Don’t Think of a White Elephant

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George Lakoff talks about how the moment you mention something – especially if you immediately tell the person not to think about it – all they can do is think about it. So, if I tell you “don’t think of an elephant,” all you’ll be able to think about is the elephant in the room.

Now, I don’t know if he specifically chose the elephant example as evidence that all the metaphorical elephants in the room we aren’t talking about can’t be ignored, but even if he didn’t, there’s a lesson in there about why telling someone to “just not think about” their depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. will always be doomed to fail. He also used the elephant example as an overt lesson for Progressives that they don’t seem to have taken enough to mind for the 2018 midterms. Progressives, Lakoff argues, need to use their own talking points to their own cognitive advantage. They need to spend less time refuting Republicans and more time standing up for something better. It isn’t enough to just state over and over that they oppose Trump’s inhumane and cruel plans. Because, when they only talk about his position, people don’t really remember theirs – all they remember is the position Democrats told them to forget about! As George Lakoff reminds liberals: if they only oppose their opposition they instead give Republicans twice their voters’ cognitive airtime. Progressives should stick to their own ideas, talking points, and actionable platforms. They shouldn’t mention what they don’t want their voters to even cognitively flirt with from the other side.

Because you really can’t “not think of an elephant.”

Unless, of course, you happen to have ADHD and your office holds a generic winter-holiday white elephant gift exchange.

Ah, the white elephant gift exchange – also known as the Yankee Swap and some even less PC terms that I won’t repeat here in the Midwest and South – aka “the exception to every rule” and also “too much trouble for what it’s worth.” It usually involves anonymously buying a gift that the majority of your coworkers would like, wrapping it so thoroughly that it is impossible to know what it is, and having people draw lots to select those gifts at random. Colleagues can elect to keep what they first unwrapped, or – if they are particularly vindictive – they can steal a previously unwrapped gift from someone else.

I don’t have to participate in any white elephant gift exchanges this year. That’s a little sad because I suspect my boss will kill the fun for everyone this year by canceling even the most token of holiday celebrations for those who still work within the office, but it’s mostly great. It’s great because I work from home in a city that doesn’t really have a functional team to support a white elephant gift exchange, and the working-from-home part is, in and of itself, pretty great.

It’s also great because I have ADHD. ADHD simultaneously means that I am rejection sensitive and would spiral a bit if my selected gift was given “that look” when unwrapped and/or not stolen at least once and that the only way in the world I can be told to “not think of an elephant” and actually have it work is when I’m brain-fogged, unfocused and that elephant is white.

Every year that I have been employed – not just in my current job, but pretty much in all of them, as this tradition is so popular I know at least four regional names for it – I’ve truly planned to pre-order a wonderful white elephant gift and package it in Martha Stewart-worthy wrapping paper with a handmade bow.

And, every single year I’ve ended up on the day of the event sneaking out on my lunch hour, heading to the nearest CVS and/or Walgreens (depending upon the specific region I lived in at the time) and having to construct an on-the-fly white elephant gift and surreptitiously wrap it in my car. With this much experience with last-minute pharmacy scrambling, I was either going to cry in public or become an expert at it. To date, I haven’t ever cried in an office because of the white elephant exchange in specific, at least. (I’ve cried for other reasons more than I care to count.) So, I want to offer a service to all of my readers with ADHD and/or brain fog. Since I no longer have to come up with any more impromptu gifts, I’ll let my readers in on my old secret for creating a steal-worthy CVS selectable: bundles.

Everything is better in a bundle. Buy any one thing from a pharmacy – even if it’s the most expensive thing the white elephant price tag allows from the seasonal gift aisle – and it will inevitably look cheap. It will look like a thing that came from the pharmacy gift aisle. It will look like exactly what it is: a cheap lure for the unsuspecting desperate procrastinator set out visibly in a middle aisle to trap them. Avoid that middle aisle of “gifts” at all costs. Instead, circle the outer aisles and buy multiple little every day things that people tend to use anyway, put them together with a vague idea of theme, buy a card that touches on the theme, write a note explaining the theme, and then loosely wrap each item in individual pieces of CVS-brand tissue paper and plop them into the closest-to-theme gift bag you can find.

People will love unwrapping each little thing and wondering until the very end how they all go together. (Make sure your card is at the very bottom and explains it clearly.) They’ll love it so much that you will have adults fighting over generic pleather notebooks while the Martha-Stewart wannabe who brought the single-bean espresso imported from Ethiopia gets forgotten. I’m not even joking.

All of the following are real past examples, from multiple workplaces, of “bundles” I have put together for the white elephant exchange. All of them got stolen the maximum number of three times before going home with their final owner. Feel free to suggest additional options, or steal these as many times as you would like if/when you completely forget your own office’s white elephant gift. Baskets can be mixed and matched in the items within them to fit within any of the roughly $15-$30 standard white elephant price ranges.

Basket #1 “Soul Search”: Items include one small pretty blank journal ($8-$10 dollars), one set of nice gel pens ($5 dollars), one set of Lindemann or other chocolate truffles ($4), one set of mixed Celestial or other relaxing teas ($3) and one squishy stress ball ($1-$3). Pitch the basket as a self-care basket, and encourage the recipient to destress through journaling, doodling and little decadent indulgences during rare moments to themselves.

Basket #2 “Inner Child”: A few of the items (like the squishy) can be the same as the above, but the pitch here is different. Instead of jumping on the meditation/self-care bandwagon, you key in on Silicon Valley’s belief that if corporate offices have items around that remind employees of childhood, they somehow won’t notice they are still corporate drones. Let’s be honest, sometimes that does work – if the toys are cute enough! Think things like a plastic basketball net with a ball ($8) to hang over the door in an office or a small nerf gun ($10) to shoot co-workers. (Everyone secretly wants to shoot their co-workers!) Replace the gel pens with Crayola crayons or invisible ink markers ($5) to write secret notes mocking the boss, and include old-school candy like ring pops or skittles instead of adult-like truffles. If it would entertain a five-year-old, it belongs in this box. Bonus points if you dare to put a cereal box of Trix into the bundle – and you can keep a straight face while you do!

Basket #3 “Uncorked”: Apologies in advance to some Midwestern and Southern states. I know not all pharmacies are allowed to sell alcohol. But, if yours does, you can swing looking like you bought much fancier wine. Look for a wine from a specific appellation within, say, the Russian River area of San Francisco or the Willamette Valley of Oregon ($10-$15). Or, get a type of wine most people have never heard of, or a wine from a region outside of France or the U.S. The same chardonnay seems fancier if it comes from a New Zealand winery rather than Napa Valley to most, and a gewürztraminer will usually impress all but those who truly know wine instead of just pretending they do! (The number of folks who truly know wine is significantly less than the number who claim they do, so rock the confidence here and it’ll work!) Throw in a set of those plastic cork stoppers that help keep wine fresh longer than a day ($8) and a corkscrew to take it on a picnic ($5).

Basket #4 “Runner’s High”: Everyone’s a runner these days. The runners who complete marathons will find this bundle funny, and the ones at the couch-to-5k stage might even genuinely appreciate it. But, you’ll win either way. The lucky recipient will also win – not because anything in this package is that great, really – because this bundle comes with implicit permission to brag. It’s almost an imperative that anyone who steals this gift brags about how they are a runner. Every runner in an office is secretly looking for an opportunity to brag, so much so that they’d probably pay you $15-$30 dollars for the privilege. With this bundle, they get to brag and take home something concrete at the same time! Items include Gatorade or other electrolyte drinks ($4), cliffs bars ($2/per bar), Thermacare patches ($8) and a pair of clean, soft socks to change into after the race ($5). If you, as the giver, happen to have dysautonomia, you can totally rock this basket. Add some Nuun tabs or a Banana Bag as a fancier hydration option, and toss in a few of the salty snacks you already have at your desk (but hide them from others when you eat them originally). Maybe even include some k-tape or portable braces for any injuries afterward. Raid your own flare-survival box and call it runner’s “aftercare.”

Basket #5 “Baby It’s Cold Outside”: That song is kind of creepy if you really think about its lyrics. If you really think about the implications of this basket, they might seem creepy too. The way I’m pitching it, though, it isn’t. Note, though, that I am not responsible for any deviations from the suggested non-creepy script. I will include an explicit caveat that if you write anything like “I’d like to crawl under that electric blanket with you” on your card, I am not responsible for the outcome! Spoonies buy a lot of gadgets to survive unpredictable office temperatures (and unpredictable body temperatures in general.) What is a necessity for us again becomes a random little luxury to a non-spoonie in this bundle. Did you know you can buy a nice portable office heating pad (which, unlike a space heater, is usually allowed in most offices), a travel neck pillow and/or a surprisingly soft blanket for about $15-$20 at a pharmacy? I have a Sunbeam heating pad that puts all the others I own to shame, and I bought it once in desperation on a business trip from a CVS. Pick one of the above and toss in a pair of gloves ($5), some hot cocoa ($3) or some of those portable hand warmers that they sell by the Thermacare patches. If it’s football season and cold, you could repackage this as a “tailgate” bundle and throw in some local Sportsball team memorabilia and a thermos to take the cocoa to the “big game.”

Basket #6 “Spa Day”: This is similar to the self-care package, but it’s a little less “meditation” and a little more “mani/pedi.” If your office is predominantly female-identifying (or has a few stylish men – it’s 2018 after all!), you can include things like a do-it-yourself gel manicure set ($20 if you buy a base coat, a nice neutral shade, top coat, and remover from a good brand). If you want the package to be more gender neutral, include things like Burt’s Bees or other organic face washes ($10) and loofahs ($3) that are popular with everyone. They key here is to get a variety of little items – all name brands and organic – because the generic pre-packaged “bath sets” at CVS always look cheap. But, people really do like bath sets, so all you have to do is put together the same items yourself and suddenly they are desirable again! Also, include some tea and/or coffee and sweet treats. (All of these packages are improved by the addition of the right food items, if you haven’t noticed, just like most things in life are improved by the right food item! Even if a person hates everything else in a package, people still will steal your basket if it includes enough chocolate!)

Hopefully, these ideas have sparked your creativity and illustrated the idea. Consider these starter ideas an early holiday gift to tuck away for when you need them later this season, and elaborate at will.

If you want to thank me for the ideas, you can treat this post like the exercise in reverse, reverse psychology that it covertly is. I’ve been talking over and over again about elephants, for about 2,000 words now. I’ve been reminding you explicitly to think about them, instead of forgetting about them. So, perhaps – when midterm elections roll around tomorrow – I’m hoping you’ll give me the gift of thinking about the opposite of what I’ve been talking about.

Maybe you’ll give me the gift of forgetting elephants exist once and for all. Vote the Republicans out, especially those of you in 9th Circle of Hell-like states. It’s all I want for Christmas*, after all, and the price of voting is a steal compared to buying me a white elephant gift…

* Okay, it’s not all I want for Christmas. I also want my family to be safe, the country to reverse course, and human rights to be respected for all. But, it seems harder to achieve any of those big things while an even bigger elephant is still strangling Congress. So, a good start would be at least voting out the party that is most known for trying to erase the human rights of entire populations?

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Think of a White Elephant

  1. Oh, Lavender, this is GOOD. Too bad I didn’t see it before the election, when it would have made a nice reblog.

    Yesterday I spent several hours going back and rereading the earliest posts and comments on my current blog, which begins in February 2016. It scared me to see how much I had forgotten about my posts, and especially how much I had forgotten about the conversations during the year before I had my thirty neurofeedback treatments! I had the neurofeedback, i.e. NFT, in 2017, beginning in February of last year. And, while I feel that I am much more functional, in many ways, thanks to the NFT — and my husband and my stepdaughter and some church friends have also told me they noticed many positive changes, during and after my NFT — I am wondering now if the NFT did more harm than good, in some ways? Because I never used to forget things, especially not the things ad the people who have deeply touched my heart, whether I only know them online, or in “real life.”

    Yesterday I read through some wonderful comment conversations that you and I had on my blog in 2016, and I could not believe that I had completely forgotten those conversations! So I came here to your blog today to tell you that, if within the past couple of years, I have insulted you or hurt your feelings by not seeming to remember our earlier conversations — please forgive me. My brain is just…. I don’t even know!

    I also want to know your opinion, since I can tell by the things you write, both in comments and here on your blog, that you are deeply intelligent and aware: Did you notice, here in the “blog world,” that I seemed to lose a big chunk of my mind after I started having neurofeedback treatments?

    Thank you for being you, Lavender. I would definitely steal any of your white elephant gift bags, especially the ones with chocolate. 😊

    Your analogy of the “don’t think of an elephant” trick, working just the same as telling someone with PTSD to stop thinking about their trauma — once again, Lavender, you are brilliant!

    Anyway, while it’s too late for me to undo my NFT — and I can’t unspend all of that money! — I really would appreciate even a painfully honest answer from you about any negative repercussions you may have noticed during or after my neurofeedback treatments, because my daughter, who is a therapist intern, just started NFT and I want to warn her that it may cause some problems! Although I am not sure if neurofeedback caused my sudden uncharacteristic forgetfulness, the fact that it all happened at the same time, makes me wonder. So please, for my daughter’s sake, don’t hold back in your reply, to spare my feelings!

    Whew. I need some chocolate.


    1. So the problem with asking me that is that my memory is probably worse than yours! I have ADHD, Ehlers-danlos brain fog and a dissociative disorder, so I worry all the time that I am forgetting entire blogs I engaged with before just because I started reading during a time that I have “blanked,” especially this summer. I do know you read my blog right when I started – you commented on when I started Improv – then later commented on a post where I said I’m not as socially anxious when on *stage* because that’s not really *me* up there like it was one of the first post you’d read of mine. Given how important performing is to you, that might mean something since the second post was probably a year after the first. But, again, it’s the kind of thing that I do WITHOUT ever having had neurofeedback. I follow another blogger who in the first months of doing it thought it was turned wrong and made her anxiety and dissociation worse, but she brought it up to the clinician and he adjusted and now she’s worried she’s more like addicted to it calming her instead of *her.* So, I can imagine if you were already highly dissociative that either it got worse before it got better and caused more blank periods- or maybe it was tuned suboptimally by a less-experienced clinician and did exacerbate symptoms. I’ll have to look in the literature and see if there are case reports of memory loss with it, especially among those with C-ptsd symptoms instead of single-instance trauma. My therapist said it’s contraindicated in those with repeated trauma and dissociation to the point she initially referred me then withdrew that recommendation after learning I already lose time. Yet, it seems to be a thing a lot of folks with C-ptsd are getting. I’ve been wondering about that for some time, but never seem to remember to use my journal access to do research. I have full research journal access for work, so I’ll take a look. I will say I have a kitty with severe PTSD. She sounds a *lot* like Cynthia’s kitty and Lady. I’ll find that post and post the link on your blog. I don’t think you commented on that one, either, but I don’t think I’ll be able to tell if you read it. If you were normally reading my posts weekly, but didn’t comment, then I might be surprised you didn’t comment on that one simply because my kitty is so much like Lady. But, that was a relatively early 2017 post, so might be in the “window” you are worried you have time loss for…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply! Yes, I also have ADHD. I have never been officially diagnosed with it, but that’s probably because, when I was in the first grade and I could not stop talking in class to save my life, despite all the teacher’s threats and punishments, ADD/ADHD wasn’t a thing yet. At least I don’t think it was, way back in 1959 when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

        When I had my baseline EEG assessment for the neurofeedback treatments in February of last year, ADD/ADHD was one of the things that my malfunctioning brain waves indicated that I might have. The assessment also said that I had indicators for dyslexia/learning disability, stroke/head injury, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and very low energy/chronic fatigue. However, I was assured that I do not have Parkinson’s. But everything else, yeah, including dissociation. I have been knocked unconscious 4 times, 3 of which were due to abuse. I had a transient ischemic attack, AKA mini stroke, in my early thirties, and lost my math skills despite my doctor’s assurance that I had no brain damage. Plus all the damage that years of trauma and abuse do to the brain, plus 2 years of heavy drinking in my late thirties. After all of that, I honestly do not know how I made it all the way through nursing school with perfect grades, and scored in the top 1% in the nation on the license exam! Apparently my high IQ can compensate for all the brokenness in my life. It’s like I am an “idiot savant,” as they used to call it, back when we had dinosaurs.

        Sigh. I guess I just need to relax and accept being me. The way we accept our traumatized pets, right? With gentle love and compassion.

        No, I did not read this back when you posted it. My neurofeedback therapist had advised me, urged me, really, to not read any blogs or books or anything about trauma issues, during the time I was having NFT.I

        Again, thank you for your response. I really appreciate it. I am very interested in what you find in your research on neurofeedback.


  2. Hi again, Lavender! I see that you just liked my latest post, about my pets with PTSD. Thanks. Okay, now I am going to go do something productive, and not obsessively sit here and wait for your answer to my previous comment, lol. I know you have a life. Shopping creatively for great gift bags, for one thing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It took me awhile to reply to your reply, because the dogs needed out and the poodle gets hysterical if one of us doesn’t go out with him. Even after 4 years, his fear of abandonment is that strong. And then, just as I was bringing the dogs in again, my stepdaughter called so I could ride to work with her, lol.


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