Archive for February, 2012

Life is full of all kinds of things. Here, I will write about whatever else just strikes my fancy, because, hey, this is my blog. Just expect this page probably to fill up with all kinds of odds and ends and miscellanea. I suppose this is the web version of that catchall drawer everyone has in the kitchen and/or office: you never know what you may find. Here’s hoping that whatever you do find here, you find it to be entertaining, uplifting, inspiring or informative in some way, or a combination of all of the above.

So I’ve been thinking lately again about all the things I’ve found interesting over the years. With my children getting older and finding their own interests and getting involved in activities, I am telling them what I used to do. My oldest, who turns 16 in a few months, plays clarinet in band and has been loving that. She also plays piano and is quite good at it, considering how few official lessons she’s had. She doesn’t really feel passionate about singing, though. She also loves art; she’s loved to draw and paint for years, and her creations are just astonishingly beautiful and true to life. My third daughter, who is going to be 10 in a few months, has decided she wants to run track at her elementary school (they do this for fourth grade!). It cracked me up a bit when she said she wanted to try shotput. My girls are petite little things, willowy and trim. So when the 9-year-old said, “That shotput is heavy! My arm is feeling, well… not very strong,” I had to laugh. I said, “You’re not exactly a beefy kid. The people who do shotput are usually a bit beefier than you. You, well, you’re more veggie.” But, hey, if she wants to try that (and the long jump and high jump), then great.

This younger one also decided that she may very well be interested in drama. I’ve taken her to see some plays, and after the most recent performance, she voiced her interest. Not surprising. My oldest has never shied away from public speaking; in fact, she’s quite good at it. But she’s never wanted the spotlight or wanted to perform in that way. But the 9-year-old, well, she is more of a spotlight gal. I think she’ll be great up on the stage.

These burgeoning interests are reminding me of all that I used to do. I performed in community theater as a young person; in fact, as I informed my 9-year-old, I was the star of a play at the university where my dad taught when I was in 7th grade. It was great fun. I helped out stage-managing and performing at our Playhouse in the Park in high school during the summers; I would have acted more, but I had band camp and other activities during the summer that interfered with the schedule. I marched in band for a couple of years. I played piano. I enjoyed singing.

Talking about those activities now with my girls, I miss those days of involvement. Now, I’m just as heavily involved in life, but with different kinds of pursuits, more “adult,” “responsible” things. I work a little, editing other people’s writing. (That’s at least something I get paid for.) I write and review books (a pursuit for which I am not paid). I volunteer with a variety of organizations, right now the band boosters. Mainly, I run a household, which is pretty demanding and complex work, but it’s not focused on me; it’s focused on my husband and children. But sometimes now I miss holding a French horn in my arms and creating lovely music and being right in the middle of a band that’s surrounding me with all the harmonies of 60 instruments working together as one. I miss standing on a stage and reciting words someone else has written that inspire or amuse because I’m bringing them to life. I miss all the cool stuff I did that brought out all my creative juices.

Now I’m exercising my abilities to bring out my children’s juices (hey, I’m a juicer!); I’m refining my interests and learning to manage my time and resources, exercising restraint. I can’t do it all, not at once, but I can do a few things that really inspire me the most. For now, that works for me.

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I’ve recently become passionate about the concepts of self-image and beauty. I was drawn into this topic by writing a few articles about cosmetic surgery among the population of Utah, and as I’ve interviewed women who have had elective surgeries to improve the look of their bodies, I have become dismayed at how much we as women (it happens with men, as well, but I’m going to focus on women here) internalize our society’s preoccupation with image and youth and beauty.

What started my interest was during a visit during the summer to Salt Lake and Utah Valley, I noticed a LOT of billboards advertising cosmetic procedures. I decided to investigate the phenomenon and see if anything was going on. Since I’m a journalist and I’ve always enjoyed research, I got home and got to searching for information that would back up my suspicions about there being a trend or not. What I was able to substantiate, numbers-wise, was that there are a lot of plastic surgeons in Utah, more than what would be expected per capita. I interviewed some surgeons, and their opinions were that there were just a lot of doctors who wanted to live in Utah; there’s a medical school in Salt Lake City as well, so a lot of doctors stay in the area after graduation. My opinion was that there was more going on. But first, I put together the information at hand in this article for KSL.com: “Utah No. 8 in the U.S. in numbers of plastic surgeons per capita.”

I decided to follow it up with another facet of the phenomenon: what therapists had to say about it. So I wrote this: “Factors contributing to high rates of cosmetic surgery in Utah plentiful, complex.”

I must say, given the information I have researched over the months, I have to agree with the counselors and psychological opinion. And I’m contributing to work on the topic. I have been interviewing women who have elected to have cosmetic procedures, and they have told me time and again that they just felt really self-conscious about their bodies. Their husbands, they have told me, didn’t want them to have surgery, but they did it for themselves. They simply felt bad about how they looked, and surgery seemed to be the only way to fix it.

My involvement in this topic is still in the early stages. I’d like to interview many more women, and even men, about this issue. My faith is similar to that of many in Utah, who are predominantly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in the six months I’ve been reading about this issue and interviewing, I’ve just been dismayed by the fact that these beautiful women who by and large believe they are created in the image of divinity feel it necessary to sculpt themselves by a surgeon’s knife. How have we come to this point? We are actively teaching our daughters that they are daughters of God and they have individual worth and a divine nature. How do we come to this disconnect, then, where we believe we can only feel truly good about our bodies if they are perfect, or nearly so, by society’s standards?

This is a complex issue indeed. I sympathize a great deal with the women I’ve talked to; I’ve given birth, my belly is soft and mushy and not even close to flat, and it’s lined by silver stretch marks. I’m the older side of 40, and my youth is not as close as it used to be. I’m only getting older and softer. But I’d like to rally myself and these other women to fight back against the devilishly prevalent media images and societal beliefs that are so insistent and constant that it is truly a battle within to keep them from becoming a part of our mindsets and self-images. Let’s fight. Let’s win this battle. Let’s remember who we are. Yes, let’s keep fit and healthy. Let’s eat well and exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep as much as is possible. But let’s not internalize these societal images to the point we feel it necessary to go under anesthesia and have someone cut into our bodies.

I heartily support the work of Beauty Redefined, a wonderful website and organization that “is dedicated to taking back ‘beauty’ for girls and women everywhere” and rejecting harmful media messages. I’ll be writing more about the media in other posts, because I am a journalist and because my parents taught me as I was growing up about media and its influences. My father focused his work at the end of his career in television and teaching on the idea of “media literacy,” making sure that all of us who are such heavy consumers (willing or not) of media would learn to critically analyze the messages that are being given to us regularly. I’m going to do my part to help educate and remind us all about how we can fight back and think in a healthy way about what we’re seeing and hearing.

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As a newspaper book reviewer for more than a dozen years, two of which I was the editor of a book page, and a member of the National Book Critics Circle, as well as having my own book review website, I think I could say I’m an expert on books. At the same time, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, so I hesitate to call myself much of an expert on anything at this stage of my life. I know how little I’ve read of so many things and would like to read more, but there’s only so much time, isn’t there? I’ve read a number of classics that have enriched my knowledge and understanding of all kinds of topics, but then I’ve missed out on a lot of them as well. So, that being said, I’ll talk a bit about what I enjoy reading, what moves me, enlightens me, inspires me, opens my mind, and just entertains me.

I read a bit of most everything. I like fiction and nonfiction and young adult literature. I still have a great fondness for the award-winning books I loved as a child, and it’s been a true delight to share those with my daughters as they’ve gotten old enough to appreciate them. I don’t think I read a lot of genre books, like science fiction, and even though I did get caught up in the Twilight books, I didn’t just jump on the paranormal bandwagon. I try to be selective about what I read, checking with friends and now GoodReads, for instance, to see what other people have said before I invest time in any book. I’ve collected quite a few books over the years I’ve been reviewing, since reviewers get free review copies, but I’ve also gotten rid of most of them except the ones I truly loved.

Sometimes I enjoy a book not so much for the story but for the way it’s written — poetic, lyrical, lovely, clever, full of great metaphors — and sometimes I just like it because it has fun characters or a super-clever or engaging plot. I love to be surprised, so I adore books (and movies and TV shows, too) that are able to pull off a great plot twist that I don’t see coming (but it has to make sense). I suppose that’s why I adore gothic stories; one of my absolute favorites is The Thirteenth Tale. Wowee. There just aren’t nearly enough good twists like the one Diane Setterfeld pulls off in this one. I don’t typically read a lot of sci-fi, but I have enjoyed a few good science fiction tales over the years (I do quite appreciate Orson Scott Card, even though I’ve still never managed to read what is by all accounts his best book, Ender’s Game). I like fantasy better than sci-fi, so I’ve read more of that (I loved Card’s Seventh Son series about Alvin Maker).

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a hefty tome that digs in deep to a topic, and sometimes I just need some good fluff. I’ve found that YA love stories satisfy me well on that latter count (I found Anna and the French Kiss to be delightful, for example, as well as I Now Pronounce You Someone Else). I like to learn about all kinds of topics, particularly science and health and different places (this book on memory research was fascinating: I didn’t realize just how complex it is to figure out biologically and chemically how our brains create memories), and I appreciate good memoirs (especially if they combine science and humor, like Richard Feynman’s wildly entertaining Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!). Any book that includes passages on grammar or punctuation earn points with me, as did one character’s two-page riff on a comma error in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a great book even without that hilarious-to-a-copy-editor segment, and once I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting account of disaster on Mt. Everest (I was skeptical when a friend suggested I read it), I’ve found myself attracted to other mountain-climbing books.

I still have all the books I acquired as a child and teenager, and I’ve shared them with (sometimes foisted them on) my daughters. It doesn’t get better than Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. The latter especially has held up for me as an adult reader: the books are complex with lovely storytelling, great vocabulary and legend.

Ah, I could go on and on. But that’s what more posts are for. So stay tuned.

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I’m going to crack open my heart, peel back the layers surrounding me, and essentially strip down to my bare inner self here. It’s a little unnerving, but I am telling myself this is for the greater good: I hope that things I write will be of benefit to you who are reading this. So here goes.

I have always been a perfectionist. I have also always been a pretty optimistic, cheery, energetic person. I was brought up in a religious home and have always been faithful inside and out, if that makes sense. I have never had alcohol or cigarettes; I even avoid caffeine. I was taught to not take the Lord’s name in vain, and it still bothers me to hear people use God’s name as an expletive. I didn’t use bad language. I earned top grades since my early days and graduated as valedictorian of my high school. Generally, I was considered a “goody-goody.” No problem. I didn’t mind at all.

The summer I was 17 I had the amazing opportunity of spending five weeks at a state program for gifted students. The program itself was great and offered all kinds of interesting activities, but even better was spending that kind of time with students like myself. I felt like I belonged. I also fell in love. Ah, First Love. I had a whirlwind two-week romance with a boy who was smart and cute and who liked me, nerd that I was. I began to see myself as pretty and attractive to guys, an utterly new idea. It changed me.

It also devastated me to have to go home. The Boy lived a five-hour drive away. The romance was over. I saw him one more time, briefly, and we agonized over the distance between us. But that was it. He didn’t even try to keep up a long-distance relationship of any kind. I pined for him and went on with life, starting my senior year.

Several months later, I traveled to a state academic function, and it happened: I was in a crowded room, and all of a sudden space just opened up, and the Boy was standing a few feet away. A choir might as well have been singing and a heavenly light spotlighted down on him. I went to him, trembling. He responded distantly, and that was pretty much it. No happy reunion, no resuming of our summer romance. I was absolutely crushed.

Where is all this going? To what I now realize was my first “breakdown.” I crashed. I cried and cried and acted completely not myself. I don’t remember the details, since it happened 25 years ago and it’s too embarrassing for my mind to keep in my memory bank. I do remember, however, a teacher being called in and me acting out somehow that night in our hotel room, and then yelling and using my first bad language the next day when it came time to board the buses to go back home. Even thinking about the brief flashes of memory that are still there makes me cringe with embarrassment and shame. But in putting together pieces that resemble this outburst, I now know that this was the beginning of moments of not-normal behavior. I felt out of control and completely not myself, as if I’d been taken over by an alien being.

Even so, it was years until I even thought of this event as anything relevant to later incidents. I went off to college and went to see a counselor there, not because I felt compelled to do so by personal demons, but because my younger sister was facing her own demons at a drug rehab facility, and my mother told me that it would be good for the whole family to be involved somehow. I was 2500 miles away, so going to a therapist at college was the best I could do to be involved, I guess. I still felt a bit detached from the counseling, as if it wasn’t for ME, but for a family thing. I didn’t personally need the counseling, but I was contributing to the good of the family in a way. I did recognize that my family was dysfunctional (my parents had had issues over the years and divorced right at that time as well), and it was nice to have someone to talk to about those things. But otherwise, I was going about my own business, living the life I had been so eager to get to for years: being on my own at my dream school.

Oddly enough, I had another incident during that first year of school and I don’t think it still really struck me that anything was seriously wrong. I had boy issues throughout the year, but none really sent me into a tailspin. One evening, however, I was waiting for a date to take me to a very nice event at a theater on-campus. He was perpetually late and I’d warned him to be on time. Even so, he was hideously late and I “lost it” again. I yelled at him and generally overreacted. Again, my mind doesn’t care to let me remember details, but I remember the feeling of the out-of-control anger (rage? fury?) that was disproportionate to the offense, and the shame I felt at how I behaved. The guy was pretty easygoing, so, oddly, it didn’t seem to really damage the relationship. We broke up later, but it was just because it was time for it to be over, and I had realized I was crazy about a guy I was best friends with (who figured in to some later outbursts, a number of them).

I think I really just tried to ignore these events, or I considered them to be weird blips in an otherwise happy life in which I was still the happy, optimistic achiever who admittedly was a perfectionist and consequently a bit anxious, but everyone still saw me as a happy, energetic, bubbly person, so I could kind of skim over these incidents. In hindsight, they’re just signposts that I didn’t recognize for years for what they were.

Three years later, I was in a distance relationship of sorts with the aforementioned best friend. We supported each other through some challenging times in our respective church missionary assignments and felt we would be together at the end of them.

I will probably have to write later about more specifics of what I experienced during my mission time, but I can say briefly right now that it was generally great except for some big but brief blips at the very beginning and the very end. I came home feeling in need of support and shoring up, and I knew it was time to figure out what was wrong. At age 22, I finally realized I was depressed or … something. I came home from my mission to focus on getting myself well. Unfortunately, I expected love and support from the Male Best Friend, who had by that time been a part of my life for about 3 1/2 to 4 years. But I went to visit him, vulnerable and looking for support, and he decided practically within hours of my arrival that our relationship was not going to work out. It doubly devastated me, and when I went home two weeks later, I was in even worse condition than I had been when I’d come home from the mission service and, rather than feeling I had support to help me as I figured out what was wrong with me emotionally, I was even more crippled.

My father had had some of his own breakdowns and had once or twice decided to put himself in a hospital to get care. So I decided that was probably the best course for me. Again, I don’t care to remember the harrowing details, but I’m pretty sure from the snippets I’ll let myself remember I was at that point suicidal. So hospital it was. I went into our small-town hospital’s psychiatric unit voluntarily for what was almost a week, I think. It was odd and a little embarrassing to be inside a locked unit, and I had some fellow patients there who had some real issues that made mine seem small. But over the course of that week, the doctor there decided I was bipolar and began treating me with lithium.

I resumed my life, feeling better able to cope and probably doing better after being on the lithium, so I was able to go about life. I stayed in my small hometown for a month or two but then decided to go back to college early, a couple of months before the new semester would start and I would be enrolled. I just needed to get back with friends and in a place I enjoyed and felt comfortable. I still was absolutely heartbroken over my failed relationship, and that pained me for a long, long time, but I managed.

I checked in with counselors at college again, and I had regular blood tests to make sure the lithium wasn’t damaging my liver. But over time, I came to believe that wasn’t the best treatment, or rather, that it was unnecessary. I knew what the “typical” textbook symptoms were of bipolar disorder, and I just felt that I didn’t fit the profile (I didn’t stay up for days on end or get “manic” in the way that seems to be the “typical” way we hear about with certain cases). Lithium was a serious drug to be on, and I didn’t want to be taking it if it wasn’t completely necessary. So I went off it and seemed to do fine.

In more posts, I’ll share more about what I’ve experienced over the years. For now, this does cover the beginning. Now, I reflect on all that and wonder if I should have stayed on the lithium, and made things a lot simpler for myself, but who knows? Perhaps it was for the best I struggled and learned. I was able to have three pregnancies and give birth to three daughters, which I couldn’t have done if I’d been on lithium. In a way, hindsight doesn’t much matter now. I can’t say I have “clear”, for-sure answers now, but I do have years of experience and I know for certain that my brain chemistry does require me to be on medication of some kind. Again, I’ll share all those things in further posts. But it’s been a long haul these past 25 years, and I hope that in sharing these details of my life, I can help enlighten someone else and make things clearer in this world of mental health that can be oh-so-NOT clear.

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My brain has always been full of ideas and interests. In high school, I participated in band, the school paper, the speech and drama team, and a variety of academic competitions. I took piano lessons. I enjoyed all of my classes, English and math and science. When I went to college, I decided to major in journalism because I enjoyed it so much, but also because I felt it would give me an opportunity to still investigate and learn about a variety of topics as I wrote about them (or edited what other people were writing). I still love to learn about almost anything, and reading and book reviewing has given me a great way to delve into tons of topics. I feel I’ve become somewhat specialized in a few areas, and I have a few particular interests I feel particularly passionate about enough to blog on. So this site will be the umbrella for the various topics I’d like to address, which will include, for the time being, books, beauty and self-image, mental health, home and family life, and then just whatever else I’d like to share. Feel free to contribute to the discussion by commenting.

Cathy Carmode Lim

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