How Community Theater Changed My Life

This article was originally Published in the Trademark Department newsletter at the USPTO.

One day in fall 2010, my roommate Grace turned to me and asked if I wanted to audition with her for an all-female Shakespeare troupe she had found advertised on Craigslist. I immediately said yes. I had no idea then that that one “Yes” would end up changing my life.

Twelfth Night in 2011. Photo by David Seidman.

Twelfth Night in 2011. Photo by David Seidman.

I had always loved theater; my parents took my siblings and me to plays at Shakespeare in the Park every summer. My mom’s favorite movie was the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing, and it quickly became one of my favorites as well (my wedding processional was the movie’s main theme). As a child, I did not always understand the words or their meaning, but I loved the excitement, the costumes, and the soothing flow of the rhythms and rhymes. Those performances stuck with me, so much that I can still remember details of plays I saw when I was 10. One production of Twelfth Night particularly enchanted me; it concluded with a song that I can still sing today, 20 years later.

Despite that love of theater, I never really considered getting into acting. Sure, I participated in church choir productions and class shows in elementary school, and I sang solos in talent shows, but I never took a theater class or auditioned for a community or school play. I was a perfectionist child, utterly terrified of failing at anything, and trying out for a play meant I could be rejected. I stuck with activities that were comfortable for me, like band and newspaper.

That’s how I went through my primary school years and college years, doing fine, but not really taking many chances. But then after college, I became roommates with Grace. Grace was bold and brave. With her hammered dulcimer, she had formed her own wizard rock band, writing songs and touring the country with her fellow Harry Potter loving friends. She took up the ukulele on a whim and wrote an entire album with it. She took part-time gigs instead of a full-time job so she could continue to tour regularly. I thought she was the coolest and wanted to be more like her. So when she found that Craigslist ad, I jumped at the chance.

Antony and Cleopatra, 2011. Photo by David Seidman.

Antony and Cleopatra, 2011. Photo by David Seidman.

That troupe would become Britches and Hose, a theater company and community I love dearly founded by a woman and now close friend, Arielle Seidman. That first play-Antony and Cleopatra-brought out sides to me I didn’t know existed. I learned to enunciate, to memorize lines, to project my voice, and emote. And despite having zero training, I wasn’t half bad at it! The hard work we put into the plays and the pride I felt in the final product helped me grow so much as a person.

I gained the confidence to admit my post-college job wasn’t working out. The journalism career I had pursued since high school was not making me happy; in fact, I was pretty miserable. I was an editor running a local news website out of my house for a rapidly growing company. My website was going well, my boss seemed happy with my work, but I was bored out of my mind, despite being incredibly busy. My experiences with theater gave me the courage to face that fact and finally deal with it.

She Stoops to Conquer. Photo by David Harback of Harback Photography.

She Stoops to Conquer. Photo by David Harback of Harback Photography.

In summer 2011, I quit my job without another position lined up; I would end up working various nanny and office jobs to cover my bills. I applied to law school. I auditioned for the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and spent many glorious weekends wandering about in a Tudor court costume, talking in a British accent to visitors. All the while, Britches and Hose continued rehearsing and performing; that fall, I was cast in my first lead role as Viola in Twelfth Night, which shocked and delighted me. B&H founder Arielle and my roommate Dave (Arielle’s partner) also worked at the renaissance festival, so we would road-trip together for work and then race back for Sunday night play rehearsals at our house.

During the lead-up for our third B&H play, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, I made the heartbreaking decision to leave everyone I knew in DC behind and move to Chicago for law school. However, right after driving all my belongings out there in August 2012, I flew back for a single weekend; I couldn’t miss performing in B&H’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.

The courage I gained from B&H enabled me to participate in law school in ways I never did in college. I signed up for clubs and ran for elected positions. I did better in my classes, made friends with my professors, graduated cum laude, and received a service award at graduation. During those years, I missed my theater community, but carried the strength it gave me every day; all my actions were impacted by it. I took the bar exam, got a job as a lawyer at a medical cannabis company, became engaged to the man I’d been dating throughout law school.

Much Ado About Nothing, 2012. Photo by David Seidman.

Much Ado About Nothing, 2012. Photo by David Seidman.

Then, in December 2016, I flew out for my interview at the PTO, coming out a day early so I could attend a B&H rehearsal. The troupe was no longer all-female, but still cast whatever actor was best for the role, regardless of gender. I remember sitting in that rehearsal, watching actors perform original one-act plays, feeling so pleased and awe-filled by what our ragtag group of thespians had become.

The rest is history. I accepted a position as a Trademark Examiner, moved to Virginia, and got immediately back into Britches and Hose. I’ve been in four B&H productions since then, worked with another community theater company on a gender-swapped production of Hamlet, and even submitted my first play for an upcoming festival. Our incredibly supportive group of actors has had a group message on Facebook going for over a year now, covering every topic imaginable, up to and including debating the Hogswarts houses of various Shakespeare characters. Arielle stood up as my bridesmaid in June; I just served as hers in October. Life is good.

And it all started with a “Yes.”

Twelfth Night, 2017. Photo by David Seidman.

Twelfth Night, 2017. Photo by David Seidman.

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

I’m a young adult with both ADHD and chronic pain. These two issues can often work counter to each other and cause a lot of frustration, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to get better about dealing with both of them. This two-part blog post series will hopefully help other people dealing with the same issues- the first one will address getting a diagnosis, and the second will address day to day management. 😊

First, a little background.

ADHD: I was diagnosed with ADD (now referred to as ADHD) in my junior year of high school when I basically had a depressive breakdown due to stress from my undiagnosed focus issues. I went on ADHD meds at that time (Concerta) and remained on them through college. I eventually stopped taking them for a couple of years, not really for any good reason that I can recall. I went without them for probably 5-6 years, but got back on them after about 8 months into my current job. My job can often be repetitive and unexciting, and these things set my ADHD off like crazy, so I really needed to have the meds to function. I’ve been at my job at just over 2.5 years now, so clearly they’ve helped! My main ADHD symptoms are forgetfulness, time blindness, focus issues, and impulsivity. I use a lot of different techniques to keep focused at work, which I blogged about here.

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Chronic Pain: I have experienced some degree of stiffness and pain in my neck since at least high school. I cannot recall exactly when it started. I was officially diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my cervical joints (neck joints) in 2017 shortly after I turned 29. I’ve tried a TON of different things to help my pain, but currently, I get my arthritic nerves burned off with radiofrequency ablation 1-2 times a year, I get massages at least once a month, and I do daily physical therapy exercises and stretches. The PT is a really recent addition, but it’s been WONDERFUL; these exercises have really improved my symptoms!

I have also had some other recent chronic pain issues that are of a slightly more private nature that I’d rather not discuss in too much detail. However, I handled getting the diagnosis of this pain MUCH better than I ever handled my osteoarthritis pain, so I’m going to use that process as an example for a lot of my tips here.

Getting a diagnosis of your chronic pain can be a complicated and frustrating process even if you DON’T have a mental condition that reduces your ability to remember symptoms and advocate for yourself. But hopefully this guide helps!*

(*Quick note: this guide doesn’t address money and insurance issues because that’s a whole complicated issue on its own that I’ll try to discuss in the future.)

1.     Pay attention to your pain. Don’t ignore it; your body is telling you that something is wrong! It almost certainly won’t go away on its own, and ignoring pain can lead to exacerbated symptoms over time.

I ignored my chronic neck/shoulder pain for YEARS, to the point that I literally can’t remember when exactly it started. Part of this was ADHD forgetfulness – I’d intend to go to a doctor and forget to put it on the calendar and part of this was just not wanting to make a fuss. Women in particular in our society are often taught to just grin and bear it, and I think I honestly took that too much to heart. I didn’t want to be annoying or a burden. In addition, when something is chronic, you often get so used to it that you don’t even consider it something abnormal or worth reporting. So I said nothing and I did nothing about it until it became too painful for me to ignore. And that’s sad, because honestly, if I had received treatment and physical therapy years ago, I probably wouldn’t have developed the level of osteoarthritis I have now. This is not a reversable condition, so it’s just something I have to manage from here on out.

Let me emphasize something here. Chronic pain is not normal. I don’t care if the pain isn’t too bad or if it’s manageable. It needs to be addressed.
Fortunately, when I developed New Fun chronic pain this past year, I started addressing it much more quickly and scheduled a visit with a doctor right away.

2.     Document Everything. As someone with ADHD, I’m really bad at remembering things. This led to some trouble when I tried getting my neck pain diagnosed, as I’d get asked if there was any inciting incident, or exactly when it started, and I had to say that I genuinely didn’t remember. That was fun.

When I developed my New Fun chronic pain, I started writing down when my pain appeared and where it appeared. I initially chronicled this (unintentional pun!) in the notes app on my iPhone. Eventually I downloaded the Cara app, which allows me to track a LOT of different things and symptoms – pain but also what food I was eating, when I was working out, etc. This was really helpful in tracking down what my actual issue was.

3.     Persist in Advocating for Yourself. The first doctor you see for your chronic pain may not be the right one. Pain in any one area can originate from several different places! And the doctors or health professionals you see may not be terribly helpful in giving you next steps to take in figuring out your diagnosis, so you’ll have to keep working on your own to get there.

In my 20s, I talked to my primary care doctors several times about my neck pain. One of them thought it might be just due to stress, and told me to stress out less (that was helpful). She also briefly put me on anxiety medication, which didn’t help my pain at all, and made me feel like I was losing control entirely (I got off it really quickly). I saw a pain doctor in Chicago who put me on some prescription strength NSAIDs, but said he couldn’t do anything more for me without an MRI, which I couldn’t afford at the time (my insurance was….really bad at the time and my deductible was sky high). So I had some pain relief for a while, but then I ran out of refills and went through minor withdrawal. I also saw masseuses, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, etc. – nothing worked. This was over the course of YEARS. Once I got my current job and got good insurance, I went to my current pain doctor, who diagnosed my arthritis with one X-ray and started getting me treated immediately with radiofrequency ablation. After a couple years of that, I was still having more pain than I liked, so I went to physical therapy this last May, and finally got my pain really reduced!

A screenshot of the Cara app I used to track my symptoms.

A screenshot of the Cara app I used to track my symptoms.

For my New Fun chronic pain, I initially thought it was due to one specific issue, and went to specialist A for it. Twice. Specialist A ran tests on me twice and said they were clear, but didn’t give me any idea what else it could be or any guidance on what to do next. She DID however help me, because she made an off-hand remark about “oh there are thousands of things that can cause X,” which made me realize I really needed to go to my primary care doctor next. I went to PCP, he ran some tests, those tests were also clear. By that time, I had done a decent amount of research online and talked to my family about their various medical histories and come up with a hypothesis as to what was causing the pain; so after the third test came up without any problems, I went to specialist B, he ran a test, and FINALLY, I got a diagnosis and got put on some meds to get rid of the problem.

I had to do a lot of work by myself. I had to continue booking appointments with doctors until I got a diagnosis, google a lot about my symptoms, gather information from my family, come up with ideas as to what the issue might be, and keep track of what it definitely was NOT so I could relay that to my doctors throughout the process. It was kind of exhausting, and not cheap (even with my very good health insurance). I highly suggest ZocDoc for finding doctors in your area that take your insurance and setting up appointments; I know my ADHD brain always procrastinates making a phone call, and just being able to book an appointment online was a huge weight off my back.

 So that’s what I have for getting a diagnosis. Next blog posts in this series will deal with pain management for ADHDers. You can read those here:

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

Hey Look, I Can Write Biographical Sketches!

So I researched and wrote two bio sketches about DC-area suffragists affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for a crowdsourcing project, run out of the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender, Brighamton University, SUNY, is collecting biographical sketches of women supporters of woman suffrage campaigns in the first two decades of the twentieth century for an eventual online publication of the “Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States.”

Here are my sketches! They took much longer than planned because I had to comb through SO many 1800s newspapers online. I had a lot of fun though.

Ellen Powell Thompson, courtesy of NPS

Ellen Powell Thompson, courtesy of NPS

Biography of Ellen Powell Thompson, 1840-1911

President of the Women’s Suffrage Association of the District (1895-1896, 1897-1900); Washington, D.C. Representative who spoke before the Congressional Committee on Woman Suffrage in 1896

Ellen Louella (Nellie) Powell Thompson was born in 1840 in Jackson, Ohio to John and Mary Powell. She became a teacher at the age of sixteen. She married Prof. Almon Harris Thompson (1837-1906) on July 8, 1862 in Wheaton, Illinois.  She continued to work as a teacher and when her husband entered the army, she took up his position as a superintendent of schools. She spent the summer of 1863 at Cairo, Illinois caring for sick and wounded soldiers while her husband was stationed there.

Thompson (and her dog Fuzz) also accompanied her husband on an 1871 Colorado River expedition led by her brother Major John Wesley Powell. Prof. Thompson served as Major Powell’s chief assistant on the expedition. The expedition made maps of several western territories, often traveling on mule or horseback. On her journey she befriended some of the native American tribes and collected botanical samples. Three of the plants she discovered are named for her: Thompson’s Dalea (Psrothamnus thompsoniae), Thompson’s Penstemon (Penstemon thompsoniae), and Thompson’s Woolly Locoweed (Astralagus mollissimum var. thompsoniae). On the trip, Prof. Thompson named the summit of the Henry Mountains Mount Ellen after his wife. Her plant collection is preserved in the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University and her diary from the trip is in the collection of the New York Public Library manuscripts and archives division, along with her husband’s diary.

They moved to Washington, D.C.in the early 1880s when Prof. Thompson began to work for the U.S. Geological Survey under Major Powell. There, Thompson became active in a number of groups. She served as President of the Women’s Suffrage Association of the District from 1895-1896 and from 1897-1900 , served as chairman of the bust fund committee in 1898 (raising money to create busts of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony), and served as the organization’s delegate to the Annual National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention several times.

She notably spoke as the Washington, D.C. representative before the Congressional Committee on Woman Suffrage on January 28, 1896. In her speech, she specifically noted that arguments against granting the vote to women due to lack of political experience and education made no sense, as first, women lacked the ability to gain experience (stating, “We cannot swim without water to swim in”) and second, girls had actually gained significantly higher levels of education than boys over the previous 20 years. Articles describing her suffrage work in the District of Columbia appeared in a variety of newspapers across the nation. She was quoted on more than one occasion quipping that she was gratified that in Washington, D.C., men had no more political rights than women (due to lack of voting representation for the District in Congress).

Ellen Powell Thompson also served as the chairman of the congressional committee for the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in 1898. She was a founding member of the Equal Suffrage Association of the District of Columbia, which combined several suffrage groups and was auxiliary to the American Woman Suffrage Association, in December 1898. She was also active in Wimodaughsis as a director in 1985, in the local committee on arrangements for the National Council of Women in 1899, and in the Junior Equal Suffrage Club in 1903.

Apart from her suffrage work, she was also a founding member of the Anti-Division Association (which promoted enforcement of criminal law) and the Woman’s Anthropological Society in 1896, and was also active with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the District of Columbia and the Federation of Women’s Club of the District of Columbia.

The Thompsons had no children. He predeceased her in July 1906 after suffering from stomach cancer for several years. She died on March 12, 1911 of sudden heart failure. Ellen Powell Thompson is buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources:

Almon Harris Thompson and Ellen Powell diaries, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. http://archives.nypl.org/mss/4152

A canyon voyage: the narrative of the second Powell expedition down the Green-Colorado River from Wyoming, and the explorations on land, in the years 1871 and 1872 by Dellenbaugh, Fredrick Samuel. Published 1908.

The Decatur Herald Jan. 25, 1896. P 4.

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 16 Feb 1898. P 7.; August 1, 1906. P 2; Dec. 23, 1898. P 9.

John Wesley Powell: An Annotated Bibliography Marcia L. Thomas. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.

John Wesley Powell’s Headquarters at Kanab. Lyndia Carter. History Blazer, December 1996. Published online at http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/trappers,_traders,_and_explorers/johnwesleypowellsheadquartersatkanab.html.

Press, Platform, Pulpit: Black Feminist Publics in the Era of Reform by Teresa Zackodnik. P 233.

Victorian Flower Power. Anne Merrill Ingram. Common-Place vol. 7 no. 1 October 2006. http://www.common-place-archives.org/vol-07/no-01/ingram/

The Washington Times, Jan. 17, 1896. P 5; 13 Mar 1911. P 2. (Obituary)

Weisheit, John. “The Powell Survey of the 1870s: Art & Science from the Saddle. On the Colorado.”


Biography of Mary Lucinda Rogers Talbott, 1832– 1921

President of the Women’s Suffrage Association of the District of Columbia (1904-1905)

Mary L Talbott was born October 24, 1832 in Waterloo, Illinois to Emory Peter Rogers and Eunice Ashley Ward Rogers. She married Henry Clay Talbott (born 1828) on October 24, 1850 in Monroe, Illinois. According to census records, she had five children, of which only Henry Talbott, born 1851, appeared to survive childhood. Her husband died sometime between 1870 and 1880.

Mary helped incorporate the District of Columbia Woman Suffrage Association in March 1901. The articles of incorporation stated, “The stated objects of the association are to secure for women citizens of the United States the full right of suffrage and the same rights to which any other citizens may be entitled; to build in this city a club house for women and to collect and to disburse funds for the purpose of erecting such club house and other appropriate memorials to the memory of women who have performed national or other meritorious work for the enfranchisement of women and the good of humanity. The association is also formed for educational, literary, and scientific purposes and for mutual improvement.”

She served as president of the District of Columbia Woman Suffrage Association from 1904-1905. During her tenure, the association performed a study of Fisk’s Civil Government of the United States, Laws affecting Women and Children, taxation, and other subjects of public interest. The association also supported a variety of bills proposed in U.S. Congress considered of special interest to women, including those for the protection of neglected and delinquent children, compulsory education, restriction of child labor, raising the salaries of public school teachers, and the establishment of a juvenile court. She was active with the committee on local arrangements for the meeting of the thirty-fourth annual convention of National Suffrage Association meeting twice.

Mary was also active in the Equal Suffrage Association of the District of Columbia, where she was elected auditor. In January 1908, Mary was an active proponent of a petition authored by the Equal Suffrage Association asking that women be permitted to vote on the question of abolishing liquor in the District of Columbia.  The ESA specifically stated at the time that it had no particular opinion on the issue of prohibition of alcohol, but were involved only to secure the ballot.

Mary also participated in the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Political Study Club, and the Women’s Beneficent Society of People’s Church.

Her son, Henry Talbott, became the secretary of the Interstate Commerce Commission (also chief of division of indices of the ICC, tariff expert). Mary was credited with assisting him with many reports of the ICC. Together, they started the Talbott Free Library in Waterloo, Illinois in 1892 with a donation of a collection of 2,000 reading materials. The library first opened in 1894 and relocated to a new location, the former home of Colonel William Rawls Morrison, in 1911. The city clerk at the time, J.W. Jackson, moved into the house and began a long tradition of librarians living in the home. After her son died of pneumonia in 1916 at the age of 64, she became the librarian, moved into the library herself, and spent several thousand dollars on remodeling the building.

She died on January 11, 1921 at age 89 from a fall in Waterloo, Illinois. The library she helped found still exists today under the name of Morrison-Talbott Library.

Sources:

Evening Star (Washington D.C.). March 19, 1901; Jan 30, 1904. P 10; Feb 10. 1904. P 10; April 2, 1904. P 24; Dec 1, 1907. P 72; Feb. 29, 1916. P 10.

Find a Grave (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed Jan 1, 2018), Waterloo City Cemetery, Waterloo, Ill., Mary Lucinda Rogers Talbott, Memorial #54571000.

“Illinois, County Marriages, 1810-1940,” Database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KF2T-3J9 : 4 November 2017), Henry C Talbott and Mary Y Rogers, 24 Oct 1850; citing Monroe, Illinois, United States, county offices, Illinois; FHL microfilm 1,006,355.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/2:2:SP5N-X7V : accessed 2018-01-02), entry for Mary Lucinda /Rogers/.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Ancestral File,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/2:1:M751-2LR : accessed 2018-01-02), entry for Mary Lucinda ROGERS.

“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M858-84K : 12 April 2016), Mary Rogers in household of Barbary Schemberg, Waterloo, Monroe, Illinois, United States; citing family 1344, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

“United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M6HJ-ZWX : 12 April 2016), Mary L Talbott in household of H C Talbott, Illinois, United States; citing p. 10, family 74, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 545,760.

“United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXVY-F4S : 15 September 2017), Mary L Talbott, Waterloo, Monroe, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district ED 65, sheet 36D, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0237; FHL microfilm 1,254,237.

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MMF3-TVH : accessed 1 January 2018), Mary L Talbott in household of Harry Atchison, Washington city, Washington, District of Columbia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 81, sheet 5A, family 88, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,161.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MK6R-MYR : accessed 1 January 2018), Henry Talbott in household of Mike Schorr Jr., Waterloo Ward 1, Monroe, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 81, sheet 8A, family 85, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 312; FHL microfilm 1,374,325.

The Washington Times. Feb. 3, 1902. P 6.

The Washington Post. Jan, 21, 1910. P 2.

Waterloo library celebrating 125 years. By Sean McGowan. Sept. 13, 2017. http://www.republictimes.net/waterloo-library-celebrating-125-years/. Visited Dec. 2017.


Elizabethan Ruffs for Shakespeare Cats - Out of Coffee Filters!

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So on Saturday, I found out that @barkbox did a #Shakespeare in the dog park toy/treat collection! I of course, had to look for photos of this, and spent probably half an hour just looking at photos of dogs wearing Elizabethan ruffs and playing with Shakespeare themed toys!

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Then I ended up making Elizabethan ruffs for my #cats out of coffee filters. 🤷🏼‍♀️ I literally just cut a hole in the middle of the coffee filter and a cut down the side, put it around their necks, and taped it closed. They didn’t actually seem to mind them too much, although Martok tried to eat his for a little bit.

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They stayed on their necks for a surprisingly long time considering how flimsy a single coffee filter is. It was super simple and fun and I may do this again for Halloween. :)

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Of course I had to match photos of the kitties with Shakespeare quotes. Did you expect anything less?

DIY Cleaning Tip for Clogged Toilets (ew)

I learned this past weekend that there aren’t any drain cleaning chemicals approved for use with toilets. At least none in my local grocery store. Apparently they just burn through the pipes or something? I don’t know. But there was a toilet that I couldn’t manage to unclog with just a plunger, so I had to come up with SOMETHING to avoid hiring a plumber.

I ended up pouring a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar into the toilet and letting it sit overnight. The next morning - voila! Working Toilet!

It’s not glamorous, but dear god I’m just glad it worked and we don’t have to worry about that anymore!

Now here’s a photo of a cat to make everything happier.

Guest cat Martok very ferociously grabbed a bag of treats and ran away with it, with Ziggy chasing after him. I ended up having to enclose the bag in a Tupperware container to get him to stop. He was LESS than pleased with me and hissed when I took the treats away, but then forgave me and used me as a ladder to get to a windowsill two minutes later, so we’re good now.

Guest cat Martok very ferociously grabbed a bag of treats and ran away with it, with Ziggy chasing after him. I ended up having to enclose the bag in a Tupperware container to get him to stop. He was LESS than pleased with me and hissed when I took the treats away, but then forgave me and used me as a ladder to get to a windowsill two minutes later, so we’re good now.

It's a Lot of Work for Men to Take Their Wife's Name

I've found a number of articles and studies lately that mention how difficult it is for men to take their wife's name upon marriage. As the paper below notes, while this initially looks like a form of discrimination against men, it really is a form of procedurally imposed discrimination against women; in most states, women are not entitled to have a husband take their name with the same relative ease that they are allowed to take their husband's. By making it so difficult and expensive for men to take their wife's names, even the most liberal men are discouraged from considering such a thing. Thus, the tradition of women only taking their husband's name continues on and on.  [I'm now imagining my Civil Procedure professor shouting out "TRADITION" and dancing in a parody of Fiddler on the Roof he did in class several times]

Some snippets on the subject:

"When I decided to take my wife's last name, I was shocked by how different the process is for men." By James Kosur, Business Insider (Dec. 19, 2015).

"Little did I know, the name change process would not be simple because of my gender.  .... If I was a woman who had been recently married, I would have presented my marriage license to the court, paid a name-change fee, and moved on with my life. A close friend tells me she remembers paying around $60 and submitting a simple form alongside her marriage certificate to change her name. Within weeks her name change was official. I paid $300 for a newspaper ad and spent hours in court and visiting with a newspaper ad sales representative in order to change my name. The change took more than a month to complete."  (Kosur describes the process as it currently exists in Illinois

Vintage Bride/Groom. By Jean L. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/yourcastlesdecor/14150266866/.

Vintage Bride/Groom. By Jean L. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/yourcastlesdecor/14150266866/.

Deborah J. Anthony, A Spouse by Any Other Name, 17 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 187 (2010).

"Currently only nine state statutes explicitly allow a man to change his name through marriage with the same procedures as a woman. Interestingly, it has been allowed in Maine since 1980 by Attorney General opinion rather than statute. California was the most recent to join that group in 2007, as a result of a lawsuit filed by a man named Mike Buday, who desired to change his name to that of his wife but was prohibited from doing so outside of the court process. Rather than fight the lawsuit, California amended its law with the Name Equality Act of 2007, which became effective in 2009. The legislature noted the importance of names in Sec. 2 of the Act: “[T]he choice to adopt or not adopt a new name upon marriage or registration of domestic partnership is a profoundly personal reflection of one’s individuality, equality, family, community, and beliefs.”

It should be noted that some states’ laws are not explicit, but may be interpreted to apply to both women and men, and that male name change at marriage may be allowed at the county level. This results in what Emens identifies as “desk-clerk law,” where the law essentially consists of whatever the person at the desk says it is. This results in interpretations that are incorrect and/or discouraging of unconventional choices, with results being highly inconsistent from one employee, and one county, to the next. 

.... What at first appears to be discrimination against men is in reality discrimination against women: the status quo represents a legal sanctioning of the social norms that subsumed a woman within the husband’s identity. Because taking their husbands’ names at marriage was never really a “right” of women, but rather a requirement, the “right” actually inheres in the man. In essence, women are still denied what men have always enjoyed: the right to have a spouse adopt their name at marriage. This is why, in a society that has almost never legally favored the female over the male, and where men have always had the common law right to change their name whenever they chose, they are nevertheless not permitted to do so at marriage."

Michael Rosensaft, The Right of Men to Change their Names Upon Marriage, 5 J. of Const. Law 186 (2002).

"[C]ourts have gone beyond the restrictions listed in the statutes and rejected name change applications due to public policy or just their own whim. For example, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied the petition of a man who wished to change his name to '1069' for no other reason than the court did not think such a name conformed with their ideal of social norms. With so much discretion given to, and sometimes taken by, the courts, there is no assurance that any application will necessarily be approved. It might be argued that many judges would automatically allow name changes for marital purposes. However, a groom taking his wife's name is not a widely accepted practice, and judges have denied applications where they did not think it fit certain social structures. For instance, some courts have denied gay couples' petitions to have the same last name. This example is not so important because it directly applies to marital name change statutes, but because it shows that giving discretion to courts means that they are free to apply the social norms that they find acceptable. ...And lest one think a judge would always approve a man's wish to adopt his wife's surname, at least one Florida judge was resistant to this idea when he told Dan Cipoletti that he 'needed a better reason than getting married to change his name...'

Other evidence tends to show that Congress supports the right to control one's name upon marriage. In 1964, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which holds that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to their sex. The Sixth Circuit has applied this statute to marital name change. In Allen v. Lovejoy, the court invoked Title VII when a woman was fired from her job because she refused to go by her husband's surname after marriage and wanted to sign her own maiden name to company forms.  The Sixth Circuit stated that a 'rule which applies only to women, with no counterpart applicable to men, may not be the basis for depriving a female employee who is otherwise qualified of her right to continued employment.' In addition to Title VII, Congress has added a section to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that is specifically gender neutral and states:'A creditor shall not refuse to allow an applicant to open or maintain an account in a birthgiven first name and a surname that is the applicant's birth-given surname, the spouse's surname, or a combined surname.' Clearly, considering the Sixth Circuit's construction of Congress' intent in enacting Title VII and the additions Congress has made in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Congress feels it important that a spouse who wishes to either change their name upon marriage or keep it the same not be discriminated against. While Congress has not specifically addressed the issue of a man changing his name upon marriage, it is more likely that this is due to the practice being relatively infrequent rather than it not falling in line with their aforementioned policies."

This article also has a fascinating Equal Protection analysis of the issue. I highly suggest you read it!

Inexpensive Sponge Replacements for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator

I wrote recently about my experience with the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator; in that post, I mentioned a cheaper source for the sponges for the electrodes. Here’s how that works!

The Fisher-Wallace Stimulator has significantly improved my life, but it’s not exactly cheap. For me, it’s totally been worth it, but I wanted to find a way to continue using it without spending a ton of money. The sponges in the electrodes have to be changed every week or two or they lose their effectiveness (believe me, I know. I’ve tracked this and my depression symptoms definitely get worse if my sponges are old). However, the sponges they sell on the FW website are…hideously expensive. Like $1 a sponge. No.

Sponge detritus, the sponges cut out to size (they’re thin and compact before they get wet), and the finished product in the electrode for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator.

Sponge detritus, the sponges cut out to size (they’re thin and compact before they get wet), and the finished product in the electrode for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator.

So I set out looking for replacement sponges that were cheaper. I couldn’t find ones that were exactly made to fit the stimulator, but I found these on Amazon for $19, coming out to under 40 cents apiece. They’re intended for cosmetic use, but they work great with the stimulator! You do have to cut them down to size to fit, but I’m totally willing to spend 10 minutes cutting down sponges to save so much money!

Here’s the price breakdown - if I used the FW sponges for a year and replaced them weekly like you’re supposed to, I’d be spending $104 just on sponges. However, with these, I end up spending under $40 per year on sponges, and I can spend that extra money on pretty much anything else. 😁😁😁

adsense

“Big Dave’s Goliath” is Out in Gypsum Sound Tale’s Colp: Big!

So my wackiest, most inspired by Carl Hiaasen story is in this anthology! “Big Dave’s Goliath” features a gigantic, slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty replica of Michelangelo’s David standing in the center of a small town in Texas, and the shenanigans that ensue when an act of vandalism removes the statue’s uh, Goliath.

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See how many ways my story can refer to the incident in question without saying “penis!” Enjoy a story full of dick jokes that doesn’t actually have anything to do with sex!

E-book: https://amzn.to/2YAIqWz

Paperback: https://amzn.to/2Xqonxv

5-Minute Pain Meditation

I don’t meditate very well. I have ADHD, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, none of which lend themselves well to sitting quietly and focusing on just one thing. I also don’t even feel the need to meditate every day, but sometimes I want to try, if I’m feeling particularly upset or frazzled. I’ll sometimes incorporate into my daily reading and journaling routine.

I’ve found the best method for me is to set a 5-minute timer on the Insight Timer app with little bells going off on 30 seconds. Then I stretch my neck in various directions, focusing on the “sweet and sour” pain from that stretch and the underlying chronic muscle pain. It gives me something to concentrate on other than just blankness, and it tends to work very well for me, as I have a focus that calms me. I change stretch positions every time I hear a 30 second bell going off (I previously had tried doing these alternating movements just by keeping an eye on the timer, but I found that ended up being too distracting).

It’s short and simple but it works pretty well! I don’t feel the need to be able to meditate for a long time or even regularly, but it’s a great tool to have in my back pocket for when I DO need it. :)

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I always meditate, journal, and read at my kitchen table in one specific chair, using my Moleskine professional journal (I love the layout) and a book holder for my book (keeps me from having to look down too much, which irritates my neck).

A cat will often get into my lap during this time. Today that cat was Schrodinger, who crankily meowed at me until I picked him up. :) Love my sweet old man cat.

The Right of Married American Women to be More than "And Wife" on a Passport

Let's never forget how far women actually have come. Less than 100 years ago, women didn't even have the right to see their first name with their husband's last name on a passport, much less their birth name. It's a little depressing that such advances are so recent.

Us modern women are incredibly lucky to live when we do- we have more freedom and more rights than almost any women have throughout history. That doesn't mean we should stop addressing sexism wherever we see it, but it is something to think about. 

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"U.S. passports predate the Declaration of Independence, but the documents were issued on an ad hoc basis until the late 1800s, when the process began to standardize. By then, a single woman was issued a passport in her own name, but a married woman was only listed as an anonymous add-on to her husband’s document: 'Mr. John Doe and wife.'

'Restrictions on travel rarely took the form of government policy or officials actively preventing women traveling abroad. Rather, restrictions came in the form of accepted social ideas,' says Craig Robertson, author of Passport in America: History of a Document. 'Put simply, it was not acceptable for a married woman to travel outside of the country without her husband; he, of course, could travel without her. More generally, a married woman’s public identity was tied to her husband, and passports reflected that in being issued to the husband, with his wife being a literal notation.'..

[Doris E.] Fleischman’s passport was the first legal document issued by a federal agency to a woman under the name she preferred and the first U.S. passport issued to a married woman that didn’t designate her as the “wife of” her husband. However, though other women could request passports with similar wording as Fleischman’s, the State Department continued to issue passports referring to most women as 'the wife of Mr. John Doe' until the late 1930s."

The 1920s Women Who Fought for the Right to Travel Under Their Own Names - By Sandra Knisely, March 27, 2017  http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/us-passport-history-women?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=atlas-page

Picture credit: Doris E. Fleischman's passport application (National Archives and Records Administration - public domain)

Sunshine Through the Water

Originally Written August 13, 2018, before my new depression treatment kicked in and started working.

I haven’t exactly ever made it a secret that I live with clinical depression and ADD, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned how bad in particular it has been the last few months.

Don’t get me wrong; so many parts of this summer have been wonderful and I have been fully present to enjoy them- our wedding and honeymoon, our visit to Texas, acting in The Tempest. But any time that I have had a regular week of work this summer, I have seriously struggled with depression. If I don’t diligently walk outside in the sun most days of the week, it’s really bad. I walk through my life and see the wonderful things and people in it and understand that happiness and joy are the logical reactions to these things - but for the most part, during a bad depression relapse, I can’t fully feel these emotions.

It’s like I’m underwater looking up at the sun; the light filters in a bit, but it doesn’t fully come through and I can’t feel its warmth. And everything is a struggle; everything makes me tired and feel like I’m failing everyone and myself. Any problem seems insurmountable. I often hide away at home, burying myself in crafts and Netflix to distract myself from the fog. I want to see no one and just stay in bed all day.

When my meds are working and I’ve spent enough time walking outside and spent enough time around friends, it’s kinda like I’ve been underwater, but someone gave me a rainbow unicorn float, and now I can rest on the surface and stop struggling so much; I can bask in the sun, which I can fully appreciate and feel. My brain fires on all cylinders and I can generally solve problems with ease.

These times are not predictable. I can’t tell you why exactly this summer has been so rough for me; usually winter is harder. Stress and traveling probably has a lot to do with it, but I don’t know if that explains it all. I’ve made an appointment with my therapist to talk about maybe switching or increasing my meds, but she couldn’t see me for several weeks, so I’ve had to make do by taking supplements that /might/ help according to various studies on the internet.

I spent most of this last PAD convention in a depression fog. I hated that I was surrounded by people I loved doing things I loved and still felt like I was blocked off from actually experiencing happiness. I forced lots of smiles. I had bits and pieces of joy and friendship and love slip through, and 5 minutes or so of clear thinking every once in a while, but the fog didn’t totally lift until today (the day after it ended, naturally. Your timing sucks, brain). I don’t know why; I wish I did. (Thank you PAD friends, by the way, for being awesome and welcoming and loving even when I seemed mentally absent or a bit off over the last few days)

So what’s your point, Rachael? Why are you rambling about this deeply personal mental health struggle? Well, self, our society has a terrible stigma against mental illness and I consider it my responsibility as a human being to do what I can to alleviate the sufferings of others, so if talking about my struggle can help even just one other person feel not so alone, I want to do it. I like to think I’m a decent example of success while dealing with depression, as someone who actually did well in law school and has had great jobs and friends and has a pretty amazing new husband.

To sum all this up, I feel pretty fucked up and full of self loathing on a regular basis and it’s not something i can fully control right now, but I refuse to let that keep me from living my life the way I want to, so I’m fighting to feel the sun even if it’s hard and impossible sometimes. Even though I often feel miserable and lost, I wear the sparkles and dye my hair rainbow colors and obsess over my cats and take what other little actions I can to bring a little more light to my life and the life of others.

So if you also feel fucked up, please keep fighting and don’t let it dim your sparkle. (And talk to someone about it, even if it’s just a friend)

How Many Months' Salary is an Engagement Ring Supposed to Cost Anyway?

The answer? As many or as few as makes you comfortable and happy without you know, bankrupting you. But the "tradition" of even measuring a ring's worth by salary was all the start of a De Beers advertising campaign and was designed to push up profits.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

This BBC article on the subject notes: "In the 1930s, at the start of the De Beers campaign, a single month's salary was the suggested ring spend. In the 1980s in the US, it became two months." I don't know when the "standard" bumped up to three months, but that's the number I've always heard thrown around in casual conversation the one or two times it's come up. 

This suggestion changes based on the culture, apparently, as well. 

"In the UK, writes Rebecca Ross Russell in Gender and Jewellery: A Feminist Analysis, the advertisements kept the single month's pay suggestion. But Japanese men were urged to spend three months' salary. 'The salary rules were a stroke of genius,' writes Russell, who believes De Beers managed to entwine western values with the Japanese sense of honour. 'A diamond engagement ring: worth three months' salary,' ran one of the adverts in the 1970s. Japan remains one of the leading markets for diamond jewellery."

These advertising campaigns do seem to work; On the eve of World War Two, only about 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds. That number jumped to 80% by the end of the 20th century.

The website Credit Donkey stated this year that Americans spend an average of about $5,500 (U.S) per engagement ring, with people in the UK spending about $2,000, and Australians about $5,000. I really do have to question who they're surveying though; I don't exactly go about asking people how much their rings cost (and in fact, would rather not know for the most part), but that seems on the high end to me, and as can be seen on the annual Knot wedding statistics report, there is a bit of a self selecting bias toward people willing to spend more money on these things.

As Credit Donkey points out, this "standard" doesn't particularly make sense these days, as most people get married in their late 20s when they haven't yet reached their full earning potential, and most also graduate with student debt. Thus, spending thousands of dollars on a ring may actually not be feasible for your average person wanting to get married. 

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

As for myself - my Victorian-era engagement ring actually came from a vintage jewelry store in the Chicago suburbs where John and I used to live (I moved to DC for work, not certain when we'll be living together again, alas.). I actually picked it out myself several months before (yeah that lovely proposal at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in November on our four year anniversary trip to Las Vegas wasn't actually that much of a surprise, lol). It's a gorgeous gold double trefoil gem set ring and I've never seen anything else like it; I love it in every way. But I can tell you that it definitively did not cost three months of John's salary (he approved of me writing about this beforehand and apparently I'm not allowed to go into any more detail on that, hah). I think I'd be really uncomfortable to wear something that valuable on my hand day after day, really; I'm a bit too klutzy to feel safe doing that. Fortunately, my ring itself is so unusual that no one has ever given me or John any crap over it. Yay!

This is my ring. It is my favorite thing. Seriously, I'm obsessed.

This is my ring. It is my favorite thing. Seriously, I'm obsessed.

Wedding Craft Tutorial: Giant Photos for $3 Each

 
You can see a photo print in the background of this photo where my sister Karen embarrasses me with a delightful toast talking about my “don’t call me cute!” phase from childhood, hah. Photo credit to Kevin Monahan Photography!

You can see a photo print in the background of this photo where my sister Karen embarrasses me with a delightful toast talking about my “don’t call me cute!” phase from childhood, hah. Photo credit to Kevin Monahan Photography!

 

Our wedding venue was a Japanese art gallery in Lincoln Park, Chicago, that had a pretty sparse feel to it. The venue coordinator told us that we could use the displays on one side of the wall to put up our own photos or prints.

John’s dad took this photo of us in Central Park back in November 2013 when we flew in and out of NYC for one whirlwind day to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot.

John’s dad took this photo of us in Central Park back in November 2013 when we flew in and out of NYC for one whirlwind day to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot.

I really wanted to put up some large photos of us from throughout our relationship, but for a long time, I struggled to find a way to do this that was cost effective. A lot of the products I was finding online cost $20+ each. I wanted to get seven large posters, but I couldn’t justify paying over $140 just for this one detail.

I finally happened upon a solution. I found a blog post* online about getting large photo prints for cheap for home decor that suggested ordering Engineer prints instead of giant photos. These are photos printed on large pages instead of photo paper, and they’re more like $3 each instead of $20! Although the quality is lower than you’d get for the more expensive product, it still works totally fine as long as you have a high enough quality photo.

I tested this out via Staples with two photos from our engagement session first. I specifically ordered the 18x24 blueprint (their name for an engineer print). I was REALLY pleased with the result, and ended up ordering 5 more!

These are mostly photos from our trip around Europe - Venice on a gondola, in the Colosseum in Rome, on a train in Brussels, and outside our villa in St. Agatha (near Sorrento). The bottom two are from Dallas and Disneyworld!

These are mostly photos from our trip around Europe - Venice on a gondola, in the Colosseum in Rome, on a train in Brussels, and outside our villa in St. Agatha (near Sorrento). The bottom two are from Dallas and Disneyworld!

I ended up with four full size photos - two from our engagement session, one taken in Central Park, and one of us in a glass box off the side of Sears Tower taken during our 2L year Barristers Ball. The engagement photos were of a high enough resolution that they looked FANTASTIC. The other two were a lower resolution, but still looked pretty good. I also made three collages of photos from throughout our relationship that were too low-res to blow up to full size, but would work fine in a smaller form. I ended up paying about $20 for all of them!

This particular craft worked so well that we have three of the posters framed around our house. I’d actually like to frame more of them, and just haven’t gotten around to it. Big frames are expensive! The ones we have we got at an estate sale for cheap.

Overall, I loved having this detail in our wedding, and I REALLY loved not having to spend a lot of money on them. :)

*Alas, I can’t find the exact blog that suggested this online now (I failed to pin it! Why did I fail to pin it?), so apologies for not giving credit to the person who originally had this idea!

Self-Help Book Gleanings: Checking Email and Social Media Only Twice a Day

I’ve been really addicted to the By the Book podcast the last few weeks. I’ve marathoned through three seasons pretty quickly! I actually really enjoy self-help books and have used several in the past to improve my life.

Gratuitous cute cat photo because all the boys were hanging out in my office with me today and it was super sweet. ❤️

Gratuitous cute cat photo because all the boys were hanging out in my office with me today and it was super sweet. ❤️

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod is a key example of this; sitting down and actually focusing on what I want out of life using the SAVERS method he outlines there helped me realize last year that I’ve always WANTED to be a writer and I needed to start working toward it consciously. The SAVERS method is Silence/meditation, Affirmations, Visualizations, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing/Journaling. I don’t Miracle Morning every day, although I try to, and I don’t do all the steps every type I journal (I’m most consistent about journaling and reading = usually a writing, self help, or history book). I also don’t follow the thing about waking up early. I do it whenever I wake up. With all the faults in the method (the By the Book hosts HATED this book), it’s really really helped me and honestly was the second biggest factor in me starting to pursue writing as a career (the first biggest factor was getting my depression under control, which gave me the energy to pursue all these other things).

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin has also helped me understand my brain and what actually motivates me, which in turn has helped me build good habits. I have ADHD and have STRUGGLED in the past to build even the simplest daily habits, but the things I learned from this book have allowed me to change that.

Anyway, since I don’t have the time to read as many books as I’d like, I’ve taking inspiration from the By the Book Podcast and trying to implement some steps from the books they read into my own life. The episode on Bored and Brilliant, by Manoush Zomorodi, inspired me to start keeping track of my mobile usage via the Moment app. I then deleted the Moment app off my phone a few days later, as it was super depressing how much I used my phone, lol.

I listened to the episode on The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss yesterday, and I was really inspired by certain elements of it - specifically, getting time back to do the things you really want to do by reducing email and social media checking to only twice a day, at two set times. The moment app experiment really bothered me, plus John and I recently moved off our parents’ cell phone plans to our own, and actually paying for your own data usage has a strange way of making you want to heavily reduce it!

I tried it out today, and only checked my email and social media accounts at 12 and 5 pm (I unconsciously went to my email more times than that just by instinct, but clicked out as soon as my mind caught up). A few small exceptions: for author branding reasons, I posted on Hootsuite, which allows me to post without getting distracted by all the people and posts on social media. I also spent a little time fixing up my author page Facebook cover photo, which wasn’t initially optimized for mobile. I’m on twitter right now doing some author branding things just to like, keep my name out there and keep interacting with people so they actually check my blog when I update and such.

Overall, it was a HUGE reduction of the time I would usually have spent messing around on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I was able to focus a lot more on my work today, and I made time for a ton of other activities, even though I also had a doctor’s appointment that ate up 1.5 hours. I wrote on a short story for almost an hour. I fixed up my author facebook page. I posted on this blog and fixed up formatting and such. I walked to and from the gym for my hour long parkour class. And I still have time to just hang out with John and the cats, watching a German Netflix show and writing this post. I also feel more focused and less depressed; I’ve known for a while that studies show that social media makes you feel sad and upset, but I’ve always felt I was somewhat immune to that, since I use social media to keep up with friends and family across the country and generally have friends that are very positive and upbeat about things. But clearly, I am affected too. Limiting my social media definitely seems like it’ll help me.

Plus I think I’ll save a ton on cell phone data!

I’m excited to see how this all works for me when I actually get more in the swing of things!

Petting Cats for Wake Up Washington on WUSA9!

 
Sarah Konsmo from WUSA9 Wake Up Washington interviewing a representative of a cat charity with which Patriot Pawsabilities works.

Sarah Konsmo from WUSA9 Wake Up Washington interviewing a representative of a cat charity with which Patriot Pawsabilities works.

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So late Saturday, Mo, the owner of Patriot Pawsabilities, my favorite cat cafe out in Fairfax, posted asking for volunteers to come in at 7 am today to play with the cats while WUSA9 was there filming for Wake Up Washington. Of course, I volunteered instantly, even though I normally avoid waking up before 9 am if I can help it.

I suffer for my art, can’t you tell? (My life is so hard)

It was a lot of fun! A lot of volunteers came out and we got free cat playing time while the Wake Up Washington team did several live spots on the show with Mo and a representative from one of the charity. My former journalist days were all print or online related and I really only worked with video for one summer before senior year of college. I really enjoyed getting to see them at work! I’ll post a link to the content if I can find it; I was just in the background, but it still would be pretty cool to see myself on TV, if only for a second. :)

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I got to interact with the host Sarah Konsmo a little when I sent her photos of a cat investigating her purse. She said something about tweeting it out, I’ll have to see if that happens or not.

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I’m super glad Patriot Pawsabilities is getting some press! This is my fourth time there and it’s such a great place to visit and such a labor of love. Each time I go, they’ve added something else to make the cafe run more smoothly or more professionally. They now have liability releases everyone has to sign before they go in, which as a lawyer, I super appreciate!

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I actually wrote a story earlier this year set in a cat cafe; I used Patriot Pawsabilities as setting inspiration, because it’s just such a well laid out place (although the name of my cat cafe in the story was Cleocatra’s Palace). That story hasn’t seen the light of day yet because it wasn’t accepted for the initial volume I submitted it to, but it’s still being considered for other volumes of that same publication. So - fingers crossed!

 

 

My Experience with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator for Treating My Depression

You can buy the Fisher Wallace Stimulator here (after you get a prescription for it; you can get a script online if you’re ADD like me and can’t get your shit together enough to go to a doctor for one).

*Note: There’s a $200 off sale on June 30.  

Here’s a much cheaper source for sponges for the stimulator. You have to cut them down to size but I think that’s a small price to pay considering how much money you save (like $19 for 50 sponges instead of $48 for 48 sponges like it is on the FW website). 

(I get NOTHING for praising or recommending the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I paid full price for my own stimulator and they don’t have any referral program or anything. It’s just worked well enough for me that I want to spread the news of it to others!) 

The Fisher Wallace Stimulator. My sponge holders are slightly blue because of my continued hair dye experiments.

The Fisher Wallace Stimulator. My sponge holders are slightly blue because of my continued hair dye experiments.

TL;DR VERDICT: The Fisher Wallace Stimulator has been the only depression treatment I’ve tied that has ever made me feel “cured” for an extended length of time. I do use this on top of two depression meds (bupropion and duloxetine) though, and it does take daily use to work (and don’t forget to change those sponges weekly! The effectiveness goes down if you don’t. I do have a much cheaper source for these sponges at the top of this page though). It also isn’t a miracle worker, so my depression does get a little worse if I’m like, sick, or feeling unusually stressed or lonely. But overall, my depression incidences have gone down from probably at least once a week to more like once every two months or so, and when those incidences happen, there’s usually a traceable and fixable reason. 

 

The whole story:  

I have clinical depression and have struggled with it at least once a week probably most of my adult life (that is a guess because I’ve never tracked the incidents that much, but that seems like a good ballpark range). Summer 2018 in particular was very difficult for me, which was distressing since I literally had just got married and bought a house. Everythinf on the surface was going really well for me, but I felt miserable an awful lot of the time. This was how I felt despite being on two different depression medication and doing lots of (near daily) walks outside in the sun!

After my legal fraternity’s convention in August, which I loved but struggled with intensely, I decided enough was enough and something needed to change. So I started researching different depression treatments. I looked seriously into biofeedback, but my insurance doesn’t cover it and the necessary sessions can run into several thousand dollars. I ended up buying the Fisher Wallace Stimulator for $700 instead, reasoning that it was cheaper than biofeedback (oh, yeah, my insurance didn’t cover this either) AND it had a 30-day return policy if it didn’t work for me.

So what is this thing? It’s a stimulator that basically makes your brain produce less cortisol (stress hormones) and more serotonin (happy hormones). I started using it twice a day for 20 minutes when I first received it on August 21, 2018. It took a couple days to kick in, but once I hit August 25, I felt....amazing. The misery, fatigue, inattention, and self hatred I constantly feel when in a depression fog had left me. Suddenly, I felt happy, focused, energetic, and stable.

I accomplished SO MUCH that weekend, and when I got back to work that Monday, I found that the benefits stuck with me. The euphoria did actually wear off after a few days (because no one can live like that all the time) but the device continued to really work for me.

The stimulator came with an adjustable white headband to hold the sponges to your head, but I use exercise headbands instead, as they give a much tighter and more comfortable fit that doesn’t catch on my hair like the FW one does.

The stimulator came with an adjustable white headband to hold the sponges to your head, but I use exercise headbands instead, as they give a much tighter and more comfortable fit that doesn’t catch on my hair like the FW one does.

Positive effects of getting my depression under control:  

Here’s what I wrote about my FW Stimulator Experience last September: 

- I feel happier at my job than I have...basically ever. I procrastinate less and find it significantly easier to focus and churn out work. I do sometimes still have focus issues (I do have ADD after all!) and occasionally get bored, but those issues are much more manageable using basic time management and work techniques, as opposed to previously, when I struggled with focus, boredom, and serious misery almost all day, every day. It’s amazing how much easier it is to do your job when your brain is working the way it should!

- Tasks at home are easier for me to accomplish too, and it’s easier for me to stick to good habits and health. I actually managed to break the weight loss plateau I’ve been on since January 2016! Because fun fact- it’s a lot easier to stick to a diet when you’re emotionally stable.

-I feel like I’ve gotten better at sticking to social commitments once I make them; in the past, I’ve backed out of plans with friends a lot due to just plain feeling miserable and fatigued for reasons I couldn’t explain. I haven’t done that since I started this treatment.

It’s not like I never feel sad or mad or frustrated, but it’s all manageable now;  these are all emotions that I’m experiencing within their healthy range. They’re not overwhelming me. I have, however, had to start really working to figure out exactly what I need to be happy when I’m not seriously depressed, because I’ve had depression for long that like, I really don’t know. I’ve discovered for example, that when I’m not hampered by depression, I want and need to be around friends more often to be happy! But these are fixable problems. :)

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but so far, it seems like this treatment is actually sticking and working for me. I haven’t had a depression incident since the effects of the stimulator kicked in (i did come close, but it ends up that was just because i ignored the instructions about changing the sponges in the applicators every week. Once I changed it, it immediately started working as well for me again.). If I go 6 months without a recurrence of depression, I plan to talk to my doctors about weaning myself off depression meds altogether.

It was expensive, but honestly, this feels like the best money I’ve ever spent on anything ever and I honestly cannot friggin believe more people don’t know about it. I am in SUCH a better mental place than I was 30 days ago. And that’s why I wrote that novel of a status. 

 

Me writing about my experience in October:

1. I enjoy talking to pro se applicants over the phone SO much more than I previously did. I also really enjoyed the trademark picnic today and had an easy time talking to numerous people, when in the past, I've definitely struggled to start up conversations. It hasn't totally erased my focus issues, because I still have ADD, but it is generally much much easier for me to concentrate on conversations and while working.

2. I have managed to move forward with several long term goals in the past MONTH that I've been stalled on for a longggg time. I wrote a one act play I was happy with and submitted it to a new works festival! I can't remember the last time I actually finished a creative writing project I started (longer than a blog post anyway)! I broke through my weight loss plateau/rollercoaster and as of this morning have lost 31 pounds. I've started meditating every morning and working out every morning! These habits have been so hard for me to build and I am delighted they are happening.

I still totally suck at getting anywhere on time ever. ADD Tip: If you can get a job that doesn't care /when/ you work as long as you get your hours in, it is the best thing for someone with time blindness ever.

3. I have a few credit card issues I've been working on for a while (because law school taught me terrible financial habits, medical bills, etc.). These money issues used to /really/ stress me out and upset me, and John was scared to talk to me about them, but today we had a conversation about it and realized that actually, I haven't freaked out over money at all since the treatment kicked in. This is a delightful effect that is totally making my marriage better and John's life a little easier.

5. In general, dealing with problems is much much easier for me, and I'm more of a macgyver at finding creative solutions. This has come up several times lately, but the only example i can think of right now - John's welder is 300 pounds and can only sit in one open closet on the main floor in the entryway, as it would damage the floor anywhere else. You can't even close the door and it's just...not tidy or nice looking at all. I managed to hide it by hanging up a curtain and now our front entryway looks much better!

6. My extroversion is much more apparent now and I basically want to hang out with my friends alllll the time. My weekends are much more full of activities and I'm committing more time toward seeing friends during the week as well! Poor introvert John is slightly overwhelmed by this, but we're slowly finding a happy medium for the two of us.

 

 These days: 

Almost a year after trying it, I still use my happy zappy (as I affectionately call it) daily. I usually only need to use it once a day now, but if I’m having a tougher time than usual, I’ll use it twice daily. I am still on my depression meds (I tried removing one in the winter without actually talking to my doctor about it and it didn’t work so well). I firmly believe I wouldn’t be where I am as an author today without getting my depression under control. I won NaNoWriMo, finished that novel, and am revising it currently. I’ve written numerous short stories and essays and submitted them to literary publications; i’ve had three accepted. I published one of my short stories as an ebook and am turning that into a short story series, with a new volume released each month! I really don’t think any of that would be possible for me personally without the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. It has actually changed my life and made it significantly better. It’s not for everyone; it’s helped most of my friends I’ve recommended it to, but it just gave one of them headaches and nightmares. Given the high cost and the fact that insurance doesn’t cover it, I understand why people would be hesitant to buy it. Personally though, it’s one of the best decisions of my life. 

 

If you have any questions, please ask away! I’d be happy to talk to you more. :) 

#mentalhealth #depression #endthestigma

 

Wedding Craft Tutorial: How to DIY a Cardboard Cutout of Your Pet

So I got married last year and did a TON of craft projects for the wedding that I’ve never actually bothered to write about anywhere. Someone reached out to me today to ask about the cat cutouts at my wedding after seeing pictures of them on Offbeat Bride, so clearly there’s an audience for this sort of thing!

If you want to see our full wedding profile, it’s up on Offbeat Bride here!


This one’s pretty simple. Basically, I’m a crazy cat lady and I wanted to have cardboard cutouts of my cats Schrodinger and Ziggy Stardust at our wedding, but all the ones for sale online seemed to cost $30+ each! To save money, I ended up figuring out how to make my own.

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  1. I put my cats in their specially purchased sparkly pink wedding bowties and took as many pictures of them as I could for a few days to ensure I could get at least ONE decent full figure shot of both of them.

  2. I edited these photos and cut out a lot of the background to reduce the measurements of the sign I’d need (and also the cost!).

  3. I found the cheapest cardboard signs with a rigid core I could find online. I ended up sourcing these from GotPrint.com! I ordered two 9”x 24” rectangle signs with these images printed on them, with a kraft color core. There ended up being a lot of white space on the bottom of the signs, but I wasn’t worried, as I knew I could cut it out.

  4. Once the cardboard signs arrived, I used an exacto knife to cut out around the cats and make the final cutouts! Although to be exact(O!), I should note that my now husband John quickly decided he didn’t like how i was cutting the cardboard and took the exacto knife away from me and did it himself. Oh well. I tried.

And there you have it! Two DIY cardboard cutouts of my cats for about the cost of half of ones I found for purchase online! These were a huge hit at my wedding and it was a perfect touch!.

Rainbow hair as author branding?

So I’ve read marketing advice for authors that says that you should keep your photos and looks pretty consistent across your different social media platforms and over time. Umm. These are just the colors my hair has been since last August? Perhaps my brand will be inconsistent hair color. It worked for Dennis Rodman, right?

Anyway- what’s your favorite? I like them all but I think i loved the dark green most!

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Less time cooking = more time writing!

So John and I have been using the Dinner Doctor cookbook for the last two weeks to actually plan out our grocery shopping for the whole week like grownups and it has been SO good! Both of us prefer homemade meals (and it’s way cheaper than take out obviously) but I REALLY don’t like cooking for an hour to make it happen (John is more willing than i am but then he usually tries to get me to be his sous chef which- no); this book is full of tricks to throw something delicious together in like, 10-15 minutes.

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I’ve failed at taking pictures of most of our meals, but we’ve made micro-steamed hoisin fish with veggies, tamale pie, pork fried rice, shrimp curry, ham and cheddar impossible pie, and salmon with coconut spinach, all super easily and quickly. And even if we don’t make these exact recipes again, it’s teaching us really nice shortcuts for making great food quickly. I think I may start giving this cookbook to friends as a wedding gift because it’s so useful! Hard recommend, especially if you’re in that life stage where you’re still figuring out how to feed yourself without eating ramen all the time.

Also, I love the author Anne Byrn and got to meet her last December and fangirled SO hard. She also wrote the American Cookie and American Cake historical cookbooks I’ve been having so much fun baking through lately!

I'm Having a Bad Mental Health Day

The cats consider it their sworn duty to cheer me up when I’m down by sitting on me until I feel better.

The cats consider it their sworn duty to cheer me up when I’m down by sitting on me until I feel better.

I am having a rough mental health day

 I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve been taking my depression meds regularly, and I’ve been a little bit bad about using my Fisher Wallace stimulator, but I’ve been using it at least once a day most days. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I telework full time now and don’t have a car currently, so I can literally spend days without leaving my house. My allergies have been pretty bad lately, which has given me on and off insomnia lately and makes me generally just feel like crap. I haven’t been walking outside as much lately, although I did walk about a lot on Monday. But it’s hard to tell.

Sometimes having depression reminds me of an old detective novel. Every time my brain feels shadowed, I have to sit down, figure out what is causing the depression THIS time, and resolve the problem. So many things exacerbate my depression. Not seeing enough of my friends. Seeing too much of my friends and not having enough alone time. Not getting out of the house. Forgetting to exercise or take my meds or use my stimulator twice a day like I’m really supposed to.  Feeling sick. Feeling stressed. It can be any of these things or some combination or something i can’t remember right now. I had really hoped that adding the FW stimulator last year would prevent me having to do this ever again, but alas, no.

I should note though, that the brain stimulator has significantly improved my overall mental health state to the point that it has actually changed my life. Before I started using the stimulator, I was on two anti-depressants and still fighting bouts of depression and bad mental health every week. Last summer in particular, I had a really tough time and was experiencing bad mental health days almost every single day, which was what led me to order the stimulator. And I’m so glad I did, as these days, I maybe have one bad bout of depression every few months or so. I’m overall happier and better about focusing on things, I can talk about charged topics like money with my husband without snapping at him, and I have enough energy to really focus on my dreams and push toward them in a way that I really haven’t in years. If I hadn’t started using the stimulator, I really don’t think I would be calling myself an author at this point at all – I certainly wouldn’t have any lit mag publications or a self published ebook on Amazon.

But today, today is a bad mental health day. I’m not in any danger; really I’m not sure I’ve ever been any danger to myself. Bad mental health for me takes the form of a heavy burden on my brain, a shadow preventing me from thinking happy things or achieving all the things I want to achieve. It also used to take the form of rumination over mistakes from the past, constant self-recrimination, and fear of failure (so just covering the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, yeah?). And sure I still have those days sometimes, but they’re much more rare now and are rarely quite as bad as they used to be. I am able to get out of bed in the morning, I am able to work and be productive. I’m not quite able to write fiction when I’m having a bad health day, but I can pour out some blog posts, so that’s not the worst thing, right? At least that’s what I did.

As always, I’m happy to talk about my experience with depression, meds, or with the fisher wallace stimulator. Please reach out at rachael.dickzen@gmail.com if you have any questions!