The Main Character – Annie

Stephen King said, Start with a situation. Don’t worry about themes. Okay. Let’s see if the salad I am eating is inspiring me.

A recent college graduate, Annie got her first job at an up and coming technology startup in Cambridge, MA. She was employee number 62.

Hmm. Too young, perhaps. Let me start at a later point of her career.

The dot com bubble burst. Annie was laid off from her first job along with one thousand some others on a Friday. After graduating from college, she started off as a software developer.

It’s hard not to write about myself. Be creative! I keep going. Anne Lamott said, Think of a small blank picture frame. Zoom in. What do I see?

When she coded, she was completely focused. Her mind thought logically, starting with the problem, then the business process, then the business rules, then the syntax of C++ or SQL. She had to learn about testing her own logic with machine, and then debug her mistakes, which happened quite often. She almost never wrote correctly the first try. At work, it was like solving puzzles all day.

Okay, this seems more energetic and interesting.

*~*~*~*~*

I started learning about being a writer who markets through Authors Academy by Wheatmark. Grael Norton from Wheatmark said it’s important to develop a relationship with my target audience. “Blog everyday.” Today, I have written my daily 1000 words. I will also work on blogging more often and sometimes in a more casual and intimate way, like today.

*~*~*~*~*

Of course, I don’t take all writing advice to heart. King said, Write the first draft with door closed. Here I am already sharing my first thought! But who knows how long Annie will live.

Getting Writing Going Again

I am relieved at finishing my first memoir about schizophrenia. There are still many steps before it goes into the world. But at least for now, my writing part is done. Schizophrenia had been a topic occupying my writing mind often when I sat in front of my laptop, even though during my day to day life, I have been quite removed from any schizophrenic symptoms these days. (Knock on wood!)  Now I have some white space for something new.

In the last few days, I have been trying to come up with an idea for a second writing project. At first, I thought it might be fun to write about dating, including online dating and being matchmade. I have my recent experiences to draw from. Some of them were funny! But as I tried to start, I was a bit stuck. How much do I really know? Is it really even that interesting? Do I know anything that anyone else does not? I found myself changing my mind. Should I write another memoir or start a fictional story? Do I really know how to write a romantic novel? Then, as I was washing dishes, I had a new idea. How about an ambitious woman working in high tech? I had not seen any interesting books on this. Oh, what about combine them? Would you read about a woman working in high tech and does online dating?

Still feeling fairly goalless, directionless, and stuck, I decided to get back to the basics. It’s time to start having a daily writing goal. That was how I got started with my first writing project. Every day, at the same time, I sat down and wrote whatever was in my mind. I remembered advices that I read about: Just write. Aim for quantity and not quality. Fill up a notebook. It’s okay to have a shitty first draft. Get in the habit of writing! (I guess reading endless books on writing paid off!)

So, here we go. I am starting 2019, well today, with the goal of writing 1000 words a day. After a while, I should be able to see what is really on my mind while hopefully having fun with this!

Words Matter: My Medical Records

Soon after I was discharged from McLean in 2011, I submitted a request to get a copy of my medical records. A huge pile of paper was mailed to me. When I first read them, I was overwhelmed with the “professional,” “structural,” and “brief” tone they have. I was also sometimes surprised by what was documented. Recently, I talked to a research doctor and mentioned that I had read my own medical records. She did not expect that and said, “Reading one’s own medical records is not easy. They are usually technical. And rushed. Often with mistakes.” I agreed. Very often,  a lot has to be done in a very short time.

However, these medical records shaded some important light on how I was perceived and expected to behave when I first came in contact with the caregivers at McLean, people who knew about mental illness but did not know me personally. That is invaluable.

*~*~*~*~*

Admission Note

Identification Data and Chief complaint: This is a 37-year-old, Asian-American female with a history of schizophrenia, who presents for her first McLean, and likely her first lifetime hospitalization for increasing psychotic symptoms in the context of stopping her Zyprexa. 

History of Present Illness: Please note that, on arrival to the CEC, the patient was very sedated and unable to participate in the interview in a meaningful way. She nodded “no” to questions about suicidality and drug allergies but was unable to really give much information beyond that overnight. (Mindy’s note: This was in the middle of the night after I went to the ER and was moved to another location that I don’t remember at all.) The remainder of this note will come from information obtained in the APS. This is a 37-year-old, Asian-American female with a history of schizophrenia with no previous hospitalizations, and no significant past medical history, who was brought in by EMS after the patient’s friend called 911 because the patient had been worsening in terms of her schizophrenia. The patient has been off of her Zyprexa, which was at a dose of 2.5 mg daily. However, her symptoms worsened in the past few weeks. Per her friend and the patient, she recently quit her job because she “wasn’t performing well” and has been spending the past week at home alone with increased auditory hallucinations hearing six or seven different voices. Per her cousin, the patient has been afraid of being attacked and was reusing to allow her parents to visit. (Mindy’s note: this is not accurate. My parents does not usually come and visit me. They live far away. It was strange that they wanted to drive 5 hours on a weekday without advance notice to visit me! Their visit is the unusual part, if you knew us.) Also, has been worried about being stalked. The patient’s parents report concern about the patient being at risk for suicidality given her degree of confusion and distress. (Mindy’s note: I was shocked when I saw this! Shocked. Obviously, this was from someone who did not know me well.) One month ago, the patient was brought to the Emergency Department status post taking sleeping pills, which she reports was not an overdose, but the patient left from the Emergency Room without being hospitalized. The patient denied suicidal or homicidal ideation in the APS but reports “perhaps” that she has had command auditory hallucinations of suicide. (Mindy’s note: Again. Shocked and not sure who said this!) She denies visual hallucinations or ideas of reference. She reports sometimes feeling stalked and sometimes feeling like she can read people’s thoughts, “But you can’t confirm that sort of things.” Collateral from the patient’s close friend and coworker report that this coworker has been in touch with the patient’s family, and they believe that she has been off of her medication for the past six months. One month ago, her condition worsened, and she reportedly became confused and began calling people in the middle of the night (Mindy’s note: I called two people. One at midnight one at 2am.) saying she was hearing voices and being talked, and around that time she took the sleeping pills. They tried to get her to the ED, but she ended up running away. (Mindy’s note: I did not “run” away. I walked away on my free will after speaking to someone who wanted to me follow her to the ED. I disagreed with her suggestion.) The coworker feels that the patient is not safe at home, and the friend called 911 today because the patient did not recognize her when she saw her. (Mindy’s note: I am pretty sure this was referring to a phone call…I did not see any friend that day.)

Mental status examination on admission: The patient is a thin, Asian-American woman in hospital attire. She is sedated and minimally responsive to verbal stimuli. She will nod “yes” or “no” to safety questions, but she refuses to answer further. No speech is observed. Her mood, thought process, and thought content are unable to be assessed. Thought content likely is significant for an underlying psychotic process, and this interviewer questions if some of what appear to be sedation are underlying psychotic symptoms. Insight and judgement is limited by sedation at this time. Attention, orientation, and memory were unable to be assessed secondary to the patient’s sedation.

Inventory of assets: The patient is reported to be bright and articulate with good social and family support.

Formulation: This is a 37-year-old female with a history of schizophrenia currently decompensated with increased psychotic symptoms in the setting of stopping Zyprexa with hopes to conceive a child. Her family and friends are concerned about her safety and recent erratic behavior and brought her to medical attention. In the APS, she was given 5mg of oral Zyprexa and is currently sedated in the CEC and unable to participate in the interview in a meaningful way. This lack of participation may also be representative of her underlying psychotic process. She requires an inpatient level of care for safety, stabilization, medication re-initiation and management, diagnostic clarification, and aftercare planning.

Initial treatment plan: To admit the patient to AB2. Estimated length of stay of seven to 10 days. We will put her on 15-minute checks while restricted. Initial short-term goals are safety and stabilization. Recommended interventions include individual case management, group therapy, milieu therapy, pharmacotherapy, family meeting, medication management, and psychosocial interventions. (Mindy’s note: This is amazing! A plan of action!)

Note: Some part of the admission note report has been emitted here.

*~*~*~*~*

As someone had a broken brain, I was not consulted. They couldn’t; I was sedated. But they had to do something. The had to help me. My life and health status was pieced together by friends some knew me more than others. Mixed in this report includes some facts, some assumptions, and some of their personal worries projected onto my situation. However, very often, records like this overrides voices from people like me. It was my (lack of) voice against everyone who loved me.

Reading this report, I also gained a tremendous respect for the attendings at the ER, CEC (Clinical Evaluation Center at McLean), and APS (Acute Psychiatry Service at MGH).  Overnight, they had an idea of who I was. They made the best decision about my life by digging up as much information as they could. They do this every day! They help people.

I am lucky in that I gained my own voice back. As the caregivers looked after me for two weeks, they formed first-hand perspectives about me. I think they got a better picture of me. Not everyone is so lucky and gets a chance to express who they truly are. Sometimes, medical records get passed on and on.

Let us all be mindful of what we project on others, say or assume about them. Words matter.

Tiny Crushes

I remember the first boy I liked. I was maybe six or seven. He was in my first-grade class. Kids were seated based on height. We were of the same height and both sat in the last row in the back of the classroom. I would not be able to say why I liked him. I guess it was just chemistry, or proximity, at school. During recess, the whole class ran out of the classroom. I could always spot him. Once, I saw him, I chased after him around the school yard, passing by the noisy monkeys, beautiful peacocks, and colorful birds. Once I got to him, poor boy for being liked, I hit him which were the only times I hit someone in my life. We both laughed. Then I chased him all over again until the school bell rang for us to go back to the classroom. I never got tired of this in first grade. That was how I showed my affection at an early age.  

I can imagine my parent friends being horrified by my behavior as a kid. Hitting? In American schools today, I would be sent to the principal’s office. I was hurting another kid. But at that time, what we had was purely happiness.

In middle school, having just moved from Taipei, Taiwan to Manhattan, I found myself keep looking for Gideon. We did not really play together. But once in a while, he would talk to me in the hallway. I did not know English so I said nothing back and usually just looked at him. Being in a new place made me more reserved from the slapping-boys days. During one of our winter break, the whole class went camping together. After dinner, we watched Dirty Dancing and giggled. Someone then convinced everyone to try dancing like Johnny and Baby. We cleared the chairs in the middle of the room and put on some music. At first, I stood quietly on the side. Then Gideon came up to me and asked me to dance. I had never danced with someone before, only had taken modern dancing class where I danced synchronously with everyone on my own. Gideon and I held hands and moved our young bodies. All I could think of was, I don’t know how to do this. I was both excited and terrified at the same time. We danced until one song was finished. He smiled satisfiedly at me and let go of my hands. Could he tell that I liked him? Did he like me too? Perhaps, he could sense the positive energy I had towards him. That was how I gave my first dance to Gideon, thanks to Dirty Dancing.

Innocent “love” relationship for kids and early teens are adorable and cute. Just two little people who simply play and laugh together.

I Wrote It. Now What?

It’s been an incredible journey to write down my experience with schizophrenia and sort through my imperfect thoughts. After writing about it on and off for about 5 years or maybe longer, at the most, I had about 65,000 words. I googled “how many words in a memoir” and found out that I just barely made it.

My first editor Ben took off about 20,000 words while I was still trying to decide on an ending. He went through a few passes. I felt uncomfortable every time he crossed off a huge section of my writing. There went the word count. Of course, he was mostly right. “Why are you telling me this here?” After he was done, about a year ago, I submitted the query letter for my memoir to 31 agents. No one was interested.

I picked myself up from the handful of responses and rejections and started rewriting again. I came up with an ending, changed it, and changed it again. The writing could always be better. My second editor Beth is now about two-third way through. She is making great progress, changed orders, clarified what I wanted to say, took more stuff out. Now I am at about 50,000 words and don’t care about it so much.

I realize I can write and edit forever. I have logged at least 10 passes through this memoir. I have worked with two editors of different styles and focuses in length. With a third or fourth editor, she will find something else to rewrite and edit. The writing will never be perfect. The writing is not meant to make everyone happy. What I do know is that I am very good with it now.

I have been experimenting with kindle direct publishing (KDP). I have gone through almost the whole process and found it pretty doable by myself. Gone is the thought that I want someone to endorse and publish my memoir. If no one is interested in even taking a peak, I can self-publish. (This is the benefit of working in technology!)

I have wrote all I wanted to say. At this point, my goal for publishing is closure for myself. I have done what I can. It’s time to “put this to bed.”  I would like to complete my first writing project and self-publish on Amazon by the end of this year. I am happy that I have gone this far with it. For bonus, if I can reach even one person with my story, with one download, that would be fantastic! Meanwhile, I have even started to think about a possible second writing project.

Let’s do this!

 

 

Avatar Therapy for Schizophrenia

A few days ago, I discovered the free educational program by Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry and spent today at Schizophrenia Education Day: Progress in Schizophrenia – New Insights into Brain Development, Drug Use and Treatment. I walked away with so many new thoughts.

A study ran by King’s College London and University College London was using digitally generated avatars for schizophrenic patients to confront their hallucinatory voices.

(You can read more details at the BBC and The Lancet Psychiatry journal.)

My first voice was a young man. In my head, I had an idea of what he might look like and could probably pick out recordings of a voice that matched his the closest. However, creating him, my Joe, as I called him later, feels a bit scary. (Though now a Japanese man can get a digital girlfriend and in China there is a digital anchor!) These folks are right. I had a “personal relationship” with Joe. This would either enhances or damages that. Would this make him feel more real? Would this further mess with my sense of reality? By making him more real, do we hope to empower patients and raise us from being the one that is suppressed to dominant? Will this succeed in putting more control back to patients’ chaotic and confusing lives?

The rest of my voices – there were many of them – were all of my friends and families. I did not need avatars in this case. When I see them in real life, I did wonder about if they were really speaking to me in this abnormal way and why they would do that.

I am lucky that my voices were not aggressive or violent and that I am mostly-voice-free with medication. For folks whose treatments do not remove harmful auditory verbal hallucinations, this is an innovative way to fight the battle. I hope to hear more about this.

 

Romance Scam: How It Happened to Me

I have never met someone who intended to hurt me since day 1 until Paul who I “met” on OkCupid early June this year. I have been actively using OkCupid for about three years as a forty something single woman looking for like minded men around my age and area. In the last couple of years, I was able to meet 15 local men but most of them did not go beyond the first date. I continued to be optimistic.

On July 7th, 2018, I received a message from Paul, 45, NYC. The message was normal and with substance – I look forward to having meaningful conversations with you – and that’s huge. I decided to respond. In his response, he was quick to ask me: “How is online dating going for you? and what are you looking for?” He was also quick to state clearly what he was looking for: “I’m looking for a woman who is ready for a serious long term relationship with commitment. Would like to take each day at a time to learn more about you. How long have you been single? I got divorced almost 4 years ago and I have a 15 yrs old boy that lives with me. I’m mentally and emotionally ready for something new.” I thought, great, a man who knew what he wanted and it was a real relationship.

Paul was not shy about sharing details about himself. “I’m originally from the Netherlands and I have been living in the US for almost 13 years. I have lived in CA and Seattle until few months ago before I moved to NY… I work as a Project Evaluator in disaster and aid management, I help to facilitate the distribution of relief and provide medical assistance to displaced people living in remote areas across the world. I’ve been doing it for 17 years, It can be very challenging and rewarding.” I thought he had a very admirable job. However, I made a mental note to asking him more about because I knew so little of disaster and emergency management in the world.

It turned out that I met him when his birthday was coming up. “Can we chat tomorrow? It is my birthday today and I’m having friends and family over at my place.” The next day, he let me know that, ” I had a lot of fun celebrating with family and friends. I cooked some of my favorite meal then invited them over for dinner. When is your birthday Moreover, I’m grateful to have a job that provides me with the opportunity to help those that are in need and knowing that there is more to do is what motivates me in other to do more. I decided to move to NY in other to leave some memories behind us and for my son to be closer to his grandparents. Have you always lived in NY?”

He soon suggested that we move off OkCupid while sharing a few more details about himself. “I liked Boston since my first visit couple of years ago and who knows maybe you might give me another reasons to come there. Smiles! Hope you get to see your parents. How old are they? My parents are deceased and I wish they were still here. Will you like to communicate through phone and text messaging? I think it is a more efficient way of interacting with one another.”

During the first month, we texted and messaged. He started checking in with good-morning and good-night texts. My friends were impressed and so was I.

On Monday night, July 23, Paul surprised and called me for the first time. We had an awkward pause for about 10 seconds then he started laughing and I felt at ease. I liked him a bit more that instance. I had told him that I only talked to my parents on the phone and no one else. He said that he wanted to be added to the list. I could feel that he was interested in me. That felt good. From that day one, we talked almost every day. Sometimes it was a quick call, other times longer. His calls and texts became part of my routine and day.

That week, Paul complained about a severe headache and had to see a doctor. The doctor suggested to him to take a scan and he did. He went back to the doctor a couple of days later and got his test results back. It was all normal! Meanwhile, I was sharing personal details with him as well. I told Paul about my full name, email, and website.

While I was taking to Paul almost every night, I wanted to know more about him. I Googled him several times based on what I knew: Paul Henriks, 347-667-2147, prhenriksjobs003@gmail.com, and found nothing at all. He had zero online presence. I told myself not to worry and continued to get to know him.

In addition to messages, I asked Paul for pictures wanting to know more about him. “So I can see what you are seeing!” I told him. Paul was able to send me photos of his family, the birthday party he went to, and from his camping trip. Finally, photos! I told him that I now knew that he was not a serial killer and was real. I sent him a few more my recent photos too and told him that I was breaking my rule of “no pictures before meeting in person.” He responded, “I am not going to kill you with pictures!” I told him about my schizophrenia. He said that he did not mind.

On Monday July 30, Paul happily told me that he had won the proposal that he has been working one. That was work for him for the next 18 to 20 months. He said he wanted to come and see me. I thought that was serious commitment to getting to know me. I was happy to hear that. He needed to wait to hear more about his work travel schedule this week, then he would let me know when he could meet.

Out of the blue, Paul deleted his profile on OKC. I did not expect that! Typically, this requires a conversation. But he just made his own decision. I asked him what he meant by that and he said that he wanted to focus on this. The next day, I disabled mine too. I felt that I was talking to someone who was kind and caring. I would also focus on this.

During one of our phone calls, Paul sounded a bit upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he was expecting to travel for work sooner than he thought. He would only be able to visit me after his work trip. I thought that was okay and reassured him that was fine with me.

Paul emailed me his flight details and confirmations for traveling to Manila, Philippines for work. His return flight was from Manila to Boston. He did not book a flight leaving Boston to go back to New York. During this time, giving the time zone difference, we talked less regularly. But Paul continued to show an effort to keep in touch with me.

We lost communication for three days. Then I received the a few emails from Paul.

Email: Tuesday, August 14, 12:10 PM

Good morning babe,

How are you? I hope you had a good night sleep. I arrived Manila safely, although we experience a mid air turbulence and a  bumpy landing other than that it was fine. I had my first official meeting with the Directors today, It was short but It offered me an opportunity  to make a positive impression. I am looking forward to yet another meeting with the Directors tomorrow to discuss the details surrounding the execution of the project, project schedule and contract review/negotiations.

Moreover, It’s been almost 3 days since we last spoken, I must confess that I’m missing you more than I could ever imagine. You have become a special part of day and our conversation has brought me great joy and laughter.

I should be able to communicate with you through text or phone within the next 24 hours. I look forward to hearing your sweet voice.

You are always on my mind..

Email: Monday, August 20, 9:01PM

Good morning babe!

Hope you’re having a wonderful day. Sorry I couldn’t get to talk to you last before going to bed. I had two separate meetings with the Lawyers and the committee in charge of the legal process. We talked about the details surrounding the  signing of the contract and the financial aspect from the Budgeted Capital, Legal fees and Total Accrued Profit. At the end I agreed to pay 8% of my total profit as the legal fee in advance so the Directors and the committee in charge can grant the Lawyers the  legal capacity to represent me in all the legal proceedings regarding the signing of the contract that binds the project approval which is the final stage. I’ve written to my Bank to make provisions for the legal fee so we can proceed with the signing of the contract agreement.

Yesterday was the last meeting with the officials. Hopefully the whole contract agreement would be finalized by tomorrow morning. It is a public holiday here today, I’ll be spending most of today here at the apartment.

Talk to you before you go to bed.

Email: Tuesday, August 20, 8:52PM

Good Evening to you!

Hope you’ve had a good day at work. I didn’t have to wake up at 1am for the phone call appointment with the Bank. I received a email in response to my request for a short term loan of $110,000.00 in other to complete the payment for the legal fee. My short term loan request was denied but they were able to processed the transfer of $260,000.00 as part of the payment for the legal fee.  As a result of this disappointment I won’t be able to sign the contract agreement until the end of the week while I look into other options available for me to come up with the remainder of the legal fees which will take few days.

I’m having a meeting at 9am with the Directors  and the committee. I’m going to call you when I’m through with the meeting.

<end of email>

Paul had to extend his trip in Manila. He was not able to come to Boston as planned. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. However, I understood that work was important to him. I told myself to be supportive and patient.

For the rest of August, Paul worked on getting the funds he needed to pay the lawyers. He got additional 30k from his sister and Andre’s grandparents and 50k from credit cards. He was still short of 20k. Sam and a friend in CA could not give back the money he had loaned them earlier until next week. Paul is in a tough situation. He admitted that he had never bit on such a large project before and that this situation had never happened to him before. Friday was the deadline for the final negotiation. If he did not have money by then, he loses the whole project.

Meanwhile, different scenarios were running through my head. I had a session with my therapist Deborah. My gut told me not to help him by lending him money. Deborah agreed and said, stay out of it. We were both thinking this could be a scam! But I wanted to hope that I had met a good man. So I continued to hope for the best while promising Deborah that I would be careful and protect myself. I Googled “lending friends money” and the first article said, You do not have to lend anyone money.

Then over the weekend, Aug 30 to Sept 2, I did not hear from Paul at all. I thought that he might be traveling home to New York. He must be devastated. As far as I knew, he lost the project. I did the math in my head and the project was a couple of millions. It was not like him to not communicate at all. I missed hearing from him. I was also worrying for him.

Sunday night Sept 2, Paull finally texted. He was still in Manila and in the hospital. His severe headache was back. He only texted briefly. I still did not know what was going on other than where he was. He said we could talk later his night but he did not call. Somehow, the deadline for his contract got extended.

Tuesday night Sept 4. Paul texted again. This time I was calmer. He was still in the hospital. They kept him because he was not well enough to leave. He was getting better but still weak. His guide in Manila Nel has been in communication with his son Andre and brother-in-law Sam. He said he misses me and I feel better! I told myself that I needed to be patient while he sorted out his healthy. He was obviously under a lot of stress because of work and health. He again told me that he should be released from the hospital and that we could talk soon.

On Thursday Sept 6., Paul sent me this text:

Paul: I am not sure how you’re going to feel about this but I’m in a very difficult position regarding the whole legal agreement and I’m not sure if there is something you can do to assist me financially. I want to know if you could at least lend me about 10,000USD so as to be able to finalize the whole agreement. I’ll be able to pay back by the time you’re in NJ… thanks!”

Me: Paul, I just don’t know you well enough to just send you money. It’s a lot of money! Would you be able to send me more information? Let me take a look? How much are you short of?

Paul: I’m short of about 10,000usd (Ten Thousand US Dollars)

Me: At this point, I am not comfortable lending you money… I only have your phone number… I don’t even know your address… I am sorry.

Paul: Okay. I understand. You don’t have to be sorry.

Me: When is your new deadline?

Paul: Monday

Friday Sept 7, 7:45 AM, more text.

Me: Any luck on getting what you need?

Paul: No luck.

Me: Why would you have money later in a week or two but not right now? Also what about Sam, your friend in CA and other investment funds (that you told me about)? By the way, what is your address? Home address I mean.

Me: So does this mean that you are not going to get this project? What’s happening on Monday? I think this whole thing is a bit crazy! Especially that you are doing this all on your own and don’t have a company of people with you.

Me: [Sending Paul banks that offer short-term loans with 6.99 to 24.99 APR]

Me: How much money do you already have? Would these people really reject a selected (?best) candidate for 10K? Does not make any sense to me!

Paul: I am sorry but I won’t have asked you for help if I wasn’t going to lose out completely on this project. There wouldn’t be any reason for me to do what I did.

Sat Sep 8, 10:23AM

Me: It could be a scam. You could disappear. I have not idea. No way of knowing.

<End of text>

Throughout this whole experience, I was oscillating between trusting Paul and wanting to help him versus being cautious since I had never met the man. I thought the texts and phone calls brought us closer together but for me it was still missing something. I felt like I was in “something” but not quite. I was not completely emotionally and mentally invested in Paul yet. That was my luck. I had learned from previous online-dating dates that my imagination sometimes got ahead of myself. Texting and phone-call personalities could never represent 100% of someone’s true in-person personality. Keep initial texting short. Gotta meet the guy to really know what’s the real deal!

Short of meeting up, I tried different ways to validate Paul’s identity. I asked him for his full name. Then I Googled him and found nothing. It was hard to imagine someone with zero online presence. He claimed that he stopped using Facebook profile during the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But what about LinkedIn? As an independent consulting working for himself, I would imagine that he would need a professional online presence. I also Googled his phone number and profession and found nothing.

Paul was perfect via text and phone calls though. He started his first message looking for a serious long-term relationship. Even I was wondering what he saw in me and my online profile that he was so sure. His good-morning and good-night texts were heart melting. He said and did all the right things from the start.

But quickly, the conversations turned to money matters. I knew better not to mix a-man-I-never-met with money matters. I did not understand the business arrangement that he was describing, as important as he seemed to think of it. I did not understand what he did for living, as much as it sounded nobel. Why would he not having anyone else but a stranger to ask for money? Why would he be so short of cash if he was able to bid on such a large project? Why was he not better prepared for his contract negotiation? He did not manage his business and money well. There was too much that I did not understand about him to feel comfortable with the situation.

When he started to talking about money, I thought to myself, oh my god, he might ask me for money. I saw three options. First, if I lend him money and he disappears, shame on me. Second, if I did not lend him money and he gets upset, then I could see his true colors and his priorities. Third, if I did not lend him money and we continued to speak then that would show his true color. Based on facts, not feelings, I thought the smart thing to do was to stay out of his business. No matter what the situation was, asking a stranger for money was a red flag in itself.

One week after Paul stopped talking to me, I shared this with my close friends. They validated my suspicion. We all agreed that this was a romantic scam. A very elaborate one! Paul Henriks probably did not exist. There might even be a team of people. This was their “work” and I was their “project.” This could happen to anyone! I look at the name, texts, emails, and photos on my phone and I still can’t believe it!