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Why Tuesday?

The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Good Girl Gone Bad

Girlfriends... safe to say, I've had a bad day. Yes I know you can't help but sing it, but allow me to explain.

This past weekend was spent with a 72-hour stint travelling for work. Between Alberta and Ontario I was back and forth- making my way through many an airport in 4 inch heels. Yes, I travel in heels.

My refusal to wear appropriate footwear for the last ten years of practice is the cross my Manolos must bear.

On Monday while buying a coffee a the local Starbuck’s I tried maneuvering my rental car into a parking stall that was far too small, taking out a minivan’s brake light in the process.

Here. I take some of the responsibility but not all. Yes, I was sleep deprived and my spatial relations are questionable on a good day (my shoe closet be damned). And yes, I get behind the wheel of a car at best 4 days a month. Furthermore, I don’t own a car and am obligated to, when I do drive, use rental cars, which inevitably are huge beasts to begin with. This one was a Chrysler 300 or something…. I only name drop here so you can see that this was in fact a big car; they would never give that high a number to a little shit box, you see.

Finally, the woman who had parked this minivan (yes, I hate minivans… you can sense my contempt and it is real) used more than her fare share of a parking spot. All things considered… contact was made. My Chrysler 300 smashed the brake light of her bullshit minivan and took out the plastic light.

Make no mistake, after exchanging information, I still went inside and bought myself and Americano. Safe to say however, it was a BAD day. Between the lack of sleep, the stress of the job, the puke stained Choo and the brake light carnage, my week was starting with the kind of day that makes most of us want to crawl back into bed an embrace a fetal existence.

But amidst my BAD day I am forced to ponder how many other sisters out there are sharing my pain. What make a day BAD? As a doctor I realize all too well that there is no monopoly on sorrow. I no longer can count the amount of death certificates I have signed in my decade of a career thus far. I have been the bearer of many a bad news and created my fair share of BAD days.

I think of my patients at the hospital having GOOD days and BAD days. I think of their families at home stressed and worried or relieved and grateful having similar BAD and GOOD days respectively and my shoes and my sleep and even the brake light are irrelevant.

In 1964, a Psychologist by the name of Helson coined the term of the adaptation level theory. He sited that people react more to changes than to stable conditions and are thus more sensitive to new things. Change, therefore, produces strong reactions, but the circumstances that result from the change gradually cease to elicit a reaction and eventually become taken for granted. By this theory we tend to adapt to either that which is good as long as it lasts long enough or that which is bad as long as bad is the norm. Applying this theory to human happiness, Brickman and Campbell (1971) postulated a "hedonic tread- mill" by which long-term happiness will remain roughly constant regardless of what happens because the impact of both good and bad events will wear off over time.

How long the impact of everyday events lasts was studied by Sheldon, Ryan, and Reis (1996). Bad events had longer lasting effects. In their data, having a good day did not have any noticeable effect on a person's well-being the following day, whereas having a bad day did carry over and influence the next day. Specifically, after a bad day, participants were likely to have lower well-being on the next day.

Although the results are technically correlational, something must cause them, whether it is the bad day itself causing the subsequent bad day or some other cause producing the consecutive pair of bad days. Either way, the bad has stronger power than good because only the bad reliably produced consecutive bad days.

So there you have it. I am indeed not alone in a world where life changes on the turn of car wheel. Forgive me dear girlfriends if I wax philosophical this week. Perhaps the lack of sleep has made me a bit existential. Perhaps I really am this deep and it has taken a few dozen blogs to get it out of me. Perhaps I’m just a woman who had a BAD day and needed her girlfriends to lend and ear….

And so armed with this data, I stood on the crest of Science trying to break the theory. Yesterday, I spent the day at THE ROOM in Toronto having coffee with a fabulous friend and treating myself to an equally fabulous spring suit.

Tomorrow I will get up, put on a different pair of inappropriate footwear and walk off head held high into the future. Who knows what the days will hold….

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sisters- forgive me- I'm behind on life... will post tomorrow. In the meantime.... check out my apology to Canada....

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Kidding.

Truth be told, I don't want children.

Dogs, yes. Kids... no.

Yes I am that woman you meet at a party at someone's home at 9 pm on a Friday night and you have brought your six month old baby and I have no interest in making cute little faces and holding the child.

Firstly... get a sitter. It's Friday night. Yes, the invitation said "kids welcome", but the hosts were just being polite and did not want to alienate their friends with kids who could not plan ahead. Secondly, I am in close proximity to sick people all day and I like to leave my weekends free to allow my immune system the occasional "night off". And finally, the only thing I want to hold at a cocktail party- a cocktail. Enough said.

I understand that children must be present at baby showers and the occasional brunch but really? Friday Night Cocktails? What has happened to my generation? Back in the 1970's it was perfectly acceptable to leave your infant at home with some teenager who had a babysitting course and a weekend of classes in St. John's Ambulance (remember those videos? I can still close my eyes and see a scissor poking out of a person's forearm).

She was left with a hand written list of emergency numbers, $25 for pizza and a liquor cabinet filled with alcohol (that only the responsible ones did not touch). For $5 an hour in 1978 parents everywhere could only hope for the best. Fast forward 30 plus years and women are breastfeeding in casinos in Las Vegas. True story- would not have believed it had I not seen it myself... hand to God- March 2009, Bellagio Hotel- not the lobby but next to the Craps table.

And evermore I find children creeping into every aspect of grown-up life. Let's face it parents... there are places which should be "grown up specific". I don't know any adult over the age of 20 who would go to Disneyland without a child escort. So can we not keep the infants out of the five star restaurant. Doesn't mommy need both hands to drink her $12 cocktail?

Yes, I can hear you know... I know- it is because I DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN. Yes, and you say this like there is something wrong or missing in my life. Not so. I have thought long and hard about this. I have done the research and spent time with other people's kids and "looked into my soul"....

Guess what? I just don't have it.

The "it" to which I refer to is "the need to breed", the "tick tock", the "mommy gene"... call it whatever you will. I am just not momma material. I am childless by choice and I and my beloved seem to be the only ones okay with the concept.

And no, I don't hate children, I just don't want them. Make no mistake, I have several nieces and nephews- some by blood, some by choice whom I love and enjoy spending time with. But it ends there.

A 2003 U.S. Census study found that a record 19% of U.S. women age 40-44 did not have children (compared with 10% in 1976). The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of American women of childbearing age who define themselves as child free (or voluntarily childless) rose sharply in the 1990s - from 2.4 percent in 1982 to 4.3 percent in 1990 to 6.6 percent in 1995 and 10.2% in 2003.

Evidence has shown that child free couples tend to be more educated and more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations. The individuals of child free couples tend to earn relatively higher incomes (both usually working), tend to live in urban areas, to be less religious, to subscribe to less traditional gender roles, and to be less conventional.

David Foot of the University of Toronto concluded that a female's education is the most important determinant of the likelihood of her reproducing. The higher the education, the less likely for her to bear children.

According to a paper "Childless Elderly: What are they Missing?" by Dr. Judith Rempel of the Universtiy of Western Ontario, elderly Canadians without children show similar health statistics than those with children. According to a Canadian Health database both elderly parents and those without children have equal advantages and disadvantages later in life in relation to health, wellness and feelings of emotional wellbeing.

In other words, the evidence suggests that I have the same chance of dying miserable and alone without having had children as if I had three sets of twins before the age of thirty.

And I know my girlfriends with children feel I am "calling some of you out". But in the real spirit of sisterhood shouldn't we do that just a little more? Isn't that what women are supposed to do? Judge each other before we ourselves have a chance to be judged? So consider this my little gift to you my 80% from the new rising minority who will be silenced no longer. I know you are exhausted and overworked and underappreciated and you are hell bent on raising a bunch of individuals who by more luck than anything will not turn into psychopaths who don't take care of you when you are older..... But when did we forget about the women BEFORE they were mothers.

And when did it become socially mandatory to begin every question with, "Do you have children?". Furthermore, when did the sentence, "No I don't have children" become the conversational equivalent to "Yes, I do have Cancer?".

And so I have joined the "Child-Free" because isn't that what this world really needs? Yet another movement hosted by a group of intelligent and angry women who will no longer sit on the sidelines being made to feel badly by other women for their unconventional life choices.

There. I have unloaded my empty uterus and I feel better already.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Driving the Point Home

My dear girlfriends- be it known-I am a terrible driver. Perhaps because I no longer drive on a regular basis. That being said- I was never a fan of cars even before I returned mine for a bicycle.

Perhaps my lack of "car love" is because I think shoes are the be all and end all- try driving a sports car with a pair of great heels on your feet- not going to happen. You now understand my point. Understand my girlfriends, that the whole driving thing is way over-rated. In fact I am quite convinced that I will be one of those women in her 70's who looks forward to havin her license taken away- just so I can hire a driver.

Please know, I was not always a driving hater.

I do believe my husband first fell in love with me when we were first dating and I would drive him to University in my 1992 Dodge Colt. I drove with my knees while putting on a full face of makeup using the rear view mirror as easily as a one of those fancy bathroom magnifying mirrors. I drank my morning coffee, smoked my morning cigarette (heaven forbid the driving should be the only way I would risk my life) and still got us to class on time.

I have no doubt he was petrified and perhaps this has easily contributed to his new found love for walking everywhere. They say that often love spawns out of situations where one is fearful for one’s life…. In fact there is evidence that the brain secretes the same hormones during life threatening experiences as it does when one is in love. Neurohormones such as oxyytocin and Dopamine are at their peak during times of extreme stress and interestingly also at their peak during times of extreme pleasure…

You’ve all heard the stories; the urban love legends, so to speak. The couple met on a plane during turbulence and a hurricane and bad weather made them fasten their seatbelts and commit their lives to one another all while securing their own oxygen masks before helping to assist another.

This is perhaps why they always make contestants on shows like The Bachelor, bungee jump off a bridge or a cliff strapped to each other.

And yes, this is partially why my husband fell in love with me. I drove him to University each morning of our courtship and proceeded to apply a full face of make up (complete with mascara and eyelash curling) while operating the steering wheel with my knees and hoping for the best.

Oh admit it dear girlfriends… you’ve all done it. In fact according to an article published in the London Telegraph on October 2, 2009, 27% of women surveyed in the United Kingdom confessed to putting on makeup while driving. In fact 3% of all accidents in the UK are caused by this, one such resulting in death and a 2 year prison sentence for the offending driver/Max Factor wanna be.

Remember this translates to more than 1 in 5 women. Now let’s do some “Girl Math”. Consider that when it comes to areas of blame, guilt, calories and alcohol, all women lie. We lie about our weight, whether we our angry and if something is indeed our fault (Honey- if you are reading this- please stop immediately). So the 27% of women who indeed ADMITTED to putting on makeup is more likely to be 97%. Furthermore, add another 20% for the women who do not consider lipstick to be “make-up” and you have a whopping total of 117% of women using their rear view mirror for “true applications” so to speak…

And so I no longer drive. I do however take taxis from time to time and there in the back seat I create my very own SEPHORA counter on the way to my destination. The roads are inevitably a safer place and after 16 years… my husband safely (now an avid walker) still is madly in love with his wife.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Solo Project

I’ve been thinking a lot about regret these days my girlfriends. I’m not talking about the usual things we wish we had not done- you know tequila, old boyfriends… that period where we only dated musicians and that little black dress that does not quite fit.

I imagine we all have regrets in life. Perhaps they shape our future choices; perhaps they challenge our behaviours gone by. All in all I’d like to think that I’ve learned a little bit more from roads I’d wished not taken than from the times I was pleased as punch.

Could it be true? Could it be that those art house musicians we dated while drinking tequila wearing a black mini skirt and pink leggings really were the most heightened educational experiences life had to offer us? Is it not basic psychology that life is learned through mistakes made and not successes achieved?

When I was 8 years old my parents signed me up for violin lessons. Let’s be clear- I was no Stravinsky. Frankly I lacked neither the patience nor the foresight to be really good at a musical instrument of such magnitude.

Let me clear- as a kid, I was a smaller, marginally less mature version than I am now. I do not say this to elicit the usual, ”no, that’s not true” response. I am, if anything, my girlfriends, quite self-aware. I don’t propose that I am immature now. Heavens no. In fact, it is quite the opposite- I was a pretty decently self-actualized kid. The problem is that when you are a somewhat bossy, self-important eight-year old- you are going to find it more than a challenge to listen to grown ups about the importance of playing a musical instrument that is neither comfortable nor easy to excel at. As far as a violin goes- I was destined to fail.

Firstly, I hated practicing the damn thing. I lacked the physical prowess to be any good at the violin.  You see I was a rather compact chubby kid. Holding a musical instrument up to my face only served to remind me how big my cheeks were. This is a fact that no eight year old can face with humility and grace.

Secondly, my violin teacher, although a lovely man- was terribly passionate about his art- and I… well… I failed to share his appreciation. I was, in short, a musical lost cause. I wanted a musical instrument that I could sing to…. Musical theatre style. A violin just does not cut it when you want to be the next Bernadette Peters or Patti Lupone. In my young mind, I saw a violin as the kind of instrument a young delicate girl plays in servitude while her overbearing parents stand by.

And so because of a conceptual misalignment between what I perceived a violinist should be and who I was as a self-actualized eight-year old- I quite violin lessons after about 3 horrific months.

This is my first memory of a true regret. Now thirty something years later, whenever I see someone mastering an instrument I look on in longing and remorse. I atone for what could have been had I just stuck it out long enough to self-actualize into a true musician.

Since then there have been regrets to follow. I think of the little ones I’ve made along the way- bad meal choices and bad fashion moments. I think of moderate regrets that range from my third ear piercing to some seriously poorly thought out haircuts.

Finally I think of permanent regrets- friends lost and things left unsaid.

I am fortunate that the five star regrets are few and far between. I can scarcely recall them as I write this piece, which is of course a good sign after all.

However, I do wonder if my musical follies impacted me in the long term. A study published in Nature in April, 2007 showed that taking a music lesson before age 12 significantly influence a person’s brain patterns.

The study began with 20 healthy regular every day people. The adults watched and listened to a movie of their choice.
As they watched movies, the volunteers also listened to Mandarin words that sounded like "mi" continuously at conversation level in the background. Mandarin is a tone language, where a single word can differ in meaning depending on its tone. For example, the Mandarin word "mi" means "to squint" when delivered in a level tone, "to bewilder" when spoken in a rising tone, and "rice" when given in a falling then rising tone.
Researchers recorded the neural responses of the volunteers using functional MRI’s and PET scans. Half the volunteers had at least six years of training in a musical instrument starting before the age of 12. The others had no more than three years of musical experience. All were native English speakers who had no knowledge of Mandarin.
Even with their attentions focused on a movie, the musically trained subjects were significantly better at tracking and distinguishing the three tones better than those who had very little musical training.
What was even more surprising was that the brain patterns of these musical volunteers were different.
Surprisingly, the researchers found these changes occurred in the brainstem, the ancient part of the brain responsible for controlling automatic, critical body functions such as breathing and heartbeat.
What is even more interesting is that music was thought largely to be the responsibility of the cerebral cortex, where higher brain functions such as reasoning, thought and language are seated. The brainstem was thought to be unchangeable and uninvolved in the complex processes linked with music.
The researchers concluded that this study showed us how malleable the brainstem is to experience. Much of course remains to be seen. For example how long do you have to take musical lessons in order to engage your brainstem? Could musical training affect other brain systems and what does this mean in the long-term?
I’ve always been a fan of music of every kind, my girlfriends. You can easily see me on any given day running the sea wall while singing out loud to anything from show tunes to hip hop. Could my exposure to music also change the way my brain adapts to the world around me? Further studies suggest that this is in fact the case.

And so, I will no longer live with regrets about my lost violin solos. Instead I will dwell in the fact that I did in fact have 10 years of piano to shape my brainstem.

Between that and music appreciation runs, I continue to live in the moment and dwell in the possibilities that my brain will continue to grow and change along with me.

Of course my girlfriends, I can only hope that my closet learns to expand with the change.