Vacation (Finally!)

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Provincetown isn’t for everybody. It’s a great place, and I spent my summers growing up up there. There are lots of things to do, lots to see, and lots of ways to relax. But it isn’t for everybody.

It can be challenging if you’re at all uncomfortable around the LGBT(add letters as appropriate) community. If you’re homophobic to any degree, you will most likely be miserable. I say this, not to extoll the virtues of tolerance, but because it is difficult to discuss Provincetown without the topic coming up. I will not even attempt to avoid it. In fact, one of the more amusing things we encountered requires a certain knowledge of the gay community.

Bear Flag

It was the first day of Bear Week. My girlfriend and I were waiting at the Aquarium Food Court for our name to be called, indicating our order was ready for pickup. The deck was crowded, and we’d found an empty table in the courtyard just before the deck. We’d just sat down when one of the vendors called out “Bear!” Apparently someone had given “Bear” as their name.

On that day, calling out “Bear!” was somewhat akin to calling out “Dad!” in a crowded playground. For a week, bears from all over come to Ptown to enjoy the freedom of being openly bears. Some explanation of the term may be required for those unfamiliar with it: A bear is a slang term used to refer to describe gay men who are hairy, heavyset and/or muscular, and who project an image of rugged masculinity.

What does this anecdote have to do with our vacation? Plenty, though it’s not all encompassing. Provincetown is a place where self expression is widespread. As such, the level of tolerance is generally very high. There is often an atmosphere of genuine joy and lightheartedness that is not only refreshing, but revitalizing. People watching there is fascinating. It is even more so if you’re familiar with the various subcultures you see up there. If you understand the signals, keys, and symbols displayed, the depth of understanding what you’re seeing is greatly increased.

Yes, it’s crowded, which can be irritating at times…especially if you’re hungry and have a long wait at one of the many restaurants. But if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you can usually find something entertaining in just about every situation.

So what does the anecdote not encompass? The individual activities: from watching fireworks to watching whales, from exploring the National Seashore Visitor Center to some of the most–interesting–shops around, from fine dining to eating at a food court, and above all, the people watching. We did a lot over the course of the week. There were still plenty of things left to do when we left.

One thing, though, sticks out in my mind. I got a chance to visit with my martial arts instructor and his wife. It’s been many years since I had any kind of meaningful interaction with them. I’m really glad I got to speak with them. They’ve played an important, if usually distant, part in my life.

Returning to Provincetown revitalized me in ways I hadn’t expected. My coworkers noticed the changes immediately. I’m not going to try to describe them, except to say that I’m more grounded than I have been in a long time.

Reductio ad Absurdum: A Stress Relief Tool

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Two weeks left, a brief respite, then my internship begins. I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it is not a paid internship, so I have to also find a part time job. I’d like to find one in my industry, but I’m not sure that’s a viable alternative at this point. I’ll have to do some searching…in between classes, labs, studying, car issues, etc. First, though, I need to find my way through four tests and three practicals. Here’s the rundown:

Physiology: Test on kidneys (including acid/base homeostasis), digestion, endocrine, and reproductive. Cumulative lab exam on everything from membrane physiology through reproductive systems.

Performance Enhancement for Athletics: This is the NSCA class. We only have 1 test, and it’s cumulative. The lab exam is also cumulative, though not comprehensive. First is video and picture analysis. Then we randomly draw exercises, have about a minute to set them up before the test subject comes in. We then explain, demonstrate, cue, and correct the subject.

Program Theory and Instructional Design: This is the ACSM class. We have one more non-cumulative test. The lab practical involves doing a series of assessments on a friend we bring in.

Dance: Yes. Apparently dance has a final exam. Technically there’s also a practical, but it’s more of a review. Given this is only a 1 hour credit course, I’m not worrying about it too much.

Oh, and we have final assessments for our faculty clients this week.

Why did I list all this out? It’s one of my “get a grip” tools. By listing what I have to do, I make it easier to figure out how to go about doing it. It’s more than defining hoops to jump through. Not only do I have the hoops defined, I also have clues as to the best approach for each hoop. For instance, the physiology test is probably the most involved; however, the lowest grade I’ve made in that class thus far is in the mid-90s. I have a very significant buffer. The NSCA class, however, has had no tests thus far. Thus this one exam carries more weight than any exam in any other class. That’s my priority. I’ll review and talk with my physiology lab- and classmates, but I’ll spend most of my time getting ready for the NSCA class.

The ACSM class, though in my area of study, has had a couple of tests and several quizzes. Based on my previous history, I’ll spend a little extra time preparing for the assessments in lab, but the test probably won’t be that much trouble. Certainly the dance class won’t get much of my attention. The majority of the grade comes from participation. The test goes over time signatures, cadences, styles, terminology, etc. Given my attendance and participation, even if I make a 0 on the test, I’ll still pass the class with a 75. I’ll do a skim-through but not really worry about it after that.

I’m not saying that none of these tests will be challenging. On the contrary, I know that at least two of them will be VERY challenging. All I’m saying is that with this list and this approach outlined, I now have a reasonable hope of putting my study time in the areas that are of most use to me. Explicitly stated, the order of my efforts are: NSCA, physiology, ACSM, dance. Having determined this, my stress levels are now well within manageable limits. In fact, if I help some of my classmates, I’ll not only be making sure I’ve learned the material, but I’ll be sure I can explain it in multiple ways. When I can explain something in multiple ways, I cease to have doubts about whether I actually know the material.

Tailspin

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My brain, for some reason, doesn’t seem to be working well today. Perhaps it’s overloaded. I missed one of my busiest school days last week because I was dealing with the aftermath of an accident the afternoon before. I’m still dealing with some of that, but since I missed not only two lectures, but two labs, I’m naturally obsessing about that. For the first time in a long time, I’m wishing I didn’t have school today.

On the other hand, it’s a chance for me to find ways to push past a major concern. Find ways to set it aside so that I can concentrate on things I can do something about. Right now, my thoughts are VERY sluggish, hence the lower quality of blog today. Nevertheless, here are some of the coping mechanisms I’m using:

  1.        Prioritizing: Make a list of things to do based on deadlines
  2.        Reframing: Find alternate ways to look at any given situation
  3.        One Step at a Time: Focus on the next task, not the mountain of worries ahead of me
  4.        Determine what I can change and what I can’t, and leave the stuff I can’t change alone

 

There are, no doubt, others that I will come up with and use; however, it’s one thing to know what to do, and something else to do it.

Complacent Subluxation

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wrist-forearm small

I’m guessing I’ve been too positive in my approach to life recently. Either that, or too complacent. Life has seen fit to give me a partially dislocated wrist. Partially dislocated? Something’s either dislocated or it’s not, isn’t it? Well, not really. The technical name is “subluxation”. If you’ve ever had a joint pop out, then immediately pop back into place without the need for external pressure to put it back (like a doctor…or a wall), you’ve had a subluxation. Specifically, my subluxation is at the ulnar-carpal joint and it subluxes medially.

Subluxations typically happen when the dislocating force (pressure, torque, etc.) on the joint just slightly exceeds the stabilizing pressures of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. When the dislocating force abates, even slightly, the stabilizing pressures snap the joint back into place. Unfortunately, my particular subluxation is not a one-time thing, it’s repeatable. It happens every time I flex (i.e. palmar flex) my wrist under load. This indicates that there is an unfortunate amount of permanent ligament stretch.

Usually the way to rehabilitate this kind of thing is to strengthen the muscles overlaying the ligaments. There is a problem, however. I’ve looked in two anatomical atlases and an athletic training reference text. There are no muscles that directly overlay the distal head of the ulna. The flexor carpi ulnaris and extensor carpi ulnaris travel down the outside (medial) of the ulna, but wrap to palmar or dorsal side respectively about an inch or so before reaching the distal head of the ulna. No doubt this is why the subluxation is happening medially…there is no support structure other than the ligaments. I can still strengthen the flexor- and extensor carpi ulnaris and hope that I can strengthen them to the point where they can hold the distal ulnar head in place via a third class lever type action.

In the meantime, I’m finding that I have some pain in the radial side of the wrist as the radius tries to compensate for an unstable ulna. Gotta love chain reactions.

From what I remember when I had a slight separation of the AC joint in my right shoulder, it took about 6 weeks for things to heal and settle into place. Granted there are different causal mechanisms at work, I’ll still use that as my baseline. At the moment, my plan is to keep my left wrist as immobile as possible (without a cast) for a few weeks. Ligaments don’t have a whole lot of healing capabilities, but they do have some. I’ll let them heal as much as they can, then start strengthening the ulnaris muscles.

Irrationality: a double bladed trick of the mind

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Next week is Spring Break and all campuses are closed.  I’m posting next week’s blog early since I won’t have access to a computer until the following week.

I made the first step in restoring communications with some people I wish I’d never lost touch with. It’s a rare day these past few years that I didn’t think about them and the impact they had on my life. At first it was a case of not noticing how communication was slipping. Then I realized that at some point, I had not written or called for nearly a year. At that point, my irrational side made itself known. The internal conversation went something like this:

“I haven’t written in a while. I should probably do that.”

“It has been a long time. They’re probably angry. You don’t want to make them angrier, do you?”

“Are you saying that getting in touch with them will make them angrier than they were when I stopped communicating?”

“Yes.”

“………”

At this point paralysis and inertia kick in and communication continued to lapse. Ladies and gentlemen, my irrational side. (no applause necessary)

As time went on, I felt worse about it. Then I started building walls around that part and tried to ignore it. As it happened, my irrational side got me into this, an irrational event broke the barrier. I got a piece of spam from one of the people I’d lost contact with. Spam is everywhere, so why was this an irrational event? First, he never initiates contact. Getting email from him before I sent one first is an unimaginable event. Second, it was spam. More specifically, someone had hacked into his system and started using his email list to send links to spoofed websites. Despite the email being spam, my irrational side’s little brother started jumping up and down with joy. “He emailed me first!”

I didn’t know if anyone else had let him know, so I emailed him back to tell him his account had been hacked. Then, I added a brief here’s-what-I’m-currently-up-to message and sent it off. The next day, I get a response with no text in the body, but the subject read: thanks for keeping in touch. Irony or sincerity? With him it could be either. Time will tell.

Addictive Reframing

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I was sitting in a computer lab, struggling to come up with a topic, when this energetic guy comes in, plops down in the chair next to me and logs in. Moments later, I reeled back from the stench of him. I’m not talking about being unwashed, but every time he moves (even to turn a page) the noisome odor of cigarettes rolls over me.

In my mind, I picture people like him surrounded by a symbiotic malevolent aura. He may be a very nice person, but cloaking him is this invisible monster. It spends some of its time controlling him, but the rest of the time, it reaches out to those around him and slowly throttles them. Every time it feels itself start to weaken, it forces him to light up and recharge. Then the man-monster symbiote returns to strangle more people.

No, this isn’t another rant about smokers. It’s an example of reframing. Reframing is a conscious shift of mental perspective. It can go either way. For instance, instead of a malevolent symbiotic entity, I could have thought of the guy as intentionally trying to ruin the day of the people around him. In the first example, he’s only partially responsible being both instigator and victim. In the second, he’s entirely responsible. The first opens the possibility of pity, empathy, or sympathy. The second is almost entirely adversarial.

Anyone who’s dealt with an addiction can see themselves in the first example of reframing. It’s even in colloquial dialog. “It’s the booze talking,” or “[drug] is the only way to appease this gnawing emptiness.” I’m not excusing anything. Addiction is a path that started with a choice. This is the reason so many people take the “blame the addict” stance.

The problem is after that first, perhaps almost trivial, choice, the ability to choose the other way disappears. The addiction grows and slowly takes over the person’s life. It becomes and obsession and a compulsion. It takes control and drives the person to the very edge of sanity, then seduces them back into its arms. It is territorial in that it finds ways to make the person shut out others that don’t share in the addiction. Addiction is a living thing, but only because it is part of the person.

I don’t like being around smokers. I don’t like being around alcoholics. And yet, looking at those sentences, it’s obvious that I define people (at least in this case) by their addiction. I suspect that most people view addicts this way. Fortunately, I have a tool garnered from Alateen: separate the person from the addictive behavior.

Remember that an addict is not a single person, an addict is a symbiote: part person, part addiction. When the addict is temporarily free of the addiction influences, that person may very well be a charming, decent person. It’s only when the addiction decides to sharpen its claws on the scratching post of the person’s soul does the harmful behavior come back.

Thus, when I catch myself thinking of someone in terms of their addiction (smoker, drinker), I consciously try to separate the person from the addictive behavior—I try reframing. The person who sat next to me in the computer lab is not “a smoker”, he is someone who smokes. His behavior, especially the result of his behavior, may annoy the hell out of me, but by blaming the behavior rather than the person opens the door to being his friend. And if there’s anything an addict needs, it’s friends.

Anxiety Reduction

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Note: This post is basically stream of consciousness. It’s not my usual discussion type post. Just working through something.

The beginning of the semester grace period is over. The warm up is done and it is time to start pushing my mind. However you want to say it, the ^*!# hits the fan this week. The first test in physiology is today, I meet my faculty client tomorrow, initial programming is due Thursday. Am I ready to run? I better be.

Okay. Panic over. I’m not 100% ready for the test in physiology, but I think I have a good grasp of what’s going on. This first one is over homeostasis mechanisms, membrane functioning, and neuronal functioning. It’s only three topics, what’s the big deal? (Excuse me as I pause to silence the evil cackling in the back of my mind.)

Thanks to my departmental chair’s sense of humor, my faculty client and I have a few things in common, so that should be less stressful than I was anticipating. Likewise, analysis and programming for the client is just a matter of crunching numbers and taking things one at a time.

Why am I stressing out? Because I’m a perfectionist. If things aren’t done “right” they’re not done well. At least that’s the default mindset I’m fighting against. Rationally, I know that this mindset is wrong. At the very least, it ignores the whole concept of school and learning curves. I think the real issue is not merely “passing”, it’s pride. In all my classes so far, I’ve excelled. So much so that in a couple of classes, when I was wrong, the instructor began to doubt herself. As I said, the fear is not whether or not I will pass my courses this semester. The fear is that I will become less in other people’s eyes. Pride.

I’ve set myself a high standard. I don’t know if I can meet it. Even if I can’t, I doubt others in the program will think less of me. Yet there is that desire not to put it to the test. I hate disappointing myself and others.

When I started this post, I was so anxious, I could barely keep my fingers on the keys of the keyboard. Now, my heart rate is down, I’m thinking more clearly, and I can feel myself focusing on the tasks at hand. Identifying the source of anxiety as mere pride rather than passing seems to be helping.

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