Saturday, October 08, 2011

They don't love you like I love you

I found myself having to give a glowing introduction at a recent community screening for a documentary I hadn't yet seen. As it turns out, Gerrymandering was a good primer on the use and abuse of drawing political boundaries in America. It does a pretty fair job of pointing out that both Republicans and Democrats have redrawn political maps to their own advantage. And it did an equally fair job of pointing out that while gerrymandering has historically been a tool to break up and disenfranchise blocs of voters (African Americans, Latinos) or even individuals (challengers to incumbents), it has also been a good way to elect people that would otherwise never have a chance at winning in existing districts (African Americans in the South, for instance).

The film heavily favors independent commissions as the solution to creating a fair redistricting process: it lauds Iowa's existing (and extraordinarily geeky) process and tells the story of California's successful 2008 ballot measure.

And because I nerded out two years ago over the Washington State redistricting board game, I could barely contain myself at the screening when the film highlighted the USC Annenberg Center's online redistricting game.

In an effort to gerrymander (of sorts) my own brain, I read a book recommended by a friend. The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques had lots of great tips for breathing exercises and getting out of the mental ruts and agonizing, circular thought patterns that characterize anxiety. (On the other hand, it also had a lot of fairly unhelpful tips too.) And I appreciated the chapter on neurology that explains some of the basic science behind anxiety.

At some points, I started to have minor hyperventilation episodes just reading about some situations and realizing I exhibit some of the same mental loops and behavior patterns. In the end, though, I'm glad I read the book.

Even though the author (a practicing psychologist) favors management techniques independent of medication like SSRIs or SNRIs, I'm actually grateful for the drugs. I like the idea of "using your brain to change your brain" by overcoming destructive and debilitating thoughts caused (in part) by chemical imbalances, but I also understand how drugs work on the same neurotransmitters. With or without either techniques or prescriptions, or using a combination of both, managing anxiety so that it doesn't overcome you is still a difficult and sometimes exhausting challenge.

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