B.L. Acker

@b-l-acker | contributor
Super Contributor
I am a 46-year-old happily married mother of three. I have survived physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, a failed previous marriage and a long engagement imploded by an ex’s repeated infidelities. I have been diagnosed with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorder. I have many facets and have filled many roles. At different times in my life, I have been a student, a teacher, a mother, a daughter, a fiance, a wife, an artist and an author. Throughout my life, I have been both strong and courageous, weak and afraid. I may be a product of my experiences and choices, but I refuse to let them define me. After years of suffering in silence, I have found my voice. My first book, “Unlovable: A Story of Abuse and Depression from Someone Drowning in the Abyss,” is available for purchase in both paperback and e-book versions on Amazon.com and at barnesandnoble.com.
B.L. Acker

If 'Spoon Theory' Doesn't Work for You, Try the Alternative 'Arcade Theory'

In 2003, Christine Miserandino constructed the Spoon Theory to illustrate the limitations she faced living with lupus. According to her Spoon Theory, she begins each day with a finite number of spoons, each representing a percentage of the physical and mental energy she has for the day. Small tasks may take one spoon, larger tasks three or four. Once all the spoons are used up for the day, she is done. There are no more spoons, there is no more energy. The Spoon Theory has been widely embraced and adopted by the chronically ill community because it helps illustrate how difficult it can be to meter out our time and energy when it is such a finite resource. As much as I adore the theory, though, for me it didn’t paint a full picture of not only my personal limitations, but also how those limitations play out with my peers and in everyday life. I imagine it to be more like going to the arcade. All around me, there are kids with pockets full of change. How much I have to play with, though, varies by the day. On some rare days, I feel really lucky and I might have five dollars. While that might not seem like a lot to most people, for me it feels like a fortune. On other days, I only have a dollar or two. On rougher days, I might have nothing at all, meaning I either sit out and watch others from the sidelines or I stay home altogether. Every game costs something to play. There are many simple games that cost a quarter, and harder ones that might cost two. The best games are also the most costly. If I choose to take on a bigger game that costs four quarters, that might be the only game I get to do for the day. The kids who always have a lot of change are able to play a lot of games every day. They are more adept at playing these games because they’ve had a lot of practice. I struggle, however, with even some of the easier ones because I don’t play them as often or for as long. So what comes naturally to others is often a struggle for me. I often feel clumsy and inept in comparison. I sometimes even worry others will see my struggles as a joke because I know some people are cruel that way. Perhaps worse, they might pity me. I consider pity worse because I’m often proud of how well I manage to do despite my lack of quarters. I wish just once they knew how hard I try and would cheer me on, instead of laughing or feeling bad for me. I always try to do my best, but I’m always self-conscious about how my best will be perceived. Sometimes my energy runs out sooner than anticipated. I put in a quarter, hit start, make a silly misstep and lose almost immediately. Other times, I pop in my quarter and find myself doing better than imagined, playing longer than expected. But the fact is I never know how long my playtime will last until I pop the quarter in. I go in always hoping I’ll get to play long enough to make it to the end, but I brace myself for those times I barely get started before “GAME OVER” flashes on my screen. All the other kids at the arcade with pockets full of change never seem to understand why I can’t just take out more quarters and keep playing. It’s embarrassing to admit to them that I just don’t have it like that. I don’t have any extra money in my reserves. What I have is all that I have, and I feel lucky to have even that. So I take my time and pace myself. I take stock of the games at the arcade and I carefully pick the few I really want to focus on each day. I might choose one I haven’t done in a while that I’d like to get better at, or another that I really enjoy. I don’t rush through the games I choose because I know when my quarters are gone, I am done for the day. And sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I come across another kid who actually gets it and realizes why I’m not racing through the arcade playing every game in sight. They might suggest we each put a quarter in and work together in a two-player game, because a lot of monsters are easier to defeat with help. Those are honestly some of the best days, because not only do I not have to face those battles alone, but because I have someone at my side who truly seems to understand and wants to help us both succeed. I love going to the arcade. I love being a part of the world and being able to participate in life. But at the same time, it can be bittersweet because every day I go out with my small handful of quarters, I’m reminded of the fact that I’ll never have as many quarters as the rest of the kids. I try to remain positive and be grateful that I have any quarters at all, but it’s hard because it doesn’t feel fair. Why does everyone else seem to have so many, while I have to scrounge and fight to wrangle up the little I have each day? Beyond that, I dread the days I have to stay home because I don’t even have a single quarter to play, because those days I feel like I have no place in the arcade, or in the world itself. On the bright side, sometimes there are ways for me to get a few extra quarters. Seeing my doctors regularly, taking my medication, taking better care of myself through diet and exercise — these things are like doing chores around the house or odd jobs around the neighborhood. They might not feel particularly fun, and they take time away from the time I can be at the arcade doing other things, but keeping up on those chores and odd jobs will eventually pay off and I might find myself with a little more money, and energy, to spend. Even more importantly, I gain a sense of accomplishment, and can be proud of myself for following through with self-care. While the spoons and the quarters are both a finite amount, I feel like the similarities end there. My arcade theory acknowledges that even that finite number we begin with varies day to day, and that there is an unpredictability to how long our energy will last. It also acknowledges the shame and discomfort we often feel for being different, having less, and being able to do less. The arcade scenario resonates more with me because it also considers the judgment we face, the benefits of working with others, and the rewards of self-care. I feel it paints a more complete picture of the limitations you face when you are chronically ill. As hard as it is to function when you are chronically ill, it is harder still to get others to understand.  Whether a finite number of spoons, or quarters at the arcade, those with chronic illness understand all too well the daily limitations we face.  Hopefully, if we come up with enough different examples and explanations to illustrate our struggles, we can finally help others to understand as well.

B.L. Acker

What It's Like to Lose a Neighbor to Suicide

The other day, my husband and I planned to walk to the store to pick up a few things for dinner. It seemed like an average, ordinary, uneventful day by all accounts. However, as we left our house, we were greeted by two of our neighbors standing in the street. One was recounting to the other about the hazmat team that was at another one of our neighbors’ houses earlier that day. Surprised that something like this could have occurred in our otherwise quiet and boring neighborhood, I inquired in passing whether there was anything we should be worried about. My neighbor responded that — from what he had heard — our other neighbor across the street had killed himself. I immediately felt horrible for even asking. I felt even more horrible because on more than one occasion, my husband and I had noticed this neighbor’s property and wondered if there was something we could do, should do. His lawn and bushes always seemed unruly and overgrown. In the three years we’ve lived here, we’ve only actually seen him once. His house often seemed quiet, if not outright abandoned or devoid of life. My husband and I had talked amongst ourselves about whether we should pop by and see if he needed help with anything, but the truth of the matter is that we had never even met the man. We didn’t want to intrude. We didn’t feel it was our place. But at the same time, we admittedly recognized the signs of a person struggling with their mental and/or physical health because we have both been there ourselves. We both have had our mental health decline to the point where even the simplest of tasks felt like too large a hurdle to overcome. We’ve both been at the point where things have felt so bad that we retreat from the world. And sadly, this isn’t the first time suicide has hit close to home. When we were kids, a teenager in our town only a year or two older than both my brother and my husband took his own life. My older brother played football with him. Our fathers were friends. Though everyone knew of him and knew what had happened, nobody ever really talked about it. In his 20s, my husband lost a close friend to suicide. In my 30s, a childhood friend of mine took his own life. Again and again over the years, suicide has hit close to home, sometimes landing on our own doorsteps. My mother made multiple attempts on her own life when I was a child. Her cause of death many years later is still under question for me, because it seems unlikely the way she died was an accident. Not that it was really talked about after the fact. My husband and I have also both been suicidal in the past. We’ve both struggled with our mental health throughout our lives and both have made multiple attempts. My husband is only here today because his brother happened to find him. I was 16 the first time I tried. As I was fading out of consciousness, I vaguely remember hearing my brother’s voice cussing me out, but to this day I’m not sure whether it was a memory or a dream. I just know my memories stop that day and begin again two days later. It’s something we’ve never talked about afterwards. That’s often the case when it comes to suicide. We don’t talk about it, even when it hits close to home. While none of us is ultimately responsible for anyone else’s actions, that doesn’t mean we cannot still be kind. Reach out. If we notice a decline in someone’s mental health, why shouldn’t we check in with each other? We could ultimately be the lifeline that pulls someone else back off the edge. Speaking from personal experience, I probably would not have tried if I had not felt so lost and all alone in this world. That’s what depression does. It isolates and cuts its victims off from the world. A 2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Mental Health estimated that 0.6 percent of adults aged 18 or older, roughly 1.4 million people, have made at least one suicide attempt. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as recently as 2019, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, with almost twice as many people dying from suicide as homicide each year. The World Health Organization states roughly 703,000 people die by suicide worldwide each year, and many, many more attempt to take their own lives. With staggering numbers like that, I have no doubt that suicide is hitting close to home for many of us. So why aren’t we reaching out, knocking on doors, making phone calls and checking in? Why are we so uncomfortable having these conversations? I really don’t have an answer to those questions. I know everyone is quick to blame the stigma surrounding mental illness — it has, after all, become the catch-all scapegoat that we all point to whenever the hard questions arise. But pointing fingers doesn’t do any more to resolve a problem than thoughts and prayers do. If we want things to change, we have to take action. We need to all do better, myself included. We need to speak up and speak out. We need to put aside our reservations and our discomfort, so that we can reach out and check in. We need to talk to each other and we need to care. Whether we realize it or not, suicide is already hitting close to home for us all.

B.L. Acker

Finding Ways to Cope With Decision Fatigue and Anxiety

Decision fatigue can happen to us all. During high stress periods in our life where a lot of seemingly important choices have to be made in short order, sometimes we hit a point where it all feels like too much. We want the pressure to ease up, and for other people to take the helm for a while so we can catch our breath. I’m currently at that point in my life. I desperately feel like I need a break. I live with generalized anxiety disorder, which already makes decision-making difficult on even a good day. When the pressure is on to get multiple things done, it becomes even harder to focus or function. My husband and I are planning to move in the next month or so. The property we are working towards is a foreclosure, so we have the opportunity to purchase it much cheaper than the average house would cost, placing the possibility of homeownership within our reach. Due to the circumstances, however, there are many steps that must be taken before the home is officially ours and we can move in. While I understand this process doesn’t happen overnight, everything feels like it is going forward at a snail’s pace, hitting snags left and right along the way. Multiple times a week, I have to call up to check on the progress of all these things that are holding up the whole process. Three or four phone calls, two to three times a week, six to 12 calls in total. You wouldn’t think six to 12 calls in a week would be a big deal — but when you have anxiety, it can feel all-encompassing. Before I make a single call, my mind has already played out every possible outcome and has latched onto multiple negative ones as feeling the most probable. My mind has already imagined it all coming apart, falling like dominoes. My husband and I have boxes waiting to be packed, but my anxiety talks me out of it again and again. “No sense packing until we know for sure we’re moving, let alone exactly when.” “What if I pack something and then need it again?” It feels like we’re stagnating, caught in limbo, waiting on other people, going through our own personal variation of the movie Groundhog Day, frozen like a deer in the headlights, unable to do anything or make any progress. It’s utterly exhausting. Between a handful of phone calls and the marathons my mind runs trying to predict the outcome of those calls, I struggle to accomplish anything else most days. Please don’t expect me to even pick something to watch or what to have for dinner, because I’m overwhelmed enough already. Six to 12 phone calls while we wait for paperwork and for all of our ducks to get in a row. Seems simple enough. Yet it has my life in a chokehold and at a standstill. That is where my mental wellness toolbox comes in. Over the years, I have acquired different techniques that I’ve found work for me when my anxiety is through the roof. While they do not get rid of my anxiety disorder or its symptoms — it is a medical diagnosis, after all, that requires medical treatment — these techniques do provide distraction, as well as a chance to recenter myself and take my mind off of the situation for a bit. By the end of one of my phone call days last week, I was so flustered and agitated that I had trouble even sitting still. I took advantage of that restlessness to go for a moonlit walk with my husband. The air had started to cool and there were fireflies flittering about. I set aside all the stress as best as I could and allowed myself to be in the moment. By the end of another phone call day, I was feeling like I had little control over anything, and that my life and my fate were in everyone else’s hands. I addressed this by putting control of something back into my hands by focusing on art. I picked up some clay and got lost in a project. I sculpted and painted, setting aside the stresses of the day for a few hours. My mental wellness toolbox is full of so many different helpful options. I cook and bake. I escape into movies, shows and books. I’ve taken meditation, yoga, and tai chi classes. I’ve learned, largely through trial and error, what works for me in different circumstances. Everyone’s toolboxes are different. My husband, for example, works on computers and cars, plays real time strategy and simulator games, or builds models when his stress gets high. Your wellness toolbox might have similar techniques, or different ones altogether. As cliched as it may sound, talking can also help a lot. My husband and I will vent to each other when our stress levels get high, or check in with each other if things feel off. Talking to our therapist helps, as well. Sometimes just verbalizing our struggles and frustrations removes a weight and makes them feel more manageable. While we can’t prevent decision fatigue from setting in, we don’t have to let it control and consume our lives, either. It is important to remember that, though the situation at hand may feel all-encompassing, it is only one portion of our lives. While we can’t make the anxiety and stress of decision fatigue disappear altogether, we can find temporary distractions in order to give our minds a break. Do what you can when you can, and remember to take care of yourself along the way.

B.L. Acker

Letting Go of the 'Could Haves' and 'Should Haves' When You're Disabled

This past Saturday, my husband and I picked up a large fish tank someone was giving away. We already had two smaller ones, but this new tank meant we could combine all of our fish back into one like we once had it. It was quite an ordeal to fully take down two tanks and set up a third, so by the time we were finished, I was feeling quite accomplished. I wanted to celebrate as if it were a holiday, but couldn’t think of a nearby holiday to attach it to. So I did a search of holidays for the day, hoping to playfully mark the day by wishing my husband a happy random holiday or another. After a brief search for holidays that fall in July, it turned out that it was Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day, which falls on the third Saturday of the month. Though I had never heard of this holiday before, as someone who is disabled, it resonated with me on a personal level. Tossing away my should haves and could haves is something I have had to do in order to fully accept my diagnosis and disability status. Everyone has dreams, goals, and expectations. Actions such as going to college, accepting a specific job, or having a child all have ramifications, but we generally accept those repercussions as the price of our choices. However, nobody chooses to be disabled. Nobody wants to have limitations, or to discover that you can’t accomplish everything you once hoped to do. In many ways, being or becoming disabled can feel like being robbed of your hopes, dreams, and potential future. Not surprisingly, that leaves you with a lot of should haves, could haves, and regrets. Along with my disability diagnosis, I have had to accept that some previous dreams and goals I once had are no longer within reach. I had to acknowledge and accept that I now have limitations. But I also had to realize that just because life may not have turned out how I originally hoped or planned, that does not mean I can’t still have a good life. Going forward, I needed to reevaluate expectations, adjust to realistic goals, and find new sources of happiness that better fit my life. Being disabled does not mean I have lost my life altogether. I am still very much alive. My life is just different than I once imagined it would be. I had to come to terms with this change, allow myself to mourn what used to be, and find a way to forge a new life ahead. Not bad, not worse off, only different. I personally have a mental disability, in particular major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. There is a great deal of unpredictability to my illnesses. I never know when a bad day will hit, or how long it will last. There are days I feel like I am drowning in my emotions, and on other days I am virtually numb and unmotivated. I spend so much of my time battling my own mind that I’m often unable to do much else. Over the years, I’ve beaten myself up more times than I can count for my long list of should haves and could haves. I’ve told myself again and again that I should have been able to do more, could have made more of myself. But the reality of it all is that I am disabled. My functionality is limited by my illnesses and no amount of brow-beating or should haves and could haves can change that fact. I have made peace with my diagnosis. I accept it as part of who I am. It does not define me, however. It is only one fragment of who I am. Having a disability does not mean I cannot have goals or dreams, only that I have to take my disabilities into account when forging them. I used to dream of making a difference in the world, of teaching or helping people. While my disability has hindered finishing college, and having my own classroom is now out of reach due to the severity and unpredictability of my illnesses, I can still aim to educate and help people through my writing, with my focus changed to mental health. I may not be fully functional every day, but I have learned to make the most of my good days, and to be gentle with myself, doing what I can when I can on all the other days. My life may not be what I once envisioned it to be, but I can find other ways for it to be fulfilling. My husband and I both had a good and productive day the other day, worthy of celebration. In all honesty, regardless of the limitations my disability has put on my life, I have had a lot of blessings and many things to celebrate in the last few years. It seems fitting that our good day fell on Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day because that in itself is something worth celebrating. By throwing away the should haves and could haves of my past, I am able to move forward building a life that better fits the reality of my future as someone with a disability. Accepting a disability diagnosis and letting go of the should haves and could haves doesn’t mean we have to give up on the possibility of happiness or fulfillment. We cannot change our past or our diagnosis, but our future is ours to determine. We can still have dreams, goals, and aspirations. We can still strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can still build a happy life, and one that better suits our lives, our disability, and our future.

B.L. Acker

Why Zachary Levi's Mental Health Conversations Should Inspire Us

With the hype surrounding the second Shazam! movie coming out later this year, Zachary Levi is back in the news again. But his upcoming superhero flick isn’t the only thing that has people talking. Levi has been very candid with his fans about his mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts. Whether during Q&As at Comic Con, various interviews, or within his book “Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others,” he has been outspoken about his own battles with mental illness. Levi even credits the death of fellow actor and comedian Robin Williams by suicide as one of the catalysts that pushed him to take his own mental health seriously. In that way, Levi is a lot like the rest of us. Oftentimes, we don’t stop to consider our own mental health until someone larger than life, some celebrity, has catapulted the issue back into the spotlight. As big a star as Zachary Levi is, his inspiration was Robin Williams because Robin Williams was iconic, larger than life, an entire cosmos in his own right among an endless universe of stars. I understand all too well why Robin Williams’ suicide resonated so deeply with Zachary Levi, because his death hit me immensely hard as well. Williams’ movies were a cornerstone of my childhood and my children’s childhoods. I loved watching interviews with him and hearing others telling anecdotal tales of encounters. By all accounts, he was not only a talented actor, but also an incredible man. Though I never personally knew him, he had a beloved place in my heart. A lot of people have a specific celebrity whose mental health struggles or suicide have hit them hard. For me, it was the loss of Robin Williams. For my husband, it was Chester Bennington. Whenever my husband could not find his own words, he would turn to music to express his feelings. Linkin Park had so many songs that resonated with him, so many lyrics that spoke his truth. Listening to their music, it was like Chester knew, understood, completely what he was going through. Though Linkin Park’s songs were brutally honest and raw, the fact that Chester kept going, kept performing, gave hope that you could ultimately survive this battle, and perhaps even thrive. Though my husband never personally knew Chester Bennington, he felt they were connected by a mutual understanding and pain. When Chester died, it felt unbelievable, impossible, unimaginable, like he had lost someone he shared a kinship with. Why is it, though, that our mental health seems to matter more only when we are faced with the struggles of those we see larger than ourselves? As much as we put celebrities up on pedestals, in the end they are just people, too. People like you and me. And all of us matter. We need to stop waiting for the next celebrity news story to hit before we take our own mental health seriously. We need to listen to people like Zachary Levi, not because he’s a famous actor, but because he’s a fellow human being with experience fighting his own battles with mental illness. He told his fans at Los Angeles Comic Con: “You are not alone. Talk about it. Destigmatize mental health. Mental health is like dental health, guys. It starts like a little cavity, then it becomes a root canal. So let’s catch them while they’re cavities.” He’s absolutely right. We need to destigmatize mental health. We need to talk about it more. We need to make seeking treatment for mental health as commonplace as physical health. Not just when a celebrity makes the news, but always. We need to talk so much about treating mental illness that we can eventually shift our focus towards mental wellness. As Zachary Levi told People, “If I do nothing else in this world, I want people to understand that they are loved, that they are worthy of love and that they are worthy of investing in themselves.” Me, too Zachary Levi. Me, too. The loss of Robin Williams left a big hole in my heart, but it is people like Zachary Levi that give me hope — not because he is some big celebrity who plays a beloved superhero on the big screen, but because, much like Robin Williams, he has a big heart and cares enough to want to make a difference in this world. We all need to follow Zachary Levi’s example. We need to talk more, care more. We need all the voices we can get if we want to be heard.

B.L. Acker

CDC Director's Comments About COVID Deaths Outrage Disabled People

On the morning of Friday, January 14, 2022, ABC aired a segment with Rochelle Walensky, the current director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the interview, Good Morning America host Cecilia Vega asked the head of the CDC, “Is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus — that it’s potentially here to stay?” Walensky’s response, as it was presented by the morning news show, triggered immediate outrage throughout the disabled community. She appeared to be jovial, explaining that those dying of COVID-19 were mostly people with preexisting conditions: “The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes: really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.” Both ABC and the CDC made statements after the fact that her interview had been edited for time and was misrepresentative of Walensky’s statements as a whole. Good Morning America’s webpage swiftly replaced the shorter, modified clip with the original, longer, unedited version that more accurately placed her statement within a much larger exchange. This exchange highlighted the effectiveness of the vaccine in lowering death rates overall. However, the damage was already done. The hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy was born. The hashtag has since taken on a life of its own on social media, with disabled people, adults, and children alike expressing their utter outrage and frustration. folks have pushed the narrative of vulnerable people’s lives being disposable for this entire pandemic (& before), and to see @CDCDirector finding our deaths “encouraging” bc they are less valuable to y’all than economical stimulation is so so appalling.#MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/RvScLg7ylK— devin norko (they/them) (@mxdevinn) January 9, 2022 i’m a kid. a disabled one who’s tired of ablebodied people treating disabled people being the ones dying as “very encouraging”, or “would’ve happened anyways” (real words i’ve been told) because we’re seen as lesser. i’m a human, not a damn data point. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/GjLl3YSpda— ⚢ olivier yadriel (@lesbosigma) January 9, 2022 Just because I am sick, doesn’t mean it’s ok if I die. It’s disgusting that people see people like me as just necessary casualties so they can go to a concert #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy— idk man ♿ (@mediocrebitch47) January 9, 2022 the use of words like “only” when making statements like “it’s only the vulnerable who are dying,” tells me exactly all i need to know about how much you value my life & what you think of disabled people. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy— chase nadine (@gangewifre) January 9, 2022 Some have even gone as far as to connect the initial statement as it was misrepresented by Good Morning America as the CDC supporting Eugenics. hey @CDCDirector , eugenics is not a viable pandemic strategy. to present this as good news is telling disabled people that we are expendable for the sake of abled’s enjoyment of a lockdown-free society. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/UTH8qVp5cQ— new year new meshinui (@m0shim0chi) January 9, 2022 hey @CDCDirector , eugenics is not a viable pandemic strategy. to present this as good news is telling disabled people that we are expendable for the sake of abled’s enjoyment of a lockdown-free society. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/UTH8qVp5cQ— new year new meshinui (@m0shim0chi) January 9, 2022 By Friday afternoon, it was announced on Twitter that over 150 different disability advocacy groups had united and created a petition to meet with the head of the CDC herself to discuss the matter and that a meeting was set. NEW! @CDCgov Director Walensky’s controversial statements unleashed the power of @Imani_Barbarin‘s #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy. #Disability orgs to meet w/Director Walensky on Fri Jan 14. Nearly 150 groups have signed on with demands we’ll make at tmrw’s mtghttps://t.co/IjeiuWHsWk— Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (@DREDF) January 13, 2022 Still the hashtag continues to spread because the sentiment that disabled lives are somehow inherently worth less is one our community has faced for some time now. Though this isolated incident is currently being addressed, it does little to change the sad reality we face every day, a reality that has grown exponentially worse since the start of this pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, when lockdowns were first suggested and it came to light that the vast majority of early deaths being reported were among the elderly and the disabled, our lives themselves became the topic of debate. Many people insisted that our lives were an acceptable loss if it meant bolstering the economy and reopening the country. Some callous people even went so far as to suggest that many of us were going to die early anyway and that we on average contributed less to society, that we were essentially an unnecessary burden that society could afford to shed. The very concept that a disabled life is worth less and would be an acceptable loss for the betterment of society as a whole, that society should systematically cleanse itself of the weakest among us, is eugenics in a nutshell. This is a sentiment I have addressed before, and one I have willingly lost friendships over. My husband and I are both disabled. I have been diagnosed with severe major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, as well as having two meningioma tumors on my brain. My husband has bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a myriad of physical ailments and injuries. We both have been designated as disabled. Being given a disability label does not mean we are acceptable losses. No one who is disabled would be an acceptable loss. No disabled person who has died from this pandemic was an acceptable loss, either. As a disabled person, this is the line I draw in the sand. This is a mountain I will gladly die upon. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy ALL disabled lives are worthy. I am a mother, a wife, a friend. I am a writer, a journalist, and a mental health advocate. My disability is but one of many hats I wear. But even if I were none of those things, my life would still be worthy. Our worth is not determined by how much we contribute to the economy. Our worth is not diminished by being or becoming disabled. While this hashtag may be new, our feelings on the matter are not. The fact of the matter is that we are collectively fed up with being treated as if our lives are worth less. We are tired of hearing people shrug off our potential deaths if it means they can go to a ball game or grab a drink at the bar. We are disgusted by people who argue that they shouldn’t have to wear a mask in order to do their part to help slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease because other people’s weakened immune systems are their own problem. We are tired of being told that anyone at a higher risk who wishes to live in fear should just stay home. Many of us can’t. We have doctors’ appointments. We need groceries and other supplies. Many of us have families or jobs. We already are going out less, many times only when absolutely necessary. We get vaccinated if and when we can. We mask up, wash up, sanitize. We are doing our best to keep ourselves safe, but we need to live, too. We deserve to live, too. It is bad enough that going out since the start of the pandemic has largely felt like trying to navigate our way through an active minefield. No masks to be seen on one side of us. Masks worn as chin straps on the other. Anti-vaxxers ahead. Holding our breath, stepping gingerly around, taking wide berths because we know one misstep, one exposure, could have potentially deadly consequences for some of us. On top of that virtual minefield, we carry with us the sad knowledge that there are people out there, people among our neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even our family and friends, who legitimately are wishing us dead. There are people out there who would be happy to hear they could shed their masks and attend concerts and parties again, even if it meant wiping every last disabled person off the planet to get to that point. There are people in history who believed as some people today do, that disabled lives are expendable, acceptable losses. The eugenics movement began in England in the 1880s and swiftly rose to popularity in the early 1900s in the United States. Eugenics-based legislation began to be passed in 1907, and by 1931, 29 states had such laws on the books. An estimated 64,000 people, focused primarily on the disabled, were sterilized during that period in an attempt to decrease the number of disabled people through selective breeding. There are even historical leaders who have tried to systematically wipe out disabled people. Perhaps the most notable example was Nazi Germany under Hitler’s regime. Over a quarter-million people with disabilities were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust and hundreds of thousands more were forcibly sterilized and experimented on. But not all historical figures take that cruel stance. Some of the wisest people the world has ever known have all encouraged society to embrace and care for disabled people. Mahatma Gandhi said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The fact that there are many people today who view disabled people as acceptable losses does not bode well for our society or our future. Compassion is key. The Dalai Lama has stated, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time,” and, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Nelson Mandela said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” The question becomes, which side of history do we want to be on as a society? Perhaps in order to go forward and into our next chapter post-pandemic, we need to go backwards. Go back to a time when we valued such wisdom. Compassion matters. Disabled lives matter. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy

B.L. Acker

How Stigma Still Impacts Mental Health Depictions in Movies in 2021

The stigma surrounding mental illness seems to be a hot topic issue at the forefront of many mental health conversations. Negative assumptions, inaccurate perceptions, gross misrepresentations and outright caricatures often overshadow these diagnoses, making it harder for people to seek treatment out of fear of judgment. One needs not look any further than the portrayal of mental illness and mental health related issues in recent movies in order to see that stigma is still very much alive and strong today. Though I admittedly always try to first and foremost appreciate movies completely at their face value, as someone who regularly writes about mental health topics and advocates for the mentally ill, it is difficult not to notice when stigma rears its ugly head on the silver screen. All too often, whenever mental illness is brought up in cinema, those branded with that diagnosis are portrayed as either a dangerous monster or a pathetic joke. Rarely are the mentally ill ever portrayed as regular people who are merely struggling with a fairly common health problem that needs treatment. Perhaps even more tragically, serious mental health topics are often flung about as plot devices and grossly misrepresented solely for the sake of furthering another character’s story. One such example of a poor representation of mental illness is “Demonic,” a 2021 movie by Neill Blomkamp. Though my husband and I are fans of much of his other work, the representation of mental illness in this movie reeked of old fashioned stigma. The character of Angela is introduced simultaneously as severely mentally ill, dangerous and dabbling with the occult, as if her illness itself is demonic in nature. Every time Angela’s diagnosis is broached in the movie, it is overshadowed by stark reminders that she is a monster because of her condition. There seems to be little effort made to separate the mental illness from the demonic entities, leaving viewers feeling like they are so intertwined that they are one and the same. When not displayed as dangerous or a monster, the mentally ill are often portrayed as the punchline to a joke, as is the case with the 2021 movie “Nobody,” starring Bob Odenkirk. The movie opens with Odenkirk’s character Hutch going through the motions of a seemingly unfulfilling, monotonous, humdrum life. The viewer can feel his depression emanating off the screen.  Unfortunately though, his depression is often used as a punchline and he is treated by many of the other characters as a joke. He is seen as a sad and pathetic man who never reached his potential, who is expected by his wife’s family to find a way to suck it up and do better rather than offered any real encouragement or support. Though an otherwise entertaining action movie, it was sad to see his depression used as a recurring joke by those who clearly did not know him. His character deserved better than to be treated as a punchline.  However, thanks to the stigma surrounding mental illness, both characters in movies and people in real life are frequently mocked and mistreated. Another 2021 movie that hit rather poorly with its portrayal of mental health issues was “Till Death.” In the movie, the protagonist Emma, played by Megan Fox, goes to a remote cabin with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Through a series of flashbacks, the viewer sees that not only is the husband controlling and borderline abusive, but that Emma is having an affair with one of her husband’s associates. After Emma and her husband are settled in at the secluded cabin, he reveals that he knows about her tryst before handcuffing himself to her and killing himself out of revenge for her disloyalty to their marriage. His suicide is used solely as a plot device to push her into an epic battle for survival. As someone who has not only lost people I cared about to suicide but who has also made attempts myself, to callously and shallowly portray suicide merely as the ultimate revenge and punishment for an unfaithful spouse felt wrong on so many levels. Even the portrayal of mental health practitioners has not escaped the overwhelming scope of stigma in movies today. Whether portrayed as irresponsible, downright dangerous or completely inept, a shroud of distrust often lingers over those who treat mental illnesses and disorders in cinema.  How are those who are dealing with mental health struggles of their own in real life supposed to be comfortable seeking medical treatment when many of the representations they see of practitioners on the silver screen remind them that these doctors are not dependable nor trustworthy? Once again, Blomkamp’s “Demonic” immediately comes to mind. The doctors in the movie are portrayed as so obsessed about reaching within Angela’s mind that they repeatedly and haphazardly put Angela’s estranged daughter Carly’s mental wellbeing and her life itself at risk. Any true mental health practitioner would not jeopardize the mental wellbeing of one patient for the sake of another, nor would they encourage someone to endanger themselves on numerous occasions. Not only do Angela’s doctors convince Carly to participate in procedures they know to be unsafe, but they also lure Carly to a site of a traumatic event from her youth under the guise that it may help her mother. Another 2021 movie that portrayed a mental health practitioner in a vastly negative light was “Hypnotic.” In this movie, a woman named Jenn goes to see a therapist who specializes in hypnotism in the hope that he can help her get over her last relationship that ended when she lost her baby. Over time, the therapist is revealed to be obsessed with Jenn due to her resemblance to his late wife. He misuses hypnotism to murder Jenn’s friends and to push her to the attempted murder of her ex-fiancé. Though at face value, it was admittedly a decent thriller, when viewed through a mental health lens, especially as someone with a history of mental health struggles combined with a lot of trust issues, it was very unsettling to watch. Unfortunately though, there are many movies like this still being made today where mental health practitioners are painted as unbalanced and dangerous. When it becomes a common theme in cinema, how are prospective patients not supposed to be wary of seeing a doctor themselves? Perhaps even more discouraging than when a mental health professional is presented as callous, irresponsible or dangerous is when they are portrayed as completely inept solely for comic relief. A good example of this is the 2021 movie “Dangerous,” starring Scott Eastwood and Mel Gibson. Eastwood’s character Dylan is introduced as someone with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Though many of the other characters in the film repeatedly refer to and regard Dylan as being insane and dangerous, the movie did a tremendous job of displaying a difficult diagnosis gingerly. Not only is Eastwood’s character taking his treatment seriously by taking his medication dutifully and touching base with his doctor on a regular basis, but at one point his character explains to his nephew that he isn’t bad, but rather he just sees the world differently. Credit should always be given where it is due. As much as Eastwood’s handling of his character hit the mark, Mel Gibson’s Dr. Alderwood missed it. Though the character is described as eccentric in many of the movie reviews, perhaps scatterbrained and inept would be more fitting. As Dylan’s doctor, he is outright dismissive of law enforcement’s involvement in his patient’s life and only vaguely attentive to what is going on with his patient whenever he reaches out for help. When considered at face value, the character makes for entertaining comic relief, but when considered through a mental health lens, I would have to agree with Dr. Alderwood’s own assessment in the movie that he’s probably going to lose his license. While it is admittedly encouraging that mental health is more readily portrayed today in movies, it is clear that these depictions are still heavily fueled by the stigma surrounding mental illness. Yes we have come a long way, especially in regards to representation, but there is still a long way to go. Perhaps one day a more accurate representation of mental health diagnoses and practitioners will be normalized, but until then we must continue to acknowledge when movies miss their mark. While we can still enjoy them at face value for the cinematic artwork and entertainment that they are, at the same time we must remember that they are not an accurate portrayal of those living with or treating mental illness. Going forward, we must also strive as a society to do better, so that in the future the mentally ill and their doctors are more accurately perceived as real people and not caricatures or unrealistic stereotypes.

B.L. Acker

2021 Recap: How These 6 Movies Portrayed Grief and Loss

Plato said that art is an imitation of life. Many people believe art exists to help us understand the world better and to see the world with clarity. As such, it only makes sense movies should be a reflection of our lives and the trials and tribulations we face. Considering all the loss we have endured as a society in the last year in great part due to the pandemic, it only makes sense grief and loss should be a recurring, underlining theme for many movies throughout 2021. (Spoiler alert for the following movies.) 1. “Reminiscence” In the 2021 dystopian movie “Reminiscence,” the character Nick Bannister, played by Hugh Jackman, is a private eye who can delve directly into other people’s minds and memories. He is devastated by the suspicious disappearance of one of his clients with whom he was romantically involved and becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind her disappearance. The anger and denial stages of grief make it impossible for him to let go or move on, to the point where he is willing to chase clues even if they lead to his untimely death. 2. “Finch” In the 2021 post-apocalyptic movie “Finch,” the titular character, played by Tom Hanks, is one of a small handful of people left alive following a cataclysmic global event. Accompanied only by his dog and various machines he has built, Finch remains largely alone because the vast majority of what remains of the human race has proven themselves to be both unpredictable and dangerous. Clear in the knowledge he is dying, Finch constructs a robot to serve as his dog’s caretaker and protector so his dog will not be alone. Not only does Finch grieve the world that used to exist, but he also struggles to face his own mortality. There is so much anger in his grief that he struggles to cope under the weight of it all. 3. “Injustice” In the animated DC movie “Injustice,” Superman (voiced by Justin Hartley) falls apart following the loss of his beloved Lois who was pregnant at the time. Though the movie is animated, do not confuse this for a children’s movie because there were very violent and mature themes throughout. After Lois is killed, Superman is saddled by a great deal of guilt. He believes he is ultimately responsible for her death by his frequent inaction and softer stances on conflict resolution. Due to his overwhelming guilt, he believes the only way to fix the planet and to assure that nobody ever dies needlessly again is to rule over everyone with an iron fist.  Blinded by his grief, he lashes out again and again, destroying anyone in his path. Many of the movies of 2021 are thoroughly relatable in their representations of the excruciating pain that comes with loss, existing as cautionary tales of the dangers of letting grief consume you. Even many of the children’s movies of 2021 have not escaped the vast thematic net cast by society’s overwhelming sense of loss and grief; however, they also exude a more positive theme, that of hope. 4. “Mitchells vs. The Machines” In the 2021 animated movie “Mitchells vs. The Machines,” the sense of loss that is represented is that of a child growing up and growing out of the family. There is a disconnect and vast sense of divisiveness that separates the generations, making it feel almost impossible to come together. It is through reflection and selfless acts they finally learn how to communicate and work together as a family again. 5. “Raya and the Last Dragon” In the 2021 animated movie “Raya and The Last Dragon,” both Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and her once-friend, now-nemesis Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan) are grieving great, albeit vastly different, losses. Raya had to learn how to exist without her father at her side to guide her, and Namaari faced a loss of a kinship she once embraced in the name of belonging to her community. Between the two exists Sisu, a dragon believed to be the last of her kind (voiced by Awkwafina). Each is so consumed by their own loss they struggle to see the pain others are experiencing. It is only through learning to trust one another and seeing the world through each other’s eyes that they can begin to heal. 6. “Luca” In the 2021 animated movie “Luca,” two sea monsters named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) find themselves disguised and struggling to fit into the human world. While Luca has run from a family that does not seem to understand or accept him, Alberto has clearly been abandoned by his own family, left to fend for himself.  The grief of that abandonment causes distrust and jealousy for Alberto when Luca begins to integrate into the human world. In order for Alberto to find his own place in the world, he must learn to trust again and to heal. While many of the children’s movies of the last year have had an underlying theme of loss and grief, they also all possess an undercurrent of hope through unity. It is often said children are our future. Likewise, perhaps children’s movies are directing us toward our future. Whereas grief and loss are an inevitable part of life because you cannot have life without death, hope also exists on the horizon, brought forth in each sunrise, each new day. As much as art represents life, it has also been said life imitates art. Perhaps the way to move forward and heal from grief and loss is to take our cue from children’s movies about grief and loss and learn to embrace hope and trust again. In so many ways, 2021 has been a roller coaster ride for us all. This past year has been the very embodiment of grief and loss, reflected back upon us in so many of the new movies we have watched. The pandemic and life itself has taken so much from so many of us, but what still remains is hope. As long as we are still here, still going, there is hope for tomorrow, hope for better days, hope for new movies, new experiences, new friends, new loves, new beginnings. Grief and loss may feel agonizingly painful, and its reflection in movies may feel devastatingly relatable, but our stories are not over. As long as we are still here, hope remains.

B.L. Acker

Marvel Cinematic Universe's Realistic and Nuanced Portrayal of Grief

Grief and loss has always been a staple of the superhero genre, part of the backstory mentioned in passing that makes a superhero who they are at their core and what prompted them to fight the good fight. Often however in the past, this loss and grief was glossed over without anguishing detail. We all know how Peter Parker lost Uncle Ben, and how Tony Stark lost his dad who was killed by the Winter Soldier. While that grief existed as a cornerstone and building block, it often resided in the past more as a footnote than as a chaotic sea of emotions in the present. In the past year however, loss and grief within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded and taken center stage. Superhero stories are a guilty pleasure for many of us because they play into our innate desire to help others and be genuinely good at our core. We all hope that if we were ever put in one of those impossible positions, we’d step up to the plate and be heroes, too. We hope we’d be strong enough. As Stan Lee says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” One of the other draws to superhero stories is their relatability. So many of the Marvel heroes are just regular people at their core, people who have found themselves in extraordinary situations. Superhero stories are also frequently a reflection of the times and the people living in them. Perhaps because as the pandemic raged on throughout 2021, and more of us experienced great loss and grief ourselves, that reflection of reality within the Marvel universe began to display a more thorough example of loss and grief, as well. Looking over the Marvel movies and shows over the last year paints a broad and expansive canvas of loss and grief that mirrors so much of the grief many of us have felt ourselves over the last twelve months. The five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — exist now within the Marvel universe in droves. In the series “Wandavision,” Wanda Maximoff lost the love of her life and it devastated her so deeply that she created an alternate world for herself where they could be together. Her loss felt too deep and too great that she could not bring herself to live without him, even if it meant tearing the rest of her world apart. Her loss was not a glossed over backstory, but rather it was ever-present, ever-raw. “What is grief, if not love persevering?” In the series “Loki,” after the titular character is captured by the TVA, he is forced to face the fact that his mother — the one person who was always loving and supportive of him — was dead directly because of his actions and choices. Though his mother’s death took place a few years back in the Marvel timeline, Loki’s devastation of learning her fate and his responsibility for her death visibly shook him to his core. That level of heartbreak gave his character more depth and relatability in one minute of screen time than he had in multiple Avengers movies as a villain. Throughout the series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Bucky was in therapy to cope with the aftermath of all the devastation he caused while he was the Winter Soldier, struggling to make amends to everyone he wronged. So many characters in that show, from Falcon to Bucky to Karli to John Walker to Sharon Carter to Zemo to Isaiah all mourned their loss of self, of identity, and of community to different extents. Many episodes of the multiverse series “What If…?” dealt with loss and grief in some way. The first episode flipped the roles of Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers, with her losing Steve and becoming the captain instead. In another fragment of the multiverse where earth was in the throes of a zombie apocalypse, Vision kept T’Challa alive as he fed him piece by piece to his love, a zombie Scarlet Witch. Perhaps the most poignant was the episode where Doctor Strange lost his love instead of his hands and tried again and again unsuccessfully to save her life, until he was consumed by dark magic and destroyed the world itself. Again and again, over a multitude of universes, we watched as the superheroes we have come to love were torn apart by grief and loss that was agonizingly relatable. In the “Black Widow” movie, Natasha grieved so much loss. The loss of the surrogate family she had for a brief time, the loss of her ability to have children, the loss of the little girl she believed she killed when trying to escape her dark past. Natasha’s life was so full of loss that she wasn’t even sure how to be happy anymore. In the movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” we watched Shang Chi’s father drown in a grief so deep at the loss of his wife that he almost destroyed the world trying to get her back. The level of his grief mirrored Wanda’s in “Wandavision” and Doctor Strange’s in “What If…?” to the point where he was willing to do anything, destroy anything, just to have the love of his life back at his side. In the series “Hawkeye,” Clint exists in a perpetual state of grief wherein he cannot even bring himself to enjoy the campy Steve Roger’s Musical with his children because he is haunted by the loss of Natasha. Likewise, Kate Bishop is put on her path by the death of her father, one tragic moment in time that served as the catalyst for everything else in her life. Even two of the main villains of the show are driven by loss and grief — Maya by the loss of her father whom she blames on Ronin, and Yelena by the loss of Natasha whom she blames on Hawkeye. So many people are grieving, yet nobody seems to know how to cope, leaving them all to act out irrationally. Again and again over the last year within the Marvel universe, loss and grief has appeared and taken center stage. It no longer exists as a footnote to explain what made our superheroes into the people they are today. This past year Marvel has thrown the grief and the loss of their characters on the table to mirror our own, giving them more depth, and more relatability than ever before. When we watch superhero movies, we want to put ourselves into their shoes, to be a hero like them. And now, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe walking a mile in our shoes, taking our grief onto themselves, they have gone full circle, becoming fully human, as heart-wrenchingly painful and relatable as those feelings of loss can be.

B.L. Acker

Dealing With Mental Illness as a Newlywed During the Pandemic

People often say that when a couple gets married, they have their whole life ahead of them. That first year following the nuptials is often a flurry of excitement and monumental life changes. Often, the honeymoon period is kicked off with a trip to celebrate. For many newlyweds, there’s the prospect of new houses, new babies, perhaps even new jobs or new pets. Getting married for most people kickstarts an exciting new chapter of life. However, in my husband and my first year together as a married couple, we barely did more than survive. Due in part to the pandemic, and in part lack of finances, we never had a honeymoon. The only traveling we’ve done in our first year of marriage was to and from doctors’ appointments. There were no new homes, new babies, new pets or new jobs to signify and celebrate our new roles as husband and wife. Beyond filling out extra paperwork and putting on rings, our lives barely changed at all. Since we’ve gotten married, all we’ve really done in the last year was continue to survive. My husband and I are both currently considered disabled. In all honesty, both of us having that designation was one of the only reasons we were able to actually get married. If only one of us were disabled, tying the knot would have jeopardized my much needed health coverage. Up until he received his disability diagnosis as well, we were one of many couples in this country who could not afford to get married without putting my coverage at risk. Few allowances are made for couples where only one spouse is disabled — usually the marriage penalties are too steep unless both partners are disabled. My husband has bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as multiple painful physical issues related to past injuries. I have major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and two benign tumors on my brain. Between the two of us, we have a lot of bad days where one or both of us struggle to even get out of bed. Some days I cry — a lot. There are a lot of days where one or both of us withdraw from the world because everything outside our home feels too overwhelming to face. Due to our disability statuses, finances are ridiculously tight. The paltry amount we receive for disability assistance, supplemented by periodic small sums for my writing, never seem to be quite enough to make ends meet. I clip coupons and shop sales religiously, yet we regularly fight to keep our heads above water. While in theory getting jobs would ease our financial struggles, it would also mean losing the disability coverage we’ve both fought so hard to achieve. Even beyond that, we both know that honestly we’re in no place mentally to work right now. Neither one of us is reliable enough right now to adhere to any semblance of a set schedule, even on a part-time basis. We both struggle with depression so bad that there are days we can’t even pull ourselves out of bed.  Though our depression comes in waves and some days are better than others, we never know when those really low days are going to hit or even how long they will last. Employers tend not to want an employee they can’t count on to be there from one day to the next, whose availability is spotty at best, and is likely to change on the drop of a dime for undetermined, unpredictable periods of time. I do sporadic freelance writing when I can in order to earn a little extra money, but even that is unsteady and unreliable because I am unable to write regularly due to my mental health struggles. I’ve resigned myself to doing what I can when I can, and forgiving myself for all that I cannot do at this time. We have a lot of days we have fondly nicknamed “F*** it” days, where we are both struggling so badly that we know our chances of any possible productivity is low. We’ve had many days we’ve microwaved TV dinners, heated up frozen pizzas, or had other minimal effort meals on TV trays while curled up on the couch together or on lap trays in bed. It isn’t that I don’t know how to cook. I actually enjoy cooking and baking when I am up to doing it. There are just many days I am physically, mentally and emotionally not up to the task. So we’ve learned to adapt together and throw together minimal effort meals on those days when we are not capable of doing more. Most days there are dishes in the sink and laundry piled up waiting to be washed. There are times it takes days before we make it into the shower. Sometimes it takes days or even a week to brace and prepare myself to do even the simplest of tasks like making phone calls or running errands. Depression isn’t pretty and it isn’t easy. Some days it takes hours before we’re even able to pull ourselves out of bed to pee. Most of this past year we took one day at a time, sometimes even one hour at a time, plodding through life moment by moment, just trying to survive. There have been times I have wondered whether I might have made his life harder by becoming his wife, and I’m sure he has pondered the same about being my husband. But at the same time, we give each other more compassion, empathy, understanding, love and support than either of us had ever received prior to reconnecting with each other. In each other, we have found everything we never realized we needed and everything we could ever want in a partner. I have never before felt so heard or understood. We may have done little more than survive together this last year as newlyweds, but there is nobody else I would ever want at my side. I know the idea of going through an entire year just surviving might sound pretty sad and pathetic, but for us it was monumental. We survived. That’s huge for us. We fought an ongoing, daily battle with huge monsters on our backs and lived to tell the tale for another year. And more importantly, we did it together as husband and wife. It may not have been the exciting first year that many newlyweds get, but we got through our first year together. We survived! If any of you made it through the past year — if all you did was survive — I’m proud of you. You’re still here! That’s huge! We’re all doing our best to get through life however we can, doing our best when possible, even if our best some days is just treading water. Whatever you can do is enough. Just keep plodding on, day by day, minute by minute if you have to. And know there are others out there, like my husband and I, who understand and empathize, and are cheering you on along the way.