olimay: (Default)
Late last week, they started me loading the trucks. It's a basic thing everyone gets to try out, but they had prioritized keeping me on the top belt, picking off packages. I figure now that things have gotten lighter, they can train me to do more stuff.

Loading in the trucks is tough, but what really gets me is when I am there by myself and the thoughts that pop up.

When the rollers get backed up with packages thoughts about how I'm slow and how everyone thinks I am slow start to pop up. Then come the thoughts that simulate me telling other people and them giving me a simplistic response about not beating myself up about it. Then more thoughts pop up about how other people are mentally tougher. Just a for fun, throw in thoughts about how the majority of my friends within 2 years of my age are Vice Presidents or some kind of doctor, and I doing this, making ten dollars an hour.

I imagine freaking out and knocking over the wall of packages I've just built. I imagine walking out of the truck and telling my full time supervisor that I just can't do this anymore. It's not that it's too tough, it's that I am mentally weak --or something-- and can't handle it. Imagine every guy on the PD shrugging at me and saying, "Come on man!" in a tone that means, "You're a big baby, suck it up!" which is something they would not do.

The scanner is slipping off my fingers. My hand is cramped. It's not scanning. I'm losing my grip. What good was all my talk about strength training if I'm still slower these skinny 19 and 20 year olds? The layers of meta-thoughts are as high as the package wall I've built. The increasingly depressive thoughts stream down, forming piles like the piles of boxes at the entrance of the truck.

All I can do, it feels like, is say loudly to myself, "It's okay. It's fine. Scan and load. Scan and load." Sometimes I almost have to shout it to myself.

This is the same mental process that happens in some social situations, especially parties or professional networking things. At least in a truck I can talk to myself, keep moving, keep telling myself aloud that I'm still a beginner and everything is fine.
olimay: (Default)
Since I turn red, experience tachycardia and often nausea when I consume ethanol, I might be at a higher risk of esophageal cancer, says this one paper. The symptoms mean I am either ALDH2 deficient or ALDH2 low activity, so I metabolize a highly toxic byproduct of ethanol, acetaldehyde, much slower than other people. It accumulates and gives me annoying symptoms that people bug me about in social gatherings.

Acetaldehyde is responsible for the facial flushing and other unpleasant effects that ALDH2-deficient individuals experience when they drink alcohol. Importantly, there is now direct evidence that ALDH2-deficient individuals experience higher levels of acetaldehyde-related DNA and chromosomal damage than individuals with fully active ALDH2 when they consume equivalent amounts of alcohol, providing a likely mechanism for the increased cancer risk.

This is from: "The Alcohol Flushing Response: An Unrecognized Risk Factor for Esophageal Cancer from Alcohol Consumption"

I read about this the first time in 2009, but I didn't change anything because I read it completely wrong. It explains there are two types of people who experience flushing--people who don't have ALDH2 activity, and people who have some but very low ALDH2 activity. I mistakenly read it to mean that some people get the flush, but don't increase their risk of cancer. And somehow I dropped myself into that category. (I probably saw what I wanted to see. Somewhere, I probably didn't want to be grouped with those pitiful people who can't drink.)

Here's what it actually says. The first group:

ALDH2 Lys/Lys homozygotes are unable to consume significant amounts of alcohol. As a result, they are protected against the increased risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption. This observation also provided evidence for a causative role for ethanol in esophageal cancer, and a key role for acetaldehyde in mediating this effect.

And the second group:

ALDH2 Lys/Glu heterozygotes experience a less severe manifestation of the flushing response due to residual but low ALDH2 enzyme activity in their cells. As a result, some are able to develop tolerance to acetaldehyde and the flushing response and become habitual heavy drinkers, due in part to the influence of societal and cultural factors (see below). Therefore, paradoxically, it is the more common low-activity ALDH2 heterozygous genotype that is associated with greatest risk of esophageal cancer from drinking alcohol.

So the first group gets so sick they can't really even drink. That means something completely different from what I thought. Good lesson to read the damn thing.

The first case sounds like my dad. He drinks some wine, and within half an hour is very sick. That's why I grew up with neither of my parents drinking. Even when I saw members of my extended family drinking, it seemed weird and vaguely bad.

I'm not a regular drinker, but I've drank a fair amount during college and living in NYC. I feel sick fairly quickly, but it often seems I "sober up" quicker than other people consuming the same amounts. No one in my mothers' family has the flushing response. So I'm probably in the second group.

I can't really evaluate how good this research is. One commenter remarked that if low ALDH2 activity increases cancer risk, then other cancers should . It does seem compelling enough to take precautions.

It's not that hard to quit, since I don't really have drinking habits to begin with. I have a fair intellectual and cultural interest in alcoholic beverages for a while. But I don't remember the side-effects of drinking ever being pleasant. I always thought of it as something I had to put up with to be social, or to be true to the cultural phenomenon. I have wished for some way to (often imagined) peer pressure and social shame on many occasions.

If I stand by this decision to quit, I'll need to confront the social stigma. More than any actual pushback from others, it's the stigma I've internalized that is most daunting. Some folks may joke around, but the people I care to associate with are all very respectful of personal decisions, especially when they have to do with health. On the other hand, my internalized worry about being thought of as lame or weak was powerful enough to cause me to misread this thing in the first place.

I'm glad I checked back on this. Aside from the important opportunity to avoid cancer, it's also given me the opportunity to ponder my own choices and motivations. Even if my symptoms were innocuous, would it be the right decision to drink alcohol when I don't like the side effects the substance has on me? When I know I'll be feeling physically sick while everyone else is having fun?

"You don't have to do it if you don't want to," seems like obvious advice, but in practice it can be very hard on both ends. Sometimes what you want is a confusion of conflicting principles and preferences.
olimay: (Default)
Setting aside time to read real books, no apologies, heals more than 1000 self-help articles.
olimay: (Default)
I understand the irony of this title.

A few weeks ago, I began to really give credence to the idea that anxiety has been a big factor in how I've gone through my life. How many decisions have I made because I worried or tense or wanted to avoid something? A lot, probably.

Anxiety has two parts, as far as I can tell.
  • Tension

  • Thoughts

The thoughts part: Some days I have a lot of thoughts. Other days, not as many (but still a lot). When I get upset, the number of thoughts I have tends to multiply. By quite a bit. When I have a lot of thoughts, I often want to sort them out by writing. So I usually write about things that fascinate or bother me. I think I make better decisions about things after I write about them, so if I'm having a lot of thoughts, maybe it could be a good practice to write about them first.

This reminds me of something. I used to get stuck on timed writing assignments in school. Even now, writing takes me a long time. A post can take hours. It's hard to keep typing and typing like they tell you do--more than I want to admit, I forget how the rest of sentence is supposed to go in the middle of the sentence. I'll have a great thought or sentence planned out, then I'll space out for just a moment, and when I return I'll have lost the momentum of the thought.

Momentum of the thought? Do other people's thoughts have momentum? A lot of the time it feels like I have to keep a thought moving, or it'll fall to the side. It'll run out of gas. And we'll just never get there.

The second part, the tension part: most of cognitive-based psychotherapy focuses on the thoughts or beliefs you have. Sometimes I refute the beliefs or thoughts (verbal thoughts) but there are still these worries or bad sensations there. They don't abate. Then the thoughts--or cognitive distortions--will slowly, slowly creep back, like water spilling into the rowboat or clutter in the room. Why am I up to my ankles again?

I worry about a lot of things. I worry that I am just rambling about myself in a way that doesn't help other people. So no one's going to read this. I worry I'm going in circles and haven't really derived many insights. I worry I'll basically look and feel the same way for a very long time.

"Buy better beer, don't try to be a better person," Killer Mike said, amidst a bunch of otherwise sensible advice. I worry about that being true for me.

What's so bad if that all ends up being true? Sometimes it feels like I can only stand where I am because of where I've promised to be in the future. Time feels like a loan, and so far I'm just getting further and further into debt. I look at the systematically bad choices I've made over the years and see problems no one really has answers for; I have to figure it out for myself. What if I'm just not qualified to figure it out? What if the game really is being a goopy, sloppy mess and being okay with that? If I acknowledge that, do I have to cur myself off from all the friends who are cheering for me to come out of a lifetime funk? (They think it's just 5 years, but haven't read my LJ.) Where am I standing, statistically? Am I standing ankle deep in some kind of denial?

I look ahead sometimes when most of my writing has less to do with sifting through my own problematic refuse. What joys could I bring to people? What stories could I tell? What inquiries could I make? Another worry is that if things ever clear up, I really won't have much to talk about, write about. That my lifetime of writing was one huge anxiety attack.

The worries just kind of happen until I can really steer my attention in a different direction. That also just kind of happens.

I have a lot of thoughts. They're more like things that happen than things that I do, but when I'm having a lot of thoughts I can also have thoughts about a lot of different things. Maybe it's a kind of weather. It's raining thoughts? Time to get the urns and tarps and pots and pans; we'll distill it have plenty to drink and grow with for a while.
olimay: (Default)
I reread Duff's article about How to Deal Effectively With Peer Pressure and the JADE heuristic, and it's a great tool for avoiding needless conflict when others are trying to use peer pressure on you.

JADE is for what you're trying to avoid:
  1. Justifying

  2. Arguing

  3. Defending

  4. Explaining

It is a good heuristic. There are other times and places it might be worth having a deeper conversation, especially if this is going to be a long-term, recurring thing. There are some cases where it might be better to justify, defend, or explain--e.g. in a situation with legal consequences. (Talk to your attorney.)

Duff gives some caveats about these principles being used to defend harmful behaviors. A lot of stuff can be twisted around.

How should you respond to peer pressure? When someone tries to get you to do something you don't want to do:

  • Have a handy catch phrase that affirms your position (Duff uses the example, "I choose what goes in my body")

  • Say NO kindly and politely the first 3 times

  • The 4th time, make it clear that you would like them to respect your decision.

  • Practice saying NO before it happens

The strategy is from Andrew T. Austin.

This also applies to when you've done something wrong. When you've done something wrong:

  • Genuinely empathize and apologize for harm

  • Only if you are absolutely sure you will follow through state you will do differently; don't deepen the problem through broken promises (otherwise this procedure will become recursive)

  • Until you are sure you can keep your word, make the changes in secret

All of this is pretty helpful for me. I've had trouble dealing with peer pressure in the past; my usual response is to feel ashamed for saying no. I'm embarrassed at coming across as stubborn when people just want me to have fun. So I avoid situations where there might be peer pressure. That is a lot of situations. When I do myself into social situations I have in the past expressed this embarrassment and frustration as anger.

The concrete technique of saying no kindly and politely three times before asking people to respect other people's decisions is very helpful.

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