The Power of Empathy

Why healthcare providers need this superpower

I woke up one morning, looking over toward the bathroom of my apartment. I took a glance at an object that wasn’t supposed to be there: a wheelchair. My overstudied brain suddenly recalled that on that day, I was supposed to be a paraplegic. 

The simple task of getting out of bed and bathed without using my legs was daunting. I kind of cheated, taking a shower the night before, bypassing the need to fully bathe in the morning before embarking on my journey to the downtown campus of my school. But I tried my best otherwise to play the part.

Photo by Patrick De Boeck on Pexels.com

It was my first year in grad school. As part of my training as a physical therapist, we participated in two important activities that initial year, both designed to develop empathy, an essential trait of good caregivers. 

The first? Disability day. We drew cards with various scenarios. Half the class was “disabled” at a time, that way, our classmates could help out each other. For 24 hours, we had to be that person. 

You can probably guess that my scenario was life as a paraplegic. I was to navigate my world from a wheelchair in a second-floor apartment, and I could not drive my car. We also had to go to the store and purchase an item from the top shelf. 

The logistics of this were challenging. I had to allow my neighbor and roommate bump me down the stairs in the wheelchair. 2 flights, mind you. I had to ride in a wheelchair van, strapped to the floor by my chair. A lady at the grocery store watched in horror as I used a wooden spoon I found to slap an item down from the top shelf. She actually wailed in disgust. Would it have killed her to ask me if I needed help? Apparently so. I also ordered a coffee from the coffee bar. The barista treated me as if I were not only physically disabled, but mentally as well. All humbling experiences. 

This day did the trick. I thought I was empathetic to people who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. But spending a day in a chair taught me much more than I ever imagined. I was eager to surrender the chair at the end of the day. 

The second task? We read a book called Bed Number 10. It’s about a woman who developed Guillian-Barre syndrome, and she temporarily lost all mobility, including her ability to mobilize her diaphragm to breathe. Her story was extraordinary. 

The author so carefully documented her discomforts, her fears, and her frustrations during her care. Her story impacted my everyday practice, and it still does to this day. Every time help a patient back to bed, I recall the pain she described caused by a wrinkle in her sheets. I have developed little tricks over the years for reducing wrinkles in bedsheets for my less mobile patients. And it all goes back to this book. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have no doubt that these tasks were added to our curriculum to help us understand what our patients go through on a daily basis, not only as someone with a disability navigating an abled world, but also how our patients feel when they are at their most vulnerable. 

With how I’ve been treated as a patient at times, I wish that medical schools had some of this same training. Like playing out scenarios where they had a list of ailments, went to a doctor, and had the experience of the doctor telling them it’s because they are stressed. Or that their pain isn’t that bad or entirely in your head. Or write you off as an over-anxious mom or a drug seeker. 

How many of you have had this experience? It’s frustrating and humiliating, and it delays appropriate treatment. 

It’s happened to me often enough, even as an educated healthcare provider myself, that I do things to prove that my story is real, like wearing multiple layers of marathon gear to a doctor’s appointment. In my mind, if I wear a badge of proof that I intentionally put myself through pain for fun, perhaps they will believe that my symptoms are real. 

This mistreatment happens more frequently than you may think, and there are multiple layers that factor into this problem, including implicit bias. I have so many stories of patients who were written off and not taken seriously: 

  • A Black man who had back pain was documented as drug-seeking in his chart. After several trips to the ER, he finally presented with the red flag symptoms of inability to ambulate and the loss of control of his bowel and bladder. He actually had a tumor in his spine that progressed to the point of causing paralysis by the time they did any diagnostic testing. I literally wept while writing his evaluation. It was a horrible injustice. 
  • A Black woman who fell off a ladder at work, but her employer “lost” the tapes. They denied that the accident even happened, and only allowed her to see doctors approved by their workman’s comp policy. She was also written off as drug-seeking, but actually had a serious spinal injury. Her physical recovery was prolonged significantly because of the time between the injury and proper intervention, but she also experienced emotional turmoil in this process. In addition to our medical team properly addressing her diagnoses, I also unlocked that trauma response and was able to refer her to our mental health practitioners for additional care. 
  • My own father. A white man who doesn’t necessarily fit into the “alpha male” persona. He was in a car accident and presented to the ER with left shoulder pain. They x-rayed his shoulder, and it was fine, so they sent him home. He had been told that the pain was in his head and that he needed to take a vacation. That advice nearly killed him. Left shoulder pain is also a referred pain pattern from the spleen. It had ruptured, and he became septic a couple of weeks later. 

The above scenarios demonstrate not only a lack of empathy from multiple parties involved in the care of these patients, but also a gross lack of curiosity on the part of practitioners to get to the root of the problems. Certainly, bias played a role here as well. But in order to be curious, you must first have empathy and take the time to actively listen to your patients. 

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Surely those of us who have chosen to enter the field of medicine do so because we desire to help others. But when we get into practice, sometimes this desire gets diluted by the expectations from corporations and insurance companies. 

We are so quick to judge in this society, especially in our healthcare world. Bias and stereotypes unfortunately still affect patient care. And our system is designed to reward procedures, band-aid fixes, and high productivity. These issues are systemic and repeatedly reinforced, including biases toward certain patient populations. 

As unfair and distressing as this is, we can change this. Even just a little empathy from a provider can change the experience of our patients seeking healthcare. It is possible for future and current healthcare providers to foster these skills, both during their medical training and through continuing education. Empathy can help us look at patients more holistically. And it can definitely help us be better clinicians. That’s the power of empathy. 

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I’m publishing this as I sit in the ER with a family member. I’m here to advocate. That’s what I do. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Biggest Losers

And why do they keep trying to change the rules? 

I felt a bit of relief after the midterm elections. The red tsunami the Republicans promised was more of a gentle lap of a manmade pond. 

What saved us from the big wave? The massive turnout of young voters. It’s estimated that nearly 30% of the 18-29 demographic showed up at the polls to let their voice be heard. That’s the second most significant percentage in history behind the 2020 Presidential election. 

Naturally, Republicans weren’t too keen on this and are already tossing out thoughts of new legislation to increase the voting age to 21. Really? This party has recently decided that 10-year-olds are old enough to be forced into motherhood by a rapist. They certainly feel that 18-year-olds are mature enough to own AR-15’s. But voting? Hey, now. 18-year-olds are only old enough to incubate fetuses and shoot guns. But deciding the direction of our country? That takes real maturity. 

This brings to mind the words of Lord Farquaad from Shrek, a movie that this younger demographic knows well:

“Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

Lord Farquaad

A lack of empathy for real constituents is apparent in this party. The only voices they hear are those of evangelicals and corporations. They seem to only want to listen to voices that will bring them power and money. The rest they simply want to silence. 

I guess it’s not enough to gerrymander voting districts. It’s not enough to make voting more difficult than it’s ever been in many states. It’s not enough to claim election fraud every time they lose. Let’s eliminate the young voters, too. You know, the ones who will have to live with the consequences of our current government for decades to come.  

If our voices didn’t matter so much, they wouldn’t make it so difficult for them to be heard. 

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My daughter and I make it a tradition to vote early in November elections when she is home from fall break from college. We look forward to voting together. The first time she was able to vote, the poll workers clapped for her. It was very special!

I have always voted. I looked forward to gaining my right to vote since I took civics in 8th grade! I think it’s so important to carry out our civic duty, even if I’m not super crazy about the candidates. I have to choose the one that most closely aligns with my beliefs. 

Thankfully, It turns out that beliefs and issues matter to young people. Things like bodily autonomy, common sense gun control, legalizing cannabis, LGBTQ rights, and climate change are important, and they wanted us to know that. 

This generation has come of age at a time when abortion was legal, access to contraceptive care was a given, active shooter drills were frequent, and same-sex marriage was legalized. They see that our nation has the highest incarceration rates of any other developed country, with many serving time for petty drug crimes. They are also watching their earth succumb to the damage that previous generations have caused, and wonder what will be left for their kids. 

How do I know? Because I’m the mother of young adults in this demographic. 

Instead of punishing young people for giving a shit, maybe the Republican party should realize that the track they are following to the extreme right is simply not palatable to these newly minted adults. But that would take introspection, common sense, and empathy. That would require breaking their addiction to power. That would require looking at the world through the lens of the future leaders of this country, the very demographic they wish to suppress. 

But changing the rules to fit their agenda? That’s what losers do. 

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If the Republican party is successful in raising the voting age to 21, this will be a huge blow to voting rights. If this idea picks up steam, we must act. Our children are counting on us to stick up for them.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Lead photo: free image from Pexels for WordPress. Second: with my daughter after voting in the 2020 Presidential election.

Is the Endurance Running Community Elitist?

It depends on who you ask. 

I recently wrote an article about inclusion in the Richmond running community that was published in Miles and Minutes, the quarterly magazine for my local run club, which I also help edit. 

In my research for this article, I touched on many aspects of inclusion: ableism, fat shaming, ageism, slow runners, runners recovering from addiction, and runners of color. Each of these groups faces a bit of discrimination in this sport, whether it’s overt or more of something in the air at a group run or race. My friends and fellow leaders in this community all had stories about times when they felt the sport was elitist. 

I’ve felt some of this discrimination myself. I’m a back-of-the-pack runner. I have my reasons. I’m not a natural runner. I have to work at this. I’m older. I also have asthma. On paper, I should never have been able to run 10 marathons, 15 half marathons, or a 50k. But I have. 

And now I also find myself in multiple leadership roles in my local running community. I serve on the board and as an officer in my local run club, which boasts over 2,000 members. I am an assistant coach with Sports Backers and have coached with both the 10k training teams and for the last 4 years, one of the marathon training teams. I was also asked to speak at the Richmond VegFest this year to talk about how my vegan diet has helped my running.

A question we frequently ask as leaders in this community is how we can help inspire more runners to join our amazing sport. Well, it begins with breaking down the idea that only elite runners get to participate. 

I love writing about this, as my article entitled “What Does It Mean to be an Athlete?” discusses. This also appeared in MIles and Minutes. In it, I quoted Webster’s definition of an athlete. Oxford’s is slightly different. It seems some readers disagreed with my opinion of what this definition implies, especially about the notion of “proficiency.”

Athlete: a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.

Oxford Languages

Proficiency, however, is relative. And it’s also developed with respect to one’s own limitations and successes. I can become a faster, stronger, more efficient runner, but may never be able to compete on the elite level. Does this mean I don’t take my sport seriously or do not deserve to call myself an athlete just because I will never stand on a podium at big race? Absolutely not. 

But even elite runners face judgment and body shaming. Some of you may recall a recent post on social media by Richmond elite runner Keira D’Amato. A man dared to tell Keira, a woman who recently set the American record for the marathon, that she was too “big” to be a runner. Talk about elitist! Having met Keira in person, this isn’t true at all, plus she is super nice. I doubt her critic had any idea who he was talking to.

In all aspects of society, we seem to create constructs of what an athlete, a runner, or a successful person should look like. I’m not here to reinforce these fabrications of society. I’m here to tell you that there is space for all kinds of runners in the endurance running world. If you want to run a marathon, and you put in the work (and trust me. It takes A LOT of work), then you deserve to call yourself an athlete. It’s a mantra shift. 

When I first started running, I had finished a weight loss journey. I wanted a new challenge, as moving a number on a scale was no longer inspiring or necessary. But finishing a 5k? Now that was inspiring. 

But when I first took to the pavement, running without music, the sound of my feet hitting the road seemed to mock me. The pattern perseverated on the phrase “nanny-nanny boo-boo” in my mind. It was less than inspiring. I felt major imposter syndrome and was way too hard on myself. My negative self-talk almost made me quit. 

But slowly, as I began to take on longer distances, becoming more proficient and successfully finishing my first 5k, then 10k, then half marathon, and eventually training for my first full marathon, my mantra finally shifted. 

As silly as it sounds, my new mantra was delivered to me in the form of a mariachi band singing “You can do it!” I was running the 15th mile of a 16-mile training run. I can’t explain the madness of a hot, humid long run, but if you know, you know. I experienced the best runner’s high that day. (Yes, these are real!)

And then somewhere in this journey, I joined my husband in his fitness addiction: CrossFit. And I loved one aspect of their culture: the notion that everyone in the box is considered an athlete. 

When I was asked to be a coach for the marathon, I stressed this idea to our runners. Why? Because it’s a new mantra. I am an athlete. Just saying the words out loud brings a special rush of oxytocin, right? Try it. 

Changing your mantra and changing the purpose of your training also changes your perception of your body. You treat your body better, with kindness and respect. You fuel it with more nutritious food. You take your scheduled runs more seriously. And you take pride in your effort. 

This mind shift is so very important when coaching new marathoners. And marathoners are exceptional, make no mistake about this. Only 1% of the world’s population has run one. And even fewer have run multiple marathons or ultramarathons. 

One of my good friends and colleagues, Maria Elena Calle, ran the marathon in the Rio Olympics. She is an elite runner, but she is by no means elitist. She is perhaps the most humble person I have ever met, and she makes me feel like a successful runner every time she asks me about my latest race. She’s a big part of why our Richmond running community is so amazing. 

My goal as a coach to novice and intermediate runners and as a physical therapist is to encourage everyone to live a more active and healthy lifestyle. This also happens to be in the mission statements of both the Richmond Road Runners Club and Sports Backers. Doing this takes a mantra shift. And much like my hypercritical inner voice changed from heckling me to the sound of a mariachi band cheering me on, leaders in the fitness world can encourage rather than break people down. 

Those of you who want to continue to propel the elitist version of the endurance running community can have it. That’s your world. It’s also lonely. 

Do you know what’s not lonely? Building an inclusive community for all runners, helping guide new runners in pursuit of lofty goals, and then watching them succeed. 

My favorite day of the year is Richmond Marathon Day. I get to be on the course as a coach, providing support and watching my athletes succeed. 

I’m very happy in my inclusive Richmond running community. In fact, we were just awarded the designation of a Runner Friendly Community by the Road Runners Club of America. And there’s a reason why the Richmond Marathon is America’s Friendliest. 

So, fellow runners, if you’re ready to ditch the elitist notion, too, then repeat after me, and shout it from the rooftops:

“I AM AN ATHLETE!!!”

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To the new runners: your people are out there. Go to a big group run. You will find someone who runs your pace! And, pretty soon, running will become a part of who you are. You will begin to feel like an athlete. Embrace it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Photos above: lead: stock photo from WordPress. Second: with fellow coaches at the finish line of the Richmond Marathon in 2021 (courtesy of Lisa Z.) Third: with Keira D’Amato at the Richmond Road Runners Club banquet in 2022. Fourth: with Maria Elena Calle at the RRRC Cul-de-Sac 5k in 2022.

The Spice and Tea Exchange: Williamsburg

A Review

My older daughter and I took a trip to Williamsburg to do some holiday shopping. Since we were in town, we had to make our mandatory visit to the Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square. (Don’t worry. I didn’t suddenly decide to take up dairy again. They sell more than cheese!) As we enjoyed snacks and beverages outside the restaurant, we noticed this new spice shop!

A favorite memory of mine is from trips with my husband to St. John in the USVI. There was a spice shop in town in Cruz Bay, and the smell was amazing. To this day, if I run past the Sauer’s spice factory on Broad Street in Richmond, the aroma transports me right back to my honeymoon. It’s safe to say that I really love spice shops now, and cooking is my love language, so this store was a very happy discovery! 

The Spice and Tea Exchange occupies a small section of what was once The Trellis, a restaurant that was the ultimate special occasion place when I was growing up. The shop is cute with a very pretty inlaid cobblestone floor. 

In addition to this Williamsburg location, there is also one in Carytown in Richmond and several across the country. You can also order online, although the online experience can’t quite measure up to seeing and smelling everything in person, obviously!

The staff we encountered in Williamsburg were all super friendly, eager to share how the store is organized, how to experience the smells, and recipe cards to help utilize their spices! They even made sure I had a basket when I began to accumulate selections.

Speaking of selections, there were so many choices! There’s an entire wall with multiple spice blends, a salt section, a pepper section, a sugar section, and an entire wall of teas and tea blends. They can also make hot or iced tea to go!

We did edit our selections, putting a few items back. I ended up buying:

  • Two kinds of loose tea for my younger daughter. She’s a big fan of tea, and in my search for special blends for her, these were the best quality. I hope she loves them! I picked a fruity one and a black tea based blend. These will be Christmas gifts.
  • Raspberry sugar. My younger daughter was recently searching for a way to add raspberry flavor to her tea. I think this will do the trick! 
  • Hickory smoked salt. In vegan cooking, one of the flavors that is difficult to capture is smoke. I use a lot of smoked paprika! There is liquid smoke, but I almost always overdo it, ruining a dish. I can’t wait to add this to air-fried tofu, soups, and veggies to add an extra layer of flavor.
  • Pepper blend. My husband loves spicy food, so this shaker of multiple pepper varieties should help kick up the heat and flavor in his favorite dishes! This will go in his stocking. 
  • Good as Gold turmeric blend. Slightly sweet, this is supposed to be great for making milk tea, which is something my older daughter has always wanted to try. 
  • Tuscan spice blend. An Italian blend, the smell is amazing! The first thing we did when we got home was to try this in a bit of olive oil to dip bread into. Delicious!

Most of what I bought were in the smallest sizes and priced at $5.89. The shaker sizes were almost $14, and the tea blends were also almost $14. I think these prices are reasonable based on the quality of the products.  

I will definitely be back. I want to try other spice blends that I edited from my original purchase and some of the salts they make specifically for cocktails! And this is a great place to buy a hostess gift or put together a gift basket for a foodie in your life. If you love to cook as I do, you should definitely visit this place!

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I subscribe to the notion that variety is the spice of life. And spices are a vegan chef’s best friend! The Spice and Tea Exchange delivers on spice, variety, and knowledgeable staff. Have you ever visited one of their stores? I’d love to hear about your experience.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

There’s a Butter Dish for That!

The magic of cleaning up leftovers

“I’ve got a butter dish for that!” your auntie exclaims as you assemble in the kitchen with the rest of the family who are courageous enough to help clean up this year’s colossal holiday family feast. 

At this point in my life, there’s still an older grown-up at a family gathering, thankfully! If you are lucky enough to also have older grown-ups in your life, especially ones who lived through the 40’s and 50’s, you may be well aware of this gift most grandma types possess: the magic ability to eye the remnants of a meal and match them with a random, recycled container. 

The grandmas I know all have that mystery cabinet in the kitchen, usually in the darkest corner, that contains old Country Crock bins, potato salad containers, pickle jars, and the like. No plastic or glass container once holding a random condiment or salad is unimportant enough to end up in the trash. They are carefully washed and join an expansive family, all living in that mystery corner cabinet. 

You know this cabinet, right? The one where you take your life into your own hands by opening that door, lest you unleash an avalanche of plastic, echoing as the containers bounce off the floors. Yes, that’s the one. And then you must select the appropriate size for the several bites of mashed potatoes left. Choose wisely. 

Apparently, this gift of spacial relations, pairing leftovers to those repurposed vessels, is something to be admired. 

I clearly remember as a child observing a big meal cleanup at my Aunt Octavia’s house. They had a sort of Golden Girls arrangement, where 4 sisters/cousins and their spouses shared a house after they retired. My dad commented on Aunt Louise’s amazing sense of finding the perfect container to hold the leftovers. Somehow, that stayed with me. 

I was not blessed with this gift. Some days, I can barely figure out how to put a pair of shoes in a shoe box correctly. That’s how awesome my spacial relation skills are. 

So this year, after our Thanksgiving meal, I wondered how well I’d developed this skill, if at all.  We aren’t staying in our house, but on vacation, complicating the cleanup. We did seem to find some random containers to hold our leftovers. I surprised myself by estimating fairly well. I’m not sure if I’m up to Aunt Louise’s standards, but not bad. 

You may also be familiar with the next game, the one that comes after herding all of those leftovers into bins: Refrigerator Tetris. You know, rearranging the contents of the fridge to accommodate all those random containers. I’m much better at this process. 

This usually begins with me sitting in front of the open icebox, placing whatever can be moved into drawers, and clearing up precious shelf space. Then there’s arranging beverages into rows and matching containers to empty spaces. Sometimes there’s stacking, too. 

Finally, though, the job is done. You look at your organizational skills, slightly satisfied with achieving something so trivial. Maybe I made my Aunt Louise proud. 

Perhaps I’m evolving into one of those Grandma types after all. Except my plastic goes into the recycle bin. (Excluding Thai food takeout containers. Those are as precious as fine china!) 

We’ll see how well I’ve mastered these games at the next holiday meal.

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I hope you are enjoying a pleasant holiday season with your friends and family. This year, I’m trying to focus on spending time with others, not on gifts or fanfare.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Want to Inspire a Runner in Your Life this Holiday Season?

Try gifting a great book about running!

Buying gifts for a runner can be challenging. Really, they may have already bought all the things they need. Between new shoes and gear, free race shirts, and all the gels and salt tabs, it may seem like they need nothing!

Sometimes a great book about running or by a runner is the best gift of all! It will give the special runner in your life something to read while traveling to or tapering for the next big race! 

Here are some favorites of mine that I highly recommend:

  • Bravey by Alexi Pappas

One of my friends is a former Olympian for the marathon, and she literally shoved this book in my hand one day and insisted that I read it immediately! Bravey is transformative. A memoir of sorts, Alexi details her difficult childhood, how she fell in love with running, and follows her career through the Olympics. She is honest, vulnerable, and quirky, and talks a lot about mental health. I couldn’t put this book down until I was done. 

  • Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor

Another Olympian, Deena offers her story about overcoming mental challenges during her running career. Not only does she tell us her story, but she also offers suggestions about how to improve your mental fitness. Her book left me feeling inspired and definitely helped me with my training, reminding me that the marathon is mostly mental, and that positive self-talk is essential. 

  • Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine was the first woman who officially ran the Boston Marathon. She also officially debunked the myth that women’s uteruses would fall out from the stress of running 26.2 miles. You may recall seeing a picture of her running, surrounded by men, with someone trying to physically pull her off the Boston course. Her life was not easy, nor was her journey toward running the marathon. But endurance running as we know it would not be possible without Kathrine. I wanted to sign up for ALL the marathons after reading her book!

  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

Rich Roll is a legend. You may know him more for his very successful podcast. Taking his life from the absolute bottom, he turned things around, seeking clarity. He transformed his life by shifting to a vegan diet and started competing in ultramarathons and triathlons. His memoir inspired me to tackle the ultra myself and positively reinforced my vegan journey. 

  • Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden

If your runner loves to geek out on science, they may love this book about recovery. Christie researches different modalities for recovery and debunks lots of tried and true methods we have learned to feel better after injury and exercise. I first heard about her book while listening to her interview on NPR, and she talked about lots of current research I had read and trusted as a physical therapist. I ordered her book that day. 

Here are some titles on my personal wish list which have just been or are awaiting release: 

  • Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport That Wasn’t Built for Us by Alison Mariella Désir

I just ordered this book for myself. Highly recommended by Kathrine Switzer, it details the racial disparity in the sport of endurance running. I recently wrote an article for my local run club’s magazine about inclusion in the Richmond running community, and learned just how challenging the culture can be for my Black friends. I’m looking forward to learning more.  

  • Choosing to Run: A Memoir by Des Linden

Set for release in April 2023 and currently available for pre-order, this memoir by Boston Marathon winner and current 50k world record holder Des Linden should be excellent! Des spoke at a local running event a few years ago, and she was very inspiring! 

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I hope this list inspires you to give the runner in your life something different and meaningful this holiday season!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Capitalism

How capitalism ruined Christmas

Black Friday marks the true beginning of the holiday shopping season. Ah, yes. The day that American consumers dream of, setting alarms to wake up extra early, camping out at the door or their local Walmart, all to score a deal on a giant screen TV or some other coveted item no one really needs. 

We recently met some friends for dessert on Thanksgiving day. As some were perusing the Black Friday deals, a harrowing story was told. 

A few years ago, they were waiting at the local big box store for the games section to be unwrapped, marking that the fight to grab Black Friday bargains had begun. A woman holding an infant let her hunting and gathering desires supersede her mothering instincts, and once the plastic wrap had been cut, threw her baby into the air, diving toward the games. Board games, mind you. Like Scrabble or Monopoly. That infant was instantly trampled as everyone rushed to get to the merchandise. They had to close the store. I’m not certain what happened to the baby.

You see, we are primed to chomp at the bit to save a little money. Advertisements reel us in with the promise of a deal, all if you can get to the store early enough to grab the limited supply available. It’s like runt syndrome. Some may call it FOMO: fear of missing out. 

Corporations seem to prey on consumers, coming up with deals to draw us into their stores. I wonder if they sit back and watch video footage of us, laughing hysterically as eager shoppers fight over the crumbs they’ve offered to customers on Black Friday. It’s probably as entertaining to them as the Super Bowl. But then, I’m not a fan of that big game, either. 

I am a fan of Black Friday’s companion, Small Business Saturday, however. I do love to support local businesses. Its other companion, Cyber Monday, brought an excessive sum of emails. The sheer volume was overwhelming, flooding my social media feeds with complaints from my friends. 

I find myself in recent years, especially now that my children are practically adults, feeling very apathetic about the whole holiday season. It feels so transactional. On a spiritual note, Christmas no longer has the same meaning as it did as a child, as I no longer fully believe in Christianity. The commercialization of the holiday definitely doesn’t help. 

The season even begins earlier than it used to. Once Halloween is over, Christmas begins. I remember as a child that a local business started decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. A swift boycott followed, the community was so enraged. But now, this is commonplace. Will we buy more if the season starts early? 

When you take away all of the icky layers with which commercialism imposed by capitalism has coated the season, we can still salvage this time of year. I still love it. But I have to turn off the ads and ridiculous pressure to buy merchandise to find the simplicity of the holidays. I’ll still put up my tree. I’ll still treasure the time spent with family, but the emphasis is less on the gifts than it is on the joy and traditions of the season. 

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Are you disenchanted with the holiday season, too? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

How a Box with a Panda Helped Me Reach a New Realization

My patients were right: getting old ain’t for sissies

I found myself wandering the beauty and self-care aisles of a random TJ Maxx recently. I spotted something I hadn’t seen before: hydrogel eye patches. I was intrigued. 

There wasn’t just one choice, but several, and one stood out to me. A pink box with a panda on it. Not only were there 30 pairs, not just 5 like in some of the other choices, but they were also on clearance for $6. 

This is what my life has come to. Being desperate enough in my fight with crow’s feet to buy clearance undereye patches. I felt like I upgraded to the special forces unit, going above and beyond my daily eye cream. (By the way, I tried these, and they are awesome!)

“Getting old ain’t for sissies,” my patients often tell me. And as we converse about the changes our bodies have been through as we age, they scoff at my new discoveries, telling me I’m still a baby. But am I really?

If I’m still so young, why am I suddenly low-key obsessed with anti-wrinkle and anti-aging products? As that milestone age of 50 stares at me from the future, I suppose this is a natural phenomenon. This doesn’t make me excited about it, though. 

My social media feeds are bombarded with anti-aging red light wands, the latest wrinkle creams, and silicone patches to smooth out fine lines. And of course, since I clicked on one of these ads, they have proliferated significantly. They tempt me with their promises of making me look younger. 

This begs the question: do these products really work?

I dutifully apply eye cream, face serum, and moisturizer as part of my grooming routine.  I can’t tell if I’m starting to look younger or not. But my real fear is what would happen if I wasn’t using these products. 

I suppose some experiments are best hypothesized and not performed in real life. 

If it weren’t for the subtle gray streaks forming near my temples which punctuate my already very blonde hair and my gentle crow’s feet that appear every time I smile, I may actually look fairly young. At least my patients think I am. God bless them, because they always assume that I’m in my 20s. They really do know how to make me feel better about myself! 

The real question I need to ask myself is: do I really care about looking younger? Or am I just following what the media tells me I should be obsessed with? We all want to look pretty and young, right? 

The signs of aging appeared gradually, especially the grey hair. It was so insidious, I wasn’t sure if I was really seeing what I was seeing. But when I saw my parents for the first time in several months, now of advanced age and grey themselves, my dad confirmed my fears. 

“When did you start going grey?” he questioned. I don’t know who was more surprised, my father for noticing that his little girl is growing old, or me for him noticing. I wanted to tell him to shut his mouth! But I somehow managed to stay calm, although supremely humbled. 

That’s when it hit me: this process toward expiration is very real, and I’m not fooling anyone. 

I thought that as I aged I was certain that I would have a who cares attitude just like Jamie Lee Curtis, well known for not fighting the aging process. (I admire her, by the way.) But as I see the signs of aging in my own body, I find myself in a state of mild panic.

This is ironic because, for most of my life, I wanted to look older. When I was in graduate school I was constantly mistaken for a high school volunteer when I was on my clinicals. Little did they know I was 25 and pursuing my master’s degree. Looking young also earns you less respect in professional settings, as I discovered. 

These badges of honor like gray hair and fine lines should be something that I’m proud of. Although I’m definitely not proud of my much slower metabolism which is evident by my ever-widening midsection. But now that these signs of age are here, I just don’t think I’m ready for it. I don’t exactly feel old yet. So I seek remedies to outsmart this process. 

I continue to work out and run, although my performance is steadily declining. Running has become more of a social and mental outlet than a competitive one, which is fine by me. Again, what would my body look like without this physical intervention? 

Best not to tempt fate. Yet another hypothesis that will go untested. I will keep moving. 

Choosing an anti-aging remedy like eye cream is a monumental task. I’m so overwhelmed by all of the choices at my local Target or Ulta that I have given up, taking to Trader Joe’s for my skincare needs. It simplifies matters. I’m not sure if these are the best products on the market, but they seem to work fairly well, and it saves my brain from exploding trying to make a choice among dozens in the big box stores (or even the aisles of TJ Maxx). 

Maybe this simplicity makes me low maintenance. Maybe it just makes me practical. 

And I’d rather not discuss the signs and symptoms of perimenopause. That’s a whole other topic. My life would be infinitely better without night sweats and hot flashes. 

I can’t wait to see how else my body will choose to betray me as I inch toward 50. (Not really.) Maybe I’ll get around to dying my hair at some point. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I will just decide to let nature take its course. Or maybe I will fight it tooth and nail. Does that make me a sissy? Maybe I don’t care. 

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Is your body starting to show signs of getting older like mine? I still feel fairly young. If only my body would reflect that!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Ten Things I Loved about Thanksgiving Week

  1. The ability to continue our tradition

This holiday has always been special for my family. My husband’s family has been taking this particular week for vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for almost 40 years. My husband even proposed to me on Thanksgiving eve 24 years ago. This year, however, the tradition was almost broken.

First, we weren’t going to travel at all. My father-in-law had been ill and on hospice with end-stage Parkinson’s. He was unable to travel. He ended up passing away in October. So then instead of staying home as was necessary to care for him, we decided to try to carry on the tradition. It did work out for us to go with a little help from friends.

It’s bittersweet. There have been lots of waves of grief, especially for my husband and mother-in-law. But I know they are happier that we were able to travel. 

  1. Finding an affordable place to stay.

We were fortunate to have a friend who facilitated a rental for us that only cost $150 for the week. It was a perfect size for us, even though the place was dated and a couple of blocks from the ocean. 

  1. Finding vegan food at restaurants

I had two very delicious vegan meals: a Beyond burger and amazing fries at South Beach Togo and Catering, and a special made-to-order meal at Kill Devil Grill, which was sauteed vegetables in an Asian-inspired sauce over rice with picked veggies and arugula. The secret to dining vegan at Kill Devil Grill is calling ahead to specify your dietary restrictions. 

  1. Spending time with my daughters

With one in college and the other making final choices about college for next year, my husband and I are about to be empty nesters. I cherish my time with them, especially when they are together. My older daughter loves thrifting and playing scrabble. (She absolutely smoked us in this game.) My younger one loves to find unique coffee shops and art.  

  1. Thrift store finds

For some reason, there are abundant unique treasures to be found at beach thrift stores. This visit was no different. 

I found a 12” single of We Are the World. My children scoffed at this, unaware of the awesomeness that this song was in the 80’s. I can’t wait to torture them with this on my younger daughter’s turntable. 

I was in need of a rain jacket, as I was made keenly aware of a couple of weeks ago trying to hang a sign for the Richmond Marathon in a hurricane. My fellow coaches talk me into some strange shenanigans! But the universe answered my call. I found a Bimini Bay breathable rain jacket for $5. And it’s pink, the color of my training team! It was definitely fate. 

  1. Cooking for my family

Making food is my love language. I’m always the cook on vacation. 

On the menu? Mediterranean bowl night, Mexican bowl night, and chili. Plus our Thanksgiving day spread. My family had turkey, and I had a Trader Joe’s vegan turkey-less roast. I made vegan green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. 

But the best part? My vegan chocolate cake, which we got to share with some friends. They couldn’t believe it was vegan!

  1. Running

I’m a few weeks out from my marathon which left me with a very unhappy right knee. I’ve been keeping my runs short this week, and I’m happy that they have been relatively pain-free. 

  1. Catching up with an old professor

My Freshman English professor retired from Longwood University and moved to the Outer Banks. Last year, I reached out to him to see if he’d like to meet up. He replied, asking if I was more of a coffee or a wine person. Wine it was! We repeated the meeting this year, so now it’s a new tradition! It was fun to gift him a couple of issues of the magazine I contributed articles to and helped edit. He also met my younger daughter who is considering Longwood as well!

  1. Being at the beach

Growing up in Hampton Roads, I will forever be tied to the water. It’s a part of my soul. There’s something so familiar about the salty air, the sense of freedom invoked by looking over a vast body of water, and the landmarks that were a part of my childhood. 

  1. Driving myself 

It may seem silly, but sometimes I just really want to take my time getting somewhere. I want to stop and see interesting things along the way. I want to find a restroom when I want to go, not when my husband does. You know? 

My daughter and I made a couple of stops on the way to the beach that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. One was to a cidery right off of the interstate in Phoebus I’d wanted to visit for a long time. 

My return trip was rather interesting, as I trusted Siri to navigate to my house, or, what I thought was my house. Apparently, I share an address with someone in a town on the Eastern Shore. What began as what I assumed was a re-route due to an almost 5-mile backup through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was confusing, but became obvious that it was the wrong way when I found myself at the toll booth for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. At least I had a lovely tour of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. And now I know to never fully trust Siri.

But I did make it home. And the backup I thought Siri was helping me avoid wasn’t that bad. And the best part about coming home? Seeing my fur babies!

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If you live in the US, Thanksgiving week kicks off the holiday season. Do you travel for this holiday? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The West Wing Fantasy

I made it home from vacation, made a rudimentary attempt to put things away and begin to get my house in order again, and settled down to relax a bit. I haven’t watched TV all week and decided to turn it on.

Scrolling through the channels on the guide, I stopped when I saw that The West Wing was playing. Not just one episode, but a marathon!

Well, if you’ve read my work before, you likely already know that I’m a fan of a marathon. True, it’s usually the running type, but this one works, too!

I once watched the entire series on a streaming service. It was one of the many ways I consoled myself and maintained hope during 45’s presidency. I had almost forgotten how much I love the show. But hearing the theme song made my heart swell with pride and gave me goosebumps. 

It’s strange because what I’m proud of doesn’t even exist. It’s a fantasy of how we would like our executive branch to be. How can I be proud of something that doesn’t exist?

I would like to think that our President genuinely cares for our nation and its citizens and that he’s not just in it for power and money. I’d like to think that the people on his team care as well. That the people who run our country are also highly intelligent and witty, always saying just the right things. Our current commander-in-chief is much closer to this than the last one, although he’s still not President Bartlett. 

This fictitious White House isn’t America, obviously. 

The portrayal of the fantasy is comforting, however. I mean, Martin Sheen as President Bartlett. Allison Janney as the press secretary. Rob Lowe and Bradley Whitford as staffers. Stockard Channing as Mrs. Bartlett. They all play their parts so well. 

I wish that our real government functioned as well as fiction. Alas, it does not. 

Now, excuse me as I re-immerse myself in the comfortable world of The West Wing

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Do you re-watch comfort shows? Do you love The West Wing as much as I do? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.