Saturday, June 25, 2016


Since I didn't have birthdays growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, I count my birthdays starting from when I left the cult. So I have just turned 11.

Every year I like to check in with the developmental milestones for my "age". Let's see how I measure up as an 11 year old.


Children are thinking in a more abstract way and can develop an understanding of hypothetical situations. Hypothetical, you say? Something like, what happens if you toss water balloons off the balcony of your friend's 20th floor apartment? Nothing good, I assure you. Nothing good.

Memory and attention capacity is increasing further but it is important to help develop their concentration and perseverance skills by giving the children the opportunities to dedicate themselves to single, focused activities without distraction. I've entered the wonderful world of database administration in the past year. My capacity to focus without distraction is reaching mastery level. Until Friday afternoon, when all bets are off. Then it's all about the Disney sing-along playlist.

Thought patterns are maturing as they reach puberty and many researchers believe there is a physical change in the brain that occurs and enables teens to start thinking more abstractly, carrying out complex reasoning. Well, I'm definitely on the other side of puberty. In fact, I'm on the exact opposite end of the hormone spectrum. I found out in recent months that I'm entering menopause early. Yay me. I suspect that this will bring about physical changes to my brain; hopefully ones that continue to enhance my complex reasoning skills. Always happy to see those upgraded.

Intangible concepts such as faith, love, trust, receipt, and questions about the meaning of life, the origins of the world, etc can be grappled with using more adult cognitive processes. Really? You mean if I hadn't been raised in a cult I may have developed these skills by age 11?! Wow. Colour me surprised and slightly jealous of 11 year-olds everywhere.

Personal, Social & Emotional

As children approach their teenage years adolescent egocentrism emerges. Enough about you. Let's talk about me.

They may become more self aware than they were previously and also conscious of how others perceive them, both as a person and on their appearance. This can also be triggered by physical bodily changes which are all new and alien. A positive attitude towards adulthood and these changes can make this process less daunting and more exciting for them. Being at the other end of the hormonal spectrum I am experiencing many of these same feelings of self-awareness. I'm suddenly aware of how difficult it is to lose weight as my metabolism slows with age. (Where did these extra 10 lbs come from?!) I find myself googling how to get rid of chicken wing arms and repeatedly asking myself if it's time to stop colouring my hair. 

I'm too sexy for this cutting board.

But hey, I got my first pair of reading glasses this year. And I think I'm rockin' this look.

I am gaining a positive attitude though towards aging. There is a wisdom that comes with age that is exciting and freeing. I just wish it had come earlier in my life. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Worries about starting a new secondary school can start to be evident at this age as friends start to discuss the different options between them. I may not be starting a new secondary school but I am learning to be more confident in my opinion, even when it varies radically from that of those close to me.

Friendships will be kept through sharing the same interests and extra curricular activities. My friendships are wide and varied. While most of us have a common love for board games (Bohnanza, anyone?), it is our common views on life and kindness that unite us. A love for the same music, sports or tv shows can be enough of a bonding factor when you're 11, but age proves that more is needed to sustain long friendships.

"To bean or not to bean!" Hasn't that always been the question?

Physical & Motor

An 11-12 year old child will be embarking on a period of physical growth and change as he/she starts the first stages of puberty. It is a time of exciting transition but also of rapid and sometimes confusing change for both child and parent. Helping children to understand what is happening and what is going to happen to their bodies is important to help keep them confident and reassured. Again, it's menopause for me, not puberty, although much of the same stuff applies. It is indeed 'a time of exciting transition but also of rapid and sometimes confusing change'.

When my doctor first told me that I was heading into menopause early, his concern was whether I felt a sense of loss because having a child would no longer be an option for me. My response was two-fold: 1. I've never pegged my sense of identity as a woman to physically producing a child; 2. I'd already come to terms with the reality that I likely wouldn't be having a child of my own. I'd also decided that if I did want to mother one day I could adopt or channel that into work with children or some other venture that would allow me to exercise my nurturing capacity.

I honestly have only felt like I was emotionally capable of being a good mother in the past couple of years. It took me so long to heal and reprogram after leaving the cult that I couldn't justify bringing a child into the world amidst the chaos I was still experiencing internally. And by the time I felt emotionally ready to have a child, I had not found the right co-parent. And now, it's not even an option. As with many things in my life, my timing has been off.

Sport and physical activity can play a great role in this age group. Help them to keep their changing bodies healthy through exercise and sport. Try and get involved with the sports too, this will help to maintain a healthy relationship between the child and primary carer. Physical activity has never been my friend. Having had Fibromyalgia since the age of 11, it's a constant exertion of will to force myself to move knowing how painful it will be in the days after. Even 30 years later, it's not gotten any easier.

I am holding on to some hope though. I developed Fibromyalgia at age 11, just as I was entering puberty. There is some anecdotal evidence that hormones play a factor in Fibro and many women experience a lessening of their symptoms after menopause. So, fingers crossed, everyone. Maybe more pain-free days lie ahead.

Speech, Language & Communication

Children’s conversational skills should be developing well and they will be able to cope when adults or peers strike up a conversation. They may be expressing their personal opinions in conversations too. I'm not a fan of small talk and prefer to jump right into discussing the deeper things of life. But I can just as easily discuss television shows (Can you believe how good Game of Thrones is this season?!) as the nature of consciousness.

Reading, writing and general conversing will all help them to gain the confidence and dialogue needed to hold longer conversations or debates that they will be starting to face and that will be expected of them when they start secondary education. I was on a debate team in High School. I sucked at it. Mostly because I could only see the point of view I was arguing for, my own. It's difficult to debate when you can't relate to how the other side thinks. 

Being raised with black and white thinking was ripe ground for seeing the world in such a one-sided way. I have worked tremendously hard over the past 11 years to be able to see situations from many different angles and judge them based on the unique factors, people, ethics and emotions involved. It's a hell of a lot more work than just having one very definite, black and white, rigid view.

That said, I would still suck on a debate team. I have neither the patience nor the emotional stamina needed to engage in conversations that involve me attempting to persuade someone else to a particular point of view. I think all those years as a JW preaching from door-to-door have left me with a sort of debate fatigue. But I do admire those who can do it. Anthony Magnabosco, you're my hero. 


The artistic development will be more focused on the design element. Design and technology will be challenging for them but they will particularly enjoy inventing new products or technology.

Drawings will be far more detailed, shading more advanced, ideas more interesting and measurements are more accurate and in realistic proportions.

All I have to say here is that I need to start painting again. 
So, there you have it. I'm 11 going on 42. I look forward to a year of change, growth and an increasingly new perspective on this old life.

tall penguin 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In this bed.

It all happened.
          In this bed. 

Every Monday night.
     Everything happened. 
          In this bed. 

We ate ice cream.
     Out of the tub. 
          In this bed. 

We watched films. 
     We listened to music. 
          In this bed. 

We made love. 
     All night. 
          In this bed. 

We lived out fantasies. 
          In this bed. 

We looked into each other’s eyes. 
          In this bed. 

We spooned. 
          In this bed. 

We laughed. 
          In this bed. 

We said I love you. 
          In this bed. 

We imagined a future together. 
          In this bed. 

     And always. 
          In this bed. 

     Nothing happens. 
          In this bed. 

Every Monday night.
     Nothing happens. 
          In this bed.

I remember.
     Eating ice cream out of the tub. 
          In this bed. 

I remember.
     Watching films and listening to music. 
          In this bed.

I remember.
     Making love all night. 
          In this bed. 

I remember. 
     Living out fantasies. 
          In this bed. 

I remember. 
     Looking into each other’s eyes. 
          In this bed. 

I remember.
          In this bed. 

I remember. 
          In this bed.

I remember.
     Saying I love you. 
          In this bed.   

I remember.
     Imagining a future together. 
          In this bed.

     And never again.
          In this bed.

               In this bed.

                    In this bed.

~tall penguin~

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Great Escape...

When I was a child, I had this recurring dream where I was being chased by a giant spider through a department store. I couldn't just run away though because for some reason I was naked and had to make my way to safety while hiding under one clothing rack after another, so I wouldn't be seen by the spider or anyone else.

Ten years ago today, at the age of 31, I left the cult I was raised in. Naked, exposed, vulnerable, I ran. I was shunned by my community. I kept running. Everything I believed came crumbling to the ground. I kept running. Who I thought I was disappeared like an apparition in a breath of wind. I kept running.

Ten years ago today, at the age of 31, I left the cult I was raised in. And it saved my life.

Today, when I meet someone new and they discover that I was raised in a cult, one of their first responses is, "But you seem so normal." And I smile. Because that is the best compliment anyone can give me. All my life I was different, other, separate. And while I relished the sense of specialness this gave me, it also alienated me from life, from connection, from reality. So, if I have somehow, over this long decade, managed to recreate myself into a being that on first impression seems 'normal', well, I think I've done a pretty damn good job.

As I reread my early blog entries (like the entry above), it's clear how long it took me to feel like I was part of this world and not outside of it. Feeling like an alien coming to the planet for the first time was harrowing and exciting. And traumatic and wonderful. I remember that person---that struggling, feeling, hurting person. She is me, and she is not me. I've come a long way from there to here.

I don't think much about suicide anymore. Although it was once my constant companion, it is now more of a passing glance by someone I once knew.

Being alive today is a gift. I am honestly not sure I would've lasted another decade in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Or lasted in this life at all. If I had, I believe all that would be left of me is a shell. A hardened husk of a human waiting for the end of the world. Waiting for judgement. Waiting for a new world I was never sure I would be deemed good enough to be part of. Waiting. Waiting. Forever waiting. 

I don't wait anymore. 

I wake up. I work. I love. I breathe in. I breathe out. 

Everything else is just details of a story not unlike so many others that share this planet. One of survival. One of resilience. One of hope. But I do not wait. I live.

And so, here I stand, ten years later. Ten years out of the cult I was raised in. The questions and the constant ponderings are still there. But they no longer overwhelm me or drive me into a depression wondering why I'm here or what I'm supposed to be doing. Instead, they drive me forward, aware that there is always more to learn, always more to experience, patient, as Rilke says, with all that is unresolved in my heart, loving the questions themselves.

In the words of my wise father, all I really know is that I am here. And that, finally, is enough.

tall penguin

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Well, I turned 41...err...10 in June. 10 years old. 10 years out of the cult. 10 years. I can't believe it's been 10 years.

My official anniversary date for leaving the cult is coming up in a week. I'd like to save my reflections on that for a later post. For now, it's time to look at the developmental milestones for a 10 year old and see how I'm doing.

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive development):

Know the complete date (day of the week, day of the month, month, and year). This is where my real age and post-cult age diverge quite a bit. Once I hit 40 I began losing track of time. Days blur into months. Months blur into years. I like this new sense of time. It's refreshing not to be so conscious of its passing.

Can name the months of the year in order. Believe it or not, this is still how I keep track of the months and their days. It's amazing what sticks with you from grade school.


Can read and understand a paragraph of complex sentences. I'm reading more neuroscience research than ever. Can't say I understand all of it, but I is getting there.

Are reading books with chapters. I've started reading Harry Potter for the first time ever. I really am a 10 year old!

Are skilled in addition and subtraction and are building skills in multiplication, division, and fractions. I can create a pretty kickass Excel spreadsheet with relatively complex formulas. Does that count? (pun entirely intended) Also...Vlookup FTW!

Have learned to write in cursive. Cursive is for losers. Actually, I envy people who can write beautiful cursive. I have neither the patience nor the skill.

Can write simple stories. If this blog proves anything, it's that I can write simple stories.

Emotional and social development:

Enjoy being with their friends. They often have a best friend of the same gender. I am fortunate to have many besties.

In case it's not obvious, I'm the tall one.

Continue to enjoy team and group activities. *resisting urge to post yet another orgy joke*

Continue to insist they are not interested in the opposite sex. But they may show off, tease, or act silly as a way of getting attention from or interacting with them. I'm pretty sure this behaviour continues until the day you die. It's called flirting. 

Like and listen to their parents. Some children, though, will start to show irritation with or lack of respect for adults who are in charge. Hahaha...still showing irritation with most of the adults in charge. Sure glad I can vote now!

Language development:

Enjoy reading. They may seek out magazines and books on subjects of special interest. The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The New York Times are my friends.

Can converse easily with people of all different ages. I definitely can, although, it's been a pattern through most of my life that I've been out of step with my own age group. Either ahead or behind, I've found it hard to relate. When I was a 25 year old JW, my friends were all married and having children. I, on the other hand, was childless, getting a divorce and being shunned.

Now that I'm 41 and out of the cult, those in my age group are almost all married, raising kids and nesting. Me, I'm having fun hanging out with the 25-30 year olds who are just starting their lives. Alas, I am still being shunned. I guess some things never change.

Have speech patterns that are nearly at an adult level. Nearly.

Sensory and motor development:

Have developed control of their large and small muscles. They are able to enjoy activities that use these skills, such as basketball, dancing, and soccer. I suck at motor skills. I trip over things that don't exist. 

Have developed endurance. Many can run, ride a bike, and enjoy activities that require a degree of physical conditioning. I can't say I've ever had physical endurance. I can mentally tough myself through many a challenge, but physically, I start to wear pretty darn quick. This has been an obstacle through much of my life. I have a brain in high gear but a body with its foot on the brakes. I often imagine how wonderful it might be to be a brain in a jar à la Futurama.

All of that said, I have been working with a trainer once a week and am probably enjoying the best health and fitness I've had in my life.

Continue to advance their fine motor skills, such as those needed for clearer handwriting and detailed artwork. As mentioned above, motor skills have never been my thing. Having had Fibromyalgia most of my life, my muscles have never been very good at coordinating movement. It's been tough having a body that doesn't move very well, but I've managed to have a full life in spite of it. 

The only time I feel truly in control of my body is in water. Water is the place where I don't have to fight gravity to control my body's movements. I love water. 

Me combining two of my favourite activities in the Dominican Republic, 2014.

Well, there you have it. I'm on track for the age of 10. I still can't believe it's been 10 years since I left the JWs. Stay tuned for my reflections on this upcoming anniversary.

tall penguin

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Belated Birthday...

I turned 40 on June 20th. As is customary, I count my birthdays from when I left the cult in 2005. So this year I turned 9. These are the developmental milestones for a 9 year old, with my comments in red. Let's see how I measure up.

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive development):

Know that objects have uses and can be classified into different categories. For example, they recognize that a carrot is something to eat and is a type of vegetable. I know it's a vegetable. But I still hate it.

Can read and understand longer sentences up to 12 words. Up to 12 words, eh? Hmm...that might be pushing it.

Can add and subtract 2-digit numbers, understand fractions, and are learning how to borrow and carry values. For some reason, this one sounded philosophical to me. Adding and subtracting relationships and priorities to/from my life. Learning how to borrow and carry values sounds like some of my recent life lessons. But fuck fractions. No one understands fractions.

Like organization and planning, such as making plans ahead of time with friends. I am the queen of organization and planning. Good thing, because I get paid to do it.

Think independently. Most children are improving their decision-making skills. I'm the independent thinker the JW's warned you about. My decision-making skills are advancing; have made some of the most difficult decisions of my life this year.

Can accomplish increasingly more complex tasks and projects in school, such as book reports. Goodreads FTW!

Emotional and social development:

Recognize basic social norms and appropriate behavior. Recognize? Yes. Comply with and exhibit? Not always.

Can control their anger most of the time. Funny this should be a 9-year-old milestone. For most of my life, I've had a hard time with anger, both my own and that of others. My usual response is to repress anger and flee conflict. This year has really brought me closer to responding in a more healthy way to both.

Have caring, solid friendships. Here's a group shot from my 40th/9th birthday party. Caring. Solid. These are my friends. This is my family.

Have gained a strong sense of empathy, which is understanding and being sensitive to the feelings of others. I've always had that. Too much so at times. It's much more balanced now.

Have more stable emotions than in the previous year. Mood swings may still occur, but not as frequently as before. Good meds, good therapy, good friends, good times.

Have overcome most fears that were common in earlier childhood. But they often start having more anxiety from common stressful situations, such as school performance. Substitute work for school and yup, that's about right.

Are curious about relationships between boys and girls. Few will admit to this interest—most will insist that they are horrified by the opposite sex. I like boys. Boys are stupid. 

Language development:

Read frequently and enjoy books. I run two book clubs and am finally reading Harry Potter. Wahoo!!!

Often read with a goal of learning about something of interest. My book collection is still mostly made up of non-fiction titles. Once a nerd, always a nerd.

Have speech patterns that are nearly at an adult level. Nearly.

Sensory and motor development:

Enjoy active play, such as bike-riding, swimming and running games (such as "tag"). I started jogging this summer. I look like an awkward giraffe.

Become increasingly interested in team sports. Do orgies count?

Get dressed, brush hair, brush teeth, and get ready without any help. Yup. I'm a big girl now.

Use simple tools, such as a hammer, by themselves. This is actually kind of funny because I've been doing more of the fix-its around my apartment this year.

Like to draw, paint, make jewelry, build models, or do other activities that use their fine motor skills. Crochet...look what I can do!

So, looks like I'm on track. I hit 10 next year. I'm growing up so fast!

tall penguin

Saturday, March 29, 2014


In the Spring of 1999, long before I made the choice to officially and permanently leave the JWs, I was excommunicated. I was 24, at the end of a wearisome, disastrous 5 year marriage, made more wearisome and disastrous because it should not have taken place to begin with. But when you’re a horny, confused teenaged JW with no sexual outlet but to get married, that’s what you do. 

Then one day, you wake up to realize you’re married to someone you don’t love, and probably never did. And then an inevitable chain of events begins to unfold: 

You fall in love with someone else. 
You end up seeing that person secretly. 
You end up doing things with that other person that breech the dogma of your religion. 
You confess. 
You face a JW tribunal who decide your fate. 

18 months later, I was diagnosed with PTSD because of the things the elders asked me in that 6 hour closed-door meeting. Every Spring since this happened 15 years ago, my body remembers. It remembers the coldness of those elders, their leering glances, how obvious it was to me that they were getting off on the details of this brief sexual interlude with a man I truly loved. How they were quick to decide that I was an evil, plotting, master of deception trying to escape an unfulfilling marriage. When I was just a 24 year old in love with someone not my husband, exploring a sexuality I didn’t even know I possessed. 

And so, I was excommunicated. Kicked out of my religion and shunned. During which time I had to do penance, which meant attending JW meetings three times a week while being shunned and looked upon like I wore a scarlet letter. In hindsight, if I’d only known then what I figured out later at the age of 31, I’d have left the JWs permanently at that point. But I still believed it was the true religion. So I did my time, and a year and a half later, the elders let me back into the JWs. 

As difficult as that year and a half was, there was also something incredibly freeing about it. Since none of my JW friends would speak to me, I spent a lot of time alone. Reading, writing, listening to music, seeing movies. For the first time, I went to the theatre to see movies by myself. One of which was ‘Magnolia’. It was a matinee and if I recall correctly, I was alone in the theatre. It was just me and the characters on the screen. 

And this was the first time that I consciously recall seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman. Which brings me back to 2014…February 2, 2014…the day Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Something in me broke when I heard that PSH died. I instantly remembered sitting in that theatre seeing him for the first time. And I remembered how he, and all of those characters, spoke to me. Spoke for me. 

When you grow up without a mirror for the deepest emotions you feel, when you grow up with the message that your emotions are to be controlled as harmful, and further, can actually be manipulated by the devil, well you find it hard to know that those emotions are in fact normal and okay. Magnolia gave me that. PSH gave me that. 

Up until that point in my life, I’d rarely seen a man cry. And here PSH was, on this big screen in front of me, crying. And then everyone starts crying. And singing. And crying. And their emotions are real to me. They’re real to me. More real than most of the people I’d yet known in my life. 

So, when PSH died, I remembered all the portrayals he gave that spoke for me. That shone a mirror up to some part of who I was and said Hey, it may be ugly and hard, but it’s real and it’s yours and that’s okay. It’s all okay.

I cried for PSH. I cried as though he was a friend who’d stood by my side during some really difficult times in my life, holding the space for everything that I was feeling. Because he was. 

I still have flashbacks of that period of my life as a JW. 15 years later and I still can’t get through Spring without some recollection of it. I can’t say it gets easier with age. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is a lie the old tell the young to disguise the fact that nothing actually heals, the mind just slowly forgets. But the body...the body remembers everything. 

tall penguin

Monday, March 25, 2013


“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” 
―The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

(Listen to this song while reading)

I have a new job. I don't want to go into details at this point, but I do want to tell you that it's going incredibly well. So well I can't believe I'm this lucky. I'm doing something I love, for a cause I believe in and working with people who are so amazing it took me some time to accept that they were really as great as they appeared to be.

In fact, I was quite suspicious of the whole thing for the first six months. I was being treated so well that I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's like being in a really loving relationship after being in an abusive relationship. You keep waiting for the abuse to start. You keep waiting for the harsh words or the raised hand. And when they don't come, you wait some more just to be safe. But then, you realize that it's going to be okay, that this time it's going to be different. Because it is.

This past year has been the best one of my life. And yet, I'm going through a bout of depression right now. I'm wanting to peg it on the fact that it's been a dark winter and I haven't had enough sun. But there's also a strange sadness in having such a great life now and realizing that all those years previously were so damn shitty and isn't life just absurd beyond words.

I also feel shame about being depressed right now. My life is so good. So so good. And I feel ashamed because my brain is telling me all kinds of crazy stuff and making a good attempt at trying to kill me. I'm managing but damn if I don't feel bad about feeling bad.

No matter how many times I go through a depression and how rationally I know that depression will be my lifelong companion in some form or another, there's this faint hope, this tiny voice in the back of my head that says, "Nope, this is the last time you'll be depressed."

And I really want it to be true. Even if it can't be true, I really want it to be. And so I feel ashamed. Ashamed for being depressed. Ashamed for wanting to not be depressed. Ashamed for hoping to never be depressed again. Ashamed for being depressed even though I'm so happy with my life.

Depression is maddening. Maddening. Maddening. Maddening.

tall penguin

Sunday, September 16, 2012

To Fail Well...

Why now and not then? I've been pondering this question a lot lately. My life seems to be experiencing an upswing, and I'm wondering 'why now?' There are many factors that come into play as to why we are where we are. Luck, timing, hard work, amongst other things, can all contribute to life change and it is difficult to parse out what has effected what. Way leads on to way and it is not possible to trace a distinct line from there to here. And yet, I keep wondering how I got here. Actually the question is born more from a related wondering of 'how could I have gotten here sooner?'

It's not that I'm feeling sorry for myself, it's that I really wish I understood better the process by which I have come to be where I am. I can see that my mental landscape has changed profoundly over the past couple of years and I wonder if there was a way to fast-track those mental shifts. I used to believe in the New Age-influenced idea of "The Universe" unfolding my life according to some plan, but I don't believe that anymore. Actually, it's quite possible that that belief kept me from taking responsibility for moving my life ahead faster than I did. 

Believing in a master plan of any sort has tripped me up many times across my life. I am loathe to admit how many times I gave up jobs and relationships that were actually serving me well because I felt that God or "The Universe" wanted me to move my life in some other direction. If I am honest with myself, I just didn't have the skills to be in those jobs or relationships, nor the awareness or humility to know that I needed those skills and should find a way to acquire them. So, in order to keep my ego intact, I needed some external framework to place responsibility on. An externally-controlled master plan fit the bill. 

It is sobering how many times in recent years I've experienced the deep realization that I've been an idiot. And I don't mean, "Poor me, I grew up in a cult, people taught me bad beliefs." I mean the very acute sensation that it wasn't just the cult, or my mother, or my upbringing, or the New Age crazy, but that there were also fundamental flaws in my personality that impeded me from seeing things that others in all of those situations may have saw. Perhaps this is the wisdom that comes with age or the fact that I've now tried on enough different belief systems, relationships and jobs to see that one of the most glaring common denominators across the shitty bits of my life is me. Yes, there were many external factors beyond my control. But they weren't all beyond my control. And I wasn't taking nearly enough control over the ones I could have.

I wasted a lot of time. It's a realization I will have to live with and will work the rest of my life to rectify. I took a lot for granted. That too is a realization I will have to live with and will work the rest of my life to rectify. The other realization though is that while I'm aware of all of this now, it's no guarantee that I won't succumb to making poor decisions again and again, or that I won't fall into the trap of feeling helpless again. I guess the best I can hope for is to learn to fail often, to fail well, and to continue to find the skills to pick myself up and move forward again.

tall penguin

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brain Gym, The New Age and Alternative Medicine...

When I was a Jehovah's Witness, I also got myself into the New Age/Alternative Medicine (which I will herein call the NA/AM) movement. And after leaving the JW's, finally having the freedom to do whatever I liked, I got more involved in it. Until I realized that much of the beliefs and philosophy of that movement were not that different from the faulty beliefs of the cult I was raised in.

When J, the then-boyfriend who I left the Jehovah's Witnesses with, prompted me to question my beliefs about the JW movement back in 2005, it wasn't long before he also began questioning my NA/AM beliefs (which I was definitely not ready for). You see, at the time, I was working in the Alternative Medicine field. I had a private practice in a Naturopathic clinic practicing a technique called Brain Gym. I was also deeply involved in homeopathy (practising it both for myself and recommending it to my clients). I believed in "energy" and chakras. I was even on my way to getting my Touch for Health certification, a form of Applied Kinesiology. And I was firmly convinced that thoughts could magically change reality (as in "The Law of Attraction"). 

There are many reasons why I left the NA/AM world. I stumbled on this article by Karla McLaren for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry that echoes some of them. McLaren was a leader in the New Age culture. She wrote books on auras, chakras and "energy", toured for those books and gave lectures. In her article, she details how she'd like to be able to communicate scientific and critical thinking to New Age believers, but it's her personal journey from NA/AM believer to skeptic that I want to direct your attention to here. Since McLaren was a prominent figure in the movement it was not so easy for her to disappear from the scene without alienating the community she'd once belonged to:

"The cultural rift is so extreme that anything I say will prove that I have gone to the other side, the wrong side—the side of the enemy."

When you leave a faith system, any faith system, which has a very rigid and defined way of seeing the world, it is difficult for those you are leaving to understand how you could ever question what you once held dear. But as McLaren goes on to say, once the evidence for your beliefs is questioned, you can't turn back:

"I have just seen enough to know that the skeptics and the critical thinkers have some extremely pertinent and meaningful things to say. I've now studied enough skeptical and scientific information about paranormal abilities and events to question many of the precepts upon which my work was based. More important, I've seen enough to understand firsthand the real costs of the New Age."

Like McLaren, I struggled when first realizing my NA/AM beliefs were faulty. For many reasons. One was that I was in the field myself. I wasn't just using these ideas for my own health decisions but I was openly advocating them to my clients, which were mostly school children and educators, although I did have some adult clients as well. It was hard to accept that I'd been profiting from people practicing something that was based on faulty premises. Sure, I was sincere in my beliefs at the time, just as I was sincere as a Jehovah's Witness knocking on people's doors trying to save them from an impending Armageddon. But sincerity does not preclude someone from being wrong.

When I first started questioning my NA/AM beliefs, I came across what I felt at the time were derogatory terms, like SCAM (Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine). This bothered me because I felt the implication was that everyone involved in the movement was a charlatan. And that hadn't been my experience. Sure, there were definitely some unscrupulous characters in the movement, just as there were in the Jehovah's Witnesses. But I saw mostly sincere folks who really wanted to help people. Again, wrong, but sincere. And I was one of them. As McLaren says, "I worked in the field because I have a deep and abiding concern for people, and an honest wish to be helpful in my own culture."

I was never in it for the money. As it was, as a new practitioner, I was barely making enough money to live on although many of my colleagues in the NA/AM field were doing quite well after practicing for a number of years. I often did my work without charge or on a sliding scale, because I sincerely wanted and believed I could help people. As McLaren states:

"If I were in this business for the money, I would have never seriously questioned what I was doing. I would have turned back as soon as my research challenged or threatened me. But I wasn't in it for the money. I was there to help people, often very disturbed people who were trammeling after this cure, that device, these gurus, or those miracle supplements. I tried to help people in my culture make sense of all the ideas and gadgets that were coming at them with such rapidity, but I was unable to make even a dent. When I understood fully that, no matter how good my intentions, the mere mention of things like auras, chakras, and “energy” brought with them a host of truly unsafe and untested assumptions—and that I was leading people into an arena where skepticism and critical thinking were forbidden—I knew that it was time to stop, and stop completely. It was a wrenching, isolating, and despair-filled decision, but since my focus is to help others, it was the only ethical or moral shift for me to make."

This was inevitably the decision I ended up making a few years into my practice. But before I get to that, you may wonder how it was that I got into the NA/AM movement at all. It might seem contradictory, but the Jehovah's Witnesses religion seems to be a breeding ground for alternative medicine. Although the official dogma advises members to steer clear of its many forms, because they deem it as having roots in spiritism, unofficially JW's flock to alt med in large numbers. It's not much of a leap when you've adopted one set of bad premises to accept another set of bad premises. 

So, I got involved in the NA/AM movement back when I was in my late teens, as a JW. I had a variety of health problems (the diagnoses at the time were Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia) and "mainstream medicine" (as it is derisively called in the movement) wasn't of much help to me at that time. So my mother sought out alternative treatments, many of which were being practiced by Jehovah's Witnesses in my local congregation. It wasn't long before I was being treated with homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, reflexology, and various forms of "energy work". And then, when I was about 17, my mother stumbled on a Brain Gym practitioner. 

Brain Gym doesn't sound all that terrible at first. It's a series of physical exercises. In and of itself, exercise is a good thing. Science shows this. But Brain Gym doesn't just claim to be an exercise program; it claims that its 26 movements "integrate body and mind to bring about rapid and often dramatic improvements in: concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical coordination, and more." (See the official Brain Gym website for more info on their claims.) Those are some pretty strong claims for a program that isn't based on scientific studies. On their site, they openly acknowledge: "Our primary evidence comes from the countless anecdotal stories reported to us since 1986." (Italics mine.) If you don't know why using anecdotes as data is an unreliable, and possibly dangerous, means of assessing the efficacy of a program or intervention of any sort, see this excellent article over at the Science-Based Medicine blog.

If you're interested, you can read an excellent critique of Brain Gym on the Neurologica blog. Ben Goldacre, in his book Bad Science, also devotes a whole chapter on why Brain Gym is considered pseudoscience.

Speaking of which, I remember my first encounter with the term pseudoscience. I was teaching a Brain Gym workshop to a group of High School teachers. It was a 3-hour workshop which I really enjoyed teaching and taught to educators at all levels. I took people through a Brain Gym stress assessment process and then taught them Brain Gym exercises to help them de-stress. But, for the first time, in the post-workshop feedback form I had every workshop attendee fill out, I was hit with dissenters. The Science teachers tore into Brain Gym. I'd never seen the word pseudoscience used before, nor so often. I was mortified. I didn't know what the word meant but I knew from the context that it couldn't be good. When I got home I was afraid to look it up. I calmed myself with the thought that these Science teachers were just naysaying "unbelievers". But I was unsettled enough by their response to begin doubting what I was teaching. I respected educators and I respected science; ironically, it was my love for science that lead me into wanting to teach Brain Gym in the first place.

But I wasn't ready to go the distance with my doubts at that point. Instead, after the workshop, I called my Brain Gym teacher, and mentor in the movement, and asked her about what these teachers were saying. She just told me to go back and read my books on Brain Gym, "integrate" the material, and do more Brain Gym to figure out how to teach the work better. Sound familiar? In hindsight, it wasn't that different from what I was told as a Jehovah's Witness when I had doubts: read your Bible, pray more and ask God to show you the way. There was no real conversation about the criticisms these teachers were levelling against Brain Gym. There were no scientific studies that I was directed to to validate the work as being legitimate. Just a lot of "feel good" language that didn't make me feel so good.

From those initial doubts, to the doubts that lead me to leave the Jehovah's Witnesses, to the reading and educating I did to become a more rational thinker, I was able to leave Brain Gym and the NA/AM world behind. I may blog on my journey out of the NA/AM movement, but for now, suffice it to say that it was a difficult one; in some ways more difficult than leaving the JW's. Having realized I'd been duped by the religion of my upbringing, it was quite a blow for me to acknowledge that I'd also been duped in this other area of my life, and had built a career on those beliefs, thus bringing others into my ignorance. The NA/AM philosophy, much like the JW dogma, is all-pervasive. The foundation premise of the philosophy is vitalism, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as
  1. a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions
  2. a doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining. 
And when you adopt faith in that concept, much like accepting the concept of God, it shades your most basic decision-making abilities and thought processes. I am still finding remnants of its effects on my everyday judgements.

In 2005, the same year I left the Jehovah's Witnesses, I closed my Brain Gym practice, which had, after 4 years, actually just begun to take off and make me a basic living. My main reason at the time for closing up shop wasn't yet because I fully saw the error of my beliefs, but because I was an emotional mess from my JW exit and didn't have the capacity to help my patients. I felt it was unfair to me and to them to continue to offer my services. I still saw clients on a limited basis and taught the occasional workshop and had fully intended to go back into the Brain Gym work once I regained my health and stability. 

I only gave my last Brain Gym workshop a few years ago. I have now let my official membership lapse and my instructor/practitioners licence has expired.  

Confronting reality has cost me a lot over the years. I lost my community. I lost my career. I've had to start my life over more times than I care to think about. But now that I've been living with a skeptical mindset for a few years now, I can say that it has greatly improved my quality of life overall. While the adjustments to my psyche took a considerable amount of time and energy, not to mention bruises to my strongly entrenched sense of self, I feel more grounded in reality than I ever have before. Having developed basic critical thinking skills, I am now better prepared to make informed and healthy decisions for my life. I also find that a basic understanding of scientific principles, probability and logic has helped me in my relationships with others and with myself.

In a nutshell, I've never felt saner. And sane is a really great place to be.

tall penguin 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To Live a Life...

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
~George Bernard Shaw

In the past two years, I haven't written very much here. I needed a break. I needed to step away from the story that has unfolded here since I left the Jehovah's Witnesses back in 2005. I needed to get perspective on what story I'd like to continue telling, or if I want to continue telling one at all. 

I battled for some time with myself about not writing regularly on this blog. It was a good six months before the voices quelled enough to just let it all be. I have continued writing in my private journals. I am a writer after all, and writers write. 

I spent much of the past couple of years reading and taking notes and reflecting and taking more notes. I buried myself deep in neuroscience, medicine and psychology. I have always had a passion for understanding how the human organism works. Growing up, we had a set of medical encyclopedias that I would read for fun. I'm sure it lead to me being a tad bit of a hypochondriac, but it also gave me an intense appreciation for medicine and human physiology. In my teens, my interest shifted to the mind and I became fascinated with personality tests and pop psychology. But now, with the Internet and the advances in our understanding of the brain, I have access to an abundance of information. I can look up studies. I can read blogs written by neuroscientists and medical specialists. There is a wide world of knowledge at my fingertips. So much has changed since my encyclopedia-reading days. 

I have focused a lot of my research on the brain's cognitive biases and human irrationality. When I realized that the religion I'd been raised with was filled with falsehoods, I felt betrayed by my parents and my elders, those I felt were responsible for imparting correct information to me, a trusting child. But it wasn't long before that sense of betrayal extended to myself. I felt betrayed by my own mind. Why did it take so long for me to realize that I'd been duped? What was it about the human mind that allowed such ridiculous beliefs to take root to begin with? Much of my writing in previous years explored these questions on a very personal level. But over the past few years, I've taken a step back and realized it wasn't just me that had been duped. We're all duped by something. We all carry irrational beliefs that we take for truth. And so, I wanted to understand what it was about the human brain that lent itself to such self-deception. 

I found out more than I bargained for and it made me really depressed for quite a while. I fell into quite an existential stupor in 2010. I could not come to terms with the absurdities of life and human existence.  After everything I'd been through, I didn't think it could get more difficult, but it did. I had reached a whole new level of knowledge. For the first time in my life, I felt completely naked, exposed entirely to my own ignorance and the collective ignorance of the human species. I could finally see all the cognitive errors I'd made through my life. Bad beliefs lead to bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to difficult experiences. It was all quite overwhelming to be faced with the raw truth of reality. Reality really does bite.

And, of course, there eventually came the meaning question and the realization that there is no inherent, overarching meaning to life, the Universe and everything in it. It just is. And the related realization, that if I wanted my life to mean something, I'd have to decide on that meaning for myself. And damn, what did I want my life to mean? Who did I want to be? And I found myself revisiting old versions of myself, and picking and choosing the bits of those mes that I wanted to keep and those that I wanted to discard. This was all percolating in my psyche as I read more and more about the brain. I took every bit of information I'd read and turned it back on my life. What does this teach me about life and my relation to it? What does this teach me about how to make my life better? How can I take this knowledge and make myself into the person I would really like to be?

My main goal in all of my self-exploration has always been to be healthy, sane and high-functioning enough to contribute to the society I live in and to not be a burden on others. I pulled away quite a bit in 2010, partly to heal and partly because I didn't want to infect too many people with my crazy while I was healing. For all of my reading, writing, reflecting, and therapy, I was still hitting the wall with my mental health. My moods were still inconsistent and I still thought of suicide regularly. Anxiety and depression were still my constant companions and no matter how hard I worked on bringing my mind into a rational space, there was still a wall that I couldn't get through. 

At that point, I realized that I needed pharmacological assistance for my brain to set up some kind of baseline. Without that, I knew I would just continue to flounder, no matter how hard I tried. So, I did the trial and error thing once again with my doc and about a year ago, we stumbled on a combination of meds that has changed my life. For the first time in 25 years, my brain is not actively trying to kill me. While I was quite aware of having recurrent suicidal thoughts since I was a teen, I didn't realize how much they had enveloped my daily life until sometime last Fall, when I noticed that they were gone. 

My mental landscape has changed profoundly since then. It was like the meds unlocked a door for me. And behind that door was all of the learning I'd done in the past 7 years; all the therapy I'd done, all the self-reflection and realizations. Suddenly, it was all there. Quiet. Accessible. In its place. 

I also woke up one day about a year ago and started walking regularly. For someone with Fibromyalgia, this is a big deal. It took a few months for my body to stop hating me, but it eventually got the message that this was going to be a regular thing. It still hurts but it's manageable. And starting my day with walking gives me time to listen to science podcasts or music or audiobooks. More knowledge. Yay!

After isolating myself so much in 2010, I knew that I would have to make a concerted effort to get back into life, to get engaged with people again. So, I started a weekly board games night at my apartment. A little wine, a little food and a whole lot of Cards Against Humanity. Nothing helps you come to terms with the absurdities of life like a little off-color humor. Laughter really is good medicine.

I now see my parents fairly often. We do lunch and shopping every couple of weeks. I think we've found a place of mutual respect. We might not share religious beliefs, but we share a love and basic humanistic respect for each other. And that is worth something.

I still grapple with questions of meaning and the absurdity of existence. And more recently, I've become acutely aware of the fact that I won't be here one day. And even more acutely aware that 'everyone I know, someday, will die.'

I try not to think about it all so much anymore. I keep engaged with life, with the people that matter to me and with the present moment. I'm not really sure how I got to where I am. Life is much more random than we realize and we have far less control over it than we think. This used to be depressing; now it's freeing.

Part of being able to move forward this past year was a conscious grieving of all the people I could have been. I easily could have been a doctor or a researcher. I could have been a lot of things. 

I feel like I took a 25 year long detour and am finally getting back on course with the life I want to be living. I know some people will say that I can still be a doctor or a researcher. Perhaps. But it doesn't matter anymore. I'm content with the knowledge that I was capable of being those people, that that potential was in me. If life had unfolded differently for me, a lot of things would be different. But it didn't. You can only play the cards you've been dealt. I only hope to play them well.

The reality is that while the past is the past, it has had its effects. My health will always need to be a consideration in my life decisions and now that I'm entering mid-life, there are age-related considerations to be made. Reality may bite, but I prefer it now to living in fantasyland. Part of growing up is accepting that life is what it is, whether you like it or not. And if you stop arguing with reality, life gets easier. 

There is something very sweet about the mortal life; once you realize the finitude of existence, you stop taking it for granted. And then, you start living. 

tall penguin

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Return of Miss S...

It's been so long since I've written here regularly that I feel as though I've forgotten how to blog. I've been fighting with myself about coming back to regular blogging. After such a long hiatus, I wasn't sure what to talk about first. And then something really great happened. And I thought, hey, this would be a great comeback story. So, here goes.

I wrote back in December of 2009 about a young JW girl, S, who was very dear to me. At that point, we had reconnected briefly, and randomly,  for the first time after my leaving the religion in 2005. She was 11 at that time and although I covertly slipped her my phone number, I didn't expect to hear from her for many years. I figured that once she turned 18, she'd have the right to stop attending the Jehovah's Witness meetings and then she'd come find me. Well, sometimes life takes unexpected turns and three months ago I received a phone message from Miss S, who I will now call by her real name, Sophie:

"Hi, it's me Sophie, K's daughter. I don't know if you remember me but I was thinking about you the other day and I miss you. And I'd like to talk to you. Can you call me?"

I don't think I can adequately describe how I felt when I heard that message, but I'll try. First, I did a little dance around my living room. And then I started crying, overcome with joy. A lot of really shitty stuff has happened across my life, not the least of which was losing contact with this child when I left the JWs and experienced shunning from my whole community. And here was her voice, on my phone, asking me to call her. So, I did.

I was nervous when I dialed her number. I had no idea what her JW status was. Was she and her family still in? Did her parents know she was contacting me? I wouldn't let any of that keep me from contacting her but I was also aware of the penalties and grief that she could suffer from having contact with me, the "apostate". 

When she picked up the phone, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had flashes of all of the beautiful moments we'd shared when she was a young girl. I was happy to hear in her voice that bubbly, talkative and loving girl I once knew.

As soon as we started talking, all the details spilled out. She was almost 14. She was a month away from her Grade 8 graduation. Her family hadn't been to JW meetings in years. She had always hated the religion and was happy to never have to sit through another long, boring JW sermon again. 

There was much to discuss so we made arrangements to meet for dinner. I picked her up at her home and we ended up spending the whole evening together, catching up on seven years of missed moments.  She filled me in on every bit of juicy gossip from my old JW congregation, including what happened in the aftermath of my leaving. She recounted one incident that took place shortly after I'd left. She was out with a bunch of JW adults in the proselytizing work and had seen me from afar on the street. She had wanted to go and say hello, but was told it was forbidden for her to talk to me. She said that had really bothered her. She had thought, 'She's my friend. Why can't I talk to her?'

She told me how much she hated being raised JW, how hypocritical she found everyone to be. She hated the cliques and the backbiting, the dogmatism and the lack of real love for others. When she was in Grade 3, she was so depressed about being stuck in the religion that she tried to kill herself. This made me very sad and also very angry. A lot of people in this religion have much to answer for. I wish there was a way to hold them accountable. The only solace I take from all of this is that Sophie is out now and got out young enough to build the life she wants. And, of course, that I'm now a part of her life again and get to be part of that building and unfolding.

Sophie and I now spend time together regularly. She comes and spends whole weekends with me where we go shopping, discuss life over dinner and stay up late watching movies. Normal stuff. Human stuff. 

Sometimes when I see her, I can't believe it's really her. Her with me. And we're both out of the religion and never going back. It's kind of surreal actually. As much grief as I experienced in losing contact with her, my brain had come to a certain level of acceptance that maybe I'd never be able to have her in my life again. I didn't like it, but I'd stopped crying about it. One thing that has shifted profoundly for me over the past year is that I no longer fight with reality. Reality always wins.

Sophie invited me to her Grade 8 Graduation last month. I was so touched to be there. The last time I'd attended one of her school events was when she was in Kindergarten and I volunteered to help the day her class went to the zoo. She was 4 then. She's 14 now. A decade has changed so much, yet changed so little. Sophie is still the bright-eyed, inquisitive, feeling child I knew then. And also the strong, independent, intelligent young woman I am lucky to know now. 

Here is a photo of us the night we reconnected: 

And one taken the night of her Grade 8 Graduation:

Sophie is the reason I've started blogging again. She's my inspiration. She has many questions about life and love and everything in between and I hope I can explore some of the ideas we discuss, here on my blog. When we reconnected, I showed her the entry I'd written about her over 2 years ago. She said, "You have to write another entry! You have to tell them I'm back!" 

As I write this, Sophie is sleeping on my couch. She will be delighted when she wakes to see that I've written the update to our story. I'm grateful there's an update to write. And even more grateful that our story has really only just begun.

tall penguin

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

7 and Counting!

Well, it's been a while. I haven't posted here since my last birthday a year ago. I hope that today's entry will be my return to blogging. I have much to tell you.

This birthday feels different somehow. Like some sort of pivotal turning point in my life. I joked with some friends that this is the year I decide to permanently fix my age at 19 but, all jokes aside, 19 was a crappy time in my life. So was 25. So was 30. But now, at age 38, life is good. I am happy to be 38.

Having now been out of the Jehovah's Witnesses for seven years, I feel quietly content with how far I've come. The constant grind to assimilate into the post-cult world, the obsessive desire for knowledge, the ever-present anxiety associated with what once was has dissipated greatly. Perhaps it is a function of age that things automatically begin falling into perspective or maybe it is the great gift of a declining memory that I am no longer able to recall as much of what happened, or at least why it was all so terrible. Age has a way of blunting the edges of the past and muting the intensity of all that came before. And for that I am grateful.

As you know, I have counted my birthdays according to when I left the JW's, so I am 7 this year. Let's see how I measure up against the developmental stages for a 7 year old. My comments are in red.

Motor Development

Hand-eye coordination is well developed. Playing all those first-person shooter games has finally paid off!

Has good balance. I'm fine as long as I'm not wearing heels. Tall Penguins are not made for heels.

Can execute simple gymnastic movements, such as somersaults.

Yes, that's right, I just posted a Culture Club video. I'm cool like that. 

Language and Thinking Development

Uses a vocabulary of several thousand words. Several thousand?! Wahoo! 

Demonstrates a longer attention span. Thanks be to Adderall. 

Uses serious, logical thinking; is thoughtful and reflective. I can now tell my Ad Hominems from my Straw Mans. 

Able to understand reasoning and make the right decisions. Getting there. 

Can tell time; knows the days, months, and seasons. To everything, turn. 

Can describe points of similarity between two objects. (Or people.) I have always liked the word 'kindred'. I remember first encountering the word while reading Anne of Green Gables. It may even have been at age 7 that I read that book for the first time. It became one of my faves.

Kindred is most often associated with having a similar biological origin, of being of the same family. But the orphan Miss Anne Shirley taught me that kindred can apply to those of similar mind that you choose to attach yourselves to; the family you make for yourself out of friends and community. In anticipation of meeting Diana Barry, who shall become her best friend, Anne asks:

"A bosom friend--an intimate friend, you know--a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too. Do you think it's possible?"

I have been quite fortunate since leaving the JWs to have found some 'kindred spirits' to share my life with. I have seen that family can extend beyond blood and that choosing my family has brought me into contact with some amazing people.

Begins to grasp that letters represent the sounds that form words. Hooked on Phonics worked for me!

Able to solve more complex problems. Fortunately, xkcd helps me with all the important ones.

Individual learning style becomes more clear-cut. I really do see this happening. I'm very much someone who learns by reading and writing. I have a rather difficult time listening. I have been training myself to listen better by adding podcasts and audiobooks to my morning walk playlist. It's slow but I'm hoping I can modify this because I intend to take a University level class this Fall. That's right, the Penguin is returning to the classroom. Gonna dip my toe in the water and see how it feels to listen to someone give a lecture that isn't about God, eternal destruction and other fairy tales of epic proportion. I surmise it shall feel pretty damn good. 

Social and Emotional Development

Before I get into these skills, I want to make a comment about my general social and emotional development. I have suffered from a significant amount of social and general anxiety most of my life. Looking at the list below, it almost feels like much of my development may have gotten stuck at this stage. It was at this age that our family officially entered into the JW life full swing. I suspect that the year ahead will bring me a continuing sense of emotional liberty and calm and I will finally be able to move beyond these 7 year old tendencies. 

Desires to be perfect and is quite self-critical. I have been exploring the concepts of perfectionism vs. excellence and have found myself definitely moving towards the latter over the former. It's about damn time! (Yes, that was a little self-criticism. Gotta keep it real.)

Worries more; may have low self-confidence. Actually, I'm worrying less and feel more confident than I have in the past two decades. I may be 7 but I am also 38 and there is a distinct beauty to entering mid-life. Most of what I once worried about no longer matters. Or matters less. And who I am in any given moment is usually good enough. The circle of those whose opinion matters to me is smaller than ever. Most of the time, what others think of me is really none of my business. And sometimes, even what I think of me is none of my business. One thing about learning critical thinking skills is you realize that even your perceptions of self need to be questioned and evaluated according to evidence. 

Tends to complain; has strong emotional reactions. Workin' on it. 

Understands the difference between right and wrong. Shedding the dogmatic narrative about right and wrong I was raised with has allowed me to design my own set of principles to live by. This has required much careful research, thought and consideration. It is a work in progress and requires intense diligence, but I am happy with the framework for life I'm creating. 

Takes direction well; needs punishment only rarely. *Evil Penguin smiles her evil smile* 

Avoids and withdraws from adults. I have been exploring the concepts of introversion and extroversion and where I fall on that spectrum. I suspect that I will always have a tendency to withdraw from people.  I enjoy solitude. While social anxiety is not the reason I withdraw anymore, it is still my desire to have time away from people to contemplate, read and write. I cherish my introversion as a fundamental part of my temperament.

Is a better loser and less likely to place blame. I'm not a fan of the word blame. I prefer the word responsibility. I'm working towards placing responsibility where it lies, whether with myself or someone else or chalking it up to the randomness of life. But blame is useless. It is disempowering for everyone involved and precludes resolution. 

Waits for her turn in activities. Hmm...well, my weekly Games Nite crew would be the best judge of that. I do my best to be patient, but I'm also highly competitive, so there's likely to be moments where I will Penguin Poke ya for taking too long. 

Starts to feel guilt and shame. This is definitely one spot where it's very apparent I got stuck at this point in development. Guilt and shame have been my constant companions through much of my life. But they're really sucky companions and I refuse to be friends anymore.
I find the tips on parenting a 7-year-old quite interesting and shall rely on my circle of friends to help me out with these over the next year.

"This is a time of fragile self-esteem, so offer frequent encouragement and positive feedback. Help ease the tendency for self-criticism by stressing what he's learned rather than how the final product looks. Be patient and understanding of volatile emotions and moods. Take advantage of his eagerness to learn by asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions, doing puzzles, and playing thinking games. Initiate discussions about right vs. wrong. Provide opportunities for independent decision-making."

Well, there you have it. 38 going on 7. I expect the year ahead to be one unlike any other I've had yet in this life. Older, wiser and much contenter, I see many great things on the horizon. And I shall have you join me more along the way. There is much to discuss.

tall penguin