A Learning Machine

A Be-Bot!

WoebotRecently, I started using a chatbot that a friend of a friend programmed. ¬†This chatbot works with Facebook Messenger and is clinically proven to help improve depression and anxiety in as little as 2 weeks. It’s called Woebot.

Since Henry is a big fan of robots, every time he sees my phone light up with the Woebot icon, he gets excited and shouts, “BE-BOT, MOMMY! BE-BOT!” For that reason alone, I’ll keep using it. ūüôā

Anyway, I was initially drawn to Woebot because it only takes a few minutes of time per day, and it contacts you, at the same time every day, to keep you doing the work. I was already doing my own thing with Happiness is Homemade, and I’d been considering creating an app to do the same thing on my phone, since printing stuff up and writing things out is occasionally a pain in my butt. I thought I’d check out Woebot to see if creating an app was even worth my time. ¬†(It is, but not because Woebot doesn’t fit the bill.)

Anyway, day before yesterday, Woebot brought up the topics of labels and mindsets. ¬†I was aware that labeling is irrational. It’s an automatic negative thought. I just wasn’t aware of how frequently I still engage in it. ¬†Mindsets, on the other hand, I was ignorant about. (And for a “smart” person, feeling ignorant is mighty uncomfortable.)

Here’s the 10 minute video that Woebot encouraged me to watch. ¬†I strongly encourage you to watch it as well. It could change the way you think about yourself and life in general.

I lived with a fixed mindset most of my life. And, if I’m honest, I’m currently struggling to change to a growth mindset… but the struggle is good.

Fixed Mindsets Waste Gifts

When I was a freshman at Berklee and saw that there were so many musicians who I perceived to be better than me, I stopped trying in earnest to be a performer.

Seriously, the last time I performed music outside of a classroom setting–other than karaoke or singing along at Gymboree– was in high school. ¬†That’s really fucked up for a person who was in all-state choir and regional honor bands all 4 years in percussion, if you think about it. Going to a world-renowned music school should mean you make more music, not less… but should statements are irrational garbage too.

Anyway — I had no idea that what I was butting up against was a fixed mindset. I believed I was “smart” and “a good musician.” ¬†This meant that I couldn’t allow myself to be in positions that could prove otherwise.

When I didn’t do well in my Intro to Film Scoring class, I switched to a Music Business major. When I couldn’t do vocal sight-singing or ear training without playing everything at a piano, I learned every piece at the piano by myself so no one else would know that I couldn’t just sing the songs from looking at the page. My embarrassment was painful and intense.

I cheated myself out of so much growth there because I didn’t want anyone to know that I wasn’t good enough. Truth is: I couldn’t emotionally handle that I needed to struggle so much. I had always needed to work hard at improving my chops, but having to work hard to keep up with a class was foreign to me. ¬†I had always excelled academically. It was part of my identity.

I thought that because music transcription and reading was so difficult for me, it was a sign that I just wasn’t meant for it. I allowed my mindset to close the door on something that I loved. ¬†After seeing the talent that was all around me, all the time, I figured that music, no matter how much I loved making it, wasn’t for me. ¬†And I didn’t even realize I was making a choice.

Music business was easy. It made sense, even if it could be misogynistic, cutthroat, and terribly ageist. So, I stopped making myself do the hard stuff, and I worked on a business plan… and on a ton of unpaid internships for internet radio dot coms that no longer exist. (When I think about how much I could have earned if I were given even minimum wage, it makes me sick at my stomach.)

Fast forward to adulthood and every time I had to face what I perceived to be an unforgivable failure — one that made me question my worth and identity — I became suicidal to the point of needing hospitalization.

The Gift Of Disability

Being diagnosed with seizure disorder caused by MS was a low point in my life, for sure. But I got used to having seizures. I got used to not being able to work a full-time job. I got used to my identity baseline being “not good enough.” And that was immensely freeing.

I decided that since I wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations (least of all my own), I ought to change my expectations and try harder to make myself proud. And that’s what I’m doing now.

It’s not easy being a mother. It’s not easy sounding like shit on guitar or piano every time I play. It’s not easy learning Japanese on my cell phone or going to the gym 3-5 times a week whether I’m having seizures or not. It’s not easy to play make-believe with my son when I’m as pragmatic as I am. It’s certainly not easy to make myself proud.

But I’m doing the work… so someday, the things that are hard right now might be easy.

If I don’t, it’s like telling myself that it’s okay to be bitter and sad and unhappy with my appearance and life forever. And that’s bullshit. I’d rather choose struggle than familiar misery.

Besides, I won’t have any good stories to tell if I don’t choose worthy conflicts.

What are YOU struggling with today?

Giving Integrated Medicine A Shot

Tonight, I’m seeing a doctor that specializes in integrated medicine. She’s a medical doctor, a chiropractor, and she studied Chinese traditional medicine (acupuncture/acupressure/herbs) too. She thinks she can help me get my current comorbidity status to look a little less fucking scary before trying in earnest for a new party member.¬†

For anyone who hasn’t been playing along for several years, I’m looking at MS, seizure disorder, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, GERD, NAFLD, PTSD, and depression. Oh, and my immunoglobulin is crazy low, but that doesn’t have a name yet… Anyway, I’m trying to avoid type 2 diabetes, lose weight, improve fatigue, and, you know, just generally not die early from lack of exercise, shit nutrition, etc.

They took almost a full pint of blood for the majillion (okay 8 or 9) tests she had me get on Saturday. On the one hand, I’m excited by the thought that someone might actually help me figure out my health puzzle in a way other than just adding more pharmaceuticals to the mix. Feeling better would be awesome, but my pessimistic mind won’t let me believe it’s something that could actually happen.

(I’m actually kind of afraid of how harshly I know my inner critic would judge my present life if I suddenly had more energy. I know that it does shit like that because when I stopped having nearly constant seizures after coming off of Cymbalta and Abilify for a video EEG in 2014, I became suicidal because I believed I had been doing literally nothing but seizing and watching TV for about 4 years. That was an erroneous belief, BTW. I wrote the Tao of Rae and created the Paleo Compendium during that time, and that harsh critic is part of depression. Depression is a motherfuckin’ liar 98%¬†the time.)

On the other hand, I’m really not looking forward to whatever crazy, pain-in-the-ass diet I absolutely know she’s about to put me on. If I were a betting lady, I foresee a recommendation of AIP or Wahls Way… because before she sent me for the tests, she said, “You know, most of your ailments can be traced back to gut health.” *GROAN*

Either diet¬†makes me want to weep because my son’s diet is at least 50% Ritz bitz or cookie bars of some sort — which mean that my diet, for the last year or so, has increasingly become that of “whatever Henry has left over.” ¬†This means major changes for my family. I’m not looking forward to them… but I am hopeful. ¬†And, on the bright side, I’ve got a decent resource already ready for myself.

I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to deal with Henry’s diet in conjunction. I know that I can avoid eating Ritz Bitz, but I’ve also been reading up some on Paleo Mom‘s website, and I’m feeling allllll kindsa guilt over the fact that apples and bananas¬†are pretty well all that my toddler wants to eat in the “fresh fruits and veggies” department. ¬†Hell, half the reason that I feed him the Plum Mighty Snack Bars is because they’ve got hidden veggies in them and all kinds of vitamins and minerals.

I’m just fucking exhausted most of the time, and that’s no way to live. I just don’t know where the energy to clean out chamutz from my house and start exercising more is going to come from. I can barely keep up as it is.

And that’s why we finally got a Care.com account and are looking for a mother’s helper for a few hours a week… but interviewing candidates is another layer of awesome stress, coated in PTSD grossness.

Anyway, Henry woke up early from his nap, so I need to go do things in the other room with him.  How could I stay away from this face?

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All the things.

Argh! So many thoughts. So much going in my brain. Unfortunately, it’s not organized, really, so you’re getting a good, ole fashioned Rae braindump.

I woke up this morning well-rested, which almost never happens. I think it’s because of the new strains of medical marijuana that I’ve just gotten access to. (Harmony for daytime, which is a 1:1 THC/CBD strain, and Mag Mile, a heavy indica that puts muscle spasms down, for bedtime.) ¬†Crazy thing, sleeping well because you’re properly medicated!

Even better, I woke up to find out that “marijuana cannabinoids hold the capacity to literally kill the brain inflammation responsible for causing cognitive decline, neural failure, and brain degeneration. ” {story here} ¬†Put plainly, it means that if you have multiple sclerosis and you’re not using cannabis in some form, you’re missing out on something very helpful for you!

I mean, today I almost feel like a normal person who can get things done, even with a toddler. Almost. ūüôā I’m still blogging instead of doing dishes, so…

Anyway. I think the best thing I’ve done recently¬†has been to really look at some of my worst case scenarios in an attempt to fight anxiety. And really, they’re not so bad.

If Trump & party decide to go full Nazi, Canada¬†and Japan are both making it easier for Americans to immigrate. Sure, Adam and I would dearly miss our family and friends, but we started out in Los Angeles, without any of them. ¬†Japan is lower on the list for us, since we don’t speak Japanese yet, and they’re easily within North Korea’s nuclear radius.

Then again, nuclear annihilation is instant and painless. We all have to die sometime. It’s the only guarantee in life. How great would it be to not worry about death hurting? We’d be dust before our pain receptors got the message. And the afterlife? If it’s actually the brain activity that exists after death, there’s no suffering there either, because there’s no brain.

And can you imagine not worrying¬†about who and what you’re leaving behind, and how they’ll be because it all went kablooey at the same time you did? ¬†WHEW.

I mean, it’s fucking dark to think this way, I know — but I’ve been dark as long as I remember being alive. There’s definitely something comforting to me about going out with the rest of¬†humanity… In a really warped way of thinking, it’s kind of a merciful possibility. Nobody would have to deal with calling ScienceCare¬†or planning a memorial for me. Less stress for everyone!¬†(Dead people can’t stress.)

Of course, I’m thinking about this because the POTUS has some serious mental health issues, and North Korea is actively running tests for a first-strike nuclear program.

Oh, and because I read all of the bullshit linked in this blog entry on Facebook, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

I took a FB vacation for a few weeks in February, and it was really helpful. It let me know that a huge amount of my anxiety comes from reading news that my friends think they should share… but I had to ask myself whether reading that stuff was making me happy or if any of it was helpful. ¬†And the answer to both questions was a resounding “nope.”

My signal-to-noise ratio was all fucked up again.  I was seeing multiple stories about terrible things that I cannot affect every day, multiple times a day (since the stories pop up over and over and over again when people comment on them). Even though you train yourself to just scroll past, it still takes up mental/emotional bandwidth.

So, these days, I only hit FB when the kiddo is sleeping or I’m killing time in a waiting room or going to the bathroom or something. ¬†Whether or not I read about it, antisemitism, poverty, class warfare, fascism, racism, and sexism are going to exist.¬†I’d really rather spend my time dealing with shit I can affect, like potty training Henry. (Pun very much intended.)

He’s really amazed me, picking up potty training so fast. ¬†He’s doing really good about staying dry as far as pee-pee is concerned, but he hasn’t learned how to poop on the potty yet. ¬†I know we’re getting close though, which is both incredibly exciting and a very tiny bit sad. (He’s a big boy! He’s not a baby anymore.) ¬†We need to pick him up some big-boy undies. Right now, I’ve somehow got him snowed into thinking that cloth diapers are big-boy pants. I know it’s not gonna last long. *lol*

Anyway, if you’ve stuck through this entry long enough to get to this point, you totally deserve a picture… because my boy is beautiful, and he makes me smile. I hope this pic makes you smile too. I¬†took it this morning.

Henry 22 mo

Happiness Is Homemade.

Hey y’all. I wrote a whole entry today, and then I realized that it was full of information that I wouldn’t want a total stranger¬†to read… so I didn’t publish it. I miss LiveJournal and FB’s privacy settings something fierce right now, but I’m also very glad that I’m starting to have more of a filter about what I’m willing to share with total strangers all over the world. It’s an important boundry to find.

I did, however, make something for myself that may¬†be helpful for others, so I’m linking to it here.

Happiness Is Homemade — Daily Worksheet

This worksheet goes through the 4 exercises that I do every day to help me combat my brain’s¬†natural tendency to gravitate to the negative.

3 Great Things About Yesterday requires you to remember good things about the immediate past. I’m a big fan of trying to focus on 3 Great Things that I had no control over whatsoever — like great weather, or getting a phone call from a friend. This exercise is about appreciation.

When I was at the absolute darkest part of depression, my list looked like this:

  1. Still Alive
  2. Not In the Hospital
  3. Adam Hasn’t Left Me

3 Things I Deserve A Sticker For requires you to think about what your day has been like and give yourself credit for doing things that may have been challenging. For a while there, “Changing¬†poopy diapers” was on my list every day. For the last week, “Fighting the urge to check social media” has been on there. ¬†I messed up a little today. :-/ But that’s how growth works — we try our best, we mess up, and then we try again as our best gets better. In any event, this exercise is about giving yourself credit where it’s due.

3 Things I’m Looking Forward To requires you to use your imagination to envision anything positive at all occurring in your future. This can be especially challenging if you’re deeply depressed or you’ve totally embraced nihilism and are just wondering at what moment nuclear annihilation is going to unmake our entire species.

I’ve had to remove the following 3 from my list because it was the same list¬†every day for a long time, though they’re still there:

  1. Having good conversations with Henry.
  2. Henry using the potty consistently, like a big boy.
  3. A future with autonomous vehicles that I can access.

Gratitude Rampage is an open-ended exercise that you can do for 5 or 10 minutes — or more if you prefer. You simply sit there and list (for whatever amount of time you’ve chosen) everything you can think of that you’re grateful for/happy about in that moment. ¬†The practice requires you to think about how you’re feeling in the moment and to not ignore the positive things in your life that are currently occurring.

If you can, print this out and fill it out by hand. Your brain gets more from writing than it does from typing.

Where I Should Be Writing

Well, the last few weeks have been… interesting.

My mom came in town last Wednesday (2/1) and stayed with us all the way until yesterday. We were together for an entire week and a half…and it took over a week before I completely lost my shit on her.

On the one hand, I see that as immense growth. After starting EMDR therapy for PTSD and realizing years of repressed anger, I used¬†to only be able to handle being around her and being kind/civil¬†for about 3 days at a time before becoming an overly-emotional reactionary mess…so going more than a week is deserving of a high-five at the very least.

On the other hand, I’m still sick at my stomach for losing it on her in the first place, on the day before she left. I said shit that was mean and that I don’t actually think. Don’t get me wrong, I apologized, and we’re good now — but I really wish that I had more emotional control when I’m already triggered and am trying, desperately, to regain rationality.

Truth of the matter is, keeping my anxiety in check has been nearly impossible since Trump took office. The amount of irrational fear that I was experiencing when he announced the travel ban was enough on its own — but all of the internet think pieces forecasting the demise of all of humanity was just too much for me.

I lost my damn mind one morning because Adam didn’t understand how totally important it was to leave the country immediately (even though he and Henry didn’t have passports yet) and ended up going for a long walk in my nearly threadbare pajamas in 12 degree weather until I could cool my jets and act like a semi-reasonable human being.

In the twenty minutes-or-so that I was gone, Adam called my mom and my therapist. ¬†I’m glad he realized that he didn’t need to call the cops this time… because we all know, he’ll do it if he needs to.

Social Media Changes

The first major change that occurred when I got home is that we put a site blocker on my laptop. If I try to go to Facebook, I get redirected to Cute Overload. If I try to hit Twitter, I’m redirected to ICanHazCheeseburger. If I try to go to Reuters or the Associated Press, it sends me straight to FailBlog. ¬†Because, let’s be real… the news is full of fail right now.

I haven’t read my Facebook or Twitter news feeds in nearly 2 weeks, though I have kept Messenger around for PMing with friends. I both miss feeling “in the know” about what’s going on in my friends lives and in the world around us — and don’t at all miss feeling the near-constant panic that comes along with Facebook’s ability to show you the same bad news 10 different ways with 10 different click-bait-worthy headlines all foreshadowing imminent doom… And I sure as shit don’t need to scroll past comments showing that there really are morons out there who both want to fight for fetal “rights” and¬†also stop those same babies¬†from ever being able to be covered by insurance… or women who simultaneously scream that racism is over and that they don’t need feminism because they have Jesus, but don’t understand why white, affluent rapists don’t get sent to prison.

Truly, I always knew those folks were out there. Shit, I grew up in around a ton of them… (you don’t have members of your own high school drumline drawing swastikas on your practice pad and books and get to ignore the rise of NeoNazim in the South) but I don’t have to read their hate-filled, scarcity-based fearmongering. ¬†I don’t even have to see that it exists and scroll past it. I can stop tuning in. ¬†I wouldn’t watch FoxNews or CNN all day, so why would I let the 24 hr news cycle rule my social feed?

Instead, I downloaded Instagram and SnapChat. ¬†There’s almost zero in the way of political crap, and that suits me fine. I’m actually seeing more personal pictures and am reading about what’s going on in the lives of my friends, which is what I actually care about.

I also do not understand SnapChat yet… because sometimes I want to see what someone said again, and I can’t get it to replay. ¬†It’s frustrating. I swear I’m not a luddite, btw… just a little lazy, considering everything else going on in life.

But my real new addiction? ¬†A game called Habitica. I’m still learning it, but I think it’s is one of the best possible changes in my life. ¬†It has multiple to-do lists that you can populate with what you need to, and it gives you experience points and loot for living in integrity with your intentions.

It also doesn’t hurt that I have both a cotton-candy pink wolf and a royal purple tiger cub as pets that I got for remembering to brush my teeth, take my meds every morning and night, and eat 3 meals a day, every day this week. (It’s the little things, for real.) ¬†It tickles me that I’m going to be getting fake gold coins for remembering to make social contact with people I like at least 3 times a week.

Anyway, much as I’d like to keep writing, Henry is up from his nap, and we have limited daylight left to take a walk on a beautifully sunny 48 degree Sunday afternoon. So, for now, I’m gonna wrap it up.

I’m not dumping my thoughts in 140 characters or easy/fast/thoughtless status updates anymore… so, I think we all know where my significant updates will be found. (Right here.) ¬†That also means that if you want to comment on any blog entry where I can see it, you’re gonna need to comment right here¬†and not on Twitter or on FB. I won’t see either of those.¬†

 

P.S. – I finally bit the bullet and contacted Pace Paratransit. Sometime in the next month or so, Henry and I should have significantly more freedom to get around. Cabs are fucking spendy.

Well, duh.

You know, there are days when I realize that for however smart I was in grade school, that may well be how completely clueless I am as an adult about common sense things.

smart-vs-dumb

Gorgeous, either way, though, right?

See, I’ve been living in Orland Hills, IL for a little over a year now. ¬†The town is so small that in order to use public transportation, you actually have to call a phone number more than 24 hours in advance and set up your ride. ¬†It’s like paratransit, but for everybody.

When we moved here, I walked over to the town hall to get all of our paperwork in order, and I was told by some of the ladies who work there¬†that I couldn’t bring my baby on the bus because they don’t allow car seats. ¬†Thus began my year of walking everywhere and having absolutely crushing stir-craziness in the winter, wondering how I would make it until my son turned 8.

Well, today, I had enough of it. ¬†It’s gorgeous outside (but -5 degrees wind chill), and despite having time travel seizures yesterday, I decided I was tired of feeling like a middle schooler who was impatiently waiting for one of her friends to get a drivers license. I decided to ask the hivemind — my friends on FB and the folks in one of the local parenting groups on there.

And do you know what they suggested? A taxi service.

benny

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me earlier, and I feel totally dumb for not thinking of it. It’s so simple and straightforward that it makes my head hurt.

For some reason, I thought that since we’re living in the suburbs, we wouldn’t have access to taxis out here… but we do! I even¬†thought, “Hey! Uber might work!” but riding in an Uber with a baby and his car seat only works if the Uber driver is cool with it — and most of them aren’t. (Who can blame them? If my baby pukes, Uber’s not gonna clean it up for them, and if we are in an accident, the liability for them is too great.)

So, one of the ladies in the parenting group suggested a specific driver who works with her elderly mom, and I’m going to be giving him a call tomorrow.

I’m tired of feeling like less than an adult, simply because I can’t get where I want to go when I want to go. Henry deserves to go to the library, regularly. He deserves to go on playdates. He deserves a life outside of this house, and a mommy who has more self-esteem than I do right now.

Cabbing it might seem kinda costly, but I’m going to do everything I can to remind myself, when I’m feeling too cheap to give us freedom, that if I had a car, I’d be paying more for gas, maintenance, licensing, and insurance. Not to mention how much we’ll save on psychological therapy in the coming years for me and Henry. (No agoraphobia allowed!)

So, I’m now looking very forward to going¬†to pilates or yoga classes during the day at our gym like I’ve wanted to for so long. I’m going to make friends here and be a functional member of this community. I’m going to stop using my inability to drive as a reason to feel sorry for myself. I’m taking back at least some of the freedom I’ve unconsciously given to seizure disorder.


On a completely different note, I was approached by an employee of Earnest a few weeks ago who asked me to write an entry on holiday budgeting.¬†Over the course of our emails it appeared that they wanted me to suggest to my readers that they refinance their student loans. They didn’t offer me any compensation to promote them, so my link above exists out of nothing more than goodwill towards someone who may have read one of my entries, but who definitely has a tough job if they’re trying to get sporadic writers like me to pimp their product.

Anyway, I have a ton of tips that I would be happy to share about how I personally save money, but I also have a massive amount of respect for my small and dedicated group of readers. I don’t believe that y’all care one iota about reading about that sort of thing¬†here. ¬†If I’m wrong, let me know, and I’ll happily write it up for you.

Hope everyone’s feeling well, and that 2017 isn’t half the shitshow that the Great Dumpster Fire of 2016 was.

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My Sphere of Influence

So much has happened since the last time that I wrote.

Henry is now 19 months old. Donald Trump has been elected president, but everyone’s looking to the electors to see if they’re actually gonna vote for him next week, especially now that he’s put together a cabinet comprised of members of Who’s Who Among American Assholes (That is to say that they’re almost all family members, horrific Neo-Nazis, and science deniers.) and is already starting shit with China and Israel by chatting it up with the leaders of Taiwan & Palestine. *shrugs* Who the fuck knows what’s gonna happen? Not me.

Here’s what I do know: I have a limited sphere of influence in this world, and it’s kind of a gift.

It’d be way too easy to be sucked into the hysteria of this prolonged election cycle¬†full-time, thinking I could make any difference in its outcome. ¬†I’ve had days like that, admittedly. But I felt awful¬†after them. I feared for my life, for Henry’s life. I felt insignificant and vulnerable. (Both of which things are true and not bad, relatively speaking.) I questioned the goodness of humanity — even existence as a whole. I questioned my resolve to have good mental health. I questioned the sanity in staying in this country. And then I questioned the sanity in leaving.

When I think about recent days that end with me not feeling like I need to get blackout wasted, I’ve usually spent the majority of it not focused on making the¬†world a better place, but rather making my home a better place. Not on being a good citizen or advocate, but on being a good wife and mother.

The more time I spend one-on-one with Henry, with my cell phone in another room, the better I feel about life. So, I’m trying to remember to¬†quit looking at my phone… which is surprisingly difficult, but worth it – because Henry’s at a wonderful, but difficult¬†age.

20161205_081701At 19 months, he’s 3 ft tall already. He can grab anything he wants off of the counter. He can play the piano just standing up. He can climb up and down stairs on his own, and he’s¬†getting closer and closer to talking in sentences. ¬†(Of course if you count, “OH NO!” as a sentence, then he’s been golden for over a month.)

Right now, he has a lot of words that are regulars: Mama, Dada, dog, duck, baby, ba-ba ¬†(for bottle), car, no, book, milk, wa-wa (for water), stairs, shoes, mouse, and yeah. And I know there’s more. ¬†But 15 right off the top of my head isn’t bad!

Anyway, I’d write more about how awesome this kid is, and how much I love him, and how being a mother is completely changing the way I think about life and myself and law and even music.. but he just woke up from his nap.

Maybe someday, I’ll get the chance to write again. But you can’t “carve out” time when you’re already maxed out. Right now, I’ll just be happy getting through the holidays.