Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inspired to return...

I've neglected this blog for a long time now. I started (and never completed or posted) several posts but it wasn't really in my heart. But I've been inspired and I'd like to get back into writing, and right now this feels like a good place to start. I can't promise a post a week or even that I will writing anything I find worth publishing ever again, but here I go anyhow.

I've had a couple recent encounters at my job related to my own mental health issues, as well as those of students and prospective students. These encounters and experiences have really gotten me thinking. You may even say they inspired me, as corny as that sounds.

I obviously can't say anything about the details of the interactions with students, but the latest of these interactions left me with a strong feeling that I should do more to be an advocate for removing the stigma from discussing mental health. Mental health care *is* health care after all. And we should all be talking about it with the same concern as we talk about any other illness treatment and prevention service.

It concerns me that young people (I work with college students, so 17-22-ish) still feel like they have to talk about having depression or anxiety in hushed tones. Calling in sick for the flu is no big deal, but calling in sick for a depressive episode? Those sick days are taken quietly, with the reason kept between a select few. I try to be open about my own issues, but it's not always easy, and it breaks my heart when I see the "to tell or not to tell" struggle happen with my students. Luckily some of them do talk to me, which means they are talking. I feel heartened (and a little freaked out, to be honest) that they see me as somebody with whom they can talk. I hope that, as my kids grow up, they feel that they can talk to me too. And maybe in 10 years, when my kids are looking at colleges, asking about mental health support will be as de-stigmatized as asking for directions to the library.

For the time being, I'm glad I work at a college where I can honestly tell students and parents that there is support on campus, both institutional support as well as many, many wonderful staff, faculty, and students who make the best allies I've ever known. Every day I get to work with a community that inspires me to be a better person. How cool is that?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Panic Attacks and Anxiety Disorders - My TEDx Talk

A while back I mentioned that I was going to do a TEDx Talk about my experience living with an anxiety disorder and its associated panic attacks. Well the event happened, I survived it and managed to pull off a good talk. And now the video of my talk is available online! Watch, learn, share, enjoy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The poor, neglected Creative Feelings Monkey

I admit, I've been avoiding you, my dear blog. I think I've had an epiphany, but I'm still not sure it's not just a trick the evil thought monkey is playing on me in retribution for rendering him nearly mute. But I don't think it's a trick. I think that it's because I've been so active in trying to end the Evil Though Monkey's troubling antics, that I may have inadvertently crushed another monkey, my Creative Feelings monkey.

Am I diving into a deeper, crazier, monkey metaphor? Oh hell yes I am. But bear with me.

The Evil Thought Monkey is a bully
So I've talked about the Evil Thought Monkey before. He's the little bastard who lives in my head and delights in throwing my life, and mind, out of whack. He throws those negative intrusive thoughts my way, the thoughts that keep me up and night worrying that I might... do bad things.... accidentally... or not... maybe I'm just evil deep down... yeah, I must be. And that's when I yell and throw things at the Thought Monkey to make him shut up and leave me alone. And the doctor gives me magical pills that help me bulk up my brain for it's fight against the Thought Monkey. I got some good ones recently, they were like steroids for a cage fighter, my opponent never stood a chance and I knocked out that Though Monkey cold. I can still hear him whimpering mean things in my general direction as he huddles in fear on the floor. But those little suggestions to drive off a bridge or punt my dog into the creek don't get much traction with me and my doped up brain.

And that's pretty cool, right? But in my battle with the Evil Thought Monkey I've forgotten about the other irrational thoughts and feelings that I do want in my life. And without realizing that there were even two monkeys in the ring with me, I knocked them both out. The Evil Thought Monkey went down... but so did the Creative Feelings monkey.

I imagine the creative feelings monkey
is a lot like this little guy: cute, sweet,
 and not screaming obscenities at me
I didn't even realize how much I loved the Feelings Monkey until I'd beat him into silence. Feelings Money was that voice in my head that narrated the dull moments of the day to make them sound as epic as The Game of Throne. He was the voice that rewrote the lyrics to Baby Got Back so I could sing it to my children. The Feelings Monkey was the voice that told me to be creative and committed to writing in my blog. And he as been conspicuously absent for the past 3 months, since I started my new meds. And I want him back.

Like the Evil Thought Monkey, the Creative Feelings Monkey still has a voice in my head, it's just incredibly diminished. I steal hear the whispers of "wear your halloween costume to work" or "try using noodles instead of rice in that hotdish". And instead of ignoring them, which is so easy to do, I try to listen to these little creative suggestions and draw out more. Sometimes it's like grasping at thin air, but the more snippets I catch and hold on to, the louder the creative feelings monkey is getting. It's slow going, and it takes effort. Real effort to re-train my brain that only the bad crazy should be silenced, but the good crazy, the part of my brain that makes me my full self, should be allowed to speak and fill me back up with it's ideas and passions.

Because now I realize that without the creative, fun part of my insanity I'm just... fine. Not great, and certainly not the special, fun, crazy, creative person I want to be. So that's what my current battle is. Maintain enough sanity to get through life without debilitating depression or anxiety, without panic attacks interrupting my day, or intrusive thoughts keeping me up all night, while at the same time not turning myself into a Get Through The Day robot, going through life just feeling fine, nothing more, nothing less. So that's where you come in, blog. You must help me tease out these whispers from the Creative Feelings monkey and make them into something worth sharing, in hopes that in doing so that whisper will one day turn back into a full voice.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New tips for cold & flu season

Cold and flu season started the day that schools opened. Even with a flu shot under your belt (or in your arm, I guess) you can still fall victim to fevers, sniffles, and sneezes. Our family was hit this week with the snotpocolypse. Seriously, I didn't even know there could be so much snot. Ears, nose, throat all got a nice laquer of mucus. It was as unavoidable as it was untreatable. We washed down our sudafed with plenty of water, washed our hands, and went to bed early, and still the snot ran. Even when it finally started to clear up, it got a little reboot and I'm back to living on Dayquil. And if this twice damned cold ever does go away, I know it's just going to come back again when the students return from Thanksgiving break! Oh the futility of it all. So I've come up with NEW tips for dealing with your own impending doom.

  • Ignore it and maybe it'll go away - Colds are like bullies, right? If you just ignore it, pretend you're not getting sick at all, maybe do something no sane sick person would do like spend all afternoon out in the cold rain, then the cold has no choice but to give up and go away, right?
  • Burn it out with booze - Throat is tickling? Don't reach for the orange juice unless you're also reaching for the vodka to go with it. We use alcohol-based products to clean germs off our hands, right? So why not just wash all those germs from your sore throat with a good swig of whiskey? It's so obvious!
  • Sleep through it - If I have an extra sick day saved up I'll send my kids along to school, pop a sleep aid and snooze allllllll day. Even if it doesn't cure the cold it certainly is nice to have an excuse to stay in bed all day. Only it doesn't work at all if you get sick on the weekend. Getting sick on the weekend is of the devil.
  • Misery loves company - When you've been blessed by the magic touch of the Snot Fairy, don't be selfish, spread the joy to friends and family! Give them the gift of a big slobbery kiss and the next thing you know you'll have a buddy sitting next to you on the sofa sipping their own vodka cranberry, watching reruns of Duck Dynasty, and constructing their own pyramid of used tissues right along with you.

Now please excuse me, I have to go refill my screwdriver and get more tissues before this commercial break is over. Stay healthy, folks!

Monday, September 30, 2013

I'm back, baby! And now I'm a Kindergarten Mom!

Remember me? I took a 2 month hiatus because I work in academia and for me August and September are the most stressful months of the whole year (although January is also a contender). But the insanity of the start of school is starting to abate and I have time to think my own thoughts once again. Huzzah!

This fall was also the start of school for a somebody else special. My daughter Kaylee started Spanish Immersion Kindergarten! (OMG, when did I get old enough to have a kindergartener?!?) She's at our local public school, which just happens to have this amazing Spanish immersion option. She's already learned so much Spanish in the last few weeks. And I am learning so many things about being the mother of a kindergartener. Here are some of my less favorite lessons...

  • Kindergarteners don't get homework, their parents do. I've never been very good at homework, but was convinced I could make Kaylee get into the habit right away.  Turns out it wasn't Kaylee I should have been worried about, it was me. Instead of looking through her backpack for homework for her, we need to sift through emails from her teacher for homework for me! I've already failed two assignments (bring in a baby picture, bring in an apple) but I'm turning it around, she wore red today as requested. Booyeah!
  • Kindergarteners do more worksheets than a something does something. Everyday Kaylee brings home her red folder stuffed with worksheets she did at school. Practice your name, color everything rojo or verde, finish the pattern, connect the dots, count the apples, etc, etc. They do so many worksheets I'm starting to think they're preparing the kids for jobs in government or accounting. They are the red tape of the future. 
  • Gone are the days of having the coolest crayons in the class. When I was in school you kept your supplies in your desk. The coolest kids were the ones with the scented markers or the Cayola 120 pack with built in sharpener. Ohhh yeah. I wasn't one of those kids, but I always dreamed of finally living vicariously through my children... but my dreams were dashed. Now a days (at least at our school) everything gets dumped into the communal bucket and handed out in handfuls rather than in shiny ordered packages. I get why, but still I can't help but feel a little disappointed. 
  • I have a new arch nemesis: The Fundraiser. As if all the guilt-trips for parental volunteers weren't enough, now they get money involved? This will probably get a post all its own.
  • Kindergarten is not actually cheaper than daycare. It's a farce! Between the money to pay for full day (half day is free) and the after-school care I feel like we might as well be in a private school. Yikes. Come, on kid, are you sure you can't skip to first grade yet?
  • Principals love the sound of their own voices. Everybody seems to agree that our principal is the shit, but the other day I got 3 emails from him (form letters) while I was at work and came home to two (prerecorded) voicemails too! And all about stuff that we'd been given fliers about in the Friday Folders. This is a whole new kind of TMI.
  • There is nothing on earth as scary as waiting for the bus, only to have your kid NOT get off. On the first day of school I thought it would be cute to get pictures of my baby girl getting on AND off the bus. So instead of having her go to daycare at the end of the day I waited excitedly at the bus stop. But when the bus came and Kaylee did not appear my excitement turned to panic. I talked to the bus driver, I called the school, I drove to the other bus stop near our house, I even drove to the school. I was shaking. How do you lose a kindergartener? A lady from the bus office and told me (in a voice that said "chill out, crazy lady") that my kid had been brought to the correct destination, I must have just missed her. I was livid but I went back to the stop by our daycare, and there she was, in the daycare office, totally fine and alive and with all her limbs and everything. Turns out her and a friend had been put on the wrong bus and driven to the wrong daycare center. But Kaylee and her friend were crazy mature about it and simply informed them that they were at the wrong place, gave the name of their daycare, and were driven there. Kaylee wasn't even the tiniest bit upset. It was amazing. I'm so proud of her. Although I really hope it never happens again. 
What did you learn during the start of this new school year?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Three things in my kitchen I couldn't live without

There are some good old standbys in my kitchen that I can't imagine living without. These are the go-to items when I don't want to have to think, but still want a dinner that is a step-up from pizza or mac-n-cheese, and that is guaranteed to satisfy my family. Here are my family's top 3 food products I always have stashed in my cupbard (note, none of these brands are paying me or anything, I just really love these products):

Husband's Pick: Aroy-D green curry
Aroy-D is my go-to brand for both pre-made curry and the coconut milk used to make home made Thai style curries. Their curries, which include a great red curry and a mouth-watering masala curry, are all good, but in our house green curry is king. Their green curry is simple, made with coconut milk, green curry paste, water, salt, bamboo shoots, sugar, basil leaves, and simply delicious. And it's insanely easy to make on a busy weeknight. Just open the can, toss in your preferred protein (we like shrimp with it best, but other things like chicken or tofu are also hella tasty), and simmer until cooked. Serve over rice. It's a little spicy, so we do a quick rinse-off of the cooked meat for Kaylee. Dani's tolerance for spice is growing and she can eat more of the sauce herself now. I also usually serve cucumber with it, something cool to off-set the heat.

Kids' Pick: Prego traditional sauce
Most of us probably have our favorite marinara sauces, and mine is Prego. The kids love it, and like any marinara it is versatile as hell. Add meatballs, sausage, mushrooms, ground beef, zucchini, whatever you'd like, everything goes with marinara! Just cook up your meat, pour in the sauce, add some veggies (if you want, you can just eat the sauce straight) and serve over pasta. And to keep things fun for the little ones, we often change up the type of pasta we serve it with, spaghetti, rigatoni, macaroni, shells, and if we're lucky enough (aka mommy managed to get to the store recently), pillow noodles! (oh, yeah, that's what my kids call ravioli). In any case, we always have a jar of Prego in the cupbard, my kids will hardly eat pasta without it!

My Pick: Patak's Korma simmer sauce 
Just like the commercials say, Patak's simmer sauces are as easy to make as spaghetti. My favorite of all their sauces (and I've bought every kind I've found), is the korma. Yummm. Just like the last two you can make it with just about any kind of protein. My favorite way to eat it is with tofu, peas, and cashews. I fry up the tofu then pour in the sauce and add some frozen peast and cashew pieces and simmer. We either eat it with rice or scoop it up with naan (Trader Joe's has some great frozen naan, fyi). It's not spicy at all, it's more buttery and packed with yumm. The kids even eat it without a fuss! It's definitely my favorite on this list and writing about it is making me so damn hungry.

So there you have it, my family's favorite staple dinner products. What are yours?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Toys I Hate to Love

As silly as it sounds, we humans have pretty strong feelings about our toys. There are so many toys I just COULD NOT WAIT to give my kids. Some because I had them and loved them and some because I didn't have them and always wanted them. For example, as a kid I wasn't allowed to have toy guns. No nerf guns, not even water guns. But we made guns out or legos and tinker toys anyway (how else can you play war?). So guess what my kids got in their stockings last christmas? Blasters. Because blasters are like guns, but with more Star Wars. And I stand by that choice. The kids (mostly Dani) love to shoot the bad guys and sine the nerf bullets bit the dust the first week, they can't actually shoot anything but imagination. No harm there. However, I've found there are a plethora of toys I was so excited about, that even I wanted to play with, but are such a big pain in the ass almost I wish my kids had never even heard of them.

The Top 5 Toys I Hate To Love

1. Drawing utensils - My kids love to draw, but humanity has yet to invent the perfect device for children to color with. Crayons seem innocent enough, however thank god they are non-toxic because they are apparently delicious to toddlers. They're also also incredibly breakable. Besides, since they aren't very precise, my kids quickly wanted to upgrade to markers. So what's wrong with that? For starters small children are apparently completely incapable of using markers without their fingers getting absolutely covered in color, which would be fine I suppose, if they weren't constantly smearing their ink-covered hands all over their mouths and faces and everything in sight. But the real problem is the caps. Kids, or at least my kids, do not put caps back on their markers. Ever! They just get thrown back in the basket of markers without caps and forgotten until either I recap them or throw them away. And honestly, if my kids are sitting nicely at the art table, drawing me some pretty pictures, I'm probably celebrating by actually cooking some real food for dinner or maybe even getting a load of laundry done. I don't get a lot of uninterrupted time at home and I certainly would prefer not to spend it recapping markers.

2. Lightsabers - Lightsabers are so cool, and as a huge Star Wars geek, I love them... in theory. The problem is that lightsabers and small children, while adorable, are a recipe for disaster. Even with our strict "lightsabers only hit lightsabers" rule, I know that once the sabers come out, the crying will soon follow (and it might be me crying because they've knocked over my glass of wine). This effect is magnified 100 fold when there are other kids over, especially kids who don't have their own lightsabers and therefore don't even try to follow the "lightsabers only hit lightsabers" rule. We've taken to hiding the lightsabers when the kids have certain friends over. They just aren't cool enough to be worth the screams.

3. Playdough - There are so many playdough toys and accessories these days. As a kid we had the Playdough Factory and thought that was pretty cool, but that seems so simplistic compared to what you can buy now. At first the ice cream machine, donut maker, and Princess dress designer all seem cool. But it turns out that all these toys are just new fangled ways to get that colorful dough stuck in crevices and cracks, where it dries then lies in wait until the next time you pull out that toy so that it can then shatter into a million magenta pieces all over your floor. So now every time the kids pull out the playdough, instead of being excited about all the fun they can have, all I can think of is all the cleaning I'll have to do.

4. Dress-up clothes - I LOVE playing dress-up, even as an adult it's half the reason I spend so much time at the Renaissance Festival or sci-fi conventions. I had a pretty great stash of dress-up clothes as a kid, but I always wanted my kids' collection to be nothing short of epic. So why are dress-up clothes on this list? They are actually pretty easy to pack away, they're light, they don't hurt your feet when you step on them... but they are cat piss magnets. I don't know why but for some reason cats love to pee on dress ups more than any other object known to man. The fall out of this undeniable fact of life is compounded by the fact that my kids love to take all of their dress up out, drop them on the floor, pick out one or two things to wear, and leave the rest in a cat-enticing heap.

5. Just too many toys - The real problem with toys is just TOYS - the quantity over quality mentality that seems to be a part of our American consumer culture means that so many households are filled with  bins full of little plastic crap. Some things we willingly bring into our homes, some come from Happy Meals, others from gifts, goodies bags, school prizes... And the next thing you know your house is full of cheap plastic made in China junk. It seems worthless but my children take great advantage of the glut of small toys in our home, they use it as a fodder for these games I like to call "make a pile of crap somewhere in the house." Give them a box, they'll fill it up with shit, drag it across the house and dump it somewhere, like my closet or a bath tub. Once my parents game them a cardboard toy play house and they shoved stuff in through the windows until it looked like a miniature episode of Hoarders. Do other people's kids do this? Can we form some sort of support group?