Month: August 2015

Blood drive at church and the nurse who learned to stop fainting

They really got me with that flyer in the church bulletin about a little kid who needed blood transfusions during treatments for leukemia. Gosh.

When I was old enough, I think 16, I remember being excited to give blood. The bloodmobile regularly parked at my high school, and lots of students would give as often as we were allowed to. Once I was sent away for not having enough iron in my blood (ah, those vegetarian and vegan days!), but other than that I had no problems.

When I was 18, I left for the military. The first time I had a reaction to anything was at MEPS, when they took a few vials of blood. It was crappy, but not that big of a deal. A nurse put me in bed in a little room by myself for fifteen minutes or so, and then I went on to all those other tests I had that day.

Once I finished boot camp and all that stuff, I got back to donating when I could. Then two or three times in a row it was just… awful. The last time I donated was on a bloodmobile parked at the naval hospital where I was working at the time. Across from me, a physician was also giving. While the blood technicians (or whatever they are) were elevating my feet and looking worriedly at my pale face, I asked why I was having a problem–I wasn’t afraid of needles or new to the experience or anything. “It’s called a vasovagal response. People just have them sometimes,” the doc told me.

After that, I started feeling fainty pretty much every time I needed a needle stuck in me–which was a lot, since the Navy required me to get a ton of vaccinations. I became avoidant, though I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been afraid, of medical procedures in general.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I had to have a mole cut out of my back. First my doctor took a little shaving biopsy, which was bad enough. And damned if it didn’t turn out to be “abnormal.” Since I, like most people, really don’t want cancer, I made the appointment to have a deeper chunk of flesh cut out. Fortunately for me, the nurse practitioner performing the procedure was totally cool. She knew I was fainty, so she talked to me about all kinds of interesting things. Then it came up that she used to be fainty too–“How’s that? You said you always knew you wanted to be a nurse! And you are one!” I said. Finally she told me how she’d always had the calling, and so when she got to nursing school, she just… fainted. That’s simple. She told me she fainted about a dozen times before she became desensitized, and she hasn’t fainted since (about thirty years). I was amazed.

So when I got the blood drive flyer in the church bulletin a couple of weeks ago, I let myself also be inspired. “Mind over matter,” is a really old mantra, but it’s probably still my favorite. The best part of physical challenges, to me, has been the triumph of my own will. That’s the magic of a marathon. That’s what makes a snack taste really excellent when you eat at the top of a mountain. That’s why it’s bothered me not giving blood and having to ask to sit down whenever I get shots. I don’t think it’s pride, but it’s really just that I want to do what I want to do–so why don’t I? It’s that I don’t want to make decisions based on fear or anxiety or imagination. It’s when Paul talks in the epistles about endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness. It’s just not consistent with me to avoid doing something good because I don’t want something uncomfortable to happen to me. I would rather donate blood and faint, than not even try because I might faint.

I donate blood today. I told the vampires that I had been fainty in the past, but I also wore some red lip gloss so they wouldn’t remark on my lips becoming pale (if they did). It was fine! It was fine! It was fine! I drank a ton of water, I looked at baseball news (sad indeed for my team, but that’s okay), and I talked to people who were around. I felt pretty hot and got tunnel vision for a  minute after the needle was removed, but I didn’t even care at all by then! My will triumphed. I was willing to faint if need be, and I didn’t; my apprehension had been unwarranted. Now maybe I’ve done a good deed, maybe even helped save a life. I am so happy, and I will be going back to donate next time.

I honestly thought I’d scrapbook

buddha1

Big Buddha in Kamakurabuddha2

That is a big Buddha

When my better half and I started dating around six years ago, I got it into my head that I’d collect things to scrapbook. I am just now taping stuff into a book. I’m not nearly as crafty as I guess I thought I was.

Anyway, man, it is so nice going through all of this junk. Cards and notes we exchanged. Arguments we got over.

“It was really nice playing Scrabble with you this morning… The shit talking was also prime. Well, mine was anyway. :P” — from a note he wrote me back in the day

I’ve rediscovered notes, photos, business cards from memorable restaurants, foreign customer loyalty cards (there was this bakery in Japan where we spent way too much money on fresh mini chocolate donuts), train maps, and museum brochures.

I have nothing profound or smart or really touching to say. It’s just a really lovely thing, looking back and recalling so many happy experiences with this person. When you’re falling in love, or when you’re becoming best friends, or even when you’re beginning to meld into a single matrimonial entity, do you realize it? I don’t know. But looking back at it is kind of like reading an amazing book for the second time. The first time you read it, you get the story; the second time you read it, you get the details.

Preparations, transportation, and where to put my emergency floss

Lately I have been making preparations for fall which I hope will make my life a little easier, since I anticipate my classes getting harder. One of the things I’m doing is researching my transportation options. I live about 25 miles from the school I’ll be attending, and in rush hour, that could put my commute at about an hour one way. On top of that, the route has some serious hills, and I would probably be using air conditioning (because green as I try to be, I hate sitting in a hot car).

I really want to align my behavior with my beliefs though, hence the research. The bus won’t work because I’m not Japanese, and I’m not commuting a total of four hours per day–I only mention the Japanese because I saw a TV program years ago about a real Japanese man who really did commute for four hours per day! No!

Carpool won’t work because… I just live in the boonies and I’m not very sociable. Who would I carpool with?

All the cool people are vanpooling. Of course, by “all the cool people” I simply mean “an increasing number of people I know.” Though I do feel some trepidation about it, I did decide to send an inquiry about it to my school vanpool coordinator.

The cost will probably be less than what I’d pay for gasoline and a parking permit–that’s not an issue.

I might be trapped with a van full of weirdos for an hour or two per day–that’s not even an issue.

Really, it’s my junk. Where will I put it? I don’t want to carry my lunch bag around, as well as my backpack full of books and possibly lab gear (coat, goggles). And I have to have an emergency stash of floss, feminine products, a baseball cap, and hand sanitizer somewhere–that’s just part of who I am! And I refuse to buy a wheelie backpack before my hair turns white!

Cue the silly thing that made me feel totally stoked today:

UCSD has lockers for rent for commuter students! So if I do join a vanpool or find some other way to ditch my car, I’ll have a place for my bento box and my hat and everything! Whew!

Sometimes it really is just the little things in life that bring joy or comfort or relief. I guess sometimes it’s just knowing that one of those ‘little things’ even exists. What happened today was that I decided it was important to ask about the vanpool. I decided that not having a place for my emergency supplies was not an acceptable reason to forget about it and just keep driving my car every day. (I should add that I might not join a vanpool–but only because there might not be one that I can easily reach, or that will fit with my schedule.) I decided that if I could, I would just make the sacrifice, stupid and minor as it would be. Only after that did I find out I wouldn’t need to make that sacrifice at all!

Now the serious question: what cool pictures would I tape up inside my locker? Periodic table? Cute animals? Tardises and starships?

To sublime

The short story of how I came to Christ:

Today I awoke late, around seven thirty, and I read a few pages of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, the book which played such a great part in my Christianity.

When I was about fifteen, the title, The Sickness Unto Death, by the same author, attracted me when I happened to see it at Barnes & Noble. I asked my mother to buy me the book, as well as another which had something to do with Hinduism, an interest of mine at that time. Mother made me choose only one, and I can still remember how surprised she seemed that I chose the Kierkegaard title. The cover described the book as a “psychological exposition from a Christian perspective,” or something close to that, and my mother must have realized how (unfairly) biased against Christianity I was. She bought me the book.

One book led to another, and I found myself reading Works of Love. Around that time I was also taking a humanities class which required me to read several passages from the Bible in order to learn about the ancient Hebrew culture. Together, Kierkegaard and my teacher, Mr. Stewart (I use his real name because I think it is sufficiently common to maintain his anonymity), pried my mind open to just read about Jesus of Nazareth. Just read. Find out about the man. I began to read the Gospels.

I went to school one day after having been absent for a few days, and had to be excused from a biology exam. The teacher let me study on an old couch in the back room. I guess it was typically me not to study biology, but instead to casually read whatever I wanted, in this case, Works of Love. By that time, I had read enough of the Gospels to begin to understand. I remember the ratty couch, and that it was in a little corner, with a window behind it. There were all sorts of animal specimens in jars on the shelves nearby. It was quiet. I don’t remember the particular section of the book I was reading–though perhaps I will rediscover it soon, since I have begun to read the book for a second time–but I believed Jesus was the Son of God. In a moment, I believed it. It was perhaps the least complicated event of my life, profound.

St. Augustine wrote something about believing being like a man finally deciding to get out of bed, but I would rather describe my experience almost in a chemical sense of spontaneity. A flame suddenly burned. I was conscious of it being my individual choice to believe or not to, but it seemed inevitable almost, as if now I knew the truth–and Jesus Christ was the truth. Whether I believed or not, whether I worshiped or not, I felt that what I had learned about Jesus was the truth, and one day this would become impossible to deny; so although it was still possible for me to choose to deny the truth for the time being, it seemed like a foolish and futile thing to do. So I was given the gift of faith, but it was a separate action for me to receive it.

To sublime:

As I said, I read a bit of Kierkegaard this morning. Oh, what wonderful things were stirred in me! Have you ever read or heard something that you knew was true? Something you needed to hear from someone’s voice besides your own? Something that made you say aloud, “Yes! Yes. Yes, that’s right!”

Have you ever loved an unpopular book or an obscure movie or band, and met someone who loved it too? There is a certain joy in finding out that the object of your love is also the object of someone else’s love! Of course there is, for if you love something, of course you believe it is worthy of everyone’s love! This is a basis for friendship, as C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves. (He also writes in the same book about the type of “love,” I am talking about in this paragraph, which is really, “intense like.”)

There are sublime thoughts and feelings. Ideas or sights or smells or sounds, etc., that seem to elevate one into a greater sphere of existence. The transcendentalist writers wrote about the beauty of nature, of various social and economic ideals. The Romantic painters crafted great images, full of symbols and ideas and ideals. In America particularly were painted epic landscapes, scenes of nature–of storms on the sea or sunrise over a mountaintop–which still drop jaws today, and remove the viewer for a few moments from his or her existence. The viewer forgets he is standing in a gallery and he might’ve worn more comfortable shoes. Perhaps she even forgets to look at the work critically, for she is just rapt by what she sees: How can it be so beautiful? she thinks.

Similar things happen for some of us when we spend time alone in nature. For others it happens listening to certain music, or looking at an infant’s tiny hands, or inhaling the gentle scent of roses in the morning.

In chemistry, to sublime is to change directly from a solid to a gaseous phase, without ever being a liquid. Dry ice is perhaps the best known example. I learned the term at school with some solid iodine. The substance gains energy, breaks bonds, and becomes a gas, which generally have greater entropy than solids. Now it isn’t my point to rewrite all of my general chemistry notes, but it is interesting to me to compare the two definitions of ‘sublime’ that I know of. The universe tends toward greater entropy just as water tends downhill, and here we can simply think of entropy as a measure of how much freedom something has to move.

How much freedom. The greater the entropy, the greater the freedom–might as well just say freedom generally, since it isn’t like atoms and molecules have much use for any freedom besides ‘freedom of movement.’

To me it seems that a sublime experience is no different than this. Isn’t it just a little gift of freedom? When I listen to blues, it frees me to forget that I am even sitting in traffic. When I read Kierkegaard or study physics or mathematics, it frees me from the box my thinking has been confined to–it does not force me to think in new ways, it helps me to do so. When I love God or other people, it frees me from self-centered anxiety.

I think of the Biblical phrase, “hearing, they do not hear,” or “seeing, they do not see.” It may be that a certain openness is needed in a person before she is able to experience something so wonderful. There are people who are perfectly indifferent about baby’s hands or the smell of roses. They could walk right by a sunset still thinking about what an ass Mike from HR was this morning. They see the sunset, but they do not see it; and they miss out on something valuable.

And so there are two sides:

There is you, and there is the rest of all that is (what is I’ll let the philosophers argue about). There is you relating to God. You relating to your own idea of yourself. You relating to you mom. You relating to a stray animal, a meteor, a chilly gust, a disturbing new idea, a familiar scent, a man outside the convenience store.

Is it a choice to hear and yet not hear? To see and yet not see? Certainly it is sometimes. The story of The Good Samaritan is evidence that it is no new phenomenon for men to find excuses to look away when they see someone else in need. We all have a friend who refuses to read or watch the news because it is all house fires and wars–and a part of us does not blame our friend’s refusal because we understand it!

But while there is little mystery in humans avoiding what is unpleasant, what can we say when people seem to be avoiding beautiful things? What can we say about the man who misses out on sunset while thinking about Mike from HR? What can we say about the woman who has a hundred surgeries because she couldn’t see she was lovely to begin with? How am I to understand my brothers and sisters who are not only indifferent to, but who actually abhor being outside?

I can’t answer these questions completely. I suppose they can be accounted for in some cases by differences in taste. There are people who take joy in studying bugs after all, while for most of us the presence of a bug would only add disgust or heebie jeebies to an otherwise sublime scene. There is more to it though. There is the interaction, the relation, the decision.

Beauty is everywhere, like the gift of faith. But it does not force its way into your heart or mind. Rather it says, “Here I am,” and waits patiently for you to take ownership of it. You do not have to take it, but if you do, you’re glad. If you do, you think it would’ve been terrible if you hadn’t. When you take ownership of faith, you become a new person; to your bodily existence is added a new, spiritual dimension (and this is higher freedom). When you take ownership of beauty, you feel something similar because via your physical senses, you spirit is awed or inspired; to the spiritual life you already had, more is added, though nothing is taken away from the physical in doing this.

I don’t know why some see it and some don’t. I don’t know why some grab hold of faith or beauty when they do see it, and why others don’t. But here I have written about seeing and embracing both. It feels right.

Marital bliss

Marital bliss is filing taxes with your best friend.

is sitting near each other reading.

is sharing Chapstick with a kiss.

is praying for him everyday.

is splitting up the chores.

is loving someone who thinks your favorite movies are just “okay.”

is knowing that one person in the world knows better than anyone else how mad you are, and yet loves you still.

is a blessing.

You probably have a modicum of control, but that may be all

Earlier this week I wasted a number of hours on a draft that I ultimately deleted. I couldn’t get it right, couldn’t work it out. It was about illusions of control. This is how my thinking went:

       I really want to go back to Japan! I hope my husband gets orders back there because that’s about the only way it’s happening…

       Shit, the timing is screwy. How am I going to finish my degree in time for the move, if he does get orders to Japan?!… 

       Almost three years since I got out, and what did I do? Went and married a Sailor so that Navy could continue to control my life!…

       No, no, no, no. Faulty thinking! Control is an illusion!

So then I went on to write about the Navy actually doing me a favor by teaching me that however I might like to have complete control, I just can’t have it. I actually consider it a Christian principle, too, because as Kierkegaard explains far better than I shall even attempt to, we need to need. If you want to feel intimacy, you need to feel need. If you want to know God, you need to need him–to know you need him. I’ll leave it at that, except to say that Kierkegaard really does explain it better; try reading the Kierkegaard book that changed my life, “Works of Love.”

Reading this post by Am I Thirty Yet, I figured out where my thinking went wonky on the aforementioned post: I was being, dare I say, uncharacteristically, black-and-white.

I stand by my belief that much in life is beyond our control, and things are no worse for military folk dealing with orders than they are for civilians dealing with natural disasters, medical bills, economic recession, transportation accidents, and so on. I stand by my belief that we need to need. Keenly feeling one’s dependence on God is a blessed thing, though it is not without suffering.

I understand what AmITY is writing too. When she described her anxiety over HIV, I was shocked to read it because one of my closest family members went through many months of severe anxiety over the same thing! I understand better than I wish to because honestly, though I do not like to admit it, I deal several symptoms of OCD. There are things I do to keep myself in line, but there are also things that I… can’t see as being within my control, much as–God knows– I want them to be.

But there is also power in belief. I’m not speaking so much about Jesus right now, as about the placebo effect. I spent a few years of my life depressed, and there is just no way that I would’ve emerged from that terrible gloom had I never believed it was within my power to do so. I believed that with sustained effort, I could get better. And I put in the effort, and I continue to every day. And I am better.

The problem with motivational posters and naturally optimistic friends is that they tend to tell you you’re thinking or feeling in a flawed way, and that you can just decide to stop. That’s not right, and is, I think, akin to telling an overweight person to just decide to do ten pullups.

I think mental health depends as much on behavior and environment as physical health does.

When I was depressed, I became inspired by the belief that I could climb out of the pit. As if I were in a literal pit, I looked around for tools to help me accomplish my goal. I began to observe the things and the people in life which made me feel worse, which encouraged nihilism and thought on the topic of suicide, well why not. Silly as it may sound, I had to quit listening to Elliott Smith. I still abstain from his music because it still has the power to stir up within me the terrible things. Why I ‘enjoyed’ his music back in those days is a psychological question for another day (or never!), but the fact is that when I listened to it I felt hopelessness and pain and what else it is hard to say. Franz Ferdinand doesn’t give me that. Lady Gaga doesn’t. Led Zeppelin doesn’t. J Cole. Beethoven. Elliott Smith did, and so I ceased to listen to him.

There are numerous changes I made to my behavior to encourage good moods, constructive thoughts, and pleasant feelings within myself. The important point is that I made changes to my behavior. I did not choose to be happy, but I chose people and things which would help my happiness.

Over the years I have done the same thing with my body. I ran a marathon, learned to swim, hiked Mt. Fuji, lost fifteen pounds, and did my first pullup. I did not decide, “Today I am able to be thinner!” I made changes to my behavior, which eventually led to those accomplishments.

All I’m getting at is that nothing can improve without work, but work requires motivation, and it is extremely difficult to feel motivated to do something you believe is actually impossible. So I say keep the motivational quotes coming, but maybe don’t tell people, “It could be worse!” because they are probably just thinking, as I used to, “Yes, or it could be better!” Or they are thinking you’re being awfully insensitive. Or you’re making them feel guilty, because they already know that kids in Africa are starving. Or a combination. So again, maybe don’t go with “It could be worse,” or “Look at the good things.”

Maybe talk to your friend about what’s causing his or her depression or anxiety or perpetually shitty mood. Suggest some behavioral therapy, if your friend has money for it. Or do some amateur BT like I did on myself (oh, better believe that I still do).

You don’t have total control, but you probably have some. It’s not either/or. Look for it. Study yourself, your surroundings, your reactions, what makes you cry, what makes you fume. Change your behavior and you will eventually change yourself. I do not say you can perfect yourself, but I think nearly all of us have a great capacity to improve and even heal ourselves. Cheers.

Perhaps you need there to be a reason

I like observing people. I love the witticisms that come from the mouths of strangers who I wouldn’t assume to be particularly clever based on appearance: skater boys, little old ladies, pretty girls. I also like to observe the way people communicate with one another, sort of in the way I like watching Olympic sports; I can’t ice skate well, or wrestle, or swim a mile, but I can still enjoy watching someone who can.

Earlier this month I read Caleb Carr’s novel, “The Alienist,” and just the other day I finished its sequel, “The Angel of Darkness,” which are essentially murder mysteries. The alienist (psychiatrist) of both books is named Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, and he is one of those wonderfully observant fictional characters, like Sherlock Holmes, that people like me can’t help but love. Dr. Kreizler is the pioneer of a very controversial theory of “context” in the stories.

I should add here that Caleb Carr is a novelist as well as an author on history, so Dr. Kreizler and his theories may be based in some truth. If such is the case, I apologize for not citing the real psychiatrists and psychologists to whom these ideas first belonged. Anyway, the doctor holds a very narrow view of what constitutes insanity, insisting that even the most heinous crimes–those which are impossible to understand, which seem crazy–can in fact be understood within the context of the criminal’s life. That is, a person’s attitudes and actions can be understood as the result of one’s past experiences as well as one’s current environment.

I find myself thinking about this “context” more and more since reading the book. In a way it is a simple extension of, “if you ever walked a mile in those shoes.”

About two weeks ago, I was at a cafe, outdoors, doing some writing. A young man stormed by and walked around the corner of the building, out of my sight. Shortly after, a woman who turned out to be the boy’s mother crept by the building in her old car, shouting something like, “Come back!” which the boy did not acknowledge or obey.

Eventually, after the woman had parked her car and found her son on foot, she tried to get him to get in the car to go home with her. He refused with very harsh words, and the two found themselves on the cafe patio where across from me was a group of older people chitchatting. The boy meandered toward them, and one of the men said, “You ought to go with your mom,” to which the response was, “She’s a stupid bitch!”

I felt many emotions when I heard this, not the least embarrassment for the woman. But the gentleman said, “No she’s not,” and seemed so warm and calm and understanding that I, if no one else, was slightly comforted. The boy was too large for his mother to control, and he sought refuge in the AT&T store next to the cafe. At this, the gentleman who had spoken before suggested to the very frustrated woman that she call the police for help. He asked about the boy, and the mother said her son was autistic and somewhat retarded. The man shared that he knew how it was, for he had had a sister like that, and he had had to call for help with her before too.

So the woman called the police, and she chatted with that group of older folks until the police arrived. It all seemed to end well enough since the boy seemed much calmed when he emerged voluntarily from the phone store. I did not hear most of what the officers said, but what I did hear was kind and helpful; and at the moment, I thought that’s the good community work that police are for–but I also wondered how things might have been different if the citizens involved had been black.

Though this happened two weeks ago, I still think about it, those cruel words the autistic boy had yelled about his own mother. I want to understand. It isn’t easy for me to say, “Ah well, he can’t help it.” Indeed there are people who cannot help what they say, but there is still the matter of where those words come from.

Today I wondered the same thing as I stood in line at the pharmacy. In front of me were a man and a woman who just kept being so rude to each other! There’s no better way to put it since they weren’t flat out arguing about anything, nor were they continuously talking. But when one did speak to the other, it was to say, “If you hadn’t done such and such,” or “It’s your own fault,” or, most commonly, “Shut up!” They even did this in front of the pharmacy technician, whom the woman repeatedly told that her husband (I presume) was taking one of the medicines like candy.

I looked the other way. I shook my head inside my head. My only judgment was, “These people might benefit from some counseling.” But I wondered why they talked to and about each other like that. How did they find themselves together when there appeared to be no great affection between them? Where did those spiteful words come from? And that angry tone?

I wonder about people’s lives. I wonder who was cruel to them so that they learned to be cruel to others. I wonder also about people I know who are kind and patient despite having endured tragedies–where did they learn the be resilient and peaceful?

But there is another question: can these attitudes and behaviors be explained? Dr. Kreizler is challenged on this, and accused of looking for explanations when there are none because he needs there to be a reason.

And so I question myself, and I look to my own past. Do I need there to be reasons behind every sad scene I witness? If I do, then why do I feel that need?