psychology

Blood and Nutshells


When reading about character development in See Jane Write, I got a great piece of writing advice that also poses an interesting question for everyone. “Think of a childhood story that would summarize each of your characters. What is their nutshell?” You don’t need to include the story in your book, you just need to know it to understand the character.

My nutshell story is from when I was eight years old and  I was waiting around the playground after school. I was watching other kids jumping off the swing set and I really wanted to try it. A fifth grader stood in front of my swing and told me I shouldn’t do it because I might get hurt. That made me want to do it more. Next thing I knew, I was pumping my legs as hard as I could. I swung so high I thought I would go around the pole in circles. I let go, knowing that I was going to jump higher and further than any other kid. And I did. Except I landed on a fence face first.

I stood up and looked around, but no one was watching. There was shooting pain coming from the right side of my face and when I closed my left eye everything was blurry and gray. I put my sleeve against my face and saw that it was covered in blood. Since no one was looking at me, I figured I would just stand there until the blood stopped and I didn’t feel so dizzy, and then I would go to my after-school art class. I was afraid that if I told someone, I would get into trouble and miss my the class.

When the blood soaked all the way down to my elbow, a playground attendant noticed and took me to the nurses office. My mom, who happened to be in the school for a parent teacher conference, gave me the present that was intended for my brother’s teacher (a mug that said World’s Best Teacher that was filled with hard candy). I ate every one of those candies as we drove to the hospital and the doctor examined me. I got 10 stitches on my cheek and the doctor told me I was damn lucky I didn’t lose my eye. If it was one millimeter higher, the cheekbone fragment would have pierced my eyeball.

This was me in a nutshell for a very long time (although I must admit I don’t feel like this sums me up anymore because I had a life-changing experience with The Living Course in my early 20s, but that’s a different blog post). If I were a character in a story, here’s what this story says about me:

  1. I was a loner
  2. I was defiant
  3. I wanted to fit in
  4. I was uncoordinated
  5. I was afraid of getting in to trouble
  6. I was willing to accept some pain to avoid punishment
  7. I was lucky

What is your nutshell story, and what do you think it says about you?

I’ll leave you with some comic relief: this is still one of my favorite cheesy jokes of all time.

Modern medicine makes me sad

When I returned from Mozambique, I started experiencing chronic stomach-aches. I went to a gastroenterologist, and without doing any tests, or logging any of the food I ate, he prescribed antidepressants along with 3 other prescriptions.

When I went to an orthopedist for some knees pain I was experiencing, he again prescribed me with antidepressants, and explained that they can often relieve joint pain.

When I went to a sleep clinic, they too prescribed antidepressants.

prescription pad

prescription pad (Photo credit: calvinnivlac)

After the third prescription I started to get annoyed. I wondered if I was walking into these appointments with a huge cloud over my head. Or if I was breaking down sobbing without realizing it, but I knew that I was just going over the physical problems. It seems like antidepressants are just the go to drug for doctors nowadays.

Before I go further, I have nothing against antidepressants, and I think they can be very helpful when dealing with depression, but not stomach-aches, joint pain, and sleeping problems. Especially when it seems like it’s being prescribed as the first resort and not the last resort, and we don’t even know the long-term side effects of taking these pills for extended periods.

I’ve done a bit of research, and it turns out women are prescribed antidepressants twice as often as men. The Woman’s Campaign group found, “One in three of the women polled had taken antidepressants during her lifetime. More than half of these were not offered any alternatives to drugs. And a quarter were left on the drugs for more than a year without having their prescriptions reviewed.” The American Psychological Association says that women are twice as likely to be clinically depressed than men, but could it be that doctors just think that any ailment a woman has is caused by depression?

With all these doctors prescribing me antidepressants I can’t help but feel like I’m in the Victorian age, and the kind doctor is giving me something for my fits of hysteria.

Just to give you an update on my hysteria: I no longer have stomach problems because I’ve carefully monitored my eating habits and figured out the foods that upset my stomach. I no longer have knee problems because I do some simple exercises every day that help strengthen the muscles around me knee, and I no longer have sleeping problems because I practice better sleeping habits. All these improvements without a single pill!

I don’t just blame doctors for being too eager to write out a prescription. I think the majority of patients want a quick fix. They would love a pill to solve all their problems so they can continue living unconscious lifestyles. The problem needs to be addressed on both sides of the exam table.

Psychology and wedding dresses

Why?

I bought my wedding dress this weekend! I thought it would be an anxiety-ridden, tempestuous, stressful occasion, but the 5th dress I tried on was simply the one. It was the exact opposite of what I had in mind, but as soon as you start trying on those frilly frocks something switches in your head. I knew I found the right dress when I impulsively held my hands up for a bridal bouquet as soon as my consultant zipped up the dress.

You might ask why didn’t I try on more dresses? I’m sure if I tried on every single dress in every bridal shop in Manhattan I could have found one I liked more, but would that make me more happy about my final decision?

Psychologist Barry Shwartz argues that more choices don’t make us happier it only leads to indecision and anxiety. Here are some of the reasons:

Opportunity cost: whenever you make a choice you’re giving up all the potential options that you had before making that choice. Instead of gaining something you’re losing the perceived “freedom” of indecision. The more options, the more you’re giving up by making a decision.

Escalation of expectation:  the more choices you have, the more you expect to find exactly what you want or need. This is where Barry makes his famous quote, “the secret of happiness is low expectations.” We expect that if we find exactly what we’re looking for it will make us happy, but if we’re not already happy nothing we find will meet our expectations.

Responsibility of failure: if you only have one option, and it doesn’t satisfy you, you can blame the store, or the world or whatever. But if you have every possible option right in front of you, and you choose one that doesn’t satisfy you 100% you have no one to blame but yourself. That’s a lot of pressure.

I knew that trying on a thousand dresses would only make me more critical and more stressed out. I’m very happy with my decision, and even more happy that the decision-making process was easy and fun.

Now here’s some practical advice for brides to be. If you are going to try on dresses any time soon, here are some tips:

  1. Try on multiple styles (princess, mermaid, column, etc.). You’re going to go in thinking you want one thing but seeing the effect of a different style of dress might completely change your mind.
  2. Don’t go with a lot of people. I went with my friend and my mom. The more people you have, the less they’ll have in common – just try to get six people to agree on a restaurant.
  3. Get feedback on your personality. When I was choosing between two dresses, my mom and friend described how they saw me – romantic and whimsical. Once I heard that and agreed with it, I knew that the other dress was gorgeous, but it wasn’t me.