Feeling Pie: The Real Emotional Eating

feeling pie

One of the greatest therapy metaphors I ever heard was from a friend who was seeing a psychologist for a while.  She was trying to explain how she felt worried about how someone in her life would react emotionally if she were to do something, I forget what it was but that’s not really important.  To this, the therapist replied in the form of a metaphor (always a great choice).

Let’s all take a moment to just imagine a little something.  Imagine that everyone is walking around holding a pie.  But these are not normal pies.  No, these are feeling pies.  And everyone only has one.

These are very special pies.  They are all unique because they are all made of different kinds and amounts of ingredients, those being one’s feelings and emotional states.  Some are a bit more savoury – maybe a creamy, spice-laden pumpkin pie whose flavour slowly unfolds and subtly lingers.  Others might be bright, vivacious, tangy fruit pies that scream juicy tartness and explode in a sweet-sour citrus splash of delicious fury.

Regardless, everyone has their own unique pie made up of all of their feelings.  And no one is allowed to give or take pie to or from anyone else.

Now, say we’re sad.  We take a big old piece of pie, the sad part of our pie, and eat away.  Only we can eat the pie because only we can feel our emotions.  Correspondingly, only we can control our emotional response to any given event.  This is the key point in the feeling pie metaphor.

The corollary implication is that, because everyone has their own pie and everyone is in charge of their own pie, we can’t under normal circumstances make someone else eat a certain part of their pie.  Sure, we can create an event to which that person will react emotionally in a certain way, perhaps even predictably.  But that person is ultimately responsible for that feeling.

pumpkin pieSo, why would we worry about feeling guilty for possibly making someone else feel bad?  Their feeling bad is outside of your feeling pie jurisdiction.  That’s their pie and you don’t get any, them’s the rules.

You’re carrying around enough pie already and you don’t want any more anyway.  Besides, you know you have the best tasting pie around – it’s perfectly custom made for you and by you.  Why buy when you already have homemade?

If I feel guilty about how someone might react, I’m prospectively basing the emotion I think I’ll feel on an emotion that someone else might feel.  I’m eating guilt pie because I’m afraid that someone else is going to have to take a bite of anger pie, or sadness pie, or fear pie, etc.  So, I avoid doing that thing that I want to do, because I ultimately see myself as responsible for that other person’s emotions.

And that’s precisely the viewpoint that feeling pie is all about deconstructing.  It’s not about doing whatever you want all the time.  What it is about is acknowledging that you aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings, and no one but you is responsible for yours.

How to Succeed in Grad School, 7 – 9

Don’t forget to read part 1 of How to Succeed in Grad School for tips 1 through 6.

7. Consider vampirism, or if that’s too much for you, at the very least a decidedly inhumane nocturnal lifestyle

Because you won’t be seeing much of the sun anyway, and you’re not legally considered a person anymore

vampireThere isn’t really any other way to describe my experience of grad school in the summer time. So, unless you want to suffer a crippling depressive episode, I suggest you come to terms with the fact that you’re not really a person anymore. This will help in a few ways, but first allow me to justify that statement. It’s simple – you are expected to do things that simply defy rational human explanation (pay hundreds of dollars to go to work, for instance). Also, if you are among the unlucky group of lost souls that require a hefty student loan to finance your education, the government’s not gonna treat you like a person either. You’re a number and an accruer (don’t mind me while I invent new words) of interest. Don’t let the happy faces on that application brochure fool you. Once you’re in, the smiles turn to stiffly formal letters and scary legal-sounding words.

So, if you’re not a person, you might as well make the most of it and join the ranks of the undead – thanks to current tweenie trends, being a vampire is actually quite ‘with it’ these days. Not only will you be invulnerable to petty human emotions such as sadness that could negatively effect your productivity, you won’t feel as bad about spending sunny weekends trapped in your dank basement suite researching and writing papers. Here’s a useful website if you want to get started:http://www.vampirecentral.fiveworlds.org/FAQ.html

8. Start practicing how to best complain about your… ahem… thesis

Because it’s never too early to start complaining about it

If there is one thing that grad students love to complain about (in a list of hundreds of things to complain about), it is that single manifestation of all that is unjust and unholy in our world – the thesis (or dissertation, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here). In fact, I will now be referring to it as you-know-what, lest I grant it additional evil powers. The you-know-what has such potential to cause adverse effects to graduate students that they literally cannot help but complain about it before they have actually started working on it. Believe me – I am one of those students. Nothing is more scary – I’ve recently been having dreams about nuclear apocalypse and they don’t compare to the feeling I get from my you-know-what.

But this is supposed to be helpful. So here is my advice: start complaining now, before you’ve even been accepted to grad school, and you’ll be miles ahead of your sorry classmates by the time you-know-whats start actually shattering their lives. Practice makes perfect. In fact, if you have the luxury of having to do an interview for your grad school application, I heavily suggest that you complain about your you-know-what in the interview itself – this is likely to significantly impress your interviewer, who, after all, most likely attended grad school themselves. “This kid’s ahead of the game!” they’ll say. Guaranteed acceptance. You can thank me later.

writing paragraph

from the wonderful phdcomics.com

9. Remove yourself from the dangers of over-involvement with society

Because you don’t want to develop multiple personalities

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my graduate education in psychology, it’s to avoid all possibility of developing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Though they’re not totally sure what causes the illness, it’s thought to develop under conditions of extreme stress where dissociation occurs as a coping mechanism. Such as sexual abuse by a family member, or the lesser-known culprit: the grad student who grows dangerously close to thinking that they have a life due to frequent ventures into the human community. Repeated exposure to a society filled with non-grad students can lead an unsuspecting grad student to come dangerously close to believing that they have a proper place in this environment. When the crushing reality of their grad studentdom inevitably dawns on the poor grad student, they have essentially two options: acknowledge their limited existence in a crushing and demoralizing moment of self-pity, or delude themselves into thinking that they are in fact two separate personalities. Thus the birth of another unfortunate victim of DID.

So how do you prevent this grievous condition from developing? I’m glad you asked. The first thing I must say is to re-read the earlier entries in this series and to stick as well as you can to the guidelines set forth. Too many great potential contributors to society have succumbed to this grad student plague in full. Don’t be a statistic. Avoid allowing yourself to think that you are anything more than what you are: a grad student.

toothpaste for dinner

from the equally wonderful toothpastefordinner.com

How to Succeed in Grad School, 1 – 6

I wrote these a while ago as a series of humourous self-help tips for aspiring grad students.  I thought it would be worth republishing them here, as I was reading them a while ago with fond memories.  Enjoy!

grad school

from toothpastefordinner.com

Well, now that I’ve almost completed a graduate degree, I pretty much figure that I’m the new authority on the subject. Luckily for all you readers, I’ve compiled a handy dandy list of the best tips I can think of for how to succeed in that veritable circus of intellectual one-uppery that we so endearingly call grad school.

Without further ado,

1. Master the art of powerpoint presentations

Because you’re not exciting enough on your own

burger powerpointNothing says you’re serious about getting that coveted A better than a conveniently packaged, neatly polished and crisply delivered group of slides. It’s kind of like nothing satisfies my lust for a conveniently packaged, clumsily assembled yet almost magically delicious meat and bun combination quite like slipping down a Big Mac. No, not the Mac Wrap. Anything but the Mac Wrap… which in the present metaphor I suppose would be akin to a presentation that promises greatness but ends up sorely lacking the necessary structure that only three buns… er, a succinct and coherent outline can provide.

There is a delicate way to go about putting together and delivering a delicious presentation whose aftertaste will linger long enough to keep your girlfriend from wanting to kiss you for hours. But there are also many forms that the final product may take. I, for instance, am partial to extra images. They’re like those pickles that come on McDonalds burgers… adding just enough extra flavour to get the point across more saltily. Others who don’t like pickles may prefer slides with a more one-dimensional feel. It’s the balance that’s important.

I could go on about the Big Mac thing. But I think I shall move on.

I recommend checking out: http://www.presentationzen.com/

2. Be comfortable with your procrastination

You can worry about worrying about it tomorrow

Unless I’m horribly mistaken, it’s almost like a law of physics that a lot of people that succeed in higher education are chronic procrastinators. To that I say, why change the habit that got you your first degree in the first place? Something’s working, my friend! What’s the use in worrying about it, or even talking about how much of a procrastinator you are, if (1) you’re going to cause yourself to feel bad, and (2) you’re not really going to do anything about it anyway. The only exception to the above would be if worrying about or talking to other people about your procrastination actually occurs during the procrastinatory act, or if this is itself the chosen method of procrastination.

The bottom line: if you’re a procrastinator, congratulations. You’re probably not going to change that fact so accept it. Hell, rejoice it. You’ll save yourself the worry. If you’re not a procrastinator, you are probably sent from the future to assasinate the future leader of the human resistance. So why are you going for this degree anyway?

3. Figure out how to sound like a jerk without actually being a jerk

Because it will come off as intelligence

exculpateNothing is quite like a journal article where the authors take three or four pretentiously long words to say something that can be said in one. There’s really only a few possible explanations for this prevalent habit in academia. (1) They’re trying to impress someone (attractive aspiring journal editors take note), (2) they are sustained by the tears of grad students, and/or (3) they don’t want the general public to be able to read the damn paper.

That being said, the people who will evaluate your work likely feed off of the tears of graduate students, so they will appreciate you taking the effort to check out thesaurus.com for those few extra adjectives.

The other side of sounding like a jerk without actually being one is that you might be able to employ the ability to inspire fear or entice rage to your advantage. It’s kind of like celebrities in the press. No press is bad press, right? If that holds true, the more attention you can draw to yourself, the better. I call this the Paris Hilton Principle(PHP).

4. Exams? More like “knowledge-exploration invitations”

Because euphemisms just help us fall deeper and deeper into blissful delusion

In my experience (and it should be noted that while I may not have experienced everything, I have pretty much imagined experiencing everything, and according to some lines of philosophical thought, that’s pretty much the same thing), the best way deal with things like ‘exams’ or ‘quizzes’ (methods of assessment that leave a decidedly undergraduate taste in one’s mouth) is to go about preparing for such intellectual muscle-flexing in the most ignorantly positive way you know how.

Now, I’ve never been one for studying much, but you may find this to be a useful activity. You could even engage in such practices as *ugh* making cue cards, or making yourself nice little pneumonics like Bu-Bi-Pu (bulimics binge and purge) or Cops ❤ Poo (coprophiliacs love poo).

But what works better than studying? The power of positive thinking. Yes, that’s right. Just use the power of intention and you can do pretty much anything. That’s pretty much proven science, isn’t it? Think of an exam as if it were an invitation to a party, except the party is in your brain. And the sole purpose of this party is simply to explore what you already know, like going on some kind of a psychedelic adventure into the forbidden recesses of your subconscious. At least, that’s how I think of it.

5. Learn to love cheesy metaphors describing your “training journey”

I guess they figured we’ve finally outgrown Dr. Seuss’ ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go’… which makes me sad

The journey, the traveling companions, the magic mirror, what’s in your backpack, taking the high road, making rest stops along the way, and leaving the nest. These are but a select few of the many metaphors you are likely to experience as you weave your way through the tapestry of grad school (ha!). And if you got a bit of a headache going through just that list, you’re going to have to learn to love ’em or perhaps reconsider your decision to pursue higher education. Because this is what higher education is really about, you just don’t find out about it until it’s too late. In fact, I might be in real danger for revealing this fact.

I actually think that Dr. Seuss has a lot to offer on this point. In fact, I would recommend you sell all of those old undergraduate textbooks you have collecting dust and replacing them with your favourite Dr. Seuss books. There is literally no problem in life that Yurtle the turtle can’t shed light on. And think of his training journey! Now there’s a guy I can rely on come thesis time! And don’t even get me started on ‘Theres a Wocket in my Pocket!’

6. Parallel your thirst for knowledge with a thirst for fine wine

Hey, nobody said a $10 bottle of wine couldn’t be fine!

There’s no better time than grad school to discover your inner sommelier. Especially when you find yourself in need of some reliable self-care and ‘going for a run’ or ‘doing yoga’ sound like way too much effort. Let’s face it – if not for wine, and for argument’s sake let’s just generalize this to alcohol in general, where would academia as an institution truly be? Answer me this, and you are a better person than I.

Good wine is actually a lot like a quality graduate education. It has a sharp tinge of acidity balanced out by rounded fruity and tannin notes and a long, smooth finish. See? Exactly the same.

I also remember hearing somewhere that grad school itself first came into existence back in ancient Greece. The philosophers all got together and were trying to think of the best way to spread their knowledge to the masses. They then decided that the best way to do this would be to have their disciples make a hefty sacrifice as the cost of admittance into the schools of philosophy to the god Dionysus, who of course was the god of wine. The theory was that the vineyards the philosophers kept would receive blessing and they would be able to produce fantastic wine which they found genuinely advantageous to their philosophizing.

So there you have it. Grad school was born with wine in mind. Which is why the two go so well together to this day.

Part 2 coming shortly!

Addict for a Day: Inside AA

One of the final classes of my degree – the long, painful, exceedingly expensive (okay, also purposeful and rewarding) last 2 years of my life – is an introductory course on addictive disorders, their treatment, and the pharmacology of substance use.  While dark, disturbing, and downright depressing, the subject matter is also curiously intriguing and interesting.  Anyone who’s watched an episode of Intervention knows what I’m talking about.

There’s something about addiction that just tears people right apart, along with their career, family, and hope for a future.  Yet, we’re drawn to this suffering, moths to the flame.  Perhaps we wonder on some level how far we ourselves would have to go, how bad things would have to get, before crossing our own line.  Isn’t it our way – as people and as society – to try to get as close as we can to self-destruction without actually doing it?

So, the class is a mixed bag.

One assignment sent me to an alcoholics anonymous meeting.  I had never been to one before.  Plus, I never agreed with their philosophy of recovery, being the stubborn atheist/humanist I am.  I guess the whole concept of surrendering control of yourself to a higher power never sat well with me.  Nonetheless, I looked forward to going and seeing what it was all about.  The assignment was simple enough: attend a meeting, write about it and whether or not you think the program is effective.


It was about 2 in the afternoon.  I don’t know why, but I was feeling nervous as I walked up to the building.  Maybe it was fear that I would be “found out.”  That somehow the fact that I didn’t have a problem with alcohol at all would be written all over my face and I would be some kind of outsider.  Maybe it was that I just had no idea what was going to happen in the meeting.  I mean, everyone sees them portrayed on TV or in movies… people sitting in a circle of chairs, taking turns talking about their daily struggles with sobriety, maybe praying, that kind of thing.  But I wasn’t taking anything for granted.  I knew how inaccurately therapy is portrayed in the media, so I was ready to be surprised.

It wasn’t until later that I realized why I was feeling nervous.  It was fear of being judged.  Did other people know what went on in there?  What if they did, and saw me walking in, and thought – god forbid – that I was an alcoholic?

With a sinking feeling, I thought, ‘wow…  what must it be like for someone with a real problem?’

Inside there was nothing to write home about.  A bunch of chairs set up in rows, a podium and mic at the front, flanked by windows covered by large posters emblazoned with the 12 steps and the 12 traditions of AA.  There was a coffee bar.  $1.50 to indulge in an addiction that I actually did have.  I was happy to have something to do as I took a seat in the back row, directly facing the podium.  Sip, sip… don’t mind me…

There were a few people already there, some at tables behind me, some on couches lining the perimeter of the room, a couple seated in the rows of chairs in front of me.  A man was at the podium now, he read some rules and something called a ‘daily reflection,’ not, of course, without introducing himself under his breath with the perfunctory “I’m an alcoholic” statement.  At least the movies got that part right.  There was a murmured greeting from the crowd.  He went on about something to do with honesty and admitting powerlessness, periodically scanning the crowd, who now numbered maybe a couple dozen.

One by one, he called people to the podium.  There was a couple – American – who had just got off a cruise ship that didn’t have any meetings on board.  “Real glad to be at a meeting now,” he said.  About a year sober, trapped on a cruise ship for 2 weeks with no way of avoiding booze.  I believed him.  An older woman was next.  Then a ‘newcomer’ who was clearly in a rough spot in his life.  He talked about treatment centres, relapses, boredom, mental agony trying to decide whether or not to drink on any particular day.  Another guy said that he used to go to a bar, order a beer, and stare at it for half an hour trying to decide whether to take that first sip.  Sounded like torture to me.

Everyone spoke eloquently.  Some very convincingly.  I got the sense these were experienced people.  And then, the inevitable moment came.  Podium guy looked for someone to come up to speak, and sure enough, gestured to me.  Of course, I had thought of what I might do if this situation arose.  Sure, I could pass – not speak, stay in the silent comfort of my seat – but then, this was an educational opportunity.  ‘I’m here, aren’t I?  Might as well get as much of an experience as I can while I’m pretending to be an addict.’

My introvert alarms were sounding as I stepped up to the mic.  ‘I told you not to do it!’


“My name’s David,” I said, without the ‘I’m an alcoholic’ part – I couldn’t make those words come out, like they were cursed or something, or would sound too forced, or any of a million other lame excuses.  I didn’t want to lie to these people, who had shared such painful stories that were, in all seriousness, pretty courageous and inspiring.

“Hi, David!” came the group’s reply.  I couldn’t help smiling.  I felt accepted.  The nervousness started to evaporate.

“I’ll make this quick,” I said instead.  “This is actually my first ever meeting,” I blurted, to cheers from the crowd.  I went on to say that I wasn’t sure where I was in the grand scheme of things, and that I wanted to see what these meetings were all about, which were both technically true.  When I was finished, there was more applause, and several encouraging handshakes on my way back to my chair.  I felt welcomed, but still pretty awkward as I listened to the next few speakers mention what it was like for them when they first started coming to meetings.  Speakers consistently made direct eye contact with me when talking about how important it is to keep coming to meetings.  That nice feeling of being welcomed started to turn into a sense that I was being gently pushed.  A vivacious, attractive younger woman was last to speak.  She was a great speaker, very charismatic, very personable.  She made a convincing case for following all the steps and reading all the AA literature.  I wondered if she was routinely asked to speak at the end the meetings with young newcomers.  Or maybe just at the end of meetings to provide those in attendance some motivation to return.

Finally, everyone formed into a circle, holding hands, and a prayer was spoken (the “serenity prayer“):

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

It was pretty awkward to be the only one that didn’t know the words.  The meeting ended and I think I was the first person out of the building, as if I had a limited time before my ‘clever guise’ wore off.  I didn’t get out without a short conversation with the young woman who spoke last, she gave me a booklet with meeting times and locations for the whole month.

I did feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders as I walked away.  I think it was the whole pretending thing, and the mindset that I seemingly adopted to go with that ‘addict’ role.  That feeling that I was being judged by ‘normal’ people.  It was all very automatic, which is kind of frightening.  We do this to people, society.  Great job.

So, is the whole thing effective? From what I saw, it was keeping some people sober.  Maybe their addiction just switched to having to go to meetings, but there’s surely a lot worse out there.  I can tell you that I felt welcomed, supported.  That if I really needed it, these people would help me.  I don’t think that means that it’s going to work for everyone, nor should it.  I still don’t believe in the same things they believe, and I don’t think I ever will.  I think that the power to change, for better and for worse, is fundamentally within one’s control, not outside it.  I believe in responsibility, on a personal and a social level.