Friday, December 24, 2021

A Christmas Story

One of the podcasts I follow is “Stuff to Blow Your Mind,” from hosts Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick. This year for their annual Christmas episode they chose the topic “A Major Award: The Ancient and Occult History of the ‘A Christmas Story’ Leg Lamp.” It turned to be a fascinating jaunt through the history of Greco-Roman votive lamps in the shape of godly feet. (The wick came out a hole in the lamp’s ceramic big toe.) 

Robert and Joe opened the episode with a loving introduction to the classic 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” obviously a primal cultural artifact for other Generation X nerds. Yesterday I shared with Facebook friends this year’s “A Christmas Story” episode of Gay Sitcom Dad: 


We're enjoying a quiet family Christmas break at home in Bellingham. After a long hard 2021, the kids were disappointed to miss out on travel this year. We're grateful their stepfather made sure each kid had a great Christmas. 


It looked like Oliver would miss out – earlier this year Brenden promised him the long-awaited new Xbox, but global supply chain problems continue to curse the Leishmans. Fortunately, after several close calls, last night Oliver heard of a rumored Xbox drop in a Lynnwood strip mall this morning. So we got up at 5:30, drove south on I-5, waited in line at GameStop, and came home to bliss out over the True Meaning of Christmas.


After I posted on Facebook yesterday about Oliver receiving his Best Christmas Present Ever, a friend texted to ask “Did Brenden drive to Lynnwood, too?” 


Are you kidding? The whole point of being a fabulous gay uncle is you get to give amazing presents then sleep in. Once upon a time I was a fabulous guncle myself. Before parenthood squeezed all the fabulosity out of me.

Yesterday at 10 am, the GameStop doors opened to the happy customer five places in line ahead of Oliver and me. 

Here is a picture I took at 10 am of the line behind us in Lynnwood-adjacent Martha’s Lake, across the parking lot from Walmart: 

You see that green car below the Walmart sign? That’s the car I drove to GameStop yesterday with Oliver. 


Why is a strange man kneeling next to Papa’s jacked-up car in front of all the slightly less savvy Xbox enthusiasts? It turns out he’s the real reason my trip to GameStop this week will be “A Christmas Story.”

Oliver’s Xbox “drop” intel was excellent. There’s a reason he’s the Leishman child you’d pick for the Zombie Apocalypse. After Oliver received an indirect Instagram rumor about a round of upcoming GameStop Xbox deliveries, Oliver and Brenden stopped by the Bellingham GameStop to chat with the nerds. Their dude zeroed in on the Martha’s Lake store as a low-traffic location in the boonies that was receiving 40 units. He suggested we arrive by 7:00 am for the 10 am store opening. 


A 7:00 am line-waiting challenge is child’s play. In October, Eleanor and I had to leave the house at 4:20 am to get to the Tacoma Dome in time to stand in line all day for “Pit” tickets to the Harry Styles concert. Yesterday Oliver got to sleep in till 6 am and was home by noon, including our stop at the Jamba Juice in Alderwood Mall.


We arrived in the Walmart parking lot at 6:50 and parked in front of GameStop. We were the third car. It was cold. Fortunately there was a Starbucks across the parking lot. We sat in the car with our Americano and Peppermint Mocha until 8:30. The four stalwarts ahead of us in line all brought camp chairs.  


Around 9 am I noticed I had a flat tire. I called the AAA Roadside Service toll-free number for the first time since Covid. They suggested I download the app instead. If I insisted on talking to a person, the wait would be 15 minutes. But I was free to hang up and wait for them to call back in 15 minutes.


At 9:15 am the nice lady called and took down my information. She told me the expected arrival time was listed as 11:05 am, but it probably would be sooner. At 9:45 am I got a text saying the truck would arrive at 10:15. Instead it arrived early, just as Oliver and I were about to walk into GameStop and claim our Xbox. 

The repair man found a shiny screw embedded in the tire. My spare tire had been sitting in the car so long it was empty. The repair guy didn't have any compressed air on his truck, so he told me to drive across the street and use the air pump at the gas station. The repair guy also tried to upsell me into going to a nearby Firestone dealer for a fix, and said he wouldn’t drive a brand new Xbox all the way to Bellingham on that dusty old spare tire. But my dad said wed be fine.


Back in Bellingham I dropped the flat tire at Les Schwab for a complimentary repair, then picked the tire up the next day on my Christmas Eve errand run as we prepared for tonight’s arctic blast. We can expect anywhere from 1 to 8 inches of snow overnight. A rare white Christmas in the Pacific Northwest. 


Tomorrow morning I’ll let my children sleep in before opening presents, savor the last box of Trader Joe’s peppermint creams, and make them watch “A Christmas Story” on a loop. Then if we want to drive across town for Christmas dinner at Grandma’s this year, my children get to go outside in the snow and change the tire with The Old Man.

After regaling us with tales of the limb-shaped lamps of antiquity, the hosts of “Stuff To Blow Your Mind” said their “A Christmas Story” podcast episode next year will probably be about Soap Poisoning. Mine too.   

Tuesday, November 2, 2021


According to the Roman poet Juvenal, a good life begins with Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano:  “Pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Philosophers and scientists have been arguing for millennia about the relative significance of mind and body .


So where does your brain fit into a mind/body dichotomy? 

The Human Brain / Ice Cream Scoop Analogy


The evolutionary history of your brain can be compared to piling scoops of ice cream on a cone. At the bottom is the reptilian vanilla scoop of our brain stem. Even the simplest animal has a similar need for these neurons dedicated to basic life support and motor functions. Natural selection subsequently piled on extra scoops to handle our more sophisticated motor needs as mammals. 


Meanwhile, evolution added scoops of the fruity flavors that create, regulate, and respond to emotions. Perched precariously on top, at least for humans, is a final delicious scoop containing such revolutionary flavors as the prefrontal cortex, Executive Function, and Theory of Mind. But the ice cream scoops all tend to blend together.


Your brain is the greediest organ in your body – comprising only 2 percent of your mass, while consuming 20 percent of your fuel. The brain’s energy-sucking chemical and electrical processes generate what you experience as your mind. Both mind and body are all about connections:  100 billion neurons linked to each other and to the rest of your body in innumerable combinations and recombinations. Your brain is both hardware and software.


Unsurprisingly, our wires can get crossed. Sometimes in very similar ways.

When my physician diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder almost six years ago, the most obvious indicator among my strange new symptoms was virulent trichotillomania, i.e. compulsive hair-pulling, that primarily targeted my forehead. I’ve made significant progress toward managing the impact of trauma and triggers on my thinking, but my trichotillomania, stammer, humming, and other body tics have only gotten worse. 


In my search for answers, I’ve learned how much mental health involves contested labels. For example, in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual’s catalogue of mental illnesses after a contentious campaign. 

A particular symptom may be listed among the criteria defining multiple disorders, may be identified as its own syndrome, or may be normalized as an example of neurodiversity and healthy variation. We find ourselves using multiple labels to describe basically the same behavioral consequence of crossed neural wiring  including terms like trichotillomania, tics, echolalia, coprolalia, stimming, and stereotypies.

The first time I read the word “stereotypy” I thought it was a typo. 


Apparently so did the copy editor at the New York Times. In “The Case Against Zoos,” a guest essay by Emma Marris, the word appears spelled both correctly and incorrectly in the same paragraph:


In many modern zoos, animals are well cared for, healthy and probably, for many species, content. Zookeepers are not mustache-twirling villains. They are kind people, bonded to their charges and immersed in the culture of the zoo, in which they are the good guys.


But many animals clearly show us that they do not enjoy captivity. When confined they rock, pull their hair and engage in other tics. Captive tigers pace back and forth, and in a 2014 study, researchers found that “the time devoted to pacing by a species in captivity is best predicted by the daily distances traveled in nature by the wild specimens.” It is almost as if they feel driven to patrol their territory, to hunt, to move, to walk a certain number of steps, as if they have a Fitbit in their brains.


The researchers divided the odd behaviors of captive animals into two categories: “impulsive/compulsive behaviors,” including coprophagy (eating feces), regurgitation, self-biting and mutilation, exaggerated aggressiveness and infanticide, and “stereotypies,” which are endlessly repeated movements. Elephants bob their heads over and over. Chimps pull out their own hair. Giraffes endlessly flick their tongues. Bears and cats pace. Some studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of zoo carnivores, 64 percent of zoo chimps and 85 percent of zoo elephants have displayed compulsive behaviors or stereotypes.


Stereotypies: Bad Habits or Vices?

I encountered the term “stereotypy” last year in Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us HumanAs a leading expert on animal behavior, Grandin helps pet owners and farmers understand how each species’ brains work, and how humans can create a healthy environment for each type of animal. 


Grandin describes animal species responding to frustration and captivity with similar patterns of abnormal repetitive behaviors. For example, gerbils in the wild dig for shelter; caged gerbils dig compulsively, with no productive purpose. As Grandin observes, both humans and animals resort to “normal stereotypies” in “high-tension moments.” A life of near-constant stress can result in a life of near-constant stereotypy.

Years ago, a physician friend came back from a global health conference and told me Bill Gates definitely is on the autism spectrum. “Did you examine him? Did he come out from the podium?” I asked.


She said no – she just observed Bill as he rocked back and forth during the speeches.

In addition to her experience with animal husbandry, Temple Grandin also is a leading expert on living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Grandin sees a parallel between animal stereotypies and similar repetitive behaviors in humans who have been diagnosed with various mental disorders, including autism and what used to be called “Asperger’s Syndrome.” (DSM-5 now puts the formerly separate diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s on the same A.S.D. spectrum.) 


I never noticed the word “stimming” before this year, but apparently it’s been in use for a couple of decades, particularly within the autism community. Stimming refers to "self-stimulating behaviors, usually involving repetitive movements or sounds."


This year I’ve been reading my way through all of Oliver Sacks’ books. Dr. Sacks, a gay Jewish British immigrant who died in 2015 at age 82, was a distinguished neurologist and a best-selling author who wrote with elegance and humanity. Dr. Sacks always maintained a busy clinical practice. The real-life neurological case studies he explored in his various books provide another illuminating perspective on how the neural networks connecting our brains to our bodies’ motor functions can get their wires crossed.


Many of Dr. Sacks’ patients suffered from Parkinsonism and related disorders where the mind loses control over the body, including dyskinesia and Tourette’s Syndrome. Doctors treat these diseases with the same types of anti-psychotic medications as they prescribe for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. On a cellular level, thinking and acting are a matter of chemistry. 


According to the Oxford Dictionary, “coprolalia” is “the involuntary and repetitive use of obscene language, as a symptom of mental illness or organic brain disease.” (I’m not a lexicographer, but should we really think of “mental illness” as some kind of inorganic brain disease? Mind/body dualism fails us once again.) Coprolalia is seen in some people with Tourette’s Syndrome – but also in nursing home residents whose stroke damage or dementia lesions have targeted particular brain regions, resulting in little old ladies who swear like sailors.

Oliver Sacks offers the hope of integration. In Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, he writes about professional musicians with Tourette's Syndrome who are able to harness the energy fueling their tics and direct it toward their creativity:

Tourette’s brings out in stark form questions of will and determination: who orders what, who pushes whom around. To what extent are people with Tourette’s controlled by a sovereign “I,” a complex, self-aware, intentional self, or by impulses and feelings at lower levels in the brain-mind? Similar questions are brought up by musical hallucinations, and brainworms, and varied forms of quasi-automatic echoing and imitation. Normally we are not aware of what goes on in our brains, of the innumerable agencies and forces inside us that lie outside or below the level of conscious experience—and perhaps this is just as well. Life becomes more complicated, sometimes unbearably so, for people with eruptic tics or obsessions or hallucinations, forced into daily, incessant contact with rebellious and autonomous mechanisms in their own brains. They face a special challenge, but they may also, if the tics or hallucinations are not too overwhelming, achieve a sort of self-knowledge or reconciliation that may significantly enrich them, in their strange fight, the double lives they lead.


Our dog Buster is a bundle of tics. Most recently, Buster gave himself an unsightly bald patch. It’s on his butt, instead of on his forehead like my own trichotillomania handiwork.

Whenever Buster’s fur reaches a certain length it becomes hopelessly matted. “Mats” form when dog fur becomes tangled and wraps around itself, forming tight clumps of dead and live fur. Doodle coats are a blend of a curly coat and a double-coat, making them the perfect storm for matting.” Eventually there’s nothing the groomer can do besides give them a buzzcut.


Aussiedoodles are supposed to be “non-shedding.” It’s true to a point. This year when Buster’s fur reached critical mass he started scratching uncontrollably as he tried to pull out all the mats. The floors became covered with black clumps that looked like furry cockroaches.


It takes six weeks to get a dog groomer appointment. Buster couldn’t wait. Fortunately, we found a friend with canine clippers who volunteered to relieve Buster’s distress. Unfortunately, some of the mats were too close to his skin. An unrecognizable Buster came home shorn and with a few razor nicks – which he couldn’t resist scratching.


We had to get the Cone of Shame out of the garage. Buster is spending a few days relying on this plastic restraint to moderate his compulsive scratching – just like Papa fiddles with unfuzzy things to keep his hands away from his scalp. In the last few years I’ve learned a lot about impairments to both human and canine mental health. I’ve started to remove the cause. But not the symptoms.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

I Heart Harry Styles

My daughter Eleanor is fixated on her first pop star. She’s gone full Teen Beat. Except nowadays it’s more like going full TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram, MySpace…. 

A few years ago, Seattle Men’s Chorus did a concert called “Heartthrobs” as our salute to boy bands. I couldn’t identify most of the singers or song names in the medleys. Apparently I stopped paying attention somewhere around Backstreet Boys to Men. 


Eleanor’s crush Harry Styles previously sang in a British group called One Direction. I’m unfamiliar with their oeuvre. However, I have seen Mr. Styles and his fabulous hair – but only because I subscribe to the BBC Comedy feed on Facebook, which sent me a clip from the Graham Norton show. Harry unsuccessfully tried to keep a straight face while Graham confronted him with various tabloid rumors, such as the news that Harry and his former bandmate Liam caught chlamydia from a koala; that Harry had a sexual relationship with Barack Obama; and that Harry’s lovely complexion involves a daily regime of sheep placenta. 

Harry on Graham Norton

Eleanor is obsessed with Harry. In particular, Eleanor is obsessed with seeing Harry in concert. She’s only been to one concert so far – the Jonas Brothers last month – but she’s convinced seeing Harry is the one thing that can make her life complete. She’s willing to spend her entire summer job savings on tickets and merch.


Originally Eleanor and a friend were going to travel together to see Harry somewhere back east. The logistics proved impossible. Then they learned he’ll be performing at the Tacoma Dome next month. Unfortunately, Eleanor’s friend can’t go because she has college stuff that weekend. Many tears were shed on FaceTime.

Last weekend Eleanor woke me up to share her new two-part plan. She’s been monitoring the concert ticket resale market, and had a lead on a single general admission floor ticket in “the Pit.” That’s where the true Harry fans gather. The second part of the plan? She’d buy me a cheap nosebleed ticket and make me drive to Tacoma at the crack of dawn, with her gushing and obsessing all the way, so she can spend the day in line for premium entry to the Pit. Ill spend the day in Tacoma trying to find decent coffee shops where I can write.


I’ve learned the key to happy parenting is “Getting to Yes,” so of course I said yes. As Eleanor pointed out, just last week I’d taken Oliver and his thirteen-year-old classmate to Evergreen Speedway for my first NASCAR race, and I quite enjoyed myself. The people were all so nice – they reminded me of a gay chorus festival. Even the old guy who gave the opening prayer. Plus the young woman who sang the Star-Spangled Banner had such an great voice she made me weep. Or it could be I was staring wistfully at the Canadian flag through the whole song.

Sadly, Eleanor’s hot lead on a scalped Pit ticket fell through. She turned to her vast social media network for more options. Eventually she connected with the friend of a cousin of a friend who offered a good price and seemed legit.


This is where I became involved in a non-chauffeur role. Eleanor’s summer savings are paying for the Harry experience, but she needed to use one her father’s online accounts to make the transfer. Eleanor started with a list of several popular payment apps I’d never heard of. I told her Harry isn’t cute enough to justify setting up a new account. Then we tried Apple Pay, but discovered I’ve never finished setting it up. We’ll have to wait till I get an iPhone 17.


Eventually we identified a match with the free payment service “Zelle,” which I’d used once before to transfer money to a friend from my Chase account. 

Before Harry's tour dates were Covid re-re-rescheduled,
the Tacoma Dome was his first North America concert venue

Last week in “I am Karen” I wrote about what it feels like when something or someone triggers a PTSD episode. These experiences used be a frequent consequence of wretched customer service. Particularly Comcast’s.  


Eventually I learned to modulate my reaction to frustrating interpersonal encounters. But because of the specific nature of my youthful traumas among the Mormons, I still react excessively to terrible service with a reality-denying totalitarian bent. It turns out the only economic sector with worse customer service than telecommunications is banking. 


After I sent the Harry ticket payment via Zelle, I got a text message from Chase saying the bank canceled my transaction. After a few frustrating attempts to figure out the problem, we switched to PayPal, which is also linked to the same Chase account. Once again I got a cancelation message from the bank. 


Chase has a particularly hellish phone tree. There are at least four separate call centers, presumably scattered across the Indian subcontinent, handling credit cards, checking accounts, online transactions, and fraud. We spent an hour talking to each, or rather we spent an hour sitting on hold with each, only to be told we needed to be transferred to another department we’d already talked to. Each then dropped the call and made us start over. Eventually I became too incoherent for the phone and had to gave up.


I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch in a post-PTSD coma. When I woke up, Eleanor and I agreed we were scam victims. Eleanor figured out there was never going to be a Harry ticket after the bank transfers failed to go through, and the seller suggested we go to the grocery store and purchase gift cards for her instead.

The Eleanor & Harry story has a happy ending. So far.


A few hours later, Eleanor was on FaceTime. Her Harry-resistant friend just started college in a neighboring state. Across the collegiate living room, one of the new roommates was FaceTiming with her high school friend, who was supposed to be another roommate. Instead she changed her mind and went to college in the Midwest. Shed just seen Harry Styles live in Detroit, and was trying to sell her Tacoma Dome Pit ticket. This is how life works in Eleanorland. 


Every time I drive on I-5 through Tacoma, I hear a Monster Truck announcer say the words “The Tacoma Dome” in a rumbling voice in my head. I’ve never actually been inside. Supposedly the wooden rafters in the Tacoma Dome’s ceiling create excellent acoustics. Next month I’ll be close enough to judge. 


I just hope I’ll be able to see Harry’s sheep-placenta-infused face from my nosebleed seat.

(Photos selected by Eleanor)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Living with a Disability

The summer after high school graduation I went to Switzerland on a foreign exchange scholarship. I lived with a family near Geneva who had a son near my age. We bought rail passes and traveled all over his charming compact country, staying with his relatives in Zurich, Basel, and Lucerne. I toured castles and practiced my French. We visited Iseltwald, the picturesque town that my non-Scottish ancestors abandoned when they met the Mormon missionaries in the 1850s. 


One of my most vivid memories from Switzerland at age seventeen came after a trilingual dinner at a home in Geneva. As I looked around the table, I noticed our hostess was holding her coffee cup oddly. Then I noticed the woman sitting next to her was also gripping her cup with a twisted thumb. So was the person next to her. And everyone else at the table. Except me. I suddenly realized I’d been holding things “wrong” my whole life – because I was born without the middle joint in each of my thumbs. 

Even before I officially became an English Major, I always was a voracious reader. As a child I would read for hours under the bedcovers or sitting on the heater vent in the living room. I once negotiated with the Tooth Fairy to get the next installment of my favorite Enid Blyton series instead of cash. Reading infused me with the fantasy worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth, and the almost-fantasy worlds of L.M. Montgomery, Enid Blyton, and E. Nesbit. 


Growing up in Canada means you have a world of books to choose from. I was a devotee of the Brits:  C.S. Lewis, Joan Aiken, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roald Dahl, Lloyd Alexander, Malcolm Saville….  If you asked me what I expected junior high school to be like, I would probably have described something resembling English boarding school with Tom Brown, Billy Bunter, and the Pevensie children.  


The Pevensies are the English school children who travel to Narnia in the classic series by C.S. Lewis. As an earnest Mormon youth, I also devoured his Christian apologetics, literary criticism, and other works. In his memoir Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote that both he and his brother Warren shared the same mild thumb deformity. Ironically, I’d probably read this passage a dozen times without making the connection to myself.

Doctors and lawyers use various definitions of “disability” for different purposes, from longterm disability insurance and Social Security payments to eligibility for particular treatments or accommodations. Here’s the definition in the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibition of discrimination in employment and public accommodations


any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual” 


The ADA’s nonexhaustive list of “major life activities” includes “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working,” as well as “major bodily functions. Some impairments might be an ADA disability for one person but not another. For example, Carpal tunnel syndrome occasionally interferes with my writing. But for my ASL sign language interpreter friend Steve, chronic Carpal tunnel meant finding a whole new career.


Four decades after my deformed thumb discovery, what have I learned about the various ways the quirky disability I share with C.S. Lewis interferes with my major and minor life functions?

In his memoir, C.S. Lewis blames his defective thumbs for the fact that he was terrible at sports in school. I would embrace his explanation – if hadn’t already graduated from high school before I noticed my thumbs diverged from the norm. 


Maybe both the thumbs and the sports aversion are caused by an English Major gene mutation. 

The first time I noticed my thumb impairment interfering with an activity was when I tried to sign the letter B. I don’t bend that way. 


My daughter Rosalind studies ASL in high school. We’ve tried to identify other examples of sign language that are beyond my ability. I’m not sure whether I have the deaf equivalent of a lisp, a stammer, or a sexy accent.

When I was in law school, my dormmates and I mingled with townies at weekly Midnight Bowling. I discovered I could only bowl one game before it was all gutter balls. 

I surmised that my thumbs and missing tendon only had so much mileage in them. My theory was corroborated by my increasingly sore hands as the night went on, something I subsequently observed in other intense manual tasks. However, my ableist classmates still blamed the pitchers of beer.

Although I’ve never smoked a cigarette, over the years I’ve had various occasions to operate a lighter or torch. They never work for me. 


This summer a visiting smoker friend asked for a light. I showed him the utility drawer where I’d tossed the various defective lighters that had found their way to the house over the years. They all worked for him. Apparently the engineers who design torches are willing to accommodate both left- and right-handers, but not people with semi-opposable thumbs.

As I recently wrote in “Dr. Heuristic, Foot Whisperer,” debilitating plantar fasciitis has prevented me from enjoying my daily walks with Bear. Ordinarily we average over ten miles a day. That much exercise is good for our physical health. It’s also essential for my mental health as well as my productivity as a writer. 


Several years ago I realized my big toes have the same missing knuckle and tendon as my thumbs. The foot exercises my doctor assigned to treat my plantar fasciitis require me to plant my heel on one end of a towel and pull the other end with my toes. I can’t do it. My big toes are too feeble.


Unless you count smoking pot, until now I had never identified a major life function that is limited by my deformity. But because the ADA includes both “walking” and “working” in its disability definition, I can now fit within the definition of a physical impairment. Maybe lawyers who don’t believe in mental illness will finally give me some respect.

September 25

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

I am Karen

Last week one of my healthcare providers and I were chatting about the challenge of explaining Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to people, particularly when you don’t seem like a typical victim. 


PTSD can happen to anyone. Trauma tangles the neural wiring that connects a wide variety of brain functions, including memory, fear, rage, reason, and motor control. Two people can endure the same traumatic event or experience, but only one might develop PTSD. Days or years later, you might encounter a particular feeling, person, or experience that flips the switches in your brain and triggers a cascading response from your body.


One of my friends in Bellingham developed PTSD after serving as an Army Ranger medic in Afghanistan. I told him I feel sheepish sharing the same DSM-5 category as him. He told me not to worry, and that soldiers feel lucky they get so many folks’ respect. They’re more concerned about the many children and women who are scarred by the impact of domestic abuse and do not have access to the help they need. 

In November 2015, my Bellingham physician Dr. Heuristic sent me to a specialized PTSD therapist. She helped me identify how my symptoms were rooted in traumatic events I experienced thirty years earlier as an overachieving gay student at Brigham Young University and as an earnest Mormon missionary in Korea. 


In my recent blog essays “Move On” and “Blink,” I described the Mormon church’s relentless campaign against LGBT dignity and inclusion. Throughout my lifetime, Mormon leaders have insisted on embracing junk science, such as pray-the-gay-away “reparative therapy.” Perhaps most insidiously, the Brethren deny our very existence – refusing to use words like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “transgender,” and instead insisting we’re merely weak sinners who struggle with what they refer to as “same-sex attraction problems.” When you also consider my family’s wrenching move from Vancouver to Utah when I was an adolescent, plus my coming out as a gay man at the height of the AIDS pandemic, it’s no wonder I ended up with PTSD.


Because of the nature of my underlying traumas, my most serious individualized PTSD symptoms are triggered when I feel a sense of powerlessness, repression, being silenced, or rendered invisible once again. As result, my disability makes me particularly vulnerable to gaslighting lawyer tactics. 

Looking back at my writing about mental illness over the last four years, I realize I’ve focused primarily on the physical symptoms, such as trichotillomania, insomnia, and bruxism, that emerged after my abusive former employers triggered my body’s response to ancient traumas. Because of Defendants’ and their co-conspirators’ subsequent misconduct and their continued stonewalling delays, I remain trapped in a vicious cycle of stressful triggers, re-traumas, and re-triggers. I’ve written about the resulting plagues of boils, MRSA, auto-immune dysfunction, depression, anxiety, but not frogs yet.


I’ve also referred several times to triggers leading to “PTSD episodes,” but I haven’t yet described the mechanics of the experience. In some ways it’s like the arrival of a migraine – you realize it’s happening, but there’s nothing you can to do to stop the buzzing and pressure on your brain. Soon it becomes impossible to think and communicate clearly. 

When I began reporting about life with mental illness, my examples of PTSD episodes all involved wretched customer service. I had a short fuse, and I ran into a lot of bad service. Eventually I learned to modulate my reaction to frustrating encounters. Now I react excessively only to terrible service with a reality-denying totalitarian bent, not your day-to-day consumer abuse. For example, just last week I made an embarrassing scene in a bank lobby. Not my fault.


When my disability was still new, I was constantly surprised by the wide variety of triggering events that somehow resonated with my thirty-year old traumas. Things have mellowed since then. My biggest PTSD epiphany this year came when I was playing a family board game at my parents’ house, and I became so frustrated I had to go into the other room and give myself a timeout. (It turns out there are trauma-based reasons I haven’t been able to play chess since I was a child, much to my son’s disappointment.)


Despite the progress I’ve made with my disability, I continue to endure another very predictable trigger:  gaslighting lawyers. In May 2017, I filed a lawsuit in state court against the attorney-investigator firm my former employers hired to cover up my wrongful termination. Attorney General Bob Ferguson assigned two lawyers from the Attorney General’s Tort Division, Assistant Attorney General Suzanne LiaBraaten and Assistant Attorney General Janay Ferguson, to represent the State’s interest in the investigator lawsuit. Ferguson and LiaBraaten obstructed discovery, made frivolous privilege assertions, and abused the legal process. In 2019, Ferguson and LiaBraaten violated the Ethics in Public Service Act and the Rules of Professional Responsibility when they made false representations in their co-workers’ lawyer discipline proceeding. Ferguson herself is the subject of a pending ethics complaint, and is a named defendant in my federal lawsuit against the State and its representatives. 


Nevertheless, Attorney General Ferguson insisted on assigning Defendant Ferguson as lead counsel on behalf of the other defendants in the federal lawsuit. Her conduct of the litigation has been an outrage. Here’s what I said in a sworn declaration about how it feels when dishonest government lawyers trigger a PTSD episode:


Responding to the first motion Defendant Ferguson filed in my federal court case one year ago was one of my most harrowing experiences in years. For every ten minutes I spent working on the brief, I had to spend at least an hour on soothing activities like talking with my children, walking the dogs, meditating, exercising, etc. Now that my kids are back from visiting my ex during the summer, the presence of other observers in the house makes my AGO- triggered PTSD symptoms even more noticeable. Over and over as I was forced to confront the State’s lies, I would read or write a single sentence. Then I would compulsively leap out of my chair and pace ten or twenty laps around the house, grinding my teeth from bruxism and rubbing my scalp raw from trichotillomania. When my teenaged daughter who wants to go to medical school heard my involuntary wheezes and groans, she thought I was having a heart attack. 


Every one of Defendant Ferguson’s court filings and each of her communications to me over the past year was triggering. (Fortunately, her good cop co-counsel politely handled all the administrative stuff.) For example, on multiple occasions she took the position on behalf of the State of Washington that for the last six years I’ve been faking a disability to cover up for my professional incompetence and my sexism.


I asked the State’s lawyers to accommodate my disability by assigning a lawyer other than Defendant Ferguson to communicate with me. They refused. Eventually I asked the judge to order this reasonable disability accommodation. On September 15, 2021, Judge Jones granted my request. I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders.

Defendant Ferguson’s counterpart in my state court lawsuit against the private investigator firm is Claire Martirosian, a junior partner at the grinding insurance defense firm whose apparent goal is to provoke me into pulling out the last hair on my forehead.


Ms. Martirosian has been involved in the case ever since the summer of 2017 when the investigators fired their first, even less smart insurance defense firm. In contrast with the division of labor between the boy-girl legal team in my federal lawsuit against the State, Ms. Martirosian is handling everything solo. That means she plays both the good cop and bad cop roles. In “Secret Agent,” I wrote about how Ms. Martirosian triggered a PTSD episode in the middle of oral argument in the Court of Appeals two years ago when she blatantly lied in response to the key question from the bench.


Last Friday two letters from Ms. Martirosian arrived back-to-back in my inbox. The good cop first letter responded to the proposed deposition schedule I had circulated earlier in week. Of course Defendants didn’t agreed to the schedule, or propose an alternative. But the letter wasn’t triggering, merely another round of familiar litigation Kabuki.


In contrast, Ms. Martirosian’s bad cop second letter was a tissue of lies. She blatantly mischaracterized the Washington Supreme Court’s recent ruling, and triggered another PTSD episode.  Once again I alarmed the dogs by leaping out of my desk chair and pacing around the house. I lost count after 87 laps. 

If I were a Republican congressman, I could announce “As the father of two daughters, I condemn the Attorney General’s scurrilous accusations of sexism.” But I believe in mindfulness and empathy. When someone else’s model of reality diverges so far from my model (and from reality), I wonder why.

Here is Defendant Ferguson most recent accusation that I am an unrepentant misogynist:

Mr. Leishman elected not to respond to the Defendants’ requests for conferral because it was not made by the male attorney with whom he prefers to communicate…. Defendants will not recount the many, documented instances of Mr. Leishman’s personal attacks on Ms. Ferguson and other women, parties and not, attorneys and not, because that issue is beyond the scope of this motion. When they do, Defendants will submit evidence, not conclusory allegations, proving that Mr. Leishman disproportionately demeans, attacks, and underestimates women – particularly those who disagree with his subjective view of events. Avoidance of female counsel is not a reasonable accommodation.

Washington tax dollars paid for this deranged rant, which appears on page two of the State Defendants’ Reply in support of their Second Motion to Stay Discovery. 

My eyes were drawn to the word “disproportionately.” Perhaps Defendant Ferguson is referring to the fact that woman outnumber men in the captions of my lawsuits. That’s because most of the middle and lower level managers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office and other State agencies are women – but all the top brass are men. The federal defendants include the office of Governor Jay Inslee; the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson; Bob’s two top lieutenants, the Chief Deputy Attorney General (Defendant Shane Esquibel) and the Solicitor General (Defendant Noah Purcell); and the former president of Western Washington University (Defendant Bruce Shepard). These important gentlemen are joined by seven female underlings who personally interacted with me or were directly involved in misconduct and coverups. Only one defendant is actually named “Karen.” I could have sued two more female defendants, my unprepared novice “Team Leader” and her passive-aggressive supervisor. But I don’t need to make everything personal.

Behind every powerful man is a harem of less powerful women. Look at Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, or Andrew Cuomo and Melissa DeRosa. One definition of a “Karen” is someone who is not quite privileged enough to avoid doing the dirty work herself, and takes it out on the unprivileged. Or maybe a Karen is just someone who likes dirty work.

Although Bellingham is blessed with amazing public schools, shepherding three teenagers through Zoom School was a challenge for everyone. At the height of the pandemic I had to deal with one of those bureaucratic tangles that would have been triggering even at the best of times. 

I’ve always been terrible at talking on the telephone with strangers, and PTSD just makes things worse. This phone conversation with an assistant principal was excruciating, a combination of Abbott & Costello & Kafka. The school administration had ignored my communications for weeks, and instead kept asking me to do administrative tasks that made no sense. I tried desperately to remain calm. It was a blunt yet incoherent calm, as I kept flirting with entitled-lawyer global nuclear destruction mode. The bees were buzzing in my head. Late in the phone call we figured out the reason no one had paid attention to my messages was that the school’s spam filter had tweaked itself to eliminate me. Nothing I said was getting through. 

The assistant principal took a deep breath, I sorta de-escalated, and we shared an awkward chuckle. When I finally ended the telephone call, I looked around and realized my son Oliver had been listening. His observation:

“Papa, you sound like a Karen.”