Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?

 

Friday mental health meditation.

It’s been a hard week.

With chronic, clinical depression, you live with a continuous mental health ebb and flow. It’s usually unpredictable. When I feel the ebb, it’s easy to dwell on factors that might be feeding my mental state into the darkness.

Because while the low points usually come from nothing in particular (such are the vagaries of compromised brain chemistry), there are also times of stress responses to factors I can identify.

I recognize the counterproductive nature of dwelling on those factors, but still, it’s hard to avoid gnawing at them sometimes. This is why I constantly enumerate the things for which I’m grateful. When I catch myself going over the negative stuff, I can fall back on my long-standing practice of counting my blessings throughout the day, every day.

When I’m down, I try to dwell even more on the positive.

In other words, actively practicing gratitude amounts to depression damage control. I have other forms of therapy. Working out consistently is therapy, literally: exercise frees the body’s endorphins to help the brain make you feel better. Creative endeavors such as writing are therapy. Loving on (and being loved by) my cat is therapy. Eating well to avoid poisoning my body is therapy. I try to laugh a lot. I try to maintain a lifestyle that can help others, rather than hurt them. Now, minimizing my life is even a form of therapy. I see a shrink and take psych meds, as well, but in the daily course of living, it’s these other actions I choose to take that help the most.

I’m grateful to have the unwavering support of Callaghan and my parents, but I try to manage my mental health without leaning on them too much. I’d never take them for granted, but I don’t want to be needy, either. It’s helpful just knowing that they’re there. I have to take responsibility for myself, because what if they’re not there one day? I can’t allow myself to become dependent on others for my mental well-being. This is a survival instinct more than anything.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a selfie I thought would be amusing to take (the other day):

 

Yet another awkward mirror-selfie attempt, but hey. Hi.

 

There’s always another day, and next week will be a new week.

 

Is it Monday yet? TGIM! (Writing-Fitness balance: on changing routines.)

This week, I let go of my Monday evening workout. It was hard. I’d been doing that class for over three years… Monday/Wednesday kickboxing, non-negotiable.

You know how I feel about routines, and you know how I feel about kickboxing. This decision was not easy.

But it was a long time coming. I looked at my 2016 planner and saw that I’d been thinking about it since early November… because I’d just tried BodyPump, which is weight-training, which I’d spent a year trying and failing to do on my own. I finally realized that nothing was stopping me from going to a twice-weekly morning Pump class. It was life-changing. It got me thinking about re-vamping my entire workout schedule.

I did it slowly, starting with switching out Saturday morning kickboxing for Saturday morning Pump. I wanted three strength-training workouts per week, rather than two.

Then I had a few Monday evenings off when the Monday kickboxing class was between instructors, and I realized what Monday really is, now: it’s my favorite day of the week. My best workday. The ideal day to stay home all day and get shit done.

Monday has become my “third weekend-day,” my working-weekend day, my relaxed yet productive transition into the week. It’s my bubble of creative energy day. It’s my fresh-start day. I wake up filled with anticipation and ready to get ALL the ideas down. I’m writing before I even get out of bed on Monday mornings. I can multi-task all day on Mondays, no problem.

I realized that it’s TGIM around here, not TGIF. I had to make changes accordingly!

Easier said than done.

Since I’m slow to see things that are right before my eyes, I first had to have this argument with myself. (We all do this, right? Argue with ourselves, weigh pros and cons, etc.?)

Here’s how my argument went:

  • Monday is my best workday now.
  • And?
  • Leaving the house on Monday interrupts my best workday.
  • Why not just stay home on Mondays?
  • Because it’s Monday. I have to go to the gym.
  • Why?
  • Because it’s Monday.
  • Really.
  • I always go to the gym on Monday.
  • Okay, but why?
  • It’s what I do! Kickboxing on Mondays and Wednesdays!! I love it!!!
  • That’s not a real reason.
  • Because… I need at least two cardio workouts per week.
  • Can you find an alternate day for the Monday cardio?
  • Well, yes. Fridays or Sundays would work.
  • Then do it.

End of argument. Why had I been reluctant – even afraid – to give up Monday evening workouts? Because changing a routine is scary when your mental health depends on the stability routines provide. But I was able to work through it.

I’ve had my boxing gloves hanging up in my office, and now that’s metaphorical as well as practical. I hung up my Monday night gloves for writing.

 

Writing-training balance: boxing gloves hanging in my office (along with my hats and kukui nut lei)

 

The process of making this decision turned out to be a good exercise (pun not intended), so I thought I’d share it with you who may also have a hard time making changes to your routines.

I followed this thought-path:

  • Recognize (when something isn’t working anymore.)
  • Think (of how to fix it.)
  • Detach (to make it easier.)
  • Consider solutions/alternatives.
  • Wait for the immediate “obstacles” to come to mind, because they will… then
  • think beyond them.
  • Think creatively.
  • Do this by asking yourself questions and answering honestly.

Some people would call this “Follow your heart.” Others would call it “Adjust your thinking.” I call it “Wake up and realize that you’re the only one stopping yourself from making changes in order to do what you need to do… you can do it.”

Making changes isn’t easy for we who need routine in order to keep ourselves stable; routine is necessary, but it can also be an impediment. It makes it hard to see when change is needed.

Now I just need to discipline myself to get my ass to the gym to do cardio on my own. That shouldn’t be difficult.

 

Phoenix Forgotten. (Failed non-review movie review!) (+PTSD diagnosis story)

We went to watch Phoenix Forgotten, which brought back the year of 1997.

As I sat there, it occurred to me for the first time that the beginning of my PTSD coincided with the Phoenix Lights.

[NOTE: The link function to open the linked page in a new window is down at the moment, so you’ll have to back-arrow to get back here]

 

 

Probably many of us living here in Phoenix metro in 1997 remember the lights that moved over the Valley in March. For me, 1997 was also eventful because it involved numerous doctors throughout the year. 1997 was the year I was diagnosed with PTSD. Yes – six years post-main event.

I wasn’t in school in 1997. I was taking a year off, the year after college and before grad school. There were only two things on my agenda for 1997: write poems and train for my black belt in Tae Kwan Do. I was also working.

So I was doing all of that, just minding my own business, like you do, and then, one night, I went to bed feeling sick to my stomach. As soon as I closed my eyes, my heart jumped in and crashed the party, like, Hey! I’m here too! Whheeeeeee! Cannonball!!!… and I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was going to die of a cardiac event.

Then I was waking up. It was morning. What the hell just happened?

It happened again the next night, and the next and the next. It got to a point where I was too gun-shy to go bed. Going to bed had become a horrifying prospect, so every night, I put it off until I was passing-out tired. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the doctor sooner.

Eventually, I did go to the doctor, because I had an episode that was different than the others, and that was the proverbial last straw.

In that episode, I was trapped in another dimension and I was going to die for sure. Somewhere between awake and sleep, something happened. If I was completely asleep, it would’ve been a nightmare. Whatever this was, it was psychedelic and real, like, 3D real… and that was on top of the physical Armageddon that was my new normal. After I survived that night, I finally went to the doctor.

*****

1997 became a year of medical mystery. I went back and forth between different internists and specialists, cardiology and gastroenterology and cardiology again, everyone referring me to everyone else. I was deemed healthy – good news! – but I was still having these ridiculous episodes.

Then my baffled first internist started asking me questions about my background. When it came out that I was a combat vet, she referred me to a shrink. The shrink explained that panic attacks mimic heart conditions and other physical issues, which was why no one thought of the PTSD possibility.

He explained that the first episode was a panic attack. After it recurred nightly for a period of time, it became a panic disorder (PTSD, in my case). And the next-level attacks, he said, were “night terrors.”

Why did it take so long for the PTSD to manifest? He said it wasn’t unusual for vets to come home fine and then experience a trigger years later. The trigger could be anything, he said. So what was my trigger? We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.

All we know is that my PTSD was triggered by something in the spring of 1997. Coincidentally, I’m sure, the Phoenix Lights also happened in the spring of 1997.

*****

I sat in the movie theater remembering and pondering all of this, and that is how my non-review movie review became a post about my PTSD diagnosis.

I can’t be objective about this movie, but I can say that in my opinion, it wasn’t bad.

Phoenix Forgotten begins on a robust note, then bleeds out into the Found Footage horror movie sub-genre. In my experience, Found Footage movies made after the first Blair Witch Project are doomed to the basement where Bad Horror Flicks live. I often really enjoy Bad Horror Flicks, but I can’t even say whether this movie was bad enough to qualify as that bad.

If you’re intrigued by the Phoenix Lights and/or you’re a fan of Found Footage horror movies, you may dig this one.

 

 

What you never read about the V.A. Health Care System.

Yesterday morning, I went to the V.A. medical center, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years… especially over the last few months. I’ve received wonderful care there. I’m a lucky veteran in that I have access to non-V.A. health care, too; I choose the V.A. over non-V.A. as my primary health care resource because I’ve found it to be a better system. In my experience, V.A. health care is superior to non-V.A. health care.

I know why you might be surprised. The media only wants you to know about the bad stuff pertaining to the V.A. health care system. Believe me, if the entire V.A. health care system was BAD, I wouldn’t be going there.

In brief, my experience at the Phoenix V.A. Medical Center has been superb.

In more detail, I prefer the V.A. health care system for the following reasons:

  • The time I have to wait to get in to see the doctor is significantly less.
  • The time I have to spend sitting in the waiting room waiting to be seen for my appointment is also significantly less.
  • The time that I spend sitting with the doctor during my appointment is considerably greater. I get more personal, thorough attention at the V.A. than I’ve ever received at non-V.A. medical facilities.
  • The quality of the care that I receive from doctors (including specialists), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, and administrative staff at the V.A. is better than what I’ve experienced at non-V.A. health care facilities.
  • V.A. doctors order labs and X-rays readily and on the spot. Since the orders are put into the computer system and the labs and radiology are right there under the same roof, I can leave the doctor’s office and go immediately to have the testing done.
  • If other testing needs to be done, the clinic in question contacts me promptly to schedule my appointment.
  • If I prefer an open MRI due to claustrophobia, the V.A. sends me to a non-V.A. clinic that does open-MRIs.
  • Doctors at the V.A. take a precautionary approach; they send orders for in-depth testing if they think there’s even a remote possibility that something of concern is going on.
  • The pharmacy, too, is housed in the same facility. I can procure my new medication in the same visit and go home with it in hand.
  • Lab and radiology test results come back in a fraction of the time it takes to get results and analyses done in non-V.A. clinics.
  • The V.A. has an online portal system that allows vets to access all of their medical records, notes, and lab results. Vets can also contact their doctors and other health care practitioners online via the My Health-E Vet system.
  • The V.A. is merciless in sending appointment reminders in the mail and calling with reminders. (This is a good thing.)
  • If I have to cancel an appointment, the clinic will call to re-schedule – repeatedly, until I’ve been re-scheduled.
  • The V.A. has a seamless phone-in system for pharmacy refills. Refills show up in my mailbox within 8-10 days.
  • The V.A. always asks me whether I’m safe and whether I have a place to live.
  • The V.A. always points me to available resources, should I need them.
  • The V.A. reimburses vets for their travel costs in getting to and from the medical center.
  • The V.A. ensures that vets have the suicide prevention lifeline phone number.

 

 

I could go on with this list, if I had time. I could offer specific personal examples, if I wanted to share details of my medical picture. Suffice it to say that I’m speaking from experience. It’s not just me, either… I don’t know (or know of) any vets using the Phoenix V.A. health care system who have a bad word to say about the health care that they receive within that system.

I’m impressed anew after the outstanding experience I had with my new rheumatologist at the Phoenix V.A. yesterday. (Previously, I’d gone to my former non-V.A. rheumatologist, who’s nevertheless also good.)

Now, at the Phoenix V.A. medical center, I have my primary care physician, my shrink, my doctor at the women’s clinic, and my rheumatologist. They’re all first-rate.

Yes. The best medical care I’ve ever received is at the infamous PHOENIX V.A.

Do non-V.A. health care systems have problems? Yes. Corruption at the highest levels occurs at non-V.A. health care systems, and patients’ risks on the ground can include negligence, poor conditions, poor treatment, scheduling hold-ups and issues, and all manner of malpractice.

I remember a case I’d read about a diabetic man who had the wrong leg amputated. It didn’t happen at the V.A.

I’ve heard about patients contracting varieties of strep and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in hospitals to disastrous effect, but all such cases that reached my attention have happened at non-V.A. medical facilities.

The thing is, non-V.A. health care systems aren’t scrutinized under the glaring political spotlights that blow up the V.A. health care system.

That’s actually another good thing about the V.A. health care system, though: since the system IS scrutinized, problems are addressed with highest priority. When corruption is discovered at the V.A., a gigantic national scandal ensues. The V.A. health care system is suddenly the worst thing that ever happened to veterans… mistreated veterans, poorly treated veterans, and veterans who aren’t treated at all. Action is taken.

Whereas non-V.A. health care system corruption and problems can go unnoticed and unresolved for years.

I’m in no way denying, discounting, or trivializing the horrendous or non-existent treatment veterans have suffered at the hands of the V.A. health care system; I’m not trying to detract from the real problems veterans have experienced with the V.A. I’m pointing out the fact that similar problems exist at non-V.A. hospitals, too, and they aren’t magnified x10,000 in the media. We hear about the V.A. because the V.A. is inextricable from politics. But from what I’ve seen, more veterans are pleased with the V.A. care they receive than not.

Speaking of medical matters, I’m happy to report that I had a great workout this morning. Here’s my gratuitous post-workout gym selfie:

 

Post-workout on a good physical day! I’ve been on a roll. I had five good workouts last week, and I hope to get in five more this week.

 

I am so grateful for my health and for the care I’m receiving at the Phoenix V.A. medical center.

Reiterating just to be clear: I’m not disillusioned about the V.A. health care system and its problems. I wanted to write this post so that somewhere, in some minuscule corner of the interwebs, there’s something positive to be found and read about the V.A. health care system, because it really is, despite its shortcomings, an excellent system.

It’s a shame that although there are many positives, only the negatives are reported. The public eye has been blinded to anything that could be positive about the V.A., which is a lot.

Thank you for reading, if you’ve made it this far.

I went to a big-ass party and this is what happened. (PTSD post.)

We went to a party on Sunday. It was Callaghan’s company’s “holiday soiree.”

 

thatasianlookingchick-com-holidaysoiree2016

 

(I concealed the names of the company and the party’s hosts.)

If the colors on the invitation seem unusual for such an event, it’s because the party’s theme was “early Mardi Gras.” If you didn’t know, Mardi Gras colors are purple, green, and gold. I’m not sure why it was decided to celebrate the holidays as another holiday that takes place in February, but that’s irrelevant. Well… mostly irrelevant.

We donned the requested semi-formal “festive attire” (I wore a red dress because I was feeling the current season… I wasn’t alone in this), and we ordered an Uber.

The Uber took us to BFE (far away from us, in the middle of nowhere) with no discernible civilization around. We were dropped off in a big-ass parking lot. To enter a big-ass tent. Which led us into a big-ass warehouse. In which there was a big-ass party with roughly 800 people, pretty much in the dark, save for spot lighting here and there.

No part of which agreed with my big-ass case of PTSD.

Not only that, but when we walked into the warehouse, the first thing that happened was a few metallic strings suddenly dropped from the air, straight down, and landed with a clatter on the concrete floor, right in front of my feet. Because, you know, Mardi Gras. It was someone’s role to stand on a second-floor balcony and throw beads down in front of people walking in. This surprise INCOMING situation set me more on edge, though I didn’t show it. I smiled and laughed and talked to people, and I enjoyed the excellent band. I enjoyed meeting some of Callaghan’s co-workers and their wives. I did have a good time in some sense. I focused on that. We stayed for four hours, and I was fine.

Here’s the thing: Like everyone with PTSD, I have some known triggers, and I have some random triggers that can come out of nowhere. I went into the party thinking that my introversion would be the issue, but my panic disorder overrode that completely. It would’ve been great if being an introvert was my biggest challenge.

In response to all of this, I’ve decided to book myself an hour in a sensory deprivation tank.

Yes, you read that right. I’m going to strenuously push my limits in the tank – claustrophobia is one of my issues – and that is the point.

I may never be able to enter a room without immediately looking for the exits and other avenues of escape. I may never be able to sit in a room with my back to the door. But that’s okay. That’s my normal, and those behaviors are valuable, so I have no problems there. Meanwhile, though, I would like to work on lessening the impact of some of my known triggers. Coming out of the party with this realization was the gift of the whole thing. I will act on it! I’ll let you know how it goes.

An aside: I have no pics of us or of the party, I’m sorry to say. There were roaming photographers and co-workers who wanted to take pics, so there are some images floating around somewhere… if I get my hands on one and get the permission of the people in them, I’ll post them at that time.

How I manage my mental illness.

I’ve touched on some of this in various posts in the past, but I’ve been asked to share an actual list of tactics I use to maintain my mental health.

First of all, I accept that PTSD and clinical depression are a part of who I am. Mental illness and the management of it are “my normal,” and this acceptance helps a lot.

It also helps to accept the fact that just as there are great days, there are horrible days, and days ranging between the two. Sometimes, all the meds and talk therapy and things on the list below just aren’t enough. When this happens, I try to recognize that “this, too, shall pass,” keeping it all in perspective. (I know that this is so much easier said than done. I can say it easily now, when I’m not at the bottom of the abyss of hopelessness and despair. All we can do is try.)

That being said, here’s my list… things I do to manage my mental illness:

1). I avoid alcohol (with few exceptions).

Alcohol is a depressant. It also counters or otherwise negatively interacts with medications taken for mental illness. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis is never advisable for the mentally ill.

2). I take medication and talk to my therapist on a regular basis.

Meds and talk therapy are basic, first-line tactics of controlling mental illness. It’s critically important to adhere to such a routine and to have my external resources at hand. I regularly visit my doctor at the V.A. hospital, and I know that I always have access to emergency help at a national veterans’ crisis line.

3). I work out and try to eat well (within reason, making sure to maintain a healthy balance).

Exercise heightens our mood by way of its effect on our brain chemistry. It leads to improved physical fitness, which improves our physical health. (For this reason, more and more companies are including gym membership coverage fees in their employees’ benefits packages.) Improved physical health reduces stress and makes us feel more energetic and better about ourselves, in general. Choosing healthier food options most of the time comprises the other half of this picture.

4). I have routines, and I stick to them.

Routines are underestimated and even sneered upon. We like to say that spontaneity is critical to quality of life, and there is certainly something to that, but the fact is that routine can provide us with mental health benefits, too. Routines are valuable. They can be soothing when everything else is chaos. Routines can give us a sense of control and accomplishment.

5). I eliminate toxic factors in my life (to the best of my ability).

The word “toxic” is overused in our current vocabulary (instigated, I suspect, by self-help gurus, but that’s beside the point) – and yet, it captures this point well. In a nutshell, a toxic factor is that which makes us feel badly about ourselves. It’s a negative and destructive force and presence in our lives.

Toxic factors can include situations, places, and/or people and relationships. It’s not always possible to eliminate such factors; when we can’t, we can seek out ways to lessen their negative impact. I recently liberated myself from an utterly demoralizing situation, and that leap hugely improved my mental health and quality of life.

6). I engage my creative energy to the fullest extent possible.

If you have creative juices, let them flow. If you have hobbies, indulge in them. If you don’t have a hobby, get one. Losing ourselves in the physical act of doing something we enjoy goes beyond mere escapism. It often involves honing talents with which we’ve been blessed. The act of doing something physical that requires the creative part of our brains is beneficial to our mental health. There’s a reason why occupational therapy is a part of an in-patient mental illness patient’s prescribed agenda.

7). I have cats.

Connecting with animals on an emotional level and caring for them has proven to be a powerful stress reducer, improving our mental and physical health. Our relationships with our pets can actually extend our lives, improve the quality of our lives, and even save our lives. I can’t think of anything that can compare to cultivating the love and trust of an animal. (I say “animal,” but this applies to birds and fish, too.)

 

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

 

8). I actively express my compassion for others in one way or another, however small.

Example: I don’t have time to physically go and volunteer at homeless shelters, so I choose to do my part by providing with water. I make sure to have one or two small bottles of cold water with me when I leave the house, especially in the hot months.

We buy generic water in bulk, keep the bottles in the refrigerator, and give them to the homeless when we see them on the street or at a red light. (Admittedly, I try to identify those homeless who are vets, though I’ll give water to any homeless person, of course.) Every time, without fail, the person takes the bottle of cold water with visible – sometimes overwhelming – gratitude and joy, which they express in such an open and heartfelt manner that I’m instantly put in empathetic touch with their plight. Water is never an unwelcome thing. The person usually opens it and chugs it immediately.

Kindness is invaluable for the human spirit.

Giving water to drink means and accomplishes much more than giving change or a dollar. Giving water with a smile is an act that says, “I recognize that you’re a human being and deserving of this basic, life-saving thing. Someone cares about you and your well-being.” I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how showing compassion to the needy can be anything but beneficial to all involved.

9). I set goals for myself and plan things to anticipate.

I believe I devoted an entire blog post to this. Having agenda items to look forward to is a pleasurable thing. It can also, in the worst of times, give us a reason to keep on keeping on.

10). I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (Still trying. Still mostly failing. But still trying).

This can’t be stressed enough: Adequate sleep and quality sleep are important for optimal physical and mental health and well-being.

11). I count my blessings and nurture my relationships with loved ones.

One word: Gratitude.

Being grateful for what we have – and who we have – is an incredibly powerful reminder that things could always be worse.

 

Keeping it real.

Keeping it real.

 

That sums it up: In addition to acceptance, meds, and professional talk therapy, I manage my mental illness by working on physical health, stress reduction, and gratitude. I try.

Lopsided eyes and mild panic: A cautionary tale.

Life changes and I’m back to a routine of walking to work every morning. I’m loving the extra little workout every day! I also walk home three days a week. The big change in the equation is that on the other two days, I take the bus home so I can get there fast, change my clothes, and drive to Mesa for Body Combat. Why? Callaghan now works on-site full-time, and the site happens to be in BFE (very far away, in case you didn’t know the acronym). This necessitates me taking myself to the gym. Which is fine. As long as I can get there!

(The adjustment to Callaghan’s new schedule and location has been a learn-as-we-go process in many ways. Our lives are very different now. And on Monday, I did NOT make it to the gym, because I literally had no way to get there. That was the last time that was going to happen!)

On Wednesday, I got to the bus stop early and wondered what to do with the spare 15 minutes. People-watching opportunities were oddly nonexistent at University and Mill. What else is there to do while waiting? Take a selfie. Or twenty.

I don’t take selfies very often. It doesn’t occur to me because I’m always looking for interesting, stationary subjects to photograph, or I’m stalking my cats with the camera. There was nothing of interest from my vantage point at the bus stop, and my cats were selfishly sitting at home, so I thought it would be amusing to capture a rare moment of myself being bored in an unusual place.

All that happened in the end was I freaked myself out, though. A little bit. Just a little.

The selfies I took showed my eyes looking lopsided. They were mismatched. One eye looked larger and different than the other. This alarmed me because I thought I remembered reading somewhere that psychopaths often have in common a noticeable difference between their eyes. While no one’s features are perfectly symmetrical, the eyes of a mentally unstable person can be very obviously unlike each other. (I know I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find anything about it, of course.)

Thing is, I do live with mental illness in the form of clinical depression and PTSD, but I never thought I looked mentally ill. The selfies suddenly made me feel paranoid. Then I became paranoid about being paranoid, and that made me feel crazier. I wondered if my mental health situation was really what I thought it was, only. And very quickly, the whole thought process took off on a continuous, self-perpetuating loop inside my brain.

To stop the merciless cycle, I deleted all of the selfies.

I went about the rest of the evening not thinking about it. I went home, went to the gym, and went out to dinner with Callaghan, and I didn’t think about it at all.

Later that night, I went to remove my make-up and saw that my eyeliner was thicker under one eye than the other, and the two lines didn’t match in shape. All along, it was my eyeliner that didn’t match! That would do it. Eyeliner can change your face dramatically. Of course the eye with more liner would look larger, and the two eyes would look different with different liner shapes!

I looked like that before I went and sweated at the gym, so I’d gone around at work with lopsided eyes. How fun.

Either I was in too much of a hurry when I was getting ready that morning, or the eyeliner wore off unevenly during the day. The result was the same, though: I looked like a Picasso painting at work, and I almost drove myself crazy wondering if I was crazier than I actually am.

Yesterday morning, I took extra care with my eyeliner. In the afternoon, I took a selfie in my office:

 

(February 18, 2016)

(February 18, 2016)

 

I came out looking more normal, though the left eye still had slightly more liner than the right. Probably only I would notice it, now that I’m hyper-aware of the thickness and shape of my eyeliner. I may have to just set the camera down and back slowly away. It’s hard to get the two eyes to look exactly the same, and I only allow myself 15 minutes to do my make-up before going to work. It is what it is.

The lighting was surprisingly flattering, too, though. Also, it was a rare day that I put on e.l.f. primer under my foundation. I think I like it, after all.

And Callaghan loves his new job!

Beasts of No Nation: A review, of sorts (No Spoilers)

I didn’t include Beasts of No Nation in my October “favorites” post because those posts are about Little Things, and this film is anything but that. Beasts of No Nation is an immersive experience, and it’s a heavy one. A powerful one. It didn’t feel right lumping it in with Scream Queens and salsa.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BeastsOfNoNation2015

 

The crafting of Beasts of No Nation demonstrates exquisite mastery; if you’re into movies to appreciate the fine art of film-making, I’d say it’s a must-see. However, be warned: Beasts of No Nation is difficult to watch… it’s a must-see for reasons beyond its artistic merits.

There came a point where Callaghan just stopped. As tension tightened our throats in the scene that ended it for him, he muttered, “I don’t want to watch this anymore.” I understood where he was coming from. I was on the verge of stopping, myself. He got up and said, “I’m sorry… you can watch the rest if you want, but I don’t need to see this!”

The challenge when watching a war drama so finely rendered is that you’re there. The film engulfs you, and you become a witness to gut-wrenching circumstances and atrocities appalling beyond belief. It’s harrowing, it’s heart-breaking, and it took me two more days to finish watching Beasts of No Nation after we stopped (and Callaghan had gone to France for his business trip). It took two days because I couldn’t watch more than a chunk at a time.

While all movies of this nature don’t trigger my PTSD, enough of them do that I generally avoid them. I couldn’t turn away from this one, though, and I don’t mean that in a train-wreck kind of way. It was more like, I have to keep watching because at some point something has to happen that will restore my faith in humanity.

While the story in Beasts of No Nation is a work of fiction, the tragedy of it is real. The film depicts a reality that’s largely overlooked in our ongoing lament over global atrocities and human rights violations. We commonly bespeak outrage over horrendous things that are done to little girls, practices we know to be inhumane and abominable. Comparatively, we give negligible thought to the horrendous things that are done to little boys. We forget to acknowledge the trials of male children in some war-torn countries… trials that, as this film so brutally illustrates, result in bodily harm, psychological damage, and an obliteration of childhood innocence too sad to contemplate.

I’d never seen Callaghan so upset by a movie that he had to quit watching it. As for me, I’m usually dry-eyed while most everyone grabs at tissues… but there was one scene in Beasts of No Nation that had me crying, and it wasn’t due to illusory maneuvers on the director’s part. The director avoided any semblance of heart-string-pulling and simply let the power of authenticity do its dirty work, a feat allowed by his elegantly nuanced talent. My sorrow felt heavy, like a sorrow for the entire planet.

The director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), also wrote the film’s screenplay (based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala). I’ve seen several movies this year that I thought deserved serious Academy attention; Beasts of No Nation joins them and rises – urgently – straight to the top. I’ll go so far as to say that I hope it captures awards not only for itself, but for humankind. Fukunaga’s adapted screenplay and directing ought to garner Oscar nominations, at least, and actors Idris Elba and Abraham Attah deserve the highest accolades for their searing performances. They were both brilliant. The cinematography and costume design were also stunning. All of the art that went into the making of this film took my breath away.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Beasts of No Nation will do more than tug at your heart-strings… it’ll just seize your whole heart and crush it. But this film needs to be seen. Child soldiers need a place in the discourse of the problem of world suffering, and if swallowing our horror through the viewing of films like this can help bring awareness to the plight of these children, then we need to do that.

Child soldiers are not out there bearing arms and killing people because they had aspirations to do so as healthy children with sound minds. They are victims.

Beasts of No Nation elucidates one of the ways in which art is important and even essential for the well-being of the human race. We can’t continue to keep our eyes closed while certain things are happening in the world, and this is why Oscar-generated hype over Beasts of No Nation could be seen not only as well-deserved, but necessary. Everyone’s attention should be brought to this film.

Beasts of No Nation is Netflix’ first original film, being to movies what House of Cards is to television series. The movie streamed on Netflix the same day it appeared in theatres. If you have Netflix and you want to see Beasts of No Nation, it’s there for the watching.

Accidental O.D. (or, I am an airhead). Let’s learn from it.

One day about two weeks ago, I accidentally took too much of my antidepressant. It was a very mild overdose, and nothing horrible happened. I didn’t go to the E.R. or anything like that. I just felt messed up, a little shaken, and maybe just a tad embarrassed when the incident passed.

Everything was fine the next day, but the experience was enough to startle me into the realization of how stupidly easy it is to take an overdose of a prescription medication by accident.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then. Often, when it’s reported that someone died from an “accidental overdose of prescription medication,” or “toxicology reports show the presence of prescription drugs in his/her system,” the jaded public’s reaction is largely, “‘Accidental’… right.” There’s a tendency to immediately categorize the death as either a substance abuse-related accident, or as a suicide. We aren’t so inclined to accept “accidental” without any negative connotation attached. We’re cynical. We assume an underlying moral abberation on the part of the deceased, or, at least, questionable character. We sum up the death as “just another senseless tragedy.”

After my experience, I totally understand how someone can simply, accidentally take too much of a prescription drug. What happened was I screwed up my dosage. I made a mistake.

There was some confusion that led to an oversight that led to the mistake, all on my part. My shrink increased my daily antidepressant dosage to 400 mg. Talking about how he’d send in a new prescription, he explained that I’d take two pills in the morning, and two in the afternoon. Either I mixed up parts of the information, or I just altogether missed the part about the prescription strength being different. I went home and took another pill, adding to the one I’d taken a few hours earlier.

Later that day, I took two more for my newly increased afternoon dose, instead of the one pill I’d normally take in the afternoon.

Two to three hours after that, I wasn’t feeling too well. The discomfort was vague and nondescript at first, so I figured, just ignore it… but once it started, I felt increasingly worse, and pretty rapidly. I remember trying to work and being unable to focus. I remember the inside of my head feeling like pins and needles, the same physical sensation you get when your foot falls asleep. There was nothing I could do to alleviate it, and the sensation didn’t dissipate the way it does when it happens to your foot. At the same time, my head felt like it was being constricted from the outside, like there was a band around my skull being pulled tight.

Then it was evening, and the pins and needles sensation inside my head worsened. My heart raced, which was further disconcerting. I felt strangely out of control under my skin. I couldn’t think. Still, I tried to ignore it all. I called Mom at the usual time, but I had trouble focusing on what she was saying, and when I tried to talk, I felt like I was underwater. Everything was a struggle. My head was a maddening ball of tingling, stinging little points, and I felt like I was lost in the middle of it. My mouth was dry. I did have the mental wherewithal to suppose that I was having a reaction to the increased dosage of my antidepressant. But I only took four pills, I thought. That’s what he prescribed, and it’s not enough to kill me.

I remember trying to pay attention to my breathing, and I remember taking my anti-anxiety medication with a big glass of water. Then I was waking up. I woke up to my alarm, which I’d apparently set. I felt fine! I had no recollection of going to sleep, but I remembered how I’d felt before that. I went to get my medication, and that was when I checked the label and saw that the pills in my current prescription were 150 mg, not 100 mg. It was the new prescription that would be 100 mg! Those were the ones I’d take two of twice a day.

 

This was me when Armageddon was happening inside my head, only it's not, because that happened a couple of weeks ago, and this picture was taken in the middle of the night last night. So this is a reenactment of the inside of my head from a couple of weeks before. But at least there's candlelight.

This was me when Armageddon was happening inside my head, only it’s not, because that happened a couple of weeks ago, and this picture was taken in the middle of the night last night. So this is a reenactment of the inside of my head from a couple of weeks before. But at least there’s candlelight.

 

In this most inopportune moment of airheadedness, I jumped from 300 mg to 600 mg when I was told to increase to 400 mg. I took four 150 mg pills in a 12-hour period because I neglected to read the label to verify the prescription strength (the irony of this being that I diligently read the labels on everything else I consider for consumption), and I did it suddenly, which I now know you’re not supposed to do… any changes made to psych drug dosages should be made gradually. In the case of my particular drug, making abrupt increases can cause seizures, so I’m lucky that this didn’t happen. I’m lucky that the overdose was mild, and I only felt like my brain was scrambled until I fell asleep. I was able to wake up in a normal state, go to work, and function well, as if nothing had happened.

Somehow, Callaghan didn’t notice anything unusual about me or my behavior that evening. He only knew something was wrong because I told him that I wasn’t feeling well. Apparently, I talked about calling my shrink the next day to tell him that the new dosage wasn’t working out for me, which I never did… because, of course, once I realized my mistake, I fixed it. I went back down to 300 mg, then increased in increments over the next two weeks. I’ve been taking the prescribed 400 mg per day for a few days now, and all has been well. I haven’t had any further issues.

My point is that anyone can make this kind of mistake.

To translate my experience into something that might be useful to someone, I just want to throw out a reminder that prescription drugs are a serious matter, no matter what they are. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. It’s always better to double-check the details of our medications, to educate ourselves about what we’re taking and how we’re taking it, and to be aware of any drug interaction risks, including mixing medication(s) with alcohol. Depending on the drug, the individual, and external factors, human error plus one glass of wine could be deadly; it’s safest to avoid alcohol entirely when taking psych meds or pain meds (especially the opioids – the narcotics).

Just one oversight could result in a terrible, potentially irreparable circumstance. In some cases, it doesn’t take much. It would be horrible to accidentally die and leave people shaking their heads, wondering where you went wrong, or where they went wrong, or where your parents went wrong… right? Prescription drug-related tragedies can be avoided. It never hurts to be over-cautious.

“A rumbling sound, then three sharp knocks…”

We’re on the eve of a new month, and we’ve got another Friday the 13th coming up soon! That makes two months in a row. In honor of the underrated yet overhyped doomsday of lore, I’ll regale you with an anecdote. Today is, after all, the halfway point between the two Friday the 13ths.

First, a refresher, or background information for those of you who are new here.

A few months back, Callaghan and I watched The Babadook, which I’ve since decided is the best horror film I’ve ever seen. Being a huge fan of all kinds of horror, including some of the cheesiest of the many bad movies the genre has to offer, I tend to rate a horror film based on its HMISM (How Much It Scared Me) factor. (I just made that up.)

It’s hard to get a good rating on the HMISM scale. I don’t scare easily. I have Exaggerated Startle Response, but that’s jumpiness, not fear… and it’s certainly not the same thing as a satisfying case of creeptastic-movie-produced heebie-jeebies. After a good horror flick, I’ll find myself looking over my shoulder apprehensively, and the back of my neck will prickle as I wander alone through the house. Not only did The Babadook have this delightful effect, but also, it was 99% cheese-free.

We knew we were sitting down to watch a horror movie, but we didn’t suspect we were in for an astonishingly terrifying, brilliant, richly layered and masterfully wrought horror movie. The Babadook has stayed with me, and I can easily call to mind its expertly applied sound effects.

This brings me to the weekend of our last Friday the 13th (two weekends ago), when I heard a mysterious triple knock in our bedroom.

Callaghan was at the gym. I was the lone human in the house, working on my laptop on the bed with Ronnie James and Nounours purring by my side. All was quiet, and then we heard it. Knock-Knock-Knock.

The kitties startled upright, and I looked around with all the neurons in my brain shining through my eyeballs as I tried to ascertain what I’d just heard, and where the sound had come from. It made no sense. It really sounded like someone had knocked on the wall from inside the room, but no one was there. There was no way the sound came from the front door, since that’s at the opposite end of the house.

A few seconds later, I heard it again. Knock-Knock-Knock. This time, it happened while I was actively looking around, and I didn’t see anything either directly or peripherally. There was nothing in the room that could have explained the sound, but I thought I heard it from the area of Callaghan’s night table.

 

Just a night table with the usual stuff on it, right?

Just a night table with the usual stuff on it, right?

 

 

Naturally, I thought of The Babadook. That’s how the Babadook announced himself in the movie: Knock-Knock-Knock. The thought came to me with some amusement, but I was truly mystified. When I told Callaghan about it later, he said he had no clue what it could have been.

One day the following weekend – that would be last weekend – we were lying in bed, waking up slowly, when the triple knocking sound suddenly filled the quiet space in the early morning room. Knock-Knock-Knock.

“There it is again!” I said excitedly, happy to be validated by the recurrence of the sound. I hadn’t been sure that Callaghan believed me when I’d described it to him. He turned toward the direction of the sound, studying his night table.

“It’s this,” he said. He was extracting something from beneath a pile of magazines. I looked and saw that it was a small, slim tablet. With its dark blue cover, I hadn’t noticed it mostly buried on the dark table.

 

Why look at that. It's a tiny tablet.

Why look at that. It’s a tiny tablet.

 

Of course! Now I remembered that little tablet… it was the mini Samsung Callaghan had given to his Grandmother in France last year, specifically so she could use it to Skype us. Mamie isn’t tech-savvy, so Callaghan set it all up for her, simplifying it as much as possible. She only had to open it, swipe the screen, and hit the Skype button… but she never did. She said that she wanted to use it, but it was too complicated. Eight months later, when Callaghan’s Dad visited us in December, he brought it back. I hadn’t realized it and I didn’t even remember that tablet, so it didn’t occur to me to check under the magazines when I heard the triple knock!

It’s a very small tablet.

 

 

We took this pic last night to show the smallness of the tablet. It's barely bigger than my hand. (Yes, it was 18:20 and 75 degrees. Don't worry. In a few months, we'll deal with our scorching summer while you enjoy your well-deserved beautiful temps outside!)

We took this pic last night to show the smallness of the tablet. It’s barely bigger than my hand.
(Yes, it was 18:20 and 75 degrees. Don’t worry. In a few months, we’ll deal with our scorching summer while you enjoy your well-deserved beautiful temps outside!)

 

 

Callaghan’s own tablet is a white, regular-size iPad in a white and red Eiffel Tower case. It’s quite conspicuous, and it obviously wasn’t on the night table when I’d first heard the knocking sound. And my tablet is a regular-size black Samsung with no case. I didn’t see any tablets when my eyes skimmed the night table. My powers of observation are slipping.

“Mamie must have set the sound notification to knock,” Callaghan said. “I didn’t do it!” We checked, and sure enough:

 

 

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

 

 

We tapped it and heard the triple knock. Each time Callaghan received an email, the tablet made that sound. Mystery solved, right?

I just don’t understand 1). Why Mamie would bother changing the notification alert sound if she never used the tablet, and 2). How she could have changed it if she was so reluctant to try the tablet that she never even hit the Skype button to call us. I mean, does this make any sense? The idea of Mamie fiddling around with the settings and changing things in there seems a bit far-fetched. For me, there’s still a feathery question mark hovering in the air above the whole thing.

“Maybe the Babadook changed the notification sound,” Callaghan suggested helpfully.

“Yeah, let’s go with that theory,” I said. “It’s more fun.”

After this upcoming Friday the 13th, the next one won’t occur until November… but somehow, I doubt the eight months in between will be uneventful!

Happy Friday, All!

I saw American Sniper. Here are my thoughts.

Somewhere around October-November, we found out about the upcoming film American Sniper. It was set to open on Christmas day. We were looking forward to it, and I liked the idea that two years in a row, the newly released movie we’d see on my December 27 birthday would feature Bradley Cooper.

As it turned out, the movie’s release date got pushed into January, so we didn’t get to see American Sniper on my birthday. Interestingly, though, the holiday movie we did go to see on December 27, Big Eyes, also featured an actor from last year’s birthday movie: Amy Adams! We saw American Hustle (Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) on my birthday in 2013, and Big Eyes (Amy Adams) on my birthday in 2014.

I like Bradley Cooper. It’s not a crush. I’m not obsessed with him, and I don’t race to the theatre just because he’s in a movie, but I am a fan. I’ve never seen him flounder in a role, and I’ve never seen a film of his I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some way. Bradley Cooper in a movie usually means that I’m going to like the movie, and this is also true about Amy Adams and a few other actors (Jake Gyllanhaal comes immediately to mind); Callaghan and I are almost always on the same page, which is good. It’s more fun spending money on movie tickets if we strongly suspect that we’ll really like the movie.

So we saw Big Eyes on my birthday, and we enjoyed it, and we continued to anticipate the release of American Sniper. When the day arrived, we went to the theatre with our favorite action-flick movie-watching partner-in-crime, Jason, and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Somehow, I had the idea that the film was about a veteran who was using his lethal military skills for some grand operation in the civilian sector. I didn’t know that I was walking into a war movie. Neither did I know that the story was based on an autobiography/events that happened in the life of a real person.

And I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a war movie, because I generally avoid war movies. Had I known, I would have dropped American Sniper off my to-watch list, and I would have missed out on an incredible movie.

Yes, I know. I’m a Buddhist and a mostly-vegan vegetarian and I’m all about peace and compassion, but I highly appreciated American Sniper. This might seem incongruous, but it’s really not. For one thing, just on the artistic level, I thought it was a brilliant, finely-wrought film. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a tremendous, nuanced performance. I thought Clint Eastwood’s handling of the project was masterful.

Where can I even begin to try to explain my appreciation beyond that?

I guess I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not motivated by politics when it comes to art. I’m a registered Independent, anyway… my political views do tend to lean in a certain direction (if you know me well, you know what direction that is), but there’s a reason why I won’t join a particular party. Also, I generally stay away from the subject of politics on social media sites. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to talk politics here today or any day. I get that it’s hard to avoid politics where this film is concerned, but I’m going to try to avoid the damn politics.

Then I should point out that I’m a combat veteran. I spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Sabre, from the beginning of December 1990 to almost the end of May 1991. The ground war in January took all of two days, and the whole thing was rather anti-climactic after the airstrikes, but somehow I managed to get embroiled in the only real action American foot soldiers saw pushing through Iraq. I ran Commo (wire, radios) in a segment of a ground ambulance unit, and our convoy was comprised of mostly medics from my Garrison unit in Germany, along with some infantrymen, American National Guardsmen and women, and a few British soldiers. We were ambushed, and it was intense, and I brought that personal history with me going into the movie theatre to see American Sniper, not knowing, as I’d said, that it was going to be a war movie.

Now, about that Buddhist thing, since I know that it’s confusing to many people. I’ve been Buddhist all of my life, and I’ve been a martial/fighting artist for more than half of my life, and no, contrary to the popular opinion of our times, this does not create a contradiction. Buddhism and the fighting arts are not mutually exclusive. If you can understand this, then my admiration of American Sniper shouldn’t seem contradictory, either.

Rather than going into a tedious academic tangent on the principles of eastern philosophy, including the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, I’m asking that you hang with me for a minute here!

Buddhist monks in the Shaolin temple of ancient China were resourceful and inventive. They developed seitan, a popular protein-rich meat substitute made of wheat gluten, so they could avoid eating animals. They also developed Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that enabled them to kill with their bare hands and laid the groundwork for basically all eastern martial arts thereafter. What’s more, the full spectrum of the Shaolin martial arts system includes fighting with weapons. The “Buddhist warrior” is actually a thing, and it always has been. I’m not saying that ALL Buddhists are warriors. I’m just saying that warriors in the ranks of Buddhists have existed for ages, at least as long as there have been temples to protect. Long before Bruce Lee, there were the Shaolin Buddhist soldier monks.

Hard to believe that there’s a history of martial arts bad-assery in Buddhism, right?

Enough about me and my background. Returning to American Sniper, I want to talk about the “problem” of the veracity of (every detail of) Chris Kyle’s story. He apparently made some claims in his book that aren’t true. In my opinion, just from my perspective as a literature major, this is normal. Biography/autobiography/memoir/creative non-fiction and, loosely, historical fiction all rely on facts and factual events for the backbone of the stories within, but there’s usually good reason and/or artistic justification for alteration or invention in some places, and authors take this kind of creative liberty all the time.

Take, for example, a staple of children’s literature well-known and loved by most Americans. The Nellie Olson character in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books didn’t actually exist… she was an amalgamation of two real-life figures from her childhood. Because Laura Ingalls Wilder also altered the chronology of her family’s travels (reportedly for the sake of simplicity), she took two classmates from two of her schools in two different geographical locations and blended them together to create the one insufferable character we know as “Nellie Olson.” (The real Nellie Olson was one of the two classmates Laura Ingalls Wilder used to create the fictitious one.)

This is a well-documented fact, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories are meaningless because she “made up” the character or “lied” about the trajectory of her family’s pioneering path, nor have I heard of anyone calling her out on any of the other half-truths, embellishments or omissions that resulted for artistic purposes. I never heard anyone say that because of all this, Laura Ingalls Wilder is not to be trusted or believed, and that the attention paid to her stories is undeserved. I never heard anyone say that the worth of other art based on the books she co-wrote about her life – namely, the world-famous Little House on the Prairie television series – was invalidated by her “lies.” I never heard anyone complain that the T.V. show was “mendacious” because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed some things, omitted things, and flat-out made other stuff up.

We know that she did these things, but we still accept her work as autobiographical. That which wasn’t real didn’t cancel out all that was real. Her story is still her story, and Chris Kyle’s story is still Chris Kyle’s story, and just because Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tone was demure and so many people dig stories about pioneer life more than they dig stories about soldiering life doesn’t mean that by majority opinion, we can have a double standard. If we’re going to call Chris Kyle a liar, then we’re going to have to call Laura Ingalls Wilder a liar for the exact same reasons, and we don’t want to do that, now, do we?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s think for a moment of how Laura Ingalls Wilder “glorified” and “romanticized” how her Pa decided to drag the family into Indian Territory and knowingly illegally squat on the Native Americans’ land, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder plainly recounted her parents’ racist attitudes and sentiments regarding the “savages” (sound familiar?) – have you ever heard anyone lambasting her for this dubious aspect of their “courageous” pioneer life? Neither have I. Needless to say, the storylines in the television series’ episodes conveniently omit any mention or reference to this part of the Ingalls’ “adventures.” Most everyone still loves the show.

But people are sure enjoying harping on Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for “glorifying” and “romanticizing” the darker sides of Chris Kyle and his story.

Finally, I want to say that it’s interesting how the people shouting the loudest about how Chris Kyle was a lying psychopath (and no hero at all) are the ones who never spent a day in his or any other soldier’s boots. Now, I didn’t know Chris Kyle. I didn’t know him before, during or after his service, nor am I a psychiatrist. For all I know, he could have been a psychopath or a sociopath or whatever other -path you want to call him… but I don’t care. I don’t care if Chris Kyle was the kind of guy who’d help an old lady cross the street, or the kind of guy who’d push an old lady off a cliff. Because what I do know is that combat military training and circumstances change you in ways that civilians can’t even begin to fathom. What you were before is rendered nearly irrelevant. Even emerging from regular old Army basic training (Chris Kyle underwent Navy S.E.A.L. training, which is much more intense), you’re different than you were before you went in.

In basic training, you’re broken down from the inside out, with the whole point being to re-build you into something you probably weren’t before you went in: a killing machine that can be set into action when the circumstances call for it. The mental and physical conditioning you undergo in order to serve in combat is complete. I’m talking about the average person here. Now imagine that instead of being an average person, you were already an expert shot accustomed to taking lives (as a hunter)… and imagine, too, that your military occupational specialty is killing.

Someone’s got to do it, guys. The military is an establishment in which there’s a need for many roles, just like in civilian society, and while all soldiers are required to be conditioned in the basics, everyone has to choose an occupational specialty. Some soldiers are cooks. Others are band musicians. Others work in supply. There are the tankers, the ammo soldiers, the administration office-working soldiers, the morgue soldiers and the medics and the mechanics and the military cops and the JAG (legal) corps and the signal corps, the soldiers responsible for ensuring communications in the field (what I did – my 31K occupational title was “Combat Signaler.”) And so on, and so forth… and then you have the soldiers whose specialty is killing. These are the infantry, the “grunts.”

Regardless of your occupational specialty, though, all soldiers function the same way in combat zones, and again, to reiterate, this is what basic training is for. When thrown into a combat situation, the conditioning deep inside you surfaces, enabling you to automatically act according to the situation, and I’m sorry, but combat situations don’t usually involve making butter, choosing fabric for dresses, or embroidering. Pa Ingalls is not going to bust out his fiddle at the end of the day and make everyone laugh merrily as they sing along to his folksy songs.

When I was 18, I went to basic training and came out different than I was before, because that is what basic training is designed to do. Not only are you different, but you’re also no longer your own person. You become government property, calibrated to respond and operate on a situational basis. The minute you raise your hand and take that oath, the Constitution you’re charged to protect no longer even applies to you. You opt out of those rights in order to protect them. It’s the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for you!

A day or two before Christmas 1990, we were out there in the vast, cold and empty Saudi Arabian desert when we were told that Sadam Hussein had threatened an attack as a “Christmas present” for the Americans lying in wait, meaning, us. We went into high alert for an indefinite period of time. I remember my 22nd birthday very well. I spent the entire day in a foxhole in the biting cold, suited up in MOPP 4 (head to toe chemical protection gear) with a full bandolier of ammo strapped around my chest and my M-16 at the ready, and again, I came out different than I was before, because that’s what happens when you spend hours on end with every cell and nerve of your being waiting to either kill or get killed. Just being in that situation day after day changes you. Even if “nothing happens,” you can’t ever be the same again.

A few weeks later, the ground war started, and we switched gear from alert to action. We convoyed out of Saudi Arabia to follow the front line through Iraq, destination Kuwait. We were a ground ambulance convoy in our Cut-V’s and Hum-V’s, and we saw and dealt with everything you’d expect to encounter on a battlefield. Then we were ambushed. There were Iraqi snipers. There were detonating landmines. There were casualties. Afterward, there were smoke grenades and medevac helicopters. I’m not going to go into the details of what I did and saw, but you can bet that again, I was a different person by the end of it.

Now, take my modest little combat experience and quadruple it and give it another hefty boost for increased severity. Chris Kyle couldn’t possibly have ended up being the same person he’d been before any of his four tours of combat duty, whatever that may have been. He killed people, as we were all prepared to do, as Navy S.E.A.L.S. were expected to do, and I would venture to guess that he saved many more people than he killed. Whether I “agreed” with the Iraq War or not, I’m grateful to Chris Kyle for his service, and for the service of all men and women in uniform in all the branches of the Armed Forces, regardless of the conflict or the reason for it or behind it, or the duration or severity of it, or the number of times they deployed, or my opinion of it or your opinion of it or anyone’s opinion of it, or anything else.

I’d like to think that if I never lived the experience of being broken down and built back up to human war-machine specs, if I never set foot in a combat zone, if I never mentally prepared to suffer and die under chemical attack or by gunfire or other ordnance, if I never swallowed 12 mysterious pills a day “in case of chemical attack”… if I never lived a day of my life serving my country… I would recognize that I’m not in a position to judge Chris Kyle.

Like him or not, Chris Kyle was a hero. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who voluntarily raises their hand and swears away their own constitutional rights in order to protect yours is a hero, whatever else they may be, and whether they go to war or not. To try to posthumously shame Chris Kyle for being the lying asshole he maybe was is to miss the point of American Sniper. Deriding Eastwood and Cooper for taking part in “glorifying” anything is also an exercise in missing the point.

Aside from all of this, what’s really important here, of course, is that we found American Sniper to be a great piece of cinematic art in and of itself. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper did a damn fine job, along with everyone else who put their energies into the making of the film. I’m saying this, and I don’t even like war movies!

So, American Sniper? We recommend it. It’s not easy to watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “enjoyable,” but it’s an amazing film.

On that (hopefully cheerier) note, Happy Friday, All!

(Here are some photos I took in the war):

 

The first Hum-V ambulances....

The first Hum-V ambulances….

 

Random tank in Iraq

Random tank in Iraq

 

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

 

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

 

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

 

Thanks for scanning them, Callaghan!

Long-Overdue Yoga Fix Ahead!

Since we’re still on Christmas break at my work, I’m seizing the opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. My schedule is pretty well packed during normal life hours, so this is what’s happening this non-normal morning: I’m going to spend 90 minutes twisting my non-flexible self into the various poses prescribed by Bikram, I’m assuming, in a room designed to accommodate the activity (heated to a high enough degree to assist your body with said positions).

This will be my first yoga class in almost 10 years, and I’m looking forward to it. I have a brand-new yoga mat that I purchased last year with earnest intentions, but have yet to use. The day has arrived!

I’m pretty sure my body’s going to hate me within 24 hours of this Bikram yoga class, and it will probably start plotting its revenge faster than you can say “shavasana.” I’m expecting it, hence my plan to pick up some Epsom salts on my way home. I already have the essential oils I’m going to add to the hot bath I’ll take tonight. I just want to be able to give 100% in Body Combat class tomorrow morning, and being able to walk without soreness would help with that. I’m counting on this yoga class to make me feel muscles I’d forgotten I had. Bring it.

Although… here’s a little secret… in the past, I’ve powered through Body Combat class while in pain. I’ve literally hobbled through the parking lot thinking what the hell am I doing, then getting to class and forgetting all about it, feeling nothing but the awesomeness. The secret is adrenaline. Adrenaline is what drives me through Body Combat because mentally I flip into training mode, which my brain is hard-wired to link to my “fight or flight” response. This is the up-side of PTSD. It’s a great natural painkiller. (Yes, I know Body Combat is a cardio class, but as far as I’m concerned, if I’m kicking and throwing punches, I’m training… so I know I’ll be able to get through the class tomorrow, regardless.)

I’m still picking up Epsom salts for a hot bath later. My muscles, tendons and ligaments will deserve it! Plus, I’ll enjoy it. Yeah. I don’t need an excuse!

10 years is a long time, though; I feel like I might as well have never done yoga at all. I remember that my first yoga class ever was at Arizona Combat Sports back in 2002… there was an advanced student there on the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu side who was also an advanced yoga practitioner and instructor. They added a Saturday morning yoga class to the schedule with him teaching it, so I figured I’d try it for a few sessions. I thought it balanced out my Muay Thai training well, so I was inspired to try yoga at other places. I enjoyed it, though I never felt like a “natural” in any yoga studio. For one thing, as I said, I’ve never been particularly flexible.

Random: My favorite long-term effect from yoga is my affection for Deva Premal, who sings Hindu and Buddhist chants so beautifully. It was only because of yoga that I discovered her.

Okay, I’m off to get ready for this yoga class… Happy Friday, All! =)

 

Kitties with their Christmas stocking stuffers! They do yoga every day.

Kitties with their Christmas stocking stuffers! They do yoga every day.

 

The Number of the Feast.

Well. This was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose.

Here in Phoenix metro this week, someone found “666” swirled with frosting onto her child’s dinosaur birthday cake. Not just any birthday cake, either. The demonic cake was a COSTCO cake. See? I was right… Costco is evil. My Costco-induced panic attacks are NOT due to Costco being a chaotic warehouse of a special kind of too much of a good thing is a bad thing hell in which you’re supposed to be able to find what you’re looking for, frothing over with the ricocheting energy of hundreds of human-shaped mice let loose in a gigantic maze with rows and rows of towering boxes and crates and a million little pieces of cheese laying around everywhere, throwing the mice into confusion as they can’t decide which one to grab first so the pattern within the movement of the masses is schizophrenic as some of the mice wander aimlessly in a retail overload induced state of zombification while others dart hither and thither with varying degrees of harrowing spontaneity as they’re driven by impulse triggered by the things their eyeballs hone in on and ultimately their shopping carts collide like bumper cars and things get knocked over, and since it’s a warehouse, all the sounds in the entire place are amplified and bounce off of each other. Oh, no… the cause of my panic attacks in Costco is clearly written on this ominous cake expelled from the bowels of their bakery last weekend.

 

This is the Costco dino cake design selected by the child's grandmother.

This is the Costco dino cake design selected by the child’s grandmother.

 

The devil is in the details.

The devil is in the details.

 

Might I add that the Costco in question is the Superstition Springs one, which is near the Superstition Mountains, and we all know that the Superstitions are haunted. I mean, of course the demonic cake came from that location. Maybe an evil spirit flew down from the Superstitions to embed itself into this cake. And maybe if you play the music in that Costco backwards, you’d hear demonic whisperings commanding you to buy everything in sight.

Needless to say, the child’s mother was aghast at the 666 “hidden message” (what a clever visual pun of Satan’s, hiding the sign of the beast in a cartoonish beast’s cake-frosting legs) and took action just as quickly as the person who discovered the Virgin Mary emblazoned on a grilled cheese sandwich. This cake incident is actually unsurprising… if you believe in God, then you believe in the devil, and from this logic it follows that if the Virgin Mary is going to appear on a grilled cheese sandwich, then sooner or later, Satan is going to appear on a birthday cake.

Anyway, the news source carrying the article seems to be a Christian outfit out of the Midwest (judging by the listing of news items in the sidebar, and by the announcer’s accent… broadcast journalists at national stations use non-regional diction); I couldn’t find a hint of this demonic dinosaur cake item in the Arizona Republic/AZCenteral.com or the East Valley Tribune or any other Arizona publication. I’m not sure why Yahoo News decided to pluck this article from the Examiner and insert it into its news feed that day, but they did, and that is how it came to my attention.

On that note, I’m off to get ready for work. Happy Friday, All!

Addicted to Fear? (PTSD post.)

Q: What happens when you watch the American Horror Story: Freak Show premiere and the first two episodes of Stalker all on the same night?

A: The next time you’re alone in the house, ALL THE LITTLE NOISES will cause you to jump and imagine that the most terrifying clown you’ve ever seen is creeping around your windows.

And, if you’re kind of warped, like me, you’ll love it.

Twisty the Clown

Twisty the Clown

Fear is a mysterious emotion. It can be taught, or it can be intuitive. It can be provoked by things we perceive with our own senses, or by others’ senses. Fear as a response to external stimuli real or imagined can also be unpredictable.

Twisty the MURDER Clown, that is.

Twisty the MURDER Clown, that is.

I have phobias, meaning that I experience irrational fear in response to specific things. I also have PTSD, meaning that I have a few known “triggers” floating around in a deep lake of more inexplicable, unknown causes of panic. The resulting inner havoc is predictable even if its cause is not… it’s the familiar old Armageddon of panic and stress boiling in my core, rippling outward through my body like a fire spreading through a house. It feels like I’m being consumed. Sometimes, it even feels like I’m going to die, or like I have to die. I actually take medication for this. Throw in the by-product of clinical depression just to balance it out, and there you have the main reason I live for my body combat classes at the gym three days a week. I enjoy them because they’re amazing, yes, but I also need them for medical reasons. Intense physical training on a regular basis helps my brain chemistry better than anything.

So it’s a mystery to me why, when a former boyfriend introduced me to the creepy PlayStation game Silent Hill (the only video game I’d played since the ‘80’s), I quickly became addicted and couldn’t wait for darkness to fall every night so I could huddle in the shadowy corner of the bed with all the lights out, trembling and listening to the discreet yet horrifying sound of snow crunching beneath my feet (leave it to developers of Japanese horror to make the sound of snow horrifying) as I walked through the abandoned town in search of my daughter. You would think the eerie sense of being watched and the unpredictable sightings and attacks would have sent me into PTSD Armageddon, but instead, I found myself craving more.

It’s odd, this thing about the horror genre in pop culture. If scary movies, television shows, books or games manage to provoke fear or stir up the creep factor even a little bit, which very few of them can do, by the way – my favorites are the ones that can – I just twitch a little and then run back for more. Yet, the sight of a sewer roach encases me in fear and leaves me traumatized for days. Why is that?

I would venture to guess that the PTSD lurks behind this incongruity. Fear strikes, and in that moment of skyrocketing adrenaline, I’m instantaneously alert and on edge. Maybe, in some perverse way, I love it because it makes me feel alive… alert, alive and ready to act, and when this response comes in the wake of stimuli that I know is fictional, I can just enjoy the rush. There’s no real-world threat in fiction. (A roach is not a formidable threat, but it is real.) Maybe I’ve become a “fight or flight” response junkie, though I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I’m addicted to adrenaline, a phenomenon that some people apparently experience. For me, in the case of creepy movies and T.V. shows and books, maybe I’m more just hyper-intrigued by the fear of the unknown, and of the (horrifying) possibilities. Neither am I sure that there’s much of a difference between this kind of fear addiction and the kind of garden-variety thrill-seeking that leads people to go bungee-jumping (I am not a thrill-seeker of the bungee-jumping variety). Whatever the case, I find the psychology of fear to be fascinating. Fear is terror-provoking, thrilling, necessary and fun. What emotion other than love covers all of that?

My affection for the horror genre pre-dates my PTSD, so perhaps that’s significant, as well.

I also think that it’s my PTSD that drives me through whatever martial/fighting arts training I’m doing, especially when my energy stores are low, though I’d loved combat sports long before the PTSD, too. In high school, I was the girl who demanded that the P.E. faculty allow girls to take wrestling, because that was what I wanted to do, and I was outraged that only boys could take it. (In the end, they acquiesced, but only because I got other girls to sign my petition, indicating that they would take it with me. We were only allowed to wrestle under the stipulation that we’d wrestle each other, rather than the boys. Haha!) (I don’t think that anyone was surprised when I joined the Army after that.)

On the tail of that tangent, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge that Halloween is just two weeks away. I’m beside myself with glee. We’re in a house now, which means that we get to give candy out to trick-or-treaters. I wonder how many American Horror Story Twisty the Clowns we’ll find on our doorstep Halloween night? I can’t wait to find out!

Happy Friday, All!

Elevator Tips for the Elevator-Phobic

As recently as eight months ago, my elevator phobia – a spin-off of my claustrophobia – kept me out of elevators at all costs. Now, because of my job, I take the elevator every day, numerous times a day. This marks a great personal victory for me, even though I still always choose the stairs whenever possible.

So, as a somewhat recovered elevator phobic, I thought I’d put together this handy Elevator Phobic’s Guide to Taking the Elevator, in case it can be of use to anyone.

1). When the elevator arrives and the doors open, look inside first to check for sewer roaches before getting in. You just never know, and the last thing you need is for your recently-somewhat-alleviated phobia (elevators) to be revived by a clash with your one remaining phobia (roaches).

 

Being weird in the elevator to show you my "I see a roach" face. Derp.

Being weird in the elevator to show you my “I see a roach” face. Derp.

 

2). Always have your cell phone with you before stepping into the elevator. Make sure it’s charged.

3). If there are other people in the elevator with you, quickly check them out to evaluate whether or not you could take them in a fight if you had to (which I do automatically all the time, anyway, no matter where I am… it’s a reflex). If you do find yourself in a situation that necessitates self-defense tactics, the elevator would be a convenient place to be if you’re like me and you fight best on the inside because you have short limbs.

4). If you’re unsure about the integrity of the elevator, bring a bottle of water in with you. It never hurts to keep a protein bar or nuts with you, either.

5). If the elevator arrives and neither the “up” nor the “down” signal lights are lit, err on the side of caution and don’t get on. Wait for the next one. An undecided elevator is an elevator that might decide to get stuck in the middle somewhere.

6). Mentally listen to Steven Tyler singing “Love in an Elevator” while you’re in the elevator. It will bring some levity to the situation.

7). Minimize your time in the elevator as much as possible. I almost always take the elevator partially, up from the second floor and down to the second floor, rather than ground floor to ground floor. Between the ground floor and the second floor, I use the public stairs.

8). Arm yourself with knowledge by studying the control panel in the elevator as soon as you step in (well, after you size up anyone who may be in there already. Priorities, you know). That way, in the event of a stoppage, you’ll be more likely to able to find the appropriate buttons even while you’re in a panic.

9). Valium, or something similar. Just… whatever it is, have it with you. Frankly, if I could, I’d harpoon myself with whale tranquilizer if I got stuck in an elevator alone. I would just want to be out.

10). If there are other people in the elevator, amuse yourself by trying to figure out which person would be the devil, à la M. Night Shyamalan’s delightful film Devil.

 

 

Happy Friday, Everyone! =)

Costco is my Kryptonite, and other tales of things I want to have in my life, but can’t, because they’d kill me.

The other day, I was watching a video, and I had a reaction to it that prompted this brief list of popular trains I can’t board:

1). Costco.

 

Nooooo...

Nooooo…

 

Costco is amazing, but I just… no. I have a panic attack every time I go into a Costco. I mean, every time no matter what.

Your guess is as good as mine. Nothing awful has ever happened to me in a Costco. This makes no sense at all. Costco is my only consistent panic “trigger,” and I have no idea why.

It’s just a huge warehouse with people milling and mingling haphazardly, and everything is towering and disorganized, and the products are piled so high, and you don’t know who or what is coming around the corner, and you don’t know where anything is, and the layout of the place doesn’t seem to make sense, and the noises echo and bounce off the walls, and, and, and, et cetera, ad nauseum.

I could launch into some anecdotes about my panic episodes in Costco in both Arizona and California, but that would result in a complete essay, and how boring would that be? My Ridiculous Panic Attacks in Costco, by Kristi Garboushian. I’ll refrain. (You’re welcome.)

Suffice it to say that the other day (here’s the event that spawned this blog post), I had a panic attack while I was watching a vlog of some people shopping in a Costco. I seriously can’t even see the inside of a Costco on video without having this reaction.

Is there a name for this? Costcophobia?

 

2). Game of Thrones.

 

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-1788115

 

I watched most of the first season, and I tried hard to get into it. I plunged in with great expectations because of the series’ high ratings, immense popularity and sheer aesthetic appeal, but my interest waned progressively with each episode. While I could recognize and appreciate the excellence of the writing, acting, cinematography, costumes and basically the entire production, I couldn’t sit the season through to the end.

The reason is simply that fantasy isn’t a genre I enjoy enough to make the mental effort it takes to keep track of everybody running around in that series.

I couldn’t keep up with who was related to whom, and all the interconnections between individuals and groups of characters, and all the intimate liaisons, and who died/got killed (and for what reason), and who was going where, and why, and so on. First it interested me, then it tired me, then it bored me, and that was the end.

(Like most of the rest of humanity, Callaghan enjoyed it, so he’s still watching. I’m glad for him.)

My general disinterest in fantasy (there have been exceptions, like Harry Potter, which I love) contradicts my deep fascination with the paranormal and my affection for most science fiction –especially super high-octane sci-fi with lots of action and cheesy comic book panache, like Tank Girl, Serenity, Transformers and Pacific Rim.

It’s human nature to be contradictory, I guess.

On Callaghan’s part, there’s a highly rated and extremely popular Netflix series that he can’t watch, and that’s Orange is the New Black. Actually, it’s even worse than that… Orange is the New Black is to Callaghan what Costco is to me. He just can’t deal with it at all; it agitates and angers him.

I liked it, though. Maybe one day I’ll continue watching it.

 

3). Beets.

 

328px-Beets

 

Beets are nutritional superstars, and I wish I could eat them with enjoyment. As it is, I can barely tolerate them. I love food and I want to love everything that I eat. For me, barely tolerating a food equals zero enjoyment in the whole food experience.

I’m not sure why I don’t like beets. I guess I find something suspicious (unpleasantly incongruous?) about their particular type of sweetness, and the metallic aftertaste in my mouth after I eat them nauseates me a little. I don’t know. On one occasion, I went to a restaurant and the roasted vegetables I ordered included small, whole roasted beets. They were of the yellow variety, and they were more palatable to me than the standard purplish-red ones.

Beets don’t make me sick-sick, though… I could eat them if I wanted to, but I don’t bother. When they arrive on my salad, I pass them over to Callaghan, who accepts them with alacrity. Good for him!

That wraps it up. Have a great Friday and weekend, everyone!