Previous Posts by Month

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I'm Quitting the Atheist Community But I'm Not Quitting Atheism

I am not wanted in the scientific skepticism and atheist communities. I don't fit the profile. For one, I am not the dominant type - a middle aged white male. I am also not appealing to middle aged white males because I am a woman over 35 who isn't skinny or well spoken. I've heard enough  negative things about atheism and skepticism gatherings to make me not want to go within 10 feet of a conference. Not because I imagine that I'll be assaulted (I won't be, trust me) but because I will be ignored.

Of course, I am not about to turn around and start believing in God again. In fact, I only really truly believed in God until I was around 17 years old. I think I was faking it beyond that point. The atheist community and the ex-fundamentalists that hang out there have merely been a source of catharsis regarding my real former religion - alternative medicine.

The skeptic community obviously dislikes alternative medicine because it falls into the category of irrational beliefs along with religion and superstition. Science Based Medicine bloggers helped me a great deal - I was able to dissect my pseudoscientific and conspiracy-driven views about medicine and cope with the realities of my own health issues. I was able to shed the voices in my head that made me feel guilty for quitting bogus treatments that weren't working. They taught me about logical fallacies, which I am now a boss at recognizing. When I taught community college, I was able to impart this wisdom onto my students and make sure that the handful of them that passed through my classes came out of college with a little bit more of a skeptical eye.

Recently, Britt Hermes was interviewed on Seth Andrews' the Thinking Atheist Podcast regarding a lawsuit that a naturopathic doctor was leveraging against her for something she said on her blog. She was criticizing the bogus "study" that the ND "published" on her website and in a dubious, likely predatory, journal. I am truly sad to hear that this is happening and I am glad she's getting support from the SBM community.

She has always been a darling of Science Based Medicine, where there have been more than a few comments by it's clan of old white men regarding her physical appearance. They leap to her defense, which I'm certain would not happen if she weren't a young attractive female, at least not to the degree that it is happening. There was even a comment thread about how some female atheists needed to be prettier, or post photos of themselves in a dress, etc and Harriet Hall thankfully responded to that with a sarcastic "Well of course, we women are all just interchangeable and so we should make sure we trade our olds in for a pretty one." (That is not an exact quote, but representative of the spirit of the comment.)

I mean no criticism against Britt as a person or even in her valuable role as a vocal critic of naturopathy. I went to one of those schools as well, for about a month. I can attest to their garbage education, questionable ethics, and toxic victim-blaming culture. I left for a variety of reasons, triggered by a massive health crash, interpersonal struggles with a relationship that had ended, and ultimately for financial reasons. I had determined that the program would not give me a good enough return on my investment. To spend over a quarter of a million dollars for an education that would only allow me to earn 40K a year with no alternative career paths available if the private practice didn't work out, it seemed too risky.

I wouldn't start to truly criticize pseudoscientific medicine for what it was until several years later. That story is too long to tell here because it would be a diversion from why I'm writing this to begin with. I probably wrote about it somewhere, but I can't remember where at the moment.

I've been fighting tooth and nail to become a scientist. My first interest in science was in high school. In college I quickly became bored in my psychology courses and changed my major to biology. I've always wanted to understand the world for what it was so my ultimate arrival to this stage of my life is not surprising. After wasting a decade on pseudoscience and difficult health problems, finally, in my late 30s, I am pursuing a PhD. After at least three false starts, I was admitted to a major state school with full funding plus a fellowship.

The other night I was on a comment thread about Britt's pursuit of a graduate degree in Kiel, Germany. Most people seem to think she went there because of debt and because her husband lives there. This may be true. What puzzles me is how Science Based Medicine commenters are unaware of how American graduate schools in science typically provide a stipend and a tuition waiver so students don't typically have to take out loans for MS or PhD degrees. I do agree that it is more difficult to find external fellowships for Masters-only students. However, I have worked and attended at least 5 different universities (because my life has been a mess) and every graduate student (Masters and PhD) had a stipend and a tuition waiver or they wouldn't be there. Nobody should pay out of pocket for a science graduate degree unless it is a professional degree and not a research-based one. From my understanding, Britt is pursuing a research based grad degree. One of her old white man fawners leaped to her defense saying that only those deemed "worthy" would get a tuition waiver and that I was a "silly person" for suggesting this. But he is a silly person for being active in a science based medicine community and not understanding how grad school works.

So she isn't likely in Germany due to the debt. She could have gone to grad school in this country for free. My suspicion is that she wasn't competitive enough for an American graduate program due to having a bogus ND degree. (Europeans are much more accepting of woo.) It was probably a red flag to admissions committees in the US. I don't agree with that approach necessarily, as I am sure there are many people with strange backgrounds who can become competent scientists. However, admissions committees constantly struggle with ways to prune applications down to those most likely to succeed and so these are some criteria they use.

I think this tendency to paint Britt as a poor victim of the system and more brilliant than she really is has been summarized very well in the South Park episode "Bebe's Boobs." Bebe started growing boobs and suddenly every boy wanted to be her friend, thought she was funny and smart, and leaped to her defense at any hint of a slight. If she was fat and ugly, I guarantee you her blog would not have taken off. People would not be sending her donations for her legal defense, at least not with the organization that they have. She would not be writing for major publications. She would not be interviewed on radio shows or invited to speak at conferences. That picture of her in the low cut dress was very strategic - if it wasn't intentional, then I'd be surprised.

My question is - what is Britt's research? Why isn't she being invited to speak about that? You'd think when you quit ND school that you'd want to leave that behind at some point and start contributing to the scientific community. The main reason I am ditching atheism at this point is that I no longer want to waste my time pandering to a community who doesn't want me. I don't fit in to their mold of the token female atheist. I actually would rather be known for my actual scientific contributions rather than simply being an ex-whatever. Britt won't be famous for her research so she is going to be famous as being an ex-naturopath. Seth Andrews won't be famous for making great videos and for broadcasting in mainstream radio so he's famous for being an ex-Christian. This is an unfortunate side effect of leaving an all-encompassing cult - you emerge into the world with no real skills so you have to stake your claim using what you aren't rather than what you are.

I used to think that recovering from my disease would be my ticket to relevance. I thought I'd be on talk shows and write books. I thought I'd get healthy and then make a career out of being someone who used to be sick but isn't anymore. But now, I'd much rather just be an atheist and a skeptic on the inside and then go contribute to a community that actually DOES something. I don't have to wear my atheist T-shirt and go to atheist conferences. I will go to conferences in my actual field of study and make a real contribution to human knowledge.

So fuck off atheist/skeptic community. Enjoy stroking each other's egos. While you're doing that, I'm going to go be a scientist and actually do something real. I suggest that other rejected atheists do the same and forget about being part of the clique.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Shitty Dream About What it's Like to Have a "Big Story"

The Dream

I was accepted to a chemistry program, but in weird dream style, I had to live in a dorm, even though I was a graduate student and for some reason 10 years older than everyone else there. Living was communal, and there were no private bathrooms. In fact, everyone just had to use toilets out in the open, in random rooms, and there were none available behind a wall anywhere unless I wanted to pay for a hotel room daily that I could go use by myself. I did not have the money for that and remembered becoming extremely distressed about not having access to a clean toilet behind a wall where no one could see or hear me.

In the dream, I was me. Meaning, I had my J-pouch in the dream and my usual bathroom-usage habits were on par with reality. I have to poop about 8 times a day. This is normal and it's a real pain to try to explain to people, even medical professionals who don't know what a J pouch is or are not familiar with what defines normal pouch behavior. So, in this dream-based dormitory with no private toilets, I found myself often kinda just biting the bullet and sitting on the toilet in front of people and being as "whatever" about it as humanly possible. Other people had to use the toilet, too so we all got used to it. (For some reason, I never saw anyone else use the toilet, and none of them seemed the least bit bothered by the lack of privacy...more on this later.)

It quickly became apparent to my dream-classmates that I used the toilet way more often than everybody else. Like, 4-8 times as often. It got to the point where I became pretty uncomfortable every single time I had to go, because it wasn't like I could hold it indefinitely and I couldn't afford to rent a hotel room everyday for the duration of my program just to poop. So I just kept dealing with it, and kept dealing with being stared at and possibly gossiped about.

At this point, I was faced with two choices. Either I could continue doing my business as usual, pretending it was no big deal, give private one-on-one explanations to specific friends about why I was using the bathroom so much, or just make a big announcement in a crowded room and be really frank about what was going on. Or, I suppose I could have shelled out dream-money for a hotel. But whatever.

The Metaphor

Obviously, this is a totally unrealistic scenario that would never happen. But it's an interesting metaphor for what it is like to be someone with a Big Story. A Big Story is something my husband read about somewhere. It means that you have a significant and unique narrative that contributed in a very large way to who you are today and why your life is the way it is. Not everyone has a Big Story. People with Big Stories are not necessarily better or have more depth of personality or are more enlightened than those who don't. They can be, but it is not a rule automatically. I know some amazing people who have lead very uneventful lives and are quite happy about it.

But, having a Big Story can be a real challenge. You know that no matter how much you overcome in your life, how "cool" you learn to be, how well developed your social skills or "game" are, how healthy or successful you get, you will always be just a little different. You can become really really skillful at playing the part of the Normal Person, but you will never really BE normal. There's something atypical that begs explanation and the strength of that pull can be weak or strong depending on the situation you are in. In my dream, I pooped 8 times a day and everyone knew. Should I explain it? Should I not? I can't make it "not a thing"  because, well, it is a thing. I have a J-pouch and I have accepted that reality. I can't change that fact just to fit in, so I am faced with deciding how much attention to draw to it.

Some people think this is an easy decision to make. What is your answer? I've heard a few.

"You do you. Who care what people think?"

"Downplay it as much as possible, and don't make such a big deal out of it. Then, nobody else will either."

"Ew, gross. Keep it to yourself. Don't wanna know."

These are reasonable suggestions, and can work some of the time. Other times, like in the dream, you can't really avoid confronting it on some level. Sometimes, people were hanging out in the living room and I had to use the toilet. I couldn't wait. Four times a day during the day time. There would be excruciating pain if I did wait. Over time, I could actually damage the pouch that way, and perhaps end up needing it surgically removed. I could just "do me" and "not care what people think" ... or I could mess up their living room gathering. I could "not make a big deal out of it" but the reality would's kind of a big deal to be shitting in the middle of the living room and it's kind of a big deal to NOT do it because ... pain.

Remember when I said this?

"(For some reason, I never saw anyone else use the toilet, and none of them seemed the least bit bothered by the lack of privacy...more on this later.)"

Well, it's later. What this motif says to me is that it often seems to me like everyone else has it easier. This is probably untrue. So why should they assume that I'm a freak? That's also untrue. We are complex. However, when you don't have a Big Story - life probably seems pretty straightforward in a lot of ways. Most people (by definition - you are "most people" if you are in the big fat normal hump of the bell curve) don't have to face the inconvenience of being a little odd. If you're a round peg in a round hole, i.e. a person with a healthy colon, you wouldn't notice how annoying it is to poop in public. Maybe you only poop once a day or once every two days so you can just wait until everyone is asleep. The world is built for the middle of the bell curve, and reasonably so. There are way more of them than anyone else.

But if you're a square peg in a round hole, life is a little bit more abrasive. It pokes you in weird places and you can never quite get comfortable so you just deal. You never get to feel fully "in flow" and never quite settled. You also have to keep "biting the bullet" so to speak, just to keep on living.

This is my life. This is the life of may of us freaks and weirdos. We are used to being uncomfortable.

Now let's look at a real life scenario.

My mother in law did not understand my health issues. She thought that ulcerative colitis was like irritable bowel syndrome and that it wasn't "that bad." She didn't understand why I had surgery for it and gave the impression that she thought surgery was overly dramatic. My husband and I both tried to explain the difference to her, but she seemed convinced that it was all in my head.

One Christmas, we went to her house to celebrate. She noticed that I was using the bathroom a lot, and turned to my husband while I was out of the room and asked, "Wasn't the surgery supposed to take care of that?"

We tried to explain that, well, no. The surgery was supposed to remove the target of the autoimmune reaction (the colon) so that I could live without bleeding out and being unable to get out of bed or eat. The pouch relieved me of all of that, but in turn I'd just have to go to the bathroom more often because the pouch is much smaller than a colon.

She seemed unconvinced. She also thought that I went through a lot of toilet paper because I was crazy and had a "psychosomatic" fixation. Once, there was a teeny tiny brown stain on the toilet once while I was staying there and she freaked out about it. God forbid the toilet wasn't pristine and shiny white lest the neighbors find out. I cleaned the toilet for her furiously after that, and checked it after each use, just to avoid confrontation or imperfection. I felt like a disgusting freak.

In the end, I couldn't help it. She left me literally no option to appear normal enough to deserve her respect. She even bought the "cheap toilet paper" for me to use when I came so I wouldn't waste her expensive stuff. Ingroup and outgroup toilet paper? Now I've really seen it all.

The Message

When a person appears "different," it seems like humans naturally want to quarantine or ostracize that person on some level. It happens at all ages and in all walks of life - from preschool to the nursing home, on dirt floors and in swanky Hollywood parties. Maybe the treatment involves passive avoidance, snickering, pointing, gossiping, or all-out ridicule. Regardless, it becomes evident by the crowd dynamics that this person is not part of the in-group.

Why do we do this to each other? Seriously, just stop it. Why add insult to injury by acting like a bunch of animals and hissing at the newcomer who appears slightly off from our expectations? We are smarter than this.

Maybe if we were a family group of wild animals that, for survival reasons, had to leave the weakest behind, this would make sense. But for all of the whining we do about how cold cruel biology enthusiasts like me don't treat humans as though they are unique and special, you'd think those same humans could then try a little harder to be unique and special. Set yourselves apart from the other apes, god damn it.

I have a J-pouch. I will happily be myself and accept reality but that gets pretty difficult and miserable when other people don't also accept it. And this goes for any other personal flaw someone may have. Maybe someone is socially awkward and can't talk to girls. It doesn't mean they are gross or creepy and undeserving of love. Maybe they have an addiction that requires them to stay away from bars or parties. That doesn't mean they are boring or on some moral high horse.

We all have things we carry with us in this life, and while everybody likes to talk about being non-judgmental and tolerant, I really think it's worth taking a second look at how base and animalistic we can all be when faced with things that we don't understand.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Are We Supposed to Think and Feel Right Now?

This is the question I keep asking myself over and over. Along with these other questions...

Is the world getting worse? Or has it always been this violent? Has it actually been even more violent than this? Have human beings always had this tendency to want to kill others who disagree with them? There are many examples from history where this has been the case. There are also many examples of how the world is getting better.

I guess the answer is that the world is getting both better and worse. Better for some, worse for others. The meat of the matter is that it depends. There's no absolute measure of worseness.

So, now that I can't necessarily lament the fact that the world at large is getting worse, but I've got all these pesky emotions building up anyway, where do I put them? I am an extremely emotionally sensitive person and find that awareness of the atrocities around the globe doesn't do much but make me upset about things I can't change. And believe me, I have tried on several occasions to make sexism, racism, or fundamentalism my personal cause to fight for, at least within my range of influence. I've tried a gentle approach and an asshole approach. I've tried it through teaching and through interacting with friends. I've made memes and written songs. I've participated in a research project and read books to educate myself. But, the solutions only go as far as the individual implementing them most of the time. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. Also, I am limited in my ability to make an impact for a lot of other reasons.

ISIS/Daesh/The Terrorists have incredible power right now, which they have taken without asking. They have the power to end the lives of those who disagree with their beliefs, simply because they have weapons and the zeal and means to use them. The terrifying reality is that you, as an individual or a nation, can stand up for free speech, critical thinking, gender equality, and religious tolerance all you want, but at the end of the day the guys with the guns win because they can kill you. They can hurt your loved ones to the extent that their lives will be forever ruined and they can end your existence. You can't fight for those causes anymore if you are dead. They win by default.

The reality of this is, while the power to wield weapons should only be in the hands of those with solid ethics, morals, and perspective, this is not the case in practice. It is hard to decide whose ethics, morals, and perspective are the correct ones. It's even harder, or perhaps impossible, to decide if there is a single correct way to approach these things that can be used as a basis for weapons control. It is likely that there is not. We can't even get all Earthlings to agree that disagreement or difference is not an acceptable reason to kill someone. Some subset will always think it is, and an even smaller subset will carry it out. We can try our best to subdue their efforts, but that subset could eventually accumulate enough power that they are no longer small, and the whole process will begin again.

It seems like everyone around me has figured out where they stand on this issue except for me. My husband has decided that free speech is more important to him than human life, and would therefore sacrifice himself for the right to free speech if it came to that. I suspect many of those in the military feel this way about freedom and democracy.

Perhaps I value individual lives above all, or perhaps if I were to dig deeper I'd find that such a view is impractical. All I know is that when I try to comprehend the gravity of the issue on any level, my brain enters a shutdown sequence. I simply do not want to make the decision, hypothetical or not. I want to stick my head in the sand and pretend it is not a thing. The thought of sacrificing a life for any reason is too hard for me to imagine because I immediately put myself in the other person's head. I imagine the pain and finality of death, the trauma to the survivors who aren't ready for eternal separation, the memories of their loved on suffering, the thought of a living, breathing, complex life form eventually becoming dirt. It's too much.

Somehow, I make the exception for food animals. I make the exception for plants as well as the spiders that I kill when they get into my house. I do seem to understand that death is an inevitable part of life. Maybe I will just circle around and around this issue until I burn myself out and just accept it.

But, if I accept it, does that mean it's okay for religious fundamentalists to kill people because they interpret their religious texts in such a way that makes it an imperative? Freedom of religion seems fine to me as long as the religion itself doesn't contradict said freedom. This seems like a "could God make a burrito too spicy for Him to eat?" question. True freedom of religion is basically impossible, then. Believing you have the one right answer kind of kills the whole idea.

I don't actually feel like there is much hope. The planet is on a doomsday course. I can't imagine what the solution might be to any of what's been going on. People are upset that more attention isn't being paid to other countries where genocides and terrorist attacks have taken place, obsessing instead over Paris because it's a tourist area in a Westernized country full of affluent white people. This is a fair point, but it is not the argument to be having. Tragedy is in every corner of the world. The fact that it's happening it all is unfathomable to me, but it is. I'm an idealistic little child I guess.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Shut Up and Take Notes

So, today I think I realized why my professors used to shut me down when I'd disagree with them based on crap I read online.

When you read anti-establishment pieces that draw conclusions that differ from that of academic consensus, you are usually reading work that is (generally speaking) of lower quality and rigor compared to what your professor reads and studies. They are there to teach you concepts that are based on the best available evidence and combined knowledge of experts studying their fields deeply. When you read something on a blog that sounds reasonable or resonates with you in some way, that does not mean your teacher owes you a lengthy explanation for each and every one of those claims.
Why not? It's not because they are dogmatic and fear competing viewpoints. In fact, competing viewpoints are a point.

I'm the teacher now, and I sometimes need to shut students down who are disrupting my lesson, which is on a time limit. I worked hard to get to be the person teaching them, and I need to do my job. There's material that is based on hard reality that needs to be taught. I want to spend that time helping them understand it so they can do well at their jobs. The hours and hours of my time consumed by debunking bad science and flawed reasoning is frankly exhausting and detracts from my ability to teach you what you really need to know.

I'd personally rather focus on deepening my understanding of reality than broadening my understanding of false claims and how to correct misunderstandings. The sheer volume of falsehoods far outpaces my ability to understand the basis behind them. I don't mind doing that sometimes, but it can't be my entire job. It easily could end up that way if I let myself, but that would make me a bad teacher. It wouldn't be Sustainability and Society anymore. It would be Debunking The Crap You Read On The Internet 101. 

Yeah, I know I'm not a PhD or an actual scientist, and I know it's "just" a community college and maybe this sounds like I'm on some kind of high horse. But if I stand up there apologizing for only having a bachelor's degree, we all lose. I spend many many unpaid hours teaching myself really difficult things so I don't mislead students. Sometimes I'm in over my head, and sometimes I feel like I actually know something. I'm learning, too. We all are.

Conspiracy theorists and naturalistic thinkers don't understand what scientific consensus means. There's this tendency on the fringe of anything to say that consensus is the death of science.
I think when people say this they are mistaking consensus with groupthink. They are not the same thing at all. Not even close.

Consensus is when an agreement is reached through an exchange of quality information where the most reasonable conclusion is chosen as the basis for whatever decisions that conclusion needs to inform. Groupthink is when there are one or a few charismatic leaders and everyone simply decides to agree with them without discussion or debate. Groupthink would be the death of science. Not consensus.

I really don't mind "going there" with all kinds of controversial issues in class. It's very gratifying to get people engaged and learning about things that interest them. Sometimes, it can be really fun to figure out something complicated and confusing. But I seriously don't know enough to address most of the stuff people read about. I know a little bit about a lot of things and a little more than a little bit about a few other things. That's it. I make sure to consult experts and use textbooks and research to inform what I teach and when I don't understand a conclusion, a method, or a result, I ask someone who does. I try to be responsible knowing that I'm not an actual scientist, but someone is still paying me to teach and seems to believe I know enough to do it.

That's all, really. Your professors are people, too. Most of them really do have society's best interest in mind and aren't trying to squelch alternative viewpoints. I promise.

8 ACTUAL Reasons not to visit a chiropractor

 I saw this go by on my Facebook news feed today and decided to give up valuable time at work making spreadsheets to post a rebuttal.

Here's the original:

1.) You don’t have a spine. If you’re born sans spine, there’s really no need to worry about spinal degeneration, is there?
There is a reason to worry about spinal degeneration if there is spinal degeneration risk. But what is “spinal degeneration”? Vague.
2.) If you can’t see it, it must be fine. Skin, eyes, hair, teeth… These front-facing body parts are important because other people can see them. If a healthy spine was really that important, it wouldn’t be in the back.
No one actually believes this. This is just patronizing.
3.) You love taking medication. Taking risks makes life more enjoyable! Dizziness, headaches, dry mouth, constipation, seizures, cancer, death… What’s not to like about side effects?
I do love taking medication. It makes me able to function in the world and enjoy my life. Dizziness, headaches, dry mouth, constipation, seizures, cancer, and death are not universal side effects of all drugs. Of course those things suck. When we take medication we do cost benefit analyses. Life is full of difficult trade-offs and no effective treatment has zero side effects. Chiropractors and other naturalistic folks love to talk about how “everything is connected.” Everything IS, in fact, connected! Thus, there’s a high likelihood that the reason “natural products” have no side effects is because they have no ACTUAL effects, either.
4.) Your insurance doesn’t pay for it. Money is for important stuff like Netflix, cigarettes, and gambling. If your insurance plan doesn’t cover it, maybe chiropractic care just isn’t necessary?
Right, because those are the only two choices. Netflix, cigarettes, and gambling and bad health….or seeing a chiropractor and having perfect health? How about I don’t spend my money on Netflix, cigarettes, gambling, OR chiropractors and I spend my money on stuff that helps me and actually works? Aside from that, what’s wrong with Netflix? What is it about the naturalistic crowd that gets so jolly over deprivation of fun? Very Puritanical if you ask me. And about the insurance thing -- Insurance companies have a lot of problems, but some insurance does cover chiropractic. Some companies don’t. Medical care is expensive whether it’s bunk or not and it’s nice when insurance covers it if you are already paying a premium anyway. Lastly, sometimes the reason insurance doesn’t cover certain treatments is because they aren’t worth the risk to the company. And why might that be? One reason is that if chiro isn’t that effective, people will still need coverage for something that is.
5.) They don’t prescribe drugs. Why would you want to go to a doctor who doesn’t think you need another prescription? (See #3.) 
I prefer practitioners that use effective medicine. “Drugs” are not a single category. Simply not prescribing “drugs” means nothing to me, other than I will have limited options to try things that might help my condition.
6.) They think lifestyle “stress” can make you sick. Apparently they’re not aware of bad genes. Everybody knows you only get sick because certain diseases just run in the family.
Health issues do have genetic factors that you can’t ignore. “Everybody knows you ONLY get stick because certain diseases run in the family” is idiotic. Just because stress affects health doesn’t mean that genes don’t. You don’t ONLY get sick because of genes.
The place this really comes from is the naturalistic practitioner’s desire to victim-blame -- blaming someone for their illness because they aren’t relaxed or mindful enough, eating the “wrong” foods, sleeping poorly, not thinking the right thoughts, and so on. This is extremely psychologically damaging in the event that the patient changes these things and their condition does not improve. (And yes, this happens, and no it doesn’t have to do with “not following the treatment religiously enough.”)
7.) They expect you to do stuff at home. They want you to make time for rest, exercise, and stretching. On top of that, they think you should change your diet. Evidently they don’t understand how busy you are.
This statement is just another implication that poor health is due to carelessness and laziness. This is absurdly oversimplified. Of course, people get busy and neglect their health, but what does this specifically have to do with chiropractic? Rest, exercise, and stretching are not alternative or specific to chiropractic care. They are useful practices that can be beneficial when applied to appropriate problems, and I’d be hard pressed to find a health professional who, when asked, doesn’t agree that people should do those things.

Also, health care is not this simple, even though untrained ideological practitioners would love to believe it is. Rest, exercise, and stretching help if you are sleep deprived, out of shape, tense, or have poor flexibility. Maybe it will help you deal with a bacterial infection if you are also using the appropriate antibiotics. Maybe it will help you ride out a virus if it’s not too serious to require hospitalization.

BUT rest, exercise, and stretching won’t cure an autoimmune disease or a cancer. Maybe they’ll help a little with subjective symptoms like improved mood and decreased sensitivity to pain, but that’s it. And don’t even get me started on diet. You don’t want that can of worms opened, trust me. There are definitely healthy and unhealthy eating habits, but sometimes food is just food!
8.) Besides, you’re impervious to mistakes. You eat just fine, and there’s nothing wrong with the way you’re living. Even if your “habits” are making you gain weight and age prematurely, that’s none of the doctor’s business! Their job is to get you out of pain so you can get back to doing the things that brought you there in the first place.
Also, another insulting assumption that people have poor health because of laziness and carelessness. This just adds the element of hubris and stubbornness to the pile of accusations. If there’s ACTUALLY something wrong with the way I am eating and living, I am more than happy to change it. However, if focusing on lifestyle changes causes me more problems than benefits (i.e. no measurable improvement of symptoms and prognosis, but a heaping helping of disordered eating and self-flagellation), then NO THANKS.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We Raise Our Girls Wrong

I'm coming in from working outside in the yard to post this because I'm on Wellbutrin and I think it's making me irritable. Therefore, little things are setting me off. They are setting off this cascade of philosophically motivated rage that is making me think about things again. And we all know what happens when I start to think about things.

A popular phrase in pop psychology is that "We Raise our Boys/Sons Wrong." I think the same goes for girls.

I am sure this perspective I have is at least somewhat colored by anxiety, but being a woman is frustrating. I am not strong. I can't do simple things without breaking a sweat and getting super frustrated. I really just wanted to wind the hose around the spool and it kept getting caught on plants and the house and fucking gravity. (What is that hose-winding thing actually called? Another reason being a woman sucks! We never know the names for tools!) We also raise girls not to show anger, for fear of being called crazy or dramatic. So, I'm not strong and I don't know the names for tools and I'm angry about it and I can't express it so then I just sit silently stewing, dreaming of punching things and faces until they bleed.

Anger sucks but as a woman I find it oddly empowering. And, don't get me wrong, I HATE the word "empowering" because usually, in the context where it is being used, it is selling makeup or shoes or other stupid ideas that people think women think about that are decidedly NOT empowering. I like shoes, but I don't find them empowering. I find them to be shoes.

Anyway, I digress. I like being angry. It makes me feel strong. It makes up for the fact that I'm not physically strong. We should raise our girls to show anger and raise boys to accept that girls get angry.

Also, we should allow girls to develop their spacial reasoning skills in childhood with building-related toys. Spatial ability is the capacity to understand and remember the relationship of objects in three dimensional space. There are almost no women in engineering and construction. Myriad excuses are made. Women are not strong enough, women are not interested in engineering and construction, women aren't made to feel welcome by the men who get territorial about their circles, etc. Maybe each of these things are true some of the time. It is physiologically true that women have a harder time building muscle because our stupid bodies are designed to be fat, squishy baby incubators rather than agents of action. But what if I want to be an agent of action?

I have very poor confidence when it comes to spacial reasoning activities. But, the problem is not with my spacial reasoning ABILITIES. I insist that organic chemistry, for example, employs strong spacial reasoning skills because remembering the positions of bonds and atoms in three dimensional space will make or break your ability to conquer the subject. I'm also very good at sewing, which requires an ability to visualize how to attach seams inside out but imagine what the final product will look like when you flip it right-side-out. However, sewing and more recently, chemistry, are things society has come to accept that women should be able to do. We as a society don't have problems visualizing women doing these things, and then neither do women.

But, when it comes to things like yard work, hanging shelves, car repairs, electrical work, construction projects, and the like, my confidence goes away. I go into an utter panic, especially if there is a guy watching me do the task. My husband was watching me put up shelves in a closet the other day and he seemed genuinely nervous watching me do it. Perhaps he was thinking of my anxiety, not of my ability. He knows how easily frustrated I get. This time, I actually told him (lightheartedly of course) to "go away now" because I would not able to accomplish the job if he's watching. He went off to take a shower, and the shelves went up with no issues.

I never remember the names of tools at work. (I work in an engineering and renewable energy department at a college.) But sometimes, I think I DO remember them just fine, but get freaked out hearing myself say the words. I feel an odd mixture of embarrassment and remorse -- embarrassment for how funny it sounds when a girl says "Hand me the channel lock pliers." and remorse for intruding on Guy Tool Land. None of these emotions are justified or appropriate for the situation. My coworkers like me and saying the names of tools is sort of required in a lab. However, I have to actively work against the urge to say "Hand me that wrench looking thing."

I am hesitant to do anything involving tools and construction. However, I have somewhat more confidence when it comes to setting up computers, though, and I do believe it was because I was allowed to mess with that stuff as a kid. My brother wasn't interested, and my engineer dad was happy that at least one of his kids wanted to tinker with shit. Soon, I was the person in my family that was called upon to fix the computers and the printers and the internet. My brother ended up just buying into the infinite and exclusive web of Apple products and bypassed the need to understand computers entirely.

I played with Legos for a short time, and Kinex, and those super cool rubber race track things that you can extend infinitely and send Matchbox cars sailing around the living room. (Weren't 80s kids toys the best???!!) But, they weren't the centerpiece. I was given TONS of Barbie dolls as birthday gifts. I sort of passively liked them and sometimes got my mom to buy me one or two. I really went for the art supplies. I do feel like art supplies are just the gateway drug to building supplies. If I ever went to art school, I'd be a sculptor. My mother handed down to me her love of power tools and woodworking. Her father was a carpenter and my mom DID go to art school and took lots of sculpture courses. She is the person in my family who always did the yard work.

I had some modeling as a kid that I think makes it possible for me to engage with engineers at my job now. However, I still feel nervous when I have to do traditional construction tasks or arrange large objects to do a particular job. I draw a complete blank when I have to figure out what goes where and how things are arranged to accomplish a task. Unless I'm by myself. Then, I piss and moan and figure it out. This is one very significant benefit to being a single woman if you are a heterosexual. The man in your life will interfere with your ability to figure these things out on your own because his tendency is to say, "Here, let me do that."

So dads, grandfathers, brothers, husbands, and friends -- when you see a woman struggling with a tool or a heavy object or a machine (unless she is literally about to be injured and it's the same kind of assistance you would give a man in the same situation) RESIST THE URGE TO INTERVENE. Remember, she likely did not get to make the mistakes you made as a child when playing with tools, blocks, model cars, and remote control helicopters. She is going to have to make them now in order to develop the confidence.

This translates to female children. Any time an adult says to a girl, "Here, let me do that." you are telling her that she is not capable of doing it. She grows up learning to step back and let someone else do it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Radically Honest Cover Letter

Dear Potential Employers,

Someone give me a job. I'm not kidding. You won't regret it, and I'm not blowing smoke up your ass. I am one of those rare employees that actually cares about doing a good job and craves a role in the big picture. I can do a lot of things and am an expert at navigating steep learning curves. Most of all, I actually want to make your organization better. I don't waste time on platitudes, schmoozing, and small talk. I believe in efficient action that has a large impact relative to the effort invested.

Why have I resorted to begging? The fact of the matter is, I don't think I look great on paper. I've wrestled with this for years, trying to figure out why. There are a few explanations I've come up with, which may all play a part. There may be other things I haven't thought of. 
  1. I actually am not qualified to do the things I think I can do. It's possible that I am as naive as any other 30-something about industries I've never worked in. However, I am usually pretty humble and am prone to Imposter Syndrome, so the likelihood that I'll oversell myself on a job application is slim to none. In fact, I have to force myself to remember all of the things I've done that I take for granted or forget about because I've done so many things just for fun that I don't think to include them on a resume. Does "obsessing over Photoshop and making websites about every weird idea I ever had when I was a teenager" or "organizing everything and constantly imagining better systems?" or "giving a shit about making the world better" count as volunteer experience? Work history? Relevant skills? How does one convey this on a resume when it is really more like a personality trait than "experience?"
  2. I say I've done a lot of things, and nobody believes me. I never considered that this might be a factor until recently. The idea was planted in my mind by a friend who suffered from a similar challenge while job hunting. She is very efficient, organized, and works fast, so she can get a lot done in a day. When she described herself in her cover letter, most people think she is full of shit because they believe there is no way a single person could be that productive. Well, she is. And so am I. I really actually have done freelance writing, web design, graphic design, basic computer networking, biology research (in three different fields), teaching, nutrition counseling, and science outreach. I really do know how to use many well known commercial office software packages. I can also teach myself software. The reason for this is that I did not have a lot of friends growing up and as a young adult suffered from a chronic illness that had me home bound and unemployed. During that time, instead of rolling over and giving up like a great many sick people, I got inventive. I thought of my own side projects and went after them. I made websites for fun. I taught myself how to use audio visual equipment. I blogged. I wrote a book about my life. I freelanced for an internet content mill. I designed educational displays for a university. When I did have a job, I worked and worked until my body physically prevented me from doing so. Also, I'm not stupid. Being isolated as a child provided me many opportunities to learn how to teach myself things.
  3. My resume is disjointed because I've had too many jobs and my college degree is too specialized. People on a more general, homogeneous, and rapid trajectory appear more qualified on paper because they simply appear more focused. It takes a special, aware human resources specialist or manager reviewing applications to identify my strengths. The person reading the application has to be aware that "interdisciplinary" is a thing, and that it's good. I fear that many other people with my type of resume are in that position because they are flakes and can't hold down a job. I am not a flake. I've had a lot of jobs because I am interested in everything and have the capacity to learn many things quickly. I also have had too many jobs because in my 20s, my health continued to pull me out of the workforce just as things were starting to pick up speed. Also, my college degree is in nutrition, which locks me out of jobs that require a biology or chemistry degree, despite the fact that I have actual molecular biology research experience. But, my work experience blocks me out of nutrition jobs since I have no nutrition experience and I am not a Registered Dietitian
  4. The number of years of experience I have in any one field is not enough to push me to the top of any list. I have no illusions of grandeur about my work experience. I am only 34, and to have done as many things as I have, mathematically, it's not possible for me to have done any one thing for very long. I can say I have 10 years of experience doing 10 different things, but that won't compare to someone with 10 years of experience doing one thing.
Here's the thing. I understand that as an employer, it's really hard to predict what candidates are going to be like as employees, even with a cover letter, a resume, a portfolio, and references. For every applicant like me, there are ten others who are going to be a disappointment. Some people are far better at selling themselves than they are performing their actual jobs. I envy this skill.

I also realize that part of my issue (part of anyone's issue, really) is that I can't predict the future. If I choose to follow one particular path, an opportunity in the OTHER path that I DIDN'T take will fall into my lap and I won't be competitive. This is not paranoia or negativity -- this has happened to me a few times already. 

In an effort to combat what amounts to a problem of timing, similar to what happens when two people keep changing locations slightly when trying to meet up for lunch and miss each other, I've decided to stay where I've landed. I've made a conscious decision to choose science education and communication as my path, despite temptations to search for contract lab jobs that I won't get because I haven't been doing that for the last year and a half. I have to commit. That's the first step I'm taking to make myself more appealing to you, the employer.

Also, a very important thing I've come to accept about myself is that I am super weird. I have a personality, look, manner of speech, and worldview that is very uncommon but hard to describe. I'm suspicious that people I meet judge me based on that, without even knowing what "it" is. My husband and I call it "That Thing."

Give "That Thing" a chance. Like I said, you won't regret it.


One Brain Chattering