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.

Goals // Week 27: Asking Nothing More

This week I’m taking a break. I’m reading and writing and nothing else. My own personal retreat. I’m feeling better and I’d like to continue that success. I’m resting and waiting. I’m watching and processing. I’m accepting and yielding. For that reason, I’m reluctant to set any goals at all. For me, the pressure to produce is suffocating, and expectations only lead to failure and the obligation only leads to avoidance.

This week I’d like to just get up early every morning and see where the days take me. I’d like to ask nothing more of myself than to spend part of each day at my desk away from social media and another part between the pages of a few good books. Still, there are a few guidelines, reminders, and tasks I’d like to set for myself to keep from wasting time or wandering too easily when things get hard.

This week I will:

 Keep up my daily routine. It’s too easy to fall into old habits, especially when away from work. I tend to stay up too late and lose too much of the day by sleeping in. I tend to forget my meals and my medication. I forget to drink water, to move my body, and to take care of my basic self-care and needs. This week I want to start and end each day as if I were heading off to work and instead of leaving I’ll spend tie cleaning and writing as my duty and service instead.

Finish my next long-form post. I’ve been working on the same piece for weeks now and it’s grown disordered, unwieldy, and full of tangents and side stories. I have the time now to hack and force it back into shape, but I know I will be reluctant to finish the job. If I remember that 90% is good enough and that no piece is beyond revisiting then I can finally make something somewhat cathartic and coherent out of these ugly words. Bonus: Go back to using Google Docs to draft posts. The built-in dictionary and “explore” feature keeps me from getting distracted.

Make some new collage art. I finally have the desk-wide self-healing cutting mat of my dreams, more X-Acto knife blade replacements than I will probably ever need, and plenty of magazine material to flip through. There is no excuse not to make a little something every week or so. Writing is great but time spent off screen making something with my hands give my mind time to rest, to breathe, to slip into a more abstract space than typing usually allows. One art feeds the other.

Read. I made great progress this weekend but I am still three books behind where I should be for this years reading goals. If I spend an hour each day at least reading a Penguin Little Black Classic rather than watching an episode of a show or scrolling Twitter I should easily be ahead of schedule before the end of the week. Next week I’ll move on to tacking the new ebooks I downloaded from Verso Books. Bonus: Tackle a few of those articles that have been piling up in your “to-read later” folder too.

Get ready for our big trip. In a few weeks my wife and I are heading up into the mountains for some much-needed time away from work, from the news, from the internet, from everything. It’s coming up on the one-year anniversary of our wedding and though it’s been one of our happiest (we’ve been together nearly 18 years now), it has also been one of the most stressful. We’re in desperate need of a reset and I want to make sure I’ve got everything we need squared away so we can leave the stress down here in the city.

This week I will not feel sorry for myself. I haven’t been feeling great and the world is in chaos. I’m feeling anxious and all around me there seems to be despair and death. I feel powerless, small, anxious, incompetent, and incapable, but I know none of those feelings reflect reality. They are only a reaction. They should be given their space to exist. They should be heard. They should even be learned from, but then they must be let go.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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.”

179// No Pressure

Feeling better today, in some ways, a little worse in others. I can tell I’m slowly coming back from this UC flare but while some parts of my gut are healed other parts are still very inflamed and the pain though more localized is much sharper. Still, I’m happy to see any positive signs at all and I’m committed to continuing to rest, to take care of myself, and to go on getting better and better.

I had planned to spend time with my dad and my brother today, but that has been cancelled. It’s fine. I’d rather be home right now anyway, but now I’m unsure what to do with myself. I know what I should do: write, but I don’t know how to get in the right headspace when I feel so cruddy. I can manage a paragraph or two, I suppose. I think that’s all, and more than enough, I can ask of myself right now.

I could also read. I’ve fallen far behind where I should be or my reading goals this year and I desperately need to catch up. I have plenty of Penguin Little Black Classics to go and some new ebooks I downloaded for free from Verso books. I’m sure I could get through one or two of the former and make real progress through one of the later.

The main thing is there is no pressure today. A day off does nothing good for you if all you think about is what you should be doing instead. Then you either dwell on the guilt or avoid it by losing yourself in social media or mindless TV. When you get rid of the guilt, you are free to do what really feels good and right, not what helps you escape. That’s what today will be. No obligations and no guilt. Just what I really want to do.

178// Home Alone

It’s the first day of my brief break from work and of course all of my plans have already been stalled or derailed. This ulcerative colitis flare is causing me a lot of pain and making concentration hard to maintain, but reminding myself that laying down for a few minutes doesn’t mean the day is over. I have to keep getting back up and trying. The system is working so far but I know soon 10 or 15 minutes won’t be enough and I’ll need an hour or so away from my desk and probably a good nap.

It feels good to have the house to myself for a while. Lately I’ve been working longer hours than my wife, leaving before her and coming home later too. I love her but everyone needs time alone with themselves and their thoughts. On days like this I am always struck by how much I have changed in relation to myself. I used to hate to be alone with my thoughts. I didn’t like myself and the thoughts and feelings I was forced to face when no one was around distressed me greatly.

I still find myself rather frustrating and annoying at times, but underneath it all I’ve learned to love myself these past few years. I’m interested in what I think and feel and I’m eager to get to know who I am without other people around to please or compare myself too. I feel peaceful when I am alone now. I feel safe.

177// I Can’t Hide From It

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I’ve been struggling to find the energy, the motivation, the focus, the want to do anything but work and sleep and scroll. Each morning I begin anew, I think, and each afternoon every goal, every plan, every to-do item flies out of my head and I lose hours to the void both growing from inside me and crushing me from without.

Each night I sit with the same mistakes and regrets and make the same promises and threaten the same consequences to myself only to wake the next day and find nothing changed. I thought it was a matter of willpower, but I have none at all to make a stand with. I thought it was the fatigue and though that certainly plays a role; it is not the only thing wrong.

The truth I’m just not myself anymore. In this volatile and rapidly changing world, I have been swept, driven, dragged along so far, and at such speed from who I was—who we all were—that I hardly recognize myself or the world. A lot of what has changed both inside and out has been good. So much gives me hope, but so much has terrified me and broken my heart too.

All that change was too much at once and in the midst of it all, I lost my footing. Now I’m disoriented. I’m ungrounded. I’m unsteady. I’m powerless and immobilized.

Covid-19 has been bad enough, but the constant barrage of vivid suffering and searing anger being broadcast across all platforms and outlets is more than I can process. I’ve tried to escape it. I’ve tried to face it from a place of peace and safety. I’ve tried to segment my anger and pain from my day-to-day life, and I’ve utterly failed.

Last night I read the transcript of Elijah McClain’s arrest last August. I remember this case from the news when it happened, but there was no audio released to the public then. Hearing the pain and fear in this young man’s voice and reading the kind words he spoke to officers even as he struggled to breathe shattered me entirely. I cried for him. I thought of loved ones who look like him, who are different like him, who might one day be stopped by officers for no reason other than for being Black and different just like him. I cried for them too. I cried for all of us. I’m tired. I’m hurt. I’m angry, and still, I am so, so hopeful.

I’ve realized that I can’t hide from the world. I can’t plant my feet and live in an unchanging bubble within the chaos. I’m a citizen of the world and there is no separation between all of it and me. I am made from it and it is made from me, and you, and all of us everywhere and because of that I have a responsibility, if nothing else, to stay connected, to feel with all of you.

To that end I’d like to try again to use my tiny power and platform to say their names, to tell their stories, to shine light where darkness has given rise to cruelty. This is my place to cry, to shout, to argue, to demand, to grow, to change too.

We have to learn to hurt in the open, together. We have to learn to be comfortable with what is uncomfortable. We have to lean into change because the truth is, the faster we change, and the more fiercely we change, the more lives we can save.

Now, I am getting used to change. I am embracing change. I am demanding change. To be part of the world is to accept that each day will carry with it some new happiness, hope, or heartbreak, but this is the joy of being alive, of being human, of healing, and, ultimately, of loving.

170// Learning

I spent the early morning learning about the administrative side of CPR instruction once again, only this time I’m learning by doing. It’s so cool to know there will be people walking around with little certification cards in their wallets with my name. It’s very cool to know one of those people might save a life one day.

The rest of the day’s meetings ran longer than I expected but they were good and, as so rarely happens, productive. By midday I was feeling a bit woozy. I hadn’t eaten anything beforehand and though it was somewhat intentional I hadn’t meant to go so long without food.

For the past two days I have consumed my usual foods and calories but within a shorter time frame, moving breakfast up to after 10:00 AM and bringing dinner and dessert to before 7:00 PM at the latest. That comes out to about 15 hours spent consuming nothing but coffee and water.

I’m doing it to lose weight, but that isn’t the only reason. I’m still eating the same amount of food. I’ve just stopped grazing all day so my body has a chance to use up its excess energy reserves before I eat again. In addition to the weight loss benefits there the chance for my gut to rest between days. Increasing my ulcerative colitis medication dosage has helped, but even in a mild flare food is very irritating to the gut. By increasing the time between dinner and breakfast the next day, I can decrease that irritation and heal faster. At least, that’s my hope.

169// Close to Burn Out

We’re in day four of over 90-degree temperatures. The heat has been bad enough but today there is little to no wind and a nasty brown haze hanging over the city. The air feels thick, and the sun is blinding and brutal. I’m looking forward to tomorrow where the heat wave is set to break with temperatures falling to the low 70s and rain teased for the evening.

I helped out with another CPR and First Aid class today. My team and I did the math and by the end of Friday we will have certified approximately 90 employees. We’re already close to burn out but we’ll have a two-week break to recoup. In the meantime, there is still a lot more training to do. We’ve got a small group of new employees starting and existing employees to recertify in other areas before the school year starts too.

At least it’s starting to get a little easier and a little less nerve-wracking. I’m finding my groove and by the end of the summer I’ll be well past my own requirements to keep my instructor certification. I can’t believe I ever doubted myself. I am so much more capable than I give myself credit for.

I’m back home now and struggling to do anything that feels productive. This after work fatigue is forcing some serious limitations on my goals and putting me in a really negative mood. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but I’m trying not to take it out on myself. I need the rest more than I need the check marks on my to-do list, but I had really been looking forward to the satisfaction.

168// Manually Adjusting

I woke up feeling quite sure I’d finally reached the weekend; it took a painful moment to adjust to the realization that it was actually only Tuesday, only 4:00 in the morning, and very much time for me to make my way out of bed and into the garage for a workout. The grogginess didn’t last long, thankfully. I have been practicing the art of manually adjusting my attitude so I can get the most of of these early morning routines.

Work was easy, too easy. It was nice to come back to my normal work location for the day. Everyone here takes the pandemic and the necessary precautions we are taking seriously, including taking temperatures at the door and wearing masks at all times.

I did what I could but by mid-morning I wasn’t feeling well and had to head home early. A quick meal and a nap later I’m feeling much better, still not myself, but better. I increased the dosage of the steroid medication meant to keep my flare to a manageable level so the infusion medication can do its job and I’m already seeing an improvement. And not a moment too soon because my foreseeable work schedule will not allow for many days of self-care or rest.

This evening I’m giving myself permission not to be productive. I’m listening to podcasts, reading old articles I saved, working on my logbook, and brainstorming over my essay project, and productive tasks, but I’m working with no rules, no timers, no goals in mind. Surprisingly, I’m writing better without the weight of expectation or limits. I have to do this more often.

Tomorrow I go back to CPR and First Aid teaching, but I’m only helping out and observing until Friday. I’m looking forward to a morning jog at the track, an afternoon of freewriting, and time to read.