The Best Things in Life

I don’t much care about fashion or gadgets (I just want to look like I fit somewhere in the current decade and have a device that works). I don’t much care about travel, beyond the occasional getaway. I don’t much care about the so-called social scene.

I’ve been married for 10 years and experimented in each of the above pursuits. I’ve found each of them to be at best, a disappointment; at worst, a trap. Clever distractions to divert attention away from what truly matters in life – faith and family.

Let’s face it: Fashion is not much more than a lovely racket. Cleverly arranged pieces that appeal to the eye and make one feel “I simply MUST have that!” And after you’ve worn your perfectly paired finery, you realize you’ve spent more than you should have – on something nonessential. And just give it a season – you will find that you rarely, if ever, use it again. (Unless, of course, you are the type to choose essential pieces in classic colors and styles. In that case, you may use those pieces season after season.) And the never-ending parade of smartphones, tablets, and other devices is clearly just another trap, if you MUST have the latest and greatest. There will always be a new one.

On to travel. Don’t get me wrong. This girl has heard (but never answered) the call of the Australian Outback, the siren song of Paris, the timeless calm of the English countryside. But simply put, these things cost money. Quite a bit of it. And after the headiness of the experience has faded, all you have left are some pricey souvenirs and way too many photos. And perhaps debt. I may be in the minority here, but that seems a very fleeting source of happiness for such a high price. I’d rather have something I can hold on to. Besides an overpriced miniature Eiffel Tower.

As for the social scene, if I have to impress someone with my experiences in the world of fashion and/or travel (or anything else, for that matter!) to be accepted into a particular circle, I don’t want to be a part of that circle anyway!

Realistically, the majority of our lives are not spent in any of the above pursuits (unless we actually work in an industry relating to any or all of them). The majority of our lives are spent in making a living and, well, living. Why can’t making the most of the life we are building be THE pursuit? Instead of the next outfit, trip, or party, why aren’t we focused on the people that make up our lives?

The best things in life are not free. They cost, not money, but time and effort. Any relationship will give only what you invest in it. Therefore, I’m not going to fritter away precious moments with those I love. I’m going to enjoy them and truly love them. I married my husband because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, not just my spare time. I’ve found my calling: it is being a dedicated wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. The latest fashion will be whatever I can afford. The latest smartphone will be the one I get at a discount. The dream vacation will be the one I spend with my family – anywhere. My social life is full of beautiful people who know how to have fun – with children and pets, in a casual atmosphere, where there is no pressure to impress. Because in my world, my husband’s laugh, a sincere “thank you” from a family member, hugs and smiles from the children, my dog’s wagging tail – are the beautiful, intangible things of true value. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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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.

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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Human Frailty

I had an epiphany this morning as I grumpily drove to work: My biggest problem in life is that I’m an optimist.

Wait, WHAT???

Anyone who knows me knows that I am anything but Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows! Not that I behave like an incorrigible pessimist – I try to be positive, but I’m not the “peppy” type. Simply put, I have high standards for myself and I hold others to the same standards. I give my best and I expect others to do the same. In this sense, I am an optimist. But this is a sure track to rampant disappointment.

Like Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story,” I have little or no regard for human frailty. This is not to say that I am incapable of feeling empathy or understanding another’s viewpoint or position; often, I simply argue that if I must follow a certain rule or standard, there’s no reason why someone else shouldn’t. Perhaps it’s a case of the Golden Rule gone wrong. You know: “All things, therefore, that ​you want men to do to ​you, ​you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) I do my part and naively expect the same treatment in return.

Time to wake up to the cold, hard facts. While there may be some people out there who appreciate my efforts to treat them as I would like to be treated, the majority do not really care. I continue to hold myself to higher standards and at best am disappointed – at worst, crushed – by the failure of others to reciprocate. So what should I do?? Stoop to the level of those who hurt me, or take the high road – that is, hold myself to higher standards while accepting the fact that many people I encounter will not hold to those standards?? It would appear that the high road, while more difficult initially, will be easier on my peace of mind in the long run. And maybe, just maybe, it will eventually make me a better person.

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” – C. K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

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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“The Non-Friend”

In the course of living life, we forge friendships. Some of these friendships last a lifetime, changing and maturing with us. Some follow a cyclical pattern of closeness and drifting apart. Some fade into mere acquaintanceship. Some sadly wither into a state we shall dub “the non-friend.”

“The non-friend” is someone with whom you once shared a close relationship, but for any number of reasons, the relationship has deteriorated into indifference, at best – at worst, an almost hostile state. Yet, both parties remain a part of the same social circle and therefore are often thrown together despite the dissolution of the relationship. Perhaps the break occurred because the relationship was all take and no give on one side. Perhaps both personalities changed drastically – or just one changed. Perhaps your patience ran out. Perhaps you discovered that your “friend” values possessions or popularity over the feelings of others, including yourself. Perhaps you found that your principles and those of your “friend” varied too widely to be reconcilable. Perhaps you found a cruel streak in their personality that you simply could not live with. Perhaps they simply stopped talking and/or caring and refused to explain why.

This state of affairs is quite painful and often embarrassing, as others who knew of your relationship ask why you aren’t close anymore. If you’ve invested much time and emotion in the relationship, you may experience a sense of loss. Maybe you took on what I call the “savior” role – being a problem-solver, therapist and life coach for your friend, only to find that they were using you. Losing the friendship may cause you to feel that you have failed.

When the dust settles, however, you may find that no longer expending your energies on a one-sided relationship is to your benefit. You may begin to seek and/or strengthen healthy relationships with more considerate people who truly value you for who you are and who exert a positive influence in your life. You may discover the meaning of a truly equal, give-and-take relationship. You may learn to value yourself more as a result.

But what about your “friend” – now “the non-friend?” As they follow their chosen path without you and you perhaps take the high road, your paths may cross. How these interactions flow may depend heavily on how you choose to behave toward your one-time friend – “the non-friend.” If you continue to take the high road, showing kindness regardless of the other person’s behavior, you will not only keep from deepening the rift, you will have something to be proud of – self-respect. If you choose to view the entire experience as a lesson, you will likely move on in your life with more wisdom and less angst.

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Have you had an experience like this? Please share your thoughts!

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?