A friend of mine was recently hit with some really bad news. Her breast cancer metastasized. She blogs and she uses social media like most of us. So I saw her post on Instagram, a photo of a doctor’s whiteboard drawing of internal organs. I didn’t yet feel too deep a sense of dread. Even though she had been battling breast cancer, she was in remission. Her recent posts had been upbeat, forward looking. Things were finally looking up for her.
Then I clicked the link and read her news.
I finally was able to look at Instagram again tonight, almost a week later. I may never look at it the same again. How can I look at all these posts of trips and scenery and babies born? How can I post anything there? It feels like everything is frivolous, just filling the air with emptiness. It’s not important. Every feed on Instagram should have stopped. Hers should be the last one. Everyone who looks from now on should only see her doctor’s handiwork and a link to her devastating diagnosis. How can we feel lighthearted? Go about our business?
And yet every day people get earth-shattering news, just like she did. Will stopping everything honor them and their struggle? If they can still retain a spark of optimism and gratitude right through the midst of heartbreak, shouldn’t we?
So this is my prayer for her; may her hope be a secure anchor, may our God grant her strength, and may she never doubt she is loved!
Post script: To my dear friend: Thank you for letting me blog about your experiences. Ever since we met each other via letter at 11 years old, writing has been our bond! Writing this helped me process and cope, as writing your story in your blog has helped you. You are facing this challenge with fortitude and style. And you are not alone! I’m so glad to have you as a friend!
Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately.
At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land.
New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location. On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it. They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?
I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave.
Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades.
I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home.
I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment. It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between.
The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed.
When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home.
In short supply and high demand, this virtue is something I’m striving for. You moms and dads, can you relate? My little one starts screeching or whining and it takes exactly half a second for it to get under my skin and stretch my nerves to the snapping point.
While volunteering at my daughter’s school today, I heard a popular quote or, more accurately a proverb. It got me thinking about patience. I have already been working on not responding to the tantrum, being the grown up, and keeping my cool. When I’m in the school and I see teachers doing this every day with large groups of children I am constantly amazed. One of the teachers told us that one particularly stressful morning, she happened to catch a glimpse of the coffee shop barista’s tattoo on her arm. It said
This too shall pass
This is something her mother always said to her while she was growing up. And she felt as if she was meant to see those words that morning. The barista is also a mother and she survives each day with the constant reminder of those words.
This too shall pass. When you think about that phrase, and really let the meaning sink in, it’s the equivalent of a mental deep cleansing breath. It means you can get through this.
But it also means you’d better cherish this. I need this double sided reminder. These days and years when they are little are so transient. Every day they change. And they will never be little again.
This too shall pass, so savor the good parts and breathe through the tough parts. You got this!
This morning, when I woke up and looked at myself in the gigantic full-length bathroom mirror, I was pleased with what I saw for the first time in a long time. Ever since children happened to my body, I have felt self-conscious of a belly pooch that won’t go away. But today I feel like the belly area is acceptable. Not amazing, but acceptable. Because of this I find myself heading into the very unfamiliar territory of beauty and diet with this post. I can’t even believe this is happening to me, the one who has had one single salon manicure in her entire life. The one who is too lazy to make an appointment to get her hair done. The one who has literally spent approximately 2 1/2 hours for the entire year of 2017 so far clothes shopping for herself. The one who likes comfortable earrings that match everything so she can go 2 weeks without changing them. Well, here I go. Bear with me. Please don’t judge. But you may be surprised where this post ends up.
So, I’m wearing a skirt today. While showering I mull over the various basic black skirts I have in my closet, and I find myself settling on a full volume skirt I bought about 10 years ago. Way pre-child days. To spare you the trouble of trying to understand the descriptions of someone so fashion challenged, I’m adding selfies here. (The horror, I’m sorry. If you keep following my blog after all of this, you are a true friend.) And then I thought to myself, why is it that when I am comfortable with my body, I am comfortable wearing styles that add bulk, but when I’m not, I opt for more form fitting silhouettes? I wore the bulkier one, and I felt good. It just goes to show, beauty is not necessarily in how you look, but also in how you feel.
I’m not counting calories or dieting. I haven’t been exercising more than usual. By that I mean chasing my girls around or carrying laundry baskets and groceries up and down the stairs. This is not because I’m satisfied with my body. It’s pure laziness, *please see my previous explanation of my beauty philosophy. So, while showering I also started wondering why my belly blob seems to have gone away, finally. This is when the swirl of thoughts and recent conversations rolled together in my mind to come up with the substance of this blog post. I believe this miracle of belly fat disappearance is because I recently pinpointed a food allergy I have, and enough time has gone by for my body to regain it’s health since I started strictly cutting my allergens out of my diet.
Allergies and intolerances
Now here’s something I know more about. I feel entirely comfortable with this subject, because I have had food allergies all my life. I have a severe tree nut allergy, and as a child I was also allergic to eggs, dairy products, legumes, and coconut. My parents once dreamed of being vegetarian. Then I was born. Try getting any plant protein into a kid who can’t have nuts or legumes. Oh, that’s OK, just give her cottage cheese or eggs. Nope, never mind. She just threw up. Legume allergy meant no soy. I challenge you to find a pre-made salad dressing, non-dairy spread, pasta sauce, or store bought loaf of bread with no soybean products in it!
My mom was amazing! She made homemade whole wheat bread the entire time I was growing up. She taught me words like whey and lecithin. Ingredient label speak for milk and soy products. Even when I was 3 years old, an adult could read me a label and I could tell them if I could eat that food or not. She became an expert at adjusting recipes to be allergy friendly. Keep in mind, this was the 70’s. I was still the weird allergic kid that everyone was afraid to inadvertently poison. Allergy awareness was not a thing. There were no rice, soy, or almond milks in the section next to dairy. (Weirdly again, I am not allergic to almonds or peanuts.) So my mom made almond milk for me with a blender and a cheesecloth. She made me peanut butter and carob balls as a substitute for chocolates.
Of course, I took this all for granted as a kid. I knew, eat that, you may end up in the ER, so don’t even go there kiddo. My favorite food on pizza night was Dinty Moore Beef Stew. (anyone?? I thought not, lol) And I didn’t feel deprived. I was the kid eating fruit leather from the Whole Foods store before that was the cool thing to do. Looking back, I realize how wonderful it is to have a mom like that who was able to roll with the punches. She kept me fed, healthy, and even happy with what I could eat.
Once in my volunteer work I met a mom who’s infant had just been diagnosed with several food allergies, and she was distraught. Her mind was zooming ahead through her baby boy’s life, and she was envisioning all kinds of issues and problems. Like a gift from God, I appeared at her door. A living specimen of a functioning, normal adult with food allergies. My tips about how my mom dealt with it as well as my reassurances that I had a truly happy childhood calmed her fears. That was the first time I had thought about this subject from a parent’s perspective.
So if you are a parent of a child with food allergies, take heart. I survived. So did my mom.
In my adult years my dairy and legume allergy went away. I was able to eat any dairy products I wanted for about 15 years until I started experiencing sudden digestion and fatigue issues. A couple of years went by before I connected them with dairy. I know, duh, right? Just wait. I quit eating yogurt and cottage cheese, stopped adding milk or cream to my coffee. I felt much better. Fast forward to earlier this year, another 7 years later. Once again, digestive issues and other mystery symptoms were plaguing me. Things like clenching my teeth in my sleep, wheeziness, sinus headaches. I was a little baffled. So I went into battle mode, allergy sleuth style. I decided to do an elimination diet of all potential culprits. I gathered my tools: a bullet journal, a couple of allergy cookbooks, a calendar for scheduling when to reintroduce certain foods. I went all out. I cut out things I never had an issue with in the past, because I was going to get to the bottom of this.
Five weeks later after many baffled evenings contemplating my growing pile of conflicting evidence, there was an epiphany, a light bulb! I read the label on the English muffins I usually eat for breakfast and guess what? Yep, dairy! Duh! I had forgotten about breads, cereals, granola bars, crackers, dressings, sauces. I spent five weeks sleuthing out what I already knew I was allergic too. Grr, (eye roll) whew! I dusted off my ingredient label skills and I have now weeded out all hidden dairy (and soy was causing the wheeziness, so I’ve also gotten stricter with that). Good morning to a day of poochlessness. Yay!
Do you have unexplained fatigue, headaches, digestion issues, bloating, sinus problems, etc, etc? I highly recommend doing a little detective work yourself. I suspect many, many people would feel much healthier (plus happier) if they were able to pinpoint hidden food allergies or intolerances. It is much simpler than it seems. I felt overwhelmed too, even with my extensive food allergy experience, when I started my elimination diet. But it has been so worth it. It’s not just the belly. It’s your mood, your well being, your pain level.
Here are some suggestions that may help you get started.
Do you have any health conditions? Start by researching diets geared toward that. For example, if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, many experts recommend restricting dairy and/or gluten. For some conditions a vegetarian diet is recommended.
Make a list of foods or food groups that you would like to test.
Make a list of symptoms you feel.
Make a menu plan. In my case, I did better using a general plan versus writing out complete menus with recipes, but do what is easiest for you. Aim for at least 3 weeks of NO suspect foods at all.
Go shopping. Make sure you have plenty of allowed food in the house. No one needs to starve!
Using a calendar, plot a plan for reintroducing foods one by one, with a 2 day gap in between for noting symptoms. This way you will be completely certain which food causes which symptom.
When reintroducing foods, take careful note of how you feel the next couple of days. Don’t worry, it will be pretty clear if something bothers you.
I’ve done a lot of research on how to cope with anxiety in the past year. This is not something I’ve ever felt. So when someone I love started experiencing anxiety, I could not relate. I needed to help her, but I had no idea how to deal with anxiety. Thankfully, there are some really helpful books out there for children and adults. I started by putting a few on hold at my local library. I would educate myself, and we would get through this!
One thing I learned is that anxiety is very common. If you deal with anxiety, you are not alone! 1 in 8 children and 18% of adults in the United States have anxiety disorder. Many more struggle with feelings of anxiety or panic but are not officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder.
I was convinced of two things: 1) I did not want her to feel unsafe 2) I wanted her to be armed and ready to face her fears.
I knew she would have a huge struggle on her hands all her life if she got into the habit of giving in to her fears and running away from scary situations.
These are 5 steps to follow when fighting anxiety or dealing with a panic attack. This especially holds true when you don’t have a trusted person around to help you. Or, if you are the trusted helper to someone with anxiety, you can refer to these steps when your loved one is feeling overwhelmed. First we practiced together and I talked her through each step. Then I explained that she could do the same on her own even when I wasn’t there to help her out.
Label the fear
Ask yourself, is it true or false
Take deep breaths
Say a prayer
Lock it away or let it go
This is why each step helps:
Label the fear. It helps to label what exactly makes you anxious. Otherwise it’s just a big, overwhelming emotion. By labeling it you start to take control.
Ask yourself; is it true or false? If the thing or situation you fear starts with the words “what if”, it’s false. And 9 times out of 10, the worry starts with those words. Panic is when your brain starts up the fight or flight response. This is a perfectly normal and useful process, except when it kicks in in response to something that is not immediately dangerous. Usually when anxiety takes over, your panic is lying to you and making something that isn’t dangerous seem to be. Now you’ve labeled your fear or worry and your brain knows it’s not really dangerous.
Take deep breaths. This helps your body calm itself down from the fight or flight response.
Say a prayer. Prayer is calming, but also reminds you that you are never truly alone. Who better to have on your side when you feel afraid than a loving, all-powerful Father?
Lock it away or let it go. For an adult who has experience with anxiety, you may be able to just let it go. But if this is new to you and you aren’t sure whether this item you fear is or is not truly dangerous, put away the worry for now. Lock it up until you can talk about it with a trusted listener or write it out in a journal. When you are calm and feel safe, the worry won’t seem as real or as dangerous. You will be able to put it into the right perspective. This helps lessen the impact anxiety has on your everyday life. A word of caution, make sure you do later express your feelings in a healthy way.
Learning to ride out the panic wave, using these techniques has really helped. I hope they help you as well. It’s good to have some tools to deal with panic and anxiety. These steps don’t make anxiety go away. I’ve learned that it comes and goes randomly, when you least expect it. But knowing what to do when anxiety strikes is invaluable.
This challenge is relatively new to us. We are just learning how to deal with panic and anxiety. This simple theory has worked for now. I’ll keep you posted if we learn more useful tips as we go along.
Have you used any of these 5 steps to deal with anxiety? What else have you found that helps? Please leave a comment below.
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What do you think, can a writer or journalist ever offer something truly unbiased?
With all the news about fake news, many people are struggling to trust even traditionally trusted news sources. As a busy mom of two, my main news source is public radio. I listen to drown out fights over Barbie dolls going on in the back seat of my car, and hear some grown up conversation. I also listen in hopes of forming some kind of understanding about what is happening in my area and around the world. I grew up listening to public radio, and always assumed that “public” is a synonym for unbiased. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not writing to criticize any public radio channel or personality. I think public programming is about as close as you can get to the ideal of unbiased reporting, and I truly enjoy the content I listen to. I guess I’m just a little shocked to discover how naive I am.
Why did I not realize that bias is inherently human? It seems that the heated political climate surrounding the election in U.S.A. caused journalists here to collectively finally lose their cool. Their emotions, like many media consumers’ emotions just took over! They lost the will to be neutral in what they said because they were just plain angry. This situation has got me thinking, is it even possible for media to be unbiased, completely objective? What is bias? As a consumer, how can I choose the right media sources in this emotionally charged climate? As a writer, can I present my view to many audiences without offending?
What is bias?
According to vocabulary.com bias is a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.
I propose that without realizing it, we are all biased. Granted, bias is often used with a negative connotation, but I don’t believe it always is negative. While I lived outside my home country, I learned to question the stream of information forming my viewpoint. I realized that people believe a certain set of collective traditional wisdom without even questioning it, based on what a majority of people in their area believe. I guess that’s part of what we call culture, and what causes culture shock when we move somewhere new. Those differences fascinate me.
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Culture and bias . . .
For example, what do you think of sitting in a drafty room? In Latvia and surrounding countries, collective wisdom says that if you sit in a draft you will catch a cold, or possibly even something worse. This belief is so strong that even on the hottest summer days no one wants to open a window in a crowded bus. I know, it may sound strange to some of you. We all know the same facts about germs causing colds, but somehow this collective view about drafts is so strong, that people in Latvia believe both. They go to the doctor when they get sick and gladly take a dose of antibiotics to help them get over whatever bug is going around. But they do not want to risk sitting in a draft. Americans, on the other hand, have taken sanitizing to the Nth degree under the assumption that if bacteria cause illness, then we must kill as many bacteria as possible. Many of us are obsessed with antibacterial soap, despite current evidence that it doesn’t reduce our chance of catching colds any more than using regular soap. (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm378393.htm)
But the really crazy thing is, I change my behavior, depending on where I am despite what I believe. As a resident of Latvia, I didn’t open a window when I normally would have. Not because I started believing drafts cause sickness, but because I knew it would make the people around me uncomfortable and upset. When I sneeze or cough in public in the U.S., I tend to apply antibacterial hand sanitizer, mostly to reassure those around me that I care about their health.
I’m using this subject as an example of differences in culture affecting an individual person’s beliefs or habits. It is not intended to offend anyone who uses antibacterial products or avoids drafts. But do you see what I mean? A certain set of collective “wisdom” is believed without question, because “everybody knows” it to be true. And the prevailing belief may affect your life whether you subscribe to that idea or not. So when I traveled, I learned for the first time what some of my biases really are. I say some, because I don’t believe I’ve discovered them all. I believe it may take a lifetime of traveling, learning from, and sharing with other people to find them and decide which ones I want to keep, and which ones I should get rid of.
Media and bias . . .
Members of the media are also products of their environment. I have come to the conclusion that the content I listened to on public radio in the state where I grew up was tinted by the culture there all along. I didn’t notice it because that culture was all I knew. Now I have gained different cultural perspectives, and I’m discovering this thing we call bias seems to be everywhere!
Our writing is a product of what has been going into our minds and how we filter that information through our set of previous assessments and beliefs. This is why I believe it’s impossible as humans to be truly unbiased. Being part of a culture, a collective understanding of ourselves and the world, is part of being a human.
How important is “the sell”?
Another factor that affects a writer’s ability to offer unbiased content is that writing is also a product meant to “sell” to a particular audience. To read our writing, a person has to identify with it’s point of view and be interested in the slant we are offering. At times this need for audience can lead to some damaging practices such as using false information, sensationalism, or resorting to gimmicks. It certainly influences choice of topic. I’ve noticed that parenting magazines rarely feature pieces about the dangers of too much screen time for kids anymore, not because it’s become less dangerous, but because we parents are kind of sick of hearing about it. The topic has gotten old and tired even though it’s still relevant.
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Bias within ourselves . . .
Those of you who follow developments in the field of psychology may be thinking about the cognitive biases right about now. Psychologists have pinpointed certain areas where our opinions and reality tend to differ. These are the cognitive biases. One of them, confirmation bias, is the tendency to believe the information that confirms what we currently think. The newest discovery is the SPOT effect, which stands for Spontaneous Preference For Our Theories. I learned about this newest cognitive bias and the research that revealed it this article in The Big Think, posted by Robby Berman on March 6th.(http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/my-theory-is-true-if-i-do-say-so-myself) So apparently we are wired to stick to our own point of view, sometimes ignoring logic or evidence. I have to admit that learning about these built-in biases has made me start mistrusting myself a little.
In order to avoid letting your own biases become too extreme or too narrow, I recommend listening to an opposing viewpoint from time to time. Watch a news media channel you normally don’t, read a different newspaper, look for different social media feeds, befriend someone new. Try not to immediately break in, either mentally or verbally when they say something you don’t entirely agree with. Let them have their say completely. Of course we have to set certain standards for what goes into our mind, and filter everything through those. But don’t judge. Respect the other person’s right to an opinion. Really try to understand why they think the way they do. You may be surprised how alike we all are in the end.
If being biased is inherently human, can it be inherently wrong? Isn’t it part of the beauty and diversity of the human family? Having an opinion is not wrong. Instead of letting our bias fuel fear and hate, I think we should couple it with respect for each person’s God-given free will. One of the best pieces of advice I got when adapting to life in a different culture was, don’t try to be one of them, you never can be, try to behave as a guest should. As their guest you must respect their views and ways. But to respect does not necessarily mean to adopt them as your own. Similarly, when you read someone else’s work, you are a guest in their mind. Let their work inform and educate you, but do not feel obligated to take on their beliefs as your own or disprove them if you disagree.
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Is there any writing that is completely trustworthy?
How can you tell if something you’re reading can be believed? Often it helps to look at the source. How transparent are they about their sources? Do they have a vested interest in promoting a certain view? Ultimately, I believe the best measure of trustworthiness is this; does it agree with what the Creator of humankind and this universe has revealed in the Bible? That is the information filter I use. Like laws of physics which are self evident, Bible principles and narratives speak to all humans whatever our culture and background. Isn’t that as close to unbiased as we can get?
Have you ever heard those words and said to yourself, I CAN’T!? If you have ever dealt with clinical depression, chances are a well-meaning loved one has said them to you. You may have struggled to find a way to explain to your would-be comforter that it just doesn’t work that way. Well, a dear friend of mine has come up with a way. And I think it’s brilliant!
Feelings, those fleeting, illogical things that our brain creates from a combination of neural connections and chemistry. Why can’t a person with a disorder affecting his or her emotions just “think positive”?
Photo credit: Nicki Dugan Pogue
Well, imagine you wake up one day and your 5 senses are not working properly. You can’t smell or taste, and your sight is only registering black and white. You are disturbed by this sudden change, and you have no idea if your ability to smell, taste, or see in color will ever come back. Your other senses of hearing and touch are hypersensitive, leaving you feeling bombarded and irritated by the tiniest sound or touch. If someone told you, “you’ll feel better if you come outside and smell the roses,” what would that accomplish? Absolutely nothing! Except possibly to leave you feeling exasperated and misunderstood.
Each sense = an emotion
If you deal with depression, maybe this tip will help you break through to those logical, rational beings in your life (or even within yourself) who need something tangible to explain something abstract. When your joy and happiness have disappeared, and your fear and anger are hyper-alert, it’s not because you decided one day to dwell on the negative. It’s because your emotional senses have become impaired for whatever reason, possibly a trauma, anxiety disorder, a chemical imbalance.
And if you have a loved one who is depressed, you surely feel their pain. Don’t assume that the answers lie in a simple formula: think positive, get out more, eat right, focus on others, etc. etc. If that were true, the blight of depression would not exist. Try to understand, listen, empathize. Don’t take the emotions they feel personally. Give them a hug! And don’t let them give up hope that the 5 senses of feelings will be restored one day. Once again they will be in that rose garden, seeing the color, smelling the fragrance, and loving life again!