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Not A Leg to Stand On June 15, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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metalkneejpgI’ve gone and done it again.

When I last wrote about my knee in 28 Days Later, I was four weeks out from Total Knee Replacement (TKR). I’m pleased to say that at six weeks, I no longer wanted to die. And just as my doctor had predicted, by the time I hit that 12-week mark, I was in love with him.

I went back to school after 10 weeks, as I’d exhausted my sick leave and was on Extended Medical Leave  (1/2 pay). I was a little bit nervous about my ability to navigate the stairs, but ultimately I did just fine. And it took me all of 10 minutes to regain control of my classroom after being out for so long. It was all good. Too good?

Okay, my right knee now makes a THUNKing sound  (which is good way to teach about onomatopoeia?). I asked my doctor about this and he said, “Well, your knee is all titanium and plastic, so what do you expect?”  It’s not like it was in Silent Running mode before. Point well taken.

I was floating up and down the stairs at school. Heaven!  Then my LEFT knee began acting up. A shot of Cortisone did the trick. My husband had tickets to go to The Strawberry Festival in Yosemite to meet up with his best friend from kindergarten, Anne. I love Anne because she remembers more about my husband’s childhood than he does. Approximately 20 some odd people were to converge at Camp Calamity. Oh, how aptly named.

Neither my husband or I had ever been to Yosemite. Finally, we were going. Oh what fun we would have.

The first night was great. The camp was set up so that there was a long table for all of us to gather. The women’s restroom wasn’t too far. Who could ask for anything more?  Okay, the ground was uneven, but our hosts had laid out artificial turf and rugs so that it was the ultimate outdoor space. They had this down as they’d been doing this for 31 years. I was in awe of just how organized they were.  We slept the first night on an air mattress. Oh, what a difference it made. This was going to be fun. (I’d never uttered the words “camping” and “fun” in the same sentence before.)

The second day we got in Anne’s car and she drove us to Hetch Hetchy. We walked down the road and across the dam and through the tunnel. I couldn’t believe how easily I could walk. I hadn’t walked this far in years and kept waiting to be in pain – but I was fine.

When we got back to Camp Calamity we dined and then as the sun began to set, we set off to the Music Meadow. The paths are traced with white chalk, so it’s easier to walk. We hadn’t gone far when I stepped off the path. My left knee twisted as I slid into a hole. I would have fallen to the ground if the two guys walking next to me had not grabbed me. The pain was exquisite. So I was carried me back to Camp Calamity. I was laid out on a chaise lounge and someone made me a wicked Margarita. My husband, Richard, soldiered on to the Music Meadow. When he returned, I was immobilized and had to be carried to the tent. Not a good sign.

I’ll cut to the chase. We drove back to Los Angeles the next morning as I had to have people carry me to the restroom. Talk about humility. I was wheeled into the hospital ER where it was determined that I had no broken bones. My entire leg was encased in a knee immobilizer and I was sent home with pain meds.

The hardest thing was writing to my students’ parents that I’d injured my OTHER knee.  I was out for four days while awaiting the results of an MRI. Meanwhile, our collection of crutches was ever expanding.

The MRI showed a torn meniscus, a Baker’s cyst, and some arthritis, but I was given the okay to go back to school. I managed for two days and then everything went south. By the last day of school when I had to clean out my classroom, I was limping and in excruciating pain.

I finally met with my doctor. I now have arthroscopic surgery scheduled, but he couldn’t fit me in before my trip to the UK, which was to be my reward for having the TKR. I had this same surgery on my right knee in 2006 which compared to the TKR was a piece of cake.

So I’m hobbling. I have been ordered NOT to pivot. I ice my knee three times a day and try to keep it elevated. This was not the summer vacation I envisioned. I’ve warned my Lesley/s in the UK that I might not be up to doing the Highland Fling. I might have to just be put in a wheelbarrow and taken to the local pub?

So if my readers wonder why I’ve been errant in posting, it’s because I’ve been waylaid once again. At least this has made it impossible to put my foot in my mouth. I, however, choose to see the glass as half full. Cheers!

Photo Credit: Drawing by Daniel

My Friend is Married to a Narcissist – To Tell or Not May 12, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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32 comments
designall.dll

I had to laugh when I saw this. It’s available through Zazzle.

I’m afraid I’ve been hunkered down in the trenches at school, so it’s been a while since I’ve posted. But, this week a discussion started up about the wisdom of telling a friend that they’re married to a narcissist.

Some of my regular commenters dished up a serving of humble pie and some things to consider before you speak the truth. As someone who’s been known to put both feet in my mouth, I can appreciate their reluctance to say yah or nay before you take this very big step.

When someone is involved with any emotional abuser (whether he/she be a narcissist or not), especially during the Idealization Phase, that adrenaline rush, the feeling that this person is The One, my soulmate, is overpowering. There can be a zillion Red Flags a flyin’, but the person will just put on their rose-tinted glasses, so those Red Flags fade into the background. Any mention of the N’s faults or quirky/odd behaviors will usually be explained away. The person “in love” with the N is telling you what they’ve been told. They want so badly to believe this is real. Even if the situation is clearly dodgy, they’re often convinced that contrary to all that’s happened before, they are the exception to the rule. Their love will cure all. If only.

One commenter last year had a neighbor whose husband fit the bill. There were children involved and she knew this woman’s life was miserable. But what to do? Talk to her face to face?  Leave an article about narcissism in her mailbox?

Let’s face it. Most of us don’t appreciate unsolicited advice, no matter how well intended. Even when someone is telling us the truth, our natural inclination is to become defensive. We perceive the advice as a judgement, an intrusion. How dare someone presume to tell us what’s going on in OUR life! And what do you know about this disorder? Since when are you an authority? I think you might actually be the one with the problem!

I do believe in many cases the person you’re telling already knows that the person they are with is damaged. Something is amiss. But they’ve been living in denial, often because they can think of no alternative or are reliving a dysfunctional childhood dynamic. It might be ugly, but it’s familiar.

So, let’s say you DO tell someone they’ve been sharing their bed with a no-good narcissist. If you think their eyes are going to light up and they’ll say, “OMG, that’s it! That explains so much. Thank you for figuring out what’s wrong with my life. Now, I’m off to call a divorce attorney. Can you watch the kids while I start packing?,” I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

More likely than not, you’ll be told to mind your own business.”You know your life isn’t so perfect either?” You can expect to be shut out of this person’s life altogether. More likely, they’ll shoot the messenger and bury you in a shallow grave after they delete you as a facebook friend.

Maybe though, you’ve planted a seed? Maybe after your friend/neighbor calms down, they’ll google narcissism? Maybe. But don’t count on it.

I wouldn’t have the same trepidation telling someone new on the scene that a certain someone is bad news. Of course, it helps if you don’t appear to be speaking as the jilted ex. I believe if you speak from a place of honesty and wisdom, it is possible to “warn” someone. Whether that warning will be heeded is anyone’s guess, but at least you tried.

On some level, I believe those who’ve had a Close Encounter with a Narcissist want to spare others the pain. Sometimes it’s for selfish reasons. We really are afraid that the Narcissist will find happiness with someone else, but of course, this is only an illusion. We’ve seen through the Narcissist’s bag of tricks and want to expose them for who they really are/aren’t. I realize it’s natural to want to warn others, but at the same time you want to avoid looking like the crazy one. It’s a fine line to walk.

If you see a child playing on the train tracks and the headlights of an oncoming train, do you hesitate?  In this instance, I do think we have a moral obligation to speak the truth as we know it. The results might not be what we expected, but we at least we were true to ourselves.

If you’re reading this, I’m curious as to whether anyone DID say anything to you. If not, what could someone have said that might have helped? Or maybe nothing anyone said could have changed the course of what was to come next. You had to learn the hard way.

Thoughts?

28 Days Later – After Total Knee Replacement Surgery January 20, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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16 comments

kneecap

I’ve never gone so long without writing a new blog post, but then I didn’t know that Santa was bringing me a new knee for Christmas.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like jingle bells on a walker. Ho Ho NO!

Six years ago when I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee for a torn meniscus, the surgeon informed me that I had the knee of an 80-year-old woman. I was considered too young for joint replacement, so the “conservative” measures began. A strap on knee brace that made me look robotic. I saw the look on a student’s face when they got a glimpse of it one day under my skirt and ended up doing my own Show and Tell. The kids thought it was pretty cool. But, in reality, it was hot and itchy since it was all synthetic. Then there were Cortisone injections that did nothing. And for two years, I worked with a personal trainer to strengthen the muscles around my damaged kneecap. I was on prescription meds, but the doctor worried that ultimately they could damage my liver. “Geez, if I’m going to blow out my liver, I could just do that with alcohol,” I said. The doctor nodded sympathetically.

Meanwhile the two flights of stairs at my old school loomed. Up and down a dozen times a day. Some days people asked if I was limping. A peg leg was beginning to seem like a viable option. My last option was an injection of an organic substance made from chicken combs (I’m not naming names). It was worth a shot (no pun intended). Oh, the jokes about whether I would sprout feathers or lay an egg. But a week later, the pain had only grown worse.

On a walking field trip to the nearby bookstore, I winced and hobbled. I resorted to doing my Lamaze breathing. One of the oh-so-nice parents asked delicately, “Are your wearing new shoes?” By the time we arrived at the bookstore, I had to sit down. If I was a boxer, I would have been down for the count. Later I hobbled back to the school and then home to book a sub. That was the end of November.

I went to see a new surgeon. He thought I was one of the less than 1 percent who have an allergic reaction to the chicken combs. Great. But, when he said he could do the surgery just before Christmas it was music to my ears. He pulled no punches, “For the first 12 weeks you’re going to hate me, but after that….you’re going to LOVE me!”

So, it’s been a month now. The three days in the hospital were doable as the IV painkillers did their job and you’ve gotta love those nurses. I was even visited by a volunteer with “Happy” the therapy dog. But then it was time to go home. The night before I was released my husband returned to find boxes lined up on our front porch. Enough equipment to start a convalescent home. Hey it’s three seats in one – a chair, a commode AND you can sit in the shower in it! Oh the look of horror on my husband’s face. “I’m no nurse,” he said proclaiming what has always been obvious. It was seeing me using a walker that unnerved him the most. When after a week I finally decided I needed to get my hair cut, he drove me up to the side door, let me out, then sped away so no one would see him with me.

Each morning I settled in for the day on the couch with my leg in the CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine. Our dog, Layla, didn’t appreciate losing her el primo spot on the couch to this whirring machine. I’d hoped to read, but mostly I laid in a zombified state while my knee went through the spin cycle. My husband, Richard, is an amazing cook so I was served breakfast each morning with the admonishment, “You better not get used to this!”

I don’t know how people manage to go through this operation who have a family who expects them to soldier on. I literally did nothing but watch movies and read. I followed comments on my blog. Friends texted daily. My husband usually works at home upstairs, so if I needed something, he was only a text away. He cooked three incredible meals a day.

Initially a physical therapist came to the house. After the first visit she informed me I’d need ice next time – and not for drinks. After two weeks I graduated to outpatient therapy. I actually drove to my first appointment, feeling like I was finally out amongst the living.

It’s now 28 days later. The guy hauled away the CPM, so Layla has reclaimed her spot on the couch. Last Thursday the physical therapist kicked my butt. He had me on my belly with something like a dog leash attached to my ankle that I had to pull on to raise my leg behind me. S&M. That day I told him my new nickname for him was “The Mangler.”

“If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view” is a quote I often tell my students, so I shall continue to claw my way up the mountain rock by rock even on days when gaining a foothold seems almost impossible. I can’t complain. I have insurance and I’m in pain because I’m getting better not worse. I’ve done the math. I should be “in love” by St. Patrick’s Day though I have to go back to work before then. I’ll have to settle for being “in like”.

So for this and all my family and friends who’ve been there for me, I am so grateful. Santa may have brought me a new knee, but he also brought me a new appreciation for all that is truly important in my life. Happy New Year!

To find out what came next, read Not A Leg to Stand On.

Drawing by Colby

Steve Jobs, iNarcissist December 12, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Uncategorized.
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Free Candle Ap available through Poets Mobile. You can swipe the candle to extinguish the flame or actually blow it out! Way cool.

Steve Jobs was obsessed with beauty. He was a perfectionist who did not suffer fools. He could be a tyrannical boss who brought out the best in some, while humiliating others deemed less worthy. He could be incredibly charming. More frequently, he could be a pompous ass given to fits of crying when he didn’t get his way. Yes, he changed the world. But make no mistake, Steve Jobs was a classic narcissist.

I was surprised when I read The Limits of Magical Thinking, an otherwise insightful article by Maureen Dowd, and there was no mention of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). She had read the Walter Isaacson biography. There’s one mention of him suffering from possible mild bi-polarity. Hello? How could she have not seen the red flags?

I have to admit was a bit perplexed when I heard Jobs had asked Walter Isaacson to write his biography so his children might better know him and why he often wasn’t there for them.

I bought the book the day it was released, so I, too, might better know Steve Jobs. I’m an avid Apple consumer, dare I say devotee. Upon learning of his death, I wrote Steve Jobs – The Real Big Apple  as a tribute.  But, I have to admit that my knowledge about Steve Jobs as a person was sketchy. What can I say? I must have been busy breastfeeding and changing diapers when he was on the cover of TIME. And speaking of covers, Steve Jobs personally approved the cover design for his biography. (He was a control freak to the end.)

It’s been a while since I parted with $32 for a hardcover book, so as I was reading, I hesitated marking up the book. But after the umpteenth reference to his ability to “manipulate” others, I pulled out a pencil. The book now looks like a dot-to-dot drawing. If you connect them, you have yourself a world-class narcissist, albeit an extremely productive one.

Most telling was Jobs’ relationship with Tina Redse which ran hot and cold for five years. After one argument, she scrawled “Neglect is a form of abuse,” on the wall to his bedroom. According to Isaacson, “She was entranced by him, but she was also baffled by how uncaring he could be. She would later recall how incredibly painful it was to be in love with someone so self-centered. Caring deeply about someone who seemed incapable of caring was a particular kind of hell that she wouldn’t wish on anyone, she said.”

It was only after they broke up that Redse helped found OpenMind, a mental health resource network in California. She read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and realized that Jobs met the criteria – perfectly. “It fits so well and explained so much of what we had struggled with, that I realized expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see,” she said. “It also explained some of the choices he’d made about his daughter Lisa (born out of wedlock just like Jobs was) at that time. I think the issue is empathy – the capacity for empathy is lacking.”

Even as Jobs contemplated marrying his wife Laurene, he still had not decided if he was going to put all of his apples in one basket. (Sorry, that’s one pun I couldn’t resist!) He asked friends who they thought was more beautiful, Tina or Laurene. What’s funny is Tina was so not available at that point.

Though married for 20 years, I believe that Steve Jobs’ “Ideal Love” was not his wife, Laurene, but Apple, the baby he’d created back in that garage with Steve Wozniak. Laurene was obviously a strong woman with a life of her own. She makes brief cameos in his biography always playing the consummate nurturer. At one point, she and one of their daughters appear in beekeepers suits. She was obviously warm and giving and made up for his physical and emotional absence. It’s an all too familiar dynamic.

If you’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, you’ll see red flags everywhere in the book. The only difference between your garden variety narcissist and Steve Jobs is that his magical thinking served him well, at least in business. He was a millionaire at 25. Imagine how that fueled his NPD? Though he walked around barefoot, he still couldn’t walk on water though there are those who would argue that I’m wrong. Since first writing this, I’ve read Was Steve Jobs’ Narcissism Justified? on the Psychology Today site. It’s an excellent read. If the jury was out in regards to Jobs’ narcissism, it’s now IN.

I found Walter Isaacson’s biography to be an interesting read. But will his book help Jobs’ children better understand their father? I think not. Steve Jobs remains an emotional enigma even in death.

I came across another great article Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons by Michael Maccoby and originally published in the Harvard Business Review. Very interesting reading indeed.

One more thing…This post was written on my beloved MacBook, the photo was taken with my iPhone, and as I write this I’m listening to music on my iPod. Oh, the iRony.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #5 February 23, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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14 comments

mirror

In this series, I’m using a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping  off point for a discussion. (Please read my Close Encounter with a  Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!) Here goes.

Does the Narcissist Miss Me?

After you pick a flea off a dog, does the flea miss the dog?  No, it misses its supply of blood. But, any dog will do – any warm body for that matter. Sorry. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear.

We all want to think we are/were special. We want the N to miss us. We bent over backwards to please them. We were emotional contortionists. But the sad truth is that once the D&D (Devaluation and Discard) is underway, you’re like yesterday’s newspaper – something to be put out with the trash.

I’m constantly amazed, but not surprised, at how many people ask, “How do I get a N back?” That’s like asking, “How can I get my cancer to metastasize? Could I have a second helping of abuse, please?” Why do you want this emotional vampire back in your life?  Usually, it’s because you think this time, knowing what you do, you can change the outcome. But, that’s magical thinking on YOUR part. The script allows no room for improvisation. After Act 1 (the Idealization Phase, Act 2 (Devaluation), and Act 3 (Discard), the show is over. The End. Any further contact with the N will be like watching a rerun. Only this time you know how it ends. Do you really want to be left sitting alone in a dark theater watching the credits roll – credits that omit your name because your appearance was left on the cutting room floor? (Okay, with digital technology that’s a reach, but you get the idea.)

Some people want the N back so they can turn the tables and get The Final Word. They want to be the one to do the discarding – on their terms. I understand the sentiment (if you can call it that), but it’s a grand waste of time. Even if you get The Final Word, the N will have their fingers in their ears taunting, “But I can’t hear you!”

“But I loved them!” you protest. Know this – the N values the attention of total strangers more than attention from their nearest and dearest. The attention of total strangers gives them a rush – an affirmation that their false self is real. Hey, these people are buying my BS! (Even if the strangers aren’t buying their BS, most likely they’re too polite to call them on it, unlike you.)

So while you’re waiting for the N to return, they have an entire world of people who they have yet to meet. An audience waiting to be wowed. People who are gullible – like you once were.

Knowing this, why would you want the N back?  There will be no apologies, acknowledgements, or closure. This is as much about you as it is about them. So ask yourself again. Why do I want the N back?

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #6.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall



Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist? July 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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4 comments

If you’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, you know exactly what Don Draper would do.

The Devil in Don Draper is the lead story in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times today. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Don Draper is the ever so manly ad man star of AMC’s Mad Men, the fourth season which premieres Sunday.

As I read the article by Mary McNamara, I observed the following Red Flags:
1)  In three seasons, Don Draper “has not done one single thing that wasn’t driven by rabid self-interest.”
2) “He lies to everyone all the time.”
3) “He cheats on his wife, he cheats on his mistress…”
4) “…the idea that his behavior needs to change does not seem to cross his mind – ever.”
5) He manages to “seem like he’s doing the right thing when that is not his intention at all.”
6) His children exist on the periphery of his life – cardboard cutouts at best.

While the writer comes to the conclusion that Don Draper is the devil (sans pointy tail), those who know a thing or two about NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) should have heard the bells a ringin’.

I religiously watched the first season of Mad Men because a friend who didn’t have cable watched it at my house. Sometimes I found Mad Men almost painful to watch as the women are stuck wearing those pointy bras, and when they get knocked up they have to go visit a relative. These are women whom the men refer to as “girls.” But the set design is spot on.

After the first season, I only watched Mad Men sporadically.  My interest picked up when my trainer told me that actor John Hamm, who plays Don Draper, was now having his hair cut at a local salon.  I’m sure he looks a lot more 21st century than on the the show and doesn’t really reek of Aqua Velva. I have yet to make a sighting.

But back to Don Draper aka The Devil. The character took on another man’s identity and reinvented himself to distance himself from his sordid beginnings. His walking talking False Self exudes confidence and cool, yet it’s all a facade. Gee, where have I heard that before?

After reading the article, I dug a little deeper and came across two great posts on The Last Psychiatrist unmasking Don Draper’s narcissism. Part 1: Don Draper Voted “Most Influential Man” and Part 2: You Want to be Don Draper?  You Already Are. Interesting reads! You gotta understand that there are men out there who aspire to be like Don Draper, who is but a figment of his own imagination. That’s scary talk.

Personally I think aside from being a Somatic Narcissist, Don’s got a bit of sociopath under the hood. Sociopaths make great sales people, so the field of advertising would be The Promised Land.  And I’ve already said that narcissism is like the ground fog that swirls around all the Cluster B disorders, including sociopathy and psychopathy. (The only people Don kills are consumers, though his emotional distance and affairs killed his marriage.)

Finally, my favorite take on the Devil is on the Home Page of Halycon, which is also on my blogroll and a great resource site. I think Don Draper might qualify, but see if you buy it.

Photo Credit:  Google Images

Last Zombie Standing November 14, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Teaching.
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4 comments

Zombie-walk-kids.JPG

I’m pumping that hand sanitizer like a lab rat desperate for a reward.  So far, so good.  I feel like I’m the only person who hasn’t come down with IT. Whatever IT might be.  So far I don’t think anyone’s been diagnosed with H1N1 at my school.  Just the usual prelude to Thanksgiving flu and chronic bronchitis that dogs you when you’re a teacher and never get to rest your voice. (It’s true – There is no rest for the wicked.)

My husband and son went to see Zombieland the other night.  I passed, since I work in Zombieland.  Just when one kid comes back to school, another goes down.  Pump, pump – More hand sanitizer.  I’ve taken to slathering it on my neck and arms. One boy came back after a week out and promptly announced he felt like throwing up.  I tossed him a plastic bag along with a pass to the nurse.  I have my students trained. I told that straight out, “If you think you’re going to get sick, don’t come to me, cause I’ll run from you.” They laughed, but I was dead serious.  I just don’t want to be undead. Seriously.

The school nurse donned her face mask on Friday when she had a roomful of germ factories sick children all complaining of being “hot.”  The school librarian told me she’s glad she’s already had IT.  “I got it over with early, ” she said, though she said she’d paid dearly for her immunity.  I mumbled something about how quickly viruses mutate, to take that smile off of her face.

November is always a tough month for teachers, what with report cards and all those parent teacher conferences.  I’ve just got to make it to Thanksgiving.

When I wrote my post Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet, about the world’s longest trip over the Atlantic Ocean, I was looking for a picture of a zombie.  Who knew there were thousands of them on Flickr from Zombie Walks around the world?  Here’s an activity the whole family can do together.  The cool thing is that I wouldn’t even need make-up to play a zombie.  I can just crawl out of bed.  As a big fan of Shaun of the Dead, I’d be up for the zombie pub crawl myself.  That is, if I make it to Thanksgiving.

POST MORTEM:  Officially zombified on Nov. 18th.  Tried to pass as human for two days, but finally succumbed.

Photo Credit:  Zombified Children from Wikipedia’s Zombie Walks

Why I Love Dogs August 17, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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6 comments
Spaghetti041

Mario's dog Spaghetti belts out a tune

My dogs keep me sane. Just when I’m taking myself or the world way too seriously, our two mutts Petey and Reese engage in their nightly wrestling match that is every bit as entertaining as Lucha Libre. Same thing every night, and every night I laugh hysterically. Every morning Reese sits just inside the dog door so our pig Maisie can’t come in the house. Then later in the day, Maisie lounges in front of the dog door so the dogs can’t go out. It’s like having toddlers again.

The pig thinks she is a dog and lines up with them for a treat. We refer to them as The Three Amigos. Petey, who we believe is half coyote, is the hunter. His prize catch is a sock, which he carries proudly around the house. Thank god dogs threw their lot in with humans, or Petey would have starved to death in the wild.

I recently read two interesting articles on dogs. MSNBC featured an article Dogs are Smarter Than ToddlersNeither of my dogs would qualify for Mensa as they’re blissfully happy to be canine underachievers.

Pet Dogs Rival Humans for Emotional Satisfaction in New Scientist is also a good read. Researchers found that after playing with their dogs, people showed an increase in oxytocin, known as the “cuddle chemical.”  I could have saved those researchers a big wad of cash and told them that up front. Nothing helps put the problems of the world in perspective like a good game of fetch.

My father-in-law’s dog, Penny, recently died after a long happy dog life. He so misses her company that he’s taken to walking his neighbor’s dog every night. Our friend Mario, who’s an opera singer, took the picture of his dog Spaghetti who loved to sit alongside him at the piano and play and sing.Spaghetti has since gone to doggie heaven. Spaghetti’s successor Linguini is no musical prodigy, but more importantly, he’s a dog.

Swine Flu in a Classroom Near You August 9, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Teaching.
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6 comments

vomit

I’ve read three articles in as many days advising schools how to handle an outbreak of the swine flu.  I had my pig Maisie do some research, and she’s reported back with her findings:  Although it might not be on your initial class roster, it seems the swine flu is set to enter your classroom this fall.

Federal officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are recommending that schools be closed as a last resort.  The New York Times has all the news that’s fit to print, so if you want to check out more stats, acronyms, and some recommendations, click on that link.  You can also check out flu.gov.

Fortunately, the initial panic about the swine flue as a pandemic that could potentially kill millions has subsided.  But the swine flu is still no laughing matter. Over one million Americans have been infected so far.  If you’re a teacher, you’re already accustomed to being on the front lines.  Or should I say the first in line to get “what’s going round.”  Children have an uncanny ability to sneeze, cough, hack, spew, vomit…  Okay, I could go on, but you get the picture.  To date, the flu aka H1N1 has been mild and has not mutated – yet.  (Cue scary music.)

I, for one, am marshaling all my resources.  All teachers are issued a first-aid kit at the start of the year.  The first year I kept looking for this “kit.”  I finally realized it’s a Ziploc bag containing a pair of latex gloves, some band-aids, and a few cotton balls thrown in for good measure.

The CDC suggested that schools might want to issue masks to personnel. Sounds good, but I’d settle for kleenex.  Last year, my students were reduced to blowing their noses on art tissue paper.  Hey, it works.  But when I tore off a piece of bright green tissue paper and handed it to my new student from Korea, I was shocked when I saw the dye had rubbed off on his upper lip.  He had a bright green Charlie Chaplin mustache that wouldn’t wash off. So, kleenex would be good.

It was also suggested that teachers could move students’ desks father apart. Now, my students don’t have individual desks.  They sit at tables for two, and now that my class size has been upped from 20 to 24, I’m still trying to figure out where to put THOSE kids.  My cup may runneth over, but the space in my classroom does not.  The CDC recommends that schools might want to offer web-based instruction for students out sick.  Can you hear me laughing hysterically?

One final note.  My pig Maisie wanted to make sure I mentioned the CDC said “People cannot become infected by eating pork or pork products. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Farenheit kills the virus as well as other bacteria.”  Maisie doesn’t actually recommend EVER cooking pork.

She also wants you to know she’s never been sick a day in her life.  Okay, there was that time she ate five pounds of butter set aside for Christmas baking.  But that would upset your tummy too.  On a more positive note, Maisie smelled like a butter cookie for a week.

Bad Guys Really Do Get the Most Girls August 2, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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10 comments

MonkeyBridge

After I’d written a recent post on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a friend commented, “I see you’re still into NPD.”  It’s not so much that I’m “into” it, as I’m “onto” it.  I have clarity now about this insidious personality disorder and want to help others.  If you’re a new reader, do not proceed without reading my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist first. It will bring you up to speed so you don’t need subtitles.

All of the narcissists I’ve seen up close and personal were cerebral, so when readers ask about somatic narcissists, it’s like asking my dog what it’s like to be a cat.  That said, I have friends who’ve been there, done that, and they’ve got stories to tell.

In my opinion, somatic narcissists are quicker to show up on the radar. They’re serial cheaters, always looking for another sexual conquest to keep them high on new Narcissistic Supply (NS). It doesn’t matter if they’re married or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if YOU are married or in a relationship. They seek sex as validation that the False Self they’ve constructed is, in fact, real. They offer no genuine apologies when they’re caught. Their lack of remorse should be a major Red Flag.

Women have described that often after sex, they felt like they might as well have been a blow up doll. Although all male narcissists prefer autoerotic sex (masturbation and porn) to sex with a real woman, sometimes they manage to have sex with someone/something with a pulse. Pity that person. (If you’re dealing with a woman with NPD, I suggest you check out A Shrink for Men on my blogroll.)

This is in sharp contrast to cerebral narcissists, who can be extremely flirtatious, but quickly lose all interest in sex. It is through witholding sex from their partner that they maintain control. Because they’re essentially asexual, this is no problem for them. My sister-in-law was married to one for 14 years and swore she could count how many times they’d had sex by counting her children. Eight, for the record. At one point, she thought quite possibly her husband was gay because of his lack of interest in sex. Numerous other women have written and asked whether a man with NPD might actually be a latent homosexual. Maybe, but probably not. They’re just not that into women – real ones that is.

I have a married friend who had a brief affair with a man she later realized was a somatic narcissist. He pursued her relentlessly, and then… he was on to the next best thing. She referred me to an article in the New Scientist entitled Bad Guys Really Do Get the Most Girls (Since this post was written, New Scientist only offers an excerpt from the article, unless you subscribe.) It was the first time I’d ever heard of the “dark triad” of personality traits, which includes narcissism.  Machiavellianism, another one of the traits, is anti-social personality disorder by another name. Think: The Bermuda Triangle in human form. And you don’t want to go there.

UPDATE: I just checked the link and the New Scientist, which is out of the UK, now only offers a snippet of the article for free. I subscribed to the New Scientist recently and have it delivered to this antiquated thing called my mailbox. I’ll have to see if I can locate the full article for readers. Jan

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #3 July 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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8 comments

mirror

In this series, I’m using a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read my Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!) Here goes.

“What Is Ideal Love to a Narcissist?”

The DSM IV lists nine behaviors that characterize Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  At least five must be evident to make a diagnosis of NPD. Let’s look at the second behavior.

2.  Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

Just what is “ideal love?” to a Narcissist? I’m afraid, I have to use the F word to explain. No, not THAT word. To a Narcissist, the F word is fantasy.

Actually, I often think that Narcissists are obsessed not with “ideal love,” but with the “idea of love.”   Despite the common misconception that Narcissists are “in love” with themselves, they actually despise themselves and are incapable of feeling real love.

I’ve said before that what a Narcissist loves most is the chase. The Narcissist confuses the excitement of honing in on new Narcissistic Supply (NS) with the emotion we humans call “love.”  I’m afraid this Idealization Phase is as good as it gets.

So what happens when a Narcissist actually “catches” the object of his desire? When the ideal becomes real, you better be careful not to blink, or you might suffer emotional whiplash. Let me explain.

Outside the town where I grew up, there was a dog racing track. At the sound of the bell, a line of mechanical rabbits took off and the greyhounds chased them. If a dog ever caught the “rabbit,” its racing days were over. That’s because once the dog knew the rabbits were fake, it would no longer run after them.

What does this have to do with NPD?

Just like the dogs, when a Narcissist finally catches who he’s been pursuing, he quickly loses all interest. But here’s where it gets interesting. It’s not because what he’s been chasing is fake, but because it’s REAL.

Let’s face it, real relationships involve who’s cooking dinner (and doing the dishes), which bills should be paid (or go unpaid), root canals, and trips to the urologist. This is not the unique life the Narcissist envisioned. So what if he’s two hours late and didn’t call. Geez, you’re so demanding!  Reality can’t compete with a fantasy, so the Narcissist immediately begins chipping away at that pedestal he put you on. The D&D is underway.

Unlike those greyhounds, the Narcissist never learns. He truly believes he can run that race again and next time (or the next, or the next) things will turn out just the way he imagined. Yes, it’s sad, because we already know how the story will end – badly. But for those with NPD, it’s in their nature and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change that.

The rest of us know that “ideal love” exists only in fairy tales. We’re happy to settle for real love.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #4.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #2 July 12, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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9 comments

mirror

In this series, I’m using a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping  off point for a discussion. (Please read my Close Encounter with a  Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started.  Shhhh!) Here goes.

Will a Narcissist Ever Apologize?

For what?  You have to remember that a Narcissist is convinced he/she is always right and the problem lies with YOU.  When someone apologizes, it’s an admission of wrong doing, and Narcissists are NEVER wrong.

Okay, they might manage an insincere apology if it will placate someone who’s a higher up (to save their job), or someone they fear, but mere mortals need not apply.  Even when the Narcissist is clearly in the wrong, they are loathe to admit their culpability.  If they are caught red-handed, they will deny that they have hands, or tell you their hands are in fact orange, not red.

Case in point.  My friend “Joe” regaled me with stories about how he’d flown kites as a child in boarding school.  I happened to be reading The Kite Runner and, low and behold, there was a description about how the boys coated the kite string with broken glass, just as Joe had described.  Excited, I brought in my copy of The Kite Runner so he could read the passage.  “See, this was just like I was telling you,” he beamed.

A few weeks later,  I bought him a copy of the book and handed it to him. See if you can guess who’s talking.

“How much did this cost?”
“It’s a paperback.  What does it matter?”
“But, how much did it cost?”
“Fourteen dollars.”

End of conversation.

Four months later, I ran into Joe.  He said he noticed how I’d  “pulled away from him.”  Duh.  I reminded him that when I’d given him the book, he’d never bothered to say thank you.  Again, see if you can tell who’s talking.

“I’m sure I said thank you.”
“No, you never said thank you.”
“I find that impossible to believe.  When someone gives me a gift, I always say thank you.”
“Well, you never said thank you.”

End of conversation.

If you’ve been close to someone with NPD, you have your own variation of this story.  If it’s any consolation, you’re not crazy.  They are. Thank you. I’m sorry.  Who would have know how hard it was to say two words.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #3.

Playground Posse June 22, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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6 comments

 

badgetset

 

 

As a “highly qualified teacher” it’s only fitting that I’m expected to do Yard Duty for 15 minutes twice a week. (Andy Warhol had the math wrong – It’s 15 minutes of fame 2 times a week for an entire school year!) This job is just too important to be left to amateurs, although my posse includes minimum wage employees.  

This year we got to “choose” the days we wanted had to do yard duty along with the times.  I signed up to do the “before school” shift, not because I’m an early morning person, but to get it out of the way.  

I lucked out and got assigned to the climber and back basketball court. Whew!  I managed to dodge the most dreaded of all Yard Duty assignments – Supervising the restrooms. That’s where the real action is.  But assignments change each year, so I’m not counting my chickens.

When I’m on yard duty, I’m basically back on Sixth Grade Safety Patrol. Throw in a little Mall Cop and the LAPD’s “to protect and to serve” motto. You get the picture.  A lot of school districts hire people just do to Yard Duty aka Playground Supervision, but not my district.  This is not a job that just anyone can do. 

Case in point.  When my husband was in art school, he got a lunchtime job working as a Playground Aide at the local public school.  He was fired after two weeks when he kicked a kid in the butt, after the kid spit on him.  Unlike my husband, I take pride in my ability to maintain a cool demeanor when spittle is dribbling down my face.  A police officer once told me, “I couldn’t do the job that you do – not without my gun.”  That’s why us teachers get paid the big bucks.

Monday Morning.  “Hey you!”  I yell.  “It’s Monday.  First graders only on the climber!”   “But I AM in first grade,” the boy protests.  I look him over.  This kid is HUGE.  Freakishly huge.  But several other first graders assure me he is indeed in first grade.  Geez Louise.   When Tyrano-boy runs across the bridge, the entire structure shudders.  I decide to keep an eye on him.  “I’m watching you,” I say, just to let him know I’m nobody’s fool.

I spend an inordinate amount of time standing at the bottom of the slide repeating the mantra.  “We don’t go UP the slide, we go DOWN it.”  I say this so often and to the same kids, that someone suggested we just have a recorded message.  Hey, I came up with an even better idea.  You know those metal spikes that puncture your tires when you drive the wrong way? 

I also do a lot of conflict resolution which usually culminates with rock, paper, scissors or an insincere, “I’m sorry.”  Every day it’s the same kids who get in trouble.  Hmmm, I wonder.

And there’s always a small group of junkies students who huddle under the climber snarfing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  NPR did a great segment called Kids Love Hot Cheetos But Schools Hate Them.  We teachers know the signs.  Red encrusted lips and the insatiable need to drink water.

At my old school,  I was on Yard Duty on day when I got a report of illicit activity in the girls restroom.  I slipped into the girl’s restroom and could hear the telltale rustling of the bag in the last stall.  There I found three Latino girls standing on the toilet sharing a Family Size bag of Hot Cheetos. “You are so busted!” I said.  I like to use that line of Kevin Spacey’s from American Beauty.  In fact, I like it so much, I actually look for opportunities to use it.

Wednesday Morning. “Hey you!” I yell. “It’s Wednesday. Third graders only on the climber!”  Since I teach third grade, I can easily sort these kids out. Third graders have typically graduated from Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to cell phones.  

Personally, I don’t have a problem with kids having cell phones, as long as they keep them in their backpacks.   But kids seem to have this need to show their phone to friends.  They Show and someone Tells.  That’s when I step in. “Oh, you are so busted!” I announce, as I confiscate the phone.  What they don’t know, is that when I walk away, I can’t help but smile.  Hey, I’m nobody’s fool.

Seeing Red June 5, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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ginger

Better dead than red. That was my mother’s take on red hair. So it was my misfortune to have been born with red hair (as was my mother’s). There are gorgeous photos of my mother in college, but alas they’re all in black and white. So, there’s not even any hard evidence that my mother ever was a redhead.

My mother always felt that her red hair made her stand out, something she was loathe to do. As a child, I watched her mix the magic solution that changed her hair to a color that can best be called basic brown.

She mixed two shades of Nice ‘n Easy hair color to get just the right color for me. I called it “House Mouse Brown.” Can hair actually look beige?

Many people assume that with my red hair and green eyes, I must be of Irish ancestry. But my ancestors were from England, Wales, Scotland, and Germany. Scotland actually has the highest proportion of redheads with 13 percent having red hair and 40 percent possessing the recessive red hair gene. Even my father had reddish sideburns that emerged in middle age and remained red long after his hair started going gray.

While my hair was strawberry blond, my younger brother’s hair was carrot red. My mother tried to talk my brother into dying his hair too, but his defiant “stage” outlasted mine.

What I didn’t know (and what my mother didn’t tell me) was that for centuries “red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration.” Hey, that’s me to a T!  To learn more, check out Redheads: Myths, Legends, and Famous Red Hair.

In college, I let my hair revert back to its natural color. And I finally quit trying to straighten my hair. I had a virtual mushroom cloud of golden red curls and, for the first time in my life, I was okay with my hair. In fact, I actually quite liked it.

My friend Lesley in England is a gorgeous cheeky redhead, and she’s joined a Facebook group called “Ginger – It’s not a hair colour, it’s an ethnicity and a way of life.” That’s where I got the photo above. I had fun reading through the group’s invitation to “live the ginger life.” (I’m still adjusting to this “ginger” thing.  It didn’t help that they did an entire episode on South Park on “gingers.”)

I keep my hair cut shorter now. I tell my hair stylist to think of my hair as a native shrub – low maintenance. There are entire weeks where I simply run my hands through my hair and that’s that.  But now I know – better red than dead!

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath

Teaching Sex Ed May 1, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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4 comments

sex

“Are you comfortable teaching Sex Ed?”  My interview for a long-term sub job as a 6th grade Math and Science teacher was going extremely well when this question stopped me in my tracks.  I really needed the job.  I really needed the money. “No problem,” I said without a moment’s hesitation.

Middle School is a DMZ between elementary school and High School. Nothing prepared me for Middle School, except my own miserable experience in Junior High.  And just referring to it as Junior High dates me. To be honest, I was less intimidated about teaching Sex Ed than teaching math.  The principal informed me that the regular teacher had fallen off a desk while hanging a project up from the ceiling and was out on disability. (Later, I learned there was more to it than that, but that’s between you and me.)

I taught one period of math followed by one period of science with the same students twice a day.  The good part was I got to keep the good students for TWO whole periods.  The bad part was I got to keep the bad students for TWO whole periods.   The class was pretty much equally divided between Asians (mainly Chinese) and Latinos (mostly Mexican).  I had my token white student, who had Asperger Syndrome, and could rattle off the box office take for every Batman movie.  And there was one African American girl named Princess.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were some really wonderful kids, whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to private school.  And there were some really not so wonderful kids, who already had two strikes against them.  Once the hormones kick in, sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other.

If you’re like Middle Schoolers, you’re already getting restless.  “When is she going to start talking about the good stuff?”  Penis. Vagina.  I just threw those in to keep your interest.

During Period 4,  I taught Intervention Math for students who were more than two years below grade level.  This class included two Gypsy boys, who’d moved to California from Chicago when their father was released from prison.  They had never been to school, spoke Bulgarian, and were still learning their ABC’s.  I had another student, Eddie, who was prime gang recruitment fodder.  Yeah, it was grim.  If things got really bad, I could call Ed, the behavior aide, who wore mirrored wraparound sunglasses, and would escort the “offender” from the classroom.  Round up the usual suspects.

After the first month, two girls told me someone had written something bad about me in a book.  “Does it rhyme with witch?” I asked.  They exchanged looks and seemed disappointed that I wasn’t more shocked.  So, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of teaching these same kids Sex Ed.

Oh, I forgot to mention one small detail.  In the class next door, there was a 6th grader who was pregnant. Yes, the girl (and she was a girl) was 12.  The father was 19 and the girl’s mother planned to raise the child as her own. (Think “She’s my sister!/She’s my daughter!” from Chinatown)  The girl’s belly was already showing, and some of the girls wanted to have a baby shower. Suddenly, teaching Sex Ed seemed way more important than teaching the kids to calculate the radius of a circle.

There didn’t seem to be an actual curriculum for Sex Ed.  There was just talk about The Film.  And about the all important Money Shot, where the animated penis gets an erection.  But, I had yet to see The Film, so I had no idea what to expect.  Another veteran teacher, who’d taught Sex Ed for years, told me she liked to break the ice by writing PENIS and VAGINA in huge letters on the board.  But, I was a sub.  I really needed the money.  I did not plan to write PENIS or VAGINA in huge letters on the board.

There were two Chinese American girls, who sat at the back of the classroom.  Compared to some of the other students, who were 12 going on 21, they were almost childlike and sat two stuffed bears on their desks each day.  I couldn’t help but notice on the day we were to discuss Sex Ed, they’d made blindfolds out of Kleenex and covered the bears’ eyes.

Day 1 -The atmosphere in the classroom crackled with anticipation.  I thought we’d start by talking about where our attitudes and information about sex come from.  We made a list: Parents, friends, TV, movies, music, music videos, religion, and books (including comic books with those busty vixens who ride shotgun to the superheroes).  So far, so good.  I was actually surprised at how easy this was for me.

Finally, it was time for The Film.  We should have just fast-fowarded to the “penis rising” shot as the kids were so eager to see the rumored launch, they weren’t paying attention to anything else.   The star of the show finally made its appearance.  The animation wasn’t top notch and the tip of the penis wasn’t even in the shot.  It was like watching a bulldozer slowly lift a load of …?

After the film, students (some who were still flustered) were to write out questions.  All students received a piece of paper and had to fold it it up, even if it was blank, and drop it into a bag.  That way no one would know who asked the question.  I read the first question, “Do people sweat when they have sex?”  The class let out out a collective groan and looked at the boy with Asperger’s, who they knew had asked THAT question.  “Well, sex is physical, so it is possible you’re going to sweat,”  I answered.  Okay, one down.  I grabbed some more questions.

“Is having sex really like warm apple pie?” “Why do women like to be handcuffed to beds for sex?”  “What’s a dildo?” “Will drinking Mountain Dew prevent you from getting pregnant?”  “What’s rape?” “What makes people gay?”

Holy sh*t!  Some of the questions seemed incredibly vulgar, but I came to realize that these were the only words the kids knew. Some questions were so graphic, I couldn’t read them aloud, but had to paraphrase them, or just toss them in the trash.  When it came to sex, these kids knew Everything and Nothing.  They’d watched sex acts on TV and in movies, but totally out of the context of a loving, committed relationship.

This is what I remember saying:

Because I don’t like apple pie and didn’t see the movie American Pie, that analogy is lost on me.  I do like cherry pie though, so sex could be like cherry pie.

Sex without love is just sex.  It’s like brushing your teeth only you can get pregnant.

I’ve never known any girl who said, “Boy, I wish I’d had sex earlier.”   But I’ve known plenty (including my son’s friend who lost her virginity at 11 when she got drunk at a party) who said, “I sure wish I would have waited so it would have been special.”

If you were a sailor and went off to sea, would you rather your wife keep herself company with a carved replica of “yourself,” or have sex with another guy?

Rape doesn’t have as much to do with sex, as it has to do with violence.  It’s a way for someone to use the act of sex to humiliate another person.

A good recipe for date rape usually includes alcohol.

The bell rang.  But, it was like the students didn’t want to leave.  Sex Ed was two days long, so we had  another day of Q&A.  As the kids filed out the door, I looked over and saw several boys combing through the trash hoping to nab one of the reject questions.   Eddie, the wannabe gang banger, offered to bring one of his condoms the next day, but I told him that wouldn’t be necessary.

Day 2 – The students couldn’t wait to get into class and pick up where we’d left off.

“Handcuffs?” Well, maybe some people find that exciting, but that’s all about make believe (It’s not like I was going to introduce them to S&M), and some people like fantasy more than others.  Just like when you’re a kid and you dress up and pretend you’re someone else.  Remember how you’d pretend to arrest someone and haul them off to jail?  They nodded.  I drew a line on the board.  At one end it said Some People (handcuffs) and at the other end was Most People (masturbation).  Think of it as a Sex Ed graphic organizer.

“Mountain Dew as birth control?”  I recognized the handwriting on that question.  It belonged to a girl who was the top student in the class.  The girl who won the DARE poster contest.  I’d ridden with her in the back of a police car over to the Civic Center when she received the award.   If she thought Mountain Dew might prevent pregnancy, they were all doomed.   “When I was your age, it was Coca-Cola, and that’s just as silly as Mountain Dew,” I said.  “The only way to be 100 percent sure you don’t get pregnant, is not to have sex.”

“What makes people gay?”   What the kids didn’t know (and what I didn’t tell them), was that my own son had come out as gay three weeks earlier, so this was a subject close to my heart.  I told them 10 percent of the population is gay.  Let’s see, that would mean that 3 students in the class could possibly be gay.  But I didn’t go THERE.   Children can be cruel and quick to point fingers.  But, here’s what I did say.

“If one day a year, all of the people who were gay had orange eyes, you’d be amazed at how many people you know have orange eyes. People you know, people you respect, even people you love.   But many of them are afraid to tell you.  They’re afraid that you won’t understand that this is the way they were born.

I was getting ready to pass the bag again when Princess raised her hand. “Can’t we just ask you the questions?” she said, and I realized she was speaking for the whole class.  I nodded.

For the next half hour, students raised their hands and asked me questions that I can’t share with you.  Because what happened was between me and my students.  I answered each question as honestly as I could.   As a parent, I kept in mind what I would want a caring adult to tell my child.

It was almost time for the bell to ring.  There was time for one more question, and this time I got to ask it.  “How many of you would feel comfortable talking to your parents about the stuff we talked about?  The students’ incredulous looks told me what I already knew.  I reminded students that their parents knew a thing or two about sex (after all, THEY were here), and that parents often feel awkward talking about sex too.  As the students flew out the door, I saw the pregnant 6th grader walk past.  I’d like to think that had it been a year earlier…

“Are you comfortable teaching Sex Ed?”   Yes!  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Photo Credit:  May is Sex Month on YouthCast by Youthcast1 on Flickr.

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1 April 18, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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101 comments

mirror2

I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist. Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this new series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!)  Here goes.

“Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?”

A close friend, who also had a friendship with a man with NPD, wrote eloquently about the idealization phase and gave me permission to share her thoughts. The following is an excerpt (with identifying details omitted).

“During the initial idealization phase, the Narcissist shines a laser beam of attention on us. We blossom in its unusual warmth. Most people don’t pay that kind of attention to us. We find we like it, need it, maybe even deserve it.

Then when the Narcissist realizes we actually like them, they think we must be worthless, because they themselves feel worthless inside and unlikeable. The beam of light shuts off. Then they shoot a death ray to ward us away. They don’t want an emotional relationship. It’s a tug of war between them needing attention and not wanting any emotional involvement, until we’re smart enough to let go of the rope. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?)

Narcissists just seem to be much better at the initial burst of showering attention. And most people are starved for some kind of acknowledgement. I know I was. When I met “William,” he acted as if I was the greatest thing at first. And he was certainly a busy, interesting person. Yes, I was smitten. Yet, when I look back we never really even had conversations. After our initial meeting, they were mostly combat. Abuser/user.

You know what they say about alcohol and alcoholics. The first drink is the best high, and you spend the rest of your life chasing it, but it’s never the same. Later, all you get is sick. But you keep hoping, you’ll have that nice warm feeling again. But alcohol doesn’t care about you! Now, though, when I see him, I don’t feel anything, but I do remember how I used to feel.”

Sound familiar? When I first read it, I couldn’t help but say, “Yes!”  The Idealization phase is just that – a phase, and there’s no real way to extend it, unless you go into serious game-playing mode, renounce your humanity, and just play hard to get. It’s the chase that excites the Narcissist. But that’s not a relationship – that’s high school! So once you show genuine interest in a Narcissist, the exit sign quickly comes into view.

There’s no way around this. This is a script with a beginning (Idealization), a middle (Devaluation), and an end (Discard). I do think that people in long-term relationships with Narcissists (and so many who’ve written comments were married 25-35 years), live in a perpetual Twilight Zone of D&D. Even though they are not “physically” discarded, they are “emotionally” discarded early on. How can they get back into the Narcissist’s good graces? It’s simple. They can’t.

But what if…?  Those who’ve had a short-term “close encounter” often believe it’s possible to recapture that “magic.”  To call for a “do-over” – this time with a different result. What they don’t understand is that all magic is about illusion. Smoke and mirrors, as in it’s all an act. Any contact with the Narcissist after the initial D&D is just a sequel to the original show. And how many sequels to you know that are better than the original (The Godfather excluded)?

Think of the NS (Narcissistic Supply) a Narcissist derives from a victim, who repeatedly returns for more. Inside, the Narcissist feels worthless and unlovable, so he/she views any person who continues to be drawn to him/her as inferior, or to put it bluntly – a loser. All the more reason to kick that person to the curb – yet again. Elisse Stuart wrote about this in “Narcissistic Curtain Calls.”  A Narcissist might reel you back in one more time, not because they idealize you or miss you, but just to prove to themselves they can. Then the D&D begins anew. It’s the sinister human equivalent to the fisherman’s catch and release.

So the answer to the question, “Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?” is NO. I reached this conclusion in my head, long before I reached it in my heart. It’s an emotional tug of war, and you can only win when you let go of the rope.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #2

Photo Credit:  Jan Marshall

The Zen of Gardening April 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening, Hobbies.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
6 comments

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Growing up, my gardening experience was limited to weeding one very small strawberry patch, which was also our dog Holly’s favorite pooping spot.  To this day, I always wash strawberries one more time – just in case.

In the suburbs, people didn’t actually garden as they were too busy slavishly maintaining The Lawn.  One of my enduring memories is of driving past our neighbor’s house and seeing him sitting out in the front yard after dinner every night with a bucket, methodically digging up dandelions. Night…after night… after night.  What a monumental waste of time, I thought.  You go to work all day in a cubicle (though cubicles had yet to be invented and popularized by Dilbert) and come home to THIS.  But I was young, so what did I know?

In 1996, we bought our first house and the pipeline of “Better Homes & Gardens” began flowing (Thanks Mom).  I realized that I actually liked getting my hands dirty and watching the bugs and worms scuttle off when I overturned a rock. (See Bugs Don’t Bug Me.)  Rabid do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I broke out the concrete patio, then meticulously reset the broken pieces of concrete in a bed of mortar with a scattering of polished black stream stones.

In the middle of our new and improved patio, we planted two queen palm trees inside a 3-foot high circular concrete planter.  My husband and I personally hand-mixed 42 bags of concrete to pull this off in a day (with only one emergency trip to Home Depot to buy MORE concrete). When I look at the planter now, the only logical explanation for undertaking such a project is demonic possession.

We planted a variety of plants around the base of the palms.  Strawberries for our pig (above dog pooping level), some bulbs, a succulent, and ivy so it cascades over the top of the planter, which is outlined in bricks.

One night my husband noticed I was hovering over the planter, which I’d come to do more often than not. Night…after night…after night.  I fussed over every incursion by a weed and meticulously clipped away any leaf that dared to go brown on the tip.  What was happening to me?

I’d started teaching, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my first three years of teaching, I had horrible classes.  Horrible.  I’d often come home feeling overwhelmed and then have to start calling parents about what their little darling had done that day.  It was incredibly stressful.

That’s when it hit me.  So much of my life was out of control, and the one thing I felt I could control was a little patch of dirt.  Suddenly, my heart went out for that neighbor from my childhood.  After a day at a mind numbing job, he was out picking dandelions most likely for the same reason I was hovering over my “garden” with manicure scissors.  To keep his sanity. To keep his head from exploding a la Scanners.

What better place to clear your head, but in the garden, where you can lapse into the rhythms of nature and use your hands to do something besides double click.  I can’t think of anything more zen than whiling away quality time in the garden, allowing your soul to feast on the beauty of the natural world.

I’m feeling settled as a teacher these days, and my newfound serendipity shows in my gardening, which is sporadic and in spurts. My husband likes to say there’s nothing I like better to do than sit out in the dirt.  It’s true, I’ve no need for those high tech knee pads, as I just plunk myself down and get to work.  I’m a Taurus and that IS an earth sign.  I wonder.

Not long ago, my husband wandered out back looking for me.  Not seeing me, he stood still for a moment until he could hear me.  I was sitting in the dirt behind a giant perennial, pruning.  Clip.  Clip.  Clip.  My jeans were encrusted with dirt, as was my face.  He took in the view. “You know, back in the pioneer days,” he said, “If you’d been kidnapped by Indians, you would have SO gone native.”

You know, I think that’s one of the nicest compliments my husband has ever paid me.

Butt, Naked? March 8, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
9 comments

chickendance1

Nothing prepared my third grade girls, or me for that matter, for a walk through the women’s locker room at a nearby local aquatic center. No, there wasn’t anything titillating. Tits, yes, but nothing titillating. It was strictly R-rated – “R” as in  Real. Real people. Real bodies. Real scary – as in adult naked women, who bore no resemblance to Hannah Montana, toweling off. The horror!

First, some back story. Our entire third grade was given the opportunity to participate in the center’s “Olympic Challenge.” Four weeks of swimming lessons, four days a week, at the most gorgeous aquatic center imaginable. Swimming doesn’t get any better than this.

But to get to that gorgeous pool, you have to go through the locker room. Now, I never liked locker rooms when I was a kid. In middle school, I was so skinny that I could hide INSIDE my locker to avoid the dreaded gang shower. Luckily, the swim lessons were provided by young hard-bodied instructors. Us teachers got to sit pool side warming a bench – fully clothed, ostensibly “grading papers.”

No sooner had we marked our territory with the our grade books, than a wide-eyed boy emerged from the men’s locker room. “There’s a naked man in there!” he announced, as though he’d just seen an alien. Yeah, the boys have their own issues.

The teacher I partnered with has spent a lot of time in Europe and is married to a European. She gave me the impression they actually have a hard time keeping clothes on those fun-loving Europeans. But reading The Emperor Who Had No Clothes two weeks earlier was the closest my class had come to discussing nudity. We’d decided that the Emperor was wearing his “birthday suit,” though some kids later wrote that he was “butt naked.” (I don’t have a problem with the word “butt,” unless it’s preceded by the word “big.”)

I told my students to hurry up and change. They had no reason to linger in the locker room. “It’s not like you’re at Starbucks,” I told them. The first week was the worst. My Korean girls opened all the lockers and then draped towels between them so as to make small private dressing rooms. At least, that’s what I was told. I only set foot in the locker room once and the collective scream that went up sent me scurrying outside.

The first day, kids had to try on a swim suit (which they got to keep). Several of my bigger girls had to try on more than one to get just the right fit. One girl, who can look me eye to eye, sat pool-side the first week because she was “coming down with a cold.” After a few days, the swim instructor told me she needed try on a suit so she’d be ready to swim. The instructor then handed me three suits.

The girl hunkered down in a bathroom stall and I had to talk her through trying on each suit. Lots of grunting and groaning followed by, “Oops!  I think I have it on backwards.”  I offered to take a look, but she was horrified at the prospect. I finally convinced her this was okay, but first I had put on my dark glasses and keep my eyes shut as I’d promised. I groped around and fiddled with the straps. Then I was granted a quick look. “Hmmm.  I think the straps cut into your back,” I said, reaching for the next size up.

I groused as I heard the girl’s elbows knock against the sides of the stall, “You could have at least chosen a handicapped stall!” At last, we found a suit that covered the subject. I was exhausted. I had no idea that being a “highly, qualified teacher” involved THIS. The icing on the cake was when the girl’s family went out of town the next week – for the duration of swimming. Hmmm… But then what do I know?

When it was first announced that students would be swimming, my Muslim girl’s mother took me aside. She was concerned that her daughter be dressed “modestly.” I assured her I’d figure something out. That night I found myself googling “Muslim swim wear.” Oh dear. Snappy music came up with a woman riding a jet ski wearing what appeared to be a beekeeper’s suit. So not! Later, I found myself at Target checking out board shorts for girls. In the end, my student wore board shorts and a matching top, and yes, the other students knew why. It was no big deal. My student had never been in a pool before, so when she jumped off the diving board on the last day, I was ecstatic.

It was easier for the boys, although the bigger boys (those who wear “Husky-sized” pants), were plagued by an even more embarrassing issue – man boobs. Most of these boys were used to swimming in a t-shirt, so having it all out there for the world to see was humiliating. They walked around with their arms folded over their chest which made them look like they were chronically cold.

Each day we took the swimsuits back to school and hung them up to dry. When I noticed that one of my boys was always the first ready to swim, I realized he was taking his suit home and wearing it under his pants to school each day. Yeah, that would have been me, so I said nothing.

The first day, one of the instructors said the last boy out of the locker room would have to do the “chicken dance” in front of the girls, and vice-versa. This got the kids moving at warp speed. It is possible the “chicken dance” is just an urban legend, because I never actually saw it performed.

I never got around to grading any of those papers, what with taking photos of my students and passing out towels and all. But I had plenty of time to check out the other people at the pool. Not a lot of hotties swim during school hours. Like I said – “R” rated. We were sitting there one day when a guy walked by, his trunks clinging for dear life to his back side. The other teacher turned to me and said just what I was thinking – “crack kills.” We both burst out laughing.

Remember, last one out has to do the “chicken dance!”

Photo Credit:  Chicken Dance by babka_babka on Flickr.

Can a Narcissist be Cured? February 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
13 comments
believe1

This is the poster that hung in Agent Fox Mulder's X-Files office.

When I first started researching Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I goggled “flirtation,” as my narcissistic friend “Joe” was a chronic flirt. It was actually embarrassing to be with him when he was in “turn on the charm” mode. Think: Small boy showing off in front of his mother’s friends. Yeah, it was THAT bad.

I stumbled upon A long post about flirtation, validation, and conversion on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog. Hugo, a professor at Pasadena City College, is a prolific blogger (219 posts on blogging alone!)

Over my Winter Break (the holiday formerly known as Christmas Vacation), I was on Facebook wasting some quality time. I noticed that one of my friends had commented on a photo Hugo Schwyzer had posted. I recognized his name and sure enough, I still had his post bookmarked. I sent him a message via Facebook telling him how I enjoyed his writing along with a link to my Close Encounter with a Narcissist.

No reply from Hugo, but several days later I noticed an incoming link from his blog. Not only had Hugo read Close Encounter with a Narcissist, but he had written an entire post in response to it.

What I didn’t know was that Hugo had been repeatedly diagnosed with a Cluster B Personality Disorder (Borderline was always the default diagnosis) starting in college. He has written numerous posts about his self-destructive behavior, suicide attempts, voluntary hospitalizations, and three marriages (followed by three divorces) – all before he hit the big 3-5. (You’ll find these under “Addictions and Mental Illness” and “Narcissism and Borderline Personality.”) Hugo is a prolific writer. He writes with intelligence and insight and has plumbed every detail of his life ad nauseam.  Whether you agree with Hugo or not, it’s always an interesting read.

In his post “Turning down the volume on KHGO”: Reflections on overcoming a personality disorder, Hugo urged his readers “to read all three of my excellent pieces,” but took issue with this statement I made (a mishmash of many other’s quotes): “So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change.”

Hugo goes to great lengths to detail how far he’s come since he got clean and sober, and found God. If he were an attorney, I might be tempted to say he presents a strong case for the defense. His own.  He believes it’s possible for someone with a personality disorder to change –  if they really want to, and offers himself as proof. Yet even Hugo acknowledges that it’s an ongoing struggle – making him a work in progress.

Here’s the comment I wrote in response to his post.

I found your post interesting and have taken several days to “sit on it.” Yes, I’ve had numerous visitors to my blog planetjan. (Hugo sent me!) Thank you very much.

It’s ironic that your name and picture popped up on Facebook through a mutual friend. I recognized your name. Sure enough, I still had your post on flirtation bookmarked from two years ago, when I was first researching NPD.

I hadn’t read any of your other posts about your hospitalizations and diagnoses, but now I have. I appreciate your honesty and candor as one of my sons has OCD and also spent a stint as a minor at Las Encinas due to drug-related problems. I had to laugh when you described how cute the nurses thought it was that you wore duck slippers, as that sounds so much like my son.

Though you obviously have narcissistic tendencies (but on some days, so do I), ultimately you don’t seem grandiose (in the clinical sense), which is what distinguishes NPD from the other Cluster B disorders. Sam Vaknin, himself a narcissist, said that “self-reflection is the antonym of narcissism.”

Narcissists, as a rule, are not self-destructive, and none I know have ever shown self-destructive tendencies (other than substance abuse). None have sought help from a therapist (unless they were literally dragged there by a significant other) as they were convinced they didn’t have a problem. I tend to agree with Emily’s comment above. My friends in 12-step programs are quick to point out that they are always “recovering,” as opposed to “cured.”

So, from my own (albeit limited) experience, I’d give you a clean bill of health when it comes to NPD. Narcissism, though, is like a ground fog that swirls about ALL of the Cluster B disorders.

Your relentless introspection runs contrary to this diagnosis. BTW, your sponsor sounds like a wise and very patient man. I imagine when you did Step 10 – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it,” you took it to the nth degree! I say this with all due sincerity.  Jan

I want to believe. No, make that I wanted to believe. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to believe it WAS possible for Joe to change, especially once I’d seen beneath the mask. I felt his pain, yet any attempt to go “there” with Joe was an exercise in futility. Despite the countless seminars he attended so he could learn to “relate” to women and deal with his “boundary issues,” it all came down to this – he was going through the motions. Nothing every changed for Joe. Nothing ever will. I take no joy in saying this.

My concern is for the Narcissist’s victims who tell themselves, “If I just try harder to communicate my feelings, or bend over backwards, or walk on water, I know he/she will finally ‘get it.'”  They want to believe. They want to believe they can help the Narcissist actually feel something. Something real.

People have asked Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited, if having insight into his own narcissism has enabled him to change for the better. Sam’s answer is a resounding NO. Sure, he can change on a superficial level if it so suits him, but not at a deeper level. Not in his heart. But doesn’t Sam’s willingness to share his knowledge about Narcissistic Personality Disorder prove that he possesses that ever elusive quality the rest of us call “empathy?”  Sam pulls no punches. Being a poster-boy for NPD is a major source of Narcissistic Supply (NS). Period.  

I don’t believe for a minute that Hugo has NPD (Borderline maybe, but not NPD). Hugo’s relentless self-examination runs contrary to everything I’ve learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  So, ergo Hugo. But I like to keep an open mind. Read Hugo’s posts and see what you think. The Truth is out there.

My Son – Who Happens to be Gay November 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Parenting, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

love-is-so-gay1

I have two sons. My younger son, Ian, happens to be gay. I didn’t set out to have a gay son. But then Ian didn’t set out to be gay, and to be honest, it came as a shock to him as well. He was confused about why he felt “different.” And he struggled alone. Even now, I can’t imagine what that was like for him when he was only nine and had a crush on a boy in the fourth grade.

When Ian was 14 and a half, we were sitting in the doctor’s office, and he announced he was gay. We laugh now remembering what happened next. I blurted out, “Oh my god, I hope my parents die soon!” This was because my parents had left their church in the Midwest over the issue of gay unions. My head was spinning. Driving home, I was in a fog. I’ve always had gay friends, but my son? My eyes brimmed with tears. Why me?  What I remember most is what my son said next. “Mom, I’m the same person I was before – it’s just that now you know.”

“Please don’t tell Dad,” Ian asked. My response? “That’s like asking me not to tell your father the house is on fire!” So he told his dad who was surprised, but ultimately okay with it. Then he told his older brother who shrugged. “Just don’t expect me to go riding around in one of those gay pride parades.”

Ian felt such a sense of relief to be able to be honest about who he was. This was the same kid who had written “I’m gay” in Sharpie on the back of another boy’s jacket in middle school. Talk about confused self-loathing. It wasn’t easy for him though.

Ian, who’s outgoing and always had lots of friends, thought once he came out, other students at his high school would come out as well. He waited…and waited. There was one other boy who was extremely flamboyant, who Ian wanted nothing to do with. Ian had played Little League baseball and considered himself a jock. His attitude was, “If I want to hang out with a girl, I’ll hang out with a real girl.”

Looking back, I can’t believe how brave my son was. Yes, he took a boy as a date to the prom. He was confident no one would give them a problem as Ian is infinitely likable and has a wicked sense of humor. No one did, but I held my breath. As a parent, I was frightened that someone would lash out at my son, verbally or physically. But being young, Ian was convinced he could change the world – or at least people’s opinions – one at a time.  And to his credit, he did and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, my husband and I found PFLAG ,Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians And Gays. (I should note that at the meetings I attended there were also families with transgender children.) We met so many incredible people at those meetings. People came because they too had family members and friends who were gay. Those who’d been attending for awhile always described being able to acknowledge their child’s sexual orientation as an amazing “journey.” It was painful though when parents who’d just found out their child was gay came to a meeting. Some were still in such a state of shock or denial they couldn’t speak. But the important thing was they showed up. It was the first step on their journey.

There was a Chinese woman who wanted to know if there were herbs that could turn her son, who was in his 30s and a doctor, back to “normal.”  There were African Americans whose childhoods were so interwoven with the church, they felt ostracized in their own community. And there were people who’d gotten married because, “I thought if I got married and had a family, it might make IT go away.” They’d come to the conclusion that telling a lie is easy, but living a lie takes a toll on one’s soul.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep The Secret any longer. After a year, I broke down and told my parents their grandson was gay. They were in shock, but they love Ian. Several years later when they were visiting, my father said to Ian, “Someday when you meet the perfect woman…”  He caught himself. “I mean man,” he said. Ian was overjoyed as he adores his grandparents.

My son has never been interested in the club scene. “That’s not the way you and dad raised me,” he said with such earnestness, that my heart ached for him. He talks about “when I have a kid.” He has that optimism that comes with youth. It helps that we live in Southern California. Ian is still put off by “girlie” guys and was critical of people who are transgender until he saw the movie Transamerica.  He watched it again the other night and said it made him cry. So even he has been on his own journey of understanding.

My son is now 22. He goes to college and he, and his boyfriend of a year, live with us. The other day he asked, “Mom, at what age are you considered a loser if you still live at home with your parents?” I told him with the economy the way it is, this might be as good as it gets.  But we’re all okay with that.

I really don’t give much thought to my son being gay anymore. It’s just one part of who he is, but certainly doesn’t define him as a human being. I was disturbed though when he came to me last night and told me how upsetting it was when several young men chanted, “Yes on 8!” when he and his boyfriend walked by. Ian is a peaceful person, and it was all he could do to not say something. And of course, you always think of just the right thing to say afterwards. But hate, even though Ian knows it stems from ignorance, still hurts.

So when my friend TIna, who also has a gay son, emailed this morning that she’s going to attend a peaceful march tonight to protest the passage of “Yes on 8,” I said count me in. She and some of our friends marched last weekend. They sent me pictures of them holding their placards. What impressed me most was that most of those who showed up didn’t have a gay child. They were there because they thought it was the right thing to do. They believe in equal rights for all Americans.

So now it looks like it’s going to be a gay day. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday night. But the stakes are just too high. We’re not talking about one of THOSE people. We’re talking about my son.

One of the most eloquent and impassioned commentaries I’ve seen on this issue is “Keith Olbermann’s Response to Prop. 8.”  To view his commentary, please press the following link. Peace.

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