Achievements and Rewards

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As I wrote at length yesterday, I fought down one of the biggest anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced Thursday. I’ve had them more acute, to the point that I’ve been hospitalized for fear of having a heart attack, but none have been as long-lasting.

So today I’m rewarding myself for overcoming that challenge, partially.

Part of today’s activities have been governed by a migraine that won’t seem to go away. It’s not a bad one, thankfully, but being still and not doing much helps alleviate the pain a good deal, so partially because of the headache and partially because of my achievement on Thursday I’ve decided to dedicate today to computer gaming.

I’m still doing my checklist items, but fortunately they don’t take long to do and I’m consciously limiting my to-do list to “whatever arises in the kitchen over the course of the day.” I’m not cooking, but I’ve made a round or two of coffee for me and my wife, and I’ve cycled our water. (We rotate through three gallon jugs of water and the large Brita reservoir in the fridge, so there’s always plenty on hand – outside of coffee, milk, and the rare soda and even rarer hard cider, water’s what we drink.)

But today I’ve made a conscious decision to put everything else off until tomorrow and spend the day losing myself in my favorite computer game.

My wife and I are playing different installations of the same single-person game and we’re essentially shadowing one another through the same content. She’s taken a break to make dinner, so I’m taking a break and writing here.

Apart from the headache, today’s been a good day so far. I’ll take it.

Facing Down the Demon

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Yesterday I experienced the longest-lasting anxiety attack I’ve ever experienced.

Regular readers of this blog, and the Facebook and Twitter pages that it links to, know that I’m an Internet radio DJ. I have two shows per week, one on Thursday evenings that I do on my own, and one on Saturday evenings that I co-host with my wife. I’ve been doing this off and on for almost five and a half years now.

The station was started about 12 years ago to support gamers on one particular server for one particular MMO. The game shut down in late 2012, and so the station went on to support other games for a while, finally becoming “game-agnostic” last year, meaning that we support gamers in general, regardless of their game of choice.

Several months ago our original game environment became available to us again as an XMPP chat client, and so many of the old gamers from our original home have been congregating there in order to continue their own personal storylines with the characters they spent eight years playing. (It’s important to note that while the game environment exists, the game itself does not. There are no enemies to fight, no quest givers to talk to, no NPCs adding local flavor to the game. It simply exists as a physical environment to chat and roleplay within.)

Through the years, the station has sponsored dozens of events in conjunction with the games we’ve supported. These have always been fun and entertaining, usually with costume contests and trivia contests and scavenger hunts alongside the music we supply.

It is important to tell you all of this background, because last night the station provided music and promotion for an event, and I DJed part of the event.

In the five and a half years I’ve been DJing, this is the first event that I’ve participated in as a DJ.

The event was to celebrate the unofficial 12th anniversary of the launch of our original game, and it was requested to be on a night that I normally had a show, so I was requested to be part of the DJ team. (The event lasted eight hours and three DJs provided music for it during that time.)

Now, at this point it’s important to tell you about my Thursday show. It’s an homage to the history of popular music in the rock and roll era. I have a very specific requirement of an artist before I’ll play them on Thursdays: they must be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a result, my usual library is very limited, with about 4,000 songs to pull from. (In comparison, the library that we use on Saturday nights on another computer altogether is many, many times the size of my Hall of Fame collection.) In addition, I have several features that I do during my show every week, one of which is a trivia contest that’s run in cycles four months long. Last night was the final week for the cycle; next Thursday I draw a name from all the weekly winners over the previous four months and that person gets a very special prize. So heading into event planning, I let the event organizers know I’d need to at least do my contest, and I’d likely be playing my usual music as well. They were fine with that, thankfully, so I waited until the day of the event to put together my playlist.

Programming a show is not that difficult, but it does require attention to detail. The software that I use has a feature that will queue up to 20 songs in the playlist at random. I start programming from there, weeding out songs that I’d rather not play (usually due to excessive profanity, as my show runs during prime time on the East Coast and starts during the workday in the Pacific time zone). From that initial group of 20 songs, I start putting in station IDs, ads, talk beds (the music that plays at low volume during talk breaks), and disclaimers (for those occasions that I play a song with explicit content), spacing an ad or other station file and a talk bed every 20 minutes, moving songs around in order to more precisely time talk breaks. I continue adding random songs manually, as well as talk breaks, until the full three hour show is complete. Once I’ve done that, I go to a website that gives daily bits of history in music and edit the day’s list to only feature Hall of Famers, then print it. Then I go to my stash of trivia questions and grab the next question for the contest. Lastly, I plug in the mic (we use an omnidirectional microphone rather than a headset so that both of us can talk on Saturday evenings) and test to be sure it’s in working order. Overall, the process usually takes me a little over an hour.

Okay, NOW that you have all that background, it’s time to tackle the subject matter I alluded to in the title.

Because this was my first show, I was excessively nervous about putting together the show. Would it go over well? Would my format serve to break up the party instead of enhancing it? Would there be complaints? How would I explain the theme of my show and how it fits in with the event?

I became more and more anxious about this as the day progressed until I finally started programming the show. I took it slower than usual, paying closer attention to detail than I would give a run-of-the-mill show. And then I read the article.

It seems that a well-known gaming website had run a feature about the event and specifically mentioned the DJs providing music for it. And that sent my anxiety into overdrive.

My wife was an angel and talked me down from the anxiety attack as she’s done so many times before, but my anxiety was still pretty high all the way up to showtime.

And as the event progressed, the anxiety stayed with me.

It wasn’t until a couple hours after I got off the air that I could finally let it go and calm down enough to eat – up until that point, I’d only had breakfast, not a good thing for a diabetic to do.

But the point is that I got through it. I survived one of the longest-lasting anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced. And hopefully, I managed to do it without the anxiety coming across on the air much.

My listener count was multiple times more than usual. The event was very well run and my hat’s off to the organizers for making my job fairly straightforward.

And once the anxiety finally went away, I was out like a light.

So that’s my way-too-long explanation of my anxiety attack yesterday, and how I managed to cope with it.

A Milestone and an Achievement

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This one’s going to be short, since I have something of a busy day today, but I wanted to stop in and let you know that I hit a milestone a couple posts back. This is post #202 in this blog, by far the longest I’ve stuck with any blog ever. (I had a bad habit of starting a blog and then abandoning it after only a couple entries. One time I started one that was wine-themed. I don’t drink wine.)

Also, yesterday I hit every item on my checklist, for the first time in almost six months. Progress is slow, but this is the first step.

It’s early, I haven’t been awake long, but so far today that’s all I got. Might be more later. We’ll see.

Memories of a Lazy Sunday Afternoon

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Today I saw (and subsequently shared) a meme featuring an elderly woman’s lap full of pea pods, with her shelling them and the caption “Part of the problem with the world today is no one shells peas with Grandma anymore.” I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that sentiment, as there are both a lot of grandparents in urban living, without the benefit of a vegetable garden, and a lot of grandkids that do still spend time shelling peas with their grandparents, and I can’t say for certain that the lack of the magical combination is a sign of the times.

The meme, of course, infers that the world would be a better place if we spent quality time with our elders, and THAT sentiment I can wholeheartedly get behind. But it’s the specific action given in the meme that flooded me with nostalgia. I mentioned something on Facebook about it when I shared the meme, but I wanted to take a little more time to expound on my memories of my grandmother.

My maternal grandfather passed away before I was born, and both my paternal grandparents were gone by the time I turned eight, so the only grandparent that I have a lot of memories of is my maternal grandmother. Her grandkids called her Granny.

Fairly often, at least once a month, we would make the half hour drive from the northern suburbs of Raleigh to the rural town of Morrisville to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, who lived alone from the time her husband died until her mid-to-late 80s. During most of that time, she tended a vegetable garden that was over an acre in size, and with the exception of turning the soil at the beginning of the season, she handled it all on her own. She grew all kinds of vegetables, used what she grew and then sold the rest to the neighbors for extra cash. She didn’t drive and didn’t own a car at any point during my life, so if we wanted to see her, we went to her.

The ritual was more or less the same every Sunday: we’d give her time to walk back home from church, a trip of only a couple blocks, before we arrived. Dad would shortly get busy taking care of any chores that needed doing – repairs, mostly – Mom would help balance her checkbook, and that left me and Granny to head into the garden to pick the vegetables that we’d have that evening for supper. We’d wash everything off and then go sit on the screened-in back porch to shell peas or snap beans (what most people call green beans) or whatever we were having, while she told stories. Mom would finish with the checkbook and come join us on the porch, and so I got caught up in the latest gossip from around town, mostly involving people I either barely knew or hadn’t met at all. It was pretty easy to tune it out, but every once in a while the stories would turn toward family, and I tried to make a point to re-engage in the conversation then, so I could learn about distant relatives. We’d usually spend an hour or more on the porch, lazily prepping the evening’s sides, before heading in so Granny could cook. I’d usually head in to join my dad watching either football or NASCAR.

Now, keep in mind, there were four of us – me, my mom, my dad, and my grandmother.

When dinner was served there were usually two different kinds of meats, at least five different kinds of sides, and at least two pies – one was always sweet potato, my favorite. There was enough food to easily feed eight people on the table and counters. (My grandmother’s kitchen was decently sized enough, but was dominated by a dining table that could seat six in a pinch.) Now keep in mind this was any given Sunday – no special occasion, no event to celebrate. Holidays would produce twice this amount of food and all four of us usually ate for nearly a week off that one meal.

I went to work on the vegetables a lot of times because I was told to – it kept me out of my dad’s way and it let me spend time with Granny. There were a lot of times that I didn’t really want to be out there, and I was bored a lot while I was working. I was a preteen at that point and my interests were elsewhere. It felt like a chore to preteen me.

But as I grew older, my grandmother stopped being able to tend so much land, and she started keeping a smaller and smaller garden with fewer vegetables in them. She needed help more in both the garden and the kitchen. She’d forget to take medications, and we’d have to remind her. What was once a chore became both a labor of love and an expression of grief. My grandmother was deteriorating before my eyes and I didn’t know what to do about it.

My paternal grandparents were almost three hours away in Wilmington, and I only saw them during the summer when school was out. I didn’t see them deteriorate, although my grandfather didn’t actually deteriorate – he was sitting by the front door waiting on a fishing buddy when he had a massive heart attack, and he was gone. His cardiologist said he likely didn’t feel a thing. He was the one to discover the body – he was the fishing buddy my grandfather was waiting on. My maternal grandmother had both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, although the latter wasn’t yet a diagnosis at the time, and her deterioration was kept at a distance. She was moved to a nursing facility closer to home and Mom and Dad would go out to visit her, leaving me with Granny while they were gone.

Eventually Granny got to the point that she needed to go into a nursing home, and as I was in need of a place to live, I moved into the house and paid a pittance in rent to maintain the taxes on the house. I lived there for a year and a half.

My mom and dad and I had made a habit of going to Myrtle Beach over Thanksgiving weekend, buying a prepared Thanksgiving dinner for Thursday evening, and then spending the rest of the time taking advantage of the restaurants in the area. All-you-can-eat seafood buffets were big in Myrtle Beach at that time, and we would usually spend one evening indulging in as many crab legs as we could.

In 1994, I had to work the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so Mom and Dad headed down to Myrtle Beach early and started prepping while I finished my shift. I got off work, went home, packed up the car, and was about to leave when I got a call from Mom.

“Oh good, we caught you. Don’t worry about coming down. Granny’s gone.”

Thanksgiving dinner that year was convenience store hot dogs on the way to go pick out her casket.

Looking back at that time, I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d gotten a lot of recipes from her – her magnificent sweet potato pie recipe died with her, as did her recipe for chicken and dumplings (she called it “chicken slick”). I wish I’d gotten her green beans recipe. A few years after she died, I’d already moved to Houston and was eating dinner at a place called Goodson’s for the first time. I remember I ordered the large chicken fried steak – a mistake, since that came on a platter all its own and it overlapped the platter all around – with mashed potatoes and green beans. The second I sunk a tooth into the green beans I wondered why my grandmother had faked her death and moved to Texas to make green beans for a restaurant there – the taste was exactly the same.

I don’t have many memories of my childhood – generally it wasn’t an experience I’d prefer to remember – but the memory of those lazy Sunday afternoons with Granny are among my fondest.

As I said in the Facebook post, I thought of that time snapping beans and shelling peas on Granny’s back porch as a chore, and I really didn’t want to be doing it. Looking back as an adult, however, I’d give anything for one more meal with my Granny.

An Early Assessment

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Today didn’t effectively start until after 1:00 pm. I slept in until 10:00 am, woke up, had vitals and meds and coffee and breakfast, then went back to sleep for another couple of hours or so. I also woke up in a good amount of pain.

It’s days like this that I spent weeks writing off – if they can’t start with me coming out of bed swinging to meet the day, then there’s no point at all to doing any of it, I would tell myself – but today, I haven’t done that.

My checklists are organized in more or less chronological order. The first things on them are vitals, hygiene, meds, and breakfast, then the things that I can fit in between then and lunch, then the things I can fit in between then and dinner, including my catchall “to-do” activity for my daily chores, and then leisure and socializing after dinner, during a time when socialization is most likely, before doing my evening activities like meds, exercise, hygiene, and finally bed. So far I’m up to speed on all my activities, despite the long sleep-in.

This is only day three of getting back on my checklists and food tracker, but so far it’s been mostly successful. Sunday I only missed one thing on my list; yesterday I missed only two. I’ve logged everything that’s crossed my lips since Sunday morning. And I’ve felt good about it. The distraction of getting back into the swing of things is helping quite a good deal.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I went through this same several-weeks-long gap in my charting around about the same time last year. That’s one of the reasons that it’s important for me to blog, so I can track trends in my mood and be prepared if there’s a pattern that I can establish. If this happens again next year, I’m calling that a seasonal downswing. Regardless, I think it’s worth a mention to my therapist.

Status Report

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Yesterday I wrote about the difficulty I’d been having about keeping the various aspects of my life organized and productive given the recent bout of depression I’ve been dealing with. I also committed to re-establishing my use of my daily checklists and my food tracker app yesterday, and wrote that I’d be back today with a report of how things went.

I accomplished all but one item on my daily checklist yesterday (I missed exercise, but I was also in a fair amount of pain throughout most of the day) and I logged everything that went in my mouth yesterday.

Given that it had been 10 weeks since I logged anything into my food tracker and just about that long since I’d paid much attention to my checklist, I’ll call that a definite win.

My mood was better yesterday as well. I think the push to get everything done distracted me until there was nothing left to do, and then my mood started tanking again late at night, shortly before bed.

I’m working on the checklist and food tracking again today. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the next day – it’s far too soon to be turning this depression around – but at least I have something to look forward to doing with my day, and that keeps me at least mindful of the future instead of obsessing about how I’m feeling right now.

I don’t really have much to report beyond that, so I’ll keep this short this time.

Yay me.

Getting Back on the Horse

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They say that the best thing to do, psychologically speaking, when you fall off a horse is to get back on it.

Almost three months ago, I fell off the horse.

Part of that I attribute to hyperfocusing on a new activity. Since February 8th I’ve logged almost 450 hours into it, and that’s taken my mind off the bigger picture.

But a lot of that has been me running from my problems, and getting deeper and deeper into depression.

The new activity has helped in the sense that it’s distracted me from my emotional and mental state, but in doing so it’s enabled me to hide from my problems.

I stopped maintaining my checklists some two and a half months ago.

I stopped logging my food intake long before that.

Fortunately this hasn’t been a rapid onset depression. Those tend to last for far less time, but also tend to be extremely severe. This has been a slow downward spiral, and it’s been so slow, in fact, that I haven’t recognized it for what it is.

Last night I had a conversation with my wife about getting me back on track. I felt better about myself when I was completing my daily checklist, when I was being otherwise productive, and when I had a little bit more balance in my day. The struggle has been with pain and lethargy. On days that I wake up in pain, or on days that I can’t seem to stay awake until mid-afternoon, I’ve been feeling like the whole day is shot, and there’s no point in even trying.

That’s my brain lying to me.

So today, I have woken up without any pain (fortunately) and have started logging both my checklists and my food intake. I’m tired and angry at something that literally just happened (it’s very minor, it’ll pass, but I hate technology right now) and so I have a couple obstacles in my way.

The difference, though? I’m determined not to let my obstacles define my day. I’m going to have a good day, a productive day, and I’m going to enjoy myself.

And I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you how I did getting back on the horse.