Quarantine Part 1: Hard Truths and Silver Linings

This is my submission for the May Carnival of Aces, hosted by The Asexual Agenda, the subject being “Quarantine”.

These past two and a half months have been some of the most tumultuous of my life, but they have not been completely without benefit.                                                                             I was given five days notice that I had to move out of my college dorm. This was my last semester at my community college, a little school I have grown to love immensely, and to be so suddenly torn away from the place I had come to call home was absolutely heart breaking.                                                                                                                                                  I was resilient, however, and resolved that being back home with my parents wouldn’t be completely without benefit. Being forced to slow down may actually be a good thing – with no where to go, I could get back into reading like I used to, relive my high school afternoon routine and hike the trails around my house, take up painting, get back into mediation now that I had a private room of my own and relative quiet.                           Only one problem – once classes went online, the workload nearly doubled. It is possible my mind may have been playing tricks on me, but my work definitely took me twice the time it usually did – and considering I’m not speedy, that’s saying something.

As the weeks went on and the instant, motivating escape of studying in coffeeshops remained out of reach, my mind went ever slower – assuming I could find the concentration to do my required reading and essays at all – my energy levels dropped, and suddenly, getting anything done in a day was an accomplishment. With such limited physical and mental energy, I convinced myself that any pleasure writing or even a few pages of a book was a waste of time – school had to come first.

Talking with my friends, they relating to my trouble concentrating whilst stuck at home – but they were still doing the things. Yes, quarantine had affected the, but it wasn’t completely destroying their ability to be productive. Comparisons only served to deepen my depression. I was just lazy and undisciplined, I determined. I just had to work harder, but no push was hard enough. I inevitably just. Couldn’t. Get there.                            

Whilst having intense mental difficulties, my physical health also declined. I had frequent headaches, which isn’t unusual, but these headaches were accompanied by bone deep fatigue and weakness so great that I nearly fainted one night while trying to make dinner. After nearly two weeks of hardly getting out of bed, I went to see a doctor. It took a bit to diagnose the root of my chronic fatigue and weakness, but the cognitive issues were clear to my physician. ADD, an apparently outdated term for ADHD that lacks the hyperactive component.

Once my knee-jerk, stigma-poisoned reaction of “oh no, that can’t be me” passed and I actually thought it through, it made perfect sense. I always finished all my class work last in elementary school. During my brief athletic career, I was the little girl in the outfield watching the butterflies, oblivious to the game taking place, utterly in her own world. My first grade teacher lost it one day and fiercely told me to “grow up and get some self control” because I was physically incapable of not daydreaming in class. Group work in high school was nightmarish because I could never seem to keep up with my workmates – I got distracted by how my writing could be neater, or by thoughts of what I was going to do when I got home, or some conversation I had with my best friend at lunch, etc. etc. I lost a stocking job because I couldn’t keep up with the other workers. It often takes me longer to organize my thoughts for essays (or blog posts, hence my sporadic posting) than it does to actually write them.

Ding!

Ding!

Ding!

Ding! 

All these years spent quietly berating myself for being lazy and stupid simply because my brain works differently than most.

From the research I’ve done, ADHD in girls is often overlooked – a teacher is more likely to notice a little boy bouncing off the walls than a little girl who physically can not pay attention.

In general, females are told our problems don’t matter – we have to be half dead before anyone will take our pain seriously. If I think too much about how many years of frustration I could have been saved had I been properly diagnosed earlier, I can feel my face start to heat.

One silver lining of this quarantine – being trapped augmented my ADHD symptoms. Whilst telling my doctor about how I am so often physically incapable of concentrating, how I kill myself trying to keep up with my overachieving friends and just can’t, how I feel like I’m wasting my life living it in slow motion, I burst into tears which in turn got my problems taken seriously. I have talked briefly with other doctors about my concentration issues and chronic fatigue in a highly composed fashion, and I can’t convey how many times and in how many different ways I’ve been dismissed.

Extreme circumstances made me more extreme – being a women, sometimes you’ve gotta be extreme to be noticed.

As for the fatigue and weakness, it all comes down to vitamin D – or, in my case, lack thereof. Turns out I’m only getting 50 percent of the vitamin D I need.

When I first heard the news, I was tempted to call B.S. – but after some research, I found that literally all of my physical problems, down to the budding arthritis in my thumbs and pinkies, can be traced back to vitamin D deficiency. I was brutally honest with myself and realized just how badly not only my mental health, but also my physical health, gets neglected.

Living at home before the dorms, I was constantly nagged to take my stupidly expensive, high quality vitamins – I was always too busy. This semester at school, I always planned on getting outside and hiking the forest trails behind the school, but I always had just too much schoolwork to do. I planned on pleasure reading on the lawn in the sun (prime source of vitamin D) umpteen times, but was just too busy. I planned on taking a yoga mat outside some weekend when campus was deserted, but was just too busy. I planned on buying big groceries and cooking instead of constantly eating out, but – do I need to say it? No time.                                                                                                                                   The list goes on, and on, and on.                                                                                                         I neglect my body and work my poor, exhausted, neurologically atypical brain past exhaustion, then I expect it to do everything the way a neurotypical brain would. Not only is it not realistic, but it’s rather cruel. Quarantine has really driven home for me that, as I said in my 7 Things I Wish I Had Known 7 Years Ago About Mental Health, self care is more than bubble baths and Netflix – not that I’ve been giving myself even those little luxuries.                                                                                                                                     Self care is taking your vitamins. Self care is drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning instead of diving for the coffee pot. Self care is stretching instead of staying in bed ten more minutes. Self care is getting enough exercise, managing your stress, taking the time to go to the doctor to get crap diagnosed instead of just pushing through the pain. The body and the mind are intertwined, and it is terrifying just how much long term stress can effect a person. Stress can not only affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, but lower bone density, elevate secretions of insulin in the pancreas, which can lead to diabetes. Stress can cause inflammation that not only leads to depression, but also memory loss.

Here are some articles to check out if you want more info:

All About Absorption

10 Organs In The Body Affected By Stress

https://www.popsci.com/chronic-stress-causes-inflammation-in-brain/

Quarantine has been brutal, honestly. Even before excrement hit the fan, I was having some intense familial issues. Quarantine only served to augment things – but it also forced me to realize that, even when I’m forced to slow down, I still don’t make taking care of myself a priority. I have neglected my body, and in turn my mind, for far too long. The neglect finally caught up with me. My mantra when it comes to what I’m beginning to think of as “mundane self care” (little actions like drinking enough water and getting proper nutrition) is no longer “I don’t have the time”. It’s now something like “I don’t have the time not to”. Ugh. I really wanted something catchy to end with, but I think my point is conveyed.

 

Until next time (which will not be months away),

keep safe, keep sane, keep health.

Danielle

 

Fears and Failures

This is my submission for the October Carnival of Aces, the subject being “reaching out, reaching in”. 

If you told me even twelve months ago what I was embarking to do last Sunday at 1p.m., I would have raised my eyebrows and stared in awed, polite unbelief.

I hosted an ace meetup.

Well, I tried to. I moved the location to a Starbucks across the street at the last minute due to the previous venue being unbelievably, claustrophobically crowded and unexpectedly pricy, and no one showed.

I doubt it was due to the venue change. I had been trying to enthuse members of the Facebook ace group I started late last year to meet in person for at least a month, querying for the best times for people, and three comments on my posts was outstanding engagement.

The only ace meetup listed for all of Northern California on meetup.com went AWOL last year and, utterly disappointed, I did what I could. I first tried to subtly guilt the members into sharing the annual fees with me so we could keep the meetup going (uncharacteristic, but I was broke and the thought of the only ace meetup in my region dying was unbearable) and when that failed, I created a Facebook group and captured as many members from the meetup group as I could. Several friended me on Facebook, and it’s amazing how encouraging it is to see posts from people (even ones unrelated to ace issues) who share this small part of me. Just the hope of future in person connection was uplifting.

I was predictably nervous as I drove to a mostly unfamiliar city to meet mostly unfamiliar people and do something that is completely unfamiliar to me – lead a social event. Well, that’s not completely true. I was the president of high school’s poetry club – and it was under my leadership that it fizzled out and died. Yeah. Not real confidant in my leadership abilities.

Getting out of bed Sunday morning, I prayed profusely and repeated what is becoming my motto – don’t regret not doing it later, do it scared now. I donned cat ears that I found in a costume store that, miraculously, were ace pride colors, posted and identifying picture to the Facebook group and said that if anyone were to come to the venue of the meetup and see a weirdo in cat ears to please come keep her company.

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The thirty minute drive, I repeated my positive attributes over and over, and reminded myself that I am capable and a likeable person – something I learned from a self-help book for social anxiety that is proving to be more effective than years of talking to a counselor.

Even after struggling to find the first venue and quickly discerning that it wasn’t as nearly the spacious, casual place that Google had led me to belief and moving the meetup to across the street ten minutes before it was scheduled to begin, I was hopeful. But as three stretched to three thirty and finally four, I had to face the music. No one was coming.

I had had a gut feeling all morning that the meetup was going to be an epic failure, something I dismissed as my standard state of perpetual anxiety, but it had turned out that my constant inner critic had judged correctly. As I departed the Starbucks, unable to sit alone any longer and made to find another café to settle down in and study, the dejection really started to set in. I had put myself waaaaaaay out there, and no one had put in the effort to show. Logically, I knew that wasn’t the case for everyone. Two people had said they were going to be out of town, several others had to work or had previous engagements with family, etc. I had known this first meet up was going to be small, perhaps one or two people, and I was totally prepared for that.

And of course I had considered the possibility that no one would show – but I wasn’t prepared for the reality of sitting alone at a table, watching as Starbucks filled with midafternoon students and socializers, making cheerful, awkward eye contact with every stranger who walked in the door and hoping that they would see the purple dragon badge on my backpack, smile as they remembered the posts saying to look for a dragon badge and cat ears on the Facebook page they had joined for a sense of belonging when the world made them feel constantly alienated, and come sit by me. I was not prepared for the disappointment of loneliness not being filled, but that loneliness, that sitting in a crowded space where I was 99 percent sure that I was the only asexual present (possibly the only queer person period) reminded me why I had set out that day in the first place.

As I drove around the city, determined to find an interesting café or restaurant so as not to have wasted a trip, the thought why the hell did you think you could do it? crept in. People aren’t your thing, of course you were going to miserably f up at this. I immediately recognized the voice as anxiety and not my rational mind, and I told it that I did not fail. I did exactly as I had set out to do that day – I had done my best to find a time that worked for as many people, told them a location, and I went there. Yes, I should have checked out the location before hand, but it wasn’t exactly in my backyard, and the new location was very accessible – nothing that would be burdensome if anyone was already at the previous venue. I had alerted the group as to my reasoning for changing, apologized profusely, and waited patiently. I had tried. I had done everything in my power to make the day a success. I had done what I had set out to do, even though I had been scared to do it, and several people had posted saying that they regretted not being able to come that day and to have fun. They had put in the effort that they could to make a connection, and that effort could very likely translate to the physical world in the future. I had done all I could, and hopefully I had made some online strangers excited about the future – maybe even someone at Starbucks recognized the colors on my badge for what they are.

Something I’ve come to realize in the past couple years is that I crave connection, truly, truly crave it, but connection takes effort – effort that I wasn’t mentally healthy enough to put in until very recently. My recent efforts to make connections with people I encounter in my day-to-day life have proved surprisingly successful, and I refuse to let this minor setback detour me – I’m sure there are people who need this support system for asexuality way more than I do, and I refuse to let them down. I will continue to do it scared.  

 

Happy Ace Week!

Until next time,

Keep oooooon Aceing It!

Heartbreak Part 2: A Letter to My Father

I feel like the title of this post is pretty self explanatory. Forgive me for the break in (semi) regular programming of LBGTQIA+ topics, my brain is absorbed by family drama at the moment.

Forgiveness does not mean allowing toxic people to continually complicate your life. I forgave you for years of absenteeism in my life and for your addition driving my mother and I away from our home, but the fact remains – my depression and anxiety undoubtedly stem from that, from your mistakes. Every friend I made at that horrible school I was dropped in when we moved ended up stabbing me in the back, and just when I’d met someone good, someone I could have a lasting friendship with, it was time to go home. I was forced to build a new life just to have it torn away. It took me years to learn how to be truly happy again. You have never, ever made me feel safe. Sometimes I wonder if you quit meth when we left because you wanted us back, or because your parents wouldn’t include you in their will if you didn’t. It has always disgusted me how you shameless depend on my grandparents for income. I let go off all this anger long ago, but when you treat my mother this poorly and spit in both of our faces by bringing up divorce, long healed wounds are ripped wide open and you leave me a furious, bloody mess. It would be so, so easy to hate you. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike because you didn’t have time to teach me and my codependent mother insisted it was a father’s job to teach his daughter how to ride a bike. People would have thought my mother was single if she hadn’t worn her farcical wedding ring because you never went anywhere with her – you were either sweating to feed your habit, getting high in the garage, or sitting on your ass in front of the t.v. after a day off nonstop meth earning. You were high when I was born. You were high at my christening. You were high when you spoke at my grandfather’s funeral. We almost lost the house because of your screw ups. You almost missed my eighth grade graduation because you were playing tennis. My mother had zero tolerance for anything but perfection in my behavior as a small child because she felt she had to do the job of two parents. When you would try to quit and camp out in front of the trustee idiot box while riding out with drawl symptoms, she was even more short tempered than usual – and that is to say, if I moved wrong, I got screamed at. To this day, every time you drink you pick a fight with my mother. There is so, so much more, but I don’t want to dwell in this place of fury. It would be all too easy to hate you, but I can’t find it in me to do that. You may be the most selfish, insensitive person I know, but you still feed the cat goat kefir and rub her belly whilst she lounges by the heater. When the fluffy beast delivers us birds, you always try to save them. You adore every small child you come into contact with, and they automatically adore you. My earliest memory is of you with a giant, curved cushion on your back pretending to be a turtle and giving me rides on your back. One of the only reasons I started playing softball was because I knew it would catch your interest, and the first time in my life that I felt like I had your full attention was when you were teaching me to pitch. Practicing at the park with you and H. on an overcast spring Saturday is one of my fondest memories. I love that you love my passion for books and the Russian language;  that you’ve never refused to take me to a bookstore. I love that you are constantly making random chicken noises and comically remixing songs. I love that you admire me for being a vegetarian and have never interrogated me about dating or argued with me about not wanting children. You soothed a deep, dark fear in me when I finally came out to you as asexual and homoromantic. I told you I thought I had been a coward for avoiding coming out to you for so long, you said you didn’t think I was cowardly at all – on the contrary, you told me that you had absolutely nothing negative to say about me. When I caught my cousins gossiping about me, saying I was doing nothing with my life and that my parents should be ashamed of me, you sent a letter defending me and telling them that you could never, ever be ashamed. I asked you to wait until I had sent text messages confronting them, and you were so amped up you could hardly restrain yourself. You taught me that rubbing the stomach of a Blue Belly lizard puts it to sleep, that documentaries are entirely underrated, and that pancakes are best cooked in a pan. As hard as I try not to need you, I do. I have always needed you, and you’ve never been able to give me enough. I don’t know if it’s because your first wife destroyed you or if it’s because your own father was away traveling for much of your childhood, but I don’t think you’re capable of the love that parenthood requires. I know you’re not capable of the love that a healthy marriage requires – and even as I type this, I remember the moments scattered across years that you were, and hope that I’m lying. Your good is heaven, and your bad is hell. I can’t handle the whiplash anymore, and I don’t even want to imagine how my mother feels – my mother, who, for all her faults, loves more deeply than anyone I know. My mother who, for reasons beyond me, is still hopelessly in love with you. If I know one single thing for certain, it is that you do not deserve her.                                                              You haven’t used meth in ten years – true. You are not an addict – false. The facts or the facts, and addict is not a dirty word, simply a description – in your case, a description of someone for whom reality is determined by their needs. If you are tired, then the world must be quite so you can sleep – if there is the slightest noise, the world is out of balance. Never mind that you sleep in the living room every night, and there are other people in the house who need to eat in the morning. If it’s eleven in the morning and you’re still tired, it’s abominable of my mother to make breakfast because you’re sleeping. When you’re watching a football game and the dog needs to be taken out, you ask your daughter – who is in the middle of doing her math homework – to do it for you. Perfectly logically. And if she has a bit of an attitude while she does it, she is being completely unfair, because you were watching a game! And when sports are on t.v. , nothing else in the world matters. You start the day by drinking two energy drinks, don’t eat lunch, go play tennis, and then expect everyone in the house to wait on you when you return home because you’re exhausted, yet you refuse to eat better, and you love the caffeine rush too much to avoid the crash. That’s just it. The drugs are out, but nothing’s really changed. Meth has been replaced by energy drinks and wine on the weekends, the house hold activities still revolve around you, my mother still brings you dinner in your chair nearly every night, and you still blow a gasket whenever someone says something you don’t like or when you have to do something you don’t want to, such as paying bills or being put on hold on the phone. Sure, you rearrange the pillows on the couch when you get up everyday, but you seldom show my mother any affection, and you only hug me when you’re drunk. I remember telling a counselor about a fight you and mom had years ago and the subsequent fit you threw – the details are muddy now, but she responded with a disbelieving, “Wow. That is such addict behavior.” I think that was the first time I realized it – you aren’t using, but you’re still and addict. You quit on your own, which in and of itself is a bit impressive, but programs exist to break the patterns and mindset that addiction leaves people with, and you should have swallowed your pride and enrolled in one.                                                                                                                                        I love you, and think I’m always going to, as much as it would be easier just to rip you out of my heart and forget you. But I can’t stay on this rollercoaster. My God calls me to forgive, but he does not call me to embrace toxicity – and you are a toxic person, especially when you are behaving as cruelly and childishly as you have been this past week. I remember telling my counselor years ago that I was finally realizing you weren’t capable of change – that the dad I had was the dad I was stuck with. Change is what I want. You make yourself capable if you truly love me. You treat my mother with respect, act like an adult, and go to marriage counseling with her, swallow your pride, and admit that you are an addict. Admit that you put her through twelve years of hell when you were using, that you continue to torment her with your selfishness, and you work  at seeing the world beyond yourself and your needs. If your incapable of doing that, I’m done. I can only take so much. My heart did not heal simply for you to rip it, still beating, out of my chest. My wounds did not heal for you to leave deeper scars. The tragic thing is, I know I’m lying. The pain you’ve stirred up in me these past few days is going to take months to subside. I should face the future with absolutely no fear because nothing – absolutely nothing – can hurt like loving you has.

 

I apologize for the lack luster post, I was sobbing as I was writing this, and while it was rather therapeutic, it is far from my best writing. I am sure I’ll be in a better place soon, and I am determined to raise the bar for the next post.

That being said, I hope this mediocre letter that I will never have the guts to send makes someone feel less alone.

 

Mental Health Awareness Day: 7 Things I Wish I Had Known 7 Years Ago About Mental Health

October 10 is Mental Health Awareness Day, a cause that is close to my heart. Mental Health is so, so often written off, and though mental health is slowly coming to be recognized as a serious thing, those suffering from invisible diseases are still being told to “snap out of it”. With the hectic pace and isolation of modern life, it seems that diseases of the mind are becoming more and more common. My mental helath drastically worsened 7 years ago, around the time I was fourteen, and I want to share 7 things my own struggles have taught me.

  1. When you are a young person experiencing health problems of any kind, particularly invisible ones, you must fight to be taken seriously. People over forty seem to, for the most part, have an incredibly romanticized view of what the teenage years and early twenties are like. 2017 tied with 2012 for the most difficult year of my life, and I was reminded yet again of the fact that the struggles of young people are all too often covered by a gossamer netting. I was dog sitting for an 75 year old acquaintance of mine, and before she was going to leave, we met up and talked for a bit. It was typical small talk, how’s school, to you have any plans for the summer, etc. The semester had just ended and my twentieth birthday was in about a week, I told her. “Oh, these are the best years of your life!” she exclaimed. My father had just been diagnosed with cancer, all of my friends had moved away for college, my social anxiety was worsening by the day, and sometimes I felt like my loneliness was going to suffocate me. Unbeknownst to me, my circumstances were only going to get worse that year. I almost literally had to bite my tongue to keep, “If these are the best years of my life, someone please shoot me now,” from spilling out.  Depression in teenagers is so, soooo often just written off as typical moodiness, and this is incredibly dangerous. It pains me to think of how many teens are suffering because authority figures refuse to take them seriously. For me, it took revealing that I was cutting myself to even be able to get access to therapy. For the love of everything good in this world, if you see a sad, moody teenager, do not ignore them, and do not simply tell them, “Oh, it won’t always be this way.” We all know adulthood just makes things harder. Sit down with the suffering young people in your life parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and truly listen to them and find them effective coping mechanisms.
  2. Depression isn’t Just Sadness  Perhaps the most profound form of depression is the inability to feel anything at all, and though numbness is preferable to crippling sadness, walking through life like a zombie is no way to live. Numbness is sometimes due to a build of emotions, and if you can’t find the motivation to journal, simply talking to a camera about what’s going on in your life currently – or about thing’s that have happened in the past that you’d rather not think about – can break the dam keeping you emotionally constipated. If you can’t find the root of your numbness or your mind simply refuses to form coherent thoughts, so for a walk, surround yourself with nature, go to a new restaurant, do something that reminds you of the beauty in the world. Yet another symptom of depression often written off in young people which can make the aforementioned tricks for numbness impossible is lack of motivation, and having no energy can make the black hold of depression seem that much deeper, which leads to point three that I wish I had known seven years ago.
  3. Going to Therapy Does Not Make You Certifiably Insane! It Only Makes You Crazy Smart and Crazy Brave! It is an incredibly good idea to talk to someone about your feelings or lack thereof, but family isn’t always the best choice. They may be supportive to a point, but there are simply certain things that are best dealt with by professionals. Family, parents in particular, are going to take your depression personally. Am I doing something to make them feel this way? I am a great provider to my child, a great friend. They’re just being ungrateful. Comments like these are born of fear and self-centeredness, and are clear signs that you need to talk to an outsider. This is not weakness, but strength. You are going to a stranger and essentially saying that you are stranded in a dark forest full of wolves are being eaten alive, yet all you are asking for is a stick to ward them off with. This will to fight is the definition of bravery, and once someone else is there fighting off the wolves with you, you have double the chance of making it out alive. And for heaven’s sake, make the most of therapy by not hiding problems from your therapist. Never leave a session early. Negative emotions are incredibly healthy, they are alerting you to something that is wrong; do not push them down, talk about them when they are annoying flies, not when they are hawks trying to maim you.
  4. There is a big difference between mere shyness and social anxiety. Shyness is apprehension, social anxiety is people induced terror that you can’t just “shake off” or “power through”, and it can’t be cured by making yourself socialize more. If you isolate yourself from the outside world completely, of course it will worsen, and you can’t let it keep you from doing things you truly enjoy, but it is unrealistic to expect that exposure will make it disappear, which connects to number 5.
  5. It is okay to take medication. Some people’s brains are wired differently, and in order to life the best possible life,  a little assistance is needed. Like going to therapy, this does not make you weak. It is you asking for another stick when your brain is assisting the wolves in devouring you alive. Getting help at a biological level is wise, but do your research as to what medications are incredibly addictive, take the lowest effective dosage, and don’t expect your life to magically be perfect.
  6. Take Care of Your Body. We hear it so often we automatically tune out, “Exercise and eat your vegetables!” Seriously, though. A body in motion helps a burdened mind, and sacrificing fast food can only be beneficial. It is so, so easy convince yourself that you’re too busy, but even ten minutes of yoga, five minutes of mediation, can do a world of good. Give yourself permission to make your well being a priority; self care is more than bubble baths and Netflix. Astonishingly, you’ll be able to be twice as productive if you are in a good state of mind. I am going to shameless rip of Nike: Just do it! Value and take care of yourself, dammit!
  7. Talk to your peers. My fourteen year old self – and fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen year old self – was incredibly afraid of judgement from my peers because of my mental health problems, and so for the most part, my high school friends had no idea I was suffering until years after the worst of it ended. A close friend of mine was experiencing problems incredibly similar to mine, and we were both lost in our lonely miseries because we were too afraid of judgement. I still haven’t told my best friend that I engaged in self harm because a paranoid part of me is terrified she’ll be judgmental, which is not at all conducive to her personality.  We have been friends for fourteen years, and I am still terrified to tell her. The worst thing about the stigma surrounding mental health is that it makes people suffer in silence, and so we remain unaware of how connected our pain makes us. Talk to your friends, you have no idea how much they may be able to relate, how you may be helping them by sharing your pain.

Thank you so much for reading, I hope a couple of these things I wish I had known long, long ago were helpful, or at the very least thought provoking/ entertaining.

Until next time!