Advice from the Trenches: I’m Confused!

confusedDear C,

I am confused. Every time I watch a news show or read the paper, there’s another headline about what science has discovered is good, or bad, for you. I remember when coffee was the great evil — now they say it’s okay. Then fat was bad for you, and fat free foods were all the rage. Now I hear that it’s dangerous to take fats out of my diet and that fat-free foods are loaded with sugar.

I don’t feel like I can trust any of it.

What The?

Dear What,

You are right to have a healthy distrust. Making decisions on personal health based on headlines and news segments is like writing a review of a movie based on the promotional trailers. What you get is a synopsis of the most sensational elements, without context or storyline.

When it comes to your body, context and storyline are what matters. The context is your own body, the storyline is the long-term effect of every treatment or indulgence. The general information that is thrown out in the media should be a starting point for understanding, not a conclusion. If you want to know how this information applies to YOU, you have to do some research.

Let’s remember that the media is not just there to inform — it is also there to bolster the big business that finances its operations. Yes, some very important medical facts that are relevant to all of us DO get some airplay. But if a subject on health is getting prime time hype on national networks, someone, somewhere, probably stands to make a great deal of money if you buy into it.

Another reason to question information is that science often finds that a drug initially hailed as a miracle cure can have long-term effects that are more deadly than the original problem. Tamoxifen is a great example. For many years, doctors regarded it as a breast cancer survivor’s best chance to stay in remission. Later on it was discovered that long-term use could cause an even more deadly type of cervical cancer. There’s a long list of drugs that had to be recalled. I was prescribed Zomax for a chronic condition. At first it seemed like the answer to my prayers. Later, it was taken off the market because it had killed a dozen people and was found to cause cancer. So much for FDA-approved pharmaceutical trials.

We are all different machines. Each one of us has different genetics, different environmental factors that affect our reactions, even entirely different bacterial cultures living in our guts. When it comes to our health, one size does not fit all. Some people practically explode with jitters if they drink a single cup of coffee. For others, coffee can stave off depression or lower their risk of Type II Diabetes. Which brings me to …

Pay attention to the messages from your body. Far more accurately than the news, your own body will tell you just about everything you need to know if you are willing to listen. I was at a party the other week listening to a woman who had been tentatively diagnosed with “suspected IBD” (inflammatory bowel disease). She was lamenting about her condition and hoping they’d find some pills that worked because she’d always loved fast food burgers, but every time she ate them now, she got sick. She wanted the doctors to fix it so she could eat whatever she wanted. When I gently suggested that her body might be trying to give her a message that she shouldn’t be eating that stuff, she was affronted. “What do I pay the doctor for?” was her immediate retort. I know better than to try to give advice to people who don’t want it, so I shut up. Later, I watched her down three burgers in a row, then run for the bathroom and retch her guts out. Sigh.

We would all like to believe that there is a magic bullet or miracle cure that will solve our problems. The truth can be a lot less glamorous. Take those sensational organ transplants that we all regard now as life saving “cures.” In reality, the immunosuppressive medications that transplant recipients take to keep them from rejecting their new organs can make them more susceptible to later stage cancers that are harder to cure. Transplant recipients are four times more likely to be diagnosed with regional stage melanoma, and far more often die of it. And that’s just ONE of the complications.

So, yeah. Be suspicious. Ask questions. And trust your own body. It’s smarter than you think.

Advice from the Trenches: Why Do I Get Attached?

oxyDear C:

I want to know why every time I sleep with a guy, I get attached. Men just don’t seem to do this. I hear a lot of my female friends say the same thing, but men seem to want to jump out of bed and run out the door. Is it an emotional thing? A gender thing? A cultural thing?

What the Hell

Dear Ms. Hell:

Everyone has a theory on this, but women aren’t the only ones who get attached. Men can, too. It really depends on the person. It also depends in part on a human hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin was coined as “the bonding hormone” when the media discovered it back around 2010. It had been known for years that oxytocin was intrinsic in developing mother/baby bonding, but what really fascinated the news mongers was oxy’s connection with sex. During arousal, oxytocin multiplies rapidly, exploding in a burst at orgasm. In fact, in women, the strength of orgasm is directly related to the amount of oxytocin they release. For a while it was thought that men and women were affected in a similar way by the hormone. For instance, when it came to bonding with kids, both genders were far more attached and attentive to their children when dosed with Oxytocin. But as science is now discovering, there is often a striking disparity in how body chemicals affect different people. In 2014, new headlines came out: “Oxytocin makes women friendlier, makes men more competitive!”

In those studies, a group of 62 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 37 were videotaped in social interactions over several weeks. Half of the participants received doses of oxytocin and half got a placebo. All of them were asked to interpret and identify the qualities of friendship, intimacy and competition in others. Oxytocin seemed to improve everyone’s ability to interpret social interactions. But depending on gender, they focused on very different things. The women were better able to identify friendship and intimacy … the men were better able to identify competitive behavior.

The really interesting thing about this chemical is that it has different effects depending not only on gender, but also on personality type and social context. For instance, men in committed relationships avoided being too close to attractive women after getting a spray of oxytocin, while single men showed no change in behavior at all. Oxytocin seems to exaggerate decisions and personality traits already in place. In some healthy young adults, too much oxytocin can result in an oversensitivity to the emotions of others that borders on neurotic. Others just get more combative.

Here’s one thing we do know: A lack of oxytocin, while not life-threatening, can produce an emotional indifference that bodes well for no relationship. In fact, animals that are lacking in oxytocin are far more likely to eat their young. Our hormones affect us in very profound ways that we are only just beginning to understand.

So, in answer to your question, that emotional attachment you feel after sex may not be so emotional after all. It could just be a reflexive female response to a rush of oxy during intimacy.You are also under the influence of human society and its expectations; nothing is as personal as we think.

Unfortunately, the media and merchandisers have nothing to gain from such an unromantic truth, so we all grow up receiving messages that every thought and emotion in our head is a personal directive we need to follow in order to find our true destiny. Far too many women make the mistake of thinking that their exaggerated attraction to a guy after sex is a sign that he is “the one.” That’s how it happens in movies and on TV, right? We never stop to think that it’s really just some hormone, along with cultural brainwashing, that is screwing with our common sense. I also doubt many women realize that when men run out the door, it’s not really personal either.Very few of us stop to think about other possible reasons for anyone’s behavior. We take it all very personally, and react, react, react.

The next time you get an urge to plan your wedding and choose colleges for your future children with some guy you’ve only known for a couple days, don’t get carried away. Stop and think. Does this really have anything to do with your purpose and future? Or could it just be Oxytocin mixed in with the last commercial you saw for a dating site?

Gone Fishin’

With summer quickly approaching, I imagine there are some readers who would like to learn to fish — that age-old skill and pastime. I have learned a lot in the last eight years or so, mostly through trial and error. I have taken suggestions of conventional wisdom that didn’t work, and tried oddball tactics that did. You never know what might bring you the catch of a lifetime. Luck certainly plays a part, but for most anglers, the strategies and tactics evolve as much as the environment does.  To be successful at catching fish, you need to be in tune with Mother Nature, or just have a little luck. Here are some of the helpful tips that I’ve picked up over the years that improved my luck.  And since we are the Ocean State, I will focus on saltwater fishing.
Our coastlines are ripe with the potential of the catch of a lifetime.  A monster striper, or cow, as they are often called, could be fighting at the end of your line upon your next cast. It is mostly just a matter of using the right tackle at the right time.
Saltwater fishing is heavily reliant on the tide. Arrive at your spot about an hour before high tide, or any time up to about an hour after it goes back out. Otherwise, you’ll be casting in vain because there will be few or no fish in the area.  It is not like a freshwater pond where the fish remain there all day.
I find that medium-sized lures made of soft or hard plastic produce most often with stripers. I have the most success with a white or light green presentation. If bluefish are running through, they will strike just about anything. They have sharp teeth and tear soft plastic lures to shreds. If your rubber lures are coming back torn up, either switch to hard plastics, or keep using the soft ones because they are attracting fish. Just know that the soft plastic lures you bought will probably get destroyed. They are, however, relatively inexpensive, so I usually just keep ripping through them.
Cast your lure out as far as you can and reel it back in over and over again. When you get bored, try a few more casts. You’ve probably heard that fishing requires patience, and it does. Just slow down and get into it. Try to reel the lure in at varying speeds and depths, never letting the line slack.  Be careful not to get stuck on the ocean floor. If you do, you may have to cut your line and tie on a new lure. Work the middle/top of the water column until you are comfortable enough to let it sink lower.
A piece of conventional wisdom that I have found to be true is that darker colored lures work better in darker water, and lighter colored lures work better in clearer, lighter water. If you have worked a section of water for a while with no results, move on to another spot, or try a different lure. Maybe the one you are using is too big or not bright enough, or maybe there are no fish in the area.
I usually stop at the bait shop before I go saltwater fishing. I bring two poles — one to cast lure and one to throw out bait. When I get tired of one tactic, I switch to the other. Sandworms almost always produce results for me, and they attract a wide variety of species. Most often I catch scup, flounder and sea robbins with these ugly little creatures, but stripers and blues go for them as well. Just remember: They have pinchers on their front end that you’ll want to cut off. Your hands will get bloody and slimy; fishing with bait gets pretty messy, but the results can’t be beat. Tie a two-ounce weight about a foot and a half above a medium sized hook, then feed the length of the hook through the sandworm. Cast it out, let it sink to the bottom, then lightly reel until there is tension on the line from the sinker. Hold the rod in a manner that keeps the tension so you can feel if there are any tugs.  Now you’re in business.
Wait for something to take the bait; you will know when it does. Resist the temptation to set the hook right away because you will likely just pull it right out of the fish’s mouth.  You will usually feel some tugs, but wait until there is a consistent pull before you set the hook. If you manage to get a fish on, reel it in at a pretty consistent pace and do not let any slack form in the line. That is when the fish usually frees itself from the hook.
The Charlestown Breachway, Beavertail State Park, The West Wall at East Matunuck and India Point Park are some popular spots to fish. You may, however, want to do a little research and get off the beaten path.  You will share space with fewer fishermen that way.
You will need to get a saltwater fishing licence, which can be done online for a nominal fee. Check dem.ri.gov for regulations, keeper sizes and bag limits. I recommend asking for advice from the clerk at the baitshop. They know where the action is and should be happy to advise you on what to use.  You can also check ristripedbass.blogspot.com for updated news on where it is popping off.  Good luck.

Advice from the Trenches: Screening

Dear C,

My brother Kenny and I are having a disagreement. He’s been having digestive problems off and on, but refuses to get checked out. He is of the opinion that if you don’t look for trouble, you won’t find it. He reels out story after story of people he knew who were okay until they went to the doctor. Then as soon as they were diagnosed with a problem, things went downhill.

I’d like to think I’m worrying for nothing, and I gotta admit he has a point — our father had low grade symptoms for years, but it didn’t keep him from working … or fishing.Then, my mom forced him to go to the doctor and they said he had colon cancer. Almost immediately after, his health went south and before we knew it, he was gone. Kenny says he would have lived a lot longer if they’d just left him alone.

Some people do seem to be okay until a doctor tells them they are sick. Then suddenly, they are SICK. Is it better to just wait and see?

Worry Wart

Dear Worry,

Normally, I might agree with you, but not in this case. Your brother is an idiot, and you are an idiot if you don’t get him to a GI specialist, NOW. But let me tell you why.

The statistics are in — the number of Americans dying of colon cancer has decreased by 30% in recent years. Is this because fewer people are at risk for colon cancer? No. It is because there has been an increase in screening for colon cancer. The industry standard is a colonoscopy and during these admittedly invasive exams not only is it possible to detect the polyps that are the forerunner to colon cancer, but doctors can also get rid of the buggers right then and there. Those polyps would almost certainly develop into cancer if they were left untreated. Because of timely screening, they are nipped in the bud.

If colon cancer runs in your family, there is a much greater chance that your brother will develop it at some point in his life. Before this happens, there are often low grade, easily ignorable symptoms, but sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Let’s say Kenny’s lucky and there’s nothing amiss, just random cramps and bloating. In that case, the colonoscopy will do nothing but give him peace of mind. But if those symptoms are from polyps, a colonoscopy could save him a boatload of pain, agony and regret later on. I’m not one for invasive medical tests, but this is one screening that I think everyone with a family history of cancer should have.

I’ve heard a lot of people trot that out that “if you don’t look, it isn’t there” rationalization because they were afraid to go to the doctor. If you’re looking for excuses, this is a good one, because it really can seem like that’s what happens. Someone is going along in their daily routine, having occasional symptoms that can easily be explained away. They don’t feel great, but they aren’t sick enough to slow down. Often they start self-medicating with one socially accepted vice or another, and the symptoms ease. “It’s all in my mind!” they say, and crack open another beer. After all, it’s the rare person who feels great all the time.

But in those cases where everything seems okay until the fateful doctor’s exam, here’s what has actually happened: The person in question let their symptoms go on for too long and by the time they are diagnosed, their condition has progressed from low-grade to final stage; and sometimes there sometimes isn’t much that anyone can do for them at this point. This is especially true in the case of colon cancer.

Your mom probably let your father cow her into silence until his symptoms became so pronounced even he couldn’t ignore them. If you care about your brother, don’t back down like mom did. I’ve had three friends die before their time with colon cancer. They had symptoms, but they were stubborn, just like your brother, and wouldn’t listen to anyone, so I backed off. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have held a gun to their freakin’ heads if I had to, all the way to the hospital.

Scare the crap out of Kenny if you have to, but get him in there. This is not a decision that either of you will regret.

Advice from the Trenches: e-Cigarettes

ecigDear C:
I have tried to quit many times, but I still smoke. Don’t give me a lecture, I know all about the dangers, but I have too much pressure in my life right now to add more by going cold turkey and neither the patch nor nicotine gum worked for me. Then I discovered e-cigarettes. I tried them and I gotta say — it’s not really smoking, but I can live with it.

Now I hear that e-cigarettes are just as bad for you and encourage people to smoke who wouldn’t otherwise. All I know is if I quit them, I’ll just go back to smoking.
Do you know anything about this?
Smokey Joe

Dear Smokey,
If you’d asked me this question a few months ago, I would have handed you a list of reasons that you are just kidding yourself. Now I am not so sure. Should people smoke? With all of the known risks, including the dangers of second hand smoke, the answer is, of course, “No!” But can everyone stop smoking? Realistically? No.
Public Health England (PHE), an agency of England’s Department of Health, has taken a stance that has raised eyebrows: They regard it a responsibility toward public health to “encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.” This attitude is diametrically opposed to that in the US, where we focus primarily on abstinence.

First, the big question: Is nicotine, in its pure form, really bad for you? The answer is a resounding “maybe.” Nicotine is undeniably addictive, and people smoke mostly because of nicotine. However, nicotine users die mostly because of the tar and additives in cigarette smoke. Take those away and what dangers are left?

The negatives: Nicotine’s greatest risks are to the unborn. Used during pregnancy, nicotine makes children more susceptible to birth defects and, later in life, for type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, neurobehavioral defects, respiratory problems and infertility. In vitro studies also show an increased risk for cancer.

What about adults? In patients with coronary artery disease, nicotine may cause coronary artery vasoconstriction. At high enough doses, nicotine is lethal. However, although cigarette smoking is conclusively linked to cancer, carcinogenicity has not been conclusively proven for nicotine itself. Nicotine is actually used medically to help patients quit smoking.

Are there any medical benefits? I was a hard-sell on this because I am an adamant non-smoker myself. I watched the habit slowly erode my own mother’s health; cigarettes would eventually kill her. But if I put emotions aside, I have to admit that there is some evidence that nicotine, NOT cigarettes, has certain benefits.

Nicotine enhances performance, alertness and focus. Double-blind studies concluded that nicotine had a positive effects on fine motor abilities and memory. GI studies show that nicotine therapy provides some protection against colitis. Nicotine is also suspected as the reason for the lower incidence of Parkinson’s Disease among smokers.
Psychologically, for many people, nicotine decreases stress and anxiety, and reduces panic. Those suffering from some mental illnesses experience great relief from nicotine, which is probably why so many psychiatric patients smoke.
The Center For Disease Control in the US sees e-cigarettes as having a “gateway effect” and that encourages non-smokers to start. But in 2014, the antitobacco organization Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reviewed the evidence and concluded that e-cigarettes were being used largely by current or former cigarette smokers. ASH also found scant evidence that bystanders could be harmed by the vapor from e-cigarettes. Since their primary goal is harm reduction, ASH considered this good news for assisting smokers who could not or would not give up cigarettes.

So, what is the answer? It really depends on you. Do you honestly think you can’t quit? E-cigarettes do not pose nearly as many health risks as cigarettes and the vapor isn’t a second-hand danger to those around you. But the medical goal of nicotine is NOT to switch from one drug delivery system to another, The goal is to set you free. E-cigarettes cost even more than regular cigarettes. However you ingest it, nicotine is costly and addictive. That monkey on your back may weigh a little less, but in the long run, it’s still a monkey.

Photo credit: vaping360.com/what-is-vaping


Advice from the Trenches: My Clothes Are Ugly and I’m a Terrible Cook

Dear C,

making-food-982410_960_720I’m engaged to a really great guy. He was born in Taipei but learned English when he was very young and came to the US for college. His parents came for a visit to meet me last week. After eating at several good restaurants around town, we invited them to our apartment for dinner.
I thought the dinner went really well — my future in-laws paid me many compliments on the decorating, the cooking and on my appearance. I was smiling and thanking them, all aglow in what I thought was profound approval. Wow, was I in for a surprise.
The next day, my fiancé told me that it was going to take a lot of work to repair the impression I’d made on my in-laws. I thought that perhaps they disapproved that we were living together before marriage, but apparently many people do that in Taiwan and no one thinks anything of it. The problem is that my in-laws now think that I am a spoiled, vain woman and they told my fiancé that he might think twice before marrying me — I would make a preening and difficult wife.
What the hell is going on? My fiancé just shakes his head when I try to get him to explain. He usually doesn’t clam up like this, it’s making me really nervous.
In The Dark
Dear IDT,
Ah, you are experiencing a culture shock. I am laughing because I had a similar experience when I traveled to Taiwan for the first time to attend my son’s wedding to a Taiwanese woman.
I was given many compliments by friends and relatives at the reception, so many that it embarrassed me. I didn’t know what to do but laugh and give profuse thanks for the nice things they were saying. The next day, my son told me I was behaving like a self-centered air head and I should learn better manners before mortifying him again. He was off on his honeymoon before I could ask him to explain. His friend, Dr. Ian Clarke, a great guy from New Zealand who is a university professor of sociology here, clued me in on the egregious faux pas I had made. Here’s the deal:
It is the cultural standard of many Eastern countries for people to act modestly in an outward manner. You could hear an Olympic gold medalist given a compliment after breaking the world speed record, and the reaction would be, “Oh, no, I am so slow! I was terrible.” Now, this does not mean that people from such cultures do not have any ego. It simply means that they know that they are seen in a better light if they deny all praise and say how awful they are. Privately, these people brag as much as anyone.
This seems really odd to Americans who have the likes of Kanye West and his accompanying horde of simpering Kardashians who take every opportunity to exploit their abilities, scant or otherwise, and who even attempt to steal the spotlight from others every chance they get. In Taiwan, Kim and Kanye would be seen as disgusting people with swelled heads and enormously large butts, although no one would ever say it to their faces and they may even want their pictures taken to show proximity to such famous fools.
Dr. Clarke explained to me that this outwardly humble lack of ego on the part of Easterners works within the operations of their particular society, but in places such as the Mideast, such behavior might get you slaughtered. There, if you do NOT assert yourself strongly, and as brazenly as possible, you might be annihilated by those around you. This is a cultural norm and no one sees an aggressive male as a preening braggart who thinks he is better than everyone else. That is how all men are.
So, back to your fatal dinner. Here is how you hung yourself: When you thanked your in-laws for their compliments and reveled in the praise, essentially, you were crowing, “Oh, yes, I know how wonderful and beautiful I am, I am such a special, entitled woman! You are so perceptive to notice!”
The next time you see your in-laws and they compliment you (for they will surely try again, to test you) just respond with, “Oh, no, my apartment looks awful! No, no, my clothes suck and I am a very unattractive person who just doesn’t know how to cook!” They will approve of your modesty and perhaps refrain from interfering with your wedding plans.
It is always a good idea to check on cultural habits when becoming part of an extended foreign family or traveling to other countries. Americans often take it for granted that their dollars and their presence entitles them to act however they wish when they roam the world. Let us hope that our cocky American teens abroad learn the folly of this behavior before trying any silly pranks that we would laugh at here. In North Korea, no one has such a sense of humor.

Advice from the Trenches: Jealousy!

Dear C;

jealousI am not sure if this is a problem, but it does worry me a lot. My boyfriend never gets jealous over me. Not even the tiniest bit. I have never cheated on him but other men sometimes flirt with me, right in front of him, and a couple times I flirted back to see if it would get a rise out of him. Nada. I finally asked him about it and he said he believes in free will. He said he would be sad if I left him or if I cheated but that it is my choice and I am free to go if that is what I want. I don’t know why, but this drives me a bit nuts. Maybe because it is so damn unromantic? How can he possibly love me if he feels this way?


Dear Perplexed;

If you ran this question past a therapist, they would probably tell you that you need to cultivate your own sense of self-esteem and that your boyfriend has a more mature attitude. Some would even argue that possessiveness is the sign of a control freak and the forerunner to a an abusive relationship. However, your boyfriend’s “free will” attitude seems to be taking maturity to the other side of the spectrum. I understand your concern.

I have had many boyfriends over my lifetime and nearly all have been a bit jealous. You could argue that they saw me as property they owned, but I’m not so sure. Yeah, if they started following me around and went through my cell phone behind my back, I’d say they were taking it too far. But everyone, both men and women, feels a sense of protectiveness about
the people who matter to them.

This is not PC, but I’m gonna say it anyway — men are hunters by nature, and a lot of them are predators. Every guy knows this, just the same as every woman knows that single heterosexual women can be ruthless and conniving when it comes to the pursuit of men, even those who are already taken. Sorry, but that’s really what goes on in our primitive brains. Because of this, most men are going to have their shackles go up if another male starts moving in on their mate. A man who yawns and goes back to reading the paper is sending a pretty indifferent message.

Let me tell you a story about a man in my past who wasn’t jealous. He had an attitude EXACTLY like your boyfriend’s, and I saw him as amazingly evolved. I really thought it was a sign of emotional maturity. Ha! This guy turned out to be more neurotic and messed up than all of the jealous men combined. He actually liked the idea that other guys were turned on by
me and saw it as elevating his status. Of course, he didn’t let me know that. He fed me his “I want you to be free” rap so he could get away with stuff behind my back, without me asking too many questions. The punch line? Turns out he was a closet gay! He wasn’t possessive largely because I had no value to him other than as a cover for his double life. I found out
later he was jealous as hell over his boyfriends.

Listen, any red blooded male worth his salt is not going to like men ogling the woman he loves. It’s not because the man suffers from insecurity. It’s because he knows exactly what cads other men are. Sure — rampant, needy jealousy is probably a sign of psychosis. But some jealousy is a healthy sign that a man values his partner and wants to protect her.

In my opinion? Any man who pukes up the bland crap that your boyfriend is spewing is not enlightened or mature. He just doesn’t give a shit.

Advice from the Trenches: Super Mother-in-Law!!

Dear C;
wonder-woman-1016324_960_720My question is: How do you not feel completely inadequate as a wife and daughter-in-law when you have a Super Mother-In-Law? She’s an amazing cook — all from scratch — and she did everything around the house and was home for her kids in the day, then worked at night. My husband frequently comments, “I don’t know how my mother did it.” Hint, hint. Well, neither do I!

While I understand that others enjoy this type of lifestyle, I am not the best cook or even close. I do try on occasion — my husband and I take turns with housework and cooking. We don’t have children, but I am an extremely busy woman, working full time and participating in many activities that exist outside my home.

While neither my M.I.L. or my S.O. would ever make me feel bad about any of these facts (she’s a lovely woman), it still is hard to stop the encroaching fear/paranoia that I am “less than” in their eyes.

Intellectually, I understand that her experience is based on a different time and place. The world and its expectations were different 30 years ago. That gives me some comfort. Still, when we attend holidays or even the occasional Sunday dinner, the one item that I’ve brought (IF I’ve brought one) is dwarfed but her huge food & treats=LOVE smorgasbord.
Feeling Perpetually Deficient

Dear PD,
Wow. That is a lot to live up to. I suspect that even Florence Nightingale would find herself lacking if she stacked her chips against your Super MIL. I hear that Ms. Nightingale never married and couldn’t cook worth crap. (Perhaps it was because she was a little busy with other things…such as elevating the role of women in medicine forever.)

Or we could compare Mother Teresa to your MIL. Mucking around with all those lepers, criminals and hos? How unladylike. I’ll bet she sucked at dusting too. Or how about Joan of Arc? The poor bitch was burned at the stake when she was only 19 for all her mouthing off. Did she even BOTHER trying to please the men in her life?

Are you getting the point? There are a lot of different things to be. We all have something uniquely our own to offer. How about you? Oh, wait … you never even mentioned what you do. But sweetie, whatever it is, your husband obviously digs it. You are the woman he proposed to and wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He could have proposed to some Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart type like his mom. He chose you. He liked you, he had fun with you, probably admired your drive and involvements. It sounds like you are someone he’s not going to get bored with. Unless you keep up this tedious comparison game.

You know what would be really awful? Imagine a world full of nothing but Super MILs flying around in their capes, all of them trying to cook and clean and serve at the same time … and the poor things would have no one to serve. Super MILs don’t stop to sit down and eat, so there’d be no one to appreciate their efforts. No reason to actually cook. Not to mention, there would be no food left in the stores, unless some of the MILs became farmers and truck drivers and grocers. Or maybe they’d add hunting to their list of accomplishments.

So, back to your question. How do you NOT feel totally inadequate? Just stop comparing. Don’t waste any more time on those pointless, fearful, self-doubting thoughts. Don’t repress them, just replace them. Make a conscious decision to look at your own strengths and cultivate them. The next time you visit? Don’t bring food, for god’s sake, your MIL doesn’t need it! Just enjoy her great hospitality. And then do something nice, in your own area of specialty, just for her. Put a lot of thought and love into it, the same as she does. She will make a happy fuss, even if she has no idea what it is. Best of all, you will now be an equal — one person doing something
nice, and uniquely their own, for another.

Advice from the Trenches: Freshman 15


Dear Sister C;

Until I went to college, my weight was pretty normal, maybe a couple pounds over. This first semester, I’ve gained over 30 pounds. It’s making me miserable and I’ve started hiding my room because I feel like a whale. I saw the school therapist and she was more concerned as to whether I was doing drugs. I don’t even drink, so she said not to worry — a lot of people gain weight freshman year. She said I should like myself as I am and keep up my studies.

In the meantime, there are candy wrappers and Dorito bags all over the floor, and I don’t have any friends.

Is it all in my head? Do I just need to accept myself and get out there?

Ms. Moby

Dear Moby;

I’m sure your school therapist is a perfectly nice lady with good intentions, but she’s an idiot.

She’s wrong on both counts — your weight gain IS something to worry about and you are, in fact, doing drugs. No, I’m not kidding. Allow me to explain.

Research from numerous studies have shown that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do. Sugar creates the same changes in the dopamine receptors as alcohol and other addictive drugs. In fact, lab rats found Oreos to be even more addictive than cocaine. This may explain why some people can’t resist chocolate any more than a heroin addict can resist smack. It is also perhaps one of the reasons you are hiding in your room, surrounded by the equivalent of empty syringes. Sugar is your drug of choice — and it also really messing with your head. That moodiness, anxiety and depression? Sugar. You feel euphoric when your blood sugar goes up; you feel like dog waste when it drops. What will get it up again? More sugar. And if you try to quit cold turkey? Welcome to the worst headaches of your life and an urge to bite the heads off of bats.

Now, the weight gain. It’s not about whether you think you look fat. It’s about what that extra weight is doing to your health. If you were already a bit overweight, a weight gain of over 30 pounds has pushed you into a dangerous new category: obesity. Weight to this extent is no longer a cosmetic or emotional issue. It becomes a health issue. Obesity is right up there with cigarette smoking when it comes to damaging habits. You are setting yourself up for a lifetime of problems. Once you gain a new fat cell, it never goes away. Dieting only makes those suckers shrink … and they seem to eternally yearn to reinflate.

I understand that colleges are far more concerned about their students getting involved with drugs than they are with weight issues, but I find it deeply disturbing that licensed therapists are still pursuing the idea that weight is a “feminist” issue, or a matter of self-acceptance. One of the reasons that men die younger than women is because they don’t make anywhere near the same effort to control the pounds and their diets are usually crap.

Listen, I don’t care what you look like. I care about your personal sense of well-being. You are miserable. And you are not going to feel any less miserable if you stay in your room eating junk food and becoming a bipolar, self-loathing mess.

Here’s what I suggest. Find a weight loss or support group on campus and join it. That sense of community is going to save you from the emptiness that drives freshmen to eat for comfort. It will surprise you how many other people are going through the same thing. Feeling isolated and exiled is half your problem. There’s nothing wrong with you that isn’t wrong with thousands of freshman all over the world. You are away from home for the first time, haven’t found your place yet, and you feel out of it.

A clue — a lot of the people who seem like they are having a fabulous social life are really good actors, or drunk … sometimes both. Appearances are deceiving. When I worked with a psychiatrist, he had many slender, pretty young patients who though they were grotesque. In fact, the more attractive the girl, the more insecure they seemed about their looks.

Weight and sugar addiction are health problems; your self-esteem is another issue. If you replace the junk with real food you will be surprised at the way your food cravings go away. Real food is not addictive. Have you ever had to restrain yourself from binging on steamed broccoli or lean meat? You will also be surprised at how much more stable your moods are and how much more you like yourself. When you stop struggling with addictive foods, you can finally get on with your life.

Advice from the Trenches: Graduating from Design School

Artists_PaletteDear Sister C;

I just graduated from a design school as a top student. I had no problem dealing with tough deadlines or assignments. But now that I’m out, I feel like I’m back to square one. I wanted a career in fine arts. It’s not like there’s a JOB out here for me. Freelance sucks. We had a few classes on marketing my senior year, and they made it sound pretty straight forward — research markets, send stuff out. What they didn’t mention is that the market is glutted and insiders seem to get everything worthwhile, and it could take years to get anything like a steady income going.

In the meantime, I am sinking into a depression that feels like molasses. I don’t feel like doing my own art anymore. I don’t feel like doing anything. My parents got concerned, came over and dragged me to a therapist and he said something about bipolar disorder and a bunch of other crap and now they all want me to take this medication. At this point, I feel so shitty, I’m thinking they might be right. What do you think?

Art Less

Sister C says:

I’m sorry, but I really gotta say this: What are you, some kind of idiot?

If you really want to be an artist, you have to learn how to deal with this shit. Look, obviously you have talent, but talent is just part of the picture. Hard work and a resilient character are more important in the long run. If you go out there and just float around, hoping someone will recognize your genius, you’re gonna get creamed. With all due respect to the medical profession, doctors don’t have a clue when it comes to artists. We are all pretty much bipolar. We have intense emotions — we ride the roller coaster instead of bobbing up and down around the merry-go-round. The trick is in learning to control it. The really great artists are in control and out of control at the same time. It’s not a trick you learn overnight.

You don’t learn how to handle emotions by taking antidepressants. Those pills work by distancing you from ALL of your feelings, not just the bad ones. Great art requires passion and drive. You don’t get that by becoming an even-keeled, monotone version of yourself.

Right now you are experiencing culture shock. You went from a fully supportive environment where your only responsibility was to create. Now you have to make your mark in an unsympathetic world where there are lots of really good artists trying to make their mark, too. Nobody knows who the hell you are. I don’t think you know who you are yet either. It’s the struggle that defines us, and you seem like you want to drop out before you even get started. If you want to be an artist, you can’t solve problems by letting Mommy and Daddy and the nice, understanding doctor medicate you so you don’t feel uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable. Get used to it.

My advice? Don’t try to freelance to earn a living while you try to find a gallery for your fine arts work. Freelance is a full-time career and you will be competing with agents and commercial artists who are approaching this as a business. Get a part-time job so you don’t stress out over the bills, one that doesn’t drain your brain or tax your energy. Then get out in the world and learn something about real people and what they do and how they feel. Stop thinking about yourself. Become part of the arts community. It will open up a new world. There’s a lot of people who understand what you are going through. You can help each other through. After a while, you will have things figured out a whole lot better than you do now.

You aced school. That was Phase One. This is the Phase Two. You are ready for it, you just don’t want to do it. Things were good in school. You were fed assignments and patted on the head. Now you’re not. Boo hoo. If you had a history of mental illness, or couldn’t hack classes, I might be concerned, but in all honesty, I think you’re just being a baby.

Take a while to adjust and learn. You didn’t leave school ready to be a mature artist; you left school ready to grow into one. So grow up, already, and get out there. Closing yourself off in a self-pitying depression or padding your brain with medication ain’t gonna do it.