Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

This is traditionally the time for resolutions. We want to be thinner, eat more vegetables, save money. All of this is good. Sort of.

I don't do resolutions. I do goals. Goals are attainable achievements with set objectives along the way. Want to save more money? A goal needs to have something measurable. So saving more money doesn't cut it. Saving $100 a month is a goal because it has a measurement. I think the reason that so many people fail in their resolutions is because they don't set reasonable goals, and they don't set objectives. Objectives are those smaller steps that help you get to your overall goal.
Objectives also need measurements. For instance, you might cut out eating out one time a month at first. Then when that is easier to handle, you make the next step. You can't leap from the bottom of a ladder to the top. You have to take it rung by rung.

I've been thinking a lot about mental health and what can influence it. Notice, I said influence, not control. At my latest civic league meeting, we had representatives from the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) speak. We talked about how the media portrays the mentally ill. The only time we hear about mental health is when someone shoots up a school. Or here, it has become more of an issue because a state senator was stabbed by his mentally ill son who later killed himself. It's no wonder there is still a stigma about mental illness when all many know about it is from news like this.

So again, I'm thinking about what we let influence our mental health. People can go on and on all they want that violent movies and video games do not lead to real life violence. One sector that pushes that theory are the gamers who play the violent games. One famous person in particular who says that was on a highly popular science-fiction show. That show (and the many shows that came after) has been cited by several scientists and astronauts as the inspirational influence in their career choice. Ironic. So games and shows don't influence behavior except when it does. 

Not everyone who plays a violent video game or watches a violent movie performs a violent act. The population would be decimated if that were the case. However, there are people who are influenced by the images of violence. Think of it like a genetic predisposition. People who have a genetic predisposition toward cancer are more likely to develop cancer than a person without the genetics. It doesn't mean they will get cancer, and it doesn't mean that the other person won't get cancer. It just means that they are more likely.

But I don't think that's the only issue. We as humans learn by watching others. We observe others performing a task or saying a word, then we attempt to duplicate it. Our speech patterns are determined by the people we hear, even as adults. Don't believe me? How many new words have you learned this year? Twerk or selfie? Where did you hear that? The people you associate yourself with or the media you watch/listen to. We change our language to better communicate with one another all the time. We are influenced. If you don't think television (a visual medium) influences people, then why is it such a big deal for more minorities to be featured? Why do you think more minorities are not featured?

So I challenge you to think about what you are allowing to influence you this year. What are the television or net shows you are watching? What are the themes? Do you feel uplifted or inspired after watching? Did it make you laugh? Are you rooting for a character who is trying to do the right thing? Are there characters who are trying to do the right thing?

Now, I am very much a goody two shoes. I don't curse. I don't watch sex or violence. I don't listen to music that degrades anyone (man or woman). I no longer watch crime dramas/procedurals. If someone dies of a crime, I don't watch the show any more. I don't want to get used to a person dying due to a criminal act. I think porn is a terrible, terrible influence on men and women.

But I'm not saying this from a goody two shoes perspective. I'm saying this from a compassionate, human perspective. Be kind to yourself this year. That includes your mental health. Think about what you allow to influence you. If you are okay with bullying, mean behavior, keep watching The Bachelor or any other reality show that prominently features women. If you want something better, well good luck with that. I haven't found anything decent either. I actually dropped cable in order to focus on studying and because most tv is garbage now. From the few digital channels I get, it's very old reruns of I Dream of Jeannie (wow that's a bad show) and Mr. Ed. No wonder I am turning off the tv more and more.

So if you have resolutions this year, think about using objectives with measurements to meet your overall goal. You'll be much more likely to succeed. And if you need a resolution, take this one. Take care of your mental health like you would your physical health. Pay more attention to what you are consuming. Don't be afraid to turn the tv off or turn the channel. If it doesn't inspire you or make you happy, let it go.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Today is my birthday!

I slept great last night which is always a good thing. A good night's sleep make it easier to face the day.
I have a meeting about exams today so I'm making it my birthday party. I'm taking cheesecake (my favorite) and I will be wearing my tiara.

I am also planning to do some writing later today. I decided to write a letter to the people who mean something to me. I want them to know how much they have helped and supported me throughout my years. I'm trying to switch the focus from something negative about me to something positive about someone else.

So please enjoy your favorite dessert and say something kind to someone today.

And wear a tiara.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Doing better

I think the meds have really started working. I've been feeling almost normal for nearly two weeks now. Still not 100%, but getting close. I do not discount the prayers that have been said for me, either. I completely believe that God could have flipped the switch in my head. I am appreciative of however it worked.

So my birthday is Sunday. I'll be spending part of the day at my university in a sort of exam prep session. Comprehensive exams for a doctorate are no joke. However, there appears to be a growing hysteria among some of the "younger" students in the program. Not age wise, but how far along they are in the program. I think only three of us are scheduled for exams in October. And we aren't the ones freaking out. But the anxiety is just building on itself for no reason.

I'm going to pick up any tips I can and to share my study plan. Doing is better than worrying to me. When I do get worried, I find something to do to keep my mind from spinning. So I organize my notes and binders and make spreadsheets. It's good for studying and it keeps me busy. I'm hoping that showing them what they could do will help them focus. It's not that my method is earth shattering or new. But it's something physical they can look at and copy from a student who is about to meet the exams head on.

I am actually pretty calm about the exams (one month away tomorrow, by the way). The only one that has me concerned is the methods exam. This exam entails me sitting in a classroom for five hours with a computer only. Naturally, we don't have exact questions, but it will go something like this. I'll be given a scenario and asked to develop a research plan. Or I might have to interpret data and argue why or why it not it answers a question. It will involve multivariate statistics which is just as much fun as it sounds. I won't have to do the math or anything, there are computer programs that do all that now. But I will need to decide which kind of statistical method to use and why. It's not my best subject, but that's okay. I know this is a weakness therefore I can work on strengthening my skills.

I am doing so much better. I'm feeling my creativity and energy come back. I have to really focus on studying but I'm doing a little sewing and creating along the way. My pug rescue marches in our holiday parade every year. This year, the theme is Jingle Bell Jungle. Tallulah, Petunia and I will be zebras. Isabelle is going to be a safari guide. I have to make all the costumes, plus convert Isabelle's Dogger into a Jeep. Last year, I made her old stroller into a tractor.
I really want to add music to the parade group and play Jungle Boogie. Except we would all sing Jungle Puggy. I think it's hilarious. But that might just be me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The battle we are still fighting

I watched the Billie Jean King episode of American Masters on PBS tonight. I didn't realize, but the infamous Battle of the Sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs took place on September 20, 1973, two days before I was born. If you are too young to know who these people are, google them. Better yet, watch the film.

Watching clips from the late sixties and early seventies, I am so grateful that I am an adult now. We are still fighting the battle of the sexes though, 40 years later.

It's still baffling to me that we as women have not really become equal. We are 51% of the population and drive 80% of consumer decisions. We are outpacing men in higher education by double digits. We have so much power at our fingertips, but we don't take it. Instead of making advertisers and businesses treat us with dignity and respect, we let them get away with terrible things. We let magazines and television and movies and celebrities create impossible images and unreachable standards (high or low) for us, for the girls who are growing up now. We let smarmy clothing companies like Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria's Secret peddle sexy clothes to 10 year olds. Worse yet, we dress our kids in them. Eight year olds wearing dresses with cut outs in the back. Why?

From what I have read and what I have learned, the feminist movement, at least originally, was about equal treatment for women. Women should be afforded the same rights and treatment as men. That means the same pay for the same work. The same opportunities in education. If we meet the same standards, then we should be treated the same. Amazing, in 2013, we still aren't there. Women are still making $.77 on the dollar to men. Unbelievable when we are more and better educated as a whole than men. Read the Pew studies here and here. What the heck is going on?

At the same time, I notice that women are at least partly to blame for this. We snipe at one another. We compete with each other unfairly. Some of this is anecdotal, but I'm positive that I could find some research to explore this too. We don't compete head to head. We backstab and gossip and snark at each other. We are holding ourselves back.

Part of this is the Facebook thing that I discussed before. We are insecure about our own lives that we lash out at someone who seems to have it together. That mom who always looks presentable at school drop off, who attends PTA meetings and remembers your name although you can't remember hers? She must be a b-word, right? Stuck up Martha Stewart clone. She's probably on meth to keep her going. Why? Why can't we celebrate someone's craftiness and creativity on Pinterest? Why can't we be happy for that woman who keeps her house clean with three kids? Why can't we admire her and ask her for her secret? Instead, we shoot her down with very gender specific slurs. The b-word, the c-word even.

Why do women do this to each other? I admit, I don't have a lot of experience with men. I'm single. Although I do work with men, these aren't conversations they are willing to have. Most of the men I work with (or have worked with) are significantly older than me. I never hear jealousy or insecurity from them. Naturally, in a work setting, this isn't really appropriate. But that hasn't stopped some women. Anyway, my point is that I don't believe most men express their insecurities or jealousy through tearing another man down. There is the smack talk over a contest of some kind (sports or otherwise), but once it is over, there are no hard feelings between the men. Women don't do this. If you call me a name, whether smack talk or not, I will remember it. And I will remember how my feelings were hurt by that name. And I won't let it go. Why?

Men are better about this than we are. That doesn't mean that we can't learn. I'm not just not sure how or if we are willing to do it.

I do think that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. Just as all humans do. Some people can sing like a bird. Some squawk like a chicken. Some can run like the wind, others can barely walk upright. We are all different, but we all deserve the opportunity to prove we can be an astronaut or a firefighter or a ballerina. Feminism is about the chance to be seen as human and not as a gender.

This is a discussion that's been going on since the late 60's and apparently still needs to continue. The vision that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan had for us has not come to pass. Does feminism now mean that we have the equal opportunity to be soccer mom or mathematician but not both? Did the equal rights movement give us the right to dress as provocatively as we want or as conservatively as we want? That's going to be another blog post, I think.

As a feminist in 2013, I'm not asking for special treatment because I'm a woman. I'm asking that you don't let my gender get in the way of my potential.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Today is September 11. I can still see the images of the planes hitting the towers as clearly as if it was yesterday. Those images were played over and over that day and so many days after that. At first, I couldn't look away. But I was horrified. The first time I saw a plane hit, it felt like my breath was knocked out of me. I fell into a chair.

I was active duty in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio at the time. I was an instructor. My class was half full of Air National Guardsmen from New York. No one could get through to their families for hours. It was agonizing to watch them not know what happened. It took a day, but everyone was able to get in touch with family.

Our base was already on high alert on September 11. The month before, an angry young man who had been discharged from the Air Force, left a bomb for my First Sergeant. She had received threats from him already, and because of that, she had been transferred to another squadron. The man came into my building and left the package bomb in a bathroom. One of my coworkers found the box and took it the base mail room. She opened it in her office. It was a small, shrapnel bomb. It was intended to do a lot of damage.

Her name is Janet McWilliams. She survived. She lost her left hand, most of the fingers on her right hand, most of her hearing and part of her sight. In 2010, she was the first woman in the US to receive a hand transplant. She survived and continued to be the awesome woman she was. She fought to stay active duty for as long as she could. She refused to let him win.

He was caught pretty quickly. He was in downtown San Antonio, just miles from the base. He was convicted too. He was mentally disturbed, but that's not an excuse. He blamed her for his discharge and went after her. He deserved the death penalty, but didn't get it.

He was first sentenced to life plus in prison. He keeps appealing and from what I can find, he doesn't seem to be reducing his sentence by much. I think he may be down to 90 years at this point. He will never make it out because every time he appeals, Janet goes to court too. She reminds the courts of the damage he did. I think as long as she does that, he will never get out of prison. Intentionally, the judge in San Antonio sentenced him the first time on September 11, 2002.

So I think of her when I remember September 11. I remember how resilient she was. I remember how resilient we all were. I think of how that changed our country for the better and worse. I wish we could back to before though. Every box left unattended makes me wary. I listen for planes to fall out of the sky. I'm not paralyzed by this fear, but it lurks in my unconscious. Beautiful clear days like today and that day aren't as beautiful as they were.

But I tell people I love them more. I make sure that people know I appreciate them. I guess that's all we can do.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What I've learned, episode 1

Never compare yourself to others.

It's a huge part of being human, comparing ourselves to others. It's how we learn from infancy. We learn that these people are like us, those people aren't. Boys are different from girls. Adults are different from kids. We are grouped by class in school, by jobs, by our likes or dislikes. We seek out others like ourselves, and contrast ourselves to those who are not like us. It's how we find our tribe.

But especially in the internet age, it's dangerous to our wellness. One of my research areas is the use of social media. What I am learning is that it can be awesome, and it can be terrible. Some research has shown that extended use of Facebook increases unhappiness and depression among young adults. Why? Because they are comparing their lives to the lives they see on Facebook.

This makes perfect sense. Although I'm not on Facebook*, I get it. Like any internet venue for communication (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.), we always want to put our best foot forward. Sometimes we put things out there, fishing for praise or reassurance. Sometimes, we genuinely want people to celebrate with us. But think about, we Instagram pictures of beautiful plates of food, not the leftover pizza we're eating in our pajamas. We use internet platforms as an extension of our out-of-the-house lives. When we go to work, we tend to brush our hair, put on nice clothes, right? We put on a front. Depending on the job, we may use different language, address our bosses or coworkers differently than we do spouses, kids or friends. We assume an out-of-the-house persona because that is what is socially acceptable. (At least where I work)

That's what we do online, except we don't have the face to face interaction. That's what keeps us grounded in reality. Our online personas only showcase the best of what we have to offer. After all, we can take a million selfies and delete most of them. In real life, you can't delete the bad hair day.

So we see our friends, acquaintances and celebrities highlighting the best parts of themselves. And we compare ourselves, coming up short. We see the high school friend whose kid made the honor roll and compare it a kid whose homework isn't done. We see the house they built with their bare hands over a weekend and despair about the dirty dishes in the sink.

It's not a fair comparison. They (like you) are only showing the pretty parts of their lives. You don't know about what isn't pretty in their lives. Think about that.
It could be as awesome as you imagine, or it could be horrible. I have no clue what is going on in someone else's head.

We all put on a persona. Some people are really awesome at. So awesome that you have no idea they are considering suicide or hate their lives. Looks can be so deceiving.

So give yourself a break. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.

* I like being an early adopter of things. So if I don't get on board fairly early, I usually don't want to do it ever. And if it's ridiculously popular, then my latent hipster tendencies come out. I've never seen Top Gun (remember I am nearly 40) or Titanic or Avatar. If the masses like it, I won't. I usually don't like it anyway, but the popular thing puts me over the edge. And the more I learn about social media, the more Facebook is not for me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This is the introduction

I'm going to be kind of secretive about some things of my personal life. It's one thing to be open about me, it's another to drag others into the public eye. So I'm not going to use my name, although some of you know me in person. And I will not publish comments that use my name. Although I don't intend to share anything terrible, I do hope to stay employed and have a career.

So about me. I'm turning 40 on September 22. I always wear a tiara on my birthday, whether I'm at work or school or home. I'm single, never married, with three pugs and three cats. I am (as of September) a doctoral student. Once I pass my exams in October (positive thinking), I will be a doctoral candidate. I also work full time for a local government. I own a 100+ year old house that is too much for me. I rarely fit in anywhere I go. I have few friends but the ones I do have are special to me. I haven't dated since 1997 (wow!). I don't really have time, but honestly, I haven't really wanted to either. Relationships are hard and a lot of work. It doesn't seem worth it to me, at least right now. There's a niggling voice that pops up every once in a while that says I may regret this choice later, but I'm ignoring it.

I'm depressed and on medication. I'm slowly coming out of the fog, but nowhere near back to normal. My normal has been happy. This bout with depression has taken all my joy. I used to love sewing, making things, being creative. I used to love my pugs beyond measure. I didn't want to go anywhere during the little free time I have without them. I enjoyed being around them. Now, I don't.

I used to be really happy. And so positive about life. My sister called me a Pollyanna. I had so much patience and was slow to get angry. No longer. Food doesn't even taste good anymore. Not even chocolate. I haven't had cheesecake in a long time, one of my favorites. I'm afraid it won't taste good either. Even that perfect food, a tomato fresh from your garden, hasn't tasted good this year. I really want to get back to that version of me. I miss her.

This blog is hopefully part of that. I want to accomplish a few things here. One, I want to document the lessons I've learned in my nearly 40 years. Two, I want to celebrate my accomplishments, big and small. Three, I'm not sure yet. I still want to do 40 good deeds over the year. I firmly believe that doing good for others changes perspective. It's so easy, depressed or not, to get so wrapped up in my own stuff that I fail to see other people's stuff. BD (before depression), I would say that I was a very compassionate and understanding person. I still think that's important. It's hard to get there from here, but I'm determined to do it.

See, that's a sign that I am on the road to wellness again! I'm determined. This second blog post is a sign too. I haven't updated my other blog in months (other than a Wordless Wednesday or two). I just couldn't find the energy to write as perky little pugs. But I've written two posts here.

It's a small start, but I'll take it.