Monday, March 21, 2016

A Visit to the Doctor

Last week, I did something that I probably should've done a long time ago but didn't feel like I really needed to do until this year: I went to my doctor to talk about depression.

It may have been one of most difficult things I've ever done.

I'm pretty open about my depression here on my blog or on Facebook or in text conversations with friends, but I hadn't considered until this visit how much all that is under my control. I'm able to refine the words, to speak clearly and articulately about my feelings. That is a far cry from the weeping, incoherent mess I was the day I went in.

As soon as the nurse asked me the reason for my visit, I started tearing up. When she told me my blood pressure was a little high, tears starting falling. (We checked it a few minutes later and it had gone back down.) When the doctor came in and asked me gently, "How are you doing?" I started genuinely sobbing and could barely get the words out to explain I was pretty sure I was depressed.

It didn't get better. I knew I needed to be there -- after all, the fact that I was so depressed and anxious about seeing a doctor for depression and anxiety was probably a clue I was doing the right thing -- but as she began asking me how things had been, if there were any emotional triggers I was aware of, how long this had been going on, I could feel myself mentally curling up into a ball, answering the questions as briefly as I could and longing for this awful, uncontrollable vulnerability to just go away so I could go back to feeling like a semi-competent human being.

I knew she'd probably suggest medication, and I knew what I wanted to talk about with her: that I wasn't against depression meds on principle or anything but the thought of having even more meds to keep track of and schedule and worry about side effects for was really overwhelming to me, and I wanted to know if there was any way we could hold off on it until I got fully back on my arthritis medication. Then the moment came, she asked me if I was OK going on medication, and all I could think was I want to be out of here, I want to go home, and saying yes will send me home more quickly, so I said OK and walked out of there with a prescription for Prozac, a referral for a psychiatrist, and a strong sense of self-loathing for being unable to speak up and share my concerns.

(Incidentally, I debated emailing her back and saying, "I couldn't bring myself to talk about it then, but I was wondering..." but ultimately couldn't make myself do that either, at which point I decided maybe that meant I needed the medication pretty badly after all. So we'll be giving that a shot.)

One of the things that makes depression so crappy is how it saps your motivation so the steps you might need to take to feel better seem impossibly difficult. I know that going to see movies by myself is a temporary mood lift that can help refuel me a bit after an especially anxiety-ridden week... but the thought of having to get up and drive to the theater feels somehow worse than the thought of sitting around feeling depressed all day. It's significantly more difficult when your step forward is not "have a beautiful day alone at the movies," but instead "cry in front of people in the hopes they can help you."

That being said... this is a good thing. It is incredibly difficult, and admitting to strangers through tears that I'm depressed makes me feel more genuinely broken than I have in a long time, but I'm doing something about stuff, which has not been my strong suit this year. And so I will take it and claim it as a victory... even if nothing's actually happened yet.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A March Madness Bracket, FSWCCLAB (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about my picks for the top 64. Today let's rush through the rest of my choices.

Round 2
1. Governors vs. Huskies. If huskies decide to turn on our nation's governors, there's nothing they can really do. The Governors stay in my bracket.
2. Terrapins vs. Rainbow Warriors. The Rainbow Warriors are heavily environmental and would probably refuse to fight the cute little turtles on principle. The turtles have no such principles and could slowly bite the Rainbow Warriors to death.
3. Shockers vs. Bulls. Let's remember that shockers are wheat harvesters. If there's a bull stampede, the wheat cannot save them.
4. Owls vs. Bulldogs. The fact that the owls can fly is going to be a huge advantage to them here. They can swoop down, peck out bulldog eyes, and swoop away.
5. Ducks vs. Hawks. As terrifying as ducks can be, I think the hawks are going to just obliterate them for the same reason the owls are going to get bulldogs. They can fly better.
6. Seahawks vs. Bulldogs. If birds keep fighting these bulldogs, we could end up with a final round of just ALL THE BULLDOGS.
7. Panthers vs. Aggies. Yeah, there's no way agricultural students are making it out alive in a cage match with panthers.
8. Beavers vs. Sooners. Those sooners, rushing in to claim their land... and in the meantime probably destroying the beavers' natural habitat.
9. Tar Heels vs. Friars. North Carolina is a large state. I'm pretty sure they could get rid of the friars just by sheer volume.
10. Mocs vs. Wildcats. Again, whether it's mockingbirds or moccasins, I'm pretty sure they lose to wildcats.
11. Fighting Irish vs. Mountaineers. This is another one where I think the sheer numbers win, as well as the fact that mountaineering seems like more of a defensive maneuver than offensive.
12. Badgers vs. Wildcats. This is a tough one, as I feel like they might be pretty equally matched in viciousness, but wildcats seem spryer. Sorry, badgers.
13. Cavaliers vs. Bulldogs. I suspect these upper-class British Royalists are not going to win a lot of battles against anything that can actually fight.
14. Trojans vs. Gaels. Two entire people groups fighting each other! I guess I'm going to have to say the Trojans would win since almost the only thing I know about them is their fighting prowess.
15. Bulldogs vs. Runnin' Utes. The Utes face off against a different set of bulldogs... and are again chased down.
16. Orange vs. Blue Raiders. The friendly horse eats the orange.

Sweet 16
1. Governors vs. Rainbow Warriors. Well, looks like the governors win here, because it is easier to legislate people away from saving the environment than it is to legislate huskies not to eat you.
2. Shockers vs. Bulldogs. These poor wheat harvesters just keep getting attacked by animals and I just don't feel like they're prepared for that.
3. Ducks vs. Bulldogs. Let's kick the rest of the bulldogs out of the fight because they've completely murdered the ducks.
4. Aggies vs. Beavers. Are agriculture students prepared to fight against the beavers' claws and teeth? I suspect not.
5. Friars vs. Mocs. I suppose the mocs could win this one, but just because I'm having trouble imagining friars taking them down. I don't even know what that would look like.
6. Mountaineers vs. Badgers. The mountaineers attack the badges with their pickaxes and climb away.
7. Cavaliers vs. Gaels. The Gaels must have fought at some point (though, granted, I know very little Gaelic history). The Cavaliers didn't seem to do much from the four seconds I spent in research.
8. Runnin' Utes vs. Orange. The Utes may not be able to outrun a bulldog... but they CAN outrun an orange.

Elite 8
1. Rainbow Warriors vs. Shockers. I think if it came down to it, the shockers would win this one. After losing to so many small animals, I think they'd be full of rage and catch the rainbow warriors off their game.
2. Ducks vs. Aggies. Ducks are small, but they are mean. If they attacked, those poor agricultural students could be in trouble.
3. Friars vs. Badgers. All I can imagine is a friar opening the door of the church, stepping out, and having a badger jump up into his face like an alien face hugger.
4. Cavaliers vs. Orange. As much as I wanted the Cavaliers to stay in the game... they probably managed to eat quite a few oranges in their time, while oranges probably did not eat so many Cavaliers.

Final 4
1. Rainbow Warriors vs. Aggies. I feel like while they're on similar teams, there could be some agricultural students with methods that rub the rainbow warriors the wrong way, and then blood will be spilled.
2. Friars vs. Orange. Finally, one thing the friars can defeat!

...As I sort of thought might be the case, I will be rooting for the Syracuse Orange to win the entire March Madness whatsit. In fact, they might be my favorite basketball team ever. It's difficult to think of something it might hypothetically defeat in the future. A blunt knife?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A March Madness Bracket, From Someone Who Couldn't Care Less About Basketball

I do not follow any sports of any type, but I frequently find myself around people who ask who I support. My method of choosing sports teams for several years has been thus:

1. Find out the teams' mascots.
2. Imagine a scenario in which one team mascot namesake fought the other. Who would win?
3. Root for the underdog.

For example, this year's Super Bowl featured the Broncos and the Panthers. That seems like a pretty even match, but I think a bronco could defeat a panther, since they're larger and seem like they could wreak more havoc. So I was rooting for the Panthers.

This seems at least as sensible to me as any other reason to root for a team.

So let's look at this year's March Madness line-up and figure out who I think should win each one. The teams in bold are the ones I'm rooting for.

Top 64:

Austin Peay Governors vs Kansas Jayhawks: Well, it turns out a Jayhawk is not a bird as I might have assumed. It is, in fact, a native-born Kansan. There are more of those than there are governors, so if they were rioting against each other, the Kansans would win.

Connecticut Huskies vs. Colorado Buffaloes. Oh, goodness, have you seen a buffalo? They're huge. They'd easily destroy a husky.

Maryland Terrapins vs. South Dakota Jackrabbits. This is an adorable round with tiny turtles and shy rabbits fighting each other. Spring is when jackrabbits are most dominant, though, thanks to mating season, so they could probably take down the turtles.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. California Golden Bears. So... a quick Wikipedia search tells me that the rainbow warrior is based on Christian propaganda masquerading as a Native American legend about people coming together to save the earth environmentally. Yeah, they wouldn't have a chance against bears.

Wichita State Shockers vs. Arizona Wildcats. Shockers, I have just learned, are not people armed with tasers, but rather wheat harvesters. That is significantly less tough than their name sounds, so I'll be rooting for them. Harvest that wheat, Wichita!

Miami Hurricanes vs. Buffalo Bulls. Well, in The Wizard of Oz, a tornado carries a cow away with it. I would assume a hurricane could also carry away a bull.

Temple Owls vs. Iowa Hawkeyes. Wikipedia says the origin of "Hawkeyes" as a team name is probably rooted in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohican. That dude could easily take care of an owl.

UNC Asheville Bulldogs vs. Villanova Wildcats. While both can be vicious, only one has "wild" in their name and is therefore implied to be more vicious.

Holy Cross Crusaders vs. Oregon Ducks. This one made me laugh out loud. Sorry, Ducks, you're definitely getting converted, but I'm going to be rooting for you anyway.

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Saint Joseph's Hawks. Some research shows me that bearcats eat birds. Maybe not hawks, but they definitely eat birds, so I'll be hoping St. Joseph protects them from becoming prey.

Yale Bulldogs vs. Baylor Bears. Earlier I decided bulldogs couldn't even win against wildcats, there's no way they'd win against bears.

UNC Wilmington Seahawks vs. Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils refers to a French World War I infantry battalion, who are probably very capable of killing some seahawks.

Texas Longhorns vs Northern Iowa Panthers. This is similar to the Super Bowl situation this year, and I'm pretty sure the panthers would lose here as well. Longhorns are, as one might assume from their name, very large with large horns.

Green Bay Phoenix vs. Texas A&M Aggies. While agriculture students are important and all, the phoenix is a mythological bird that can regenerate, so it's kind of got the edge here.

VCU Rams vs. Oregon State Beavers. I would not be surprised if it turns out that beavers are much more vicious than I give them credit for, but I'm having trouble imagining them winning if a ram had decided to take them out.

CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners vs. Oklahoma Sooners. I am learning a lot researching these school mascots. A "sooner" is someone who went in and claimed land in Oklahoma before President Grover Cleveland said it was OK and therefore lost their clam to the land. They seemed to be making unwise decisions in their eagerness to take what they wanted, and we all know how that ended for Wile E. Coyote.

FGCU Eagles vs. North Carolina Tar Heels. A tar heel, like a jayhawk, is simple another word for a state's residents (in this case, obviously, North Carolina residents). And I've seen The Birds. Eagles could totally take out a whole state.

USC Trojans vs. Providence Friars. Friars are not renowned for their excellence in fighting.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Chattanooga Mocs. A hoosier is an Indiana resident, though nobody really knows why. "Moc" is apparently a shortened version of both moccasin and mockingbird, both of which seem like a whole bunch of hoosiers would be able to take care of.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Stony Brook Seawolves. The first time a wildcat mascot loses! But the top answer for seawolf is a sea lion, and those things are huge and could probably just casually lie on top of a wildcat and smoosh it.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines. "The wolverine," Wikipedia says, "has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size." But then again, that might be true of stereotypical fighting Irish as well. But I like the mascot "Fighting Irish" so much, let's keep them in the game by pretending that the Wolverines also includes Wolverine from X-Men, because then they'd probably win.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Well, this is a macho group. But I'm pretty sure the lumberjacks are better at using an axe, and that's not going to go well for the mountaineers unless they can scale up a nearby mountain.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers. Badgers are pretty mean, but panthers are bigger and can probably subdue them.

Xavier Musketeers vs. Weber State Wildcats. More wildcats! I think they're going to lose the battle here, too, as musketeers can just stand far away and pick them off one by one.

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Hampton Pirates. Uh, well, I suspect upper-class Royalist supporters of King Charles I might not be prepared to fight off pirates, though I would 100% watch that movie.

Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Butler Bulldogs. I am having great difficulty finding out what exactly a "red raider" is, but their mascots look like Zorro and Yosemite Sam, who could probably both beat up bulldogs if they were so inclined.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. UALR Trojans. A boilermaker is someone who makes things from steel. The problem here is that though they might be able to craft great weapons, I'm not sure they'd know how to use them, and saying, "Hold on, Trojans, let me build something out of iron to attack you," is not really going to work.

Iowa State Cyclones vs. Iona Gaels. Sorry, Gaelic people. I'm sure you're tough and all, but cyclones are brutal.

Seton Hall Pirates vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs. More bulldogs! They will lose to pirates, though.

Utah Runnin' Utes vs. Fresno State Bulldogs. Apparently every other basketball team names themselves the bulldogs. I guess the question here is how fast can bulldogs run. Can they run faster than a person from Utah? Turns out a healthy bulldog can run 15 miles an hour, which is on the high end for running sprinters. Sorry, Utes, I think the bulldogs are going to catch you.

Dayton Flyers vs. Syracuse Orange. The flyers are Orville and Wilbur Wright. I'm willing to be at some point they ate an orange, thus defeating this team.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. While a red raider is apparently Yosemite Zorro, a blue raider is... a very friendly-looking horse, according to the mascot photos. The Spartans look WAY tougher here.

All right. That's my take on the top 64, and that's quite enough blogging for today. Tune in tomorrow when many of these teams will have already lost to find out who I've got lined up in the rest of my bracket.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Best and Worst Movies I've Seen This Year (So Far)

One of my resolutions for this year is to watch more movies that I did last year, and so far I've been doing pretty well. I've seen 29 new-to-me movies in January and February (a lot of them new releases, thanks to MoviePass), so I figured I'd do a a quick bimonthly look at the best and worst ones so far, and then I'll come back in May to talk about March/April, and so on.

So here are my top 5 of these past two months:

1. Room (2015). A thrilling and moving story told in a very unique way. By far my favorite of the Best Picture nominees.
2. Ex Machine (2015). More than a little disappointed Oscar Isaac didn't get a nomination for his role in this very creative movie.
3. The Martian (2015). This 2 1/2-hour movie didn't feel that long because it was so engaging the whole time.
4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Jacob had been trying to get me to watch this for FOREVER. I finally did, and I loved it. It's become one of my favorite Miyazakis.
5. Anomalisa (2015). Certainly one of the most original movies of 2015... and one that has, I think, very interesting things to say.

And my least favorite movies of the past two months (starting with least favorite)

1. One Hour to Die (2012). I watched this weird little movie for one of my jobs and it's an ambitious concept -- it's an improvised movie filmed in real time with like a day of rehearsal beforehand -- but it's all a mess and not pleasant to watch at all.
2. Grace of Monaco (2014). Oh my gosh SO BORING.
3. Julia (1977). A really awkwardly-written and acted movie that somehow got a bunch of Oscar noms.
4. Rio Bravo (1959). John Wayne movies just have so much John Wayne in them...
5. The English Patient (1996). Another "why did this get so much Oscar attention?" movie. Gotta side with Elaine Benes on this one. It's so long and dull.

What have been your favorite and least favorite so far this year?

Monday, March 7, 2016

All I'm Going to Say About Politics This Year

(Insert regular "Hi! I'm depressed! Please try to not yell mean things at me!" disclaimer here.)

I have refrained from speaking out politically this year. Not because I don't think politics is important -- I do -- but because we seem to be in a political climate where, maybe even more than in previous years, discussion is vicious and I am really not in a place mentally where I care to invite vicious dialogue toward either myself or my friends in either political party.

I've seen it from both sides, and it makes me a little nauseous. I've seen people repost memes giggling at how fun it is to make liberals angry. I've heard people rant about how anyone voting Republican this election season is bigoted and hateful. I've read the comments laughing at how just plain stupid the other side is. I've never been more thankful in my life for the Facebook "unfollow" option.

Because you all realize that these aren't just talking points, right? These are actual people you're referring to. Some of these are actual people you might have a modicum of respect for. Four years ago, when Obama was reelected, a few people who I thought I was on good terms with posted furious Facebook rants about how stupid and evil anyone who voted for Obama must be. Well, I didn't vote that year for various reasons, but I would've voted for Obama. And I'm pretty sure if I talked to those people and asked them to straight up tell me if they thought I was stupid and evil, they'd immediately say no. But that is who they were talking to. When we mentally separate the talking points and stats from the human beings behind them, it becomes much easier to make broad generalizations

There have been times when I have found myself frustrated by the conservative right in recent years, but then I think of my wonderful conservative family members and friends who are kind and generous and intelligent and whose opinions and integrity I respect, and it becomes impossible for me to make blanket statements like "Republicans are all hateful" or "Republicans are all bigots." I may disagree with some of their points, but that never has to turn into the dark, angry rhetoric that is getting tossed around left and right.

In what way does it possibly help matters to sit at our computers or on our phones and take cruel pot shots at the other side, at our friends and neighbors and co-workers -- not at the points where we disagree, but at them themselves? How does it possibly help us be better people to assume the worst about everyone and make wild generalizations about half the country? How can we possibly think we're taking the moral high ground if we are treating the other side the same way we keep complaining they treat us?

This election season, I've decided relationships are more important to me than campaigning for the right candidate. So I'm not going to post snarky political comments or videos unless they invite actual edifying conversation. I'm not going to engage in political debates if I feel like either one of us is in a place where passion for our cause will make it difficult to discuss things civilly. I'm going to hide reposts from political meme sites because those typically either 1) take shots at me and make me angry/sad, or 2) encourage me to take shots at others and feel smug about myself.

Politics are important. There are positive changes we can make through who we vote into office. But right now, none of those changes can happen because each side is so furious with the other that they refuse to work together. I may not be able to change much about that, but I can change the way I interact with those around me.

More and more, I keep being convicted by what I think might be my new "life verse," or perhaps "life passage," in this instance:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
If I can spout political facts and stats at the drop of a hat and come up with a logical, rational reason why my candidate is the best but view my opposition with hatred, I have nothing.

If I convince others to vote for my preferred candidate but encourage them to look down sneeringly on the other party, I have nothing.

If I see myself trending toward arrogance, contempt, disgust, or hatred toward those who disagree with me, I need to stop and start finding my way back ASAP, because anything I do from that place is going to be gaining nothing because at that point I am becoming the kind of person who is making the world worse.

That may not look the same for everyone. Some of my friends are able to be extremely outspoken and passionate about political issues while still treating their opponents with respect and love. For me, I find, as I did four years ago, that it's best for me personally to take a step back -- at least from the rhetoric and the hype. So that's what I'll be doing, though I am always, always open to serious conversations with folks of similar and opposing beliefs who want to share their views.

I just encourage all of you to think of the best people in your life who hold the opposing view before you repost a meme or make a generalization. If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it with a silly picture. Don't be one of the people further opening the gap between right and left. Don't reinforce the idea that the world is in stark black and white, with all people obviously being either good or evil. Don't contribute to the polarization. Let's instead work together to encourage people to listen -- really listen -- to the other side and build bridges to reach each other rather than walls to keep each other out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: March Check-In

Well, this month has been up and down. Let's look at how I did overall and how I'll be accomplishing my overall goals in March.

Blogging goal: Write eight posts during furlough week. This one is a big fat fail, 0/10. That was awful. I wrote not a single one. I've started about six blogs but never sit down to finish them. So this month's goal will be simple: get two blog posts written and published in March. Besides this one. And ideally one of them will be that top 100 post I keep putting off.

Health goal: No soda, gym twice a week. Full score on one, no score on the other. I was awesome about drinking no soda, but I didn't go to the gym once. So that's like a 5/10. The reason I didn't go to the gym, though, is what is spurring on this month's health challenge: take care of lingering physical problems. Specifically, I'm going to find an arthritis med solution by the end of the month, even if that solution is, ultimately, going back to my doctor and saying, "I can't afford Enbrel. Anything else we can try?" My other goal is to look seriously into my mental health options with my insurance, because that played a big part in my sucky gym attendance last month.

Movie goal: Write reviews within 24 hours of seeing them. I'm pretty sure I did this every time this month, so WHOO, 10/10! This month I'm debating between giving myself a tiny movie challenge and just going with a promise to get out and see a movie in theaters every week as a self-care thing, but since I've done really well in my movie goals thus far and have struggled with others, I'm keeping it simple. I need to see Bridge of Spies. It's the only Best Picture nominee this year I didn't see, and it looks boring so I keep putting it off, but sheesh, I need to watch it. There's my super accomplishable goal for the month.

God goal: Daily Bible study and prayer. Ugh. I did this like twice. That's the worst. I'm making this my goal again because I'm really unhappy with how badly I did. 0/10 this month, hopefully better next month.

Friends goalRestart lady friend reconnection project. Gosh, I sucked at this too. Solid 0/10. So we're going to help me by taking the pressure off a bit. My goal is to contact the ladies on my list in order, not necessarily on the day I assigned them, but in order. So if I miss someone, I don't just skip on to the next person. Progress stops until I send them a message. That way even if it takes me a little longer, I'll at least reconnect with everyone I want to reconnect such.

This month was a rocky month. I scored 15/50, which is three points lower than I did last month. But I do feel good about having weaned myself off soda (I'll allow myself one a week now but no more and only if we go out to eat) and being on top of my movie reviews. Here's to getting health crap figured out and being in a better place mentally and emotionally at the end of March.