My Little Black Books

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I’ve gotten a lot of requests for information about my little black books, those two indispensable resources that are helping me to start to reclaim my former self. I thought I’d share them with you here.

First off, I’ve started with the Moleskine Squared Soft Notebook (Pocket). This is basically a notebook full of graph paper. Inside it, I’ve sectioned off the book into roughly two halves. In the first one, I keep my checklists.

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Across the top are the dates. (In this example, you’ll notice that there are a few missing. Usually that indicates a bad day. You’ll also see the trend of improvement at a glance.) Down the side are the things that I regularly have to do with my day, in more or less chronological order. When I complete an item it gets checked off. If it’s not relevant (for instance, “Commute” is only applicable on those days I have the car, and never on the weekends, unless I’m out of town and traveling – more on the “Commute” selection later).

If you click on the picture above, you’ll note that there’s a single entry for “To-Do.” That’s where the second book comes in, but I’m skipping ahead.

At several points in the day, I have to measure my vital signs to some degree – in the morning, my blood glucose, my blood pressure, my pulse, and my weight; and two hours after every meal, my blood glucose. That’s what the second half of the squared notebook is for, and it looks like this.

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This time, across the side of the page, turned to be the top, I mark which vital I’m tracking. Along the bottom, turned to be the side, I have the dates. Again, as you can see, improvement is progressive. If there’s a spot where there’s a double digit number in a triple digit space, I usually trade the leading zero out for a slash (/) and in places where recording a specific vital is impossible, I put dashes (-) in each space. You can invent your own system for what works for you.

Now for the second notebook. It’s a Moleskine Ruled Soft Notebook (Pocket) and it’s just like a standard lined journal.

What goes in here is straightforward. It’s a list of things that I need to do, written in brief language to jog my memory about the things that need to happen. If details are needed, they’re included. When something is either done or the decision is made not to do it, it gets crossed off. It’s a progressive to-do list in that there aren’t dates or deadlines involved. You decide what order things happen, and by when. When you’ve done things that need to be done by the end of the day, plus whatever else you want to do to work ahead, consider the To-Do item in the other notebook checked off.

This to-do list looks something like this.

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So that’s basically it. It takes some getting used to in order to make sure things get done and then recorded, but I soon found the reward of checking things off on the list was a motivational tool. If I miss checking something off, I acknowledge that at the end of the day and tell myself that tomorrow is a fresh column with fresh opportunities. Some days, I just don’t want to worry with much of anything. On those days, I make sure that, if nothing else, I take my meds as indicated. Those are critical to maintaining an even keel and I can’t afford even a day’s lapse.

Oh, one other thing about the checklist. They’re fluid from page to page, so when I turn the page in a few days, I’m going to have made some minor changes to my checklist of things to track. New habits come in, obsolete ones go out. (For instance, when I turn the page, “Dance” will be added, and “Commute” will be removed.) If a new habit needs to start before the page gets turned, it goes temporarily into each day’s To-Do list until I can make a space for it. I still make the time to check things off if I’m still doing them, even if they’re fully integrated habits. The checklist also serves as a progress meter for my day. I know what needs to happen next and how I need to proceed with the rest of the time I have before the next item that’s timely comes due.

(If you’re wondering about appointments, those I track through Google Calendar and slip reminders into each day’s To-Do list in the ruled notebook. As for them being little black books, if you want to interject some color into your life and don’t mind switching to a hardbound cover, you can get the same two notebooks in red, white, oxide green, orange yellow, brilliant violet, and magenta.)

Hopefully this answers some of your questions, but if you have others, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

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Family Reunion

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This weekend, as reported, I went camping with some friends of mine to participate in a historical recreation event. Since my symptoms have been getting very bad over the bulk of 2014, I haven’t been very active this year and so this is something like the fifth event that I’ve attended out of dozens available throughout the year.

The first of those events was the day after a suicide scare. I tried to reach out to the live chat at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline’s website and – no joke – was told that all available counselors were assisting other clients and that if I wanted a more expedient response to call the Hotline itself. I found the situation so hysterically funny that I completely forgot about reaching out for help. The next day I went to the event against my will and it took nearly an hour to get me to leave the car. That was the first time I took to Facebook to just be blunt about my situation, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

Most of the people that follow me on Facebook are members of that organization, and so have seen the struggles that I’ve gone through and continue to experience. They have been exceedingly supportive and understanding as I wrestle with my demons, sometimes on an hourly basis. But it’s different seeing someone’s words on the screen and looking into their eyes when you feel like, despite the nice words, you’ve irreparably disappointed and distanced them from your life.

At all five events that I have attended, I have been met with an outpouring of support and encouragement and pure happiness that I’m out and about. This weekend, I literally lost count of the people who, at all levels of involvement and every step of the award structure and organizational hierarchy came to me and told me how wonderful it was to see me. I was hugged, I was kissed, I was told just how happy I made people just by being around. I met new friends who told me they’d heard of me through a mutual acquaintance and that it was such a pleasure to finally put a face to a name.

It felt like what I imagine a family reunion feels like. My family at birth consisted of three of my four grandparents, my mother and father, my half-brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. At this time, my family consists of my wife, my mother, and my daughter. All four grandparents, my father, and my half-brother are deceased; my uncle’s side of the family has disowned my mother and I; and I haven’t spoken with my niece since she was seven, much less met her husband and kids. There was never much of a family to reunite, and so I’ve never been to one.

My wife’s family, however, is tremendous. Her parents are divorced, and between the children of the remarriages there are 23 nieces and nephews. Anniversaries ending in zero and five regularly bring in hundreds of extended family members for a weekend. I’ve still never been to a family reunion.

But sitting under a large pavilion in a heavy downpour, dressed as a Viking, amidst the simulated combat (no one dies, but there are a lot of sore bodies the next day), the arts and sciences (someone made a working copy of Newton’s telescope!), and the merchants selling their wares, living a sort of year-round traveling Renaissance festival and skills demonstration, I’ve found my family. And every time I’m around them, it’s just like we’re all reuniting again.

I’ve seen babies born and grown to near adulthood. Kids that were less than ten when I first met them are married with kids of their own now. I’ve also marked the passing of more of my friends than I care to. With such a big chosen family, eventually you’ll realize that you’ve lost a lot of them to illnesses, old age, and tragic accidents. I miss every one of them and wish for just one more day with them to tell them how important they are to me, and how much I love them.

To those of them who read this blog, this post is for you. Thank you for the kindnesses you show me, your words of encouragement, and for bringing me into your family. We make a show of fighting with rattan and blunted fencing swords, of lords and ladies dressed in their court finest, of raucous parties with free-flowing alcohol and even more raucous tales of one another’s exploits. Sometimes we exchange heated words, and those wounds run deep because we do care about one another so much. But in the end, we’re one big family.

I chose every one of you. Thank you for making it a mutual choice. I’m honestly not sure I’d still be here today if it weren’t for you.

Weekend Viking

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This weekend I’m going to brave thunderstorms and go do my weekend Viking thing, so I might be quiet for the next couple days. Since I’m on my phone, I’m going to be short, because I do not relish the concept of an extended post on a little bitty keyboard whilst riding on bumpy roads across south Texas. I’ll check in more in depth on Sunday.

Non-Glossophobic Glossophile Practicing Glossolalia, Glossing Over The Point

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If you’re like a lot of people, you’re not really sure what that title means. If you haven’t read ahead and already know, then you should know that I am a sapiosexual and I want to have your babies. Logic and biology be damned.

Many of you suffer from glossophobia. In layman’s terms, it’s the fear of public speaking, which I do not have. In fact, I kinda enjoy getting up and performing. When I was 22 I had a relationship end and, with the wisdom only a twenty-two year old can muster, had closed off every other relationship and activity that I had had before I met the girl. This meant reinventing my life, something I have had to do a couple of times since. I decided to try my hand at improvisational comedy as a means of meeting people and being social.

I wasn’t so quick on my feet, mentally speaking, back then, and so I wasn’t very good at improv. With a little preparation, I could have you rolling in the aisles. But tossed a concept to respond to in real time, I would founder and flail. Part of the reason for that is that puns were verboten in the troupe that I participated in, and my go-to for being funny in those days was to rattle off a pun. That brings me to word number two in the title, so I’ll interrupt my story for a definition and likely another story. (Today is a very stream-of-consciousness writing day. By the time I get done with it, today’s blog post might be more about a cross-eyed lemur playing a double bassoon in a wind ensemble in Oslo than anything the title implies at present.)

A glossophile is someone who loves language. I’m a writer, it kind of goes with the territory. I love how language can be woven to produce different concepts and affectations, just with punctuation and inflection. I love how one word can remind you of another in a cascade of connections that synergize together. (Usually I hate corporate doublespeak, but that’s the word to use when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.) But back to our story, where our intrepid hero, arms outstretched, cant pun. (Not a typo.)

One of the skits that our troupe would do was called “Five Things.” It’s essentially team charades. In this skit, one member of the four-person team would go backstage and don noise-cancelling headphones while the referee would ask for five things from the audience, then weird them all up. (Like a double bassoonist who’s a cross-eyed lemur in Oslo.) They’d call for the departed team member to return, and then the team would have three minutes to convey those five things using only body language and gibberish language. No actual words could be used. And hey, this is where word number three comes in.

Glossolalia is the use of nonsensical syllables in the manner of language. The end product sounds like some exotic foreign language, but doesn’t really mean anything.

I was complete pants at Five Things. I couldn’t convey anything. (“No,” I would think, “it’s not an airplane, it’s a seesaw.”) I couldn’t understand anything. (“What do you mean, it’s a seesaw? No, that’s an airplane, I’m sure of it.”) But I sure had fun.

Anyway, the improv gig led to an invitation to try out for a community theater production. I went hoping that I would just be in the chorus and could mouth the words and get away with it, but oh no, I got a part! And then the guy that had another part dropped out, so they asked me to take over that part instead. And I did. Only this wasn’t another bit part with a few lines and maybe one song, I was the second male lead and the lead voice in almost every ensemble piece there was. I was too busy and panicked to be scared. I just went with it and learned the new part the best I could.

I must have done well, because I won best actor for the theater that season.

Most recently, I would perform around campfires on the weekends I dress like a Viking, and I’ve received awards and won competitions for my performances. But my memory isn’t what it used to be and so I’ve been shying away from performing in the hopes that no one notices that I have trouble performing off-book. But that itch to perform is back, and I’m thinking on how best to scratch it.

I remember songs better than anything. Are there karaoke leagues?

A Good Day

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Woke up this morning to some of the best vital signs I’ve recorded yet. My glucose was well within the range of tolerance, my pulse was low (for me), my blood pressure was even pretty close to normal instead of the usual “why are you not having a stroke right now” that I usually maintain despite medication to the contrary.

It’s been a quiet day, one that I’ve spent relaxing a good deal. At least, that’s what I remember. Which is good, because in all honestly, I’ve been very productive here at home. Making phone calls (for those that read yesterday’s post, my re-assessment into the intensive outpatient program is scheduled for Monday), sending emails, filing things away. Lots of little nitpicky detaily things that got checked off the list.

I didn’t feel like walking today, so I cut my walk shorter than anticipated. Still, it was almost a mile and a half, and that’s a good range for me to get good and tired for bed.

Today’s post is going to be short. Nothing profound happened today, no epiphanies to report. Just a nice, all-around good day.

I need more of these in my life.

An Open Apology

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Trigger warning: discussion of past suicidal ideations

Note: I am not currently suicidal. In fact, I’m in the best headspace that I have been in for weeks. So good, in fact, that I’m able to write this post.

Back in August, I lost a handful of Facebook followers due to several posts that I made over the course of a few weeks. It wasn’t until today that I realized just what happened and why I got the response that I did, and now that I know, you are all owed an apology.

I’m not posting this on Facebook because it doesn’t have a reliable system of ensuring that triggering language is hidden behind a wall you need to click through. (That’s one of the things I need to apologize for, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

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The Sunset of My Mind

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I’m awake dealing with a headache. It really hurts. I’d give it a solid seven on the pain scale. But that’s important to note: I’m in a lot of pain. It’s also important to note that it’s about to turn midnight as I write this, and I’m currently sitting on the couch in a dimly lit apartment. It’s quiet, and I’m alone, and there’s not really anyone to talk to.

This is a dangerous combination for someone with depressive tendencies in their mental illness.

Science tells us that the more pain someone is in, and the longer they’re in pain, the less jovial they’ll be. That’s a given, really – if you hurt for a long time, you tend to get grumpy about it, and then you tend to get grumpy about other things, and eventually you’re so grumpy you get your own Friskies contract and a Lifetime movie. (Yes, I specially crafted this sentence just to have a reason to post the header pic above. That’s me and Grumpy Cat at SXSW last year. She’s actually a delightful kitty with a wonderful purr, but I didn’t tell you that – she has appearances to keep up, and they’re just awful.)

Science also tells us that there is something called seasonal affective disorder, wherein the lack of natural sunlight during the long winter months leads to environmentally induced depression, what many people refer to as “the winter blahs.”

Nighttime tends to affect me very much like the darkness works against those with SAD. Without the distractions that are available when other people are awake, with the perceived need to stay quiet in the apartment, I’m left to sit in silence interacting with no one. And that’s when the negative thoughts and self-talk start to rear their ugly heads like zombies rising from the grave. (Great, now I have “Thriller” stuck in my head. Way to go, mental jukebox.)

That depressive tendency is compounded by the toll that pain exacts on the body, and the two work in tandem to try and tear me down.

“You deserve the pain you’re in, you know. It’s punishment for being a bad person.”

“If you do anything to try and pull yourself out of this, you’ll wake your wife up and she’ll be pissed, so you might as well just sit and suffer.”

“Why are you even bothering to write a blog? No one reads it anyway. You should just delete it altogether.”

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve actually had a good day, and I have someone that I’m talking with, so my thoughts aren’t as dark currently. But I do feel lonely, and loneliness can very often spill over to depression.

So I’m blogging to try and process some of what I’m experiencing while it’s at the early stages and can be more easily dealt with. Sharing what I go through and why I go through it is a cathartic thing, and self-analysis tends to remove the emotional impact from the experience. “I’m feeling down, but why am I feeling down? What happened to make me feel this way?”

The answer is simple. It’s past midnight, I’m awake and in pain, and the darkness looms in the wake of the sunset of my mind.

And with that explanation, I’m off to find something to distract me. Maybe some Grumpy Cat memes.