It is the end of an era … at last.

Well folks … yesterday evening at 10:59pm Pacific time marked the end of an era for me. I have been toiling somewhat laboriously on a Bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Communication for the last 3 or so years of my life … and that is now over and done. For some of you, you will realise just how much of an accomplishment this is because I have started and stopped a degree in one form or another several times in my adult life. I finally found the right set of circumstances that allowed me to stick with it and finish it. I am done.

Of course, I still have to get my final grade and clear financial issues before I am granted that piece of paper, but for all intents and purposes, I am done. I don’t anticipate that my final grade will be a failing one unless I totally screwed up that last paper … and frankly even if I did screw it up badly, I see a “C” grade at worst anyway which is still a pass. For the record, I received a “C” grade only once in these last 3 years.

Which sort of reminds me of something my 4th form (or grade 15?) teacher once told me: “you’ll always be a B grade student, Camille, unless you apply yourself a little more”. It seems she had wisdom beyond her years … or she “put har goat mout’ pan mi” – depending on how you choose to see it. I am a little lazy when it comes to studying … although I suspect that psychologists might say it’s less about my willingness to learn and more about the way in which I learn. Intriguing idea, actually. I learn best when I listen and do, not read – and reading was half of the work on this degree; the other half was being one of only two active people in a team the whole course through. My husband jokingly says my degree is a piece of paper certifying that I am a team player who can and will carry a team.

But now is not the time to bitch about the structure or format of this program. Now is the time to drink alcohol, sing, and be merry about never having to go back into another accelerated 5 week class with a bunch of lazy teammates ever again. I am done and in a couple of weeks, I will have paper to prove it.

Next step, you ask? I dunno. I have this lofty idea that I want to do a Master’s in Psychology. My inner child is in turn both laughing and cringing at that idea. We’ll see. For now, it’s all about revelling in the freedom from classes, finding a job (I can stomach), and just being relieved at finally being done. Whether this degree means anything for the job search remains to be seen.

More anon.

Medicine isn’t as precise as you thought it was

I never really thought about how imprecise medicine is as a profession until this week. Last week Friday, I went in for a routine laparoscopy with a goal to ease my endometriosis symptoms considerably. We surmised that we would find endometriosis based on symptoms and history. It sounds like we were right (“sounds” because I haven’t seen the doc for the followup visit yet, so not 100% sure what he found).

The imprecise aspect, though, is that this is my second of such surgeries (the first was 4 years ago) but this one leaves me in far less pain than the first one did.  When I think about it, I realise that the first one used lasers to burn the tissue. Thinking in retrospect and logically, that would hurt more. Still, I was so anxious with dread in anticipation of the pain that I was quite useless. Not that you’d know since, in true INTJ form, I let no one know just how anxious I was.  But I digress …

That alone isn’t why I say it’s imprecise. And in fact there are several aspects of this surgery that make me think that. This time around I didn’t get antibiotics to go home with (I don’t know if they gave me a large dose before I left the hospital or not) and they gave me simple Naproxen to manage the pain – nothing too high-powered. Well, not quite true – they gave me Percocet, but only if the pain kept me awake or was too unbearable even with the Naproxen.

On top of that, when I think about how in times past, with my level of pain pre-surgery for as long as I have had it, the procedure I would have undergone was more hysterectomy than laparoscopy. The level of understanding of the conditions affecting women’s reproductive systems and the fatality numbers was just too overwhelming. It was just better to take it all out and reduce the overall risk. As it is, I still have all my reproductive organs – which is a fairly big deal considering.

Incidentally, I gave them permission to take as much as they wanted to for further study of the disease. Honestly, I want women some time in the future to be able to avoid this crap in the first place. Two surgeries for the same diagnosis, two different kinds of after-care and pain levels … and only 4 years apart. Still, what I now know (based on discussions with my doctor within the last few months) compared against what I have learned over the years prior is eons apart. And this is at the foundation of the reason for my post.

What we have learned about endometriosis is stunning in its entirety … yet there are still very few doctors who have access to that body of knowledge. My doctor of 4 years ago in Texas was supposedly the best around – yet he didn’t know much about endo. At least not enough to educate me sufficiently. (Course, chances are that was less about the extent of his knowledge and maybe more about his ability and/or willingness to impart that knowledge to me.)

This doctor here in Washington said one thing that made the whole thing finally make sense to me. He said, “The uterus has 3 openings”.  We don’t think of it that way – we think of it as having only the one opening. The tubes, however, are wide open and give almost complete, unfettered access to the abdominal region; hence the “leakage” of fluid from the uterus into the abdomen. And thus begins the nightmare that is endometriosis. The biggest piece of information I got, though, was that while ALL women have this backwash backflow thing going on, in actuality only a small subset of those women experience the kind of scarring that causes the symptoms I have been living with for decades.

My luck.

Still, it is overwhelmingly reassuring to know that there is information now available to doctors to help me and other women like me. It might take some time for your friendly neighbourhood General Practitioner to get access to that info, but the info is there. And if you are like me, you will ask and ask and ask until someone answers you satisfactorily.

How Stereotypes hurt us, from a personal perspective

If you’re like me, in any of the smallest of ways, you’ve chafed at the bit that is stereotypical roles for all your life. I struggled long and hard as a child with statements such as “you should focus on behaving like a lady” and “but you should wear (read:like) pink; pink is for girls” and “frills are just so pretty, I don’t know why you don’t like them – you’re a girl” and “but patent shoes are so formal and show class”.

Embarrassingly, I thought long and hard (obsessively in some instances) about things like why boys stand up to urinate and why girls must sit. I will even admit to experimenting a little with the reversal of that concept. We won’t get into the details… let’s just say the results were hilarious in retrospect, if humiliating at the time. Chalk it up to youthful ignorance of human anatomy. When I learned more about how our bodies are built, I heard the gong go off in my head on the why of that particular fact. Some of our “norms” are as a result of biology – case in point. A ton others, though, are not. Like how long we keep our hair or what colours we wear. Those things are dictated by society, not biology.

Something someone very dear to me said to me recently got me thinking. There are so many ways in which we produce cookie-cutter children and we are not even remotely aware of those ways. Why? Because it is what we were taught growing up (much in the same way I was), and we saw how it went for those who were socialised in ways other than the “norms” of society. Shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Better to be “normal”, isn’t it?

But I have to ask you this: how does that feel, that “normal”? Does it feel comfy to be in your “normal” skin? And just for a second, I want to ask you to set aside that “but I wouldn’t fit in” feeling and really think about how it feels to be “normal”.

And here’s the thing: some of you will tell me it feels perfectly fine. That’s the thing about stereotypes. They actually do fit some people. The hurtful part is when it doesn’t. We can’t all be the same. And we shouldn’t have to be. I am firm advocate for allowing people to grow into the kind of people they want to be instead of the kind of people society says they should be. And the way to do that is to stop insisting that they stick to the “norms” that society dictates. A 3 year old boy can most definitely have long hair and wear pink if he wants to. Objections to either of those are society talking, not biology. We have to remember that.

I applaud the trashing of gender stereotypes because I have never been comfortable with the “typical girl” one at all. And I think it hurt me far more than it needed to be forced into pink frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes and bows in my hair. It hurt because I was uncomfortable and we often associate discomfort with other items. For example, church became a consistently bad thing growing up because it was when Mom forced me into pink, frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes. That’s harmful – no matter what you think of church and religion. A child’s recollection of church should not be as a result of how he or she was dressed.

Do me a favour – please. The next time you think “Oh but that’s not very masculine/feminine” stop for a moment and ask yourself whether whatever it is you are criticising is a biological dictate (like urinating standing up), or societal (long hair and pink for a boy). And if it is societal, acknowledge that the reasons why you want to change them is not because it’s wrong, but because you are concerned about them being shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Then allow them to experiment and choose and hope they realise that society can be unforgiving on their own before it is too late. Perhaps, like me, they’ll realise that to be vastly different is to draw unwanted attention to their lives. Or perhaps they’ll say “to hell with it – I will be who I want to be” and chart the course for new lands.

Remember, some of our most loved heroes and creative geniuses were far from “normal”. Maybe that is what it takes to succeed – the courage (or crazy) to challenge the status quo. Maybe that’s what we need to change the world we live in. Allow those harmful stereotypes to die the miserable, lonely death they deserve.

About that job I mentioned …

Remember me saying that I got a job using those supposed “soft skills”? Yeah … Well, I had to quit that job. … And … I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks wondering whether my subconscious generated an excuse to quit because I was so dissatisfied with the job … or whether I really was too sick to continue at that point in time.

The truth is there were several things wrong … not the least of which was the fact that I was overqualified and I felt it acutely every minute of every day. When they interview you, they really only need to know that you’ve completed high school, have a basic work ethic, and can pass a drug screening. Nothing more really. Having some computer skills is a bonus, having some customer service skills is also a bonus … but not a requirement.

The bottom line is that it required basic skills but was tough as hell because people. Look lemme tell you something … considering my gross misanthropy, it’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did. Sick or not, I don’t know how much longer I was going to be able to stand sitting and allowing people to shit on me that way. Oh yes – there were some fun and enjoyable and rewarding calls. Sure. But there weren’t enough of them for me to work that hard for that little.

I tried to hang on … I really did. Ultimately, it’s always better to hang on to employment when you get it in this economy. The problem is … well, I spent all 7 weeks sick. The only week I wasn’t sick was the first one. Thereafter I was either flushing out a sinus irritation, or developing a cold from that sinus irritation or getting over a cold. In the final 7th week, the cold took my voice on Saturday morning and it was gone for a full 5 or 6 days thereafter. Which is kind of pointless for a job where you need to be talking. And they are very strict at this place … 2 absences and they fire you. Considering it was going on 2 days, I figured it was best to just quit. Within a week of leaving, I was better … much better. I hesitate to point fingers because while I know the building wasn’t the cleanest (and someone else actually said to me once that the ‘place was one giant petri dish’), I also know my resistance was probably low having worked from home for 4 years prior. It was as much me as it was the building. Regardless, it just wasn’t going to work.

Still, I learnt some things. I learned I absolutely can do just about anything I put my mind to. That those “soft skills” that I thought I didn’t have, are just unpolished … or unpracticed. But also … I learned I need to be happy in my 9 to 5. I was miserable – every day, all day. That is just no way to live.

So while I finish the degree and re-analyse what I want to do, I am back volunteering at the Dispute Resolution Center in downtown Olympia because that gives me a nice warm feeling deep down inside, that I am making a difference. Can’t beat the kind of work that is fulfilling … even if it doesn’t pay a dime.

Damn Daylight Savings Time Anyway

I’ve discovered one aspect of living in Washington State that I do not like.

Took me almost 4 years, but I found a flaw – at least a flaw that isn’t being 3000+ miles from home and family and familiar. You see, at this time of year, most of the US “fall back” and are on “standard time” again after having spent 8 months of the year in “Daylight Savings Time”. I have never quite gotten the explanation behind why we “save daylight” for the half of the year that we have more daylight – especially the farthest northern locations. It makes zero sense to me and even when someone tries to explain it to me, the whole deal just gets lost in translation. Ridiculous.

According to Wikipedia: “Putting clocks forward benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, but can cause problems for evening entertainment and for other activities tied to the sun (such as farming) or to darkness (such as fireworks shows). Although some early proponents of DST aimed to reduce evening use of incandescent lighting (formerly a primary use of electricity), modern heating and cooling usage patterns differ greatly, and research about how DST currently affects energy use is limited or contradictory.” My understanding? We did it way back when and since it benefits the profit-making enterprise most, we’ve never changed it. Who cares whether it actually harms people – right?

And it does harm people. Take me for example. This year, the “fall back” hit harder than usual. On Sunday, it was suddenly dark an hour earlier than it had been the day before. And between the dark, and the cold, and the rain … I just wanted to crawl into bed and never leave.

“Just SAD” you say? Meh. Honestly … I think if I were given the chance to ease into the shorter days, I’d deal with this cold, dark, rainy stuff far better than I have been. “Turn on a daylight lamp” you say? Meh. Honestly, just another way retailers make bank and I suffer. (Wait … don’t I make candles? Heh. Idea bulb!)

Anyway – this was the one thing about the PNW (Pacific Northwest) that I think I will never like. This sudden dark, damp, and cold that converge on one day a year when we “fall back”.

Can we stop this Daylight Savings Time nonsense now? Please? Come on – are we really “saving” anything?

Musings on light and dark imagery

I had an odd experience this morning. Two actually.

The first was as I was driving in to the DRC this morning … I passed a woman on a street corner with a huge image of a dismembered baby. (I understand that there is a Planned Parenthood is nearby and that this is common Friday morning fare … ) To say that the sighting was jarring is just a little understated. Three things crossed my mind in a matter of seconds – all three of which are extremely telling about me. My instinctive and immediate response was “Gross!!!!” My secondary response was, “Clearly never had one because that image is totally inaccurate!” And my final reaction was, “Well, it is her right!” Just as I had that last reaction, I turned my head to look at her, and she smiled at me. My mind is blown.

I mean, clearly I “get it” because I was able to say to myself that it is her right to protest. The thing is … there is responsibility in protestation and I honestly believe that if you are going to protest a thing, at least educate yourself on the facts of the thing before you protest it. And this poor woman clearly has no idea what she’s protesting … because a dismembered baby is just … gross! It’s inaccurate and it’s using scare tactics to solve a problem. It’s effective … to a certain extent, but it’s extremely damaging in several other ways. At the very least, it’s perpetuating an inaccurate image of the problem. I really wish people would learn more about the world before sounding off about things they don’t understand.

Still, it’s kind of perfect considering it’s Halloween today … and isn’t today all about death and fear?

Actually, it isn’t. And that is yet another myth. Halloween, traditionally, is about autumn (or fall), thanksgiving (for experiences, and lives, and loves), remembrance, and respect to those who have moved on from this world. Whether you believe or not, some think that on this day of all other days, it’s easier to contact and communicate with those who have died. For me, it’s just a day when I keep my porch light off at dusk instead of turning it on. The whole idea of celebrating Halloween with costumes and candy is still very alien to me. I still don’t get it. Not sure I ever will.

In any case, Halloween certainly isn’t about sick imagery of dead babies. Ugh.

It takes all sorts, doesn’t it?

Luckily on the heels of that experience was one that reminded me that there is solace. I parked my car in the lot and got out. I stood at the back of the car struggling with my bag and rain gear – not something I normally do. Normally, I get out, slam the door, hit the lock button, and head off towards the building. This morning, I stopped to look at the back of my car. Very out of character. But then I saw this image …

Signs of Autumn

Signs of Autumn

… and I understood. This was my reminder that there is as much beauty in this world as there is hate and ignorance. Often I need this reminder because I tend towards severe misanthropy – especially after seeing images of dismembered babies. (Ugh! What the hell are these people even thinking? Every time I think about it, it gets weirder and more gross!)

So I am keeping that image in my head for today … the leaf stuck to my bumper. It sounds kinda silly when I put it in words like that … but it’s a good silly. Autumn is my favourite season. And that image is the perfect foil to ignorance and terror. I hope these people find wisdom some day … and soon.

Late on Saturday night with The Walking Dead

Saturday night, after our outing at the Murder Mystery Dinner, I lay in bed beside my sleeping husband and decided I wanted to put on something on tv that would have me snoring in no time. I browsed through the Netflix catalog and came across The Walking Dead. Knowing that Sarah Wayne Callies (from Prison Break) was in it, I decided to queue up an episode.

Please note, I am not a zombie fan. My first introduction to zombie storylines was Night of the Living Dead and I had not been even remotely entertained. I watched that movie with a mixture of boredom, consternation, disgust, and horror because it was quite gross. But I think part of my problem was that I was amazed at how lazy the writing was. To me the whole deal was: conjure up the most horrific monster s human being can become, corner some normal humans in a building together (total strangers to boot) and let them struggle to stay alive through a night, throw in sim difficult personalities, and let one survivor walk free in the morning. Too easy. I wasn’t impressed.

Similar stories followed the same formula and I lost interest in the zombie story early. So it is that I am only now giving The Walking Dead any attention – after 4 seasons have passed. And it’s not that I didn’t know about it. I’ve known of the show’s existence from the pilot. If anything, I am intrigued that the show has lasted this long. Well, partly intrigued. We still have tons of reality shows, so that a crappy idea had lived for 4 seasons isn’t all that odd.

But back to Saturday night. I queued up the pilot and the first few scenes were boring and predictable. Some lone survivor of the zombie apocalypse encounters a zombie and shoots it in the head. It’s not until the credits start rolling that it hits me just how significant this introduction is. This particular survivor is dressed in a law enforcement uniform and seems to have the demeanor of lawman… but the zombie he has to shoot in the head is a little girl.

That was my first clue. This is no ordinary zombie story at all.

Before long, it’s almost 2 in the morning, I’m exhausted but now highly intrigued and on episode 3. It wasn’t so much that it was scary (and it was more thrilling than scary), but it engages you on a completely different level. There are real, rounded personalities to get drawn in by. Several story threads interwoven with the zombie head shots and swarms would interest the audience all on their own. The Walking Dead, it would seem, is a particularly engaging story after all.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to continue with it … I mean, it is zombies, after all. My least favorite paranormal creature.