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A Confession Without Shame

I have a confession to make. I’m not really a Star Wars fan. I know this sounds like no big deal, but when all of your friends are huge fandom geeks, them are fighin’ words. My saving grace is that I don’t dislike the movies, I just don’t seek them out. I bring this up because for the past week my Facebook feed has been filled with tributes and remembrances of Carrie Fisher. In scanning through these, I learned something new about her. She not only suffered from mental illness, but she openly spoke about it and fought to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness. This made me take a second look at this woman, and I gained a whole new respect for her.

For three-quarters of my life I have suffered from multiple forms of mental illness – depression, OCD, panic disorder and PTSD – and for a large part of my struggle my biggest fight was against the stigma. I didn’t want to be mentally ill, because that made me weird/different/crazy/unbalanced etc. So instead of seeking out the help I needed, I specifically denied myself that help because I was “stronger” than my mental illness. Even after I sought out therapy, I refused to take medication because, again, I was “stronger” than my disease. Looking back at that mindset now, I have to laugh if only to keep myself from crying. How much of my life was frittered away fighting a fight that didn’t need to exist?

heads

I was in my thirties before I finally accepted my mental illnesses and began to actively treat them for what they were, illnesses. Not a defect in my character, but an illness. What finally helped me turn that corner, was talking to a friend who had just been diagnosed with diabetes. This friend had tried to control her diabetes through diet, exercise, and every other bit of advice she could find. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t working and she had a choice to make. She could either be sick every day of her life, or she could go on insulin and only be sick every once in a while. Of course, she went on insulin. It was a no-brainer. Let me repeat that, the choice of being sick every day or going on medication was a no-brainer.

The lightbulb turned on. I had tried every conceivable treatment I could find for my depression – exercise, therapy, supplements, dogs, somato-emotional-release, more therapy, sun lamps, acupuncture, nature, etc – and after decades of trying things, I was still sick every day and quite frankly getting worse. Life was a constant fight. Getting up in the morning was a battle. Focusing on tasks was a battle. Motivating myself to leave the house was a battle. I fought every day all day and I was exhausted. Yet, I refused to medicate myself for my illness because that would mean admitting that something was wrong with me, and what would people say? What the actual fuck?

stats

I decided then and there that I no longer gave a crap what other people thought. I also decided that nothing was wrong/weird/different/crazy about me, I simply had a disease that could be treated. So I treated it. Now I’m not saying that medication is right for everyone, I only medicate my depression. I use alternate treatments for everything else because it can be a bitch figuring out what medications and what dosages work. Especially when I discovered that medication for the panic disorder made my depression worse, even while on medication for the depression. When this trial and error doesn’t go well, it’s not pretty and I wouldn’t wish that process on my worst enemy. Finding medications for everything wasn’t worth it. However, I learned that if I medicate my depression I can deal with everything else going on. But when the depression isn’t in check, everything else runs rampant.

So I medicate the depression, and most days I can function with only slight battles. Yes, some days the panic disorder wins the battle. Some days the OCD wins the battle. Some days they all gang up on me at once and I spend the day curled up with my dogs. But most days I am a fully-functioning, active member of society and many people are surprised when I tell them of my diagnoses. They’re even more surprised that I talk about it openly and have no qualms answering questions. Because all of my therapies aside, openly speaking about my mental illness has been a better balm than anything else. There is no shame in mental illness, and the more we talk about it the more we kill that stigma. So I’m here to talk.

fight-stigma

Saying No to the Dreams of Others, In Order to Build My Own

I have been approached twice in the past month about stepping into a substantial role of an artistic endeavor. I was incredibly flattered by both and they both spoke to an inherent interest of mine. Not something that I am actively pursuing right now, but something that I have in the past and could see myself involved in again in the future. Needless to say, these offers were very tempting carrots dangled in front of me. The first one I went after, interviewed for, but in the end didn’t get the position. What surprised me, was that I was relieved that they had decided to go with someone else.

Deep down, I did not want this great opportunity and at first I couldn’t figure out why. What was wrong with me? True, there was very minimal money up front, but stake in all future earnings and plenty of perks immediately. Which is pretty much par for the course with artistic endeavors, unfortunately. At first I thought it was the money thing. Then I realized that my relief had nothing to do with that. It came from the fact, that while this would be a step up, it wasn’t a step in the direction I am going right now. It would do nothing to fuel and build my current endeavors and reach my current goals and dreams. Progress, but progress in the wrong direction.

wrong-direction

I think for the first time, I truly understand that not all forward momentum is good. This great opportunity was to help someone else with their pet project. To help them achieve their dreams. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I would have to put my own dreams on hold to work on theirs. Where’s the sense in that? For a long time I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I worked toward other people’s dreams. I grabbed onto anything that came my way. I thought that any opportunity was a step in the right direction, never realizing that I was running around in circles.

I don’t regret any of it, it gave me something to do and I learned a lot along the way. However, now that I have dreams and projects of my own, I need to stop putting my work on hold to help someone else with theirs. That’s why I was relieved, when I didn’t get the position. Yes, it was a great opportunity, but for me right now, it would have been a step in the wrong direction. So when offer number two came around, I said no. It was a hell of a lot harder to turn that down then I thought it would be, and it took a couple of days for me to wrap my head around turning down work. But now that I have, the relief is here again. No more dedicating myself to other people’s dreams, until I’ve achieved my own.

dreams

On a Scale of 10 . . . I’m at 2-3

I am not what you would call an overly empathetic person. I’m not a narcissist or sociopath or anything, I do have some empathy, but it is nowhere near my top ten strongest skills. Because of this, I am never the one that people come to for advice on the little things, or if they just need to whine. Chances are, I’ll just tell ‘em to “Suck it up camper,” or look at them with a blank stare until they assume I’ve fallen into a coma and walk away. It is truly amazing how long some people will continue talking once you’ve adopted this look.

internally-screaming

It’s not that I’m intentionally trying to be rude, I do try to pay attention and care. It’s just that more often than not, I lack the capacity to give a shit, and there is nothing more disingenuous than someone trying to care about something that they don’t. There is a silver lining to this though, I’m the one that people come to when there is a major decision that needs to be made. When they know that they’re going to get emotional talking about it, and need an unemotional response. I’m that person, because I can sit and watch the person in front of me getting really upset about something and still tell them without hesitation that they fucked up and here’s what they need to do to fix it. Or that the situation is fucked up, that sucks, here’s what you need to do to fix it. I have taken friends, coworkers and strangers alike from brink-of-hysteria to focused-with-a-plan. This is what I do with my lack of empathy.

This used to really worry me, and I even brought it up with my therapist thinking that something was really wrong with me. She assured me that I had plenty of things wrong with me, but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, this was quite possibly the coping mechanism that allowed me to survive a childhood with a disabled and abusive mother. However, if I really was concerned, a sure fire way to increase one’s ability to empathize was to read fiction and memoirs. What????? Apparently when reading, you are so immersed in another world that you become accustomed to viewing and feeling things as someone else, which makes you able to see other people’s perspectives in real life, and therefore more empathetic. Or something to that effect.

empathy

As I had been reading fiction for years, and it clearly hadn’t helped, I decided that wasn’t the way to go. I have also read a lot of nonfiction history about people and events. While this has definitely made me more liberal, it hasn’t made me more empathetic. Seriously, it’s crazy, the more I study history the more liberal I become. In all of the history that I read, it is the people who are willing to look beyond what is traditional, the people who are willing to fight for the benefit of others, and the people who work the hardest to bring others along with them as they succeed that I admire most. The more I read the less I have time/energy/patience for people who are intolerant and work to subjugate people who are different. Which I guess is a form of empathy, so studying history has worked some.

All that was left, was memoirs, so I’m giving that a try. So far I’ve read about a boy soldier in Africa, a Jew during WWII, a US Iraqi war Veteran, a black boy growing up in the inner city, a holocaust survivor and I just started one about hillbillies. None of these books have made me lose sleep or in all honesty have really even affected me all that much. Empathy level is still clocking in at a steady two – three on a ten point scale. At this point, I’ve kind of given up on increasing my empathy, and look at is as more of a study of human motivation. In that sense, I am fascinated. Seeing how circumstance and background come together to influence the choices that people make and the behaviors that they exhibit. What from the outside looks completely asinine, actually makes perfect sense when looking at the microcosm of their life. As a writer, I can’t get enough. To play off the old saying, give me everybody’s shoes, I want to take them for a walk.

What started out as an experiment in emotion has turned into an intellectual study of human nature. I love it! Therefore, I am officially open to recommendations of good memoirs. No teenage girls though, I got enough whining to last me a while from Anne Frank. Yep. Holding steady at 2-3.

never-change

 

 

Don’t Call Me Beautiful

Like most all single people in this day and age, I have tried online dating. I have tried just about every platform there is out there. I’ve done the monthly membership ones and the free ones. Which one is my favorite? None of them. They all annoy me. But as the thought of going and hanging out at bars or clubs to meet people is even less appealing, online dating is a means to an end. So I’m on one of these sites now, and I’ve come to realize that the majority of guys who send messages start out their message with, “Hi beautiful,” or “Hi gorgeous,” or the one I got today, “Hello gorgeous. I wanted to send you a quick message because I think you are incredibly attractive.” And there’s little to no other substance included. Now this seems fairly innocuous, and maybe I should be flattered, or enjoy the compliments. But the truth of the matter is that it drives me frickin’ nuts! It is quite honestly my biggest pet peeve with online dating, and I think I finally figured out why.

I am not model, or Hollywood starlet gorgeous. I wouldn’t even classify myself as a classic beauty. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I pull out the stops I can turn heads with the best of them. I’m also incredibly photogenic so it’s easy for me to get a great picture. But 99% of the time, I rock the quirky best friend look. I rarely wear makeup, my “uniform” is jeans and a t-shirt, and before I cut my hair short, I wore it in a ponytail most of the time. Quirky best friend. I am not only good at rocking this look, it is my preference.

quirky-best-friend

As the quirky best friend, I’m known as the writer, the goofball, the friend, the organizer, the puggle mama, the Shakespeare nut, the girl who’s allergic to everything but can still throw awesome dinner parties. I’m known as the Civil War expert, the biographer of dead broads and the children’s book author. I am known for my personality, my strengths and my accomplishments, and I LOVE that. The reason that I have never put forth the effort and the time to highlight my physical appearance is because I so prefer to be known as all of these other things.

We're even both named Kat!

We’re even both named Kat!

So in all honesty, when I read these messages my first thought is,

“I don’t care if you think I’m beautiful.”

I already know that I am beautiful, so I don’t need someone else to tell me. And if that is the only thing out of my entire profile that interested you, then I’m gonna pass. I want to know that the lame joke I told in my profile made you chuckle. Or that we have a similar interest, or that you too have played life-sized Jenga. I couldn’t care less that these men find me physically attractive, it’s actually a bit of a turn-off when that’s all they see. Maybe I should just put that in my profile. Don’t call me beautiful.

 

 

Do Good

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote from Abraham Lincoln that really resonated with me. Okay, some argue that he didn’t say it at all, while others say that he was repeating what he had heard someone else say, and wasn’t actually speaking for himself. The semantics of its origin don’t really interest me, because for me it isn’t the speaker that makes the words powerful, it’s the sentiment behind them. So Abraham Lincoln or Joe Blow on the corner, or whoever else, I still like the quote.

do-good

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.” How true are those words? They’ve really stuck with me. Then the other day I was in a bad mood, and just generally feeling emotionally crappy, when I realized that it had all stemmed from one thing. A couple of months ago we had this series of passive aggressive notes left in the restroom at work. They cracked me up, I wrote a blog post about it. Shortly thereafter, the notes stopped. Until last week, when a new one cropped up. The tone of said note, basically accused the women on my floor of not knowing how to properly flush toilets and leaving messes behind for those who came after.

Now don’t get me wrong, I hate walking into a stall and being confronted by the business of the last person that used it. Gross! However, the specific stall that this note was left in is a bit persnickety. If you don’t hold the handle down FOREVER it doesn’t flush completely. So if somebody doesn’t know this, it’s going to leave something behind. It has nothing to do with the person, it has to do with the toilet. For whatever reason, this note put a burr in my saddle, so I grabbed a pen and fixed the note so that it asked people to hold down the handle for several seconds instead of accusing full-grown women of not knowing how to flush. I may have been a little worked up and gotten a little snarky as well. I’ll admit it. Well this triggered somebody else (I don’t know if it was the original poster, or someone new) to respond back.

passive-aggressive

The next thing I know, I’m in a horrible mood, all because of this stupid note! Adding my own commentary to the note was out of character and I realized why it was out of character. That kind of passive aggressive bullshit makes me feel like crap. Which explains why my modus operandi is much more confrontational. When my neighbor’s set up a BBQ under my window and filled my apartment with smoke, I went downstairs and talked with them. When I heard through the grapevine that one of my coworkers was bitching to a supervisor about something that I did, I went to that coworker and asked him to please come to me if he had an issue with something that I had done. I don’t beat around the bush. If I want something I ask for it. If something bothers me, I bring it up. If I’m mad at you, trust me, you will know it because I will have told you that I am mad and why. That’s just how I work.

So sneaking around in a locked stall to leave a passive aggressive response on a passive aggressive note left me feeling like crap. Especially when I realized that there was nothing that I could do about it, short of leaving a note of apology to an unnamed person. While this thought did occur to me, I decided that I didn’t want to make myself a target to whomever had left the original note. So I didn’t do it, and just continued to sit and feel like crap for the rest of the day.

bad-mood

Now flash forward a couple of days, and I’m sitting at a bar waiting for my order and the bartender who helped me was swamped. She was running around like a crazy person. She had run out of things but was too busy to do a restock and the food orders for the customers around the bar kept coming out wrong. So she was swamped and a bunch of people were pissed at her. My food finally came out, and it was wrong. She apologized profusely and said that they would get it fixed ASAP. I told her no big deal, but then as she’s walking away, the guy next to me made a snide remark about the service. This poor woman’s entire body stiffened at this, because he had said it loud enough for her to hear, and the next time that she came over to our side of the bar, she had this obvious look of dread. I tried to catch her attention to smile, let her know that it was fine, but she just kept her head down, until the guy next to me left.

Which happened to coincide with my food coming back out, and being correct this time around. She was obviously relieved by this, and I started to chat with her whenever she came over by me to make a drink. By the time I left, I’d gotten her to laugh at a joke and actually smile. I felt great. I could have so easily been the guy next to me. I had stopped to get a quick bite to eat, so having to wait 10 minutes for them to remake my food was not in my plans. But instead of getting upset and expressing my displeasure to this women, I chose to sit back, watch the baseball game on TV and not worry about a 10 minute delay. I chose to do good, so I felt good. Go figure. Consider that a lesson learned . . . or reiterated I guess.

 

 

Ask Kat

When I first started my blog, it was really hard to stay motivated knowing that hardly anybody was reading it . . . I’m sure there were some days that no one was reading it. It totally bummed me out, because I was putting forth this effort for nobody but me. What I didn’t realize at the time, is that not having anybody pay attention is actually a really good thing. It means that you have time to figure out what you’re doing, get in the groove and make mistakes. Mistakes that only truly devoted explorers will ever see once you do get a following. It’s awesome!

I don’t think I realized what a blessing this was until I started something new a couple of months ago. I’ve discovered that people tend to come to me with questions, especially those that are historically based. These people could just as easily google the exact same question, but for whatever reason they will text me or message me via social media to ask me the question. I think my favorite reaction to this phenomena came when a friend texted me this: Biggest body count in a Civil War battle? My reaction went something like this:

“Why are you asking me? How in the hell would I kno . . . oh, wait, because I do know. Does she mean single day or entire campaign?”

It was at that moment that I stopped wondering why people sent their questions to me, and just started answering them. Some of which required a little bit of research, which I did happily because I actually enjoy doing research. So a couple of months ago, I decided to start an online audio blog called, Ask Kat. Basically I take some of these questions, answer them, then post it on SoundCloud. I have a degree in video production and in theater performance, recording and posting 5-10 minute sound clips should be a piece of cake! Right! Just like riding a bike. Right?

bike-crash

Yeah, there’s a bit of a learning curve to jump back in there. Which is when I had my realization that I am so GLAD that I have no followers on SoundCloud. That means that I can do my Ask Kat segments without having to worry about them being top notch at first. I get to ease into them, and learn how to make them better as I go. I’m averaging one a month, but as I get better I have feeling that number will go up. Until then, I am happy stumbling my way through at this pace. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, if you have any questions, send them my way! And if you want to check out the two that I’ve done so far, you can find them here. Episode 1 is about Richard III being the hide-and-seek champion of the world, and Episode 2 is about the origin of Halloween and trick-or-treating.

richard-iii

 

 

A Bias Against Black Men

The first conversation I ever had with a black person, was at my college orientation. I was 18. Black people didn’t live where I lived, they weren’t in the books that I read or the shows that I watched unless they were the thugs getting arrested. With the exception of slaves, Harriet Tubman and MLK Jr, they weren’t part of my education.  For the first 18 years of my life, black people, (specifically men) were like the mountain lions in the forest around me. I’d never met one, but I knew they were there, and they scared me.

Here’s the thing, I don’t remember ever encountering or spending time with an overtly racist person. I can’t recall ever being told by a teacher or parent or friend that black men were dangerous. I didn’t personally know anybody who had been victimized by a black man. So why was I afraid? Where did I learn to fear black men?

I hate to name something as banal as ‘society,’ but what else is there? I learned that fear from watching the nightly news with my parents. I learned that fear listening to talk radio hosts pontificating on the evils of gangs and the black men in them who killed each other and anybody else who happened to get in the way. Now I’m not saying that I am pro-gang and think that gang members and their violence should be talked about in loving terms. Far from it. The thing is, I never heard anybody talk about the black community positively. I learned fear because the black narrative was predominantly, at times exclusively, negative, and I had nothing in my real life to refute it. I had been conditioned to fear black men and think poorly of black people in general. I have no idea about anybody else from that little community, but that was the state in which I left.

naive

Subconsciously, I was aware of the conditioning and never fully bought into in. I’d love to give myself credit and say that I was a socially enlightened being from the get-go and this was a conscious choice, but that would be a bald-faced lie. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back and see that I fought against this conditioning. I had no idea what I was fighting, but I knew that I didn’t want to believe that an entire race of people could be bad or lazy or dangerous or any of the other descriptors used. I was well aware that not all white people were good. Some were great, some were crappy and some fell in between. The same had to exist in the black community. So when I met and talked with my first black person in college, I latched on to her and she became my first college friend. I LOVED that she dispelled ever stereotype that had been planted in my brain as fact. We talked about honor classes and stressed out over grades. When she talked about her dad, I heard, for probably the first time, about a successful and thriving black man.

That summer I worked for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival where I met and worked closely with a black actor. He was incredibly talented, kind, funny, generous with his time, and when the shit hit the fan toward the end of the summer, he had my back. To this day, I have nothing but respect for him and his work and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. I also met a woman who would later become one of the hardest and most demanding professors that I ever had. Yet despite this, she was able to instill a life-long love of Shakespeare in me and I eventually overcame my awe of her enough to become friends. Once more, nothing I was encountering in real life matched the narrative that I had been fed growing up.

Yet when I looked around, the same narrative continued. Only this time, I had something to refute it. Something to hold onto in order to fight the conditioning and keep it from settling back in. Eventually I stopped watching the news, and talk radio was definitely out. I didn’t want to live in that world anymore. So I didn’t, and I naively thought that I had outgrown . . . outwitted . . . out maneuvered . . . I don’t know exactly what to call it, but I felt as though I had moved beyond my biased conditioning. Ta-da! Pat myself on the back.

racist

Jump forward to me living Los Angeles, and it became abundantly clear that I hadn’t. No ta-da, no pat on the back. While Denver certainly had much more diversity than the tiny mountain town where I grew up, it is lily-white in comparison to Los Angeles. I have never seen so many cultures in one place in my entire life. For the record, I love it! I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

However, in this culture shock, albeit a good culture shock, my conditioning resurfaced. If I was out walking my dogs and saw a black man, I would get nervous. It could be the middle of the damn day and the appearance of a black man that I didn’t know would make me nervous. I didn’t even realize it at first. It was so rooted in my subconscious that a black men equaled danger, I didn’t even think about it, I just felt it down to my bones.

It finally hit me that this was occurring, when one of these so-called dangerous black men turned out to be a coworker. I hadn’t recognized him at first. I had prepped my purse in order to fend off his attack, and this made me feel so guilty, I almost apologized to him. I almost apologized for lumping him into the ‘dangerous’ black man category, instead of the ‘friend-of-mine-and-therefore-friendly’ black man category. That was my light bulb moment. My conditioning was still firmly in place. I had merely made exceptions to the rule to accommodate my friends and coworkers. Take away that exception and all that remained was fear.

anger

I don’t like to admit this, in fact this is the first time that I ever have, because it makes me feel like I am a racist. It makes me feel like I’m a huge racist, and I don’t like that feeling. In all honesty, I would get angry that I felt like a racist. Angry at who, I have no idea. I would hazard to guess, that I am not the only one who has gone through these emotions. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is where that whole white-guilt thing comes from. The guilt comes up, we bury down the feelings that caused it, ignore them and reassure ourselves that we are good people. For the next couple of days, we might even go out of our way to be nice to every black person we see, just to reassure ourselves that we aren’t racist. I know I’ve done this. I’ve stayed longer to hold a door open, or let someone cut in line at the grocery store specifically to reassure myself that I was not a racist. But here’s the thing, all of that is pointless because it doesn’t accomplish or change anything. The underlying thought-process that caused the first behavior is still there. And here’s the kicker, I’m not a racist, so why was I spending so much time concerning myself about it? Because I was confusing being a racist, with having a bias. There’s a difference, and yes it can be a fine line, but there is a difference. Since I’m a massive word-nerd, I looked up the definitions from Merriam Webster.

definitions

I don’t believe that race has anything to do with human traits and capabilities, or that one race is superior over another. I never have and never will. That is the entire definition! If I disagree with the entire definition, then it is clearly not describing me. However, the third definition of the word bias is another story. ‘Inclination of temperament or outlook’ and ‘unreasoned judgement’ sound pretty spot on. I have no logical reason to judge black men poorly, other than what was fed to me through society. I think we as a people, need to step back and really examine our biases. Are all people on welfare lazy drug-addicts, or is that merely what we’ve been led to believe by people who oppose the program? I can tell you that when I was on welfare, I was neither lazy, nor on drugs. Yet that was a bias that definitely took up space in my head until I stepped into that world myself.

Here’s the thing, having biases doesn’t make us bad people. It’s human nature, everyone has biases that play into everyday of their lives. There’s a reason that I bought a Chevy instead of a Ford – I have a distinct bias against Fords. My grandfather worked for Chevy, and so did my aunt. Therefore they MUST be better cars. Does that make any sense? No. Yet I drove a Chevy into work this morning. In the grand scheme of things, this bias is inconsequential. So I’m going to ignore it and probably go on avoiding Fords for the rest of my life and nobody will care one way or the other.

ford

However, the bias against the black community, and black men specifically, is a problem and has been around since the founding of this country. In the grand scheme of things, this is a huge problem and it effects thousands of people all over the US who are spending their lives in jail and getting killed. I’m not saying that there aren’t black men that deserve to be in jail, I’m sure there are. What I’m saying, is that when you look for trouble and the majority of the attention is focused on one group of people, you’re going to find trouble. Not because it only exists there, but because that’s where you are looking. And if you don’t see any, yet keep looking, seemingly innocuous behavior will begin to look suspect. I’ve heard my parent friends talk about sneaking up on their kids to catch them in one act of wrong-doing or another, only to be surprised that what seemed nefarious was actually innocent. If you expect trouble, you will eventually get trouble whether it’s real or manufactured.

A recent study done by Yale showed that the bias against black males starts as early as kindergarten. They had teachers watch a video to look for signs of challenging behavior among four children – one black girl, one black boy, one white girl, and one white boy. Despite the fact that none of the children were exhibiting challenging behavior, the teachers reported that the black boy needed the more attention then anybody else. After reading that, it makes a little more sense why for many young black men, school is a direct pipeline to jail. Maybe it’s just me, but if I get wrongly accused of misbehaving enough, I start misbehaving. If I’m going to be accused of it anyway, I might as well get the pleasure from doing the misdeed.

I’m sure there are people who don’t have this bias, and I applaud them. But with the history of this country, and if we’re all being completely honest with ourselves, I would guess that number is low. The good news, is that if we can acknowledge that this bias exists, if we can swallow our frickin’ pride and admit that we do this, we can reverse it. I really hope the teachers that participated in that study are now looking at their classrooms with a different perspective. It won’t happen overnight, but we can retrain our brains to come up with new conclusions, and expect different outcomes.

It took me about four years. Now, when I’m out walking my dogs and I see a black man, my conditioning goes to ‘dude-I-don’t-know’ instead of ‘dangerous-black-man.’ If it’s night, that conditioning goes to ‘potential rapist,’ but to be fair that’s my conditioned reaction for any man I see at night regardless of race. When outside by myself at night, all men make me equally nervous. Which is an issue all by itself but as long as the rape culture persists it’s warranted. Don’t get me wrong, I have every faith that my dogs would defend me if I was attacked, however, they are puggles, not German Shepherds. I’m fairly certain that the worst they could do is give someone a permanent limp. So I keep my eyes open. However, for the first time in my life, my heart doesn’t speed up more at the sight of a black man then it does at the sight of a white man. And I consider that progress.

 

 

Much to My Astonishment

I never used to smile at people. If somebody initiated contact, or said hi, I would be polite back, but I was never the initiator, and if there was a smile it was a weak one. I went through life head down (sometimes literally, but mostly figuratively) focused on my destination, or my goal. Amazingly, I rarely got the ever so prevalent, ‘Smile,’ which a lot of women get. Instead, I was called a bitch, or referred to as bitchy. I think that’s because I had perfected my ‘Fuck off!’ vibe. I sent out the aura wherever I went that I was not interested in any sort of interaction, and people must have picked up on it, because I was left alone.

The odd thing is that I didn’t do this to avoid interacting with people. Sure, there were days that I was feeling anti-social, but for the most part I actually craved interaction. I yearned for someone to say hi. To show a modicum of interest in me as a person. To see through my façade and realize how truly lonely I was. But the risk of rejection was too great to face, so instead I made the choice to repel the very people I wanted in my life. I didn’t smile or say hello, because in my head they didn’t want to interact with me. I was an albatross and it was my job to stay away so as not to burden other people with my presence. With my hello. Or with my smile. It was my job to exist as unobtrusively as possible until I reached some place where I had actually been invited. Then, and only then, was I allowed to take up space, interact and smile.

mother-teresa

I lived like this for years. I even bragged about the fact that I was able to navigate crowds of people without a single interaction. Then one day I realized how very sad that was. How many interactions and quick greetings did I miss out on? For all I know, I missed a chance encounter with my soul mate because I was so intent on ignoring every person around me. Who knows?

What finally broke me out of this wasn’t any sort of conscious decision on my part. It was because of my dogs. It is damned near impossible to ignore people when you’re outside multiple times a day with the most adorable and friendly dogs you’ve ever met. Seriously, when the puggles were puppies, people would cross the street to come say hi to them. The managers that worked in the office of my apartment complex would stop what they were doing to come say hi. One of the managers even pointed the puggles out as a perk of living there, while showing prospective tenants an apartment one day. Everybody knew the puggles, and the puggles loved each and every person they met. This happened pretty much everywhere I lived.

Wouldn't you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Wouldn’t you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Eventually, the people that I would see over and over again, introduced themselves to me and I became Kat instead of simply the puggles’ mama. I began to smile, say hi and exchange small talk. I definitely wound up in a conversation or two that I couldn’t wait to get out of, but for the most part it was pleasant. It was nice to be recognized and to some degree welcomed. I’ve taken that to a whole new level where I’m living now, as I now consider several of my neighbors friends, and on days that my neighbor’s four-year-old doesn’t feed the puggles dinner, I generally forget until just right before bedtime.

my-bad

Despite this, it occurred to me a couple of years ago, that while I was very friendly when out with my dogs, I reverted back to my aloofness when by myself. Especially at work. Every day for two years I had walked down to the mail room to get the incoming mail at one and then back down to drop the outgoing mail off at five. I saw the exact same group of people almost every day, yet I didn’t know any of their names and had never said hi. So one day, I decided to do an experiment. I swallowed my awkwardness and started to say hi to these people. Much to my amazement, no one was awkward. No one cared that it had taken me two years to warm up and say hello. They all just said hi back, and now on days where I’m not super busy, I’ll even stick around and shoot the shit with some of the guys. It’s nice. And even more amazing to me, is that I have largely become that person who says hi and smiles at just about anybody. Even the ones giving the ‘Fuck off!’ vibe, because you never know.

 

 

Anxiety vs. Panic

I have always assumed that in the world of mental health, the terms anxiety and panic were pretty much a cause and effect thing. That’s at least how I used them. Panic attacks were simply the result of your anxiety flying off the hook. After all, nobody says they have panic. You say you have anxiety. I was wrong. They are similar and can combine for some good old fashioned heart-pounding fun (sarcasm font needed), but they can apparently exist independently as well.

learned-something

How did I find this out, you wonder? Because about three months ago, my anxiety came back with a vengeance. In fact, I was having days that were worse than before I started treatment for PTSD. Only this time around, all of the tricks that I learned to combat anxiety weren’t working. I can meditate, do yoga, deep breath and practice gratitude until I am blue in the face, but as soon as I stop the feeling that I am having an asthma attack or heart palpitations comes rushing back in. I’ve spent upwards of ten hours straight unable to take in a deep breath. I have used my asthma inhaler more in the past three months than I have in the past three years. But the inhaler did absolutely nothing to free up my breathing. That’s because I have graduated from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder. Whoo!

The racing thoughts and social interaction worries are totally gone, instead 90% of all of my symptoms are physical. With the remaining 10% consisting of worrying about the physical symptoms. It’s not really a trade-off I would have chosen, had I been given a choice. But then of course, why would anyone choose any of this. So what is my point of bringing all of this up, other than to complain? To bring awareness to the fact that there is a difference. Since I first started dealing with anxiety, I’ve had numerous conversations with people on that topic, and a few of those people have expressed problems with the exact same symptoms that I’ve having now. I of course don’t remember who any of those people are now.

of-course-not

So in an effort to reach at least one of those people, I bring you this PSA. If the majority of your anxiety symptoms are physical, to the point that you think there is something medically wrong with you, chances are you need to look into panic disorder. Especially since the tricks to alleviate those symptoms are drastically different. For anxiety I calm myself and relax. For panic I tense and hold the muscles around where I’m panicking then release. If that doesn’t work, I run up a couple flights of stairs, which sounds counter-intuitive, but generally brings relief. Except that one time that I was actually having an asthma attack. That didn’t go away until I used my inhaler. Ooops!

This website has a pretty good article differentiating the two.

 

 

Not if I Have Anything to Say About it!

“There’s nothing we can do.”

At the age of 21 those were the words said to me by my orthopedist. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 15,and it had developed into a triple curve starting in my neck and finishing at the bottom of the shoulder blades. Five vertebrae had naturally fused together. It was slight enough, that no medical intervention was warranted, yet severe enough that I was in pain every day of my life and experienced muscle spasms at least once a week. When it was really bad my right shoulder would sit 2-3 inches lower than my left shoulder. That combined with several traumatic back injuries, left me in pretty bad shape. Living like that, for the rest of my life was not an option for 21 year old Kat. So when he said that, I was furious.

I Can

The fact that he said it in such a supercilious, “what did you expect?” Tone made it worse. I wanted to grab him by the lapels and tell him that that was unacceptable, and he better come up with something to do to help me! Thankfully, I refrained from doing that, because all he had to offer was sending me back to the physical therapist- been there, done that 5+ times – or a radical surgery installing rods in my back to force my spine to be straight. At the time, that seemed like a good option. Now I thank my lucky stars, that we didn’t go that route.

Instead of physically assaulting my doctor, I showed my frustration by storming out of the office. Then I did my own research, and landed on Pilates. I read accounts of people using Pilates to lesson their back pain, and I latched onto the idea like a life saver. I found a studio that was willing to take insurance where I could take private lessons, got the aforementioned orthopedist to write me a prescription and dove in head first. My trainer specialized in rehabilitation and she was amazing. It took a year of painstaking practice and patience, but eventually we got the five vertebrae in my back to un-fuse. It then took another seven-ish months before I could articulate between each one independently.

Slowly

Over the next three years, I worked my way up from Practicing three hours a week to over twenty hours a week while training to be a Pilates instructor. For the first time in over 10 years, I would have pain-free days. From a skeletal viewpoint, I was doing great. The muscles in my back, however we’re still pretty pissed off and it became obvious that I couldn’t sustain the schedule that I was doing. That combined with the conflicting hours of a new job meant that I had to drop out of school before I got my full Pilates certification.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I was still doing pretty well skeletal wise, but the muscles were worse. It was also around this time that I found myself working as a manager for a MAssage Envy, and I happened to be the only manager that liked deep tissue massages. Therefore, whenever we had a therapist who was applying to be a deep tissue therapist, I took the interview . . . The interview consisting of an hour long deep tissue massage. For a couple of months when we were short-staffed I was getting upwards of two massages a week. Awesome! It was also there that I met an exceptionally gifted massage therapist, who I still go to now. Because of all of that, the muscles in my back finally calmed down enough that muscle spasms became a once-in-a-great-while occurrence, instead of a weekly occurrence. Whoo-hoo! My sciatica Problems also went away. Double Whoo-hoo!

"Was that the sensitive spot you were telling me about?"

Now this is not to say, that my back is now totally better, but I do get pain-free days and even weeks sometimes. It’s only when I skip the daily maintenance of stretching, Pilates, yoga and skip my monthly massage. I still have to do all of that to maintain, and when I slack off I usually wind up at the chiropractor,which happened last week. But here’s the thing, I wound up seeing a new chiropractor (because he had an evening appointment available) and he did a full examine to start out, including a scoliosis check. To which he reported, that there were no signs of scoliosis left in my back. The triple curve is now totally gone. SCORE! My back still hurts, and it’s something that I will deal with for the rest of my life, but my biggest obstacle is now gone, and I figured that was worth celebrating!

Also, take that Mr. Orthopedist nay-sayer man!