Monday, March 11, 2013

Listening to the Red Sox and Pink Noise

I looked forward to Spring Training with extra passion this year, not just for the fun of rooting for my team (and telling them off at the dinner table, not sure how that message ever gets to them) but because they are company. Although the Red Sox imploded at the end of the 2011 season and underperformed with more clubhouse drama last year and again didn't get into the play-offs (not that they deserved to), I have still missed them as background in my room at night when I'm reading or writing. They're the only sounds I can bear to hear coming from my TV. And that's because, I recently realized...they are repetitive and familiar.

Joe Castiglione
Jerry Trupiano
Dave O'Brien
The rhythm of play-by-play baseball has grounded me for years. When I was on internship in Worcester all day, working in Providence in the evenings and commuting home to Coventry I first became addicted to Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano on the Red Sox Radio Network.  Radio announcers have to have an easy back-and-forth, which these guys did, and a good sense of humor in addition to some interesting facts and figures to throw into the mix. I like a little gossip about players and their families, but I don't get much. There's some about trades, but the announcers are careful. Trupiano himself left in 2007 after a leak from the Red Sox management (don't get me started about the RS Front Office) about his going to St. Louis preceded his firing. Of course he never left Franklin, Mass., go figure. Now the 2nd announcer is Dave O'Brien. He's okay :). I'm not as used to him because since we moved from Rhode Island to Connecticut, it's hard to get the Red Sox on 1080. I hear Dave (and Joe) mostly through static. My main guys are on NESN.

Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy as the play-by-play and color commentator, respectively, on NESN, are awesome. I love listening to them goofing around. Last year Jerry was reportedly refused entrance to one of the Chicago stadiums last year because he forgot his press pass and couldn't get by the security guard until Don showed up. Don or on-field reporter Jenny Dell took a picture of Jerry sitting by the back door on a crate like leftovers waiting for a food bank pickup that was priceless, for those of us that enjoy such foolishness. Jerry can't remember which shirt he's supposed to wear. Don hanging out with the Green Monster. The two of them trying to figure out how to use a light saber, a process so absorbing they almost missed calling a Cody Ross home run. It's a lot of fun. Jerry was absent for parts of a few seasons, battling lung cancer, but he seems to be back and in fine form. He and Don seem happy, which of course they should be. They have a nice gig. And listening to them is fun. They have a good attitude toward the players, never snarky or overly critical, never apologetic for players either. When the game is going poorly they stay calm, matter-of-fact. When it's going well they're even happier.

Harry Wareing
(wehm afternoons)
So I was surprised when I couldn't listen to them the last couple of weeks in spring training. But six months away has made my brain forget they are familiar. And I only can tolerate listening to things that are repetitively, boringly familiar. I'll  have to build up tolerance for them, like I'm doing for golf again, and tennis. I can listen to these three sports, and movies I've seen a dozen times or more (anything from Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings to The Proposal or Notting Hill). It has to be so familiar I know most or all of the lines. Same with radio--it has to be a familiar song or soothing deejay (my favorites are Harry Wareing or Anthony on wehm.
Anthony Famiglietti
(wehm mornings)

Because otherwise, I can't follow along, I get a headache, I get nauseous, I need a nap.  Commercials are like spikes to my brain.

It's not just when the television or radio is on. When I am in public, I struggle almost every minute, either to block out the noise of other people talking (if I'm alone), or to listen to what they're saying (if I'm with them or at a conference). Worse is blocking and talking. Worst of all is blocking and listening. It is so hard to listen to one thing and not another. I'd rather be at home with a pillow over my head.

Because I can only really think in silence, or near-silence.

On days my kids are home I'm in audio overload by 10am. They all talk at the same time, and watch TV and carry around iPods and 3DS's and Wii controllers and phones on speaker. Noise multiplied by 10 people and all their devices. It's wicked hard to even make dinner or do laundry with all that interference, like my brain reception is spotty and strained. Like 1080 Red Sox Radio.

Ironically, what helps is something that sounds a lot like static. My speech and language therapist-friend Becca told me about Pink Noise, and it's a gift that allows me to write even this blog. My favorite is on YouTube, which you can download from Electric Canyon Studios for $1.25. If it's playing on earphones and I'm in public, it neutralizes a lot of the other sounds, even if it doesn't block them all out.

It's great for studying, for anyone, not just those with misbehaving brains like me. And it blocks out tinnitus and helps babies sleep, all very worthy causes.

What is likely going on with me is some version of an auditory processing disorder. There are other problems I as part of my post-concussive syndrome, but this is one that's not getting better, and limits my daily functioning. I'm pretty smart in a quiet room. In a noisy one, I'm a blank state.  I have an evaluation scheduled for next month at the UCONN Speech and Language Clinic--apparently there are possible treatments, which would be grand :).

In the meantime, I live in the pink.

Love, Lisa

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Stay Sane

I hope for peace and sanity - it's the same thing.
Studs Terkel 
My computer isn't working great today. It keeps kicking me off my blog when I hit "save." And, of course, the words aren't saved either. Random things are popping up and blocking words. I am not a peace. But I am sane, working my way through the problem, so I know Studs' words aren't always true.

But they're true often enough that the fight for sanity (because it's never easy) is often a quiet one.

In her book How To Stay Sane, Phillipa Perry summarizes what she's seen in people who have improved their mental health. If you were to improve your physical health, we all know what to do: eat healthier, exercise more, get enough sleep and get medical care as needed. But what are the four things to do if you want to be less anxious, less angry, more productive, more content?

Like when I wrote about how we have much more research on the stages and types of negative emotions than those on positive ones (October, 2012 ), there's much more known on how to lessen insanity (therapy, meds, activities, skill-building) than on increasing sanity. You'd think they're the same, but they're not. The goal of most depression treatment is not "being generally happy," but rather "spending less time in abysmal misery." Or, physiologically, eating more. Cognitively, having fewer suicidal thoughts.

Vwopp Vwopp blog
This simplifies the issue, but my point is only that we think more of the opposite of depression as "not depressed," or the opposite of anxiety as "not anxious," when that is actually in the middle of the gradient.

I understand why. I do. When you are depressed, just getting to "upset" is a miracle. Here's a scale designed on a blog by a person with dissociative identity disorder trying to describe their experience with depression.  She called the blue stage the "cookies and french fries" stage and said she doesn't feel anything above purple, or hadn't in a year.

But the full-scale opposite of sad is happy. Of anxious is calm. And it's important to know how to get there if you can. This is what Phillipa outlines for us. The four things she has found get people to a sane and peaceful place? I would have known generally, but she gives us specifics:

1. Self-Observation. This is also called mindfulness, or conscious awareness. You can do it running (she says she learned it best when preparing for the London Marathon) or sitting, cooking or lying in bed. When you get better at it, you are accepting of yourself and non-judgmental about your actions and experiences. The key is separating your thoughts, sensations and emotions to take note of them. There's that pinky toe rubbing against my shoe. Jealous thoughts triggering a fight with my daughter. Worry about school making my stomach clench.
I first learned Mindfulness as a treatment for depression in a training by Zindel Segal on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and, like many useful ideas, it took me far longer to put this to use than to understand the concept. Years of practice. But it works. I do best, these days, combining it with yoga and a teacher. I am simply unable to focus my mind when I'm alone.

2. Relating to Others: When the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was published, I thought it was cute. Most people did. Also in many ways true. Sharing, caring, all little animals in the classroom tanks eventually die as do we. But the book itself takes on more depth, including how adults are socially complex and it's hard to find our way.
“Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found.” ― Robert FulghumAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things
Phillipa gives us ideas on how to nourish relationships, and find them fulfulling in return. The exercises are relatively simple but they point you in the right direction. There's an article in that Psychology Today from last week about how ambivalent relationships are more stressful than routinely negative ones ("The Mixed-Bag Buddy And Other Friendship Conundrums"). Often the ambivalence peaks around times like weddings. This certainly has happened with me. Phillipa points out that one or more of these can be romantic partners or children, but they don't have to be in order to be happy. An obvious point, but one we sometimes forget when lonely.

3. Stress: This word is so often paired with "managing" that I almost wrote them as one there are other dynamics. Sometimes we court stress. Sometimes we fear it. Stress is challenge, and opportunity, and excitement, and change. It is almost impossible to experience personal development and growth without stress, because stress is the reason we have for changing. It is a ruffling of the static force field around each of us, making those particles dance and clash. It can be fun. It can be lethal. It's important to understand the process and our responses (and improve them). Phillipa calls it Positive Stimulation.

4. What's the Story?: I don't love this title, but it works. The story of our lives, the way we describe ourselves, the meaning we give to our existence, all matter in our feeling like our life is worthwhile, a necessity to stay sane. Phillipa has an exercise in genograms for a start, and others that serve this purpose as well as others (a mindfulness exercise that delves into what we are feeling about who in our lives, and why, covers all four bases).

The book is short, only 130 pages, and I read it in an afternoon. You may consider doing so yourself. She's a nifty teacher, Phillipa. I'll give you her picture for fun.

Her glasses, and her book, make me cheerful. Since I was a child of the seventies, I'll use our catchphrase and hope you are having a good day.

Love, Lisa