Sunday, May 07, 2017

If they died from suicide

I've suffered from depression for most of my life and have had a couple of major episodes. There have been times when I decided dying would be better than living and while I'm not proud of that, I'm also not ashamed of it. My illness has caused lots of irrational thinking, but so far, I'm still here.

Chronic depression is a mental illness - emphasis on the word illness. You can't snap out of it or overcome it with activity, will power or positive thinking. Depression is an emotional disorder caused by the brain's inability to maintain the chemical balance required for normal functioning. It's a physical disease just as much as hypertension and diabetes are physical diseases. And that's why, when someone dies from suicide, no one should beat themselves up for failing to stop it. Suicidal depression can be extremely hard to identify and, like high blood pressure and diabetes, when it ends in death, no one is to blame.

When they hear that someone took their life, people who don't understand suicidal depression invariably react with things like,
How could she do that?
Why did he do that when he had everything to live for?
She took the coward's way out.
How selfish of him.

They act as if suicide was a lucid action taken by someone who clearly looked at all the options, added up the numbers and made a reasoned decision. Bizarrely, people who react that way are often the first to judge someone's actions with she must be crazy. For some reason, when someone really does act out of insanity, these judgmental people switch to seeing the person as selfish or cowardly instead of ill. 

What was really going on was that someone whose suicidal depression reached the point of death was in a state of serious illness. When someone reaches that point, there's nothing that can help them except for professional help such as hospitalization, medication and therapy. 

But sometimes even the best professional treatment isn't enough and that's why people who find out that someone they know killed herself/himself should not feel responsible. I say this to anyone suffering the emotional aftermath of a suicide. Because suicidal depression is an illness, it's not influenced by things that would cheer someone up if they were just going through "the blues." When someone's having a bad day, you might be able to pull them out of it through conversation, humor or activity. But suicidal depression is not an emotion. It's a set of symptoms caused by a malfunctioning brain. It's a physical disease with behavioral symptoms. Your actions and words will rarely have any effect at all on a disease like this when it's at its worst.

Because people misunderstand suicidal depression as being in a bad mood, they think their actions could have made a difference, but they couldn't have. If, instead of suicide, the person had passed away after years of managing high blood pressure or Alzheimer's or a lower respiratory disease, would you believe they would have lived if only you had done more? Would you be plagued by the guilt of "If only I'd made more time for her, she'd still be here today?" No, you wouldn't. If someone died from Alzheimer's or a lower respiratory disease or a heart attack, you might feel guilty for not having given her more attention while she was alive, but you wouldn't feel responsible for her death. Likewise, with someone who has killed herself, more visits, texts or I-love-you's would not have made the difference. Once someone begins planning her death, her brain has tipped so far out of chemical balance that it's producing little else but irrational thinking. She needs professional help.

Maybe you think that because it's the person's own hand that caused his death, there must have been a way to stop it. Well, I suppose if you lock up such a person on suicide watch permanently you might physically keep him alive, but you can only do that once you've realized how dangerous he is to himself. Unfortunately, suicidal depression is often too tricky for even family members to identify. People in the worst of a major depression might give hints about wanting to kill themselves, but those who are most determined to do it usually give the fewest clues. This makes sense to me. If someone is absolutely convinced that ending his life will be best for all concerned, why would he give anyone a chance to stop him? He won't. He'll just do it. Because suicidal depression can be that hidden and wily, no one should feel bad that they didn't see it.

People who kill themselves sometimes leave notes apologizing for the pain their death will cause (many kill themselves in the symptomatic delusion that no one will care, so they don't leave notes). As someone who's been on the inside of suicidal depression, I know that remorse is real: they know there will be pain, but they've weighed the pain of their death against the pain of their life and have decided that dying is the better option. But as much as their disease has twisted their thinking, the lucid part of them makes this final attempt to connect. With such a note, the person about to take her life tries to relieve her family and friends of feelings of responsibility and guilt, as someone dying of cancer would try to alleviate her family's pain.

Both the person who dies of suicide and the one who dies of cancer knows there's no one to blame and no one who could have done anything more for them. Please take that to heart. While you grieve your loss, feel your sadness and wonder why this happened to your family member or friend, please don't add to your pain by thinking there was anything you could have done to change this outcome. There really wasn't.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Obesity crisis is mental health crisis

At the age of 50, I'm now on my fifth year of being fat. When I went from size 10 to size 18 in the last months of my marriage in 2013, I thought, "I'm not worried about gaining weight. I've been thin and active my whole life. I'll take this weight off as soon as my life gets back to normal." Obviously that didn't happen, and since 2015 I've been very focused on at least dropping about 20 of the 50 extra pounds I'm carrying (I'm only 5'2" so those pounds really count).

But I'm trying to take it easy on myself these days. Here's a theory I recently came up with: many of us are fat because we need mental health services. Many people struggle with chronic depression or other mood disorders and the easiest and cheapest way to self-medicate is with food. We're trying to get through the days without the psychiatric treatment we need, or our medication has stopped working, or we just got on medication but it hasn't kicked in yet and we feel like hell all the time. We're tired or angry or discouraged or self-loathing or hopeless or numb or despondent or can't get out of bed or we're any combination of those. So what's quick and easy and cheap and has an immediate effect on mood and energy? Food. Whether it's sweets or alcohol or fried stuff, the key is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates turn into sugar and that gives our brains the serotonin they desperately need, so we can get through the workday or the party or the conversation with our spouse. But while our brains need the chemical reaction those carbs cause, our bodies don't need the energy, so we pack on the extra calories as fat. And the fat just builds and stays and builds and stays and no amount of dieting or exercise can counteract that process.

It's a horrible problem. I believe a large part of the obese Americans we all scorn are managing our moods and energy with food. And while mood management is the reason we eat and drink the way we do, there's no way we can lose an ounce by trying to eat less and move more. I believe our obesity crisis might actually be a mental health crisis.

We have such disgust for fat people, but what's more important: being thin or not committing suicide after the depression takes over and tells you it's time to die? On good days I have a clear answer to that. So I'll be fat because for now being fat seems like it's probably better than being dead. Probably.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dating while depressed

When you're in a major depressive episode, get off your dating apps. I'm not talking about having a blue day. I'm talking about the chronic emotional disorder: clinical major depression that warps your view of the world. If you suffer from this and you're single and you've been trying to meet someone, but you find yourself at the bottom of that hole once again, get off OK Cupid and Tinder and Plenty of Fish or you might have exchanges like this.

Him: Hi. You're beautiful.
You: Hi.
Him: I'd like to get to know you.
You: How are you with moody depressives?
Him: Good as long as they're at least half nude.
You: Never mind.

Or like this.

Him: Hello. How are you?
You: Not good.
Him: Why not?
You: Life sucks.
Him: How so?
You: Haven't you noticed?
Him: No.

And then you can't be bothered to respond because he's obviously delusional.

Being in a major depressive episode can make you not care about anything and see others as in another world that has nothing to do with you. Of course most people have no idea what chronic depression really is and if you have a conversation with them, they might try to make you feel better. I made the mistake of having an initial phone call with a very nice man, telling him about my mental condition and then having to listen to story after story of how he had dealt with adversity. He seemed to hope his optimism would inspire me and that after hearing how his grandmother told him to pull himself together, I'd say, "Hey, I feel better now! Thanks." Instead, he talked and talked and I became increasingly bored and sleepy until he muttered that I didn't "get it" and we ended the call.

It might seem like those quick-contact apps and websites can alleviate your feeling of isolation, but they really won't. If you're a woman with good photos on your profile, you can get someone's attention pretty easily, but interacting with him will just lead you back to the conclusion that you're incapable of normal human behavior and ever being loved. So just don't do it.

What do you do instead? I don't know. If you've already called your psychiatrist and had your medication adjusted and talked to your therapist and spent time with friends and gotten some exercise and meditated and had a good night's sleep, then maybe try another box of donuts.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stop asking: where are you from?

We Americans, especially those of us in urban places like the Chicagoland area, often welcome the chance to meet international people and hope to expand our knowledge of the world. When we notice that someone seems like they're from another place, we ask, "Where are you from?" We think it will sound engaging and lead to an interesting exchange. Maybe we'll learn something new. Unfortunately, it's not always the best question to start with. It can cause discomfort, and I'd even say it's best not to ask it at all.

Maybe you wonder How can that be? We mean "Where are you from" in the nicest of ways! Yes, we do mean it in the nicest of ways, but I'll now talk about the feedback I've received from many of my international clients and friends who moved the U.S. as adults. They tell me that being asked "Where are you from" rarely feels like a friendly question. It usually feels like the American has just noticed that the immigrant doesn't belong here and the American wants to figure out what's out of place. Often, an ex-pat just wants to blend into the party or the networking event or the office, and they don't want to draw attention. They're looking to make friends or professional connections and they want to be accepted the same as everyone else. In this context, the question "Where are you from?" can feel jarring. I've heard this consistently from people from across the globe, even white, European professionals.

The exception is when it's part of the natural flow of the conversation. If everyone's chatting about where everyone is from, then it feels right for an international person to also answer. Or if an ex-pat has just said something like, "I just moved to Chicago last month," then asking where they came from can be perfectly acceptable.

It's not that Americans should never ask "Where are you from?" The problem is the context in which we ask it. If the conversation takes an abrupt shift to ask it or if the question is used as an opening line or ice-breaker, it can feel awkward. When it comes out of nowhere like that, it's often followed by the American asking questions about the person's home country or saying things like "I love that food" or "I've been meaning go there. Where would you suggest I visit?" At that point, the exchange often turns into a lesson on the person's home country, with the international being nudged into the teaching role. Sometimes they're fine with that, but often they're not. Although they'll be too polite to ever let on, they often don't want to be an instructor. They'll hide it, but they'd rather talk about something that doesn't make them the center of attention.

When you meet someone from another country and you want to make them feel comfortable, save the "Where are you from?" question until it feels like it naturally fits into the flow of the conversation. Much better is to not ask it at all, but wait until the immigrant offers that information on their own. If you talk long enough, or become their friend, it will probably come up later. If you can keep your curiosity to yourself, you can find out more about the individual as a person, not as a representative from another country. There are plenty of other things to talk about with anyone you've just met. If an international professional mentions that they're from Thailand and you've always had a million questions about Thailand, make a note to do your own research and focus getting to know the human being in front of you. That will feel more welcoming to the person than a bunch of questions that you can find the answers to on the internet.

These aren't some new politically correct rules I made up just to be annoying. I say all of this as an American culture coach who interacts with and works with international professionals every week. This is based on feedback from immigrants trying to build their lives in the U.S. And a friend who has lived abroad confirms my advice. He's a white American and when he's abroad and gets asked "Where are you from?" it feels like the person wants to figure out what set of stereotypical behaviors they can expect from him.

Please keep in mind that American people of color don't like getting that question either. It feels like the questioner has identified us as looking like we aren't from the U.S. and they want to know what box or label to use for us. In general, the question simply feels rude, so please just don't ask it unless the conversation truly makes it appropriate to the discussion you're having at that moment.

On a recent podcast NPR's Code Switch panel discussed how bad "Where are you from?" feels. Listen here (the relevant part starts at 9 minutes and 45 seconds). 

Friday, February 17, 2017

El Idiota's positive thinking

Americans like to believe we're bending towards justice, but we can no longer tell ourselves that now that we've elected Donald (or as my dad calls him, El Payaso) as our president. And those of us who didn't directly cast a vote for him, still allowed him to be elected. We did this. I've heard this many times: "It doesn't really matter if we have a Republican or Democratic president. American politics never really change." Does anyone still say that? Does anyone say it who doesn't use it to hide that they voted for that man and they don't want to talk about it? Does anyone truly believe that if Clinton had been elected, millions of us would still be terrified of being deported, of losing our health insurance, of losing access to birth control and abortion services, of having a former Breitbart editor as a White House advisor? I think we can finally stop pretending that it doesn't materially matter if a Democrat or a Republican takes the White House. It matters.

I've managed chronic depression for decades and I was going through a bad episode in the weeks before the election on November 8, 2016. Incredibly, my depression broke the day after Trump (or as I call him, El Idiota) was elected and it hasn't come back. I think I'm currently experiencing what people without mental illness have: a painfully clear-eyed view of just how fucked we all are, without the dulling fog of depression to insulate me from the sharp edges. It's a different kind of pain, a broader fear, a bigger feeling of hopelessness. In depression, I feel certain that I can't do anything to improve my life, but now I feel certain I can't do anything to improve our national situation. Before, it felt like I was trapped inside my mind. Now I feel like I'm trapped inside of life in general, along with everyone else on the planet.

How exquisite to emerge from my lifelong purgatory of mental illness just in time to face the disempowerment and persecution of so much of the population in general. As many times as I've longed to be rid of my emotional disorder, I never imagined it feeling like this. Or maybe the world was always like this. Maybe life is just moving through one nightmare after another.

Of the people who voted for El Idiota because he wasn't a politician, I wonder, "How do you feel about salespeople?" Because, while he's not a politician, he is a salesperson, using marketing techniques every time he uses words. He repeats things until we believe them, just like companies such as McDonald's, Coke, General Electric and countless other sellers of things. El Idiota incants phrases like "the failing New York Times" and "fake news" and if we let him, he'll hypnotize us into believing that we really can't trust any news except that which comes from his Twitter feed.

Nineteen days ago I had major surgery, so February has been a haze of painkillers, long naps and staggering around my apartment with a walker and then a cane. (If you live far from family, like me, build strong friendships and get to know your neighbors! Without those relationships, I wouldn't have been able to recuperate as I have been.) Through this haze I've begun ingesting some news for the first time since the election. It goes down easier when you're already on pain-dulling medication. Worse than El Idiota's executive orders, struggling appointments and information-blocking strategies is his insistence that his White House is running like a fine-tuned machine. I say that's the worst because those words aren't El Idiota spinning the facts or trying to pull the wool over our eyes. He truly believes everything is fine in his White House (aside from leaks). He's secure in his knowledge that he's doing everything perfectly and there's nothing to change or improve. He believes this and he'll repeat it until we believe it, too.

He's got Congress behind him, focused on those illegal leaks like a driver disabling that annoying oil light. He's creating the reality he wants. Growing up, El Idiota's family followed the teachings of people like Norman Vincent Peale who pioneered the phrase "the power of positive thinking." Peale taught that with the power of thinking, you can change the future, but the current American president has taken this further and believes that with the power of thinking, you can change the past. This president believes that with the power of his thinking, he can make reality whatever he wants it to be. Honestly, I don't see any reason to think he won't succeed. Over decades, Madison Avenue has trained Americans to respond to the marketing techniques El Idiota is using. He might very well cause the New York Times to fail. He might very well convince us that we can't trust any media but what he has personally produced.

I guess the good news is that more people than ever are ready to agitate, resist and take risks to secure our civil rights (if that's true). But we were already battling to improve American education, immigration policy, voting access, health care and equal rights for all. Now we're realizing that these battles are going to be twice or ten times as hard as they already have been. Do we have the stamina for that? The optimism? The posterboard?

I believe it's entirely possible that this will become his America and his world, and I think I prefer my mental illness to his.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

I was on NPR!

Jerome McDonnell is the nicest person!
Hey, everyone: I was on NPR yesterday! National Public Radio (NPR) is a non-profit American news organization that provides news without advertising or government money. It's supported 100% by listerners and private grants. The Chicago station is WBEZ 91.5 FM and they have a program called Worldview.

Listen to Jerome McDonnell interview me on Worldview, a show that focuses on issues of interest to the Chicago international community. I was on the January 3, 2017 show!

Jerome and talked about the challenges that international professionals face. That is, white-collar immigrants who speak fluent English and came to Chicago with a job lined up or to go to school. Some people (especially Americans) might think such ex-pats don't face challenges compared to impoverished refugees or unemployed immigrants, but they do. As I told Jerome, my business is Welcome Dialogue LLC and it helps fluently English-speaking immigrants master American culture. The interview is only 15 minutes long, so please listen. And I'd love it if you let me know what you think! My favorite part of the interview is when I say the American accent isn't pretty.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The True Meaning of Christmas

It's my annual posting of my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas. Part of our American Christmas tradition is for people to throw around the phrase "the true meaning of Christmas." What that usually means is that during the season of Jesus' birthday it's appropriate to be reverent towards God and extra loving towards each other. I maintain that Christmas has little to do with Jesus at all. I admit I'm wrong to be that extreme, but people are also wrong who think religion is at the core of this holiday. The History Channel's program is extremely relevant to this annual discussion and I encourage you to watch it if you can. The following historical facts are from the History Channel program, but the opinionated statements are mine.

Christmas Started Without Jesus

It turns out that early Europeans observed a winter solstice celebration centuries before Jesus was born. In Norse country it was called “Yule” and it lasted for as long as the enormous “Yule log” took to burn, which was about twelve days. In preparation for the cold, dark season people would kill almost all their livestock since they couldn’t feed them through the winter. The feasting and general revelry that resulted became the annual Yule celebration.

In Rome the winter solstice marked the period known as “Saturnalia.” During this festival people drank, behaved raucously and generally overturned the normal social order. While this was going on, the upper classes of Rome worshipped Mithras, the sun god, whose feast day was December 25th and  who was believed to have been born in a field and worshipped by shepherds.

Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, focusing on his resurrection (which makes a lot more sense to me), but by the fourth century the new Church needed to establish Jesus’ holy birth, so it began to put together the nativity story. It knew it would never manage to outlaw the pagan traditions already in place, so it appropriated them and that’s how December 25th became Jesus’ feast day.

It Had More Sex Than Saints

In England during the middle ages, the pious went to church on December 25th for “Christ’s mass,” but for most of the population it was just a regular day. Most of those who celebrated made it a festival of drunken revelry and sex that would look more to us like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a saturnalian free-for-all with little connection to Jesus except in name.

By the 17th century the Puritans had had enough of this and they made attempts to outlaw Christmas in both England and the New World. These devout people saw Christmas as a depraved tradition that had to be stopped. It didn’t work, but the holiday was greatly downplayed for a long time, as evidenced by the U.S. Congress being in session on all Christmas Days for its first 67 years!

America Needed a Tradition

When the United States were established in 1776, the early Americans wanted to rid themselves of all things English, including Christmas. But over time they also needed new culturally shared holidays and a reinvention of Christmas was on the horizon.

One new aspect of the American Christmas was how it addressed the growing class divide of the industrial U.S. In the early 1800’s the holiday became quite dangerous as working class people turned it into a time of violent payback for the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. In response to growing economic imbalances, writers like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens created works of fiction that instilled a spirit of generosity and demonstrated sharing wealth with the poor. These popular stories gave the upper classes guidance about what their responsibility was to those who had less and established “giving” as a central Christmas theme. Christmas now gave people a chance to correct some of the socioeconomic unfairness of newly industrialized America.

The view of the family was also changing. Traditionally, the American family was supposed to discipline children and turn them into hard workers, but by the end of the 19th century the family was seen more as a nurturing body that protected childhood innocence. Christmas, with its emphasis on giving gifts, allowed people to pour attention on children without seeming to spoil them. The holiday became a celebration of children, honoring them with presents and sharing in their joy.

Why Shopping Is Central

The creation of the American version of Santa Claus in the mid-1800's did a few things: it reinforced the idea that Christmas distributes wealth, it solidified the focus on children and it removed gift-buying from the marketplace and placed it in the realm of family love and affection. Shopping became an expression of love. This diminished the obvious commercialism of gift-buying and obliged parents to fulfill their children’s expectations. Thus did shopping become the central activity of the Christmas season.

But Where Was God?

By the late 1800’s Christmas was just about everywhere in the U.S, except in church. In fact, the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was an Episcopalian minister who initially kept his authorship a secret because he thought the poem was too friviolous; after all, it didn’t mention Jesus once. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was an established part of the Catholic tradition, but for quite a while American Protestant churches pretty much ignored it. For decades they stayed closed on December 25th until their parishioners made clear that they wanted services on that day.

So it's not quite true that Jesus’ birth was the original reason we have Christmas. December 25th was part of a pagan festival that morphed into a holiday of gift-giving that American churches didn’t want anything to do with until almost the 20th century. There was no golden age during which most people observed Christmas primarily as a holy day. Sorry Charlie Brown, but Snoopy's right: Christmas is as much about the big decorated tree as it is about the manger.

Does Christmas Even Need Jesus?

By the 1920’s the sex and revelry were gone from Christmas and by the 1950’s it was all about kids and presents. Clearly a spiritual focus was appropriate since religious services recall the need to connect with a greater power. In the centuries before Christ, people needed to believe they’d survive the winter and they worshipped the sun as their source of life. Modern Christians worship the son of God, whom they recognize as the source their life.

But for as long as December 25th has been recognized as Jesus’ feast day, there have been lots of other activities going on at the same time. I think if Christmas were really just about Jesus, the holiday wouldn’t occupy public space as it does. Strictly religious holy days tend to be observed only by those who practice that faith. Our grand scale yuletide traditions -- big decorations, big eating, big shopping -- support the religious significance of the day, but don’t engage it.

Pick Your Own True Meaning

The History Channel’s program ends with the observation that only children understand what Christmas is really about: pure joy and celebration, and the magic and mystery of opening gifts. That’s why, even as grown ups, we often experience a moment of delight when we see a Santa truly in his role or glimpse a dazzling light display. Such moments take us back to our childhood and the unadulterated awe and glory that Christmas held for us then. Our American Christmas tradition was tailor-made for children and they are essential to its magic.

(I think the child-focus of the holiday is also why Christmas becomes ever more dim and disappointing to us adults: the essence of this holiday isn't about us.)

The true meanings of Christmas include Jesus, but they're also about children and gift-giving. There was never a time during which the majority treated December 25th as a solemn holy day; the drunken orgy it used to be caused the Puritans to try to stamp it out altogether. Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it's as much about decorations, kids and presents as it is about God, an interesting outcome for a holiday with a rich pagan history of drunkenness, gluttony and sex.

Let us all celebrate whatever we choose during the Christmas season. For some that might be the birth of Jesus, while for others it might be an excuse to indulge in food, drink, sex, spending, etc. I know when I tell someone "Merry Christmas," it has nothing to do with "The Church." I'm just wishing them a good season of partying.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Cubs did it

I don't like sports, but as a 23-year resident of Chicago even I felt how big it was when the Chicago Cubs baseball team won the World Series last night. Baseball is the American sport and for decades the Chicago Cubs have been the losers of the baseball world. Every national baseball team gets its turn at the title of World Series Champions, and most have won the World Series at least once in the past 30 years, but not the Cubs.

The Cubs are Chicago's north side baseball team and the White Sox are Chicago's south side team. The last time the White Sox won the World Series was in 2005. The last time the Cubs won was in 1908.

Yes, goddamn 1908! Decade after decade, loyal Cubs fans have had their hearts broken by this team. Sometimes the Cubs get close to reaching the World Series, but they don't make it and fans are left to vow, "Next year!" In the 23 years that I've lived on the north side of Chicago, even though I dislike sports and ignore baseball, I haven't been able to avoid the emotional effects of the Cubs' wins and losses. North siders are dedicated to their team and they take every loss hard. As many times as I've felt disgusted with their masochism, I have also taken pity on them for their hopeless situation.
Wrigley Field marquee in background.

So the Cubs even making it to the World Series was a freaking miracle and a piece of American sports history. After six games against the Cleveland Indians with each team winning three games, last night was full of tension. (B
y the way, can we get Cleveland to change the name of its team? I really don't find it much better than the "Redskins.")

I was in Wrigleyville, where the Cubs' home stadium is, for most of the night, and I saw some of the madness. Everyone wanted to stand right in front of the marquee (scoreboard outside of Wrigley Field) and I and my date (it was a first date for us) made the mistake of trying to join them. It got so tight I worried about getting crushed. It was a little claustrophobic.

Everyone was in great spirits through the eighth inning because the Cubs didn't yield their early lead for a long time. The crowd was mostly people under the age of 40, putting me in the top bracket of the age demographic. It was also mostly white, although there were several Black and Latino fans as well. 

My date took photos of me trying to not to look intimidated by the crowds, but sometimes it was a little scary. Groups of young white men would begin a jumping chant, young women would get on men's shoulders, people seemed content to pile almost on top of each other, breathing liquor fumes and the scent of marijuana. 
Fun but scary

Two young white women flanked a third, as if about to lift her. They counted, "One! Two!" I didn't stick around for "three," nor did I turn around to see what they were doing. I just wanted to get away because alcoholic inebriation makes me nervous and I'm a short person who it's easy to step on.

Rain drizzled on us for the first half of the game, then stopped. Police were out in full force. At the beginning of the seventh inning, I saw three officers leading three African-American boys by the arm. I had seen those kids selling candy bars earlier, but I'd also seen an old white man walking around selling artwork. I didn't see him escorted from the area, but that's what the police did with those children. 

About 30 minutes later, a young white man scaled a streetpost and reached for the parking sign. An officer trained his flashlight on the man and my date muttered, "He's going to get arrested." The young man grabbed the sign and worked it back and forth, as if trying to rip it off. The police officer reached him and made him get down. I walked over to see if they arrested him for vandalism or escorted him from the area. They did neither.
Lots of police in yellow vests.

When the Cleveland Indians tied the score at 6-6, the energy dropped. Faces sobered and the crowd quieted. As it became clear that the game was going to go into extra innings, I couldn't take it, so I ended my date and left the area. That decision turned out to be both good and bad. It was good because once the Cubs won, Wrigleyville became the destination point for hundreds of Chicagoans who flooded into the area, or tried to (the police had restricted access by that time). If I'd felt claustrophobic before, I would have felt complete fear if I'd been there then.

But it was a bad decision because it meant that as the final minutes of that tenth inning came to a boil, I was sitting on the #36 bus northbound on Broadway. Damn it! In my mind, I pleaded with that bus to hurry-hurry-hurry and get me back to Rogers Park. I was lucky that the Cubs had just gotten that final out when my bus finally pulled into my neighborhood. I jumped out and sprinted to the nearest bar, bursting in the doors as people were on their third and fourth joyous hugs. So I didn't see the winning moment, but I got to scream and carry on with a jublilant crowd just the same.

I think it worked out that my celebration happened at Bar 63 and not with my date. We had a great time and I liked him, but if he'd seen me screaming and weeping and carrying on -- after I'd sworn up and down that I was NOT a Cubs fan -- he would have decided I was even crazier than he thought. I clutched at strangers, screamed through a round of "We Are the Champions," and kept on shrieking through "Bohemian Rhapsody" and whatever else the bartender played. The tv screens glared "CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES" as if trying to convince everyone it had really happened, which was good because some of us were wondering, "Did that really happen?"

I was struck by how everyone, to a person, said "We did it!" not "They did it." Having minimal experience with sports and sports fans, this surprised me. I also considered the way that the ritual and spirit of baseball parallels the religious and spiritual traditions that keep others connected to their communities. I wondered if atheist fans also mutter, "Please, please please."

From Bar 63 I walked five blocks to my apartment, screaming and waving my arms every time a car passed, honking and waving the "W" (for "win) flag. Loyola University students streamed down the sidewalks, many heading to Wrigley Field, but others just out to wave flags, shout for joy and walk off their drunk (or keep it going). I warned one young woman, "I just came from Wrigleyville. If you get in, good luck getting back out," but she didn't look worried. I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m. even though I had a 7:45a meeting this morning.

Even if you don't care about baseball -- which I don't -- you must at least be aware of the historic and cultural importance of this moment. A mathematician friend of mine pointed out that at the start of the series, the Cubs needed 108 outs to win. That, of course, is the number of years since the Cubs last won the World Series, and it's the number of stitches in a baseball. This morning I heard someone say that number was echoed again in the way the Cubs won in inning number 10, with a final score of 8. Those are some great coincidences. 

The Cubs have fans all over the world, so when the Cubs finally scored that last point, it was a global event. The Cubs World Series Victory Parade and Rally will be tomorrow (Friday), and yeah, I guess I'll be there.
Loyola students at the train station heading for Wrigleyville at 12:30a

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Why I like meditating every day

My cousin-once-removed asked me about meditation, so here's my story. I started with guided meditation when I was in my mid-twenties. I liked listening to someone else's voice as it led me through a visualization exercise that helped me relax and feel completely peaceful, if only for twenty minutes or so. I still very much enjoy that. It helped me with stress and the chronic depression I manage. Guided meditiation made me feel better when things felt out of control.

Meditation has always been an important tool for managing my anxiety and depression symptoms. It's also helped me improve my self-esteem and reach other goals. Research shows that it improves health, even after you've stopped doing it. This is good because I've been very uneven with my meditation practice. I've quit many times and then come back to it.

In the past 25 years -- during the times I hadn't quit --  I moved from guided meditation to the blank mind kind of meditation. I sit, let go of everything that's been on my mind, and allow my brain to come to rest. It's kind of like cultivating that blankness you go to when you're trying to fall asleep. As a result, I've done a lot of falling asleep while meditating. This was particularly embarassing when I used to attend a Shambhala center and meditated in a silent room full of people. I'd start nodding off and have to snap myself back to an upright sitting position. Ugh. We also did a walking meditation which was a little better. At least it kept me awake.

Of course keeping my mind blank happens for only a few seconds at a time, even after decades of practice. Some call the chatter that streams through our heads "monkey mind" and it's hard to calm down. I've experimented with long periods of guided meditation (over an hour), short periods of guided meditation (10 minutes), short periods of blank-mind meditation (my term), long periods of blank-mind meditation. I've never settled on just one way to do it.

In 2013 I discovered the meditation practice of Dr. Joe Dispenza and I devoted myself to his techniques for a while. I've read this book a couple of times and learned a lot from it. My first breakthrough experience with his guided meditation helped me with anger at my mother and another one came right after attending one of his workshops.

But readers of this blog know that I put on a bunch of weight when my marriage fell apart and have been trying to lose it, and I've been using the Dispenza technique on that (for a couple of years) and it hasn't been working. So, in frustration, I stopped meditating again earlier this year.

As my pattern goes, these days I'm coming back to it. With Dispenza I'd sit in meditation for 45-60 minutes a day. Now I'm just doing six-minute periods. My strategy is that if I tell myself it's just six minutes, I'll do a better job of focusing. I think it works, which means I actually achieve peace for about five seconds per session. Yeah, there's no short cut to meditation, but if you practice regularly monkey mind does get easier to tame.

While I don't have many physical challenges, such as high blood pressure or arthritis, I can list a few clear benefits I've received from meditation, even though I've only done it off-and-on over the past 25 years:

1. It helps me manage depression, if only by turning my self-destructive mind off for a little while.

2. It gives me an energy boost in the middle of the day, kind of like a power nap.

3. When I meditate regularly, I eat less junk. My sugar cravings go down.

4. I can use it to fall asleep at night.

5. Guided meditation has been very effective at helping me solve problems, improve self-esteem and release emotions that were keeping me stuck.

6. It adds stillness and peace to my routine and I LOVE stillness and peace.

Maybe I'll always meditate off-and-on, feeling the benefits for a while, then getting mad because it's not working on everything and tossing it out the window for a while. I don't go around telling friends that they should do it because I know (very well) that it takes commitment and isn't for everyone. Meditation means sitting (or walking) and doing nothing. That's actually a great non-activity to add to your schedule, but this is the U.S. and Americans hate having our minds unoccupied and doing nothing. So that means meditating is going against the grain, which works for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Well, since I published this post saying I'd better accept my fatness or live in the delusion of future thinness, I've chosen the latter. I was a skinny kid and stayed thin for most of my adult life, so I simply refuse to accept permanently the weight I put on as my marriage fell apart in 2012 and 2013.

Besides altering diet and adding more exercise, I've been seeing a nutrition response testing professional, Claire Boye-Doe. She adjusted my nutrition, diet and exercise, and told me I'd start losing weight in a few months of working with her. In eight months her treatment has done wonders for improving my energy, mood, digestion and sleep, but I haven't lost any weight. Apparently I'm the very first of all of Claire's clients to not lose weight with her nutritional help. Great. In spite of my overhauled diet and exercise, my fat has refused to budge.

Extra weight often has an emotional component that can be complicated by food addiction, so I've also been working on my emotional reasons for holding on to these pounds. With Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) I've tapped and tapped and tapped on my sugar addiction and slowly the layers (a word that always makes me think of cake) of my fear have peeled away. Two weeks ago I had yet another session with EFT/hypnotherapist practictioner Lili Betancourt, who has helped me a lot over the years. We tapped on sweets, marriage failure, weight, sugar and coffee. The session went very well, but the weight didn't change.

Meditation has also been part of my healthy habits. Meditation has been shown to help with addictive behavior, including food issues, but it hasn't been the key for me, either.

What the hell? So this month I added an acupuncturist. I've had lots of acupuncture done in my life, but Brent Garcia says he specializes in problems with which you've tried everything and are about to give up. That's me! On my first visit he identified my weight problem as being related to weak spleen energy and told me to eat 8-10 cups of vegetables a day. That's a lot! Fortunately Claire Boye-Doe has me on wheat grass juice and green essence pills, so she says I can make it four cups of vegetables a day. Whew!

So for the past week I've been doing that, but I also found that in the days following my session with Lili, I had less interest in coffee. Weird. In fact on a couple of days I forgot to finish it and had to come back to my one, small cup of coffee later in the day. Then on Wednesday, Claire suggested I go one week with no sugar at all, not even fruit, which meant cutting coffee because I can't drink it without milk and sugar. And it didn't elicit an emotional response from me at all. In fact, I've had no coffee since Wednesday and haven't missed it. Very unexpected. 

I saw the acupuncturist again two days ago. Brent said my spleen energy is better and he needled some major spleen points, so I feel really turbo-charged now. I also read up on spleen qi. According to traditional Chinese medicine, weak spleen energy occurs with too much cold and "dampness" which can cause weight to stay on no matter what you do. That sounds familiar! So I'm off chilled drinks and foods: good-bye yogurt, ice cream and ice in my water. Other things that weaken spleen qi are coffee, alcohol, fried foods, sugar, wheat and dairy. Yup, all the fun stuff. But that's okay. I don't think I need to eliminate all of it, and certainly not permanently. Just while I'm healing.

Of course, my weight hasn't budged a gram even though I've spent the past week replacing half my food with vegetables and keeping up the exercise, but I guess my spleen isn't strong enough yet. At least I hope that's it. I really hope the acupuncture does it. I knew there was more going on here than food, exercise, sugar addiction and emotions because I've really tapped those out. The acupuncture has to be the final piece of the puzzle. Damn it, I'm determined to lose this marriage-going-down-the-drain pudge!

Friday, September 09, 2016

LLAG: Love Life of an Asian Guy

My post about (the bigoted) Dr. Christiane Northrup got some response from regular readers, but I got even more response to it when I shared it on Facebook. Specifically, I follow a page called Love Life of an Asian Guy which is written by a Filipino-American man who calls it "LLAG: Commentary on Racism, Sexism and American Culture." He recently posted on how Lena Dunham exemplifies the blind spots of white femimism and it led to a long chain of people discussing beauty standards, privilege and viewpoints that white feminists often don't understand. I linked my exchange with the good doctor and got a lot of support. A couple of women even joined the Northrup page so they could support me. I love the LLAG community.

It looks like the author of LLAG is named Ranier (not sure) and he's an excellent writer. He slings the truth like Wonder Woman's lasso on fire and calls out white privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia and whatever else pisses him off. He's funny and insightful and if you're not easily offended, you should check him out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What to do when you see Islamophobic harassment

A Paris film maker and illustrator who goes by Maeril created these graphics so we'll know what to do the next time we see someone harassing someone else for appearing to be Muslim. The strategy is to create a safe space for the person being harassed and ignore completely the person doing the harassment. 

And in French.

Please share these graphics with others. You can read more about them in this Buzzfeed article.