Vignettes of a Traveler

Aaron A Schultz. Writer and Photographer

Category: current events

Repeal of the ACA Obamacare

Many people are sharing their stories of how the repeal of the ACA (or Obamacare) would impact them through the denial of services because of pre-existing conditions. Here’s my story.

For over 25 years I have battled major chronic depressive disorder, major anxiety disorder, and PTSD, a set of conditions that often left me, at best, in bed for days at a time and, at worst, suicidal. In addition, my panic attacks, a separate type of torture, felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart over and over for ten to fifteen minutes. These are just a few of the consequences of my mental illnesses.

For the last 22 years, I’ve basically had three good days a year. That’s right, three days a year where I didn’t feel like a pile of crap, didn’t want to kill myself, and could smile without feeling like a lair. This condition cost me jobs, friendships, relationships, and financial stability.

2005 Bachelors Degree

Twelve years ago at the age of 30, a therapist finally gave me a proper diagnosis because I finally had access to healthcare because I was school. Before diagnosis, I alternated between feeling like a  weak-ass chump who couldn’t suck-it-up or a crazy schizophrenic. You cannot imagine the confusion. The only reason I sought therapy is because I thought I was a bi-polar or schizophrenic.

When I was diagnosed, at first I felt skepticism, then relief, and finally anger. But, I finally had a name for my demon, and this I could fight.

However, instead of going on record for a pre-existing condition, I paid out of pocket for therapy and refused to be prescribed antidepressants or SSRIs. Instead, I quite drinking, changed my diet and began meditating three times a day. Hiding an illness from healthcare records is just one of the stigmas that people with mental illness face.

2014 Graduate School

Flash forward nine years to the end of my first year of graduate school. I am working two part-time jobs, struggling to pay bills and rent (often a month or two behind), commuting 90 miles to be a full-time student all while managing a severe mental illness. I cracked, hitting bottom so hard my head spun and my wife cried.

2 week old baby and mother sleep.

My daughter at two weeks old.

The next day, I drove the 90 miles to campus, saw a NP, and was prescribed an SSRI. Even though I still have nightmares 3-5 nights a week, you cannot imagine how drastically my quality of life has improved. For three years, I have not felt suicidal or had a panic attack. You cannot imagine how grateful I am to have crawled out of hell and into the sunlight.

Land Without the ACA Obamacare

If the ACA (or Obamacare) is repealed and my wife looses her job, I will probably never have health insurance again because of my pre-existing condition. Whatever, I can take care of myself.

My actual fear has to do with who I might re-become around my daughter and my wife without access to healthcare and SSRIs. Watching the fear and pain in my wife’s eyes during my struggles before medication was heart breaking. She suffered her own set of traumas unique to people who live with someone struggling with mental illness. I don’t want to pass this trauma on to my daughter.

The repeal of the ACA (or Obamacare) will affect more than those of us who need healthcare; it will affect those we love.

This breaks my heart.

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Conspiracy Against American Teachers

50% of new teachers leave the field after five years.

Think about it. Just when someone is getting the hang of this difficult job, they leave for a different field. All that training, experience, and education gone, deprived from our children.

The way teachers are treated in this country makes me sick. One must wonder if budgets and salaries are choked on purpose.

As someone who teaches college freshman, I can testify that the K-12 education students are receiving is far different from the one I received. It is inferior in scope and curiosity.

From corporate marketing and lobbying to the twisted rhetoric of politics, these disciplines blur our focus and create shallow cultural divisions. With all the lies and manipulation of truth constantly floating past our eyes and into our ears, teachers are needed more than ever.

Teachers teach critical thinking. This blend of the scientific method, historical context, and logic contains unlimited power and efficacy. Blending these takes constant practice and an experienced guide. Critical thinking uses flexibility and creativity of thought.

The best part, we don’t need more B.As., M.As., and Ph.Ds. Critical thinking can be taught in K-12 instead of some bubble wrapped and standardized way of thinking. Furthermore, critical thinking is the only way to combat today’s pervasive fear unique to our historical moment.

As the National Education Associate states, “A recent Teachers College survey found that, on the flip side, investing in education leads to higher individual incomes; higher property value rates; lower crime rates; and lower costs for public health and welfare services.” Aren’t these the things people complain they want? Why hasn’t this information floated to the surface and influenced budgetary and legal decisions?

If you want to chase a real conspiracy against the citizens of this country, forget the nefarious “they” (i.e. government, mass media, Obama, Illuminati, gremlins, aliens, Islam, sheeple, etc.). Look directly at big money in politics to see why one of the most important professions in the world (teaching) is being strangled to death by a supposed 1st world country.

I suggest that teachers and congress swap salaries. I also suggest that corporate lobbyists pay for a teacher’s lunch or fly them to Jackson Hole for a ski vacation. Or, better yet, have them pay off a teacher’s car loan, mortgage, or student loans. According the the Atlantic, ” Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures.”

It’s not better jobs, patriotism, equality, big government, science, religion, or entitlements that will make your life better; it is an educated society capable of critical thinking.

We are only as good as those who surround us, only as strong as the weakest link.

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White Male Anger – Response to Trump’s RNC Acceptance Speech

The System is Rigged – Response to Trump and the RNC

The system is rigged and I’m angry. I live with crushing student debt, career and savings destroyed by the recession, and a lifetime of stagnate wages. I have no idea how I’ll be able to retire and I wonder what kind of world my daughter will inherit. Growing up poor and on a farm, I always believed that I would “get ahead” in life; meaning, if I work hard, I’ll be financially stable, have a few toys, and build a retirement fund. To this end, in my twenties, I always worked two or three jobs. I still never got ahead.

Then, the recession took twenty years of blue-collar experience and a fresh B.A., soaked in four years worth of blood and tears, turning me into a retail sales associate earning minimum wage and capped at 19.95 hours a week. On the way to work, I’d walk past “Mexicans” on a construction site and think these illegals had my job because they were getting paid half of what I used to make as a carpenter. I didn’t care if they were picking cherries, but how dare they take honest work from a citizen. How did I know they were illegal? I didn’t. At work, while folding and straightening jackets and socks I couldn’t afford, I would think my thirties were wasted years, a decade gone. Many of us have a similar story or know someone who does.

Everywhere I looked—at developer’s new BMW, another person’s vacation to the Bahamas, a customer’s new $500 jacket, a trust-funder’s new house—I saw a rigged system, and I was angry. However, as the recession lingered on, one year turning into five, I also started seeing why America is better than ever.

“Great” is So Boring

“Great” is such a dull and boring word to describe America; it’s bland like cold oatmeal. No wonder people are unable to see “great.” Their vision is blurred and nearsighted, too focused on an iPhone, bank account statement, or trumped up fear and distrust. Real America, the America I know, lies beyond lukewarm “great;” America is fucking awesome.

For three years, the Oregon Health Plan and SNAP food benefits helped Jen and I survive on $8-12,000 a year—if this isn’t a step beyond “great,” then I don’t know what is: this is an American program that helped two Americans stay healthy, fed, and off the streets. Today, I look around and I see friends choosing fulfilling careers over salary. I see neighbors placing water bowls on sidewalks for the local pets. I see a driver stop and wave me across the intersection. I see mothers and fathers forgoing a two-salary income so one can stay home and raise the kids, the most noble of professions. I see my family of relatives and in-laws giving and receiving love. I watch the students I teach help each other grasp a concept or deliver feedback with kindness and joy. Again, all situations are awesome, as in “inspiring awe and wonder.”

Skin Deep

Last Month, a stranger pushing her cart from the grocery checkout finishes our conversation by saying, ”God bless you.” I let the love and comfort and power of these word wash over me, then through me, buoyant and healing. A random “God bless you” is pretty damn “great,” if not down right amazing. This is not the first time someone has said this to me, but each time I am awed by the love and power in those words. Last time it was a retired white man in a coffee shop. This time the woman was black and 70 years old and grew up in North Portland, near the college where I work. African Americans, her parents and grandparents, moved to North Portland in 1948 after Vanport, Oregon washed away in a flood. It was okay because the war was over and Vanport was mostly filled with the poor and unemployed.

Today, North Portland has Portland Community College, a new flower shop, a new children’s boutique, and rows of new two story condos sitting on retail space. This woman’s mother and father built the planes and bombs of WWII, but were denied employment and home loans after the war while being segregated and oppressed. When there was employment in the rail yard or lumberyards, blacks were the first to be laid off when profits fell. It’s hard to get ahead without financial stability. The system is rigged and she should be angry. She will have to move because of the privileges denied to the color of her skin. I have a sweet job and apartment because of the privileges of mine.

Of course, the last statement is a reduction. I have worked hard for my education, to create a quiet life, and follow my passions for exploration, creativity, and teaching. However, the assumptions front loaded into people subconscious because I have a “white” name, white skin, and talk in standard English, allows me to live where I want and navigate the bureaucracy of life with confidence and entitlement.

Shit Fucking Happens

I don’t feel the fear, anger, or the hate that some people preach are all around us. Last spring, a man was shot outside the window of a classroom my colleagues and I had left just five minutes before. Last winter, I had two students confess to me they were suicidal, one because she had been raped several months before. Another student of mine went into rehab, and a student in colleague’s class stopped showing up because she overdosed and died. Despite the loss of Winter, my 13 year old dog, the death and dysfunction that surround both my wife’s job and mine, or the recent mass killings in Florida, France, and Germany, I do not feel death breathing on my shoulders, waiting.

Last Tuesday, the day after police were again gunned down by a black man, when I walked to class, I felt like I had a target on my back. Not being a veteran or a gang member, just a white farm boy from Minnesota, this was a new set of feelings for me: first vulnerability, next fear, then rage, and finally a desire to act. Actually, I’ve felt this sequence before, a long time ago as a child, trying unsuccessfully to avoid blows from a drunken father. Here on campus, I scowled—I wanted to act, to scream racial slurs and obscenities, to carry a gun because somebody was trying to kill me because I am white.

The system is rigged and I was pissed that the privileged safety of my skin color had been violated. Instead of acting through violence and vitriol, I took a breath and stepped into my classroom, a mix of at least three genders, six nationalities, twenty different skin colors, five veterans, six parents, two ex-cons, three addicts in recovery, and ages 16 to 55. For the first hour, we worked to define “hate,” and the incongruent feeling between the hate motivated by broccoli and hate motivated by race or sexuality. Should we be allowed to use this word to describe our feelings toward vegetables when the same word causes so much death and horror?

Bootstrappin’

My classroom and college are the land of second chances, and third, and fourth, and fifth… you get the picture. This place is a second chance for those students to try to get ahead once and for all. This is the American dream and it’s still alive and far more than “great.” Each term, for every person that falls to suicide, drug addiction, or poverty, three students pass through another term empowered and one step closer to providing a better life for themselves and their families. However, the system is rigged and I’m angry.

These students struggle with poverty, addiction, being single parents, and language barriers and all they get from society in return for their hard work is racism, bigotry, and ignorant fucking rhetoric. This country is not so “great” to them even though their parents and grand parents help to build this country. While this is most of my students’ experience, they don’t piss and moan about lost safety and privilege, two things they never had in the first place, they put on their big girl or big boy panties, work a full time job, go to school full time, take care of their families, and excel beyond a simple “great” and into the one-of-a-kind American Dream of liberty and self-determination.

It’s All About Choice

We live in the world we choose, including the emotions that vibrate and color our world. I believe in half full. I believe in the kindness and blessings of strangers. I’ve seen half-empty, and that was me trying to be positive about life situations that were totally empty. I don’t live in a world where fear and hate dictate my feelings and actions. I choose not to obsess about the tragedies and vitriol that brieYou Are Americansfly and sporadically intrude on life. Instead, I choose to see all the cooperation, community, and love that surrounds me every, single, moment.

The system is rigged and we should all be pissed. But, instead of destruction based on blame and division, we need to focus on community and creation. This country is pretty damn “great” and perfectly “safe.” Shit will fucking happen regardless of who is president. Neither candidate can “fix” anything because YOU hold the power. YOU decide how to feel, how to act, and most importantly, how to see the world surrounding your every breath. It’s time to look beyond “great” and see the true awesomeness all around us that already exists.

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Response to Pulse Shootings

Last night I had a dream. In it, I was searching a hotel, trying to find someone.

Man shoots an AR-15A woman stopped me in the lobby, saying, “50 people were just murdered, shot to death in Florida. It’s a new record.” Sitting down on a nearby bench, I put my head in my hands and started crying, soul sadness pushing out from my heart in tears, then sobs, then emptiness.

I woke up, morning sun and birdcalls coming through the window. From a speaker near my bed the quiet voices of news radio, voices that help me fall asleep every night, detailed things like “hostages” and “terrorism.”

Some people will want bombs. Some will want diplomacy. Some will buy a gun. Some will plead for new laws. Some will want to close the borders. All will blame “those people” foreign and domestic. All will want action NOW. All will skip sadness and anger, searching for strength in righteousness.

All will forget that it is okay to be sad and angry, that it is okay to mourn the dead without calling for vengeance or action. Do not judge how that life was lived–or how it was lost. If you want to honor the dead, then honor your tears and mourn the loss of each person’s greatest gift: life.

Those who call for vengeance, for fear, and for hate do not honor life because they have not taken the time to honor the sadness about the lives lost. Instead of seeing a life lost, they only see death and its darkness; they only see the end and not the life. They lie to themselves and to others in an attempt at control. They say they have the solution, but this is a solution for death, not life.Meat Skeleton

As isolated emotions, fear, vengeance, and hate cloud the mind, leading to irrational decisions in the name of “do something now.” Fear only generates more fear, vengeance only more vengeance, and hate only more hate.

However, if we spend time first being sad and angry without acting, we come to know these emotions as strong and honest. Sadness and anger generate perspective. Perspective, a unique blend of time and information, helps us measure our reaction and create an honorable space for mourning then action (the opposite of reaction).

In this space, we see that the whole of a life lived is a million times bigger than petty, short-term vengeance and hate. By honoring their life, this then becomes a space where we truly honor our dead.

This is the space where true strength lives.

I turned off the radio and crawled out of bed. In my living room, two dogs wagged their tails and my pregnant wife kissed me good morning. I will be celebrating our life by being sad and mourning the loss of others. I will not be listening to the news for a few days.

Dogs on the trail in Forest Park OregonI do not need some biased politician or angry newscaster telling me how to feel. I do not need them to serve me some simple “solution” to sooth my fragile fear and hatred. People look to them for “solutions” when we all know damn well it’s never that simple, that these same, tired “solutions” will never fix anything: these solutions only propagate hatred and murder in the name of righteousness.

For now, I just want to be sad, again, about the tragic loss of life and grateful for 41 years of mine.

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