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Archive for November, 2012

With my sort-of abundance of down time at work, I peruse a lot of blogs and websites.  A lot of the blogs I read are written with women in mind (like Jezebel, although I don’t read Jezebel).  I’m not going to name them, because I think the subject matter of this post is a little bit sensitive, and I’m not trying to insult anyone.

I’ve noticed lately on many of these blogs that women (and I don’t mean to be sexist – maybe it happens with men too? But I haven’t seen it) often talk about being depressed. Which is nice in a way –  a lot of people suffer from depression, whether it’s the serious clinical sort, or a milder version. It’s nice to know you’re not alone and that other people have the same struggles you do.

My problem is the drama with which a lot of these posts/articles are written. I wish I had a nickel for every time I read something like, “My Cat Saved My Life,” or something similar, about how someone was in the throes of depression but the fact that their cat/dog/fish needed them was enough to convince them that life is worth living.   If you’re really that depressed, will a dog or cat really be the thing that pulls you back from the edge?  I don’t have a pet, so maybe I just don’t know, but if it were really that simple, then depression would be cured. It feels like an insult to people who are truly, clinically, biologically depressed to have these drama queens trivialize something that is quite serious.  Am I saying that these people are not really depressed, but maybe just overly self-indulgent and mopey?  Yes, perhaps that is what I’m saying.

I am not very sympathetic to depression. That makes me sound like an asshole, and a lot of times, I am.  I think I have depressive tendencies. I think that, biologically speaking, it runs in my family – I see it in my Mom and one of my uncles. But I learned a long time ago how to mitigate it by staying active (yay, endorphins!) and pep talking myself off the ledge when needed. I have been told that I’m very strong mentally, and that I often judge other people based on that, which isn’t really fair.  Maybe it isn’t.  But I think a lot of people are probably like me, and just need to put some energy into pulling themselves out of a funk instead of wallowing in it. There are people who legitimately need help and are incapable of pulling themselves out of it.  The rest of us carrying on for no good reason truly belittles what those other people are going through.

I had the amazing benefit of having had my incredible grandfather as a part of my life for over 35 years.  He was almost 97 when he died, and pretty much to the end, he would bounce around with a laugh and a smile. This sounds like I’m over-exaggerating and simplifying his existence, but his motto was, “Always laugh!”  Seriously, he said this to us constantly, not just when we were little, but up until the end. He never let anything bother him, and he always looked at life through very rose-colored glasses.  We credit that to being the reason that he lived so long. It’s hard not to let that philosophy rub off on you. Why mope around all the time when you can just be happy? It’s not really that difficult. In fact, it’s far easier to be happy than it is to be pissed off or sad about something.

One of my favorite pieces of advice from my grandfather came somewhere in the year or two before he died.  I was home for a visit, and he was over for dinner. We were hanging around talking, and he’d had maybe a glass or two of red wine. He turned and looked at me, and out of the crystal clear blue, said this:  “You know how sometimes in life, you think something is bad and you get upset?  Well you should cheer up, because it’s not that bad!”  At that point, I’d had a few glasses of wine myself, so I think I just smiled and nodded and said, “OK!”  or something similarly non-committal. I don’t think I knew what he was talking about at first. He’d said it to me as though we’d been in the middle of a conversation, not as though it was the complete non sequitur that it was.  I reflected on it later, and have reflected on it many times since, and have deemed it to be sort of brilliant.  Whatever it is that’s bumming you out, cheer up!! It’s not so bad.

My family does this thing I can’t stand, where they often minimize anything you’re upset about by pointing out everyone in the world who has it worse off than you do. It’s annoying because it can really invalidate your feelings when you have every right to feel sad or angry. But the one benefit of this skewed family philosophy is that it can give you a huge dose of perspective.  A few years ago when I was in the hospital with an ITP flare up, they put me on the Cancer floor. It was kind of depressing, but more than that, it made me grateful that what I was dealing with was small potatoes compared to what these other people were going through.

I’m not trying to trivialize depression. I think it is a very serious thing. But I also think people are starting to throw the concept around a little bit loosely these days, which doesn’t help anyone.  Do not let depression be confused with being in a crappy mood because it’s dark out at 5 PM or because life isn’t going 100% your way.  You are not depressed, you just need some perspective.  And perhaps a pet (apparently, they are life saving).

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The title of this post could refer to many topics…love and hate; pleasure and pain; food being pleasantly hot and hot enough to scald a layer of skin off your tongue, thus making everything you eat over the next two days taste terrible (this just happened to me when I tried to eat soup at lunch today).

But today I want to talk about that expression in relation to health.  There is a fine line between being a whining complainer of health issues, and being so much of a trooper that people forget you even have health issues and lose all sympathy.  Of course I speak of this in relation to my own health problems, but I’d like to first talk about a colleague of mine who has a wife undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

He told me that she’s been in a really bad mood lately. She’s just over halfway done with the second (and hopefully final) phase of her chemo treatments. In the mean time, she’d come down with some sort of respiratory illness (not serious, thankfully) that was causing coughing fits and sleepless nights. She was also having trouble breathing.  This is a woman in her early 40s, who is the mother of two young children, who also works part time as a lawyer a few days a week.  She’s been trying to keep up with her days in the office through her treatment.  I think this was a source of frustration for my colleague, because he can see her getting so close to being done with the worst of it, and does not want her to make any moves that jeopardize her health any further.  Which I get, and makes all the logical sense in the world. But then I think about it from her side.  She does not seem the sort of person to sit around and feel sorry for herself. She’s trying to keep herself and her family going as though nothing is really wrong.  It’s exhausting, but I don’t blame her.  She’s being the ultimate fighter in trying to go along in the “business as usual” mode.  With all of that, something he said made me think that she is still looking for a little bit of leeway and understanding because of her current health problems.  And I’ve gone through this – by pushing yourself to be strong and do more than is medically recommended, you somehow give up your rights to people treating your illness with any amount of sympathy (when really, they should be giving you more).  Instead of saying, “Wow, amazing you came in two days this week when you probably feel like shit! You should commended!”  It is more often, “If you came in two days, you can probably swing a third, right?”  The strong people are put in a position where they don’t want to say, “No, I can’t do that.”  So, they end up doing it, to the detriment of your their health and well being. This has as much to do with not admitting their own health shortfalls to themselves as it does succumbing to the pressure to “do it all” (totally overrated, in my opinion).

I have health problems. I have a long history of not making a big deal out of it because I hate attention, and I especially hate attention for that.  But, the fact remains that I have APLS, an auto immune disease that causes blood clots, which means I will take blood thinners for the rest of my life.  I also have a mild case of Lupus, another auto immune disease, that took the life of my aunt a few years ago. I have an uncle who also has it.  It’s something I don’t think about, or at least try not to, because it’s upsetting and I’m not a point where it affects my everyday life, so I have the luxury of not having to think about it. I take my medication, and then live my life as if nothing is wrong.  That is a huge dose of denial on my part, because there are some serious things wrong. But that is my coping mechanism and it’s how I’ve always gotten through life. Psychologically healthy? Probably not, but it works for me and I’m still here and relatively sane, so I’ll keep moving along.

Part of having auto immune diseases is taking care of yourself. This is no joke.  If you let yourself get run down, your diseases flare and bad things happen.  I make sure I get plenty of rest. I work out. I eat a really healthy diet.  I am vigilant to the point of obsession about such things because I’ve had some pretty serious flare ups and do not care to have them again if I can help it.

I don’t like talking about my diseases. Hell, half the time I don’t even like acknowledging that I have them.  But because I look healthy and act healthy and pretend that nothing is wrong, most people around me are happy enough to do the same.  So it makes it increasingly more difficult to stand up for myself when I need to say, “Hey, I need to take care of myself right now.” It makes me feel like people think I’m being a hypochondriac or a big baby.

I came down with a pretty nasty cold this week, and while it has affected half of my office and most of my colleagues are staggering around the hallways like snotty zombies (which infuriates me, BTW), I took two days off. I feel like they all think I’m a loser for doing so.  But I have no choice.  An afternoon napping on the couch when I’m under the weather makes all the difference in the world – not only for the current ailment (I guarantee my cold will be gone more quickly than these crazies who insist on coming in looking like death warmed over), but also to make sure my overall health doesn’t start slipping in a way that could cause me to have a flare up of something much worse.

The worst part of all of the disease thing? It’s the tiredness. Everyone is tired these days.  People have too much on their plates, stay up too late and get up too early. If they have kids, they’re up with the kids half the night. I am tired because my body is constantly fighting against itself.  I need more sleep than the average person, and  if I don’t get it, my health falls apart. That is another difficult thing to try to make people understand. When I’m tired and say something like, “I’m exhausted,” it’s usually met with a response like, “I’m tired too! I was up until 1 watching TV last night!” Which is annoying considering that I’m tired despite going to bed at 10:30 and waking up at 7.  One of my clients, an amazing and inspiring woman if ever there was one, has MS. She’s probably in her late 50s/early 60s and has more on her plate than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s incredible. After my last diagnosis, we spent some time on the phone. She’s the only person I know who truly understands what I’m going through.  I talked about being tired, and she summed it up as “bone-crushing fatigue.”  I can’t describe it any better than that.

So, no, I don’t want people fussing over me or treating me like I’m fragile and about to fall apart. I just wish there was a way to impress upon people the severity of my situation so that they would be a little more understanding when I need some rest or down time without me having to ask for it or point it out all the time.   I don’t want to be that person.  It’s awkward and inconvenient enough to have to deal with this stuff without having to explain it to people all the time. That puts me in quite a conundrum.  I think I’m too tired to figure out the answer right now.

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Honey, you ask?   Yes, honey.  The stuff made by bees that comes in a plastic bottle shaped like a bear.  You might think to yourself, “Why would she be telling people how to use honey? Isn’t it a no-brainer?”  Well, yes, it should be. But it seems that some people might need a tutorial on how to properly put honey into a drink or on food without getting honey drippings all over the outside of the bottle.

I am a big fan of chamomile tea with honey in it. I drink at least 2-3 cups during an average work day.  Quite often, when I go to pick up the honey when I am in the kitchen, the outside of the bottle is sticky and covered with honey drippings.  This has never happened to me when I’ve used a bottle of honey, so I’m unsure of what the problem is and why there are people in this world who can’t manage to use the bottle of honey without getting it all over the outside of the bottle.  I had chalked this up to some lame person on the floor where I work, until today.  Today I went down to the Commissary to make my tea rather than making it in our little snack kitchen. The honey bottle downstairs by the tea was also covered in honey on the outside (of course, you can’t really see this, so you are not aware until you pick up the bottle and your hand is immediately sticky).  I realized that this is not the work of one lone, remedial culprit on my floor, but rather a widespread epidemic-level problem.  As a public service to this country and society at large, I henceforth instruct you on how to use a bottle of honey:

1) Pick up bottle.
2) Take cap off.
3) Turn upside down.
4) Squeeze desired amount of honey on food/into drink.
5) Wait approximately .0000523 of a second for the honey to stop dripping out of the spout.
6) Turn bottle upright, replace cap, and set down.
7) If you fail to execute any of these steps correctly, you should drop the honey, go home immediately, sit in the dark and feel very bad about yourself indeed for being so inept that you cannot properly use a bottle of honey.

You’re welcome, America.

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Recently I’ve become aware of the sense of anonymity people have in certain situations, and how it affects their behavior in a negative way. My personal theory is that this is prominent in two areas of life: 1) the Internet and 2) Behind the wheel of a car.

Being online is a fantastic sort of voyeurism.  This is especially true on sites like Facebook, where you can peruse pictures and details of people’s lives, without them really knowing you’re doing it.   On any site on all of the world wide web, you can sit at your computer and read things and watch videos all day long, and no one except the company webmaster will have any idea what you were looking at.  Somewhat related to this is the phenomenon of people being able to join in a “conversation” on a website’s “Comments” section. More often than not, when you look at a Comments thread, you will see people being unnecessarily cruel to each other.  They are either disparaging the content of the original post/article and being rude to the author by doing so, or they are fighting with other commenters in the section. It is more rare to see a supportive response (something like, “Totally agree!” or “Good point!”) instead of something mean (“Get your facts straight!” or “Are you some kind of idiot?!”).  As examples of this, I would like to point out a few entries on this very blog; I wrote not one but two about comedian Daniel Tosh, and many of the comments were just straight up rude.  Then there was a single comment I got on this post from someone named Bob.  I found his comment to be very insulting, like he enjoyed telling me I was wrong and to not always assume that I’m right.  I’m not disputing the accuracy of the original content of his comment that I had made a mistake, but his tone was really uncalled for.

It got me thinking that because you are usually commenting under some sort of screen name, which could be a version of your actual name or something completely fabricated, like Fluffy123, no one knows who you are when you make a comment.  If no one knows who you are, many people feel emboldened to make a comment that they would not normally make to someone’s face.  Think about it – if someone you don’t know very well is talking, and you disagree with them, you are not likely to say something rude like, “Get your facts straight, you moron!”  You might be more likely to say something like, “I disagree” in a more polite tone.

I’ve had the behind-the-wheel theory for a while as well, but it was really exemplified for me this past weekend. On Saturday, I had an appointment at a very busy shopping plaza at the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon in West Hollywood.  There is underground parking, and mid-day on a weekend (when I was there) it’s usually pretty crowded.  I found a spot and pulled in, but not well.  I had to back up and pull in a second time.  As I was in the process of pulling in the second (and final) time, a big SUV pulled up behind me and started beeping.  First I was shocked, and then really annoyed, so I  decided to address the situation.  I got out of my car and went to the elevator bank that goes up to the shopping plaza.  I watched across the garage as the SUV parked, and a young guy got out and walked to the elevator as well. He looked all of 23 and had a bit of a baby face, and for a moment I actually considered not saying anything at all because I didn’t want to scare the kid. Then I thought, “Screw it.  If he has the balls to beep like that, let him defend it.”  So as we got into the elevator and the doors closed, this is the conversation that followed:

Me:  Did you just beep at me as I was pulling into a parking spot?
Him: What?  No!  I haven’t used my horn in months! Why?
Me:  Because it was completely uncalled for.
Him:  What kind of car was it?
Me:  An SUV.
Him: What color?
Me:  I don’t know, dark.
Him: [As the elevators open on to the shopping plaza filled with people] Well it wasn’t me.
Me: [Not interested in calling a complete strange a liar and beleaguering this conversation] Ok then. Have a nice day!
Him:  [To my back as I walked away] F** off!!

Obviously, I have no way of ever proving if he was the Beeper in question, but his overly defensive attitude told me all I really needed to know. And I didn’t expect anything to come out of the conversation, and wasn’t even looking for an apology. I just wanted the type of person who beeps aggressively like that from behind the safety and anonymity of their over-sized, gas-guzzling SUV to think twice before doing it again.

I’m not some sort of parking garage vigilante, but I do think people be need to be held accountable for rude behavior. Bully behavior is when you pick on someone who you know can’t defend themselves, or someone you don’t think can fight back. I’d like to add to this, being a bully is also when you behave rudely or poorly because you don’t think anyone will ever call you out on it and you will not have to answer for your actions.  Most of the time, when someone does something rude or aggressive behind the wheel, they’ve sped off like a demon and you’ll never see them again or have a chance to address it. Similarly, when someone is rude to you online, you can comment on it, but they could disappear off into cyber space just as quickly as they came in.  They don’t have to answer to you.

Beyond the rudeness, there is something really disturbing to me about this behavior.  I think, as some kind of moral code, you should be proud of the way you act when you think no one is watching, not devolve into the baser levels of human behavior just because you think you can get away with it.

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