Health · Recipes · Tips

Eating, et cetera

A new series about my relationship with food, my experiences, and a dose of humor!

Do you know how to pinpoint your favorite food of all time? I’ll tell you. Live with IBS for most of your life. Once you fear eating anything beyond the most simple foods, take note which dish you’d actually risk horrible pain for! Mine is salsa and chips.

“Even now, I hold on to fears. I perseverate about what, when, and how to eat. The act of planning, preparing, then eating can be too much at times.”

Can I still…like food?

I’ve previously written about my discovery of ‘Low-FODMAP’ to manage my IBS symptoms, which led to my discovery of pain-free eating. From that first moment of freedom I was fully convinced eating certain “high-FODMAP foods” would never again be worth the pain!

Except, what about my favorite food? Chips and salsa! I’ve always loved tomato-based sauces. Salsa with tortilla chips was the absolute best snack, in my opinion! Unfortunately, do you know what most sauces have in common? Garlic and onion ingredients. (Which I would now prefer to wear around my neck rather than to consume!) 🧄🧅🧄

New mission: create a delicious salsa that adds spice to life and is quick to make! Do you see where I’m going with this? I made the salsa. 😋 I know, it’s awesome! Fresh salsa is always tastier than processed jars from the store, and this could be cheaper, even healthier! 👌

Tummy grumbles

I have three states: 1) not hungry, 2) grumbly tummy, or 3) hypoglycaemic! Haha, it’s silly…but also true. 😅

There is a reason that quick is key. Sometimes I feel suddenly snack-y! On a serious note, my history living with IBS has resulted in a turbulent relationship with food. The queues that should tell me I’m hungry are still difficult for me to decipher.

Even now, I hold on to fears. I perseverate about what, when, and how to eat. The act of planning, preparing, and then eating can be too much at times. This is why I accumulate quick, simple, delicious recipes – for those days when I am desperate for something wholesome. Here’s the very first one!

Snack-y Salsa 🌶

Makes 4 cups of low-FODMAP salsa, great for dipping chips, for tacos, or as a salad topping!

Ingredients

  • 28 oz canned whole tomatoes
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • (at least) 1 Cup chopped green onion (greens only)
  • (at least) 1/2 Cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Habanero pepper, chopped
  • (at least) 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • (at least) 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin

Important notes

  • Ensure canned tomatoes are unseasoned.
  • A smaller pepper will be spicier! Remove all seeds and the white from inside pepper, then add to mix in small amounts to achieve desired spiciness.
  • Sample freshly blended salsa using a chip, and wait a few moments to gauge the heat. You can always add more seeds and/or ground pepper spice it up.
  • Best if allowed to refrigerate for a day.
  • If you prefer thicker salsa, leave some tomato juice aside (however, salsa will thicken as it refrigerates).

Directions

  • Wash all ingredients
  • Add tomatoes to blender
  • Squeeze lime wedges, add juice to blender
  • Chop cilantro (include stems for a stronger flavour)
  • Add chopped cilantro to blender
  • Chop green onion
  • Add chopped green onion to blender
  • Cut habanero in half, removing whites and seeds
  • Dice habanero
  • Add habanero to blender (See note)
  • Wash hands thoroughly after touching pepper and seeds
  • Add salt, ground pepper and cumin
  • Blend for 20-30 seconds, taste test for heat.
  • Pour into sealable container and refrigerate.

Tips

  • Cilantro won’t stay fresh for long. After washing, it can be frozen in containers (with a sprinkling of water).
  • To remove strong flavors from your blender: Chop a whole lemon. Add with a cup of water to your blender. Blend, then empty and wash blender.
  • Add fresh chopped ingredients before serving, such as avocado or bell pepper!

What do you think? Ready for a party (at home, in front of a great Gilmore Girls episode)? I thought so!

Life, et cetera

I am starting this blog series because too many people feel alone in dealing with their mistrust of food. No one should feel alone. We eat for fuel every single day! The way we eat should indicate a healthy view of ourselves: that we deserve what’s good for us. We deserve to feel great! 😊

I’m going to prove to you that you only need a few very simple steps to thrive. Start by figuring out what your very favorite food is, and make it work for you!

Thank you for reading! 💙

Anxiety · Hope · Thoughts

Checking In

It is the first week of September 2021 and I really want to write something! September is my favorite month of the year. I’m not a fan of summer, to be honest. Autumn is a glorious relief! 🍁

Problem: I have plenty of ideas for blog posts, but none that I really want to delve into right now. I poured a lot of myself into my last few blog posts and I might still be recovering emotionally.

Anxiety

Last week I caught a cold. I used my CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) toolkit to manage the anxiety over feeling ill (and getting worse). My doctor recommended a test for the COVID-19 virus and I tested negative a day and a half later. Whew!

I talked to my therapist on the phone for the first time in a couple years. I just needed to hear someone acknowledge all the internal work I’d been doing. I try to self-encourage, but there’s no replacement for the real thing: encouragement from someone who knows me well and can see how far I’ve come. 😊

Lifestyle

Currently, my favorite way to get out of the house is to download a podcast to fit my mood and take a walk around the block! If it’s cloudy, I’ll go out for sure. If it’s sunny… well, maybe with a little sunblock and baseball cap and sunglasses I’ll feel safe to venture out.

A little inspiration, a little fangirling, and a lot of comedy!

I’ve been working on expanding my ideas of nutrition and “safe” food. For example, I love Ketchup! But, anytime I eat it, a string of thoughts disparage my choice: “You don’t need Ketchup. You know it’s mostly sugar. And high fructose. If you get gut pain, it’s your fault for adding Ketchup!” Who could enjoy a meal with that voice in their head? 😝

I recently learned that it’s actually detrimental to cut a food type from the diet, especially if it’s a broad group like fructose (a FODMAP type). So, fructose-containing Ketchup, you are now an important and valued part of Robyn’s meal plan! I also like to mix Ketchup with hot sauce for a spicier hybrid, or with soy sauce for a saltier option.

Music

I hope that one day I will write poetry as powerful as Imagine Dragons! Their new album was released just in time to carry me through. Because I feel sad, I need music to remind me who I am at my core. Because I am preoccupied, I need to sit here and feel safe.

It’s okay to be not okay

It’s just fine to be out of your mind

Breathe in deep, just a day at a time

‘Cause it’s okay to be out of your mind

It’s Ok (Mercury Act 1) —Imagine Dragons

I have been thinking about getting my electronic drum kit back from my dad who borrowed it a while back, before we moved. Writing The Unmasking Of Robyn the Weird took me back to times when drumming was the only secure point in my universe. I want that again. Plus, Jordan has always loved that I’m a drummer! 🎶

The Future

Right now I am camped out on my cozy couch, with Spotify, Harvest Moon: Light Of Hope for Nintendo Switch, and Sweet Magnolias (that’s a great binge-watch, btw)! It is a safe space.

Three South Carolina women, best friends since high school, shepherd one another through the complexities of romance, career, and family.

However, from my current perspective, ideas for the future seem way too distant. My future looks like nature walks with my husband Jordan, visiting nieces and nephews, and trips to the movie theatre. How can we have faith that the future is on its way, when the present feels so very stagnant and dreary? I don’t know, friends. I don’t know.

Good News

Okay, first of all, I have set spiritual goals! I’m really excited to build a new prayer routine and read the bible, meditating on our loving creator. Nothing can warm my entire being like joining a Zoom call and recognizing that we’ve all shown up as a congregation to worship God and to support one another! ❤️

I’ve been reading just fantastic books lately! Young adult adventures, with happy(ish) endings, and imaginative fantasy worlds! The latest has been The Tethering by Megan O’Russell! Book two, The Siren’s Realm had the desperate sweetness of J.K. Rowling’s Prisoner Of Azkaban. I know, because I had to stop a while – you don’t move on to Goblet of Fire without a breather, am I right?

For autumn, I am excited about rainy days watching You’ve Got Mail and Gilmore Girls. Maybe taking walks with friends. Maybe new dinner recipes. The next book on my Kindle, the latest podcast episode, and the next Friday book club discussion!

I really, really want to be okay. I want you all—friends and family and anyone out there in Internet-land—to be okay. For now, okay could be enough. It’s not forever, and someday we’ll even be wonderful again!

Love,

Robyn the Weird 💙

Books · reading · Review

Jane Austen July

I’m obsessed. It is never a challenge to explore Jane Austen’s genius in my reading—and in life!

I love and appreciate Jane’s voice for its control, amusement, and moral judgment. I often feel drawn to pick up one of her six novels, whether ebook or audiobook, for its soothing and entertaining familiarity! Which would you say is your favorite, and why?

This Challenge is hosted by: Blatantly Bookish, Books and Things, and Spinster’s Library on YouTube #JaneAustenJuly2021

Impressions & Confessions

I was not early to appreciate this sort of novel. In fact, I watched the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film adaptation before ever having read the famous novel! To my credit, I bought the book quickly afterwards and it became my new favorite!

Next, I tried to read Persuasionand failed. The introduction and explanation of the Elliott family was so dull! I did eventually finish reading Persuasion, but my slow start had made the swift resolution seem far too abrupt. I felt let down. It would take a re-read or two before I began to consider this a favorite.

When I read Sense and Sensibility, I was hooked on the sisterhood and the inner strength of Miss Dashwood! I thought it was even better than Pride and Prejudice! (I still flip-flop between the two books to this day.)

I confess, I did not enjoy reading Northanger Abbey the first time. To be fair, I did not understand the gothic literary references. I didn’t realize at first that Catherine was more a caricature of girlishness than a heroine. In the end, I decided that Mr. Tilney was very much worth understanding!

Mansfield Park became an immediate favorite, contrary to expectation. Whereas Northanger Abbey is ironic and dramatic, Mansfield Park is serious. Fanny Price feels the atmosphere gradually shift as the Crawfords invade The Park. The Bertram family is seemingly oblivious to an unanswerable sense of impending doom!

I suppose that Emma is the most difficult to enjoy because the title character is neither innocent nor self-aware. But when I consider that this book is a comedy centred around a strong female lead, and that Emma has as much right as any male hero to overcome her flaws, I admit this novel is a true masterpiece!

More Austen!

Although I love her novels, their retellings and adaptations tend to fall short. Yet there are so many of them! Can you blame me for my trepidation?

#7. Watch a modern re-telling

Clueless is a sassy, silly, quality film based on ‘Emma’.

Comedy? Check. Clever female lead? Check. Social hierarchy, delicate friendships, and 90s teen rom-com vibes? Check, check, check. I have re-watched this so many times!

Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy star in a pic beloved by all! The Austen plot is cleverly blended into modern Beverly Hills life. The main character, Cher Horowitz, plays matchmaker at her high school whilst believing herself to be above it all.

#6. Watch a direct screen adaptation

Northanger Abbey (1987) is based on the novel of the same name, but takes liberties with the overall tone.

The character development was severely lacking, which is an egregious offence. The one redeeming quality was its recreation of the ambiguous act of “taking the waters” at the pump room in Bath.

I shouldn’t be surprised, however, because many film adaptations miss the mark. If you had only ever seen the adaptations you might be surprised to know how deeply emotional, practical, and even silly, Austen novels can be. Here are four that I highly recommend!

#5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane

I can’t prove this, but I think Charles Dickens must have read Austen! Dickens writes biting social commentary with heavy irony, intricate plot, and happy conclusions for the deserving characters. Sound familiar? Oliver Twist was excellent and suspenseful, and Club Austen will next read David Copperfield.

Maybe I should seek out books by other writers from Austen’s time period…but I’m not sure where to start. Help!

#4. Read a retelling

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Zuri’s older sister Jenae is interested in the new boy across the street. This is going to ruin her plans for the summer.

  • Intelligent and caring characters ❤️ (With clever names based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!)
  • Dialogue-driven plot ❤️ (He said WHAT? OH NO!)
  • Tangible stakes ❤️
  • A clever, modern twist! ❤️ (Who knew that gentrification of city housing would be an excellent background to bookish Zizi’s struggle with prejudice?)
  • An artistic audio performance! ❤️

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I was very intrigued at the beginning to know how the maids’ stories would end. However, by the end of the second volume, I just no longer cared.

  • The twist: The events of Pride and Prejudice from the POV of the servants.
  • There are more secrets in the Bennet household than you might suppose.
  • A jarring flashback away from Longbourn made it feel like a different novel. It became violent.
  • An explicit narrative with darkness unnecessary to an Austen retelling.
  • The audiobook quality was as inconsistent as the writing.

#3. Read a non-fiction work about the regency era

Ellie Dashwood on Youtube creates video explanations of historical facts and literary references! My favorites include: Who Was Jane Austen? Her Life, Works, & Who She Wasn’t and Are Lizzy And Darcy in the Same Social Class?

#2. Read something aside from the main novels

Today I learned about The Canceled Chapters Of Persuasion!

These two chapters are an “alternate ending”. The unpolished lines resemble an original script, where the scene was eventually cut. It was fun to read, certainly! It was clearly replaced by the tense drawing room scene, with a secret, hasty letter professing love, and tender meaning passing between two sets of earnest eyes.

In this first draft, the resolution had occurred because a jovial Admiral (as his profession was bound to do) ignored social restraints to prevent misunderstanding, thereby accidentally forcing the hero into conversation with the heroine over the state of her hand and heart. It would have made a comic play, but was ill-fitted to satisfy the deep passions of our beloved Anne and Frederick!

#1. Read one of the six main novels

Earlier this year, I listened to the Librivox recording of Sense and Sensibility. I was surprised how relaxing it was to listen to a favorite, for example, while working on a spreadsheet, cooking dinner, or MarioKart racing.

My emotions are less engaged when I am listening rather than reading, so I notice more of the details. This week, I chose to listen to Persuasion!

Do you realize how many instances there are where we, the reader, are aware of motive and emotion that the characters themselves will not admit to? This novel should have been titled, “Obstinacy and Ignorance”!

So, Janeites…

I need your recommendations because I have been burned before!

Can you recommend a witty, charming, poignant adaptation? How about an informative blog, podcast or book? And would you please warn me away from fiction inspired by dear Jane that departs too disturbingly far from her style?

Thank you for reading! 💙

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Deal With Drama Like Jane or Queen of Highbury (Emma.).

Books · reading · Review

Mid-Year Book Freakout (2021)

Is it June, already?! There’s a heat wave coming this week, and I’m ready to hole up indoors and enjoy writing about some books. What do you like to read in the summertime?

This year has been atypical so far. I feared that my vision was worsening, but a trip to the Optometrist proved only that my eyes were chronically dry. Thanks to audiobooks, podcasts, and new music, I have survived the weeks of mandatory rest for my eyes. A series of treatments later, and I’m ready to get back to my ever-lengthening TBR list! 🐉📚

#1 Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2021

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale Of Two Cities was just so poignant, and I need more! Charles Dickens’ voice is saturated with irony. The best part was experiencing this tale for the first time with my brilliant book club friends, Lucy, Mon and Maria! We are finishing up Oliver Twist soon, and I’m sensing another fast favourite. ❤️

Free audiobook available on YouTube via Librivox.org

#2 Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far In 2021

Ice and Sky (Ena Of Ilbrea #3) by Megan O’Russell

This is a story of survival. Survival for Ena, the enduring main character, and survival of a people who have been crushed to the brink of existence.
Ilbrea is a desolate place, but special folks carve out their own havens and make their stand against evil, and that makes this story worthwhile.

#3 New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

Tower of Nero (The Trials Of Apollo #5) by Rick Riordan

Apollo is changing. I didn’t know gods could do that. I guess it’s the immortality-thing. Thankfully, in this final instalment of this series, Apollo is still mortal!

He is awkward, sullen, and he is still playing servant to a snarky girl called Meg. Why not try to confront his mortal enemy? This can only end well.

#4 Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

All Ways by Kelly Coons

With humor and warmth, author Kelly Coons introduces neurotypical readers to the rich interpersonal lives of [two autistic] people, challenging biases about autism. At the same time, Autistic readers will feel at home with Andreas and York as they come to terms with their “differences” and move boldly toward their future.” —About ‘All Ways’ by Kelly Coons

#5 Biggest disappointment

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it. (See my review at Robearsbooks)

#6 Biggest surprise

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year by Matt McCarthy

This memoir was described to me as a funny, candid account of a doctor’s intern year. I’d been listening to a Scrubs podcast and hoped that this memoir would fit in with the humor/medical mood!

It was entertaining, sure. But it was also surprisingly compelling and full of human connection. Twists and turns. Dr. McCarthy recollects his excruciating progress through thirty hour shifts, stale food and trauma. Struggling to connect with patients without losing touch with reality, Matt is gradually forged into a Real Doctor.

I listened to this Podcast on Spotify, but here’s the main link. So funny, and interesting with behind-the-scenes details! Fake Doctors Real Friends with Zach and Donald Definitely check out the episodes guest starring Judy and John C! ❤️❤️❤️ #fangirling

#7 Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

Megan O’Russell

My favorite part of reading her books is that I never want to stop. It’s actually painful not to have the next book in the series! At least, I can explore her other series while I wait! (See my blog post about her latest, here.)

Suzanne Collins

I knew to expect excellence from The Hunger Games author, but her substantial, poetic prose surprised and impressed me! (See my blog post reviewing The Hunger Games and more…here.)

#8 Newest fictional crush

The Code For Love And Heartbreak By Jillian Cantor

This extra-sweet teen romance is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma! This Emma is a talented but socially awkward student, rather than a social queen. Why does she care about matchmaking? Well, she has to invent an app for her coding club, and—well, you’ll see!

#9 Newest favorite character

Javier (from vN: The Machine Dynasty #1 by Madeline Ashby)

Javier is an adult android, created specifically to save the earth from global warming. That may be the reason he was born, and what he is good at, but can he do more? And how long can he keep outrunning (and out-jumping) the violence and injustice?

Javier is supporting character to Amy in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence. The plot takes place in a dystopian system in which one religion monopolizes artificial intelligence. The extreme religious teachings affect all people, both organic and synthetic.

#10 Book that made you cry

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

You know that I love books about music! The poetic lyrics interspersed throughout intensified my empathy for the teenage characters as they grieved for their friend.

“Korey Jackson, Nile Bullock, Adenrele Ojo, and Adam Lazarre-White take turns narrating this young adult title set in the ’90s in New York City. Each narrator brings a unique and heartbreaking voice to life. The story follows two best friends who try to honor the life and rapping talent of a friend who has died. With the help of his sister, they hatch a scheme to make him famous from beyond the grave by getting him a record deal. The quartet of narrators has such distinct voices that the story plays out like an audio drama. These captivating performances will keep listeners glued to their earbuds. This is an audiobook that begs to be binged.” —audiofilemagazine.com

#11 Book that made you happy

Tone Deaf by Olivia Rivers

This is a special book. The author wanted to create a main character living with a realistic disability. Compared to the often romanticized dysfunction common to YA, these characters strike me as realistically sincere, and flawed, survivors.

Here, we have a book with a musical theme, but primarily we follow Ali as she fights for her life. After reading the final paragraph, I then jumped back to page one on my Kindle, starting it over again! It was just too emotional to feel everything in that first read.

#12 Most beautiful book you’ve bought (or received) this year

I had lent my friend a book a while back, and recently she gave me a heads up that she was mailing it back to me. Great! As it turned out, she was using this as an excuse to send me a gift:

A handmade book. Wow. Made from up-cycled material, this journal could be used as a scrapbook, travel journal, or maybe even a poetry book. I imagine that Jane Austen herself possessed a book such as this to record her thoughts.

#13 What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

  • I will definitely continue to read Charles Dickens.
  • I’ve just started another O’Russell series, it’s kind of Riordan meets Rowling! The Tale Of Bryant Adams
  • I’m excited to slip back into the world of androids via the sequel to vN …when I’m ready.
  • Did you know about Jane Austen July? Apparently it’s time for more Austen obsession, and I’m here for it!!

There’s no pressure here, though. Slowing down this year has heightened my appetite for both fiction and non, and I feel blessed with abundance! Please comment to recommend any great audiobooks or podcasts (whether or not they’re about books). I love to learn, and I need some laughs.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe! 💙

Anxiety · Chronic illness · Health · Tips

5 Crucial Truths About Medical Care

I have had health issues from childhood. I’ve looked back many times, wondering how it could have been so difficult to be heard, treated, healed.

I lost respect for doctors, lost hope in medical treatment, and lost trust in myself. I even stopped self-advocating at times, and just survived day to day.

Healing

I’ve recently overcome some great hurdles! I have released my shame. It is not shameful to hurt, nor to seek help. I can say aloud: I live with IBS! I’ve hidden it, hated it, and even hated myself. The craziest part is knowing that mental health is intimately connected to gut health— no wonder I’ve had problems!

If the doctors failed me, my education failed me even more. It failed us all. There was no map to navigate the boundaries of medical care. I like to believe we’re trying to remedy this as a country by teaching the next generation self-care and health awareness!

So, to do my part for health education, here are my five biggest takeaways from my 32 years of experience. I hope someone out there finds this encouraging! ❤️

Health Matters

#1. No two people are the same!

How do I know? It’s even evident in children. Energy levels and appetites vary. It’s normal for kids to run at different speeds. Unfortunately, despite natural differences, kids are pitted against each other in the classroom to encourage obedience, performance and learning.

When is this a bad thing? When children don’t know to say: I hurt. I can’t focus. I can’t eat this. Being different is seen as a failure to fit in with peers. Communication and self-awareness have two strikes against them from the very beginning!

Medicine deals in averages, but in reality any course of treatment that works for one person may not work for another! This leads to my second lesson.

#2. Simple answers to health and wellness do not exist.

Most of us are so disconnected from what wellness feels and looks like that we are unlikely to recognize an issue when it first appears.

It always seemed to me that doctors were only there for the big questions. And they were presumed to have infallible scientific procedures to diagnose illnesses. The reality is that science and technology are constantly evolving, which means that medical care is complex and changeable.

Ideally, a healthy person should have a relationship with their physician wherein they consult on any change in life that affects their wellness. This is the only way to truly pursue health.

Tip: Everyone wants to exploit your need for health care. So move cautiously! If it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Evidence-based medicine is the best bet.

#3. Everyone needs a health vocabulary.

There are plenty of words to describe healthy and unhealthy mental and physical states. Have you ever visited the doctor and not known how to describe why you were there? I’m sure it’s a common scenario! Unfortunately, educating the public is a low priority for the health care system, so we must educate ourselves.

For years I didn’t know anxiety was a normal feeling. I didn’t know how to describe stress, loneliness, or sadness when these became disruptive to my life. Mental health is a concept that changed my life for the better! Everyone should be taught to recognize signs of illness, and to talk about health.

Why didn’t our parents teach us how to talk about our health? Honestly, I doubt that our mothers and grandmothers were ever taught to listen to their own bodies, much less to talk about body functions. Most health questions were probably answered by unqualified family members!

#4. We know ourselves best.

Doctors know the medicine. We know what feels right in our bodies. We often believe we have no choice but to accept treatment offered by the first doctor we see. Fortunately, having access to the Internet means we can consult reputable web pages for treatment protocols and bring these up with our doctors.

Our lifestyle, our emotional state, and our investment in recovery all influence the treatment’s success. Sometimes, we may even say “no thank you” to a treatment. Why? Our concerns are just as important as the listing of symptoms when selecting a treatment options. We may wish to try alternative treatments prior to taking drastic steps such as surgery or medication. A good doctor takes our wishes into account—always.

Tip: Tell the doctor you’ll be back. When I was assigned to a new G.P., I had been waiting almost a year. When I began to explain my health situation, she immediately cut me off! I was choked. But I subsequently explained that I was ready to come back as many times as it took to find answers. After that, she always listened to me.

#5. Disability and illness are not inspirational stories.

We read so many stories about the cheerful perseverance of terminally ill patients, or about people living with disabilities. The reality is that suffering causes irritability, fear, loneliness and depression.

People living with disability might use a mobility device, but a disability can also be invisible. They may be healthy, or they may be living with illness. Either way, we all need to learn that disability is a way to be human! It certainly doesn’t exempt the person from the most human of experiences in life.

When a person strives for a balanced, fulfilling life they are not “being inspiring”—they are being human. Many people choose to share encouraging success stories, and that’s okay. But when health issues are viewed only as inspirational, we devalue the human experience.

As a kid with health issues, I thought to myself, “I’ll be kind and helpful, and have a fulfilling life.” But time spent on treatments got to me. I hated having to tell other people why I couldn’t do things. And when I couldn’t be an “inspiring” person, my self-esteem dipped low.

Self-advocacy is key.

Do you practice mindfulness? Children can learn this—in fact, the younger the better! We give ourselves a giant advantage in life when we habitually take stock of our emotions, our thought patterns and our body’s signals.

A deep knowledge of our personal traits can ground us during future struggles. We can then use our strong sense of identity to advocate and to defend our needs with medical professionals and with our own family!

Ultimately, the goal is a balanced life. Doctors should always be willing to help us get to the point where our lives are balanced. Even if we haven’t been balancing nutrition and exercise, this does not disqualify us from asking for medical assistance. Struggling to socialize, to get out of bed, to cook meals, to take even a short walk outdoors – these are legitimate health concerns.

I really wish I had known these things long ago, but I’m so glad to know them now! As a self-advocate, I believe we all deserve help from professionals who have studied human health and medicine. You deserve to ask for help and to receive it. 🖤

Anxiety · Books · Thoughts

Deal With Drama Like Jane!

Hey, Janeites! Have you noticed that everything is a bit much lately? Between work, a global pandemic, health stuff, and family stuff, sometimes the drama seems never ending.

Thankfully, we have Jane Austen! Jane’s protagonists are models of poise and gumption. Even today, in the age of social media, their examples hold up. Here are six ways to imitate these heroines when dealing with drama!

Be a Lizzy

Excuse yourself.

The situation: The wealthiest and most pretentious person Lizzy has ever met suddenly shows up at her home demanding to see her! Imagine being in your comfy clothes, unable to remember how you left your hair. All that stands between you and pure mortification is your composure, so you try to act natural.

I feel anxious even imagining this scenario! For those of us with social anxiety, surprise visits are hell. Thanks to Lizzy, if a condescending visitor stops by, or a stranger insults me to my face, I know how to respond with: You are rude, and we are done.

“You can now have nothing further to say,” she resentfully answered. “You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house.”

Pride and Prejudice, chapter 56

Be an Elinor

Let the haters hate.

The situation: While visiting friends, Elinor is invited to a group hang that includes relatives of her secret crush! Having already accepted that she and her crush aren’t going to happen, she decides to be amused by the family’s snobbery. They are giving her the cold shoulder in such an obvious way that it’s kind of funny!

I’m inspired by Elinor not to let negativity draw me in! There are always toxic conversations happening on social media. Sometimes my friends jump in and I have to resist engaging. But I don’t want to be like Marianne who embarrassed Elinor by openly showing concern. Let’s not give the trolls that satisfaction!

She could not but smile to see the graciousness of both mother and daughter towards the very person—for Lucy was particularly distinguished—whom of all others, had they known as much as she did, they would have been most anxious to mortify; while she herself, who had comparatively no power to wound them, sat pointedly slighted by both.

Sense and Sensibility, chapter 34

Be a Catherine

Speak your truth.

The situation: True, Catherine Morland is naive. Yet her openness is pure and admirable! Misunderstanding? She’ll clear that right up. If she likes someone, she’ll say it. It’s a rare trait, especially considering regency era women were expected to use a very specific script to properly socialize.

We are all taught how to make “polite conversation”. However, telling the full truth instead can set the tone for a deep new friendship. We attract authenticity when we show our true selves. I want to seek out new friends with enthusiasm and joy, like Catherine!

“Oh! Mr. Tilney, I have been quite wild to speak to you, and make my apologies. You must have thought me so rude; but indeed it was not my own fault, was it, Mrs. Allen? Did not they tell me that Mr. Tilney and his sister were gone out in a phaeton together? And then what could I do? But I had ten thousand times rather have been with you; now had not I, Mrs. Allen?”

Northanger Abbey, chapter 12

Be an Anne

Assume the best.

The situation: Anne is the forgotten Elliot sister. Written off by her family, undervalued and unsupported, she develops a keen sense for both genuine and superficial behaviours. She often forgives seemingly selfish behaviour. When a jilted ex comes back to town, she even manages to assume the best in his actions!

If I don’t know why someone is ignoring me or offering advice or criticism, it’s difficult to assume they have good intentions. But I want to! After all, when my anxiety disorder flares up, I don’t want other people to assume I’m ignoring them, or that I am bored with their friendship. Flawed friendships are still valuable ones, especially if, like Anne, we need help to keep toxic people from dragging us down.

“So altered that he should not have known her again!” These were words which could not but dwell with her. Yet she soon began to rejoice that she had heard them. They were of sobering tendency; they allayed agitation; they composed, and consequently must make her happier. Frederick Wentworth had used such words, or something like them, but without an idea that they would be carried round to her. He had thought her wretchedly altered, and in the first moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt.

Persuasion, chapter 7

Be a Fanny

Show devotion.

The situation: Fanny Price is the wallflower of Austen heroines. Her humility is often jarring. But she displays loyalty to her own values and to those who have been good to her. When she faces abuse or defamation, she can bear it as long as her best friends still think well of her. Her principles are a sturdy support.

I’m extremely careful about sharing my private thoughts and feelings. When someone earns my trust, I’m excited to prove my respect and affection! Like Fanny, highly sensitive people need to be careful choosing friends. Therefore I’m looking for Fanny Price’s qualities in a friend: humility, morality, and compassion.

Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions.

Mansfield Park, chapter 8

Be an Emma

Just laugh.

The situation: Emma is kind. She brings joy and energy to the lives of her friends. She also likes drama. Okay, she loves drama! If she does get hurt feelings, rather than show it, she’ll simply laugh it off. It’s a strength and a skill, especially in her gossipy town.

“Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.”

Emma, chapter 8, volume 2

It’s not about getting the last laugh. It’s about giving yourself an out! No one is perfect. If someone is calling you out, it’s gonna hurt. Laugh to care less about a needlessly rude comment. Laugh to show them—and yourself—that you’ve already moved on.

“It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation.”

Emma, chapter 18, volume 1

Above all, I hate gossip, which involves taking pleasure in the struggles of others. Gossip dissolves all trust. When a situation escalates, I try to remember Jane Austen’s advice as acted out by her radical protagonists: demand dignity and maintain your sense of self, despite how others behave or react.

Which character are you most like? Right now, I am probably most like Catherine, navigating drama unwittingly. But I hope to become more like dear Anne Elliott, floating undisturbed over a sea of drama!

Which heroine’s example do you find the most inspiring? Please comment!

Thanks for reading! 🖤

Books · reading · Review

A Bookdragon Hoard ~ Children’s Stories

Are you a child at heart? It’s awesome, isn’t it? Instead of lamenting all the books we didn’t get to read as kids, we can read everything we want – and then take a nap!

It’s good for adults to read children’s fiction periodically. It teaches us humility. To paraphrase Professor Dumbledore, age is guilty if it forgets what it was like to be young. Here are four kids books that I love and recommend. I hope you check them out!

#1. Planet Earth Is Blue

— Nicole Panteleakos

Why Read: This book invites us to examine how much the world has changed, yet how much farther we have to go when it comes to accepting differences and treating everyone as equal.

The first novels I read as a child were historical fiction. This beautiful story about 12-year-old Nova counting down to the Challenger launch has me feeling nostalgic for that time.

This story navigates serious topics including Autism and the foster care system. However, the plot focuses mainly on the relationship between two sisters, Bridget and Nova. Nova is a thinker, not a talker. Apart from her sister for the first time, she struggles to adapt to an entirely new environment.Nova is a thinker, not a talker.

Communication is examined as being diverse and unique to every person, requiring patience and a willingness to connect. Nova and Bridget have always used music and facts about space travel to communicate. As they share an increasing anticipation for the historic launch, Nova draws closer to her classmates and community.

#2. The Secret Garden

— Frances Hodgson Burnett

Why Read: Be reminded of the natural connection we have to our environment and all living creatures. Not only children, but humans of every age, can experience rebirth and discovery!

Mary Lennox finds herself newly an orphan and sent to live with an uncle who is a stranger to her. She is thrown into quite a new world. Not an unpleasant world, but one with strange folk with rather interesting ideas: The English moor is a beautiful place. A robin bird makes a loyal friend. A smile makes a face look nice!

But the strangest idea of all begins with the mysterious crying in the night and a doorless garden which seems to inspire a certain magic! The Secret Garden is a beautifully written story of redemption and the power, found within all living things, to grow and change.

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”… “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

—The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

#3. Dragon Rider

— Cornelia Funke

Why Read: Return to the basics of fantasy reading! Recall the first dragon you ever met in a book. Root for unlikely friends and their quest to overcome evil!

Firedrake is a young dragon who sets off on a quest to find the acclaimed Rim of Heaven after learning that his home–and all the dragons that live in it–are in grave danger of a man-induced flood that will destroy their home.

We learn that many friendly magical creatures exist, but few trust humans. Can a dragon, a brownie, and a human boy survive a quest for the fabled haven? Or will they fail to save the last of the silver dragons from a heartless monster?

The fantastic voice of Brendan Fraser brings a great range of characters to life in this audiobook!

#4. The Mary Poppins Collection

— P.L. Travers

Why Read: Lets remind ourselves that childhood is a state of mind, and adulthood is just a trick played on us when ordinary life takes over!

The Mary Poppins Collection centres around the Banks family of 17 Cherry Tree Lane and their adventures with their on-again-off-again nanny. She is Elegant, Stylish and Proper. I’d follow her “to the stars and back!”

Mary Poppins leads the children to and from jarringly unreal places to meet odd and fascinating folks within the terribly normal setting of London, England. The thrill is in the contrast between the average and the uncanny! Somewhere, squashed between the tedium of weekly errands and the scent of fresh-baked gingerbread, is proof magic exists.

Is there such a thing as children’s fiction? P.L. Travers doubts it. (Quote from a lecture, “On Not Writing For Children”)

Believe it or not, I read all of these stories for the first time as an adult. And I loved them! True of many examples of children‘s lit, the lessons and imagery are all the more potent because they are written to appeal to youthful sensibilities.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you first discovered as an adult, either on your own or with the kids in your life? Please comment below! Thanks for reading!

Books · reading · Review

Gushing About Heart of Smoke

Guys, I might’ve gotten carried away diving into fictional worlds and overshot to outer-space. Brain melting. Can’t stop spinning. 💫

Translation: I discovered an author who writes exceptional young adult fantasy, sci-fi and adventure. And she has four series already completed – sparkly and new! Am I dead?!😵

Megan O’Russell is a world traveler, professional musical theatre performer, lyricist, playwright and indie author!

Ena of Ilbrea Series

“Ember and Stone” is where it all began for me. It was actually included in a free trial combo called “When Worlds Begin”. Before I knew it, I’d binged all the way through the Ena Of Ilbrea series. The suspense pulled me onward as the plot unfolded. Assassins. Spies. Magical abilities. A powerhouse woman with snarkiness for days! Best of all, each character came alive in the brilliant dialogue. 🤩

Mood: Do you want a strong female main character? Still in the realm of YA, but exploring more mature themes? An immersive and cutthroat series with hidden magic, forbidden love, and rebellion?

Girl Of Glass Series

Exhausted and obsessed, I immediately found another series from the Megan O’Russell. “Girl Of Glass”, a coming of age story, features a slightly younger protagonist. Nola and her pure heart are infinitely dear to me! She’s a member of a privileged class, living in protective Domes, which makes for an intriguing dystopian perspective. We’ve got teen drama, betrayal, vampires, zombies – you’ll love it!

Mood: Do you want a high-stakes plot, in a futuristic society where climate change and disease ravage humanity? Oh, and a love triangle? If you loved the Divergent series by Veronica Roth (which I did) then you’ll get into this adventure!

Heart Of Smoke (Book #1)

I was dying of fantasy-adventure overload. OF COURSE I fangirled about it!! Megan saw my review on Instagram, or my blog, and reached out to suggest her new series. Wait. WHAT?

That’s right, the Heart Of Smoke series follows Lanni, a teen from the exploited class in the same world as Girl Of Glass. The characters, including the stubborn Lanni, are just as powerful and compelling! 😍

Mood: Do you want a fast-paced, grim tale about the bitter, angry citizens whose lives mean little to nothing, and a secret plot to exact vengeance? If you enjoyed clenching your teeth through James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, I think you can handle it!

Lanni works in one of the factories run by The Incorporation, supplying the Domes. She takes care of her sister, often stealing and lying to protect young Mari. Even their own mother has secrets. Suddenly, it seems, Lanni and Mari are offered a one-way ticket out of the burning hole they call home. How can they leave their mother?

Every moment is tense with fear and danger. Lanni is poised to play along with whatever elaborate plan keeps Mari breathing. But doubt creeps in as we race toward the end of book one. Who is really pulling the strings behind Lanni’s rescue?

What Next?

Help! I can’t choose! 😅

Heart Of Smoke was fast-paced and intense! That cliff-hanger, though!! It’ll be over a week (April 22, 2021) before the new sequel, Soul Of Glass, is released. I’m so psyched up, maybe I’ll read book one again! 😂

Alternatively, I have another YA series by O’Russell called The Tethering. Magic? Check. Teen angst? Check. Romance? Goodness, I hope so!

Or, The Geek’s Guide To Wizarding Mastery In One Epic Tome: The Complete Tale Of Bryant Adams. Whew, that’s a title! It’s four books about a nerdy wizard who’s always the sidekick, with quirky humor and hopefully some crazy-awesome magic!

So, the options are to read Heart Of Smoke again, binge a new magical series…or continue to drift aimlessly through nothingness!

Eventually, I’ll choose one and savour the adventure! Authors like Megan O’Russell are real treasures. What’s the last series you discovered that collapsed your whole freaking universe? I’d love to know!

Thanks for reading! ❤️

Autism · Neurodivergent · Thoughts

For Autism Awareness Day 2021

Hey everyone, happy World Autism Awareness Day!

If this is the first you’re hearing about autism, you’re gonna want a little more detail! I hope to share some useful resources to promote awareness and acceptance.

Why acceptance? A neurological difference, like autism, is a lifelong condition. Since it is NOT a disease, awareness is not enough. We need to encourage society to include and to accept autistic people.

Today, I’d like to recommend a few autistic content creators, suggest great books, and debunk a few myths. Here goes!

What is autism? Autism is a neurological condition. It means the brain functions in different ways to the typical brain. Metaphorically, you could compare it to two different operating systems that do the same job in different ways.

What is AUTISM? — Yo Samdy Sam on YouTube (7m43s video)

What Is Autism Truly About? — Indie Andy on YouTube (4m24s video)

“The five neurological differences being social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive and sensory.”

Autistic Identity — Holistic Autistic on YouTube (8:53m video)

What is masking? When a person does not understand the social behaviour of others they “mask”, or imitate, those around them to blend in. Examples of masking include hiding autistic behaviours, ignoring one’s own physical and emotional needs, and speaking from a practiced script.

What Is Autistic Masking? — Indie Andy on YouTube (8m6s video)

What Is MASKING: how do we do it and should we stop? — Yo Samdy Sam on YouTube (21m12s video)

The WORST ADVICE you can give to an Autistic person #takeoffthemask — Asperger’s from the Inside (9m53s video)

Traits (not symptoms) – Autistic traits are directly related to neurological differences and therefore can vary widely, from sensory sensitivities to communication difficulties; from intense focus to intense empathy.

“On the spectrum” – The autism spectrum represents myriad traits, challenges and strengths which occur in autistic individuals. A spectrum is often used to describe two polar opposites like “Blue is cool, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, red is much warmer.” But the autism spectrum is more like this image below!

the-art-of-autism.com

Neurodiversity – A term referring to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. Diversity is key to humanity’s success. Yet too many autistic people are unemployed or struggling.

Neurodiversity in a Nutshell — Stephanie Bethany on YouTube (4m29s video)

Book Recommendations

If you’ve read one book about autism, you’ve read one book about autism. Whether it’s a fiction or non-fiction book, it’s inadvisable to base our understanding of autistic people on just one book!

That said, plenty of books offer valuable info about the history of autism and neurodiversity. Even fiction can offer insight into cross-sections of the autistic experience! Here are my top three favorites (non-fiction).

#1 NeuroTribes: The Legacy Of Autism and the Future Of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman

Neurodiversity, a term that should be self-explanatory, has been a reality throughout human history, even before “scientist” became a word, and before psychology and neurology were even a concept!

Steve Silberman is a journalist who studies the world through inquisitive eyes! I can feel his excitement—his intense curiosity— with each step towards the truth. His passion for people permeates these 12 chapters which read like essays. He weaves historically significant events together with fascinating narratives about people whose efforts have impacted the journey to understanding.

A concise history of “the spectrum” in podcast form, with source material from NeuroTribes by Steve SilbermanEp.5 Lorna Wing and Hans Asperger: An Untold Story, Inside Asperger’s (4m50s)

#2 Spectrum Women: Walking To The Beat Of Autism by multiple authors

Women on the spectrum have long been overlooked. There is hope for the future! These brave authors share their stories to illuminate the struggles autistic people often face. Their hard-earned advice will benefit women (all genders, really!) who are diagnosed later in life.

Check out the Not Neurotypical Podcast where Laura Zdan shares her journey to discovering her autistic identity as an adult.

#3 The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across The Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek

This is an easy but educational read about autism from a scientific perspective. Temple Grandin is an autism activist and engineer. She has a deep interest in neuroscience too, so we benefit from her knowledge and experience in this valuable book. Learn about the different types of “thinkers”- which are you?

“Neuroanatomy isn’t destiny. Neither is genetics. They don’t define who you will be. But they do define who you might be. They define who you can be.”

― Temple Grandin, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum

Books I want to read…

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, Birthday Girl by Diane J. Wright, Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicole
The Obsessive Joy Of Autism by Julia Bascom, All The Weight Of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism by Autism Women’s Network, Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohn

For more book titles, I love the list at Autastic.com! ❤️

Myths

Myth: Everyone is “a little autistic”.

Fact: Autism is a distinct neurological condition, primarily affecting sensory processing and information processing.

Isn’t Everyone a Little Bit Autistic? — Asperger’s from the Inside on YouTube (10m video)

Myth: A person can look autistic.

Fact: People of any background or age can be autistic.

You don’t LOOK autistic? — Charl Davies on YouTube (6m40s video)

Myth: Autistic adults don’t need support.

Fact: Autistic adults face the pressure of society’s expectations. An environment structured around the typical “neurotype” will push these adults to mask their different needs until they burn out.

How To Support Autistic People AFTER Autism Awareness Month – World Autism Awareness Week 2021 — Indie Andy on YouTube (13m2s video)

If you have read this whole post – wow, thank you! It is so important to consider the many unique views and experiences of neurodiverse people. This April, let’s listen to autistic voices. Let’s ask ourselves, what is required for acceptance in our society? I’ll leave you with this quote,

“Viewed as a form of disability that is relatively common rather than as a baffling enigma, autism is not so baffling after all. Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodation is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability rights movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently.”

NeuroTribes: The Legacy Of Autism and the Future Of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
  • Are you sharing about autism this month? (Let me know where to find your content!) ❤️
  • Can you recommend fiction with autistic representation?
  • Can you recommend books by autistic authors? 📚
Books · reading · Review

A Bookdragon Hoard ~ YA Dystopia

Is it just me, or does now seem like a perfect time to read some post-apocalyptic sci-fi? No? Just me? Anyway…

I have three YA dystopian series’s at the top of my to-read list, so why not binge them all? Time for Bookdragon feast! First, we have Ernest Cline’s debut Ready Player One, along with its surprise sequel released in November 2020. Next, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which I have often considered reading. Finally, by fantasy author Megan O’Russell, the four-volume Girl of Glass series.

What makes an impactful dystopian story? It’s a paradise-gone-wrong, cautionary story. A dystopian society is both dehumanizing and terrifying! The scariest part is knowing it could happen to us! Environmental decline and bad government hit us close to home. My favorite plots involve advanced, problematic technology! I also look for oppression. And a climactic fight to overthrow tyrannical control (of course).

These two dystopian treasures were originally assigned to me in class. Having shaken my perspectives on humanity and individualism, they both continue to affect me to this day. The Giver by Lois Lowry and 1984 by George Orwell! From my teen years onward, both became the baseline I’d use to judge all future dystopian reads!

Ready Player One & Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline

Synopsis:

In 2044, the Internet has been succeeded by the Oasis, a virtual reality universe with every distraction imaginable! Its inventor, Halliday, has died. To hunt down an heir to his fortune, he has laid out clues throughout the Oasis — the ultimate treasure hunt.

While billions of people seek Halliday’s Easter Egg, Wade Watts is going to school. A parentless, penniless teen, he has yet to legitimately join the hunt, however he has spent every free moment studying the clues! Will Wade’s obsession with Halliday’s maze-like mind pay off?

An elaborate quest. There’s a fantastic level of world-building involved in setting out clues and solving puzzles with high stakes! I had the most fun while Wade fine-tuned his theories – especially when he realized he’d need a little help. It wouldn’t be such a cool quest if one guy could conquer it alone!

Online friends. Friendships develop in the Oasis, the kids never having once met in real life. And they’re beautiful connections based on common interests and shared experiences. I can relate, having grown to love many of my good friends online. (Shout out – love you guys! ❤️💚💛💙)

Nostalgia. Pop-culture references, (like Serenity from Firefly!) trigger warm-fuzzies in any fangirl. The culture-obsessed Wade shares a million fun facts about 80’s trivia and video games. The social awkwardness that accompanies his fixation is so extremely relatable.

Exposition galore. Repetition and a lack of pacing means we the reader must be very patient to get to the meat of the story. Wade’s narration of events is cynical yet humorous. But you might get a little sick of his “voice”. (Not to be confused with audiobook performer Wil Wheaton’s voice which is just lovely, bless him!)

Unnecessary sequels. In 2011, RP1 pleasantly surprised readers with an ode to nerd-culture. Nine years later, a sequel! We wondered, would it be a gift for Spielberg, best fit for film? Could it be that Cline actually spent the intermediate years developing his clumsy prose in order to advance his dystopian world, along with young Wade and crew? Answer: nope. Cline leans into his wheelhouse for RP2, barely developing anything further in this half-formed attempt at forced creativity.

FUN FACT: Cline isn’t the first author ever to spit out an unnecessary sequel! Did you know that The Giver was the first of four in a series that no one seems to have read? Yikes!

The Hunger Games & Catching Fire & Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins

Synopsis:

Years after war ravaged the population, The Capital Of Panem instated a tradition. An annual Games would be held, each district yielding a boy and a girl to participate in a televised fight to the death.

Katniss Everdeen is a teen from the mining district. She has learned to hunt to save herself, her mother, and her sister from starvation. Mostly, she blocks out the rest of the world. If she didn’t, she’d have to think about the odds of being chosen for The Hunger Games, which rise every year. Is she strong enough to stand and face those odds?

Politics, politics, politics. Panem leaders over-feed and excite the Capital citizens to quiet their voices. I appreciated the references to historical Roman gladiators who were likewise pulled from the mud and painted to entertain the masses.

A complex resolution. Um, to avoid spoilers I will just say that there’s no switch to flip a dystopia to utopia! Or from battle to peace. Or to make trauma okay. Collins writes gut-wrenching reality. It’s compelling YA that coaxes us into harsh adulthood.

Relics of a long-lost culture. ‘The Hanging Tree’, like ‘Oranges and Lemons’ in 1984, was a song referencing tragic events that had since been rooted out of the nation’s collective memory. These intensified the deep yearning for a better world.

Listen to Oranges and Lemons or The Hanging Tree

Disturbing images. The “mutts” (that’s all I will say on that!) I admit, I avoided reading The Hunger Games for a long time, despite all the hype*. A battle royale with children did not intrigue me. What can I say? I prefer governments that systemically crush their citizens without all the spectacle!

*But in this case, the hype is merited! The writing, the character depth, the stakes. The beautiful writing!

Oblivious protagonists. I totally understand that the protagonist, Katniss, was basically still a kid. She was intensely conflicted as her family’s stoic provider struggling to survive under Panem’s thumb. However, she flip-flopped between impulsive rebelliousness and coldly playing the “game”. Her ignorance of other districts and her lack of imagination were unbelievably frustrating!

Girl of Glass & Boy of Blood & Never of Night & Son of Sun

by Megan O’Russell

Synopsis:

The world has fallen. Humanity is barely clinging to life. Its only hope – The Domes. These protect the healthy from illness, shelter the crops from the burning heat and acid rain… and they keep the others out.

Nola is reeling from the recent loss of her best friend. She is expected to follow in her agriculturist mother’s footsteps, an important career within the domes. But when Jeremy brings news of monsters in the streets, Nola struggles to reconcile life in the domes with the reality outside them. What will her uncertainty end up costing?

Normalized horror. We expect insensitivity from a government working toward a greater good. But there’s an even more disturbing transformation at an individual level, when survival means being numb to the fact that the privileged thrive while the majority suffer.

Morally grey characters. O’Russell does not just pin two perspectives against one another. Within each warring faction we find disagreement, varying levels of compassion, and complex motivations. The vicious, the callous, the charismatic – all draw their own line between right and wrong.

Literal monsters. Genetic manipulation. Experimental “cures” that warp humanity into something other. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a monster, for that matter?

A bleeding heart. More than the usual noble protagonist, heavy on justice and self-sacrifice, the bleeding heart is complex and volatile. The author must somehow preserve and toughen this character’s essence. No one fits this description better, inspiring action and sacrifice, than the authentic Nola Kent.

Continuity issues. I had to search hard for something to really hate, and this is a small-ish thing. But the “Domers” need a medication to filter the polluted air anytime they go outside. The later books just sort of stop mentioning it and that annoyed me.

While I did binge through all three series’s, I just didn’t connect to all three the way I did with Girl of Glass. I honestly couldn’t be more pleased with Megan O’Russell. It’s as though she took several well-planned ideas and wove them into a progressively hopeful, death-defying journey!

My sentimental self wants to say one more thing. That the piece of my soul I once lost to Jonas of Lois Lowry’s The Giver has now come to rest on Nola, my new symbol of all that is good and pure! 🖤

More YA TROPES…

  • The “nice guy” who isn’t really a nice guy. Won’t say which book did this best because SPOILER.
  • Overcoming addiction/substance abuse is an important issue that YA books especially should address very seriously.
  • The Chosen One trope. What makes them the one? Circumstance? A special skill? Society?

Not every dystopian series will be impactful. Some fall flat, failing to develop past the climax of their revolution. Some delve deep into a fantasy world, twisting dark themes until we question our own reality. (I just realized The Hunger Games and 1984 have this in common!)

The best, although based on a fictional struggle, will inspire faith in humanity. We’ll carry noble characters with us all our lives. An impactful YA dystopian is one whose victories over adversity become our own.

…but most of all, an impactful dystopian series leaves you wanting more. Because humanity is defined both by hope and uncertainty!

Thank you for reading! 🖤

How do you feel about dystopia in books and films?
Have you enjoyed the film adaptations? (Ready Player One, The Hunger Games, etc.)
Should YA always have a happy ending?

Books · reading · Review

A Bookdragon Hoard ~ Werewolf Fantasy

Werewolves howling at the full moon, trapped somewhere between human and beast. The appeal is foreign to me, although I do acknowledge that Remus Lupin of the Harry Potter series is a hero, an inspiration and the best teacher of all time! But…aren’t werewolves usually bad guys, feral, hungry and hunted?

To answer this question, I have scoured my e-reader, and Goodreads, and Google for the top choices in werewolf lit! I discovered a wide range, from unimaginative teen romance to grim-dark supernatural thrillers. From the wild wolf to the hybrid wolf-man monstrosity. And finally, I found a niche in the genre for a bookdragon like me!

Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Alpha & Omega #1

Anna is an unforgettable protagonist. She’s a breath of sweet sunshine, scrappy and kind. And shattered. We don’t just pity her or admire her, we become her. After surviving isolation and brutality, the relief and residual unease of escape is staggering! Despite the brutality of wolf life, will Anna accept the loyalty, the love, of a healthy “family“?

A developed world. Patricia Briggs was a top result when I embarked on my werewolf hunt. She’s set up an immense urban fantasy world spanning multiple series. As a reader, I appreciate that the history and lore is woven seamlessly into the plot. I sought an enticing series packed with action and intrigue, and I’ve struck gold!

I hate violence. But I also understand it’s necessary to an extent for a thrilling plot. Fighting enemies who are willing to kill, and defending loved ones, will result in injuries – or worse. In ‘Cry Wolf’, we focus less on bloody mess and more on the mental fallout of trauma. It’s actually brilliant. So, I hate nothing!

Intense romance. I define romance as a character actively trying to fit someone new into their life, whether or not they end up becoming partners. Werewolf lore often involves imprinting, where mates are bonded in an all encompassing devotion. This is only romantic, in my opinion, if both werewolves have agency and interest in figuring out the new relationship. When they do, it’s compelling!

Phased by Victoria Tecken

On Goodreads

Want a standalone with powerful young women battling werewolf stereotypes? You must read Phased! The characters are endearing, infuriating, flawed and brave in this YA fantasy. A seemingly average school incorporates human and were students with apparent success. But they’ve never met anyone like Lyla and Val.

Sisterly bonds. Val and Lyla are together, and that’s what they focus on. Not the years they were forced apart while interned at the facility. Although many students at their new boarding school fear the girls, they are not as alone as they expected to be. Alternating perspectives reveal a snarky, sweet and raw relationship.

Over-dependence on the alpha trope. Briefly, the alpha is a boss wolf. Betas naturally follow the alpha. Omegas are lone wolves, basically exempt from the wolf hierarchy. Pack status does play a clear role in the story, but I seriously doubt a school could remain standing with so many alphas in one building! Also, complex personalities should factor into whether an alpha werewolf garners respect from “the pack”.

Dystopia. A broken society with science fiction elements. A world in which werewolves, though commonplace, are subject to prejudice and discrimination. I. Love. This. The elaborate settings and medical technology drew me in. Toxic language such as “feral” and “assimilation” had me clambering for reform.

Wolves And Roses by Christina Bauer

Fairy Tales of the Magicorum Book 1

All Bryar Rose really wants is to study Ancient Egyptian papyri and hang out with her rebellious bestie, Cinderella aka Elle. But a recurring dream – the one with a wolf and a sexy guy – may mean she’s in danger! She’s going to need all of her teenage sass and martial arts skills to survive her eighteenth birthday.

A real, live girl. Yes, Bryar will need the help of her magical friends, including a gruff werewolf named Knox who melts her heart. But she’s no damsel. Her hopes, interests, ideas and beliefs are present throughout the story. There’s doubt, shock, mistaken confidence. She is so much the over-sheltered teen with a rebellious streak, I want to give her a hug and buy her some french fries!

Basic descriptors. Authors, if you’re only going to describe the main character as having “blue eyes and brown hair” then why bother? There are a zillion hair types and body types and attitudes to feed us an image of your character. I want to know what about this young woman demands my attention. And that had better not be the hue of her hair. That said, these characters had sass for days, so I’ll temporarily overlook the dull descriptors. End of rant.

It’s about the magic. Underneath the friendship, family dysfunction, fledgling romance and petty crime, the main theme is magic. Magicians hide their abilities like the gems in their unassuming sport coat pockets. Shifters mask the golden gleam of their eyes as they slip out of the city to take animal form. And fairies. Well, fairies are divas, clever, resourceful and fond of drama. A disastrous mix!

I shudder to recall the interest with which my callous teen self once indulged in the beauty-becomes-beast gore-fest called ‘Ginger Snaps’.

These are my three favorite werewolf novels! Not only do I need to know what’s next for the characters, but I’m invested in their worlds. Could Bryar and Elle be destined for high school high jinks? Will there be a sequel to Phased? What other forms of shifters will appear in Patricia Briggs’ other books?

I also enjoyed comparing transformations! Do you like your werewolves more canine or monstrous? Relatable or insatiable? I was surprised to find that I enjoyed both – the more natural wolf form in ‘Cry Wolf’ and the fiercer biped form in ‘Phased’. It turns out the struggle with an inner beast is exciting and compelling. I can’t help but love a werewolf story!

  • Do you have a favorite werewolf?
  • Can you suggest another great book or series about shapeshifters?
  • Thanks for reading! 🖤
Books · music · reading · Review

A Bookdragon Hoard ~ Urban Fantasy

Hello, there! I hope you have lots to read. I sure do, more than a Bookdragon could read in a year. Not that I should brag about my hoarding tendencies…but I do want to brag about three of my bookish treasures!

I am comparing three books from the young adult genre, specifically: Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy basically means there’s magic going on, but the story takes place in our familiar old world on planet earth.

The problem with reviewing books is that I love each and every one for unique reasons. It’s tough! Hey— what if I tell you exactly what I love and hate about my treasures? You can judge the value for yourself and perhaps find new treasures for your own hoard.

#1 Titus Fogg by Aaron Piper

(The Wyrd Book 1)

Titus Fogg is a normal high school student. At least that’s what he keeps saying to himself. But is it normal to be suspected of murder? Or to argue with your pervy shadow? Or to enjoy algebra? At the very least, he’d like to keep the m-word out of things, given how magic has ruined his life so far!

Tess Roe loves scary films, soccer, and the ancient library where her mother works crazy hours. When she meets the new kid, Titus, she’s aware he’s weird, insane and possibly homicidal. She senses something more in him, however, and soon she’s sucked into his world of Wyrd with no way out.

Characters with weaknesses. Trust issues. Callousness. Pig-headedness. Prejudice. Titus lacks social skills, but is a mathematical genius. Tess has anger issues, but oozes compassion. Can two substantially flawed kids turn their weirdness their advantage? Or will evil overtake them before they can figure out they need each other?

When the point of view changes between several characters! When executed well, the switch between POVs heightens suspense while illuminating relationship dynamics.

Terrible editing. I sincerely hope there’s a better edited version out there. Spelling errors like loose instead of lose and a misused word or two, like sympatic instead of sympathy, kept me from losing myself in the magic!

Mystery. I enjoy guessing, figuring out the characters and their motives. We’re given nothing more about Titus, Tess and their families than is necessary to follow the plot. As the reader, I felt respected. I trusted that every gory, unexpected event was leading to a big reveal!

#2 We Own The Sky by Sara Crawford

(The Muse Chronicles Book 1)

Sylvia Baker is musical. Music should be the antithesis of depression, but not in her case. Her summer was punctuated with a visit to an in-patient care facility. Her very young single father is a recovering addict. Sylvia struggles with his local fame and her own loneliness.

Her life is about to change when Sylvia meets a dark stranger. Suddenly inspired, she realizes how important he is to her journey as a musician—maybe even to her as a person. Is music the cure? Can she balance her obsession with the flighty Vincent, her new friends, her band, and her dad’s sobriety?

An emotional artist’s view of her craft. Music is my favorite subject for an art-fueled novel! It’s magical, mythical, how music connects thought and feeling; draws folks of all different experiences together. In ‘We Own The Sky”, Art with a capital A is described as an almost supernatural motivation. And yet, the most basic of human emotions are deeply imbedded in musical expression.

Grab your headphones and breathe in Sylvia’s playlist as she meets her Muse, exploring new avenues of herself and bringing us along for the ride. Flying, falling, grieving, transforming— it’s all experienced through the concept of music. 🎶

Interesting side characters. The more great characters the better, I say. The sensational personalities in Sylvia’s life include Travis, a self-assured and gifted lead singer, Vincent, a dejected and intense loner, and Mariella, a spunky Muse with poor punctuality!

Brushing mental health issues under the rug. It’s absolutely amazing when a character fights their demons, accepts help, and pulls out the other side having learned to trust. That being said, it’s dangerous when an author portrays mental health in a misleading way. To be very honest, I found this attitude triggering.

Sylvia lies about taking her meds. She lies about returning her therapist’s calls. And she lies about her suicide attempt. I kept waiting, waiting, waiting for her to realize that it was okay to get help. Worse, the fantasy element is used to explain book’s dismissive attitude toward treatment.

When the main character realizes she fits in after all! You know I am all for angsty, no-one-gets-me, lonely-punk-teenager tropes. But even better than that? Our lonely-punk-teen finds a friend group! She opens up to new experiences and personalities! She finds she belongs! Real life, right there. We all belong somewhere.

#3 The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

(The Trials of Apollo series Book 1)

Apollo. The Greek god of the sun, music, and being mega hot! *poses for photo op*! Being immortal makes a person have a big head, it’s not Apollo’s fault he’s amazing! *flashes a blinding grin* But according to daddy Zeus, that recent situation with the half-bloods was his fault. Big time. And his punishment is way unfair: mortality.

Apollo finds himself un-amazing, in the mortal world, hoping a little girl will save him! What he really needs is a few half-bloods to accept the great honor of questing for him! Unfortunately, he’s got a lot to learn about mortal life. Turns out he doesn’t know much about demigods, either.

Mythology in modern day. As the fans of the Riordanverse well know, being a demigod is dangerous business! Humans remain cheerfully oblivious, while monsters and other ruthless mythical beings tend to make life suck for people like Percy Jackson. Did I mention that Olympus is atop the Empire Stare Building in NYC? No one adapts Greek lore into trage-larious adventure like Rick Riordan.

Un-relatable main characters. I’m drawn to books with great character development. That means a character has to be fully formed, flawed, and functional before the events of the story take place. I’m not sure Apollo counts by this description. Can he even improve himself as a (former) god among men?

Tying in characters from previous storylines. Hey, Percy! Missed you, man. I enjoyed catching a glimpse of several other favourites from the series Heroes of Olympus. Will Solace, son if Apollo, is one of them. He’s a skilled healer at Camp Half-Blood. Friendly and easy-going, Will is the ideal tour guide for his disillusioned dad.

All three of these books boast realistic city backdrops with uncanny twists on magic and mythology—top-tier Urban Fantasy. In reviewing these beauties, I have very intentionally avoided contrasting them with popular works of the same genre. Reviewers love to say “for fans of Harry Potter” or “for fans of Twilight” or “for fans of Percy Jackson”. But I say, let’s give new stories a chance to be special on their own merit! Thanks for reading. 🖤

  • Have you enjoyed any of these books/authors? 💎
  • Would you like more Love/Hate/Like reviews from me? ❤️
  • Would you identify yourself as a Bookdragon? 🐉
Books · reading · tag

Mid-Year Book Freakout (2020)

I started the year with goals because I love an excuse for a fresh start! Mainly, I decided that this year should have a bookish direction. I wanted to read with purpose, which prompted the following aims.

  • Read books from my bookshelf!
  • Read more non-fiction!
  • Choose a short list of absolute-must-reads!
  • Explore children’s books that I never read as a kid!

Don’t these sound wonderful? So, I wrote up my little list, proud and excited to get it started. I wasn’t doing badly at all – and then the world went sideways. I hope this Tag will help me assess my reading goals, and my progress so far! Here goes.

#1 Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2020

A Heart So Fierce And Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

After reading A Curse So Dark And Lonely, I wanted the sequel so badly! But I’d have to wait six months. Once I finally had a copy on my Kindle, all thoughts of other books vanished! I fell into the story of Lia Mara, her sisterhood, her inner conflict… her enigmatic new ally, Grey. Although it wasn’t what I expected, I loved it!

#2 Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far In 2020

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke

I read Inkheart, Inkspell and Inkdeath between January-February! And my heart belongs to Meggie and her father the book doctor. A shared love of reading unites them despite danger and loss.

#3 New Release You Haven’t Read Yet

The Shape Of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

#1-6

#4 Most Anticipated Release

Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I’ve noticed this one on Instagram lately. I don’t often rush to buy new releases but I love Jane Austen SO much, I must read this book!

#5 Biggest Disappointment

Sinful Cinderella by Anita Valle

This was my cautionary tale… my timely reminder that a free ebook with favourable reviews may not be my cup of tea.

#6 Biggest Surprise

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

My book club read this together recently. Based on Anne Brontë’s other novel, I was not expecting sweet, pious Agnes. I love when a patient, compassionate woman stands strong to the end.

#7 Favorite New Author

Genevieve Cogman (Author of The Invisible Library series)

Irene is a spy. For a secret library. She is skilled, and she loves her career, even on its worst days. Like when she has a trainee shadowing her the same day the Library’s safety is threatened. I was psyched to find out this series has 7 volumes! Speaking of which, ebook 2 just became available… thanks, visible library!

@robearsbooks

#8 Newest Fictional Crush

Kai (The Invisible Library)

Irene’s new trainee, Kai, is mysterious, passionate *sizzle* and determined to excel in his first ever mission for The Library. (The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman)

#9 Newest Favorite Character

Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables)

Anne is a beautiful soul. I can’t believe I didn’t read these books as a kid! I even had an Anne doll, and I remember watching the Canadian TV series. Well, I’ve read the first one now!

#10 Book That Made You Cry

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

The heartbreak was worth it. That is all.

@Robearsbooks

#11 Book That Made You Happy

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan

So, the world went sideways, and I just wanted to read a fun, familiar adventure!

Illustration from rickriordan.com

#12 Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year

Mary Poppins 80th Anniversary Collection by P.L.Travers

Yes, it is an ebook. But the illustrations are magic!

@robearsbooks

#13 What books do you need to read by the end of 2020?

I’ll be disappointed if I haven’t read these by the end of 2020:

  • Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R. Tolkien
  • The Heroes of Olympus series (re-read) by Rick Riordan
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

So, I’ve decided that I’m on track with my re-reads, and YA/children’s stories! I’m excited to discover the classic fantasy genre. And, as a fan of dystopian reads like The Maze Runner and Divergent, I hope I’ll enjoy Suzanne Collins. Are any of these books on your list?

Thanks for reading! 🖤

Anxiety · Chronic illness · Health · Isolation

My Non-illness: IBS

2016 – a big year for health and hope!

Do you know what’s exciting? New advancements in health care for women! I have recently been listening to podcasts with a focus on mind and body wellness. It is fascinating to put my own experiences into the context of modern health care. 😃

Clearly, I’ve been inspired! A few weeks ago, I bravely decided to listen to an interview about IBS in women, and I was shook. It was the first time I had ever so thoroughly identified with a shared health experience. ❤️

From the beginning, my intention for this blog has been to speak authentically. It is terrifying to lay out my secrets. 😬 Yet, if a podcast about eating issues can unite hundreds of people, I am left wondering why we tend to be so secretive about such universal struggles!

IBS: The Surprising Long Game on Women’s Health Unplugged (April 17, 2020)

In this episode, two Naturopathic doctors speak about the struggle for treatment, management, and quality of life for IBS sufferers. While I listened I discovered terminology that changed everything that I had taken for granted about chronic illness. 😲

Here are five terms that have transformed my perspective on my own health situation: “Living with IBS”, “flare up”, “healing”, “self-advocacy”, and “gut-brain connection”.

Not Healthy

1 “Living with IBS”

What this means: We are not defined by our illness or our symptoms. We are not recovering, nor are we diseased. We are experiencing ongoing health issues. But IBS will not be allowed to engulf the whole person.

I had always hesitated to identify myself as someone living with IBS. Firstly, my symptoms had been downplayed and normalized for many years. Hiding them was a habit. Secondly, IBS wasn’t a treatable syndrome. It was a constant in my life, but with difficult to explain triggers and inconstant symptoms. It was an unruly, unmanageable non-diagnosis.

There are other reasons I fear sharing about this topic. My own symptoms are uncommon, or, shall I say, not stereotypical? I am in pain, but able to hide it. I suffer, but without necessarily experiencing a disability. I have had a constant, unspeakable struggle.

Description from Monash University FODMAP Diet APP

In my own experience, I‘m untreatable. Now, I am aware that 13-20% of Canadians are affected by IBS. Even so, no one I knew could relate to my experience. It was incredibly isolating.

“It’s just this vicious circle that keeps happening where food is terrifying.”—Women’s Health Unplugged, Dr. Jordan Robertson, ND

Not Hopeless

The trajectory of IBS is complex! In women, it usually manifests after puberty. Gut symptoms can fluctuate with the menstrual cycle. Unsurprisingly, allergists sent me away. My G.P. sent me away, as blood panels came back normal albeit iron deficient. A G.I. specialist sent me home with a page of IBS tips such as, “eat fibre” and “drink peppermint tea”. 🙄

It was my lowest point. I couldn’t trust my body’s pain signals. I couldn’t trust hunger signals, thirst signals, elimination signals. Most frighteningly of all, I couldn’t trust my doctor to earnestly listen to me.

It was my third doctor who would actually provide me with a possible solution. She never once accused me of unbalanced eating or exaggerating. Instead, she told me that her IBS patients had benefitted from the elimination of specific foods which feed bacteria, called FODMAPs. This process would be moderated by a local dietician.

In January of 2016, I was connected with a dietician for the first time. I was already feeling hopeless. But the results changed everything for me! The hospital dietician walked me through testing for food triggers, building a functional diet, and the use of resources that empowered me to support my health! 😊

While the elimination-challenge process was difficult, avoiding trigger foods resulted in radical relief from pain. But improved digestion was only half of my transformation. The other half was an emotional and mental recognition that the pain had never been my fault.

“I simply do not believe health means that you can’t eat food. I think that everyone should be able to eat food without pain.”—Dr. Kim Bretz, ND

Not Healing

2 “Flare up”

Definition: A sudden appearance, or increase in severity, of symptoms related to a known condition.

Why is this an encouraging term? It is liberating because it defies society’s expectation that illness has a beginning, middle and end!

A flare up could mean pain, exhaustion, or any symptom that is worsening. It could mean a series of events, such as recurring migraines. In discussing chronic illness, this language is key to avoid incorrectly attributing symptoms to lifestyle, foods or infections, rather than to the illness itself.

My visible suffering only offers the smallest glimpse into my life with an ever-present condition.

3 “Healing”

Let’s redefine healing! It should be a hopeful word, radiating positivity! But how can it be so if it only applies to illnesses with a cure?

Any illness can be devastating. But incurable (or chronic) illness is vastly overlooked and misunderstood. This is why it is crucial to look at healing differently.

“Healing is not linear.” Life is full of struggles for which there is no absolute solution or cure. Chronic illness is always present, to a smaller or a larger degree. We adapt and keep on going.

My definition of healing: The goal is to function, to eat normal foods without pain or social consequences. To have a good relationship with food. To better understand my body.

A note I wrote to remind myself that healing is about more than medicine.

Not Helpless

4 “Self-advocacy”

Definition: “The ability to articulate one’s needs and make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs.”–NDC

I was born with digestive issues, so I never really had a normal state of health with which to compare pain or distress. To make the situation worse, IBS sufferers may have increased sensitivity to gut discomfort. Professionals often see no obvious cause of distress.

Healing is impracticable without a trusted medical professional. To find such support, we must self-advocate. Sadly, this can be challenging for many reasons, including a lack of resources and health knowledge.

Additionally, sexism has played a dangerous role in mismanagement of this relatively common syndrome. The Patriarchy (systemic sexism) perpetuates the myth that men do not complain about pain, and women are too easily overcome by pain. Women’s health has been under-researched due to the traditional belief that women function primarily to birth children. Both sexes have suffered under these pernicious untruths.

5 “Gut-brain connection”

Definition: “Your gut and brain are connected physically through millions of nerves, most importantly the vagus nerve. The gut and its microbes also control inflammation and make many different compounds that can affect brain health.”—Healthline.com

“We are in this symbiotic relationship with the bacteria, which means that we provide them with a house and food, and then they take that food and turn it into gases and chemicals that change how we function as human beings.”—Dr. Jordan Robertson, ND

You might have experienced, as I have, that a bacterial imbalance in the gut will coincide with anxiety and nerve sensitivity! There are also many ways that our lifestyle affects our gut health. Stress from overwork, illness, and dangerous dieting are just a few examples.

My aim is to become literate in the body’s interconnections. Lesson one: Symptoms are never “only in your head” – or your gut! 😁

With newfound understanding of IBS comes new hope, in the form of:

  • Sensitivity management (including stress and environmental factors)
  • Trigger management (meal planning)
  • Mental health support (already a part of my life and routine)
  • Lifestyle management (balance in everyday activities including employment)

In conclusion…

During a global pandemic (and my podcast binge), I have had a shocking epiphany! 😅 Here it is.

Others often see us through glasses tinted by their expectations, experiences and biases. But that doesn’t mean we should keep the truth to ourselves. The opposite is true: Sharing about a unique personal experience strengthens everyone around us!

Isolation weakens us. As a society, how else are we isolated in silence? For that matter, what else might we be taking for granted as just another painful part of life as a woman? Speaking up is essential to standing firm, against illness or any other obstacle.

How can you speak up?

I value the good days, I’m strong through the hard days.

Thank you for reading and commenting. ❤️

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like 5 Crucial Truths About Medical Care and The Unmasking Of Robyn The Weird.

Anxiety · Communication · friendship · Neurodivergent

The Unmasking Of Robyn the Weird

Ever since I learned about Neurodivergence, memories seem to flit to the surface and taste different to me. These memories relate to experiencing otherness; hiding and standing out. The more I embrace my true self, the more I believe she has always been there, waiting for me to find her.

I’m oblivious

“Robyn, you are so nice.”

What a nice thing to say about someone, that they are nice. Whether kids meant that I was kind, or agreeable, or sensitive, or dull, I’ll never know. But I heard it so often I grew to dislike being called that word: nice.

The rescue by Ben the Heroic

It was a habit I had cultivated in Elementary School, walking the perimeter of the school grounds by myself. It was a way to walk off the stresses and let my mind rest. But it was less relaxing now, amid flocks of teenagers.

Walking past the corner of the property one day, there was a cluster of boys my age taking advantage of the lack of supervision to practice skate tricks. They snapped and cracked their boards, apparently in complete control.

I scooted past, hoping no boards would fly my way. “Hey.” I looked at one of the flip-haired skaters.

“Hi,” I replied. “What’s your name?”

Yeah, I was not experienced with conversation. That was all I could think to say.

“I’m Dick,” he said.

“Cool, nice to meet you, Dick.” I was being polite, at least.

But the kids behind Dick laughed.

Then Ben stepped forward.

“Hey, guys, Robyn’s nice,” he said. They apparently took his word for it.

“That’s Jeff,” he told me. Oh, that’s why they were laughing. It was a fake name.

This was humiliating, but I realized not everyone was like Ben, who had been at school with me the previous year. He used to include me when he organized games of Shark Tag in the playground.

Also, not all girls were like the friends I grew up with – the few who accepted me. These few laughed at my jokes and not my clothes. They made sure not to swear around me because they could tell I hated it. I had been lucky, so far, to have friends who were so nice kind.

Sometime later, Ben saw me sitting in the school hall and offered to show me how to lace skate shoes. My shoes sure did look cool, laces loosened and tucked in at the sides. I appreciated his attempt. But I needed my shoes tight.

My sister and I designed and painted those banners! Mine was inspired by Dad’s bass guitar.

I’m invisible

Safe and sound

Much of my experience at this new school involved an assault of the senses. Kids moved in noisy herds, not in orderly lines. Lockers sat in odorous clouds of Calgon. And every lesson was taught in a different room.

Worst of all was the silence. Have you ever felt so stressed that even when all the noise was done, you couldn’t focus? When the class was settled to task, I’d stare at the whiteness of my test paper. Hear the buzz of the fluorescent lights. The distant lawn mower, and the drone of the teacher next door. I’d end up doing most of my class work at home where I felt calm and safe.

The year I turned 13 we went bowling and I invited my new classmates.

Finding my fit

I’m grateful that I was allowed by my parents and by the school to dress the way I needed to in order to feel comfortable. Girls’ clothes were very tight at that time. Spandex percentages were on the increase! I ended up in aisles labeled “boys” to find tops and bottoms I liked. I didn’t even have my hips yet so I wasn’t hiding curves. When I was wearing blue, I was just being me.

When I was wearing blue, I was just being me.

A popular girl once addressed me in the school hallway. I could barely register my surprise that she knew my name. Although, she was in my home room. Anyway, she just said, “Hey, Robyn. Do you watch Family Guy?”

I shook my head no and kept walking. Weird, right?

Years later, I’ve seen a handful of episodes about the football-headed baby’s talking dog. I also think I know why Miss Popular asked me that question. There’s a character named Meg in the Family Guy cartoon. She’s a subdued personality, wears glasses and a hat and unisex clothing. She resembles a young me.

I’m here

The conundrum of drumming

So being the center of attention freaked me out. Fine. How would I pick an instrument to learn in band class? Which one best fit my meek personality?

I saw “percussion” listed below clarinet, flute, trumpet and trombone. I saw it and I thought, “Me!” Percussion was me. It was mine. I had to have it.

I tapped my fingers all the time. Part of experiencing my favorite music was focusing in on the drum beat. It felt like bliss. It was everything. All I knew was I wanted it.

And I got it …but I had to learn clarinet, too. So my time in band class was divided between the woodwind instrument section and the back of the band room where the glorious drum kit resided.

It was about control. It was about steadiness.

It was worth it. It was worth having to clean out a “spit trap” just to get those drum sticks in my hands. The teacher demonstrated a beat and I picked it up quickly, naturally. It was about control. It was about steadiness.

If I could just keep my mind from racing when the teacher called out “quieter on drums!” And all the sections turned to glare at me. Well, maybe not glare. But glances felt like glares and I wished I was only playing flute so no one would hear me at all.

Mask off

Overnight, it seemed, I vowed to be confident. Mom let me shop at the craft store. Dad told me how to improve my posture. My sister (unknowingly) lent me her hair products.

I walked the school halls upright, with the slightest smile, wearing my project: a sleeveless red top with silver grommets laced up the side. I had cannibalized various coloured shirts and created a sort of rag doll wardrobe!

My boldest piece was a tie-dyed shirt-turned-vest, rimmed in black stitches. I would wear a chain, too, which was adorned with pop-can tops. A growing collection.

I knew that everyone noticed my new look. My new boots were stop-sign-red! (And super comfy, by the way.) But the attention didn’t make me feel like a different person. The biggest difference was the result of behaving confidently.

My friend and I show off our hand-made costumes! My Supergirl cape doubled as a super-soft blanket!

I’m weird

Conversations became more than a single exchange as I practiced asking follow up questions. The easiest people to talk to were other introverts. I found that other awkward and lonely kids really responded to my attempts at conversation!

Quiet kids were better conversationalists than the popular crowd anyway. Those kids yelled across the room like life was a performance and they were playing for an Emmy! I wasn’t so different from them, though. My actions were all staged.

As I walked from my locker to class, I made brief eye contact with passing kids, forcing a passive, non-creepy smile. Did they feel as uncomfortable and stressed as I did? As though looking directly at another person’s face was the most unnatural idea anyone ever had?

No more secret identity

On the first day of grade 8, our home room did that exercise where you tell the person next to you three things about yourself, and they present you to the class.

“Um, I’m weird. I like to draw dragons. And I play the drums.”

The kid next to me liked drawing dragons, too! He smiled at me. This was a good start. Then he stood up and told the class, “This is Robyn. She’s weird-“

Everyone was like, Woah! Hey, too far!

“No, she said that she was weird!” he explained, flustered.

Okay, awkward. I guess confidence doesn’t translate second hand. Another lesson to carry forward in life as a weird girl.

I had found music. I had found friendship. But I was still growing and searching.

Mask up

Recalling this “confident phase”, I don’t think it was just about being intentionally odd. At first I thought it might have been a manic release of my true self, like I’d been repressing too much. Now, however, I suspect the new, confident Robyn was just another mask to try on.

If only I had met the real me at that young age. I had found music. I had found friendship. But I was still growing and searching. Dedication would be necessary to hold onto those friendships. And I had yet to enter the the final arena of youth: Secondary School.

To be continued…

Thank you for reading! 💙 If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

For Autism Awareness Day 2021

Digital Hugs, Friendship & Isolation Tips