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.

204// Summer Comfort

It’s all downhill from here. The worst of the work is over and the most persistent of worries are evaporating. The hardest part of my big project is done, the rest is tweaking word choice and reformatting. I’ve done the hardest thing of all today too. I gave up control and reclaimed more of my time by delegating and sharing work and responsibilities.

I’m writing again this afternoon. I have a germ of and idea of a concept to chase, nothing unique or all that interesting, but personal as all my musings and attempts are. It helps to have a plan. It helps to have a place for ideas both formed and unformed. I’ve had time and mental space to spread out in because so much of what is cluttered and messy in my mind is laid down now in lists and notes, categories and hierarchies all searchable, sharable, connected, nested, and accessable anywhere.

Summer storms have returned to the evenings and I welcome the soothing rain, the excitement of thunder, and the break from the increasingly unbearable heat. The city stopped for a time to wait out the threat of real damage that’s only ever realized once or twice a season. This one was only postured and roared but left quickly slinking over the eastern plains.

I’ve eaten and finished what work I have the energy for. I’ve set up tomorrow’s list and prepared for tomorrow’s needs. I’d rather read than watch TV just now while I wait for the night to end, for my eyes to droop, for my mind to calm.

It’s hot enough still that the fans are whirring in all the rooms and dark enough now that the katydids and crickets are calling. It’s so loud I wonder how I’ll sleep though it. Then again, these summer sounds and smells have always been salve for my soul and the warm nights never cease to envelope me in a a kind of warmth and comfort that feels free, easy, welcoming, and kind.

203// Feeling a Little Lighter

Not every long day is a hard one and not all stress is bad. I still have a lot on my plate, but progress is being made fast and I feel good about the work I am producing. Tomorrow will bring new more meeting and more time spent in debate and back and forth. Sometimes I miss the old days when I was a team of one, when I had no one to consult or consider. I miss not having to compromise, to vote, to agree all the time.

Still, my team is good and looking from outside of my narrow perspective, I can see how much worse things could be. At least we are all heading in the same general direction, matching each other’s enthusiasm, and speaking with a calm compassion no matter how much we disagree.

New opportunities are showing up on the horizon too. It’s nice to have things to look forward to again, or at least something new to be anxious about for a change. I’m taking an online training course on the history, laws, and “best practices” of transporting people in wheelchairs and in a few short weeks I finally get to complete my Crisis Prevention and Intervention course that had been cancelled months ago due to Covid-19. The silver lining here is now it’s only one day of in-person training instead of four. It means being a lot less nervous, self-conscious, or socially awkward.

The evening had some rough edges, and I struggled to find my groove and fit. There were more expectations than I could meet and the experience left me feeling down, disappointed, and disheartened. A mellow playlist, an hour spent cleaning the house, a couple slices of good pizza, good conversation, and a hug turned it all around though and I can drift off feeling a little lighter tonight. Until tomorrow…

202// Gratitude Helps

Today was the most normal work day I’ve had in months. I’m still not back to the low-key work days I’m used to and there are still many more expectations and obligations, but it’s calmer and so am I. Gratitude helps. I’m grateful to be at work at all, and grateful to be allowed to do the work that I do while I’m there.

It wasn’t easy getting back into the groove after my vacation, but it felt good to be working back at my usual location and to know that I can relax into a routine for the foreseeable future. More and more I’m taking work home too, which was scary at first. I don’t want to have to war with myself about how much I am working or what projects I am taking on, but as long as I keep the same hours being here rather than there is a gift.

Tonight is my wife and I’s first wedding anniversary, but since all the celebration was used up last week, we’re just cooking a simple meal together and enjoying a glass or two of red wine. I’m looking forward to one more night of indulgence before returning 100%, physically and mentally, to the work and worry of reality.

More than anything though, I’m looking forward to another new beginning at home full of love, warmth, surprise, support, change, compromise, growth, healing, and happiness.

201// What I Needed

I was away for a few days and I only just realized I forgot to say goodbye. It wasn’t my intention but trying to wrap up work things and to prepare for a trip, all the while trying to manage my health issues meant a few things we left undone and unsaid. But I’m back now, and though I failed to make mention of my send off, I at least would like to take some notice of the return.

To begin at the beginning, last week we travelled out of town. My wife and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary and felt the occasion coupled with recent stresses and successes warranted something bigger and grander than a standard date night.

Our first year as a married couple was both wonderful and still quite terrifying. After Our home has never felt more warm, safe, or loving, but the world around us has fallen farther and farther in the opposite direction, leaving us disjointed and unfocused. This time away was meant not to reconnect so much as to resettle. We longed to get back into our old grooves, to be the sun, and moon, and stars, the light, the calm, the way for one another again.

So, we went up into the mountains for a little time away from the city, from work, and as far from the pandemic as we could get, and it was all exactly what I wanted, needed, it to be. I needed nature. I needed spoiling. I needed to focus on myself and what was directly in front of me and directly inside.

We spent much of the last few nights drinking, eating good food, napping during afternoon rains and warming ourselves next to campfires. We hiked, and shopped, and sometimes we did nothing at all but sit, listen, and see. Our accommodations were stunning, and the setting was gorgeous. I was sad to leave it all behind but having the memories and the experience to carry with me means everything to me.

We’ve been back for a couple of days now and though we immediately had to return to life, to family, and to work, I’ve found I still feel relaxed. I feel refocused. I feel rejuvenated. I feel that by disconnecting from all the noise and reconnecting with what really mattered I can recommit to all aspects of my life once again.

192// Still Turning

The world is still turning. I’m here and not, here and not. I’ve been off doing other things, but this space is never far from my thoughts. Fatigue, and worry, and heat, and overwhelm have kept me from it, and though I am here now, I make no promises for tomorrow or after.

Still, starting again is always a good sign. Being at this desk, typing, and even feeling the faint stirrings of old ideas and passions in the back of my mind is a sign that I’m feeling better. I’m feeling more myself. I’m mentally and physically stable enough to move outside of the present into memories and hopes.

For a short week this was certainly one of the longest in recent months. I was happy to be back at my usual location but coming off of a week spent away from work and coworkers and then returning to small talk, mask wearing, and expectation was jarring. I have another break coming up next week and after I think I’ll avoid taking time off for a long while. The seesawing between strict social distancing and this “new normal” are hard of the psyche.

And this new normal? It isn’t even agreed upon or settled yet, not by far! Every day new decisions are made and every day new anxieties are triggered. I’m dreading the start of the school year, but I’m also eager for it to begin. It’s going to be hard to find a way to stay safe and to keep both the kids and my coworkers safe too, but I’m ready to stop talking about it, fretting over it, speculating about it. I’m ready to get started!

Good things are happening too. I’m growing and learning how to delegate, how to teach, how to mentor others in my new position. I’m also confronting my flaws, bad habits, and toxic traits and working toward making space for others. I’ve spent so long fighting to be seen and heard that I have forgotten how to relinquish space to others. I no longer have to be the center to be secure or respected.

My health is improving with a new medicine and meal plan that includes hours of intermittent fasting to give my system a rest and plenty of time spent in a state of so little movement and stress that I am reminded of the “rest cure” prescribed to “nervous women” around the turn of the 2th century. It’s helping though and slowly, as I can, I’m returning to my workout routine and personal pursuits.

The world is still more shifting sand than solid stone out there. There is chaos, conflict, and change happening everywhere at every moment and it’s so scary but so exciting too. I’m happy to be alive now, though the old grief of knowing there is so much I won’t get to live through is stronger than ever.

They say living in the present helps relieve death anxiety, but for me paying attention to the present only ever highlights the time ticking away. Luckily, I’ve long since learned to sit with this—and many other—uncomfortable truths.

183// Something is Different

Something is different about today. Maybe it’s the new month, maybe it all the time I’ve gotten to spend reading, writing, and resting, or maybe I’m just coming out of an ugly funk I didn’t realize I was in, whatever the reason I’m lighter, more positive, and cheerful than I have in days.

Nothing interesting is going on today. More time spent at my desk, on the couch, in the kitchen, and in bed. I’m typing away, reading, cleaning, and napping profusely. There were a few phone calls and emails from work, but for the most part I have been free from any obligations since last Friday and look forward to more days like this through this time next week.

My wife and I are continuing to social distance and stay home as much as possible despite the city moving forward with reopening. Even just a week ago I was fighting the urge to venture out and enjoy being around people again but the more cases are rising across the country the more comfortable, the happier, I feel staying home.

We talked about our upcoming trip to the mountains in the coming weeks. We feel a little bad about breaking quarantine for a vacation.

It’s true we’re taking a risk but at least we are travelling to place less dense than our own neighborhood and we plan to spend our time either alone in our tent our outside hiking in the wilderness. What meals we eat will be takeout or on patios. We’ll wear masks and bring along hand sanitizer and wipes. We’ll do what we can to minimize the risk, but we very much need these days away from the city.

As the cases rise all around us, I’m looking further and further into the future and so much that we’d hoped to do and see just may not be possible for a long while to come. It sucks losing so much of your life to this virus (and to a White House administration that won’t take responsibility and guide the country through these tough times) but the change in perspective has been refreshing. Strangely, life spent in increased isolation with decreased consumption feels healthier.

182// Progress

Feeling worse today than I did yesterday, but I expected it. I ate foods I knew would be irritating to my gut and temporarily exacerbated my ulcerative colitis flare. I know I shouldn’t have, but sometimes you have to live for the moment and the moment was pistachio ice cream.

I woke up early but couldn’t make it out of the house for my morning walk. It’s actually been a few days since I’ve gotten out and around the neighborhood and I’m really missing it. I’m also grappling with feelings of failure and anger. I’m angry that I’m still feeling so cruddy I can’t even get out for a walk around the block.

On top of all that, watching my wife get up and get moving and knowing both that I am in a way being left behind and worrying how she may feel at having to move on and to do things alone because I have to rest, stay in bed, and not push myself, hurts deeply.

It’s helped to remind myself that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to do nothing. If these last few months have driven home any lesson it’s that, right? It’s helps to turn your attention from what you can’t do to doing what you can and what I can do is write, schedule some “scrapbook” posts, and read and getting to lose hours to just these three small things has turned my whole outlook around.

I made a lot of progress this evening on the lengthy and unwieldy post I’d started and lost control of and then began to avoid over these last few months. For a moment I was back in my old groove where the words and emotions flow freely, where the path to the end is clear, where I know I am doing what I was made for, even if I’m not always a very confident or competent.

I do my best work when none of that matters. I don’t mean best as in happy. Writing is almost always a purely cathartic exercise for me and I feel best when something deep, painful, and or meaningful has been pulled up, examined, expressed, and expelled. That is my measure of good for now.

181// Try First

I woke up feeling a little down on myself this morning. It happens from time to time and most days like this I just crawl back into bed and give up any plans or aspirations until tomorrow, but I was determined to try something new today. I don’t want to waste this time I have away from work on something so paltry as self-pity.

So, I got up and helped my wife get ready for work to keep from crawling back under the covers and when she left made a deal with myself. I promised to try my best today first then if I really couldn’t do it, if I really needed to crawl back under the covers and away from the world, if the best course turned out to be to give it up until tomorrow, I could do that without a shred of guilt, but I had to try first.

I took frequent breaks to check in with myself and slowly, with the help of housework, political podcasts, and some of my favorite playlists, my mood slowly improved. I started to like myself again, to feel motivated again, to feel cheerful again. I’d hoped to get more writing done, but getting my goals for the week spelled out and knocking one or two items off of my to-do list was more than I’d manage most days like this and the day isn’t at all over.

I’m getting to the end of my energy and willpower and if it weren’t for an All Staff Webinar from the superintendent coming up this afternoon I’d be back in bed already. I’ve been looking forward to this update and, hopefully, more concrete answers about the future of the school district and my job.

The webinar this afternoon was filled with more dire projections and unpleasant truths. COVID has negatively impacted school district budgets all over the country, and cuts need to be made across the board, but I happen to work for a very large district that is used to plenty of money and offerings for students and families. That means that, though other districts are making the same proposed cuts as us, their populations aren’t as spoiled and so they won’t face the same outcry and opposition that we will.

The budget recommendation that hit closest to home was the prospect that if COVID cases keep rising, or get worse later over the winter months, they may be forced to place employees at my level on leave without pay. I know I’m lucky to have gotten paid for the time I was off between March and May, but this uncertainty is already causing me stress. I’m almost certain we will shut down again before the end of next year, I just won’t know when or for how long, or how we will cope.

The best I can do right now is save money, get ready to find supplemental work at a moment’s notice, and not dwell in worry or on what I can’t control. All I can hope is that my fellow countrymen do what is necessary to slow the spread and ensure we can keep more people healthy and working in the future.

180// Lean In

A Sunday before a Monday away from work is a strange kind of day. I feel free and at peace, on the surface, knowing that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that…are my own, but the sense of urgency, the panic and dread, are still bubbling deep down out of pure habit.

I’m not sure how to get rid of the apprehension, so I figured it’s better to embrace it and get a few things done rather than to try to avoid it.

Avoidance, I’m learning, is not a very targeted life strategy. All emotions and actions are interconnected and to try to avoid one dampens whole swaths of your energy, focus, motivation, emotion, and willpower. It’s much better to lean in. I’d like that to my mantra for the rest of the year, lean in.

I don’t mean it as in to “seize opportunity”. This isn’t about productivity or production. This isn’t about power, money, careers, or forging a path to the top, or through a glass ceiling straight to the American Dream.

I mean “lean in,” as in: “to feel fully and then move forward from or with the experience and emotion.” I mean it as in “opposed to avoidance.” I mean as in: “to face that which you find hardest to face and in doing so find a way forward by force or by flow.” I mean it as in: “confrontation and acceptance, learning and growth with productivity as little more than a by-product and certainly not necessary or even desirable.”