Category: Personal Blathering


A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

My Daughter is a Geek


I’m a geek.  So is my husband.  He gets to wear the supergeek badge because he’s a programmer.  I’m just a garden variety geek who’s into science.  Meteorology, microbiology, and geology are my pet subjects.  We both love a good map: we once spent $75 on a world atlas, and we’re often not sure what’s more fun, going on a trip or plotting it out.  We’re staunch supporters of critical thinking skills, and encourage our daughter to question everything.

We also like more entertaining geek things, like the holy trinity of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.  We like cheesy sci-fi disaster movies, even if they’re completely ludicrous, like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core.  So it was with great pleasure that we gradually introduced these things to our daughter.  She cut her geeky teeth on Star Wars at first, then we moved her on to Star Trek when we thought she could keep up with it.  Gradually she discovered her own geeky things, Minecraft in particular.  She is an absolute master at  that game.

One day I stumbled across a Doctor Who episode (“42”) on PBS, and was hooked like a migrating salmon.  We all fell in love with The Doctor instantly and began fantasizing about the TARDIS dropping out of the sky onto our lawn (you bet your sweet ass I’d go with him!).  I got a sonic screwdriver for my 40th birthday, and we began collecting other bits of Doctor Who merchandise.  Our daughter demanded to dress like the 11th Doctor for Halloween, and later Comic Con.

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Her passions didn’t come without a price, though.  See, it’s not much hipper to be a geek or a nerd today than it was when we were growing up, despite what popular media wants you to believe (just loving something a lot doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd).  And if you’re a girl geek, then Heaven help you.  Geekdom is a land still mostly inhabited by males, who staunchly believe that girls are too stupid or weak or whatever to be true geeks.  She’s not only excluded by greater society because she’s a geek, but also from within geek society, because she’s a girl.  She has a hard time making good friends with classmates because she’s interested in things that they are not, and vice versa.  She’s 11 now, and could give a furry crack of a rat’s ass about any of the things other girls her age are interested in, mostly clothes and makeup.  She sees a girl fretting about her appearance and thinks, “What’s wrong with you? You look just fine.”  I’m probably responsible for this attitude, as a woman who shuns makeup and typically wears shorts and a fandom t-shirt of some variety on a daily basis.

She has found some acceptance on the internet, but other times she’s bullied on the Minecraft servers because she’s a girl.  She’s refused to give in to the pressure as other girls have done, and keeps a username and a skin on her character that clearly identify her as a girl, or perhaps as gay (I’ve seen it, it’s very rainbow-y, as she also likes My Little Pony).  This gets her no end of shit on some of the servers, where she will often be called out on her appearance straightaway.  Other characters go out of their way to attack hers in order to get what she’s carrying, since everything you own drops to the ground when you die.  She gets jabs of, “You can’t play here, you’re a girl! Only “real gamers” can play here!”  I’ve seen her in tears more than once because she’s been bullied on a particularly mean server and had her character killed repeatedly.  When she complains to the sysop about unfair treatment, she gets excuses that are creepily reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming women get when they’re raped, basically “you were asking for it”.  These things are run by people, and reflect the attitudes of their sysops.  Maybe that’s just how everyone gets treated on some of these servers, but she seems to get an awful lot of flak because of her sex.

All I can do when these things happen is to remind her of how awesome she is, to tell her to just avoid places where she knows she’ll get bullied (which makes her sad: some of these servers are very interesting places to play), explain why jerks are jerks (typically boiling down to the need to put others down to make themselves feel better because their own lives suck, and as such it’s sometimes best to pity people like that from afar), and do something else fun with her (like watch Doctor Who).  I encourage her to keep loving the things that make her happy, and show her things like this video:

and this one:

I feel bad about encouraging her to avoid places she likes in order to avoid being bullied, but when someone’s engaging in cyber-murder to keep you from playing, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it (no parents or school officials to go to), it seems fruitless to keep going there.  I’ve told her to stand her ground but to pick her battles, though not in those words.  She doesn’t really need to be told that, though: she does it naturally.  Thanks to Daddy, she now has her own Minecraft server, where she can make the rules.  We’ve given her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech (Spiderman) in the wake of a cyber-squabble on the server that ended a friendship because she had to ban a couple of people (the culprit: a bullying boy).  I’m going to encourage her to promote her server where she can as a safe place for other girl Minecraft players can come to play without fear of being bullied.  I’ve been really proud of her unwillingness to cave to humiliation and prejudice unless it gets so bad that she just can’t play.

We’re going to keep introducing her to geeky things.  She loves robots, even once keeping a blog about the life of a robot.  I look forward to when she’s older and I can introduce her to more adult geeky things, like Ghost in the Shell and other anime, movies, and games.  And I’ll keep telling her to explore new people, places, and things, even though she might get picked on, because sometimes she won’t be, and those will be the strong connections that will carry her through life.  In the meantime, we’ll keep on playing the games we love (Skyrim, Minecraft, D&D), watching the movies we love (The Matrix, X-Men, Lord of the Rings), and cultivating friendships with like-minded people.  Just because she’s in the minority doesn’t mean she has to be lonely.  She and the other girl geeks of the world will prevail, and we will all be better off from it.


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

No Rest


**whine alert**

I was struck this morning with a peculiar weariness that took a moment to identify its source.  I’ve been doing a lot of work in recent months on managing my bipolar disorder.  The frontline defense against it is medication, but the main combat forces behind it that do the real work are a host of behavioral changes that take time and are a real bitch to implement if you’ve been stuck in unhealthy ruts to date.  I feel like I’ve been trying to drive a Jeep out of a muddy ditch.

If I really want to be healthy, I have to get enough sleep and on a regular schedule; exercise regularly and with vigor; eat well and regularly; take particular supplements known to be beneficial to brains like mine; meditate regularly; and a few other things.  Sure, those things are good for everyone, but if I don’t do them, I just sort of scrape through life and my meds aren’t very effective at all.  And that’s no bueno for anyone.  Least of all me.  Everyone around me can get away from me if they really want to, but I can never get away from myself.  Wherever I go, there I am.  If I’m all messed up upstairs, I get stuck in a nasty negative feedback loop that ends up in bad places.

So it’s in my best interest to maintain things as best I can.  Which is where the weariness comes in.  It’s a constant vigil, maintaining a chronic illness properly.  I can give myself a little leeway, but for the most part, I really can’t allow myself to fall out of my patterns.  That means getting up at the same time every day and  meditating after I make my tea.  Remembering to take my meds in the morning, which means heeding the alarm when it goes off or I’ll probably forget, since when bipolar meds are working properly, you feel fine, so you don’t think to take medicine.  Eating something, which is a constant problem because I’m rarely hungry in the morning.  Not ignoring that hunger when it pops up later in the day.  Getting some sort of exercise in the evening on most days (at least I seem to have finally settled on a time of day to get my exercise in).  Taking the evening meds.  Going to bed at a reasonable hour.

I’m still slack in areas, mostly nutrition, as noted.  I still tend to stay up too late, as I’ve been a perennial night owl most of my life.  On days off, I have to make myself go meditate instead of immediately sitting down at the computer.  I have a bad habit of not immediately heeding my med alarms and then forgetting to take them until a couple of hours later.  Which is better than not taking them at all (which I do sometimes), but it’s the sort of thing that’s the most effective if you take them at the same time every day.

And there are still things I should work on if I want to be healthier, like acceptance, which is a big part of Buddhism and a growing part of psychology.  There are things in my life and my world that make me anxious, but that I can’t change, either immediately or sometimes at all.  Worrying about them does me no good and in fact does me harm, since a buildup of anxiety typically leads to a mood imbalance eventually.  I have to learn to stop dwelling on these things if I want to be a happier person, and one that doesn’t wake up with constricted breathing in the middle of the night.

I also have to make sure I’m not inadvertently keeping sources of anxiety in my life that I don’t need, but have gotten used to.  Like things I feel I have to be responsible for, but really don’t anymore, if I ever did.  It’s an unfortunate side effect of being forced to take on responsibilities that you shouldn’t have to when you’re younger that you begin to take on responsibilities that you don’t have to when you’re older.  It took a long time for me to learn that I didn’t have to say “yes” to everything and everyone.

It all adds up to a lot of work that I sometimes (often) wish I didn’t have to do.  It’s a pain in the ass and requires a good deal of discipline that doesn’t come naturally to me and is damned difficult if not impossible to muster in the depths of depression or a fit of mania, which is exactly when it’s needed the most.  I wish I could just let things slide sometimes without everything going to hell.  Of course, when I do let it all slide, I have to give myself a measure of self-forgiveness for failing to meet the criteria I’ve set for myself, or that one of my support team has set for me.  Because perfection is impossible.

Still, no rest for the weary.  No slack for the brain matter.  Because that’s what’s necessary.


I started this post back in March, when I was really deep in Spiritual Nomad along with some other stuff.  Then most of it came to a screeching halt for a variety of reasons (mostly illness and injury), and here I am, still knee-deep in Chapter 4.  It’s a fun chapter, too.  I get to create my own ritual, and my own wheel of the year with my own holidays and everything!  Whee!  So let’s get going.

This week is about ritual and the role it plays in our lives.  We’ve all been to at least one kind of ritual: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.  They don’t have to be religious in nature.  Many are, though, and are the kind most people think of when they think of the word “ritual”.  We go through all kinds of rituals in our daily lives, though.  I do one every morning when I make my tea or coffee.  There’s a very specific set of actions that happen in a very specific order in order to achieve a very specific goal, and it happens the same way every day.  Brushing your teeth in the morning is a ritual.  Driving to work is a ritual.  Checking Facebook while you eat your lunch is a ritual.  Rituals, big and small, establish order and give predictability to our lives.  They make us feel secure.

There’s a big difference, though, between ritual with and without intent.  Ritual without intent is just a series of motions repeated in the same way.  Sure, it may bring comfort in its own way, but not in the same way that ritual infused with intent will.

For example, consider someone making their morning tea.  They heat the water, they get their cup, they prepare the tea, they pour the water, they wait for it to steep, they augment it with anything, should they wish, and they drink it.  While they made their tea, they were probably thinking about the day ahead of them, an argument they might have had with someone yesterday, what they’re going to wear, whether or not their dry cleaning is ready, so on and so forth.

Now consider someone who has made their morning tea into a ritual infused with intent.  This is just an example, of course, and is similar to how I might perform my own tea ritual sometimes.

They walk into the kitchen with nothing on their mind except making their tea.  They reach for the tea kettle and walk to the sink, paying attention to the water as it fills the kettle.  They set the kettle down onto the stove top and listen for the click of the igniter and the ‘foomp’ of the gas flames leaping into life beneath the kettle, or the creak of the electric burner heating up.  They may stand there and listen to the hiss of the flames and the other sounds around them: the HVAC switching on and off, the birds chirping, the dog or cat eating, a car door shutting.

As the water heats, they prepare their tea by getting their favorite teapot or teacup, and possibly contemplating it for a moment before setting it down.  They may even have special teapots, cups, and spoons that are only used for their tea, much like other types of ritual tools.  They get their tea out, pausing to smell it before measuring out how much they need for the cup or pot.  They pay attention to the color, smell, and feel of the tea leaves.  When the water boils, they take the tea kettle and slowly pour the water over the tea leaves.  If they are lucky enough to have something in which they can watch their tea leaves steep, they take the time to watch their tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water and release their color and tannins.

When steeping time is over, they remove the tea leaves from the water, or pour the tea from the pot into their cup.  They spend a moment just smelling the tea, and enjoying the sense of warmth from the cup.  Only then do they take a first, small sip, really taking the time to discover all of the different flavors and aromas of the tea, the final physical and energetic product of their ritual.  Each sip of tea can be its own ritual, in that way, taking in everything that went into making the tea, until the cup is done.

See the difference?  One is done without attention and largely out of habit for the purpose of getting the morning’s caffeine hit (or taste hit, if one just really likes tea in the morning).  The other is done with the intent of moving energy through and wrenching every iota of experience out of the simple act of making a cup of tea.  One makes the tea a goal to be achieved.  The other makes the tea a spiritual tool.  Not that one is “better” than the other.  When I’m in a hurry, I go for the quick way and in fact, rarely go for the full-on tea ritual experience.  But what a wondrous start to each day it would be, or end, if I were able to afford myself the time for that or something like it.

Now I have instructions for how to make my own ritual, which I’ll be keeping to myself, thank you very much.  Some things a girl just has to keep personal, and if you want the instructions, you’ll just have to buy Spiritual Nomad for yourself.

I did get to make my own calendar, with my favorite holidays and events on it.  Everyone has days that are important just to them, for whatever reason, and they are just as deserving as any other holiday.  So I plotted them all out: important birthdays and deaths, anniversaries, and religious holidays you won’t find on any American calendar.  I still have to make it into something that looks nice, so that can be a nice art project to look forward to.

An aspect of Spiritual Nomad I’ve not been very good at are the prayer exercises.  I just wasn’t in the habit of sitting down quietly and focusing my mind in a particular fashion.  Now that I have a meditation habit established, I think I can attempt the prayer exercises with success, and will probably integrate the two activities, or at least do one after the other.  I like getting my candles and incense out.

So that’s where I’m at.  This week’s questions took some thought.

1. What rituals have you attended in your lifetime?  Think of a ritual that you found moving, then one that wasn’t, and compare the two.  Do rituals you enjoy have anything in common that you could incorporate into those you create?

I’ve been to a variety of church services and weddings as well as pagan rituals.  I don’t like a lot of seriousness and rigidity or being commanded to do a lot of things.  I do like music and drumming.  I do NOT like the group meet-n-greet that often happens at churches in the middle of service or the tendency of pagans to hug one another.  I like chanting and the reading of verse in ancient languages.  I really like the use of lots of candles and incense and other physical methods of invoking spiritual energy (water, salt, etc.).  Mostly, though, I like not having to say or do anything at all and just try to enjoy the ritual.  So I suppose my rituals would probably involve the ritual lighting of candles and incense followed by reading something not in English or perhaps chanting something, and then probably a period of meditation (f someone had taken me to an Eastern or Greek Orthodox service when I was growing up, I might not have disliked Christianity so much).

2. What is one rite of passage you wish you could have marked with a ritual of some kind but didn’t?  If you were to create a ritual for that missed occasion, what would it entail?

It would have been nice to have had a bigger deal made about my 16th birthday.  As it is, I don’t really have any special memory about it at all.  If I could create a celebration for it and not have to worry about money, I’d probably plan a dinner party at a nice restaurant (but not too nice: we’re talking about teenagers here) and invite my friends.  We’d listen to our music and hang out and then go to the mall to go shopping until it closed.  Then we’d go to whoever’s house was biggest and party some more.  A beer or three would be quietly passed around.  Then those of us with driver’s licenses would drive the rest of us home (the drivers not drinking beer, of course).  The next day I’d wake up to car keys.  😀  And away I’d go…


When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

Clean Slate


It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.

Appropriate


Two social hot-button issues have come to roost at our house: what music is appropriate for our daughter to listen to, and whether or not it’s okay for her to play violent video games.  The first has to do with exposure to depictions of sex, alcohol, and drugs, as well as possible degradation of women or other populations; the second has to do with exposure to an activity that may or may not lead to increased aggression of her own.  Both boil down to whether or not the influence of the parents can counteract the outside influence of things our children really want to participate in and enjoy.

Let’s address the first issue.  I’m having a really hard time with it largely because of my own personal baggage surrounding children and exposing them to sexual imagery and energies before they’re ready for it.  I suppose “ready for it” should be my guide here.  If she weren’t ready for it, she wouldn’t be so gung ho to listen to music singing about it, because otherwise, it would bother her.  And it’s not so horribly explicit, although there is one song that refers once to S&M that makes me raise my eyebrows.  Which raises the issue of whether or not it should be such a big deal to let kids listen to music singing about things they don’t understand in the first place: all they care about is the music itself.  If there’s something they don’t understand and they have a good relationship with you, they’ll ask you about it.  At least, our daughter does.  Which should ease my mind to at least some extent.  And pretty much any question a kid can ask can be answered in terms they can understand.  Even “What’s S&M?”

I mean, what are parents really afraid of when they don’t want their kids listening to music with sexual imagery? They don’t want their kids having sex too early, if at all for some parents.  I can combat that with education and openness.  Keeping her away from music that sings about sex won’t keep her from knowing there’s sex in the world, and if all of her friends are listening to the same music, she’ll find a way to listen to it anyway, and then we’ll just have a relationship built on deceit and mistrust.  I’d rather let her listen to what she wants to, make sure I know what she’s listening to and that she understands what she’s listening to, and arm her with the knowledge she’ll need to counteract anything negative she might have picked up from the social messages she got.  Which she’ll get anyway eventually regardless of what she’s listening to.

The same goes for anything else negative she might hear in her music, such as references to alcohol or drugs, although I draw the line at anything that degrades another group of people.  I haven’t heard anything like that yet though.  She doesn’t hang out with kids like that and has such a strong sense of justice and fairness that I know she would never tolerate that sort of thing in her music or from her friends.  I’ll have to keep an ear out for subtle put-downs, though: things she might not pick up on and wouldn’t realize are mean things to say about other people.  She’s still young enough to be learning those social rules and slang terms.  It’s a pity I have to be worried about such things being peppered into something as innocent as dance music.

She can’t listen to whatever she wants to unsupervised, though.  I have to know what she’s hearing if I’m going to be able to protect her from what’s negative or educate her about something.  She hates this, but that’s my job to oversee what goes into her head.

And the same is going to have to go for the video games.  She and Daddy got new video games for Christmas.  Daddy gets to play games rated ‘M’, and it really chaps our daughter’s ass, not to put too fine a point on it.  I can’t say I blame her: all the really cool games are rated ‘M’.  What kid doesn’t want to kill zombies?  Resident Evil is deemed too violent for the under 17 crowd, though.  And I can’t say I blame the game raters, either: there’s a lot of gunfire and gore.  Other games, I’m unclear as to why they got an ‘M’ rating and not a ‘T’ rating, since there’s killing in ‘T’ games as well.  The whole ratings thing makes me wonder, why is it okay for teens to engage in video game killing in hand-to-hand combat (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) but not stab monsters with a sword (Skyrim)?  The husband’s only been playing Skyrim for a few days, so maybe there’s more in the game further in that makes it clearer as to why it has a higher rating.

My daughter’s begging made me pull up “video game violence and kids” on Google and do some research on the subject.  Unsurprisingly, there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that violent video games make kids more violent or even aggressive.  In fact, as video game sales have skyrocketed in recent years, juvenile violent crime has gone down (as has crime overall, if I’m not mistaken, even though the news would have you believe otherwise).  Much like every other new invention that hits humanity, video games have been decried as the new harbinger of the decline of society, though that tends not to be the case (I’m sure you could find those would argue to the contrary, though: television, automobiles, computers, etc.).  I’m much more concerned with how changes in economic policy over the last few decades have caused a whole host of maladies that now afflict our society than with television or video games.

So is it okay to let her play whatever she wants as long as she knows games are games and not real life?  It’s really hard to get around certain gut reactions, particularly in the wake of the recent elementary school shooting, which has many people vilifying anything having to do with guns.  Unfortunately, we’re a very black-and-white society and are very poor at navigating the gray areas.  They’re just too messy.  We like clear cut answers, and there just aren’t any when it comes to the really big societal issues.  Like guns and violence.  We’d really like a convenient scapegoat to blame, like video games.  It would be so easy, and would give closure to the awful gaping wound.  I don’t think it’s that simple, though.

So what’s acceptable violence in a video game for a kid?  Is it okay to involve a person as long as you’re not killing them?  Or is person-on-person violence always straight out?  Is all killing not okay, or is it okay to kill as long as you’re killing monsters?  Is it okay to kill a person as long as it’s not using a gun?  Is all violence okay because it’s not real and you’re supposed to be educating your kid about these things anyway?  Is all violence not okay because it’s not okay to depict violence?  Are all of these things defined only by our societal morals and nothing else?  I have very wise friends who say that they are.  I have equally wise friends who say they are not.  My Buddhist morals tell me that what I put into my head directly correlates to what comes out of it.  It also seems paradoxical to tell a kid that it’s not okay to hurt other people and then let them play a game that allows them to do just that.

What am I, and all parents, really afraid of when we have these discussions about video game violence and our kids?  We’re afraid of our own kids having aggression problems at school, and deep down, we’re afraid of them turning into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine High School shooters).  Or Adam Lanza.  Statistics tell me these fears are patently ridiculous.  At least, the last one is.  The first one is only mildly possible, if the research is to be believed.  Like so many ‘scientific’ studies, most of the ones that say there is a correlation between violent video games and aggression in kids have severe methodological problems that, once adjusted for, negate their results.  Still, I have a really hard time getting around my gut reaction when I think about my kid playing a game involving building an arsenal of semi-automatic and automatic weapons intended to kill as many enemies as possible, even if they aren’t human.  Maybe if they were all plasma rifles or something, it wouldn’t bother me.

On the other hand, we’re huge Mythbusters fans, and boy do the Mythbusters like their guns.  Always under safe circumstances, of course.  We’ve seen them shoot a huge array of firearms over the years and have gained an appreciation for the engineering of guns, as well as the fact that it’s plainly enjoyable to shoot them, just as it’s fun to blow shit up.  No, that doesn’t mean that the Mythbusters are condoning acts of terrorism or violence because they like explosives and firearms, and I don’t think it means our daughter is in danger of becoming a violent person because she is exposed to these things through their show.  It does raise the question: what’s the difference between the Mythbusters blowing up an effigy of a person in the name of busting a myth and someone shooting a representation of a person in a game?  Both end in the same result: a dead un-person (though it’s admittedly a lot funnier to watch Buster get blown up than it is to watch a zombie get its head blown off, but maybe that’s a matter of opinion).

I bet a lot of this has to do with perspective, as well.  Would I feel differently about video games involving guns if we were a family that regularly went to the shooting range? Or lived on a farm and had grown up with guns?  Or lived in a country like Switzerland or Israel where a high percentage of the population owns a gun?  Or lived in a place like Newtown, CT?

As with the music, I will probably let our daughter play what she wants to, but with supervision, and within certain limits.  Each game will likely be evaluated individually.  I learned she had been playing Call of Duty at a friend’s house after she came home and talked about how much fun it was to fire off an AK-47.  I made a polite phone call and requested the games with gunfire not be played when she comes to visit.  In retrospect, it wasn’t so much because of the guns, but because that game is all about hunting down and shooting people, which is something I will never be okay with.  The more distanced it is from real life, the less I mind it.  And isn’t that what video games are supposed to be about?  A break from reality?

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