Walk a Mile in My Shoes

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Today I realized that I’ve logged almost ten miles on my Nike+ running app this month. Now, to be fair, I am round. Very round. So “running” actually means “walking.” But the point is, I’m getting out there and getting active on a regular basis.

“Walk” is one of those things that I have on my checklist, but I’ve been including non-logged exercise in there recently – loading and unloading the car for a recent camping trip, taking the clothes hamper halfway across the complex to the laundry center, etc. – but I think with the turn of the new page in my checklist book, there will be a change of definition: It has to be logged in the Nike+ app to qualify for a check that day. That means I’m setting myself up to walk six days a week, something I haven’t done in my adult life.

While I sit here, my feet are aching from the exertion of eight-tenths of a mile of brisk walking. They’re not used to that kind of workout, but then again, none of my body is used to this. I’ve lived a sedentary lifestyle for years and years. Ever since I had regular access to a computer, I haven’t made the time to pull myself away from the screen long enough to get out and improve my health. I’m glad I’ve made the decision to do it now, but wish I’d been doing it all along.

My weight is a metric that I’ve been measuring but not paying much attention to. Generally speaking, I’ve been yo-yoing between 272 and 278 for close to a month. That tells me that I’ve plateaued, and until I do something different to change that, I’m going to stay right there.

A few years ago, when I weighed about what I do now, I made the conscious decision to eliminate sugared sodas and limit myself to only one portion of food at a sitting, along with eliminating snacks between meals. I ate smaller meals, but I usually ate four or five of them a day. I didn’t change what I ate at all. Over eleven months, I lost 48 pounds. Obviously I’ve gained it back and more (at one point this year I clocked in at 298, and having written that, I only now realize I’ve lost around 20 pounds this year).

Right now I’m walking in shoes that are just not built for exercise. My goal is to hit 50 km (31 miles) total and then reward myself with some custom Nikes. I’m over a third of a way there, and looking forward to keeping to the ten miles a month pace (if for no other reason than I would rather dance in traffic than go to an outlet center right now just to try on a damned shoe, and ten miles a month will get me into late January or early February before I earn the new shoes).

The good thing is that I’m looking forward to getting out and exercising for the first time in years and years. That right there is cause for celebration. The fact that I’m getting near-daily doses of endorphins to help naturally fight my darker moods is just the icing on the cake.

If only I could still have cake. Oh well. Could be worse.

November 28, 2014: Three Good Things

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As I promised my Facebook followers, I am moving this regular post here to my blog and letting WordPress promote it back to Facebook. At the end of the day, I list three good things that happened during the day. This gives me a positive thing to look back on if I ever think my life isn’t anything but pain and suffering.

Today’s good things:

1. My wife came home early from work, and I got to spend an extra hour and a half with her today that I wouldn’t normally be able to during the week.

2. I realized (and wrote about, in another post) that my checklist, when complete, is essentially giving me permission to go to bed when my brain is insisting that I do otherwise. On days like today, it’s especially important that I try to get everything checked off so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not staying up.

3. This is the one I’ve been waiting all day to talk about. Today I took the plunge and applied for financial aid to go back to school for my associate’s degree in social work. It will help me with my stated goal of returning to the workforce as a peer support specialist, plus it opens the door for a job as a caseworker and furthers the possibility of pursuing a higher education. I don’t know if I’m ready. I’ve spent almost thirty years of my adult life asking myself that question. I’m tired of asking and wondering. It’s time to DO.

Thus Falls the Night

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I’m at that critical part of my evening where my mood is darkening. It comes with fatigue, the sense that I should have accomplished more with my day, and the feeling of disconnection as people I know are retiring for the night. My mind races, trying to find anything to do to keep me alert and awake and aware. There must be something to do in this apartment.

Dishes are done. The dishwasher just needs detergent and a turn of the dial to do its duty this evening. The counters are cleaned, the coffee is made for the morning and the timer is set.

The house is, for the most part, clean. I could, in theory, dust and vacuum, but it’s late at night and I don’t want to disturb the adjoining neighbors.

My checklist is designed, in part, to give me that permission to go to bed. As of right now, I’m missing yoga, a quick brush of the teeth, and my list of good things that happened today and I’m done. There’s no more list, there’s nothing else left to do today. I can sleep.

And yet I can’t turn my mind off.

Tonight may need to be spent with the relaxation app running. It’s a programmable sound machine that can add as many sounds as I like to create a safe space for my mind to focus on as I drift off to sleep. I can have a babbling brook amidst crickets and frogs, or I can create a loop of Chinese music with the wind blowing through the trees. I always forget that I sleep better with the machine on, but tonight, I might need to create that sanctuary for me to ease off to dreamland.

I wish my mind came with a switch. Hopefully yoga will help. I might surrender to a long, hot shower before bed.

Please, let me get some sleep tonight. It already feels like a rough, lonely night going in.

Friday Fiction: Feeding the Fire

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I’m up late (early?) again, and found myself considering my entertainment options, so here I am.

This may or may not be the start of a new feature on this blog called Friday Fiction. The idea is for me to crank out at least one new short story a week, to hone my writing skills. I figure that if I make it a habit, it’ll be more effective. So here’s the first installment of Friday Fiction, alliteratively titled “Feeding the Fire.” Hope you enjoy it.


He sat in an easy chair, contemplating the universe as filtered through a glass of scotch on the rocks.

So many lost opportunities in my life, he thought to himself. I could have had a career in the military. I could have gone to school. I could have been somebody.

He knocked back the scotch, got up, refreshed his drink and sat back down in the spot he left by the fireplace. There were a few flickers of dancing orange flame, but the fire was burning down to embers. It was the only light in the dimming room.

The dying fire was a focal point for his frustrations with life. What could he have become? How much more grand could his life have been without the job struggles, the financial failures, the hesitant starts and stops in his journey.

He was wracked with guilt about what could have been and filled with fear about what was to come.

Would he still be sitting by the fire, in that chair, drinking the same single malt ten, twenty, thirty years in the future? Would he be in a home somewhere? Would he be homeless, struggling to eat while dealing with some ravaging disease that he couldn’t afford to treat or prevent?

It’s late, he thought to himself. I should get some sleep.

But how could he sleep with such questions occupying his thoughts?

So many times, he considered knocking back the scotch until he fell asleep in the chair, highball glass dropped on the floor and half a shot of liquor spilled among the melting ice cubes, snoring his troubles away. It would be so easy to drink to forget.

It seemed that in the middle of the night, his prospects and his future was dying with the speed of the fire on the hearth.

He entertained the thought of putting another log on and stoking the fire again, but what would that achieve? It’s a lost cause, he concluded, before taking another slow sip of the Glenfiddich. It was expensive, and he wouldn’t dare have purchased it for himself. It was a holiday gift, in thanks for a successful project at work.

He sat for a time, just staring into the flickering flames and feeling the chill start to enter the room. The fire had nearly burnt itself out.

Then he had an epiphany as he gazed into the dying light.

The fire was a metaphor for his passion. Left untended, it would quickly burn itself out using all available resources. It needed constant refueling, and so did his passions in life. With the proper replenishment, it could burn indefinitely.

He permitted himself a half-smile, finished the rest of the whisky, then got up from his lounger. He walked down the hall and opened the first door on the left. It was dimly lit by the twinkling stars projected on the ceiling. He very softly kissed his sleeping four-year-old daughter on her cheek, then silently crept out of the room before she could wake.

He entered the master bedroom further down the hall and repeated the process with his wife. She was a lighter sleeper, and she stirred enough to mumble a sweet nothing to her husband before slipping back into slumber. He went around to his side of the bed, picked up his messenger bag, then crept back to the living room.

He put another log on the fire and poked the embers so the new log would alight and start to burn. Presently it did so, filling the room with both warmth and light.

He refilled his drink and rolled a laptop desk to the easy chair pulling his Macbook out of the messenger bag. He booted it up and opened Pages before cracking his knuckles in anticipation.

Feed the fire, he thought to himself.

His fingers lightly touched the keyboard and he began to write.

“He sat in an easy chair, contemplating the universe as filtered through a glass of scotch on the rocks.”

Today I Give Thanks

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I’ve already put this on Facebook separately, but here, I want to go into more detail on the things that I am thankful for this holiday season.

I am thankful for having a gorgeous, talented, patient, loving wife that I fall more and more in love with every single day. Our symptoms struggle for dominance often, and that means there are shouting matches. More than I really wish to admit. Those fights are one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason I want to get better. Outside of our bouts of mutual irrationality, I can count on one hand the number of actual, rational disagreements we’ve had in almost 15 years together. I am profoundly happy with my marriage and become more and more so with each passing year.

I am thankful that my frighteningly intelligent, absolutely beautiful, insanely talented, totally awesome daughter is a part of my life again. She’s exceptionally busy with making a life for herself, and so I don’t get a chance to check in with her as often as I would like, but I am inordinately proud of her every accomplishment and will tell anyone that stands still long enough how much I love her.

I am thankful that my mother is relatively healthy and that our relationship is in a good place right now. It has not always been so, and I miss my mom. She’s starting to be scared of aging – she’s going to turn 83 next year – and I’m scared for her. With every word she can’t think of, with every time she repeats herself, she becomes terrified of the possibility of early onset Alzheimer’s. (Her assisted living facility has a memory unit, and she volunteers there, reading to her fellow residents. She sees what the disease is capable of on a frequent basis, and it is her biggest fear by far.) I tell her that I’m experiencing the same thing, but I withhold that I don’t lose words or repeat myself as often as she is starting to. I wish I could tell her that I’m scared for her, but I have to be strong and reassuring. When I’m having an off day, I can’t deal with how difficult she can be. But I’m thankful that, with my newfound confidence and ability to cope, we are able to talk and enjoy one another’s company again.

I am thankful that a certain black and white kitten helped herself to our apartment one Sunday morning. My life has been better and decidedly less boring because of it. She’s grown into an affectionate, loving, playful cat and she has absolutely helped with my symptoms and calming them down. When you’re having a rough day, and a ball of soft fur climbs onto your leg and rubs against your elbow hoping to get pettings, it’s the most awesome feeling in the world. She makes the best faces when I scritch the top of her head, with her mouth hanging slightly open, like what I’m doing is the best thing ever. She can be a handful sometimes, but she’s learned the meaning of “no ma’am” and “time out.” She came into my life at just the right moment and she’s been an invaluable piece of my therapy and recovery.

I am thankful for experiencing a resurgence in my physical and mental health, and actually enjoying the experience. I look forward to being physically active, to eating healthier, and to applying the things that I’m learning about my new diagnosis. I don’t remember a time that I was this mindful about my physical, emotional, and mental states. When I was a teenager and actively running 10Ks and backpacking parts of the Appalachian Trail, I didn’t think about the health benefits; it was just fun. Then other things became fun, and I stopped being so active. I’m learning that it’s a kind of fun that I miss and have done so for years and years. Getting back in shape is going to take a lot of time, but the journey will definitely be worth it. And enjoyable. Even when my calves are screaming at me to park it on the couch.

I am thankful for having a roof over my head, and food in my larder, and clean water to drink. In many parts of the world, these things alone would make me one of the “haves.” So often in the Western world, we take these things for granted. Today especially, I want to give thanks to those people that take care of our apartment and the rest of the complex, the millions of people involved in our food chain, and everyone that works to make sure that our water is safe to drink and plentiful. If I could make one wish this holiday, it is that everyone were able to have access to these fundamental basics.

I am thankful that we have a political system that allows each of us to have a voice in our government. I am hopeful that one day, it will work as intended.

I am thankful for the many talents that I have, and especially thankful that today, I can see them clearly. Today, I am aware that I am a very good cook, that I am a capable singer and performer, that I am a proficient writer, that I am compassionate and kind and loving of my fellow man, and that these things are only part of what make me unique and worthy. May I remember these things tomorrow and every day after that, and may I continue to discover new talents and develop new skills as I grow older.

I am thankful for my friends, most of whom I consider chosen family, who are so accepting, encouraging, and supportive of me. Every single one of them. Even the ones that my struggles have pushed away for now. Without you, I cannot imagine how lonely, boring, and difficult every day would be. Knowing how dark my days have been in the past, I’d prefer not to imagine the potential outcome of a world without my friends.

And once again, I want to reiterate just how much I love and appreciate my wife, my best friend, and my soulmate Stacy. More than there are stars, and until they all fade out.

Self-Esteem and Cherry Blossoms

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Photo credit: WindyLife@deviantART

I’m currently reading a book entitled “The Buddha and the Borderline” by Kiera Van Gelder. It tells the story of one woman’s struggles with borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms for years before having it properly diagnosed, and her use of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and Zen Buddhism to recover. I’m five chapters in, but it’s a fascinating read. Van Gelder is almost bluntly transparent about her struggles, and it’s refreshing to hear someone else go through similar experiences to what I’ve been through in my life.

One of the main tenets of DBT is a concept called radical acceptance. It essentially means that you accept who and what you are, right now, in this very moment, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and all. Mindfulness is a big part of this concept, and the yoga is helping with that. But how do you accept who and what you are when you don’t know what that is?

I thought I’d address the topic of self-esteem today, since that’s one of the parts of the title of this blog. I know I have pretty low self-esteem, but what does high self-esteem look like? So I hit Google to try and find an answer.

The Mayo Clinic was my first hit, in an article called “Self-Esteem Check: Too Low or Just Right?” It talks about healthy self-esteem rather than high self-esteem, and to be honest, that’s more along the lines of what I’m looking for anyway. I came across this passage:

When you have healthy self-esteem it means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws.

That sounds so much like what “radical acceptance” starts with. But does self-esteem lead to radical acceptance, or is it really the other way around, with radical acceptance blazing the trail toward healthy self-esteem?

I have so much to learn about this new diagnosis. Looks like I’ll be starting a DBT group therapy of my own on the 10th, so I’ll find out.

In the meantime, I can just acknowledge who and what I am, right now, in this very moment, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and all.

I am a compassionate person.

I am disabled.

I am very talented in the kitchen.

I don’t think I’m worthy of love most of the time.

Sometimes, I believe I’m a pretty awesome guy.

Other times, I don’t think I’m anything.

I am a very good listener.

I get distracted easily if I’m bored.

I’m working hard to improve my physical and mental health.

I’m so tired most of the time, all I want to do is sleep.

I am all these things and more, and I acknowledge them all. Right now, in this moment, it’s okay to be a flawed human being. Technically, we’re all flawed.

One of the minor subplots of the movie “The Last Samurai” is Katsumoto’s (Ken Watanabe) search for an elusive cherry blossom.

The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.

At the end of the movie (I won’t spoil the rest of the plot), he has an epiphany as he gazes on a spectacular tree of the beautiful flowers, some blowing away on a light breeze.

Perfect. They are all perfect.

Perhaps that’s how we should view our humanity. Perfect in all its imperfections.

I am like a cherry blossom.

I am flawed.

And that’s just perfect.

Days Off and Their Consequences

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If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you know I’m on disability for my PTSD and bipolar disorder, so I don’t have a work schedule. Instead, I’ve turned the completion of my checklists into my job, and have approached it with the same vigor that I would in the workplace.

Once I finally figured out how to get everything done, then it became a duty, a requirement, to hit every box for the day. The more I told people about it, the more pressure I started feeling to complete everything, every day. And it started getting on me.

On Saturday, I didn’t complete everything because I was camping. I came close, and I recognized the achievement of staying very close to perfect on a day when my entire routine was disrupted by other activities. Sunday rolled around and I was back to perfect. Same with Monday. But by the time Monday rolled around, I was tired. I was cranky. My mood wasn’t as stable as it had been for the previous week and a half. I started noticing that little things that used to aggravate me but then stopped when I had done the streak of perfect days on my list had started to irritate me again. My fuse was shorter, and my temper was greater. I needed to rest. So today, I made the conscious decision to skip the list and relax.

With the exception of my medications, I haven’t really done much today on my list at all. And I haven’t marked them off, either. I slept until three in the afternoon, then started playing video games. I was enjoying my day off. Then my wife called and told me she was on her way home from work, and that’s when the doubt started creeping in.

I didn’t have anything to show for the day. I had accomplished nothing. How could I face her without being productive? I had to start doing all the things. I told her that I was getting panicky about it and she told me that we’d agreed that today was a day off. I started to not listen to her, to berate myself for being so lazy and so useless. I grabbed my checklist and took a look at the column where today’s achievements should have gone. It was empty. I started to write today’s date at the top and then a thought struck me.

If I’m really going to take a day off, it would do more mental damage to start entering the few things I would be doing today than just leaving it blank and actually treating it as a day off.

And then I realized that I would need to have days like today fairly regularly, for my sanity and health.

So, new rule going forward. Saturdays will be my day off. I’ll still take my meds as instructed; there can’t be a day off from that. But I’m not going to obsess about logging carbs and checking glucose through the day unless I feel off. I’m also going to be a little more lenient in my food choices on Saturday. (Note this doesn’t mean I’m going to dive into three pounds of spaghetti, wash it down with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew Throwback, and chase it with a family size bag of M&Ms. This means that if I’m at an SCA event I don’t have to worry myself with what’s on the feast menu that night, and if I’m at home we can have a pizza for radio night.) I’m not going to log my checklist at all that day, and if I do accomplish things, like I am with this post, then it’s because I want to and not because I feel like it’s my job to do it. That’s going to start this Saturday. If I don’t physically feel like diving back into the checklist (remember, exhaustion and mood were my early warning signs that I needed to take a break) I’ll also take Sunday, but Monday I’ll be back at it with a renewed sense of purpose. (I don’t think I’ll need two days in a row but I’m giving myself the leeway to do so.)

I think it’s important to state that I’m doing this for my health, not to have an opportunity to sabotage all the work I’m doing to get healthy the rest of the week. But with my current mindset that my checklists are my job, and those who follow my progress are my supervisors, eventually I’m going to need a break before I decide to pitch the whole thing and just deteriorate back to where I was a few weeks ago – despondent, living without direction, feeling useless and hopeless, constantly pinging from one extreme to the next, not sleeping at all, and generally feeling like I want a way out. I’m in this for the long-term, to get better, to get healthier, to improve my life and my relationships in it.

But everyone needs a break from the routine sometime. Time I realized it and provided for that respite from my own thoughts and irrational fears. The goal is not to be perfect, but to be better.