Tag Archives: mind

Mental Health Monday: Dangerous Neighborhoods

A few weeks ago, an email went out to everyone in my building at work with an important warning.

SUBJECT: Bear Near McMillian and Oak

MESSAGE: We were just informed that there is a bear near the corner of McMillian and Oak.  Please refrain from walking near that area today as the city ordinance is trying to capture the bear and potential cubs.


Right. Avoid the corner with the bears, a block from our building. I smiled to myself — how is this my life? How did I end up in a corner of the world in which Betsy DeVos might actually have a point?

I didn’t feel unsafe, just avoided the area for a few days… limited my runs to the other side of McMillian.

Until a few days later when the Marshfield Police Department made an important announcement on Facebook.

The 1500 block of N Hume Ave… in the field about a block from our house. Runs re-routed once again. No letting Curls out alone after dark. Empty pizza boxes left in the garage until garbage day. Again, I did not feel particularly unsafe.


It’s interesting, though, that a real live bear, a hungry, just-woken-up-from-hibernation-only-to-find-its-not-really-Spring-yet-in-Wisconsin bear, really did not concern me. Bears are kind of a fact of life around here. And waking up hungry in early Spring is what bears do. It’s not terribly hard to avoid being its food. Avoid the general vicinity, don’t fill your outdoor bird feeders or garbage cans with tasty treats, and you’ll be fine.

It’s so simple… when it’s a real live bear.

But when it’s metaphorical? When the beast lives only in your mind? Then what? Then it seems far less simple.


The work email, the Facebook post, they  reminded me of a walk with my aunt through a seedy area of Minneapolis back in October of 2015, shortly after I miscarried and she arranged a weekend getaway for us, saved my life.

We ventured out on foot from our lofty Airbnb in search of good food, unique shops, and a place to get a pedicure. We walked and walked and walked, ending up in a place that didn’t feel quite right. A dangerous neighborhood, perhaps. We certainly didn’t belong. We walked quickly, eyes straight ahead, and took a left into a safer neighborhood as quickly as possible.

We did stop for a pedicure, best described as unforgettable, right on the border between the two neighborhoods, safe and unsafe… and then walked on, leaving the dangerous space behind us in favor of Mexican food and more wine in the loft apartment. At some point along the way, maybe on the walk, perhaps over the wine, my aunt shared with me her own experiences with dangerous neighborhoods — dangerous neighborhoods of the mind.

I loved the metaphor. It was instantly familiar. Dark streets that suck you in, horrific thoughts lurking in shadowed doorways. Roads that lead to dead ends, that feel inescapable. Twists and turns in which a person can lose their way, lose their self.

How often have I ended up in a dark space like that? Unable to stop the thoughts, to prevent further escalation, to prevent the snowball from growing as it rolls down a very steep hill.

The mind as a city with unique neighborhoods, characterized by the nature of our thoughts. Yes.


I often spend time meandering carelessly through my mind, failing to use past experiences and mental maps to avoid the dangerous areas. I find myself in those places over and over again, let them suck me in, and get lost. Self-pity, body negativity, grief, jealousy — if I don’t turn back immediately, it can take a long while to get back to safety.

While I’ve always found comfort in metaphor, perhaps this would be a good time to find solution in reality. The neighborhoods in my mind, after all, can’t be all that different from the city of Marshfield. An unpredictable bear wandering the town on occasion — easily avoided, all things considered.

I can heed the warnings, the sightings of potential danger. I can keep the garbage inside until it’s safe to take it out, to get rid of it once and for all. And, if it’s not a bear, something more vaguely unsettling, I can call my aunt and ask her to walk beside me until I’m in a safe space again. A pedicure and bottle of wine to relax on the other side.

Loudly, Clearly, Always

Bad news bears: my knee SUPER hurts. Turns out, it’s very much more difficult to recover from a fall at the age of 31 than it was at the age of 26. Very much. I better quit this falling thing before I get too much older or I’m going to end up needing new joints way before my time.

BUT… good news bears: my new shoes came today and despite my extreme crotchitiness (uh huh– it’s a word), I went out for a quick (quick is a relative term, remember… and what I really mean by “quick” is, in fact, short… right) 2-mile run and they were super sweet. They’re just so bright and while appearance isn’t the most important thing about running shoes, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

BAM! So bright!!
BAM! So bright!!

Also, my heels weren’t bloody at the end. Sigh. I really needed new shoes. I always let it go way too long.

But anyway. What does Joan suggest we mediate on today?  Let’s see, shall we?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” –Romans 12:2

Renewal of the mind…

And Joan?

“Exactly how does a person go about not being ‘conformed to this world’? We live in the belly of the beast. It is our politicians, our banks our business that cheat poor laborers, make the dirty military alliances, sell the weapons, hike up the interest rates. And we are the ones who buy from them, and elect them, and collect their dividends. Is there any hope for our own purity of soul in such a world as this? Is there any hope for mine? Well, Paul seems to think so. He says, ‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ Change the way you think, in other words. And say so. That’s what I must do. Whatever the ridicule, whatever the criticism, I must say so. Loudly, clearly, always. Then maybe someday I will find myself lost in a chorus of voices all shouting ‘no’ together. And then the world will change.” –Joan Chittister

I think Joan is talking about how our mind interacts with the external. And I don’t disagree. But for me, the thing that provides the ridicule and the criticism (frequently and loudly and constantly) is my second track.

Remember that bad boy? It’s been a while, eh?!

But it’s still there. And it’s been louder than loud as of late. I didn’t really recognize it until today– thank goodness for therapy. It’s like I pay someone to keep notes on my life and remind me of what’s what once a month. Good deal. So what do Dr. C and I think that I can do about it?

Four things:

1. Focus on helping other people;
2. Take my own advice after I spend time talking other people up;
3. Talk about the bad feelings;
4. And don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

In other words, change the way I think.

So, here’s what I have decided to think. I think that I just endured a nasty storm and that, despite some minor damage, I’ve come through to the other side. I think that IVF is scary and that receiving my packet of info with all that crazy, crazy, crazy set me up for some major anxiety and that my husband heading out of town and working round the clock on a big, important grant made it harder to deal than usual. I think I dealt with all that by eating. By crashing. By dealing in the best way I could deal– not perfect, but good enough. Good. I’m good.

I think I am good.

Renewal of the mind.

I know it’s not that simple, really. But if feels alright right now. And I will keep saying that I am good — loudly, clearly, always.

Mind, Body, Prison

First order of business– THANKS a million for all of your help on deciphering the 100% illegible inscription from Adam Bucko!  I’m pretty sure it’s “may you be the change,” but “may you be in charge” could also be right… and that little word after be seems to look a little more like in than the.  So, after pondering, I’m going to read the book, see if “in charge” makes sense, and then decide if that’s it or if he was quoting Mother Teresa.  Either way– thanks so much, friends!!  You’re awesome and someone’s about to get a book!!

Anyway, on to our regularly scheduled program.  Prison time!


I read a really interesting article from CommonHealth the other day entitled “I’m Finally Thin – But Is Living In a Crazymaking Food Prison Really Worth It?” by Rachel Zimmerman.  It was a really good read and I loved her prison analogy.  Loved it!  So much so that I wanted to extend it to the other side, too.  Because it’s not just thin women that end up in that crazymaking prison… I think all women can.  And it’s not difficult to get locked up.  At least not in my experience.

So, let me tell you about life… on the inside.  (Do I sound hard?  Like prison hard?  That’s what I’m going for.)

Mind, Body, Prison.

When I’m trying to lose weight or maintain a lower-than-usual weight, those are times when I’m working toward parole and I’m so busy kissing the warden’s behind that I can’t do anything else.  My stomach growls and I spend hours in the gym, but it’s never good enough.  So much time is spent obsessing about food, and not eating it.

When I’ve gained weight and feel too fat, those are the times when I feel hopeless and certain that I’m in for life.  I’ll make a shank out of just about anything (cookies! candy! cake!) and I’m quick to use it at even the slightest provocation.  (Nom nom nom…)  Again, I’m obsessing about food, but the feelings are of finding more and then feeling guilty for consuming it.

My body is covered in prison scars and homespun tattoos– stretch marks from rapid weight gain and loss and persistent injuries as a result of over-exercise.

They say that people can become permanently institutionalized… unable to function appropriately in the real world.  And I fear that I share that fate.  I hope for rehabilitation, a chance to live happily on healthily on the outside.  But what does that take and how do I get there?

My institutionalized mind has two alternative answers for me.

The goody two-shoes hopeful parolee says that loss of a few pounds (or many…) will impress the parole board– a smaller pants size, careful control of caloric intake and demonstration that I am willing to eat nothing but leafy greens and crunchy carrots.

The prison yard gangsta says to forget about it because I’ll just end up back here anyway, searching the yard for another sugary, salty treat to turn into a weapon… and let’s get another tattoo while we’re at it.

So then what’s the real answer?  How do we reform the mind-body prison system?

I don’t know.  And at the moment, I’m the tough guy looking for a fight, about to start a dang riot.  And that’s a problem because people who just want to fight (read: eat) are rarely capable of looking for diplomatic solutions in the heat of the moment.  And, to be perfectly honest, the piece of me that hopes for an answer is really just looking for a way back in front of the parole board– in smaller pants.

I have pretty intense physiological and emotional cravings for, as the book says, Salt! Sugar! Fat!  (Really, good read, I highly recommend it.)  But I’m simultaneously dealing with a neurological and sociological obsession with thinness and unrealistic, mainstream beauty ideals.  But above all, the thing that my heart desires is comfort and to be out of prison, once and for all.

Orange really isn’t my color.  Even metaphorically.



Oh man, nerd alert.  I was re-reading this post and was concerned that I had used the word shank wrong because suddenly shiv was popping into my head instead.  So I googled it.  Don’t worry.  They’re both names for sharp, handmade prison weapons.  Whew.  I wouldn’t want to incorrectly label a handmade prison weapon.  Oh TV, thank you for giving me so much prison knowledge!