Rewiring My Brain: Focus on the Positive!

Today I learned a potentially-valuable tip: every day, reflect on 3 good things that happened. According to this article about the ‘Tetris Effect’, over time the brain will learn to focus on and remember more positive experiences, helping one to feel happier. I figure, it certainly can’t hurt, right?

  1. Steph’s Soapbox re-blogged my post: FUDGE THAT!!! – mmm, fudge? don’t mind if I do …. This is the first time one of my posts has been re-blogged; I consider it quite an honor. I put a lot of thought, effort, and planning into that post – and it most certainly paid off! I feel like I’m becoming a better writer every day.

  2. I had a very enjoyable class. We got to talk to the author of one of our textbooks via Skype! He told us a very interesting and engaging story. I felt like I was able to learn a lot from the class, and contribute to it in a meaningful way. I got to enjoy this experience because I persevered in my (eventually successful) attempts to get out the door, even though I was running late. Again, the effort was well worth it.

  3. I had fun playing with my rats! They’re so cute, especially when they put their noses up to mine. 😀
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Perpetual Clutter and the Attack of the Dust Bunnies

Today, The Daily Post asks:

Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.

I am absolutely horrible about cleaning up after myself. It’s not so much that I don’t care – I want my home to be neat and organized, really I do! It’s that … Well, I don’t know. There are several layers to it.

Part of the problem is that cleaning is a task that never ends. Sure, the bathroom might be sparkling, the dust bunnies vanquished, the laundry and dishes all clean and put away, every single item in its place NOW … but in a minute, it will be imperfect once again. Someone will use the toilet or take a shower or eat something. The clothes you’re wearing are dirty. The dust bunnies started respawning before you even finished vanquishing them. You’re going to use something, I just know it! and … now that item is out of place again. There’s the satisfaction of completing a task for about a moment, and then it is once again incomplete.

from theoppulentpoppy.blogspot.com

from theoppulentpoppy.blogspot.com

I’m just not willing to be constantly vigilant, ever doing battle with my own house. I’m a bit too preoccupied with homework and relationships and trying to be places on time to care about where I take off my slippers or the fact that there are dishes in the sink. When I see the clutter I know I should clean it, but there’s usually something else I’d rather do (such as blog about it!). Cleaning just isn’t rewarding enough for me.

from The Dapper Rat, an awesome and informative site that introduced me to the joys of having rats as pets

from The Dapper Rat, an awesome and informative site that introduced me to the joys of having rats as pets

For example, playing with my rats is infinitely more rewarding than locking the poor dears in their carrier and sticking my upper body in their stinky cage to clean it … just to find, a minute later, that they’ve pooped outside the litter box again. And in their minds, all I’ve done is take away their scent marking and filled their home with alien smells that they just have to cover up again. They’d much rather get to climb on me, groom me, explore, show off their intelligence, and eat tasty things.

I’m not sure if this is a legitimate problem or just an excuse, but I also feel like I don’t have a home for all my things. Organization relies on each object having a place where it belongs. Okay, so clothes go in the hamper or the drawer. Dishes go in the cabinet. Used tissues go in the garbage. Etc.

But what about the schoolbooks I use every day? This random thing I got in the mail that I have to do something about but don’t feel like dealing with right now? Coupons? the hard copy of the dragon I just drew? my backpack, laptop case, canvas shopping bags, etc? moisturizer … I think you get the idea. Sometimes I’m too lazy to put something back in its home after using it, but other times I don’t have a home to put things in! I need to give each item a place and return it to that place when I’m done using it.

But sometimes, my anxiety gets in the way. I want to leave this thing out so I’ll see it and know where it is. If I put something away, I might forget that it exists, or not be able to find it again, or it might be eaten by underwear gnomes. If it’s out, I know I have it; I can access it fairly easily.

Sound crazy? It’s partially based on experience: often I’ll clean up and later, when I’m trying to find something, I’ll remember where it was before I cleaned – but not where I actually put it!

from reelmomevents.com

from reelmomevents.com

And finally, it’s really hard to get rid of stuff. Papers take over the room because I don’t know if I’ll need them again for some reason. A lot of garbage just never gets thrown away. Stuffed animals are too cute to get rid of. This thing most people would recycle makes a great rat toy! My goal is to have entire walls covered in books, so clearly I must keep every book I own even if I never read it and don’t currently have the shelf space. I’ll need these boxes the next time I move. These clothes/shoes/other items are still useable, it would be a waste to just throw them away. I’ll donate them (but do I ever?) or sell them (in my dreams, perhaps, but not reality).

The worst is when something I don’t use, want, or need anymore has “sentimental value.” I might have forgotten I had it, but when I see it again it’s the most precious thing ever. I’m overcome with guilt at even thinking of getting rid of it. How could I? I might not have a place for it, looking at it might be painful, I will probably never use it again, but on some level it’s a part of me. A physical reminder of my past. Perhaps a gift from someone I care about – it would be betraying them to get rid of it!

Especially with the move back to my mom’s house, it’s so much easier to just let the clutter continue to sit there than to get rid of it. Going through things is emotionally draining for all the reasons described above: it never seems to end, I’d rather (or need to) do something else, I don’t know where to put each thing, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find it again, and I feel guilty getting rid of the things I no longer want or need (or do I? Maybe I’ll want or need it at some point in the future!). I feel so overwhelmed by all the stuff I have, sometimes I almost wish it would all just disappear.

Almost.

FUDGE THAT!!! – mmm, fudge? don’t mind if I do …

“Wait, you’re happy that the thing you’re reading is making you angry?”

“Yes, I find it liberating.”

~ conversation with Fox while I was reading a chapter of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo.
(1993. Los Angeles: University of California Press.)

Once upon a time, in aristocratic Greek culture, diet and fasting were engaged in as means of mastering one’s impulses and practicing moderation; they were seen as a means of being a better citizen. Similarly, diet and fasting are a means of spiritual purification in Christian (and other religious) tradition(s).

It was not until the late Victorian era (late 1800s) that the middle class became obsessed with diet and fast as a means of attaining an aesthetic ideal – a physical pursuit focused not on the “self” but on the body.

We are aware of the multitude of “technologies” (as Bordo calls them) that are advertised as a means of attaining the ideal (i.e. slender) body. However, the only time we view them critically is when we focus on the “pathological” individuals who take them to an “unhealthy extreme.” The desire to be thin, preoccupation with this goal, and engaging in behaviors in pursuit of it are all normal; sensationalizing the pathological extreme diverts attention from the ways in which focus on being slender encourages conformity – especially to gender.

We are trained by the media to prefer and expect images of women in particular to feature a tight, contained, smooth body. Any body part that is soft and sticks out, especially the stomach, becomes a metaphor for fear of losing control over oneself. In ads the body is often portrayed as an alien attacking the individual, who must fight back … against her own body. The overwhelming message is: “You may not have wiggly bits!”

Well FUDGE THAT!!! Pretty much my entire body wiggles and you know what, I’m proud! I have a lot of fun wiggling, especially playing with my tummy fat. Belly dancing is an awesome opportunity to show off my beautiful fat in an outfit and using movements that flatter my wiggly bits. I’ll take that over your slender aesthetic any day!

But it gets even better. Where once fat was considered attractive as an outward sign of wealth, times have changed. Social power is not about wealth, but control. The body is seen as indicative of one’s internal state. Dieting and working out show that one has willpower, energy, control over impulses, and social mobility.

Fat people are seen as lacking the above qualities – in other words, unable to get anywhere meaningful in life.

Words cannot express how much that message hurts. My whole life, I have struggled with my body. I’ve wasted countless hours feeling insecure in it, hating it because I couldn’t wear the clothing styles I liked, trying to gain control over it through diet and exercise, feeling frustrated with it when I couldn’t excel at athletics. My overwhelming preference is to cover it, especially my thighs.

Lately my struggle has been to convince myself I love it – that I love myself. But the images and the message are everywhere, giving the Critic material with which to fuel my depression and anxiety. “I’m out of control; I need to manage my diet and start working out, or I’ll never get out of this slump! I’m a horrible person for not even trying.” … etc. When I’m not tearing myself apart about my atrocious habits, I’m worried about my physical health.

But according to Bordo, it’s not even about me. It’s about managing desire in society. Our economy requires a strong work ethic (willingness to put one’s own needs and impulses aside to “get the job done”) AND consumerism (“giving in to temptation” for instant gratification; buying things on impulse). It encourages bulimia: fluctuating between rigid control during the workweek, and unbridled indulgence (e.g. shopping, consuming alcohol and other drugs, eating out, etc.) on weekends.

Both anorexia and obesity are a failure – or refusal – to conform to the economy’s needs. A person with anorexia plays by the rules too well and abstains from the consumerism that helps bring in revenue. She outshines everyone else, while simultaneously revealing how harmful the rules are to one’s physical and mental health. (Of course, labeling a person with anorexia as “pathological” allows the average dieter to distance herself from the dangers of the rules she is also following …)

Individuals with obesity don’t play by the rules at all! Society can’t allow them to be happy; they must be punished for their transgression. For the nonconformist, “normalization” is penance: expressing pain and a desire to play by the rules, as well as frustration with one’s inability to do so successfully. This is the only way the obese can escape the hatred of society and instead receive empathy – or at least pity.

FUDGE THAT!!!

And this is why I’m happy that reading this chapter made me angry: By getting angry, I am extricating society’s hatred of obesity from myself. I am putting up a boundary between the true alien force that is attacking me – society’s preoccupation with the slender body – and my own body, which as long as I am alive is an inextricable part of myself. My body is not what has been causing me pain, frustration, and anxiety all these years.

I don’t have to fight it, ever again.

I haven’t gotten to the part where Bordo explains the link between slenderness and gender, but I think this is a very good place to end this particular post. I want to come back to it in a future post because I think it’s very important, so stay tuned!

Reference:

Bordo, S. (1993). “Reading the Slender Body” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp 185-212.