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Correlation is Not Causation

I ran across yet another article that confuses correlation with causation. This time it is KSL saying Why You Should Rethink Your Netflix Binge There was a study done that noticed a strong correlation between people who watched a lot of television and those who had less cognitive function later in life. The trouble is the study has no way to show that the television watching caused the lower cognitive function. It could just as easily be true that people who have lower cognitive function are more likely to watch lots of television. I know that for me one of the biggest signs of depression is that I binge watch Netflix. When the depression backs off, I’m just not interested in watching that much. I’d rather be doing other things. For me it is definitely the depression that causes the binge watching not the other way around. One anecdotal example is not proof of anything, yet it may lead to a line of inquiry. What if we treated habitual binge watching television as a symptom? What if when we saw it in a person’s life and sought out where else they might need help or healing? Symptoms vanish without any work if the core condition is healed.

Riding the Currents in My Brain

It was a great week, full of productivity and success, so I didn’t know why I woke up discouraged on Sunday morning, but I did. The feelings of discouragement were followed by significant grouchiness. I don’t think the grouchiness spilled outside my head much. I was pretty good at containing it, but it colored my whole day.

This morning the discouragement has ebbed because I’ve figured out what was causing it, and the grouchiness, and the dizziness which has been a plague since the middle of last week. These are all symptoms of discontinuing the medicine sertraline. I had been blaming the new medicine buprorion, and that may also be having an effect, but discontinuation is the more likely issue, even though I followed doctor’s instructions about tapering off.

This means my best course of action is to proceed as if everything is normal. I take my doctor prescribed meds on the schedule I’ve been given, and wait for my body to adapt to the new balance. Having to wait makes me feel a bit grouchy. I can’t tell if the grouchy is mine or just the result of out-of-balance brain chemicals. That makes me angry. It forces me to face the fact that so much of what I think of as me and my emotions are influenced by chemicals that I don’t really have control over. Thinking about all of that leads to more angry. In fact I’m angry with all mental illness, anxiety, depression, OCD for existing and making my life more complicated.

On the other hand, I had a great week last week, which seems to indicate that the medicine switch is likely to be beneficial in the long run. I just need to hang on until I stop feeling mad about it. So my job for today is to look at the dizziness and angry that are residing in my head and to tell them “I’ll attend to you later if you haven’t gone away. For right now, I have other things I need to do.”

Foreigner

I was at the grocery store and the Asian couple in front of me spoke to the cashier in broken English. I watched as the gray haired lady said “I pay you with coin?” holding out a pile of coins in her hand. There was something about the way that she held out the money that made me realize that she didn’t fully comprehend American money. She was just handing over a pile and trusting the cashier to give her the correct change. She turned to me and nod smiled, an apology because she and her coins were taking a long time. I smiled back to let her know that I did not mind.

I’ve only visited foreign countries where the primary language is English, but even there I have felt baffled by local customs and currency. As the woman walked away with her husband I realized how brave they both are. I don’t know where they came from, nor what decisions caused them to leave their native home and come here. I do know that everywhere they go, they are different. Every conversation they have is a struggle to be understood. Often they must be met with anger, frustration, and offense from people who are impatient with broken English. Every time they are out in public, they are vulnerable, easily picked on, easily taken advantage of. Yet the woman smiled. She was friendly, even in her slight confusions over words and coins.

Courage comes in many forms. I saw bravery today and I should pause to recognize it.

Thinking About Health, Weight, and Society’s Obsessions

Of late I’ve been paying quite a bit of attention to American society’s relationship to body weight, especially on women. I’ve read articles on body positivity. I’ve seen Whitney Way Thore’s “Fat Girl Dancing” videos, she’s amazing. I’ve seen “Fat Girl Yoga” with another woman who can do things that I’m not currently capable of doing despite my smaller size. I’ve also read some articles that express concerns about the effect that body positivity will have on national health. I skipped all the articles that wanted to teach me one cool trick to lose weight.

I’ll admit that some of my interest has been due to the fact that the last time I weighed as much as I do right now, I was nine months pregnant. Back then my body was carrying around a tiny human being and lots of extra water. Now all that weight is stored in fat cells. I’m still not obese. In fact many people would look at me and say I look fine. Yet I have more fat on my body than I have ever had before in my life. I look at myself in the mirror and work to think body positive thoughts, which is good. Bodies change as they age. I can’t expect my body at 42 to be shaped the same as it was at 22, or even 32. Things soften, years write their stories on my skin in scars, freckles, and wrinkles. I don’t mind the wrinkles, but the rapidity of the weight gain is of concern. It indicates that something is out of balance in my body and it is time for me to find a new balance.

This morning I came across yet another article talking about weight loss and gain. The writer had finally recognized the weight loss industry as a racket where companies who sell weight loss programs actually profit when their clients fail. People come back again and again. I read it and thought “Why is gaining weight a failure?” Weight fluctuations are the natural response to changes in lifestyle. If a person wants to be a particular weight, then they need to be willing to live the life that induces their body to be that weight. Of course all of that leaves out medical and genetic factors which play a huge role in how our bodies gain or lose weight. Some people can attain a weight that makes them happy with work. Others are not able to do so no matter how much willpower they apply to the problem. This is not fair. Life is not fair.

I am very aware that as a person who has spent most of her life in the socially acceptable weight range, I do not understand all of the nuances that factor in to how people feel about their bodies. Part of me feels like this might be an area where I should listen more than I speak. Yet this conversation belongs to everyone. We all have to come to terms with the bodies we have. I don’t think that naturally thin people have it all easy either. This topic is so complex and so emotionally charged that part of me wanted to file my thoughts away in my folder of things I don’t post to the internet.

It is a tricky balance between accepting my body as it is, and striving for better health, which requires making changes that will affect my body shape. In order to reconcile these, I’m approaching it all as an experiment. What happens if I eat mostly vegetarian for a month? What happens if I count calories and teach myself more about the caloric content of foods? Where does my weight stabilize? Do I feel different when I eat differently? How does exercise affect my mood? Do I notice a difference in my depression and anxiety? Is what I’m doing sustainable over a long period of time?

The goal is to find a combination that includes happy, healthy, and sustainable. Note that while being thinner is the likely result of my experiments, it is not my primary goal. I do feel cliché making changes to my eating and exercise at the beginning of January. Yet it feels like the right time for me to do this. My head is clearer than it has been for a long time. It is time to experiment.

Today is a Good Place

I’m on the second school morning of the new year…and it is going really smoothly. Usually we hit the second day and it is hard because we’re tired and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things we’d forgotten we ought to be doing over the holidays. Except that yesterday Link was like a different person than the one I’ve been dealing with. He was up and focused, ready to work. He put in several hours as my assistant and also reviewed the school work he needs to be doing. It seems that finding a dream makes a huge difference in what he is capable of doing in a day. I’ve seen this forward-momentum version of Link before, but not for at least two years. Two long, depressed, emotionally difficult years. I’m not yet certain that the forward momentum will last past the first goal, but maybe it will. For now, I’ll be grateful for every day we get to have it.

Last night I had a conversation with Patch about his (giant) pile of missing and overdue assignments. The term ends on Friday and he has to hustle this week in order to pass a couple of his classes. For the first time in a long time, Patch was able to talk with me calmly about what needs to be done. For the past year or more, any discussion of incomplete work triggered anxiety and sometimes a full panic attack. He was able to acknowledge that while he doesn’t want to have to do the assignments, he really does want them to be complete. We made a plan for working on things. The plan included a reward and consequence structure that Patch thought through himself. He’s learning how to motivate himself in good ways. We also discussed the possible failure points of our plan, one or both of us may forget to follow through. We’ll see how it goes this afternoon. He was pretty tired this morning.

Gleek has continued her habits of getting herself ready for school and out the door. She’s always prepared for class and gets grades that make all the adults around her pleased. Over the last week or two it became clear that the same thing that makes it so I don’t have to manage her academic life, also causes difficulties in other areas. So Gleek will be getting more attention in the coming weeks. I’m fine with that. I like spending time with Gleek, she makes me laugh.

Kiki is off at college, doing college things. Her classes start on Wednesday. Howard has thus far experienced the regular ups and downs of daily creative work. Though having the quiet hours when the kids are out of the house makes it easier for us to settle in to working. All in all, it has been a really good start to the new year. I’m feeling happy and hopeful, which is a nice change. I’m not going to try to project trends or make predictions about what is coming for us this year. Instead I’m just going to recognize that yesterday was a really good day for me, and I’m going to try to make today be good as well.

Disorders in Hiding

Sometimes autism doesn’t flap arms or drone on forever on the infinitesimal details of one particular topic. Sometimes Autism can look like a friendly kid who calls his friends over and is the instigator of group play. Autism can be wearing the exact same outfit every single day because your clothes are part of who you are and you don’t feel like yourself in different clothes. Often this means duplicates of clothes. Autism can be standing in a group full of people who are all talking and laughing, wanting to be part of it, but they only talk about things you don’t care about. Autism can be refusing to go into the lunch room because it is too loud and ending up sitting in a hallway off by yourself feeling lonely. Autism can be feeling certain that you made an agreement with another person only to discover that they understood what you said completely differently from how you meant it. Autism can be being unable to do an assignment because you can’t wrap your head around how to begin. Then everyone gets angry with you because it looks simple to them. Autism can look like stubbornness and laziness.

OCD does not always flip light switches, count posts, or line things up in rows. Sometimes OCD is becoming actively uncomfortable and antsy if someone else is sitting in the spot where you expected to sit. This discomfort may cause you to lash out in anger. Then you have to face the consequences of your angry outburst. OCD can be carrying all of your books and school papers in your arms because that is the only way you can constantly be sure you have everything. OCD can be not throwing away any school papers and carrying them all in the ever-growing stack because it would be terrible to not be prepared should the teacher ask students to pull out an old assignment from three months ago. OCD can be wrapping every thought with a cloud of tangential and descriptive information which obscures the thing you want to tell other people. Only you can’t skip any of the information because it is all connected. And if anyone tries to interrupt the thing you’re saying, you get angry, because you weren’t finished, and the thing you were saying is important and must be completed. OCD can be correcting the pronunciations of the people around you because if a word is said wrong, your brain can not let go of that word until it is spoken correctly. One of these things is a quirk. All of these things together is a disorder that affects pretty much every hour of every day and every relationship in your life. OCD can look like disobedient defiance, rudeness, and disrespect.

Anxiety does not always worry about things. Sometimes anxiety is a heart that races and palpitates even though there is nothing going on and the person feels calm. Anxiety can be feeling antsy and agitated, like post-adrenaline shakes, even though nothing happened. Anxiety can be imagining a dozen possible futures and making plans to be prepared for all of them. Anxiety can be hyper-organization that other people praise, and which is actually useful, except that it never allows rest, vacation, or breaks. Preparation that never switches off. Anxiety can be needing to leave an event because there are too many people moving around and talking, making you unable to track everything. And you have to track everything, because if something goes wrong, you must be ready for it. Anxiety can be skipping work opportunities because they require face-to-face interaction. Anxiety can be checking up on other people’s work until they get annoyed with you, but you can’t not check because you have to be prepared if they didn’t do their job. Anxiety can look like a nagging and controlling personality.

ADHD is not always easily distracted. ADHD can be so focused on a project that suddenly you realize that people are standing over you angry because they’ve been trying to get your attention. ADHD can be the sound of pencils scratching on paper overpowering the thoughts in your head. ADHD can be deciding that today you will REALLY pay attention and make sure you get all your assignments, only to realize that you missed hearing an assignment because you were busy planning how not to miss assignments. ADHD is being lost in the thoughts in your head. ADHD can mean always feeling lost or out of step because everyone else knows what is going on, but you haven’t any idea what the instructions were. ADHD can be a jittery leg, all your pencils chewed to bits, and fingers that twist and play with whatever they touch, all without you intending to do any of it. ADHD can be lost items and missed appointments because at the important moment your thoughts were on something else. ADHD can look like chronic disorganization, negligence, and a person who doesn’t care enough to get things done.

Depression does not always stay at home lying in bed feeling in a pit of despair. It is not always dramatic or suicidal. Depression can be doing all the tasks that are required of you, but enjoying none of them. Depression can be feeling like things will never be better than they are now. Depression can be binge watching television shows on Netflix, because then you don’t have to listen to your own thoughts. Depression can be playing endless games of solitaire to fill the spaces between required activities. Depression can be deciding to stay home rather than go out with friends because being social sounds too exhausting. Depression can be having friends drift away because you’re not the person you used to be and you don’t have emotional energy to maintain the friendships. Depression can be crying at seemingly random times over things which wouldn’t normally cause tears, like a happy song playing, or the store being out of the cereal you like. Depression can be a messy house because you only have so much energy to do things and laundry didn’t make the list this week. Depression can be not bothering to brush your hair or change clothes because it is too much work. Depression can look like a person who is standoffish, slovenly, and unfriendly.

So if you have to deal with a person and they are awkward, rude, nagging, standoffish,or negligent, pause a moment before you condemn them. It may be that they do have the character flaw you perceive in them. Or it may be that the person is fighting a daily battle you can’t see, and they need your compassion instead of your anger.

Happy New Year

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I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.

For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.
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Applying for Passports

It turns out that if you arrive at the passport office and the nice lady discovers that the name on your driver’s license is misspelled (which no one noticed at any point in the past four years), that the wisest course of action is to put applying for a passport on hold and instead apply to have the driver’s license corrected. The nice passport lady explained that the conflict of spellings might upset the passport people so much that they would begin to question the validity of all provided documents and we would then be digging around for “proofs of identity” such as yearbook photos. (Apparently this is the reason that I’ve been shelling out money for kids yearbooks all these years. Who knew? Also, I may end up regretting throwing mine out. Though since my passport is already acquired I’m probably okay.)

Since Kiki’s identification was the one misspelled, we dropped all the other family members back at the house. Then Kiki and I went on a ninety minute adventure at the DMV which was exactly like sitting in a chair and being bored for ninety minutes. We did have the entertainment of a young woman behind us who kept declaring that she felt bad about some relationship thing that was going on in her life. I couldn’t hear her mother’s replies. I wasn’t trying to hear the young woman either, but she so clearly enunciated and projected every word that I couldn’t help it. Eventually they left before their number was called. Presumably to go apologize to the boy in question. After that the only entertainment available was reading the looped slideshow about the value of organ donation, or playing games on our phones. Eventually Kiki’s number was called. Two minutes of paperwork was done. And now we get to wait four weeks for Kiki’s new license to show up. So that we can apply for her passport and then wait six weeks for that to arrive.

In the meantime the passports for the other kids should show up in about six weeks. Unless they’re rejected for some minor error, like the fact that Gleek wore her glasses in the photo. The passport lady said it was probably fine and she’s pretty expert at her job, so: fingers crossed.

All of this documentation effort is so that we can take the kids with us on a cruise next fall. Also, I like the idea of my kids having passports so that if we were to decide to take some other trip out of the country, we could just go.

Now it is 3pm and I really should be settling in and getting some work done, but my brain is tired from everything above. I might nap a bit instead.

Perspectives

I met my friend for lunch. We hadn’t seen each other for several months and both of us had many things to tell. Over the next three hours we talked. I ended up taking home most of my food because talking was more important than eating. As I spoke I was surprised to realize how much good news I had to share. Somehow in the past few months many of my things have become incrementally better. There have been no major transformations, just an accumulation of days and choices that trended in good directions. I hadn’t quite realized this until I listened to myself talk to her.

Of course I also spilled my frustrations over the things that are still hard. This included the new, and still ongoing, situation with one of my kids. Yet even there the only real source of discouragement is that between where I am now and the point where it will all be fine again are an unknown number of emotionally charged conversations. I will have to navigate it all carefully and the thought makes me tired.

There are only a few more days between me and the launch of a new year. For me the year truly begins next Monday when we resume our regular school and work schedule. I’ve already mapped out the things I will be doing on the days in between. Those days will pass quickly. I’ll be taking them one by one, because that method has worked the last few months. And maybe somewhere up ahead of me is another moment when I can look back and see how much better things are.

Triforce Heroes

One of the games which made an appearance on Christmas was three copies of Triforce Heroes. This is a Zelda game for 3DS which is best enjoyed with three players who are sitting in the same room with their three devices. At first it was Kiki, Link, and Patch, but over time Patch lost interest and went off to play other games. This left Kiki and Link in need of a third player. They drafted me.

I’m not a particularly experienced player of video games. I played Nintendo 64 quite a bit when the kids were young because they liked to watch. Recently I picked up the new version of Majora’s Mask and have been playing through that. But I don’t have the practice or twitch speed that my two kids have. This is fine. My job is to follow along, not get hit by the bad guys and to assist in the solving of puzzles. I like not being in charge. I like moving through a world where the kids are the experts and they look out for me. “Mom you just stay up there until I kill all the skeletons.” “If you run close to the middle when it shoots, you won’t get hit by the laser.” Occasionally I show unexpected expertise and then I get a “Way to go Mom!”

Of course the game sometimes gets frustrating. There are times where I lose track of which little person I’m piloting on the screen and I accidentally run off the edge. Or none of us know how to beat a monster and it kills us over and over again. I may have said things like “Agh! I’m no good at this!” and it is possible that I stomped my feet on the floor in frustration. Then I looked up to see my kids looking at me with wide eyes. “Mom, do we need to take a break?” No. I was fine. The frustration was momentary. It comes and goes in the intensity of the moment. They just aren’t used to seeing me distressed in that particular way. So we all took a deep breath and agreed we’d give the frustrating monster one more try. We made a plan for who would take which role in the attack. And then we beat the thing. Together.

Triforce Heroes is a brilliant game for getting three people to practice team work. We try things and they don’t work, so we try different things. We talk about what we’re seeing, because it is impossible to complete the game unless we cooperate. I’m having a great time playing with my kids. I needed the challenge, the cathartic frustration, and the uproarious laughter. I kind of hope that Patch stays uninterested so I can finish the story with the others.