The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes


Monday, December 12, 2011

Mindful Introspection & Self-Evaluation

"You've got to do a checkup from the neck-up to stop your stinking thinking". ~ Zig Zigler

Have you ever taken a good look at yourself? I mean a "real" good look. Not just outward appearances, but rather deep inside the dark recesses of your mind. It's sort of like rummaging through the basement or attic of your house. You never know what you might find stored away.

What do you see? Is it someone who is well adjusted, reasonably content with their lot in life and comfortable in their own skin? Someone you would choose to be best friends with? If so, that's wonderful.

But what if that image is of a confused, tormented, or frightened person? Do you feel disconnected from the reflection or does it make you uncomfortable? If you are unhappy about who or what you see - that's alright, you are far from alone. One in four people (or more) suffer from psychiatric disorders ranging from very mild to severely dibilitating. There's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and don't let anyone tell you there is.

Recognition that things are not "A-ok" is a sign that you are ready to get back on track. Being able to admit that something is amiss within your mind or environment, that concerns for your (or a loved one's) health is too much to handle, or that you find relationships, your career or interests are no longer satisfying is a crucial first step. This is especially true when it impedes your ability to function or feel happy. So what's holding you back?

Unfortunately, you must first overcome the roadblocks of denial, blame, guilt, shame, resentment, ignorance, or just plain arrogance. These factors interfer with our ability to see the truth. Once you get past them, you must be willing to commit yourself to change and that requires persistence and hard work on your part. Like Ringo Starr sang, " You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don't come easy."

Support is readily available if you seek it. All you have to do is ask for help. No matter how big or little your problem is, there are numerous MDs, psychologists, social workers, counselors, clerics, life coaches/mentors and advocacy groups that can provide counseling either in person or via social media. So no excuses! I'm sure even your mother, in-laws or best friend will be more than happy to dish out advice. Well... maybe it's better to stick to the pros.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν or "Know Thyself"

You can get a head start on good mental health or keep tabs on it through self-awareness.  This is an important exercise whether you have troubles weighing you down or if you feel everything is fine just the way it is. Not a new concept, the Delphic command in ancient Greece was γνῶθι σεαυτόν.  The hippies of the 60's talked of "tuning in and tuning out". Today we call it "mindfulness."

Like any other type of examination you may undergo, it isn't always pleasant. It may induce anxiety of varying degrees depending on your individual circumstances. Therefore, it is best performed in conjunction with a relaxation exercise. Even if you don’t use this method for quiet introspection, practicing it for as little as five minutes a day is a healthy way of reducing stress and blood pressure levels while improving your overall health, providing a boost of energy and focus.

Find a quiet spot where you can be alone without interruption. If there is outside noise you may want to put on head phones and listen to relaxing music or perhaps buy yourself a "Sound Conditioner". If all else fails resort to ear plugs. Put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign to make sure everyone is aware not to bother you and most of all, turn that damned cell phone off and set it to voice mail! This is time for YOU.

Sit in a comfortable, upright position with legs crossed and hands clasped in your lap (or lie down if you are more comfortable).  Relax and close your eyes.  Slowly breathe in naturally and concentrate on the air flowing in and out of your nostrils, filling your lungs and exhale through your mouth.  At first you may be distracted by thoughts racing through your head. Try to avoid the temptation of allowing your mind to wander off and bring attention back your breathing. Be patient with yourself. It may take awhile until you can feel fully focused, relaxed, and calm.

You may enter a state with a dream-like quality. With your mind's eye, visualize the "real you", taking note of colors, forms, and shapes. Are they whole or fragmented, real or abstract? Do you see symbols, objects, animals, pictures or other people? Practice this until you can view yourself objectively, supportively and lovingly, as you would a lost child. Try painting a self-portrait of what you see, in words or pictures, whatever outlet or media allows you to express yourself best. Creativity is an expression of the unconscious mind.

THE QUESTIONS
"Who am I?"
Skip details such as career, social/marital status, religion, domicile and so forth. This is an introspective exercise - NOT a resume. Those things may tell something "about" you but are not "you". They are merely temporary descriptions and roles that may wax and wane as life passes by. Delve deeper into your psyche and identify what unique qualities makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

"What issues are weighing me down the most? What things would I like to change?"
How does your body respond to each thought that crosses your mind. Does your chest tighten? Does your pulse increase? Do your muscles tighten up? You may lie to yourself, but the body tells all.  Take note of what triggers set off a emotional reaction. With practice you can learn to recognize them and relax when they occur.

"What topics or memories do I avoid because they are too troubling? Which cause a sense of guilt, embarrassment or shame?"
We tend to repress things that are too painful to think about. It is a natural defense mechanism, although not always the most helpful if we want to heal. If thinking about such issues cause you anxiety, picture yourself in a special place, somewhere that you know you will be safe. Remind yourself that thoughts cannot harm you. In fact, by opening up and facing them you can set yourself free from their hold on you.

YOUR JOURNAL

Now it's time for the written part of this exam. Make a list of your personal talents, interests and strong points. This is not time for modesty so go ahead - let your ego run wild. There are no rules or boundaries.

Write down and answer each of the following questions:

  • What and who do I want to be?
  • What positive traits do I wish to develop?
  • What are my dreams and wildest fantasies?
  • What did I want to be as a child or teenager?
  • If I could be anyone else in time or place, whom would that be?
  • Who are my mentors or heroes?
  • If I could make one difference in this world, what would it be?

Keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences throughout this exercise, noting how it made you feel (physically and emotionally). As time passes you may want to go back and review it, however, don't give in to the desire to change anything. You may be surprised at the patterns that begin to emerge. This will provide you with a gage to measure where you've been, where you are now and what you need to stay on track for where you're headed.

QUIZ TIME

It's time to get down to the nitty gritty. Answer the following questions honestly. Make sure it's from your perspective and not what you think the "right" answer is or what others might say. Keep focused on the present moment.

Are you in good health?

Are your eating, sleeping, and fitness habits conducive to good health?

Are you comfortable with your body, your looks, and your weight?

Do you have enough energy to get you through the day?

Are your sexual desires and practices healthy, safe, and satisfying?

Do you avoid smoking and the use of drugs?

Do you limit your intake of alcohol?

Do you have regular physical, dental and visual check-ups?

Do you practice preventitive care?

Do you live a happy, fulfilling life?

Are you independent and comfortable being alone?

Do you fill your spare time with hobbies, interests, and physical activity?

Are you fully functional when it comes to caring and providing for yourself?

Are you involved in a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship(s)?

Do you have friends?

Do you function well in a variety of social settings, from one on one to large gatherings?

Are you flexible, accepting of others, unbiased and open-minded?

Are you equally comfortable taking the lead or working as a member of a team?

Do you avoid gossip?

Do you consider yourself to be well balanced, stable and normal?

Do you have a healthy level of self-esteem, without need for validation?

Do you accept reality along with its limitations and possibilities?

Can you focus without being easily distracted?

Are you capable of making sound decisions?

Do you think and act rationally and logically?

Are your emotions and behaviors on par with the average person?

Do you express your feelings with the same intensity as most people?

Do you experience a normal range of ups and downs in response to your environment?

Do you react reasonably and conscientious to stressors?

Are you quicker to share good news rather than lament about your problems?

Do you have firm goals, ambitions or desires to aim for?

Do you take pleasure in life, taking on new challenges?

Do you enjoy your work or career?

Is your outlook on life promising and positive?

Can you laugh and smile?

Do you allow yourself to dream and wish?

Do you handle anger, disappointment, and criticism in a balanced, calm fashion?

Are you able to cope with transitions, traumas, losses or painful adversities?

Do you bounce back quickly?

Do you practice forgiveness?

Can you let go of the past, concentrating on living in the present?

Do you feel relaxed and unencumbered by stress, anxiety or unwarranted fears?

Do you feel safe at home, work and/or school?

Are you free of compulsions, obsessive behaviors?

Are you free of nervous twitches otherwise known as "tics"?

Can you say "no"?

Do you value your life and well being, avoiding things or people that may be toxic?

Do you set reasonable boundaries or what you will or will not tolerate?

Have you managed to stay on a consistent career path?

Do you handle you finances responsibly?

Are you prepared and willing to take on challenges in a responsible fashion?

Do you calculate potential risks and consequences, taking all necessary precautions?

Do you think before you speak or act?

Can you accept responsibility for your choices and actions?

Have you always been honest, never cheating or telling a lie?

Did you answer YES to every question? (If so - are you running for President on the GOP ticket?)
May I remind you of the tagline from the medical show “House” - “Everybody lies.” The most “normal” person would have answered NO to at least a few questions, especially the last!

Remember, address these questions only by what you consider to be “normal” or typical for you. You'll find the same questions on an endless array of Internet sites claiming to provide self-evaluation quizes for various disorders. Bear in mind that many of those tests base their results feebly on generalized data or statistics and are usually geared to a specific product or service. They do not take into consideration that age, medications and certain physical conditions may cause or mimic psychiatric symptoms. Nor do they allow for your unique circumstances, such as the environment or culture in which you were raised. I pose these questions as merely a guideline or starting point for introspection and further consideration.

SUMMARY

Please note: If you’ve answered NO to several of these questions, you might consider seeking a professional opinion or evaluation to learn more.

Just as a yearly doctor's exam protects you from potential physical illness by revealing underlying conditions that you may not be aware of, the occasional Check-up from the Neck-up will keep you in touch with yourself providing the same healthy security for your psyche and brain.  Don't be afraid to take a look inside and make an honest assessment. Your peace of mind and mental well being may depend on it.













Friday, December 2, 2011

RIGID PERSONALITY or Obessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

In response to my previous article regarding Dissociative Identity or multi personality disorder, a reader commented that conversely there are those who lack sufficient fragmentation in their personalities and that this condition represents the polar opposite of DID.  This inspired me to research behavioral patterns that I have observed and dealt with for many years but have never thought of in terms of "mental illness".

Looking up the first phrase that came to mind, "rigid personality", I immediately found several articles pertaining to the subject.  Ah yes, the inflexible one, I know thee all too well, and I’ll bet you do too. But what I wanted to know was if this is just a case of someone with a “difficult or stubborn nature” or symptomatic of an underlying psychiatric condition?  It depends.

All traits (objective and behavioral), including those associated with mental disorders, fall somewhere along a wide continuum between two equal and opposite poles, just like everything else in nature. Abnormal is measured by the deviation from a statistical center point representing equilibrium or “normal”.  It is easy to understand how too much “disorder” would be considered abnormal; however, too much “order” renders one inflexible.  For instance, the disordered structure of an unstretched rubber band renders it unstable and weak while the highly ordered structure of glass makes it brittle and prone to breakage.  Equilibrium is found in the middle – equally pliable and strong (think fiberglass reinforced rubber tires).

An overly rigid personality can result in difficulties in a range of areas including, but not limited to:

• Communication and interpersonal skills - both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken) such as the ability to open up and share one’s emotions; understanding or caring what others think and feel (empathy); and maintaining and holding a meaningful conversation

• Perception - processing visual and audiological stimuli such as understanding the subtle nuances of humor and sarcasm; reading body language and facial expressions; deciphering intonation and context; spatial manipulation; and artistic ability

• Obsessive behaviors - such as repetition of words or actions, fidgeting, uncontrolled movements (tics) such as blinking or muscular twitches, obsessively following routines or schedules, perfectionism, ritualistic behaviors, or as often found in the workplace - the "Micromanager"

• Lack of flexibility in attitude, opinion, and perception

• Low stress tolerance levels, poor anger control, increased reactiveness

Several of these issues can be found in those suffering from pathological conditions such as Asperger Syndrome or other Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Senile Dementia, and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder/ OCD), among others.

While Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder or Rigid Personality may be associated with a pathological condition, ergo “Nature”, it may have roots in one’s upbringing, environment or cultural background, thus “Nurture”.   It can be learned as a child through the example of those around us.  It may result from excessive discipline, parental pressure, or when a child is made to feel they that nothing they do is right or good enough.  For some it may be a coping/survival mechanism when faced with extreme trauma, abuse and/or brainwashing.  While rigidness may signal a personality disorder it can also viewed as a desirable trait when associated with genius, self discipline, success and leadership.

Those with OCPD rarely change throughout their life nor do they have a desire to so.  They can be highly opinionated, close minded and unyielding.  Don't try to confuse them with the facts - their minds are already made up.  Their commitment to and confidence in their ideals is only matched by the verbosity in which they defend them.  This often leads to conflict with others resulting in stress and frustration, which needless to say, they blame on others.  OCPDs rarely recognize or seek help for their condition.

They have a fixed way of doing things. Usually left brain dominant, they tend to be obsessively neat and organized, striving to keep things under control, always searching for new ways to increase efficiency and productivity while keeping a close and steady eye on the bottom line.  Highly focused and determined they tend to measure their self worth through their finances, careers/interests and their accomplishments rather than their interactions with or relationships with others. These are the types that are married to their jobs. They tend to be perfectionists and become easily irritated and annoyed when their expectations are not met.

Social and communication skills are problematic.  Friendships often fail under the weight of their demands for others to conform to their ways and views.  A highly volatile, argumentive and confrontational nature pushes others away.  Their rigid attitudes of what is “right and wrong” can be extremely overwhelming.  They may be prone to taking prejudiced, biased, discriminatory and condescending stances while lacking the implications of their words and actions.   Unable to openly express feelings and or emotion, they may appear to be stoic and unempathetic to others.  Even those closest to them may find it impossible to break down the barriers that separate them from the rest of the world.

You don't have to look far to find this personality in action. Just look among the Who’s Who in politics and business, famed divas and dudes of mass media, religious zealots and pontiffs, and the movers and shakers of math and science. The top 1% is teeming with them. They make great lawyers, actuaries, and accountants. The last thing you need is a lawyer who changes his mind during an argument or an accountant that estimates rather than calculates.

On the other hand, they may be closer at hand among your friends, family, neighbors, clients and colleagues.  Many a men will swear their mother-in-laws are OCPD.  The younger generation will see it in the “old” (that is anyone over 35), and they in turn may recognize it in anyone who qualifies for AARP membership. Employees assert that their bosses suffer from it.  Doctors complain about dealing with “difficult” patients all the time.  And I’m sure countless husbands will recognize these traits in their wives and claim they have it for at least a week out of every month.  The holidays seem to bring them out in droves in the form of irritating houseguests.

OCPD may make a person unreachable, an unstoppable and unmovable force, a fierce competitor or simply a pain in the ass.  When dealing with those with extremes of this disorder, remember that each one has a unique story behind how they ended up that way and may suffer from deeper issues that are not apparent on the surface.  Don’t argue with them because it’s a battle you will never win and it only serves to fuel the fire.  A smile and nod works wonders to disarm them even if inside you are stomping mad and screaming “NOOOO!”  Winning their approval, a word of praise or getting them to agree with your ideas is an exercise in futility.  It’s best to gently suggest and let them think they thought of it first.  Most of all remember two things: 1) These traits are on a continuum of varying degrees and we all are OCPD to one extent or another which is probably why it’s so easy to see it in others, and 2) Whether someone is overly flexible or rigid, we can learn something valuable from their example.

Monday, November 21, 2011

WHAT IS DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER (DID)?


Multi-Personality Disorder (MPD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is defined as the presence of two or more distinct personalities that continually exert power over the behavior, actions, perceptions, memories and appearances of the person or host, often accompanied by amnesia or the inability to remember events occuring from one state to the next.

This condition has been subject to debate in medical, social, anthropological, philosophical, religious, legal and public arenas for years.  On one side, we have the skeptics who believe this is a manifestation of the power of suggestion during hypnotism, false memories, deception, or the old standard - “hysteria” (talk about one large step backwards).   Conversely, there are countless professionals who see this as a serious illness in which a personality becomes so severely fragmented, that the various parts are no longer able to connect with one and other.

It has been used as a defense in courtrooms, creating contention between forensic psychologists and prosecutors.  The question becomes - When an "alter" has allegedly has committed a crime, who should be held accountable - the host or alter ego?  And how do we handle the logistics of sentencing one or the other?

So what causes this disorder? Can it easily explained away by misfiring neurons or electrical impulses within the brain?  Is it biologically or chemically induced?  Some might argue that it involves possession by an unseen entity.  Others may believe that the patient is momentarily lost in the time/space continuum slipping from one quantum dimension into another.  Maybe it’s a primitive behavior allowing one to adapt to a given environment or situation?  Does the Freudian Conscious Theory offer the answer?  There are as many concepts as misconceptions, variables and presentations, and most of all – questions yet unanswered.

We have all experienced moments of dissociation, whether while daydreaming, getting caught up or lost in the moment or simply zoning out.  There are times we get a little carried away when trying to make an impression or fitting in with the crowd.  Altered states of mind are induced by meditation, hypnosis or sleep.  At times we may “act out of character” leaving us questioning how we could possibly be so brilliant, utterly reckless and stupid or anything in between. We often “pass the buck” uttering clichés such as “The devil made me do it”, “I took a leave of my senses”, “It was divine inspiration”, or “It was the alcohol/drugs/disease talking.”

Intentionally or not, we may forget events or moments through a number of mechanisms including “selective memory”, yet another coping mechanism. Although this ability comes naturally for most, research led by Gerd Thomas Waldhauser, from Lund University in Sweden has shown that we are capable of training ourselves to forget or repress traumatic, embarrassing or unpleasant memories if we suppress them long enough. As quoted by Letitia Landon: “Were it not better to forget than to remember and regret?”

If we combine these factors with the dynamics of the human mind, an infinite number of results may occur depending on individual circumstances.

Our “personalities” are a highly complex and unique conglomeration of traits that influence cognition, motives and behaviors in response to various stimuli.  They may include adaptive or maladaptive aspects.  Certain traits may seem insignificant or merely of nuisance value.  For most of us, the brain is capable of filtering through this, compartmentalizing various aspects and qualities in an effort to avoid cognitive dissonance or the anxiety produced when faced with contradicting information or perceptions.  In turn, we may create a separate identity or “alter ego” that behaves contrary to the standards we were brought up with or one that is more effective in dealing with particular stresses or triggers.  When heralded by circumstance or chemical influence, they may become distorted and greatly amplified.  For most this is a fleeting moment, or until the effects of a given substance has worn off.  For others, however, it may become a way of life, consciously or subconsciously.

Dissociation is an innate survival mechanism that kicks in to protect us against pain, stress, anxiety, guilt or shame that is more than our minds can handle.  However, when one struggles with condition such as Borderline Personality disorder (BPD), the response may become ingrained as a means of coping.  Self-perception becomes highly distorted and personality, highly fragmented and disconnected.  In order to deal with the overwhelming chaos of mixed emotions and associated characteristics and behaviors, the psyche splits them, assigning them to separate entities.

The creative mind breathes life into each new persona giving them their own unique history, memories, appearance, voice, mannerisms, characteristics and means of expressing themselves.  This is a defense mechanism brought on through a desperate need for validation and acceptance. Although this may seem foreign and disconcerting to others, this action enables the patient to display repressed characteristics/emotions, giving them a voice and visibility to the outside world.  

Having faced this condition myself as a young adult, I can best explain it in terms of viewing oneself in a full-length mirror.  As long as its surface is smooth, it reflects back a true image of you as a whole. Distort or manipulate the surface with abuse, trauma, neglect (mental, physical or emotional), and you will see what those responsible want you to see.  If the stresses exerted upon it become too much, the mirror will shatter, as does your psyche.  Each piece is different, offering its own distorted reflection of limited aspects of us.  When we try to put the mirror back together, or “reintergrate” the pieces, it may not reflect the original image.  Some fractured pieces may be missing or damaged. Others may no longer fit.  However, this is not always a bad thing.  As beautifully quoted by Barbara Bloom ~ “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

Alters come and go depending on triggers and circumstance.  Some may be aware of each other and are able to converse.  On the other hand, there are those that step in, pushing others aside.  When this happens, it feels as though an unwelcome guest has barged in and taken control of your mind and body.  In my experience, amnesia may or may not occur.  I don't believe this is a "one size fits all" condition with easily defined borders.  In my opinion, each presentation is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

It is important to note that, although it may seem as though an individual is "acting", true DID is not a controlled exercise or dramatic performance intended to fool and manipulate others.  Unfortunately, as with so many things, there have been those who have muddied the waters for their moment in the spotlight or financial gain.

"Sybil”, the 1973 acclaimed novel/movie described the treatment of Sybil Dorsett who suffered from Multi-Personality Disorder and sparked a revolution in popular psychology. It’s no surprise that this resulted in an enormous increase in the number of cases diagnosed, as fads and fashion are often products of the media. The public, as well as medical community were eager for answers and thus became subject to the power of suggestion. The question became – was this story true or was someone trying to pull the wool over our eyes? According to Sybil Exposed, a new book by author Debbie Nathan, the answer is “readers beware”; most of the story is based on lies.  Questions regarding the patient’s and therapist’s motives, honesty, and the possibility of false memories planted as the result of hypnosis have been raised. However, as misguided as this case may have been, it is not grounds for dismissing DID nor the countless recorded cases of it.

More recently the subject was resurrected and given a new life in the popular TV series “The United States of Tara”, a comedic drama created and produced by Steven Spielberg which began airing on Showtime in 2009. Once again, the plot revolved around a female suffering from DID.  However, in this case, it was portrayed as a condition that one could live with given a supportive family along with proper treatment. While it shed light on a deeply stigmatised condition, the unprompted and sudden changes in character were sprinkled with an overdose of creative license, designed to entertain rather than to represent “real” patients (although I do not discount the fact that some may relate to this type of expression by alters).

Whether you suffer from DID or know someone that does, understand that it is a coping mechanism that kicks in when facing painful or traumatic events, or when perceived triggers threaten us. By nature, we try to reduce anxiety and confusion by attempting to oversimplify the human psyche as we are challenged to fit square pegs into round holes. Each alter ego is a part of us and serves a purpose, in spite of whether it strengthens us or trips us up.

Acceptance is crucial as each alter has a story waiting to be heard and issues that need to be resolved before it can return to its rightful place in the bigger picture. Look for the main root, the time and place of birth of alter and address the deeper issues.  In time, the coping mechanisms will no longer be necessary. Most of all remember, each ”personality” is part of a soul trying to find its way home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What My Mother DIDN'T Tell Me About Sex

"Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above, and a thing called love." ~ Jewel Akens

That was about the extent of my sex education at home. This song.  And my mother didn't even explain that. Love was a walk in the park from the sounds of it.  When I asked where babies come from she told me "the produce aisle of the supermarket".  For years as a kid I thought the announcement,  "Clean-up in aisle 5" meant to was time for someone to change diapers.

But let's back up for a moment.  Curiosity, exploration and even stimulation of one's self begins as toddlers and preschoolers.  This is where parent's can make sure their little ones get off,  to a healthy start that is.  Don't confuse them.  Teach them the proper names for body parts, and don't try to shame them for playing with themselves.  Tell them it's alright to touch, but should be kept private and not pulled out for public performances.  Your reactions, behaviors and responses are extremely important.  If you keep it low key and matter of fact and the message is - this is perfectly natural.  However - respond embarrassed, angry, begin laughing and you might as well start saving up for the psychotherapy they will require one day.

Mothers need to face the fact that curiosity kills not only the cat but your delusions that kids are clueless. Young children always have and always will play "show and tell" or "doctor" with other children.  Thanks to prudish or holier than hell parents, this is how sex education usually begins.  I, for instance,  knew from early on that boys and girls came with different equipment, but it was "how come" I wasn't sure about.   I just figured that if God punished women by making childbirth so horrible, God punished men by making it harder to aim when peeing.

My mother had issues.  Whether it was a part of her Puritanical upbringing, bad parenting or if something happened to her along the way I'll never be sure.  All I know was she felt the human body was something to be ashamed about, disgusted with, and embarrassed by.  Gotta love religion.

When I was molested at age seven by a neighbor's 17 year old son the subject was quickly sweeped under the carpet. No discussion, answers to questions, support - just shame and silence as usual.  I figured it must have been something I did wrong. In essence, I was victimized twice. First by the neighbor, and then through neglect.

Education about the abuse can be approached in a casual, non-threatening, non-fear inducing manner. Let kids know that have the right to say "stop" or "I don't like this".  Let them know that no one, except their doctor in your presence, should be touching them and that they should immediately tell you  if this happens. Simple. If you are still uncomfortable, there are children's books on this topic designed to help you get the message across without too much discomfort.

As I reached my teen years and began dating, still nothing was said. By then I was stealing my brother's girly magazines for answers.  Let's see - open communication with mom or Playboy Forum. I knew darn well the first choice was out so the second had to do. Talk about distorting one's perceptions about sexuality. Too many moms out there figure they'll tip toe around the subject unless they are confronted with questions.  If you wait that long, it's usually already too late.  Someone with far less knowledge has already opened the proverbial can of worms.  You have to ask yourself, will it really kill you to address the subject or would you rather your daughter begin learning from a teenage boy instead.

Avoidance of the topic led to a near death experience. Yes, you heard me - "near death".  I, like any normal teen, had discovered the pleasures of masturbation when I discovered alternative uses for our back massager.  Unfortunately, I ended up with an UTI.  Being the discomfort was "down there",  I wasn't about to discuss this matter with anyone.  Big mistake!  Over the course of a couple of weeks it led to a double kidney infection with permanent damage.  I ended up in the ER in septic shock.  That all could have been easily avoided. All I can say is  - Moms, take note! Your embarrassment over personal matters may have far more serious implications than you think.

My mother finally broached the subject when I was age 16 years old.  I'll never forget it. With a face as red as a lobster she began by asking me if I knew the difference between boys and girls.  I cracked up and told her I had figured that out back at age 4.  She went on to say that sex was a horrible thing that women must endure for the sake of having a baby, and then gave solid advice on how to use the "I've Got a Headache" or pretending to be asleep manuevers.  Well at least I knew she had actually had sex on 4 occasions, having been pregnant four times.  Then there was the story about her honeymoon night.  She wore a floor length flannel nightgown, long underwear and knee socks and not because it was cold.  Then as an added measure, she hid my father's glasses.   I cried hearing this.  I'm not sure who I felt more sorry for - her or Dad. 

I may have been painfully innocent, but I wasn't dumb.  I knew sex was a beautiful expression of love and intimacy between a man and woman.  Even though I was a certified "virgin" (unlike most my peers), I had managed to run the bases and perhaps even explored the outfield.  But this girl was not ready to go for the grand slam with just anyone.  Fortunately my boyfriend at the time (a puppy love with a guy who would eventually dump me to become a priest) was empathetic to my situation and supplied me with the book his father gave him, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But was Afraid To Ask" by David Rubin.  Finally!  The real deal.  Although the coming attractions looked tantalizing, I was willing to postpone the game for the right moment and the right person.

Mom might have thought (in her own warped way) that she was protecting me from evil, but it had the complete opposite effect on me.  Therefore, when it came to raising my own kids, I was open and honest (in an age appropriate fashion), letting them know that sex and everything related to it, is a natural part of the human body's functioning.  I taught them that, just as with every other aspect of our health, we need to be responsible and respectful for it's maintenance and care.  Keeping an open dialogue, my son and daughter felt comfortable asking me anything and telling me more than I really needed to know.  But, for this I was grateful.  Today, they are both grown adults and well adjusted.  We never had any unexpected issues or problems in this area.

Parent's need to realize it's not what they know that hurts them - it's what they don't know that will. Withholding information, breeds fascination. That forbidden apple will always attract trouble. 

I know my case was an extreme example, however, I hope it serves to enlighten those who rather avoid the subject or want to believe that simply demanding abstinence is fool proof.  Religion is not a substitute for birth control nor does it guarantee moral behavior.  Just look at statistics -  the state with the highest use of on-line pornography subscriptions is Utah.  The state that represses sex education most fervently is Texas.  It also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy. All in all - pornography is most prevalent among among Conservatives and the red states. Tells you something.  Doesn't it.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Signs - Intuitive & Helpful IF You Listen

I wrote an article recently about "signs" - the intuitive sort.  As I said they are all around us all the time if you just pay attention. The ones we tend to take for granted and overlook are the most important of all. You know, the mysterious ones, nagging at us to warn us of things to come. 

I'll admit, we were not much different than the next person, thinking that you have to be careful not to get too bent out of shape over such silly happenstance. However, when they come at you hard and fast in unfortunate but humorous ways (at least now, looking back) it left us asking ourselves - WHY THE HELL DIDN'T WE LISTEN?


For instance, when my husband and I first married he was invited for an interview at a company down in  North Carolina.  Mind you this was 25 years ago. Things were a bit different back then.  The area was not as highly developed as it is these days.  Being young, with an opportunity to go off on our own, buy our first home and establish ourselves in a new place was very enticing.  So without further ado, we flew down to check the opportunity out.

SIGN NUMBER 1

The first sign occurred during the flight down there. It had been smooth sailing until we reached the Tarheel State. That's when the turbulence began. The plane felt as if it was a toy being tossed around in midair.  Looking out the window the sky turned black, with lightening flashing all around us.  We finally reached our destination without a moment to spare. The airport was shut down and on high alert as a tornado passed through the area. Not exactly the welcoming party we were hoping for.  I had a bad feeling about this.

That night after a successful and promising interview, his possible future boss took us out to dinner accompanied by his wife.  I knew the moment I saw his cold, steely eyes that there was something about this guy I really didn't like, but my husband was excited about the prospects so I put on my best smile and went along for the ride. But I couldn't help but think - this is a MISTAKE!

SIGN NUMBER 2

All throughout dinner this bastard verbally abused his wife, drinking like a sieve and becoming more obnoxious with each passing moment.  It didn't take a psychic to detect that this was a real bad sign.  If he's this way in public with his wife, chances were he would be an outright  *#!$*  to work for.  Later that night, I told my husband that this was more than just a case of me getting bad vibes. THE MAN WAS A SOCOIOPATH!  He, however, wrote it off as personal marital issues that would not necessarily influence his professionalism on the job. After all, he had quite a reputation within the company. Yeah? For what?

That night I had nightmare.  This guy was creeping through the hallways of the company with an ax in hand, calling my husband's name and saying "Here's Johnny!" (Jack Nicholson - "The Shining")  No kidding, this was another unquestionable red flag that this would be a BIG MISTAKE.

We went house hunting the following day and found the perfect home.  Come on! It had a hot tub on the deck and was on a cul-de-sac no less!  Okay, so I admit - material things can blindside me a little. I quickly forgot about my earlier reservations.  I was excited and already planning on how I would decorate the place.  My husband now admits, he was beginning to have doubts, but I was so excited about the stupid house that he didn't want to let me down.  Sure - now go all generous on me why don't you? He called and accepted the position and we flew home to begin the ordeal of packing up our lives.

SIGN NUMBER 3

One night, a week before the move, we went out to run an errand.  It was a dark, and foggy night. The roads were wet from a light rainfall, reflecting the streetlights. We sat, waiting for the signal to change.  That's when I peeked into the rear view mirror and noticed a car rapidly approaching us. As it drew closer, it became evident that the driver had no intention of stopping.  I let out a scream to warn my husband, but it was too late. It rammed into the tail end of his brand new Honda Accord at 45 miles per hour, pushing us into the middle of a fortunately empty intersection. The trunk of the car was now about six inches shorter and crumbled up in the air. Although drivable, it was totalled.  Luckily we were unharmed except for burns and bruises from the seat belt.

Pulling out of the road and into a parking lot we called the police and waited.  Looking down at the rear end of the other car, my jaw dropped.  This guy was from - where else?  Any guesses? NORTH CAROLINA.  But hell - that's a one in fifty chance - right?  After the cops arrived we also learned he was drunk, uninsured and driving a car he stolen from his ex-girlfriend who was also uninsured. Things were definitely not looking good.   We should have known by now that we were making a VERY BIG MISTAKE, but.... it would take a much bigger sign than the previous ones to be convincing. I've got to learn to be careful about what I ask for.

SIGN NUMBER 4

All packed up and ready to move the following morning we finally went to bed. Actually it was our mattress which was lying on the floor of the basement family room at my parents house, but a place to rest our heads nonetheless. Now realize, my husband can sleep through anything, and I mean anything! So, when the thunderous roar and vibrations began in the middle of the night, I tried to wake him without any success. I felt like we were floating on a raft on a stormy sea. The noise was so loud I thought the furnace was blowing up. Either that, or a train was passing under us, only there weren't any trains out in the burbs.  Immediately I ran upstairs to my parents room to see if they had experienced the same thing, you know, just to make sure I wasn't losing my mind.

They were both awake and listening to the radio and TV.  Hmmm.  Maybe I was sane after all!  "What the hell was that", I asked?  My mother looked at me and said, "We just had an EARTHQUAKE!"  This would have made sense if we were living in California, but Connecticut? You've got to be kidding! This was definately a first! Now I was officially freaking out. Talk about big signs! It doesn't get much bigger than that! The forces were saying, "Man! What does it take to get your freaking attention?!?" I was just waiting for the four horsemen to pull up into the driveway. I was now certain - WE ARE MAKING A HUMONGOUS MISTAKE!

Still my husband wasn't totally convinced. Damn scientists!  Not a lick of sixth sense! That morning the movers finished loading the truck.  We kissed my parents goodbye, hopped into my car and began our decent into the BOWELS OF HELL.

At first things seemed - alright. The house was great, the neighbors nice, and all in all I thought that just maybe, I had been mistaken about this "sign" business.  My husband didn't have to start work for a couple of weeks so we settled in and tried to get familiar with the area.

First day we stopped at the local hardware store to pick up some supplies.  The clerk turned to us and bluntly asked, "So... are ya'll Yankees or DAMNED YANKEES?"  We asked what the difference was. He  looked us in the eye and said, " It all depends on whether ya'll are passing through or planning on sticking around."  That wasn't a sign, that was a bitch slap. So much for Southern Hospitality!

The next day we foolishly took a drive out into the boondocks which were approximately 5 miles away in every direction.  Running low on gas we stopped at a station. It had antique pumps and looked eerily like Gomer Pyle's station in Mayberry on the "Andy Griffith Show". I was just waiting for Opie to walk by with his fishing rod and had the urge to snap my fingers.

Outside was a line of American made pick-up trucks complete with gun racks, confederate flags and hunting hounds.  I don't know why, but I had a real bad feeling about this.  It may have started when we walked inside to pay. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and a bunch of good old boys were playing pool.  This double wide trailer was a multi-functional establishment. It was a gas station, the pool hall, the local watering hole, the barber shop, and the Sheriff's office.  Trust me, all the "signs" were hanging right there - above the door when we entered.

The guy behind the counter asked how much fuel we had pumped. The moment my husband opened his mouth, all pool sticks simultaneously hit the floor with a loud thud and the joint fell silent. That is all except for the sound of "Dueling Banjos" and a pig squealing in the background. I never saw my husband move so fast. He handed over a fifty dollar bill for our $15.00 purchase, grabbed my hand and didn't wait for change.  We jumped in the car and he tore out of there, leaving behind a cloud of dust.  We decided it was best to stay close to home after that.

His first day of work went well until - Damn! I knew there had to be whipped cream and a cherry on top of this heaping mess. His new boss turned to him and asked, "So, how do you like it down here so far?" My husband replied. "It's quite nice. We're looking forward to being here for a long time." With that his boss let out a maniacal laugh worthy of a low budget horror movie and answered, "Don't count on it!" Baa ha ha ha ha! You know this would be really funny, IF IT WASN'T TRUE!!!!

From there things actually managed to go  - downhill fast. We would have tried to enjoy ourselves more those first couple of weeks had we known what lay ahead of us.

Each day my husband walked into the lab and would say, "Good Morning Ken. How's it going?" A deep shade of red would slowly creep up this guy's neck and face until it hit the top of his head and a train whistle would pop out steaming and yelling, "I'm your f**king boss! I'm a f**king PhD! Don't ask me how it's going! I know how it's f**king going!" (this is not an exaggeration except for the train whistle) My husband had fun with this and couldn't help but start each morning off with this shameless routine. After all, it just didn't seem to f**king matter anymore.

I like to say that by some miracle things improved, but they never did.  We began to get the message when our American Flag was shot to bits on the Fourth of July, or when one neighbor, born and bred in the area, threatened to burn a cross on our lawn if he caught talking to "them other folk" - our neighbors of a different racial background from us and our only true friends.  But when we took our son to day care and saw a decoration on the wall made by the teacher we knew there was no way we were going to remain down there much longer. There were a rainbow of balloons decorating the wall. Beneath it were cut out letters made from construction paper spelling - BALUNES. And no - they were not teaching foreign languages. It was clear that while schooling was mandatory, education was non-existant.  At the time, teachers had a, illiteracy rate of over 40%. Scary!

I guess the final straw came when we found ourselves sitting on the back porch one night, drinking beer and watching the bug zapper light up, scoring the blasts as if it were the Olympics. We were officially becoming red necks.  That and the fact that our son began speaking in a  thick, slow southern drawl calling the thing holding up his pants a "buylt".  It was time to get out of there.  Fortunately, my husband's former company had an opening and was more than happy to rescue us.  We packed up and moved to New York. Alright, it still wasn't New England, but it was a big improvement. We taught our son to say "Hey! Yo Man!"

So after enduring 1 1/2 years of an eye opening experience,  we packed up and moved (almost) home to a place where a Yankee is a Yankee and can be damned proud of it! We learned our lessons and now knew to watch for hints of trouble and to heed the warnings - wherever they come from. It never hurts to obey those signs. They are there for a reason!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Signs at the crossroads of Reality and Faith

Signs.   They surround us all the time.   Billboard ads,  public announcements, traffic signs, yard signs, business signs.   However, the ones I'm more interested in are far more personal in nature;  the vast array of vague perceptions that light when encountered, light up the brain.   They may take us back to a special place, moment or person.   They may contain messages that move or inspire us or answer our questions.   They have the ability to lift us when we are down or motivate us when nothing else in the world seems able to.

Most of us ignore these often subtle cues or even go as far as denying they even exist.  Some, however, are keenly in tune with them and know that in our heart of hearts they have meaning.  The connection is made and your mind and soul respond, flooded with emotion as all senses are momentarily put into high gear. They speak out to you like a commanding and bold leader taking the helm, jolting you to attention, calling you to action.

For instance, I came up with the idea for this post early this morning.  I had asked myself in resigned apathy, "What can I possibly write about?"  After suffering a dry spell of writer's block, I feared yet another day mired with white space and mental exhaustion, when suddenly an unexpected spark ignited a flame.  I sat down in my office and began putting my thoughts together. 

Turning to my husband, I ran ideas by him for some feedback.  With me being more philosophical and intuitive in nature and him scientific and analytical this usually plays out like a Tango between our minds, passionate and resistant at the same time.  I took the lead, fervently arguing my position while he kept me at arms length, dismissing "signs" as nothing more than mindless happenstance.   For a moment I felt as though he had knocked the wind from my sails, leaving yet another idea adrift at sea.  Then it happened. I opened up Twitter and the first Tweet I read said it all.

For he who has perception, a mere sign is enough. For he who does not really heed, a thousand explanations are not enough. ~ Haji Bektash
Alas - a sign.

Signs come to us in an endless array of fashions.  Some may be delicate and elusive, while others can hit us like a ton of bricks.  They bring all sorts of messages, whether it be the good fortune of finding a four leaf clover or lucky penny, a song that brings back a memory, or an inexplicable experience with far deeper meaning, that leaves you wondering where the true line between reality, faith and imagination lies.  While being obsessed with signs may be a sign in itself of a serious condition,  the occasional break from rational thinking opens us up to a world of possibilities and keeps us in touch with our inner voice and beliefs.

For example:


My father, age 83, was in a nursing home following a rapid decline in his health.  He had been suffering from complications of prostate cancer and radiation treatment and hospitalized several times, but always managed to bounce back, but this time was different.   We all knew the end of his time with us was near.  Standing by his bedside and speaking through my tears, I told him how much he meant to me.  At a loss for other words, I asked him to somehow let me know that he was still there in spirit, and to say hello to Mom and my other brother, Jimmy, who had passed when I was 10 years old.  With that he began to struggle to say something, but the medications to keep him comfortable had left him unable to speak.  Mustering up what little strength he had left, he lifted his arm and pointed to a card sitting on a nearby table.  I picked it up and took a look.

On the front was a drawing of a colorful rainbow.  Inside was a signature of someone I didn't know.  Asking questions, I tried to understand its significance, but this only led to frustration on his part.  Shaking his head "no", he reached for it.  Opening it, he tore off a small piece and handed it to me.   There were three simple words, but within them was a gift that I would treasure forever.  In whimsical blue print it said, "Luv Ya Lots!"  I cried, clutching it to my heart, and giving him a kiss on his cheek.  He managed to smile and held my hand before falling to sleep.  That night he slipped into a coma and passed the following day.


The next two days I worked tirelessly compiling a CD of his favorite music to play at his funeral.  This is what he would have wanted.  Upon completion, I signed off the computer and got up to go to bed.  Quite unexpectedly, however, the the file opened up again the music began to play in it's own curious order.  Just four songs out of dozens, but it touched me in a way, I'll cherish forever.

First was "Daddy's Little Girl" by the Mills Brothers, the song he and I danced to at my wedding reception for the traditional father/bride pairing.  I was very moved by the moment, surrounded by a sensation of warmth in an otherwise damp and chilly room.  I could feel his presence as I closed my eyes and danced to the music.  A flood of  bittersweet tears came to my eyes.  Immediately following, was "Smile" by Jimmy Durante; its message could not have been more appropriately timed.
"Smile, though your heart is achin'.  Smile, even though it's breakin'.  When there are are clouds in the sky you'll get by if you smile through your fear and sorrow.  Smile, and maybe tomorrow,  you'll see the sun come shinin' through, for you..."
By then, I began questioning my sanity.  Could this  really be happening?  That's when "Crazy" by Patsy Cline played, a song that once again hit home with an air of uncanniness, not only because it addressed the thoughts running through my mind, but more so, the circumstances surrounding the last time we had heard it play together.   It was his all time favorite song.   We sat at the nursing home listening to musicians that had come in to entertain the residents.   They played this song.  With that, my father turned to me and said, "You know, if I wasn't in this wheelchair, I'd get up there and dance with you."   I took his hand, leaned against him and gently swayed to the sounds.

That night, alone in my living room, I knew I had just been given the greatest gift of all - one last dance with my father; a loving and healing sign that he would never far away.   Then the last song played, yet another Patsy Cline song,  "You Belong To Me" closing our interlude as the music stopped playing as mysteriously as it began.

A sign from my father perhaps?  I'd like to think so, but the skeptic in me cried out - "Come on Susan, get real!  Sorrow and grief must be messing with your mind. There must be a plausible explanation!" Perhaps.....

The next day, my husband, my brother and I went to the florist to order flowers for Dad's funeral.   As we walked across the parking lot a mini-van came came flying out of nowhere, cutting us off in our tracks.  The driver pulled into a spot right in front of where we were standing, got out and ran into the shop.  My first response was outrage over her rudeness, nearly running us over.  But then something caught me eye.   Looking at the license plate I took a deep breath and began crying, but this was not out of grief, but rather joy.  Even my husband and brother could believe their eyes.  The plate read, "LuvYaLots".

Over time, I began to notice all sorts of signs.   Some unusual, some darn right humorous and others hard to explain.  I don't question that several may have been a mere association of an action and thought crossing paths at the same time and colliding,  forming a built in reminder alarm to take time to think about a loved one.

For instance, I grew up hearing the line, "If I had a dime for every time I ..." .  After my father's death, those pesky little coins began popping up in the most unusual places.  Never a penny, nickle or quarter - always a dime, and usually of a year that had special meaning.   There was the day I opened a box that had been sealed for 13 years, cleaning up the basement before moving.   I found a brand new dime inside, lying on the bottom .  Strange. Or the one I came across in the back of the cabinet, hiding under a cup - 1976, the year I graduated.  Or the countless one's I found every time I did the wash, walking down the street, or in my mailbox?  Mere conincidences I'm sure, but one that got my attention and would give me a moment of reflection.  Of course, the one that came rolling down the hallway and landed at my foot while I was alone at home took me by surprise.  Its date - 1958, the year I was born.   However, I've come to accept that strange things that defy common sense are not unheard of.

Signs.  They are right there in front of our eyes.  All we have to do is listen to that gut feeling, that hunch, that feeling that someone is tapping on you shoulder saying, "pay close attention!"

I'll never forget the first day that the lottery began in town.  My father was planning to go into a shop after our lunch at a restaurant across the street to "play the numbers".  He asked of us, "Give me four single digit numbers."  I instinctivly turned over my plate.  On the bottom was "9763" and I yet again strongly felt  - this was another sign.  He said, "Okay. But let's change the last number to "0".  Well, that's how much he won.  Zero dollars. Needless to say "9760" did not come up, however, "9763" did!  He learned that day to listen when I had a feeling about things.

Signs.

It was the year of the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diane.  Like the rest of the world, I was glued to the TV, but rather than enjoying the moment, I found myself more and more disenchanted.  At the tender age of twenty three I had become completely disillusioned with the dating scene.  I felt like a dog chasing it's own tail.  It was getting me nowhere.  Deep inside I had a feeling that my Prince Charming, my Mister Right was somewhere out there, but how to find him was beyond me.

Then one morning, while getting ready to leave for work,  I heard something that made me stop in my tracks.  A relationship therapist was being interviewed on the morning news show.  The anchorman asked, "So where does one go if they are looking to meet that special someone?"

In reply, she looked at the camera and said, "Girls, if you want to meet Mr. Right quit hanging out at the local pick up joints.  Join a fitness center instead."   I realized that this was nothing more than a strange coincidence, but I figured it wouldn't do any harm if I gave it a try.  So I pulled out a telephone book and looked through the yellow pages.  There were big, glitzy ads boasting of state-of-the-art equipment, saunas, hot tubs, classes, etc...  But one small listing caught my eye.  It was small gym, extremely basic and across town in a industrial park.  But for some reason, I knew that it was the right place.  That night I stopped in, signed up and began working out.

Towards closing hour, I was completing my last set of reps, when a guy walked by me on his way out the door.  I looked up and he smiled at me and said "goodnight".   The following night we sat down and talked until closing.  We went out on our first date a few days later.  It turned out that we had crossed paths time and time again without knowing it, and had so much in common that it was uncanny to say the least.  Our conversations from the start felt more like two friends that were anxiously trying to get caught up with all that had gone on during time spent apart. Since that night, we have not been apart.  He still smiles and says goodnight after being together for 32 years.

Signs.

It may be a song, or something uttered by a stranger on the subway, a familiar scent or words in a book. Needless to say, there are reasonable explanations for these subtle reminders, those gut feelings, when followed, that lead you to you whatever it is you are looking for.  And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who are analyitically inclined, that will gladly help you find them. 

However, maybe we should just enjoy them for what they mean - to you.   Be it a message from a loved one the other side, an angel looking over your shoulder, a religious revelation, a muse or simple intuition at work - they give us pause to think and throw care into the wind, allowing inspiration to flow from mysterious, hidden places sometimes with in surprising results.  Not everything needs to be explained.  Sometimes it's better just to experience, trust and take heed. 


Sunday, March 27, 2011

The 1/2 Portion Diet - Eat as you will, but do less harm

During a recent conversation with a friend living in Austria, he told me about a diet he had been on that had proved highly successful. In fact, although it took some time to adjust, he was able to incorporate it into his everyday life as a permanent change.  It did not call for pills. There were no points to count or complicated plans to adhere to. There were not any prepackage frozen meals and he didn't even have to stop eating the things he loved. There was just one simple rule - cut your portions in half. Now this may seem painful and difficult to achieve, however, there are some simple tricks that help.

1) Cook only what is to be eaten at each meal and serve it up on a plate.  This will prove so helpful in numerous ways.

Temptation to eat more is virtually removed! Without heaping bowls served up the old fashioned family style sitting in front of your eyes, begging you to take second, third and fourth helpings, the chances are improved you'll finish your plate and be satisfied.

Portion size is much more easily controlled! Just make sure you know what a "normal portion" actually is and cut that in half.  More on that topic coming up.

No left overs! Your refrigerator and environment will appreciate the fact that you are not buying a endless supply of plastic containers to save the left overs in, stock piling them high and taking up space on the shelves. 

You'll won't need a second or double sized fridge running up your electric bill! You would be surprised how many families have one hidden in the garage or basement, just for this purpose.

No guilt and  the accompanying boredom that comes with trying to finish it all off before it goes bad!

There will not be biology experiments growing in the back of the fridge, growing a rainbow of putrid colored molds until you can no longer recognize what it was to begin with. 

Here in America, we are sinfully guilty of throwing away food, letting it go to waste, while people are starving.  Over 100 billion pounds of edible food each year ends up in dumpsters and garbage cans.  We should be ashamed.

Saves on money, supplies, electricity, time and calories while cutting down on waste. How can you go wrong with that formula?

2) Serve food on smaller plates.  You wouldn't believe how large dishes have grown over time.  There is a direct correlation between the increase in plate size to increase in waist size.

The size of a typical dinner plate back in the 1960's was 8 1/2 inches. By the 1970's they averaged  10 inches. Now they are 12 inches in diameter. This makes for a whopping 30% increase not only in material but calories as well. Is it any surprise that we are all growing at about the same rate? 

Restaurants serve up heaping loads of food on platters that are 13 inches and up, 2-4 times the recommended serving size. Multiple that by the average family of four there is enough food family for a month in some countries.

Many of us were brought up with our mothers telling us to "finish everything on your plate". That may have been fine way back when, but now?  Habit and adherence to Mom's words make us try to get our money's worth and compete everything right up to the last bite. No wonder so many people complain of feeling sick, bloated or as if they ate a cow as they walk out of most restaurants.  It's not so far from the truth!

But don't worry you can always pollute the environment some more and have them pack it up in Styrofoam containers to pack away in the fridge with all your other leftovers that you'll snack on in between meals and late at night when it does the most harm.

Personally, my husband and I don't mind paying the extra dish fee and splitting a meal. The waiter may get nervous but we tip as though two meals had been served. In turn, we go home comfortablysatisfied and not adding a couple of pounds to the scale in return for over indulgence.

There is a move to try to get restaurants to use smaller plates, thus serving sizes.  There's a plus to this.  Less cost for the restaurant means they can spend more on higher quality products.  And if you wonder why the French are so skinny? They eat well and in smaller portions. That's the difference between eating gourmet and pigging down at the trough.

3) Consider a few minor adjustments to what you put on your plate. Decrease the meat, fat and starchy foods and increase the the veggies or add a side salad (lite on the dressing).  Your plate will still look full, but you'll be eating a healthier combo. High glycemic foods tend to crank up the hunger pangs.  If you have to eat them, lower the portion and add more filler with lean protein and high fiber carbs.

It's amazing how we can trick our brains. The smaller plate or larger portion of veggies looks like we're getting MORE, so in turn your senses are satisfied. 

However, if you're worried that your stomach doesn't listen to your brain, try couple of more tricks.  Drink down a large glass of water before eating. It gives you the extra fluid your body probably doesn't get enough of in the first place and fills you.  I find having the salad and allowing time for it to settle in before beginning dinner also quenches the appetite. Most people eat too fast; always on the run. This doesn't give the brain time enough to calculate the sensation of being full so you end up eating until your stomach is ready to explode instead.  Let your brain lead the way. The stomach is a stupid organ.

4) Know your portion sizes. Read and learn.  PORTION - NO!  PORTION - NORMAL!   HEALTHY PORTION.

Portion sizes have increased in every food group at a ridiculous rate.  Chances are you have no idea what a normal portion size is anymore.  Restaurants and fast food chains have brainwashed us into SUPER-SIZING everything including your ass, that now needs a chair the size of what the average love seat used to be.


Lets get real. The sample size is just about perfectThe kids size is more in line with the amount you should be limiting yourself to.  The appetizer size is more than enough.   Just listen to the name.  Look at the words.  They warn those intelligent to take heed.  A WHOPPER, A BIG MAC, THE BACONATOR DOUBLE! ALL SERVED UP SUPER-SIZED. You WILL become what you eat!  And as for your grandmother saying Mangia! She hates you for thinking of putting her in the old age home. She's serving up revenge - not love!

5) Choose where you eat carefully. Cheap, fast, unhealthy food subsidized by the government  is designed for one thing - TO MAKE MONEY and  KEEP YOU ADDICTED.  Healthy natural foods, in normal portions may cost more, may they will not cost you your life.

6) Shop on a "as need" basis. Don't stockpile as though the end of the world is approaching. More frequent trips get you out and moving. It keeps the temptation to "graze" down.

So think about subtraction rather than addition,  division rather than multiplication. LESS IS MORE. More healthy, more satisfying, more economical, more sensible. And like any good investment - you may start small, but it will pay in great dividends if invested long term.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Marriage & Obesity - A Growing Problem

You pop the question; "Will you marry me and be my wife?" She answers - "yes".  A date is set and preparations are underway. She's a beautiful woman, so sweet, so kind. You have so much fun together, sharing a passion for the outdoors and sports.  Both of you are fit and trim and take your health seriously, after all, you want this relationship to last you for a lifetime.

In preparing for this special day, you both take to working out extra hard. After all, you want to look your best in front of all your guests and in the photos and videos you will treasure. With sweat and determination, she trims down to her lowest weight in ages because this is her day and she will be center stage. Dressed in flowing white lace and satin, a girl wants to shine. The two of you have never looked better. You can't your hands off each other, and the sex? It keeps getting better all the time.

The big day arrives. You exchange rings and vows to love one and other "for better or worse", "in sickness and in health", "till death do you part".  After a romantic honeymoon you settle down and go about setting up a home. As far as you are concerned, like a good wine, your relationship will only grow better over time.

What you didn't expect was her new healthy lifestyle would take a back burner.  Just like in college, she puts on the Freshman 15. But that's alright. She was almost too skinny for your taste. In time, she becomes pregnant and you couldn't be happier. You watch your shrinking violet bloom, and bloom and bloom some more. She argues that she is eating for two, but an army is more like it. The doctor is even concerned.  He told the two of you that gaining 25-35 lbs was healthy. But she's already there and it's only been four months!

By the time she reaches full term the woman who started at 120 pounds is now closing in on 200. But she tells you not to worry, most of it is baby fat and will come off as soon as she starts working out again.  Only, that never happens. Now, granted she drops 40 pounds within months after the baby is born, but the rest is too difficult to contend with between feedings and diapers. Again she tells you not to worry. Once things become easier on her, she will get back into shape. Another ten pounds slowly melt off, but that's where it stops.

A few years pass and once again the stork has you on his delivery list.  She gains yet another 60 pounds. She cries that she can't help it, that the cravings have gotten the best of her. Your bride is now up near 200 again it's starting to take a toll on her health. After the baby arrives she manages to lose about 35 pounds, but the rest sticks like glue. Eating poorly because she's too pooped to cook, she turns to junk food for ease, polishing off what your first child doesn't complete. 

Next thing you know her cholesterol and sugar levels have shot up. She's tired all the time between the kids and lack of exercise. You are waiting for her to tell you that this trend will change once the little one is out of diapers, but this time she is growing accustomed to her new curves and is militant about defending her weight. She is no longer as happy and sweet as she used to be, now proudly displaying the chip on her shoulder like a 5 carat diamond.

No longer do you do the things you used to. Long strenuous hikes are replaced by slow strolls on the beach. She is too busy, too tired and perhaps a little too self-conscious to have sex.   So you back off, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. You go out of your way to prove that you love her skinny or chubby.

You admit, you also let yourself go during the first few years, now donning a small paunch where a once firm six pack used to reside. You might not be up to par with the prenuptial days, but there again, who is? You go to your ten year reunion and everyone has put on weight since you last saw each other, with maybe the exception of those still unattached. What is it about remaining single? You thought married people were happier and healthier, but you begin to wonder. And it's not just those with children who have expanded horizontally. Thinking back, you both put on some weight after that first year together.

Now I'm not trying to wage warfare on women here. (And the story above is a true personal account) This pattern is more common than you think and backed up by studies.

"With women, we saw incremental risk after one year," says Penny Gordon-Larsen, one of the two nutrition epidemiologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) who conducted the study of nearly 7000 individuals in relationships. "The longer she live(s) with a romantic partner, the more likely she (i)s to keep putting on weight."^

Couples tend to try to spend quality time together at the dinner table, especially if both work. Then, once the kids are tucked in bed many spend the rest of the evening in front of the TV, snacks in hand. With a family, there's not as much freedom to run off to the gym.  This often leads to expanding waistlines. However, all is not lost.  If they work to support each other the cycle can be broken, but if one partner refuses to change their habits and they are no longer on the same page, tensions may mount.

There are several measures you can take to help things along.

TO THYSELF BE TRUE

If you have become lax about eating habits and lifestyle and this has led to obesity, what's the driving cause?  Do you think you can ignore this important responsibility without serious consequences to your health and wellbeing, lifespan, physical capacity and endurance, self-image, and relationships?  Can you really maintain your resolve to regain control someday despite the poor choices, bad habits and procrastination that brought you to this point?  Are you all that confident hat it will be just as easy to get in shape when you are older?  Do you actually believe that maintaining one's weight is purely a matter of aesthetics?  Which comes to you more naturally - excuses or effort?  And do you honestly feel that the only one you are hurting is yourself?

If you are worried about a partner's weight, why is this issue so important to you?  Do you really want what's best for your partner's wellbeing or are you more concerned with how they look?  While it is understandable that one may find an obese partner less sexually desirable, is that the only reason you were attracted in the first place?  If so - you need to reevaluate your priorities.  On the other hand, if health is you main concern - what can you do to help?

COMMUNICATE

If you haven't broached this issue before, or have tried to do so with less than favorable results, explain that you have concerns regarding his or her health and that, when the time is right, you would like to talk about it.  Timing, mood, and environment is everything when it comes to sensitive matters like this.  Make it clear that your intent is to listen and be empathetic as much as you want your feelings to be acknowledged.

Express your thoughts in a supportive, loving fashion keeping it on a positive note.  Emphasize issues such as health and longevity, letting them know that they are an essential part of your and your children's lives.  Make it clear that your love is unconditional.  If your partner recoils, remain calm and understanding.  This problem is often deeply rooted.  Above all - DO NOT NAG.  That's the quickest way to give rise to defensiveness and end this discussion fast.

If you are the one with the weight problem and your partner expresses concern - listen him or her out. It's far to easy to jump conclusions and view this as an attack or sign that your relationship is at risk.  Put yourself in the other's shoes.  There have probably been times you have wanted them to "change" something or give up a bad habit for their own sake.  This is no different.

PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT

Often, obesity is a symptom of a underlying problem, physical or psychological.  See your MD to make sure it's not a thyroid disorder, hormone imbalance or a case of impaired metabolism.  Consider adverse side effects of any medication that has been prescribed.  Enlist the help of a nutrition specialist and make sure everyone in the household adopts a healthier lifestyle, even the kids.  It's never too early to make better choices in how and what we eat.  This needs to be a joint effort - all hands on deck.  There are plenty of delicious substitutes for decadent and fattening delights and snacks.  They not only save calories and dollars, they save lives.

Encourage your partner to become more active by taking the lead. Start small - such as taking the stairs, or parking farther away from the door when you go out together.  Take walks and slowly increase the increments. This is a great time to de-stress and talk without interruption.  Although many men loath the idea, take a dancing class as a couple.  It's a fun way to get exercise. Try a spicy rumba, tango or salsa and don't forget to make time for romantic slow dances.  This promotes intimacy and self esteem. Exercise boosts endorphins - the happy hormones.  This fights off depression, a condition often associated with obesity.  

If you still find yourself meeting up with resistance seek counseling, preferably from someone specializing in eating disorders and couples therapy. After all, this sort of problem affects everyone involved.  Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to shed light on all the hows and whys that led up to this condition.  You will learn techniques to strengthen your relationship as well as yourself, and hopefully guide you both down the road to improving health habits.

FACE THE FACTS

Obesity will diminish the quality of your life and health.  You are significantly cutting your life expectancy for every point over 25 on the BMI scale.  Your mate may have vowed "in sickness and in health" and is faithfully sticking by your side, but what message do you send when you let bad habits come before ensuring your promise to be there for the long haul?  And what about your kids? What values are you teaching them if you can't or won't take care of yourself?  They want to know that their parent(s) is going to be alright and there for them as they grow.   Also, remember, as a parent you are a role model.  If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, chances are your family will too. This is not fair to them.  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  Don't resort to, "Do as I say, but not as I do." Actions speak louder than words alone.

There is often a lot of frustration, guilt and confusion on the part of those married to someone who has become obese.  They may feel disappointed that the things that once brought you together have changed.   The relationship may not be as fulfilling when you are not be able to pursue activities you once enjoyed together.   Health concerns may cast a gloomy cloud over your future.  Fear of losing a partner prematurely, financial concerns over health care, and withdrawal from intimacy may wreak havoc on a relationship further complicating matters.  Let's face it -  If you give up on yourself, you give up on both of you.  Your body is your temple, and life is a miraculous gift.  Don't destroy it.

Some people claim they are happy being obese,  although that is usually an excuse to avoid fighting a battle seems overwhelming and can prove frustrating along the way.   Some refuse to change until they are given "sufficient reason" such as a heart attack, stroke, cancer or diabetes.  If declining health, shortening your life, worrying your children and spouse isn't enough, what is?  A point has to come when the utter disregard for yourself and others is brought into question.  It's time for the excuses to stop.  No one is demanding perfection.  This is not a competition to be The Biggest Loser, although we all could learn something from the sheer determination of the show's contestants.

Couples must carefully deal with these issues.  Being supportive of a partner attempting to lose weight requires patience, selflessness, and the willingness to adopt the same lifestyle changes required of them.  It can be a rewarding and educational experience for the whole family.  Just make sure your motives are sincere, that your expectations are realistic, and that you have the same goal in mind - getting and staying healthy.  Your spouse may not ever look the same as he or she did when you first met, but the beauty that is emitted from within when they find a new found sense of self-esteem, self-control and pride in their accomplishment cannot be beat.

If, however, your heart is no longer in it, if exterior looks outweigh better health, if you are sticking it out of fear of how others may view you or are afraid you may not be any better off on your own, if you've become a martyr for your partner's problems and are perhaps inadvertently supporting their habit by becoming a co-dependent and enabler you are not helping yourself, your spouse or your family.   If you have tried everything and it can't be fixed - it may be time to make some hard decisions.  Obesity takes a toll on everyone whose life is touched by it, especially those we love.


(Please note: this issue can apply to men as well as women, it is just more common among women.)

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1907143,00.html#ixzz1FPK4tbBg

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Celebrity Worship and Idolatry

Who is most affected by the media and celebrity worship?  What is the underlying reason for us becoming hooked into this form of idolatry? Is it human nature or an illness?

Celebrity Worship Syndrome is an obsession, altering our perceptions and relationships with others. It affects 1/3 of the people here in the U.S.  Other countries where the film industry pulls as much of a draw also fall victim to this behavior.  Certainly not a new phenomenon, women and men alike have tried to follow examples of  those deemed superior all throughout history. It is, however, more prevalent than ever due to the abundance of mass media resources. All too often, tabloid news takes precedent over pertinent current events. Now, for instance, with all the unrest throughout the Mid East, world changing events unfolding before our eyes - Charlie Sheen's dilemma has been the main focus of many networks. Why? Because it sells.

We always hear about the negative effects of media on women. Unrealistic images, many Photoshopped, others representing the Creme de la Creme of those born with the "Cover Girl" genes or "the Look"  are constantly paraded before our eyes.

In its mildest forms, women will base their decisions for hairstyles and fashion wear on trends seen in Hollywood or on the the runways of Madison Avenue. Perhaps they may even enhance their looks with plastic surgery. Kept to a reasonable level there is nothing wrong with this. 

Women inherently want to create a good exterior package, and why not? Studies show men are most attracted to - visual content.

We may just want to increase our edge in a competitive world, where looks can play a big role in social and professional situations.

We may just want to feel our best, using them as a "model" of options to follow.

Others may go overboard, willing to go to any extent or cost to look like them. Cosmetic surgeons have catalogues of celebrity's photos to choose from so you can have their noses, their lips, even their breasts. There's even reality shows dedicated to being transformed into perfect carbon copies. Some may resort to unhealthy eating practices, endangering their health, in an endless battle to be thin (which for celebrities is usually below the normal range of BMI).

The media enjoys perpetuating stereotypes such as the "dumb blond". They show highly attractive women that lack any sign of intelligence, but are always able to attract men who don't take issue with all body, no brain.  This may hold true for some men during their younger, less mature years of dating; allowing for endless superficial, short lived relationships to proliferate.  However, once these same males grow up and seek marriage, their interests and priorities begin to change. Guided more by their heads and hearts and less by their hormones, they do tend to put more weight on a woman's personality, character and social abilities.

So is this syndrome unique to women? Not at all. It's just that guys tend to hide their insecurities and weaknesses more so than women out of fear of being unmanly. One look at Esquire, GQ, Men's Health, Ask Men and any bodybuilding magazine and you'll see how men can fall victim to the same brainwashing techniques as women. They are told that the successful men have a strong chiseled face and a six pack. They must wear stylish clothes and exude machismo in order to drive women wild.

Men fall prey, just as easily as women, to unhealthy practices including bulimia and anorexia, working out to excess, and taking steroids to live up to an image. They too will spend money to dress and look the part and even undergo massive amounts of plastic surgery. While some try to maintain a gentlemanly persona and simplicity, deep inside they may fear (thanks again to media hype), that women would perfer the "Bad Boy".

Throughout the history of film, the media has glorified the "Bad Boy". Whether Rhett Butler, James Dean or Humphrey Bogart; the Fonz, Harrison Ford or Russell Crowe; or Gerard Butler, Sean Penn and Robert Downy, Jr. women cannot help but be intrigued by the Alpha Male. This is the sort of guy you wouldn't want to bring home to meet your parents, unless you are in a rebellious mood.  No matter how much of a feminist stand we take, the "Bad Boys" and all their inappropriate behaviors make our pulses race and sexually arouse us. Again, maturity and the prospect of marriage changes our taste as we begin seeking a strong yet sensitive type, faithful and devoted with a great sense of humor instead.

So what about the guys who grew up watching James Bond 007? What sort of message did this send? Well first off, an English accent helps;  swaggering, dashing good looks accompanied by hair that doesn't fall out of place in spite of fiery explosions and falling out of planes is a must;  driving fast cars, motorcycles and the occasional tank irresponsibly is a basic skill requirement;  taking risks in the name of danger shows his adventurous spirit;  womanizing - a love them and leave them attitude with your needs always coming first before hers shows manliness;  when drinking make sure it's shaken not stirred;  abusive, dominating behavior is desired and expected; getting into violent fights with not only men but a constant onslaught of strong and beautiful women proves you are up to any challenge;  arrogance and cockiness makes you all the more desired;  all out general disobedience and disregard for rules proves who is boss;  behaving like a loose cannon gets every one's attention;  and strutting
one's masculinity, charms in a seductive nature is the key to getting the women to wait in line to jump into bed with you. Oh, and occasionally saving the world from destruction makes you the hero.

There are guys will try to model themselves after this image, and we women fall for it -  most at least once in their life.  Let's face it, if you are looking for a good time do you date the "Bad Boy" or the "Geek"?  That's a no brainer. Although this character is demonized, we ladies fantasize about it and the media knows it is our weakness.

Pierce Brosnan made four James Bond 007 movies, but was replaced because he was considered to be too romantic, too sensitive, and perhaps not "bad" enough for the role. I personally liked him the best, but that's just my taste. I dated on too many "bad boys" in my time, so the softer touch was far more appealing.

It's no surprise that men try to be "Bad Boys", just like we women try to be "Cover Girls". The media does indeed affect the way we act, dress, try to look and what lengths we are willing to go to fill the shoes of a prepackaged "perfection", no matter how unrealistic our hopes may be. We are a nation that begs to drink at the fountain of youth, worshipping it as the Greeks worshipped Adonis. We measure ourselves like a common products, according to marketing trends, what's "IN" and what sells on the news stands or Internet. We want what we cannot or should not have.  Some allow the seduction of Tinsel Town to create delusions of special connections to people we don't really know and have little chance of meeting. Fortunately, for many it's just a passing phase, until we become comfortable in our own skins. For some it becomes a serious obsession; one that can do more harm than good for ourselves and others, potentially leading us to behave in dangerous ways.

Are we just shallow and vain or are there deeper problems that lead us astray from being ourselves?


Sadly, all too often, people lose track of the line between reality and the prepackaged, altered images intended to sell a product. They think beloved "characters" are real people; that models "always look that way". They make false assumptions that if they look like the "STAR" that magically their lives will change, bringing them the same success, with or without the benefit of talent. The surge of reality TV is symptomatic of this growing syndrome, exploiting people who are fundamentally troubled (this applies
to both sexes)

Can this be changed or is it just human nature? Do the Divas relax and begin to worry more about inward beauty instead of outward appearance? Yes, in some cases. However, is this seen as a good thing? Not really.  Letting yourself go can have negative consequences on your relationship as well as your own well being. Do the Bad Boys become Cuddly Bears. Yes. Until midlife crisis hits and they dust off the old image and take it out for a ride.  This is not to say this is true for everyone.

If we work harder on building our self esteem, finding comfort in being ourselves, finding satisfaction in living your own life there is less chance that you will have to borrow someone else's to fill in the blanks. Enjoying entertainment is one thing. Admiring one's talent is fine. Even getting a rise in pulse from one of the so called "beautiful people" is acceptable. But trying to become them? That's a whole different ball game.