Raindrops on cos-props, and whiskers on furries…

In the expected post-DragonCon doldrums, I am experiencing all the usual bouts of irritability, sadness, disappointment, and sticker-shock. It’s pretty much the same thing every year. I get back to the reality of people being annoyed at their jobs, annoyed with traffic, beaten-down by adulting… what? adulting is hard people!

So, paying bills post-Con is always a sobering activity (and after Con, most people need sobering). Sitting down with a budget and realizing that you may be eating a lot of beans and rice through the end of the year… Wondering if a third job might be in order… Noticing that you might have forgotten to actually mail the RSVP for niece’s wedding that was due to be mailed four days ago… what else have I forgotten in the lost space and time of DragonCon?!?

As you might imagine, it’s a tad depressing. On top of which is the overbranching theme of “You have gotten a bit old for all of this…” And that, my friends, may be the saddest and most depressing part of the post-Con funk (as opposed to  active-Con-Funk which is actually a scent that is indescribable and very recognizable… and traumatizing). It is the idea that time has passed and fandoms have changed. I saw fewer and fewer of the costumes that spoke to my heart of my favorite shows remembered. Star Wars has regained some prominence with the new movies (of which I have seen a sum total of one, and that may be all I have stomach for at this point). Star Trek has new shows which CBS is hoarding with their paid streaming contracts that prevent the viewership at large from watching en masse. Trekkies tend to be a constant population and die hard, so at least they are still representing even in this modern day.

The truth is that I felt a bit out of my element this year, like maybe these weren’t “my people” anymore. I wasn’t recognizing some of the cosplay (though still fully appreciating the beauty, creativity, and effort by so many that I saw). There were fun times, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt different than it had in years past. I still love the amazing energy that is the experience of DragonCon, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve become more of an outsider and observer than a member of the tribe. It’s ok, I think. I’ve changed, and so has Con. And that is probably as it should be. However, I’m left, as so many are post-Con with that feeling of being bereft after so much excitement and milling throngs of people. The sights and the sounds that are part of the convention are replaced with conference calls and reports.

So, before I just completely let myself wallow in misery, I happened to catch an article on Greatist.com about how to get out of a funk. I figured, what the heck? It can’t hurt…

Turns out, it actually is a pretty good little exercise. Some may find it cheesy, but if you actually use it and approach with sincerity, it seems to work. It is a series of 5 questions and 5 “finish this sentence” that involves actually looking for positives in your life. Even in the worst circumstances, we can all find at least one thing that doesn’t completely suck. I do this with patients who struggle with depression and anxiety as well. It can be difficult to find the light when it is overshadowed with bad experiences, disappointments, or clinical depression, but for your average everyday funk mood, it can raise that bar just enough to pull you out of a complete tailspin.

Ask yourself these questions:
1. What’s the best thing that’s happened to me so far today, and what did I most appreciate about it?
2. Which household items do I most appreciate and why?
3. What do I most appreciate about my body and why?
4. What are some things that recently went right or better than expected?

Finish these sentences:
5. I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to…
6. Though I may not be rich, I’m thankful I have enough money to…
7. I appreciate that every day I get to…
8. The best things in life are free, including…
9. I appreciate that tomorrow I’ll get to…
10. I appreciate that I had the courage to…

So… give it a try. Be honest. A lot of people might immediately go into a negative headspace and answer the questions with the idea that there is nothing good in their life. I challenge you to find even the smallest thing as a potential positive. It might get easier as you move through the list. It might even help you see other positives that you hadn’t seen previously. Hang in there folks.

With gratitude to Susie Moore (life coach for Greatest.com) and Lori Deschene author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal: Questions, Prompts, and Coloring Pages for a Brighter, Happier Life

 

Negative Nelly, Complaining Clarie, and Gloomy Gus…

They are contagious, you know. In fact, they are some of the most virulent agents of ill that are completely undocumented by the CDC or FDA or any other official sounding acronym that I could come up with to illustrate the point. While I’m pretty certain that a Perpetually Positive Polly would spark homicidal rage in the most stable of breasts, treading too long in the dark is draining, exhausting, and just not productive.

Negative Nelly

Can often be found hanging out with her buddy Debbie Downer. She and Debbie can find the cloud around every silver lining. Nothing can brighten their bad day. Nothing suits them quite so well as being able to share something horrible about someone who has had a run of good fortune. Prognosticators of pussilescence, they will be the first to predict misfortune and a downturn of luck when things are going well. They never have a good word to say about anyone, and while they are always willing to share all the juiciest gossip (especially if it is bad news), they are not the group in which you want to confide… since their next news story might be about you! 

Complaining Clarie

Quick to point out all the flaws, Clarie can spot all the ways that something can and will go wrong. Clarie’s glass is always half empty… if not entirely dry. Without fail, CC will always doubt the potential of any plan. She will find every single hole and stumbling block along the path… Not so bad, you say? Maybe not. We all need someone who can be devil’s advocate and plan for the potentiality of failure, but she’s not so forth-coming with the solutions. For CC, it’s not so much the potential, but the eventual, and she is absolutely certain about negative outcome. Clarie also likes to complain about her situation, the behavior of others, and the general condition of her surroundings, but she is completely uninterested in the contributed solutions of friends, colleagues, or family, Offered options are often met with “Yeah… but…” It’s like she doesn’t want anything to improve… she just wants to bitch about it. Finding the failure and pain points is all well and good Clarie, but how do you suggest we fix it?!?

Gloomy Gus

Bless his heart. He’s the workplace version of Eeyore. Not so bad a character, but after a while, hearing about how everything is going to go to hell in  handbasket can get a little rough on the ears. Everything is always horrible, and Gus never has anything good to report. Whether it is his work performance or his physical aches and pains, he will regale any unfortunate listener with all the depressing details. I don’t know that Gus is just deliberately trying to sabotage a positive workplace, but he’s enough to suck the life out of everyone around him. Much like CC, Gus isn’t interested in your advice for how he might alter his own circumstances. He prefers to wallow in his own misery… and he wants to share that misery with company. He’s his own worst enemy, and he can’t figure out why no one wants to go on break with him.

Solution Sally (Marginal Member of the Negativity Collective)

She’s the antithesis to Clarie and all her complaints. Sally is always telling you how to do it better… But that isn’t such a bad thing to have a person who is always looking for the way to fix things, is it? Sally isn’t so bad, most of the time. Where our solution-seeking gal (or guy) becomes a potentially less than positive influence is when there isn’t anything that needs fixing. You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke…” Well, our gal Sal doesn’t even notice that things are working, she always sees a different way, though not always better, and she’s quick to jump in and tell you how her way is the best way, even when no one asked. We love solutions, Sally, but listening is an important skill to embrace before trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Hanging around with these people too much can lead you to a convalescence in the Bitter Barn. Trust me, you do not want a permanent bunk in there. The accommodations are pretty poor and comfort levels are abysmal. Of course, that is how the regulars like it… always something to complain about, right?

The truth is that sometimes it is really hard to stay positive. When things are stressful and just not going your way, the simplest thing in the world is to dive into  morose sense of the futility… and of course bitch about it. We’ve all done it (except for PPP… and she’s just a little too chipper for everyone). There are just times when the day… or week… maybe year… just sucks. We get down. We get cranky. Sometimes, we get angry. It’s ok. Those are human emotions and natural responses to aversive stimuli and unpleasant situations. It’s not fun or enjoyable, and I think most people would find it completely acceptable for any normal human being to have those emotional responses. It’s also quite natural to vent and share our displeasure verbally. However, there is a time and place for everything… and a limit.

Negativity is one of those things that has a contradictory nature of sharing. For some negative impact issues, bottling up our emotional responses can create something like an affective abscess that bursts at inconvenient times or stews and simmers to grow into other problems down the road. On the other hand, venting can sometimes be a self-feeding spiral that just drags the person sharing into a more and more negative mood… not to mention either coloring the mood of listeners or just alienating everyone (remember what I said about the contagion factor). It’s a fine line.

So, when is it ok? And when is enough… enough? First of all, remember your environment and your audience. While honesty is generally the best policy, lambasting the boss in front of other leadership personnel may not be the best strategy for continued employment. Additionally, while everyone understands the occasional dissatisfaction inspired complaint, a continual diatribe without any contributing solutions may not be appreciated in work or social settings. Watercooler talk or an afterwork social gathering is always subject to the occasional griping, but no one wants to hear constant negativity.

How can you tell if you are becoming one of the negativity tribe? One key factor that can clue you into the “enough is enough” point is when the venting doesn’t make you feel any better. We’ve all had those moments where faced with a frustrating or infuriating set of circumstances, we just want to fly loose with “!@#(&%)!@$~@#!”  In the normal course of events, your friend, partner, or sympathetic coworker responds with, “Feel better now?” and if done correctly, the answer should be, “Yes.” That is venting. It lets off the steam that had built up to explosive levels. Once the pressure has been released, it clears the system for more productive focus. The danger of chronic or constant venting is that there is no cathartic feeling of “Aaaah that feels a little better after saying it.” With the continued diatribe or spewing of vindictive spleen, the spewer and the spewee just feel worse and worse with each instance… and each passing moment. Sometimes this conversation can degenerate into one-upmanship or “you think that’s bad?” and from there it’s is race to see who can be the most negative. This is a pretty good indication that venting is not therapeutic or helpful any longer.

So what to do? Suppressing emotions just because they are not the happy peppy ones isn’t healthy, but feeding the darker emotions with continual negative energy isn’t good either. Having someone who is safe to process stuff with is a treasure. Don’t abuse them. Make sure that if a friend, partner, or trusted coworker is willing to listen that you give them the same courtesy and do not monopolize that avenue of communication. Also, how do you know that you are talking to Nelly, Clarie, or Gus… if you consistently feel drained and exhausted after every interaction, it’s probably one of these folks from the Bitter Barn. Best defense is changing subjects, but when all else fails, walk away. Use your own energy to fuel something more positive instead of letting it be drained away by the perpetually negative.

Stay encouraged and curious, folks, and stay out of the Bitter Barn!

The year that sped… Mental Fatigue

This morning I got up… per my usual… at the usual time. It was dark out. Just last week, it wasn’t dark… was it? I could swear it was at least the faint, gray pre-dawn thing. But today… nope. Dark. Like night. Which pretty much reminded me that I meant to get so much done this summer… and didn’t.

What happens to me and my time that I fail to accomplish the goals and tasks that needed to be accomplished? And what about the things that I wanted (rather than needed) to do?

So here I am… about 2 weeks more before I am squarely in the fourth quarter of 2018 and I find that there are many things that I meant to get to… and didn’t. Many pounds I meant to shed… and… nope… those are still firmly where they were (and I think they brought friends to stay with them). The panic sets in, and not just a small modicum of guilt. Did I waste all my time? Did I procrastinate necessary chores in favor of vegetating like a lump while my brain oozed from my ears binging a series on Netflix? Am I a terrible slackard for not getting all my to-do tah-done? It’s enough to discourage, dishearten, and generally depress… BUT, I honestly just don’t have time for that right now.

Mental exhaustion is a thing. People don’t always acknowledge this. If you go out and put in 8-12 hours of manual, sweaty labor for yourself or someone else, pretty much all parties will agree that your right to exhaustion is guaranteed. “You, my friend, have put in a hard day’s labor, and the laborer is deserving of succor and rest…” Ok, seriously, if you have friends that speak like this without actually being at a Renfaire… that is awesome! The point is that while physical labor and activity are definitely not extinct in our world, it isn’t quite the common thread that it was. In days gone by the majority of the population did have manual labor as a part of their daily lives, but most people today have occupations and avocations that are less physical and more cerebral… even if menial or tedious.

We still tend to give more credence to physical cause for tiredness than mental challenges or efforts. And that just isn’t a fair assessment at all. I get patients, employees, friends, family…  saying “I don’t know why I’m so tired… I haven’t done anything,” only to follow that up with folks telling me that they have been learning a whole new process at work or have been writing a paper that will change the way we think about biometrics and human interaction with technology on a molecular level. I even catch my own inner voice chastising my lassitude when all I’ve seemingly done all day is sit at a desk in meetings.

HEY PEOPLE!!! That is work. Your brain requires energy to power it, and when it has been put to use trying to absorb new information or synthesize an innovation, it is using that energy. The result? We. Get. Tired. And now I have shades of Mel Brooks with Madeline Kahn running around in my head… probably using more of that energy.

Our brains use up a ton of energy (and Calories) every day just to keep us breathing, digesting, moving around… passive stuff that we don’t even consciously acknowledge. When we then add to it the need to process additional data and input, it is work. While it may be using the “muscle” between your ears instead of the ones attached to long bones throughout your skeleton, it is still potentially exhausting.

I guess the bottom line, upshot, in conclusion, and all that jazz that I wish to impart to anyone still reading is that brain work is still work, and your body and mind require recovery just as much as for physical effort. And for those of us that maybe didn’t get everything accomplished that we set out to do at the beginning of the summer or year, it’s ok. Set small steps, give yourself credit for the things you did do, and even small victories deserve a celebration. Take care of yourselves.

Her name is Esmerelda…

She sits rather alone and neglected in the corner of the room. It is a place of honor, but the look of her sitting there sedately gives me a pang of guilt. There she is, untouched and lonely… patiently waiting. She has a warmth in her appearance. Golden, like aged honey. Her curves are broad and rounded. Her neck stretches from her body, wider than most. Her voice has gone silent, but when she sang, her tone was soft and mellow, matching her appearance…

Esmerelda is a guitar. She’s a very special guitar. She belonged to my father, a Christmas present almost 50 years ago. At the time she was purchased at the post exchange, she might have cost $15, but even that required my mother to save for months out of household expenses to obtain her. At that time, she was nameless. Her body and strings were new, her personality was yet to be formed, and her name was awaiting a girl to hear it and know it was meant for her…

Over the years, Esmerelda was forgotten in a storage closet as work and family presented demands on time that never allowed my dad to really give attention to her. The Spanish classical, dreadnought body was too large for my small stature back then (I could barely hold her and reach the strings properly), but I always tried and begged to hold her. Once we moved overseas, she was put into long term storage where she remained until my parents retired back to the United States. The intervening years and situations faded her memory, and she was gone. When storage containers were opened, Esmerelda was but one of the myriad of items and memories that emerged. She had suffered from the long years of neglect. Her bridge had disconnected. Strings were hanging loose. The veneer of her fret board appeared loose in places, and the statement was made, “It probably isn’t worth putting in the money to repair it…” but the sight of her had reminded me, and I persisted. I took her gently and begged to be able to nurse her back to health. Perhaps it was then that she whispered to me her name.

One of the local music shops surprised me by being delighted to work with her and get her back in shape. (Turns out it was a good deal less to repair than to try to replace her with a comparable contemporary model, “They do not make them like this anymore…”). Returned to me with new bridge and strings, I set myself the task of trying to recall fingering and strumming and learning to make her sing again… Her voice sounded smoothly through the house, balm to emotions, though fingers were blistered and peeling, not used to the abuse.

Regularly, we would give her opportunity to shine alone or with mandolin and banjo. My father would sit and listen, eyes closed and foot tapping to Salty Dog or Black Velvet Band…

Many hands have held Esmerelda, but since the death of my father, I’ve found it difficult to apply my hands to the strings. I miss her voice… as I miss my dad’s. Much as my father before, I find myself struggling as work and time have been useful excuses to avoid facing Esmerelda’s recrimination for leaving her alone… even in her place of honor. Perhaps… it is her voice whispering to me… “Please come to me. Let me sing again…” Or perhaps it is my dad reminding me today not to miss opportunities merely due to convenient excuses…

May the 4th be with you… Happy Birthday Dad. I miss you.

The New Cheese: The no-win competition

It’s been a minute since I’ve contributed anything for TNC. What am I saying? It’s been more than a minute since I posted anything at all… 

I’m sorry. With all the best of intentions for posting more regularly, I find time passing with a remarkable rapidity while I’m juggling flaming brands and suddenly it’s been months between posts. At least I know I’m not alone in post frequency lapses as my friends Tangent and Tess have both attested to in their own forums. Life happens and as previously attested, time passesAnd that is about as much apologizing as I’m going to do on this point… back to what prompted this post…

Competing. Now, all in all, I have to say that healthy competition can be very beneficial. A lot of erudite folks have actually done studies to show that children among peers actually progress better when they have evenly matched colleagues to spur their own creative or productive efforts in competition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with competing or testing our own abilities against those of others. There are large amounts of money spent and made off of this concept on a professional and even amateur levels of this in sporting events. However, it isn’t limited to just physical prowess.

Competition is everywhere. It exists in academia. It exists, obviously, in market and business. It exists in the workplace. Employers in sometimes well-meaning but unthinking ways attempt to encourage productivity or innovation by creating competition and comparison in the office. In the purity of form, there really isn’t anything wrong with this either. Humans tend to excel when given something to exceed, even when that something to exceed is their colleague or a team in the other department or a different segment of the business. But, it can be taken too far. Additionally, it can become a lifestyle or a culture and that can become stressful and unhealthy.

Every job has expectations. Most employers have to set a scale of some sort that identifies when an employee is meeting or exceeding (or even failing to meet) those expectations. In artistic or creative arenas, the esthetics become the measure of acceptance and success. However in the more prosaic areas of toil and with larger workforces, you have to have something a bit more objective. It would be wonderful to just say everyone deserves the same increase or bonus, but that is neither feasible or realistic. Also, human beings are … well… human. If Sally looks over and sees John sitting on his laurels and doing nothing but knows that she is paid the same as he is regardless… Sally wonders why she should have to work so hard. She might (if she has no pride in her actual work) give up and decide to slack off like John. “We’re all getting paid the same anyway… why should I bother?”

And there it is… the downside of the competition/comparison game…

The bigest fail point of competition or comparison is that when we start trying to evaluate score and tally it up by comparing ourselves to some other person, we are always going to lose. This isn’t just in the workplace, by the way. I talk to couples all the time who have gotten stuck in this imaginary scoreboard where one party always thinks they are doing more than the other. Nobody wins. Everyone feels like they get the short end of the deal. It creates resentment and hurt feelings and antagonism instead of support. In relationships, it generally takes a while to counter the mindset of the score-keeping competition. I end up spending a lot of time trying to get each party to start feeling more like a team player instead of looking to see how they are getting short-changed in the system. The same occurs in the workplace. Overly competitive environments breakdown sense of team and turn everything into silos of influence where people hold back information and decline to help so that they can “out perform” that guy over there or the other business segment.

Again, I’m not saying that competition is a bad thing. It often results in better options for a customer as people try to offer better for less. However, in less purely capitalistic arenas (and when taken to extremes), it can lead to negativity. Comparing oneself to others constantly generally leads to resentment and lassitude. “I’m never going to be like her/him… so, quit trying?” or better yet, “It wouldn’t matter if I did ten times the stuff they’re doing, I’ll never get the credit. So, I’m just going to do what it takes to get by…” It’s depressing, and for managers who try to encourage the best performance from all members of their team it’s exhausting, disheartening, and sometimes quite infuriating. Again, it’s applicable in other, non-work instances because whenever people compare their own input into a situation, relationship, or project, they always feel like they are doing more than the other participants and getting less out of it. Aaannnnndddd… resentment again.

So, when is it ok to compare, or perhaps, is there a comparison that can be more positive? Why, yes there is! It is absolutely free, and if you call in the next 5 minutes… oh wait, that’s something else. What I mean to say is the best comparison is always to our own performance. When we are looking to others instead of to our own performance past and present, we’re never running our best race. For many, winning against someone else only involves doing the minimal effort to just surpass rather than giving it all we’ve got. The best competition is always to better our own performance and achieve personal goals, taking pride in that outcome. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love recognition and external praise/reward as much as the next person… it’s just if I rely solely on that for my sustenance, I’m probably gonna starve, but that is a whole other issue (SELF-PITY PARTY FOR ONE, YOUR TABLE IS READY!) Consistently working to improve and seeking self-approbation for achieving a goal can be incredibly satisfying. For myself, I enjoy a friendly competition now and then, but the true wins for me will always be judged on how I did against myself.

Time – an ever changing… constant?

With the notable exception of theoretical physics experts and those who have been experimenting with quantum entanglements and the study of anomalous events in the universe, such as black holes, most people believe that time is a constant. It is a fixed measurement that progresses as predictable rate and to which we must all heed and adhere.

The perception of time is a completely different matter. Despite the very impersonal sense of time as a variable, we think of it differently than perhaps mass or volume. We talk about time like a living, breathing thing that can ravage or crawl. It can change course and speed. Perhaps it is due to this almost sentient and entity-like aspect, time becomes more malleable and something of science fiction. Because with human perception you add the of the human experience with hopes, expectations, and apprehensions, time can speed or slow sometimes even within the span of one day. Most of us can remember adults and elders in our youth talking about how time seems to fly by while we weary travelers as children had to clock the seconds and hours slowly awaiting holiday, recess, or any other anxiously awaited event. It is that variability and fluidity that might even lead one to suspect that time might be manipulated.

Even as adults, most of us still experience that lack of consistency when the clock seems to race out of control when a project deadline approaches or might slow to a crawl when we’re stuck in a meeting. For each of us who have scheduled time off or vacation, we’ve felt how the hours might drag until that 5 o’clock whistle after a very long and exhausting week, but the hours of the weekend or planned time away race by, and we find ourselves all too quickly back at the beginning of that first day of the work week with a long stretch of days and hours before us. For parents, you have probably experienced both the over zealous passage of time when you blink and the children you love appear before you as adults, but perhaps you also remember when you wondered if the time would ever come that you weren’t cleaning up apocalyptic messes and strange scientific experiments found under beds or were able to downsize to a shoulder bag that wasn’t roughly the equivalent of a suitcase because it was impossible to go out unprepared for every eventuality of parenting woe.

One of the most difficult time anomalies is grief. For those who have suffered loss, the time seems to stand still. It can feel as if the world stopped turning just for you and will never regain a normal rate, but the passage of time for everyone else continued a pace without notice. However, you find eventually that years have passed. You wonder how you missed the time going by and moving forward. You ask, how did that happen? Or can it really have been a decade? And, yet, sometimes the grief stabs with surprising intensity at unexpected moments, still fresh and clear and painful, almost as if no time has passed at all. While time does pass, and the pain eventually dulls, it can sometimes bridge the gaps to present images and emotions as clear as the day they originally formed with no fading. That is, again, the difference between the constant and the human perception. We call it memory, and even when painful, it can often be precious.

One of my favorite depictions of that strange difference between the constant of time and the human perception was penned by Shakespeare. And so… I will let the Bard take the stage to describe:

ROSALIND:  By no means, sir. Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons. I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.

ORLANDO:  I prithee, who doth he trot withal?

ROSALIND:  Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized. If the interim be but a se’nnight, time’s pace is so hard that it seems the length of seven year.

ORLANDO:  Who ambles time withal?

ROSALIND:  With a priest that lacks Latin and a rich man that hath not the gout, for the one sleeps easily because he cannot study and the other lives merrily because he feels no pain—the one lacking the burden of lean and wasteful learning, the other knowing no burden of heavy tedious penury. These time ambles withal.

ORLANDO:  Who doth he gallop withal?

ROSALIND:  With a thief to the gallows, for though he go as softly as foot can fall, he thinks himself too soon there.

ORLANDO:  Who stays it still withal?

ROSALIND:  For lawyers on vacation, because they sleep their holidays away, with no sense of how time moves.

Thus, until the next… may time treat you well.

Boundaries… I haz them

…as should we all. Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries keep us balanced. Boundaries let us be individuals. I’m not sure when it actually happened. It seems that little by little as time has passed, people have given up their privacy in the name of freedom… and waltzed way past boundaries in the name of false entitlement… ok, maybe a little license there, but this is a bit of a rant.

I’m not knocking freedom or liberation. I firmly believe in the right of free speech and thought. However, privacy and boundaries are something that has become more and more fluid with the popularity of social media and the revelations about technology and the ability of agencies and individuals to not only observe the intimate details of life but possibly even steal a few of them. Even in the midst of outcries for breaches of privacy and accusations of even the government overstepping some boundaries of what they should and should not have access to for private citizens, people still willingly share private information via social media with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, followers… the world (for those who like to go public on their profiles). Boundaries between what is personal or private versus what is suitable for others to know and consume have blurred to the point of near invisibility for some. I do not necessarily say it is a bad thing to be open and trusting, but I personally have reservations with airing all the aspects of ones life with the public at large. I also believe that while you are free to express yourself, you are also free to experience consequences that accompany that expression, positive or negative. Just keep that bit in mind.

In truth, people do not need (and should not have) access to your intimate life constantly. Everyone should have some sort of sanctum sanctorum, fortress of solitude… batcave? Ok, so overly dramatic, but still there should be some place, even non-physical to which an individual can retreat and be private. Even family and partners need some way to have their own space, sometimes if it is merely in the privacy of their own thoughts. It is exhausting and can be somewhat unhealthy to be constantly exposed, even if to a limited audience. What has become disturbing about the open-book philosophy and current trends of oversharing is that certain entities gain a false sense of entitlement to lives that are not their own. What do I mean by that? Well, it has become almost common place for friends, family, employers, coworkers, and employees to feel they are entitled to know the details of the lives of anyone and everyone no matter their relationship to the individual in question. They want to know about your interests, your family, your stresses, your struggles, and of course your failures. They want all the minute, intimate details, and those who choose not to display personal items or pictures of loved ones or don’t feel as free sharing private scenarios or feelings are sometimes perceived and labeled as negative, stand-offish, cold, angry, or not participating in the culture of the group. In the workplace, individuals who keep to themselves and choose not to share details of their time away from the office or office hours engender suspicion and occasionally criticism.

In the non-work relationships, the phenomenon can be observed in slightly different ways. Terms like “vague-booking” have arisen to describe social media posts that are cryptic, dramatic, and lack the excessive detail to explain the personal matters that have become expected. Friends and family sometimes become offended or feel injured if they find that events have transpired without their knowledge. Nothing, it seems, is sacred.

But some things should be. Boundaries are good. They need not be seen as divisive, because separations of individuality can be a remarkably positive thing. It prevents emmeshment. Division does not have to mean antagonism. Difference doesn’t necessarily presuppose disagreement. I read recently that empathic people (no, I do not mean Counselor Troy from STNG) have a difficult time with boundaries. They feel what other people feel, and they have an uncanny ability to draw complete strangers into telling their life stories. It is a gift, but it can also be amazingly taxing emotionally and psychologically. It can also be invasive, intrusive, and unpleasant for others who may not feel comfortable with that level of interaction. Yet another reason boundaries can be a very good thing. Just because you can pick up on the emotional tenor of others doesn’t mean they want you to share it or even ask them about it.

So, sometimes the message to the world at large needs to be, “No, you do not get to rent space in my head.” The space and time of my life to which you have access is of my choosing. None of us need permission to step away and recover. We have a right to be able to do just that. Additionally, the details of your private life and mine (and they harm none) are the property of no one else.

I can set my boundaries. It may have taken me an undisclosed number of years to learn the trick of it, and I’m still working on my skills in this area. We all need to realize that we don’t have to give anyone or everyone access to our inner most thoughts and feelings, and it should always be our choice. Choose your boundaries and set them knowingly, recognize those of others, and perhaps we can all be a bit healthier in our interpersonal interactions.

Physical Fit: The negative about body positive

What I am about to say is by no means original or earth shattering. It just isn’t. I’m not the first to notice some of the less healthy bits that have come about due to what has been dubbed the “body-positive” movement.

Now, before anyone starts in on their defense rebuttal and argument strategies (which everyone in this day and age is wont to do, because we don’t actually listen anymore… but that is a different post for another day) hear me out… or read me? Or whatever…

The movement has been called Body Positive because it was intended to promote appreciation for the natural form without being forced to the ideals of a society that appears to be entirely divorced from the reality of the human body. It was a movement to combat the push to get people to make unhealthy choices about their eating or behavior merely because their own physical appearance was outside the perceived ideals of society. It’s a great philosophy… on paper… in an ideal world. For the most part, I agree with the premise of being positive and feeling good about who you are without having to harm yourself physically trying to fit into unrealistic silhouette. I do not think that everyone should look the same or even be forced into the unnatural confines of a body that is unhealthily restricted or genetically impossible. Women (and men) have had society’s physical expectations thrust upon them since, probably, the dawn of time. The sense of what is or isn’t attractive (if we believe all those science types) should be defined by that which makes for healthiest reproduction and genetic superiority. Yes, I said that. Where it all seems to have gone a bit tits-up was when the definition of “success” was less about the superiority of physical genetics and more about Who’s Who (back when you couldn’t purchase your way into the register).

So, as a species we went from strongest, healthiest, most likely to survive to reproductive maturity… to whatever was the most popular and most in the public eye, regardless of physical health. Technically, this is probably still about what was at one point going to survive or at least make the most attempts at reproduction (popularity and financial success/stability can work their wiles on many). This resulted in some fairly ridiculous fashion trends that included emaciated appearances or even the complexion and frailty of tuberculosis. And don’t let’s get started on corsets for women and men. The human race has pursued some seriously peculiar trends. Still, times change, attractiveness and fashion changing right along with them. Eventually, the time came that people got fed up with the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.

All of a sudden, people were encouraging young women… and men… to focus on being healthy and appreciating their body rather than adopting unhealthy practices in attempts to replicate body proportions that are frankly impossible to achieve with merely a good diet and exercise program. Many people started appreciating their own bodies and sharing that with others (thanks, social media). The Body Positive movement encouraged people of all types and shapes and sizes to appreciate what is good and healthy about their own bodies rather than being self-critical and self-loathing based on societal expectations. The movement created an upwelling of acceptance and a cheer heard from normal, average, non-supermodel bodies around the world said “Go us!”

What could possibly go wrong with that?!? Well… like any good, positive, and supportive trend, there is always the “over-do-it” principal and, of course, the backlash. Anything that humans create that is healthy will generally be taken to an inappropriate extreme and used improperly by some. And that, my friends, is pretty much what happened. For all the great job that being positive about our bodies did to combat eating disorders, body shaming, and dispelling the myths of only “thin can get in,” there were those who used those good intentions in supporting, validating, and maintain frankly unhealthy habits. Healthcare professionals were lambasted for certain recommendations for patients who could benefit from healthier lifestyles as being demeaning and “fat-shaming.” While I do not claim that all healthcare professionals are without flaw, I also believe that they try to work towards the best health outcomes of the patients in their care. Most (though definitely not all) health providers base their diagnostics and recommendations on more than general appearance or the visible expectations of society. So, when they suggest certain actions, it isn’t just because they think you look unpleasant in your clothing (or out of them). Usually, it also has something to do with lab results. Additionally, the attempts to be more positive about all body types, sizes, and shapes had the back-lash effect of what some called “skinny-shaming.” Folks who might be more in line with thinner ideals or even more on the underweight side started catching some of the negative comments and frankly critical feedback. From the days where the “chubby kid” got bullied, the shift has come to making insulting comments about people who have difficulty putting on the extra pounds. For those who might say, “Hell, I’d love to have that problem…” it can be a very serious issue that results in bone deterioration and other health concerns.

Additionally, the word “diet” became a focus for anger and people said that you cannot follow a diet and be body positive. I get where they are coming from, I think. After years of crazy crash diets and ridiculously extreme weight-loss programs that took people to levels of starvation and encouraged eating disorders, the word diet became a word that meant cutting OUT or cutting caloric content significantly. Let me say this: “Diet” refers to any program or menu of suggested eating. Diets can be constructed to gain weight. Diets can be developed to address particular health conditions. Telling someone who actually does embrace their own healthy body (whatever that body looks like) that they are not body positive because they are following a diet is as bad as those who the body positive movement originally arose to combat… and now… I need to stop that rant.

What is my point? I guess what I am trying to say is that good ideas with the best of intentions can always be taken to an unhealthy extreme or abused. That doesn’t mean we should just toss them. However, it does mean that perhaps we should take them back to the purity of the original intent. Healthy is where it is at, folks. The measure of health is not always immediately visible to the eye, and we need to remember that. We do not need to ascribe to what society says we have to look like to be accepted or feel good and confident about who we are. That doesn’t mean we have a blank check to make poor decisions about our health and ignore everything that our primary care provider (or specialist) says that might be uncomfortable to hear. Feel good about doing the things that you enjoy. Let go of the self-conscious crap that says you have to look a certain way to be happy or healthy. What works for one doesn’t work for all. Learn to love what is realistically healthy for your physical and emotional make up and work towards that goal. That is the best way to be positive.

 

Physical Fit: Of inertia, momentum, set backs, and comebacks?

Break it down for me…

Warning: This post gets serious. Just letting you know. It isn’t my usual level of humor or even snark. I am letting you know up front, but I’m keeping it real with you all and hopefully it will help someone.

I file this post under the physical fit I pitched a while back, but to be completely honest, it actually applies to everything I do. I have described myself on occasion as the all-time-champion-queen-of-the-list-makers. This pertains primarily to my habit of breaking down my days, weeks, tasks, and projects into lists of smaller pieces that I quite literally cross out or check off as I go. Why? Well, for one, my memory isn’t quite what it used to be (it happens to most of us eventually). While I can remember in the most minute detail conversations and embarrassments and general unpleasant occurrences from days gone by, if I don’t write it down, I will sometimes forgets pants… ok, slight exaggeration, but I do find that writing things down keeps me from forgetting various important tasks that I need to get done. Secondly, sometimes the impact of the things we face each day can be so overwhelming, it just seems easier to turn away and give up. If that overwhelming mountain is broken up into steps… well, more on that later.

So, why under physical fit again? Well, because a very recent conversation with a person very dear to me made me remember that we all need to feel a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes those accomplishments can be relatively modest. Additionally, we all need support, and it helps to know we aren’t alone.

Last month I hit a wall. It was a big one. Construction on said wall started early in 2017 and continued throughout the year in fits and starts. A series of unfortunate events comprised of personal injuries, financial traumas, betrayals by family and friends, injustices, general cruelty and meanness by various in society, and grief seemed to participate in a competition for what could leave the biggest dent. Mostly we just keep rolling with punches and remember that there are so many people in the world fighting bigger battles and facing worse hardships. But starting in about August the construction plan on that wall of mine must have gone into overdrive. In a horrific cascade, I found myself facing the loss of seven close friends or relatives from August through the end of the year. Some were after long struggles with illness, but others were completely unexpected and devastating in their impact.

Around about mid-December, I gave up. Seriously, that is about the only way I can describe it. I woke up and just didn’t have it in me to try any more. I picked up the bloody white towel (totally metaphorical) and hurled it into the center of the ring. I was done. I didn’t care about progress or gains or losses or getting better or worse or living or dying anymore. I quit working out. I quit minding my diet (not just the caloric intake but actual allergens… more on that later). I just couldn’t see the point.

Just to be clear, if I had not had patients, clients, etc. to see, I would not have left my house and probably would not have bathed or changed clothing… Sound familiar? If you or anyone you know has depression, it should. In speaking with the person I mentioned earlier in this post (and I hope he’s ok with me sharing even if I don’t include his name), I found just as I had heard from patients and colleagues and other friends around that same time that so many of us were hit particularly hard in 2017 and particularly in the latter half of the of the year (and continued during the first of 2018). He mentioned suicidal thoughts at certain points and feeling so low that death seemed a better option. Several other people have shared the same… including me. What we were all experiencing was pain, individualized and excruciating. Depression can be debilitating, and it can be worsened by seasonal impact of light (or lack thereof). The stigma attached often prevents those suffering from trying to get help or even support.

For the most part, all of those who shared with me their dark times and dark thoughts have made it through to this point. While not all are out of the woods, they are still fighting back, and now knowing they aren’t necessarily alone.

I still didn’t get to that physical fit part, did I? So, one of the things that exacerbated my own plummet into the pit was that I gave up one of the things that actually helped… my workouts and exercise in general. Not to mention, those allergens… told you I would come back to it. In that headlong rush into self-destruction I ate all the things. Mostly all the things that my body has already indicated it doesn’t really get along with so much. I ended up with a mouth full of sores and blisters and… you all don’t want to know the rest. So, on top of the existential pain, I had the rather debilitating physical pain that at one point did not allow me to consume much more than water. Some choices carry their own punishments, and my body decidedly wanted me to remember why I don’t eat all the things.

After a month away, I dragged myself back to the gym. It wasn’t easy. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, and I definitely had to make myself step through the door. It was almost like starting over that very first day I had the fit. It felt as if I had lost every inch of ground I had covered in that time. I felt like a failure… and I nearly ran back to my car and retreated back to my dark pit.

But I didn’t. It was embarrassing to have to start over, but I recognized that I probably needed to take it slow. So, I did. I broke it into pieces. It wasn’t about an hour or even 40 minutes. I broke it down to quite literally 5 minute increments. I can put up with anything for 5 minutes, right? And that is how I got through it. That is how I got through that first day back at the gym, and the second. We can all face the difficult for 5 minutes, can’t we? For any insurmountable, horrible obstacle that life throws… break it down. And talk to someone. Reach out to the people around you. They may be struggling, too. We can get through this, even if it is a piece at a time.

Calendar of Meh…

And now… Just in time for the flipping of the yearly dial… the moment we’ve all been waiting for with so much anticipation…

Ok, so, not so much. While this is something I’ve been threatening to do for many, many years now, the rest of the world is probably not really given it much though. But wait, perhaps you merely do not know what you have been missing! It is the Calendar of Meh! What, you may ask, is the Calendar of Meh? Well, I’ll tell ya. Quite a number of years ago (the number is immaterial and too large for my vanity) as a colleague and I sat sleep deprived and unmotivated, we discussed the names given to the days of the week. Yes, we knew the etiology of the modern nomenclature (which alone is somewhat confusing and pantheist, but again a topic for another day perhaps), but somehow, the old days on the calendar do not properly reflect the true modern approach to our work week. Thus, we came up with a modern day cubical-denizen/slave’s version of the weekly diary… I’m sure the calendar companies will soon come banging on the door:

  • Sunday – Dread Day or Day of Dread or Please don’t make me go to (school, work, etc.) day… oh yeah.
  • Monday – there is really nothing worse than the original here.
  • Tuesday – Bastard child of Monday, because you know it’s true (#onlyTuesday).
  • Wednesday – Hump Day… Congrats, you made it halfway! You know it’s all downhill from here.
  • Thursday – Friday Eve, because you know most people just treat it like part of the weekend anyway.
  • Friday – because honestly there is nothing to improve here, unless we just say Wahoo!
  • Saturday – Recovery Day, because that is what you are all doing, admit it.

Seriously, doesn’t this much more accurately describe how we all approach the days of the week? However, once I started thinking about how the week is described in a more descriptive approach, do the months need an overhaul? It’s not like we’ve had a good calendar revamp since 1752 when the Gregorian version was adopted by many (though not all) of the societies of the planet, generally giving us the rhyme about 30 and 31 days with that strange 28-day outlier that has to catch up with an extra day every 4 years (Leap Year… why is it leaping? I certainly do not feel very energetic during February, but I digress). Anyhow, I thought I’d try my hand those old monthly labels as well (keep in mind some of these might be a tad fluid instead of the set 28-31 day deal)… Here goes:

  • Checkuary – the period of time, regardless of how many days it takes, where we all participate in the crossing out, erasing, and re-writing of the year number as we get used to it changing from the previous cycle…
  • Brass-Brassiereary – which is easily easier to spell than the original and takes its name from northern hemispheric inhospitable temperatures…
  • Irish Month – Everything is green. Everyone is inebriated. No one cares about your DNA.
  • Taxuary – that time of year where we sit down and balance the accounts to see how much the government has picked our pockets and whether or not they have to give any back…
  • Is-it-summer-yet? – Students can’t focus. Office workers take longer lunches.
  • Midsommerish – More accuracy than snark, but there it is.
  • Onfire – Mostly because of the cookouts and fireworks. The whole month seems to be about setting things on fire.
  • Meltuary – Humidity and dog days, time to embrace air conditioning and icy beverages.
  • ParentalGleeuary – Conversely this is also TeacherGloomuary… take that as you will.
  • DressUpMonth – On a personal note, this is my personal favorite…
  • @#$%-I’ve-not-started-shopping – Because, let’s be honest, we all kept telling ourselves “I’ve got plenty of time yet… “
  • BuyersRemorse or TURNOFFTHATDANGMUSIC – dealer’s choice…

Some of the names are still a work in progress. I’ve considered other contenders such as “RunfortheBeachuary” and “STUPIDTURKEYANDCOOKIES MONTH” (or possibly “ALL.THE.PIE.”). However, there may be others that you yourself might consider more fitting for your own household. That is the beauty of Meh. It works for who you are. And that concludes my contributions to the calendar business. I’m sure I’ll start getting offers any minute…

For your use, there is a PDF template (below link) you can print and use as your personal Calendar of Meh and one for 2018 should you wish to use it… Happy New Year.

Calendar_of_Meh

CalendaroftheMeh2018

A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?