Fear and Planning

frozen lakeMy dad had a volcanic temper. By volcanic I mean that it was powerful, unpredictable, and it hurt everything in its way. I’m not a doctor, so I hesitate to make an armchair diagnosis, but I suspect a history of untreated mental illness. He had long mood swings with big highs and big lows. He had an addictive personality – he drank copiously and his heavy smoking is ultimately what killed him at age 59. And then, of course, there was the temper.

I loved my dad. Despite what I said above, he was also smart, funny and could fix absolutely anything. He and I liked the same kind of books and movies. We liked to fish, cook and work on projects together. I still miss him.

However, when you grow up with someone with an explosive temper, life becomes tricky. The thing with my dad was that he was absolutely great when it came to big things. My sister and I both have smashed a few cars in our days, and every time, he came to our rescue and was nothing but supportive. However, if something small happened that offended him in someway, well, Lord help you. Here’s a quick example: I was in high school and my mother had bought me a beautiful pale grey mohair sweater. I loved that sweater and wore it as often as I could. I got home from school one day and was just lounging around watching tv. My dad, who happened to have the day off, was working on a woodworking project in the basement. He came up and asked if I could give him a hand and hold some boards while he cut them. I told him I would – but I had to first change my sweater. I didn’t want a bunch of sawdust on it. My dad threw a fit – went nuts. Accused me of being lazy and said things along the line of, “See if I ever help you out with anything again.” After the tantrum? He didn’t speak to me for over a week. I was fourteen.

This is what I grew up with. One of my first childhood memories is walking up and down the block in front of my house with my mother. I was less than 4 years old. It was a cloudy, cold spring day. Neither of us had coats. She held my hand as we circled our street over and over. Why? Because my parents had gotten in an argument. Mom took me out of the house so I didn’t hear dad yell. When she left, he nailed the front door shut.

Yes, you read that right – he not only locked the door – he nailed the front door shut so his young wife and 4 year old daughter couldn’t come back in the house.

Growing up the way I did, I quickly realized that I couldn’t trust anyone. When you are a kid and you have no idea what will set dad off this time, and your mom doesn’t know how to stop it – or defend you – you just learn to rely on yourself. That’s what I did. My mother claims I came out of the womb independent, and that is roughly true. I think it was a combination of genetics and good old fashioned fear that made me learn how to take care of myself.

I don’t blame my mom. Maybe when I was a kid she tried to stop him – I don’t know. Stopping him when he was on a roll though was like trying to stop a freight train. If she got in his way, he’d just flatten her too. I should say – he never raised a fist to me. His abuse was purely emotional. I don’t actually like the word abuse – at the time it didn’t exactly feel that way, it just “was what it was,” but I know now as an adult, it was no way to treat a child. The worst part of his temper was that he knew exactly what to say to you to get you in the guts. It wasn’t just yelling or name calling, it was saying the one thing or two that he knew would make you cry. And he could do it every time.

My mother’s coping mechanism was just to stop talking. She’d leave the room and just not say anything. It wasn’t particularly effective when the anger was directed at her – and it wasn’t at all effective if the anger was directed at me or my sister. Nonetheless, that seemed to be all she knew how to do.

So, what does this mean for me? He’s been gone for over 12 years, why write about this now? This off-kilter childhood of mine is part of what made me into the woman I am. One result is that I don’t trust easily. Relationships, friendships, they are like giant frozen lakes. I move across them slowly, always testing for weak ice. It takes a long time before I truly trust a friend. Honestly, I don’t mind if there is weak ice – I just want to know where it is. For example, I have a friend who is never on time. If I didn’t know that about her – and that it had nothing to do with me – I could be really hurt when she doesn’t show when she says she will. It could seem personal and unreliable, but because I do know it, I can still have faith in her… just not in her punctuality.

My friendships are all with people who are self sufficient. It makes me nervous to be needed too much. I’m not the type that will call regularly, or email, or even set up coffee dates. I may go months without seeing my friends. It isn’t personal. It’s just that I have so much to take care of, but only so much time, energy and willpower. They understand that about me. The also know I don’t do surprises well, I don’t like unexpected company and I sometimes have a hard time with unexpected changes in plans. I like my scheduled plans, my routines, my lists and systems. Since I am responsible for everything in my life, I need those systems to keep everything going.

I don’t ask for help easily, but when I do, I don’t actually expect that I will get it. On the other hand, I feel my own responsibilities very strongly. I take care of the people I love and I hate letting them down. I am loyal and I do my best to balance my time with others with my much needed time alone. I love long talks with friends and loved ones, but I need time alone just to breathe.

I feel very strongly that every responsibility in my life – my career, my homes, my health, my dog, my relationships, they are all on me to maintain. I cannot expect to lean on anyone. It can be a lonely place sometimes, but at least I never pull the rug out from under my own feet.

This is the first time in my life that I have looked at this stuff objectively. It’s how I’ve looked at life as long as I can remember, but now I’m seeing why – and how this is a perfectly logical reaction to what I faced as a kid. There are thousands of ways I could have handled it, (I’m sure each person who has had experiences like mine has dealt with it in their own way,) but this is it for me. Since I’ve been spending time examining my life, I’m seeing connections that I had only guessed at before. How this all fits in with my health and fitness, my plans for the future and this blog that I write… I have no idea, but it does, somehow. I’m going to keep exploring it and let you know what I find out.

 

Photo credit: bjaglin via flickr

 

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Side Effects and Society – A Light Bulb Moment

so distant by Andreia BohnerA few weeks ago my General Practitioner put me on a new medication. One of its potential side effects is drowsiness. I mentioned to her that I was concerned about that – I have enough problems with getting enough sleep and being tired/grouchy the next day, I didn’t need a medication that was going to add to that! She had a simple solution:

Take it at night.

In retrospect it seems incredibly obvious. If I take the medication at night, the drowsiness takes place at night giving me the added benefit of helping me get to sleep! By the time I get up in the morning, the side effect has passed. Brilliant! The thing is, I never would have never thought of taking it at night. I’ve somehow been trained that you take medication in the morning. You just do. Medications are kept in the medicine cabinet and you take them right before you brush your teeth in the morning along with your multivitamin. I don’t even know where that routine comes from, childhood, I guess.

It’s interesting to me because I have been doing a lot of thinking lately on societal conventions / family norms and how we just accept them as fact without necessarily thinking about whether they actually work for us – for our own lives. When to take medication seems like a small, silly example, but it speaks to a bigger theme I’m seeing in my life – that some of the things I’ve just accepted as “the way things are” don’t have to be that way. In fact, they were set up by someone with completely different goals and aspirations than me. So, I’m starting to think about that. I’m in my forties now. Life is pretty stable. It’s time to take stock and look at things – even little things – and make sure they fit how I want to live. If it isn’t how my mother or my aunts would have done it, so what! They have their own lives – and I have mine. Time to make it mine!

 

 

Photo credit: Andréia Bohner on flickr

Happiness isn’t Made with a Cookie Cutter

Lack of passion

Oh, shut up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion and happiness. It started with a question – if I wanted to change careers, what would make me happy? It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward question, but I didn’t know the answer. When you think about it, it’s ridiculous how we choose careers. Unless you know from birth what you want to be (and some people do have passion like that,) it’s hard to know what to pick. There should be some kind of “try out period” where you can sit in on different jobs and see what they are like before you commit. (And no, I am not talking about college.)

Trying to narrow this down I asked myself a couple of questions: 1) What would I do if money wasn’t an issue, and 2) What do I enjoy doing now? The first question wasn’t about a career, it was more about how would I spend money if I didn’t have to worry about earning it. I didn’t mean the lotto, because that’s a whole different kettle of fish, I just meant if whatever it was that I did paid “enough” what would I do? Most of the things on my list were pretty practical – I’d remodel the downstairs bath, I’d get another kayak, I would take more fitness classes. The only thing that really popped on my list as “extravagant” was that I would travel more.

Then I looked at what makes me happy now. Again they were simple things: walking with my dog, being on the water, spending time with people I care about, reading books, cooking and so on. I quickly figured out that while there are a lot of things I love, none of them were things I wanted to do as a career. I love to cook, but I don’t want to be a chef, I like paddling around in my kayak but I am not looking to become a guide, and so on. In fact, what it seemed like I would be best at was being retired!!

That’s when it hit me – I had gone through this same cycle when I was in my 20s and in college. I was trying to decide what to major in. My passion at that time was community theatre – as a volunteer, I didn’t want to be a professional actor or stagehand. So ultimately I decided to find a career that I enjoyed, but that was also stable, interesting, challenging and could support my “theatre habit.” I ended up in marketing since it beautifully combined my love of art and writing.

Now that I am in my 40s, all that holds true. I might be on a break from theatre, but the basic premise still holds true – I want a job that I enjoy and that I am good at that will support my lifestyle. I don’t have one huge dream to chase after, instead, I know what I want in my life, and I have set up my career to support that.

I admit that part of me feels like this is a let down. That somehow I should have this big… goal in my life, some grand dream. I don’t though, and you know what? That is okay. I can love riding my bike without having to race in a triathlon. I can have a career that I am proud of, without it being my “lifelong dream.” I can be good in business without feeling like I have to start my own. We push ourselves so hard to go big, to be the best, but how about just enjoying what we have right now?

That seems so unAmerican, right?

I’m tired of feeling like I am not meeting some kind of expectation because I’m happy with some fairly simple things. And I am tired of justifying those simple things. I’m fixing my life, but not by making any big changes – instead, I’m simply finding small ways to enjoy what I have now even more.

 

Reaching Out

air conditioners The other night, a girlfriend of mine sent me a text asking if I could help her with her air conditioner. She lives just around the corner so I strolled over to give her a hand. It wasn’t bad. It was a little heavy and her basement stairs are a little awkward, but we got it up easy enough. It took a longer to perform the magic “okay just a bit to the left… no right… no, pull it back a bit, I mean, up” dance that is required to get it perfectly positioned in the window. The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes, then we spent another 10 chatting on her front porch before I walked on home.

It was nice. I felt good about being able to help and I liked getting the chance to chat a bit after. It made me think about my network. I’ve got a pretty terrific group of friends, family and loved ones. I need to reach out to them more. I’m getting better at asking for help with projects (I used to be terrible, but I’ve gotten a lot better over the years,) but I am not very good at calling up a friend to chat or asking someone over for a glass of ice tea on the porch.

Typically when I am going through a hard time, my default is to put my head down and power through. It sometimes causes me to isolate myself from people I care about, partly because I need all my energy to deal with the problem and partly because I’m so fragile that it’s easier to “go it alone.” One kind word and I could break down. However, what I am going through right now isn’t that severe. It’s a rough patch. It’s hitting me hard, but I know I can get through it. Reminding myself to reach out and call a friend now and again seems like good idea.

 

Photo credit: Bonnie Natko on flickr

 

Winter Messages

The River in winterI’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. As I mentioned Monday, I’ve fallen out of my routines. I seem to have a slight case of the blues. It’s nothing serious, there is nothing really wrong, I just feel like the Gods of Entropy and Apathy have taken notice of me and decided to teach me a little lesson.

I think I know what started it all. The Thursday before Thanksgiving I was in a minor car accident. Really minor – an inattentive driver rear-ended me. Fortunately, it was at a traffic light and I have one of those 5 mph bumpers. Though it felt like a lot more than 5 mph when he hit me, my car was fine – not even a scratch. I did, however, bang my right knee into the steering column. (I drive a stick shift.) That knee has been giving me some grief for a couple of months now, so it took me some time to realize that the new sharp pains came from the accident. There was no visible bruising or swelling, it just hurt like someone was repeatedly hitting me with a ball peen hammer. I thought I must have really messed it up somehow. It hurt to walk the dog and it was impossible to run. Weight lifting, with all the squats, got thrown out the window too. I could have done other things, but that’s when the vindictive nature of the Twin Gods of Little Movement struck.

We all know Newton’s First Law, right?

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

I seem to be at rest, but I want to be in motion. In order to change my state, I need some kind of force – a lever to pry me free of my inertia. With the holidays and rotten weather, I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors, much of it in front of screens. I decided it was time to get out in nature. I’m out walking the dog every day, of course, but I was feeling called to do something else.

I went for a walk in the woods.

I went on my lunch hour. It was dark, rainy, wet and cold. I was also inappropriately dressed, (since a muddy walk wasn’t my plan when I left for work that morning.) Fortunately I always keep a spare pair of walking shoes in the car. I was about 20 minutes in when I stopped to take a few photos, then walked a little further… and saw what nature wanted me to see: a pileated woodpecker. Many people see signs in every day things, like numbers or colors. I have a deep affection for birds. Some birds, of course, are particularly special. The pileated woodpecker is one of those. There he was, up in an old tree, proudly strutting his stuff.

Like me, my dad was also a bird lover. For many years I gave him books on birds and bird watching for Christmas, especially when he became sick and couldn’t read much anymore, but could still enjoy the pictures. He was amazed by the pileated woodpecker, and I remember him saying “Look at these huge woodpeckers! They are the size of a crow! I want to see one!”

As far as I know, he never did.

But I have, several times since he passed away. They are shy birds and usually found only in heavily wooded areas, like the areas up and around my cabin. Every time I see one, I think of him.

And perhaps that’s the message: Buck up, buttercup! Live large and follow your dreams. Life is a crazy thing, you can die of cancer at 59, so don’t waste it moping about – get out and do something. You’ll be glad you did.

Fair enough.

pileated woodpecker

 

Photo credit of the pileated woodpecker: Matt MacGillivray on flickr

A Case of the Blahs

Overtaken by Wind on a Rainy Day 1882This past weekend was awesome. There was a big formal event on Sunday and at the close of it, two of my dearest friends became engaged. The fun part? A huge group of their friends (including yours truly) got to be a part of it. I’ve never been a part of anyone’s engagement before and it was wonderful! It makes me cry to even think of it. If I can get ahold of any photos, I’ll post a few. (Sadly, I didn’t take any, I was too giddy to even think about it.)

But on Monday, I got a case of the blues. Basically, I think it was an emotional hangover. It wasn’t an actual hangover, (I didn’t drink that much,) but I just felt sad and out of sorts. All of us that were in on the big surprise have been talking about this engagement for days. It just kept building up until we were all wound up like springs …and then we sprung! It turned out perfect (everything went off beautifully,) but afterwards there was this little letdown, you know?

I had planned to go for a run Monday night, but didn’t have it in me. Instead, I ended up taking myself out to eat, which was a mistake. The food was good, but I wasn’t in a place to enjoy it. If I am going to do something like that, I should revel in it, not wolf it down and slump on home. What I should have done is gone for that run – exercise is a good cure for a general malaise. (Although it is also the very last thing I feel like doing.)

I do have one cure for the blahs – music. Me? I prefer ah… “unique” voices, catchy beats and if portions of it are in a foreign language – all the better! So, I popped this in the CD player and everything was a little brighter.

Photo credit: Evelyn Saenz on flickr

I Paid $300 to Find Out My Dog Just Really Needed to Fart.

Ahem.

Ahem.

So… back in August I found out that my dog Hermes had a giant, softball sized tumor in his spleen. (I wrote about it here.) One emergency surgery, two doggy blood transfusions, and thousands of dollars later, my pooch seemed to be on the mend. Then I noticed something odd.

It was the weekend that I got back from my trip to Georgia. I decided to paint the back porch. It’s been needing it for years, and with winter coming, I decided it was finally time to get out the paintbrush and take care of it. I spent most of that Sunday, and a few more hours on Monday night, outside painting. (It needs some touch-ups, but it has been so cold lately, I’m glad I got done what I did, when I did.) I had Hermes outside with me on a tie-out so he could sniff around the yard and lay out in the sun.

It was sometime after that, that I caught him eating grass. Now, the last time he was in at the vet she had told me that when dogs eat grass it is frequently because they are nauseous. That made me worry, but when he vomited in the living room, I wasn’t terribly surprised. In fact, I hoped he got whatever it was out of his system. Sadly, that didn’t prove to be the case. For the next couple of days, every time I took him out he mowed grass like he was a cow, and then puked it back up, usually on my carpet. (Ever notice that dogs almost never throw up on the linoleum? They’ll walk off the nice easy-to-clean-up floor to make sure and hit the rug.) There was also another odd thing. We’d be out on a walk and he’d suddenly stop and stretch. It was weird. Hermes is usually all “go-go-go” on a walk. Stopping in the middle for a stretch just struck me as odd.

Then that Thursday morning we went out for a walk and after a few blocks, he just laid down. He refused to walk. I ended up picking him up and carrying him all the way home. Forty pounds of dog, five or six blocks – I’ll tell you, I was glad I do strength training! I was petrified the whole way home and knew it was time to call the vet. Honestly, I knew I was going to anyway, but after everything with his health back in August, I was scared stiff. I had almost convinced myself that he had another tumor, and this was the end for my little buddy.

So, I brought him to the vet. They did an exam and then they did a test for pancreatitis, which was the next least expensive test they could do that might be the cause. It wasn’t that though, so naturally, he had to have x-rays. (My dog has had so many x-rays, I really should get a bulk discount.) They didn’t find any tumors, what they found was gas bubbles, big ones, and when the rolled him over on the table… he then dispelled said gas.

When the vet told me this, I started giggling, “Oh gosh, doc. I am kind of glad I am not you right now.” She said, “Oh LongView…. it is impressive! I mean, just… wow.”

They suspect that when he was out with me he found something terrible in the back forty of my yard. Most of my yard is well maintained, but there is an area at the back that is pretty wild – like open meadow. He loves it, but I suspect there was something awful (or delicious depending on if you are me or a dog,) that he got into back there. So, the vet gave him a shot for nausea, and I put him on a bland diet. Since then, he’s been doing great. The good news is that I have my four-legged trainer back to his old self again. The bad news is the money I had started to save up again? Yeah…. ah well.

8 Hours, 8 Wonderful Hours

Hotel BedSleep, blissful sleep.

I know several people who can get by without it, but I am not one of them. For me sleep, and lots of it, is a necessary part of my life. This is why I’ve made it one of the daily habits I am working on using the Lift app.(Incidentally, Lift is a free app and I don’t get anything for telling you about it, I just like to share what I am working on.) 

Recently, I was talking to my mother about sleep. I was feeling overwhelmed, and it made me wonder how she did it all – a full time career as a teacher (which involved tons of at home work), raising two daughters and dealing with all their various activities, plus keeping up with all the house and yard work. (Don’t get me wrong, my dad was in the picture, he just didn’t deal with any of that stuff.) It is far more than I have in my life, and I am constantly feeling overloaded. How did she pull it all off? Her answer? She gave up on sleep. She said that during those years, she rarely went to bed before midnight and frequently stayed up even later. She was up again at 6:00AM. She said she got used to it after awhile. I suppose she had plenty of time to acclimate. If it started when I was born and ended with my little sister turning 18, that’s roughly 26 years of getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night.

I don’t know how she did it.

I have friends that get by on lower amounts of sleep too. Some who only need 5 hours or so at a time, others who frequently pull “all nighters” to finish up projects. I wish I could do that, but honestly, even if I get just 7 hours of sleep for a few nights, I’m a wreck. You can see it in my face. As I’ve gotten older, my eyes have developed these charming deep, dark, puffy circles that pop out at the first blush of lost sleep. More than that, you can see it in my personality. Lack of sleep makes me fuzzy headed, ornery, frustrated, snappish, confused, and basically, and all around terror to be around. I frequently pity my coworkers. (Well, afterwards, once I have had some sleep, that is.) It takes a toll. There are those people who are just a little sleepy when they don’t get a good night’s rest – not me. It completely changes my personality and I really dislike who I become. And I don’t recover quickly, it takes several nights of good sleep to get me back on track.

It doesn’t help that, by nature, I am an evening person. Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to work 11:00AM – 8:00PM. I loved that shift. My prime time for productivity is that 11:00 – 2:00 slot, so I came into work ready to go. I could head to bed around 11:00PM and get up around 9:30AM. I got lots of sleep so no one ever threatened to burn me at the stake. (That schedule was rotten on my social life, but man, sometimes I miss it.)

Now I work 9:00AM to 6:00PM. In order to get up and get the dog walked and do all the other things I have to do in the morning, plus get out of the house on time, I have to get up at 6:30AM. On strength training days I get up at 6:00AM. So, in order to shoot for 8 hours, that means I have to be in bed with the covers pulled up by 10:00 – 10:30PM. It seems like it should be easy, but it isn’t. There is always so much to do!

I’m working on it though. I honestly believe that as long as I work in the traditional workplace with a set schedule, I have to make sleep one of my top priorities, just for my own health. I’m hoping the Lift app will help me start taking it from a goal to get in bed on time, to a habit.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Photo credit: Hotel Bed by Sean MacEntee on flickr

Feeling Grateful

album-gratitudeI have two journals. This one, and a physical blank book I write in at home over breakfast. The home journal is for stream of consciousness writing, mostly centered around weight loss, diet, exercise and so forth. It’s my little space to get all the thoughts in my head out and onto the page. Honestly, it is pretty repetitive and occasionally seriously whiney, and having it helps me not bore you all with it!

However, there is one aspect of that journal that I really love. In addition to all the stuff about fitness and whatnot, I also try to include things I am grateful for and the good things I am doing for myself; things like spending time with people I love, reading good books, trying something new, and connecting with old friends.

Today I thought I would share a few things that I am deeply grateful for. In no particular order: 

  • My amazing sister. She has been such a cheerleader through my journey. We don’t always talk or see each other as much as I would like, but we’re working on it. And I love the friendship that keeps growing between us.
  • The lovely lady over at Owls and Orchids who nominated me recently for an award. Those of you that read this little blog and take a moment to comment or say hello make my day. I am grateful for your support.
  • Your blogs. I have learned from you all, laughed with you, and have been inspired so much by all of you. I honestly think that I’ve felt more confident in getting out there and trying new things because I see all that you are doing. You guys awe, inspire and motivate me!
  • My friends. They are rock stars! Some times we see each other a lot, other times hardly at all, but I know they are always there for me and always want the best for me. I know not everyone has a network of supportive friends and that I am lucky, lucky gal.
  • Technology. I keep saying this phrase: I love living in the future! Sure, I know that there are a lot of negatives to all the screen time we have nowadays, but when used well, technology is amazing. It has helped me to lose weight, start running, connect with friends (old and new), meditate, make healthy meals, find running and biking trails… the list goes on and on.
  • My health. I know I talk about it a lot, but I feel so different from I did. I have more energy and more zest for the everyday. …of course, I also have a lot more aches and pains. (Thanks, strength training!!) Still, now that I have been focusing on it, I am all the more grateful for what I have. So many folks struggle with health issues – my heart goes out to them. I may not be exactly where I want to be fitness-wise, but I am healthy and feeling good. It is something to be thankful for.
  • My guy. Julian and I have been together a little over 3 years now and things just keep getting better and better. How great is that?

What can I say? Though sometimes I get overwhelmed and frustrated, I have to say, life is good. I am very, very fortunate. It’s good to look back and remember all that.