Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Information Overload

Does anyone else have information overload from the year+ of virtual conferences due to COVID?

Before COVID, I saw some amazing conferences, workshops, and seminars that I would have loved to take part in. However, travel time, admission fees, and making a commitment well before the event (not knowing if I would need to work) made a natural limitation in the number of events I could participate in.

Then came COVID - and the world went virtual. 

Every group I'm part of started holding those same conferences, workshops, and seminars online. Woo-hoo! That meant no travel time, greatly reduced admission fees, and being able to cancel at the last minute because you would almost always get a recording of the information later. For that matter, it was rare that a cancellation was needed because I had very little work as it was. 

The first few months of this were just short of heaven. I was loading my little information-starved mind by the bucketful. I was going to meetings that were being held worldwide and it was just beautiful to hear viewpoints from many cultures while getting the knowledge I craved.

Then after a few months, it became more difficult to sit through another hour or two of anything, no matter how beneficial, at the same desk where I sat working for hours before and after that time. 

I started multi-tasking to pass the time. I'm a photographer so editing is something I can do while still listening, but it did make it hard to take notes and it made it impossible to pay total attention to the broadcast. But I still did it.

By this time more and more groups were going online and there were groups I had never heard of inviting me to this workshop or that seminar. I assume they got my information from the groups I was already part of. But the topics were so very interesting... so I signed up for more and more events.

Fast forward a few more months... All of this wonderful input that I had been so glad to get previously became too much. I no longer cared about the subjects I previously thought were so fascinating, or at least didn't care enough. I canceled more often, knowing that "one day" I would get around to that compelling knowledge through the emailed recording eventually.

But I found that there wasn't time for all of the new classes while trying to fit in the ones I missed. I filed them away in my email folders with the hope that in time, I would finally engage, while subconsciously knowing I wouldn't.

At some point - I'm not sure when - I gave up. I didn't even file those emails anymore. I was barely able to make it through the meetings that I really needed to attend online, and found myself missing even some of those. These are meetings that I would drive 30 minutes each way to attend before COVID and now I couldn't make myself sit at my desk in order to attend.

I've thought a lot about why this happened. I'm one of those who needs almost constant input... as my main goal in life is to be learning, growing, mastering the world around me. Why did I decide to give up the great opportunities for that easy to obtain input?

My only valid hypothesis at this point is information overload. Even though I pride myself as one who wants to keep learning something new constantly, in practice I guess it doesn't work out that way. The ebb and flow of life - working, running errands, cleaning, cooking, eating, sleeping, etc - naturally limits the flow of new information one can obtain. What I thought was "constant learning" was, in fact, only as free time and opportunity allowed. 

The world came to a place where that free time was more plentiful because I wasn't doing as much as before. Plus, I had more time for those varied educational opportunities, I found out that my brain didn't need as much new input as I thought. 

I'm hopeful that once the world gets back to "normal" (whatever that is), that leveling aspect of life will return and I will again crave those times of learning something new. I just also hope that I can stay balanced enough to be able to enjoy them.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Opposite of Addiction

 (Author’s Note: I know there are actual differences in the terms of “abstinence”, “sobriety”, and “recovery”. But for the purpose of this article, I’m lumping the three terms together and using the word “sober/sobriety” to mean any of those three things. Furthermore, this article is based on https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936)

 Those of us in addition recovery know it well – the opposite of addiction is sobriety.  This is why almost every addict first showed up at a 12-Step support group – to find a way to quit addictive behavior… to become sober.

 But what if the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety? If it isn’t, then what is?

 First, a quick background on addiction. This stigma about addiction started with the scientific community, according to www.drugabuse.govIn[RC1]  the 1930s, it was thought that addicts were “morally flawed or lacking in willpower.” Overcoming addiction usually involved punishment or encouraging willpower to break the habit.

 Later research showed that with any addiction, the brain reacts the same way – the pleasure an addiction gets from the addictive substance/behavior increases dopamine much more than in a non-addict’s brain when experiencing the same pleasure.

 This was “proven” by experiments made popular during the “War on Drugs” campaign. In these experiments, rats were put alone in small cages with two bottles of water: one drug-laced and the other plain water. Each rat chose to drink the drug-laced water until it overdosed. This idea was generalized to all addictions.

 But in the ’70s, one scientist, Bruce Alexander, decided to test another theory. His thinking was that, of course, the rats would want drugs… they had nothing else to do. So, he set up a similar experiment with very different conditions.

 He got one huge cage with 20 rats of both genders. He added good food, places to mate and raise young, and stimulating toys and activities. He included the same two bottles of water. What he saw was very different than the results of the first experiment. These rats who had a social outlet and various types of stimulation preferred plain water.

 He theorized that human connection is the opposite of addiction. As the author of this article isn’t a scientist and also doesn’t have time to plow through the many scholarly articles about the implications of this finding, I’ll leave it to you to form your own inferences of how this affects long-term recovery.

I want you to know that this was mind-blowing to me. I know the power of support groups by just seeing the success stories in local support groups I’ve attended. I know that addiction is a disease of isolation – and of course, the opposite of isolation is socialization. I also realize that humans are much, much more complex than rats and that’s why a support group alone won’t bring sobriety. But to see it played out by a bunch of rats blew me away.

 I’ll go out on a limb and say that long-term sobriety won’t ever come without it – this human connection.

 One more quick thing I have learned about the power of being connected…

Estimated rates of PTSD have increased in war veterans from about 5% after WWII to 15-20% for the more recent wars, according to an article titled “U.S. Wars and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder[RC2] .”

 What was the difference?  Though there are many possibilities for this change, at least one speculated difference was that in WWII, the soldiers came home by boat. They had weeks to talk about their experiences with others who understood. However, in modern times, soldiers are home within a day, by plane. They go from a very traumatic situation to regular life without anyone to listen to and empathize with about what they’ve experienced. This lack of being heard very likely made a major difference in their future mental health. 

The takeaway… Put a priority and getting and staying connected. Your recovery may depend on it.                                                 

 [RC2]https://www.sfgate.com/health/article/U-S-wars-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-2627010.php

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Fear and COVID-19 - A Flashback

(Originally written March 17, 2020 and for some reason never got added to this blog.)

It has been a while since I’ve spent time writing. I have been sick, then super busy making up for being sick, then just super busy. My writing has been pushed aside more than once when I really wanted to... because, in this time of such uncertainty, I felt this wasn't being "productive" (with my definition at the moment meaning “do something to make money”). Well, I hit the breaking point just a few minutes ago and it doesn't matter if it's technically "productive" or not, I need to write.

 

The timing has been weird on this one. I'm about to have cataract surgery and due to a test I need to have before the surgery, I have had to go without contacts for a week. Given the nature of my businesses, wearing my old glasses has made it very difficult to do some of my jobs and impossible to do others. 

 

I have known this for a few weeks and have been preparing for the loss of work and income. I was very proactive by making a list of things that I've been putting off for a long time that needed to be done and could be done with less than ideal vision. I knew this would keep me busy and not feeling quite as bad about the loss of income. I actually wasn't anxious during the beginning of the news about COVID-19, maybe because I was already mentally prepared for this downtime.

 

Then COVID-19 hit my immediate area, one of the last states in the country to really be impacted. When I was "just" missing work due to wearing my glasses and recovery from the surgery, I could still make money a few other ways, just not as much. However, because I live with my parents who are very high risk, it's safer for me to stay home. COVID-19 killed that potential for "not as much" work that I was still hoping for during this time.

 

Add to that, I hit a down cycle in my bipolar disorder and have been extremely depressed (bipolar depression – not related to the circumstances around me). Several non-COVID-related hard to deal with issues have happened personally and with some of the people I love. The support groups I rely on have had to cancel (though we were able to pull off a phone conference for one support group last night). 

 

I have figured out that the most difficult issues I'm dealing with right now are the lack of control and uncertainty. I'll talk about each of those separately. 

 

Control... Everyone loves to be in control. Worldwide wars have been fought over control. Marriages have been lost over control. Businesses have fallen apart because of control. Wanting control is a common feature of humanity.

 

But note that control is a defining characteristic of an addict. Trying to control others and the surrounding environment and always failing is one thing that leads to addictive behavior. Not being able to control the addictive behavior leads to shame and a feeling of worthlessness.

 

So, I'm an addict who has major depression and anxiety issues and is a freelancer who can't work for who knows how long. Under these circumstances there is so little I can control.

 

I'm not doing well.

 

Uncertainty... I think we are all programmed to know that we can deal with just about anything for a specified amount of time. When I was still in college, I remember thinking that I could deal with any subject or any professor for just a quarter. If I know that I was going to have a medical procedure or if I was sick, I had at least some idea of how long it would be until I could get back "to normal." 

 

Not knowing how long this pandemic will last, what will happen before it's over, and what will be the aftermath is a huge problem for me. I have lived through some horrible times in my 50+ years and there was always an end. So intellectually I know there will be an end to COVID-19. But the biggest issue is what my life will be like when it's over.

 

For several years now I have been building a photography business - specializing in event photography. I was just starting to build up some momentum in my business. Big events have are obviously being canceled left and right. It's scary to not know if the businesses that host events will still remember me when it's over.

 

Of course, I'm also worried about my parents. I'm worried that they will get sick... and I'm worried that if I leave my house and catch it, it'll be my fault that they got sick. Both my boyfriend and my daughter are high risk so I’m also worried, though not as much, about them getting sick.

 

Surprisingly, I'm not worried at all about me getting sick. For myself, I'm worried about being inconvenienced... specifically with my cataract surgery. Wearing glasses for this week has been truly horrible. If the test is canceled at the last minute, then all that misery will have been for nothing. If the surgery is put off, then it's that much longer before I can get back to work full-time after recovery.

 

I know I’m whining… I know that I’m one of many dealing with all of these issues… I know that there are many others who have it worse off than I do… In this case, though, knowing I’m not alone in how I feel doesn’t matter one bit to help me feel better.

 

The only thing that has made me feel better in this time has been to help others. Setting up the phone support group last night was one of the better times I’ve had the last week. Knowing I was doing something for others kept me out of my head for just a few minutes. It didn’t lift the overwhelming depression I’m feeling but did keep me going for a little longer while I’m in the midst of it.

 

With all of this, there is no better time to recite the Serenity Prayer... and really try to live it. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Fireworks Thoughts

Independence Day fell on a Sunday this year, so it was extra fun! (Insert loads of sarcasm into those last two words.) That meant we got to stay up and get bombarded by the sounds of fireworks for TWO nights, not just one! 

So... 

much... 

fun! 

(Insert even more sarcasm into those statements.)

Our across-the-street neighbors decided to put on a major fireworks show. As I had no idea how long the Sunday night show would last and my boyfriend and I were hanging out playing a puzzle game, I elected to stay inside and didn't see that show. The next night, my boyfriend and I were trying to finish a movie so we missed watching that evening's show. 

When I say we missed seeing and watching, I want to make it clear that we did NOT miss hearing the fireworks. They sounded like they were literally just outside of my bedroom window and they were incredibly loud.

I don't like loud noises; I haven't my entire life. I used to hate to go to the city-wide fireworks show each year. I thought they were beautiful to watch but just couldn't take the volume, especially at the finale'. I spent the entire show with my hands tightly clasped over my ears.

Normally, if this happened in my neighborhood, I would have put on headphones or earbuds and turned the music up. But since I was with my boyfriend and both times we had started something we wanted to finish, I didn't feel comfortable drowning both the fireworks (a good thing) and him (a bad thing) out. 

So both nights I endured... clenching my teeth, getting knots in my stomach, jumping at the loudest booms. 

As they lasted much longer than I would have ever expected (who has that much money to spend on fireworks, anyway?), I had plenty of time to think as I prayed for them to be finished soon.

One thought that was pervasive during both "shows" was how I wanted to be the mean old neighbor who would call the cops. It's technically illegal to shoot fireworks in our small town, but I know a lot do it anyway. But there are lots of illegal things that I used to do and hated those adults who were too serious for anyone's good. (Don't go too far with that - I'm talking about trespassing to get our sole baseball or TP'ing a yard, not stealing a car.)

I decided I wouldn't be that neighbor. I would continue clenching, knotting, and jumping for a little while longer.

Then they kept going. So I had more time to think. 

During the Sunday night extravagance, I was thankful for a strange issue - that my cat was at the animal ER. Annabel jumps up and runs when I sneeze. Though I was very scared that we might lose her as she was very, very sick that morning, I thought that at least she wouldn't be subjected to this onslaught.

Monday night she was home but wasn't completely well. Earlier in the day I remembered thinking that I was so glad the fireworks were the night before and that she missed them. When they started back on Monday night, I was upset - I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. She was fragile anyway and I knew this would stress her out even more than her overnight stay in the vet hospital. 

I almost broke my prior night's vow to not be the mean old neighbor when she ran and hid behind the couch. I wanted so much for those kids to stop and I didn't mind if they got in trouble in the process. But I also know how much fun it is for kids to shoot off fireworks and there was a part of me that hated to spoil their fun.

(Besides, the police might not have even showed up so I would have still had to endure.)

The earlier thoughts both nights led to a very important one - when does one person asserting their rights trample over another's? On one hand, I had the right to have a quiet evening at home. I had the right to not have to fight a panic attack over something I couldn't control. I had the right for my sweet kitty to not have to stress out so much she can't heal.

But those kids also have rights. Leaving out the whole "illegal" part of this, they have the right to have fun as long as they weren't on our property. 

This led to a debate I have within myself multiple times a week - when is it okay to tell another individual that they can't do a particular activity because of how it affects you?

Some examples...

- TV volume: 

I live with my parents. They are at the age that hearing loss is pretty much a given fact. They watch tv a lot, loudly - shows I don't like and that particularly annoy me. But is it "fair" for me to ask them to always turn the volume down when they can't hear it otherwise?

- Dogs:

We have sidewalks in our neighborhood and many of those who live on my street have dogs. This combination leads to dogs being in or near our front yard almost every day of the week, multiple times per day. Sometimes these dogs bark at or run towards my cat. I would love for them to not go in front of my house and terrify my anxious cat, but is it "fair" for them to not be able to walk their dogs on the sidewalk in their neighborhood?

- Food:

I am what is called a "Supertaster." This means I taste bitter and spicy more aggressively than most. I don't even like black pepper. The bitter isn't usually an issue but there are many times that the food I am eating in a group situation is too spicy for me. But is it "fair" to ask the hosts beforehand for bland food? I mean, it's personal preference, not like a life-threatening allergy.

- Seating:

Being very overweight means seating can be an issue at times. The biggest fear related to this area is that I'll break one of those little wedding chairs or something similar at a gathering of friends and family. I would love to ask that whatever would be appropriate seating for me be used for all of the guests so I don't have to be singled out. But is it "fair" that those hosting have to pay more for seating due to one person's needs?

I could go on with more examples but this is my point... I'm an advocate for helping those who need special accommodations. I'm one of them. I've written several articles about the value of doing so. 

However, every time I ask for something special I wonder if it's "fair" to ask. After all, I'll be inconveniencing someone else, even if it's in a tiny way, to get my way. How much should a disabled person or someone with mental illness or an elderly person be able to ask for before it's too much? 

It's entirely accurate that the fireworks the past two nights were anxiety-producing and could have easily led to a panic attack either or both nights. We had just spent a lot of money taking our cat to the ER, only to possibly have her hurt herself due to the noise. We had plenty of reasons to ask for them to stop shooting those fireworks.

I'm glad we didn't. 

But the next time I have a dilemma like this, which will I choose? Asserting myself for what I or a loved one needs or keeping in mind that the other person(s) rights are just as important?

There's not a clear answer. There never will be. I just hope that as we keep standing up for the rights of those who need something special to have the best life possible, we don't trample over the rights of those who don't.

Please comment on what you would have done in this situation - would you have called the police or endured? Also consider following this blog, my Facebook pages (SpotlightonStigma and nowNovelPhotos), and my website (www.NovelPhotos.com). Thanks for your support.