Service Dog Learns How To Wear PPE So He Can Work In The Lab With His Owner

OH FUR CUTE

Are you ready for it? For your daily dose of adorable? Because today, it’s brought to you by a pup in PPE: Golden Retriever service dog, Sampson. And what makes this story so damn cute is Sampson learned how to wear PPE so he can work in the lab as his owner’s lab assistant at the University of Illinois.

Sampson, donned head to paw in canine PPE, is the Very Good Boy Assistant of his disabled neuroscientist owner, Joey Ramp. According to People, Ramp suffered head injuries following a serious horse-riding accident back in 2006. But that accident didn’t stop Ramp from pursuing a new career as a neuroscientist — and her lab assistant might just be the cutest, cuddliest one yet. Just look at him!

Sampson is the first-ever canine to be granted access to a chemistry laboratory at the University of Illinois.

As a service dog in the lab, Sampson must not only wear PPE at all times, but he must also remain in his handler’s direct line of sight at all times. Other rules Sampson must follow include staying out of others’ way in the lab, laying on his designated rubber-backed mat, and retrieving things on command (versus automatically).

“If we’re not in the lab for a while, I’ll put the goggles on, and we’ll go out and play frisbee, and he’ll run around,” Ramp said.

Sampson not only helps Ramp with lab-related duties, but he also helps spot signs of Ramp’s PTSD.

“If I drop something in the lab, he’ll come to my side, and I can use him as a brace to kneel down and pick up what I need,” said Ramp, a former horse trainer who broke 23 bones, damaged her prefrontal cortex, and suffered permanent nerve damage to the left side of her body following her serious polo accident.

Now, Ramp’s pursing her Ph.D — with Sampson right by her side.

“I couldn’t possibly navigate academics or a neuroscience program without his assistance,” Ramp told SWNS. “There’s more focus on the dog than the service they are providing, and they were barring an entire population of students from entering lab work and ultimately the STEM field.”

Ramp now works with universities around the world to help them introduce more service dogs into the lab and help them adopt lab service dog guidelines.

“It takes the mystery out of what a service dog does and how you can accommodate them in a lab,” Ramp said. “It also gives handlers an idea of what training their dog requires, because learning to wear goggles takes time.”

Ramp said she wants people to understand that service dogs have a very high level of training.

“They provide independence and keep their handler healthy, happy, and able to go about life in ways they wouldn’t be able to do without their service dog,” she said. “People with disabilities do want to study science and to look at people with disabilities and service dog handlers with a view of making things more accessible to them is really important and it’s time.”

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Zoom-Induced Dysmorphia Is Real: Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Zoom has been around for some time. In fact, the video conferencing platform is nearing its tenth birthday. Zoom will be a decade old in April. And while the virtual chat program has long held its place in corporate America, it took on a new light (and life) in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and businesses across the globe. In an instant, Zoom became integral. Essential. From connecting with colleagues to chatting with grandma and grandpa, it became the way to converse and meet-up and connect. Unfortunately, spending hours in front of the camera is having an unexpected impact on many. Seeing ourselves, constantly and consistently, is negatively impacting our mental health.

Increased time spent on video calls with our own image reflected at us has led many to experience increased feelings of self-consciousness and body dissatisfaction, as well as greater pressure to change our appearance in some way,” the clinical staff at The Renfrew Center, the first residential eating disorder treatment facility in the United States, explains. “Those who suffer from body image issues are most prone to seeing themselves through this lens of self-criticism, which may lead to disordered eating, overexercise, or a desire to seek cosmetic procedures, also known [unofficially] as Zoom dysmorphia.”

New research published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology reveals hours in front of video calls is leading some people to get cosmetic procedures. The study revealed 50% of doctors surveyed indicated there was a rise in cosmetic consultations during the pandemic, and 86% of respondents reported their video-conferencing as a reason for their new cosmetic concerns.

Of course, dysmorphic disorders are not new. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance, and Zoom-induced dysmorphia is (more or less) the same condition. According to Samantha DeCaro, the assistant clinical director at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, Zoom-induced dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphia that is worsened and/or exacerbated by appearances on camera.

“The signs and symptoms of Zoom dysmorphia are similar to other forms of body dysmorphia,” DeCaro explains. “Obsessive thoughts about perceived physical flaws are common. These thoughts result in repetitive behaviors, such as comparing one’s flaws to others, consulting with plastic surgeons, examining their flaws in the mirror, and constantly seeking reassurance about their appearance. Those with BDD might completely avoid situations where their perceived flaws will be exposed.”

Anxiety and stress cause many with this condition to isolate and shut down, and those with BDD genuinely believe they are ugly or deformed. Their self-esteem is low, or non-existent. Being in front of the computer screen also exposes us to unattainable beauty standards 24/7, increasing the likelihood of experiencing harmful or intrusive thoughts.

“Nowadays we’re exposed to ‘perfected’ images in a much more widespread way because of how everyday people use technology,” Hilary Weingarden, a body dysmorphia expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in an interview with Vogue. “I think people are probably far less likely to understand that the photos they see of their friends… may also be completely unrealistic. Comparing your appearance to perfected images that your peers have posted is a lofty and unattainable comparison, and it’s likely to set people up to feel self-critical or inadequate.”

The good news is there is help. There are ways to combat body dysmorphia and, more specifically, Zoom-induced dysmorphia. 

“If Zoom seems to be worsening your BDD or is making you self-conscious or uncomfortable, it might be helpful to adjust the Zoom settings to hide your own image,” DeCaro tells Scary Mommy. “Working with a qualified therapist can also help you increase your exposure to your perceived flaws so that, over time, they have less power over you.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, can help those with BDD better understand their thoughts, triggers, and emotions, and help those living with dysmorphia develop a coping strategy and plan. And therapist can help you clarify your deeply held values.

“Oftentimes, people who engage in ‘value work’ discover that appearance is just not as important as they once believed it to be,” DeCaro says.

“It’s also important to remember you don’t need to be diagnosed with BDD to improve your relationship with your body,” DeCaro adds. “If you are suffering in any way, you deserve help. Seek out the support of a licensed therapist who specializes in self-esteem and body image issues.”

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You Can Do Whatever You Want In Your 40s

Age really isn’t just a number when it also comes with expectations and milestones which we are constantly being measured against. What if baby isn’t walking or talking by their first birthday? OMG 10! Double digits! Happy Sweet Sixteen! Here’s your over-the-top party and driver’s licenses. Congratulations on turning 18; you are now an adult and eligible voter. Have fun drinking legally and blowing your money at the casinos with your proof of 21 ID. Also, you are now expected to get your shit together because the next 10-12 years are for college graduation, marriage, career building, and family making. Oh, and now you’re 40? Your life belongs to your kids and everything is downhill so put a bumper sticker on your ass that reads Honk if parts fall off.

No. We need to change this script. Not only can our path to 40 be drastically different than this narrative, but for many of us, our life begins at 40 and we can do whatever we want.

I’ll be 42 soon, and I’d be lying if I told you I don’t get caught up in feeling like I missed opportunities or have failed myself somehow because I haven’t reached certain goals. And it’s not just passing regret or sadness; I have had full-blown panic attacks thinking life has passed me by and I’m too old to do everything I want in this lifetime. I haven’t written a book. I haven’t gone back to school to get the master’s degree I want. I haven’t been to Europe. I can’t do a muscle up in CrossFit or a handstand in yoga.

Yet.

The panic slips away when I add the word yet. It’s not simply my age that has stopped me from doing these things; it’s been opportunity and not knowing I wanted to do some of these things. And it’s not like haven’t been busy doing all of the other stuff life has to offer. Turning 40 doesn’t mean life stops.

I also remind myself of all that I have achieved and learned “later in life.” Getting older also means gaining more life experiences, and hopefully more insight about who we are and what we need. I was close to 40 when I got sober. I was 40 when I had gender affirming top surgery after coming out as nonbinary a couple of years earlier. Compared to the transgender folks 10-15 years younger than me having the same surgery, I was an old-timer. I’m divorced and with a new partner who I am starting a new life with even though we don’t know exactly what that will look like because we are in a long-distance relationship. My partner and I often wish we had more time with one another, but we met each other and fell in love when we were supposed to and that didn’t happen until 40.

Just because you haven’t checked something off of your to-do list or vision board, doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t. You can still get pregnant, get divorced, or start dating or get remarried. You can come of the closet. You can wear clothing and accessories that affirm your gender. You can move. You can start a business or passion project. You can get a new job and even switch career fields. You can go back to school or write a book. You can become a foster parent. You don’t have to be a bystander to your own life. Yes, some situations are out of our control, but there are still plenty of events and circumstances that you can control and change. Even if these big adventures are not necessary or desired, you can do all of the smaller things too.

Our curiosity never stops and you are never too old to try new things, whether it’s something you have always wanted to do or just became interested in. You can learn to drive, swim, ride a bike, ski, skate, or get upside down during yoga. You can learn to cook, scuba dive, pole dance, garden, change the oil in your car, or do your own taxes. You can travel, take a stand-up comedy class, or run a marathon.

We can also give ourselves permission to feel young, beautiful, and sexy. Our bodies change as we age, but that doesn’t mean we’re falling apart or less attractive. At almost 42, I understand my body more now than I did 10 years ago. As a result, exercise, sex, and everyday existence are better. My body has seen and felt some shit, but age has helped me find the best ways to love and utilize my body. Society makes it hard on women to feel good about their bodies as they age—hello anti-wrinkle creams, hair dye, and weird metabolism syrups—but fuck that noise. Spend your money on shit that makes you happy and not on products that promise to help you keep up with some impossible-to-achieve construct of beauty. Eat the food, wear the comfy clothes, and show off those laugh lines.

There are so many things we can still do when we turn 40, most of which can be done better and are more enjoyable than when we were younger. But we need to give fewer fucks about our age and ignore the stigmatizing trash that tells us we can’t live our best lives after 40. The list of experiences I want to have is long and it can be easy to feel like I’m behind schedule. When I take comparison out of the equation, though, I focus less on where I think I should be based on my age. I’m either right where I need to be or just not there yet, and I won’t let another trip around the sun slow me down.

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Why I Won’t Attend Virtual Events In The Evening

Like the rest of the world, the way I worked was turned upside down last March. Before I knew it, all of my meetings were moved to a virtual format. I had heard of Zoom, but had only used it a few times. By April of 2020, it was a part of my daily life.

From 9 to 5, I found myself interacting with my colleagues, teaching my students, and even having family and friend events on Zoom. At first, it was cool. We scheduled online events all the time. I had dance parties with my friends and their kids, I attended lectures and book readings, and even took some virtual classes just because.

But, it soon became clear to me that in our desperation to connect and our naivete that we would be out of this pandemic by summer, we overdid it with Zoom and soon hit a wall now referred to as “Zoom Fatigue.”

I love this technology, I really do. Being able to still collaborate with those that I work with is crucial to my job and I appreciate that this is something that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago and we would be instead, making memes about conference calls, but it’s still a rough adjustment.

Though the commute is shorter, the stress of staying healthy, working as best we can despite the circumstances and keeping up with our responsibilities inside the home is taking a toll on us all and it’s time to say no to evening virtual events.

As we have been working like this for a year, one thing is true: It’s harder to guard your personal time and say no to events because you have nowhere else to go and everyone knows it. Instead of scheduling a virtual event because they should, many have started scheduling them because they can.

I have made it my goal to not attend virtual evening events that don’t add value to my life. Realizing that not everything is a fit and not attending every event doesn’t make me a bad friend, family member, or lessen my support of an organization was the first step.

In the past week alone, I got invited to a virtual dance party, a book chat, an undergrad alumni event, and a new online knitting group.

I love all of these ideas and in my past “normal” life, I would have jumped at the opportunity to go to some of these in public, but now, with my days filled with online meetings and events, I need my evenings to relax my mind, my body, and to spend time with my family.

My standard reply is to say that though I love the idea, concept, or want to support the organization, my time with my family and the time I schedule after my daughter goes to bed for myself are important to me.

Life is hard in our own little bubbles these days. We are living where we work and I don’t know about you, but my desire to have a clean house has quadrupled, without being able to run out to eat all the time, I have been trying new recipes, and I find creative ways to workout at home. I also have a six-year-old who deserves my attention after work and school is done.

And if we think this is all taking a toll on us, it’s important to remember what it must be doing to our kids. While I would love to attend every book event in the world, my daughter needs a routine, needs to be cuddled, needs a healthy dinner where we all eat together at the table, and needs us to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight.

Though it may seem to an outsider that I have all the time in the world and shouldn’t have any reason to say know to joining them for a virtual comedy hour, the reality is, even if I didn’t have family obligations and the desire to decompress after work, I have no desire to sit in front of a computer when I’m off the clock.

I will make exceptions for birthday events (having turned 40 just a few weeks ago, I fully appreciate my friends getting in front of a screen in their own personal time to say “hi”), family celebrations, and close friends’ business and book launches, and I’ve even grabbed some opportunities for professional development like writing workshops.

But, if you’re asking me to come “hang out” virtually or attend a cooking class or viewing party, I have a six-year-old who has recently learned to read, and I want great in-person entertainment any way I can get it.

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I’m Thrilled For Meghan And Harry, And Stoked For The Oprah Interview

It’s official: as of February 19th, Meghan and Harry are no longer working royals. As in, they’ve quit as working members of The Royal Family. Not a shock: they agreed to revisit their decision to no longer live as working royals after twelve months, and eleven months later … boom. As usual, two statements were released, because when does Buckingham Palace resist the chance to release a staid, boring statement? “The Palace” AKA “The Queen and Co.” announced, according to Town and Country:

“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed to Her Majesty The Queen that they will not be returning as working members of The Royal Family.

Following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service. The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family.

While all are saddened by their decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family.”

Staid, boring, and oh snap, Her Royal Majesty just stripped away all Harry’s honorary military titles (despite him being a veteran of Afghanistan, where he served on the front lines, according to Elle), plus England Rugby and the Rugby Football League. Meghan got her patronage of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the National Theatre yanked. Oops. Apparently, only working royals get patronages along with their mandatory nail polish shades.

Meghan and Harry Don’t Need to Be Working Royals to Serve

Chris Jackson/Getty

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who still get those titles at least, even if they’re stripped of using HRH (His/Her Royal Highness), hit back with a statement of their own, says the AP:

“As evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role.

We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”

Daaaaaaamn. Scary Mommy’s unofficial translation: “We don’t need to be working royals to serve the public, so take your Royal Family living off the backs of the British people and shove it.”

This all comes, like, five days after Meghan’s baby news hit headlines around the world. Speaking of babies, despite the working royal rift, Harry remains sixth in line for the British throne, Archie number seven, and their next child number eight, says Elle.

Working Royals? Please. 

Being working royals meant taking the official palace line — ignore, ignore, ignore — when it came to racist attacks against Meghan. Headlines commented on her “exotic DNA,” and how she was “(almost) straight outta Compton,” reports NBC. Harper’s Bazaar said it often came through in microaggressions that the palace refused to address.

And real talk: when did The Royal Family last do anything meaningful other than provide fodder for The Crown? They cut ribbons, play polo, and live off British taxpayer funds: almost 95 million dollars in 2018-2019, according to British Heritage. Meghan and Harry cutting themselves off from “sovereign funds” is super mega awesome.

So now they’re living away from British racism, free to speak out against it, and refusing to take cash from average British taxpayers? Um, total win.

And Now There’s This Interview…

Aaron Chown – WPA Pool/Getty

Meghan and Harry have announced they’re sitting down with none other than the queen of chat, the one and only Oprah, for a special to air on CBS March 7th. Can you say must-see TV?! Buckingham Palace is collectively losing their shit. In a totally oops move, the Palace announced that just hours before the Oprah interview, they would be airing their annual Commonwealth Day service. It’ll feature televised messages, according to People, from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Kate Middleton, among other working royals.

Apparently, that time slot was decided about three weeks ago.

Can you say awkward?!!

CBS says, according to People, that Oprah’s interview with Meghan will deal with “everything from stepping into life as a Royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure,” and that they’ll be joined later by Harry.

This could be the most awesome (read: scandalous, gossip-ridden, royal family-embarrassing) interview since Princess Diana sat down with Martin Bashir in 1995 and talked, according to The Independent, about her bulimia, self-harm, adultery, and Charles’s affairs with Camilla, saying that, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Because, let’s admit it. This is what working royals are good for: scandal. Scandal, and those cute little Eton suits Prince George wears. Meghan and Harry are walking away from all that, and yay for them! Archie will grow up without people shoving cameras in his face. Meghan can clap back at any racist crap lobbed at her; the Sussexes can live how they want to live — without taking cash from the British taxpayers — and Meghan can wear outfits that aren’t monochrome.

She can also pick her own nail polish.

Win-win.

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Why I Refuse To Turn Off Ad-Tracking On Social Media

In this age of internet privacy and security, many of my friends on social media remind us less discerning folks about the dangers of sharing all our internet habits with the big social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. They tell us to up our privacy settings, clear our cookies, clear our caches, and either sign out or delete apps that might be listening in.

And I get it.

I totally see the need for keeping our data private and ours. Why should big companies make money collecting, storing, and then selling my information to who knows what? Is my data aggregated with others or is there some thick FBI file on me based on my Google search history in some centralized location where my various writerly queries about sex toys, strangulation petechiae, and the best ways to hide a body triangulate into some highly specific (and yet, not inaccurate) online portraiture of myself?

And yet, despite all these very good reasons to up my social media privacy settings and run ad blockers, I refuse.

At risk of sounding incredibly shallow (not that has ever stopped me), HOW ELSE WILL I KNOW WHAT TO BUY?

If there’s anything I enjoy, it’s a well targeted ad that knows exactly what I need to see in order to part me from my husband’s hard-earned money. (I mean, I make money that contributes to the family pot too, but it amuses me to think of my spending coming from his contribution rather than mine. I don’t know what that says about me, but I prefer not to examine that too closely.)

Without these apps tracking all my searches and dicking around on the interwebs, how will I know what to purchase online? I’m not a particularly trendy person and I hate following Instagram fashion influencers because they make me feel bad about myself — plus I can no longer wander the corridors of my local Target (don’t you dare shame me for finding Target’s affordable fashion so delightful).

Look, they’re going to advertise to me anyway. It might as well be highly relevant products that I want to buy.

Whether it’s in skin care, accessories, clothing, or any manner of household goods and items — very rarely kid-related things because let’s be real, it’s a me-first mentality here — all my favorite things I have bought thanks to Facebook and Instagram ads. The best part is that once I make one purchase, I will be immediately bombarded with more of the same products in the genre! They follow me around helpfully from one social media app to another. They even trail me to the various sites I frequent on the internet!

What a gift that is!

If it happens quickly enough, I may even cancel my previous order and buy a more suitable product from the suggestions!

Do I want a kimono-style dress? They know. Do I want to buy clothes that could only be adequately explained as expensive, giant, oversized sacks? Here are more! Do I love K-pop related jewelry? Check. Do I buy all the South Korean skincare products? ASIAN DON’T RAISIN! Do I want glass tentacled dildos? They ask if I’d like whorls with that. Do I want hype-beast embroidered Japanese Sukujans? Here are all the Asian-inspired sukujans. Do I want pillows styled as corgi butts where the button is a super adorable asshole? YES!

Yes, yes, YES!

I don’t even have to consciously think about it! It’s all preying on my inner Smaug. Give me all the shiny! All the fancy! All the ridiculously cute stickers and stuffies and quippy tees!

Sure, not everything comes as advertised, but I’d say 85% of the time, the product is as described. (Actually, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I have scuttled all the bad experiences into the waste bin of my mind because I perhaps have a really big problem.)

The best part? Whenever I take pictures of my purchases and then post on Instagram or Facebook, I get compliments!! I mean, who doesn’t love compliments? I don’t care if my friends are lying to my face — at my age, I take the props when I can get them. I say thank you and applaud myself for my excellent life choices.

I even pierced five more holes in my ears so that I can accessorize to the fullness I know I am capable of — and if internet shopping isn’t made for filling all my holes, I don’t know what is.

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More Than Half Of People Won’t Travel For A 2021 Wedding

On New Year’s Eve, I ate a steak with my pants unbuttoned, watched my friend get married via Zoom, then took a bath. I was in bed just after 8:00 p.m. It was glorious.

While I would have loved to be up close and personal watching my friend say “I do” in her amazing gold dress (she didn’t hold back just because she couldn’t have a huge in-person wedding, and I love that about her), I enjoyed watching just as much in my pajamas.

Let’s face it — when you’re sans Spanx, heels, and an itchy hairdo, everything is better.

She and her soon-to-be husband knew in 2020 that they wanted to get married. With that being their main goal — to start a life together — they didn’t let the pandemic hold them back. But they knew because of that, they were going to have to make some changes with their original plans.

That’s just what they did. They sent out wedding invites with a link to the Zoom meeting and had a short, sweet wedding … and everyone was able to watch and enjoy it without being at risk.

We’ve heard that weddings have been superspreader events. Last summer, not very far away from my hometown, a small wedding infected 176 people with the virus, which led to one death. There were 68 guests in attendance, but the event caused three times that number of people to come down with the virus. Let’s think about that for a second.

One afternoon of mingling and dancing became one of the biggest spreaders in the state — and it could have been avoided. Parties and gatherings like this are called superspreader events because that’s what they do: spread the virus like wildfire.

Thankfully, potential wedding guests seem to be coming to their senses. According to a recent survey done by Floridapanhandle.com which asked 3,000 Americans from all over the country how they felt about weddings in 2021, 57% of people aren’t comfortable flying to attend a wedding in 2021 under any circumstances.

So, even if it’s a small guest list and you plan on making all your guests wear masks, you may want to rethink your plans if you have your heart set on a large gathering and really want everyone to attend in person. 

There’s no need not to have what you want on your special day, but it’s probably going to require you to wait a bit. Not only are you going to have lots of declines, but it’s important to face the facts here: A wedding is an event where people eat, drink, and mix and mingle. You let your guard down, you dance, you forget there’s a global pandemic going on. No one wants to be responsible for holding an event that infects hundreds of people and leads to deaths. 

The survey did find that if it was a family member getting married, 21% of people would be comfortable flying and 22% would be on board if they knew proper safety measures were being taken, like wearing masks. Only 15% of people would come if they knew there would be a limited guest list.

Those numbers aren’t very high for people hoping to have a good turnout for their special day. Not to mention everyone has their definition of what “small” means. To some, that may be 50 people; to others, it may be 15. 

So, if you have your mind and heart set on a big gathering where everyone can come and celebrate with you — including older relatives, people who have to travel to get there, and people with a compromised immune system — you are going to want to put your special day on hold.

On the plus side, that’s more time for you to save money and plan (just think of all the new ideas that will pop up on Pinterest between now and then!). And, if you aren’t opposed to exchanging your vows with the two of you and inviting all your friends and family via Zoom, it can be really lovely. My friend’s virtual wedding was proof. No one was blocking my view of the bride, I got to watch in the comfort of my own home wearing what I wanted, and the couple didn’t have to worry about their special day being tainted by this deadly virus.

We could all use a little cheer in our lives right now, and weddings are pretty damn magical. But knowing your moment of joy could become a superspreader just sucks the magic right out of it. And since over half of your intended guests will probably agree, you’re better off ringing those matrimonial bells at a later, safer date … or through a screen, where you don’t have to put anyone at risk to celebrate your love story.

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Why Everyone Should Leave Their Hometown

The morning of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, I was listening to voters being interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition. One voter, Deborah Gordon, described her pride in Trump, her disgust in the “fake” election, and her utter disbelief that the state of Georgia went to Biden. She told the reporter that everyone she knows loves Trump and everywhere she goes supports Trump too—including the two Trump rallies she has attended. (I won’t tell her if you don’t.) Another Georgia voter, Trish White, said this: “I absolutely love President Trump, and I believe the election was stolen in the state of Georgia – absolutely believe it. Look around. No way Biden won this state – no way.”

When you look around and never have your beliefs and biases challenged, it’s hard to see any alternatives to your reality as, well, reality. This is why people must—especially people in rural and small town areas—leave their hometown, if only temporarily.

According to a survey done by North American Moving Services, 72% of Americans live in or near their hometown. 75% of women are more likely to stay in their hometowns, compared to 68% of men. This is what contributes to people’s ability to believe that everyone thinks like them, easily allowing folks to become willfully siloed from others who would be happy to disagree with them.

There’s a lot of comfort in ignorance, and 24% of the people who stayed in their hometown said comfort and familiarity was why they stayed. To be fair, I don’t know if those two Trump supporters have ever left their hometown, but their current place of living isn’t offering much diversity — and this is what pisses me off about humans. People who stay in their safe and like-minded bubbles know what they know because they never put themselves in a position to experience views not their own. They never leave home, and it shows.

College was my excuse, reason, and motivation to get out of my hometown when I was 18, but my degree is secondary and not even directly relatable to any of the jobs I’ve had since graduating from college. The education I got about myself, other people, different religions, races, and ethnicities were the foundation I needed to expand my mind and add peripheral vision to see outside of what I thought I knew. It wasn’t simply the exposure to people who looked and thought differently than myself that helped widen my mind to truths not my own; it was finding commonality in those differences that allowed me to gain a better sense of self and understanding that we all deserve to be heard, seen, and treated equitably. I was fortunate for grants, loans, and scholarships to pay my way through school and I know not everyone will have that opportunity, but going away to college, or moving out of the town you grew up in—even temporarily—is so important.
One study suggests that travel makes us smarter and provides us with more opportunities that allow us to be successful. We all define success in different ways, but survival is the most basic and primal goal. Travel was key to our evolution as a species. The need to find resources and adapt kept the human race moving forward but it also rewired our brains in ways that can’t happen when stuck in the same space, doing the same thing, and around the same people every day. When we surround ourselves with change, we can change too. We can learn. And if we don’t question our own beliefs and what we consider facts by holding them against others’ then how can we be so sure we’re right? How can we know we believe in is right for us? The blue collar, rural town I left at 18 didn’t have enough people to challenge the racist and homophobic views that knitted the community together. It didn’t have enough art or music. It didn’t have enough people from different backgrounds to give each other windows into customs, ideas, and explanations that could start discussions and arguments.
I can’t report on the intelligence of those two voters interviewed by NPR, but their inability to think critically draws me to conclude that they are either brainwashed or not smart enough to fact check. And it leads me back to the assumption that they don’t get out enough or diversify their news sources or vacation plans. They haven’t been asked to adapt, step outside their comfort zone, or allowed any other reality to be considered. Someone who can believe Trump’s lies is either too dumb or too bigoted to believe anything else. Living in a new place and surrounding yourself with new people is mind-opening and forces us to become resourceful as we figure out new standards. Travel introduces us to a wider personal and professional network. Leaving home sheds ignorance and gives us freedom to explore who we are and who others claim to be. Even if after leaving home and our values and voting alignment stays the same, my hope is that we can become more accepting and critical of what we think is the truth. Folks who can second-guess biases are less likely to look around and claim everything they see within eyesight applies to all people.
Because I’m not a hypocrite, I surround myself with people, information, and places that force me to understand nuance while sorting out facts. This means that sometimes I have to admit I’m wrong. I have to research and learn and check my ego. I don’t allow myself to stay stuck in the comfort of ignorance. My agenda includes challenging others to do the same. Because if making people more aware of their own mental limitations is wrong, then I don’t ever want to be right.

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When Does Drinking To Relax Become A Bad Habit?

The pandemic has created the perfect storm for the increased use of alcohol: fear, isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty create vicious cycles of drinking, loneliness, and shame. During the first few months of the pandemic, I worried about the state of my sobriety. I’ve been in recovery long enough to know how to navigate stress and cravings, but when my support systems were taken away or drastically changed because of COVID-19, I struggled to find coping mechanisms that would relieve some of the stress.

I also saw the reports that showed the increased alcohol sales in the early days of the pandemic compared to previous years. People weren’t just stocking up on toilet paper and flour; they were buying booze as if it was just as necessary to survive quarantine. I was worried about my addict friends. I’m still worried about my friends in sobriety, and have watched a few of them fall and pick themselves up. But I’m also worried about others for whom “drinking to take the edge off” has become a dangerous bad habit.

One study showed that not only has drinking frequency increased during the pandemic, but the amount consumed per day increased too. Another finding that is troubling (but not surprising) to me is that women reported a 41% increase in alcohol consumption. This is a dangerous statistic because women — specifically mothers — have already used alcohol as a coping mechanism, and our culture has made it socially acceptable. Women and mothers have been asked to carry much of the load during this pandemic, and many are coping by drinking. But when is it time to recognize a coping mechanism as dangerous and no longer helpful?

Dr. Claire Nicogossian Psy. D, Psychologist, Clinical Assistant Professor, and author of the book, “Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood,” tells Scary Mommy, “Adults who may never have identified as having a problem with alcohol are using alcohol more than ever in their life as a way to cope with stress and the incredible challenges of this pandemic.” She says there are signs and questions folks can ask themselves to determine if their drinking has become problematic.

Craving alcohol, drinking more than you intended, making excuses for drinking, hiding the amount you are consuming, and feeling guilt, shame, and hopelessness during and after you drink are signs Dr. Nicogossian wants people to recognize as red flags of problem drinking. It’s also important to be honest with yourself about why you are drinking. If you drink because it’s your only coping mechanism to deal with stress, because you are bored, or need to escape, then it’s best to reach out to a medical professional for help.

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, a researcher National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, worries about that ease with which people turn to alcohol as a way to unwind. The NIAAA reports that 88,000 Americans die each year from alcohol related deaths. Dr. Leggio reminds us that 9/11 and Katrina were other recent traumatic events that were catalysts for survivors to become dependent on alcohol because of stress. He knows that patterns of disordered drinking and addiction that have started because of the pandemic will continue well after its conclusion. And because alcohol use can cause respiratory problems, heavy drinkers are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Dr. Nicogossian tells Scary Mommy that the alcohol itself isn’t the problem; it’s the reasons why people drink and the amount consumed that can be problematic. She suggests that a better understanding of different types of coping will help people understand their relationship with alcohol. Active coping is a direct approach to reducing stress and enhancing well-being. Exercise, getting enough sleep, and staying socially connected are examples of active coping. Passive coping, like watching TV or scrolling social media, can calm and distract us but may not lead to improved health or decreased levels of stress. Binging alcohol or actively drinking even when you know you have a problem are coping mechanisms that create avoidance and self-harm. While a drink with a friend can be a responsible and active boost in mental health and mood, drinking out of habit and as a way to numb emotions is not healthy.

The length and intensity of the pandemic combined with the added stigma of addiction yet socially accepted use of alcohol is too much to balance most days. I can’t define other people’s relationship with alcohol, but I know that not all drinking habits are signs of addiction. I also know drinking can be toxic for folks who aren’t addicts. I am also proof that addicts can be high functioning and seen as successful while slowly killing themselves with secrets. The best advice I can give is to be honest with yourself. If you are wondering if you drink too much or have a problem with alcohol, then it’s safe to assume you are worried about it enough to make changes. And if someone points out that you may have a toxic relationship with booze, it’s safe to assume they love you and want what’s best for you.

Please reach out and get support. A friend, therapist, or doctor can be a great place to turn. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers 24/7, 365 days of the year confidential and free services in Spanish and English. 1-800-662-HELP (4357). You aren’t alone.

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My Friends Say I ‘Snapped’ The Year I Turned 40

I’m so tired of being afraid.

I grew up constantly in fear. Fear of my abusive father. Of disappointing and dishonoring my family. Of not being a perfect Asian American kid. Of not being fluent enough — in Chinese or English. Of being judged all the time by aunties and uncles and teachers and pastors.

I was too loud, too brash, too weird, too young, too opinionated, too boy-crazy, too American, too Taiwanese — too much.

I was perpetually afraid of not being good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough — of not being enough, period.

It was impossible being “enough” when I was both too much and too little at the same time.

I tried to change myself — to twist myself into fitting an acceptable narrative — but it would never stick for long. Not because of principles but because it was too much effort. I simply did not have the energy (or acting chops).

So, I hid my insecurities instead. I masked it by being arrogant and haughty. I thought myself better than everyone else. I constantly felt as if other people owed me and didn’t deserve the success they obtained.

I was full of contempt, spiteful, and mean. I was jealous. Though I didn’t usually gossip because gossips are inherently untrustworthy and I didn’t want to seem untrustworthy — I was snide and cut down what other people said or did.

“Who did they think they were?” was a recurring refrain in my mind. It is not lost on me that now, that same question is directed at me — usually by my detractors, and occasionally by myself when I allow lies to whisper louder than usual.

Who did I think I was? Who, indeed.

My friends say I snapped the year I turned 40. And though I personally don’t think I changed much, from the outside looking in, I understand. While I had never much filtered my opinions or thoughts when I spoke (which was often), I stopped holding back even more. I altered my physical appearance drastically. I released the last vestiges of worrying about what others would think about me; I shifted from outspoken to unapologetic.

Not everyone appreciated it.

For some, I changed overnight from the “right” kind of outspoken to the “wrong” kind and they didn’t know what to do with me. I was once again, both too much and too little. But this time around, I gave zero fucks.

You know what happened? Nothing. And everything.

I suppose it’s not entirely true that nothing happened — but like, I didn’t die. People didn’t leave in droves. I was happier and more alive than ever. I gained opportunities. My writing improved. Amazing people who I’d never thought to be cool enough to know came into my life and stayed.

I’d already put in the work to gain competence, knowledge, and skills so my confidence wasn’t ill-founded. I was no longer threatened.

I became generous — especially when crediting and acknowledging other amazing people. It no longer hurt me to see other people succeed because I knew their wins didn’t equate to my losses. There was room for all of us.

The world was big enough. And the world opened.

I’ve lost people. That stung — but I chose to be grateful for the season I had them in my life. I trusted we were no longer what the other person needed — and I wished them well.

Of course, I do care what certain people think of me. I care about my family, certain friends, and respected mentors — and their good opinion matters to me — because I value them and their insights.

I worry that I am anti-Black, racist, misogynistic, classist, anti-gay, or transphobic.

I worry that I am punching down instead of up.

I worry that I am causing further harm to the vulnerable.

I worry that I am an unkind and unjust person.

So, when these select people say I’m out of line, I work through my initial defensiveness and shame, evaluate their criticism against what I know of them and what I know of the world, and then I own it. I apologize, I learn from it, and I do better.

My ego gets a little bruised, but it helps me let go of the need to be perfect.

I’ve made enemies, too. But what do I care for what people I don’t give two shits about think of me?

If anything, their hatred amused me. When I hate people, I erase them. I ignore them. They cease to exist for me. So for certain people to go out of their way to castigate or shame me — to paraphrase Regina George, why are they so obsessed with me?

They can hate all they want; I can’t hear them.

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