Nothing’s Changed; Everything’s Changed

Sadly, this is not my current state of affairs.

I’ve been wanting to write something about how I’ve been feeling through all this … waves hands at the world … but I’m having trouble getting my thoughts to settle down to even figure out how I’m feeling. I know I’m not at all alone in this, but I also recognize that everyone is feeling it in their own way.

The thing that’s the most difficult for me to wrap my head around is the fact that my life hasn’t changed. At least not yet. I don’t do the grocery shopping, and 80-90% of my social interaction happens online anyway. Most distressingly, my employer doesn’t have the IT capability to let all employees work remotely. I do have a laptop, and I’m set up to work remotely (which I do occasionally when the need arises), but we’ve been told we really should be in the office.

So right now, nothing is substantially different here. We don’t usually go out to eat, and we only see movies in the theatre a couple times a year. We do have semi-regular hang-outs with local friends, but those often get cancelled anyway.

Everything is the same.

But it’s not.

That’s what is twisting my brain around. So many of my friends are working from home for the first time (because their employers have IT systems that can handle it). They’re hunkering down in a way that’s new and different for them. The picture at the top of this post represents what my brain seems to think I should be doing these days, but I still have the same amount of day-job work, and I still have the same amount of home-job podcasting work (if not a little more right now).

In a way, I’m lucky(?) that so much of my life is pretty much “social distancing” at the best of times because there’s no learning curve. But on the other hand, the cognitive dissonance of going about my business while knowing that the world has already changed around me (and will change more, and for the worse, very soon) has my neural chemistry in quite the tizzy.

So if you’re not making many active changes (because you don’t need to), but you’re still struggling mightily, know that you’re not alone.

Take care of yourselves. <3

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Ok, despite the inspirational title, It’s not that kind of post.

This is a post about washing your hands.

Or, at least, that’s where it started.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid getting sick during flu season for the past few years: getting enough sleep, eating (sorta) well, and most importantly — getting the damn flu shot! And in addition to those basics, the other basic is employing proper hand-washing technique [source: the CDC]:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with “Happy Birthday” stuck in my head at work because I’m silently singing it to myself as I lather my hands.

Anyway, yes. I dutifully go through the song twice when washing my hands… except…

Except when there’s someone else in the washroom at the same time. When that happens, I default to my previous hand-washing routine where I just get ’em wet, cover ’em with soap, and rinse ’em off. In and out, lickety split.

Why? Why am I so self-conscious about washing my hands?

Ok, I can tell you why. It’s my dumb social anxiety and my somewhat intense need to not interact with anyone in the washroom. But it’s not so strong it needs to interfere with my Quest for Health. (No shame to anyone for whom this *is* a deal-breaker. Brains gonna brain.)

So this week I resolved to stick to my song and lather lather lather until I can wash those nasty germs away — even if there is someone else there.

And that’s when it hit me: maybe other people are doing the same thing I had been.

I’ve never witnessed anyone at work washing their hands for the proper amount of time. But maybe they’re doing it when I’m not around? Or maybe they’re not, but they know they should be. Either way, acting as an example may trigger my anxiety a bit, but it does that less when I think of it as doing a purposeful demonstration for the good of General Office Health.

I am well aware I over-think things. And there’s every chance no one will even notice except maybe to be like “who’s that weird chick who washes her hands for so long?” But whatever. If I can inspire even one person to wash their hands longer just one time, it could be the time that person would’ve come down with something righteously nasty, and I saved them by also saving myself.

You’re welcome, random co-worker. You’re welcome.

Relaxing About Meditation

Apparently this week is a series about my new self care routine and how I’m handling it. Neat!

I grew up doing Transcendental Meditation (TM) with my family, so that’s always been what “meditation” means to me. I knew other types of meditation existed, I just didn’t bother trying any of them for most of my life.

Then I attended a conference that covered entheogens, how brains work, and the nature of reality. The day of programming ended with a guided group meditation. That 10-minute experience was more profound and relaxing than almost any of my 20-minute TM sessions. (This may have had something to do with the shared nature of the experience — I recognize that.)

Ever since then I’ve wanted to explore other meditation options (especially since I haven’t found a ton of benefit from my TM practice over the last several years). I did try a “beginning meditation” course, but I bounced off the instructor so that wasn’t helpful. My brother gifted me a book that’s a guide to many different types of meditation, but I found I can’t really get into meditation via reading — it just doesn’t work for me. I know there are phone apps for guided meditation, but having to fiddle with my phone doesn’t appeal to me in terms of getting in the right head-space for meditation.

Then last week while I was lying on the yoga mat getting ready to do my TM practice, I had the bright idea to try asking my Google Home to play “10-minute guided meditation”, and bam! Instant guided meditation. Cool!

That’s when I ran into my next problem: my brain. (Why does it always have to be my brain?)

I’ve been doing TM on and off for over 30 years. Doing something else, especially something that takes less time, felt a little like failure. I know that a) not all types of meditation are right for all people at all times of their life, and b) the frequency of a meditation practice is more important than the duration of the sessions (at least according to that meditation teacher I didn’t like). But tell that to my damn emotions.

I did! I did tell that to my damn emotions.

They didn’t exactly listen. I still get an uncomfortable flutter in my stomach when I even think about doing something different from my decades-long routine, but I truly feel that changing things up will be better for me. I know that right now I’ll get more out of something different and a little more structured.

I will probably keep doing TM several times a week, but (especially in the morning when time is more precious) I’ve insisted to myself it’s ok to do something different and shorter. The ability to do this feels very akin to my triumph at learning to stop doing yoga when it hurts.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really into new year’s resolutions, so the fact that all this is coming together right at the beginning of 2020 is mostly coincidental. But maybe 2020 will be a year of learning to let go of behaviours that don’t serve me. Who knows?

And heck, if you do have recommendations for meditation apps, let me know in the comments (and let me know *why* you think they’re good). At some point I might be ready/willing to incorporate that extra step in my process. Gasp! Who am I even becoming?

(Someone better. Or at least healthier. That’s who.)

Letting Go of Perfection

This is a topic I come back to often — and in almost every aspect of my life. While there are some up-sides to being a perfectionist (I usually turn in pretty darn good work!), there are also plenty of down-sides. One of the biggest for me is I let my desire to get-things-just-right and do-them-completely get in the way of doing things at all.

I know I’m far from the first person to experience (or write about) this, so I’m not here to lecture you about it. If you deal with this too (and I know so many people who do!), you already know it. Instead, I’m here to celebrate a small way I’ve managed to let go — in a way I’ve never managed to achieve before.

Yesterday I wrote about how I’ve picked up my yoga and meditation practice again. Exercise of any sort tends to be a place where I get stopped up. When I finally make myself do it, I want to really *do it*. Then I hurt myself because I go too hard too soon. This has happened more times than I can count. (And I would have had to start counting several decades ago.)

This time I decided not to let that happen. Of course, deciding something and actually doing it are two different things — I’d made that same decision before and didn’t stick with it. This time, however, I’ve actually followed through, and I am honestly kinda giddy about it.

I am happy to report that I have cut short or significantly altered my yoga sessions four times. (I’ve only been at it for a little over a week, so this is a significant number.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever bragged about quitting before, but right now I totally am. Every time, I felt a muscle twinge or a nerve being pinched, I slowly came back to centre then called it quits for that session (or rested in child’s pose until the video moved onto something I thought I could handle). Could I have forged ahead and kept going without doing damage? Maybe. (But at least one of those times it was very unlikely.)

But why risk it? Is it worth it to finish that YouTube session with an instructor who doesn’t actually know I exist? My perfectionist brain says YES.

But I’m smarter than my brain.

Suck it brain — I’m taking care of myself.

 

Small Steps

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. It’s nice to think about ways I can make 2020 better than 2019, but I’m more into continuous improvement. Sometimes having an arbitrary day to start something new helps (I prefer to start new routines on Mondays as opposed to mid-week), but I used to fall into the procrastination trap all too easily. “I don’t want to start X right now because I have That Thing next weekend. I should wait until after.” “[Arbitrary date] would be a good time to start X because it’s a holiday.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s why I didn’t wait until the new year to start getting back to my yoga and meditation practice. I’d let it fall off quite a bit over the latter months of last year. During my holiday break, I decided I was sick of feeling tired and creaky so often, so I started near-daily practice of both yoga and meditation again — before the calendar clicked over to 2020. (It was only a few days before Jan 1, but it’s the principle that counts — I didn’t let the calendar dictate when I’d start my self care.)

It’s only been about a week, but I’ve already noticed a difference. Even before I re-started the regular yoga, I’d been doing a basic toe-touch stretch a few times a day in which I’d breathe deeply, hold it briefly, then let it all out slowly. Every time I did that, my spine would crackle like a bowl of breakfast cereal. I’d keep breathing and stretching until the crackling stopped.

Now, roughly a week later, when I do that stretch, almost no popping to speak of! It’s a little thing, but it’s really neat to get a measurable result so quickly.

I wouldn’t necessarily know I had made that progress if I hadn’t already been doing that one stretch. So I’m going to keep this in mind as I move forward with this (and any other) self-improvement effort. Stuff is happening. As long as I’m putting in the work, things are getting better. I might not always be able to see or feel it, but it’s occurring just the same.

Knowing that helps.

HealthDay

I am currently sitting in bed, computer in my lap, surrounded by crackers and ginger ale and Pepto Bismol and a Booster Juice. Yep. That’s right. I’m home sick. But I’m not calling it a “sick day”. This, my friends, is a HealthDay.

I recently switched antidepressant medications, and the initial side effects are kicking my butt. I could probably handle a slow-paced day at work (with all these stomach-supports in tow), but I’m also feeling just…wrong in the head. If you’ve been through the delights* of getting-used-to-a-new-brain-medication, you may know what I’m talking about. There’s no good way to describe it—at least not that I’ve found anyhow. I just feel wrong.

The important thing is that all this current discomfort is in support of future, better health. There’s no guarantee the new drug will be effective. I’ve bounced between *many* over the last couple years, trying to find something that will work for me, and so far I’ve had little luck. But that’s not a surprise. Brains are complicated, and there’s a lot we don’t yet understand about the chemistry happening between our ears. I knew when I started this process that it could be long and would likely involve a lot of trial and error. (Boy howdy has it!)

Anyway, I post this random update in part to remind myself that it’s okay to take a HealthDay when I need it. (I still can’t shake a profound feeling of GUILT any time I miss a day of work.) I also hope that if you’re struggling with your own mental health that you remember you’re not alone. And even if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, stick it out. Take a HealthDay if you’re able to. We can do this. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. We’ll get there.

 

*Not at all delightful.

Dear Self

This post is for me, but I suspect I have a few friends/readers out there who might find it helpful, so I’m sharing it publically. 

Dear Self,

It’s ok to be sick. It’s ok to be anxious. It’s ok to be sad.

And when you’ve been these things for weeks and weeks on end, it’s ok to stop for a little while. Taking a break or a sick day is not an admission of failure. It does not mean you’re weak. It’s doing what is required in order to get through and move forward.

Even when you feel like you could do just one more thing, or go into work for just a few hours (which, let’s face it, will turn into the whole day), it’s still important to stop and rest. If you push yourself and keep going, you’re just borrowing that energy and that productivity from tomorrow or the next day.

Yeah, it sucks, and yeah it feels like you’re letting everyone down, but guess what? You’re not. That’s your dumb brain lying to you. Anyone who cares about you or relies on you in any way doesn’t want you to help them out right now if it’s ultimately not healthy for you.

You’re important, but you’re not that important.

So take a chill pill (literally if you have to) and lie down and read that book you’ve been wanting to read Just For Fun. Watch another episode of a TV show you are not watching for a podcast. If your head stops hurting, go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see for weeks.

Rest. Recharge. Recuperate. Get better.

You deserve it.

Yes, really.  You do.