My Life of Over-Thinking

I was on a Sunday stroll with my partner last week. Being the incessant scientist I am, I asked him whether he thought our western society is causing us to be more depressed because we have virtually nothing to struggle for. i.e. we have food delivered straight to our doors, our phones bring us lots of information, too many entertainment options etc. etc. Or if its an excuse baby boomers make because they’re scared the world is changing.

He said, “I don’t know… I don’t tend to over-think it.”

I laughed and replied, “Well… I wouldn’t be a very good researcher if I didn’t over-think.”

He laughed, and agreed with me. No disrespect to Cory whatsoever. He has an incredible mind, he just has a more laid-back nature which I deeply adore and appreciate.

Throughout my life I have over-thought and questioned anything and everything. The first time I had an existential crisis I was 3 or 4. After being inside all morning on a hot summer day, I went outside. As my eyes accommodated to the light, I had this deep unsettling feeling that maybe I wasn’t real.

I noted how bright and green the grass was. I wondered about the Earth beneath the grass, and thought, “How did this all get here? Why am I here?”

And so my journey of over-thinking began.

I can’t even write a blog post without over-thinking the journey my mind has taken to get to the point I’m at now. I delete posts thinking its all self-fulfilling blabber that no one needs to read. I replay conversations with people over, and over again in order to improve my communication skills. etc.

To be honest, I don’t know any other form of existing.

As I write this, the grass is a vivid, dark green from the rain. I know the earth below belongs to a planet, and that this planet is falling in orbit around the Sun. Its incredible how much we know because of over-thinkers.

However, what I’m most fascinated by is what I don’t know, because its what keeps me engaged in the world around me. It doesn’t settle my existential dread, but it certainly helps me cope.

All I can do is learn as much as I can, because its boring to exist otherwise.

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Hello Dear

IMG_3251.JPG“Here you go dear!” He says in a tone conveying diabetic levels of sweetness.

Since I’ve cut my hair short and started appearing more androgynous, I’ve noticed the amount of men referring to me as “dear” “love” “sweetie” etc. has dropped significantly. So much so that it surprised me last week when two men in the same day referred to me as “dear” at differing cafes.

I know the men meant well.  I’m sure they didn’t wake up in the morning with a diabolical plan to put female-presenting individuals in their place. However, I sure as hell wasn’t going to lecture these two men on the nuances of gender.

It was  aversive to to hear these terms, and intent does not negate the impact it had on my well-being that day.  The term “dear,” “love,” “girls”, or “sweetie” feels like a condescending pat on the head. It feels icky to hear it from anyone (with the exception of older British women, because damn that’s adorable).

Language can have a profound impact on our mental health. Language can stigmatize, it can create automatic associations for both concrete and abstract concepts. The sentence, “be a man!” for example, is loaded with abstract concepts tied to societal standards. This sentence has a strong impact on a man’s feelings and actions. It serves to compel one to conform to gender roles, and it’s often used to silence men from expressing their feelings.

IMG_4402.JPGLanguage can also heal. There are many empirically validated therapies dedicated to teaching us an internal form of language to express and regulate our emotions and behaviours. i.e. Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, ACT therapy etc. These therapies work better long-term as you practice, suggesting that we create new associations and learn to cope with greater resilience.

So from last week, hearing ‘here you go dear,’ in a sickly sweet tone of voice caused me to have an automatic association of being a child. Which caused me to feel angry because I am not a child.

Then I had to use my cognitive behavioural skills to calm me down. “Why does this bother you?” “Is it rational?” “How can you change this?”

From this, I realized I don’t like feminine terms directed at me because I don’t feel feminine on most days. Though I am still coming to terms with how to define my fluid gender expression. So some extra mindfulness on my part must be done to fully articulate my own feelings.

So the final point I’d like to stress is to try and be more aware of the automatic language you use in your daily life. I’d also like to stress that you’re not a bad person if you have automatic associations, because we’ve been shaped by our environments.

Though I do want to stress is that you can change how you interact with those automatic associations, and like I said before, building new relationships between words and concepts takes time, you just have to put in the work.

My Eating Disorder

IMG_5934I’m currently working on a psychology degree, and in one of my courses we learned about eating disorders. This information wasn’t news to me as I learned a lot about them in my kinesology degree, but it struck a chord because I forgot I had one.

The summer before grade 11, I was suddenly struck with a pang in my heart. It scared me, so I vowed to get into shape and started running. There were attempts made in the past to get fit, though I’d stop because I was worried about drawing attention to my efforts. I was an anxious teenager from being bullied, so any sort of attention was horrifying to me.

Despite this, I began running 10 laps around my house every day (acreage). I played with my dog outside. In the school year I gained new friends who were supportive and fun, and I started to become successful in school.

With this I thought, “If working hard will get me the grades I want, I could do the same with my weight.”

I calculated the amount of calories I needed to consume everyday to be 120 pounds. In my head 120 was model weight, and if I could get there, I could wear the cool clothes I wanted, and people would be more inclined to like me. The calculator spit out 800 kcal. To put that into perspective, a “normal” daily intake is 2000 kcal/day. I probably consume around 2500-3000 kcal/day depending on my activity levels.

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So with this new goal in mind I began fasting most of the day, and exercised excessively. The worst of it occurred during the summer before grade 12. I would wake up in the morning, have a bagel and a banana, run with my dog, swim in our above ground pool, suntan, have a half bagel and carrots for lunch, eat a granola bar, run with my dog more, have small portions at dinner, eat a small desert, and then run 5k.

I went to bed starving. This feeling was synonymous with success. It meant my body would burn fat, and I would wake up skinny.

Fridays were ‘cheat days’ and I could eat whatever the hell I wanted. On these days I would eat 3 days worth of food in a 5 hour span. I’m talking about a whole bag of chips, chocolate bars, half a large pizza, jumbo bags of M&Ms etc. etc.

I would feel so liberated on these days, but also deeply ashamed. I would stare in the full-length mirror in my bathroom, pull the fat on my hips back, and curse my eating decisions. The next morning I would exercise all day, eating maybe 400 kcal to make up for my binge.

Eventually got to 120 and my lightest was 118. I lost my period, I had terrible mood swings, and worst of all I was upset with all the fat I could see.

In grade 12, my strict control began to slip. I was bingeing more. Just eating a couple unplanned cookies which would set off another binge. This made me gain weight.

IMG_1354I still have my journal from those days. Everyday I wrote, “I need to get to my summer belt loop. I need to be better. I need to stop cheating.” There were parts where I insulted myself, and wondered why I didn’t have the discipline to get back to 120. I got my drivers licence photo after particularly bad week of bingeing. I broke down seeing it because the 130 pound 17-year-old smiling in the photo looked like a 200 pound one. Needless to say, I had body image distortion.

Eventually I learned that what I was doing was unhealthy in university. My health education instructor made us keep a journal about aspects of our well-being. It helped me realize how unhealthy my eating disorder was, and slowly I began eating more balanced diets. Eventually as my metabolism normalized, and I leaned out.

To say I am over my body image issues would be a lie. There are days where I hate my body and wish I could lose weight. However, I am better at challenging my distorted thoughts. Sometimes I eat bad and feel bad, but its not the end. I just eat better the next day and exercise when my body needs it.

bikeI now weigh 145 pounds, I’ve fluctuated between 140-145 pounds for the last five years. So I try to remind myself I should be proud that I found a weight that works best for my lifestyle.

If you feel like you’re going through body image issues, I hope you know there’s always help. You’re not defined by your body, but by the abilities you possess that make you unique, sometimes it just takes practice to focus on what makes you inspired.

Three Years

img_2767I started writing this blog 3 years ago. It started off as a catharsis for dealing with an abusive relationship. Those posts are deleted, and this blog since then has focused mostly on gender and feminism.

Every few years or so, I go through big life transitions. Today as I was driving to work, I was struck with old memories that didn’t seem to belong to me, and they came from my first year of blogging.

Back then I was all about partying and never settling down. I was very angry but optimistic. Like my anger and writing could possibly change the world. I would go to 2-3 shows a week, stay up until 5am and wake up for work at 12 or 2:30pm. I thought I would be single all my life, I was disinterested in relationships, and more excited about what I could do alone.

Fast-forward, I’m engaged, I’m back in school, and all I want to do is work on research. Too tired to go to shows, too tired to stay up passed 12am. Tired, but intellectually stimulated.

IMG_4201.JPGIt wasn’t a gradual process. One day I woke up and realized the best thing I accomplished that week was the tower of empty beer bottles in my storage room. It made me angry to see goals with empty deadlines posted on the fridge.

It’s weird to go through transitions. The apprehension to leave a current lifestyle behind is strong. Though my desire to continue to challenge myself is far stronger, and returning to those old behaviours would seem out of place.

I don’t know where I’ll be in five years. I don’t even know where I’ll be in two, but I hope it’s doing something that keeps me inspired. Or maybe I pull a 180, and go onto the next thing.

Music Therapy

IMG_1413When I reflect upon my time during the ages of 19-23, I feel deeply sad for that person.

Have you ever felt as if you were a robot? Walking to and from life commitments? Going through the motions to create as little commotion as possible?

As I reflect on those years I don’t think of me as a person, I think of myself as a robot. There were glimpses of individuality and self-discovery in terms of politics and atheism, but for the most part it feels like a giant gap of self. I don’t even know what kind of person I was. I know I was kind, enthusiastic, and motivated to succeed, but aside from that I don’t recall much. Which is incredibly uncharacteristic. Maybe it’s a time I wish to forget.

I do recall being largely uncomfortable navigating conversations, studying for hours in the Rutherford Library, attempting to maintain my fitness, walking from the bus, to the LRT, to campus, to work, to home. Add a needy boyfriend in the mix. Rinse and repeat.

Then I snapped out of it. It was like being woken up from a long, monotonous dream.

During this mechanized period of my life, I largely listened to an alternative radio station get my music fix. Though prior to 19, I was scoping the internet for tunes on a regular basis. I’d go on forums and chat rooms to ask for suggestions. I would burn hundreds of CD’s. I’d scour the depths of YouTube to find that perfect sound. Then 19 hit, I didn’t really care. I would play the same music I enjoyed when I was in high school, not a whole lot more than that.

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I wasn’t by any means a master at any music niche, but I loved lots of different genres and would start from the known pioneers, and work my way up. Though during this time I had no desire. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have time. Maybe my energy was in other endeavours. Maybe I was just a robot.

Then one day I was on YouTube (procrastinating for my final exam studying) when, “Coachella Live!” popped up on the right corner. I thought to myself, “What’s Coachella?”

Although I don’t really listen to the bands I heard that day, (apart from Scissor Sisters <3) I became charged, hungry for the music I had been denying myself for so long.

With this came a deeper catharsis that ignited my sense of self. Music gives me a sort of platform to stand on to say, “yes… I feel this way too, and I’d like to explore that aspect of myself more.”

We are largely a product of our experiences. Music can help bring those experiences together in a common theme. Both instrumental in feel, and lyrically in meaning. A sort of soundtrack for your life, that can motivate you to progress in a world mostly void of meaning.

 

 

 

Social Media Bums Me Out

I spent my adolescence creating my ideal identity online. I wasn’t allowed to have certain individualist luxuries i.e. colourful hair, make-up, certain clothes, etc. So I’d chat to people online from all around the world, trying on different identities through describing how I looked and how I acted.

On the surface this appears to be dysfunctional. However, I was afforded a community I wasn’t able to have in real life. I had friends from across Canada and The United States who shared music, movies, and video games that they liked with me. We had conversations about life, and had similarities that I felt I couldn’t have with those in the small town I grew up in.

Even though I fabricated certain things about my life at the beginning, I soon became more honest with my life, and soon found out that we were all dorks lying to each other about who we really were. Without the internet, I would have been far more depressed in my youth. It made me feel like I belonged and that people genuinely wanted to know me.

That’s the opposite feeling I have with the internet now.

To get more of a sense of what I’m talking about, essentially: 

You have to post often (but not too often). Even then, you have to post what’s trendy, but not too late because then you’re mainstream/behind. Or if you do, you can totes joke about being basic. If you don’t post at all, you’re seen as anti-social. People will write, “Oh my god you’re alive?!” after a social media hiatus. Or having to post the right thing, at the right time with the right caption, to get the right amount of likes. And you have to like or “react” to the right things at the right time, on the right person’s page, so that they know you like them. Or perhaps you do it for reciprocation, but not too much because that will seem needy. 

Then you’re bombarded with tragedy and outrage stories daily. And you gossip about how certain people are sharing/not sharing or, sharing/only sharing and not doing anything. If you’re passionate about social politics, you either think to much/not enough. If you post about your vacation you’re bragging. If you take photos of your outfits, you’re shallow. 

It’s a bizarre exchange of social status with constantly changing rules. Where what we’re doing is selling our lifestyles to others, rather than just living our lives. Companies know this and take advantage of this. News outlets and news websites know that tragedies sell, so they’ll post click-bait title articles, hoping you’ll share it to your friends, collectively be outraged, and consume more of these stories. Meanwhile it makes you look socially conscious and aware, while really not doing a single thing, except contributing to a website’s capital.

I’m not saying I’m above anything, or that it was better back in the day. It wasn’t. All you have to do is search for viral videos of the 00’s to see what I mean. I just know that at the end of the day, I feel lonely despite learning so much about what my friends like and share.

I suppose aging is about learning to let go and move on from things that once helped define you, as they too lose their lustre. Though I’ll continue to use social media in some capacity as I like keeping up with events. I just need to figure out what works best for me in order to balance my real life, with the one I see reflected on the screen.

 

 

Ex-Thief: Pokemon Edition

WartortleSo… I have a confession to make. I successfully stole a kid’s Game Boy in Grade 4, but was not successful in keeping it. Let’s call the kid Logan for now.

On the park I used to watch a boy in Grade 3 play Pokemon. He was in the Safari Zone and captured a Tauros. Now. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. I did have a Playstation my uncle gave me, but of course when you’re a kid you don’t want to seem out of the loop. I lied to this kid and said, “Oh I caught Tauros yesterday.”

Now, since he had Pokemon Red, and I lied and said I had Pokemon Blue, he insisted that I bring my Game Boy to school to trade. I insisted my mom wouldn’t let me bring my game, so naturally my legitimacy was brought into question, “Do you even have a Game Boy? Or are you lying?” So to divert the lying label I so rightly deserved, I said I would bring it to school the next day.

Next day came, I had no Game Boy to show for it. He shook his head and walked away from me first block recess. However, Logan, in my class had one. He put his Game Boy and all his games in a Crown Royal bag, and slung it behind the chair. I concocted a plan to steal it before third block recess.

*Now as a preface. If you don’t really know me, or didn’t know me. This behaviour would be considered EXTREMELY uncharacteristic. I didn’t get into trouble EVER. In fact I was told to sit outside the classroom once for stomping my feet when I lost Seven Up. Teachers would often say, “I wish everyone behaved like Amy, she’s great.” I never reached teacher’s pet status, but I was certainly a well-behaved, friendly, seemingly-happy child. 

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Problem 1: What would mom say seeing this Game Boy? Well… our school had a policy for lost and found items that after a month it was yours. I knew she would buy it because I had this reputation for being friendly and altruistic.

Problem 2: What would happen when he’d notice it was missing and everyone tried to look for it? Well… I would try to help find it, be very sympathetic, and play the role I always did. The sweet altruistic Amy.

Problem 3: What could I do to make it look like a different Game Boy so I could bring it to school? I had Oilers stickers and Blue Jays stickers, I would cover it up completely to ensure I wasn’t accused of stealing the yellow Game Boy colour.

So how did I do it you ask?

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Before 3rd break recess, our class had library time. At about 15 minutes to recess, I asked our teacher if I could use the bathroom. I remember him glaring as he scoffed, “You can’t wait 15 minutes?” “No I really can’t.” I did my best pee dance, and he rolled his eyes and said, “Be quick.”

And I was. I power-walked upstairs to our opened classroom, grabbed the Crown Royal bag, briskly walked to my locker, and stashed it in the depths of my backpack, ensuring papers, books, and my lunch bag completely covered it. I felt empowered. I felt on top of the world.

I remember being on the swings, laughing to myself with the thrill of the steal. I imagined the conversation my mom and I would have later that night regarding the lost and found policy.

However, as you can guess, it did not go according to plan. As soon as I walked in the classroom, a very panicked friend of mine asked, “Have you seen Logan’s Game Boy?!?!” Logan looked incredibly upset tearing his desk apart to find his bag.

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Calmly I said, “No I haven’t.” Feeling a pang of guilt and anxiety. I wasn’t quite expecting this reaction as the whole class, including our teacher, banded together to find this Game Boy. I assumed our teacher, who was quite old school, would say, “You shouldn’t leave your stuff out in the open.” But he appeared quite concerned and ready to figure out who the culprit was.

We were instructed to sit down, and our teacher asked the class questions about suspicious people etc. However, like an IDIOT I told a friend that I found an OLD Game Boy in a plastic bag at recess. I figured that OLD GAME BOY, and PLASTIC BAG would be a big enough distractor from YELLOW GAME BOY COLOUR in a CROWN ROYAL bag, but I forgot she had a huge crush on Logan.

I should have known not to trust her with this knowledge, but I was so excited about my snag. Her and I fought for a few minutes about the logistics of it being his Game Boy until the final nail in the coffin came:

“If you won’t tell, I will.” She defiantly put her hand up, glaring at me in a self-righteous way.

I told her to put her hand down, and what follows is one of the quickest, most unconvincing lies I’ve ever told. A lie that I’m sure my teacher DID NOT buy, but because of my reputation, Logan did.

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“A kid with glasses, I think he was from Kindergarten, gave me a Game Boy at the park saying it was his. So I put it in my backpack.” I had the kid in my head, he was the brattiest, most rebellious little kid at school.

I don’t quite remember the rest of the conversation, but I somehow managed to divert the blame from me, to this Kindergarten kid. I don’t remember my teacher’s reaction because it’s clouded with hindsight bias. However, at one point he instructed us both to go to my locker, and I returned the Game Boy to Logan, who was very happy.

Later in the day the whole class was convinced it was the 5-year-old kindergartener, who somehow managed to escape his well-supervised classroom, and sneak up to our classroom to steal the Game Boy before recess. Instead of me who conveniently had it in my locker. Our teacher even mentioned keeping our things out of sight from thieves, and not to trust younger kids who may not have developed morals.

Though I’m sure from the corner of his eye, he was watching me. I even knew the lie was far too convenient, so in the future I knew I could never steal again.

Well… apart from Book Fairs. Those were always fair game. Look, if you’re going to host an event where all the wealthy kids can buy cool shit like gel pens, and duck erasers, while the poor kids look wistfully at all the shiny goodies, I feel like it’s ethically responsible to steal.

However, I never stole from people again. So my career in thievery ended in Grade 4. Also it’s really terrible to steal from others, but as a child you’re far too narcissistic, and in those days commercials did an excellent job in conditioning kids to want more stuff. So I convinced myself I was justified.

I’m glad my friend almost ratted me out, because I feel like it would have sparked a stronger kleptomania response, but I’ve always wondered… what if?