Looking Shrunk

Episode 17 of Looking Back is now available. I have been feeling much better this week. So much better that I’ve been reconsidering my story ending… My mother always wants a happy ending.

I spend too much time thinking. I’ve always been introspective but my psychologist characterizes it as “derealization disorder”. I think she’s grasping at straws. The previous diagnosis was PTSD and the one before that was Borderline Personality Disorder. In fact, ever since my parents first dragged me into a psychologist’s office they’ve been trying to diagnose me with some mental defect. And all this thinking about the psychologists makes me recall the psychiatrist I saw in college. The whole episode was precipitated by the RA in the dorm. She was engaged to a party boy from another university. He was visiting and she wasn’t back from her class so he was waiting in the lobby. He stopped me and struck up a conversation. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. Next thing I know he had backed me into a corner and had his hands all over me. By the time I was able to slip under his arm; he had unbuttoned my blouse and unzipped my pants. It was a narrow escape. He must have told the RA that I’d tried to seduce him. There was an inquiry and a hearing of the Residence Life Council. I was not expelled but they insisted I see the school psychiatrist. That was when the fun began. This shrink was nothing more than a glorified drug pusher. He wanted to prescribe all sorts of medications to me for bogus mental conditions. Let’s just clear the air, I have never been bipolar. I do not have suicidal tendencies. I do not self-harm. Even though I’ve had bouts of depression I have never had to take anti-depressants or mood elevators. After my sessions with the school shrink the only medication I needed was a round of antibiotics to treat the STD that he conveniently gifted me. I don’t hate mental health professionals but I also don’t completely trust them either – especially the men.


Looking Meditative

My Wellness Coach suggested I do some meditation to reduce my stress levels. I researched and finally came up with a plan (because I plan everything). My plan looked like this:
* Pray during my shower
* Read my daily scripture devotions at work (it come in my email every morning).
* During lunch recount at least 2 things I’m thankful for.
* Select my daily meditation focus word/phrase (I have a set of flash cards and a little book)
* Use that word/phrase during my drive home (sit in the car in the garage for 5-10 minutes to finish)
* Count my blessings in a prayer of thanksgiving before bed

So I had already been doing the prayers and the scripture devotions and just added the other stuff. Three weeks later I had to evaluate the effectiveness of my new meditation regimen. I was disappointed. It really didn’t help reduce my feelings of stress, at least not in a permanent or long lasting way. I found that as soon as I resumed my normal activities the stress jumped back up. I could only hold the tension at bay while actively engaged in prayer and active meditation. I thought I had failed. But the Wellness Coach had a different perspective. After discussing the sources of my stress and evaluating the circumstances of heightened stress, she suggested that the stress was exacerbated by my lack of control over the situations. As an alternative to meditation, she suggested I set boundaries and created a “zone of control”. What the heck is a zone of control you ask (as did I)? In short it is an area where I have absolute control, with imaginary rings (like ripples in the water) of lesser control radiating from the central area. Therefore as of this morning I’m staking out my zones of control.
1. My office – it is mine and everything therein is under my absolute control. DO NOT TOUCH MY STAPLER!
2. The locker room – there are several areas which I control exclusively (bulletin boards, locker, uniform bin)
3. My animal rooms – I share responsibility with another and we take turns.
4. The break room – is a shared space and although I have a spot in the refrigerator that I favor there is no guarantee I can put my stuff in that exact place (unless I get there first).

Knowing that as I move about my day there are areas where I can exert control, gives me an illusion of order and control. Sort of an umbrella against the chaos of the day… It just might be a paisley umbrella with a squirrel carved handle!

Looking Married

It is one thing to say you’ve been married 35 years and quite another to realize that you’ve been married longer than you were single. When I think about it it doesn’t seem so very long ago that I was a newlywed. Time is like that. One minute you are 16 and over there and the next finds you standing at the 60 years milestone with no clear recollection of how you got there. In my head I’m the same age that I’ve always been. I guess what I mean is that although my body has aged my inner sense of self is still in a perpetual state of youthful optimism, married youthful optimism. I clearly recall the moment I reached that stage of being “adult”. Sparky and I had gone out to dinner at Red Lobster. Back in the day it was an upscale kind of place and a little pricey. We did a little people watching while we waited for our meal. As several groups of people walked past we looked at each other and both said the same thing, “I can’t believe they are dressed that way to eat at a nice place like this.” We had just become our parents! That kind of being on the same page is what being married is like for me. We think very much alike. We hold the same values. We maintain a consensus on parenting. We are of a like mind when it comes to religion and faith in practice. It is comforting, reassuring, and not at all boring. Or maybe it is boring but I like boring. I don’t like surprises and uncertainty. We are planners and list makers and we have calendars and agendas. Neither of us is into risk taking. Although spontaneity can be fun it isn’t a necessary ingredient for having fun.

This Valentine’s Day fell on Ash Wednesday. For us it was a day of fasting and prayer. So we didn’t go out to dinner. For the first time in a very long time we didn’t visit Taco Bell on the 14th. Instead we went to church. This coming weekend is Sparky’s birthday celebration so we’ll find some time to go out to a restaurant of his choice and maybe see a movie (he will get to choose). It is all going to be planned around his work schedule. (Spontaneous doesn’t come into play when you have to juggle work and other commitments.) What all this means is that I’m married and still in love. It means I wish everyone was in love and happy. I wish there were no broken hearts. I wish that marriage vows were never considered temporary. I wish that all marriages and relationships enjoyed a forever trust. I wish abuse and infidelity and hurtful words and actions would never insert themselves into marriages. But it happens and while I quietly celebrated St. Valentine’s Day, I want you all to know I was praying for those whose hearts are bruised.

Looking Like a Virgin

Today’s episode 16 of Looking Back is brought to you by heartburn and severe intestinal distress. I really have to be more careful about what I eat. I seem to have a very bad reaction to peppers – especially jalapeno peppers and spicy red peppers…

I might have mentioned that college was an education beyond the classroom. I had blown off high school without a thought but college was different. I had decided that I wanted to know everything. I was a “nose to the grindstone” kind of student. My professors loved me or at least tried in a literal sense. It was shocking. I’m sure my parents never would have believed that a strict Catholic college would allow that kind of behavior. And they didn’t. It was a very small school so they had a cooperative agreement with the local community college. St. Hedwig would provide advanced history, Latin and Greek language courses and in return Southwestern Community College would allow us to take the upper level chemistry, math and English classes. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. First it was my English professor. He was ancient but not dead yet. He tried but I was so green that all he accomplished was to make me laugh. My linear algebra professor was much smoother. I think back and realize he had years of practice seducing young girls. He made me feel like I was the smartest student in the class. He complimented me. He had me come to his office for discussions ‘concerning my grade’. Then he started giving me little gifts – a candy bar, a mechanical pencil, and a key ring. They were little nothings. Then he asked me to get a coffee after class. Then it was lunch and eventually it was dinner. By the time he asked me to come to his house for dinner, I was completely comfortable with saying yes. He seemed very mature but in retrospect he was probably in his late 30s. We had sex on his living room floor. It was a complete disappointment as far as I was concerned. He seemed to really enjoy himself. I figured I wasn’t doing something right.

Looking Discombobulated

Discombobulated is not my favorite mental state. I tend to strive for a more level and logical equilibrium. However the planets have aligned and forces of nature and man have conspired to move me from calm, cool and collected into the realm of discomforted, distressed and discombobulated. I need to get some sleep. I want to get some retail therapy. I desire a little me time. And I’m overdue for a haircut. I had such wonderful plans for the last weekend but the weather did not cooperate. I had to deal with the snow – lots of snow. I fought my way through the grocery store parking lot and plowed through the crowded aisles to get a single gallon of milk and some pizza crusts. The snow plow cleared our street by pushing a 4 foot high wall of snow across the end of our driveway. And I had to dig my way into my drive and clear a path into the garage. And I had to cancel plans to drive to Shipshewana to buy cheese. And I wasn’t able to go for my haircut or to use my coupon at JCPenney’s for $10 off a $25 purchase. And I was thwarted in my plans to peruse Goodwill and Salvation Army. The only bright spot was taking a good long nap. I needed the nap and my sore muscles needed the nap and there wasn’t anything else to do since the snow was piling up and I was so tired from being on call and having the weather play havoc with the HVAC system… In short, if I were a drinker I’d have several empties laying around! Instead I’ve been eating ibuprofen for my back and sipping hot chocolate to help me relax. Today is another fun day and I’m hoping that although it is a Monday, there are no dramas, traumas, or hallucinatory llamas. But you never know about Mondays.

Looking at Potholes

It is pothole season. In Indiana we grow corn and soy beans and even wheat but those are all crops that are harvested in the summer or fall. The new crop of potholes, chuckholes or if you prefer ruts, road trenches, or Indiana underground missile silos has appeared. Usually they don’t show up until March or even April but with the freeze and thaw and wild fluctuations in temperature they have shown themselves. For any of you living in warm and tropical climates, the pothole forms when water penetrates the road surface through small cracks in the road and then freezes and thaws repeatedly. This in effect fractures the road material and once vehicles repeatedly travel across the damaged spot a pothole forms. This hole initially is filled with particles of either asphalt or cement in varying sized chunks. As traffic passes over it the filler is compacted (and further ground into a sand like consistency) which is removed by the friction of tires or washed out of the depression. Eventually it gets deeper and and deeper and often larger. Once it becomes large enough to swallow a car tire, it turns dangerous. The pothole can cause a tire to rupture, bend tire rims, bounce off hubcaps, and even bend or break axles.

I am not sure when it happened and I can’t tell you where it happened (although I suspect it was on Eddy Street). But I found a pothole. The result is that my tire is bumped and bulging in a distinctly unnatural way. It didn’t handle any differently and the tire pressure was fine. However it worried me. I had Sparky take a look at it and he determined that he would take it to the tire store and have them look at it. At first the thought was that the metal cords that run through the tire were split – kind of a tire hernia but without the ability to repair it. However it wasn’t the tire. In fact the tire was fine and didn’t need to be replaced. They examined the rim, I wasn’t there, and discovered that it was bent. The tire people were amazed that I had been driving on it and the tire hadn’t gone flat. It is not an inexpensive repair. They will have to order a rim and then we can schedule the swap of the old rim for a new rim. In the mean time I’ve been told it is safe to drive on but to avoid hitting any potholes! Like that is in my power – I’m worried that I’ll be calling Sparky to come fix a flat tire one of these evenings on my way home…

Looking for My Citadel of Silence

Here is episode 15 of Looking Back. I am hoping you are enjoying this story…

I try to keep busy. It helps fend off boredom. I was thinking about summer time. That happens when it is the dead of winter and there is nothing but snow and ice and grey skies. So as I was washing dishes, it occurred to me that summers comprised the most enjoyable parts of my childhood. We lived in a subdivision that abutted a nature preserve. I spent as much time as possible exploring the woods and fields. It was a daily routine to slip outside and vanish into the trees. My one friend from first grade would meet me in a little clearing. We would pretend that we were wild horses and go galloping through the prairie grass. She moved away half way through 2nd grade. It was OK because she’d already pulled away from me and joined the rest of the kids ridiculing me. Superman had a Fortress of Solitude; I had a Citadel of Silence. It was a well concealed hideout. You could only access it by following the fence until it reached the bridge and then crawling under the bridge. Once beneath the bridge, there was a poured cement footing that had split. I excavated that crack into a tidy little cave. It took me over a week but in the end it was large enough to accommodate a makeshift bench to sit on. The soil had a lot of clay and so the walls and ceiling didn’t flake or crumble. I made a niche in the wall to hold my treasures. Perhaps I was always strange but I had found a small skull, probably from a squirrel, which I displayed. Some kids would have been frightened but I thought it fascinating. I had a geode too. It really would sparkle whenever I brought a flashlight to my Citadel. I would visit that hideout constantly during the summers as a way to avoid the other kids, at least until I got too big to squeeze through the crack. One time a couple of boys followed me through the woods intent on making my life more miserable. I could hear them struggle through the undergrowth. I purposely walked through the mud and then scrambled over the bridge. Instead of jumping down, I took off my shoes and went back the way I came. I slipped under the bridge and into my cave. They followed my muddy tracks across the bridge and then plunged off the other side. I had to hold in my laughter as they howled and fought their way back to the bridge through the stinging nettles and poison ivy. Doing dishes is so much more enjoyable when you can recall pleasant memories.

Looking Exercised or Exorcised

I have been working with a personal Wellness Coach to improve my health and well-being. I was fitted with the dreaded Fitbit. I kind of like the fitbit. It tracks my sleep and my exercise and my heart rate. Now I’ve been having some issues with the Fitbit that have frustrated me. Namely it doesn’t want to recognize my exercise when I go for walks. Seems I’m too relaxed when I walk. My heart rate doesn’t want to go much over 75 so the Fitbit doesn’t count it as exercising. Now that doesn’t seem to be a very elevated heart rate and it isn’t for most folks but my resting heart rate hovers in the high 50s or low 60s. I should be happy that my heart is so efficient. But the competitiveness to make my exercise goals of two 30 minute walks goads me to try to make this happen. So far I’ve tried doing a few jumping jacks and then walking but that doesn’t seem to have any effect. I did the stairs – went up and down 10 times and it didn’t register as exercise (though I met my stair goal). I was getting irritated. I decided to attempt to raise my heart rate by yelling and screaming (alone at home while Sparky was at work so as not to appear to have lost my mind or have been possessed by a demon). It actually got my heart up to 89 bpm (beats per minute) and guess what? It worked. I have to maintain an average of 85 bpm for 20 minutes for the Fitbit to give me credit for exercising.

So that brings me to the big question. What should I do? I can scream and shout my head off while walking or I can just pretend that it recognizes my walking and keep track manually. The Wellness Coach can see my exercise chart and I want her to know I’m not “cheating”.

Watching Things Unravel

Have you ever watched from a distance and observed when something starts to fall apart? There have been moments when I’ve been witness to those beginnings. Once I had the boys at the park when they were just little guys, 3 and 4 years old. They were running around. I looked away to see a tiny child climbing up the ladder to the slide. He was probably only 2 years old. His mother was talking to another woman. I saw it in slow motion as his hand clutched at the metal rail and he lost his grip. He fell backwards. It happened before I could even launch myself from my place. Before I could utter the call for help.

I have seen friendships self-destruct. Again, little events lead to larger ones until the relationship was in pieces like a fine china tea cup that tips and falls in slow motion from a tall table. I am generally too far from the disaster to do anything but help sweep up the pieces.

And now in my sphere I have seen the loose thread and watched it being pulled only to realize that with each tug the hem of the sweater is getting shorter. And still they pull the thread. And I watch while soon there will be a large pile of yarn and no sweater at all.

Yes. I know this is cryptic. Yes, I realize you will all worry about me. But be reassured it is not my sweater nor am I pulling any threads. There are as always, considerations for privacy and confidentiality. I need to respect that and at the same time I want you all to know that the observation of these disasters reach beyond the players. We are not islands. Everything that occurs in communities, work environments, in neighborhoods, faith groups, families, and marriages affects all persons and groups in contact or close proximity to the parties involved. On that note we should support each other. We need to help sweep up the broken pieces. Perhaps offer a little super glue, or help ball up the yarn or provide some suitable knitting needles. We are not helpless even if when we see the events unraveling we are powerless to stop them.

On another note the celebration of Tech Weeks continues. The theme is “You are Rock Stars of Research” so I incorporated that into some cookies I baked for everyone! Not too shabby an effort for my first foray into fancy decorations on cookies…

Looking to Cheer Up

Episode 14 of Looking Back is below. Enjoy!

I talked to my sister over the phone a couple of weeks ago. She was overly cheerful. It was her fake happy persona. I’ve never understood why she thinks she needs to cheer me up. My happiness or lack thereof is wholly in my hands. Like my psychologist often says, “You are in charge of your emotions – you get to choose how you react to the world.” Some days I decide to laugh and other days I cry. When she starts trying to manipulate my emotional state I fire back. She has no clue what my buttons are but I’ve got her number. We chatted about inane topics until she got to the meat of the call. There were trust funds set up by our parents that had just come to light. She wanted to know if I’d be willing to sign mine over to be split between hers and DJ’s kids, “since, you know, you don’t need it.” I’m not greedy. Then again, my parents didn’t do me any favors while they were alive so I’m kind of partial to any sign that they acknowledged me as one of their offspring. I told her absolutely – not. I’m pretty sure she thought I’d just relinquish my claim. But who knows, I might eventually need a little pocket change in my old age. Anyway, I started pushing her buttons aggressively. I called her Beth. She hates to be called anything other than Elizabeth. I then mentioned that I had never met her husband or her spawn and wasn’t inclined to give money to strangers. She started to sputter when I said the word “spawn”. By the time her auditory nerves registered “strangers” her indignation was palpable. I managed to get in a few more subtle jabs before she decided to end the call. My coup d’état was when I told her I loved her as she was saying good-by. Her call did actually cheer me up or rather I cheered myself up at her expense. Life is so unpredictable.