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Archive for January, 2008

Roughly 10% of the US adult population suffers from some various form of depression. It may be anxiety based or mood based. It may be moderate and affected only certain times of year by seasonal changes or it may be severe and require constant attention, drug and talk therapy. It may be undiagnosed until late in life or present and obvious since adolescence. In short, millions of Americans suffer from this disease (since it is not “the blues” or something that can be wished away), but so little is offered to help this portion of the population.

There are a variety of reasons for this that would take too long to delve into in one short blog post; there are entire books on the subject. Instead I wanted to focus on the multitude of self help books out there right now that are focusing on “happiness.” These books instruct the reader on a variety of ways to feel happier in their day to day life. Each book has its own special strategy: force yourself to smile more and you’ll feel happier! say to yourself everyday “I am a happy person” and you will be! try small amounts of kindness/pampering/exercise/insert innocuous activity here every day and you’ll feel happier! And then in small print somewhere on the back insert or credits page “not intended for actual depression.”

Not intended for actual depression? What is then? Who are they marketing these books to? Are there millions upon millions of readers out there who are suffering a daily unhappiness that nags at them so deeply they feel compelled to buy a book about it? And are these people without the tell tale signs of depression? If the authors have such great ideas on helping reasonably happy people feel happier, couldn’t they put a little effort towards helping clinically unhappy people feel moderately happy? Why is depression excluded from these books? Would it be so hard to add one chapter about those who suffer from this disease and things they might do to help themselves?

I think part of the author’s fear is that someone with undiagnosed depression, or even diagnosed and desperate for help, will read this book and not achieve the success it guarantees. This failure to achieve happiness may be just another nail in the coffin of their depression.

So where can people turn if they are depressed or suffering from depression? There aren’t really a lot of places to turn. There is drug therapy, which is helpful for some sufferers and not others. There is talk therapy or counseling, which is proven to be the most helpful for all patients, but is expensive. And after that what is there left for people to turn to?

You may ask, dear reader, why those suffering from depression who are receiving treatment would need something else? Shouldn’t the pills they take everyday turn them into normal, happy people? One would like to think so, dear reader, but that is not the case. There is no 100% cure for depression, no guarantee that therapy or drugs will work forever in every situation. The loss of a job for a normal person might be hard to deal with, but a person suffering from depression might find the situation heartbreaking and impossible to navigate. So if they had been taking drugs or attending therapy, they should be better equipped to deal with it. Still it could send them into a deep depression even with the drugs and therapy. So what do they do now? What tools are there left for these people to employ?

Now that is only one example of a situation in which a depressed person might need assistance. But the truth of the matter is that some depressed people need help on a day to day basis. Drugs and therapy alone may not be enough for them to conquer their daily battles with the disease. They need something more to help them lead a happy and healthy life. But what is there?

In my experience, I have found only one group that offers help beyond these two types of therapy. It’s called Recovery, Inc. It was founded by Dr. Lowe over 50 years ago, when even less was known about mental illness, such as depression, than today. This group runs today in several countries, and in this country nationwide. They offer meetings for those seeking help in the form of moral support from other people just like them. Or they have several books on the subject of how to combat the daily effects of living with a mental illness. These techniques are meant to be used in conjunction with traditional therapy. I have read a few of the books myself and found several techniques helpful. While the language is a bit antiquated and the examples can be sometimes hard to follow, I have found that I could identify a few techniques that would help in my own struggle with the disease.

This may not be for everyone, but I thought that if there was just one person out there like me, looking for a way to deal with the day to day of living with metal illness, then I thought, it was worth writing about. You, dear reader, may not need help or you may find your deal with your unhappiness successfully. But, dear one, you may know someone who needs help. You may know someone who wants to pick up those self help books that aren’t intended for actual depression. You may know someone looking for that little something extra to make their life better. Maybe you could help them towards Recovery.

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Beer

Last night I drank three of those large cup beers at a hockey game.  It definitely gave me a very strong buzz and made me so full I thought I was going to burst.  I felt as though the liquid was sloshing around inside me, making movement uncomfortable.  This lead me to think about my past beer drinking.

So why was it in college I drank beer all the time, but never felt as full as I do now?  I drank beer on a semi-constant basis: weeknight fraternity socials, beer pong and beer bongs, kegs at friends houses, six or twelve packs picked up just before 2am, pitchers in the afternoons after class, bottle after bottle at the bar. Yet I was still thirsty for more, never full.

Maybe it was the quality of the beer I was drinking.  Maybe Coors Light and Natural “Natty” Ice aren’t quite as filling as the nice Hefenweisens I drink these days.  Is it impossible to become full on Natty Ice?  I can remember drinking and drinking bottles of cold Coors on Spring or Summer breaks, never feeling a full sloshy stomach, only a full bladder.

I miss those days of empty pitchers on a sunny table.  I miss the social quality of drinking beers with friends.  Today, I’ve replaced it with the social camaraderie of wine, which has a different feeling to it.  So what changed? Why is beer so filling now?  Any ideas, my dear reader?

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Like you, my dear reader, I enjoy TV.  I have my favorite shows.  I look forward to seeing my favorite characters as if they were characters in my own life.  I set my DVR faithfully.  My family enjoys discussing our favorites together.  They seem to be the dialogue that is always running in the back of our lives.  When there is nothing else to say, there is always TV to talk about.  It’s the language that we all speak in this day and age.  And like you, dear reader, I have found the silence deafening.

So here are some ways to enjoy the writer’s strike without resorting to making your own TV shows:

1. Catch up on series you’ve missed or never seen.  For example, my husband I use Netflix regularly.  This lovely service offers not only movies and documentaries, but TV series.  So we’ve been taking advantage of this service and watching series we’ve never seen before, like Weeds.  Prior to this last year we never had movie channels so we always missed those original HBO or Showtime series.  But this is a great way to make the most of our free TV time!  Weeds is now one of my favorite shows and I got to watch all 3 seasons in a matter of weeks, instead of years! Freaking awesome!

2. Stop watching TV and start watching movies.  How many amazing movies are there that we’ve never seen?  Think of all those Oscar nominated movies for the last 60 years that you’ve never heard of, let alone watched.  Now is the chance to become the impressive movie buff you’ve always wanted to be!  TCM runs a month of Oscar nominated movies in January/February.  Not only do they show the movie, the host of that movie fills you in on what nominations it received, actors stories, and film background, providing you with everything you wanted to know but never did.

3. Don’t watch anything at all!  Crazy, I know, but what better time to pick up the half finished book you’ve been putting off (you know the one I mean, my reader).  This is the perfect opportunity to find new genres or authors that might hold your literary interest well into the days that new TV comes on!

4. Find a hobby!  Personally, I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts.  So I’ve been using this time to finish some old sewing projects I started.  While this may not sound super glamorous, it keeps my fingers busy and my attention focused.  I still put the TV or music on in the background while I sew, but suddenly, I don’t really care what’s on.

5. Play a board game!  Lately, this has become the new obsession in my group of friends and my family.  Our communal favorite is Apples to Apples.  We’ve played this on Christmas Day with family (including grandparents), at our New Year’s Eve party with friends, at the end of book club, and on many, many late nights.  It’s a different game every time depending on who you play with.  But if that’s not your cup of tea, there are always the classics, like Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit (which now has a DVD update).  Or there are always new games coming out like Catch Phrase and In a Pickle, which I’ve heard are both quite entertaining.  It’s difficult to play these games just mano y mano, so this brings me to my next point…

6. Get together with friends!  It doesn’t matter what night it is!  We’re adults!  No one tells us our bedtimes!  I recently heard an alarming statistic that Americans today have fewer intimate friends than at any other point in history.  I think a large part of this has to do with the endless amount of entertainment constantly surrounding us, particularly TV.  Bored? Turn on the TV. Nothing on? Change to one of the 600 other channels you have available!  Nothing on any of those?  Flip open your laptop and read about anything that tickles your fancy.  Or play a game against strangers you never even speak to.  With all these choices it’s no wonder that so many people would rather isolate themselves in the safe world of technology and television than to venture out to deal with actual people, who may actually affect their lives.  So my suggestion is this: get together with friends for dinner or drinks.  You don’t have to go out and spend money.  Have them over to your house for cheap, comforting casseroles and inexpensive wines or beers.  Linger over dinner, enjoy good conversation, play board games late into the night or just debate who’s football team looks better for next season.

My point is, if there’s nothing new on anyways, why waste time watching the junk they’re filling the time slots with?  Find something better to do!  Hey, you could always start a blog!

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When I was growing up I never had a problem talking to adults.  It may have been due to that fact that I looked more like an adult than a child from the age of 12 on.  I think, though, that it had a lot more to do with the fact that I was the oldest of three girls and the 4th oldest of 20+ grandkids.  I had been treated as one of the adults for as long as I can remember.  So, I had no problem talking to adults twice or three times my age.  I was good with parents.  So good sometimes, that my friends would complain to me afterwards that their parents would ask them why they couldn’t be more like me.  An unfortunate side effect, but one of few.

This ability also instilled in me a sense of confidence to talk to adult, in any situation.   Some of these situations would horribly embarrass my sister.  We would be out to dinner as a family and the couples at the next table might mention their student went to a particular school, or discuss a movie but couldn’t remember the actor’s name who was in it.  I would politely excuse myself for butting in and make small talk about the school or inform them of the name of the actor they were forgetting.  In these cases, my sister (then in junior high or early high school) would turn bright red and tug on my sleeve.  She would tell me not to interrupt, or look straight ahead as if I didn’t exist while I made this small talk.

Similar things would happen if we were out and ran into a family friend or teacher.  I would make polite conversation while my sister would shift uncomfortably from foot to foot until we would walk away.  I was never sure why these conversations embarrassed her, but as she got older she improved in her own ability to make conversation with strangers or older people.  By now, she’s an expert when she wants to be, but it’s not something she often wants to be.  Embarrassment or fear thereof still thwarts these conversations unless they are necessary.

However, for as many times I embarrassed my middle sister my youngest sister made up for her.  Since there was a such an age gap between my youngest sister and I (and I looked so much older), my youngest sister would take great pleasure in embarrassing me by pretending I was her mom when we were out together alone.  The little dear would walk away from me in a crowded department store and then turn back to yell “MOM!”  This of course would gather stares and indignant looks from everyone in shouting distance.  Ah, fun times….

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My dogs are foodies

Everyone knows that dogs love food.  In fact, they spend a good part of their day trying to find more food to consume, even after they’ve eaten.  Dogs are incredibly talented at getting into trash cans, on to counters and tables, and sniffing out any scrap of food that may be any where within reach of their little paws.

Now, I believe that not only do my dogs love food, they are foodies.  The are obsessed with food!  They also prefer some types of food over others.  For example, Penny turns her nose up at raw cucumbers, but will gladly eat them drenched in salad dressing or taztiziki sauce (the reason she gets cucumbers is that I won’t eat them).  She also is picky about her dog treats.  Penny prefers treats that smell or taste like meat, and refuses to eat those dry, hard dog treats (like at the vet’s office).

She has also figured out how to make herself look as cute as possible during meal times.  Penny will sit next to me while I am eating and take one of several different tactics.  She will first try nudging my elbow.  This never works, but she does it anyways because she is a very bossy dog.  Penny will then try placing her head in my lap and looking up at me so that the whites of her eyes appear, making them look even larger than they already are.  This is really too cute.  She looks very sad and pitiful.  And true to my role as an over-indulgent pet parent, I only want her to be happy, so I feed her when she looks this way.  Penny’s last tactic, if these others don’t work, is to lie on her side at my feet.  She will glance up with pain in her eyes, and then sadly place her head back on the floor.  She has become very good at feigning starvation.  This is generally too much for me, and I cannot resist.

Dodger on the other hand will eat anything and everything I choose to feed him.  He immediately adopts the patient attitude of sitting nearby, making sure not to look at me, so that I know how humble he is in pursuit.  He will then eat the food so mildly, that I very nearly have to place the food on his tongue.  He may be very naughty in so many other things, but in this he is so good.  At times he will start to lick or make chewing noises when he sees me eating, as we may open our mouths a little when we see some eating an ice cream on a hot day.  So much does he love food, that every morsel that passes over my lips appears to him like ice cream on a hot day.

Dodger loves food so much that he dreams of eating at night.  While he leans against me in his sleep, he will chew.  And when he is chewing, sometimes his tail will wag!  So much does he love food!  It appears he has become a foodie and not just a hungry dog.

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As most woman are currently, so am I: dieting.  For me it is always a struggle.  I don’t mean this purely as a physical struggle or a struggle of will.  I struggle emotionally and intellectually.

My weight problems began when I went off to college, as is the case with many women.  A combination of the fat laden foods of the dinning commons and the 1st time on my own eating schedule and decisions, along with the introduction of birth control to my body created in me an immediate weight gain.  Things didn’t improve over those for years as I began to enjoy the free flowing booze and late night drunk snacks.  My mental health also faltered, meaning I began taking various drugs to combat my illness, many of which are prone to cause weight gain.  On top of this, I had grown up in a house that was diet obsessed, weight obsessed, and filled with only health food.

As a teenager I had longed for salty chips and sweets.  I wanted meaty casseroles and ice cream.  I wanted pizza with pepperoni and extra cheese! Few of these I got, and those that I did, were few and far between.  So a part of my dietary choices in college was based on my need to rebel, to finally have all that food I had longed for.

But what was I to do with all that extra weight I was carrying around?  Diet?  I hated the idea.  I wanted to rebel further against my weight obsessed family that had created a complex in me as early as 13 that I would never be thin enough.  So my reaction was, if I would never be thin enough, why bother?  Why not embrace my fat and my food?  Why not enjoy eating and drinking instead of obsessing over every calorie that passed over my lips?

Finally I was driven to diet by a desire to fit into clothing better and to stop the barbs and insults that were thrown my way by family.  And I looked good!  I drew stares and looks wherever I went.  I was hit on everywhere from the grocery store to a standardized test for grad school (honestly, weirdest thing every).  I had cute clothes!  But my weight loss didn’t last.

The reasons for which are as plentiful as they were before.  I could easily hide behind the excuses.  I found a man who loves food as much as me!  I found a new love for cooking!  I have a syndrome that nearly guarantees being overweight!  I have battled illness after illness that have left me bloated, weak, and overweight!  Yet this is not the whole story.  I love food!  I love to eat and talk and drink and have fun revolving around these things.  So here is where we get into the greater struggles of weight and weight loss aside from the actual eating and calorie counting.

Intellectually I want to embrace my size.  I am still an attractive woman, even at 25 lbs overweight.  I want to shout that woman don’t all have to fit into the same mold.  And I am proud of the fact that certain parts of me (hips and breasts especially) will never ever fit that mold.  Not only am I 5’9″, I am also broad shouldered and literally big boned.  My wrists are only a centimeter smaller than my husbands and my fingers and palms the same size.  I dated several men whose shoulders and hips were not as broad as mine.  So I will never be a size 6.  I think I may have been that size when I was still growing at age 11.  Now, these things alone mean that I will carry extra weight, more weight than many women, even women my own height.  So why not accept that I will be overweight compared to societal standards?  Intellectually, I long to.

Yet emotionally I long to wear sheath dresses and tunic shirts, that are so popular, without looking like a sausage stuffed in its casing or, conversely,  like I’m trying to disguise a pregnancy!  I want to wear skinny jeans and bikinis and actually resemble the celebrities who model them.   Emotionally I want the same attention I got when I was skinny and single.  I want my family once and for all to stop with the weight comments!
But what will all these wants and desires garner me?  A higher shopping bill?  A larger wardrobe?  A dangerous addiction to attention?  So what is more important?  My intellect?  My emotions?  I want to feel good about myself without counting calories.  I want my feelings on my weight to stop swinging like a pendulum from content and proud to insecure and repulsed.  I want to strike a healthy weight and a healthy balance.

So for now I will diet, not for fashion or self esteem.  This time I diet for my health, although this in itself seems like an exercise in futility since I will only have to diet again and again in the future to combat the effects of my syndrome.  Or I can live with a calorie calculator in my pocket and a gym schedule in my hand.  I don’t want to be either people: the obsessed or the serial dieter.  Thus, my weight pulls not only at my body, but at my mind and my heart.  It literally weighs on me.

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Without endings

I am as much of a modern literature fan as anyone these days, but sometimes I yearn for the old ways of writing.  I yearn, in fact, for books and movies to have endings.  Now I know that literally all books end, factually the pages run out and the back cover closes.  But in the literary sense of the word, many books today don’t have a sense of finality.  There is no realization that the main character has come to, the wrong is left unrighted, the romance ends with questions instead of a marriage or a breakup.   Instead, we, the readers, are treated to an open ending.  A conversation occurs that unveils previously unknown facts and the words on the page run out without an explanation or resolution.  A new plot twist occurs, sometimes a car crash, a death, and our beloved characters are left scrambling to pick up the pieces.  In these cases, and in many others, it feels that the characters (and us, dear reader) are left in perpetual limbo, never moving forward or, conversely, coming to accept that things will never change.  There is just…

I’ve noticed this trend in movies as well.  Granted sometimes it is my own fault that I expect an ending without knowing enough about the movie.  For example, I recently say The Golden Compass, which for all intents and purposes was a good movie.  But in the spirit of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, had no ending for it’s first installment.  It merely showed the main characters moving off into the distance while we are left on the far shore watching them fade into the distance.  Now, when I saw this movie, I did not realize that this had been a series of books.  I thought that it was one book, and I set myself up for disappointment when I expected at the end of 3 hours to be treated to a resolution.

Yet this kind of non-ending is accepted in the case of movies that are made to have sequels or are a part of a trilogy. There are many other movies that end with the sense that there is more to the story without it being explained.  Take for example the movie The Kingdom.  It is the fictional account of a group of American intelligence agents going somewhere in the Middle East to investigate an attack on Americans living in that country.  The movie is entertaining, if not slow and at times under-developed, but it ends with the question of what will happen in the future?  Now I would guess that the director and screen writers created this ending for it’s dramatic effect, but, while I appreciated the fact that there is no ending to conflict in the Middle East at present, I longed for the resolution to be some what stronger.  I longed for the director to give me a tidy ending, an answer to the problem.  I know this is an unrealistic hope, as so many movies today aim for realism rather than resolution.

I’m sure there are a million other movies or books out there without endings.  If you, dear reader, are as tired of stories without endings as I am, let me know about them so we can warn others so they can stave off disappointment!

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