Sunday, October 5, 2014

Help Me Help You

I have a problem.  You see, people are often coming to me for advice that I am very unqualified to give.  I am very empathetic, so others often come to me with their problems.  I then listen to them and sometimes worry myself into anemia.  (Just kidding - I was already anemic.)  As a child, I was very affected by movies, even if they weren't real.

This is an example of a conversation that took place several times throughout my childhood, and probably at least once last month:
"What's wrong, G?"
"Stomach hurts."
"But why?"
"Dorothy's not in Kansas, and her aunt and uncle have lost their house.  I don't know what they're going to do."

Dramatic Reenactment of Me as a Child

Now, I have to ignore the news and try to be selective about which problems I tackle on a daily basis.  The real problem is that my brain doesn't want to help me with this.  My brain has spent years building up information it thinks would be useful so that I can share this information with others who need my help. There are many folders stored in my brain, full of song lyrics, movie quotes, scientific studies, passages from books, things I assumed to be true as a child.... (Actually, this folder is quite full of things, like how I assumed people prayed to Granite Jesus, that God's first name was Andy, and that the opposite of broad daylight was narrow nightdark.)

It's rare that any of the information is actually useful to a real-life problem, but my brain lies in wait, anyway, ready to hand out bad advice like Halloween candy.  My brain has started operating on a keyword search system, where it goes through the files based on what someone has asked.  Unfortunately, the most relevant answer is not usually the one that comes out first.  So a conversation begins, and I blurt out something someone has never even heard of that is also most unhelpful.  I may even switch search terms in the middle, trying to find some comment to apply to the situation, but eventually I just bring the words out more slowly, using up the last bit of hope I have that I could ever be understood by humans.

Friend:  I mean, I'm not ready to date again.  I don't even think I would know what to do.  How does one even win a girl's heart anymore?
Brain: Search query - win + heart + girl
Me:  The Bard of Stratford on Avon!
Friend:  What?
Me:  Uh...Brush up your Shakespeare, and the women you will wow.
Friend:  I don't know what you're even talking about.
Me:  Odds...bodkins?
Friend:  I really don't see how this is going to help with my problem.
Brain:  Search query - dating + problem
Me:  If you've a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Instanbul.
Friend: *slowly backing away*
Me:  Oh, bugger.

Because this happens frequently, I feel like I should set some ground rules so that I can keep a few friends.

1.  Don't ever ask me for advice.
2.  If you do ask for advice, please use any advice given for entertainment purposes, only.
Exception:  If you are on fire and ask for advice, you should probably Stop, Drop, and Roll when I yell it out to you.  That is genuinely helpful advice that I feel qualified to hand out.

In fact, I feel like I've been over-prepared for Stop Drop and Roll for a long time (not that I would ever wish for anyone to be on fire, and especially not in my presence).  As a child, I remember going over the words many times in school, as if the adults in charge were afraid that we would stumble upon some man on fire in the street, and we would yell out, "Stop, Collaborate, and Listen!  Oh wait!  No....that's not it.  Hold on - I'll remember it in a minute!"
For those of you wondering, I was that kid who pointed out that Sparky was wearing a flame-retardant suit, which gave him a pretty unfair advantage.

I realize that it was important information for children to know and be able to recall, but to an anxious child like myself, each time we repeated the lesson I felt like seeing people on fire was going to be a normal part of adult life.  The truth of the matter is, it's probably the most useful bit of information I can think to yell out in any given instant, and yet, I've not had to say it even one time in all my life.  That figures.

So from now on, whenever people ask me for advice and I find myself unable to relate to them in words that make any sense, I'll probably just end it all with Stop, Drop, and Roll.  It may not be relevant, but at least it will be useful.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Beginnings

It's been a while since I've updated, but I've gotten a new job.  While I would love to write all about that, my first few weeks have actually been filled with some sort of mystery illness that has been keeping me useless. Of course, I should have counted on an opportunistic little microbe at the worst possible moment, but no one ever expects an infection in their facial nerve.

Commence diabolical laughter

You know the saying that life is the one thing you can't get out of alive?  My body really thinks of that as a challenge, just to see how close to dead I can get.  Thus, I started out my new job with a droopy eye, losing the hearing in one ear, unable to feel my face, and so darn tired and dizzy that I could barely stand. Turns out, that isn't really the best way to start out work in a lab environment. 

Eventually, I had to have a work physical because these people are nosy, and I was afraid of what, exactly, to tell them.  Actually, I was a bit curious as to why I had to have a physical at all, because I had never heard of a blood test that would predict whether or not I'd directly inhale 12M HCl or drink the methanol, which means I should be physically able to handle the job.  Really, they just want to have a baseline, so that when I get closer to dead, they'll know it wasn't their fault.

I filled out the questionnaire, wondering if I should use clarifying phrases in the interest of full disclosure. "Here's a list of things I shouldn't be, but actually am, allergic to."  "I hope you like games, because you're the next contestant on Diagnosis: Mystery!"  "Sometimes I make Darwin cry." 

The occupational nurse was a bit over-panicky, asking over and over again if I was nervous as she was taking my blood pressure.  Well, I'm getting less sure every time you ask, actually, so thanks for that.  She went on about my weight and pulse, thinking I should see a cardiologist as soon as possible, or a gym, and then, finally, we got to the conversation about my current headache (there's a headache questionnaire, too), which didn't turn out at all well.

Me:  I've had this headache before.
Nurse:  You mean you've had this same kind of headache?
Me:  No, I mean this exact headache.  I recognize it.  His name is Balboa.
Nurse:  As in Rocky?
Me:  As in Vasco Núñez de.
Nurse:  Who is that?
Me:  In 1513 he took a little trip, through the Isthmus of Panama into the Pacif...ic.  That didn't sound as good as it did in my head.
Nurse:  Are you making this up?
Me:  Well, not entirely.  He did discover the Pacific, and with sword in hand, he claimed all lands touching the body of water for Spain.  It was, in retrospect, a pretty lofty goal.
Nurse:  And the headache?
Me:  Well, this is the same headache, with the same symptoms, as when I had my concussion last year.  I wasn't sure at first, but I recognize that feeling like someone has stuck a sword in and claimed my brain, and all the little synapses are like the indigenous peoples, whose spears are no match for the armor and muskets of the conquistadors.
Nurse:  That's a pretty dramatic interpretation of a headache.
Me:  My pulse is 95, and you think I need to see a cardiologist today. At least my drama has entertainment value.
Nurse:  Fine.  I'll just say that this isn't normal.
Me:  Nothing about me is, really.
Nurse:  And the headache is related to the...
Me:  Vestibular neuritis.  Maybe.  Who knows?  I've decided this is all related to the Spanish Inquisition.
Nurse:  How so?
Me:  Because nobody expected it.  I can't believe you just walked right into that.
Nurse:  Right.  So, this Balboa guy is real?
Me:  Really dead, but he was, yeah.  I do have one other symptom that didn't go with the concussion.  It's like those children's books, but instead of See Spot Run, it's more like, Look at All the Spots I Can't See!  
Nurse:  So, do you think you need to go home?
Me:  Nah, I've gotten really good at logically filling in the missing spots for the few minutes my vision goes.  It's all good.  I don't need to see to learn, as luck would have it.
Nurse:  Okay, I'll just say you need to have an update at your actual physical.
Me:  If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to drink the methanol.
Nurse:  I'm new here.  Does that happen a lot?

Gotta love the newbies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Whoever Said Pictures Are Worth A Thousand Words Probably Regrets That Now

So today was picture day for me to be in the church directory.  I hate pictures of myself, and so, of course, I make myself anxious.  I read all the advice they give you, noting that they're probably giving advice because I'm not the only person to dread this event.

Remember that the camera adds 10 pounds.  Yeah, about that... This is 2014.  Isn't it about time for the camera to add something nice, like a positive self-image and a puppy?  Or maybe we could have competing cameras, where you get to choose which one adds the most benefit to your life.  This camera adds another 5% to your 401k, but that one adds a free trip to Disney World!  Oh, and that one adds front row tickets to the concert of that boy singer that all the tweens and creepy moms like.  See?  These are options I can work with.  I don't really need an extra 10 pounds, thanks.

I went through my entire closet, trying to pick an outfit, as if this were the most important decision of my life, but then I would remember that they recommended solid colors.  Oh, don't forget the long sleeves.  Nobody cares if you spontaneously combust, so long as that picture gets taken first.  (And I guess I agree with the long sleeves thing, because I hate my bye-byes.)  I went through the closet, discovered I had nothing to wear, and had to start all over again.  Finally, I settled on something I didn't hate.

Consider bringing with you a sentimental item or an item that says something about you.  What exactly would that be, a book and a jar full of sarcasm?  At the moment, I wish I could bring a margarita from Chuy's, but I see how that might be inappropriate for church pictures.  "Hey, really, this margarita means a lot to me.  You have no idea."  At best, I could show up with something I baked, because that would make sense, and also possibly draw attention away from my face.  "Hey, camera, focus on this beautiful rum cake, all right?"  I thought about bringing something completely random, like a Jew's Harp or a washtub bass, because those things would probably say a lot of interesting things about me, but I am all out of hillbilly instruments.  And what if I decided to bring an object that says something about someone else?  It might be more appropriate, in any case.  Who cares if I end up on Awkard Family Photos?  That's more my style, honestly.

To add to the stress of the day, I also had to bake four separate dishes and prepare my apartment for my parents, who decided to visit for the holiday weekend.  I swear I never make a bigger mess than when I am trying to clean.  Suddenly, I realize I must go through everything I own for that one thing I remember needing to donate, or I find that I am overcome by an intense urge to remove every cookbook from the bookshelf and rearrange them by color.  This is so much more important than cleaning, of course.

So I was preparing my final dessert, pitting fresh cherries for browned-butter cherry bars, and they turned out lovely.  Then I looked down at my hands and realized they were so purple, I looked like I'd just killed Grimace with my bare hands, just in time for picture day!  I was on it.

Sorry, childhood.

Somehow, I managed to get everything clean and started on the process of covering myself in make-up, lest my face be washed out by the flash.  Everything came together, at last, and I headed out the door with my desserts, a change of slightly-less-stuffy clothes (a brewery t-shirt and capri pants), a water bottle, and my purse.  

As I got to the bottom of the stairs, juggling everything and searching for the unlock button, I saw, just one second too late, that my car was covered by a flock of pigeons.  This probably deserves an explanation, and the short version is that everyone in my apartment complex is crazy.  One such crazy lady believes her porch to be Luby's for the hungry animals of Austin, and the space in front of her apartment is usually the only one I can find.  So why was I too late?  Because I had already unlocked my car, and the horn went off, sending a hundred pigeons flying every which way, and literally scaring the shit out of them.  Thankfully, none of them landed their droppings on me....oh, but wait, what's that running all down my shirt?  So then the process started all over again, until I could find the second least hated outfit in my wardrobe. 

To make matters worse (because no one ever begins a sentence by making them better), my neck started itching.   When I looked in the mirror, I saw it was covered in red blotches that were either a physical manifestation of all my emotions or an allergy to bird poop.  The entire hour long drive to the session had me thinking over and over that I needed a turtleneck.  What if I looked like I was covered in hickeys for a church photo?  Re-check the mirror.  No, it definitely looks more like I rubbed up on a cactus.  Maybe a large paper bag over my head would solve the whole problem, and I could even count it as an object that makes a statement, so long as that statement is, "She really hates pictures of herself."

Really, none of this is worth it.  I think next time everyone should just submit drawings of themselves, or maybe a picture of their favorite person from history with an explanation as to why they chose that person.  At least that would be more interesting, right?  And, because I like being alone, I could also use it to determine who is worth facing my social anxiety for.  "Oh, yeah, you chose Edison.....I think this isn't going to work out."

I arrived just in time for my photo and signed in, when I saw a friend of mine.  I asked her to give me a once over, though if Jesus himself came back and said I looked perfect, I'd still think my nose was too big, my teeth too small, and my smile too lame.  In Texas humidity, my hair was near-afro, and she admitted that it looked smooth and fine as long as I pulled it down.  Once I let go, I could go back to 1980 and shoot JR.  My favorite part, though, was when the photographer helped me to pick out the best picture.  We settled on the only one that wasn't awful, though as he put it, "No, really, it is the best, and you probably should always take pictures from this side."  When he asked if I wanted to purchase extra, I almost smacked him.  

There should be a reward for getting through this day.  (In fact, I'm still up for a margarita.)  I know a picture may be worth a thousand words, but I'd much rather submit the essay.  

Still regretting the fact this wasn't in my picture.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In the Summertime, When the Weather is Hot

It's time for an unpopular confession that has plagued me since childhood.  I really hate summer.  Every year, the swimsuits are smaller, the ads are hokier, and the sun seems hotter.  It's not that I dislike outdoor activities.  In fact, I love being outside.  I just hate being warm.

I see people outside every day in Austin, and from the refrigerated interior of my car, they seem to be having a great deal of fun.  These people are biking, running, kayaking, and all of them look as if they are enjoying a beautiful 70 degree day.  If I so much as step outside of my vehicle, I break into a flop sweat worthy of Airplane!, and nothing I do makes it any more bearable.

"Oh, have you been swimming?"
"No, I just woke up."

The most damaging part of summer, though, is the clothing.  I'm so hot all the time that I should want to wear as little clothing as possible (or at least enough that I won't get arrested), but genetics are evil.  All of these beautiful people in Austin (those ones who were smugly running and bicycling earlier on in the post) wear shorts, and their complexions are perfect. The lovely, uniform tan is so perfect there is even a meme comparing it to processed foods.  Don't know what I'm talking about?  Google "hot dog legs" right now. Seriously, go.  There's an entire tumblr dedicated to pictures where you have to spend actual time trying to decide if you're looking at someone's vacation from their own supine point of view, or if they're just holding hot dogs in front of a camera.

Wait, why am I jealous, again?

And then there's me.   My legs are so pale that I have people tell me all the time how white/pale/ashy/translucent they are. It doesn't matter how sexy they would have been back in Victorian times, because living in the here and now is so unfair.  Adding insult to injury (literally),  I fall down every few days just to keep things interesting.  Any little scar or mark stays on my skin for months, so the scratches and bug bites are pretty much the only source of color I have.  If I go into the sun, the spots of color stand out in such a way it looks like Jackson Pollack stole some of George Hamilton's tanning lotion and used my skin as a canvas for a drip painting.  (But hey, at least I don't sparkle.  I've got to be thankful for something.)

See those fun spots on my feet that look like the aftermath of a deadly pox?  Those are from where a bunch of fire ants decided to climb into my shoes and throw a party, because being me is like an episode of I Love Lucy for people who like to have whiskey for breakfast and say "bless your heart" a lot.  

So yes, summer sucks, but there's good news.  I've decided to start a new meme that's more inclusive for those of us who have issues with summer.  We can't all have hot dog legs, but that doesn't mean we can't look like food.  Some of us have skin tones more like chocolate or cinnamon, rather than a hot dog.  (I swear my dog just snorted as I was typing this, the jerk.)  In my case, the only things my legs look like are parsnips, but at least they're a healthy and delicious food that don't contain mystery ingredients.  (I'm talking about the hot dogs here, not my legs...)

I'm sexy, and I know it.

The other good news is the Ice Bucket Challenge.  This is an activity I can really support.  Every day that I dump ice water on myself is a day that the flop sweat doesn't win.  Bonus:  I'll be helping out a fantastic charity that will hopefully rid the world of a terrible disease someday.  If you also suffer from heat depression and/or flop sweats, learn how to do the Ice Bucket Challenge here: What's cooler than being cool? ICE COLD!  You, too, can help yourself survive the summer while also helping the world to be a better place.

Stay cool, friends.  It's almost over.


Here's my video, for anyone who wants to see just how silly and awkward I am in real life.  I really do like to use the word gubernatorial, because I think it's funny, but apparently I got nervous and had to stutter my way through that one.  Oh well.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

It's taken me a while to write and edit this post because I needed time to process what happened yesterday.  I lost a friend.  I grew up with a lovable alien from Ork, who taught me to sit upside in chairs, though the adults in charge never seemed to think it was acceptable behavior.  I thought having an egg I could crawl into would be the coolest, coziest thing ever, and I learned from experience that one should never put dandelions in their mouth.

Robin Williams invaded my childhood by force with his many movies, whether he was voicing a much beloved Disney character or helping us believe in fairies.  I have to admit that Mrs. Doubtfire was the movie that stole my heart.  It taught me about divorce, the power of love parents have for their children, that food allergies are very serious, and why you should never bring a donkey to a party.  (And come on, run by fruiting?  That provided the greatest excuse for childhood scuffles in the universe.)  My heart was so sad every time I watched the movie, because I knew Mrs. Doubtfire wasn't a real person.  By the time the movie came out, I was old enough to realize that Mickey Mouse was a guy in a really hot costume and my parents lied about Santa and the tooth fairy.  Neither of these facts upset me nearly as much as knowing that Mrs. Doubtfire, who seemed like the perfect houseguest, would never be seen again.  (Honestly, I was even more put out that I didn't have a British cross-dressing nanny, because my life could have turned out so differently, but that's a different story altogether.)

As I grew up, the jokes became funnier, and I had the good fortune to realize Robin Williams was just as good at dramatic acting, evoking many emotions I didn't even know existed.  I've seen almost every movie he has ever made.  No, I never met Robin in real life, but I feel like he influenced me in many ways.

I have hope, since his tragic death, for many things.  First and foremost, I hope that he has found the peace his tortured soul needed.  He deserves it.  Secondly, I hope that we as a society can finally come to the realization that mental illnesses need just as much focus, care, and study as their physical counterparts.  These diseases are sometimes more painful than any physical symptom or disease could ever be, and we need to learn compassion in treating and helping those who suffer.  People who find the courage to seek treatment should never be made to feel as if they can just "get over it" or try harder.  These diseases are out of the sufferer's control, and they can no more fix themselves than a person with cancer can put themselves into remission.  I hope we can finally learn that this is a serious problem and that every resulting death is a tragedy we must seek to prevent.

Lastly,  I hope that any person who suffers in any way will find the strength to seek help in whatever form they need it.  At the very least, please talk to a friend.  While no one can truly understand the plight of another person, there are always those who will listen.  Please, call me.  Email me.  Come stay on my couch in the apartment that is always a total wreck because I, too, face days where the pressure of the world is too much, and I just can't do it.  I know that life can be complete shit with no relief in sight or light at the end of the tunnel.  I know what it is to be so overwhelmed with worry and fear that you just wish you could stop feeling everything.  In fact, this blog hasn't been updated in nearly a year.  I've written so many things and then immediately deleted them all because I knew they weren't good enough, that I wasn't good enough. These struggles are my own, but I will help in any way that I can, even if it is just to listen or cry along with you.

The truth is, there is no magic answer to solve these problems, and the solutions may require a patience that seems impossible to achieve on top of everything else.  But the bigger, more important truth is that you are not alone.  You are worth it, you are good enough, and you are loved, despite the fact that your brain tells you otherwise.  You are needed, right here and right now.  Depression lies, and so many of us have to remind ourselves of that fact every day.  Please, reach out, and I promise you will realize just how many of us there are.  We are bigger than the lies, and we will face them together.

We need to remember Robin Williams for the many laughs he gave us, and the gifts of his talents he so selflessly shared, but we must also remember the man and the struggle and always do our best to help others so we can make this world a better place.  I believe it's what he would have wanted.

Nanu nanu, my friends.