Archives for September, 2011


The ‘Take a Chill Pill’ Comment: Funny or Offensive?

Has anyone ever told you to "take a chill pill"?  (I thought this phrase went out of vogue years ago, but I still catch it now and again. Oh, and it''s apparently a $52 pajama set for young girls, too. Thanks, Google.)

Or, maybe you've found yourself in the company of a co-worker who rolls her eyes at Susan, the office grouch, and laughingly whispers something to you about how Susan must have forgotten to take her meds today.  (Whatever happened to using the expression "waking up on the wrong side of the bed"?  Isn't that a bit less likely to cause insult?)

And tech nerds everywhere are familiar with the phrase "there's an app for that" from the iPhone commercials.  But before apps, there were pills.  And "there's a pill for that" is still a common punchline.  The last time I heard it, I was in the elevator at my day job listening to two graphic artists joke about how their workflow system was down.  One guy said he was getting antsy because he couldn't get any work done until the system was back up.  The other guy, of course, told him that there's a pill for that.  (For being antsy, I presume.  Not for correcting enterprise-level system failures. Sorry, hopeful IT folks.)
Sometimes, mental health humor is funny.  Sometimes it's not.  On a good day, hearing "take a chill pill" wouldn't bother me -- but, then again, would someone really be telling me to take a chill pill when I'm already having a good day?
Likely not.

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Small Victories: Exposing Myself to a Freezing-Cold Grocery Store

Is it weird that I'm sitting on my laptop and blogging from the grocery store?
I mean, it's not like I've hunkered down in aisle 9 next to the instant oatmeal.  I'm in the "Alcove" section of Wegmans, a cafeteria-like dining and WiFi area in the corner of the store, and I have a fantastic view of the streetlamp-lit parking lot from the window next to my table.
Anyway, there's a point to my decision to blog here: exposure.  For several months now, I've had a tough time handling routine grocery store trips without having a panic attack.  And so, if I frequently expose myself to grocery store environments, they should eventually downgrade from panic trigger into boring place where I can buy food.
I should also mention this: the outside temperature is about 75 degrees tonight.  And the temperature inside Wegmans feels like an invigorating 55 degrees.
My hands are cold.  My nose is freezing.  I've taken off my shoes and I've resorted to a pseudo-lotus position to keep my feet warm inside kneepits? (Is that a real word?)
Anxiety-wise, I've never done too well with cold temperatures.  Ever since I had my very first panic attack, my body seems to have re-programmed itself to only find comfort at a very specific room temperature.  If the room temperature is too cold, my hands, feet, and nose will feel like they're frozen.  And because I've had several panic attacks during which my extremities start to tingle, sitting in a too-cold room (that elicits similar physical sensations) can actually make me panic.
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6 Ways to Stress Less About Your Email Inbox at Work

Email used to be fun.
It was fun back when I got my very first screen name on AOL in 7th grade.  It was fun in college when my only emails were invitations to campus activities or surprise announcements that class would be canceled because the professor is feeling ill.
But now, here in this post-college "real world," I hate email.  It is no longer fun.  It is no longer a novelty.
Maybe my view comes as a result of having worked in an office at an advertising company for the past three years.  There, email is the primary form of communication.  Virtually all of my work assignments would arrive via email.  And perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if I were only responsible for a inbox...but at my peak, I was working a total of six additional inboxes.
Yes.  SIX ADDITIONAL INBOXES.  Two inboxes for inquiries about my advertising company's "daily deals" product, two for questions about our video product, one for problems with our website product, and one for "escalations."  ("Escalations," in customer service lingo, generally means "really angry customer with a very complex problem.")
So, that's a total of seven inboxes.  Many of those inboxes received at least 100 new emails per day.  I wanted to pull my hair out.
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Don’t Just Sit There On the Exam Table: Ask Questions!

"You know what, Summer?" my doctor asked me on Wednesday during my latest appointment.
"No, what?" I answered.
"I appreciate all the questions you ask when you're in here.  Most of my patients just listen to what I have to say, nod, and then leave," he admitted.
I am definitely not the "nod and then leave" type.  Not at all.  And it's a little disheartening to be reminded that most patients are that type.
A few days ago, I read this news story and I've been mulling it over ever since.  Robert Bell and his colleagues at the University of California surveyed 1,054 adults via telephone about their attitudes toward depression. Here's one of their findings:

Out of the patients surveyed, 43 percent were hesitant to talk to their primary care physician about their depression symptoms. The most common reason given for not wanting to talk to their doctor: not wanting to be put on medication. Over 23 percent said they did not want to go on antidepressants...
Wait a second here. 23% of the respondents were afraid to talk to their doctor about depression because they were afraid that their doctor was going to put them on antidepressants.
Put them on.  
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Retraining My Panicky Self: The Grocery Store is Not a Threat

I don't get along very well with grocery stores.

If you've ever struggled with agoraphobia -- or even just agoraphobic tendencies, as I like to call its watered-down sibling -- you know what I'm talking about.  And for those with panic disorder without agoraphobia, it's still not a walk in the park.

The bright lights.  The swarms of shoppers.  The long, tall aisles that leave you with nowhere to hide.

I could go on...and I will.  (Panic warning: there's some potentially triggering "worst-case scenario"-type stuff below.)

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The Susquehanna River is Going to Flood & I’m Feeling Helpless

My hometown is currently being evacuated due to potentially catastrophic flooding.

What's better for someone with panic disorder?  Should I be thankful that I'm a good two hours away from the flood zone?  Perhaps.  I know that my life and my immediate property are safe.

But my heart rate sure isn't.

As I type, my dad and his fiance are doing laps between the basement and the second floor of my childhood home. They're moving boxes of books, photos, and whatever furniture they could up to the 2nd floor of the house.  My dad is in his 60's.

Although I'm thankful to be in a safe place, I feel guilty that I can't be there to help.

Back in 1972, Hurricane Agnes dumped a whopping 18 inches of rain on the Wyoming Valley in Luzerne County, PA.  The Susquehanna River spilled over its banks and gushed well over a full mile to the house that is now owned by my father. It filled the entire basement with ruddy water and leveled off at about the 5-foot mark on the first floor.

The entire valley was devastated. Put simply, everyone lost everything.
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From Anxiety to ‘Flow’ in Genealogy Research

Have you ever immersed yourself so deeply in a task that you don't notice the world around you? Maybe you forget to eat a meal (because you honestly didn't even notice that you were hungry!). Or, maybe you convince yourself that you've only been working for about twenty minutes...and then you notice the clock. Five hours have passed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this flow.
I found myself in flow today.

I'm the amateur genealogist of the Beretsky family. My grandmother was a fantastic record-keeper and left behind half a dozen photo albums and scrapbooks with newspaper clippings of engagement announcements and obituaries.  I started peeking through some of these albums over the weekend and, within minutes, I got bit by the family history bug. Hard.

Before I could even finish breakfast this morning, I poured over all of the photos and documents.  I signed up for one (okay, two) of those genealogy websites. I scribbled notes on paper and drew arrows and deciphered old Polish surnames and poked through dozens of census documents. I made phone calls to a few living relatives. I sorted out lineages. I attached photographs to names. I met three other people on the internet who are researching the same ancestors.

And then, I looked up.  It was 5 p.m.!
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Lessons From Our Pets: Self-Care and Relaxation

As I type, a cat named Knuckles is doing a figure 8 around my ankles. Earlier, he took a nap by the sliding glass doors at my future in-laws' house. Then, he ran into the kitchen and furiously rolled around on a small green rug in front of the sink.
He's also famous for curling up on paper -- newspaper, computer paper, wrapping paper -- and napping there.  I don't know what's so comfortable about it.  The last time I took a nap on a bed of paper was in grad school, in the library, on a wide splay of photocopied research studies from various communication periodicals.  The text starts always starts to blur around my second hour of reading, but a quick nap can reset my brain and my tired eyeballs.
In the time it took to write the above paragraphs, Knuckles has resigned from ankle-circling and settled into sleep mode (or, as I like to call it, "kitteh deactivated" mode) on a soft couch cushion behind me.
This cat has got a pretty good life.  He was born outdoors and my future mother-in-law and father-in-law (MIL and FIL for short!) coaxed him indoors once per day for a bowl of cat food.  Soon, Knuckles began to wait by their back door and meow incessantly when he wanted to escape the wild jungle of their suburban street.  He's been alive for about three winters now and could have easily died in the cold weather if he hadn't warmed up to MIL and FIL.
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