Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Turkey or Ham for Thanksgiving?

Mara here:

So yesterday was Thanksgiving.

I actually visited my parents for a couple of days and then my daughter and I flew home early Thanksgiving morning to spend the rest of the day with my husband. In a moment of madness a month ago, I thought that catching a 6:30 a.m. flight was a smart thing to do. We'd get home early and there would be a much smaller likelihood of getting delayed.

However, faced with the actual prospect of having to deal with my teenager at 5:00 a.m. to get her to the airport made me rethink that decision.

Let's just focus on the good things.

Turkey. I love turkey. I love the turkey wings. I love the whole idea of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I even love the turkey leftovers. I think to myself every year that I might make turkey soup. It hasn't happened yet, but it might.

So it was very confusing to me when I married my husband and he asked me if we were going to have turkey or ham on Thanksgiving.

Um, what?

I had never heard of not eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I didn't even know that was an option. If you have ham there's no carving of the turkey. There's no wishbone. There's no turkey sandwiches.

How can there be no turkey?

Apparently, lots of people prefer other meats to turkey at Thanksgiving. I am suspicious of these people, but they do exist.

My husband loves ham. It's not that he minds having turkey. He likes turkey. But given the choice, he'd probably pick ham over turkey. And I'd probably agree with him on every other day of the year...but not on Thanksgiving.

Here's a funny story about when we were living in London. One of our local friends very kindly hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us. It was surprisingly strange to be living somewhere where Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated.

So we arrived at our friend's house and one of the dishes served was a root vegetable medley. He wanted to know if that was a common dish because he had looked up "American Thanksgiving Meal" and that's what had popped up. We sheepishly admitted that "No, we don't usually eat root vegetables on Thanksgiving." I can only guess that he was looking at Martha Stewart's menu for a colonial American meal. The dish was delicious and it was such a sweet gesture. We were so thankful for his friendship.

This year we made a turkey because, although I no longer insist there be turkey, I prefer it. It always gets my vote.

So what about you? Do you prefer turkey, ham or something else for Thanksgiving?

My mom and I are so thankful to everyone who takes the time to spend a few moments reading our blog. We hope everyone had a wonderful day!!




Sunday, November 19, 2017

Coming Thursday: Stuff Your Face Day and Think Thankful Thoughts!

Mara here.

Thanksgiving is almost here which means it's time to reflect on how grateful we are and be thankful for the bountiful gifts we have in our lives.

I'm kidding. Let's face it, it's about eating.

I'm mean, yes, it's a good time to remember to think thankful thoughts and project out there into the world that Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. But in the grubby real world (not the shiny Hallmark world) for those of us who are lucky to have close family and friends to spend the day with, the holiday is really about eating until we're so full we want to cry and then sleeping over the long weekend.

Don't yell at me and tell me that I'm wrong and you are proof that there are people who spend the day piously having thankful thoughts all day. I will concede there are some people who make that the focus of the day.

But I'm not one of them.

And the people I know who come close to putting a jubilant "Thanks" in Thanksgiving are pretty much like that every day. So it's just another regular day for them...with lots of food.

But I'm not completely hard-hearted to the sentiment of having a day of thanks.

The other day while I was doing dishes, Malia (my daughter) was asking me about my relationship with Brad. (For new readers, that's my husband and her father.) Because, while Brad and I have many faults, being outwardly appreciative of our marriage and each other is not one of them. We are grateful for each other.

So she was asking me if we had the same relationship now as we did when she was younger. She wanted to know if we had always been so happy together.

And I had to think about it. My initial instinct was to say, "of course." But if I am being honest, that's not true.

Malia was born when I was 27. Looking back I cringe at how young I was. But at the time, I felt very adult. I didn't realize how much life changes—constantly. I thought, "Well, here I am. I'm an adult and this is just how it's going to be for the next few decades until I'm 'old'."

Hahaha. I want to pat that 27-year-old me on the head because life has changed dramatically since then.

And one of the biggest changes is my ability to recognize how important gratitude is and to actively be thankful for all everything and everyone who makes my life what it is.

That twenty-seven year-old me was a bit too hung up on wanting more instead of being thankful for what I had. And while I was always very happy with Brad, the younger me didn't appreciate him as much as I appreciate him now. And the 30 to 40-year-old me wasn't as thankful as I am now for all the amazing things that have happened in our family. 

The forty-three year-old me of today is thankful all time in my own kind of sarcastic way. I mean there's still stuff I want. And I get irritated all the time. But I no longer believe that my happiness is dependent on things that may or may not happen in the future. I don't assume having something or getting something will make me happy. And that has been a huge change for me in my life. 

And for that I am truly thankful.

Whatever it is that you are thankful for, I hope you have a wonderful holiday next week! I hope you get to eat lots of food! I hope you think about being thankful and what it means to you! (But mostly I hope you get to eat lots of food!)

For those of you who struggle during the holidays, we will be doing a blog post about that next week!

Here are two questions I asked my mom about being thankful and about celebrating Thanksgiving.

How do you maintain an attitude of thanks even when it's not Thanksgiving?

Before I start, I want to acknowledge that we have a lot of readers who don't live in the U.S. and so either don't have a Thanksgiving holiday or celebrate it on another date. (I lived in Canada for several years where Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October.) To all those readers, I hope you enjoy our reflections even if you don't have a big feast coming up on Thursday!

As to your question about maintaining an attitude of thanks, it can be hard, especially when this chronic illness limits what I can do so much. Just last weekend, as you know, your dad went down to Berkeley (a little more than an hour from where we live) and spent the evening with Malia and Brad and with your brother and his family. And where was I? At home in or on the bed as usual. 

Readers of my first book, How to Be Sickwill have followed my struggle to come to terms with missing out on so many of life's joys, such as last weekend's Berkeley gathering. I came to terms with it with the help of a lot of wisdom from the Buddha. (There are many wise teachers out there; he's just the one I drifted to.) With his help, I learned to accept my life as it is and to be grateful for what I do have (a supportive family, a roof over my head, food to eat, the ability to connect with others on the internet—to name a few). 

I've also learned how to keep from being resentful and envious when I can't do things. I practice what's known in Buddhism as muditawhich means empathetic joy, that is, feeling joyful when others are happy. I used this to help me handle missing out last weekend. I knew that everyone was having a good time, so I practiced feeling happy for them and feeling thankful that they could gather together even though I couldn't be there. When I'm able to tap into that joy and thankfulness, resentment and envy fade and I feel at peace with my life as it is. It's the life I've got; fighting it only makes me feel worse. Resentment and envy are formidable emotions, but the peace that comes from feeling happy for others and being thankful for what you do have is a good way to tame those critters.

We've never really had set traditions in our family for Thanksgiving. (I'm reminding you of the year dad decided to make a polenta pie thing instead of turkey ... I wasn't traumatized at all can you tell?) Did you have Thanksgiving traditions growing up?

Ha! I don't even remember that "polenta pie thing." Maybe the trauma it inflicted on the family made me forget! But you know your dad. He can be goofy and he likes to swim against the current, so I'm not surprised he did that. His heart is in the right place though.

As for when I was growing up, my family always ate the traditional Thanksgiving meal—turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce (which I've never liked), and pumpkin pie. All I remember is eating a lot!






Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Do You Survive the Flu?

Mara here.

I was sick last week. That's the main reason we only had one blog post, because normally I write the second post mid-week, but I just couldn't get my brain to work last week.

I'd been feeling run down for a while. I thought I was sick a few weeks ago, but never really got sick-sick. Then I thought I got better, but was still achy and  feeling run down. I wasn't sick enough to allow myself to be sick, but I was feeling unwell enough that I was taking Advil constantly and wondering if I was developing some other kind of weird chronic problem. Or I thought maybe it was just allergies.

And me, being me, I was suffering through my daily jogs. Sometimes I would have to walk because I felt so exhausted. And other times they felt okay, but the jogs felt harder than they seemed like they should.

Everything just felt hard.

But then I woke up last Wednesday and everything in my body ached. It felt as if I had run a marathon in my sleep. All my muscles ached. It hurt to move.

And I had to just recognize I was sick.

It's hard for me to allow myself to be sick if I don't have something I can label. If I get bronchitis—I'm sick. If I have a cold and can't breathe through my nose—I'm sick. If I have a high fever—I'm sick.

But just feeling achy? Just being exhausted? That doesn't seem "sick enough" to me most of the time.

But last week, I gave in. I was sick. I didn't have a fever or infection, it was just some strange virus. I basically had a generic flu. I was completely exhausted. I couldn't concentrate. Everything felt overwhelming. My whole body ached and no amount of Advil was relieving the discomfort.

So I gave into it. I didn't force myself to go on my normal jog, and I didn't sweep the house or do the dishes. I didn't write the blog.

And as is always the case when you're forced to step back from things, you realize that it's fine to be sick. The world doesn't fall apart and people don't really care if you can't do all the things you normally do.

So what did I do?

Malia and Brad went out of town, so I was on my own, which is ideal for me when I'm sick. I'm not a person who wants to be taken care of. I really just want to be left alone. When other people are around, I feel as if I should be doing things for them. But if I'm alone, I can sort of melt myself into bed and shut the world out.

So here's what I did. I got out my heating pad. I don't normally use one, but when I get sick it helps me with my aches and keeps me warm. So I turned it on and let the heat soothe me. I binge watched a 12 hour Australian baking competition show on Netflix called Zumbo's Just Desserts. I like watching cooking shows because I don't have to really concentrate much to follow along. And if I fall asleep and miss part of it, it's not a big deal. When the show was finished, I schlepped out of bed and took a shower, ate chicken soup and returned to bed. Then I watched a movie called Megan Leavy on Amazon.com (cried at the end and had to do some intense cuddling with my dog Pidu) and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up—still achy. So I watched the first three episodes of a series on Netflix called Alias Grace. I took a break at some point and ate some candy for breakfast. Then I took a long hot shower and took a nap. When I woke up, I watched the rest of Alias Grace. When that was finished, I ate some toast and more candy. I then watched Florence Jenkins Foster on Amazon.com. I was watching it on an iPhone, so I could wander around while I watched it. I watched it in bed, then I took it into the kitchen so I could eat some chicken soup and toast with jam. Then I crawled back into bed to finish it, but I fell asleep before it ended.

The following morning I woke up feeling better. I was still tired, but the intense aching was gone. I allowed myself a lazy morning. I went back and finished the last 15 minutes of Florence Jenkins Foster. When that was done I got up and took a shower and assessed how I was doing. I definitely felt better. Malia and Brad were due home that evening, so I cleaned up the house and did some laundry. I even managed to go to the grocery store and pick up some food to make for dinner.

I still felt a little tired, but I was definitely perkier than I had been in a while. The sick time I had allowed myself had paid off and I was feeling on the mend.

So that's how I survived the flu. It took me many years to figure out that when I get sick, I need to just allow myself to be sick. When I was younger, I would fight it until I pretty much collapsed or ended up with an infection that would necessitate a trip to the doctor. It was only if I had "permission" from a doctor that I would allow myself to be sick.

But now I don't want to push myself that hard anymore. I don't need to. (I never needed to.) I try to allow myself to be fallible. It's okay that sometimes I don't feel well, and it's okay that sometimes I need to take care of myself.

Toni here. I enjoyed reading about how Mara handles an acute illness since I've been chronically ill for over 16 years. I wake up every morning feeling as if I have the flu. Mara's experience is a short version of what I went through when I initially got sick in 2001. At first, I refused to accept that I hadn't regained my health. Readers of my book, How to Be Sick, will remember how I forced myself to go back to work because I simply could not believe that I hadn't recovered from what appeared to be a simple virus. I'd go from the bed to the classroom, teach a class, and return immediately to bed.

What took Mara a couple of weeks to accept about her acute illness ("I'm sick; I'd better take care of myself") took me about 5 years. Five years is a long time to be fighting what's happened to you. In fact, it was only after I accepted that I was chronically ill that I was able to start writing books. It's as if a whole new door opened for me. I write them from the bed and it makes me feel as if I'm contributing something to the life of others who are chronically ill.

The one thing I'd like to pass on is something Mara mentioned at the end of her piece: it's okay to be sick. Acute or chronically. Okay, I admit that some days, it's still not okay with me and I cry out to regain my health. But most days, I'm okay with being mostly housebound. This is what's happened to me in this life and I don't want to make things worse by fighting a battle I can't win. So, I give in. (You might like my piece on this subject: "When You're Chronically Ill: Giving Up Versus Giving In."

So, how about you? How do you survive an acute illness like Mara's flu? What do you do to rest and recover?









Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Holidays: Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Mara here: I'm going to blame Starbucks for the fact that it seems as if, on the stroke of midnight, November 1st, before the sugar high of Halloween had worn off, it was suddenly gingerbread and pumpkin spice season.

When I was younger, after Halloween, came Thanksgiving. And then once Thanksgiving was over we moved to Christmas. But now there's a generic "holiday season" that starts when school goes back into session in the Fall and gets going full steam after Halloween.

And it's a mix of a lot of holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah.

I was walking around the grocery store early Halloween morning and employees were busy putting holiday wreaths over all their freezer sections. (At least all the ones that could hold them. The one on aisle 5 is apparently not wide enough.)

And while it seems kind of crazy that the holidays literally blend together, one right after another, in today's commercial world, I have to admit I don't mind it.

I love holidays.

And I especially love the run of holidays from Halloween to New Years.  As far as I'm concerned, the more Christmas there is, the better.

Christmas trees, turkeys, wreaths, shiny balls, sparkling lights—all of it just makes me happy.

But one thing that does make me pause is the sudden influx of items that are scented or flavored with  gingerbread and pumpkin spice.

I remember people making gingerbread cookies when I was younger. But most people didn't really love them. It was more of a tradition. People preferred chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies with frosting. Gingerbread was the default cookie that was there because it felt like it should be there.

But then Starbucks popularized the Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and there's been no turning back for commercial America.

I actually saw pumpkin spice scented toilet paper in the store.

Seriously people, there is a line.

I enjoy a little pumpkin spice aroma wafting past as I walk through the mall, but there is such a thing as too much. Pumpkin spice dog treats? Do people honestly think their dog wants that? I mean, dogs want anything so of course they want it. But do you really think your dog wouldn't prefer a nice chicken scented treat?

There's even an image of Pumkin Spice Balogna making the rounds on the web. (Pictured below.) I think it might be a joke but the sad part is that I don't know for sure! I wouldn't put it past the fine people at Oscar Meyer to think there was a market for it.

I do occasionally have a Gingerbread Latte. We always make apple and pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. And in the Fall, my husband often makes a delicious spicy pumpkin soup that is a family favorite.

I do love the holidays. I am happy to hear Christmas music playing right after Halloween. But I'm not on the gingerbread pumpkin spice everything bandwagon. I love pumpkin pie, But I don't need every item in my life to smell like one. I know there are people who disagree. (My daughter is one of them.)


***

Toni here. I loved Mara's piece and got a kick out of how we have different feelings about when to celebrate the holidays, particularly Christmas. I think it has to do with my upbringing. My dad and his sister owned a gift shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Not surprisingly, Christmastime was the best time of the year for sales. 

When they first opened it (they eventually expanded to three more stores in the L.A. area), similar stores to theirs put up Christmas decorations on December 15. Yes, December 15th! It was unheard of to even be selling Christmas stuff before then. Then the 15th became December 1st. Then it became right after Thanksgiving. Even though, as I said, this was their most profitable time of the year, they felt sad that Christmastime was starting earlier and earlier every year.

My dad died while he was still young and my mother sold the store, so he wasn't alive to see how early in the year Christmas starts (I think it's August by now). 

And so, I hate to be humbug...but I'd prefer that Christmastime celebrations begin at the earliest in December.

Now, as for pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING, I'm with Mara. A line must be drawn!!

Mara and I would like to know about you. Are you a fan of the gingerbread and pumpkin spice invasion that takes over everything during the holidays?


Is it real? I don't know. Would I buy it? No.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How Quickly Do You Feel the Burn?

Mara here. There's an old parable about how if you put a live frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the same frog in a pot of cool water and slow heat it up until it's boiling, it will sit calmly until it boils to death.

Not really a testament to the survival instincts of the frog, but definitely an interesting perspective on how we, as animals, adjust to change.

When it's too abrupt, our instinct is to rebel against it.

When it's slow and steady, we adapt and adjust.

I was thinking about this idea of accepting change because of something my daughter said in the car the other day. We were talking about learning to drive, and she said, "Well my kids probably won't even have to drive. Cars will just drive themselves."

And my initial reaction was to feel alarmed. No drivers? Full automation? That's dangerous! That's a world out of control! Machines can't be trusted!

But then after a moment, I realized she's probably right. And then I felt a pang of sadness. I had a moment of sentimentality that made me feel like pushing against the idea of allowing change. And I was fascinated by that reaction.

My dad has always been an early adopter of technological change. (And sociological change for that matter; after all, I was one of the first interracial adoptions in our town.) We had one of the first Macintosh computers. I was the only kid I knew with a computer for a long time. We had a VCR before any of my friends had one. And my husband is the same. He likes to buy the latest gadgets.

But what would feel like too much? And why do some people wait so long to jump onto the newest trend bandwagon?

There's an interesting scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey, where the matriarch of the family is alarmed at the new electric lights. She found them garish and unpleasant. Today, this sounds silly, but electricity was a huge change for people at the turn of the 20th century. For some, it was scary. We find that attitude quaint, but think about some of the monumental changes we are facing today and ask yourself what would feel scary to you?

Sociological changes are even harder for people to adjust to. Changing the way people view others, such as race or gender, has proven to be hard for many people.

As we've discussed before, change is constant and most people find it uncomfortable. But people clearly have different tolerances for how quickly they can absorb and accept change. My daughter is ready for there to be driverless cars today, whereas I complained the other day about the fact Amazon.com had changed the design of their boxes!

For the most part everyone keeps up with the tides of change even if they find it uncomfortable. After all, I don't know anyone who doesn't have electric lights or a cell phone. And I don't know anyone who would (at least openly) say that women or people of color shouldn't be lawyers, teachers, etc.

But people's tolerance for change varies and people adapt at different rates in different ways. We all have different tolerances regarding when we start to feel uncomfortable. If we were frogs, we would all boil at different rates.  

Here are some questions I asked my mom on this subject.


Could you have imagined that the world would change as much as it has from when you were a child?

No way! My guess is that most people would answer as I have except perhaps for science fiction buffs who learn to expect the unexpected; perhaps they're not as surprised by change as the rest of us are. 

I think it helps to remember that as much as change can make us feel uncomfortable, it can be a great thing. I wrote an article about this for Psychology Today. It's called "Romanticizing the Past Makes Us Feel Bad about the Present." The link is here

Have there been any major technological or sociological changes that initially made you nervous?

Good question. I remember reading that when TV first became available in the home, some people thought it signaled the end of Western Civilization, as the expression goes. I doubt anyone would say that today.

I can't think of any technological changes that initially made me nervous, but I will say that, despite its great value (and I do value it a lot), the Internet makes me nervous now.

Yes, it's been and continues to be invaluable to me in many ways. A couple of years ago, I managed to diagnose a rare spinal infection that my dog had by spending a few hours on the Internet doing research on her symptoms. It was pretty amazing. Even our vet was impressed. And because I'm virtually housebound, I connect with others mostly through the Internet.

And yet, I no longer trust what I read online and I no longer assume that a photograph is authentic until both been confirmed by multiple sources. I can adjust to that, but it troubles me a lot that a false story or a doctored picture can go viral and ruin a person's life even after the falsehood has been revealed. And so the Internet has become a technological change that makes me nervous. No doubt about it.

As for adjusting to sociological changes, I'm having trouble adjusting to the fact that it appears I've been terribly naive about the state of race relations in this country. Two years ago, I didn't worry about the fact that both my children are in interracial marriages. Now I worry. I had no idea there were so many white supremacists living in our midsts. It scares the living daylights out of me. And so, I'm "feeling that burn" right now.

I hope some of our readers will contribute to this discussion.





Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Baseball: To Love or Not To Love, That is the Question

Mara here:

I love baseball.

The 2017 World Series will be over by the time this blog is posted, and it was a particularly great series. The teams were very well matched and the games were mostly been close and exciting.

In fact, the excitement of Game 2 prompted me to post on Facebook that I couldn't understand how people could dislike baseball and I got a wave of responses from my friends who are baseball haters.

Okay, they're not haters. But they clearly are not fans. They don't get it. They think it's boring and they can't understand why some people are so invested. The most common complaint is "It's too slow."

Baseball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I never played myself, but my brother played as a kid and then all through high school. And my parents were avid fans of the San Francisco Giants. When I was in junior high, we had season tickets, so I went to a lot of games. 

I didn't always love baseball. In fact, for many years I didn't even like it. Like many of my current friends, I thought it was boring. To the young me, it seemed as if the players didn't do much. It was usually hot out when the games were played, so I was sitting in the hot sun for hours watching what looked to me like nothing. And I was forced to go to countless numbers of my brother's baseball games, which became slightly more bearable when I discovered I could get my parents to buy snow-cones and candy.

As a young child, going to Candlestick Park for professional games was a particularly torturous affair. It took a couple of hours for us to get to San Francisco and then the games were long. Once again, the only saving grace of these outings was my love of some of the food, this time chocolate malts and hot dogs.

But something changed for me around 7th grade. I started to understand the game. This was around the time my parents had season tickets, so I found myself at a lot more games. I became familiar with the players and started to understand the rules. The nuance of the various strategies finally made sense to me and I found myself looking forward to the games.

And the games were suddenly exciting! What used to feel boring was suddenly filled with tension and suspense. The fact that the games are slower gives you more time to wonder what the next move will be. It makes everything feel like there's more at stake. You can really analyze what the players are doing. And when the action does ramp up—it's thrilling! There's nothing like watching a pitcher walking a batter to load the bases...or the thrill of a double play that ends an inning that could have changed the outcome of the game. When you become familiar enough with the game to know that there's decision-making happening at every moment, then game is no longer boring.

My love of the game became so extreme for a while that I spent hours making posters and collages of all my favorite players. I bought the programs at the game and would meticulously cut out pictures of the players and glue them onto poster boards and hang them on my walls.

This obsession with the game went on for a few years. I'm not sure what happened to stop it, except I think I just got too busy to follow closely enough to feel as involved. These days I don't watch all the games. And I don't actively follow any particular team. I will always have a love of the Giants, but I don't dedicate the time to being an active fan every year. But when World Series time rolls around every year, I like to watch the games. It's always great when the Giants are one of the contenders, but I'm happy to root for whichever National League team is in the series.

And I always feel a little sad when people don't appreciate the game. I understand how people could think it was boring. We live in a fast paced world, and baseball is more subtle. But I always think to myself, "If they just gave it some time, they would discover how exciting it truly is!" Maybe not...maybe there are people who just don't like the game. But I am glad that I am one of those who love it.

Toni here:

I love baseball, even though I don't follow it as closely as I used to. I second everything Mara said about the excruciating tension that can take place when the game is on the line: bottom of the ninth; the home team trailing by one run; two outs; runner at third. Will there be a hit? A wild pitch? An attempt to steal home? It can be so exciting!

Mara and I have switched places geographically so I loved reading that she still has a fondness for the Giants. She grew up near Sacramento, where either the Giants or the Oakland A's are the "home team." I grew up in Los Angeles and was an avid Dodger fan. My brother and I would take the bus to the games and sit way out in left field next to the bullpen. Some of the pitchers got to know us and would come over and chat. Those outings are one of my favorite childhood memories.

Now I'm the one who lives near Sacramento and Mara's the one who lives in Los Angeles. I have to admit that, as a fan, I switched my loyalty from the Dodgers to the Giants. I'm sure it's partly because it was such a great family outing to go to all those Giants games at Candlestick Park. 

Unfortunately, now that I'm chronically ill, I can't go to baseball games but I'm hoping to be able to go to a softball game that my granddaughter Cam is playing in this weekend. Her team is traveling to the Sacramento area so it won't be too far from where I live. It will be such a treat!

Mara and I would love to know about you. Do you love baseball? What is it you love or don't love about it? Do you have a favorite team? 









Sunday, October 29, 2017

We Are All the Same in Different Ways

Mara here.

I've been thinking about this topic for a while...years actually. I have struggled with the concept of being different for my entire life.

I don't really understand why it's so hard for most people to stand apart from their fellow humans, myself included. Most of us want to simply blend in. We don't want to be different. And it's uncomfortable for us to feel as if we have experiences that nobody else has.

There are some people who revel in their differentness. There are people who dedicate their lives to doing things nobody else has done. But most of us want to simply chug along with everyone else.

I was most recently reminded of this struggle during the flood of #MeToo hashtags that popped up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault accusations. If you're not familiar with it, it was a movement to encourage people who had been victims of sexual assault or harassment to share their stories. And even if people didn't want to share the details of their experiences, simply sharing #MeToo on social media meant that you had had an experience. It meant you were part of the growing group of people who were no longer willing to keep their sexual abuse or harassment experiences hidden.

It was amazing how many people came forward, and I saw a lot of comments and articles about how surprised people were that so many people had had similar experiences.


How is it possible that so many people could have been victims of harassment and abuse, but nobody was aware of how pervasive it was? Why is it only during moments of group sharing that most people are willing to come forward? Why do we keep so many of our human experiences secret from each other?

People are sometimes criticized when they come forward with allegations of abuse if they hadn't come forward immediately after the incident occurred. This attitude surfaced as many women (and some men) came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein. People were asking, why are they only willing to come forward now? Why are they only willing to say something if other people are speaking up? Why are they "jumping on the bandwagon?"

The thing is that it's scary to come out and say something that will make you stand apart from what's considered "normal." Aside from whatever legal, financial, or professional aspects that people have to consider, it's hard to come out and accuse someone of something that will make you feel like a target yourself. Aside from the stigma of accusing a man (or woman) of sexual assault, it's hard to accept that once you make an accusation, you are forever identified as a subset of people who are different from everyone else.

And admitting you were a "victim" can make you feel weak.

In addition, because nobody talks about it, it's easy for a person to convince themselves that they are the only person who's had this experience. And that makes them feel different.

It seems as if there is something about human nature that makes us instinctively self-protect by not standing out. Perhaps it's something about the predator and pray nature of being an animal in this world. Standing out from the pack makes us more vulnerable.

So we often hide the things about ourselves that we feel are different.

I had a sort of parallel experience recently, although obviously it's in no way the same level of severity as sexual assault. We had a crane fly infestation at our house. In fact, its level of "not-a-serious-problem" reinforces the point of my piece.

In January and February we had an unusual amount of rain. By the time the spring rolled around, plant and bug life was flourishing with unusual vigor. This included a crazy number of crane flies. Crane flies are bugs that look like flying spiders. They have very long legs and look a little menacing, although they're harmless.

I have a daughter who is maniacally afraid of spiders, so having these flying spider things buzzing around the house was not fun. Malia would run into the house from the driveway and anytime the door opened she would scream because two or three of the critters would swoop into our livingroom.

And I felt a little overwhelmed by them, too. On one hand, I knew that the flies were "normal." We get them every year, just not usually in the massive numbers we saw this year. But I didn't want to tell anyone about them. I had some people over to the house and I spent time spraying the doorways in hopes of keep the flies away long enough so our guests wouldn't notice them. I felt like somehow it was an individual failure on my part or with our house that, for some reason, we were swarming with flies.

My daughter would moan about how it was awful we lived in a swamp and she'd ask what was wrong with our house that we had flies bombarding us. And I would reply with the rational adult answer, saying that they were fine—a natural occurrence and that there was nothing wrong with them.

But secretly I couldn't help wonder if there was something wrong with our house. Did we have some kind of weird crane fly nest around our house? Was it because I didn't keep the outside of the house clean enough? I spent days brooding about whether or not I had done something that was causing the infestation.

And then a friend of mine posted a status on Facebook that simply said, "What's up with all the crane flies?" And I felt this crazy rush of relief flood over me that I was not alone in my struggle with the flies.

And then I felt ridiculous for keeping secret and worrying over something as silly as having more than the usual number of crane flies around. Years of working on accepting myself have resulted in my feeling more at easy with my concept of self. I'm much more comfortable in my body and with my self-critical thoughts. But somehow the crane flies threw me for loop. They felt so out of the realm of my control.

Honestly, why didn't I just ask someone about them? Even if I had somehow been doing something that was attracting all the flies, why did I assume it would somehow reflect badly on me?

And then I realized how easy it is for us—even someone like me who is relatively self aware—to get caught up in the need to not have any outward appearance of difference in a negative way. It was surprising that something as innocuous as the crane flies triggered that mental defense mechanism of trying to pretend nothing was wrong. It reminded me how strong the instinct is to believe that the negative things that happen in our lives are the result of our having done something wrong.

And that's the thing about the people who are coming forward after-the-fact with stories of sexual harassment and abuse. When you know other people have experienced the same things that you have, you realize that it's not your fault that the experience happened. You feel freer to admit you had an experience when you know that other people have too.

We are so quick to blame ourselves for things. And sometimes we are to blame—or at least we contributed. But we also need to be able to recognize when we are truly victims. And we need to realize that sometimes things happen for no particular reason. It's not always personal to ourselves. Sometimes things just happen.

It's been helpful to me to try and regularly remind myself that, given all the humans who exist and have previously existed, there's probably not much that any of us experience that is truly unique to us. 

So hopefully we can all be a little easier on ourselves. And hopefully we can all be a little easier on each other. There's nothing wrong with being different. Because the thing is we are all different—we're just different in different ways. In that regard, we are the same.