Category Archives: Personal Life

Why Unsolicited Advice Is a Terrible Idea

Yes, I appreciate the irony in writing a blog post about unsolicited advice that could be read as unsolicited advice.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of never giving anyone any advice that they haven’t asked me for, though, and I thought it would make a great topic for a post here while I’m adjusting to the idea of keeping my mouth shut until or unless I’m asked for my opinion.

Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this topic once I have more to say about it? For now, let’s talk about why giving people advice they haven’t asked for is a terrible idea.

 You Don’t Have All of the Facts

Everyone has private parts of their lives that are only shared with very few people or maybe even no one else at all. It could be as simple as a soothing bedtime ritual or as complex as an uncommon hobby that they only discuss with others who have also devoted their free time to perfecting the art of underwater basket weaving.

The parts of someone’s life that others see  almost certainly don’t give a full picture of who they are or how complex their problems – or their perceived problems –  really are.

Sometimes what looks like a banana isn’t actually a banana after all. (Also, I love this picture in and of itself. Isn’t it interesting?)

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’ve seen this happen multiple times with various friends of mine who are living with serious, longterm mental or physical health problems.

No sooner do they mention having a particularly bad day or dealing with a troublesome, new symptom than someone else will jump in with a half-dozen suggestions for how they should fix their disease once and for all.

Yes, they’ve tried all of those cures already. No, that random Internet article isn’t going to magically fix deep-seated health problems that have been bothering them for decades and that have been treated by multiple doctors and other healthcare professions over the years.

I’ve only ever had this happen to me briefly once or twice, and even that made me irrationally angry. I can’t imagine what my friends who must deal with possibly well-meaning but ultimately wrong and judgemental assumptions about their bodies over and over again go through.

What works for one person can fail miserably for another even if they’re both dealing with similar circumstances or diseases.

 It Doesn’t Work

Advice is only useful when the person receiving it is open to the idea of changing. It’s not like a vaccine that will protect someone from dangerous diseases regardless of what thoughts flutter through their minds while their immune systems are learning how to recognize and destroy inactivated polio germs.

One has to be ready to accept what the advice-giver is saying in order for it to have any hope at all of working. Changing your personality, habits, and/or current situation is such a difficult task that there’s no other way of going about it. Anyone who isn’t motivated to keep going even if they don’t see any results right away is almost certainly going to give up long before any of the work they might have put into their current personal project has had any chance at all to fix things.

Unwanted advice also doesn’t work well for adult relationships in general. When someone who isn’t in an official place of authority over me tries to control what I do or how I live, I feel annoyed and confused. If they continue to do it over a long period of time despite being asked to stop, I slowly begin to share less about my life with them.

Not only does unsolicited advice not work in the short term, it makes me much less willing to listen six months or a year from now if they have something else to say to me.

Rather than prompting me to change whatever it is they think I’m doing wrong, what this kind of interaction teaches me is that they’re not a safe person to confide in. I will often start spending less time with them and guarding myself when I do see them. Their intentions may have been noble, but the results of their poor boundaries are going to be the exact opposite of what they might have hoped for.

Some Lessons Have to be Learned the Hard Way

Not everyone is willing to take the experiences of others as the ultimate truth.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the urge to warn other people about certain types of mistakes I’ve made in the past, but you can’t live someone else’s life for them.

Sometimes they have to find out for themselves that something is a terrible idea regardless of whether it takes thirty seconds or thirty years between their decision and reaping the consequence of it.

The only thing the rest of us can do in the meantime is to respect their boundaries and hope that they’ll learn their lesson as quickly and easily as possible.

5 Things That People Who Have Allergies Wish You Understood

 

1. They’re Not Voluntary

Nobody ever wakes up one morning and decides that it would be fun to become allergic to something.

Those of us who have allergies also can’t randomly decide to take a day off from them in order to make other people’s lives easier.

If you don’t have experience living with allergies, you might be chuckling and shaking your head right now. That’s okay. I’d find it a little hard to believe, too, if these things hadn’t either happened to me or to people I know who are also living with allergies so many times that we’ve lost count of them.

There are some folks in this world who genuinely seem to believe that allergies are a synonym for not liking certain foods or being picky.

I have no idea why they think that, but I’ve run into this attitude over and over again. Someday they  might actually realize the differences between these things. Until then, I’ll keep reminding them that nobody chooses this medical condition.

2. Not All Allergies Are Severe, but Even the Mild Ones Suck

There are millions of people in this world whose allergies can and will kill them if they’re inadvertently exposed to the wrong stuff.

In this sense, I’m lucky. My allergies to milk, certain plants, cats, dogs, and many other furry creatures are mild in the sense that I’ve never been in danger of dying because of them.

This doesn’t mean that being exposed to them won’t make me feel absolutely horrible, though. I still cough and wheeze uncontrollably when I do something as simple as hug someone who owns a cat or sit in the same car where cats have previously spent some time.

When I spend time with people who own cats, I have to plan ahead to reduce my chances of having a reaction when I’m around them. This means that I can’t ride in their vehicles, enter their homes, hug them, or sit too close to them. It also requires me to take allergy medicine in advance, change my clothing as soon as I get home, and maybe even hop in the shower to rinse away any dander that might have clung to my hair or skin.

On the rare occasion when I accidentally eat or drink something that has milk in it, my entire mouth will become extremely itchy and my lips will start to swell up a little. It has been so long since this happened that I don’t know if my reaction to it would be worse if it happened again. Based on how scary my last experience was, I don’t intend to find out ever again if I can help it.

3. No, Alternative Medicine Won’t Cure Them

All of the herbs, vitamin supplements, positive thinking, and homeopathy in the world isn’t going to do a thing to change how my immune system overreacts to certain things.

While I appreciate the good intentions behind these kinds of suggestions, it really isn’t helpful to tell someone who has allergies that they’ll be cured if they think happy thoughts or take the right combination of supplements.

At best, you’re going to be telling them about a treatment that will do nothing to help them. At worst, you’ll be blaming them for something they didn’t choose and have absolutely no control over.

By all means, keep using alternative medicine if you enjoy it, but please don’t try to give us medical advice or tell us that we’ll be cured once we drink a special tea or take the right supplement.

That’s not how any of this works.

4. It’s Never Okay To Joke About Exposing Someone to Their Allergens

If you joke around about purposefully exposing me to things that will make me sick, I will lose trust in you.  It’s as simple as that.

You wouldn’t tease someone about having diabetes or asthma, would you?

Now that I’ve typed that, I have the sneaking suspicion that folks who joke about feeding or exposing someone to something they’re allergic to probably do say similarly horrifying and dysfunctional things to people who have other health issues. Oh, how I hope I’m wrong about that.

The fact remains, though, that this is not an appropriate topic for a joke.

5. It’s Always Okay to Ask Questions

With that being said, it’s always okay to ask questions about what is or isn’t safe for someone to eat, touch, or be around. I’ve heard of people whose peanut allergies were so severe that they could have a reaction to smelling peanut butter.

It takes a lot more than that for me to react to my allergens, so that’s why it’s important to ask questions instead of making assumptions about how serious someone’s allergy might be.

I really appreciate it when people take the time to ask me about my allergies and listen carefully to my responses. It makes me feel like they take my safety seriously. That’s one of the biggest things someone can do to earn my trust, and it’s something I wish would happen more often.

Why I Love to Reread Books

Earlier this year I reread The Handmaid’s Tale in preparation for the miniseries based on this story that is coming out next week. Stay tuned! I am planning to blog about that series after I’ve seen it, but today I’ll be talking about rereading books in general.

Over the last few years I’ve also reread:

  • The Earth’s Children series
  • The Anne of Green Gables series
  • The Harry Potter series

Yes, I’ve read these stories so many times that I know every plot twist by heart. I’ve even been known to quote my favourite passages from them to my spouse when he least expects it.

There are a few different reasons why I occasionally like to go back and revisit these tales despite the fact that there are many new books left on my to-read list.

Reason #1: I Already Know I’ll Like the Story. 

Several months ago, I started reading something that I was fully expecting to love. The blurb was amazing, the reviews of it were really good, and I’d spoken to someone else who’d read it and thought it was wonderful.

Imagine how surprised I was when I could barely make it through the first scene. Not only was the main character written in a stereotypical manner, the narrator seemed more interested in describing what her body looked like than why she woke up in a world that had shifted from being completely ordinary to not making any sense at all.

I was disappointed. Rather than getting sucked into the story, I quietly closed the file and went looking for something else to read.

The nice thing about returning to old favourites is that I already know what I think of them. If they have flaws, I’ve already weighed them against the storyline and decided that they aren’t serious enough to destroy my warm feelings about the characters or plot in general.

Most of the books I read are still new to me, but sometimes it is really nice to be guaranteed a satisfying read.

Reason #2: I Don’t Always Identify with the Same Character.

I thought Marilla was a stuffy, old grouch the first dozen times I read Anne of Green Gables. Many of the rules she expected Anne to follow didn’t make sense to me, and I thought she was far too strict with the girl in general. The last time I read it, I was surprised by how much I empathized with her.

I am nowhere near Marilla’s age, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to suddenly become the permanent legal guardian of a rambunctious preteen who has never known a stable home life, has limited respect for social conventions, and pushes back against almost every boundary you try to set with her.

At least I have memories from a good childhood and a nephew who is close to Anne’s age. Marilla didn’t have any experience with children at all when she first met Anne, and the bits and pieces of her upbringing we later learn about make it sound strict and dreary. Nobody gave her warmth or affection at that age. All she had ever known was duty and hard farm work, and yet somehow she was expected to look after a young girl who was starving for affection.

All of these details make the strong, loving bond she eventually forges with Anne even more remarkable than I remembered it being.

Reason #3: I Know I’ll Find Something New in Them Every Time

Reading the same book again is like walking down your favourite trail and noticing small differences in the landscape this time. It was nowhere near this beautiful  – and possibly photoshopped?! – but when I was a kid I used to love to walk down short mountain trails and find plants I hadn’t noticed before.

No matter how many times my family had previously walked down those paths, there was always some kind of flower or shrub that I’d missed the last time. Had they not been in season on our last visit, or was I looking elsewhere then?

I don’t know, but last winter I reread my favourite book in the Earth’s Children series,The Valley of Horses. The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in that series, was full of difficult – and even traumatic – experiences for Ayla, the main character.

What I enjoy the most about The Valley of Horses is how much time she has to reflect on all of the things she experienced after she was permanently banished from her adoptive tribe. There were periods of loneliness in those years she spent living alone, but all of that solitude did give her the opportunity to heal emotionally from the things that had happened to her.

One of the details of this story that I’d begun to forget was that Ayla survived pneumonia while she was living on her own. As someone who has had this disease before, I’m amazed at how well she did at looking after herself while she recovered.

Even the mildest form of pneumonia is a nasty illness. It sucks every ounce of energy out of your body no matter how many hours of the day you sleep, and the symptoms can last for weeks if you happen to be a character living in a time and place where antibiotics won’t exist for another 30,000 years or so. Something as simple as taking a bath or staying awake for more than a few hours at once is extremely difficult even if you’re lucky enough to have a prescription for antibiotics, a warm, safe house, and a fridge full of nutritious food that can be reheated easily.

I can’t imagine having to prepare and cook food, gather wood, keep a fire going, melt snow or ice for water, stay alert for any hint of danger that might be approaching your cave, and try to recover from this horrible disease all at the same time.

It’s something I’d overlooked in the past, but it makes me like Ayla even more now that I’m aware of what that experience must have been like for her.

How about you? How do you feel about rereading books? I’ll be on Twitter throughout the day, and I’d love to discuss it with you.

Can You Be Mindful and Angry at the Same Time?

One of the things I find most challenging about practicing mindfulness is doing it when I’m angry. While I’m not the kind of person who loses their temper easily, I do have a tendency to ruminate on whatever is making me mad beyond the point where such an act still remains useful.

There was a time when I felt guilty about this. I wished I didn’t feel angry in those situations and that I could find  it easier to brush those feelings aside when they did pop up.  Even though I’m pretty good at responding to those things calmly when they are happening, I saw others looking far calmer than I felt when they were in the same kind of situation.

You see, I was comparing how I felt on the inside to how other people were acting. The interesting thing about this is that I had no idea what those other people were thinking about when they responded so calmly.

How someone behaves doesn’t always match up with how they’re feeling inside. For all I know, they could have been looking at my response and wondering the same thing about me. The first time I realized this, I literally laughed out loud.

The cool thing about practicing mindfulness is that it doesn’t require you to change how you feel. In fact, changing how you feel isn’t the point of it at all.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Bad” Emotion

Anger in and of itself isn’t helpful or harmful. Everything depends on what you do with that emotion and what thoughts you entertain when you feel it.

Do you jump to conclusions about what will happen in the future because you’re mad right now? Do you try to suppress it? Do you look for someone to blame for it? Do you assume it will last forever?

On the positive side, can you embrace the fact that this is how you’re feeling right now? Do you think back to other times in your life when you felt this way and remember how you dealt with them? Does your anger prompt you to do something to improve the situation if that’s possible?

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to handle every negative emotion that exists.

Mindfulness Isn’t About Always Being Zen

If the only people in this world who were allowed to practice mindfulness were the ones who are always patient and understanding when they were irritated by the people, places, or circumstances in their lives, there would only be about three of them on the entire planet…and I wouldn’t be one of them.

When I’m angry, I do my best to stop and experience that emotion without judging it or making any assumptions about what it means, whether it’s justified, how I’ll feel in the future, or how I think I should be feeling about it instead.

This is a much easier thing to talk about than it is to actually practice. I’m not going to tell you that I always succeed at simply feeling my emotions without assigning value to them or wishing they were different. Like you, I’m a human being. I have days when I live in the moment really well, and other days when I feel much more like this cat:

(I don’t normally include gifs in my posts, but this one was the perfect illustration for this point. It’s fun to imagine that this cat is a master of mindfulness when she’s not pushing everything off of the desk she’s sitting on. Who knows? Maybe she’s even figured out how to live in the moment while being mischievous!)

You’re in Control of the Process

There have been times when I’ve brushed an emotion aside not because I’m trying to avoid feeling it but because I’ve sat with it long enough.

Just because you’re mad right now doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way five minutes, two days, or a month from now.

This is by far one of my favourite things about remembering to be mindful when I’m pissed off about something.

There is no handbook that says you can’t change your mind or that you’re only allowed to feel mad for X number of minutes at a time. The freedom of knowing I can sit with my anger for as long as is necessary actually makes me less likely to hold onto it.

It’s like telling a child that they’re only ever allowed to have one cookie regardless of how old they’ve become versus slowly allowing them to decide for themselves what they do and don’t eat.

By letting go of all expectations of what you’re support to do, it becomes much easier to stop after one cookie (or one wave of ire, in this case).

What Mindful Anger Looks Like

Mindful anger is…

  • Non-judgemental
  • Not attached to any one particular outcome
  • Open to change
  • Focused on what has already happened, not what might happen in the future
  • Honest
  • Aware and accepting of other emotions like fear or envy that could be the cause of it
  • Not vengeful

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have anything to add to this post, please let me know!

What Do You Read When You’re On Vacation?

I arrived home from a relaxing, tropical vacation a few days ago.

One of my personal earmarks of a good trip is what I got to read while I was away. Not only is it nice to get lost in a novel while you’re traveling to your destination, it’s also fun to have something to do during the inevitable parts of any trip where you have some free time to spare.

Luckily, I got to lose myself in a great book during those lulls in activity.

Those of you who have known me for a while might remember that Sarah Waters is one of my favourite non-science-fiction authors. A few years ago she released a book called The Paying Guests.

Without giving away any spoilers, The Paying Guests is set in roughly the World War I era. It’s about a formerly-wealthy family who must take in lodgers to help them pay the bills after their fortunes take a turn for the worse. Their adjustment to suddenly sharing their home with complete strangers is an incredibly difficult one for reasons you’ll have to discover for yourself. If you’ve read this author’s work before, you might be able to guess what at least one of those reasons are. The rest were harder to figure out ahead of time.

Humorously enough, I originally tried to read this book on a previous vacation a year or two ago. The trip ended before I could finish it, though, and I didn’t keep reading it because the first few chapters were paced so slowly. I was looking for something more adventurous at the time.

I finally decided to give it another try during this get-away. I knew I was going to have plenty of time to dig into a good story during it, and I was sure the plot would pick up once the characters had all had a chance to fully introduce themselves. Ms. Waters often makes her readers wait a while for the payoff. She’s never disappointed me before. Luckily, I was right about all of those things.

Reading Over a Friend's ShoulderThe atmosphere of this book was old-fashioned, straight-laced, and full of delicious mysteries. Of course, it also included a sweet romance that took a while to show up but felt completely natural for the plot once it did. The whole storyline couldn’t have been more different from the modern, casual, and sunny place I was visiting while I read it.

I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve sure been loving what I’ve read so far. It’s hard to talk about it without giving away too many details, but this is classic Sarah Waters material. The crumbling but still somehow beautiful mansion is just as appealing to me as all of the secrets the characters are carrying in their hearts.

I love reading stories that are the polar opposite of my current surroundings. It makes both the real world and the fictional one I’m exploring seem more interesting than they’d be if they shared a lot of similarities.

This blog doesn’t host comments, but I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately if you’re on Twitter. I will be talking about this book and what other people like to read when they’re on vacation over there today.

What I Read in 2016

I’ve been keeping track of every book I read for the last four years. Over half of the books I read were for a review site that I volunteer at under a pseudonym, so I omitted their titles from this post for privacy reasons. The number of books I read overall was somewhat smaller than usual.… Read More

Introducing LydiaSchoch.com

Hello! I’m Lydia Schoch. I wanted to formally introduce this blog and website to everyone. The tabs at the top of this page will tell you about who I am as a person. They’ll also show you how to submit guest posts and where to find my books. Today’s post is about this site in general. What… Read More