Insomnia and The Snooze Button

Button by Sean McGrathLast week I had a rotten case of insomnia. I did everything I could think of – I had my favorite sheets on the bed, my favorite comfy pjs, I went to bed at reasonable times… all for naught. Each night the same thing would happen: my head would hit the pillow, I’d fall fast asleep beautifully, and then at 1:00AM BING! I’d wake up. And not just a quick “need to pee” wake up – I was wide awake for the rest of the night. Since I am regularly getting up at 5:00AM to work out, that meant I was getting roughly 3 hours of sleep a night. I’ve written before that I’m one of those people who needs at least 8 hours of sleep, so it was a bad situation. Fortunately, I was able to function pretty well, considering, but I was getting to the end of my rope.

My best gal Cee suggested taking an allergy med at night. My boyfriend Julian suggested getting away up to my cabin for the weekend, and a coworker suggested lavender oil. I took all three of them up on their advice.

Cee noticed that I was getting a sore throat and suggested that since we are having a particularly wet autumn (and I am very allergic to leaf pollen and mold) that my allergies might be kicking in at night and keeping me awake without my really knowing it. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try taking my allergy med at night, and sure enough, the next night I did get better sleep. Whether that was from the allergy med or my insomnia just finally letting up, I don’t know, but either way I appreciated the sleep.

Julian knows that the cabin is my place to rest and rejuvenate, and by the end of a week with very little sleep, he thought I could use some time away. The cabin is also awesome for naps. (What is it about cabins and couches and naps? They just go together.) Anyway, I think he was right. I went “up North” and pretty much spent the whole weekend relaxing, reading books, taking long walks and longer naps. It was perfect! Just what I needed.

I also have a coworker who is getting into using essential oils. She suggested rubbing a little lavender oil between my palms and then inhaling it before bed. I figured it couldn’t hurt – and I already owned lavender oil – so I gave it a shot. I have to say, I did find it soothing. I felt like the night I used it my sleep was very peaceful. I liked it.

So, I’ve started getting my sleep again. Then yesterday I read this article over on fitisafeministissue.com: Snoozing the snooze button, that’s my resolution for this week. It’s a great post about the perils of using the snooze button, with links to other anti-snooze button articles. This is the part that got me: (From Why Your Snooze Button is Evil)

Research into the science of willpower finds that we wake up with a robust supply of self-discipline that is then depleted by decision-making during the day (see my related post, Can You Learn Willpower?). The snooze button turns the simple act of getting out of bed into a willpower-sapping episode of trench warfare. I’ll give you 9 minutes if you promise not to take so long in the shower. I’ll give you 9 more minutes if you don’t eat breakfast. Eventually, your ability to invest that willpower in meaningful tasks later on is shot.

Here’s something I noticed – when I first started getting up early, I was pretty energetic about it. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to leave a nice warm bed, but still, I was able to get up fairly easily. Lately though, it’s been a real struggle. I thought it was a combination of the novelty of 5:30AM boxing classes starting to wear off and my insomnia. (Even though I was wide awake, I still hit the snooze, trying to get a just a few minutes of sleep.) But reading that bit about willpower… something in that really rang true to me. I decided to join the author of the post in making a resolution not to use the snooze.

Today was my first day, and as weird as it sounds, it actually was easier to get out of bed. It’s so counterintuitive, but it worked. (At least this morning, I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes.) I set my alarm later – closer to the time I actually get up when using the snooze and when the alarm went off, I laid there for a minute to wake up, then got out of bed. No hitting the snooze. I was able to get my stuff together and was out the door in no time – and I felt a lot less groggy. Maybe it is just because I’m mostly caught up on sleep, but whatever it is – anything to make a morning easier – I’ll take it!

 

Photo credit: Sean McGrath via flickr

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

 

Depression and Me

Rain washed fenceI’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile. I planned to write it shortly after the one on anxiety, but just about that time I learned of the death of Robin Williams. Not wanting to look like I was comparing myself to Mr. Williams, or add to the already numerous articles about depression, I decided to wait a bit. I want to be very, very clear, what I am describing is my personal experience with depression. I am not in anyway comparing myself to anyone. Nor should you take my experiences as gospel for what other people feel. It’s very much an individual thing. Here’s what it feels like to me:

  • My blood feels like it was replaced with cement. It’s hard to move, hard to even get up out of a chair. Activities that I do every day suddenly seem overwhelming.
  • Likewise, my brain feels like it is coated in molasses. The synapses feel like they just aren’t firing like they should – like everything has to pass through goo to work. My thoughts are slowed down. It’s an effort to think. I even talk slower.

Here is something important – I don’t feel sad. Because the symptoms mimic sadness, I think it is something that is misunderstood about depression. Mostly, I’m apathetic. Sadness and emotions? They take too much work. When I am depressed, I don’t have the energy for emotions.

You see, I think “Depression” needs a new definition. Thinking about depression as sadness is the wrong way to look at it. Here’s a better way: imagine there is a pipeline that pumps happiness, joie de vivre, energy and motivation into you. Everything you do during the day uses a bit of that energy, but it is okay, there is more coming in all the time. Now, imagine that someone has “depressed” a button or a plunger that stoppers that pipeline. All you are left with is a tiny, tiny pool of energy at the pit of your stomach. Your instinct is to protect that pool since every single thing that you need to do draws from that pool: from getting out of bed, to getting dressed to eating food. It all sucks that energy away. It feels like if enough energy is sucked away, you won’t have enough to breathe, or even keep your heart beating. To make things worse, you have absolutely no idea when the depression will go away and the energy will return.

The thing about sadness is that it eventually goes away. The body can only sustain true grief for so long before it turns into other things – anger, frustration, even gallows humor. Depression is different, there is no way of knowing when it will end. It feels like it is coming from the outside – as though someone else is inflicting this – and you don’t know why. It’s heartbreaking. It is also so frustrating to know that something that was so easy a few days ago, suddenly seems so hard.

I’ll give you an example – I’m sort of a foodie. I love great food and I enjoy eating. I’m also a planner, so I have preplanned out what meals I have available for the week. It’s not so strict as to be a daily plan, but it’s a list of what’s ready to make in the fridge. Recently I had a morning where I woke up depressed. I won’t go through what it took to get up and get going, but when I got to the kitchen I realized I didn’t have the energy to make breakfast. I thought I’d have yogurt instead. And I found myself standing there, looking at the silverware drawer, completely drained by the very idea of how much energy it would take to get out a spoon. A spoon! It isn’t like my silverware drawer is in a safe! This thought actually ran through my head, “Why bother? And I am just going to have to eat again later.” It all seemed so pointless. And believe me, eating has never seemed pointless before! In fact, I am convinced that that is why most “comfort food” are things that are easily chewed and don’t require many utensils. Think about it. Comfort food used to mean the casseroles and foods of our childhood, but it’s grown to mean things like fast food. I swear that’s because no one who is depressed has the energy to make a roast or their mother’s apple pie – they barely have enough to pull through the drive through. (I don’t actually eat fast food, even when depressed, but I get it. Boy, do I get it.)

Here’s one more example – I drive a stick shift car. I don’t usually think anything about it. If I do, it’s that I love my little rocket ship of a car, but when I am depressed, the idea of having to go from second to third and back again, just seems ridiculous. It’s so draining!

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, however. For me, depression is a fairly recent thing. It is not something I have suffered with my whole life. I also have a wonderful group of people in my life who are incredibly supportive, including my boyfriend who has been awesome. I’m getting help, I am privileged enough to have a job that affords me good health insurance and I’m seeing a therapist. My truly bleak days have become fewer and fewer.

There is one other thing I am grateful for – my love of fitness classes. They help tremendously. I’ll write about it more later, (I have a whole post planned on this subject,) but I’m finding that regular exercise is helping me keep the thunderclouds at bay. I’m glad I discovered that while I am still all new and excited about it, rather than when things had become routine. I’m not sure it would have been quite as effective.

If you know someone who is depressed, give them a hug, bring them a meal, and give them a ton of credit. They are probably doing the very, very best they can.

Photo credit: Priyambada Nath via flickr

What We See in the Mirror – Thoughts on Identity

Make_yourselfI’ve been reading Madeline L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet. For those of you who are readers out there, you might know her as the author of A Wrinkle in Time. A Circle of Quiet is not like her youth fiction, it’s her reflections on writing and life. I’m enjoying it immensely. In fact, it is the first book in a long time that has made me stop, get out a pencil and some sticky notes, and start underlining and marking passages.

One of the things she talks about is our mirrors. She points out that when it comes to our homes, we are careful about the mirrors we choose to do our hair or brush our teeth in front of. We don’t choose darkened mirrors or funhouse mirrors, we choose true clear mirrors that let us see our image. She says that people are also our mirrors – the mirrors of our soul. She says she takes care who she uses as her mirrors – her husband, her children and her close friends. When she uses other people as mirrors, she stops being true to herself.

I know what she is talking about. Let’s call it the What Will The Neighbors Think syndrome (WWTNT?). It doesn’t have to be neighbors, of course, it could be coworkers, family members, whoever – it’s when you let other people’s opinions dictate your choices, instead of your own. The thing is, it isn’t even always What the Neighbors Actually Think – it is more frequently what we think the neighbors think. Reality might be that the neighbors are too dang busy with their own lives to have an opinion on yours, but we think that they do.

For some of us, WWTNT? can drive a lot of our choices – what house to buy, what career to go into, what to wear, where to shop and so on. It seems a little silly, but really, it is a very powerful force. And there is some validity in it. After all, social structures exist for a reason. Simply following the social conventions can make life easier, (why recreate the wheel?) and create more social bonding, (people that look alike and do the same things tend to group together.) However, it can also cause inner conflict. For L’Engle, she talks about her struggles with being a writer first and a mother and housekeeper second. How terribly guilty she would feel because she didn’t feel like she was keeping up with her neighbor’s standards of what a housewife should be. I would guess that a lot of us have gone through something similar – a internal struggle when we realized our passions and dreams differed from what other people thought we should do.

As I have mentioned, I‘ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. My identity has changed a lot in the past couple of years. Many of the words I would have used to describe myself a couple of years ago, aren’t true anymore. And, many of the words I would use now to describe myself, would have been unimaginable then. I’m not done, either. I am just getting to know this new woman who I have become. When I look in the mirror now, (both the actual physical mirror and the reflections of those closest to me,) I see someone completely different. Someone who I am just getting to know. I find myself saying, “When did I become this woman?” a lot. I usually mean it as a joke, when I am getting up at 4:50AM to go to a morning Boxing class, when I’m choosing nonfiction over a novel, when I’m tying on my running shoes… things I wouldn’t have ever thought of doing not that long ago.

I’m also saying “no” to things I would have never turned down. I’ve been active in our community theatre organizations in various ways since 1989. It’s been my lifeblood. All of my friends I met through theatre. But, for now, it doesn’t interest me. I still love my friends, I just don’t have any interest in being at the theatre. It could be just a pendulum, I was very, very busy with theatre the past four years or so, and maybe I am just burned out. In time the pendulum will swing back again. Or maybe not – I honestly don’t know. That’s what I mean – I’m still getting know this “new” me.

Without a doubt I have let other people’s opinions of me effect my choices. I can’t honestly complain, either. I’ve had a good life. I might have had a very different one if I had just listened to my own heart, but the one I have is good. However, I feel like I have the opportunity right now to examine it. I also have the wisdom and experience to start cutting out the parts that don’t work for me, and start adding more that does.

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

We Are All Brave

My bike on the rail trail.

My bike on the rail trail.

Up by my cabin there is a long and wonderful rail trail. It is completely paved, more or less flat, and perfect for biking. I’m still a biking newbie so trails like these are great for me. Since I don’t yet know my limits, I would set an alarm on my armband for 30 minutes or so and head out to see what happened. I was testing questions like, “Can I ride for an hour?” (yes.) “How many miles can I ride in an hour?” (Eleven.) “Where are the ice cream shops?” (About 8 minutes from the cabin, near one of the trail heads.)

So, one afternoon I am riding along, enjoying the scenery, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a gunshot. This really isn’t that uncommon. My cabin is located in a rural area where people do a lot of hunting, and naturally, they practice target shooting. I looked around, but surely no one would be firing at the trail, right?

And that’s when it hit me. I was out here on my own. If something went wrong, it was up to me to deal with it. Sure, I had a phone with me, but I am miles down some rural trail, how do I even tell someone where I am? By the old railroad mile markers? On top of that – who do I call? It was just me and the pooch up at the cabin that weekend, and I haven’t yet taught my dog to drive. This is when I started thinking about other blogs I’ve read of women cyclists. I read some awesome blogs with some badass gals who bike. I’ve noticed though that they have all mentioned fear at one time or another – whether it was with traffic, or riding alone or using a new bike. I always think they are so brave… and here I was, biking alone, in a new area, and guess what? I was being brave!

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but lately I haven’t been feeling very brave. I think my friends would say that I am, but that’s because I talk a good game. In truth, this depression and anxiety stuff has taken a real swing at my self confidence. It’s been hard. There are times when I feel like I am mired in a rut and don’t know how to find my way out. I’ve lost some of the faith I’ve always had in myself.

As I rode my bike though, I felt great, and as the miles passed, I started to think of other incidences when I’d been brave:

  • Getting married
  • And then getting divorced
  • Buying an old house
  • Choosing to live in that house, despite a lot of reasons not to
  • Deciding to get fit
  • Joining my boxing studio
  • and so on….

Even things that I am a little embarrassed about, like getting divorced, changed completely when I looked at them in this new light. It stopped being a failure. I made the brave and bold choice to marry someone and try to make a life with them, and when I knew it wouldn’t work out, I made the brave and bold choice to end it. I have a tendency to look at decisions where things went wrong (or didn’t turn out as I expected) as a failure on my part. I didn’t plan enough, I didn’t prepare enough, I ignored the little warning signals, this is my fault. Instead I started to turn them around to think of those choices as bravery – being brave means stepping out of your comfort zone, and sometimes ignoring your own warning signals and doing something anyway.

We are all brave. Each of us had made leaps of faith. Even if they didn’t turn out as we wanted, we had the guts to take that step. That’s something to be proud of.

This Is Life

My heaven.

My heaven.

Recently I took a week off and went up to my cabin. The cabin is a fantastic place for doing what I love; I spent a part of each day hiking with my dog, kayaking, biking, cooking, napping and reading. It’s a little like heaven. The cabin is also good for thinking. There are fewer distractions, plus it is much easier to think about life when I am well rested and relaxed then when I am running from one thing to the next.

Yesterday I wrote about coming to accept that I don’t have a “big dream.” That was something I spent a lot of time thinking about. One morning I took the kayak out and spent time thinking about passion. We all are familiar with people who have always known what they wanted. They have a drive and a passion and go after it with determination. Then there are others that have dreams that they wish they could do, but have accepted that they may not become reality. I have a dear friend who recently said that if she was given millions of dollars she would open a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. She said it with such conviction that I was impressed, even though we both know that for a variety of very good reasons she probably won’t make it happen in this lifetime.

Then there is me. When I thought about what I would do with millions, my first thoughts were mighty mundane: install insulation in the attic, build a sleeping porch on the cabin, take a trip to Ireland, and so on. What didn’t pop up was some big dream. It is frustrating because I am a planner. This is why I am very successful at my job. I am very good at identifying goals, mapping strategies, making budgets, setting goals and figuring out the best way to achieve them. Not having a big goal or an endpoint is difficult for me. I keep struggling because I feel like I should be working towards something… I just don’t know what.

Then a thought hit me… what if I had already achieved my goals? I have a pretty darn good life; I have an amazing network of people I love and who care about me in return, I have not one, but two, houses filled with books (and one is by the water!), I have a silly but awesome hound dog and my life is filled with doing things I love. The last couple of years I have been working on my weight and my health, and I finally feel good about that too. Sure, not everything is perfect: I never have enough time with my loved ones, one of the houses… no both houses, have roofs that leak, my dog has had a string of very expensive illnesses, and so on. But what is perfect? There isn’t such a thing. Even if you have the perfect house, for example, entropy will come in and things will break (or the roof will leak.) It’s true with everything in life – stuff happens, things go sideways, and even if they don’t, we change ourselves. So what was “perfect” five years ago may not be perfect today.

It slowly came to me that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about “what’s next?” (it is originally why I started this blog,) and I haven’t been taking time to enjoy what I have right now. And at that exact moment, I looked up to discover that I had paddled halfway around the lake in deep thought staring at my knees! I hadn’t been enjoying the beauty around me. It brought home the point perfectly. After that, I tried to take off the thinking cap and instead be very “in the moment” and really enjoy the rest of the trip.

life movesLater, when I got back to the cabin, my first thought was from Ferris Buller’s Day Off. Remember this:

But it didn’t quite fit with how I was feeling. It’s not that life is fast or short or long, it’s that This Is Life. Right now. Everything I do is part of my life. Even the things that don’t seem like “life” like going to the grocery store, sitting at a doctor’s office, brushing my teeth – it is all my life. I’m not just putting in time waiting for something better to come along, this is my life right now, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not saying that I’ll never have a big life changing dream. Anything can happen. But I keep running in mental circles trying to build a foundation for an unknown future, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m realizing I need to bring my focus my closer. I can work on smaller goals – like fixing at least one of the leaking roofs and figuring out how to spend more time doing what I love. I have what I need, it’s more of a matter of enjoying the here and now.

This Is Life.

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.

 

Anxiety and Me

Here’s what my anxiety looks like:

  • It’s the hyped up, heart racing jittery rush of being over caffeinated. It’s as if I consumed a half dozen expressos, a couple of candy bars and few handfuls of PopRocks. My breath feels short, I’m sweating and I have a stress headache.

    I'm so disappointed...

    I’m so disappointed…

  • There is a nagging feeling I have forgotten something, something really important. It’s a “I’ve left the oven on in Patrick Stewart’s condo and it’s going to burn down if I don’t turn it off soon.” kind of feeling. (You can pick any celebrity here, or anyone from whom it would be devastating to hear the words “I’m not angry, I’m just really disappointed in you.”) The problem is, I don’t actually know what it is I have forgotten. Truth is, I haven’t forgotten anything, but that reality doesn’t change how I feel.
  • I’m distracted, irritable and frustrated. I react too quickly. I want to punch the coworker who stands to close, sneer at the woman wearing that obnoxious shade of purple and scream at basically everyone on the road at the same time I am. While this is happening, I am perfectly aware that it is all me, so I try to be nice, I try to be calm. (It isn’t easy.)
  • At the exact same time, I am fragile. I am afraid of offending or hurting someone – particularly the people I care about.
  • I have a hard time settling down. I’m thinking about everything… and nothing all at once. My brain latches onto a thought and I run it around and around in circles in my brain, gnawing at it, until the thought becomes completely abstract. It loses meaning. Then another thought pops in.
  • I rush through things I should enjoy. I can’t relax in the garden, I have to hurry through it… though I don’t know why. I go for a walk on a beautiful morning, but I don’t enjoy it. All I can think about is getting back home, even though there is no reason to hurry.

The good news is that my anxiety isn’t debilitating. I can go to work and function just fine. At most, my coworkers might notice that I am a bit more quiet and considerate. I am aware of when anxiety is getting to me, so I take special care not to say, or do, anything I will regret. However fortunate I am that I can still work and take care of what I need to, it’s still hard.

The last couple of days I have been struggling with this. I went to boxing class last night hoping that I could work some of it off. Boxing is so intense that I was hoping I could release some of this uncomfortable energy. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

To start with, there is a reason why boxing is called “the sweet science.” It isn’t about just flailing away at something as hard as you can. There is a level of concentration required in how you hit. If you aren’t being deliberate, the bag will start to spin. As my instructor said, “Now you are hitting him in the back of the head… that isn’t so bad for street fighting, but it’s not allowed in boxing.” The class was a good distraction, (it’s hard to think about anything but the class,) but it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for.

The other problem was that I tired. My whole body was exhausted. I think the SUP class I took earlier in the week was harder on me than I realized. I didn’t feel as strong in the class as I usually do, and at the end I was completely exhausted – but not in that giddy “I left it all on the floor” kind of way that I usually do.

In fact, the best moment of the evening was when I was riding my bike back home from class. I was tired, but it was a beautiful night and the ride felt great. As I neared home, I decided to go an extra block and take the long way around, just for fun. I found out that the street leading to mine is one long, slow downward hill. I had this beautiful moment of sailing down the road at my top speed – wheeeee! Plus I knew that my house was at the bottom and I didn’t have to go back up! (Which is what I’m usually thinking about when I am coasting down a hill!)

So, I am just going to take care of myself this weekend and try to relax and remind myself of this quote by TS Elliot:

quote-T.-S.-Eliot

 

 

Yet Another Fitness Adventure!

Guess what I tried? Stand Up Paddleboarding!

If you are wondering what we are all looking at, the instructor is in the middle giving a safety lesson. Yay paddleboards!

If you are wondering what we are all looking at, the instructor is in the middle giving a safety lesson. Yay paddleboards!

Yep, it was another adventure! My boxing/fitness studio offered the class. The owner said that in summer fewer people go to the gym, so the studio offers some speciality programs to keep people motivated. Sometimes it’s high intensity classes in the studio and sometimes it’s one-off classes like this.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. The studio emailed us about the class back in June. At that time I assumed that by late July it would be hot. You know, the way late summer usually is. However, this has been a particularly cool summer here in the Midwest. How cool? Well, that morning when I got up, it was 58 degrees. We also had a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms that night. On top of weather concerns, I had “first class” jitters. You know what I mean – those silly butterflies that say things like:

  • You are going to fall in the lake many, many times, and unlike when you fail at other things, everyone will be staring at you.
  • You do not have balance. You do not know what you are doing. Why are you taking this class?
  • You do not know how to dress for this. The email said to bring layers… but you are on a board on a lake, what does that even mean???
  • It is going to storm.
  • The lake will be cold.
  • You will fall in, then lightening will strike your head.

(Okay, maybe I wasn’t really worried about that last one.)

But you know… I had said I would go. Plus there was a nonrefundable equipment rental fee. And the thunderstorm warnings were moved until later that night. So, I packed a bag with everything I could think of (two towels, water bottle, sweatshirt, spare shoes, etc.) and after work, headed to the lake.

I didn’t need worry. Standup Paddleboards are a lot more stable than they look. In fact, the only time I got wet was carrying my board out of the water to the shore. I never fell in, and even if I had, everyone was super supportive of the folks that took a swim. As one gal said, “Once you fall in, it stops being scary. What’s going to happen? I’ll get more wet?”

This class was awesome on a number of levels. First of all, one of my goals with fitness is to try everything. I am so, so new at all this. I hated sports as a kid and for most of my life, I was not athletic. I’m still learning what I like, and what I don’t. I figure that the best way to learn that is just to try everything. That’s also why I took Pilates the other day – it’s all about new experiences.

I’m trying to be anti-fragile. Nerd Fitness has a great article about that here: Becoming Antifragile: How to Prepare Yourself for Chaos. If I am going to make fitness a way of life, I don’t want to be locked into anything. I know myself, I can become obsessed. Then, if something goes wrong, I have a tendency to drop it like a hot potato. I don’t want that to derail me. Having a huge list of things that help me keep active that I love is much better than being obsessed with just one thing.

Another great thing? I got out on a new lake! This particular lake is really close to my house, but I have never had the opportunity to get out on it. We didn’t go all that far around, but even still I got to see the lake in a whole new way. I love that.

To my surprise, I was fairly decent at it. For most of my life I’ve been the slow one, the uncoordinated one, the one who didn’t understand the rules, the one who sat on the sidelines. Being picked last for kickball – after the kid with the leg braces – can be really hard on your kiddo self esteem. As an adult, I don’t mind it as much. I’m much better at accepting that I have a higher learning curve when it comes to physical fitness than others. I spent most of my life in my head, wrapped up in books and art, this fitness thing is all new to me. I can accept that and be comfortable with the notion that I can get better with practice. However, in this SUP class, I felt like I held my own. I wasn’t in the front of the pack, but I also wasn’t in the back. I’d say, front of the middle. At the end when we held a relay race, I did my part and felt great about it (there were some who were too scared to try.)

Which brings up another thing – I did it! Like I said, I was nervous about it, but I did it. (And I would go again in a heartbeat.) All this fitness stuff has given me a confidence in myself that I’ve never had before. I always knew I could trust my brain to get me through most situations, but I have never had that kind of faith in my body. SUP requires your whole body – from toes to head – and I felt good about it.

When I called Julian after the class he answered the phone with, “Hello Adventurer!” It was the best thing he could have said.