When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, August 18, 2017

Obesity as a Shield

**Caution: While I do attempt to put a non-ironic, non-sarcastist positive spin on some of my tougher subjects, I fear this post may not rise to the challenge. I shall endeavor to be optimistic, yet this will be full of raw emotion as well.**

So, as I sit in the stadium during the kick-off football game at my daughter's high school, I sense something a little off with me. I want to feel the excitement of everyone around me like I did all season last year. I want to appreciate the talent and work and enthusiasm of the youth here tonight. Instead, I find myself feeling lonely in a very uncharacteristic emotional and non-pragmatic way for me. Right now I envy the other adults around me who have spouses, significant others, friends, family with whom they can share this time.

I asked myself why. Why would I feel lonely? What am I missing? What prevents me from interacting with vaguely familiar faces? This is our second year, after all. I should have gotten to know at least one other parent. And yet, here I sit, lonely in a charged crowd.

That's how I came to the conclusion that I may be using my life-long obesity as a social shield. While others jump and shout and cheer, I sit and smile and maybe clap. I tell myself that it would be too disturbing to see a big fat woman moving around with any kind of exaggerated gestures. "Fat people don't dance or cheer," I tell myself. "No one wants to see me start a localized earthquake and I don't need to give anyone any more reason to ridicule me beyond my unavoidable grotesque existence. It's okay if the fat lady (me) just sits there watching the game. Really, we don't want her (me) bringing down the stadium."

So, I sit. And I am glad that my obesity creates a valid reason to continue to sit. Very few people want to approach a fat ugly single woman, so my natural social awkwardness and introversion can remain intact, unchallenged. This means I am safe from socialization as long as I remain blimp-like. If I lose too much weight, then I might actually become visually approachable. People might no longer afford me the very large personal bubble that I encounter everywhere I go. Right now, even in a crowded room or on a standing-room-only bus, I get breathing space. I enjoy a magical bubble--created by fear, disgust, disdain, being judged as something other than human (I don't know and sometimes I don't care what the reason)--that gives me the freedom to exist without having to interact. Obesity is my ultimate shield.

I honestly think that might be why I am unconsciously reluctant to put in the endless hours of hard work needed to rid me of the weight of two other people. I know what to eat and how to eat right. I know many exercises and activities that would help. I use excuses like time & money, but I know there are ways to overcome these. I'm starting to think that deep down I am reluctant to lose the weight because I am afraid of losing my social shield. It's funny, but the fat woman (me) is much more invisible than anyone a quarter my size. I don't like being recognized. I feel incredibly awkward when someone acknowledges me for any reason. The last thing I need is anything to draw attention to me, so attractiveness is something I am blessed to be without right now.

**I speak for no one but myself. Please do not take these thoughts as representative of anyone remotely resembling me in appearance or size.**

Friday, July 8, 2016

Living without Live TV

I "cut the cable cord" about two years ago. I couldn't afford the extra $50 a month for the service when 1) the DVR they gave me didn't work, 2) neither my daughter nor I spent more than 2 hours on any given day in front of the television, and 3) we didn't really have anyone with whom we could discuss the latest & greatest shows (and we didn't always watch the super popular shows anyway). We had no real reason to need to stay on top of the latest TV trends. If and when we did watch TV, it was very purposeful; we rarely turned on the TV to watch whatever was on at the time.

I still have a bill with the local cable company, but it is solely for Internet. I'm actually satisfied with the Internet service. I will most likely keep what I have even after the provider switches to its new parent company. I'm not the type of person to shop around every month or two for better deals; I find a service and stick with it until something horrendous prompts a change.

We only have one television in our apartment and we don't have an adapter or antenna for it, so we don't get the local channels. Honestly, I think this helps keep my stress levels reasonable. I stopped watching news in October of 2011. I worked on my college's newspaper, which prompted me to keep track of the news. After the attacks on 9/11/11, though, I decided I couldn't take it any more. I was tired of being inundated with the same emotional images over and over, with heartstrings tugged, conspiracy theories fed, hatred and anger fueled. I found that I don't need to see news on a regular basis to find out what is going on in the world. I have the Internet, social media, and radio stations. I get way too much information as it is, even without access to CNN or local news.

My daughter and I didn't even realize what we gave up when we got rid of the cable service. It wasn't until we visited my parents over this past Christmas (2015) that we experienced life without pre-recorded shows. What we were missing truly hit home, however, when my parents came to visit us for three weeks in June. See, my parents watch a LOT of television. My dad is now retired and my mom uses the TV to fall asleep most nights (something about the glow, I'm sure). They never had a DVR until we gave them one a couple years back, but the never use it. My parents know the schedules and channels of all their favorite shows and they are perfectly satisfied with sitting down to watch what happens to be on at the time when they turn on their system. Needless to say, they were at a loss when they came to visit.

My dad actually ran through 75% of the the animated shows (non-anime) that Netflix had to offer. My mom took to her laptop to try to find news channels. She even asked me what I did for news. I explained to her that I didn't feel I needed it. We get by just fine with Netflix, (now) Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon prime. With all of the streaming services we have, and with a really good and reliable Internet service, we haven't been deprived of shows to watch. We can watch all of our streaming services on the TV, as well. If not through the TV itself (Netflix and YouTube), then we can watch it through the PlayStation 3 we have (Amazon, Hulu). Plus, we have a decent sized-collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays at our disposal.

Yep, I don't see me paying for cable (or satellite) service again any time soon. I really enjoy my untethered viewing freedom.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Skills, Abilities, Talents

[I'm not going to get into the specifics of the differences between skills, abilities, and talents; that's the purpose of my Psychology Vocab blog.]

I know talents are gifts from God. I also know that they don't mean much unless they are 1) honed with practice and/or 2) shared with others. I don't really put much stock in my own abilities, skills, or talents. I have come to accept them, though, after 30+ years honing them. If someone were to ask me what I can do, I would probably list sewing, baking, using Microsoft Office products. Well, I do occasionally admit that I sing, but I'm not going to do it professionally or even in a leading capacity. Maybe I have other talents, but these are my go-to skills. These are the ones I associate with myself. Where am I going with this?

On Friday we had an impromptu potluck breakfast of sorts in my training class. There really wasn't a set occasion, though we initially used the birthday of one of the class (it was over two weeks ago) as an excuse. Our trainer said she really wanted a sour-cream pound cake. She asked me if I baked. She also asked others if they baked, but no one said they did. I said I did and told her I baked cakes, cookies, etc. and she got excited. So, naturally, I volunteered to bring in the sour cream pound cake, even though I've never made a pound cake before, and my usual recipe--chipless chocolate chip cookies. I messed up the pound cake a little--forgot to add the vanilla--but that didn't seem to matter. Those in the class who knew about pound cakes (I guess they have a lot of experience with them) said that mine was great. One classmate even asked if I could make one for her father's 60th birthday party next month and offered to pay me for it. When they praised me I guess I looked sort of nonchalant about it, like it was no big deal. Perhaps I came off like Bender, as if I knew I was great.

The truth of the matter is, I take my skills for granted. Some things work well for me. There are some things that seem intuitive and the directions are easy to follow. Baking and sewing are the main things that fall into this category. It's not that I feel I'm the greatest ever at these arenas, far from it! It's more that I feel that I can do them, so they must not be extremely special. I do recognize that not everyone has these abilities and I don't value my skills so low that I assume if I can do it then anyone can. Yet, I've finally come to a point in life in which I accept what I can do. I am humbled and feel good when someone praises me (especially when they thank me) for my work. At the same time, though, I don't need endless accolades. At the end of the day I am satisfied knowing that someone enjoyed my handiwork and I am more grateful that I was able to add some positivity to their lives.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Evan the Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Our turtle is special. She became part of our family about 3 years ago when we still lived in Panama City Beach, Florida. She was crawling into our driveway as I was pulling in at the end of the day. I assumed she was a juvenile, maybe no more than 3 years old, because she was so small. My daughter promptly named the turtle Evan, after a friend of hers from school. I also concluded she was a slider because that's what everyone else told me and because they are a prevalent species in Florida. Because we thought she was a slider (we also assumed she was a male for so long), we had her in a fish tank, even when my daughter and I moved down to Orlando.

She seemed to do well enough in the tank. She swam around a lot and enthusiastically chased after minnows when we bought them for her as a treat. She also spent time on the rocks in her tank, dancing around and occasionally begging for food.
Then again, Evan did spend much time in her tank on her platform, absorbing heat from her lamp.
Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that Evan really wasn't a tank turtle. She didn't really look like a slider--no webbed feet, and her shell began to grow taller instead of wider--and she was eating too much gravel. She even choked on the small pebbles, unable to breathe for a while, and spent two days passing all the rocks she consumed. After that episode, which freaked us out immensely, we took the advice of my brother and let her out every few days to walk around to strengthen her legs.

I finally decided to get a definitive assessment of Evan's species. We brought her to a couple pet stores that dealt in reptiles before finding a "reptile expert" who instantly told us that 1) Evan was a gulf coast box turtle with very nice patterning on her shell, 2) she was definitely a female, and 3) that she was about 10 years old at the time we brought her in, making her three years younger than my daughter (instead of three years old). He also told us that she does not belong in a tank, but thrives in a much larger land-based space.
We converted our small screened porch into a habitat for Evan. I adapted a coconut planter into a little hut for her. She spends most of her outdoor time in it. I used an open storage basket (like an in-basket, but larger) upside down as a cave with hamster shavings for a floor. I converted a shallow under-the-bed tub into a swimming pool for her, placing her rock platforms inside for a resting place and using the tub's lid as a ramp for her to climb into the water.
Evan seemed to enjoy her new room. However, there were times when she wanted to come back into the apartment. Any time we let her in, she looked for a place to hide--in a box, under a bag, under the entertainment center in our living room, in a closet, anywhere in my daughter's room. My daughter panicked at first because she didn't want the turtle to get lost, to starve, or to make a mess anywhere in the apartment. As we got used to her, however, we found that Evan turned out the be the best kind of pet for us.

It turns out that our turtle does not need to eat every day and she does not excrete as much as many other pets. In addition, she doesn't crawl all over furniture or destroy carpet or other items with her claws. She doesn't even attack (okay, she did bite my toe once, but I think she was really hungry at the time) and she make no animal noises.Yes, she crawls under wherever she thinks she can fit (her shell is now barely too tall to fit under the entertainment center) when she is inside; we often find her when we hear her moving over various things lying on the floor. But, since she managed to remove a portion of the rubber seal around our porch screen and escaped into the wider world (twice!), I feel she is safer in the apartment until we can get the property maintenance to come fix the screen. At the moment, Evan is happily nestled between two tubs under my bed. I know she is safe and I know that she will emerge when she needs food or water. I also know that she is not able to climb my bed, so I don't have to worry about being jumped on or licked, etc. in the middle of the night as is often the case with many other four-legged pets. Yep, Evan is a nice low-maintenance pet with the perfect personality for us. We are very glad to have her as part of our little family.

Friday, May 27, 2016

New Beginnings

Like most of you, I'm sure, my life has been a series of new beginnings. I prefer to think of the beginnings instead of the endings. Each new beginning presents an opportunity to take a different turn on life's path, or to continue on your merry way.

Almost all of the significant new beginnings in my life left me with excitement, but also some anxiety and trepidation about what was to come. Quite possibly the only new beginning that did not fill me with as much anxiety as excitement was becoming a mother. I felt ready and willing from the start.

Starting high school was great because I had the opportunity to leave behind the childish harassment (today it would be called bullying) of elementary/middle school. It was scary, though, because I knew no one; I didn't even have the benefit of my brothers in the school because it was an all-girls high school.

I started college half-way through high school. This was especially exciting because it was a full-scholarship and I knew my parents really couldn't afford to pay for this education. It was anxiety-provoking because I was leaving behind an almost familial-like group in my show choir. I was poised to take on more leadership responsibility in the choir and here I was essentially abandoning them to pursue my college career.

Moving to Florida to continue college was a significant beginning. I've now been in the state for about half my life, the other half being spent in my home state of Texas. Florida brought me my first job (a work study position), my completed education (bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, continue education in faith formation), the chance to start my own family, the first steps on my path toward teaching, and helped me continue to develop my persona and become a much more solid individual.

Today I began a new leg of my life journey with the start of a new job. This is the first permanent, full-time position I had in my "career" to date. The majority of my positions have been on contract and/or part-time positions. I'm actually looking forward to turning this opportunity into a truly permanent thing. Stability is something that I sorely need in my life right now. I am, of course, a little anxious because it is a new type of work for me. Yet, I choose to focus on the opportunity this new position represents for me and my daughter.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Helpful Strangers

I don't have much vehicular know-how or skills. I can change a tire, pump gas, refill the windshield fluid, and replace my wipers. Beyond that, I am clueless when it comes to my car. Maybe I picked it up from my mom, but I also have the mentality of running my car until it's on its last bolts. It's been a year since I got an oil change because I face the daily choice of either feed us or pay for car maintenance. The main reason I keep fueling my car is because I need it to get us everywhere. It's probably a good thing that my car is not a living, breathing organic being because then I'd be hauled away on abuse charges. When it comes to anything going wrong with my car, I have endless anxiety. I am also eternally grateful that God has so many kind people on this earth.

My first vehicle was a Honda CRV. I actually wrote a grateful blog post about it when it was traded in. Sam worked well enough, despite my use. I actually took it too much for granted. My first ever flat tire was a memorable experience. My then-husband refused to leave his board game day at the comic shop to help me change it. I never changed a tire before. Luckily, I had maybe a mile to drive home from the ballpark (my daughter had softball practice) to home. I got Sam in the driveway and proceeded to pretend to know what I was doing. I got the car up with the jack. I was almost proud of myself. But, I had a hard time getting the nuts loose from the tire. An older gentleman from across the street came over & helped me out. He also taught me to loosen the nuts BEFORE I elevated the car.

The next time I got help with my car was when the brakes fell off of Sam. For a couple weeks I had been hearing grinding noises every time I stopped. I didn't know what the sound was. My daughter and I were just leaving the driveway to go to her soccer practice when a rather loud clang came from the car and I couldn't get it to move any more. I called my then-husband for help. He refused to leave his D&D game to come help me, or at least get my daughter to soccer. Another neighbor saw my predicament, helped me get Sam back in the drive & off the street, and even drove us to soccer practice.

Last year, I was driving along a street here in Orlando that takes a weird twist from a two-lane to a single lane right after a light (intersection). I wasn't paying close enough attention, probably talking with my daughter about her day at school, when I missed the street & hit the sidewalk/curb. I heard a frightfully loud noise and immediately knew there was something wrong with the tire. I managed to pull over into a small parking lot to assess the damage. The 2-week old tire had a gaping hole in it. Before I could even get started on changing it, a man pulled into the parking lot and proceeded to do everything for me. He even used a small pump to put air in the spare, which was apparently too low to use. That oopsie, by the way, ended up costing around $700 because the axel was bent out of shape.

Maybe I look complely helpless when I'm next to my car. I don't know for certain. I do know that I needed to inflate my tire for quite a while, probably at least 3 months. I didn't realize just how low it was until this morning. A man parked next to me at the building where I have a temporary assignment. He told me my tire looked really low and offered to use his portable pump to fill it. My tire is supposed to have about 30-40 pounds of pressure for optimal running. It had 18 pounds. Who knows in what kind of trouble I would have found myself if he hadn't decided to help me.

I know it's easy to be cynical. I know the world can be a scary place & people aren't very nice to each other all that often. However, sometimes I find myself the recipient of true kindness, at least when my car is in need.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Unemployment: A Full-Time Job

I'm not going to lie to you: poverty sucks. There are many things that are awful about being unemployed, not the least of which is the lack of income for basic necessities. There is also the shame associated with not having a job or career. Americans (and possibly other countries as well) define themselves by their jobs. Most Americans will introduce themselves by stating their name and then their job or the company where they work. When you are unemployed, you lose that crucial piece of your identity.

I've been without a steady paying position for two years. I made a choice to move down to Orlando based on a job that turned out to be something completely different from what I signed up for. My leaving was a mutual dissolving of the work relationship. I have not had any position besides the odd temp job, the longest of which lasted a mere 3 months, since that time. I do my best to deflect the question when people ask me what I do. My resume is admittedly padded with the volunteer catechetical teaching I've been doing for my parish so that the huge gaping hole of time in which I have not drawn a paycheck looks a little more diminished than it actually is. I do my best to hide my unemployment from my daughter's school for fear that they will kick her out if they thought they wouldn't get their tuition money. They claim that they have tuition assistance, but I know that is not for someone living in poverty. It's reserved for families who suffer a sudden loss, not those who had nothing to begin with.

So, what makes unemployment a full-time job and where is the silver lining? Until recently, when I started to spend more time concentrating on doing things for my parish and with my daughter, I would spend more than half my time each day combing through emails and job postings. I would send off and fill out as many applications as I felt I vaguely qualified for. My resume, in all its revised editions, has been received over a thousand times, and that's not an exaggeration. I'm at the point in this sisyphean game in which I'm too tired to apply to jobs with the same gusto I had two years ago, or even one year ago. I get phone calls from 2-5 recruiters every other week and I send them the information, fill out the forms, give them the requested resumes, for which they ask, with no results. I really do spend at least 15 hours a week now applying for almost any kind of work, 45 hours a week up until December when I grew despondent, filling out the same forms with the same employment information over and over again. Anyone who is desperately unemployed has probably spent more time looking for a job than they would have spent being paid to work somewhere. That's not counting the time on the phone talking to recruiters or on phone interviews. That's also not counting the time spent driving to and from actual face-to-face interviews that leave you feeling confident for about 10 minutes and then either depressed or jilted afterward because you know they're not going to call you back. I actually relish the rejection letters I get because that lets me stop anticipating any possible positive outcome (I don't have "hope" anymore; see my hope blog post).

Okay, where's that positive spin that encapsulates the primary point of this blog? I will say that the time I don't spend hunting for a job, especially now when I'm losing a lot of steam, can be spent on other things. I have more time for my daughter. Being able to drop her off and pick her up from school at the regular times, instead of from after-care, gives us more time to talk and gives her more time to get homework finished. We are able to actually eat dinner together almost every day, the exceptions being when we are involved in something at the church in the evening. I am able to spend some of my non-job hunting time during the day to work on my crafting and sewing projects. I am able to take naps, which helps a lot when you consider how messed up my sleeping schedule is at the moment (insomnia + sleep apnea + bouts of depression do not allow for standard sleep cycles). When I am not worrying about how I am going to put gas in my car, or saying copious prayers that nothing happens to break down my car or computer or anything else major, I am actually a bit less stressed than when I was working. My days sort of flow now instead of fit together in blocks of time-crunch anxiety.

Don't get me wrong, unemployment and poverty suck. It's when I feel the crunch the most that I am in need of finding the positive in the situation and making better use of my involuntary free time. Luckily, I've always been pretty good at keeping myself occupied.