Category Archives: smelling the roses

Gentle Reminder

Sometimes, you just need a simple message to remind you of what’s important:

Food Lab, West Hollywood

Food Lab, West Hollywood

If you can do just these three things today, you’re ahead of the game. Happy Hump Day!

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Go Ahead, Make My Day

Still on my Bucket List of Places To See.

Still on my Bucket List of Places To See. Photo Courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS (W. Tyson Joye)

I’ve been a little MIA because my day job has been my day-into-night job this week. Despite being tired and my house looking like it was ransacked, it’s been a really good week. Even beyond the mundane frustrations of a large metropolitan hospital, some weeks I joke that I am just “staving off death” rather than “saving lives.” Yesterday, I was reminded that I didn’t take an oath to fix illness, but rather to try and alleviate suffering.  I was delivering the good news to a patient who had been eager to go home for several days; I had spent much of the week reassuring his worried wife (who herself apologized, “sorry, I’m so neurotic!”) and attempting to explain his condition-low salt levels in the blood, which in his case was, counterintuitively, due to an excess of free water in his blood. He was a chemistry teacher in his pre-illness life and despite my crude drawings on the dry erase board, we were getting nowhere until I channeled high school chemistry class: “there’s not enough solute for the amount of solvent.” Eureka!

As I was leaving his room, my patient said: “You are awesome. That’s the word I used when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time when I was eighteen. Awesome.”

Wow, I told him, gesturing my hands like a balancing scale: me, Grand Canyon. Gentleman, pay attention: if that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is. I told him that I will put that in my special mental shoebox that I dip into when work is frustrating, when patients or their families yell at me, when I haven’t peed or eaten because I am trying to work faster, for when I forget to be grateful that I get to do the work I do, even when anyone who works in a medical setting will tell you it is so incredibly not glamorous despite its media portrayal (no McDreamies or McSteamies here…though a cute murse did put his phone number in my coat pocket while we were squeezed in a supply closet once…but I digress).

It was one of the most original thank yous I have ever received, at work or otherwise. And it made my day. So if you have the chance today and feel a desire to thank anyone in your life for something, do it. It just might make their day. And yours. Happy Monday! :)

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Unbelievably Grateful

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This quote has a permanent place on my fridge to remind me to be grateful of what I have and not to get caught up in what I still want (air quotes) and do not currently have. It reminds me that there is a big difference between “wants” and “needs.”

I have dealt with depression before (most recently, the entirety of 2014, which I refer to as the Missing Year because I was missing from my own life and the lives of those I love and care about). Suffice it to say that for months on end, I was only able to sleep 3-4 hours per night. And sometimes, as I was finally falling asleep, I wished that I wouldn’t wake up. Not because I wanted to die, but because I didn’t know if I could get through another day feeling the way I was feeling.

Yesterday, I was running along a favorite path that I hadn’t been to in a while. The sun was shining, it was 80 degrees out (a big apology for mentioning this to all East Coasters and Midwesterners) and I was running faster than my usual pace.  I do not listen to music when I run. Partly because when I am not depressed, I value my life and don’t want to be surprised by traffic, but partly so I have time to think or just listen to my breath or feet hitting the ground. It’s probably the closest I get to meditation. Yesterday, the thought crossed my mind: even if nothing in my life changed from how it is right now, I would be okay with it. In fact, more than okay. I am happy right here, right now. And for my friends who saw me through 2014, they know how this is nothing short of a miracle. And how incredibly grateful I am to have been restored to myself.

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Caution: Oncoming Human

It started as an experiment. Last year, there was a period when I would go days without speaking to another person. There were also many days when I felt incredibly lonely, even when I was with people. It is a particular flavor of pain to feel lonely in the midst of others. So when I went running, I started smiling at people with whom I made eye contact. Partly because I was raised to be polite, but partly because it made me feel tethered, to something, in some small way. Research has shown that smiling, even forced, has been shown to lift mood. I figured I had nothing to lose.

One thing I learned from my experiment was that you really can’t predict who will smile back. Friendly-looking woman in Lululemon, power-walking towards you. Nope. Grumpy-looking older man with shoulder-length gray hair. Smiles. Good-looking hipster kid with headphones on. Head nod and smile. Nice!  I get it if you’re shy, having a really bad day (though for aforementioned reasons, that may be the best time to smile back) or having a moral dilemma as to whether or not to pick up the kid your dog just dropped off on the lawn (please do), but I find the following two reactions amusing/bewildering:

  • Stone Face: These are the folk who you smile at and get zero response. Nothing. This is LA, but not everyone indulges in Botox. Maybe they think I’m slightly crazy. That’s fair. Regardless of the reason, I did my part, and that’s the only part I can control. When I come across Stone Face, I feel silly for about a second but then move on, literally.
  • Invisible Blinders: These are the folk who make eye contact with you at a distance, but as the gap closes, they stare straight ahead as if they have whiplash and a mini office cubicle sitting on their shoulders. A variant I experienced yesterday: guy makes eye contact but just as we are about to be in the same linear plane, he turns to check himself out in a store window. Okay…that might be more LA than Botox.

By far, my experience has been positive. Valets are routinely nice and often smile first. Other runners usually reciprocate (the etiquette has actually come up in the Q&A section of running magazines) with an expression that says, “Hey, how can what we are doing be great and awful at the same time?” I’ve received the rare catcall; who couldn’t use a little ego boost when you’re running? Besides, if they are even remotely creepy, there’s motivation to pick up the pace.  Some people are surprised and give you the Late Smile, almost as they’re walking past you. Those are some of my favorites. In our technology-obsessed society, when so many walk with headphones on, while texting, or using an earpiece (it used to be if you were walking and talking without a companion, people might worry you had schizophrenia), it’s refreshing to have a moment with a total stranger. A brief acknowledgment that you are human, they are human, and that you live on the same planet.

My tally for last night’s run:

  • Non-smilers: 3 Two Invisible Blinders, One Stone Face
  • Mildly embarrassing, completely hilarious moment: 1 A girl walking her dog suddenly shouted “Hello!” at me. I was taken aback but said “Hi!” A millisecond later it became clear that she was answering a call on her earpiece. I had a good laugh. Reminded me of the time my friend waved at a guy in the dorm across the quad from ours. Only after he waved with his other arm did we realize he was putting on deodorant while looking out the window.
  • Smilers: everyone else
  • People on bikes: 2 This was new for me.  One was a cyclist (clipped in and in a unitard kit), stopped at an intersection.  The other was riding leisurely on a single-speed. I challenged the latter to race me to the end of the block. I’m pretty sure he let me win. But we both laughed and I got a little speedwork in.

So next time you see an Oriental Lady smile as she jogs past, smile back. Better yet, try the experiment yourself when you’re out for a run or stroll. I’d love to hear how it goes. You might just make someone’s day a tiny bit brighter. That someone might even be you.

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Silver Linings

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I’ve been lucky to have seen some nice sunsets around the world but I am convinced that we have some of the most amazing ones here in LA because of…smog. Without the unfortunate presence of toxic particles in the air, I’m not sure there would be these cotton-candy, violaceous, Technicolor hues. As someone recently reminded me: every cloud, even a smoggy one, has a silver lining.

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