Lost & Found

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I’ve thought about calling this year the Lost Year. In the now 10 months that I have been retired/out of school, I have felt completely lost. A huge chunk of my identity (student) is no longer there. I don’t know what to do with myself. On top of that, this is the first year that I am not running a major race or getting a medal. That has never happened before. I have run through pretty much everything. This year, I have been waylaid by my autoimmune disorder, my work schedule, and now the flu that has simply rendered the requisite 5-month training schedule an impossibility.

I’m seriously starting to wonder if NOT being a student is making me depressed. In what seems to be a bottomless pit of despair, there have been some pinpricks of hope this year. These are the three top aspects of “found.”

One of the major things on the list given to me by the doctors for how to manage my autoimmune disorder is to reduce my stress levels. It has now been over 6-months since I completely deleted my facebook account and canceled my home Internet service. Getting off of facebook is the #1 thing that I have done to decrease my stress levels. Words cannot express how much happier I am now that I am not online. To be honest, people talk to me a lot less, yet I do not feel lonely. When I was on facebook, a lot of people talked to me, but I always felt lonely. So now, I’m lucky if someone sends me a text message once a month, I am actually less lonely than I was before. Strange, but true.

Out of all the things I have done to decrease my stress levels, going offline has taken the most burden off my shoulders. I drink green tea and meditate, and I still want to slap someone. Going off facebook is better than yoga and jazz and all the new age relaxation techniques combined.

Second, when I had the flu last week, there was one day when I was trying to watch football, and just physically couldn’t. That’s when I said, you know what? I can’t do this, I don’t have to do this, and then I shut off the TV set and went to sleep. Having the flu last week was the first time in my life that I have been sick and was able to listen to my body 100%. If I had been in school, there was always something to read or something to write, and I would have fought through the flu because I had schoolwork to do. Last week, I did not have schoolwork, so I was able to say “no” to everything around me, and give my body what it needed to heal, which was pretty much sleep.

Third, I had less beach days in 2016 (in retirement) than I did in 2015 (in school). When I first realized this, I was dismayed. Why would I have less beach days when I have taken great pains to slow down my life and my schedule to have more time to do what I want? And that’s when I realized that life cannot be measured by beach days. When I was in school, I made a point of scheduling beach days so that I could relax. Scheduling a day to relax is about as much fun as making a schedule to have sex. It’s not. Fun. It’s more fun when it’s spontaneous. Looking back at summer 2016, I may have had less beach days, but here is what I had more of: baseball, live theatre, movies, time with family, time with friends, picnics, hiking, camping, sunsets, swimming, reading, and sleep. I did so many things this summer other than going to the beach.

Days before I was completely flattened by the flu, I had made plans to return to school. Yup. That’s right. I have talked about teaching, but I actually have that opportunity at work. I am enjoying the “teaching” I do at work so much, that I do not feel the need (at the moment) to teach in academia. I am truly blessed in that I have a job doing what I love.

But I’m a person who likes to finish what I start, and I was thinking I have some unfinished business. I would like a PhD, but my student loans are maxed. I know I cannot get financial aid, so the PhD is off the table. There is, however, the question of the physics degree I started and never finished. Three years into that, I switched to psychology, and stuck with that field. Plus, there is the fact that I actually looked through my high school yearbook this summer given that it was technically my 20-year class reunion. One of my future plans under the Senior Directory was to “get my PhD in Chemistry.” I’m thinking of going back and finishing a degree in either chemistry or physics. Of course, I would have to pay for classes out of pocket, but I could take one at a time.

I could, theoretically, complete my 5th degree by the time I turn 40.

That was the plan before the flu. Now post-flu, I am thinking “hell no.” Going back to school must have been part of my flu-induced delirium. There is no way I want to go back to school and be stuck in that schedule again. Especially now that my time is my own, I enjoy being homework free.

However, it is only October. The spring semester does not start until January. We will see what happens and what I think over the next three months. Apparently, I had a lot more wisdom at 17 than I do at 37. At 37, I feel like this past year has been lost and found. At 17, my quote in the yearbook came from Luke Skywalker: “I’m ready for anything.”

If I can hang onto that, maybe this year can turn around from lost to Found.

The Price of Convenience

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I had an errand to run on my day off yesterday in a city about 40 miles away from my house. It was a good drive with little traffic. I had no frustration in my travels. I realized that it took me the same amount of time to reach this city 40 miles away as it does to drive the 10 miles to work every day. That’s how bad the traffic and parking situation is in the city where I work.

In my efforts to slow down my life, I have been trying to cut out all of the unnecessary fluff so that I have more time, money, and resources to devote to things truly important to me. The fact that I spend 2 hours commuting every day to a place 10 miles from my home is ridiculous to me, but I really like my job.

While I was trying to save money by giving up my parking pass for my work location, doing so added an hour to my commute every day. Not only was I fighting traffic, but it typically took me an additional 60 minutes to not only find a parking space but also to walk the 1-3 miles from the parking space to work. That was one hour out of my day that could be spent doing something else that I want to do – like spending time with my sick family member.

So, I bit the bullet and decided to pay for a parking pass for work again. I decided that spending $80 a month for parking is worth 5 hours a week of my time. I now have 5 hours per week more to be at home that I am not fighting to find parking and then having to walk from a parking spot to work.

This is the price of convenience.

Life seems like an endless series of opportunity costs. Which do we value more – time or money?

It depends.

Mostly, I value my time.

Another cost of convenience that I have been evaluating recently is car repair. I have my vehicle maintained and repaired in the city in which I work. I have been doing so for at least the past 15 years. The logic is that if I have to leave the car to have work done, that I can walk to work, and then walk back to pick up the car later in the day when it is done. What has been happening lately is that I get an appointment, and end up having a few hours to kill in between the appointment and when I go into work.

There is not enough time to go home; I end up stuck in the city in which I work with some down time. Again, this is down time that I could be using to do other things that mean something to me.

Starting next week, I will be having my vehicle repaired some place close to my home instead of my work. Of course, that means if I need a significant amount of work done, that I may have to take a day off from work and stay home. To me, that situation is a better scenario than being stuck in the city where I work. At least if my car is repaired closer to home, I can be home, and it alleviates the stress of trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B (mainly from work to home).

These simple changes in life will hopefully free up more of my time to be home and to do the things that I want to spend my time doing. I want to be more in control of situations, not simply responding to whatever crisis presents itself at the time.

What “conveniences” in your life take time away from what matters most? Evaluating the simple things we do each day and why we do them can help to figure out solutions to challenges that may not have been available before. By changing my perspective on how I look at things that need to be done, I am freeing up more time for people and things I love to do.

Life Lesson #493: Do Not Wine & Adele

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Above: Recent art project in process. It will be much shinier and prettier after it is fired in the kiln. You can see some of my Deadpool skin courtesy of my autoimmune disorder.

They say that no man is worth crying over, and the one who is won’t make you cry. This is true for both men and women. While I have heard this adage many times, it has literally taken me years to develop a sense of self worth adequate enough to truly embrace it. When we are emotionally distraught, we tend to engage in negative coping skills in an attempt to deal with the pain. Part of growing up is developing and maintaining positive coping skills to be able to deal with life’s challenges so that we can become resilient and bounce back to full functioning in shorter periods of time.

When we are emotionally distraught, we are more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by even the slightest thing. The smallest addition to the pile could be the tipping point at which distraught tumbles into full-blown despair or meltdown. About 5 years or so ago, I could very easily tell you what my most negative coping skill was for dealing with stress. It was then I learned to not wine and Adele.

We all have negative coping skills, from smoking to drinking, to binge-watching Bridget Jones’ Diary on repeat while inhaling tubs of Ben & Jerry’s to taking out our emotions on the people closest to us whether they deserve it or not. For me, it was wine & Adele. I could drink wine and listen to anything else from the Grateful Dead to The Doors to Florence & The Machine, but if I put on Adele, well, then, “rolling in the deep,” indeed.

Over the past few years, I have been successful in replacing some of my most negative coping skills with more positive ones. The fact that I have been able to minimize and simplify my life these past few years has greatly helped in this transition process of shedding negative habits for more positive ones.

Simplifying my life, slowing down my schedule, and reducing the amount of clutter around me has empowered me to more competently face and process my emotions better without being overwhelmed by anything around me. I have the time and space to process all my emotions, both positive and negative, without having anything in my environment be a tipping point to a negative place. I have been able to develop positive coping skills for processing negative emotions so that I can more quickly and successfully come through the other end.

March was a particularly challenging month for some reason I have not been able to identify. In March, I used my positive coping skills a lot. I did quite a bit of painting, I have been more active in community events, and have had more meaningful conversations with those whom I interact.

I did not wine, but I did Adele. With my autoimmune disorder, my wine consumption has gone from about 4-5 bottles per year to maybe 4-6 glasses per year, so wine is no longer a coping skill. I did, however, pop in the new Adele CD and have a nice, tear-free soak in the bathtub.

Sometimes when we are distraught, identifying our positive coping skills can by extremely difficult, even if it seems that they should be evident. For those moments when life is overwhelming, I have made a list of positive coping skills that I can look at to remind myself that there are ways other than smoking (I quit like 9 years ago), wine & Adele, or endless tears to be able to cope with stress and pain.

Some of my positive coping skills include:

  • Running
  • Painting
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Church

It is especially important to try to identify coping skills that are not dependent on other people, in case those people are not available, or maybe we just don’t have people in our lives on whom we can rely. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which I live. There is not a single person in my life that I could pick up the phone and call when I am having a hard time. I have tried it before and the usual response is “I’m busy.” I don’t even bother reaching out for human contact anymore. People know where I am. If they want to talk to me, they can reach out to me.

One of the reasons why learning to not wine & Adele is so significant is that wine & Adele was trapping me in a cycle of negativity. I was not processing my emotions and moving on from them; I was dwelling in them. Pickling myself in negative feelings is not what I have in mind for my life. In the process of slowing down, I now have the luxury of being able to unpack and address each emotion and move on from the situation that much stronger for having addressed the initial cause of despair.

Diversifying our coping skills is important in case our “go-to” is unavailable. For example, when I was injured last fall after my marathon, I had to rely on my other coping skills to deal with my running injury, because it was definitely not something I could just “run through.” If I ran with that injury, I would have done permanent damage that would have inhibited my running for the foreseeable future.

Do you have your own version of wine & Adele? What positive coping skills can you use to replace the negative ones? How can we be kind to ourselves and best allow ourselves the time and space to process our emotions in healthy ways? When we slow down our lives, we then have the opportunity to deal with our emotions instead of just dwelling in them. We are here to live, not to dwell.