Fear of Inertia

You know it’s a bad day when you’re asking yourself, “Is this day over yet???” and it’s only 8 am.

You know it’s a bad day when the coworker who doesn’t know you well mentions that “You’re pale as a ghost! Are you OK?”

You know it’s a bad day when you’re mentally paralyzed; immobile not from a physical cause, but from a mental and emotional exhaustion so profound that it brings with it a physical inertia.

Almost imperceptibly, these isolated days melt into weeks, and before you know it, your boss is telling you, “You’ve been miserable for like, the last three months.”

But here’s the paradox: Despite the fact that some notice your “misery” they still expect you to function normally, if not exceptionally well.

When you feel like you’ve emptied yourself of tears, when you feel like an enervated slave to the system, cornered in a terrifyingly complex trap, fear begins to reign – an irrational, terroristic dictator. The cycle repeats itself over and over until you begin to question your sanity. You tell yourself you just need a break, a chance to regroup and get yourself together. But there is no break in sight, not even on the far horizon. Working for a corporate giant that views its employees as pawns, emotionless drones that will feel nothing and continue to perform above expectations regardless of whatever upheavals the powers that be decide to cause takes a serious toll – especially when the day-to-day tasks require interaction with the rude public. Add to that living arrangements under the domain of a hapless, careless landlord that operates with a set of double standards; dealing with rude, irresponsible neighbors on a daily basis, and you have a recipe for Basket Case Extraordinaire.

The above effects are intensified by the fact that in each situation, you’re trapped. With the job market in the toilet, there are no other options for employment, even if you’re searching. The income is necessary – not to keep up a luxurious lifestyle, but simply to pay the bills. So, if you’re “lucky” enough to currently have a job, you’d better keep it! So what if you’re miserable? Suck it up, it’s not that bad! If you lose your job, you’ll be on the street. Which brings me to the other issue: a place to live. Because of financial issues, moving out and away from the frustrations of apartment life is impossible. So both sources of misery are inescapable. You need a place to live, so you need a job to pay for it. But you hate where you live. But you can’t afford to live anywhere else. And you can’t find another job. The end result is a painful state of desperation as you find yourself struggling to preserve two situations that bring misery; questioning why you are prolonging the agony. The only answer is that you are a responsible person. You hold yourself to a code of doing the right and responsible thing – even if it is to your own detriment. The only question that remains is: How long can this continue before you break down completely?

Mental illness runs in my family. A victim of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I fear ending up like some relatives who suffer from bipolar disorder or severe depression. A state of mental inertia sets in – a seeming inability to perform even simple tasks, a lack of motivation, a neglect of even basic personal care – that is incomprehensible to others not suffering from the disease. This inertia frightens me more than anything else. As a person who tries to remain active and responsibly fulfill all of my obligations even despite my current emotional state, the thought that my anguish could escalate to the point of this dreaded inertia is truly terrifying. Considering the fact that I experienced it for the first time ever – this week – the fear is intensified. Questioning myself at every turn and fighting an emotional battle each day is exhausting.

I am blessed to have some wonderful people in my life. Yet I still have these awful feelings and my ability to cope has dwindled to naught – despite the love and support I receive in other areas of my life. These two major areas of life – work and residence – are taking an unspeakable toll on me.

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Lab Rats and the Rat Race

I’ve been with my current employer for eight years. In those eight years, I’ve served under six different managers. I’ve liked several, feared a few, but respected only one.

At this moment, in the midst of unwarranted upheaval in my current location, I find it difficult to respect any of my superiors. After years of “musical managers” the stress of being expected to perform exceptionally well in an unpredictable environment is becoming too much for me to handle. Not knowing who my boss is going to be tomorrow or next week and not knowing what is about to happen is simply unnerving. The panic attacks I thought I had conquered have returned with a vengeance, even on days when I do not work. In an economy where countless families are struggling to survive, it is drilled into those that have jobs that we should be grateful, grateful, GRATEFUL for our jobs. This makes a difficult situation at work that much harder – the chances of finding another job are slim. Therefore, you’re trapped. You need the job and the health insurance, but the stress is unbearable. At this point, you become a ticking time bomb of emotional frustrations. Why am I saying you? I mean me. Myself. I am a ticking time bomb of emotional frustrations.

This situation reminds me of a classic laboratory experiment with rats. The scientist takes two normal, healthy rats and places each in a separate cage. The first rat’s cage has two levers in it. One lever produces food, the other, an electric shock. The rat quickly learns which lever is which and avoids the shock-producing lever, while using the lever that produces food. In this predictable environment where he feels he has some control, he is happy, normal, and healthy. He socializes normally with other rats. He is emotionally well-adjusted.

The second rat’s cage also has two levers. But instead of each lever consistently producing the same outcome, they vary. This lever sometimes produces food, sometimes a nasty shock. And vice versa. In this completely unpredictable environment, the rat has no sense of control over what happens to him. He becomes a nervous wreck, exhibiting hostile or withdrawn behavior, overeating or not eating at all, becoming ill and even engaging in autistic rocking behaviors.

Scientists say this model can be applied to humans living in any unpredictable environment – from living in a war zone to having an alcoholic family member… Or a job where the management is constantly changing and what’s right today may get you yelled at tomorrow – not to mention dealing with customers who blame the person behind the counter for everything from the color of the carpet to their own epic blunders. In unpredictable environments, people get stressed. They feel anxious. They feel depressed. I feel stressed/anxious/depressed.

I find it particularly interesting about the aforementioned experiment that the physical health of the rats was affected by their environment and emotional state. Rat #1, who has a measure of control over his surroundings, is happy AND healthy. Rat #2, who has no idea if he’s getting zapped or fed today, easily gets ill, in addition to becoming a blubbering neurotic.

“Study after study shows that the more in control people feel, the less stress they feel and fewer negative sensations they experience.” – Dr. Richard Fried, PhD

Obviously, when one feels a lack of control and is stressed, the first thing to do is try to regain a sense of control in other areas of life. Some suggestions:

• Exercise. Regular physical activity is essential to work off stress hormones.

• Stress reduction techniques. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, journal therapy and the like can be helpful.

• Get professional help. Seeing a therapist or counselor to learn coping techniques.

I’ve tried all of the above. I walk vigorously for at least 30 minutes a day. I try to use deep breathing, especially when in the throes of a panic attack. I see a therapist on a regular basis. But these strategies take time to work. Not to mention, if a new difficulty arises while you’re still working on coping with the last one, you’re in trouble. And if you’re like me, having to be drugged to deal with work is out of the question. It just sounds completely outrageous and totally unfair.

Time does heal. Once away from work, it takes days to recover from the stress. But by then, it’s time to return to work. In a situation where people are treated as pawns in a corporate chess game, the stress of the rat race has a new dynamic – that unpredictable lever. Will it dispense a reward today? Or just another nasty shock?

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Liberation

Those who participated in women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movement had good intentions, I’m sure. But somewhere along the road to liberation, something went terribly wrong.

Now, don’t think that I do not appreciate having legal rights as well as varied options as to apparel. But I don’t appreciate being “liberated” from the hold of stay-laces and apron strings only to be delivered into the stranglehold of corporate America. In an economy where every penny counts, I’m thankful that I have a means of earning necessary income. But I strongly resent the fact that most households are now dependent on the wife and mother holding a job outside the home. Women have been so “liberated” from their traditional role that most cannot live in accord with that role, even if that is their heart’s desire. Or worse yet, some must fill the traditional role in addition to working outside of the home to bring in necessary income and/or healthcare benefits. And when I reference necessary income, I mean just that. Not working for “my OWN money” or the ability to acquire luxuries, but simply the necessary provisions for life – food, housing, healthcare, and education for the children.

It appears to me that something is terribly wrong when, in a free society, a woman is free to choose a corporate career, but is not free to choose the role of mother and wife – raising her own children and running a clean, healthy, efficient household.

This is not to say that women are not capable of excelling in any given career path. The issue here is choice. We can choose to be a CEO, managing partner, or a humble entry-level associate. But for most of us, the choice of the oldest and most time-honored career for a woman is simply not an option. Some women must resort to prescription drugs in order to function at a job away from all that they love – simply to provide the necessities. The fact that it must come to that is just wrong on so many levels.

I know I’ve written on this topic in the past, but it is close to my heart and something that I feel quite strongly about. Frankly, I’d rather be laced into a corset and spend the day in a hot kitchen and/or caring for cranky children than be backed into the corner that we modern women find ourselves in. But we must eat and have a roof over our heads, so pop a Xanax and get on with it.

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A Balanced Body Image

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I ran across the above photo while feeding my Pinterest addiction. It was captioned “Ideal 1950’s woman.” What struck me immediately was how healthy she looks. Not heavy, not thin, just right. What struck me next, though, was that most people today – many of them women – would call her “fat.”

Having dealt with various health issues and related diet restrictions over the years, my weight has fluctuated from the line between healthy and overweight to downright scary skinny. The fun part? It was never for looks. I was simply seeking an end to my illness, a healthy balance. At one point I had cut off all sugar and dairy intake in my quest for health. My weight plummeted to a frightening 92 pounds. I could count my ribs. I felt ill. Despite that, I received more compliments from other women at that period of my adult life than at any other – some even expressed a wish to have my illness so that they could lose weight! Are we brainwashed? I would say so!

Ironically, in modern times and especially in the United States, obesity has reached an all-time high. While many across the globe can count their ribs as they starve, here at home waistlines expand as we fill our bodies with processed, sugar-laden, genetically modified, hormone-enhanced “food.” Despite the ready availability of a variety of foodstuffs – healthy and unhealthy – in this country, quality food comes at a high price. Basics such as fresh fruits and vegetables rise in price regularly, yet somehow, the price of Twinkies and the like does not seem to soar. Struggling families are forced to cut corners which inevitably affect their health in the long run.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently 34% of American adults are obese. They project that by the year 2030, 42% of American adults will be obese. You would think, as a nation, that a healthy weight would be the ideal to aspire to. Instead, extreme slimness is upheld as the picture of beauty, when in fact it is just as unhealthy to be underweight as it is to be overweight. Emotionally, it is unhealthy to aspire to an unrealistic ideal – and this can reach far beyond the realm of weight.

Take skin, for example: most of us desire to have smooth, flawless skin. Perhaps this is natural, perhaps it is due to the influence of airbrushed photos of beautiful models. One thing is certain, it’s very rare to find someone who possesses perfect skin. We all have scars. Some have acne, eczema, keratosis pilaris, dry skin, oily skin, freckles… Having suffered with acne in the past, I still see lingering scars, softened and lightened with time and treatment, but nevertheless there.

As a little girl, I used to look forward to the flawless, womanly legs I would have. Dotted with scabs and bruises, my 10-year-old legs were anything but attractive. Now an adult, I find that my legs are not so different. Yes, they are womanly. But I still bruise easily, so black-and-blue (and shades of purple and green) marks still decorate my legs. Allergic to various bloodsucking insects, I swell up at the site of insect bites. Perhaps in early spring I have the lovely legs I hoped for as a child, but throughout the rest of the summer, I possess the colorful legs of a 10-year-old. I’ve made peace with that fact, however, considering that if I were to keep my legs flawless by remaining still and indoors, I wouldn’t enjoy my summers. Likewise with the various scars I have: they provide a visible record of the many life experiences that make me who I am. From my appendectomy scars to evidence of shaving mishaps to a scar from falling while playing with the dog – the experiences which caused the scars have shaped who I am today. I’ve learned from them.

Then there is the tanning obsession. Desperate to achieve a fashionable skin tone, many cause irreparable damage to their skin in tanning beds and booths or “frying” themselves in tanning oil while lying outdoors in full sun. Others “fake-n-bake,” using self-tanning products until they achieve a truly fake shade of tan. There is also an opposite extreme: those who are convinced that the slightest ray of sunshine allowed to attack unprotected skin will certainly cause skin cancer. These heliophobes carefully slather on the SPF – just to take out the trash. If forced to spend time outdoors, under the domain of the deadly sun, they don sun hats and other protective clothing – perhaps even an SPF parasol – in addition to the SPF 80, just to be safe. There has to be a balance here!

So, what is a healthy body image? Is it skinny, tan, and airbrushed? Is it overweight and pale? The key lies in balance and a healthy lifestyle. And when I say healthy lifestyle, I don’t mean the health nuts who obsess over every carbohydrate or gram of fat and spend hours at the gym each day. I mean eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis. Equally important are a positive mindset, realistic goals, and time spent doing what you enjoy. Then maybe, we can have a balanced body image and a healthy body!

If you would like to find out what your healthy weight range is, use a BMI calculator.

What’s your opinion on the weight of the woman in the photo?

Random Thoughts, Quotes, and Pearls of Wisdom

• Good friends are truly priceless. Treasure them.

• The ability to walk at a vigorous pace for any space of time is something to be very grateful for.

• Take full ownership of your health. No one can take care of you better than yourself. (Except God.)

• There are few things as endearing as a fuzzy Greyhound snout in your face; chattering teeth telling you “I’m so happy you’re here! I love you!”

• Banana pancakes are special, not just because they taste good, but also because they represent slowing down to enjoy simple pleasures. (Just ask Jack Johnson.)

• There is nothing as precious as a child. If more adults put children’s best interests ahead of their own (truly, not spoiling them) the world would be a much better place.

• Fathers, be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too. – John Mayer

• Animals are one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. They make us laugh, they show us beauty and nobility, they comfort us.

• The Lion King is full of important life lessons: the Circle of Life, the past can hurt but you learn from it, life’s not fair, leave your behind in your past (or something like that), and Hakuna Matata!

• Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. – Judy Garland

• Family is family, regardless of the past, annoying habits, embarrassing behavior, or personality clashes. Love them, just don’t let their mistakes define you. And remember, you make mistakes too – don’t let that define you either; let it make you more understanding.

• Life’s like an hourglass glued to the table… So… Just breathe… – Anna Nalick

• Repeat this to yourself each day until you believe it:

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• Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe you don’t know you’re beautiful! – One Direction

• Last, but certainly not least:

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Of Careers, Values, and What Really Matters

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I’ve often had the thought that if all women could simply do the important jobs that God intended for them, then, well, what a wonderful world it would be.

In the midst of a downward spiral of disillusionment and more than one “Jerry Maguire” moment, I began to wonder why women today are expected to have a career in the corporate jungle. Ask any modern housewife or stay-at-home mom – they can tell you they’ve encountered a disdainful attitude from those who believe that the traditional roles for women are menial and inconsequential. This attitude has always baffled me, as the traditional housewife/mother role is perhaps one of the most important and influential positions to hold, in the grand scheme of things.

Consider this: when you are primary caregiver to a child, providing a warm, loving environment, proper nourishment for body and mind, along with guidance and boundaries to shape a nascent personality, you are investing in the future. Your efforts to raise a child that eventually becomes a healthy, balanced, responsible adult member of society comprise the most worthwhile and rewarding career a woman can have. If each mother could invest in her children this way, then healthy, balanced, responsible adults would number in the millions, and the world would be a very different place. There is a reason why it is the woman who carries the child in her body for nine months and has the capability to produce food for the infant from her own body for an almost indefinite period of time after birth. It is because more than any other person in the child’s life, the mother’s bond with and influence on that child has the greatest impact for years to come. The absence of this bond is just as influential – to the child’s detriment. So why are women expected to relinquish their precious infants to someone else’s care after a just few months of maternity leave, to return to a career that can never be as meaningful as that which is most natural – and be happy about it? Why, if a woman finds a way to stay home and focus all her energies on raising her own child, is she looked down on by some as “just a stay-at-home mom?”

This disdain is not reserved for stay-at-home moms only. Those women who do not have children but are able to stay home in a traditional housewife role also receive a dose of the contempt reserved for non-career women. Even women who hold part-time jobs outside the home are often asked, “Do you want to work full-time?” and, “Do you plan to try for a promotion?” When the answer is no, the response is often incredulous or scornful.

Why is a career viewed as the end-all, be-all goal for people in general? Why is a woman expected to “succeed” in a corporate career while also juggling motherhood and running a household? Something is quite wrong with this picture. Why are the most important things in life pushed aside or put on hold while we pursue meaningless career goals? Family is everything, and those who put this treasure on the back burner in order to achieve a lucrative career or high-status position always live to regret it.

In this time of economic decline, some are beginning to appreciate that the assets of most worth and significance that we have cannot be measured in dollars and cents, nor in material possessions or prestige. They are measured in small hours, little wonders – a baby’s first steps, a child’s laughter, a walk in the park, holding hands with a loved one. It’s never too late to stop and embrace a higher set of values – our families will thank us for it.

Stress Management

Those that know me personally or have been following this blog regularly are aware that my family and I have been through difficulties recently. My Grandfather lost his battle with cancer on May 19th. His suffering was an ordeal this family will not forget; as my father put it, “That’s a sight you will never get out of your mind.” An unrecognizable emaciated body ravaged by a merciless disease, struggling for each breath, in a drug-induced stupor is something we are not likely to forget.

In this time of grief, my mother also has serious medical issues of her own on which we await results; another dear family member was rushed to the hospital for an emergency procedure just last week. Mourning for one and worrying for the others, combined with the everyday stressors of work, neighbors, finances and more have taken their toll on us in different ways. For myself, the stress response is physical. The past days this week have been rather miserable, with lightheadedness and intestinal distress, my body’s usual response to acute emotional stress.

Sadly, in today’s economic climate, one needs to be on one’s toes. But it is rather difficult to be on one’s toes when there has been a death in the family and one is concerned for the health and welfare of other family members. The difficulty is compounded when the body under stress decides it has had enough and proceeds to temporarily break down. As discussed in my previous post, modern attitudes and behaviors toward grieving are not as sympathetic as they once were. After a few days of bereavement leave, one must jump right back into the fray of daily life as if nothing had happened!

So how is one to find some equilibrium, some semblance of serenity amidst the upheaval? The answer, more often than not, lies in nature. Be it a tree-lined walk,

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a shady spot to sit,

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or wide open spaces,

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time spent in nature has a way of grounding and calming the most distraught of us. It may not mend our problems, but it soothes our psyche and comforts us on deeper level. Perhaps it’s because on a cellular level, we are made of the same elements as the earth. Perhaps it’s because nature brings us closer to God – as it is His gift to us.

Part of this healing that nature does can be found in our four-legged companions. The benefits of owning a pet are a recurring theme here on Diverse Philosophies, because I have personally experienced the life-altering effects of having companion animal in my life. Taking a walk in a serene natural spot with a dog is perhaps the best therapy available. The key is finding – or making – the time for it.

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Family and true friends are precious gifts to cherish. I deeply appreciate the support I have received during this trying time. But I realize it is up to myself alone to take control and find a way to manage my stress levels so that I can be all that I need to be for those I love. And I suspect the answer may be found where there are trees and tranquility.

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