well, Mr. Rome, your slander of us as “dorks” was intentional and completely misplaced. I’m relatively sure your “apology” wasn’t done truly and never would have been made had the millions of us “band geeks” not called you to the carpet. You, sir, are a bully, and the worst kind. You could use your influence to talk about how much of a good thing it is for kids to run “around with their instruments” instead of making fun of them. But you won’t.

And CBS Sports? You should also offer an apology, fund some of those music programs and fire Jim Rome. But you won’t either. No matter, we will succeed without you and to spite you. That’s what us “dorks” do.