Black Friday is Evil.

Thanksgiving is just over a month away, which means that as of this writing, there are 39 days until Black Friday.  Black Friday, the “official start of the holiday shopping season” in the United States is a day that has tainted the souls of many a retail worker, myself included. The day is an unofficial American holiday.

I take my inspiration for writing this post from a Facebook Group: Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving.no shopping

Or is it? There are some that might say that our nation, that worships and praises the ‘Almighty Dollar‘ holds Black Friday as a day of deep, cultural significance because that is the one day that the Almighty Dollar shifts hands most often within the entire year. If Christmas is the Holy Day for Christianity, then Black Friday is the Holy Day for Consumerism.

Every year, I turn on the news and hear a report of riots, people being stampeded to death at store openings, or some sort of violent injuries and deaths because of it. The last few years, when I worked at Wal*Mart, we had fights over the “last” items up for sale in some of our electronic or toy specials.

Now, I know I’m not going to change anything by writing this blog, but I thought I’d at least record my opinions and feelings.

As a retail employee, I dreaded and feared not only Black Friday, but Thanksgiving as well. Most every job I’ve had since I got out of the Military has been retail in some fashion: Food Service, Grocery Store, and actual retail stores, has required me work Not only Black Friday, which one would expect, but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve. (The only exception was the year I was Student Teaching and the year I was unemployed.)

Yes, even the year I worked at a Karaoke Bar with my FATHER AS A BOSS I had to work on the holidays. And they were busy days too. (though we did our family meal at the Karaoke bar, and that was kinda cool, but we shared it with all the customers, having them pay for drinks only that day, unless they wanted menu food).
Now my memory might be wrong, but I remember stores being closed on Thanksgiving when I was small. I know places would open early on Friday, but Thanksgiving? No, that was a family day. My mom and dad stayed at home with us, and if we ventured out, Mom would take us to see our grandparents and extended family, while Dad would go visit his mother. (My father does not shop.) Family members who were in retail would be off to spend that day with our family.

We might have had a babysitter on Friday while Mom went shopping, but never had Thanksgiving taken away from us.

Flash forward to the Now:
Every Thanksgiving my in-laws have gotten together for the holidays, it is a flip of the coin if my work schedule would allow my husband and I to attend. My in-laws live an hour and a half a way on a low traffic day, on holidays? it is worse.One year, we got to my mother-in-law’s house to find everyone else had already had their food, and we had the scraps. Other years, we have to leave early so I can get to work, missing out on good family time. There are some of my in-laws that are only in town during holidays: my brother and sister-in-law live 6 hours away and I don’t get to see them often, just the holidays.

But, stores, and I think my former employer is one of the worst about it, are slowly starting their Black Friday sales early: as early as 6-8 PM on Thanksgiving day.
let me describe Black Friday from a retail employee standpoint (And remember, I suffer from anxiety  as well as fibromyalgia, so this is a particular rough day)

Last year, I worked from 6 PM to 3 AM Thanksgiving day to Black Friday morning, with a turnaround shift requiring me to return to the store at noon on Black Friday.
I stood at a register in electronics most of the shift, waiting for the 10 PM sale for the E-Reader of the Moment to launch. I had to wait there to watch the line and watch to make sure stuff wasn’t getting stolen from the displays and that people weren’t getting behind the register to steal my cameras, e-readers, and what ever.

download

On Black Friday, items ordinarily sold in my department (electronics) sit throughout the store, scattered in places like the Garden Center or Produce; I knew where nothing was.

The store itself got BUSY after 6. Every customer who ever shopped at my store during the year was there; all at the same time. It was AWFUL. As a retail employee, I had a hard enough time keeping up with the customers on normal days, on Black Friday/Thanksgiving, I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots the entire night.
When I finally had time to go to lunch, one of my bosses tried to make me return to the sales floor. I was already late for lunch, and my health conditions get worse if I don’t eat when I am supposed to.
Plus, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing with people asking how many of our items we had.
Let me tell you something:

I HAVE NO IDEA!
The bosses don’t generally release that to the retail slaves, or at least mine didn’t.

Plus, the MESS. There is three times the normal returns/rejected items on Black Friday, and bosses still expect the stuff put away before the end of shift. And, three times the customers, so no time to do it. One year, my department had seven baskets full of electronics returns. SEVEN. I had a panic attack the last two Black Fridays.
Last year I doubled my anxiety pills, and still couldn’t make it.

Regular customers, who are not in the slightest bit obnoxious on normal days, come into the store and act like they caught a case of the crazies during holiday shopping.

But that was Retail. Thanksgiving as a server was just as much as a nightmare. You would think that people wouldn’t eat out on thanksgiving, but, NOPE! Apparently, Turkey day means that “I know I’m stuffed on real food, but I’m gonna go to my local Ihop and eat more before I go assault retail slaves and buy stuff.”

black-friday-2009-walmart

It’s worse on Christmas. One year on Christmas, I worked at IHOP for a thirteen hour shift, THIRTEEN FREAKING HOURS and brought home less than $100 in tips. I was forbidden from leaving until my last table left the restaurant. “You leave, you don’t get the tip.” It was a 10 top, and they left me $3.
Oh, I got a lot of “thank you for being opens” but not any money.
My husband and I now go out for breakfast on Christmas, but we always leave at least a 50% tip to our server, even if she is the worst server in the world.

Some might say that when I got my jobs in retail/restaurants that I knew this sort of stuff was going to happen. No, I knew it would happen when I was in the Army. I understood it. In retail?
It caused me to hate the holidays. I have turned into this fella right here;
grinch

This year, I’m unemployed. Will I go shopping on Thanksgiving?
No. I will not. Will I go out on Black Friday? Maybe, but not until the afternoon.

So, what’s gone right?

I realize that I often sound very negative when I start to write about my life, and focus only on the bad parts. I’m going to take the opportunity today to talk about the things that are Good in my life, the positives.

I’m going to start by saying that I often focus on the positives in my life as “I have never had BAD THING X or AWFUL THING Y happen to me. That is a negative positive. Life is good because i have not had bad things happen? No, that’s not what I’m going for.

1. My husband: 

morgulmo

We are not without our problems. He’s struggled with unemployment, among other things, and has a very “strong personality.” However, my husband does me a lot of good.
He does a lot of the ‘little things’ to help me in my illness: brushes my hair, reads to me, fixes my baths, does most of our cooking. He encourages me, helping me be strong. After 14 years together, he still thinks I’m the most exciting person in the world. He his highly creative: He doesn’t just cook, he creates food art with our very meager budget. He is a fantastic storyteller. He also has a backbone, and encourages me to do the same.

2. My friends:
To keep my friends’ anonymity, I am not going to mention any names or pictures in this section. I will say that I have been fortunate to have a small handful of friends who have been really helpful, throughout my life.  My two closest and best friends have been a constant presence in my life since I was a teenager, always supporting me, even when I did some pretty stupid stuff. They’ve helped me find work. They’ve loaned me money, telephones, vehicles,  bought me groceries when I needed help, and just been amazing.
Since then, I’ve found a few more friends. Friends who help me with my lack of transportation, help me find food, help shelter me (and my husband and puppy) from Hurricanes. These people have helped me avoid a lot of disasters in my life, and for them, I am thankful.

3 . My apartment

I can’t explain this enough. I Love my apartment. It has a few flaws. The complex itself has issues, the building feels like a haunted hotel, and the usual apartment flaws (Bugs, loud neighbors, etc). But, my apartment is freaking amazing:

The gold wall in my living room

The Gold wall in my living room

Our lake view. (dish is no longer there).

Our lake view. (The dish is no longer there).

My One Red Wall.

My One Red Wall.

5. My dogs:

I’ve already written a blog about how Kanji and Ulmo give me emotional support.  But, seriously, those two cute bearded little puppies ? Who can resist these  faces?my dogs

6.My Family

I have a large extended family. (My mother is one of 5 children, and  I have a LOT of cousins.) And i live halfway across the family from all of them. However, I know that if it really came down to it, they would help me if they could.
But seriously: my family.
My brother, my sisters, my mother, my father, my step-mother have all contributed to who I am today. Do they have flaws? Yes, they do. Have important days in my life been ruined by many of them? Yes, they have. But, you know what? When it comes down to it, I’ve probably been just as guilty of being a pain-in-the-butt for all of them.

I’ve also been blessed with a mother-in-law who is probably one of the coolest people on the planet. She and I get along too well, often to the point where my husband thinks we gang up on him.

It’s true. We do.

7. My internet family: 

By this I mostly mean people from Dragonmount, in particular the Red Ajah, (though I also mean Shayol Ghul to a certain extent). Dragonmount is a fan forum for the Wheel of Time book series written by Robert Jordan. I am heavily active on that site, and have found some really good friends within some of the sub forum groups. The Red Ajah, (named after a group within the book series that hunts down male magic users that threaten to destroy the world,) have been a great sounding board for me and some of the crazy things in my life these last few years. The people at Shayol Ghul (A social group centered around the book series’ villains) has taught me to embrace that inner darkness within myself to help me become a better, more centered person.

The Red Ajah gives me strength. I know that all my Red sisters and brothers have my back if I’m suffering from problems.

8. My mind. 

I am intelligent, with a memory for tiny details and obnoxiously weird facts. I went to some of the best public schools in my home state for most of my childhood, and those schools really helped cultivate my little brain. I’ve helped this brain out by reading THOUSANDS of books, travelling around the world, obtaining three separate college degrees: (An Associate of Arts in Social Studies, a BA in History and a MA in Women’s History).
I have a fairly decent memory, and can remember some of the weirdest, tiniest details, from things that happened years ago.

Why I don’t do Flu Shots

I know, you’re reading this title, and probably thinking, “HOLD ON! Is Mandy some kind of weird anti-vaccination lobbyist?” No, I’m not. What I’m actually going to discuss with you here is further from the truth. I am actually very pro-vaccine. Children should get vaccinated to avoid catching some of the nasty illnesses that, thanks to vaccines, are no longer a threat.
I wish the chicken pox vaccine was around when I was young, as I would have liked to avoid that week of torture. shot

However, there is one annual vaccination that is pretty debilitating for me. and this is something of some controversy. The Flu Shot.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs,  I have Fibromyalgia, an illness that I’ve lived with since I was in the US Army.  For those of you unfamiliar with Fibromyalgia, it is a nasty thing to live with. Muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritable bowel syndrome, brain fog… the list of symptoms goes on.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

And that is by no means complete. Life for me is a roll of the die. Each morning I wake up not knowing until I make the move to get out of bed if I’m going to have a flare, or how bad that flare is going to be. Joint pain for me is not just “morning stiffness,” it is “my whole body is stiff all day.” I don’t sleep well, my mind is always active, I wake up if the wind blows. I have times where my brain fogs, and I’ll forget what I’m saying mid sentence. (My Husband calls it “Shatnering”).

Here’s a lovely image of the Fibrobrain (not mine):

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don't necessarily agree with the image's original site on all things.

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don’t necessarily agree with the image’s original site on all things.

Now let’s look at the flu and it’s symptoms. Here is the flu:

Flu

Cute little booger, isn’t he?

Well, he might be cute, but the Flu is actually quite an awful illness. Let’s look at the symptoms:
512px-Symptoms_of_influenza.svg

Joint pain. Fatigue. Headache. Vomiting. Enough to put a normally healthy person in bed for several days.
Now, if you add the two together, Fibromyalgia+Flu, you get a nasty combination of a flare-up along with the added joys of coughing, vomiting, runny nose, and sore throat.

So you would think the Flu shot would be a wonderful boon to me, something to give me the chance to avoid getting a sickness that will flare up my illness.

Wrong.

Other than my Fibromyalgia and my anxiety, I am generally a healthy person. I might catch a cold once a year, and generally, I’m better within a day or two. Every so often, when I work myself too hard, I will get a fever. I don’t get “Sick,” I am ill, but rarely sick.

For my purposes, “sick” means “contagious.”

I have had the Flu shot before. The U.S, Army required I get them annually during my time in the service, and the Veteran’s Administration consistently tries to get me to update that shot every year. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

Let me give you a quote from WebMD, in answer to the question “Can the Flu Vaccine give you the Flu?”

Despite the scientific impossibility of getting the flu from the flu vaccines, this widespread flu myth won’t die. Experts suspect two reasons for its persistence.  One, people mistake the side effects of the vaccine for flu. While side effects to the vaccine these days tend to be a sore arm, in the past, side effects often felt like mild symptoms of the flu. Two, flu season coincides with a time of year when bugs causing colds and other respiratory illnesses are in the air.  Many people get the vaccine and then, within a few days, get sick with an unrelated cold virus. However, they blame the innocent flu vaccine, rather than their co-worker with a runny nose and cough.

Okay, so WebMD says that people confuse the side effects that one gets from the virus with the actual flu.
But what happens when I get the flu virus? Do I get just a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms?
NO! This is what  I feel like on the flu shot: zombedToo Zombie to get out of bed.

That’s what it is. The side effects of the vaccination cause me to be so sick that I am bedridden for days, sometimes a week or more, just from the shot.

Now, if I were prone to getting “SicK” instead of just “Ill,” I might consider getting the shots.

It’s a controversial topic. I’m not the only Fibromyalgia Survivor that has suffered ill effects from the Flu Shot; it’s happened with others as well. Some doctors who treat chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia recommend against  the shot, though others argue that the effects of the flu are more devastating than the illness itself.

Emotional Support Schnauzers

I would like to take a few minutes to just talk about the two people who make me happiest in the world.

 

By people, I mean my dogs. Kanji and Ulmo

 

This is Kanji baby:

 

Sweet puppy

 

Her official name is “Kanji Amaterasu Oviatt.”

 

Of course, her full name is “Kanji Baby Sweetheart Ninja-Kick-butt Princess.”

 

At least according to her papers.
She’s a purebred Miniature Schnauzer, and fully grown at 10 lbs. She is 5 1/2 people years old, and is my life.

 

She’s my fuzzy assistant, my supervisor, my snuggle buddy.
She helps me when I feel sad, she snuggles me always.

 

We brought her home when she was two months old, and have had her ever since. She was our First dog, a Valentine’s day present.
She has had two major illness scares. The first she had serious bladder stones (the size of a human thumb knuckle). The Second was about a year later, the summer of 2012. We think she had a heat stroke, because she started having seizures, She was sick for a month, but one day, she miraculously recovered.
I supported her through her illness, and she helps me in my own illnesses.

 

She is tiny, and black-furred. Very ninja-like.

 

Kanji needed a brother.
So, we brought home Ulmo.
Ulmo is a schnauzer mix, and a Rescue dog.

 

This is Ulmo

 

ulmo cutie

 

We brought Ulmo home on Kanji’s first birthday. His official name, if you ask, is “Shogun Ulmo Susanowo Anexandros Nazgul Obi-Wan Oviatt.”

 

“Ulmo” is the name of the God of the Seas and Storms in Middle Earth, the land of Lord of the Rings. Susanowo is one of the names of the Japanese Storm God. We chose his name as a play on his background.

 

He was a Post Hurricane Ike rescue. He was found on Galveston Beach three days after Ike stormed the coastline, sick, wet, and mangy. After some healing, the Shelter put him up for adoption.

 

We became his new family almost two months after the storm.
Ulmo is one of the sweetest boy-dogs I’ve ever had, and when I think of what he must have gone through during Hurricane Ike I want to cry. But he senses my tears and kisses them away.

 

Ulmo is a Doctor dog. He likes to kiss on boo-boos and love on sick people. When Kanji had her bladder surgery, he whined the entire morning, missing his sister. When we went to pick her up from the vet, I asked him “Ulmo-buddy, do you wanna go pick up Kanji?” He dashed to the front door, sat down, stared at the Leashes by the wall, and BARKED!

 

He’s very attentive and concerned about me when I’m stressed. He can sense it. On days when I feel miserable, Ulmo makes me feel better, happy.

 

We were worried about bringing home a former stray, because they notoriously have “issues.” Ulmo only has one real issue: a petrifying fear of storms and water. He also distrusts strangers and hates when people touch his head. Hubby and I are cool; We’re Mommy and Daddy. But everyone else? Back off. He doesn’t like his Vet or Groomers touching his head either.

 

The two are both black, both Schnauzers, and adorable. They keep each other company, take care of me, make sure I get up in the morning, and remind me when it’s time to go to bed at night.

 

Why am I writing about these two puppies today?

 

Because my dogs really are emotional support animals. I may not have certifications, or doctor’s notes for it, but my dogs, my Kids, are my light.

 

Fibromyalgia: What it is like, for me.

Okay, so this is not a post about how I discovered my Fibromyalgia, as that is a whole other topic, and I discussed it briefly in My Disabled Vet Story. I will probably at a later date discuss the circus I had to go through just to get a diagnosis.

No, today I’m going to talk about what living with Fibromyalgia (and my other illnesses) is like.  One common description of Fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses is the Spoon Theory.  I’m not going to discuss this in terms of the Spoon theory. This is a discussion of my typical day, when I worked, with Fibromyalgia.

For sake of example, the day I’m describing below is an example of a day back when I had a regular, retail job at a Big Box store in the Electronics department, where i cover photo lab, electronics, wireless, dot-com orders, and lay away in the holidays.

The first obstacle in my day is waking up:
catfibro

Regardless of the amount of sleep I’ve had the night before, the mere physical act of getting out of bed sometimes involves intricate acts of morning parkour. For those of you who don’t know what that means, check this video out:

Yeah, it’s like that. I have to sling my arms and legs out of bed in a heroic attempt to win the battle with the bed.

I’m not always successful.

After overcoming the amazing feat of getting out of bed, I now must tackle the morning bathroom ritual. Easy enough, but then I must build up the energy to walk my dogs, these two cute little puppies here:
my dogs

Don’t let the cute, lazy, laying down image fool you. First thing in the morning, these two kids are really energetic and spunky. Since we live in a second floor apartment, morning walk means I can’t just send them outside to play, I have to get dressed.

Yeah, getting dressed. can’t I just wear a night-shirt? Nah, I have to wear pants to go outside.

So i get dressed, then I search for my shoes, because the parking lot I have to cross to get to the grass has a lot of broken glass. Once that chore is complete, I have to put leashes on the dogs, exit the apartment, cross the hallway to the stairs, climb down the stairs, go outside, cross the parking lot, and walk the dogs. While they sniff, use the bathroom, mark their territories, and bark at every squirrel, bird, dog, person, car, and everything that crosses their path. Oh, and Big Dog Ulmo is pulling on the leash in one direction while his sister is stopped sniffing or pottying in the other direction. Then I have to cross the parking lot again, climb back up the stairs, and reenter my apartment, where my husband is still snoring in the bedroom.

And I haven’t even been up half an hour.

Next I take off leashes, shoes, and pants, feed the dogs, and then I need to sit down and relax. That little jaunt took a lot of energy out of me, so I sit down on the computer and catch up on various social media and forums for a time. Then I piddle around doing housework for about half an hour. My anxiety is telling me that my house is filthy and that I must clean up all the (whatever is bothering me) Now! usually it is dishes, but sometimes, it is putting away clean clothes, straightening up the cluttered living room, cleaning the kitchen counters, or whatever. Even if my house is otherwise ‘clean’ I generally find some kind of clutter I need to clean.
By this time, my husband is up, and he’s using the computer, playing games, preparing for a gig, or working on breakfast.
All this time, I have a headache. Or my shoulders itch. Or I feel like my hip joints are tearing apart. Or, the fun one: every joint in my body feels like I’m on fire. That one is lovely.

everything

But it’s time to get ready for work. Now, I have to get dressed (again) for work, find my keys, purse, phone, wallet, (which is not always in my purse) and go back downstairs, walk to the other side of the building where I have to park (the large truck we drive doesn’t fit well in most of the parking spots in our complex).

And I have to drive to work. Driving, Yeah. Driving causes me stress and anxiety, more so because I am not comfortable in big vehicles. We are borrowing one because we don’t have a car at the moment. I stress my entire ride about accidents, worry about being pulled over, stress on being late to work (I am habitually 10-15 minutes early) and hot as anything because the truck doesn’t have A/C and I’m in Texas.
Yes, I have the windows cracked, but that doesn’t matter, because it is so humid outside that opening the windows lets the damp air in.
Yuck.

Oh, great. Traffic jam at the red light. (wait forever) Finally, I can turn right, go to cross the MASSIVE bridge (another thing that causes me worry) and crap. More traffic at the far side of the bridge because of the boardwalk. Then it is slow, almost snail speed from the bridge to the Store where I worked.
I park the truck, go into the store, walk the LOOONG way to the back to my locker, grab my badge, clock in, and go into my department, which is in the back by the clock, so not far to go.

I have two people I’m working with at the moment: a photo lab person who is taking care of that department and our slow associate. (He’s smart, and but slow and will take 20 minutes to tell a single customer about any item). There are only twenty bazillion customers, and two giant carts full of merchandise that has to be put into the shelves. The game case is broken, so I can’t get customers the Nintendo 3DS games. Oh, and the photo machine is acting up. No, it’s just someone who doesn’t know how to operate it. Oh, and I have the Pick Up Today handheld: so if someone makes an online order, I have to drop whatever I’m doing and go pick the item for the online customer. The Wireless department has no associates in it, so I have to cover that shift today as well. management is mad that the carts aren’t worked, and accuses me of slacking off because they are not worked, but I haven’t had time to look at them because I’ve been pounced by customers from the minute I walk into the department.

warning

I am in a crap-ton of pain. Generally, I feel like this:

pain day

But management expects me to be like this:

Super Me!
When I tell management I’m sick. they give me the “you don’t look sick look,” then fuss at me for being under-productive or not “snapping to do the job right away”

After two and a half hours, I get a fifteen minute break, I sit down, drink a doctor pepper, and let myself relax. I recharge a bit, and eat chips or something. I forgot to eat before coming in, and I’ve been snippish.

I get back out on the floor, and another associate has shown up, or gotten back from lunch. Good! I have someone to help cover the Wireless desk. I focus on emptying the carts for the next two hours, and I get them both empty before my late lunch. I go about an hour later than I am supposed to because Slow associate went late, putting my lunch off. I get one hour, where i eat, read my book, drink another Dr. pepper, and relax. Sometimes I nap.
After my lunch, I have three hours left in the day to clean, straighten, and organize the department. Customers are coming in in droves. It’s now about 8:30-9:00 at night, and most of the department is leaving. By 9:30, I am alone in all departments cleaning and dusting. There is some kind of work I have to do, other than customer service. Returns. more stocking, because another cart came out while I was at lunch. I don’t get my second 15 minute break because I am alone. And no one is in Fish or Fabric departments, so customers from those sections are fussing at me to get help that never comes.

Oh, and since the boardwalk is closed, and I’m by myself, now is time that customers come in like this:

black friday

Can’t leave my department, though. Oh, and people keep calling about the latest movie/game/advertised item every fifteen minutes.

Bear in mind I’m doing this with a headache, sore joints, and my anxiety is through the roof. I’m at a 6 on the pain scale.
Oh, Great! I’m off at 10, but there is no one to relieve me in the department from overnights now. O/N managers want me to stay an extra half hour so they can have the overnight crew meeting. No! I will get yelled at by day management if I stay late. I sneak out like a ninja, dropping the keys and dot-com handheld in the manager’s office, grab my stuff, clock out, then sneak out of the store.
Because as soon as I clock out, if I’m on my way to the exit, I’ll get stopped by people asking for stuff. I call my husband asking if we need anything for dinner, and usually there’s something: Beef, sour cream, bread, cheese, for dinner.

I pick out whatever it is, wait in the long line, make my purchase and leave.

I drive home, stress level rising, as cops are out trolling for DUIs. I drive extra cautiously, and make it home quickly. Stress is even higher because of people’s headlights. Bright lights hurt my eyes, and headlights are the worst.

I park a block away from home, walk home, walk up the stairs, and want to take off my clothes, eat and relax.

Once I get home, my husband FINALLY starts dinner. Never mind that i called to see what we needed, he’s sitting down, playing a game, waiting for me to START dinner. It’s 11:00 pm, and we’re getting dinner. Never mind that I have to be at work at 10 AM tomorrow.

Oh, and we need to take the dogs out again, before we START dinner. I just climbed up the stairs again. When we’re done with dinner, it’s 1 am.
I can’t sleep. I’m in too much pain, too stressed about work, too angry about some random customer encounter from the day before, and my sleeping pills would be ineffective.

And tomorrow??? I have to do it all over again.

Who is Mandy Oviatt?

My name is Mandy Oviatt, and I am a writer. 

Actually, I’m much more than that. I am a Historian. I’m a Disabled Vet. I am a wife.  I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, and a friend. 

Me and my mother-in-law

But most of all, I am awesome. 

If I could copy my biography from my main blog Land of the Nerds:

“I am Mandy Oviatt, and I believe that Dr. Pepper and M&Ms just might be manna from Heaven. I have a Master’s Degree in Women’s History from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. I have worked in Retail Electronics, movie rentals, education, Karaoke, and the U.S. Army. Some of my personal interests include fantasy books, SciFi television and movies, 1960s rock, video games and tabletop role-playing games. I live in a haunted hotel with my evil wizard and am guarded by two ferocious dire Schnauzers.”

I am an avid reader and a prolific writer.

At my Regular blog site, Land of the Nerds, you will find many samples of my writing, blogs about various Fandom topics.

This site, however, is different. 

This is a site for blogs that do not relate to Nerd Culture. Here you will find my discussions about my disability issues, my experiences in the U.S. Army (1998-2002), my history studies, my family, my novel, and things I’ve written that don’t really *belong* anywhere else (like blogs that do not fit on Land of Nerds).

This page is where you can also contact me about writing for you.

That’s right, I can write for you. But more of that on another page.
I will also use this page to discuss my novel (when it is complete).

My eZine Articles Profile:

My Disabled Vet Story.

Understand that despite the negativity I write in this blog, I am very proud that I served in the Army. I had some bad experiences, but, I was a rare case. I got out of the Army due to Fibromyalgia, and I had some problems with my first Unit.

I would do it all again, in a heartbeat. Only, I’d be a little more brazen, more willing to stand up for myself while I was in the service.

I have changed the names of people, particularly of my Unit.

disvet

In 1998, I joined the U.S. Army. Though I had some problems as a teenager, and was a physically weak girl when I went in, I was confident I could handle it.

I had a little anxiety, but not so bad as it has become in my adult life. It was assumed, at the time, to be normal teenage stuff, and looking back, I’m certain it was.

Prior to joining the Army, I was a very polite, quiet, God-fearing patriotic girl. I was slightly more of a tomboy than girlish, but mostly because I didn’t like wearing dresses or make-up. I joined because, at the time, I felt like I had nowhere to live, and needed to grow up some.

I went to Basic Training on September, 15, 1998 in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I was not in the best physical condition: while I could run, and do sit-ups, I could not do push-ups to save my life. Because I am well-endowed, I had this problem where my “chest was touching the ground” when my arms were parallel, so my push-ups did not count.

Having large breasts in the Army is a negative. Not only for the push-up thing, but because uniforms don’t fit right, weight scales do not account for breasts (I was overweight the whole time I was in because of my figure.  My body fat was always right on the scale of fine, but my weight was always questionable.

Back to my story. I spent a month and a half in the Fitness Training company at Ft. Jackson, SC and then went to Basic Training right before Halloween, 1998. I spent my 20th birthday on the bayonet range and playing with camouflage make-up.

In January, 1999, less than a week after returning to the Base after a holiday leave, I went on a Field Training Exercise. During the course of this exercise, I became extremely dehydrated and had what had to be a panic attack. I am told I pulled a Drill Sergeant onto the ground, and threw my rifle at someone. Honestly, I don’t remember. My first clear memory after *starting* the ruck march was sitting at the hospital showing my dog tags to the triage nurse. I couldn’t remember my Social Security Number.

It turns out that I had over packed my ruck sack because my “battle buddy” loaded our shared bag with all her stuff so she’d have an empty ruck on the way back. So it was either carry all my stuff or leave it behind. And  I could not leave it behind. The only thing of “mine” in the shared bag was my sleeping bag.

I graduated Basic Training, and went to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. Because of my job, my AIT lasted 7 months.

AIT was miserable. My class would be promised something, off weekends, benefits, opportunities for non-mandatory fun, only to have it ripped away at the last minute. We were the “low man” class for six months, because no new classes of our MOS started for several months. What made it worse was that a person I met in Basic that I’d hoped to lose in AIT followed me- into my unit. His was on the stalker side of… whatever that was. I had to allow myself to get into a rather awkward position for him to realize that I did not  want him in my life. It cost me 7 weeks of freedom: I was restricted to base, given no privileges, and to this day I declare the punishment I had for it “worth it” because the man needed to leave me alone.

He had me afraid that if I told anyone in the Army the “truth” of our relationship that they would boot me out, or send me to jail.

I swore to never let another man do that to me again.

Eventually, AIT ended and I went to Germany.

I landed in Germany on a Friday afternoon: August 27, 1999. At least, I think it was afternoon. I was directed immediately to Darmstadt, where my unit was located, despite the wording on my orders. I was in a unit that was attached, detached, rearranged, and whatever from one unit to another, so that we were next to impossible to find. We were not even part of V Corps.

The first thing my new LT said to me was “Oh, you just got out of AIT! Do you have your TS Clearance yet?” When I shook my head he continued “Your old Drill Sergeant, DS (BLANK), is gonna be our new Platoon Sergeant starting in late October. She’s just finished ANOC (Advanced NCO Training) and is going on leave.”
The first words out of my mouth, before I could stop myself, were “Sir, please tell me you’re joking, she hates me.”
Because she was the one who “Caught me.”

I spent that first weekend alone, and not certain who or what to do. I was afraid to go off post. I didn’t know anyone, and I was the only female in my unit living in the barracks. Akl the other females were married or had children.

At the time, there were 20 soldiers in the unit, not counting SFC (Blank), 3 females, 17 males. Of all the soldiers, there were only Six in the barracks, I was the only female there.

On Tuesday, August 31, one of those male soldiers took me to the “Kontakt Klub,” where I met my future husband, He’d offered to show me around town later that week. The next weekend was Labor Day, after all, and because I was still in processing, iI was not going to have to report to my unit until after Labor Day weekend ended.

I spent that week relatively alone, leaving the barracks only for in-processing courses, and the requisite “German Language getting-to-know our city” trip. On Friday, when Morgan was supposed to meet me, I was down town with a soldier from my unit. SPC (JERK). (JERK had his German finace living in his barracks room (So did another male soldier in our unit) and he wanted to show me the “cool places” to go. When I got back to my barracks room, there was a note “Sorry I missed you” on my door, and I was looking to staying in for the weekend, again.

Then the Female MP’s saw me, and made me go out with them to the Darmstadter Club. It was the on-post soldier’s bar. I was 20, but legal to drink in Germany. They told me “We don’t pay cover cause we’re MPs. We’ll just say you’re with us.”
So, Police officers took me out to drink and party when I was only 20.

I was in the club not even 5 minutes when my future husband found me. We ended up spending almost the entire rest of the weekend together. He showed me even cooler stuff down town than my fellow soldier did.

We were not a couple “yet,” it would be another week, Sept 11, 1999, when we acknowledged we were a couple.

In the meantime, I had to adjust to my unit. I spent almost all my off time with my future husband , at his room because mine was on a fourth floor and had no heat. I won’t go into the details of my relationship with my future husband  at that time, except to say that I was 20, we were a young couple, and I bruised if I bumped my arm on stuff.  My job was shift work, 8 hour shifts, at the time, Day one dayshift, Day two was Swing, and the Third day was mid shift, with a day and a half off, repeat. If a day off ended up being Sergeant’s time or a day the captain needed us, then, nope, no day off. I got little sleep.
I managed to hide that I was dating at all until right after my 21st birthday, when I came back to work with some bruises. Most were pt related. Others, well.. I had a few love bites, a string of them.

It did not look good.

But I told my unit I was fine, I’d gotten rid of a bad boyfriend before, I could handle it.

SFC (BLANK) wouldn’t drop it.
Soon afterwards, I had a nervous breakdown. They wanted to ship me to another post, which would have ended my relationship with my future husband. I started having my pain issues soon after.
Fibromyalgia, it’s called. I hurt, all the time.
Generalized Anxiety disorder. That’s what docs call my mental health issue, but I think it’s more than that.

I never got the TS Clearance I needed in Germany to do my job, and thus got perp walked anytime I entered or left my job site, even to go to the bathroom or to eat.
They could have sent me to the mail room with other soldiers in my unit that did not have TS but wouldn’t because of my future husband, who  became my escape from the craziness of my unit.

I almost never went to my barracks room. Because they could find me there.

My unit hated him. they claimed it was because of the bruises, but they would freak out claiming I was being abused when i got bruises on the rifle range.

A good 98% of my bruises occurred due to my general klutziness (walking into a desk) or PT bruises. But they “sounded like excuses” to my unit. That other 2%? My future husband was an over exuberant young man.

My unit started writing me up for every bruise. If I fell asleep during training because I’d been up on a mid shift the night before, I’d be written up. I got written up for some of the most inane things ever. Sunburns. Being 3 minutes late to formation. Wearing pants and Army dress shoes instead of a skirt and pumps to Class A inspection (Though SFC [BLANK] never specified the requirement. My skirts never fit).

My hips began to hurt when I ran. I couldn’t keep up, no matter how hard I tried. My push-ups suffered. My sit ups remained the same, improved. My PT was failing. I was in and out of sick call trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

Over the 2 years I was in Germany, I underwent a number of weird problems that the doctors couldn’t solve. I bruised easily. My hips popped and cracked and ground together when I ran. This caused me pain that at the time I described “like someone is stabbing me in the hip joints.”  I could not sleep. I’d wake up at the drop of a hat. I was constantly in fear. I did not have a driver’s license, because I was terrified of driving highways before I left for Germany, so why would I want to drive on the autobahn?
About the only relief I had was my future husband, and our shared friends.

My unit ordered me to break up with him 6 months after we started dating. I had another nervous breakdown (or something like it) on Valentine’s day that year, and they decided it was his  fault. We had a fight on that day. I’d been punished because he took my ID by mistake and I couldn’t leave post to go to work. (There was more to it than this, but that is really all I’m comfortable talking about.) It was a loud, obnoxious fight, not a physical one.

When I got to work that night, I was a mess and my Unit ordered a break up. I’ll tell you the problem: They asked about my sex life and punished me if I didn’t tell, and  punished me for telling when I did.

I filed a JAG complaint citing DADT and got to stay with him. I just had to be quiet about it.

We did actually break up, for a brief time (like 4 months) so we could re-evaluate our lives. We got back together, and were much quieter about our relationship and life together. We were stronger when we got back together, and had a much better relationship.

After a while, things calmed down. I never got my TS Clearance, and my unit pretended I wasn’t dating anyone, until I showed up with a bruise on my right shoulder during PT. (This one I got at the rifle range, while my future husband was on a field exercise.) SFC (BLANK) freaked out and called his immediate superior, a First Sergeant who outranked her.

From what I understand, his unit almost gave her credit on the arguments about me being abused. Until that day, because there was no way i got a bruise from  a man who was several hours away from me.

The TS Clearance thing almost didn’t bother me. Until they pushed a new soldier’s clearance forward. This soldier fought to get her husband to Germany, and once he got there, divorced him because he was “Evil Incarnate.” She was schizophrenic, and she got  Top clearance while I did not.

When my future husband left the Army, i went home to meet his mom. When I got back to Germany, they pulled me out of the TS Site with the weird shift hours to a 9-5 M-Fri job: the mail room. Because I no longer had him for them to worry about.

But they still rode me.

I started working with a play to replace him. I started drinking with the cast.
My unit worried I was drinking too much. I probably was. But I never showed up to PT Hungover or drunk, and never drank on duty.

They didn’t want me hanging around the man I eventually married.

I left Germany on Sept 6, 2001.During the two years I was in Germany, I took over 30 pregnancy tests at the clinic (because my doctor was convinced every problem had to have pregnancy as a root cause. He did not even bother checking out to find out why i had wonky menstrual cycles.) I had a doc tell me my hip pain was “child bearing hips.” I spent three months on crutches “just in case” I had a degenerative necrosis of the hip joints. I had a number of X-rays.

I finally got a diagnosis sometime in early 2001. Fibromyalgia. I instantly wanted to get a medboard, because that isn’t going away.
SFC (BLANK) told me “If you pursue a med board, we will give you a bad conduct discharge because of all these write-ups.”

SO I Changed station on time in Sept of 2001, to Ft Bliss TX.

My new unit was a dream. I was on shift work, but the same shift every day of every week. It didn’t change. I was pretty much my shift leader. My Platoon Sergeant wanted to promote me, but couldn’t because of my permanent profile do to Fibromyalgia.

So I got out.

Three weeks before I left the post, my TS clearance came in. I told CID that I no longer needed it, I was one foot out the door.

I got out, took the first offer the Med board gave me.

My husband I got married in 2004.

It’s been 11 years since I got out of the Army. What is the legacy?

I have Fibromyalgia. I hurt all the time. On my best days, I have a pain scale 3. ON my worst, 6-7. Some days I have headaches so bad I can’t get out of bed. Sometimes my legs hurt so much I can’t stand up. I still have problems sleeping. I have semi-frequent digestive problems. I have polycystic ovaries (not diagnosed until after I left the Army) and can’t have children. I am borderline diabetic.  I can’t take normal pain pills because they do next to nothing. I have frequent bouts of brain fog that turn me into William Shatner. I will LITERALLY forget what I’m trying to say in the middle of talking.

I’ll have days when I’m fine, but, most days, I’m not. I can hide it well, for short periods of time, but I am sick. And the army is to blame.

Then there’s the anxiety.
I can’t handle being out and in crowds too much any more. I get panicky on busy days around a lot of people. I can do it once or twice a month, but my body hates me for days afterwards.
I can’t control crying.

I have nightmares about SFC (BLANK), I dream that she’s still my boss. To this day, I can’t trust female bosses, at all. Which is a shame, because I identify as a feminist. I barely tolerate male bosses.
I cannot simply “pick up the phone” to call people. Talking on the phone terrifies me. Going out to pass out fliers, or to try to network for my 10-7 job? I can’t do it.
In some ways, the army made me a better Public Speaker than a private speaker. I don’t mind talking to large groups, to a point. But, to small groups of people? I can’t handle it.

There are work-related things I can’t do because they cause me too much anxiety:
Calling strangers on the phone.

Approaching strangers to pass out fliers.
I’m afraid to touch strangers’ cars, for fear that the alarm will go off.

I cannot look people in the eye when I talk to them. Unless I’m lying. Then I’ll stare you straight in the face.
I don’t deal well with the general stresses of retail. Too many customers, and I freak out.

If I get too many “stupid questions” I start to feel superior, and come off  like a rude know-it-all.

And if I’m flaring, this is all worse.

You know, I have forgiven the Army for the Fibromyalgia.

But my ability to trust women bosses? the anxiety?
Not yet.