Saturday, September 23, 2017

September

September has different meanings for different people. In the Northern Hemisphere the autumnal equinox marks the end of summer and beginning of fall, and with that comes the traditional back to school shopping spree. But, that has been shifting earlier and earlier for a few years. The back to school stuff, not the equinox. And for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, it means the end of winter with the beginning of spring due to the vernal equinox.

Here in the US, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 which is Independence Day for many Central American countries and runs to October 14.

September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, death by suicide is the 10th leading cause of death over all. (1)

It’s no secret we all suffer from depression or anxiety from time to time. We are only human, after all. 

Some of us suffer from depression and/or anxiety on a continual basis but are unaware of how or unable to end the pain of either. 

Some of us turn to trusted friends, or seek out professional mental health.

Far too many do neither and either suffer in silence or do something more drastic when the pain becomes unbearable.

In my life, I can recall three times when the pain became unbearable. Each time, except the last one, I sought help before considering anything drastic.

This last time, I was able to help myself, for I had learned to depend on and believe in my inner strength, no matter what happens. Plus, I came to believe that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, however long the tunnel appears to be. In addition, I focused on some other blessings I realized I had. 

Do I still get overwhelmed? Yes, but now by very different issues along my new path. And, yes, I do feel like giving up sometimes because the path itself is overwhelming at times. But the Universe loves me and keeps reminding me about that and that I will be taken care of, that all will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it's not the end. (I’ve seen that thought attributed both to Buddha, and John Lennon.)

But, I also have two physical reminders to keep me grounded and focused. One is permanent, mostly, and the other is designed to wear off, but I hope it never does. If it does, I will simply remedy that.

I’ll start with the semi-permanent one first. 

I stumbled on the My Intent Project through a post on Facebook, and went to their page, there is a link below. I was intrigued by their mission to inspire dialogue and change through positive action. People are encouraged to choose and wear a word (their intent) which is stamped on a charm. The charm is then attached to thread and worn continuously until the string breaks signifying you have realized your intent. The charm can also be worn on a chain around the neck or attached to a keychain. The visibility of the charm is to remind you to stay focused on your word, your action, your intent. Having just retired, a bit earlier than I had planned and saved for, I was concerned with finances. I was also concerned with this new life with nothing pressing for me to do, yet feeling called (maybe pushed? encouraged?) into a new direction, but not knowing what it was going to be-some great unknown. To ease my mind, I chose the word 'SURRENDER' as I am learning to surrender into the current moment, without focusing too much on my past, which I can’t change; or my future, which I can’t control; but just on the gift of now, my present-which I accept.

I am also learning to surrender to the pain itself. Because every athlete will tell you, “No pain, no gain.” This pain is part of the growth I am experiencing. It will be over sometime.

The more permanent reminder is a small tattoo of a semicolon. I have it on the side of my right wrist just below my thumb. The meaning behind the tattoo comes from the idea that when a writer chooses to continue a sentence instead of ending it, they use a semicolon instead a period. I am the writer and my life is my sentence. I am choosing to continue. I discovered the idea of the semicolon tattoo, again through Facebook, where Project Semicolon has a page. There is a link to their website below.

One of the largest groups dying by suicide is LGBTQ youth. Many of these tragic deaths are a result of relentless anti-LGBTQ bullying. Actual statistics for LGBTQ deaths by suicide are hard to quantify because many young people are afraid to come out because of the bullying or other factors. What adds to the tragedy is that many of the victims of bullying are perceived to be LGBTQ, when in fact, they have made no such disclosure.

According to data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), of surveyed LGB students:
  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
  • 34% were bullied on school property
  • 28% were bullied electronically
  • 23% of LGB students who had dated or went out with someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
  • 18% of LGB students had experienced physical dating violence
  • 18% of LGB students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives. (2)

The Trevor Project is an online crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, and there are many community centers around the world where anyone in crisis may turn for help.

Only one of my ideations about suicide was related to the possibility of being gay and being bullied about it. The others were due to depression, another leading risk factor.

Please familiarize yourself with the risk factors around suicide. There are far too many to enumerate here, but include:
  • Feeling like a burden to others,
  • Giving away prized possessions,
  • Saying goodbye,
  • Depression,
  • Bullying
There is a link below to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for a more complete list of risk and contributing factors.

If you or you believe someone you love is at risk, please seek professional help.

Resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Nami.org, 800-950-NAMI
Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth. thetrevorproject.org, 866-488-7386




(2)  2015 YRBS

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Blessed Technology

I'm taking a detour with this post and ranting about something that has been bothering, perplexing and just confounding me. 

And really beginning to piss me off.

Technology. And even more of its accursedness...since I've already discussed how I and many others believe it is causing a breakdown in communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see some benefits to technology. When I was teaching, I subscribed to an online planbook where I could plan lessons comfortably at home in my pajamas with an adult beverage, or two; then access them at school on my district-issued laptop. And since all my teacher editions were now web-based, I didn’t have any heavy teacher editions to lug home. Without technology, I wouldn’t have the benefit of sharing my journey. Without technology, we wouldn’t have x-ray machines telling me there is nothing wrong with my chronically aching, pain-filled shoulders. So, the pain must be in my head, then. Or, maybe it is in the soft tissues, necessitating an MRI, another technological marvel.

A few times in the past month, I was doing some online shopping due to an influx of store-specific gift cards. I found some items that I might like and would work for me, so I checked online for the local stores’ inventory. Each time it showed the item I wanted was in stock, I would drive to the store to preview it, as I prefer to see it in person first, rather than purchase it, wait for it to arrive, find out it isn't quite what I thought, then go through the hassle of returning it and either getting a new gift card or reloading the original one. Each time I arrived, there was no such stock. Finally, I asked a clerk to help me.

Clerk, checking his handheld device: “I'm sorry, the store inventory shows we are sold out."

Me: "Really? But my phone says you have several in stock. See, here's the website."

Clerk: “The website is updated every 24-48 hours.

Me, in my head: WTF? Seriously? We can send a remote-controlled vehicle into outer space, land it on a dusty planet, have it take and send back selfies, yet we can’t update store inventory at a moment’s notice?

The clerk is sympathetic to my frustration and asks, however gingerly, “Sir, may I make a suggestion?”

“Yes,” I say, realizing the clerk is sincerely trying to help and is totally innocent of all the techno-lying I have just been subjected to. Plus, I’m sure he wants to avoid a customer meltdown. “Please.”

“If I may suggest, reserve the item online before coming in. The website will simply check the store’s inventory, but only if you reserve it online, first.”

“But, won’t I have to enter my charge card, and purchase it; then, we'd have to go through the hassle of returning it if I changed my mind?"

“Not to simply reserve it, that way you can see it in person, first. And if we don’t have it, we can’t reserve it. And then you wouldn’t have wasted a trip."

“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” 

A few times also, I have needed a special ingredient for a recipe I wanted to try. In one case the recipe suggested a very specific product (dark chocolate peanut butter) and actually listed the name of the company, so I go to the website to search for the closest store that sells and (hopefully) has it in stock. The website asks if it may use my current location, I answer in the affirmative, and the response comes back, “Based on your IP address the store nearest to you is in….Hoboken, NJ.” 

WTF? That’s approximately 2,799 miles away from me!

Another website for a different product suggested a store somewhere else on the east coast. Yeah, right. 

I thought both were a just bit far, so I finally found the “Search by Zip Code” box and that turned up stores much closer. (Note to self: always search by zip code.)

Yet, I was wondering why my IP address was suggesting stores on the east coast of the US? I checked with an IP address tracker and that turned out to be much more accurate. It showed I was only 10 miles away from myself. I guess I’ll never know where I truly am solely based on my IP address.

I marvel at technology. I do. But, will I ever find out what’s wrong with my shoulders? Perhaps it’s actually metaphysical. Or worse, the age factor.

Sometimes technology is a marvel; Saturn has some beautiful rings around it, and Mars seems lovely. After all, I’ve seen the pictures. It’s almost like I’ve been there. I also enjoy tracking packages when I order something. When I ordered curtains for my bedroom, I placed the order with a company in New York. The package originated somewhere in India, was transferred to New Delhi and then went on to Frankfurt, Germany, eventually clearing US Customs in New York City. Finally, the package arrived at my home, where I promptly hung them. Later, I was tracking another package when I discovered that FedEx labeled it 'damaged and undeliverable' and I was prompted to contact the merchant who quickly replaced the order. Yes, technology can be a blessing.

At other times, it’s enough to make anyone throw in the towel, find a quaint little cabin by a meadow stream where the otters play and the deer feed off the grasses, where I can sit and hold an actual book in my hands and read by the firelight, just like Abraham Lincoln did.


Interested in dark chocolate peanut butter? Click here

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Another Nightmare

In addition to being somewhat introverted, I also suffer from social anxiety.

And, I am a borderline Highly Sensitive Person(HSP)/Empath.

All three came crashing together this past week. In order to understand their impact, I first need to explain the differences.

Introversion and its colleague, extroversion, are simply personality traits. They are not conditions to overcome. They are a part of us. We learn to manage them, to live with them. When I have been around people for any length of time, my energy is depleted and I feel exhausted. The larger the group, the longer the time I am around them, the more exhausted I feel. So, I naturally try and avoid large group situations. For me, a large group is any amount greater than about five.

Anxiety and its counterpart, depression, are learned. We ruminate over the past that went wrong and then anticipate the future that will go wrong; well, at least go wrong in our heads. All of this worry causes us not to live in this present moment. It is a difficult pattern to break, since we can’t control the outcome, but it can be done. Social anxiety is usually centered around how we might be perceived in a social situation, that someone might discover our ‘secret’ should we have one. We might have to reveal something too personal. Of course, we don’t have to reveal anything we don’t want to, and my experience has been that what I’ve been anxious about, doesn't usually come to pass. But, it is a very hard habit to unlearn. I should also say that, in my case, the greater the gay male factor in the impending situation, the more anxious I am likely to become.
Horrors!

An HSP/Empath feels the emotions and energies of a situation as if they were their own when they truly aren’t. When I see someone hurt, I feel with them, in addition to feeling for them. The deeper the HSP/Empath feels the external feelings, the further along the spectrum they are. I am barely across the threshold into Empath.

So, as you can see, under the right conditions, i.e., being around a lot of people for an extended amount of time, I can become an emotional mess, timebomb, and/or disaster.

Conditions this last week lined up perfectly for such an opportunity.

I had jury duty.

In downtown Los Angeles.

Whenever I go into downtown, I prefer taking public transportation rather than sitting forever in rush hour traffic. I had taken the subway for almost a year to and from work, so I am used to it. But, I have my little rituals for preparing myself for public transportation because I certainly don’t want to feel all the emotions of the various people on the train. The trip into downtown was uneventful. I listened to some native flute music on my iPhone as I felt it was too early for something less calming.

Still half-asleep from waking up earlier than I’d become accustomed to, I walked the two blocks from the station to the courthouse, went through the security screening, got yelled at by the young sheriff-in-training because I forgot one small thing in my pocket which set off the bells and whistles, and then sat through the monotonous forty-five minute orientation where we were told several times we could not be dismissed before 4:00. It was now 8:45. This was going to be a long day.
I sighed.

And then waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. The first two panels weren’t called until 11:00 or so and I sat there expecting my name to be called because I believe things happen for a reason, and I believed this was a lesson to teach me something. I just wasn’t sure what, yet.

But, anyway…

Sitting in the jury assembly room with upwards of 250 people was nerve wracking. So many emotions and energy were floating around the room, I tried to remain grounded. But, I so wanted to go home. I was fearful of being called to a panel where I would be interviewed by the attorneys, where I could end up actually interacting with eleven other strangers, allegedly my peers, ultimately to decide the fate of the defendant, a role I am not comfortable with. Let’s add the anxiety of possibly wrongly convicting someone to the social anxiety I’m already experiencing. Plus, the introversion of being around hordes of people. This was not adding up to be a nice time. But, I had no control over any of it except my reaction to it all. Could that be my lesson here?

Lunch came and went and I was still not assigned to a panel, despite three (or was it four?) panels having been called. Okay, so far so good, and 1.5 hours for lunch. I could do this. Unless…well, even if I were called for a panel, I could still do this.

After a mediocre lunch in the courthouse cafeteria, I reported back to the jury assembly room and waited.

And waited.

Shortly after lunch, a panel was called and I knew my fate was sealed, after all, the pool was shrinking. The pool was now down to about 50, more or less, as very few other jurors had been released from the prior panels. But, to my surprise I survived.

2:15 and another panel is called. Nope, still not my turn. About two more hours, at least; how many more panels could be called on a Thursday afternoon? Who knows? Now I know my fate is sealed for the last panel of the day. Maybe they’ll just have us report to the courtroom tomorrow.

3:15 and an announcement is made: The jury office has received an all clear and can release all remaining members in the pool!!! And it’s before 4:00!

I wait to be called to be dismissed (I was third from the last of about jurors 30 left) and hurried to the Metro station. I have now completed my civic duty for at least the next twelve months and have my certificate to prove it!

Red Line Train
I walked briskly to the station and arrived with about five minutes to spare before my train arrived. I boarded and found a seat next to the window, which gives me some sense of not being confined, even if we are underground. As this was the second stop on the route, the train was still relatively empty being afternoon rush hour was just getting underway. We left for the next stop where more people got on. We went on to the next stop. Some people got on and a few disembarked and the car is filling up. People are standing, and the man sitting next to me brought his bike on board. I will say, he made it very clear to me he would move the bike out of my way when I needed him to. I thought it was kind of him to acknowledge me being somewhat trapped in, and I told him I was riding all the way to the end, so there was no worry.  Having ridden the trains before, I knew the approximate time the train takes at each stop. But, this seemed to be taking longer than usual. After about five minutes the driver announced there was a problem at a station further along the route and we would be holding for a while. Maybe up to ten minutes. Eventually we moved along to the next station, a major transfer point between four train lines and multiple busses in DTLA, so many people boarded and a few disembarked. And we hold yet again.

Being that I am sitting, listening to some music on my phone, I feel relatively disengaged from the people around me, somewhat soothing my introversion, though the handsome man, not the bike man, next to me does make a few comments regarding the delay. Being that the comments are about our common dilemma and not overall small talk, I respond and go back to my music. The overall energy is increasing as the delay lengthens and frustration begins to set in.

Eventually we are cleared to move along to the next station where we are told that this train will now undergo a route change; it's no longer the Red Line, but is converting over to Purple. With this station being the last station common to both lines, all Red Line passengers must disembark and there will be another train along in a few moments. 

I've heard this before, but usually when trains go out of service due to a mechanical issue, not for a route change due to some problem at a station. But, what can I do? The Purple Line won't take me back to my car. 

But, all these upset, frustrated, irritated people on a subway platform during rush hour on a Thursday afternoon was a potential for something to happen. But, I was only concerned for my anxiety, introversion, and epathic feelings. I'm glad I grounded myself that morning.

After waiting for the third Red Line train to arrive, the first two arrived already filled to standing room only and still many of the stranded passengers still tried to board, I, and my new companion-a middle aged Asian woman with whom I kept sharing what rumors I heard among the Metro workers and the LAPD Transit police-found seats and headed onwards to our ultimate destinations, our respective homes, roughly two and a half hours later than what a normal, uneventful trip would have taken us.

So, did I learn my lesson? 

In terms of my introversion, I will learn to manage it. I knew about the jury duty, and realized it would just tire me out from being around all the hordes of people. Mental preparation is the key.

Anxiety is a step by step procedure. I made it into the jury room, then through each of the panels called, just taking one moment at a time. 

In terms of my empathicness, I imagine myself encased in either a white light, or cement, whatever I need to repel the emotions of others. The weaker I feel that day, the heavier the material I envision.

Yet, all in all, I survived.

So, yes, I’d say I learned it.

Yet, I never want to go through a day like that again.

But, invariably, at some point, I will.

And, I’ll survive that, too.
Tranquility


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dualities

Symbols have always fascinated me. And, the more spiritual they are, the more I'm drawn to them which has only intensified lately.

The Triquetra
For a while, I was drawn to symbols involving Celtic knotwork, like the triquetra. My Celtic heritage may have had something to do with it. The touch of Scandinavian blood I have has triggered an interest in Norse mythology and symbols, like Thor's hammer. 

My Shamanic leanings inspired an interest in medicine wheels and their various interpretations, which in turn inspired me to create my own with images my various spirit guides. 

When I first began going to yoga, I was drawn to the Om symbol. The studio I attend has a beautiful piece of Om inspired art hanging above the teacher's platform in each the color-themed rooms. I made one for my bedroom.

Lately I've been fascinated with the yin yang symbol and the idea of dualities comprising and balanced within the whole.

The original meaning behind the yin yang is that two contrary yet complementary forces are working together to bring balance to the completeness of life. There can't be the dark without the light; the male without the female; the earth without the heavens. Yet, the most interesting aspect for me is that within each half of the circle there exists a bit of the other; a bit of the light within the dark, a bit of the female within the male, and vice versa.

While the concept revolves around the wholeness of life and society, I'm turning it inward as well. I can't exist in peace without the balanced dual aspects of who I am. I do have a dark side, not dark as in evil, but dark as in negative. I can be angry, down or depressed, as I'm only human. Yet, within each emotion exists the opposite-calm, upbeat, or manic. (I have yet to see the manic side of me, yet it's in there somewhere.) When I find myself in one of the dark moods, I can look for it's opposite to pull me out of the darkness. When I'm angry, I can find something to calm me down.

I also can't exist without both the masculine and feminine sides of me. I'd like to make this perfectly clear, this has nothing to do with orientation. In the yin yang, one side is identified as female and the other as male and each contains a bit of the other. Based on the original philosophy, the feminine side was also associated with emotion-the heart, and the male with logic-the brain. Again, each side has a bit of the other; meaning women can be logical and men can be emotional. Unfortunately, we are usually socialized against that part of the other side within us; men are socialized not to show emotion, women are socialized not to appear too logical in front of men. But, however we are socialized, those parts do exist within us.

A few appropriations of the yin yang in popular culture have caught my eye. I saw one of two cuddling cats silkscreened on a t-shirt; one in white, the other in the color of the shirt due to the negative space in the design. Another of my favorites shows two trees of life, with each tree growing out of its own side spreading its canopy into the other.

Another one that truly struck me had the rainbow colors in one half, the other half being black. Honoring the concept of the duality, I began to look at why this representation hit so close to home, other than the gay pride colors were represented. Looking first at the outward symbology, the two communities-gay and straight-comprise the greater whole, which in turn means both communities should work together to bring oneness to all, because if one is working against the whole, aren't they also working against their own wholeness by abiding in their darkness? To me, the rainbow circle within the black side represents the LGBTQIA men and women working within the straight community, usually in their jobs or with their families, like ambassadors. For example, I was a teacher for many years and the only gay teacher at my school for at least the last twelve. To me, the black circle within the rainbow half represents our straight allies who actively work for change, not just voicing support for their gay family members and friends.

Internally, I see myself walking between the two communities. Or, trying to at least. I acknowledge the straight culture I was brought up in, while honoring my gay identity. When I am in the straight community, I am still gay and seeing things through my own gay lens. 

I also have a third interpretation of the yin yang. 

It can also apply to relationships. I have come to believe that each relationship we enter is a mirror unto ourselves. We often find qualities in the other person that we admire or that frustrate us. Sometimes those qualities are what we don’t see or don’t like about ourself. I know I can have a tendency to get angry and snippy. Okay, I can get downright bitchy when pushed. I don’t like that quality in others, because I don’t like it in me. A friend of mine is a bit more outgoing than I am, which I admire, and wish I could be more like that. 

While on a social level, we can’t control the entire community, we can only strive to do our part to work for equality. In a relationship, we have no control over how the other person reacts or behaves, only ourself, which brings us to the individual level. What do we do? I believe the key idea here is to maintain balance. We should maintain balance between work and play, spirit and ego, self and others. While it would be wonderful to maintain a positive happy attitude all of the time, it isn't possible due to life's ups and downs. In those times when we find ourselves a bit down, we can search inside for something to bring us back up.

Maintaining balance isn't easy.

We can at least try.