Posted by: mvhuff | June 3, 2018

On the Brink

Dealing with mental health issues is not for the easily intimidated.

You have to deal with the cultural expectations surrounding the issue – they are not real diseases (such as, you know, physical ailments), they are just trendy (yeah, I choose to be depressed so I can be hip), they are easily solved by attitude adjustments (just cheer up, put on a happy face). There is a stigma to even admitting to be struggling with these issues – that having a mental ailment makes you weak or inferior.

I struggle with these attitude, because sometimes I think that by my age I should be done with this and be mentally healthy. I would love to be able to cheer up as easily as people tell me to – I wish my response to being told that I think too much could be to just turn off my thinking. But I still haven’t found my off button.

I have been able to cope and function with depression thanks to medication and friends and God’s help. But lately I think I suffered a relapse that threw me for a loop. I fell deep into wanting to cry almost at the drop of a hat, to being easily irritated at the tiniest annoyances, to feeling angry or afraid for no good reason, to wondering why on earth I am on earth. It’s a dark spiral that I have not missed.

It scared me so much that I decided maybe I needed to get some additional professional help and recheck my medication levels. It is this part that led to my discovery that mental health is not for sissies.

I contacted one of the area’s main health providers, and was told that to get medication help I had to either make an appointment in a town that’s at least a half-hour away (in good traffic) or go to a walk-in clinic in a more convenient location. Of course, the walk-in clinic means that there is no set time to gauge how long things will take.

I chose the walk-in for the sake of convenience – how hard could this be? Well, I arrived before opening time and already there was someone else waiting but the doors were locked. Shortly before opening, a security guard sternly noted to us that the clinic didn’t open until 10 but he would take us up so that we could form the line there. It wasn’t the most welcoming gesture.

Upon the clinic officially opening, we had to secure our purses or large bags in lockers. The guard was explaining this and there was a backup at the door because the lockers were right near the door. Then he told us we could go in but how could we go in without putting stuff in lockers? And he did reprimand someone who had forgotten to put something in the locker. We also needed to remember to keep our ID and insurance card out of the locker so that we could use it to check in.

Upon checking in, I was handed about a half-ream of paperwork to complete. This seemed odd because this healthcare system has practically all of my health data already, and I believe I’ve told them the same thing several times. Also, it was difficult to enter my insurance information because they had my cards – so I left that blank. They couldn’t have designed a better test for patience if they had done it on purpose.

I was called in to the initial triage person by my middle name. I didn’t respond at first because I hadn’t put that name in any of the paperwork I had just completed, so they must have meant someone else. But she came back with my first name and explained that she picked the wrong name from the file – way to inspire confidence.

Then comes the regular screening – questions about how sad I am and whether I am suicidal and whether I have had any hallucinations. I always kind of wonder if living by myself makes me more susceptible to seeing things without realizing I’m seeing things. But I said no. I was then sent back to the waiting room.

Then I was called again by my middle name. I admit it is a lovely name, but seriously? This woman corrected herself right there so I went in and got to tell her my current story. She spent a lot of time typing in the notes, which made it hard to maintain eye contact. This makes it hard to spill your guts to a complete stranger.

This person also said I should seek some counseling or therapy to help with the medication. She printed out a list of people in my town that take my insurance. Unfortunately, she printed out a list of people in a town of the same name in Maryland rather than Virginia. I checked on Google and it is around 75 miles away from me, so that list isn’t helpful. She told me I could generate a similar list for my real town and sent me on my way.

This whole episode was just to get into the system. Now I that I am in the system (again) I can make an actual appointment with someone who could decide if medication needs to change. But it seemed unnecessarily complicated and fraught with some frustrating elements. I can only wonder what it might be like for others.

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Posted by: mvhuff | March 2, 2018

A Dog’s Life

My Baby

I loved her the first time I heard about her from my friend fostering her for the shelter. According to my friend, the shelter named her Pumpkin and she was then a small black dog with Rottweiler or Pinscher coloring – you know, with the spots that look like eyebrows and make the face so much more expressive. I don’t remember why she needed a new home but I had been looking for a puppy and the more I thought about her, picking the name of Ginger before even meeting her, the more I felt this was the one.

So I guess it was love before first sight.

 

My friend generously gave me a number of items to help me start out, including a small red sweater. It didn’t quite fit and the first time I walked her with it, she tripped into a puddle – it became so wet it was not keeping her warm. That was also the last time.

The vet originally said he thought she was close to a miniature pinscher and would probably max out at 20 pounds. My mom disagreed because of the large paws – and she was right. Ginger grew to around 50 pounds.

In addition to the eyebrows, she had the big floppy ears that usually didn’t match – with one flopped and one standing straight up, looking ever like she was ready for the next thing. She also had a tongue that seemed too big for her mouth, so it would stick out almost all the time – even when she was sleeping. When really hot it seemed like the tongue would reach all the way to the ground, and she wasn’t a short dog.

Ginger and the tree she knocked over

I wasn’t the best trainer, nor sufficiently alpha to make her feel confident that I had things under control. She became skittish such that I used to tell people she was half-chicken. Sometimes she would react to leaves skittering down the street. One time she was digging vigorously and a clump hit something behind her and she started and seemed to wonder about the sudden noise. Of course this included thunder – she always wanted to hide under the bed or in the closet for the storms.

She loved to run and she had the legs for it. I loved taking her on hikes where she could run almost wild. I took her to some dog parks, but it turns out she did not get along well with other dogs. I believe it was a kind of fear aggression – probably related to my non-leadership. But there were times when the trail was relatively unpopulated so I could let her go – and play hide and seek with her – this hide and seek was also fun in the house.

Ginger had a drinking problem (she loved to play with plastic bottles)

She also liked to run in water, but hated swimming. She was usually assigned lab mix as her breed, but this swimming aversion made me doubt that.

I used to say she was not a candidate for canine Mensa, but she did pick up on important things. She knew words like treat, bed, supper. She even knew walk and associated ‘do you want some light’ with opening the bay window blinds – from which she could survey the world and bark at anything that came within her sight. And of course she knew me – and showed her excitement when I would come home or pick her up at the pet hotel.

Ginger had quite a bark. The first couple of months I began to think she would never bark, but then on a visit to her ‘cousin’ in Pennsylvania she barked. I wonder if her cousin dog taught her or she just had nothing to say until then – but when she found her voice it was a big one – booming in a way that let me know no one was going to surprise me. Of course, if anyone got into the house, she would kiss them profusely – but potential burglars didn’t have to know that.

I meant this to be some kind of orderly depiction of my companion Ginger. She wasn’t heroic or impressive or great even magical the way people expect dogs from movies and books and such. But she was my baby. At times a knucklehead, at times exasperating, she loved me and seemed to love life. Sadly, I had to let her go recently. I had over 14 years with her, but it was time. She is no longer suffering and I am imagining her running pell-mell all over the place now.

Saying goodbye

Posted by: mvhuff | February 18, 2018

Memories

Sometimes, memories unexpectedly surge right past your rational filters and body slam you emotionally. It doesn’t help that otherwise innocuous or seemingly random events can evoke such occurrences. Or that I don’t always realize that I’ve landed flat on my back until I have recovered somewhat.

Recently I saw a movie about a somewhat tempestuous mother-daughter relationship. I’d seen many good reviews and thought I would appreciate the movie, and I did – the reviews were deserved for the most part.

I didn’t expect it to send me into somewhat of a tailspin. It hit very close to home about my own relationship with my mother when I was a teenager. I wasn’t expecting that at all since I thought I had rationally gotten past that difficult time. I mean, I have not been a teenager for some time, and as I matured beyond college I was able to understand more about myself and my mother and realize the love that was interwoven amongst the dramas of moody teenage-ness.

But, wow, I did not expect to have it all flood back into my life just from a movie. It surprised me that issues that had been resolved long ago packed such an emotional punch. There were reasons for the tempestuousness of my relationship with my mother – perhaps undiagnosed depression or anxiety, perhaps misguided efforts on either of our parts to navigate the ins and outs of each other. But I had grown past that and I thought we had an understanding (and we did).

Even though I enjoyed the movie, I found myself later that day sinking into a wallow of despair or something. It evoked many of the emotions and attitudes I had as a teen, which made me feel kind of like a loser. You know, if I was still stuck there after all these years, then maybe I hadn’t grown at all.

Now I think, maybe a lot of emotional processing is like grief. It comes and goes in ebbs and waves, and sometimes the waves come many years later and wash over you as powerfully as they did at first. I miss my mom, who passed away about ten years ago, so maybe this movie that reminded me of the difficulties I gave her as a teen served up another wave of grief for her. And some remorse for the grief I gave her.

At least I know that I was able to have many good post-teen years with her. We were able to have a loving grown-up relationship and I was able to tell her I love her (and even see that she loved me). I wish she were still here, but I’m glad I had her as my mom for as long as I did.

Posted by: mvhuff | February 4, 2018

Remedial Economics?

These days, my college days seem eons ago. I can remember less and less about what I thought at the time were significant parts of my life. Part of that is good, as I had a largely negative filter so I had better recall for the slings and arrows that came my way and now I can pull up less and less of those from my memory banks. I wish, though, that I could bring to mind more of the positives, but memories come and go from my random access mind – I don’t always know what is coming and when.

Today I was thinking about economics and how I have always had a hard time appreciating it. I know that economists do important work in the world, I just don’t comprehend much of it. I took two semesters of economics in college, but honestly the second semester was required in order to get credit for the first one.

I felt at the time that my brain had an anti-economics shield that came down shortly after the supply and demand curve. Sure I get that the interaction of supply and demand effects costs, as I understand that sometimes monopolies can be better for consumers (and sometimes not), and there is such a thing as economies of scale.

But I don’t get the invisible hand (I’m not even sure what that refers to). I know Adam Smith has something to do with it all, I’m just not sure what.

One thing that irked me was the effort of some that use economics or economic theory to try to monetize everything. I get that in this life we have to pay for things, and that pros and cons of decisions can be expressed as costs and benefits, but sometimes it seems like things go too far.

It’s not just that money can’t buy happiness. It’s that money cannot measure everything, but we act like it does.

So in court cases involving wrongful death, we give more money to people who are suing over doctors than people who are suing over landscapers. But who is to say that that particular landscaper didn’t bring more beauty and joy into the world than that particular doctor? I suppose the legal system has to have some mechanism for these things, but the problem is that we apply it to so-called normal life.

We place a higher value or worth on people that make more money. Society idolizes the celebrities, both in entertainment and sports, and looks down upon people with more mundane day jobs. We say that corporate moneymakers are bigger than teachers or artists.

Now, there are times when it is important to have the right person with the right skills – when I need surgery I want a surgeon. A kindergarten teacher is not the right person at that point.

But teachers have a very important role in our world – inspiring and molding and teaching our children. Where would we be without them? Where would we be without beautiful landscapes or paintings or just the regular people we interact with that can bring a little joy to their part of the world?

We may not all have the same net worth, but we all have value. It’s not just about money.

Posted by: mvhuff | January 21, 2018

Home Repairs

Several years ago, I replaced the innards of a toilet. It took me quite some time (good thing I have multiple toilets) and caused a lot of internal questioning (including of my sanity – see here and here). Then a while back I replaced a light fixture in my entry way. That went a bit better.

This past year has not been a good year for my home skills. Part of my basement flooded and I couldn’t even tell that it wasn’t my water heater. Turns out there was a clog in my heating/air conditioning unit causing an overflow. Easily remedied and a good reminder that I should replace the filter more regularly.

I had to replace my dishwasher – I didn’t attempt the installation myself. I had planned on the store I purchased the new one from to do the installation, but when they arrived they said they could not because I had a specific kind of piping and needed some kind of adapter. I wound up getting my plumber to do it, which was pricey but worth it (I must admit that I’m pretty sure my mother would not have attempted dishwasher installation, but I also cannot definitively rule that out).

Then I had an issue with the door to the bathroom in the foyer. I blame the cats. It’s the kind of door that if you don’t make sure it is latched completely and it opens, it will open all the way. Normally this is fine, but when you are out walking the dog and attempting to get back in the house, a fully open bathroom door in the foyer will prevent you from opening the front door. I suspect the cats made sure the door was open as a message to me and the dog.

I was able to get in, but the maneuvering seemed to take a toll on the door hinges, and they got looser and loose. Tightening the screws began to have less and less effect until finally the door came completely off.

My first mistake came in listening to someone tell me that this could easily be fixed with bigger screws and wood glue. It actually was not that difficult to get the door back on, but the screws did not cooperate. The screws on the bottom would not tighten completely. The top was doing better until one screw would not go all the way in. I tried to remedy that with a drill, but this resulted in a screw jutting out that was completely stripped. I couldn’t get it in or out so the door would not completely close.

At this point I threw in the towel for weeks, maybe even months. It’s pretty easy to live with a situation where you are using your bulk toilet paper buy to prop your door closed when you don’t have any guests. But it is also a constant source of annoyance.

Luckily for me, the toilet in that bathroom failed because it started running constantly. This saddened me because up to that point it was my most functional toilet, with the others in various states of dysfunction. They were harder to tackle than the one I had fixed because the water wouldn’t completely shut off and because I knew what the experience would be like so I was avoiding it.

Well, I called the plumber, who was able to get all my toilets working (seriously, this was so much easier than doing it myself). And then he insisted on fixing the door. I had warned him that it was broken just for his awareness, but he insisted on taking care of it – he was concerned that it would fall on me. I’m very grateful for that.

Since that went so well, I decided to replace the bulbs in my front door outdoor light. It has three but they’d all gone out, and this weekend it was finally warm enough to tackle this project. I was able to replace two of the three bulbs, because my ladder was not sufficiently high and I could not reach the third bulb to get it out. Maybe the plumber can help me the next time he is here.

Posted by: mvhuff | January 14, 2018

Uniquely Similar

We do not want to stand out or be peculiar, but we also do not like to have our uniqueness unrecognized. We want to belong and we want to be our one true self. Although apparently contradictory, it makes perfect sense – we find our own selves through the groups we identify with and the combination of our group identities helps to mold our identities. In an odd sort of way, our various affiliations function similarly to tags on internet articles – they provide some ways of finding us within the crowd.

But grouping and sorting can cause problems in the way we begin to classify others. We make generalities based on the nature of the group and apply them to all the individuals. Or worse, we extrapolate from a few members of the group and consider their attributes applicable to the entire group – without considering whether our sample size is big enough or truly representative.

And we quite freely apply negative characteristics to groups that we do not belong to and adopt positive characteristics for our own groups. But we bristle when someone outside of our group applies the same kind of associations to our group. We then claim that we are not ALL like that and we need to be judged as individuals. Usually this only happens with respect to negative traits – we are only too happy to bask in the reflected glory of generalized positive traits.

These group identities function in some odd ways. When someone famous identifies as part of our group, we’re all excited – as if celebrity ‘endorsement’ validates the group in some way that the actual group did not. And sometimes we identify ourselves in groups and become defensive of the group with very little actual association (something along the lines of, I was in a library once, so how dare you criticize librarians).

And it seems these days that we become increasingly insular about these groups. We start looking at the world in terms of us and them and consider outsiders to not only not be a part of our group but also somehow inferior in some way. We broadly apply traits to all the ‘thems’ but insist that we ourselves be judged by our individual traits (excepting, of course, the good group traits – we will take them even if we don’t have them).

I am tired of the us versus them mentality. Groups and group identities are not bad in themselves –they help us to feel a sense of belonging and assist in forging our identities. But I wish these would serve more as bridges than as walls – that membership in or association with a group would provide information about an individual but not generate a value judgment.

One group we are all members of is the human race. We should be able to use identification with this group to allow respect and connection.

Posted by: mvhuff | January 7, 2018

Bad Beginnings

I have a barely tolerate/hate relationship with resolutions. On the one hand, they involve setting goals, and I am not particularly goal-oriented (sometimes my main objective is to just get through the day). On the other hand, I realize I have areas in my life where I would like to make changes and improvements, and resolutions, or maybe intentions or objectives, is one way to work towards those adjustments.

There is also something about the artificiality of limiting oneself to such considerations to a particular time of year, as though you cannot make adjustments as you go as needed. Plus, it’s really difficult to make certain changes when it’s so very cold outside and your body is telling you that you were meant to be a hibernating animal.

I had a typical holiday season where I kind of gave up on trying to eat healthy and gave into my sweet tooth and other cravings. I also, due to various considerations, did not make it to the gym since before Christmas. In combination I was feeling like I was turning into the MIchelin tire mascot (technically not true, but bloating can do that to you).

So I had a lot to put behind me from 2017, particularly the stuff from the end of the year. I figured I would eat healthier and be more active. I also decided that I am going to choose joy this year – not easy for me since I have years of practice not doing that, but it’s important to realize and revel in the fact that God made me and loves me (not more than anyone else, but enough for me). There are issues in the world, and less so in my particular life, but God is still good (all the time).

I was so trying and hoping to start off 2018 with a bang. Instead, I think I set a record in breaking resolutions before even really making them.

Work was a problem this week – normally for me it is relatively even-keeled, but this week I was swamped. I even had to do some work on New Year’s day. I started off Tuesday feeling overly stressed – as though I had a bajillion deadlines on several different projects. So I gave into my stress and had some chocolate donuts. I gave into my diet soda cravings as well. And because of the schedule, I had to cancel all of my gym appointments for the week.

Naturally, my first response was to feel bad and as though I had gotten completely out of shape (it’s odd that it takes forever to get in shape, but seems like only a second to fall out of it). Sometimes in my depression I over-globalize, such that I would see this week as a bad omen for the entire year – as though I had completely blown it and might as well give up.

But this time, I chose not to do that. It was not the week I intended, but it was not the end of the world or of the opportunity to keep looking for chances to improve. And I can give myself permission to fail and get back up again to keep trying, knowing my value is not in my perfection.

I can still choose joy, not because of me or my circumstances or my actions, but because God is still good and still loves me. This is a major improvement over how I have responded to bad beginnings in the past, so I am also rejoicing that I can now see that a bad start is not the end of the story.

Posted by: mvhuff | December 31, 2017

Waiting

Sometimes when I pick up a few odds and ends at the grocery store, I get in the express lane behind someone with a suspiciously large number of items. I find myself counting the person’s items to see if my suspicions are correct – and internally discussing just what makes an item one item as opposed to multiple items. I mean, sure, a bag of three apples counts as one item, but two cartons of milk – is that one or two? Sadly, I also find myself secretly and self-righteously delighted if I am correct that that person exceeded the item limit for that express lane.

Why do I do this? Partly because I am internally kind of rules-bound and have a moralistic, cop-like attitude towards almost any rule. I try not to let this come out too often when dealing with people because I believe not only in grace but in my own utter fallibility and my lack of complete knowledge of the actual situation – sometimes it may be that the cashier called the person over during a lull or something equally benign.

Another part of it is, like many people, I do not like to wait. This seems to be the case even when I don’t have anywhere particularly to be in any certain amount of time. I just don’t want to have to wait more than I absolutely have to in order to accomplish what I think I need to get done.

Now, sometimes you have to wait – things do take time and no matter how much you want something to happen right away it will not. Babies cannot be rushed to birth, events involving other people have to be coordinated, plants don’t just spring up instantaneously (unless they are weeds).

Oddly, despite my disdain for waiting in general, I find myself waiting at times where waiting is not required. I have self-imposed wait times, as it were.

I’ve done this for much of my life – first it was waiting till I got through college. Then I was waiting until I got married. Then it was waiting for other things – for the circumstances of my life to match up to what I had been hoping for and expecting. Then I could start really living.

A lot of my life didn’t result in the things that I was waiting for, and because of that I have wound up putting off a lot of the living I had thought I was planning on doing. This was a huge mistake.

It is still easy, with my distractibility and my numerous means of procrastination, to put off the living of the life I have. But I am trying to stop that and just do it.

I am tired of waiting – I want to get on with life.

Posted by: mvhuff | December 24, 2017

A Christmas Meditation

I once got stuck in the mud in Scotland – my friend and I were looking for some standing stones and the directions were to follow the white rocks. These rocks were not as visible as would have been helpful, so we wound up in a rather bog-like area. At one point I sunk in to my knees.

On another trip to the Cornwall area, were following a different path that also was not well marked. That time I was also lucky enough to find mud. I didn’t sink so badly but on one step lost my shoe as it decided to stay with the muck (I did get it back).

Besides learning that either the UK does not provide the most helpful directions or that I am not so good at following them, I felt I had an unusual attraction to British mud – it found me on multiple trips to that land.

Life itself is often quite bog-like. It’s gooey and messy and hard to clean up and sometimes rather foul-smelling. It sucks you down and tries to keep you there even when you want to get somewhere different. There are pitfalls and wrong turns and sometimes you want to lose hope. You may want help but the only people around are also stuck in the muck.

Into this mess a baby came when he did not have to leave heaven. He could have come and appeared as God or even as a king to be worshiped, adored, obeyed. He could have had the best of everything in human terms. But he came as a baby, to a poor couple, and was initially laid in a manger full of hay.

He came to us in our mess. He came to us where we were – not just to be our God but to be our Savior. This is why one of my favorite names for Jesus is Immanuel – God with Us.

Now, we have often gotten the God with us wrong. We so often view it as an adversarial thing – God is with US, but not THEM. And THEM includes the many types of people we don’t like or who don’t follow the right rules. If they get stuck in a bog, well, that was their own fault for not following the directions, or for not getting better directions, or just being them and not us. We do not seek to enter the bog to help them – they got themselves there, they can get themselves out. Never mind the people that helped us when we were stuck.

Often we forget we ourselves were rescued. We start thinking that God is with us because, well, who else would he want to be with? We find ourselves to be pretty okay, or even better. We forget the stink that he lovingly washed off and think we were always so clean and free. So we think, naturally God would be with us cool people and would not want to waste time with the mirier among us.

Or we forget that we are rescued and think we are still in the muck. We can’t help others because we wonder what the point is – we are all stuck here together, might as well make the best of it.

I think instead we need to embody Jesus’s title of Immanuel by bring God with us to those around us. Not to judge them, not to mock them, but to be with them. To join them in the bog of life and love them. Not to stay stuck in the mud, but to get through it together.

Posted by: mvhuff | December 17, 2017

They Also Serve

Recently, the U.S. Government came close to shutting down over funding issues – and only escaped by Congress passing a two-week extension. There is the possibility that soon the cliffhanger could be looming again. This has been the pattern for quite some time, maybe decades, as Congress and the President cannot seem to come together enough to pass a long term budget and fund the Government.

Now, some people see this as perhaps a good thing, because the Government is too big and needs to be downsized and if it has to happen through drastic lack of funding, so be it.

It is perhaps true, and definitely subject to (civil) debate, that the Government tries to do too many things. It has become a bloated bureaucracy replete with inefficiencies, and is an easy target of barbs about the many dysfunctions it betrays in daily operations.

But I would like to take a moment to laud the many dedicated public servants who take their roles seriously and seek to make this world a better place, or at least seek to do the best they can in whatever position they find themselves. After all, many of us praise and respect, and rightly so, the many in law enforcement and the military who put their lives on the line to bring some sense of order and justice to this chaotic world. But after them we view employees as parasites sucking our tax dollars down the drain for no good reason.

But that is not the case – sure there are some that take advantage of the loopholes and tricks that come with the labyrinthine conglomerate that is our government, but there are others that are dedicated to getting things done and helping our government serve the people (this applies to all levels of government).

Consider that, for all the police officers, there are other people who make sure that they have the supplies they need to do their jobs. There are mechanics who keep the cars working, dispatchers who respond to people in crisis and route the officers to the right place.

There are dedicated people working for our good. We may not always notice it, but what about the people who inspect food processing areas to make sure that our food supply is safe?  What about the people seeking to make sure that the remediation of toxic waste sites is done as safely as possible (or that work to prevent such toxic wastes from recurring)? What about the people who make sure that the parks are clean and ready to be enjoyed?

I also think particularly of teachers. They are often much maligned for no good reason other than being an easy target of political sniping. These are people who dedicate their lives to our children, many for much lower pay and benefits than they could get outside of the educational system. They put in many hours beyond what they are required to do to make sure that the students can have the chance to learn and thrive. And too often the thanks they receive consists of complaints that they are overpaid and underqualified.

Yes, it’s true that there are slackers in the Government, and teachers that should not be teaching. And the Government could be more efficient in the way it conducts its operations and there is much waste and abuse that could be cut out of the system. But it’s time we recognize that there are some good public servants that are there for the common good.

Maybe it’s time to stop mocking the people who work for the Government or focusing too much on the employees that make the system work for them, and have a reasonable discussion about the most appropriate functions of our Government and the most efficient methods of exercising them.

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