214 // A Brief Normalcy

Today is a better day. I’m feeling more solid, physically, more present and connected to my body, stronger. This is always the first sign of healing. Before I can see tangible improvement, before I can see or feel exactly what and where I have begun to heal, I feel it in my spirit. A corner has been turned, but I know that doesn’t mean that the journey won’t be agonizingly slow and that setbacks are not on the horizon.

And so, because I was feeling a little better and because I have been feeling so down, I decided to venture out with my wife for some shopping therapy. The weather was gorgeous and having a few new things for the home made a big difference in my mood.

Of course there were tough moments. This ulcerative colitis flare has progressed so far that I’m left with a great amount of fatigue, pain, discomfort, and anxiety almost all of the time. There were moments today between all the positivity and the hopefulness, when I wanted to break down, but I breathed through it. I sat with my pain and fear and fatigue and I gave it space to breathe too and each moved to let me pass for a time and I am grateful for the brief feeling of normalcy.

Unfortunately, the outing was still just slightly little more than I could handle and when I got home, I crawled right back into the bed to recover.

The evening is settling in now. We have some rain clouds cruising in from the mountains, but they don’t appear too threatening. I’m looking forward to a calming and cleansing rain. Much of my cleaning was done last night and I’m basking in the peace of knowing I have nothing I have to do and nothing anyone is asking of me. I may write for a while or work cut and compile a new collage piece.

Or maybe I won’t push myself to make, or read, or write anything at all. Maybe I’ll give myself permission to just lay on this couch, watch some mindless TV, and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine with my wife before turning in early. I deserve it. I need it.

Currently // July 2020: At My Best and at My Worst

“Things are prettier in June, but they’re clearer in July.” 

― Sophie Flack, Bunheads 

After months and months of spring and early summer that seemed to drag on and on with catastrophe after catastrophe, after we floundered and continue to flounder leaderless and lost, July gives way to August and yet further uncertainty and strife.

Still, we are finding our footing slowly and despite what you see on the news and what you hear from the politicians, if you look up and look around people everywhere are coming together, supporting each other, growing and pushing forward with strength and compassion.

The consciousness of the country is rising, and though they fret and fight, those who would have our country return, or perhaps never leave, the hazy dream of individuality and universality, law and order, and hard truths left unsaid, undesirables lost to the dark and to silence, those people will be, are being, left behind in favor of a world more inclusive, for connected, more giving and forgiving than we’ve ever dreamed.

At least this is my hope because to be an American right now and watch the failure, the cruelty, the death all around you and closing in is to feel hopeless and utterly ashamed. I’m fortunate to live in a state where even though cases are rising we are not seeing numbers as high as others and the people have elected a Governor who, though not perfect, is trustworthy and has his heart in the right place.

Protests are still happening regularly, but I worry that attention to racial injustice is waning as justice takes its time and the cause is trivialized. I worry I haven’t done enough for my part to keep the country’s focus.

The end of July marks the end of summer’s spirit, and the issue on everyone’s mind now is the reopening of schools. There seem to be no definitive answers about the safety of students, teachers, or staff, only a rising insistence that schools reopen no matter the cost or concern. Working for a school district has made an already stressful time all the more terrifying. None of us know what will happen and though we all want to return I have not spoken to one fellow employee who is in any way anxious to return to work right now.

As for me, I’m trying not to dwell on what I cannot control. I returned to work months ago, but only in office and without students to transport. Looking toward the start of school in just a few short weeks, I’m taking stock of my own options, my own boundaries, the compromises and the precautions I’m willing to take and deciding what is right for me. I have my health and the health of my loved ones to consider. I have to stand up for what I believe is right, to keep us all home and safe so that more of us can live.

To distract from it all, I’m focusing more and more on my mental and physical health. I’m making time for more of what I love through schedules, lists, priorities, focus, and self-care. I’m meditating, eating better, taking my medication, and resting often and without guilt. The paradox of July has been that I feel both at my best and at my worst.

With August’s arrival, I plan nothing more than incremental and infinitesimal change. I’m doing the right things now and if I find myself doing these same things 30 days from today, I will count that a monument’s success. The goals going forward are to fight, to breathe, to rest, to work, to learn each a little bit every day…

but before I do, here’s what I am currently:

Writing essays. They’ve been slow to write and even slower to post, but every day I find some new idea or take time to flesh out some part of a new piece. The hurdle has been consistency and persistence. It’s easy to begin, but the challenge of finishing is hell to overcome. I’m working on my self-confidence, getting comfortable with vulnerability, and chasing that elusive state of high challenge and high capability known as “flow“.

Making collages, blackout poetry, and cut out poems again. Last month I bought a desk wide self-healing cutting mat and now creating new work is as easy as folding my laptop away and pulling out my X-Acto blades, markers, and magazines, putting on one of my favorite podcasts and zoning out for a while.

Planning every hour of every day. Throughout the day and at the very least each evening I spend time updating my calendar, to-do list, and digital logbook in preparation for the next day. It’s been helpful to clear my mind of so much clutter and to always know what the next steps should be.

Reading less than I should be and falling farther and farther behind my goals. These past few weeks I’ve found my way back and finished a couple more from my Penguin Little Black Classics Set. I’ve purchased a couple of new one to add to my TBR pile to keep me motivated too. There is still a lot of year left to make up for time lost.

Watching I Know This Much is True, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and Perry Mason all on HBO. I’ve been into dark dramas lately. They are comforting for the mind the way weighted blankets are for the body. I’m missing movies though, and movie theaters particularly, and hearing that so many studios have pushed back their premiers breaks my heart.

Learning about The Science of Well-Being on Coursera. After so many months of putting my learning journey on the back burner, I’m finally finding the time by asking just 5 hours a week from my schedule to log-in, watch videos, read, and reflect. It sounds like a lot, but waking up earlier on the weekends has given me more than enough time to make it happen. I’m still on Duolingo too if anyone wants to be friends.

Anticipating the end of summer. This is typically my favorite season of the year. Summer is when I feel the most free, the most myself, but between Covid-19 shutting the whole world down and my own health holding me back, this summer has been nothing but disappointment and loniliness. Sometimes “not the same” is worse than “not at all”. I’m ready to move on and try again in 2021.

Reflecting what exactly it feels like to be alive right now. As hard as it is to navigate these trying times, to be frustrated, to be afraid, to grieve, this is the life I am given and though much has been lost all need not be lost. I can still let myself feel. There are times now when feeling is all I can do. I won’t give that up too. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts.

Fearing what the end of the season will bring. I’m afraid of returning to work more fully. I’m afraid of being around more coworkers, more kids, more chances to contract the virus. I’m afraid I’m not doing enough to protect myself, my loved ones, my coworkers, or my community. I’m scared of the worst I see predicted by news outlets and over social media. I’m scared of the combination cold, flu, and Covid season to come.

Hating anti-maskers. It’s hard not to see people like that as the enemy. It’s hard not to wish the worst on them for their ignorance and disregard for life, but I’m trying to remember that they are human like me and prone to fault and failure. As a species, we will never be perfect. We must cope with the contrarians, drag the ones we can, kicking and screaming, and make right the mistakes of others the best we can.

Loving Colorado’s monsoon season. The heat of the summer might set me free, but it is the monsoon season that gives me life. Each afternoon as the summer starts to wind down we see afternoon thunderstorms roll from the mountains, through the cities and off toward the planes. They pick of strength as they swirl and gather most times unleashing their fury over the eastern half of the stats but some night the city feels the wrath in the form of rain, hail, flooding, bright lightning, and deep rolling thunder. Nothing is more soothing.

Needing some good news. I’ll take it personally, professionally, or politically, I’m not picky. I’m desperate. The good has been so hard to find. Everywhere I look there is nothing but bad, and pain, and anxiety, and anger, and death. All our usual means of escape are cut off and our usual means of connection along with them. I need something good to balance all the bad. I need something good to balance myself and make it through.

Hoping one foot in front of the other can go on being enough for now. I hope this not just for me, or just for you, but for us all together. Life may never return to what it was and we are going to be limping along, broken, lonely, angry, uncertain, terrified, and the weight of failure and loss trying to find a new way.

The only thing to keep on dragging one foot in front of the other. The only thing we can do is not give up. I hope we won’t stagnate. I hope we won’t lose hope. I hope, in the end, we won’t give up on one another. I hope we learn the value of community. I hope we learn to love more and to let love, and care, and community guide us forward into this great unknown we face, together.


So, yeah, all in all, July was…not the worst month of 2020. The bar is low, sure, but everything felt a little lighter. The world took a moment to breathe in and come August we will breathe out and begin. There is still work to do, life to live, a year to get though, and just now I can begin to sense, a new year beginning to form on it’s end that we’ll have to ready ourselves to begin starting now.

But what about you? Were there any celebrations? Any trip? Any bit of good news or chance for joy? Are you still wearing your mask? Are you still doing your part to keep the people you love and people you will never meet safe? Have you registered to vote?

Let me know in the comments.


The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love

Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

Lockdown

Lockdown // Anderson .Paak

You should’ve been downtown (Down)
The people are risin’ (Look around)
We thought it was a lockdown (Lockdown)
They opened the fire (Had to get low, fire)
Them bullets was flyin’ (Down, down)
Who said it was a lockdown? Goddamn lie (Ooh-wee)

Lockdown, we ain’t gotta stop ’cause they tell us to
Downtown, where I got popped with the rubber bullet
Tre pound, got it in my name now, I’ma shoot it
Lockdown, we ain’t gotta stop ’cause they tell us to
Downtown

This is a Pattern

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Responds to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)

“And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.”

I have watched this video through dozens of times just in the past couple of days. As frustrated and infuriated as I am with what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to go through I’m happy she was able to respond in this way.

She took her personal but not at all unique experience and brought it to the national stage in a way we can all identify with, internalize, and learn from. She is showing us all how to stand up and speak up, how to hold others accountable for dehumanizing language, and articulated perfectly the very real harm that this language inflicts on all of us.

I only hope Rep. Ted Yoho and men like him learned something too…

Creation and Recreation

Never before had I so realized the miracle of the continued race, the creation and recreation, the weaving and changing and handing down a fleshly elements. That a child should be born of its mother, that it should grow and clothe itself (we know not how) with humanity, and put on inherited looks, and turn its head with the manner of one ascendant, and offer its hand with a gesture of another, are wonders dulled for us by repetition.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson, Olalla

Don’t Complain

Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not, their beds became their cooling boards, and their blankets became their winding sheets. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all, for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of that plowing that person was grumbling about. So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

— Maya Angelou (via swissmiss)

210 // Struggling to Recover

Today isn’t at all like yesterday.

My morning meditation didn’t feel very smooth. My stomach was hurting and couldn’t get my mind away from it to focus on the breath. At first I was upset about it. I felt like I had not only failed but wasted the session too, but looking back I realize that every session doesn’t have to go well, nor should it. Encountering difficulty is a chance to learn and grow.

At the time, though, I struggled to recover. I feel worse physically than yesterday. I got less sleep and my symptoms are flaring badly again. The good news is my doctor is allowing me to go back on steroids, which I guess is also bad news too. I’m not looking forward to the side effects, but I’m looking forward to having energy and feeling good again.

I’d planned to go to work, sit at my desk with my headphones in, and work through my tasks and projects one by one, alone, but as soon as I got there I was told my workplace was being taken over by another staff member and instead I would have to sit in an open area where there was nothing but distraction. I got very little accomplished but I will admit, being forced to interact with people did help my mood and made me feel a little less isolated and down. I needed some conversation, some laughs, and lunch with friends.

The afternoon and evening flew by far too fast. I didn’t take my usual hour or more nap, but I’m wishing I had. Maybe I’ll sleep better tonight than I did last night when anxiety had my stomach in knots and my mind running late into the night and well before sunrise. Maybe tomorrow can be more like yesterday than today was, if I start right now?

Goals // Week 31: Building the Habits

This week felt busy before it even began and before goals could even be set obligations were already getting in the way.

I have some big meetings scheduled, but they are largely brainstorming sessions. I have a couple of projects on my plate, but nothing outside of my expertise or capability. I have a long virtual training session I’m a little nervous about but it won’t take more than a morning to get through and many members of my team are attending too so I’ll have plenty of help and support along the way. It’ll be a busy week, but in a good way.

My greatest roadblock will be managing my health and overcoming fatigue. I’ve been on a downhill trend for a little while now, but I’m starting a new medication and reviving an old daily meditation habit to help. My hope is that by the end of this week I’ll feel a little more like myself and making good progress toward my goals.

This week I will:

Update my to-do list and logbook nightly. It has been nice to have one place to keep my tasks, notes, ideas, and journal so that I can walk through each day with a clearer head and calmer outlook but the place offers no benefit if it isn’t reviewed, updated, and improved regularly. The goal is to spend at least one half-hour every evening reflecting on the day and preparing my tasks and goals for the next day.

 Meditate every morning. I recently learned that I qualified for a free subscription for the Headspace app and I couldn’t be more excited to return to the mediation habit I strove to build years ago but abandoned to disappointment. I’ve already committed to the practice for the past four days and already I am noticing the benefits. Bonus: Practice short breathing exercises in the middle of the day and join group meditations every evening with my wife.

Complete the work projects I have listed as due by Friday. I’ve been working for the same company for almost 14 years now, but it’s only been three months since I was chosen for a new position. I’m enthusiastic but feeling a bit overwhelmed by my new role and responsibilities. I know I am capable and respected, but avoidance is my usual approach to anxiety, which only ever leads to more anxiety and further avoidance . This week I won’t let my worries win.

Hydrate. The more active, focused, and engaged my mind is with my work and surroundings, the less connected I feel to my body and its needs. I forget to eat, to rest, to drink water, even to take bathroom breaks sometimes! This week I want to exist in my body more and pay attention to my physical needs as much as I do my mental. I’m prone to dehydration right now and if I want to stay motivated and productive, I have to start by heeding those phone reminders and drinking more water.

Find a new time for reading. I have an alarm on my phone to remind me every evening to turn off all screens and spend time reading a physical book. This worked well when I was feeling well but as fatigue takes greater and greater foothold reading just a page or two puts me right to sleep. I can’t make any progress reading at this time so I’d like to try reading earlier in the day and getting through the 40 page per day and catch up to where I should be by now in my reading goals.

Work on my essay a week project. I can’t promise the piece will be done by next week but I have added the daily writing tasks like choosing a topic, researching quotes and facts, outlining, freewriting, and editing to my logbook and tasks lists and plan to time block these items in my calendar as well. As long as I work on each of these items in the time I’m meant to I will consider the goal met. I know that through practice, a habit is formed and through habit I will become comfortable, confident, and consistent.

This week I will not make other people’s problems my own. I will not feel guilt for things that are not my fault or that are out of my control. I will not attribute every mood to my actions. Not everyone’s well-being is not my responsibility. My job is to be kind and authentic and to protect my boundaries first and always. To take responsibility for every emotion or action around me outside of that framework denies other people the chance to reflect, learn, and grow, and deny’s me space to simply be.


Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

209 // I Already Feel Lighter

Up and down, back and forth, round and round, everything is swinging wildly, yo-yoing, hitting roller coaster highs and lows both thrilling and terrifying.

My health is the main culprit. Perhaps I could better orient myself between work, tasks, rest, and relationships if physical pain, worry, and loneliness weren’t always obscuring my sight and way. Not all days are bad but lately it feels like I get two, three, sometimes five days or more in a row of worse and worse and worse before I get just one where I’m feeling somewhat normal and capable. Luckily today is one of those those good days.

I woke up this morning with more energy than I’ve had in over a week now. I was up by 4:30 without grogginess or fatigue and even got a 10-minute meditation session in on Headspace before work.

Over the weekend I found out they are offering free subscriptions for educators including both teachers and administration and signed up right away. I’m hoping to get my wife and perhaps a couple of friends to build the habit with me. I could use the motivation and the accountability check.

It’s been just three days since I picked up the old habit and I already feel lighter and looser. You ever feel like you didn’t know some part of your body was hurting until you laid down to rest it? That is how mediation feels to me. I’m always so tightly wound but I don’t realize it until I take the time to scan my body, to feel it’s weight and movement, and connect it with space and gravity around me. It’s more than physical. I have to release the tension in my heart the same as I would for my shoulders or neck.

I spent all my time before lunch in a long brainstorming session with my team. We’ve been meeting every few days to share ideas, make plans, complete projects and generally spread and share our enthusiasm. I’ve enjoyed these meetings but the additional workload is starting to stress me. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve got an amazing team behind me and that no one is going to let me fail. Through them I feel more secure and more confident in my work than ever.

The rest of the week is a busy one and already tasks are being pushed and postponed to make room. I’m blocking in time for writing, reading, and creating too and taking advantage of early morning hours to make the most of my time. I hope every day will feel like this one but even if they don’t, at least I got one.

P.S. Headspace is also free for healthcare workers, free for a year if you are unemployed, and heavily discounted for students. I’m not affiliated in any way with Headspace. I just love the app and think everyone can benefit from daily meditation.