Category Archives: General Health

A Freak Show of the First Order

After a recent visit, a friend told me that she loves it when I come to her house because I make her feel normal. Okay, Hmm. Now, friends, I can take that one of two ways:

1. Damn, girl! That flaky-assed, three-ring, freak-show you got going on over there makes my life feel positively June Cleaver! or
2. When you share your thoughts and struggles, I realize that they are like mine and I don’t feel so alone.

I’m going to choose to believe that she meant it the second way for three reasons:
1. Even if she meant it the first way, she would never be so crass or cruel as to even hint at it.
I watched a Brené Brown documentary on Netflix called The Call to Courage. Her common sense and straight-forward approach to life and leadership resonated so much with me that I got her audiobook Dare to Lead. I’m listening to it for the third time and am picking up things I missed the first two times. While I don’t know that I will ever lead people again, I believe that applying strong leadership principles makes me a better employee, friend, and person in general. Knowledge gained is never wasted. One of the tenets of strong leadership that she proposes is to always assume that people are doing their best. I have to admit that this is a HUGE struggle for me. I am just certain that the idiot parked in the passing lane doing the speed limit is there specifically to slow me down. And popular culture would have us believe that people are often snarky and have hidden insults in what they say. Right? It’s not easy to turn that off, to decide to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just phrased it badly. Maybe that driver is just zoned out and unaware that they are blocking the passing lane – I’ve done that myself. I know my friend and I don’t believe she would deliver a back-handed compliment like that; so, I’m going to choose to believe that she meant it positively

2. It makes my life more pleasant to believe that.
One of my college philosophy professors accused me on the regular of creating my own reality – and I’m fairly certain that he did not mean it as a compliment. However, I believe we all do it to some degree and it dovetails with the previous paragraph. I can choose to be irritated about something or I can choose to not be irritated about it (to some degree – there are always variables like whether or not it is your children pushing your buttons or plucking your last nerve). And I suppose that you could say that in deciding that an intentional slight is not an insult is creating my own reality. Well, if that’s the case, then, yes. I did it then. I do it now. I will continue doing it. And, what’s more, I recommend it highly.

3. It fits with my belief that we are all more alike than we are different and we would know that if only we really talked more.
“The First Order wins by making us think we’re alone. We’re not.” This quote from the latest Star Wars movie really struck me. Replace The First Order with Fear, Depression or Anxiety and the statement is just as true. Those feelings keep us isolated and silent. We don’t really confide in anyone. I mean, I often see people use memes featuring quotes to describe their own feelings; but, I don’t think that really counts. It’s using someone else’s words. To really connect, we have to use our own words and to select individuals. We can’t just cast everything out over the internet (she says as she writes a blog to be read by strangers talking about connecting on an intimate level). I think you know what I mean, though. I have those close individuals with whom I share my deepest fears and darkest corners, and I have those who share them with me. We know we are not alone.

We each have a ring in the flaky-assed, freak-show.

Right Here, Right Now

My friend Joey sold ad time at a radio station right after we got out of college. He asked me to do a voice-over for him one day since a client wanted an Australian accent and I was the only person that he knew who could mimic one (passably enough for late 1980s Starkville, MS, anyway). Thus began my short career in radio voice-overs. Since there was such little work involved for me, I took CDs and concert tickets as payment. It was a great arrangement that got me tons of tunes and got me in to see Heart and Jesus Jones where my worlds collided. (I was a chemistry lab teaching assistant at a local high school. Some of my students walked up to me at the outdoor show. Honey! You have never seen a cigarette get flicked and beer dumped so fast! I don’t know why I thought my students shouldn’t know that I drank and smoked, but I did and so jettisoned those articles at warp speed! If you were at the show at Malfunction Junction and were suddenly soaked, my bad!)

But, I digress. (Imagine!) One of Jesus Jones’s biggest hits was Right Here, Right Now. The first couplet of the chorus is, “Right here, right now / there is no other place I want to be.” And, although I sometimes have romantic notions about living in some simpler time, the truth is that I also want to live right here, right now. Every morning when I wake, I am thankful for modern advances, specifically in vision correction. I cannot see more than five or six inches before my vision gets blurry. Without glasses, I would be largely helpless. I am so grateful that I have access to tools that allow me to continue to function. Glasses are not the only daily tool I use to function, either.

As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, I have been treated for depression for over half of my life. A large part of my treatment was and continues to be pharmaceutical. And, although I have been taking my meds throughout all of my recent trials, I was still overwhelmed; so, I went to see my doctor – another reason I’m glad to live in this time. The doctor changed some dosage amounts and times around. I began to feel the effects within just 24 hours. Wonderful!

Now, here I am, several days later and feeling 100% better. I’m sleeping with only one or two interruptions rather than waking up every hour or so. I’m no longer craving sugar to the point of eating roughly 4000 calories every day (Y’all, I wish I were exaggerating. No Ho-Ho or Ding Dong was safe within a half a mile of me.) My stomach is once again communicating with my brain letting me know when I’m full. My mood and perceptions are once again stable. I don’t feel like I’m on the verge of tears all the time. It’s really wonderful!

I think of my Self as a castle that sits inside the fortified walls of my mind and emotions. Negative people and stress can deteriorate those walls. People whose endocrine systems function normally can manufacture the materials needed to repair the walls. To a lesser degree, I can, too. However, people with both normal and abnormal endocrine systems may find their fortifications overwhelmed by circumstances. Last week, I mentioned coping mechanisms, finding ones that work for you, abandoning ones that don’t or ones that are harmful, and seeking help when you need it – when your fortifications are being overwhelmed. Sometimes meds are the help we need, sometimes it’s counseling. But, somehow, we think of seeking counseling as some sort of character or moral failing.

Ummm.

Generally, I seek counseling when I’m puzzling through some situation I’ve never encountered and don’t know how to handle. So, it’s rather like reading the instructions in complicated flat pack furniture. Is it a character flaw to read those instructions to put together something I’ve never constructed before? Only a stubborn fool would insist that it was. So, how is seeking help to get through an unfamiliar situation any different? I just don’t see it.

Similarly, people often see it as shameful to admit that they are taking anti-depressants. Why? Are people with Type 1 diabetes ashamed to admit that they take insulin? Their bodies don’t make it. It’s not their fault. It’s just how their endocrine systems function, or rather, don’t function. The same thing is true for people with many mental conditions. These are actually endocrine system issues that express themselves through the mind. They can produce brilliance in the minds of some of the Selfs that carry them like in Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Poe. But they create misery in the minds of all of the Selfs that carry them. Perhaps those artists would not have created had they had access to today’s medications. Perhaps they would have.

In any case, I am grateful to have access to today’s medications and tools and to be right here, right now.

Pity? Party of One?

So, I’ve kind of been over here all “Lesley-Gore-It’s-My-Party-And-I’ll-Cry-If-I-Want-To” and here come some friends busting in the joint with gifts for me, screwing the whole thing up. Nothing will kill a good pity party vibe like getting an amazing gift. Here are three of the ones I got:

“You spoke my words.”

That’s a pretty tough gift to beat there. After reading “How To Survive The Loss Of,” a friend told me her own experience of losing her “life” after a sexual assault. (I put life in parentheses there since I don’t mean her life in the terms of pulse and brain activity. I mean her life in the sense of her home, her marriage, and her job. You know – nearly everything but her pulse.) I have known her for many years, laughed with her over a million things (she’s the funniest woman ever) and I had no idea that she had survived an assault at all, let alone that she had she survived wave after wave of polluted crap that smashed into her afterward. She stood up to each wave, but, like me with the loss of my wallet, it was the loss of something small that sent her to her knees. I’ve always really liked her and I am blown away with the honor of having her say that I had spoken her words.

“Your writing is insightful, funny, and grammatically correct.”

Another huge gift! After reading “I’m Pretty Sure I Should Be Rich By Now,” this friend, who is a wonderful writer himself, called to encourage me to continue to write, saying that he enjoys the thoughts that I share and how I share them both verbally and mechanically. What a delightful surprise! It’s always wonderful to hear that your work resonates with others and, even better, that it doesn’t make someone twitch! Bonus gift! I know that sometimes I take liberties with grammar; however, if you visit with me often, you know that I generally do it for emphasis. It’s important to me that my language mechanics be as nearly correct as I can make them so that you can hear what I have to say without being distracted by the monstrous way I’m saying it.

“Your writing is always very concise, reflective, and thought-provoking. The reason I miss it so much when you are silent.”

This was after I asked her to read “Mixed Metaphors Inside the Asteroid Belt” prior to publication. My thoughts are like ping-pong balls in a tornado – bouncing all over the place, hitting first this thing, then that thing, then each other. It’s bedlam in there! And that particular piece had even more metaphorical collisions than most; so, I needed to get another set of eyes on it. Sometimes I am afraid that connections, analogies, and metaphors that make perfect sense in my head sound like the Mad Hatter when I let them out. It’s both comfort and confirmation when someone understands the point I’m trying to make with my occasionally unconventional comparisons. Again – awesome gift!

Each of these gifts (and others I didn’t mention) have gone a long way towards helping me through grief and get a handle on what I need to get done next. However, as I mentioned, they completely ruined the Pity Party for One I had going in full swing over here. While it’s still true that I can cry if I want to, I feel less inclined to do so.

Thanks, you guys.

The Contradictions of Grief and learning to call the wolves

A friend of mine sent a text just to check on me Monday. At first, I told her that I was fine; but, then I told her the truth. Grief is a strange thing. When you are dealing with the grief of losing a job, some days you wake up like, “Ooh-rah! New challenge! Let’s do this!” Other days you feel like you’re just circling the Drain.

I admitted to her that Monday was a Drain day for me. As it happened, it kind of had been for her, too. She is grieving the death of her sweet 19.5-year-old Yorkshire terrier Pedro. It was a great comfort to me to know that I wasn’t circling the Drain alone and I appreciated both her text and her honesty more than she knows.

I once knew a woman who would regularly quote Jeevan Pradhan by saying, “If you… throw me to the Wolves… Then I will come, leading the pack…” When she said that, you could almost hear P!nk and Gwen Stefani singing bra-burning, Helen-Reddy-style, ooh-rah, feminist power anthems. And there are days when I feel exactly like that – a Dharmesh Agravat “You can’t throw me to the Wolves for they come when I call” kind of feeling. Then there are days when I feel like the chewing gum stuck to the roller rink floor.

In my current situation, no one threw me to the Wolves – it was just a business thing. It happens. This process might actually be easier for me if there was someone I could target with my anger, but there just isn’t, which kind of sucks, too. Anger is a stage of grief and my stage really wants a target. The fact that it doesn’t have a solid one increases my frustration, which makes me even angrier. It is wholly unsatisfactory to be angry at a Situation. But, that is where I find myself. UGH! What a completely ridiculous cycle – and one that I must break if I am to ever call the Wolves.

I am a huge fan of the band Disturbed, a Disturbed One, as the band says. They recorded a song called The Light which is a personal favorite for several reasons, not least of which is the drum track. (a-MAZE-ing) I recommend listening with headphones to really appreciate everything going on in there. I also recommend reading the full lyrics, which I’ve included below. The line that I keep repeating to myself on my Drain days is: Sometimes darkness can show you the light. It’s a hopeful thought for surviving the Drain days on my way to creating more Ooh-rah! days. As I concentrate on the Light and understand the lessons of the Darkness, I’ll learn to call the Wolves.

Then, before you know it, I’ll be back, leading the pack.

Like an unsung melody
The truth is waiting there for you to find it
It’s not a blight, but a remedy
A clear reminder of how it began
Deep inside your memory
Turned away as you struggled to find it
You heard the call as you walked away
A voice of calm from within the silence
And for what seemed an eternity
You’re waiting, hoping it would call out again
You heard the shadow reckoning
Then your fears seemed to keep you blinded
You held your guard as you walked away

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light

An unforgivable tragedy
The answer isn’t’ where you think you’d find it
Prepare yourself for the reckoning
For when your world seems to crumble again
Don’t be afraid, don’t turn away
You’re the one who can redefine it
Don’t let hope become a memory
Let the shadow permeate your mind and
Reveal the thoughts that were tucked away
So that the door can be opened again
Within your darkest memories
Lies the answer if you dare to find it
Don’t let hope become a memory

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light, beautiful

Sickening, weakening
Don’t let another somber pariah consume your soul
You need strengthening, toughening
It takes an inner dark to rekindle the fire burning in you
Ignite the fire within you

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light

Don’t ignore, listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness
Can show you the light

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Dan Donegan / David Draiman / Kevin Churko / Mike Wengren
The Light lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

How to Survive the Loss Of

Through the years, my aunt Judy has given me some great books. The three that have had the greatest impact on me are: The Gift of Fear, Against Rape, and How to Survive the Loss of a Love. Because I like to continue a good ripple of sharing knowledge, I have bought and given (or rather lent and never seen again) several copies of each of these books myself. The first two are amazing books and I still recommend them highly; however, it is the third one on the list that is relevant here.

The book is a small one and can really be read during a single, long, soaking session in the bathtub if you like; but, the authors recommend that you take it slower than that and I agree with them. I can’t remember when Judy gave me the book, whether it was the first time a boy broke my heart or during the aftermath of one of my subsequent abysmal choices in a potential mate. Whenever she gave it, the book has been useful to me during more than one romantic disaster and during other losses, as well.

The thing that struck me most in my first reading was how they defined “loss” and how they applied the stages of grief to so many events – even small daily ones like missing a phone call or, like today, my old wallet being chewed up by a beagle puppy.

Of all of the things that have happened in the last month, that was the one that sent me to bed for a nap. How silly is that?

The truth is that the wallet was one I got as a “free gift” when I ordered the Highlander series videotapes. Yes, videotapes. (I told you it was old.) It was pretty disreputable looking already, but I liked it. It was soft and all nice and broken-in. It was convenient to move from one purse to another or to just stick in the pocket of my pants or in my hoodie pouch, which is where it was today. It fell out while I was playing with Dexter and in the ten seconds that I didn’t realize what he was doing, he had already chewed it up pretty badly. It is still useable – or it would be if I didn’t have this neurosis about broken things. But, I do; so, the wallet that I have carried for the past 22 years or so, will be discarded.

And that was what drove me to a nap.

Not Ellie dying, losing my job, my roof leaking, missing Christmas with my son, my dad falling, or me being sick. Nope, none of those things were enough. It was the destruction of a freebie, 22-year-old, worn-looking wallet that finally sent me to pull the covers up over my head.

But that happens, right? I mean, after Katrina, the thing that really sent me into a meltdown was realizing that I had to buy new Easter baskets because the ones I’d used since childhood were destroyed. Bear in mind that I lost literally nearly everything I owned, but it was the $10 Easter baskets that had me breathing into a paper bag.

I’m not a mental health professional or a grief counselor; so, I have no clue why that is. However, what I do know – what I learned from How to Survive the Loss of a Love – is that grief is real and must be experienced. Regardless of what kicks it off, the feeling must be acknowledged, felt, and moved through. That last part is incredibly important. It must be moved through, not lived in. However, if we don’t acknowledge our grief and allow ourselves to feel it, we are more likely to get stuck in it.

So, I’ll grieve over this silly little wallet, take a nap, cry, blow my nose, then order a replacement and get on with it.

Bad Home Movies

8mm projector and reels

So we’ve just gotten through the holidays and in the US, at least, that sometimes means the showing of old home movies, vacation videos, childhood photos and the like. Holiday trips down memory lane. Thank goodness for eggnog, amirite? Because when many of us see those old photos we don’t think of our younger selves as children trying to figure things out. We don’t forgive ourselves for not knowing things we had no way to know at the time. We are super harsh and critical of our younger selves. And, for many of us, old loops of negative self-talk can begin again. And old movies or photos are not the only triggers.

Recently, someone I love told me I was fat. Well, what he actually said was that I “need to get one of those things you wear to count your steps.” Depending on the dictionary you use, that translates either to “Jesus! You’re a cow!” or “Damn, girl! You have let yourself go.” Some translations go even further to add a phrase about worthlessness. Like I said, it depends on the dictionary you use.

To quote Ray Schleine in the movie Uptown Girls: “News fuh-lash.”

Thanks to my joints, I am literally painfully aware of how fat I am. I am acutely aware of how much weight I have gained and I am fully aware of how I look. That comment did not help.

So, a little advice from me to you when you find yourself thinking you should “get real” with a friend or loved one about how fat they are – don’t. Just don’t. They know it. And if you just can’t help yourself, let me tell you what is likely to happen: you ask if your loved one really wants that extra cookie or piece of fudge. “You know what?” they say. “You’re right. I don’t need that and I don’t even want it.” Then while you’re off somewhere patting yourself on the back, they have stolen back to the table and taken not just the one piece of fudge they were going to take earlier, they take the whole container which they proceed to eat in the bathroom, the laundry room, or in their darkened bedroom. They are eating it to prove you right when you implied that they have no self-control and are to be pitied. They are proving you right and punishing themselves for it. You didn’t stop anything. You just increased their level of shame.

When I heard that I needed to get a step counter (one of which I have, by the way, I just wasn’t wearing it), I wasn’t prompted to go for a walk. All of those old, negative recordings in my mind started blaring and I grabbed the animal crackers Santa left in my stocking and I took them to a quiet place and ate them in secret. Then I took my hurt out on other people and was ugly to people I love, which while understandable, was inexcusable. Enter more guilt and queue up the chocolate moose Peeps.

I manage the office for one of the most well-respected fitness authorities in the country and while she never says anything about my physical state, I am acutely aware of it, particularly at the office. When I arrive at work, I always hope that no one wants to speak to me right away since my office is on the second floor and I am winded after a single flight of stairs. So, no. Regardless of how much you love me, you don’t need to tell me that I’m fat. I know.

Now, that’s not to say that I would be unreceptive to other ways of phrasing that concern and I believe that many overweight people would also be open to hearing the concern of loved ones if it was delivered without a side order of judgment. Good options might include:

  • I’m concerned about your health. I love you and I want us to be old lady friends together. How can I support your efforts to be healthier?
  • I’m concerned about MY health. I’m going to start walking every day, but it would really help me to have an accountability partner. Would you walk with me?

Notice that both of these approaches are in the first person singular – I – not in the first person plural – we. Don’t seek protection in numbers for this conversation. Be brave and be compassionate. Accept their answer – whatever it is – and continue to treat them with love and acceptance. If they tell you to go suck an egg, then leave it alone. It’s their life, their choice. And you can’t make people want what you want them to want. If they are open to your overture, then follow through. If they need a phone call a day to help, then make it. If you said you were going to walk, then walk.

I don’t know a single overweight or obese person who is completely comfortable in their skin. I’m sure they exist. I just don’t know any of them. Most of us hate how we feel. We hate how we look. We really hate shopping for clothes. And we hate that we don’t seem to have the power to control ourselves enough to change the situation. Most of us try and we fail. Then we try again and we fail again. And rather than every failure strengthening our resolve, it reinforces that negative loop that we are failures, that we can’t do anything right.

It’s the new year and new decade – time for all those resolutions we rarely keep. I am making only these resolutions this year and I mentioned them yesterday:

  • Always acknowledge my blessings.
  • Seek not only knowledge but also wisdom.
  • Be honest, but show compassion – to others and to myself, as well.
  • Love people (including myself) the way I claim to.
  • And watch a second season of Henry Cavill in anything.

Amen.

 

Happy New Year, Loki.

(You jerk.)

Loki with a fishing net
A Norse mythology image from the 18th-century Icelandic manuscript “SÁM 66”, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland. Image uploaded from http://www.sagnanet.is and turned, cropped and color-corrected with The GIMP Version 1.2.3.

In early December, I told a group of friends that the worst thing that had happened to me in 2019 was that I lost a few vacation days. In my mind, I was displaying gratitude that my year had been so good. I thought I said “thank you” to the universe; but, Loki heard me say, “Loki, son of Leufey (Norse gods always hear insults as mentioning their fathers) eat dirt! Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!” So Loki turned to Baldr and said, “Hold my mead.”

Within two weeks of my pronouncement, my roof was leaking, I found out that my son could not come to visit at Christmas, I had a cold, and my dog died. Seriously?!

To say that I was thrown for a loop would be an understatement. I cried for several days over my first Christmas apart from my son. Then, I cried for several more days over my Ellie girl who was geriatric but apparently perfectly healthy on Saturday and dead by Thursday because she seemed to just decide that she was done and she refused to eat. The truth is that although I’ve been feeling sorry for myself for a couple of weeks, to pretend that I am not enormously fortunate would be disingenuous, at best.

I am an educated, white woman living in the United States; so, I enjoy safety and privileges I have not earned.  No bombers are dropping ordinance in my comfortable neighborhood. I have not been accused of any crimes that I have not committed. I have a wonderful job that pays me enough to own my home and enjoy the luxury of pets. Although I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire, I have family and friends aplenty who love me. The truth is that, like so many of us living in industrialized nations, I have no real complaints – regardless of what advertisers tell me. (Except perhaps that I am idiotic enough to tempt Loki AGAIN.)

Here are wishes for myself and for others who are as fortunate as I:

  • May we always acknowledge our blessings.
  • May we seek not only knowledge but also wisdom.
  • May we be honest, yet compassionate.
  • May we love others the way we say we do, and
  • May Netflix give us another season of Henry Cavill in, well, anything.

Amen.