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