Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Clever thieves

As a bird-lover, I *had* to share this...

Bill owns a company that manufactures and installs car wash systems (Magic Wand Car Wash Systems, just in case you want to buy one). These are complete systems, including the money changer and money taking machines. Bill's company installed a car wash system in Frederick, Md.

The problem started when the new owner complained to Bill that he was losing significant amounts of money from his coin machines each week. He went as far as to accuse Bill's employees of having a key to the boxes and ripping him off. Bill just couldn't believe that his people would do that, so they set up a camera to catch the thief in action. Well, they did catch him on film!

Here's the bird sitting on the change slot of the machine:

The bird had to go down into the machine, and back up inside to get to the money:

Here's one with three quarters in his beak:

Also, they found that it wasn't just one bird - there were several working together. Once they identified and tracked the thieves, they found over $4000 in quarters on the roof of the car wash and more under a nearby tree.

In case any of you are interested, these birds are starlings. They're related to the Mynah bird (actually, Mynahs are members of the starling family), apparently make wonderful - though usually illegal - pets, and can learn to talk! Here's a great site about them, where you can get good info and also download clips of them talking:

Their voices are very airy/twittery, and (in my opinion) borderline creepy, but SO cute! And yes, I want one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Common Sense (Part 2 of ?)*

*Note/disclaimer: I may refer to people who have been abused, who suffer from eating disorders, and other related issues/circumstances in the third person throughout these posts, but that's mainly a device. I'm mostly talking about myself, other people I know, and the results of research I've done in the furtherance of my own understanding of what the hell is wrong with me. I am by no means attempting to make blanket statements that apply to all (or even a majority) of people who are or have been in any situation I have been. Also, sexist though it may be, I'll be using "she", "her", "the girl(s)" and other feminine pronouns/references for my writing, though anyone with any sort of understanding of EDs and abuse knows that males are also victims and sufferers. I'm simplifying things for my writing, that's all.

*** Warning – potential trigger(s) for abuse survivors and/or ED sufferers ***

As I said before, one ideas I've learned of that really resonates with me is that for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, emotional development stops at the age the abuse begins. Being molested as a child changes the way a person views and reacts to life, the world, and other people in ways that are hard to explain, and probably harder for others to grasp. So I'm going to try to break it down a little.

First, the act/trauma itself has a huge impact on world view. The only "real world" example I can think of for non-survivors that might approximate the emotional devastation would be terrorist attacks. I know it's pathetically melodramatic, but if I could think of a better example, I'd go with it in a flash. I feel like the biggest asshole using this one, but these things are so hard to convey. Here's what I mean, though: something drastic, and horrifying comes without warning and causes you intense emotional pain (and for many children, physical pain, but I can't speak to that). Suddenly, the world you knew is gone. Gone. There are no safe places. People can't be trusted. You don't know how to understand, let alone *deal with* the terror and hurt you're suddenly left with.

Continuing with my terrible analogy, go one step further: imagine that one of the terrorists was someone you knew and trusted. That your family and friends knew and trusted. Maybe an actual family member or friend. Seriously, try to imagine this. Someone close to you, a terrorist. Keep in mind, you're considering these things as an adult. Remember all the fuss about how to talk to kids about these things? Can you actually conceptualize yourself dealing with them as the child you once were? Alone? Unable to talk about them, either because you're traumatized, or you were told not to, or both?

Ok – no more hypotheticals. Here's my experience. The fear and betrayal and hurt make you withdraw from people physically and emotionally. Although I don't remember my abuse, I do remember pulling away from others over that period of time. I remember wandering around on the playground by myself, not wanting to play or interact at all with the other kids. I remember one day I was so lost in my own head and detached from my environment during recess that I didn't notice when the teachers came out and got all the kids to go back in. I have no idea how long I was out there by myself – I just recall suddenly looking up and noticing that there was no one else outside, and running inside to rejoin my class. While most kids want a fun, noisy party with lots of presents and al their classmates there, I remember wanting only 2 or 3 particular girls at mine, but inviting everyone because that's what was "expected" of me.

Having been so misled by the person who did such a terrible thing makes you question your judgment about everything. Especially when – as with much molestation – the abuser is a family member or acquaintance (as in my case). If I was so wrong about that person, how could any of my judgements about others be correct? Who else do I trust who might secretly want to hurt me? I don't know if the withdrawal came as a result of the hurt and shock, or of this betrayal and fear, or both. But when you're a little kid and the world is suddenly full of people who might do bad things to you, what can you do besides pull away and try to avoid more hurt? If these things haven't been discussed with you (they weren't with me – public discussion of molestation came after I had experienced it, and I think my parents just thought it wouldn't/couldn't happen) it's not like you know you're supposed to tell someone. And who can you trust to tell? No one is safe anymore.

It's this withdrawal and paranoia, I think, that lead to the failure to develop social skills. Things like listening, reading facial expressions, and communicating openly and honestly – how can a child in the state of mind I tried to depict above even start to learn these things? I'm not listening to you – you might be lying to me. How should I know? Your facial expression could be a mask, hiding something terrible. It happened before. And since I can't interpret any of the usual social cues, how on earth am I supposed to learn to properly use them with other people? This lack of social skills, combined with the suspicion and fear, leads one to become defensive, confrontational, and hard to read. You don't trust others, and your closed-off presentation makes others distrust you, which strengthens your feelings that they shouldn't be trusted. It's a vicious cycle.

I know from my own experience that I often have no idea how the expressions on my face appear to other people. I used to get accused of giving people death-glares ALL the time, and I had no idea what my face was doing. The same goes with tone of voice – that harsh/bitter/angry tone I might take doesn't sound that way in my own head; it's part of my defense mechanism, and I only know it's there through feedback from other people. Chris and I used to get in HUGE fights, and in the end it would turn out that what had set them off was that I had said something to him in a way that was very abrasive and almost mean. I didn't hear it. We finally developed a system where if I say something with that tone, he asks me to check my tone of voice. That has helped us in TONS of conflicts.

I can't recall a time when I ever wanted to be "popular" or have lots of friends. Honestly, I'm happy with one or two, and these social issues are why. It is so emotionally and physically draining to try to interact with people from a place of having no tools to do so. The closest thing that might approximate it would be trying to drive without my glasses. All kinds of important data coming in fast, but fuzzy. And terrifying, because misreading something could have horrible consequences.

I know I come across as antisocial and unfriendly to a lot of people in "real life". Apparently, the last time I went to Atlanta no one (including Chris, but probably with the exception of my sister) thought I had a good time. I had a freaking blast! But I guess it wasn't apparent. I can (and do) sit quietly in groups of people, not talking and just listening and taking things in. And I'm happy in that situation. The best thing about groups of people (especially when they don't know me very well, so I don't really *have* to talk) is that the pressure is off me to interact. But then I guess I look like the miserable bitch who isn't having fun, and making everyone else uncomfortable. So how do I change that without overloading and stressing myself out and then actually becoming the miserable chick everyone already thought I was?

Any of you who has been to a Sniffa I attended may have noticed that at pretty much every stop we made, I had to go find somewhere quiet to sit by myself for a little (or long) while. Not because I didn't like the people or wasn't having a great time (because I love the people, and live for Sniffas!), but because all that input is just plain overwhelming. And it's harder there, because there are so many people there who I genuinely like and care about, and I want to spend time with each of them, and I just start feeling stretched way too thin.

All these things I just talked about are the main reason that I love communicating with people online. Although "tone" doesn't interpret well in cyberspace, that's not a problem for me because tone and expression are extremely difficult for me to read "in real life" anyway. I learned in school to only take meaning from the actual *words* in something written. I might be inclined to interpret a certain tone from something someone writes, but unless the words themselves are there, I know not to assume. So many conflicts online and in emails are due to people inferring meanings that really weren't there. For me, it's so much easier to deal with the written word because I can check and double-check to be sure that my intended meaning is what my words are expressing. I don't have to worry that I might use the wrong tone of voice, or unintentionally display the wrong facial expression, and screw up the dialogue. There's far less input, and most of it is the kind I know how to handle.

I have to say that not working has been a major blessing for me in all these regards. I told Chris the other day that I found the cure for depression/anxiety/insomnia: screw what society dictates – only leave the house when you feel like it, and sleep when you're tired! It works! I'm only sort-of kidding here. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be able to set my hours and stay in as much as I need and want. And although I don't take it for granted, I won't apologize for it either. I'm the happiest and most me I've ever been, and I wouldn't trade it for all the money in the world!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fragrant Observations

Just a couple things I noticed this past week...

1. Flowerbomb goes quite nicely with Mexican food! Though not as well as Bois de Paradis, I must say.

2. Donna Karan Wenge is an EXCELLENT substitute for MWI! The EDT, anyway!

3. OJ Tolu is a wonderful scent for picking up your sweetie from the airport at the end of the week :~D

4. Emotional overload can cause one (*this* one, anyway) to shy away from direct sensory stimuli that would normally be more than welcome, fragrance included.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Common Sense (Part 1 of ?)*

*Note/disclaimer: I may refer to people who have been abused, who suffer from eating disorders, and other related issues/circumstances in the third person throughout these posts, but that's mainly a device. I'm mostly talking about myself, other people I know, and the results of research I've done in the furtherance of my own understanding of what the hell is wrong with me. I am by no means attempting to make blanket statements that apply to all (or even a majority) of people who are or have been in any situation I have been. Also, sexist though it may be, I'll be using "she", "her", "the girl(s)" and other feminine pronouns/references for my writing, though anyone with any sort of understanding of EDs and abuse knows that males are also victims and sufferers. I'm simplifying things for my writing, that's all.

*** Warning – potential trigger(s) for abuse survivors and/or ED sufferers ***

After way too much deliberation, I've decided to try to undertake this "series" by addressing bulimia first, with what I hope is enough of the necessary "background" to set things up properly. Bulimia is just one of many repercussions my molestation has had on me, but I'd like to try to get it as much out of the way as I can before getting into other areas. Not that it can ever be dispensed with. Don't I wish! But it's the most "topic-esque" of the things I intend to discuss, so I may as well start with it.

From my own experience, as well as what I've learned through personal research, my understanding is that there are some basic emotional/mental/neurological similarities between the majority of people with anorexia and bulimia. They tend to be above average intelligence, they are people pleasers, and they're more sensitive than the general population. I don't necessarily mean sensitive in the "sweet and caring" way – more that physical, mental, and emotional stimuli affect them more strongly than other people (an excellent book on this concept is The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron).

The main result of the coincidence of these three traits is that these girls often "see" connections between events that others might not notice. They'll often feel responsible for things they shouldn't. And, because they're people pleasers, they'll keep these feelings to themselves so they don't burden others with them. They naturally accumulate guilt, and also try to be the buffer or go-between in rocky relationships. And if the people they're trying to help bring peace to can't get along, the girls feel it's due to some personal failing, rather than just the fact of two people not being able to get along. I'm definitely guilty of this – for as long as I can remember, I've tried to smooth things between my little sister and my dad. Their personalities are SO similar that they used to clash constantly. I actually felt physical pain when they would fight, and would often insert myself into their altercations to try to "fix" things.

I'm certain that there are TONS of people with these traits who go through life just fine. And I think that at the beginning of everything, anorexics and bulimics are very similar people personality-wise. In my opinion, the development of "normal" behaviors, anorexia, or bulimia is mainly dependent on intervening circumstances. Using myself as an example, if I hadn't been abused how and when I was, I might never have developed an ED. Or, if something different had happened, I might have become anorexic instead of bulimic. I think the potential for all three was there, and life events led me to where I am.

In order to address my personal experience with bulimia, I think I need to elaborate on my abuse. When I was in first grade, the woman who babysat me after school was married to a man who had both of his legs amputated (I believe he was a veteran). He was bedridden, and had an orthopedic bed in their living room that he stayed in, as far as I know, 100% of the time. The arrangement was that the school bus would drop me off at their house in the afternoon, and I'd watch tv and have a snack there till my parents came and got me in the evening. I know she regularly babysat a classmate of mine (evenings and weekends, NOT at the same time I was there) but I'm not sure if she watched other children. And to this day, I have no idea if she knew what her husband did.

I have to say that I blocked almost all memories of the abuse – I know he touched me inappropriately and repeatedly, but only from fragments of memories. I lied to myself until I was 18 and told myself that those memories were false, that I was making them up. I realize now that I was too innocent and ignorant to have made those things up because they were outside my sphere of reference, but I think I had to tell myself that to cope. I'm still not sure if I'm glad about my lack of memories. I know I've been spared having to relive the things I've experienced, but not knowing can be just as bad.

I do remember him telling me on several occasions that the other little girl was never as bratty as I was when she was there, and that she always behaved and sat still. Of course, NOW I know that what he was doing is referred to as "grooming" – putting me in a position of having to earn his approval, so that I would comply with his abuse. Being the people-pleaser that I am, I tried to behave as he told me to. I don't remember him ever telling me NOT to tell anyone what he did, or threatening me, or anything along those lines. I was so young and na├»ve that it never occurred to me (as best I can recall) that he was doing anything wrong. My parents gave me back rubs, and my mom would rub our arms in church to quiet us down – this was different, but not so much so that I remember questioning it. Halfway through first grade, something came up and his wife couldn't watch me any more, so my parents made other sitting arrangements.

As I've said, I blocked those memories, and the few snippets that came through I would deny to myself and push to the back of my mind. I remember reading about molestation when I was a little older (there were several campaigns in the 80's to raise awareness and teach kids to say "no"), and thinking it was stupid. Why would some kid let an adult or another kid touch them in a way that was "wrong"? It was pretty much the ultimate denial. I truly had no conscious knowledge of what had happened to me, and when I learned about the concept, it was insane to me that anything like that could ever happen to me. That it already had wasn't even a blip on my radar.

The point of all this is that for me there was no conscious or direct correlation between my abuse and bulimia. It's actually kind of sad and ironic, the circumstances surrounding my decision to start purging. I was 15 years old, and had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. There was an article in one of the issues that was one of those scare-tactics articles they always have, like "My Boyfriend Convinced Me to Hold His Marijuana and Now I'm in Prison Forever". I'm sure you know the type. Well, this one was by/about a girl who was bulimic, and was clearly intended to convince "other girls like her" not to do what she had done. She talked about how her family knew what she was doing, and how it hurt all of them, and how she lost too much weight and almost died, etc. I wasn't happy with my weight at the time, and I figured that if this dumb bitch could lose weight purging, then I could too; but *I* was smart enough not to get caught by my family, and not to let it take over my life (that's literally what I thought – I was 15 and full of myself!). So I started b/p-ing (bingeing and purging) purely for weight loss, and I was thrilled! I could eat what I wanted and still lose weight. I thought I had found the perfect solution.

A lot of books don't say this (probably don't want to encourage the behavior), but purging brings a HUGE physical relief, and an emotional relief as well. It's hard to describe, but as the pressure of all that food leaves your body, it's like an emotional weight is lifted at the same time. It's also been noted/discovered/whatever that purging causes the release of endorphins, which contributes to that feeling. There are some women (I'm not one of them, probably fortunately) who actually orgasm when they purge, the release is so immense. It's the emotional/endorphin release that becomes addictive and takes over.

Even after I lost the weight I wanted to, I continued to purge several times a day. After every meal and snack. And I began overeating JUST to purge. This was still in high school, and though I wouldn't admit it to myself, it definitely went from a weight-loss behavior to a mood-altering behavior. I can't pin down exactly when the shift took place, but it did. I didn't realize it till years later, but this is how/where bulimia and molestation are linked. I don't think anyone starts purging with the conscious connection to their abuse. Rather, once they start (for whatever "reason") it's value as a sort of coping mechanism takes over, and they get hooked on that. And this brings it all back to the abuse aspect. Although I didn't undertake this ED due to my abuse, I have definitely continued because of it. This brings me back to psychology, and is where my buddy Dr. Phil comes in. I'm paraphrasing him in most of what follows, because he verbalized it SO perfectly on one of his shows that I wrote it down. He was able to articulate something I had never been able to express myself, something so vital to my experience as someone who had to grow up after being molested that I cried with relief when I finally had the words to explain it.

The main issue that survivors of childhood sexual abuse deal with is that their emotional development stops at the age the abuse begins. From that point on, no one can ever touch them and they can never touch anyone without being suspicious of the motive. They learn to be paranoid about every physical interaction with other people, and it's a child's mind that decides that. Emotionally, they're/we're like children who never learned to walk and are still crawling - there are tools we didn't get, abilities we didn't learn, social skills and coping mechanisms being among the foremost. We pretty much never developed past the point we had reached when the abuse began. We're basically emotional children soothing our hurts the best way we know how, and dealing with nearly everyone from a place of mistrust and fear.

What I'm trying to explain here is that I'm short on coping skills, as are most (all?) people with EDs. I don't know how to deal with things. So when purging had the unexpected side effect of making me feel better emotionally, even for a little bit, of COURSE I latched onto it. That's why these behaviors are addictive. Yes, there's a large "control" aspect to EDs, but I'm fairly sure that applies a lot more to anorexia than bulimia. When I'm in the middle of a binge, I feel so out of control it's scary. But again, I think it's due to life events – nearly all bulimics were molested at some point in their lives. This is not the case with anorexics. My *personal* belief is that anorexia is the result of a girl trying to establish control over some aspect of her life, and bulimia is the result of a girl feeling so out of control of her entire life that all she feels she can do is soothe herself with food and purging.

Ok, I think that's enough for now. As I think/hope I made clear these are just my opinions, based on mostly anecdotal evidence, much of which is firsthand. I welcome any and all questions and comments. And - as I stated in my "Dr. Phil" post - my purpose here is just to get this stuff out there. There can be no "common sense" about issues we keep hushed up. Although it's not comfortable, the more we talk openly about these things, the more solutions we can find. I'm not looking for sympathy, just turning stones over so the creepy-crawlies have nowhere to hide.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A fresh start

Well, it's back to square one for me. As of today, the last two otos are dead. Thankfully, I only had to euthanize one other one myself, but the whole situation really really sucks.

So I'm going to drain the 12-gallon tank, scrub down the plants and cave with hot water and an algae scrubber, and start cycling it again. I'll medicate it like there are fish there, and let it run for a week or so before getting new otos. And (on the advice of my darling hubby) I think I'll get the next bunch from the awesome fish store in Wilmington, rather than from PetSmart again.

I'm not saying PetSmart is at all to blame here - of course not! All blame is always on me in my own house/mind, and this year *everything* is my fault (thanks Sand and Barbara for that honor!). The otos in Goldie and Alfie's tank have been doing well for quite some time now, and they're all from PetSmart. I just need a whole new beginning. Plus, I really like that store!

I do have to mention this oddity: up until now, whenever any of the otos died, their bodies either disappeared (probably eaten by the goldies/Bill) or sank to the bottom. I thought this was odd, since dead bodies are supposed to float, but chalked it up to some possible aspect of their physiology. BUT *these* two little guys are floating, and strangely - they are totally vertical! One is at the top of the tank with his nose just barely poking out of the water, and the other is at the bottom of the tank, standing on his tail fins. What the HELL? I'd post pics (because it is strangely fascinating), but that would be disrespectful and morbid. But it is just SO freaking weird. Sad, but weird.

Dr. Phil

I love this man and his show, though I feel the need to explain a bit. I did NOT start out feeling this way. For a good while, he really got on my freaking nerves. My dad encapsulated it best, upon hearing my admission that I like Dr. Phil - he said, "Why? It's just common sense."

Here's the thing though - Dr. Phil applies "common sense" to issues and situations for which there often IS no "common" sense. For example - some time last year, I watched an episode where he dealt with a family rife with incest. The oldest son was molested by an older female relative, and he in turn molested his younger siblings. And some of them molested and/or had inappropriate sexual relations with each other. Shocking? Yes. Horrifying? Absolutely. Common? We would *love* to think not. But the sad and terrible truth is that it's far more common than any of us want to admit. And there IS no "common sense" approach for this family to even BEGIN to heal themselves. But Dr. Phil was able to start the process, and said a lot of things that made sense.

That was the turning point for me, in my fan status. It's not just that he's a common sense kinda guy - it's that he takes this approach, applies it to what many of us view as "extreme" circumstances, AND brings the enormous resources to which he has access (alone, and in his relationship with Oprah) to bear on these situations. Sure, most of us would recommend counseling to a victim of abuse, but the level of therapy needed for the family I mentioned before? That takes a LOT of work, energy, and expertise.

The reason I guess I'm going into all this is that, as many of you know, I have issues of my own that are sadly prevalent in society, but for which "common sense" answers/explanations don't really exist. I was molested as a child, and one of the results was that I became bulimic as a teenager. Most people don't understand how either of things affects a person. And I'm not claiming to. But what I *can* do is tell my own story, and apply the information I've gathered (through research and experience) to my situation, so people might have at least a marginally better understanding of the issues that have so profoundly impacted my life. For a few of you, this will be familiar from emails I've exchanged with you and/or conversations we've had (IRL, over the phone, or IM). For others any and all of this may be totally new. I welcome questions and/or comments, here or via more personal routes.

I guess my goal is to be as open about this with everyone as I have been with a few. No one benefits from keeping these things quiet, except the abusers. And since the abused often become abusers, I can't even say for certain that *that* is true.

So things are likely to be depressing and triggering here for a while (and I *will* do my best to warn people of possible triggers), but I'm pretty sure it's something I need to do. You have been warned.

And I love you all. This is for your own good. LOL!