Monday, August 1, 2022

Where Does Responsibility For Happiness Lie?

“Nobody is responsible for your happiness but you.”  Such a simple and often quoted phrase, yet it has the potential to be one of the most damaging pieces of advice one can give.  My belief is that the underlying intent of these words is to encourage self-awareness and discipline to understand what creates happiness within us and make conscious choices to be involved with people and activities to achieve that end.  From this perspective, “I am responsible for my own happiness” can serve as a useful mantra to help guide our daily decisions.  Indeed, if we expect someone else to fundamentally change the nature of who they are for our benefit, we are not making a choice that is likely to result in happiness.

What I see more often, however, is this phrase used as a trite response to someone else who is in pain when we can’t be bothered to hold space for them through their suffering.  Can you imagine approaching a hungry child living in poverty, a parent whose star athlete teen was paralyzed by a drunk driver, or a groom whose bride was killed in a robbery attempt the night before their wedding and saying, “You are responsible for your own happiness?”


We wouldn’t consider giving that advice in those cases, yet many people don’t think twice about saying those words to someone who feels trapped in an abusive relationship, or at a job they don’t enjoy, or whose 20-year marriage has ended.  This guidance isn’t particularly helpful, and in some cases, can propagate the feelings of inadequacy that are already plaguing that person in those circumstances.


Allow me to back up a bit, though, and explain my issues with this phrase.  In the 1970’s, psychologist Paul Eckman defined six core emotions experienced by all people:  Happiness, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Surprise.  Additional core emotions have been identified since that time, the below wheel also includes Bad.  There is an important distinction between an emotion and one’s feelings, affect, or mood.  An emotion is a physical response to external stimuli controlled by areas of the brain like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.  If you have heard of the “fight or flight” response, you are already aware of the physiological changes triggered by the sympathetic nervous system in response to one core emotion, fear.  In contrast, a feeling is a mental state and is based on how you experience and interpret an emotion.  This graphic shows common feelings we express in response to the core emotions.   

The sequence of events is:  External Trigger -> Physical State (Emotion) -> Mental State (Feeling).

For example, my spouse is diagnosed with a terminal illness (trigger), I experience sadness (increased heart rate and skin conductance followed by tears), and I feel grief and despair. 


My first issue with the topic phrase is that it sets an expectation of being able to control a physiological response to an external trigger.  The ability to choose an emotion is no different than any other physical sensation.  Imagine being stuck with a needle and being told you are responsible for feeling pain, and that you could instead choose for it to feel like being licked by kittens.  Try putting a hot pepper on your tongue and convincing yourself it really tastes like cotton candy.


People with some level of emotional intelligence can choose how they react to a feeling, and with a lot of self-work, can also learn to moderate what feeling they have in response to an emotion.  Studies have shown that people who are healthy and practice a mindset of gratitude are more likely to experience happiness.  However, the ability to control the body’s physiological response to an external stimulus is not commonplace.  One could argue that you can choose what external triggers you expose yourself to, but it is unreasonable to expect that you can shelter yourself from all negative stimuli in the world.  I remember the day I went to the mall and bought myself a beautiful pair of diamond earrings to match a diamond necklace I received as a gift.  That same day, I returned to my car to find that someone had backed into it and didn’t leave a note.  A few months later, I went for a walk and returned home to discover one of those earrings had fallen out.  I could have avoided the negative feelings associated with my car being damaged and losing an earring had I not gone to the mall that day, but giving up happiness to avoid potential sadness or anger is no way to live.


This leads into my second issue with that phrase.  Happiness shouldn’t be the goal in every situation.  We are supposed to feel a wide range of emotions.  It is not only healthy to experience an emotion and work through it, but it is necessary for growth.  I have known a few people who try to live out only positive feelings.  They will express when they are angry, but won’t work through it.  Likewise, if you try to talk about a difficult feeling you are having, they will shut down the conversation until the uncomfortableness leaves.  The resolution to any disagreement is pretend it never happened.  While their outward positivity is quite charming when you meet them, they are exceptionally emotionally immature and lack the ability to create any real depth in their relationships.


I also have a problem with any advice that marginalizes legitimate mental health struggles.  When I was in college, I attended a church where I was encouraged to pray more when I started to feel a little depressed, because happiness comes from God, not antidepressants.  This is the most dangerous use of the phrase “You are responsible for your own happiness” that I can think of.  Saying that to someone who is clinically depressed is like telling someone it is their fault they have cancer.  As a cancer survivor, that wouldn’t go over well with me.


Finally, I have an issue with that phrase because when interpreted literally, it encourages a self-centered and entitled attitude in favor of compassion and empathy.  Taking responsibility for your own happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of your integrity or obligations to others.  We lose our humanity when we take actions for our own personal gratification without at least being mindful of the happiness or well-being of those impacted by our actions.  The people in your community and in your personal relationships should be able to reasonably expect certain standards of behavior.  The most extreme example of this is the pedophile who finds happiness preying on children, should he act on this desire under his responsibility to own his happiness?  No, people who pursue happiness at the expense of violating others’ rights are held accountable for their actions.  A more common example is neighborhood communities.  I was the President of my Homeowner’ Association for several years.  During that time, I dealt with countless complaints about neighbors who agreed to a set of association rules when they moved in, but didn’t abide by them because they wanted to do something that wasn’t allowed.  This involved everything from owning more pets than were allowed, to parking campers and boats in driveways, to building sheds and play systems without approval.  These may seem like benign offenses, but they weren’t to the people who moved into that specific neighborhood because they wanted to live in a community that had these types of standards, and they had a rightful expectation of others who signed the same agreement.


This time of year, social media arguments over fireworks are rampant.  Those who want to celebrate our nation’s independence with nightly fireworks for a week prioritize their fun over veterans who suffer from PTSD and pet owners who have to deal with dogs who are terrified of the noise.  These groups can’t coexist with a “you’re responsible for your own happiness” mentality.  Inevitably, one group tells the other, “If you don’t like it, move to the country.”  Thoughtfulness for neighbors and a sense of community is thrown out the window.


On an individual level, think about the Black Friday shopper who rips a sale item out of the hands of customer who got there earlier.  The spouse who decides to purchase a car they can’t afford, or to quit their job without another one lined up while their partner tries to figure out how to make ends meet.  The single person who inserts him/herself into your relationship because their ego craves the challenge of getting a person in a committed relationship to stray.  Any one of those people could justify their actions with “This is what I want.  Your happiness is your responsibility, not mine,” rather than hold themselves to a standard of respect for their fellow man and prior commitments.


Of course, there are times when we need to make a decision that will be difficult on another person.  Consider the person in an unhappy relationship.  Their choices are to continue being unhappy or to end the relationship and eventually find someone they can be happy with.  The person only concerned with their own happiness lies to their partner while looking for someone else to be with, then ends things when they have a new relationship lined up.  The person who is mindful of both their rights and the rights of those around them realizes that their partner deserves the same opportunity to seek happiness elsewhere and ends the relationship so that both people can move on.  Both scenarios depict someone taking responsibility for their happiness, but the latter describes a person who pursues that happiness within the boundaries of socially acceptable treatment of another human being.


I am responsible for my own happiness.  I am responsible for how I react to negative external stimuli.  I am responsible for protecting my boundaries.  I am accountable for my commitments and obligations.  I am accountable for not leaving a path of emotional destruction in my wake as I pursue my happiness.  And if your pursuit of happiness violates my rights, I will hold you accountable.  But if you approach me because you are going through a difficult time and are struggling to find happiness, I will sit with you, walk with you, or talk with you as you work through it – because if I can help you find your happiness, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The "C" Word

I’ve probably spent too much time contemplating if and how to share my cancer story.  Should I write an inspirational story feigning strength and bravery?  Should I simply present the clinical facts?  The truth is, I survived because my cancer was caught early… many people aren’t as fortunate and I’m not comfortable celebrating my good fortune when I know so many who have had less positive outcomes.  So instead, I’m going to share the day-to-day reality of a cancer patient because my story would be nothing more than a few pages of useless words if it didn’t offer some insight that might be helpful to someone else facing a cancer diagnosis of their own, or of a friend or loved one.

Photo by Junion Photography - 2019

I remember once asking my doctor what an abnormal breast lump felt like.  She commented that benign breast fibroids, cysts, and calcifications are common, but that I had unusually smooth breast tissue – which was good because it would be especially easy for me to notice any changes.  She was right.  In late 2020, I felt a lump in my breast.  However, I assumed it was just changes related to age and with the hassles of appointments during the pandemic, I waited a month or two before calling to schedule that mammogram I was overdue for.  I didn’t really want to tell anyone that I felt a lump, I just wanted to know if it showed up on a mammogram.  Unfortunately, there was about a 3 month wait for screening mammograms, so on December 15, I saw my primary care provider who scheduled me for a diagnostic mammogram 3 days later.

On December 16, I closed on the purchase of a new home.


More on that later…

The mammogram was followed by an ultrasound – as is always the case for me.  Apparently even “smooth” breast tissue can be too dense for a decent quality mammogram image.  They found six or seven abnormal spots, so they scheduled me to have them biopsied on Christmas Eve.

This was my first mistake… we have our benefits open enrollment in November, and at that time, I realized that I didn’t use any of my health savings account in 2020.  I had more than my annual out of pocket maximum saved, so I reduced the amount I would contribute in 2021.  But in the last two weeks of December, I met my full deductible for the year.  Had I believed that the biopsies might actually result in a cancer diagnosis, I would have waited 8 days and had them done in the new plan year.  That little mistake cost several thousand dollars, as the tests and surgeries scheduled in January quickly added up to my deductible for 2021.

Although my clinic didn’t allow guests to accompany patients to appointments during the pandemic, they made an exception and Jim was allowed to sit beside me during the biopsies on Christmas Eve.  They took over 20 tissue samples from 6 different sites.  Only one of the sites was the lump I could feel.  There was one more spot that they wanted to sample, but I was nearing the limit for how much lidocaine they could inject in me in a day, so we decided to wait until we got the results before taking any more.  I remember not wanting to worry my family on Christmas Eve, so I stuffed ice packs in my bra on the drive to dinner at my sister’s house, then hung them from the passenger side window of my SUV while we ate so they would re-freeze for the ride home.  My brother-in-law doesn’t miss a thing, so of course he asked what was hanging from my car door – I don’t recall the answer I gave, I think I just tried to quickly change the subject.

There was a lot of waiting due to the holidays.  Sometime around January 8, 2021, I learned that the biopsies revealed a 2.3 cm ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, stage 0) that was positive for both estrogen and progesterone receptors, as well as a rare but benign tubular adenoma, and several fibrous spots that weren’t concerning.  Interestingly, many doctors don’t believe that DCIS is palpable, but I confirmed that the DCIS was found in the lump I could feel.  Treatment for DCIS is typically partial mastectomy (lumpectomy) followed by radiation treatment.  However, my oncologist recommended more testing before making a final decision on the treatment approach.

A quick note on DCIS.  It is not invasive and is considered Stage 0.  Some people consider it “pre-cancerous”, but it can become an invasive cancer if left untreated.  I know someone who had this diagnosis and was told she didn’t have “real” cancer because she didn’t need chemotherapy and didn’t lose her hair.  As far as breast cancer diagnoses go, it is the best one to get in terms of outcome, but it is still a cancer diagnosis!  Please don’t ever downplay what someone is going through during cancer treatment just because the staging is low, or their prognosis is excellent.  Cancer treatment sucks, even when the cancer itself isn’t one of the “bad ones”.

A breast MRI and genetics study were added to the list of tests to undergo before deciding on a treatment plan.  While waiting for the genetic test results (which came back negative for any gene mutations that made recurrence more likely), Jim and I began moving our belongings from both of our apartments into the new house.  I was on a lifting restriction for part of this, so things went much slower than I had planned.  We got everything into the garage and set up the bare necessities in time for my lumpectomy on February 18th.  The surgery went smoothly, although I was a bit unsettled when one of the meds given to me immediately before the surgery caused a loud ringing in my ears.  I woke from surgery more easily than I usually do with no noticeable side effects from the anesthesia, so I went home and logged into work.


Prior to my surgery, I hadn’t told anyone about the diagnosis except for immediate family and two close friends.  I posted about my experience on social media the evening of my surgery, which likely caused several other close friends to wonder why I hadn’t told them.  The truth is, I didn’t want to worry people before I had answers.  At that point, I thought I was done with everything except a few rounds of radiation.

My son’s lease was up at the end of February and so we started adding yet a third household of furnishings to the new house.  My phone rang as I was driving a U-Haul truck down Grand Ave in Wausau.  It was my oncologist’s nurse wanting to follow-up now that they had the histological results from my lumpectomy.  Expecting to be told that everything looked good, I asked if she could call me back in five minutes when I arrived at my son’s apartment.  She called again with my oncologist standing by as I stood in my son’s doorway greeting the movers.  My phone was acting up, so I answered the call on my watch.  Between the background noise of the movers, the low volume of the speaker on my watch, and my oncologist’s heavy accent, I made out only some of what he was telling me before I heard him suggest that I just come to his office.

Upon settling into my oncologist’s office, he explained that they didn’t get clear margins on the lump that was removed, and within that lump were 8 separate cribriform carcinoma tumors that hadn’t been picked up by any of the prior tests.  Had there been one tumor the size of the sum of the 8 tumors, it would have been considered a Stage 2 diagnosis.  However, technically, I had 8 stage 1 tumors.  My oncologist had never seen a case like this, and if the 8 tumors didn’t show up on the tests, it begged the question of whether there were more.  Because of this, he recommended we treat it as Stage 2 cancer with chemotherapy and radiation.  But first, I had a full body PET scan to look for signs of any other masses, a second surgery to remove more of the area where the first (DCIS) tumor was as well as to remove a couple lymph nodes and insert the port that my chemotherapy would be administered through, followed by a poorly timed echocardiogram less than 24 hours after surgery to make sure my heart could handle chemotherapy.

I remember going into the second surgery on March 4th ready for the loud ringing in my ears again, which didn’t happen, and expecting to wake up feeling as good as I did the last time, which also didn’t happen.  I found it curious how the exact same surgery, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and surgical team resulted in two very different experiences.  I realized later that day that it was exactly 8 years to the day after I had my right adrenal gland removed due to a tumor that was producing too much aldosterone.  Although that tumor wasn’t cancer, I was treated in Froedtert’s Cancer Center.  I remember thinking how much nicer Froedtert’s facilities were.

On March 9th, we picked up a new member of my care team…. Sookie, an 8 week old English Springer Spaniel.


I had been given an overwhelming amount of information about my diagnosis, even a book from the hospital where the nurse had marked pages and highlighted parts that were relevant for me.  Being who I am, of course I read everything I could get my hands on from reliable sources about the chemotherapy drugs I was told I would receive.  On March 10th, I arrived for my first round of chemo and learned they changed which drugs I would receive.  I went from planning to have 6 rounds of cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin over a 12 week period to 4 rounds of cyclophosphamide and Taxotere over the same period.  Because of the change, I wasn’t familiar with Taxotere but I learned a week later that it is associated with permanent hair loss in some patients.

The actual administration of chemotherapy itself isn’t all that bad.  I went in early every third Wednesday, from March 10 through May 12.  They checked my blood first to make sure I was healthy enough to get the treatment.  Then, I relaxed in a chair and was given drugs to prevent nausea as well as a steroid and Benadryl to prevent any reactions to the chemo drugs.  I found myself fighting to stay awake long enough for them to start the first chemo drug.  All of this, from the blood draw to the drug administration, was done through a needle that was inserted through my skin into the port in my chest.  Before sending me home with more pills for nausea, they taped a small device onto the back of my arm which inserted a small tube through my skin.  24 hours later, a dose of Neulasta was injected through that tube, and roughly 20 hours later is when I started to feel like crap.  Neulasta is a $6500 shot in the arm that kicks your immune system into high gear, causing your body to rapidly produce white blood cells to prevent infection.  In the process of doing this, it causes inflammation in your bone marrow – literally causing every bone in your body to hurt.  Badly.  I feel nauseous just remembering it.

The weekend after chemo was usually the worst, and that sometimes carried over into Monday, but by Monday evening I was through the worst of it.  The thing to remember about chemo, though, is that the effects are cumulative.  On March 18th, my best friend flew in from Arizona to spend a few days with me and help me cut the hair that I was about to lose into a short style.

 It wasn’t long after that I got tired of shedding and just shaved it all off.  I stuck with turbans throughout the chemotherapy and waited until I was feeling better before buying a wig.

As I mentioned, the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative.  Although my last treatment was in May, my blood tests in June still showed my red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and lymphocyte counts all below the target range.  At some point in there, I felt so weak that I was nervous just taking the one step down into my sunken living room.  I can remember carrying a basket of laundry from my bedroom to the laundry room and just sitting on the floor in tears because of how hard it was.  I felt as if all my muscles had shrunk.  I couldn’t bend down to pick something up or roll over in bed without feeling like I was pulling something.

I was spending more time in bed, eating comfort foods to combat the nausea, retaining water, and unable to get comfortable.  I felt like a short, bald, fat circus freak.  My house was a disaster from the incomplete move, my garage too full of boxes to park in, but I turned down offers of help because I just didn’t want to be seen.  At some point during that time, I remember thinking, “If it comes back, I won’t put myself through this again.”  Weeks after my last chemo, I was still developing new side effects – my skin started flaking, my nails became discolored and started to lift off, and the edema in my legs became worse.  I developed an allergic reaction which presented as a rash across my entire back.  That also had to be biopsied to confirm the cause.

I started radiation a week after chemotherapy ended.  I was given the option to heal a bit more first, but I had hopes of being done by the 4th of July and maybe being able to enjoy the summer.  Every weekday for 4 ½ weeks, the left side of my chest was irradiated.  Like the chemo, radiation side effects are cumulative.  They also are delayed by about 10 days after the treatment.  Although I finished my radiation treatments in mid-June, my skin was still falling off in chunks two weeks later.  But at the same time, I also figured out how to wear a wig.

There is more... the estrogen blocking medication that gave me daily migraines, not being able to wear regular antiperspirant or a bra during radiation treatments, trying to find shoes to fit my swollen feet before a business trip, new kidney stone attacks, neuropathy in my feet, continued numbness in my chest and underarm, and so on.  But I think the important stuff has been sufficiently covered. 

All this might seem like TMI, but I’m sharing the details because inevitably someone would say something like, “Now that you’re done with cancer treatments….”  And it is important to realize, being “done” with the treatment is not even close to the same thing as being “done” with the side effects.  I’m writing this in mid-Sept, still fighting a rash, as well as some fatigue and weakness.  But, I’m still here to share my story, so I guess that makes it all worth it.  As for those earlier thoughts that plagued me… In hindsight, yes, I would go through it again if I had to.  But I’ve learned a lot… I would do things differently, which means I have to change things now if I want to be prepared for the possibility of a recurrence.  There may never be a “next time”, but if there is:

  • I need to be healthier going into it

  • My life needs to simpler, my surroundings less overwhelming and chaotic

  • I must have a fallback plan if I suddenly can’t work, because my health and life insurance are provided by my employer

  • I need to let go of the things that no longer bring me joy – because hard times will come, but living a life of joy is what allows you to face them without regrets

So that is my story.  People comment on how strong I must be to fight cancer, but honestly, there is little bravery in doing what you’re told you must do to stay alive.  The one thing I can do by choice for no other reason than because it feels like the right thing to do is to implore you to do the following:

  • Stay on top of your regular screening exams.

  • Don’t tell someone who has a health change or concern that it is probably nothing.

  • Keep more money than you think you need in your HSA, especially if you can carry it over from one year to the next.

  • Have good health insurance, even if just for major medical conditions - so far, my medical bills have totaled over $300,000.

  • Don’t minimize a cancer diagnosis because it is early stage or doesn’t require chemotherapy.

  • Be aware that a cancer patient may feel as obligated to comfort his or her loved ones about the diagnosis as you feel obligated to comfort him or her.

  • Know that the effects of cancer treatments last much longer than the actual treatment schedule.

  • If you care for someone facing a cancer diagnosis, understand that the kind of support they need may be completely different than what you think.

  • If you know someone facing a cancer diagnosis, ask them how they are.  Please don’t ask them what their prognosis is, and please don’t be completely absent.  Reach out – even if you aren’t sure what to say, trust me, they will notice your silence far more than any awkwardness in your call, email, or text.

  • Hug your people and tell them you love them because life is short.

  • Enjoy your life today, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Great Vaccine Debate

Ernst & Friederike Lindeman were my great, great grandparents.  As of 1877, they had seven children.  On Saturday, August 4th of that year, they lost their 10-year-old daughter, Helene, to diphtheria.  The next day, their 9-year-old son, Arthur, passed from the same cause.  On Monday, they said goodbye to their 12-year-old daughter, Bertha.  On Tuesday, they lost their daughter, Maria, who was almost 7 years old.  Thursday claimed their almost 5-year-old son, Ernst.  And on Friday, they lost their last two children – 3-year-old Georg and 13-month-old Emilie.  In less than one week’s time, Ernst and Friederike went from having a full house to starting over with just the two of them because of diphtheria.  The peak of the diphtheria epidemic was between 1921 and 1925, with 206,000 cases resulting in 15,520 deaths.  The diphtheria vaccine was developed in the 1920s, and people are still vaccinated against diphtheria along with pertussis and tetanus today with a shot commonly known as DTaP.  As for Ernst and Friederike, they went on to have seven more children, one being my feisty great grandmother, Anna.

With the current controversy surrounding COVID vaccination, I decided to research how early vaccines were developed and tested before being widely used.  My searching took me back to 1721, when people who didn’t really know much about immunity attempted to prevent smallpox infections by scratching a small amount of the pus from a smallpox lesion into a healthy person’s skin.  Unfortunately, some people contracted full blown smallpox from this experiment, and those who developed only a mild case were still carriers of the disease, spreading the full illness to those they came in contact with.

In 1796, Edward Jenner tried something different – he scratched pus from a cowpox lesion onto a child’s skin then exposed the child to smallpox.  The child remained healthy.  Cowpox was similar to smallpox, but much less severe.  Jenner spread the word of his results to other physicians, seeking nothing in return.  Soon, physicians around the world used this approach.  To deliver the vaccine to other countries, orphans were infected and put on ships, carrying the vaccine in their lesions.

Obviously, many improvements have been made to the inoculation approach in the years that followed.  Smallpox claimed over 300 million lives during just the 20th century, but in 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated.  It is the only infectious disease to receive that status, and it was achieved through a vaccination approach that began with no scientific controls and frankly, a complete lack of ethics.  Thank goodness we’ve advanced since then.

Someone recently asked me my opinion on the current COVID-19 vaccination situation. The rest of what I’m about to say reflects my understanding and opinion, I am not an expert on these topics and I encourage you to talk to your physician if you have questions. 
First, I wish people had taken the recommended precautions related to sheltering in place, wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others so that COVID-19 vaccines weren’t needed. But here we are, so here are my thoughts:

  • Very few viruses can be cured with medication.  The way of dealing with almost every virus is to treat the symptoms, reduce their severity through the use of antivirals, allow your body to build it’s own immunity by creating antibodies in response to being infected, or avoid serious infection through vaccination.  We don’t have 100% effective medications to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 or reduce the severity of the disease after symptoms start.  I support vaccination because it reduces severity of the disease.
  • Some viruses are prone to mutating more than others.  DNA based viruses, like smallpox, are more stable.  That is why we were able to eradicate it after it had been spreading for centuries.  RNA based viruses, like the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19, are prone to making mistakes when they replicate, which causes mutations.  The longer a virus goes unchecked, the more likely variants will form.  As variants turn into new strains, it becomes harder to prevent infection through vaccination.  Chickenpox doesn’t mutate, so you will only get it once.  Influenza does mutate, which is why there is a new flu vaccine every year.  This is the primary reason I support emergency use vaccines -  I don't want us to be in a situation where we have to develop new vaccines annually for COVID-19 variants (we don't catch all annual variants with the flu vaccine, the same would be true for COVID-19).  Time is of the essence if we want to slow the rate of transmission to prevent variants and new strains.
  • To reduce the risk of new variants, we also must reduce the number of infected individuals.  Herd immunity is essential.  The “right to choose” frequently comes up in conversation.  I understand this is a sensitive topic.  I support the right to choose, but with prejudice.  I have seen too many people digging in their heels because of misinformation or based on principle rather than on scientific evidence.  If your decision to not get vaccinated is purely to take a stand on your right to choose, I would ask you to reconsider your priorities.  I support the right to choose when there are legitimate medical reasons to not be vaccinated.  However, I also think people should be challenged when their choice provides no benefit to themselves but does reduce the likelihood of us or our children’s generation living in a world where COVID-19 infections are rare, like measles or polio.  At some point, we must acknowledge that being part of a civilized society involves being inconvenienced for the greater good - and for the good of those with medical conditions that prevent them from safely being vaccinated.
  • While the FDA hadn't fully approved the vaccinations before their use, they did authorize them for emergency use, which is far more FDA involvement than any number of over-the-counter supplements, herbal preparations, essential oils, and other unregulated home remedies that people regularly use to improve their health.  Not to mention the things people willingly inject in or through their skin without FDA approval, such as piercings, tattoos, and recreational drugs.
  • Speaking of government oversight, I don’t recommend government mandated vaccinations, but I'm not opposed to organizations requiring evidence of vaccination status.  Daycare providers require it before enrolling your children or sending them to summer camp and that is accepted.  Exceptions are allowed, but they have to be documented.  I know some people think the vaccine is being used to somehow control us.  I don’t personally believe there are enough corrupt people in positions of power or influence to poison the nation or world’s population.  I can remember thinking things had gone too far when seatbelt laws were enacted, but those laws did save lives.
  • IoT and smart devices are a hobby of mine.  I don’t believe any type of tracking device is being injected with the vaccine.  Devices that transmit data must be powered.  Devices that contain static information that can be read by a scanner must contain a unique identifier which is associated with your information in a database if they will be used to track you or information about you in a meaningful way.  When I received my vaccine, it was drawn from a multi-use vial.  At no time did anyone scan anything to associate my identity with a microscopic chip.  In addition, you have to hold a scanner very close to a microchip to read any data from it, so it would be fairly obvious if someone was trying to track you.
  • I willingly subjected myself to chemotherapy and radiation, both cancer fighting treatments that are known to have long term effects, because those side effects were less risky than allowing cancer to go untreated.  For me, the decision to get vaccinated to prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19 was minor in comparison.
  • I trust the scientists.  I trust science when sound research methods are employed and the results are published in peer reviewed journals.  I have not studied the research on the current COVID-19 vaccines, so I can’t say I trust the science, but I do trust the scientists at the organizations that have authorized and recommended their use, and I fully accept that they are human and may make mistakes.  There isn't enough time in the day to fully research every possible threat to my health that I may come across in a day.  I used Zantac.  I used Round-Up.  I got cancer.  I have no idea what caused it, but I'm going to go on living my life rather than spending it personally validating the research behind everything I come in contact with daily if I can reasonably believe it won't harm me.
  • I know people who have personally experienced long terms effects of COVID-19, and people who have lost loved ones to it.  I don't personally know anybody who has experienced a serious side effect of the vaccine.  In general, I have not heard of any vaccine side effects that are is as serious as the risks of COVID-19.  Yes, there are people who have had serious allergic reactions to the vaccine – an allergic reaction is not the same thing as a side effect.  Nonetheless, the rate of serious side effects and reactions is still far less than the rate of those in people who contract COVID-19.
So those are my reasons for being vaccinated and hoping my friends will follow suit. I’m not one to get into heated debates or end relationships over it, but if I can get one person to think about and further research their decision, then writing this was time well spent.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Pets and People

Mupsy was a beloved member of my family when I was growing up.  She was sweet, beautiful, and mild mannered.  She loved our family unconditionally and we loved her the same way. Like all of us, she had her place in the family tree... mother, father, daughter, sister, pet.  Human, human, human, human, dog.  That is right, she wasn't a person.  Of course, this didn't make her any less of a member of the family, but our expectations of her were different than they were for us human family members.  Mupsy was incredibly well trained.  She didn't need a leash or a hidden electric fence, she knew where she was and was not allowed to go.  But she did need us to feed her, let her outside, and meet her other needs... which we gladly did, because of what she gave us in return.  In fact, scientific studies show that having a bond with a pet helps our physical, emotional and social well-being.

And because I understand all of this, it is with great gentleness that I say... Please do not compare your pet to a human.  This is not to slight your beloved friend, or to diminish the human-like personality traits of your fur baby.  It is to implore you to recognize that there are significant differences between human relationships and those with our pets.

Pet owners, this is why those of us who have raised children cringe when you compare being a pet owner to being a parent.  According to research by animal psychologists, dogs are as intelligent as the average two-year-old child.  They are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures, can count up to five and perform simple mathematical calculations.  Like a two year old, they are dependent on you for their every need.  And like a two year old, they will develop a bond and attachment to the people who care for them.  Unlike a two year old, your dog is never going to advance beyond that.  And that is OK!  This is what we expect from our fur babies!

Parents of human babies, on the other hand, still have years of change to survive.  While the goal of having a pet is to enjoy the unconditional love and companionship they offer, the goal of being a parent is to raise a child that eventually becomes an independent, contributing member of society.  And with this challenge comes a certain amount of suffering and sacrifice that we wear as a badge of honor.  For example, while you may allow or even encourage your pet to sleep next to you, a parent's job is to teach our child to learn to sleep alone - despite how much we may want to do nothing but hold them after a bad dream. 

Throughout a child's life, we continue to do things that lead toward the ultimate end result of them leaving home, and hopefully starting a family of their own.  And in this process, we wake up early to pack lunches, struggle to get them out of bed and appropriately dress their little wiggling bodies, stay up late helping with homework, spending time we would rather be sleeping to instill the value of a job well done.  We hold their fevered bodies, kiss and bandage skinned knees, love them despite being told they hate us, listen and try to comfort them when they lose a friend, teach them to drive, stay up all night worrying when they are out, save money for college, go to sporting events and recitals, watch them walk for their diploma, and walk them down the aisle to give them away when they find their true love.

Speaking of true love, there is another important distinction between pets and humans.  Human love and emotion is complex.  Humans require more than a few treats mixed in with their kibble and a scratch behind the ear to develop trust and attachment.  I recently spoke with someone whose expectation for romantic love was for it to be as constant and unconditional as his dog's love.  Studies suggest that it isn't uncommon for someone who has been hurt by human relationships to turn to the unconditional love of a pet as their primary way to fulfill the desire for a committed relationship. In many cases, those same individuals who can't trust a human being are naturally also unwilling to give the same unconditional care and compassion they have for their pet to a love interest.  In this particular case, his dog was trained exclusively with positive reinforcement, while fellow humans were met with criticism when they fell short of his expectations.  While a dog might be upset when challenged for a short while, it will inevitably get over it within a few hours with little effort on anyone's part.  A human, on the other hand, isn't likely to jump on your lap and lick your face a few hours after a disagreement - at least not without some form of conversation or apology.

Are people more complex than pets?  Absolutely.  Are they worth the effort?  I guess that depends on whether your only need is to receive unconditional love, or if you're willing to put a little time and effort into understanding someone who can meet your physical needs, share the burden of other responsibilities, discuss topics that interest you, and grow old with you.  I tend to say yes, they are worth it.... and that doesn't mean I love my cats any less.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Relevance of Ephesians

Fair warning - this is my modern day interpretation of ancient texts and not intended to be a statement of fact.  And, if you are very conservative, there are one or two statements in here that will likely offend you.


In the 5th chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul provides the church with instructions for Christian Households.  These same verses are often used to demonstrate the rampant misogyny in the Christian church, so it is understandable why attendees at my own wedding were surprised to hear them quoted in the readings.  And as a single woman, it might seem strange that I still defend those verses to this day.  
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[b] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Admittedly, any discussion of scripture is best held in a space of understanding of each other's frame of reference and interpretation of Biblical teachings.  I don't support fundamental, literal interpretations of texts that were translated from Greek and Hebrew to Latin, then English years ago by mere mortals, because not every word has a direct translation, and not every word has the same meaning over time (remember when intercourse with someone meant you were having a conversation?).  I think my step daughter's hand decorated Bible cover summed it up best:


Ephesians 5:21-28 is a good example of this.  There are a few concepts in those verses that make most people tighten up, but if you can get past the words you deem offensive and look into the heart of what is being said, it is actually very good modern day advice.

But since I know you won't easily do that, let's just hit this straight on - "Submit".  I'm not going to try to defend it, I understand the connotation that word has in modern times.  If we take a step back, though, to the original text, the word that was translated to "submit" is "hupotasso".  It is distinctly different from "hupakouo", the word we translate to "obey" (what children are commanded to do).  "Hupakouo" refers to blind obedience or compliance.  You obey traffic laws because you have to or there are consequences, not because you want to.

"Hupotasso" is a choice - to yield or defer to someone out of respect or affection.  When you are thinking of taking a trip or making a big purchase, you talk it over with your spouse.  Not because you need their permission, but because your choice likely will impact them and you respect your partnership enough to get their input.  Reviewing Paul's instructions with that frame of reference, consider the following (I will substitute the distracting words with those that I feel are more easy to digest).

21:  The very first thing Paul says is to yield to EACH OTHER.  He instructs both husbands and wives to respect each other and have each other's best interests at heart.

22 - 24:  Taken out of context, these can be very challenging verses to read without immediately becoming put off and defensive.  I will share how I view it, but it is incredibly important to first acknowledge that it MUST be contemplated within the context of having a husband who lives up to the instructions in verses 25 - 33.  When we look at the basic needs of *most* men and women (yes, I am applying gender stereotypes and recognize that they do not apply to every person), most women feel loved by their husband when he demonstrates that he will do anything in his power to ensure her needs are met.  Most husbands feel loved when their wives show their respect and appreciation for him.  Now, this is not to say that women don't also take care of their husbands (ask any woman who has nursed a man with a cold!), or that husbands shouldn't also respect and appreciate their wives (ask any woman who is home all day taking care of the house and kids!), but wives.... I can't stress this enough.  As a single woman, I am approached by more men who are married or in committed relationships than single men (Note to self: Figure out why that is and how to change it) - and the overwhelming reason they give for why they are straying comes down to two things they want from you, but aren't getting:  appreciation and fellatio (and I could argue that the latter is just a way to express the former, but for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on the former).

When I read, "Submit yourselves to your own husband as you do to the Lord", I don't read it as a command to serve him or make yourself inferior to him.  I read it as a reminder to spend a little time practicing the one thing that we modern women, with our international business trips and executive presentations, tend to not do quite as often as we should - let our husbands know we respect and appreciate them, ask for their opinion or input, honor the things that they express are important to them.  Note where it says, "as you do to the Lord" - we don't make ourselves less intelligent, less capable, less talented, or less powerful than we are when we go to church.  The same applies at home.  You can be the bread winner, the corporate executive, even the Nobel prize winner, and still be respectful to your husband when you come home.  The odds are that you are respectful to strangers who cross your paths as you go about your day.  Your husband doesn't deserve less than strangers - especially if he is living up the incredible standard set for him in the next few verses.

25 - 33: The interesting thing about this whole set of instructions is that most people are up in arms about how it instructs women, but don't notice the magnitude of the expectation set for men.  "Husbands, love your wives, *just as Christ loved the church*" - spoiler alert if you haven't read the book:  Christ endured unimaginable torture, died, and went to hell for three days for us.  And most of us go about our day not only not acknowledging that sacrifice, but continuing to do those things that he died for.  Husbands - would you suffer and die for your wife?  What if you knew she would barely recognized your sacrifice?

It goes on to say, "to present her to himself ... without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish."  Now I know a few will argue with me here, because I do understand it is talking about the man spiritually leading his wife.  However, given my earlier admission that I am looking at this as modern day advice - Husbands, do you see past your wife's flaws?  Can you look at her *without* noticing her imperfect figure?  Or that she keeps her car a mess?  How do you love your wife?  Do you love her as much as you love yourself, as Christ loved the church?

If Christ were here with us today, do you think he would be giving Likes on Facebook to the photos of Pharisees sucking in their cheeks while fasting to make sure people knew they were holy?  Would he be sending private messages to the Israelites complimenting their golden calf?  Would he refuse to share the stories of the miracles he performed because he's "a private person"?

You can choose to close the book, or click to a new page when you see those verses, but it is hard to deny the applicability of the advice:
  1. Everyone, yield to the person you love out of respect and affection, always keeping each other's best interests at heart.
  2. Women, regardless of your role in the household, don't forget to let your husband know you believe he is worthy of your respect.  He would do anything for you, including die.
  3. Men, put your wife first and make her your top priority - she is worth more than that "Like" on Facebook, she is worth your very life.  Make sure you deserve that respect she gives you, whether she is with you or away.
And if you're thinking, "Yeah, but my spouse isn't living up to his/her side of the deal," the odds are your spouse is thinking the same.  Someone has to give in and go first.  Try it, you might be surprised what you get in return.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Love The Spin You're In

My first husband was a flight instructor.  I remember when he started his own training to get his private pilot's license, he excitedly told me that one of his flight lessons would involve recovering from a spin.  The thought of intentionally stalling an airplane and causing an uncontrolled corkscrew descent terrified me!  While I couldn't share his excitement over this, I understood the logic.... recovering from a spin requires intentional steps that may go against what intuitively feels right to a novice.  Knowing the right corrective actions is mandatory for survival.

Life is pretty much the same way.  We all go through times when we feel like things are spinning out of control, and we expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to "fix" whatever has caused us to stall.  Out of desperation, we try whatever maneuvers we believe will quell our uncomfortable emotions in rapid fire succession, while our grasp of logic plummets toward the earth.

I'm not going to beat around the bush... this analogy struck me as I considered the recent stories of several single friends who found themselves upset over the outcome of dating relationships.  In the process of seeking their "happily ever after", their enjoyment of life stalled.  As their attention became focused on "fixing" what was broken, their innate reactions proved counter productive, resulting in an uncontrolled spin.

We've all heard the first rule of finding happiness - love yourself.  Enjoy your own company.  Love the skin you're in.  Part of accepting yourself is accepting where you are on your journey, which means not trying to write the script for every experience you have, but instead allowing your experiences (positive and negative) to contribute to your growth.  It's not enough to love the skin you're in, you have to also learn to love the spin you're in.  Like the flight student taking the controls as the plane stalls, part of life is gaining confidence in our ability to quickly pull out of an uncontrolled descent and return to straight and level flight.

Everything in our being tells us we need to assert power and control to pull out of a spin.  And this is where it becomes interesting... because the first step to recovering from a spin in flight is to throttle back to idle.  Sometimes you have to let go of power to regain control.

The second step is to bring your ailerons to neutral. Now is not the time to try to raise your wings, trying to change direction while still in an uncontrolled descent will only make the spin worse.  Give yourself an opportunity to level off before setting a new course.

The third step is to rudder opposite the spin.  Whatever direction the spin is taking you in, turn the opposite direction.  Walking away can be one of the hardest things to do, but it is necessary to return to a stable position.

And finally, elevator forward.  As uncomfortable as it may be when you feel like you're headed straight down, now is the time to quickly move forward.  Reducing your angle of attack will break the stall, and everything else is perfectly positioned to allow you to fly out of the spin, raise your nose, and restore your power to take you wherever you want to go.

Love the spin you're in.  Watch the video... the pilot does these things in quick succession.  There isn't time to deliberate - there are only two possible outcomes:  deliberately doing what might not feel natural to regain stability, or crashing to the ground.  Let the spin teach you, so you can pull out of it and experience the real freedom of flying.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Perishable Gift

The last few years have been a rebirth, of sorts. I have become fluent in the languages of fear and loss, developed the righting reflex of a feral feline, and mastered the art of self-preservation. 
I embraced my ability to create and sustain life, a home, and a future without dependence - simultaneously harnessing the power to accrue money, possessions, and success with the power to see into the secret corners of one's soul. From the seeds of human potential that need nurturing, to the lurking demons defending their stronghold.
And so I looked my demons in the eye, drew my sword, and adorned myself in armor fashioned from their dismembered appendages so that I could claim my choices as my own, my actions as intentional.
In the process, I learned to integrate tears and scars into the foundation of the pillar upon which I now stand to lay my offerings of gratitude on the universal alter:
  • Gratitude that my every true need has been provided for
  • Gratitude for a heart that loves fiercely but not foolishly
  • Gratitude for the ability to adapt and overcome
  • Gratitude for the strength to transform pain into power
Like the tides, I rise and fall, but my presence cannot be denied. I will amaze you with my intellect, and frustrate you with my thoughtlessness. I will draw you in with my song, and split you open with my words. I will challenge you to expose the greatness in you that you cannot see. I will boldly conquer by day, and seek solace in loving arms by night. My body will respond to love's touch with the intensity of a volcano, but wilt to the shallowness of lust like a cut flower.
I am raw yet polished. Vulnerable yet indestructible. Made of grit and passion robustly entangled with nurturing softness. I am brilliance and talent and beauty and fortitude. And within me is an infinite spring of love and compassion patiently awaiting a willing and worthy recipient.
But I will not abide casual folly, nor pleas for second chances. I will not be content in the shadow of other priorities, nor compared to other lovers, nor penciled into anyone's agenda.
For my attention is a precious gift... but one that perishes without proper care.