|My new clip-art rocks! One example...|
Friday, March 29, 2013
We have an assortment of odd characters on our little island. One of the regulars is our newspaper seller. Every morning, come rain or come shine, (most of the time around here you can guess which one we usually get) there he is, an extremely tall fellow wearing a pack of newspapers and walking from car to car in the line for the ferry plying his wares. I used to think he was humming gibberish as he went along, but recently my husband was with me, and he has an uncanny ability to understand what seems to others to be nonsense...I remember years ago when we lived in a small town and had a business space in the downtown, and there was this young man who had cerebral palsy and could only grunt and jerk his arms and legs around to communicate. He would try repeatedly to make the rest of us understand what he was trying to say, then one of the shopkeepers would say, "Somebody go get Jeff!" And my husband would come down and listen to the grunts and squeaks, then say, "He wants a hamburger," or "he wants to know if you have a job for him." (that job incidentally was usually sweeping the sidewalk in front of one of the shops for a dollar or two...my boss owned a gift boutique that only sold angels, and one day Pee-Wee [our nick-name for him before anyone knew his name] accidentally knocked off a ceramic angel figurine and stood there stricken, weeping profusely at what he had done...after that, he was pretty much relegated to sweeping the sidewalk...) One day my amazing husband even took Pee-Wee home, and he lived about 10 miles out of town, off a country road. Later Jeff told me along with a group of astonished friends that Pee-Wee gave him directions. Incredible. But again, as usual, I digress! So this particular morning waiting for the ferry, the weather was cold and drizzly, and after a gloomy winter here, I was feeling particularly sorry for the newspaper man. Heck, I was feeling sorry for myself! I also had two dollars in my pocket, a rarity most days. I started to feel guilty. Here he was, every morning, walking with his heavy bag of newspapers, trying to make a living, cheerful as could be, like he didn't have a care in the world. And now I realized, as my husband pointed out, he wasn't humming "dum-de-dum-de-la-la-la," but he was SINGING. It went something like this, "New York Times, Seattle Times, paper please......" That did it. "Roll down your window and buy a newspaper," I told my husband. We did. I still haven't read it. It's a little tiny wisp of a thing actually, as nearly all printed newspapers are anymore, and the news is all depressing anyway. Actually I would have rather have had the New York Times, but couldn't bring myself to hunt for another 50 cents and pay $2.50 for a newspaper, when I could look at the news on the internet for free. Besides, as my husband pointed out, it was more a charitable donation than a purchase. Or as I'd like to consider it, an investment in a quickly vanishing way of life....Sing on, Mr. Newspaper Man; you have reminded me what a gift life can be.....
Thursday, March 21, 2013
I've spent pretty much the last four decades wondering why the truth isn't more popular. As a matter of fact, it's not just unpopular, it's downright despised. Try to find a better way to empty a room or enrage any number of people present than to speak the truth. I've had to learn this the hard way. As a small child I was always asking my parents "WHY?" The way things were supposed to be seemed fairly straightforward, rational and sensible to me; I just couldn't understand why other people had such different ideas about it. As a pragmatic, practical person of principle, I have always felt a strong need to "defend the truth," or at least make sure people were aware of it. After all, it sets you free, right? Well......., not exactly. Maybe in the long run, but in the immediate future it just gets you in trouble; it can even get you killed. Look what happened to Jesus, Joan of Arc, William Wallace, and any number of characters on the Twilight Zone. My therapist keeps trying to convince me that truth is relative. She is not having much luck, although she has finally gotten me to consider that it is somewhat changeable. As I have grown older, I can see that what was true for me at one stage in my life is no longer true for me now. We change. The world changes around us. I still believe however that there are a few (notice I said FEW) absolutes. I've been accused lots of times of what they call "black and white" thinking. This means "either-or" scenarios, or not allowing there to be any "gray areas." I admit I'm much more comfortable with the idea of things being either this way or that way, but at this stage of my life I now see this as my own attempts to put life as we know it into tidy categories for my own sense of comfort. While there are principles that if we come to understand and live by them WILL make our lives easier, and I would call those "truth," any well-meaning individual, no matter how hard they try, can never force another individual to "see the truth." Why? The most obvious reason is that we all resist hearing "the truth" because we've already got a "truth" that we like just fine, thank you very much. At worst, this is called denial, and leads to all sorts of evils and personal suffering, and at best it's called knowing yourself, and what your values are, which is a good thing. So after years of pointing out the elephant in the room during my stints in college, church leadership, local politics, working for a non-profit, a government agency, and in all the groups I have ever been a member of, I have decided that although the elephant may seem obvious to me, I cannot save anyone from being trampled. Everyone has to see their own elephant. Or something like that....
Sunday, March 10, 2013
I have five cats, so I deal daily with copious amounts of cat hair. A good vacuum is essential. Did I mention that when I had dogs it was dog hair? And the interesting fact is that I am allergic to both cats and dogs. But I have always had either or both. It is something I just deal with, just like my allergy to mold (I live in the Pacific Northwest for crying out loud) and dust (I'm an archivist and avid reader and lover of books). I took allergy shots for five years but that is another story. The most recent thing that has not been working at my house (and there are often at least two to three of these things at any given moment) is my amazing, wonderful German vacuum cleaner. After checking the bag (it was not even close to full) and praying, "God, please don't let it be going out yet. I believe in German engineering," I reluctantly pulled out the rotating brush to pull all of MY hair out of it, and noticed a little flap door on the bottom of the vacuum that had a compartment behind it that went up towards where the hose attaches. It was plugged with all kinds of stuff, things not worth repeating....like things the vacuum was picking up were not getting through to the hose, and thus the bag. AHA moment....maybe SOMETHING was stuck in that opening blocking things from getting through! Hmmmmm. Sticking my hand as far up inside there as possible, I felt something....something vaguely familiar.....spongey, rubbery...what the hell was that? Then I got the flashlight. It's orange. No, it's blue. No, it appears to be half orange and half blue. Two pairs of pliers, a pair of scissors, and a pair of forceps we bought at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, TX later, it was out. A foam rubber cat ball. There's a lesson here, although I'm not sure what it is....
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
First it was the automobiles. They get smaller and smaller. Then computers, cell phones, etc. Has anyone out there besides me gotten totally frustrated trying to text on those tiny keys???? Then the NEWSPAPER. It is like the size of a birthday card now! The newest and most disturbing trend is GIRL SCOUT COOKIES. They are virtually HALF the size they used to be. And not half the price, alas. At some point they will be about the diameter of a quarter. And cost more than they do now, to be sure. What kind of planet do we live on anyway? One where things constantly get smaller, evidently.
Even my brain is shrinking. And I can tell. I thought at first it was due to stress and depression. You see, that's been proven. I turned up some interesting proof on the Psychology Today website to confirm my worst fears. A new research study has uncovered the genetic mechanism underlying these brain changes. You see, depressed brains are more fragmented. I KNEW my brain needed defragmenting, just like my hard drive, the size of which, is also diminishing. We have an external hard-drive now that is the size of a deck of cards, although don't be impressed; I am fairly sure there is one now that is the size of a matchbox...But I digress. In the study, conducted by Professor Richard Dumin and colleagues from Yale University, scientists compared the genetic makeup of donated brain tissue from deceased humans with and without major depression. (NOW I know what I can do with my brain when I am finished with it....) Only the depressed patients’ brain tissues showed activation of a particular genetic transcription factor, or “switch.” Scientists hypothesized that in the depressed patients’ brains, prolonged stress exposure led to disruption (due to this switch) of brain systems involved in thinking and feeling. Depressed brains appeared to have more limited and fragmented information processing abilities. This finding may explain the pattern of repetitive negative thinking that depressed people exhibit. (It explains A LOT more than that.) It is as if their brains get stuck in a negative groove of self-criticism and pessimism. They are unable to envision more positive outcomes or more compassionate interpretations of their actions.
As for stress, things called glucocorticoids, or stress hormones, damage brain neurons. The stress response activates a brain region known as the amygdala, which sends a signal alerting the organism (you) to the threat, releasing short-term hormones like cortisol which prepare the organism (again, you) to sustain “fight or flight” and fend off an attacker. But with long-term exposure from stress that is not life-threatening, these hormones appear to cause brain neurons to shrink and interfere with their ability to send and receive information. In animal studies, under chronically stressful conditions, glucocorticoids such as cortisol can remain elevated for long periods afterwards. And any middle-aged woman out there also knows that cortisol makes you fat around your middle. Nice little bonus there.
Research in both mice and humans has demonstrated an association between stress exposure (footshock in mice, life events in humans) and shrinking of the hippocampus – the brain center responsible for forming new, time-sequenced memories. Studies done of sufferers of PTSD have shown this to be true. In another study, patients recovered from long-term major depression showed a 15% decrease in volume of the hippocampus, compared to non-depressed patients.
Major life stress probably also shrinks brain neurons in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), the brain area responsible for problem-solving, adaptation to challenge, emotional processing and regulation, impulse control, and regulation of glucose and insulin metabolism. In a studty of 100 healthy participants conducted by Dr Rajita Sinha and colleagues at Yale University, and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, those with more adverse life events had greater shrinkage of grey matter in the PFC, compared to their less-stressed peers. Recent major life events, such as a job loss, make people less emotionally aware while life traumas, such as sexual abuse, seem to go further, in damaging mood centers that regulate pleasure and reward, increasing vulnerability to addiction and decreasing the brain's ability to bounce back.
Then there's menopause. Had a look at Medscape Today's website. Estrogen, it seems, protects brain neurons from oxidation, stimulates nerve growth, helps repair damaged neurons, and increases the concentration of vital neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Postmenopausal women (that would be me) have been shown to exhibit a significant decrease in blood flow, and flow decreases further with time past menopause. In studies, no significant decrease was attributable to aging alone. (Oh, great, another reason for brain shrinking.) Another study of 63 postmenopausal women before and after starting hormone replacement therapy demonstrated reduced impedance to blood flow in carotid circulation. (that's the artery in your neck that gets gunked up and has to be cleaned out.) Hot flashes, incidentally are related to this function of estrogen. A hot flash consists of a sudden sensation of heat in the upper body, often followed by perspiration and a chill. Peripheral vasodilation, tachycardia, decreased skin resistance, and sweating have all been documented to occur during a hot flash. Though poorly understood, the episodes certainly originate in the brain. It now appears that hot flashes are not merely symptoms of low estrogen levels; they may themselves lead to other neurologic problems. (no big revelation to those of us who have had the damn things...) In women without their ovaries, hot flashes have been directly correlated with memory impairment. In addition, single proton emission computed tomography (SPECT) of healthy menopausal women revealed decreased cerebral blood flow during hot flashes. The greatest change occurred in the hippocampus, a center for memory and cognition. Regional patterns of cerebral blood flow during hot flashes resembled those characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. (Let's not even GO there...) Hormone replacement therapy resolved the hot flashes and restored normal patterns of cerebral blood flow. (This is nice, seeing as how after that study a few years back vilifying hormone replacement, no doctors are giving their patients prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy without a threat to their own lives, usually coming from those same patients...OR THEIR HUSBANDS.)
Based on this evidence, reproductive biologists have hypothesized that hot flashes contribute to degenerative or aging changes in the brain. Frequent vasoconstrictive episodes might lead to cerebral ischemia and free radical formation, damage similar to that seen in the coronary arteries with plaque formation. (Ladies, it's not your high cholesterol or your stress hormones that's going to get you, it's your LACK OF ESTROGEN!) The population of healthy neurons might be reduced, particularly in the hippocampus, leaving the brain with impaired ability to tolerate the neurodegenerative processes of aging and Alzheimer's disease. (Damn, there's that nasty "A" word again...) Even in healthy older women, brain volume begins to decline as estrogen levels fall preceding menopause. This atrophy occurs particularly in the hippocampus and parietal lobe, areas primarily associated with memory and cognition. A similar loss in brain volume does not begin in men until a decade later (around age 60), most likely because male sex hormone production declines much more gradually with age. In fact, because of aromatization of testosterone to estrogen, men over the age of 60 have approximately three times more circulating estradiol (This is estrogen, folks...) than women of a similar age. (Is there no end to the unfairness of being a woman on this planet?...in 8 years my husband will have more estrogen than I do.)
In women, these cerebral changes may contribute to the frequent perimenopausal complaints of decreased mental clarity and short-term, verbal memory problems. Many research groups have found a connection between hormone replacement and cognition, particularly in the area of verbal memory. For example, in one study of 727 postmenopausal women, history of estrogen use was associated with significantly higher scores on verbal memory and abstract reasoning tests. (Finally, a light in the proverbial tunnel!! Just imagine how bad my cognitive function would be now if I HADN'T taken those birth control pills all those years...)
OK, I think I've proved my point. Hormone replacement is NOT on my allowed medications list. I have atypical hyperplasia in the breast tissues, which isn't cancer, but the cells aren't normal either. They are just lurking there, waiting to mutate into something more ominous sounding than "atypical," like "malignant." Estrogen would encourage them in that direction, so I don't get any. BIG SIGH. The depression is less debilitating than it has ever been, due to years of psychotropic drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, but it has no doubt done some damage. Stress is a part of life that you cannot avoid; only learn to handle in a more healthy way. I'm working on that. The baking powder fiasco aside, I can make it through this. Crossword puzzles are supposed to help cognitive function. Yeah, that's the ticket. If I can find some that don't require an exhaustive knowledge of today's ridiculous pop culture to complete, I've got a solution.....I'll let you know how it works.