31 January, 2011

Pursuit #61: Sigh. The trials and tribulations I must go through to preserve my vanity.

Sometimes when I go to restaurants or businesses in McLean, I feel like they are warp zones that whisk me away into some alter-reality. Like you walk inside and the people, atmosphere, scenery, and well everything just seems so un-McLean like and not AT ALL what you expected when you saw the outside of the building.

I entered one of these warp zones recently to undergo the cosmetological procedure of laser hair removal. Thank you, Groupon! But perhaps I shouldn't thank you just yet...

From the moment I walked into this warp zone, I knew my visit would not be normal - something about the smallness of the place, the lady who handed me a clipboard and showed me to the waiting room without asking me who I was or what I was there for, to the mother talking on her cell phone at eleventy billion decibels (in baby talk and Spanish no less) while being shushed by her high schooler daughter. It appeared that because of the popularity of their Groupon, this establishment is basically herding people through like cattle.

After everyone else in the waiting room had been cleared except for me, I was visited by the doctor slash owner. After awkwardly hovering over me, he joined me on the couch. He asked me my age, where I was from and what I was coming in for. Next, he gave me an egregious sales pitch about the other procedures they offer...based on my appearance. As he studied my face, he said I needed some injections under my eyes and around my mouth, as well as a laser to shrink the "really large" blood vessels under my eyes. Now I'm not a doctor like this guy, but I'm pretty sure the blood vessels near my eyeballs - you know the part of my body that helps me SEE - are pretty important and probably shouldn't be tampered with. He peppered in some additional remarks about some "red" areas ("Are those pimples?") on my face. It must have been Double Bonus Day in this warp zone: the deal on my procedure + an unsolicited/invasive free consultation! 

In addition to the above, there were uncomfortable bodily noises coming from this man during his speech and an awkward moment in the treatment room involving an open window and onlooking office buildings. Oh, Groupon, you sure know how to pick 'em!

27 January, 2011

Pursuit #60: Brain Wars

The psychiatrist asked his patient if he had trouble making decisions. The patient responded, "Well, doc, yes and no." That is me more often than I'd like to admit.

I am listening to a book on CD (aka the most convenient way to read these days). It is called How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. As someone who has OFTEN suffered from paralysis by analysis of mundane things like which cereal to buy (as the author mentioned prompted him to research the topic for this book) or difficult things like what to do with my life, I felt I needed to read this book. From it I found that in its "default" setting, your brain is basically at war with itself.

This is not a regular self-help book. The book discusses how the brain is ever soooooo complex, and therefore what goes on in it during different decision-making moments varies based on the type of decision you're trying to make. So there is no one tried and true method to decision-making that can be used across the board.  Our brain wars pit emotions v. rationality, our gut instincts v. our reasoned thoughts. However there are lots of different emotions involved coming from different brain areas. Our prefrontal cortex often tries to mediate and integrate all these emotions plus all the other information the brain is sending, so we can make a rational decision. But when we try to quiet the disquiet in our brains by shutting off one area in order to make a decision, we ignore certain emotions or override them completely and over-rationalize. And actually, it's our EMOTIONS that we should really be listening to when making complex decisions.

Our prefrontal cortices can only take in about 7 pieces of information at one time (7!), so it easily gets overwhelmed. No wonder I get stalled in trying to pick out cookies and cereal - there are waaay too many options for my brain to handle.

"Our emotional brain is actually much better at taking in lots and lots of information. Summarizing lots of data very efficiently, and saying, 'Here's a feeling. Don't worry about all the details. Here's a feeling. We've already taken those details into account.'"
The trick is trying to figure out what emotions to listen to in which situations. But armed with this information about the mechanics of my brain, how easily overwhelmed it can become by too much info, and how to trust my emotions then should make me a better decision-maker, yeah? Well, in reality it did - I actually was able to apply some of this self-knowledge of my brain and emotions to decide to make a big change in my life (grad school!). And for once, I really think it's the right one!

Q&A with the Author on Amazon
NPR interview with the author
CBS News article about the author/book

24 January, 2011

Pursuit #59: Chiropractor Virgin no more!

Until Saturday, I was in some rather (recently) severe back pain. And until Saturday I was a chiropractor virgin. Now, I am in generally less back pain due to my quirky visit. I have no basis of comparison of what other chiropractors do, so I have no idea what's considered normal. 

1. "You have really great blood pressure and heart rate. Especially for someone who doesn't work out."

2. During exam: "Hmmm..." followed by writing on clipboard.

3. Also during exam: "Interesting..." followed by writing on clipboard.

4. "Hmm...don't confuse the chiropractor now!"

5. "Subluxation confirmed!"

6. He explained everything he did and why. Even the unexplainable: "There is no explanation for this. It was invented in the 1920's. Several studies have tried to find scientific evidence to back it up to no avail. Essentially, I'm harmonizing you with the universe." Ah, of course.

There was some cracking and manipulation (not painful as I had imagined), some acupressure (this was way more painful than the manipulation), and some of the aforementioned mysterious "voodoo." I wore a peptobismal pink gown while a quirky D.C. with a salt and pepper ponytail cracked jokes about trying to get me to reveal my co-conspirators. At one point I walked around the room twice with one boot on and one boot off, as I was directed to do so. I let this man adjust my freaking spine! In retrospect, it's quite baffling what we let total strangers do to us when we're in a medical/doctor's office, isn't it?  

10 January, 2011

Pursuit #58: Neither here nor there

One can be scatterbrained, but can you ever just be "brained?" Perhaps I inherited my mom's tendency to make up words - she used the word murderize twice in the last couple weeks until we called her out on it. She claims it's a real word because when we tried to look it up, only urban dictionary says it's a word...the irony being that usually urban dictionary includes slang terms that are "hip" and my mom is the antithesis of hip. Either urban dictionary is losing its sway or my mom is wilder than we thought. She does wear animal prints sometimes... 

As I've gotten older, and through various shared experiences, I've learned to appreciate my family more. We're all a lot funnier than I previously thought. Well, at least we think we're funny. I can see how the bond between my family members has grown stronger over the years, and that is really cool. I've also decided that having a big family is kinda great cause if you don't like one person, there are plenty more options to choose from. 

I miss my grandma, Gammy, heaps, but I'm actually glad for her passing since she was pushing 94 and in rather poor health with a diminishing quality of life. That became very evident when I went down to help take care of her for the last couple weeks. She had lived without my grandpa for 16 years and she'd been yearning to go and meet him. I'm not entirely sure what her work was here that she had to finish before she could go join him, but it was so perfect that I got to spend her last couple weeks with her. She was a huge part of my life growing up and all throughout, like a second mother really, so I loved having a chance to help her out in return. My aunt apologized to me for things not happening the way we had planned when I came down to care for Gammy (i.e. her death), and all I could say was, "But maybe things did happen the way they were supposed to." She had such a long, fulfilling life. While I don't aspire to live as long as her, I do aspire to enjoy life the way she did, giving from the bottom of her heart always.

The funeral was wonderful. It made me laugh. It made me cry. As many probably feel on the heels of a funeral or the passing of a loved one, I felt the preciousness of life, a reminder to savor and not take for granted our relationships or the way we choose to live. I was reminded of the importance of family and how wonderful a feeling it must have been for Gammy to see her progeny altogether laughing, talking, crying and full of love for each other. It's an amazing thing to see so many people bound together by not only blood, but love and to think that it's all because of her. The things she left behind in her house are just...things and they just don't matter. The people she left behind...her familial empire is truly amazing though. In the end, family really is all that matters. 
"Gammy" 1917-2011