AGAFIA LYKOVA: Religious Hermit or Modern Feminist?

“The news about 70-year-old hermit Agafia Lykova, who was airlifted out of the Siberian forest, made headlines recently. More intriguing than being a female hermit is she is the last survivor of a religious family that had no clue World War II had even taken place. Fleeing the religious persecution of the Bolsheviks, the Lykov family disappeared 150 miles into the wilderness in 1936.”

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

5 Things College Professors Want Your Freshman to Understand

Every year, over 2,000,000 students will step into a college classroom for the first time. The dorm accessories are bought, the financial accommodations made, and high school yearbooks are put on the shelf. The sad news is only 55 percent of freshmen will make it all the way to the graduation stage. Although financial and personal reasons account for some of the derailment, not being prepared for the classroom is an across-the-board problem. Here’s what college professors want in-coming freshmen to know.

Read More on About.com.

Fidel Was Robin Hood. Fidel Was A Monster.

“How did you hear?” I asked Mariela. I hadn’t seen her for ten years, but we still kept in touch over Facebook. She lives in North Carolina and I live in Tennessee. When the news broke of Fidel Castro’s death at ninety years old, she popped into my mind. I sent her a Facebook message, and she immediately replied.

“My boyfriend told me when I woke up, but I was half asleep and didn’t understand. My middle sister in Tampa texted me and my oldest sister a few minutes later… I don’t process information that early in the morning so it took me a while to really understand,” Mariela said.

“I didn’t find out until the morning, either. My brother said he found out the night before. I guess right when it was announced. He woke my dad at one a.m. to tell him.”

Read More at Narrative.ly.

The Distorted Gospel of Paula White

On Friday (Inauguration Day), for only the second time in American history, a woman will say a prayer during a presidential inauguration. Bearing the honor will be “Prosperity Gospel” televangelist Paula White, credited with the impressive task of leading Donald Trump to Christ.

 Paula White’s strain of Christianity differs from the mainstream Biblical teachings of sacrifice exemplified by Mother Theresa. The prosperity doctrine teaches that Christians who are living their lives according to certain Biblical rules—as well as giving generously to the church—will receive financial blessings. As Trump’s spiritual advisor, White and Trump’s beliefs that affluence is proof of spiritual fitness manifests itself in her lifestyle and his stance on public policy and cabinet appointments.
Read More on Jezebel.

Women’s March Participant Speaks Out About Being Target Of Senator’s Harassment Campaign (The Establishment)

“The Women’s March encompassed so many issues I am passionate about, and as a woman with two daughters, I have to participate in making sure they have the same or better rights than I have had.”

This is how Susan — whose name has been changed for her protection—describes her decision to take to the streets in Jackson, Mississippi, for the march over the weekend. For those like her who live in the heart of Tea Party country, the march was more than a powerful visual; it was a safe space to speak out, offering temporary safety from the Trumpian majority who respond to liberal women with vitriolic threats.

Perhaps, in such a deeply conservative state, it should come as no surprise that women like this who deigned to protest were also swiftly targeted and degraded. Two days after she marched, Susan saw a post from her own representative, Chris McDaniel of the 42nd district, posted on his public, official page.

Read More at The Establishment

Guest Blogger Jessica Barrett–Six Steps to Decluttering for Those in Denial

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As I try and pack up house full of craptastic odds and ends, simplification is my goal. I asked friend, freelance writer, and sometimes writing partner to help me out. Her article is under this pile of student essays I’ve kept from 2007. Just a minute.  — KA

I love to declutter as much as any neat freak does. There’s some sort of strange elation that comes with unburdening ourselves from piles and stacks and over-stuffed drawers. Ridding our lives of unwanted and unused things sometimes helps us rid our minds of unwanted memories, unnecessary worry.

My love for decluttering has taken me to many a blog and several books on the topic. The most recent publication to grab my attention was Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, wherein she explains the KonMari method of ridding yourself of things which do not “bring you joy”. (I’m still trying to figure out how to declutter ab workouts.)

For being such a huge fan of decluttering and minimalism, one might assume I’ve got my house in order, and only own what I truly need.

I wish that were true.

Where There is One There Are Many

While I’ve done fairly well with most of my home, and my shopping habits are healthy, I can still be somewhat of a pack rat when it comes to anything related to entertaining. For example, I have 3 of the exact same serving platter, and I don’t even know how many platters in total (way too many I can assure you), because what if I need to throw a very large party for approximately 200 friends some time very soon? Never mind that my house wouldn’t fit even 50 people. I’m not even cool enough to throw a party that big, nor could I get a doctor to write a large enough Xanax prescription for me to handle it.

And yet the serving platters. And serving bowls. And myriad boxes of wine glasses. And flower vases. I’m not sure what I think I’m preparing for. I’m sure hanging on to these things has something to do with issues I have with getting rid of things that are perfectly lovely and in great condition.

I Propose a Compromise

Marie Kondo and organizing/decluttering folks like her have completely valid points. I love their tips, tricks, and ideas. I’m sure they have just the right number of serving platters. But there are some of us who will probably always get to about 90% and be okay with that.

I feel no guilt or shame for the fact that I fail as it relates to decluttering serving pieces. I also don’t feel like those folks who are “collectors” should feel badly either. You like collecting figurines or model cars or cats (okay – wait, not cats, that’s weird, stop doing that), knock yourself out. There’s a big difference between a tasteful collection, and actual hoarding.

However, we should probably know the difference between collecting, holding on to a few extra things “just in case” (the Queen might seriously come to my big party in Murfreesboro, TN one day), and “you’ve lost your da*n mind”.

So, for those of us fine with topping out at 90%, here is a suggested compromise…

Steps to Decluttering for Those in Denial  

  1. Hold each item in your hands, if it “brings you joy”, keep it. If you can’t tell, don’t worry, I don’t actually think anyone believes that method works. I would use the “is it useless, broken, out-of-date, ugly” method and see if that doesn’t help you decide what to get rid of.
  2. Take a look at what has been in your house for years that you’re just not getting any use out of anymore, but are in great condition. You may have things like books or tools that you could give away.
  3. Get real about your clothes. There are surely things you’ve stopped noticing are even hanging in your closet. Try taking everything out of your closet and looking at it with fresh eyes. What is stained, torn, faded, ill-fitting, out-of-style, or uncomfortable? Pull off the Band-Aid and get rid of them. However, do you still have some things that fit a thinner you? I personally say, forget what you’ve heard and keep them! I know, it’s total denial, but I LOVE denial. I can be a lot younger and thinner in my mind when I hold on to a tiny size four skirt I couldn’t dream of squeezing into on my best day. It hangs there saying, “you can do it, one day you can put down that cookie dough and wear me again”, and I need to believe it’s true.
  4. Print material can be the bane of your existence if you’re not careful. My husband has a great theory: Read it, and then throw it away. That way, you don’t have piles of magazines just sitting around collecting dust. I think his theory is probably really good. Does it work? I have no idea. I still have magazines from over six months ago waiting to be read. I can’t wait to find out about “How to Make 2016 Your Year”.
  5. Have a place for everything. Trust me on this one, it really does work. In the case of those of you with children, it may not seem like it does. But after nagging and yelling 1,500 times, and finally threatening to throw their things in the trash, this little tip works like a charm.Barrett
  6. Look at the volume of what you own that is the same category. For example, do you have several serving platters necessary only for a very large party you will never be hosting? You’re a fine human, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I hope that your journey through decluttering brings a renewing to your space and your mind. Any amount of work you do is better than not doing it at all. And for those of you fine with 90%, don’t feel bad. We’re doing fine. I’m sure the Queen will say so when she visits each of us.

IMG_4354-web  Jessica Barrett is freelance writer, mother, wife, semi-enthusiastic runner, and blogger. Her focus is simplification. Visit her blog Mrs. Jones Could Use a Beer for more about her philosophy of “Stop Competing. Stop Comparing. Quit Keeping Up.”

Colleen McCullough Saved My Life

Colleen McCullough and The Thorn Birds pulled me through one of the strangest times in my life. I was living in Nashville, 1990–91, and working at a group home for severely mentally and disabled males. It was quite an isolating experience. The state said that during the day there could be two staff members, but at night, there could only be one. So it was left to me to lay on a wood veneer single bed off the kitchen of the home only to wake in the middle of the night to find one of the house members naked and brushing his private hair with another tenant’s toothbrush.

When you work in that industry long enough, you can find the humor of/and at the individuals. Such good times when you’re driving a van full of clients and one who shouts out directional commands randomly. So you’re burning down I 65 in Nashville when he stands and screams, “Stop.” Your foot goes to the break about to fishtail the van toward an exit, when he sits, looks round and says, “Okay. Go. Go now.”

imgres-2I was engaged to my now husband. Conveniently, after dating the majority of people in my hometown, I had found someone in Australia who hadn’t heard of me. We had one official date and the rest was done long distance. Even in the early nineties, we didn’t have many Australian imports, movies or celebrities or beer. My mom asked, “Well, have you read The Thorn Birds?” I was already developing my literary snobbishness and didn’t want to read anything I could purchase off a spinning, wire rack. But I found a copy somewhere with the four dollars a week I was getting paid to clean food off the floor, and walls, and ceiling. And someone’s private hair.

So I began to read it at night, as I listened out for any body getting up out of his bed. Thankfully, it was a long book, and it sucked me into this whole different world far from the one I was living in. On a cold, wet Nashville night, I was in the dry, hot outback.

My position as a caretaker wasn’t just hard work, it was sometimes socially unacceptable. We had a certain amount of money where we could take them out to eat once a week. People sat upright when they saw us coming in—guys with flailing arms and lolling tongues, the one who, when he got nervous, just pulled his dingdong constantly. It was hard to remain stoic and keep the thought no, this is a good activity for them and, hell, why shouldn’t they be able to eat at Shoney’s. I’ve seen worse. There would be a look of disgust on people’s faces as they watched mashed potatoes become face lotion on some of the individuals. I don’t blame them. I can’t stand the stand the sound of chewing coming out of my own offspring.

One time, after not getting to eat and running around the table sweating, helping feed each guy and wipe his face and hands, an older couple came up to me and shook my hand. The man said, “We really appreciate what you’re doing. Our daughter did this for a while.” They left a $50 bill in my hand, and I really question who deserved the $50.

Each night I’d flip through The Thorn Birds, thrilled to have some escape from a day where I saw that these young men weren’t going to get better, they weren’t going to learn how to speak, they didn’t know what was going on most of the time. I dove into a world that made me feel close to my fiancé as well as not being dragged down into the tasks of my day. The heartbreak of the story gutted me. So when I woke to one of the tenants taking all the bags of peas out of the deep freezer and putting him in his bed, I rolled out of mine where I was most likely dreaming of verandas and gum trees, and felt guilty and thrilled that I’d someday go there.

Treating Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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On the descent of a flight from Nashville to LA, I thought I would die. My body felt on fire, my heart raced, my vision blurred. If you have ever been in a car wreck and a few weeks later you hear tires squeal behind you—that feeling of utter fear that feels like it is exploding from your heart, lungs, brain—that one second of terror is what a panic attack feels like, except it sustains and grows over seconds and minutes until you are past the stage of asking for help.
            Instead of my attack finishing and me stepping off the plane feeling myself, I stayed in a perpetual cycle of attacks as I hid alone in an L.A. hotel room for twenty-four hours. When I tried to leave the room, I was in a daze, hearing my steps or my voice from behind a windowpane in my brain. Now, I know that the term for this is “depersonalization.” I was removed from reality. I kept my eye contact more direct, my speech slow and deliberate. Not only did I want to come across normal, I hoped that if I acted normal, I would feel normal. But there was also this monster under a thin sheet of my personality that threatened to come out of me yelling, “I need some help here! Someone needs to help me!”
            I wandered the unfamiliar streets of LA in a daze and lined up at an urgent care. There I was, a middle-aged woman asking for controlled substances at a clinic in Los Angeles.
            Nine months later, I’m down twenty-five pounds. It was needed, but I wish I could have done it in a healthy way.  Life has been rearranged. I put myself in my own wellness boot camp.  I haven’t had a panic attack for a few months. I’m feeling stronger than I was before these attacks began, but I cannot forget the depth of those months. I was swallowed by darkness. I remember my husband crying and holding me after I said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
            I’ve been diagnosed by a physical ailment (Fibromyalgia) since then. It contributes to the anxiety (being the over sensitivity of the nervous system), but I put some things into practice before that diagnosis which improved my life greatly.
            There is a lot of bad advice on the Internet, even scams saying they will help you with your anxiety if you register for their program. I have been so desperate, that I have read most of what is out there. What I can attest to is that many of the ones dispensing the advice have never had a panic attack.
A few things to know about panic attacks.
1. It is not a lack of self-esteem.
2. It cannot be controlled by just talking yourself through it.
3. It does not mean you’re going crazy.
4. Anxiety is not the same as stress. However, some of the treatments can be the same.
            Below are the things that have helped me. Saved me, actually. Do them all; do some. But I guarantee if you do none, you will regret it.
1) Drugs!
            When asked by doctors through the years if I have even done “drugs, my answer is, “No one ever offered them to me.” I’m definitely straight. And, frankly, I probably would have said no. Drugs and pills spook me. I gag on Ibuprofen. But, I’ve made my peace with them the last year.
            How do you know if you need them? If you are not functioning in life or work, you might need them.
            If you are having a lot of attacks, start that Xanax or Lorazapram. Give yourself some breathing space so that your body can begin to get used to what it feels like not being in a panicked state. Unfortunately, once you’ve had a panic attack, you worry about further ones, which perpetuates them. Pop those pills as directed until you can think clearly. It doesn’t make you a druggy or a failure. It helps your body with its onslaught of the fight or flight mechanism that is stuck in the flight mode. You must get your hormones under control.
            Watch out for pseudoscience. Yes, there is a body/mind connection, but going gluten-free or mixing up herbs into lemon water is not going to get you out of the cycle. Explore those things when you’ve gotten through your crisis.
            Vitamins or verified thyroid problems are not fake science. A good doctor will check your levels and make sure you get what you are lacking.
2. Meditating
            I know. If you’re not meditating you didn’t want to hear that, and if you are into it already, you’re doing a pretentious, slow head nod.
            If you are stuck in the state I was, you won’t be able to meditate, yet. However, once you have settled a bit, or if you just feel anxious in life, this is the answer.
            A place to start is by downloading the free HeadSpace app. A nice, intelligent British guy tells you what to do. It’s from an intellectual viewpoint and he doesn’t have “yoga voice.” Listen to him and do what he says for 10 minutes. There’s nothing spooky or even spiritual about it. But it does teach you how to begin to separate yourself from your thoughts. And that is really the key to the whole thing. Plus, Jared Leto uses it.
3. Journaling
            I am religiously against journaling—not as a person, as a writer. I’m with Margaret Atwood on this one. Journaling can take the emotion and energy out of your writing. However, this is a crisis point, so we’ll just have to not be as successful as Margaret Atwood for a little bit.
             Attacks last about 90 seconds, taking a deep breath and letting your body relax, then journaling, can help distract you and help you cheer yourself on. Write each day because the usefulness is in seeing the change you are making. You’ll end up writing yourself out of the tunnel.
Early journal excerpt: “Not sure what has been going on. I thought I would be okay.” The beginning entries have a lot of disjointed thoughts and me talking myself down from the brink.
Recent journal excerpt: “I need to figure it out myself. I think it has to do with death, (the) closing (of) yet another day.” My journal is mostly about bright things and events now, but when I get deeper, I explore my feelings about anxiety. Here I am trying to figure out why I feel slightly anxious when the sun goes down. Early on, I could not even contemplate these things. Now I can explore and wonder about the reasons behind my reactions.
4. Yoga and/or light running.
            I’m including my favorite routine. It’s 20 minutes, and between the man’s voice and woman’s horrible pants, it is magic. It is not strenuous. Because panic attacks make you feel removed from your body, this is a good way to bring it back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTicuDqMuq8&list=TLlb19-xRquJsWOYhL0krA27KgGPRD3Xx3
            Add running. I’m a lame runner. I do it on a treadmill at about 3.6 for ten minutes, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Running burns off extra cortisol which fuels those panic attacks. Also, making a soundtrack of happy music that you love will make it go by faster and boost your mood.
            We know exercise is the key to health. Too bad it involves actually moving. But, I must admit, I’ve never heard that a marathon runner or Olympic athlete can’t participate in their event because they are anxious, or depressed. Those things just don’t occupy the same space.
5. Diet
            I’m not a success at this, but there are some things we need to avoid. Caffeine is a main one. I missed my coffee, but after a few months, I’ve now added half a cup back. In addition, there are things you should eat. You’ve known what they are since first grade, so I’m not going to say write them here. I’m just going to say—trash in/trash out.
            But diet is more than just food. It can be podcasts, news, tasks, events, sad music, and people. Slash it. Cut it. You’ll miss it. Then you won’t.
            The people one is hard to manage. Perhaps, if you are like me, you want people to like you and you don’t like conflict. Well, those people who don’t care if people like them and don’t mind conflict are killing you while they go about their lives just fine.
            If you can let go of some people, do. Which ones are they? Just close your eyes and imagine one friend then another. You see those red flags behind some of their heads? Those are the ones. Usually they are negative, controlling, or plain inauthentic. It’s difficult to let them go, but it has to be done. At least for now. You’ll still have people at work or in your family who you can’t boot out, so thinning the herd is necessary.
            Also, what you let into your mind is just as detrimental as diet and bitchy people. If you are introspective or have a vivid imagination, beware. Your mind can become your enemy. I used to catastrophize things. If my daughter took the car out, I imagined her in a car wreck. At the height of my attacks, I had some pretty dark thoughts that I couldn’t seem to stop. That is where the drugs come in. Then:
6. See a therapist.
            My first therapist was the worst and best therapist in the world. He didn’t let me say a thing about myself, but he did teach me how to control my thoughts. It’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy and it saved me. At night, when my mind rambles with problems and thoughts, I tell my thoughts to continue in my dreams because I’ve got to sleep. Silly sounding, but effective. Also, changing my internal dialogue from, “I can’t believe this is bothering me,” to “I wonder why this is bothering me,” has made a huge difference (see journal). Many insurance benefits now have mental health offerings. If yours doesn’t, there are some free resources online.
            If I had to point to one thing that stopped my attacks, this would be the main one.
7. Tell people.
            It is a huge relief to let people know what you are going through. Also, according to friend’s reactions, it helps you figure out which of those friends to not feel guilty about ditching.
            Sure people are going to ask you way too often, “are you okay?” But you’d be mad if they didn’t. It will dissipate after awhile. The main thing telling others does for you is make you honest and open. It puts you in a posture to accept new changes in your life. It also allows people to open to you and tell of their struggles with anxiety. I have many people write me since I came clean.
            Plus, you didn’t bring this on; it’s not syphilis. The more people talk, the more others can come out of the dark. The more studies that will be done. The more medical options. The more people will realize they are normal.
            40 million people will experience panic attacks this year. If they perpetuate, these 40 million are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, end up in emergency rooms, commit suicide, become financially dependent on family or the government, and feel generally less healthy. It’s emotionally damaging, economically damaging, and life-threatening.
            I’m supposed to now say these steps are hard, but you can do it. But really, these steps are easy. I’m super lazy and have little follow-through. I might not do all of these every day now, because I no longer have to, but I do most of them. Eating breakfast, having half-caf coffee, then popping a multi-vitamin (chewable), is a lot less than what my 84-year-old father does every morning. But it works. Because I’m lazy, I wouldn’t do any of these things if it didn’t change everything.
            Good luck. And remember to think kinder thoughts about those people wandering the streets. Many never made it to a clinic.

The Impossibility of Oversharing

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There’s been a few articles about over sharing recently. How much is too much to share in memoir, personal essay, and even Facebook posts? Since I am pretty good with seeming like I over share, I thought I’d try and explore the intent and ramifications behind opening yourself to strangers.
Having just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I wanted to write her, become best friends and talk about the devastation of losing a mother. Her wound was so raw—and so all encompassing—not having a father or close siblings to tether herself to. I reveled in the fact that she was worse off than I was. That is what makes for a good memoir. The writer is further out on the lonely dock than you are. She tells you, it’s tough out here, but I’m still okay.
The fallacy of over sharing is that it is innocent—that I, or whomever, is oblivious to what they are doing. But it is usually calculated. To believe my life is laid bare is incorrect. I only reveal what I want to reveal, and only for a purpose, some of which is to either 1) make myself look good or 2) garner help for myself (which, fortunately, sometimes comes in the form of helping others).
Sharing is manipulative. One does it for some sort of response. For me, there is something helpful in getting what is poisoning my inside out. I feel it release. But what is shared is only small parts of me. It’s never everything. We must leave more for our spouses and close friends. And a few things for ourselves.
Even this article, with all its vulnerability, is still a form of manipulation. I’m the worst at getting annoyed at professional writers who use this technique as a way to garner fans because I can see right through it, since I understand how to do this same thing. I am always going to get a return on my being vulnerable (not that that is a bad thing) because that’s the nature of humanity. Everyone wants to cuddle the lost bunny.
Then there is intent. Along with it helping me to release it, it also attracts some sort of accountability. The “how are you doing” question is usually the first thing people ask me these days. Since getting over a personal crisis, I can find it a bit annoying, but it is what I signed up for, so I give a thoughtful response. My main intent in the first place was to find community.
For the past few months, I have been contacted by strangers, old friends, people on Twitter, work colleagues, all who are dealing with anxiety or depression in some form. A few times a week I end up texting, Facebook messaging, or talking to someone who is/has gone though a difficult time. I’m positive I’ve missed the cues of people who were trying to tell me they were going through something. I’ve brushed people off. I’ve given crappy advice. I’ve pushed too hard. I’ve assumed what worked for me would work for everyone. But, that’s not the same as intent. That’s plain effing-up.
For the over sharing debate in writing, it really is relative. Rarely will the writer feel she is oversharing. It’s the reader who will. And that’s what you need to decide. How much do you care what people who don’t need the message really think?